Episode 67

Women Who Run With the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype, by Clarissa Pinkola Estes

Published on: 28th December, 2021

Amy: Welcome to Breaking Down Patriarchy! I’m Amy McPhie Allebest. A couple of months ago I did an Instagram Live with Bergen Hyde of Womb Circle, and Bergen mentioned that in deconstructing our internal patriarchy there was some work that was done with the head - rational, intellectual work, which I envisioned being out in the sunlight… and some work that was done with the heart and the gut - emotional, soul work, which I envisioned being done deep underground, in a cave or the bowels of the earth. I realized that most of the work I’ve done over the past year has been “head” work - defining terms, tracing historical patterns, analyzing books, speeches, and laws. I’ve felt a lot along the way too - listeners know I don’t shy away from a laugh or a cry - but as I had told Bergen at lunch before our Live, I have not really wanted to go into the belly of the earth and have my personal reckoning. To give myself credit, I’ve felt personally called to do an intellectual, academic project, and it’s been a critically important part of my personal life and also something I felt that I wanted to offer to the world. But there’s a part of me that knows I need to do a journey down and in - what the Greeks called a katabasis -  the trip into the Underworld or a cave… but I’m scared of what I might find on that journey. I don’t know if I’m up for the anger and the grief that I might feel if I did that “soul work.” 

But.... within a day of each other Bergen and a very dear long-term friend happened to bring up Women Who Run with the Wolves, by Clarissa Pinkola Estés, which is a book about this very soul work, so I took it as a sign. And Bergen said she would do the episode with me… so down into the cave we go! Bergen is here today and I want to welcome you, Bergen, and thank you so much, for being here as my guide and our listeners’ guide on this journey!


Bergen: Thank you so much for having me Amy. I’m thrilled to be with you!


Amy: Also, this is a really really special episode because it’s the very last book of Season 1. It’s chronologically out of order, but as I said, I added it because you and my friend Annie both said it was a must-read, and it turns out that it’s a perfect bookend for the series because we started with ancient, gynocentric cultures in The Chalice and the Blade, and so it’s fitting that we end with gynocentric stories at the end. But before we talk about the book, could you introduce yourself?


Bergen: Sure! My name is Bergen. I have lived in Provo, Utah for the past 13 years with my Husband and our three kids. My favorite things are dancing, salty snacks, spending time in the mountains, preferably in a body of water. I am the oldest of 4 and grew up in Wisconsin. 


I am the Co-Founder and Creative Director of WOMB, which I founded with my two sisters Jentri and Sarah. We hold women’s circles, workshops and retreats and one on one mentoring designed to support women in healing internalized patriarchy, integrating the sacred feminine, and reclaiming personal sovereignty. 


I have been devoted to the sacred feminine for the last 4 years and am currently training under Sarah Durham Wilson as a Wounded Maiden to Mature Feminine practitioner. 


Amy: Thoughts on Breaking Down Patriarchy?


Bergen: Thoughts


Amy: Intro the author:

Clarissa Pinkola Estés was born in January, 1945. She is of Native American and Mexican heritage, and grew up in a rural village, population 600, near the Great Lakes. She was raised in the now vanished oral tradition of her war-torn immigrant, refugee families who could not read nor write, or did so haltingly, and for whom English was their third language overlying their ancient natal languages. As an older child she was adopted into an immigrant and refugee family of majority Magyar and minority Danube Swabian (Hungary and Germany) tribal people. They were wise in the ways of nature, planting, animals, and making everything from scratch, from shoes to songs.

 

Thus she was raised immersed in the oral tradition of old mythos and stories, songs and chants, dances and ancient healing ways.

 

Her writing is deeply influenced by her family - people who were hands-on farmers, shepherds, hopsmeisters, wheelwrights, weavers, orchardists, tailors, cabinet makers, lacemakers, knitters, horsemen and horsewomen from their Old Countries.

 

 Dr. Estés is a poet and a lifelong activist in service of the voiceless; as a post-trauma recovery specialist and psychoanalyst who works with persons traumatized by war, exiles and torture victims; and as a journalist covering stories of human suffering and hope. 

 

Her doctorate, from the Union Institute & University, was in ethno-clinical psychology, the study of social and psychological patterns of cultural and tribal groups, with an emphasis in indigenous history.

 

Her book Women Who Run With the Wolves: Myths and Stories of The Wild Woman Archetype was on the New York Times Best Seller list for 144 weeks.

 

As a post-trauma specialist, Estés began her work in the 1960s at a veterans hospital in Illinois. There she was honored to work with WWI, WWII, Korean and Vietnam combat soldiers who were living with quadraplegia, incapacitated by loss of their limbs from the war (This was really touching for me to know that she devoted her healing work to men. I think war is one of the most agonizing ways that patriarchy harms - literally kills and maims - men).

