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The Myth of the Siren

by Robin Corak

I have always been fascinated by sirens. Yet, traditional myths of the sirens as beautiful but sinister creatures luring sailors to their death never made sense to me. These myths, like other traditional myths, portrayed the men as strong, noble, seafaring individuals going off to fight yet another war whereas women who had any measure of power were portrayed as ugly, shrew-like, simple, and/or cruel. These women were to be both feared and dominated. The message of these myths seemed to be to be saying that as a woman, we should be beautiful and society -and men in particular- would be enthralled by our beauty. By the same token, beautiful women were not to be trusted. It always seemed to me to set up a losing proposition-our primary source of power (at least according to the myth) was also to be our downfall and prevent us from finding lasting love and trust in a relationship.

But as with any story, there is more than one perspective and many ways to read between the lines.

What if we were to view these myths through a lens that considers that  masculine energy is active and feminine energy more reflective? Then, perhaps, the role of the sirens was to lure the men away from their determination to act  (in this case in a realm of fighting and destruction) and to instead entice them to stop and reflect for a bit, to appreciate the beauty around them and to consider another way of being. Given that the ocean has always been associated with our subconscious and the realm of feelings, perhaps the powerful draw of the sirens was a longing by these men to experience greater introspection and  dive deeper into exploring their own emotions- something not always accepted or encouraged by society.

By reclaiming the stories and myths that either cast women in a negative light or limit our identities, we can begin to more fully embrace and understand our power as well as the unique gift we can bring to the world. This is true not just with traditional stories but with the stories that others in our lives – well meaning or not- have told us and even with the stories we have told ourselves. I have often found that in the midst of my greatest fears and/or the most limiting beliefs about my self, I find a hidden power, talent, or strength I didnt know I had.

When I was growing up, I was often told and felt that I was not athletic or good at sports in any way. Part of this was due to a medical condition I had that made me appear tiny and somehwat fragile.  For that reason, I shied away from anything that required physical power, endurance, or speed. I was viewed – and I viewed myself- as being the “nice” one. Soft spoken and quiet, you could often find me holed up in my room with my head in a book.

Fast forward several years to a time when my very active son wanted to take a Tae Kwon Do class and wanted me to take it with him. I was terrified because I still believed the myth that I was not and would not be good at anything requiring athletic skill. But I certainly couldn’t explain all of this to my 7 year old son in a way that he could understand and I wanted to be there for him and support him. So in a testament to the power of love, I took the class with him. Not surprisingly to me, I found that I did not in my current state possess the power or endurance to do some of the more challenging warm up activities nor did I have the desire to engage in sparring with another partner. What did surprise me was that the forms we were required to memorize (which are actually sparring moves in a sequence) were alot like dancing. I have always loved to dance and thus I found myself enjoying and excelling in this area. What I lacked in power, I made up for in control and fluidity. I began to realize that what I had often thought of as athletic skill was much broader than I had ever realized and that there was a place for gracefulness in this new definition. Of course, my joy was suspended somewhat when I set out to prepare for my first belt test which required breaking boards with my fist and my feet.

Again, those nagging little voices in my head reminded me of the myth regarding my lack of athletic prowess which I had too willingly accepted in my youth and which had grown in power upon facing this most recent challenge. Fortunately for me, I am tenacious (and I will admit it, a wee bit proud) and there is a rebelling voice inside me that was not going to let this challenge defeat me. (The fact that the 5 year old testing right before me made it look easy certainly didnt hurt my resolve!) I approached the board, took a deep breath, punched with all of my might… and failed. But that is not the end of this story. Because I tried again -2 more times- and succeeded. Not only did I succeed in breaking the boards and passing the test, I succeeded in rewriting a story that had limited my view of who I was.

While I no longer participate in Tae Kwon Do, I have kept those broken boards as a reminder of the power we give to stories and myths as well as the power and the responsibility we have to rewrite and reclaim them. In the case of the myth of the siren, I have not only started interpreting the story in different ways I have also sought to find the ways in which I am offering or can offer my own unique gift as a siren in my own world. Whether in my role as mother, sister, lover, friend, writer,  or leader of the non-profit which I oversee, I have the power to emit a compelling, calming, safe and loving energy which allows people to pause, explore, and re-center. In creative and sometimes humorous ways, I “lure” people into looking at things from a variety of angles and exploring alternative visions, paths, or options. I try to inject a sense of joy and playfulness, particularly during those times where people are experiencing great challenges, need a break, or have lost the ability to connect with their inner child and let him or her out to play. In my own subtle way, I try to compel others to explore, appreciate, and emrace the undeniable beauty that exists within. These are the uniquely individual ways that I attempt to offer the gift of the siren. Your role as a siren may be completely different which is a wonderful thing, as we each have a uniquely powerful way of sharing our gifts with the world.

I challenge you to find the siren within. More than that, I challenge you to reclaim, reinterpret, and rewrite not only those traditional myths about women which you may have been drawn to but also those stories that have been told about you – whether by others or by yourself- which may no longer serve you. I assure you that you will be pleasantly surprised by what you find.

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