Healing Women, Healing the Earth: An interview with Jane Hardwicke Collings

I recently discovered Jane Hardwicke Collings – mother, homebirth midwife, women’s mysteries teacher and founder of the School of Shamanic Womancraft – through Planthunter alumni, Juliet Allen’s podcast. Jane spoke to Juliet about concepts that so resonated – that there is a connection between how women treat themselves and are treated by society, and how we treat the earth. That women, like the earth, are governed by cycles, and by paying great attention to our ever-changing bodies and beings and acting accordingly, we may just have a chance to re-awaken our true power. And if we can do this, perhaps we can be the change we so need to look after our wounded planet.

It’s a big message – it takes an angle that most of us have probably never considered. It places value in rest, rejuvenation, and in honouring the notion of the sacred and the intentional. It speaks of the importance of a great shift from a patriarchal society to a feminine one. And it just may be the way forward. Jane has decades of accumulated knowledge in the women’s mysteries space and today on The Planthunter she shares her wisdom on how we can tap into the lessons of our womanhood in order to connect with Mother Earth.

I’ll begin with asking you to unpack a quote of yours: ‘The clues for a life of earth honouring and sustainable living are hiding in plain view in the menstrual cycle’. Most women have probably never consciously made a link between the two. Can you explain it for those of us who are new to this concept?

Disconnection from our menstrual cycles and the wisdom they hold and teach us is unfortunately the dominant situation. This is the result of the age-old menstrual taboo, that has most of us live with little or no consideration of either the cycle or our actual physical and emotional needs around it. Mostly, we reject it and at worst there is repulsion and disgust. If we reject our cycles, we reject our body, it’s the same thing.

Anything that has a ‘life’ has a cycle, and by understanding the cycle, and the wisdom inherent within a cycle, one can be with ‘what is’ and flow with that energy rather than incur the problems of not doing so.

Jane Hardwicke-Collings

There is such a similarity between how women’s menstrual cycles are treated and how the Earth is treated, and the same for childbirth and menopause. It’s well known that how a culture treats and values the feminine is how they treat and value the Earth.

So, quite simply, if a woman with a menstrual cycle does not look after herself with simple self-care – rest, eating nourishing foods, being in Nature, slowing down – when she is in the bleeding phase of her cycle, then the remainder of her cycle will be compromised. The usual way this plays out is with PMS, painful periods, and worse. The teaching is – honour the rest phase, or else.

The honouring of the whole menstrural cycle, every part of it, including and especially the rest phase is the antidote to our ‘go go go’ culture, our fixation on growth, and the subsequent results that we see in industry, farming, education, healthcare, and of course the climate emergency. The appropriate way to be with the menstrual cycle is to ‘go with the flow’, to be with whatever the energy is of each phase, not overriding it, not ignoring it, honouring it.

Jane Hardwicke-Collings. Image by Amy Jean Photography

Within the menstural cycle is wisdom and clues for living an earth honouring and sustainable life. It means to honour the Earth through her cycles – the birth, growth, full bloom, harvest, decay, death, rebirth. It means incorporating the old practice of letting the land rest between harvests, to care for the land with a long term perspective, not just quick profits. Once the whole cycle is honoured and lived it will allow for regeneration, renewal, rejuvenation and revitalisation, rather than depletion, over and over. We reap what we sow.

What happens in the spring will show up in the autumn as the harvest that needs to sustain us through the winter until the next new growth. We need the yin time as well as the yang time or we burn out and burn up.

In your children’s book, Mother Nature’s Wisdom, you summarise one of your foundational teachings: ‘The Earth’s song is the cycles. We see that in Her seasons, our life seasons, the moon phases, a woman’s cycle, and the vegetation cycle. The cycle is the rhythm of everything. The cycle repeats and repeats. It never ends actually… birth, growth, full bloom, harvest, decay, death, rebirth… and on and on… Everything affects everything. It’s all connected. We are connected. This is Mother Nature’s Wisdom.’ Can you explain this cyclical link between mother nature, our lives, the moon, the menstrual cycle and vegetation? And what is the gift to women in perceiving and acting upon this cyclical rhythm in themselves and the natural world?