 

She has worked at other facilities caring for severely injured 'cast-away' children, 'shell-shocked' war veterans (now called Post Trauma Distress Syndrome), and their families. Her teaching of writing in prisons began in the early 1970s at the Men's Penitentiary in Colorado; the Federal Women's Prison at Dublin, California, and in other 'locked institutions.'

 

Estés ministers in the fields of childbearing loss, surviving families of murder victims, as well as critical incident work. She served at natural disaster sites, where she began developing a post-trauma recovery protocol for earthquake survivors in Armenia.

 

Since then, her Post-Trauma Recovery Protocol has been translated into many languages, and is used across the world to deputize citizen-helpers to carry out post-trauma work in the wake of  disasters, for the months and years after first responders have moved on.

 

She served the Columbine High School and community after the massacre, from 1999-2003. (This is also dear to my heart - I grew up in Colorado and Columbine High School was 10 miles from my house and a neighboring school district. My brother’s girlfriend at the time went to Columbine and lost friends that day.) She continues to work with survivors of the September 11th attacks and survivor families on both the east and west coasts of the United States.

 

Estés testifies before state and federal legislatures on welfare reform, education and school violence, child protection, mental health, environment, licensing of professionals, immigration, traditional medicine, licensure, and other quality of life and soul issues.

 

I am so moved, reading about her life. She is really truly using her time on earth in the service of her fellow human beings, and I’m so moved by her example.

---

Also, before we start I feel like it’s important to set up the book a bit. Dr. Estés is a Jungian psychologist and we’re going to talk a lot about archetypes and maybe a bit about the collective unconscious, so could you acquaint us with those terms before we begin so we have a framework for these stories?


Bergen

Jungian Psychology was developed by a man named Carl Jung. Jungian therapy, sometimes known as Jungian analysis, is an in-depth, analytical form of talk therapy designed to bring together the conscious and unconscious parts of the mind to help a person feel balanced and whole.


Archetypes are images or symbols that are used in myths and stories to help us understand our experiences as humans. Archetypes are especially helpful in navigating our inner world, they give us images or symbols to help us understand the unconscious parts of ourselves that affect the way we view ourselves and the world.


 A few of examples of archetypes that people may be familiar with are: The Hero, The Inner Child, The Inner-Critic, The Star Crossed Lovers… (describe them) Each of these archetypes live inside of us, which is why when we see them in a movie or read them in story that can feel so resonate and captivating. “Women Who Run with the Wolves” is an exploration of the Wild Woman archetype, which we will discuss more later!


And archetypes are universal, right? They might have different manifestations in different cultures, but almost every culture has a “Hero,” an “Inner Child,” etc. right?


Yes and no, I would say there are archetypes that are universal and they show up in different ways depending on the culture and its traditions and stories. 


The Collective Unconscious is essentially a way to describe culturally shared archetypes and stories. American/Western culture has a very distinct collective unconscious, one that is most often male focused and patriarchal, e.g. the Hero’s Journey and individualism etc. Many of our stories are rooted in Greek and Roman mythology. There are different levels of the collective unconscious and the deeper you go into analyzing myths and stories the more universal the themes become. 


Amy: That’s a great intro. As you were describing how the Western World has a lot of patriarchal/male archetypes, I thought about little girls growing up and how it’s impossible to really understand the impact that it has on a girl to move through a world where the stories that explain life are all about men. Especially a Creation story that only features men and in which there is literally no goddess or Mother at all. It doesn’t even make sense biologically. And the cause of death and despair and evil entering the world is a woman. And I’ll just say some of the heroes I grew up with - Abraham, Moses, Samuel, Isaiah, David, Job, Daniel, Jesus, Peter, John, Nephi, Enos, Alma, Helaman, Captain Moroni, and then also Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, Rachmaninoff, Shakespeare, Wordsworth, Eliot (TS, not George), and also Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., etc…. Almost all of the stories I knew were about men. So I feel some bitterness and jealousy that some girls and women got to have psychological templates and heroes who are women…  I had to fight for a feminist consciousness on my own and didn’t have any wise woman - in the form of an archetype or a real human being -  to lead me. But I would like my kids - my daughters as well as my son - to have these stories and myths in their lives, to populate their pantheons with women as well as men. 


Bergen: I completely agree. All my heroes were men as well and I feel strongly that we grossly underestimate the way the stories and characters we see reinforce the supremacy of men and the masculine AND the ways that undermines women’s confidence in themselves and their place in the world.


