The Belladonna Women

August 27th, 2008

In ancient Italy, extracts of belladonna were used by women in the form of cosmetic eye drops, which dilated their pupils and gave their eyes a bright, glistening appearance. Large pupils were thought to be a sign of feminine beauty, hence the name Belladonna for “beautiful woman.”

They are always beautiful, the Belladonna women, if not in the classical sense, then in some unusual and overstated way. Like an electric light show in a darkened theater, a Belladonna woman charges the atmosphere around her, flashing her eccentric style and rare form to the amazement of a populace unwittingly numbed by everyday plainness. Visually stimulating, the Belladonna woman is also magnetic, capable of drawing an individual of interest or even a large crowd around them with barely any effort at all.

Incapable of mediocrity in appearance or attitude, even on those rare occasions when they try to blend in, a Belladonna woman rarely escapes notice – or the judgment of others. While most will find her colorful demeanor intriguing, some will feel a need to shut her down – to gray wash her with some sort of damnation. They will decry the falseness of her palette, the way she pridefully carries her individuality, and they will reject her for vanity or difference.

In response, the Belladonna woman will brighten her colors, stand taller, and narrow her beautiful eyes. Unlike the male Narcissus, she will avoid the sword of judgment. She sees her own beauty not as a source of shame or folly, but of personal power, a feeling which she nurtures as a source of strength and confidence. Shunning didactic mythology, the Belladonna woman refuses to be the moral to anyone’s story, including her own. Morals are for the rugged, the religious, or the simple. Instead, the Belladonna woman will have her own set of refined juggernaut scruples, which she may reorder from time to time, but they will always be strongly held and forcefully applied.

Yet, for all of her seeming strength and confidence, a Belladonna woman is easily hurt. Whether her vulnerability comes from a place of ego or heart is often debated, even by those who know her best. They wonder about the duality of her occasionally fragile spirit and her unbreakable pride. They may wonder for a lifetime, because the Belladonna woman always leaves mystery – and so many other things – in her wake.

All parts of the true belladonna are narcotic.

Like a siren’s call, the Belladonna woman is hard to resist. She has a lyrical quality about her, a deep vein of emotion and truthfulness that rises above the daily din. The emotions will be her own, as will the truths – and either may be shaded by incongruent hues – but the way she sings them will make true believers even out of jaded skeptics.

Many are content to sway to her song from a distance, whereas other will feel a need to serve her in some capacity. The Belladonna woman, however, will reject most people who seek her out. She is selective, and her choices are predicated upon her needs or desires at any given time.

The call of a Belladonna woman who accepts someone into her inner circle is not the call of a mere friend or lover, but of a female monarch. To enter her court, whether it’s a rundown apartment in the city, or a gleaming skyscraper, one must have something of value and worthy of royalty’s favor. Once they are in, she may not ask them for their biggest gifts, but she will expect them as her due. Putting the Belladonna woman in the position of having to ask for anything will set off a surge of distrust and unease in her, since she feels that those who love her should anticipate her needs and understand her desires. If they do not, and fail to learn quickly enough, the Belladonna woman’s song will turn into a metaphorical call of “off, off with their heads.” To fail her is to show incompetence, and she will not suffer the blunders of others for long. She is a woman whose sense of self is very much reflected in her environment. She cannot feel as confident and secure when those who serve her, her rooks and knights and pawns, are clumsy and inadequate.

It would be easy to call her a bitch, but it wouldn’t be wholly accurate. While the Belladonna is a queen among women, and an often unpredictable and demanding one at that, she has a glowing vibrancy about her that’s both fascinating and contagious. The Belladonna woman is drama, comedy, excitement, and adventure. To be with her is to look at life through many colored lenses. Every day, and sometimes several times a day, the spectrum changes, and it is always lively, and always animated.

Belladonna was an important ingredient in Witches brew during the Middle ages, often being equated with female sexuality.

