I recently completed my second reading of Clarissa Pinkola Estés book, “Women Who Run with Wolves.” My first read through was quick and for myself. It spoke to me so deeply, that when a friend suggested she wanted to read it as well, we decided to do it “book club” style — reading a chapter for each discussion. It’s taken over a year and a half to read the whole book again, but it has been worth it.
My heroine’s journey—this quest to discover my own self, my divine feminine, my Wild Woman—has been fully supported along the way by this book.
“Wildlife and the Wild Woman are both endangered species.”
Best first sentence of a book, ever.
My heart sang when I read this because it is resonates deeply with my belief that what we do to ourselves is reflected in how we treat the environment. We are de-valuing the wild in nature, just as we are in ourselves.
She goes on to say:
“It’s not by accident that the pristine wilderness of our planet disappears as the understanding of our own inner wild natures fades. It is not so difficult to understand why old forests and old women are viewed as not very important resources. it is not such a mystery. it is not so coincidental that wolves and coyotes, bears and wildest women have similar reputations. They all share related instinctual archetypes, and as such, both are erroneously reputed to be ungracious, wholly and innately dangerous, and ravenous.”
To know myself is to know the earth. To revere and honor my own wildness is to extend the same protection to nature. To redeem my own impressions about my wild self being dangerous and ravenous, is to redefine the story we believe about the environment.
She talks about the Wild Woman, not in terms of “Girls Gone Wild,” but wild as in our instinctual nature, our ancestry, our feral-ness. I like to think of it as the soul, the life force, the shakti—the parts of us who keep us telling the truth, asking for what we want, following our passions, dreaming, imagining, creating, loving, and celebrating. As I found in my life, intense school work, familial expectations, demanding jobs, and committing to intense parental responsibilities can tamp down the wild, making it quiet, forcing it into hiding, or even making me afraid of it when it finds a fissure in my world and then explodes out of control.
Over the last few years of my life, I feel like I’ve slowly been meeting the Wild Woman who lives inside me. There’s part of me that is afraid of her — she’s messy, selfish, emotional, crazy. What will she ask for if I fully give her a voice? But when I do tap into her, even for brief moments, I feel free, alive, awake, real, raw, sensual, creative, and passionate. I’ve had enough tastes of my Wild Woman to know I want more access to her. Clarissa describes the direction my life feels like its going:
“And when we pick up [the Wild Woman’s] trail, it is typical of women to ride hard to catch up, to clear off the desk, clear off the relationship, clear out one’s mind, turn to a new page, insist on a break, break the rules, stop the world, for we are not going on without her any longer.”
I cleared off my desk (quit my job), insisted on a break (I have time to myself during the day), and am turning a new page (this pleasure project for example). Have I uncovered my Wild Woman fully? Not even close! But every passing day, month, year, I feel like I’m able to access her in my “deep life” more easily…to incorporate her more fully…to utilize her wisdom. And I feel more balanced when I do. For as Clarissa says, “…a woman’s deep life funds her mundane life.”
I am taking Clarissa’s advice:
“Psychically, it is good to make a halfway place, a way station, a considered place in which to rest and mend after one escapes a famine. It is not too much to take one year, two years, to assess one’s wounds, seek guidance, apply the medicines, consider the future. A year or two is scant time. The feral woman is a woman making her way back. She is learning to wake up, pay attention, stop being naive, uniformed. She takes her life in her own hands. To re-learn the deep feminine instincts, it is vital to see how they were decommissioned to begin with.”
Last Halloween, I spent a long weekend with a group of women in Ghost Ranch, New Mexico. Out alone on the land, I listened to what the place had to say to me. I had quit my job 6 months before and was starting to feel antsy not knowing what I was “supposed” to be doing with my life. I got a really clear message that I needed to spend fall and winter tending the fire under my cauldron. I was to only say yes to things that would be ingredients for my brew. I was to surround myself with wise women and men who could help me stir the pot. The only requirement was that I kept the fire burning underneath — to sit still, feed the fire, and wait to see what would be created through the cooking process.
