Tuesday, 4 May 2010


This week I wanted to dredge up from old, salty waters an interview with Clarissa Pinkola Estes from the early nineties. As the old adage goes, the views contained within are not necessarily the views of this author, but i recognize some interesting thinking when i read it. I think she has some new writing coming out later this year and i look forward to reading it. I must have met hundreds of folks in the last five years who claim 'Women That Run With The Wolves' as a landmark work for them.

I still have my yellowed, well thumbed copy brought from Watkins Esoteric Book Shop on Charing Cross Rd, London from what seems like about one hundred and fifty years ago. I scurried back to my tiny room above a garage on Richmond rd in Twickenham and opened its pages; i swear that fifty loose footed Bear-Maidens with Owlish Faces leapt straight out of the pages and went looking for Pizza.

So here's to all the raven-tongued, lightning haired storytellers writing flaming words in freezing garrets to imaginary audiences, (she claimed her book took 20 years and alot of trouble to get published - i wonder if it would get published today?)

(regarding the below-mythopoetic was not
a word invented by James Hillman, in fact you can find it in the letters between J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis amongst others, which i think is charming. It's not a word Bly likes either, he tried to use the phrase 'expressive' instead, which feels
rather dull.Anyone got any ideas for some new phrase? Anyway, on with the interview.)

Bert: What is the "wild woman"?

Dr. Estés: She is ... God.

Bert: Are you talking about finding a god within?

Dr. Estés: I would say it in a little different way. I would say that if you look in a woman's face, the god shows in her face. You see this furred criatura right behind her visage, right behind her eyes. If you are an intelligent person, you will be respectful. If you are not an intelligent person and the woman is in her biting instinctual nature, she may bite you. Or if she is afraid of you, she may run away and never come back to you again. If you are respectful of her, she will come around and find out who you are. She will develop a relationship with you.

Bert: How does the wild woman compare to the wild man in Robert Bly's Iron John?

Dr. Estés: My sensibility is that what is wild is nature. We need to see and understand that whatever stands behind nature is what is god. Nature itself, it is the manifestation. We see things about nature that are beautiful, like your blue sky outside today, and it fills us with almost a prayerful excitement. When I look at it, I feel still. I have seen this sky every day of my life and I am still in awed by it. That is what the wild is -- this intense medicinal beauty. To look at it makes you feel whole. To hear it, if it is ocean or water running in a stream, is to feel made whole again. To see a thunderstorm or a lightning storm is to somehow be energized by it. Even tornadoes and earthquakes -- to be rocked to your very foundations by the power made in all these things. If that is the wild and if that is in every human being, then a man and a woman would essentially be no different from one another at the very elemental core.

But the personality and the culture that grow up around each, then of course, makes things more problematical because there are extreme differences in the way that the personality is developed. And I think personality has a different tone for men and women, period, regardless of culture, any culture. I have lived with at least 17 different native tribes. In many of them there is not too much differentiation in feeling tone between the young women and the young men, although some of their duties are different.

Bert: Do you think it's important for men to read you book?

Dr. Estés: Yes, I do. Sam Keen and I had a conversation about this. I also received a very nice letter from Robert Bly a couple of weeks ago, saying that he really liked the book very much. People were recommending it to him, and he was recommending it back.

I feel that men are as much of a mystery as women. Once we get past a certain amount of self-consciousness and protection of certain sacred cows by each gender, we could have a real conversation, maybe, for the first time ever in the universe, in this century. What is our common concern? Why are we here with one another? What is the reason for being with a person of the opposite gender? Whether it is in a love relationship, or a brother and sister relationship, or a father/daughter relationship, or a friend/friend platonic relationship does not matter. But what could be the, you may say, the chemical catalyst in a relationship with "The Other?"

I would like men to read it, and men do. They not only read the book, they buy it for their lovers and read it together. Whether that lover is their wife or their anamarata for the moment. I have also received some letters from men saying, "Do not say that you wrote this book for a women. I read it and it applies to me." It makes me smile, because of course it would. It would apply to their feminine nature, very much.

Bert: You talk in your book about the animus, wondering whether some feminists have gone too far in saying that the animus is culturally induced. You talk about women developing a masculine side.

Dr. Estés: One of the things that I see much more of in the younger generation of women is that they do not have to struggle as much for their right to be free within the family. But they still have to struggle in the outer world. Even though the family may have changed, there are plenty of people who have not. So they're struggling to avoid things in the outer world that would be efforts to diminish them.

It seems to me that what we call masculine development is the ability to take ideas from one's inner life and implement them in the outer world. That's how I understand masculine development within. Their ability to manifest in the outer world; to speak up for themselves about things that matter that are important. To be able to take their book, their art, the products of their imagination into manifest form in the outer world. To be able to rouse themselves from comfortable situations. To see what is needed out in the world and to attend to it. Those are manifestations of adequate animus development.

