Anointing our Feet // The Red Shoes, Mary Magdalene & the archetypal dimension of our feet


In the book Women Who Run with the Wolves, Clarissa Pinkola Estes writes about the loss of instinctual life for women, and how that can lead to catastrophe and addiction if a woman is not careful of the possession and take-over of the archetypal unconscious instinctual power, such is the case in addictions. In the story of the Red Shoes, a motherless girl has a beautiful pair of hand-made red shoes which she loves, and loses when she is adopted by an old woman in a carrier. In this story, the girl loses her very own, hand-made life - represented by the self-made red shoes, however simple and poor, it was her own. She then has to adapt to the collective moral represented by the old lady who adopts her, and from then on - forever longs for the return of her red shoes. She falls into a 'trap' of buying a pair of red shoes, in secret and slowly but surely the red shoes take possession of her until she cannot stop dancing wildly, leading her to the executioners door, begging to be released from the 'devils red hot shoes' by asking her feet to be cut off. 

In this most tragic story, the girl loses her feet, and the wild red nature of her shoes twice. First, her own, hand-made red shoes for which she always longs and hungers, and that leads her into buying into an alternative that ultimately destroys her grounding in the world; her feet. 

As daughters of patriarchy, we have all lost our self-made red shoes. Not many of us have grown up in a culture or environment that has offered fertile ground for young women to keep their self-made red shoes, or to be taught how to live with them. We have lost connection to our deep, instinctual nature and have lost the lineage and heritage of grandmothers that would initiate us into those mysteries. Therefor, we look for substitutes, here and there...often leading us to the executioners door in subtle or less subtle ways.  As our cultures have become more separated form Nature and from our deep, wild, instinctual nature, there are less and less healthy containers left in our communities and cultures where we can express and live this wild part of our body and psyche. More and more, we are drawn into the Shadow aspects of our wild nature, just like the girl with the Red Shoes cannot stop dancing, we too can easily be taken over by addictions and patterns of destruction.

Ashley Shaw as Vicky Page in The Red Shoes

Ashley Shaw as Vicky Page in The Red Shoes

As Clarissa Pinkola Estes mentions in her talk 'The Red Shoes', this fairytale  is probably not complete. A full archetypal cycle consists of the loss, retrieval and re-membrance of a part of the psyche. In old times, stories would be told in series, and one story would lead into the next. We have most likely lost the rest of this story and it is very likely that after the cutting off of her feet, she will find her feet and own red shoes again. Just like the Handless Maiden learns to grow back her hand, women must grow back their footing, their ground and their instinctual connection to the Earth Mother Herself.  It is both a re-learning and a re-membering of our deep instinctual connection to life, to the earth and the wisdom of the deep soil. How do we live this part of our nature in a modern culture devoid of any container for this most primal part? This is a question of creative exploration each of us has to face in our own individuation journey.

Mary Magdalene & the feet of Christ 

Mary anoints Jesus's feet, stained glass, Munich, 1899.

Mary anoints Jesus's feet, stained glass, Munich, 1899.

Today is the feast of Mary Magdalene, and as I ponder on the image of Magdalene anointing (or in some cases it is argued that she is washing Christs feet with her tears) reflect on the symbolism and significance of this most ancient act: of washing another’s feet or have our feet anointed. I won’t go into the debate wether or not she anointed his feet, or washed it with her tears and hair, as there are numerous discussions about the various interpretations. What is most important in this article is the significance of the feet.

In biblical symbolism, amongst other thing, the washing of another's feet is an act of humility. As Christ washed his disciples feet, he said "“If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you” (John 13:14-15). Looking at this in perspective, it is seen in a time where slaves and those of the lowest would be washing feet, as the roads were dusty in those times and sandals were the shoes of the time. Christ set an example of humility by taking on what was seen as the task of the lowliest. But besides this very literal symbolism, what else is the significance of feet, and the baptise of feet in water or sacred oil? 

Chthonic Roots

Feet have been of remarkable significance in my own individuation journey and the experiences and teachings by Anahita, my inner teacher and guide. The first time Anahita's vibrations worked in my body, it was mainly through and in my feet. The first time (1) she entered with her rivers of light into my feet, it awakened immense, primal, chthonic powers within me, that felt like evil itself.  


(thŏn′ĭk) also chtho·ni·an (thō′nē-ən)

adj. Greek Mythology Of or relating to the underworld.

[From Greek khthonios, of the earth, from khthōn, earth.

But what is evil than the deep, dense primal powers of the animal kingdom within us? What we perceive as evil, is our deepest memory of primordial life and instinct. As our civilisation continued to separate us from nature, and our natural world, and so evil and darkness became more and more associated with the primal forces of the flesh, the body and the Earth Herself. Images of Inanna-Ishtar, one of the first known Goddess images, show us how in those times, the divine was still intertwined with the animal, chthonic kingdom: she has feet of an owl and stands upon the lion, the King/Queen of the Animal Kingdom. We see the similar chthonic image of feet in images of the devil, where the hooves and horns connect us to a Lunar time of participation in, and as natural beings - the animism of our flesh. 

