This week I am finishing an unassuming black book, a wild little thing that’s ridden around with me for months and flavored my writings here before. Finishing it feels monumental—these days finishing anything feels monumental—yet I know I will come back to it often, as we do, we women who seek to stir and touch our wild cores.
This week I’ll share and reflect upon passages that moved me, wildest words from Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes’ Women Who Run With The Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype.
In case you are equally moved, here’s a link to Dr. Estes broader body of work.
To begin, I’ll share the passage that found me in a Manhattan bookstore, the opening words which glued this book into my consciousness. Dr. Estes was speaking to my soul, to the vast part of me that longs for my soul’s home in Yellowstone, and for her wolves:
“We are all filled with a longing for the wild. There are few culturally sanctioned antidotes for this yearning. We were taught to feel shame for such a desire. We grew our hair long and used it to hide our feelings. But the shadow of Wild Woman still lurks behind us during our days and in our nights. No matter where we are, the shadow that trots behind us is definitely four-footed.”
In her introduction, Estes equates the instinctive and healing nature of the feminine with similar qualities in the natural wild, citing the power, cunning, and love inherent in each. She acknowledges, too, the tendency of both women and nature to be exploited, overused and abused.
Estes’ understanding of the wildness of women, and her interest in studying the feminine wild via stories and archetypes, gelled for her while she was studying wolves:
“Healthy wolves and healthy women share certain psychic characteristics: keen sensing, playful spirit, and a heightened capacity for devotion. Wolves and women are relational by nature, inquiring, possessed of great endurance and strength. They are deeply intuitive, intensely concerned with their young, their mates, and their pack. They are experienced in adapting to constantly changing circumstances; they are fiercely stalwart and very brave.
Yet both have been hounded, harassed, and falsely imputed to be devouring and devious, overly aggressive, of less value than those who are their detractors. They have been the targets of those who would clean up the wilds as well as the wildish environs of the psyche, extincting the instinctual, and leaving no trace of it behind. The predation of wolves and women by those who understand them is strikingly similar.”
Much of the book reads as a hailing, an invitation for women to come back to who they were, and are, underneath social niceties, academic and work and family demands, and other things that smother or disguise. She doesn’t call us out, doesn’t blame us for making certain bargains or handing over our own wildness; she simply states and restates, often via retold folk tales, that the Wild Woman inside and underneath all of us is there, waiting, with snarled hair, loving face, and open arms.
“I’ve not forgotten the song of those dark years, hambre del alma, the song of the starved soul. But neither have I forgotten the joyous canto hondo, the deep song, the words of which come back to us when we do the work of soulful reclamation.”
Estes testifies, throughout, to the power and importance of story. Singing, writing, reading, telling story connects us, as wild women, to ourselves, to each other, to deeper and more historical, innate, bodily, remembered ways of thinking, and being.
“The instruction found in story reassures us that the path has not run out, but still leads women deeper, and more deeply still, into their own knowing. The tracks we all are following are those of the wild and innate instinctual Self.”
“…Sometimes a word, a sentence or a poem or a story, is so resonant, so right, it causes us to remember, at least for an instant, what substance we are really made from, and where is our true home.”
“Art is important for it commemorates the seasons of the soul, or a special or tragic event in the soul’s journey. Art is not just for oneself, not just a marker of one’s own understanding. It is also a map for those who follow after us.”
“All one might need, all that we might ever need, is still whispering from the bones of story.”
I love the various ways Estes’ Wild Woman is characterized: as a hag, a Baba Yaga figure, a wolf, a maiden on a journey facing perilous encounters in the woods.
“By naming her we create for her a territory of thought and feeling within us,” Estes writes of her titular Wild Woman. “Then she will come, and if valued, she will stay.”
“So, in Spanish I call her Rio Abajo Rio, the river beneath the river; La Mujer Grande, The Great Woman; Luz del Abismo, the Light from the Abyss; La Loba, The Wolf Woman; or La Huesera, The Bone Woman. … In Navajo, she is Na’ashje’ii Asdzaa, The Spider Woman, who weaves the fate of humans and animals and plants and rocks. … In Tibet she is called Dakini, the dancing force which produces clear-seeing within women. And it goes on. She goes on.”
And while she writes and fights against the wounding that keeps women from their selves, from their wild cores, Estes also reminds us that scars are things to be proud of, in their capacity to toughen and inform.
“I’ll tell you right now, the doors to the world of the wild Self are few but precious. If you have a deep scar, that is a door, if you have an old, old story, that is a door.”
“Tears are a river that take you somewhere. Weeping creates a river around the boat that carries your soul-life. … For women, tears are the beginning of initiation into the Scar Clan, that timeless tribe of women of all colors, all nations, all languages, who down through the ages have lived through a great something, and yet who stood proud, who still stand proud.”
“Wild Woman will hold us while we grieve. She is the instinctual Self. She can bear our screaming, our wailing, our wishing to die without dying. She will put the best medicine in the worst places. She will whisper and murmur in our ears. … Although there will be scars and plenty of them, it is good to remember that in tensile strength and ability to absorb pressure, a scar is stronger than skin.”
Oh, this book is life-saving, in that it is life-affirming, instructive, and celebratory. Thus, it is every kind of serious. Elemental and fundamental. But the last wonderful thing this book is, is playful. Estes remembers the joy in the dance, remembers the importance of play. As I close the pages on this first read-through I will linger (perhaps you might, as well) on this last piece of whimsical advice.
GENERAL WOLF RULES FOR LIFE
- Rove in between
- Render loyalty
- Love the children
- Cavil in moonlight
- Tune your ears
- Attend to the bones
- Make love
- Howl often