The narcotic nature of the Belladonna woman’s appeal can offer solace as well as seduction – a feeling of flying, or at least of being light years beyond a dull existence. She will take her lovers to places few others will ever experience, and teach them how to soar their spirits farther, higher, faster. Her sensitivities will move her lovers, as well as her friends, in a profound way. Both will feel instinctually protective of the Belladonna woman, even during her most steely phases, suspecting that her stubborn shows of strength are, at least in part, a cover for deeper wounds.

Lovers feel heightened just by being in the Belladonna woman’s presence. Sights, smells, tastes, sounds, and textures all seem sharper, richer, deeper, and somehow more real than they’ve ever felt before. While in her court, lovers feel compelled to stand taller and be more heroic than they ever have before – to immerse themselves in a shared life that is fully thriving and saturated with desire.

It is the constant challenge of being in the Belladonna woman’s good graces that lends fire to the flames of her would-be heroes. Even small tokens of appreciation from her act as a catapult, launching lovers into a quest to find more, do more, love more, and be more. It is this never-ending quest of “more” that leaves one reeling with happiness over every success, and newly motivated by every failure. When love is present, and the Belladonna woman is in full bloom, the quest is more invigorating than exhausting.

It is when she wilts and turns away that the trip, once so beautiful and enlivening, turns bad.

Belladonna was used during the middle ages to gain confessions. This psychochemical torture would confuse and weaken victims, making them unsure of what was fantasy or reality, what they had done, or had merely imagined.

The sudden absence of her brightness leaves a void, and with a Belladonna woman, it is almost always sudden. It may be as simple as boredom for her, or a chill she suddenly developed when a particular lover’s gift, or even a friend’s, failed to please her. It may be that a quirk, a whim, or a new pair of eyes seen from across a crowded room piqued her interest, and curiosity in a Belladonna woman rarely goes unsated. She is a woman who acts upon her feelings, swiftly and confidently, and she is unlikely to consider any explanation necessary.

Left in the darkness, alone with a love that is not returned, those who have been upended by a Belladonna woman are wracked with grief and unanswered questions. Initially, they will torture themselves over what they might have done or failed to do, but soon they will question their own part in the Belladonna play, ruminating over the gifts they gave so freely, and the sacrifices they made without hesitation, so that they could stand in a ray of light that was not their own, and that never could be.

It can takes months or even years, but eventually the blackness turns to a familiar shade of gray. Numbness sets in, and its blank palette is felt as a relief. Life moves forward, at escalator pace, on some auto-pilot never noticed before. In time, feelings start to return, but they are guarded and framed in question marks. Still, even in the painful aftermath, the purples of African violets and the oranges and reds of sunsets stand out, as do the feathers, the bricks, the cracks in the sidewalks. . .the lilt of a piano, or the strum of a guitar. . . . the quickening of a pulse, the warmth of skin upon skin, the chill of morning, and the heat of fire.

Nothing after a Belladonna woman is the same as before. Even loneliness is more acute, and longing more intense.

And one day, you will see another Belladonna, beautiful and colorful, and charged with something rare and electric. Your eyes will meet hers as she is sizing you up. Instinctively, you will straighten your shoulders, stand a little taller, and the hero that resides in your heart will start pounding. . . .

22 Responses to “The Belladonna Women”

  • Jane–you leave me breathless!

  • Oh!

  • WOW! That was beautiful.

  • Belladonna is the Muse, no?

    I think so.

    And this, this is Love Fallen:

    “Belladonna was used during the middle ages to gain confessions. This psychochemical torture would confuse and weaken victims, making them unsure of what was fantasy or reality, what they had done, or had merely imagined.”

  • Enchanting and mysterious.

  • everything I was thinking has already been said here.

    I find that my breath has quickened and my heart is pounding….. I’m not yet sure what you just did to me with these words, thoughts and images…..but I think I like it!

  • absolutely beautiful - thank you!

