Folk names: wolf's bane, monkshood, blue rocket, devil's helmet
"When he tried to tag along with the other boys playing soccer after school, or to sit next to them in class, they would laugh, calling him Frankenstein or Scarface. In middle school, they taped signs to his back that read: Kick me, I'm ugly, or I'm lost, have you seen my circus? Until Dan reached high school, the Matthews house was egged or strewn with toilet paper each and every Halloween night, a plate of dead worms or dog feces left on the porch with a note that read: For the monster."
While the majority of the female characters in The Poison Box are different versions of Dark Maidens (or Dark Mothers), the three male leads represent a study in masculine power. There's Crue, who is the quintessential male, strong and dominant on the outside, yet often powerless on the inside. Simon's story portrays what happens to masculine energy when it has no rootedness and no focus.
Then there's Dan Raedwolfe, arguably the hero of the book - or at least the male character with whom we spend the most time. It might surprise readers to know that his character was my way of exploring the traditional expression of masculinity in our culture. I imagine most people would assume that was Crue's role, since he was, outwardly at least, the most masculine character, but to me, Dan is the one who possesses the most genuine masculine energy.
He grows up in the shadow of his father's domineering personality and of the two women in his life who fall victim to this dominance. Both his mother and sister try to take back their power through secretive acts of revenge - something Dan keenly observes. Though he takes the women's sides, he struggles with the obvious fact that their passive-aggression is focused on a man and as such, he cannot help but struggle with his own masculine identity. He wants to express it, but often feels like he must hide it, in order to avoid conflict.
What happens to us when we struggle with our innate energy - needing to express it, but feeling unable to do so? We become split, guilt-ridden, and ultimately powerless, like Dan.
Dan's first attempt to find his power was essentially to colonize his sister. Once he and Mary moved to Catherine's home, and Mary's muteness drew everyone's attention and concern, Dan stepped in and attempted to be her voice. It wasn't altruism that drove him to this act, but simple desperation - wanting someone to hear his voice even if he had to pretend he was speaking for Mary.
Dan's attempt to get his power through Mary was thwarted, early on, leaving him to try another attempt at expressing masculine energy - trying to control everything. A very special type of poisonous behavior that many of us try at some point in our lives, whether we are male or female. We channel our masculine energy into all the parts of our lives over which we need to feel control. It might manifest in different ways, but all of it is an expression of shadow masculine energy - using power to dominate our physical surroundings and experiences.
Ultimately, when we try to control everything, we lose sight of the one thing that drives us, the one thing that makes us human - our passion. Dan gave in to his passions only occasionally, and every time he was so riddled with guilt and frustration that he quickly suppressed his feelings again and again and again. But without our sense of passion, without our ability to allow ourselves to lose control and surrender to the world, to our circumstances, to another person, to a force of emotion…who are we? What is life worth without all that?
When we allow ourselves to touch the passion that we have be suppressing, we become tingly and if we manage to remain in control and "course correct," numbness eventually creeps in, the same way that aconite creates numbness in those who are foolish enough to touch its beautiful, star-like leaves.
And after a long abstinence, when we take a big gulp of passion, a gluttonous bite, it's bound to make us sick. We both long for and live in terror of the loss of control, the surrender to our passions. For those who live suppressing that energy, it becomes a poison.
Eventually, Dan must learn, like all of us, that the world cannot be controlled, that masculine energy without any kind of balance will only destroy. Wild, riotous feminine energy arrives on his doorstep twice in the book, dismantling his illusions of control and power, forcing him to give up his false sense of dominance over the world around him.
There is literally nothing he can do but surrender.
And so it is with the rest of us. We cannot exert control over the world and survive. We cannot suppress our passions and thrive. We must learn to surrender to both masculine and feminine energy, and most importantly, to our passion.
You can buy The Poison Box here. (And stay tuned for the release of the audiobook!)
If you've read the book, a review (on Amazon or social media - don't forget to hashtag it!) would be greatly appreciated. <3