(I recently learned that the more accurate translation of the first word in Genesis is not “In the beginning” but “In A beginning” I have had the thought the origin story of Adam and Eve was not the meant to be the story of the creation of the world but actually a myth about the birth of patriarchy.) Perhaps when we begin to realize that the new and old testaments and other scripture is not so much a literal historical text we can free ourselves to work with the archetypes and symbols that are present in the stories. Each story and character can become like a mirror showing us some unconfronted part of ourselves. Archetypes are only just that they are manifestations of different parts of ourselves as humans, regardless of gender all the archetypes live inside of us.


“Women Who Run with the Wolves” is sometimes called the a feminist bible because it deals specifically with female archetypes that in our culture have been denigrated, demonized, and disassociated. So it really speaks to the parts of ourselves that we lose touch with surviving a patriarchal world and the internalized patriarchal landscape.


The format of the book is set up as a series of stories that have been curated by Clarissa Pinkola Estes, not that different from the Bible or other sacred texts. At the end of each story Estes shares her analysis and commentary on the archetypes and meaning of the story from her perspective.  It takes some time to get used to the Jungian style of analysis and the language Estes uses. It took me an entire year to read the whole book and it has this quality of other sacred texts of being exactly what you need when you open it. 


The reason I see Clarissa Pinkola Estes’s work as being so important is it gives women orientation in a patriarchal world. It gives voice to what it’s like to survive patriarchy in a female body/as an identified woman. It gives explanation, in archetypal form, of why things might be feeling off for you as a woman--why you're anxious, depressed, exhausted, hustling for your worth, insecure etc. It also gives template to recover what was lost, reclaiming your sovereignty, for coming home to yourself, for living a soulful life, and bringing your authenticity and unique gifts into the world.


YES. This is what I was referring to when I said that after all these months studying history and sociology and law and the economy and religious structures… I have not talked much - a little tiny bit, but not much - about how women can do all of those things you just described. So I am really excited for you to be our teacher and guide.


The main thread throughout the book is the archetype of The Wild Woman.


“The comprehension of this Wild Woman nature is not a religion but a practice. It is psychology in its truest sense: psyche or soul; ology or logos, 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 take too much or too little or nothing at all. 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 humans hear that regulates the body.” -CPE


Chapter Two: Stalking the Intruder: the Beginner Initiation


A giant man named Bluebeard with an eye for women once courted three sisters at the same time. They were frightened of his indigo-colored beard, so at first when he called at their house, they hid. But he persisted and then invited them on an outing in the forest, along with their mother. He brought horses for them to ride, and fancy food, and told them enchanting stories, so the sisters began to think he wasn’t so bad. 

At the end of the day they were all chatting about how fun it had been, but then the older two sisters’ “suspicions and fears returned, and they vowed not to see Bluebeard again. But the youngest sister thought if a man could be that charming, then perhaps he was not so bad. The more she talked to herself, the less awful he seemed, and also the less blue his beard.”

So he asked the youngest to marry him, and she said yes, because he seemed like a very elegant man. So they went to live in his castle in the woods. 

One day Bluebeard told his young wife that he was going away for a day, so she could invite her sisters over and explore the whole castle if she wanted. He handed her a ring with hundreds of keys and told her to use all of them except the tiniest key with scrolls on the top. (This part very much had Beauty and the Beast vibes - “Except the West Wing!!”) So he left and they opened every single door with every single key, but couldn’t find a door that fit the tiniest key. Then, down deep in the cellar, they saw a little door mysteriously closing, and when they tried to open it back up it was locked. Of course they tried the tiny little key with the scrolls and voila!! It opened into a room so dark they needed to light a candle. “So a candle was it and held into the room and all three women screamed at once, for in the room was a mire of blood and the blackened bones of corpses were flung about and skulls were stacked in corners like pyramids of apples.” 

They panicked, and then the wife looked down at the key and saw that it was dripping with blood. She put it in her pocket, it bled and bled until her dress was stained with blood down to the hem. She scrubbed it with everything she could think of, she burned it… nothing would stop the bleeding. So she hid it in her wardrobe, and it bled and bled all over all her clothes, a flood of blood in the wardrobe. 

Her husband came home and demanded the ring of keys, and immediately noticed that the tiny one was missing, and knew his wife had betrayed him. He found the key in her wardrobe. “Now it’s your turn, my lady!,’ he screamed and dragged her down the hall and into the cellar till they were before the terrible door. Bluebeard merely looked at the door with his fiery eyes and the door opened for him. There lay the skeletons of…. all his previous wives(!!!). 

