I had an interesting experience recently.
I was digging Christmas decorations out of the garage, and came across a box of old textbooks from college. As I lifted the box to move it, the bottom gave out and the books crashed in a dusty pile at my feet. After releasing a slew of obscenities at my inability to use packing tape properly, I noticed an odd book in the stack of finance and economics texts.
It was “Women Who Run With the Wolves,” by Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Ph.D.
It’s funny to me that this book popped out of a box I haven’t opened or seen in seven years because I also recently came across a letter my mom sent me about 12 years ago where she quotes from this book, and lays some life wisdom on me.
She mentions that it is one of her favorite books, and her letter is poignant and full of foreshadowing about the marriage I was about to enter into. Too subtle for my arrogant, “I know best,” attitude at the time, but it was there along with other powerful advice nonetheless.
I remember trying to read the book back then, and stopping because it reminded me of the Friends episode where the girls are reading “Be Your Own Windkeeper.” I remembering clearly thinking how lame it was that my mom was trying to warn me about men stealing my wind or taking over my life.
Female empowerment, who needs that?
I did–I needed a healthy dose of female empowerment and critical thinking, but I refused to accept my mom’s message at the time.
To the DeLorean.
I started reading the book again that same night. Sometimes life hits us over the head with the message we need to hear the most. Or hits us in the bare feet with the message while digging for Christmas in a pile of boxes, and I try not to ignore those moments anymore.
If someone tells me a book is their favorite, I have a tendency to read that book with a different lens. As I read it now, I’m trying to gain some insight into what it was about the book that spoke so powerfully to my mom.
And my answer so far has been everything.
The book analyzes myths and stories of the “wild woman” archetype.
It’s interesting, and it offers a deeper look at some of the old fairy tales from feminine, spiritual, and psychological perspectives.
One of those is the story of Bluebeard. I’ve read it before, and didn’t really think much about it.
Bluebeard was creepy and murderous, the sister who agreed to marry him was naive, the key reminded me of the story of Eve and the apple, and I didn’t take much from the story the first few times I read it.
I honestly remember thinking at first read through, that if the woman had just left the key alone and obeyed Bluebeard’s directive to not open the door, that she wouldn’t have been fighting for her life at all.
That thought pattern disturbs me greatly now.
Estes goes through an impressive and thorough analysis of this story, that I won’t get into today.
The highlights are: woman’s desire to change a man despite the obvious blueness of his beard, that younger women are easier to prey upon, and that there are things that you can’t un-know once you turn that forbidden key, but knowing them and recognizing them are imperative to your development.
In the end of the story the woman is rescued from Bluebeard by her brothers.
Estes says that this rescue is an example of what has been named animus in Jungian psychology.
The animus is, “a partly mortal, partly instinctual, partly cultural element of a woman’s psyche that shows up in fairy tales and in dream symbols as her son, husband, stranger, and/or lover, possibly threatening depending on her psychic circumstances of the moment. This psychic figure is particularly valuable because it is invested with qualities which are traditionally bred out of women, aggression being one of the more common.”
This was my first introduction to this psychological idea, and it’s fascinating to me, especially since I’ve had my older brothers throughout my life to “rescue” me. The young girl’s rescue was very literal to me in the story and not at all symbolic of something I needed to develop within myself.
The passage that resonated with me the most was this:
“The stronger and more integrally vast the animus (think of the animus as a bridge) the more able, easily, and with style the woman manifests her ideas and her creative work in the outer world in a concrete way. A woman with a poorly developed animus has lots of ideas and thoughts but is unable to manifest them in the outer world. She always stops short of the organization or implementation of her wonderful images.”
And finally after 800 words, I get to my point. I think my animus is poorly developed.
I’m not saying that I need to grow a pair of testicles or anything, but this is exactly what I’m trying to accomplish through reading and writing these days. To organize and implement the images that have come to mind. To think critically, to study myths, stories, and symbols and create my own. To take risks and stand up for myself. To know what I think about things and why I think them, and be okay with whatever conclusions I draw, even if no one agrees with me.
The book has sparked several thought tangents, ideas that I want to research more thoroughly, story ideas, and a different perspective on myths that I’ve never taken the time to consider before now.
So, Mom, thanks for the introduction to this book.
I’m reading it now.
I have no idea if it is still one of your favorites, but it’s quickly becoming one of mine.
Any other thoughts on the animus? On the book?
On my gross oversimplification of both the animus and the author’s message about Bluebeard?