Some men as you know, have much more feminine nature than others. Jung drew a circle and divided it into four parts, and said a man is three-quarters masculine and one quarter feminine. A woman is three-quarters feminine and one quarter masculine. And that's a good start. The problem is that he says this is the way it should be, and that's not the way it is. It is too rigid a form. Some men I have met are three-quarters feminine and one-quarter masculine, and the one-quarter masculine they are -- jump back -- very strong, fuerte, strong! But they have tremendous feminine development because it is who they are. It is from the souls, not an overlay from cultural family. Gloria Steinem is a great example of a woman who has far more masculine development then she has feminine development. Although now her feminine development appears as though it is coming now. She is 55 -60 years old and now it is coming. So whatever we have, as you know, the role in life is to develop it to its fullness. But also the challenges is to develop its balance, which is also its opposite.

Bert: That brings to mind something you said about Jung and the soul being masculine. I had a problem with Robert A. Johnson's view that for the man, the soul is the feminine. To me, it makes more sense to think of the feminine as the gateway and the portal, that which one must pass through in order to find the soul.

Dr. Estés: We cripple ourselves to say the soul is always masculine or the soul is always feminine, or it's always three-quarters this way and one quarter that way, or it's always 50/50. It never is any of those. It is ineffable and you cannot really talk about it. We make pictures and diagrams and we say, "well, if you could talk about it, this is what it would look like." But in reality, we are reaching into a dark bag and we are feeling what is in there, and we're saying, "I think it must be this or I think it must be that." And we are trying, hopefully, in a poetic way, because we can never describe in common words, what it is that we feel and see. But there is no, there cannot be.

I say also this about the concept of soul-making that my colleague James Hillman talks about. I do not agree with soul making, because the soul is, the soul is complete. It is never doubted, it is never lost. A chink in the transmission may occur or someone may sever the conduits to the soul, but the soul remains here, it never goes The ego may go. The ego becomes injured. The spirit may also become injured, but the soul remains. I don't think there is soul making. I think there is consciousness-making. But I think the soul is incredibly ineffable. It's an interesting idea, soul making, but I think ultimately, it may not describe the process.

And yet, for people like Hillman, Bly, Robert Johnson, Gillette and Moore and myself, we must have the ability, like all poets, to move through different images as we develop an idea. So that the idea Johnson had 10 years ago, he could move away from and develop a new idea, the more clarity he has. Jung did it all the time. If you read Jung's works you will see him constantly contradict himself because he is developing as he goes along. So I always think that, whatever metaphors we use, it will be very interesting to see if we still believe them, or if we have not found better ones in 10 or 20 years.

Bert: That process you describe of reaching in a bag and trying to describe the soul brings to my mind theologians trying to describe God.

Dr. Estés: Yes! Yes! There is a story in my book, "The Four Rabbinim." They all wish to see God. The story evolves around the sacred wheel of Ezekiel. They are taken by angels to the seventh vault of the seventh heaven, and each has an experience of God. And the experience is shattering for three of them. Not because they are bad people, but because their fantasy of what God is, was shattered. There is a saying, do not come too close to the inevitable. Ultimately, it is such a phenomenally vast force that it's like what Baba Yaga says to Vasalisa in one of my stories, "but remember, too much knowledge can make a person old too soon." It is dangerous. You just have to wait. You cannot always pursue it like you would climb a mountain. Sometimes you must just wait until something of it comes to you and fills you, and then you begin to understand.

Bert: What do you think about the mythopoetic men's movement?

Dr. Estés: You know, I have never understood the phrase "mythopoetic." Many people have asked me in interviews what I think of the men's movement, and I continue to say, "I have not met the men's movement. The men's movement has not come to my door and said 'we would like to introduce ourselves to you.'" But I do know men who are in groups with other men, who are there trying to learn about life and their own deep well of being.

Mythopoetic is, I think, James Hillman's word again. It is for me an intellectual word I do not understand. I understand mythology. I understand stories. I understand poetry. I understand that they cut close to the bone. I am a poet who became a psychoanalyst. That is my background. I am a cantadora. I am a storyteller. It comes from my feet, upward, not from my brain, downward. So I think that "mythopoetic" means that you use mythology to try to understand something about deep aspects of your nature.

I interviewed Robert Bly in 1990. I can remember saying to him, "Now, what about the men's movement?" And he said, "No, it's not men's movement." And I said, "Well, what will you call it?" "Men's work, just work with men, that's all." And, I really like that. I like that he called it work with men. Mythopoetic is too big a word. It is better to have simpler words.

I would like the men's movement to come see me. I would like to meet them. It, them, all of it. I would! I would! I feel that they are hidden, somehow, from me. That they do not come where I am. They go away by themselves.


Sleepyface said...

Thanks for posting this interview! This is the book I'm currently reading and am completely fascinated!

Unknown said...

I'm with the publisher of Dr Estes latest work that is launching now both on audio and as digital downloads. If you've loved the wild woman archetype, I think you'll also be fascinated by "Mother Night: Myths, Stories, and Teachings for Learning to See in the Dark" and "The Dangerous Old Woman: Myths & Stories of the Wise Woman Archetype." You can listen to a podcast here to hear Dr E telling about her new work. http://bit.ly/a8Pn83