Lilith’s feet, like those of the Queen of Sheba’s, are draconic, betokening her earthly and accessible side; her wings denote her transcendence.
— Caitlin Matthews in her book 'Sophia'
Feet of the Goddess Inanna-Ishtar

Feet of the Goddess Inanna-Ishtar

Looking at feet within this framework: what then does it mean to have our feet washed or anointed? From a Jungian perspective, it is an act of bringing consciousness into that which is unconscious. Our feet are known to store the most ancient chakras of our body. We often think as our 'root chakra' being the oldest, primal centre of our body, but in fact the legs and feet are known to have even more ancient memory of our existence. To have our feet washed with sacred water, or have it anointed is a symbolic reflection of the light of consciousness entering these deep instinctual cells. Quite literally, our feet are the 'lowest' part of our body: if our crown represents our connection to the heavens, our feet may represent our connections to hell, the deep Underworld: the chthonic depths of our being. That Mary Magdalene is anointing Christ prior to his crucifixion is of deep significance: Mary Magdalene was knows as the woman who was deeply in tune with her wild, instinctual, red nature. She was described as a whore by the Christian Patriarchy, but much new writing has revealed that Christ held deep love and respect for his most loved disciple. Could it be that Mary Magdalene was in fact initiating Christ into his chthonic depths? Could we look at Mary Magdalene as the one who brought forth Wisdom from the deep chthonic feminine into the teachings of Christ? Who knows, it will always stay open for different reflections and interpretations - as any real mystery teaching leaves an open space for each to find a part of the whole truth hidden within the vast ocean of Mystery. 

Astrology & the Body

There is an ancient teaching of Astrology that dates back thousands of years, probably going back to the Babylonia, but most commonly known in the ancient poetry by Marcus Manilius in 'Manilius' Astronomica'. Here, the signs of the Zodiac are connected to different parts of the body. In itself this is an image of Mystery that can be seen and understood in so many ways. Connecting it to our reflections above, we can see that Pisces, is connected to the feet. Pisces, the sign of the fish, is also a symbol of Christ and the Age of Pisces corresponds with the coming of Christ. Fish can be seen as the symbol of the unconscious, and in some Jungian interpretations it is a symbol and nourishment of the Self within the depths of the unconscious. Barbarah Hannah writes extensively about the symbolism of Fish in Jungian and Alchemical symbolism as well as how it is connected to the Age of Christianity and the Piscean age. 

'Malinius' Astronomica'.

'Malinius' Astronomica'.

If we look closely at this image, we see that Aquarius that is just above the feet, pouring water into the feet. This mysterious link is an important one as we move from the age of Pisces into the Age of Aquarius. Can we see the act of Christ, of washing his disciples feet and the teaching he gave us about washing another’s feet in this light? If the Age of Aquarius is about equality, co-operation, community and service: the act of the Christ, the symbol of the Piscean Age, pouring like a water bearer water upon the feet of his disciples is, besides a teaching on humility, perhaps also  a symbol of the transition into the Age of Aquarius? Through the act of loving kindness, service and inter-connectivity. Where the Master becomes the Servant and the Student is served by the Master: this is a radical shift from our patriarchal patterns and conditioning. 

In both of these reflections, we see a movement of connecting the highest to the lowest, and the lowest to the highest. And it is perhaps this movement that is being asked of us in this time of immense polarity and separation. To bring together opposites that have become so deeply constellated against each other, is perhaps the single most difficult task of humanity in this time. It is an act of both bravery and grace, for we need the primal powers of the Divine to help us in this tremendous work of wholeness. 

1) The experience with Anahita (Persian Goddess) in my feet is explained further in my Essay for Immannence. Here is a short description of the experience:
In a state between sleep and awake, after my heart meditation, my heart begins to spin. There is a whirl of love, taking over my chest and slowly expanding into my body. This is a classical Sufi experience. An intense vibration that I recognise from a past experience with Anahita arises in my legs, arms and other parts of my body. Mostly it is in my legs and then my feet. I feel different energies awaken within me wherever this vibration moves. It is intense and disturbing, I am hardly able to bear it but I know I have to. As my feet are awakened with this vibration coming from the whirl of the heart, a deep raw energy starts to awaken. My head is moving to the back, as if it has a life of its own. I feel a very earthly energy, raw, primal, it scares me a bit. Is this me? I feel a rawness that belongs to the animal kingdom, I feel the beast within me. Not as an abstract fantasy, but as a pure primal experience. I could eat and devour anything for survival, there is no aggression in this—I simply am the animal. I understand that this energy lives in my feet. How strange, and above all very confusing; what to do? In my half awake state, I remember to ask again “Who are you?”—my heart is still spinning and an female unworldly vibrational voice slowly sounds: “A N A H I T A.”  My mind interrupts with fear as the experience is physically intense and surreal. I panic slightly wanting to ask “What do you want?” But I can’t seem to ask, the words are not coming out of me. I keep trying, and with this effort I have woken myself up, snapped out of the experience.