Clarissa talks about this in terms of feeding the Wild Goddess. She says, “Firstly, to cook for the [Wild Goddess], one lays a fire—a woman must be willing to burn hot, burn with passion, burn with words, with ideas, with desire for whatever it is that she truly loves. It is actually this passion which causes the cooking, and a woman’s original ideas of substance are what is cooked. To cook for the [Wild Goddess], one must arrange that one’s creative life has a consistent fire under it.” So I have spent the last 12 months tending my fire, adding fuel, and being vigilant so that the fire stays lit.
So, what is cooking in this cauldron of mine? Clarissa might describe it as my “medial woman”: “The medial woman stands between the worlds of consensual reality and the mystical unconscious and mediates between them. The medial woman is the transmitter and receiver between two or more values or ideas. She is the one who brings new ideas to life, exchanges old ideas for innovative ones, translates between the world of the rational and the world of the imaginal. She ‘hears’ things, ‘knows’ things, and ‘senses’ what should come next.” I like the idea that to become a medial woman (or a shapeshifter as I like to call it), you must transform yourself under the long, hot burn of your passion’s fire.
Much of the work I’ve been studying and practicing keeps pointing back to the body as a source of wisdom, intelligence, and understanding. Clarissa talks about this too. “…women are said to carry la luz de la vida, the light of life. This light is located, not in a woman’s heart, not behind her eyes, but en los ovarios, in her ovaries, where all the seed stock is laid down before she is even born.”
I’m learning to use my body to help understand and move through my emotions. I’m letting it guide me in figuring out what I want (and don’t want) sexually as well as using it as a creative writing partner for the eco-erotica stories. I believe that a woman’s creative center, and where the shape-shifter lives, is her pelvic bowl. I can imagine our little ovaries shining a warm light down in the bowl, illuminating the ideas and desires that we’re gestating.
And I love how Clarissa articulates what this journey feels and looks like:
“One of the most amazing things about this long initiation is that the woman undergoing this process continues to do all the regular living of topside life: loving lovers; birthing babies; chasing children; chasing art; chasing words; carrying food, paints, skeins; fighting for this and the other; burying the dead; doing all the workaday tasks as well as this deep, faraway journey.
A woman, at this time, is often torn in two directions, for there comes over her an urge to wade into the forest as though it is a river and to swim in the green, to climb to the top of the crag and sit face into the wind. It is a time when an inner clock strikes and our that forces a woman to have a sudden need of a sky to call her own, a tree to throw her arms about, a rock to press for cheek against. Yet she must live her topside life as well.
It is to her extreme credit that even though she many times wishes to, she does not drive her car into the sunset. At least not permanently. For it is this outer life that exerts the right amount of pressure to take on the underworld tasking. It is better to stay in the world during this time rather than leave it, for the tension is better and tension makes a precious and deeply turned life that can be made no other way.”
Clarissa offers the seven year stages of a woman’s life to “provide both tasks to accomplish and attitudes in which to root herself.” I found that these are highly applicable to my journey (so far).
0-7 age of the body and dreaming/socialization, yet retaining imagination
7-14 age of separating yet weaving together reason and the imaginal
14-21 age of new body/young maidenhood/unfurling yet protecting sensuality
21-28 age of new world/new life/exploring the worlds
28-35 age of the mother/learning to mother others and self
35-42 age of the seeker/learning to mother self/seeking the self
42-49 age of early crone/find the far encampment/giving courage to others
49-56 age of the underworld/learning the words and rites
56-63 age of choice/choosing one’s world and the work yet to be done
63-70 age of becoming watchwoman/recasting all one has learned
70-77 age of re-youthanization/more cronedom
77-84 age of the mist beings/finding more big in the small
84-91 age of weaving with the scarlet thread/understanding the weaving of life
91-98 age of the etherial/less to saying, more to being
98-105 age of pneuma, the breath
105+ age of timelessness
At the end of the book she offers the simple and perfect wolf’s rules for life:
3. Rove in between
4. Render loyalty
5. Love the children
6. Cavil in moonlight
7. Tune your ears
8. Attend to the bones
9. Make love
10. Howl often
As I continue to know and dance with my Wild Woman, I resist the urge to drive off into the sunset, or disappear forever into the forest permanently. I live my everyday life, appreciating the role of tension in this catalyzing process. I’m slowing down and living fully in the stage of life where I find myself. I listen to the wisdom of my body, make love often, and remember to howl at the moon.