A lot of women bloggers I know are reading this book right now. It is NOT a coincidence. There is a passionate need for women’s stories and women are beginning to realize that the same old stories passed down by their fathers, husbands, and brothers are not their stories. One thing that men and their religions consistently fail to comprehend is that for most women, these religions do not represent nor do they speak to women’s experience. Men’s religions were created for men. Period. No men’s scriptures are ever addressed to women, nor are women given a voice within them, except in rare circumstances. We are merely objects in the text. Silent, unless chastised for not Be-ing what men expect us to Be. Clarissa Pinkola Estes wrote Women Who Run With the Wolves at a time when women were just beginning to hunger mightily for their spiritual voices again. Oh, the feminist movement had been around for several years, but it was primarily a socio-economic movement and there needed to be a women’s spiritual re-awakening. Dr. Estes was just the woman to write about it. I’ve found her insights into female wisdom and the psychology of women’s spiritual needs invaluable in my own search.
Estes writes about seeking the Wild Woman archetype; that deepest story that touches a woman’s soul, one that tells her who she is and speaks truly from within. It’s what resonates when all other stories have fallen silent. The Wild Woman is about learning to trust her own story, because that is basically what all religion is; the stories we tell ourselves to make sense of our lives and cultures. Everyone has them; stories. Myths are never meant to dictate to or to tell us how to live our lives. Myths grow spontaneously from a culture, they are not transmitted to a culture. Myths are stories we tell each other about our relationship with the Divine. These stories spring from the deepest wellsprings of our souls. Therefore, male dominated cultures create male stories. Female dominated cultures (and precious few there were) create female stories. The only true freedom of spirituality will come when the world learns to tell stories that include all of us, not just some of us, but that’s another post entirely.
There is great value in finding our own spiritual path and for finding our own mythic stories, ones that reveal our truest selves and help us speak in our truest voices. I’ve learned that I did not grow up in touch with my heritage. My father was Hungarian and fled from the Communist takeover in the 50s to America. However, he also fled the responsibility of raising three small daughters, so I know nothing of my paternal roots. But I do know that it is my duty to find out. I came to this realization late and I have much spiritual work to do. So, I must start over at the most basic levels: my humanness, my femaleness, and my ethnicity. Estes emphasizes that I need to start with finding my instinctive nature. Merely researching my roots and listening to the father’s stories is not good enough. She writes:
The comprehension of this Wild Woman nature is not a religion but a practice. It is a psychology in it truest sense…a knowing of the soul. Without her, women are without ears to hear her soultalk or to register the chiming of their own inner rhythms. Without her, women’s inner eyes are closed by some shadowy hand, and large parts of their days are spent in a semi-paralyzing ennui or else wishful thinking. Without her, women lose the sureness of their soulfooting. Without her, they forget why they’re here, they hold on when they would best hold out. Without her they are silent when they are in fact on fire. She is their regulator, she is their soulful heart, the same as the human heart that regulates the physical. (Women Who Run With the Wolves, page eight)
How can I know my own soul after years of painting it over with other people’s religions and other people’s myths, including my father’s? Well, I have to peel back the paint and discover the lovely “woodwork” underneath. Like finding the treasured old house with layers of paint and wallpaper and drywall board, I must strip all that away and discover the original beauty of my spiritual “house.” What were my deepest dreams and my deepest fears? Where did they come from? Is it innate? Where did I first begin to trust my truest instinctual self before it was taken control of for me? Religions are always taught, but archetypes and mythic stories spring from within. Religions are merely rules set up by others, enshrining other people’s pathways to the Divine, without respect of your path. Myths speak to the heart. As Estes says, it “is not a religion but a practice” of knowing the soul. The Wild Woman is always there to help women, however. Estes writes,
She canalizes through women. If they are suppressed, she struggles upward. If women are free, she is free. Fortunately, no matter how many times she is pushed down, she bounds up again. No matter how many times she is forbidden, quelled, cut back, diluted, tortured, touted as unsafe, dangerous, mad, and other derogations, she emanates upward in women, so that even the most quiet, even the most restrained woman keeps a secret place for her. Even the most repressed woman has a secret life, with secret thoughts and secret feelings which are lush and wild, that is, natural. Even the most captured woman guards the place of the wildish self, for she know intuitively that someday there will be a loophole, an aperture, a chance, and she will hightail it to escape. (page 9)
So now, I’m on a quest for my spiritual roots. I’m ready to peel the paint, to strip away layers of myths, other than my own and find the original foundation. You have your own path, but it’s not the ONLY one. Remember the path IS the destination.