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Embracing the Skeleton Woman

“There will come a time when you believe everything is finished. That will be the beginning.” – Louis L’Amour

I’d like to tell you the story of the Skeleton Woman.

A tale that I originally read in "Women Who Run With the Wolves" by Clarissa Pinkola Estes.

A myth that stems from the Inuit culture of the far north.

It goes like this…

A young woman made a decision that crossed her father’s wishes.

As a result, the father dragged the girl to the high cliffs that outlined the sea and threw her down into the waves.

Deep under the weight of the water, the fishes plucked out her eyes and tore at her flesh, until there was nothing left but bone.

There she stayed.

One day, a fisherman came to the bay in search of fish to feed his people.

He cast his hook and lure out into the sea and as it drifted and sank down into the depths, it became entangled in the ribs of the woman’s skeleton.

Unbeknownst to him, the fisherman thought that he hooked a great fish!

He pulled the line, reeling it in, trying to bring his bounty back up to the surface.

The closer he brought her, the more the Skeleton Woman fought, thrashing about, trying to free herself from the line, only to entangle herself further.

When her white bones broke the surface of the water, the fisherman was wrought with such fear that he instantly took oars in hand and rowed his way back to shore as if his life depended on it.

The skeleton trailing behind him all the while.

When his boat struck dry land, he grabbed his fishing pole and ran, not realizing that the Skeleton Woman was still tangled in the line.

As he ran throughout the streets, in search of shelter, she animatingly bounced behind him.

He raced by market stalls and as he did so, the Skeleton Woman reached her boney hand out and snatched a mouthful of frozen fish, which she consumed ravenously.

He dove headfirst into his snow house, welcoming the warm embrace of the dark safety of the space.

As he settled his heart, he took a breath and lit an oil lamp that emitted a soft, nurturing glow.

In the genuine light of that warm flame, he saw the Skeleton Woman piled in a heap on the floor before him.

But he didn’t balk in fear any longer.

He looked at the bones and began untangling them. Straightening the joints and placing them where they should naturally be.

He removed the fishing line and finally, the hook from her rib.

A wave of exhaustion overcame him and he crawled into his bed, with the Skeleton Woman standing against the wall, watching over him.

Sometimes, when one lives through such a fright, their spirit will help process in the dreamtime state. This was happening to the fisherman, and as he slept, his eyes poured great rivers of tears down his cheeks.

The Skeleton Woman gingerly walked over to him and drank deeply from his tears. As she knelt over him, she heard the pound, pound, pounding of his heart. She placed her hand over his chest and removed it.

She held the heart ever so gently, and called out “Flesh, Flesh, Flesh!” to the beating rhythm.

As she did so, flesh began to grow on her bones, until she was bone no longer, but a healthy vibrant young woman.

She placed the fisherman’s heart back into his chest and when he awoke and saw the young woman, he welcomed her fully into his life with love.

This tale is the perfect story to demonstrate the cyclical nature that envelopes every aspect of life.

Every experience that we have will undoubtedly move through this life to death to rebirth cycle at least once, sometimes several times over.

Every type of relationship we have, from friendships, to lovers, to the complex relationships between parent and child.

Every creative endeavor that we embark on.

Every project that we pour our heart into.

Every business that we run.

They all will move through this cycle.

So, let’s look at it in finer detail.


The story begins in life. The fisherman is out trying to retrieve food for his people. He thinks that he has caught a great fish, surely large enough to feed every hungry mouth.

This is the first phase. The one that’s full of fire and ambition and excitement. It’s the first spark of a new and promising creative idea. The first passionate moments of a new relationship.

This is the part that feels charged, like you have electricity pulsing through your veins. It fills you with elation and animation and makes you want to accomplish anything that you can dream of.

This phase is followed by death.


The Skeleton Woman represents death in our story. She was once a beautiful young woman and was cast into the sea to be reduced to merely bones.

It is when our fisherman hooks her rib that the death cycle begins.

This is the part of a new relationship when the passion has died away and we’re left to look at the reality of a partnership with the other person.

In a creative undertaking, this is the phase when frustration and discouragement run wild. Writers get blocked, artists throw out their work thinking it’s a misrepresentation of their soul.

In business, this is when things feel as if they’re falling apart. Deals disintegrate before our eyes, money is lost and the future begins to look bleak.

Most fear this part of the cycle because they think that there is nothing after this “death”.

At first, our hero ran from this phase. He bolted from fear of the Skeleton Woman and ran to seek refuge in the comforting safety of his own space.

But as she was dragged behind him, you can’t outrun this part of the cycle.

The only way through, is to embrace it.

To understand that this type of death is a part of our very nature.

To truly know that the only way that we can experience true love, success and happiness is from the other side of this death cycle.

We have to move through the darkness in order to see the light.

From the disintegration that death ushers into our lives, tiny buds of new life begin to form.


As our hero is running through the streets, terrified of Skeleton Woman, what is she doing? She’s snatching up fish to eat. She’s nourishing her deprived bones.

This is the beginning of new life.

As we are in the midst of the death cycle, new life is already being planted within the undercurrent of our subconscious.

We may not be aware of it, because we’re still engulfed in the fear, but it is happening nonetheless.

When the fisherman is within the safe confines of his home, he lights an oil lamp and when he looks at the Skeleton Woman again, he sees her in a newer, softer light.

He removes the line and hook and detangles her bones, aligning them with how they should naturally be.

This is when we take a step back from the situation we find ourselves in. We settle ourselves from fear and we face the Skeleton Woman head on.

To look at the death cycle from a warmer point of view allows us the space we need in order to not only accept but mentally and emotionally organize the process.

If this step is done with kindness and compassion for every party involved, then while we rest and recoup, those little buds of new life begin to blossom and grow.

As our hero sleeps, the Skeleton Woman quenches her thirst with his tears and removes his heart, using it grow her own flesh back onto her bones.

This is the time of returning to our own innocent nature.

To allow the death cycle the time it needs in order to turn into a flourishing new thing. We must give it our heart, love and space to do its work.

This is the approach.

To trust that new life will spring from the ashes of the death cycle.

When we are able to tolerate and accept the natural flow of the life/death/life cycle; that is when we thrive.

The next time you’re moving through something that feels heavy, whether it be in love, creativity or business… find where you are at within this process.

Are you in the first life phase, or in the dark depths of the death phase?

Maybe you’ve been through this cycle many times already, each rotation providing you with a new piece of wisdom.

A new blossom that given proper nourishment will grow into something beautiful.

Wherever you are, one thing is for certain…

…if you embrace the Skeleton Woman with a pure heart; that is when your creativity, your bounty and your life love will overflow.

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