  • “Come in out of the darkness…

    You are in love with…
    And Im ready to sail…
    Its just a feeling…
    Sort of captures your soul

    Bella donna…” Stevie Nicks

    This was playing in my head the entire time I read! This is a beautiful piece. Very educational and poetic in the same instant. I love it!!!
    Thank you, Jane!


  • You had me questioning throughout, Jane.

    Am I a Belladonna woman? Do others perceive me as such? Do I want to be one, wish I was one, or hope I’m not?

    Would I enjoy the Belladonna’s company? Would I compete? demure? resent? detest?
    What does she add, give, share? What does she remove, take, resist?

    In my world, who are they? where is she?

    I LOVE written work that ignites my curiosity and evokes serious questions.

    You’ve done it again.

    Love to you!

    p.s.–I’d love a specific example or two…greedy me!

  • That was amazing.

  • Thank you, everyone. I wasn’t sure whether this would make sense here, on a blog, and it makes me so happy that you guys just “got it”. I really appreciate your feedback and kind words.

    V, so many muses, so many Belladonna women I have known, and yes to the Love Fallen.

    Kate, there will be lots of examples. In the book.
    ;-) Wish me luck in finishing.

  • A book? Oh man that would be such an awesome book … of women’s archetypes? Mmmmm.

    When I was young, I saw Belladonna women everywhere … but then, I was young. I had the same questions that Kate voiced above. And I too, Pamela, had “Belladonna” by Stevie Nicks coursing through my head when I read this. Oh, how I love Stevie … she sings my soul that one. She is a music witch, and I love her for it. But this piece, Jane, is so descriptive, so provocative, so emotionally intense … more of this in a book would be a grand gesture by a most talented writer … YOU!

    Keep writing!

  • I went back and read “Elephant Women”. I got that one deep in my soul. I’m sure it was the first thing I read on this blog. And it brought me back.

    I guess I’m either stupid or have a vast lack of experience but I didn’t understand a thing about a Belladonna woman. I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone, male or female, who had that allure or self-absorbtion of their power and beauty. It just reminded me of a spoiled brat that never grew up.

    I know 20-somethings and 30-somethings that are self-absorbed but not of their power and beauty just in what they want and think they deserve.

    Jane, your writing is lovely, nothing wrong with it. It’s obviously just me, either not having the experience to understand or just being on another plane. I’m sorry.

    I’m probably the only one here who has no artistic talent. I sew quilts and do handwork — women’s work. I use fabric and thread to make things that feed my soul and am perfectly happy doing those things (along with reading and old movies) but I’m not going away. I still enjoy most if not everything you write and I certainly enjoy the comments.

    Mea Culpa!

  • I loved this, Jane, and I’ve known a couple in my lifetime. I think the way you capture the various types of women is intriguing. My favorite is the Venus woman, because she reminds me so much of my mother. I am more the elephant girl. I look forward to knowing your 4th one!

    Marcie, when I thought of belladonna women as Jane described them, and who you might know, I thought of Madonna. She’s got that kind of electrical presence and sense of power. Would I want to date her or be her best friend? Probably not! I probably feel the same way you do about the self absorbed part. But I still “sway to her song” from a distance, and appreciate the way her music makes me feel.

  • Elizabeth Taylor? I think she’d also be a Belladonna.

  • I can’t stand Madonna or her music. I’m more of a Rosemary Clooney, Patti Page or Perry Como kind of girl, 57 and totally out of date! Madonna needs serious time out! She’s not that talented and certainly not that pretty.

    Elizabeth Taylor (and Sophia Loren) has always struck me as being pushed into “showbiz”. Deep down, she really wanted to be a housewife with 12 kids. Tyne Daly told a story about Elizabeth on a talk show one day and I’ve never looked at either woman the same way. She’s never figured out what the hoopla is all about with her looks. So she’s got big boobs, lots of women have big boobs.

    So, I’ll read about Belladonna several more times and see if it clicks. I’ll give one for the gipper!