He’s about to behead her, but she begs for 15 minutes so she can prepare for death and make peace with God, and he relents and lets her go. She sends her sisters up to the ramparts of the castle and says “sisters, do you see our brothers coming?” She calls this again and again, and they say no, until finally they hear the husband Bluebeard thundering up the stairs to kill his wife. In the nick of time, the brothers do arrive, storming into the castle on their horses and finding Bluebeard, “striking and slashing, cutting and whipping, beating Bluebeard down to the ground, beating him at last and leaving for the buzzards his blood and gristle.” (43-44)



BERGEN: Summarize Bluebeard. Bluebeard is the patriarchy, the character of Bluebeard is an archetypal image of patriarchy both external and internal. To me the story of Bluebeard describes really well the way it felt to wake up to the fact that I was living in a patriarchy. I spent my whole life being courted by patriarchy, enmeshing my life with it. It promised me happiness, fulfillment, wealth, protection etc... and then I found the skeletons in the closet, or in this case the dead bodies in the basement. I had to summon my deepest courage to face the truth of how inherently violent the ideology of patriarchy is. These systems are built on the violence, violence to women, to indigenous people, to black people, to queer people, to poor people, to the aged, to the disabled etc. It takes real courage to face that and summon our inner warrior to right the wrongs and sever this marriage to the patriarchy. 


It's also a story that brings to the surface one of the most nefarious aspects of the patriarchy and that is the infantilization of women. The young maiden initially is wary of Bluebeard but her instincts are undeveloped and she is betrayed by her own naivete. In patriarchy we want women to stay in this state of immaturity and maidenhood. Our obsession with women looking and behaving young only serves to keep women “pretty, pleasing, and polite” which allows patriarchal ideologies and values to continue their acts of exploitation and violence. An infantilized woman does stand up to power or use her voice to challenge harmful structures. She is naive to the proverbial skeletons in the patriarchal closet. 


This is especially a problem in a benevolent patriarchy, where the ideology is that women are weak and sensitive and soft and need the protection and leadership of the patriarchy to survive. The problem is, even benevolent patriarchy is rooted in sexism. The thing women need to be protected from is the thing that says it is protecting them. Bluebeard really illustrates this, he promises protection, providing, and prosperity in exchange for her remaining in naivete, BUT the thing she needs to be protected from is Bluebeard himself whose wealth is built on a death.


“..this fact is one of the central truths the youngest sister in the tale must acknowledge, that all women must acknowledge--that both from within and without, there is a force which will act in opposition to the instincts of the natural Self, and that that malignant force is what it is. Though we might have mercy upon it, our first actions must be to recognize it, to protect ourselves from its devastations, and ultimately deprive it of its energy.” -CPE


There may be a part of us that wants to stay naive to what is really happening, because we know how it will change everything to face the truth. However there is also that wild instinctive part of ourselves, represented by the older sisters, that knows something is wrong and calls us to wake up to reality. We can’t really heal and end the harm that is happening in our world unless we do.


“Whatever dilemma a woman finds herself in, the voices of the older sisters in her psyche continue to urge her to consciousness and to be wise in her choices. They represent those voices in the back of her mind that whisper the truths that a woman may wish to avoid for they end her fantasy of Paradise Found.” -CPE




Chapter 3: Nosing Out the Facts: The Retrieval of Intuition as Initiation

The Doll in her pocket: Vassalisa the Wise [Amy Summarize]


BERGEN: I love the story of Vassalisa, I especially love Baba Yaga. She is such a badass archetype that has really given me a vision of what it might look like to grow in my inner crone/witch/wisewoman. 

“In this initiation drama, Baba Yaga is the instinctive nature in the guise of the witch. Like the word wild, the word witch has come to be understood as a pejorative, but long ago it was an appellation given to both old and young women healers, the word witch deriving from the word wit, meaning wise. So [many] are afraid of “women’s power.” For the old feminine attributes and forces are vast, and they are formidable. It’s understandable that the first time they come face-to-face with the Old Wild Powers, both men and women take one anxious look and make tracks…”- CPE

The whole story to me is a kind of coming of age story for women in a patriarchal world. It’s the kind I want my daughters to have to learn how to navigate the world without losing themselves to the external expectations that are out on them.


Letting the too good mother die reminds me of your reaction to the Mormon Heavenly Mother. (I can reference the chat we had on Instagram live or you can tell your experience again in full)HM may have pointed the way to a degree but she can not hold that totality of what the Great Mother/Goddess is because She is an image that had been heavily co-opted by the patriarchy. We have to let Her die, even as we claim Her gift which is a small and powerful connection to our own inner knowing. 