Everything goes through cycles. And every cycle is reflected in every other cycle – they are the same, just different lengths.

Anything that has a ‘life’ has a cycle, and by understanding the cycle, and the wisdom inherent within a cycle, one can be with ‘what is’ and flow with that energy rather than incur the problems of not doing so.

The gift to women in perceiving and acting on this and their cyclical rhythm, in particular, is that they will make so much more sense to themselves, and not think there’s something wrong with them! We are not supposed to keep going ad infinitum, and the cycles teach us this. It makes life easier.

The way to start connecting with this wisdom is for a woman to chart her menstrual cycle. Charting our menstrual cycle takes us on the journey into the wisdom of the cycles, and provides a key to understanding why we feel the way we do on any particular day. Charting our menstrual cycle would be one of the main instructions in ‘A Woman’s Body – Owner’s Manual’ if there was one! Through charting our cycle we come to see the patterns of our energy levels, our creativity, our appetite and cravings, our libido, our moods. Knowing these patterns allows us to more easily flow with our own cycle and the other cycles – the moon phase, earth season and life season we are in, as these all affect us in major ways.

Jane Hardwicke-Collings. Image by Amy Jean Photography.

Much of your work is in teaching women the importance of honouring their own rites of passage – their first menarche (period); childbirth and menopause. Why is it so important that we all recognise women’s (and men’s) rites of passage?

It’s important to recognise and honour these times because our rites of passage are times of great transformation, when we change from one version of ourselves into another, never to return to the previous version. Whatever happens at a rite of passage teaches us on a subliminal level how our culture values the next phase and role we are moving into. Rites of passage create and reinforce culture on the inside though the mindset – beliefs, attitudes and fears they create, and on the outside with the behaviours we adopt and maintain so we feel like we belong. Our culture has forgotten to honour rites of passage, however, whatever happens IS the rite of passage, and these can be negative and wounding experiences rather than honouring, informative experiences.

One of the processes I offer the women who come to my workshops is to contemplate their menarche and ask of the experience – what did this teach me about being a woman? And what theme or pattern developed here and has played out all my life? This sets off a process of unraveling from the dominant cultural perspective of woman. The next step is – what new message do you want to give the maiden in you? And then a life of more choice begins.

How can we do rites of passage for ourselves, and/or our children if we’ve personally missed the boat?

We can reclaim and heal our rites of passage. The first step is to understand their impact and then how your actual experience affected you. Ask – what did this teach me about how my culture values that next life stage? And how has this played out in my life?

Our rites of passage that were ignored or affected us negatively are not a curse, they provide us with soul-crafting opportunities, a chance to understand ourselves and our circumstances, and show us our life lessons. And our life lessons can lead us to our life purpose. So often when we heal from these times, we in turn help others do the same.

Practically speaking, every next menstrual cycle can offer a woman a chance to re-enact her menarche and create a ceremony that honours her womanhood. This could also happen when a woman’s menstrual cycle returns after childbirth and breastfeeding. Honouring a woman around childbirth or menopause after the fact, could involve a circle of like-minded women gathering to honour the woman and to share with her their words of respect for her and what they wish for her, as well as what they commit to help her with. Rites of passage create community. This is a life work and is best done in a non-judgemental circle of love and support.

Can you speak to the concept that we are experiencing a great shift towards a female leadership from a patriarchal society, and how this may be our environmental saving grace, or at least a shift which may assist us going forward in such environmentally apocalyptic times?  

Most people rely on women in their nurturing roles, and where we are headed as a global community is into a time when women will need to be resilient, adaptable and strong. I know that we are all capable of that and yet that’s not what we are taught, nor what our rites of passage teach us. My experiences with women have shown me that when we do our inner work – understanding how our rites of passage moulded us, releasing ourselves from the shackles of the patriarchy, and waking up from the powerlessness spell, then we can reconnect with Nature, and our nature, and be the women the Earth needs now.