Wolves have a bit of a dire reputation following them. We see them as merciless predators, always hungry and at the feet of their next prey. Yet , by reading “Women Who Run with the Wolves” by Clarissa Pinkola Estés, I started to love wolves much better.
Women and Wolves
As much as we don’t understand wolves, and for similar reasons maybe, we don’t understand women and we interpret them through a lens blemished with incomplete or poorly told fairytales across centuries.
Wolves are ravenous only after a great famine, in wintertime, and kill with no intention to eat only when they are being driven by an instinct to survive as a remnant of past suffering. The same aggressive aspect can be seen in Estés‘s wild woman, the one who has been denied, said no to, squashed into a tiny space of being and welded to someone else’s wishes.
Little Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Wolf
Almost every young girl knows the tale of Little Red Riding Hood, the tiny one who was forbidden to venture into the woods because she would be eaten by a hungry wolf. This fairytale, as well as many others told by the Brothers Grimm, carry only a grain of truth transmitted by oral narration over generations. In the book, Clarissa speaks of the harsh editing work the brothers needed to undertake when collecting the tales, mostly because of religious requirements at the time. Many of these edits removed obscene, sexual, or overly wild elements from the female psyche and behavior.
In the cleaned-up story, Little Red Riding Hood manages to win in the meeting with the big bad wolf but only with the help of the hunter savior. And that’s the child-friendly version of the popular folktale because there are gruesome and creepy versions that are by no means something that a child should lay eyes onto.
For that, we can thank the editors for doing a good job. But along with the bathwater went the baby, too. In one of the versions, Little Red Riding Hood manages to outwit the wolf by telling him she needs to take a poo in the woods. He releases her, trying to keep her at hand by tying a string to her but she puts the string around a branch and escapes. This Little Red Riding Hood is the epitome of the wild woman archetype as a young girl.
Clarissa Pinkola Estés brings us back to the story of the wild woman, a story about songs, bones, and wolves. A remarkable storyteller, Jungian analyst, and healer who integrated the wisdom roots of her Mexican and Hungarian ancestry and heritage into her healing work, the author clears ages of cobwebs and removes the debris of semi-truths and incomplete narratives about the wild woman archetype, connecting the reader with the feminine intuitive aspect.
The Wild Woman Archetype
You don’t have to be a woman to read the book but you will feel it to the bones if you scrape against your feminine psyche aspects. And they do exist, whether you like it or not, whether you are aware of them or not. When searching for and exposing the wild woman archetype during her healing work, Clarissa Pinkola Estes uses the Jungian active imagination method heavily applied by Jung himself, the packer of archetypes. I call him the packer and not the creator because he only put ribbons to something that already existed in the collective psyche and its individual incarnations.
What I found vividly expressive, nurturing, and wholesome in the book was the interconnectedness of the abandoned, rejected wild woman archetype and our own current missing connection from nature. It is a wake-up call to shed light on a long-lost or perhaps never by now found part of the self/selves, which reverberates with the echo of the wildness, instincts, and intuition that hides at the core of our bones. The book includes subtle and more direct nudges to reintegrate one’s voice with the voice of the wild woman archetype, craft new stories, and take a different type of action by peeling off layers from the forbidden.
To Heal, Embrace Wilderness
Slaughtered sheep herds are a sign of fear for survival – when wolves live in an optimal environment, their needs are met and they are quite the playful canines. Wolves and women bite and derail destructively when out of touch with who they’re supposed to be. Imbued with folklore sagacity, “Women Who Run with the Wolves” is a quite unique take on how to reclaim one’s power, by becoming aware of the fear that caused a trauma in the first place. A true gem of analytical psychology, and so much more.