“The too-good mother is not adequate as a central guide for one’s future instinctual life. In the tale, the initiatory process begins when the dear and good mother dies...the one who served us appropriately and well in earlier times--turns into too-good mother, one which by virtue of her overly safeguarding values--begins to prevent us from responding to new challenges and thereby deeper development.” -CPE


All the tasks of discerning what is real and what is not, all the tasks of knowing truth and what is good for us and what isn’t is made possible by trusting our intuition. With each task Vassalisa is slowly but surely reclaiming her own inner knowing and wisdom. With that power restored to her she is then able to destroy/transform/alchemize all of her wounds and difficult circumstances, as symbolized by the stepmother/sisters, into something more useful.


“Vasalisa’s doll is from the provisions of the Old Wild Mother. Dolls are one of the symbolic treasures of the instinctual nature. In Vasalisa’s case, the doll represents la vidacita, the little instinctual life force that is both fierce and enduring.” -CPE


“The breaking of the bond between woman and her wildish intuition is often misunderstood as the intuition itself being broken. This is not the fact. It is not intuition which is broken, but rather the matrilineal blessing on intuition, the handing down the intuitive reliance between a woman and all females of her lines that have gone before her--it is that long river of women that has been dammed. A woman’s grasp of her intuitive wisdom may be weak as a result, but with exercise it will come back and become fully manifested.” -CPE


Amy:

(The most powerful part of Vasalisa for me is her trusting the doll/her intuition/her deep inner knowing. Like the touch tree in Glennon Doyle’s Untamed, and like meditation or sinking)

Sometimes Estés says “Intuition is Woman’s special power… and I feel hesitant about “women’s power is…” because I feel that all good human traits should be accessible to all. Men and non-binary folks - all human beings should cultivate intuition through accessing their deep inner wisdom.


Where it does resonate as a “woman thing” for me is the reality that women’s intuition is stifled, silenced, ignored, overridden by patriarchy. We don’t keep a doll from our mothers in our pockets. We don’t sink into our knowing. We don’t trust ourselves as our own touch trees. We are taught to trust male prophets (“he knows the way!”), male presidents (there’s never been a woman! Men, just let that sink in - imagine going to the Smithsonian History museum to that wall where all the pictures of presidents from Washington to Biden, and imagine if that wall were 100% women, not a single man). Male legislators, male professors, etc. So men and women might both have intuition, but women have been told not to trust theirs. 


I totally agree that all people across the gender spectrum have intuition and that the gifts of intuition should be tapped into more by everyone! 


In a patriarchy it's not just men who are valued over others, it’s also that anything associated with the masculine is valued over anything that is associated with the feminine. In western culture intuition is associated with the feminine and with women and is pitted against the far superior INTELLECT. The most common phrase I hear using the word intuition, is mother’s intuition. Because intuition is associated with women and seen as inherently feminine it is therefore seen as less important, less reliable, and less trustworthy. INTELLECT relies on outside or external observation and information, INTUITION comes from within our own souls. The goal is to see both as inherently good and to integrate them in a way that we have balance between them. INTELLECT + INTUITION = WISDOM


Can you think of any real life examples of when INTELLECT alone could be harmful or dangerous? (If you want to share some and I can share some ideas that would be great!)


Amy: Chapter 14: La Selva Subterranea


There are two concepts I want to share from this chapter. 


First, this quote:


I have seen wolf mothers plunge their pups into the coldest streams imaginable, run until a pup is splay-legged and can hardly keep up and then run some more. They are toughening up the sweet little spirit, investing it with strength and resilience. In mythos, the teaching of endurance is one of the rites of the Great Wild Mother, the Wild Woman archetype. It is her timeless ritual to make her offspring strong. It is she who toughens us, makes us potent and enduring. 

And where this learning takes place and these attributes are acquired is la selva subterranea, the underground forest, the underworld of female knowing.”


  1. One thing I love about this quote about the wolf mother toughening up her pups is that in the comparison to the Wild Woman/Great Wild Mother, it demonstrates the value of strength and resilience and endurance. My listeners know I’m very wary of gendering traits because I like to think of all human beings needing to be both strong and vulnerable, both intellectual and empathetic. And “Mother” tends to be characterized as only nurturing and soft, and while I am a very nurturing person myself, I don’t like feeling like mothers are soft and fathers are strong. So I like this imagery of being toughened up, and that it’s the mother being strong. 


  1. Second: Bergen, what do we find in the underground forest?


BERGEN: What you find in the subterranea is yourself. All the parts of you that were lost along the patriarchal way. Your passion, your sexuality, your sacred rage, your creativity, your loudness, your aliveness, your power, your inner authority, your voice, your ambition, your intuition, your self compassion, your laughter, your grief, your love, your humanness, and your divinity. 


How do we go there? (If you want to describe this, I have lots of questions for you.)


(I am happy to talk about my experience with this and you can ask whatever questions come up for you!)



