Women Who Run with the Wolves
by Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Ph.D.

Ballantine Books, 1992

Reviewed by Laura Bryannan

Every once and a while a truly great book for women comes along. Sometimes the book calls us to arms, sometimes it provides us with important new information about ourselves or our bodies, and sometimes--like this book--it will nourish our souls.

Clarissa Pinkola Estes is a Jungian analyst and cantadora, a collector and teller of stories. She has birthed a book about the archetype of the Wild Woman that has so much gut-level wisdom in it, you immediately sense that Estes is a woman who is really living her life (as opposed to simply existing in it). Estes has gotten past mentalized "good ideas," and presents material that applies to the total being: body, heart, mind and soul. This book is for any woman who longs in her secret self for something more, who knows that her mind works better than her heart, who feels as if she's stretched too thin, who has forgotten how to create, have fun, get dirty, laugh, cry or growl. Estes offers the "medicine" of folk and fairy tales to these wounds with insight and care. She shows how the archetype of the Wild Woman can be a model of wholeness for the modern woman.

Who is this Wild Woman? If you're thinking this is a book about how to be wild and crazy, you would be a little bit right, but mostly wrong. The Wild Woman is not wild in the sense of being crazy, angry or out-of-control, she is wild because she has not lost her connection to life, death and rebirth--or, to put it more simply, nature.

"A healthy woman is much like a wolf: robust, chock-full, strong life force, life-giving, territorially aware, inventive, loyal, roving. Yet separation from the wildish nature causes a woman's personality to become meager, thin, ghosty, spectral. We are not meant to be puny with frail hair and inability to leap up, inability to give chase, to birth, to create a life. When women's lives are in stasis, ennui, it is always time for the wildish woman to emerge; it is time for the creating function of the psyche to flood the delta...It means to establish territory, to find one's pack, to be in one's body with certainty and pride regardless of the body's gifts and limitations, to speak and act in one's behalf, to be aware, alert, to draw on the innate feminine powers of intuition and sensing, to come into one's cycles, to find what one belongs to, to rise with dignity, to retain as much consciousness as we can."

Ms. Estes begins her book with a story that introduces us to La Loba, The Wolf Woman, one of the hundreds of Wild Woman's names. (To you students of the Goddess: are your whiskers twitching yet? The ancient, female being of many names and places...yes, of course, who else could Wild Woman be but the Great Mother herself!) Estes then expertly leads us down the pathway to Her door; a pathway often so perilous with briars, bogs or other mysterious oogly-wooglies we would never even try it without someone like Estes' help! The titles of the chapters are evocative in and of themselves: Stalking the Intruder: the Beginning Initiation. Nosing out the Facts: the Retrieval of Intuition as Initiation. The Mate: Union with the Other. Hunting: When the Heart is a Lonely Hunter. Finding One's Pack: Belonging as Blessing. Joyous Body: the Wild Flesh. Self- Preservation: Identifying Leg Traps, Cages and Poisoned Bait. Homing: Returning to Oneself. Clear Water: Nourishing the Creative Life. Heat: Retrieving a Sacred Sexuality. Marking Territory: the Boundaries of Rage and Forgiveness. Battle Scars: Membership in the Scar Clan. La Selva Subterranea: Initiation in the Underground Forest. Shadowing: Canto Hondo, the Deep Song.

Estes writes in a casual, lively style, full of good humor. This is not a dry, analytical, passionless discussion, and you will not find one ounce of psychobabble anywhere. As one friend of mine exclaimed, "This woman talks like me!" As I read, I found myself laughing, crying, and nodding my head in agreement. It sparked such a sense of longing I felt my heart would burst at times--something deep in my bones woke up, stretched and sniffed the breeze. I remembered what it was like to be alive in this way, and I saw how "civilized" I had become. Just as pictures can tell a thousand words, I'd like to quote a little tale Estes learned from her late Uncle Vilmos which will clearly show what happens in this civilization process:

"A man came to a szabo, tailor, and tried on a suit. As he stood before the mirror, he noticed the vest was a little uneven at the bottom.
'Oh,' said the tailor, 'don't worry about that. Just hold the shorter end down with your left hand and no one will ever notice.'
While the customer proceeded to do this, he noticed that the lapel of the jacket curled up instead of lying flat.
'Oh that?' said the tailor. 'That's nothing. Just turn your head a little and hold it down with your chin.'
The customer complied, and as he did, he noticed that the inseam of the pants was a little short and he felt that the rise was a bit too tight.
'Oh, don't worry about that,' said the tailor. 'Just pull the inseam down with your right hand, and everything will be perfect.' The customer agreed and purchased the suit.
The next day he wore his new suit with all the accompanying hand and chin 'alterations.' As he limped through the park with his chin holding down his lapel, one hand tugging at the vest, the other hand grasping his crotch, two old men stopped playing checkers to watch him stagger by.
'M'Isten, oh, my God!' said the first man. 'Look at that poor crippled man!'
The second man reflected for a moment, then murmured, 'Igen, yes, the crippling is too bad, but you know I wonder...where did he get such a nice suit?'"

Just like the man with the new suit, we often develop personas that display to everyone how good, caring, nice, etc., we are. To the outside world everything is perfect, but inside our true natures are crippled. Women often get so much support for these pleasing personas, we lose touch with how much they narrow our choices, cut us off from life, and bring us unnecessary pain. Women Who Run with the Wolves helps us see that we have become like the tailor's gullible customer. Perhaps we have been hobbling around in our fancy suits for so long we have forgotten we weren't always a cripple.

Estes' book will show you where you have lost touch with your heart, your guts, your creativity, your wildness--your life! The stories she presents, and her insightful analysis of those stories, will gently lead you back to yourself. Even if you are unmoved by this review, I would ask you to run to the nearest bookstore and read the introduction. Let Estes' own words touch you. This is one of those powerful books that, if you are ready for it, it will call you. If, at the next full moon, I hear howling at midnight, I'll know someone out there heard the call.

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Last Updated: 1 feb 99
Laura Bryannan