(Essay) Blood & Honey Icons by Danica Anderson

“We are confronted with the slaughter of EVE, a systematic Gendercide of tragic proportions.” Theodor Winkler

Slavic sensuality images-- by Cathy Pfeil‏I am a world traveling Forensic psychotherapist, a Psycho-social Gender Victims Expert for the International Criminal Court since 2005 and founded a non-profit The Kolo: Women’s Cross Cultural Collaborations.  As a result I have been in many countries abroad.  This may sound exotic but my travels are never for vacations.  I found myself squeezed in between the bombs, bullets, famine and rapes in the midst of catastrophic violence.  In the raucousness of violence, I would face the survivors and their stories.  According to Julie Mertus, 75% to 80% of worldwide refugees are women and I realized that if our world of violence was to be changed it would be through women, the major caregivers of children and the Moist Mother Earth.[1]

I realized long ago through the narratives shared with me by those who survived what I never thought could be survived is how my trauma work begins where humanity ends.

My trauma healing practices are steeped in oral memory traditions, a technology I take along on my journeys. What oral memory traditions are is a technology, wholly feminine in nature and origins, and lived as opposed to being scrutinized intellectually.  Secondly, oral memory traditions are the past spoken in our personal memory passed down by words not written.  Those folk round dances danced, ballads sung, and in textiles and threads or paints to clay expressed in diverse art forms to rituals manifested culture. [2]

Although the places and particulars of every atrocity differ, the psychological damage done to its victims is much the same. Just surviving such horrific trauma would seem victory enough. Sadly, it is not. Without healing, the effects of post-traumatic stress syndrome fester, deepening the emotional decay. Once the insidious seed is sown, time may reap another whirlwind. The radius of collateral damage knows no borders and can reach from one generation to the next. This is what I witness over and over, no matter the land I stand upon.

Gendercide image, painting by Erin Hilleary
Gendercide image, painting by Erin Hilleary

Increasingly, in armed conflicts around the world, a new commerce in cruelty has emerged: Gendercide. Now the rule rather than the exception, the specific targeting of women and children to be murdered, mutilated, raped or recruited as combatants has been added to the brutal lexicon of warfare, not least governing entities with power over the masses.  Following the demise of the Republic of Yugoslavia, between 1992 and 1995 over 100,000 people were slaughtered in a swirling triad of ethnic and religious violence. Hundreds of thousands were forced from their ancestral homes and villages. The ancient fault lines of the European continent had fractured yet again.

 I ask you, isn’t this the raging campaign against the Great Mother with the advancement of Patriarchy for the past 5,000 years?

I almost walked away from Bosnia in March 1999 to never return.  I was frozen by the utter reality that there was nothing I could do or help.  Despite that reality that nothing could help, I asked myself, what if it was not about help but another four letter word – heal?  In fact, in the archaeologies of memory of the Great Mother, the God/dess, are an intangible heritage and legacy of oral memory traditions that are millennia-old healing practices.

I did return to Bosnia and continue to, for the past 13 years.  I have written two books; one is published to preserve the oral memory traditions of the South Slavic women, simply due to the reality that it was all that they had left in terms of resources.   I faced an abyss in the psychology field and the humanitarian organizations’ policies and mandates that did everything to erase the oral memory traditions.   I was laughed at for my oral memory traditions efforts, scathed at psychology associations and conferences, but soon after my presentation in Edinburgh, Scotland at the International Trauma Society, my kolo trauma and treatment format was being couched in other intellectual terms of Somatic Psychology or Movement practices.

Sudanese women in UN WFP line painting by Boyd Miller
Sudanese women in UN WFP line painting by Boyd Miller

I continue to witness the eradication of an incredible female humanities tool, oral memory traditions, in the form of lines such as the Sudanese women, who stood for hours and days to get food or treatment.  I witnessed the money going to male hands or international workers while those in need, mostly women and children, went without.

But in Bosnia, the women war crimes and war survivors showed me a ray of inspiration.  The humble meals, often the result of hand foraging for nettles in the spring or chasing down of their chickens for sweet fresh eggs, were placed before me on a rustic wooden table and handmade chairs.   I need to mention that I had to go with the women to forage for my meal. The women demanded that no one eats unless they gather the food together.

Spirals by Erin Hilleary
Spirals by Erin Hilleary

Before I sat down on the hand-crafted gleaming chair I spied a meticulous embroidered cushion that would have made Marija Gimbutas kneel down to examine the Old Europe symbology woven by female hands that never opened her books.   Joanna Hubbs in Mother Russia observes the spindle, mortar and pestle from the world of women as a feminine metaphysic. [3]  I was certainly transfixed by the spiral pattern on the cushion that softens not just my derriere but the war crimes stories I heard at the table.

Joan Marler wrote, “An embodied spirituality begins with the very food we eat”.[4]  I think of the Russian Blini, the same as the South Slavic Palacinke, crepes; the cooking of these delicious crepes is a ritual performed according to the sun’s yearly movement through the skies. [5]  Folklore tells us it is to heal sexual vitality, an oral memory tradition with cosmic order, where the sun is rebirthed each day, absorbed into the inky blackness at night, but blood red dawns mirrors the experience of giving birth.

It took 13 years to write and publish my book Blood & Honey Icons: Biosemiotics & Bioculinary and the second partner book Blood & Honey:  Secret Herstory of South Slavic WomenBlood & Honey Icons is both a cookbook and trauma healing practices involving the performance of domestic chores from weaving, cooking, the pech (stove), woven with the first-person stories of women survivors of war crimes and war.   It’s the Slavic Baba Yaga (Mother Nature) portrayed in the women’s stories and recipes in the language of myths, oral memory traditions technology that heals and manifests culture.

For me I have completed my vow to these women to author a book about their stories and lives.   At first, I protested grandly and hard, stating that I am no author and don’t know how to write what has been never written.  How could I possibly convey the cultural memory that congregates expansive wisdom, memories and symbols configured in linguistic form (biosemiotics)?   Although, not a panacea for gendercide, based on my research and witnessing these women, I am able to formulate millennia-old healing practices that could heal the world of violence we live in.

[1] Julie Mertus.  War’s Offensive on Women: The Humanitarian Challenge in Bosnia, Kosovo and Afghanistan. Kumarian Press, 2000. P. 3.

[3] Joanna Hubbs.  Mother Russia: The Feminine Myth in Russian Culture.IndianaUniversity Press (1988) p. 39.

[4] Joan Marler, ED. From the Realm of the Ancestors: An Anthology in Honor of Marija Gimbutas.  (Knowledge, Ideas & Trends, 1997) p. 479.

[5] Hubbs, Ibid. p. 48.