  • Jane,

    I must discipline myself and not look at the other comments. I can’t even let the walls hear but my heart is pounding and there were/are frozen tears, suspended, behind, or in the middle of my pupils.

    Not having heard from you, after I sent you a piece from my proposed book, I thought perhaps I had offended you. Alone, I goggled you and up came the “Bella Donna Woman” and I actually, felt beautiful, long fingered, scarlet red nails holding my neck in the most feminine of strangle holds as I seemed to be reeling - at a Tommy gun rat a tat pace - each and every word…’Oh my God, that is me’…well, maybe not, but why, oh why is this making sense as I was thinking of a woman I know, in pain, as we speak; Who is Jane? How does she know this woman? And I continued, hiding in one of my hobbies of being a collector of over 1,000 perfume bottles and once upon a time writing for a perfume quarterly, confusing Caron’s Bellodgia with Jolie Madame’s Balman or Miss Balmin with the Belladonna Woman; I felt so selfish, ashamed that I thought this description was me. Why? It’s just another Saturday morning in downtown oh blah dee, no one is looking so why should I care…this isn’t me, maybe a little bit, maybe a lot, but certainly not all of me, just bits and pieces so, let me take a deep breath and say “God Jane, you are such a journalistic warrior in this world you truly hit me like a bomb…and You are The Bomb! THE KAPPA DI TUTTI OF CREATING MAYHEM AND HAVOC AND I SALUTE YOU! ”

    Now, with this said, I can be brave and go up and see what has been said about this beautifully, breathless piece.

  • This is an exquisite piece, Jane. You truly have a gift and I’m grateful that you share it.

  • I can’t seem to stop reading this. It continues to speak to me on so many levels. LBJ’s comment kind of directed me to a realization about myself that I really didn’t have words for.

    LBJ thought this piece reminded her of Madonna. When she said, ” She’s got that kind of electrical presence and sense of power. Would I want to date her or be her best friend? Probably not!” my heart kind of sank. Why? Because minus the fame, fans, and flimflam that has plagued Madonna… to me, it seems like a wonderful place to be. Arousing enough interest in people so that they pay attention, but do not care to come too close. That thought makes me smile and makes me sad all in one, but it feels extremely comfortable as well.

    After the childhood that I had, my trust of people is cautious, at best. I rarely let people in. But to have people actually have interest in me from a distance sounds appealing. I’m going to have to give this some thought!

    Would this fit in the category of being full of myself? Or is it more along the lines of a misfit who’s never really fit in anywhere, and doesn’t care to do anything about it?

    Thanks for helping me to learn something about myself Jane and LBJ! Who needs therapy when I can come here!?!

  • oh, i walk a wide circle around Belladonna women in fear of getting caught in that web (for surely i would as i’m susceptible to all things narcotic). unrequited love makes me weep and heaven know i’d much rather laugh myself to tears…

    book? did you say book??? fanFLIPPINGtastic. like Women Who Run With the Wolves only without all that Jungian analytical blah de blah….bring it, girlfriend!

  • LBJ, I can see both women you mentioned, but I also thought of Cleopatra. And Cher. And Jane’s fave fitness guru Susan Powter. They all exude that kind of sexiness, and are colorful women.

    My personal Belladonna is my sister. She’s been stylish since she could toddle, and as a hairdresser she too never escapes notice. She’s just a few years younger than me, but is still 20 in so many ways, including her energy level and attitude. She’s also demanding, sensitive, generous, egotistical… and a person who’s 110% of something all the time.

    I loved this Jane.

  • Cool stuff! Thank you for sharing your work!

    IMHO the older I get the more I believe we may have the characteristics of archetypes at different times in our lives with different people. At points in everyone’s life you are more open to new ideas/influences. I freely admit to emulating people who have had a positive impact on my life and passing that onto others who don’t know any better ;) Then again I also believe sometimes you are the windshield and sometimes you are the bug!

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