Chapter 8: Red Shoes

[Bergen Summarize pp. 216-219]


One possible interpretation that Estés doesn’t mention but resonates for me: 


To me this story feels like an allegory about a girl’s sexuality. When she was little it was authentic, her very own, she hadn’t felt shame yet. Then the old lady shows up and slaps her on the hand as says “NO! Red shoes are inappropriate! Too wild!!” Her precious red shoes are burned. 


Old lady (enforcer of patriarchy) wants her confirmed on “The Day of the Innocents”


She craves that original part of herself, but all that is available now is a store-bought version, which feels better than nothing. Rebellious, shamed at church. 


Then a much-older man smiled, winked at her, made the soles of her feet itch, took control over her shoes so that she had to dance against her will.


Feels just like sexuality in a patriarchal world. Madonna (black shoes/shame at church) or whore (fake red shoes, made by a winking cobbler man, claimed by a winking soldier man). Her original shoes burned before she knew how to protect them. 


Estés says:

If the child is left alone, she will make another pair of red shoes, and another, and another, until they are not so crude. She will progress. ...even beyond her wondrous display of ingenuity and thriving in difficult circumstances, the shining fact for her is that these shoes she has made cause her enormous joy, and joy is her life’s blood, spirit-food and soul-life all in one. (223)


But Bergen, could you walk us through the metaphors and archetypes that Estés describes?



BERGEN: The story of the Red Shoes, like many traditional fairy tales, does not end well and is read as a cautionary tale. I see it as both a tragic story and a story that carries hope. Instead of a life lived possessed by the values of a patriarchal world. I want to live a soulful life, a life of my own making. I want to quit the life of hustling for my sense of worth and the insatiable consumerism and instead rest in my sense of value and create something beautiful for myself and my family/community. 


The feral woman describes a woman who started out, as we all do, with her wild instinctive nature intact,  is then “tamed” by the expectations of the outside world, and then is returned again to the wild with a wounded relationship with her instinct/intuition. 


“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 medicines, consider the future. The feral woman is a woman making her way back. She is learning to wake up, pay attention, stop being naive, uninformed. She takes her life into her own hands. To re-learn the deep feminine instincts, it is vital to see how they were decommissioned to begin with.” --CPE


This is what we do with WOMB, is create safe spaces for women to come back to themselves. I am so lucky to have had spaces like that for myself and so honored to hold spaces for other women. 


“...even the most injured instincts can be healed. To aright this, we resurrect the wild nature, over and over again, each time the balance tips too far in one direction or another.” -CPE


“To hold to joy, we may sometimes have to fight for it, we may have to strengthen ourselves and go full-bore, doing battle in whatever ways we deem shrewd. To prepare for siege, we may have to go without most things for long periods of time, anything almost but not our joy, not those handmade red shoes.” -CPE




Amy: And that brings us to the end! What was a takeaway or two from this book, Bergen? 


Bergen: (Something you want to share with listeners)


Amy: (My takeaway, which I will probably think of in the moment)


Thank you, you’re the best, etc. :)


Bergen: Thank you, etc.


Amy: And that was our last book on Season 1 of Breaking Down Patriarchy! (Cue tears) We do have a very special bonus episode this week, where my husband Erik and I did a speed summary of every single text I read in Season 1, as well as some heartfelt reflections on lessons learned and questions to propel further research. And we’ll talk about what’s coming for Season 2! So join us for that conversation, which we will also post in video form on Youtube!, next time on BDP. 



Stuff We Didn’t Have Time For

Estés confirms this, and gives us hope for recovering this intuition:


Over generations, these intuitive powers became as buried streams within women, buried by disrepute and disuse. However, Jung once remarked that nothing was ever lost in the psyche. We can be confident that things lost in the psyche are all still there. So too, this well of women’s instinctual intuition has never been lost, and whatever is covered over can be brought back out again. (80)


All aspects of the story belong to a single psyche undergoing an initiatory process. Initiation is enacted by completing certain tasks. In this tale there are nine tasks for the psyche to complete. They focus on learning the old ways of the Wild Old Mother. 


By the completion of these tasks, a woman’s intuition - that knowing being who walks wherever women walk, looking at all things in their lives and commenting on the truth of it all with swift accuracy, is re-set into woman’s psyche. The goal is a loving and trusting relationship with this being whom we have come to call “the knowing woman,” the Wild Woman.


In the rite of the old wild female Goddess, Baba Yaga, these are the tasks of initiation:


  1. The First Task - Allowing the Too-Good Mother to Die. 

In the opening of the tale, the mother is dying and bequeaths to her daughter an important legacy.

The psychic tasks of this stage in a woman’s life are these: Accepting that the ever-watchful, hovering, protective psychic mother is not adequate as a central guide for one’s future instinctual life (the too-good mother dies). Taking on the task of being on one’s own, developing one’s own consciousness about danger, intrigue, politic. Becoming alert by oneself, for oneself. Letting die what must die. As the too-good mother dies, the new woman is born. (81)


  1. The Second Task - Exposing the Crude Shadow

In this part of the tale, the bad, rotten stepfamily marches into Vasalisa’s world and begins to make her life miserable. The tasks of this time are: Learning even more mindfully to let go of the overly positive mother. Finding that being good, being sweet, being nice will not cause life to sing. (Vasalisa becomes a slave, but it does not help.) Experiencing directly one’s own shadow nature, particularly the exclusionary, jealous, and exploitative aspects of self (the stepmother and stepsisters). Owning these. Making the best relationship one can with the worst parts of oneself. Letting the pressure build between who one is taught to be and who one really is. Ultimately working toward letting the old self die and the new intuitive self be born. (85)


In this stage of initiation, a woman is harassed by the petty demands of her psyche which exhort her to comply with whatever anone wishes. Compliance causes a shocking realization that must be registered by all women. That is, to be ourselves causes us to be exiled by many others, and yet to comply with what others want causes us to be exiled from ourselves. It is a tormenting tension and it must be borne, but the choice is clear. (85)


Like Vasalisa we may try to be nice when we should be knowing. We may have been taught to set aside acute insight in order to get along. However, the reward for being nice in oppressive circumstances is to be mistreated more.  Although ta woman feels that if she is herself she will alienate others, it is just this psychic tension that is needed in order to make soul and to create change. 



  1. The Third Task - Navigating in the Dark

In this part of the tale, the dead mother’s legacy - the doll - guides Vasalisa through the dark ito the house of Baba Yaga. These are the psychic tasks of this time: Consenting to venture into the locus of deep initiation (entering the forest), and beginning to experience the new and dangerous- feeling numen of being in one’s intuitive power. Learning to develop sensitivity as regards direction to the mysterious unconscious and relying solely on one’s inner senses. Learning the way back home to the Wild Mother (heeding the doll’s directions). Learning to feel intuition (feeding the doll). Letting the frail know-nothing maiden die even more. Shifting power to the doll, i.e., intuition.


There is no greater blessing a mother can give her daughter than a reliable sense of the veracity of her own intuition. (88-89)


  1. The Fourth Task - Facing the Wild Hag (This is what happens every time I look down at my phone and my backwards camera is accidentally on.) :) 

In this part of the tale, Vasalisa meets the Wild Hag face-to-face. The tasks of this meeting are these: Being able to stand the face of the fearsome Wild Goddess without wavering (meeting up with the Baba Yaga). Familiarizing oneself with the arcane, the odd, the “otherness” of the wild (residing at Baba Yaga’s house for a while). Taking some of her values into our lives, thereby becoming ourselves a little odd (eating her food). Learning to face great power - in others, and subsequently one’s own power. Letting the frail and too-sweet child die back even further. 


[In the face of life/death/life power] Vasalisa faces Baba Yaga not obsequiously, not boastfully or filled with braggadocio, neither running away nor hiding. She presents herself honestly and just as herself. (92)


  1. The Fifth Task - Serving the Nonrational

In this part of the tale, Vasalisa has asked Baba Yaga for fire, and the Yaga agrees if Vasalisa will do some household chores for her in exchange. The psychic tasks of this time of learning are these: Staying with the Hag Goddess; acclimating to the great wildish powers of the feminine psyche. Coming to recognize her (your) power and the power of inner purifications; unsoiling, sorting, hourishing, building energy and ideas (ashing th eYaga’s clothes, cooking for her, cleaning her house, and sorting out the elements).


Not so long ago, women were deeply involved in the rhythms of life and death. THey inhaled the pungent odor of iron from the fresh blood of childbirth. They washed the cooling bodies of the dead as well. The psyches of modern women , especially those from industrial and technological cultures are often deprived of these close-up and hands-on blessed and basic experiences. 


  1. The Sixth Task - Separating This From That

In this part of the tale, Baba Yaga requires two very demanding tasks of Vasalisa. A woman’s psychic tasks are these: Learning fine discrimination, separating one thing from the other with finest discernment… Observing the power of the unconscious and how it works even when the ego is not aware.


  1. The Seventh Task - Asking the Mysteries

After the successful completion of her tasks, Vasalisa asks the Yaga some good questions. The tasks of this time are these: Questioning and trying to learn more about the Life/Death/Life nature and how it functions. Learning the truth about being able to understand all the elements of the wild nature.


The black, red, and white horsemen symbolize the ancient colors connoting birth, life , and death. These colors also represent old ideas of descent, death, and rebirth - the black for dissolving of one’s old values, the red for the sacrifice of previously held illusions, and the white as the new light, the new knowing that comes from having experienced the first two.  


Vasalisa and her doll are the alchemical anlagen. Together they cause Vasalisa to be a little Life/Death/Life Mother in-the-becoming. There are two epiphanies or life-givings in the story. ...There are also two deaths in the story: that of the original too-good mother and also that of the stepfamily. ...this letting live, letting die, is very important. It is the basic and natural rhythm which women are meant to understand… and live. (101-102)


  1. The Eighth Task - Standing on All Fours

The tasks of this part of the tale are these - Taking on immense power to see and affect others (receiving the skull). Looking at life’s situations in this new light. 


Some women are afraid this deep knowing via instinct and intuition will cause them to be reckless or thoughtless, but this is an unfounded fear. Quite the contrary; lack of intuition, lack of sensitivity to cycles, or not following one’s knowing, causes choices which turn out poorly, even disastrously. 


When the Yaga gives Vasalisa a lighted skull, she is giving her an old-woman icon, an ‘ancestral knower,’ to carry with her for life. She is initiating her into a matrilineal legacy of knowing, one which, in the caves and canyons of the psyche, remains whole and thriving. (106)


  1. The Ninth Task - Recasting the Shadow

Vasalisa journeys toward home with the fiery skull on the stick. She almost throws it away but the skull reassures her. Once back home, the skull watches the stepsisters and stepmother, and burns them to ashes. Vasalisa lives well and for a long time afterward. These are the psychic tasks fo this time: Using ones’ acute vision (fiery eyes) to recognize and react to the negative shadow of one’s own psyche and/or negative aspects of persons and events in the outer world. REcasting the negative shadows in one’s psyche with hag-fire (the wicked stepfamily which formerly tortured Vaslisa is turned to cinders). 


Momentarily Vasalisa becomes afraid of the power she carries, and she thinks to throw the fiery skull away. … But a supernatural voice from the skull instructs her to stay calm and to proceed. And this she is able to do. (108)



The psychological truth in “The Red Shoes” is that a woman’s meaningful life can be pried, threatened, robbed, or seduced away from her unless she holds on to or retrieves her basic joy and wild worth. The tale calls our attention to traps and poisons we too easily take onto ourselves when we are caught in a famine of wild soul. 


It is a famine of the soul that makes a woman choose things that will cause her to dance madly out of control - then too, too near the executioner’s door.


The loss of the handmade red shoes represents the loss of a woman’s self-designed life and passionate vitality, and the taking on of a too-tame life. This eventually leads to loss of accurate perception, which leads to excess, which leads to loss of the feet, the platform on which we stand, our basis, a deep part of our instinctual nature that supports our freedom. 


[At the same time, she also says that a woman who has made that mistake - danced that dance and lost her feet but lived to tell, has invaluable wisdom.] “She is like a saguaro, a fine and beautiful cactus that lives in the desert. Saguaros can be shot full of holes, carved upon, knocked over, stepped on, and still they live, still they store life-giving water, still they grow wild and repair themselves over time. 


Though fairy tales end after ten pages, our lives do not. ...There are always more opportunities to get it right, to fashion our lives in the ways we deserve to have them. Don’t waste your time hating a failure. Failure is a greater teacher than success. Listen, learn, go on. That is what we are doing with this tale.  ...Let us begin to unravel this very important tale by understanding what happens when the vital life we value most, no matter what it might look like to others, the life we love most, is devalued and turned to ashes. (221)


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About the Podcast

Breaking Down Patriarchy
An Essential Texts Book Club
Breaking Down Patriarchy is a podcast for everyone! Learn about the creation of patriarchy and those who have challenged it as you listen to bookclub-style discussions of essential historical texts. Gain life-changing epiphanies and practical takeaways through these smart, relatable conversations.

About your host

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Amy Allebest

I grew up in Colorado as the oldest of 5 children, reading, writing, drawing, singing, and practicing the piano and violin. I attended Brigham Young University, where I met Erik Allebest during my first week of freshman year, studied abroad in Israel, lived in Chile for a year and a half as a missionary, and married Erik all before graduating with a degree in English. Erik and I moved around - to Colorado, Southern California, Utah, Spain, and Northern California - while Erik started and ran chess businesses for a living (primarily chess.com) and I stayed home to raise our four children. Those four kids have become brilliant, hilarious people and are our very best friends. I am a long-time trail runner, a recent CrossFitter, a lifelong reader and writer, and an almost-graduate of Stanford University's Master's of Liberal Arts program.