Women Who Run With the Wolves


Excerpts from the book by Clarissa Pinkola Estés,
Ballantine Books, New York, 1992

He who cannot howl, will not find his pack.
— Charles Simic

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Chapter Guide:

  • Introduction - Singing Over the Bones
  • Chapter 1 - The Howl: Resurrection of the Wild Woman
  • Chapter 2 - Stalking the Intruder: The Beginning Initiation
  • Chapter 3 - Nosing Out the Facts: The Retrieval of Intuition as Initiation
  • Chapter 4 - The Mate: Union With the Other
  • Chapter 5 - Hunting: When the Heart is a Lonely Hunter
  • Chapter 6 - Finding One's Pack: Belonging as Blessing
  • Chapter 7 - Joyous Body: The Wild Flesh
  • Chapter 8 - Self-preservation: Identifying Leg Traps, Cages and Poisoned Bait
  • Chapter 9 - Homing: Returning to Oneself
  • Chapter 10 - Clear Water: Nourishing the Creative Life
  • Chapter 11 - Heat: Retrieving a Sacred Sexuality
  • Chapter 12 - Marking Territory: The Boundaries of Rage and Forgiveness
  • Chapter 13 - Battle Scars: Membership in the Scar Clan
  • Chapter 14 - La Selva Subterránea: Initiation in the Underground Forest
  • Chapter 15 - Shadowing: Canto Hondo, The Deep Song


From the Introduction - Singing Over the Bones

The archetype of Wild Woman resides in the guts, not in the head. She can track and run and summon and repel. She can sense, camouflage, and love deeply. She is intuitive, typical, and normative. She is utterly essential to women's mental and soul health.

She is the female soul. Yet she is more; she is the source of the feminine. She is all that is of instinct, of the worlds both seen and hidden -she is the basis.

She is intuition, she is far-seer, she is deep listener, she is loyal heart. She encourages humans to remain multilingual; fluent in the languages of dreams, passion, and poetry.

She is the voice that says, "This way, this way."

She is the one who thunders after injustice. She is the one we leave home to look for. She is the one we come home to. She is the things that keep us going when we think that we're done for.

To adjoin the instinctual nature does not mean to come undone, change everything from left to right, from black to white, to move the east to west, to act crazy or out of control. It does not mean to lose one's primary socializations, or to become less human. It means quite the opposite. The wild nature has a vast integrity to it.

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.


From Chapter 1 - The Howl: Resurrection of the Wild Woman

La Loba (Wolf Woman), the old one, the One Who Knows, is within us. She thrives in the deepest soul-psyche of women, the ancient and vital Wild Woman. She describes her home as that place in time where the spirit of women and the spirit of wolf meet —the place where her mind and her instincts mingle, where a woman's deep life funds her mundane life. It is the point where the I and the Thou kiss, the place where women run with the wolves.

The Creation Mother is always the Death Mother and vice versa. Because of this dual nature, or double-tasking, the great work before us is to learn to understand what around and about us and what within us must live, and what must die. Our work is to apprehend the timing of both; to allow what must die to die, and what must live to live.

You can dent the soul and bend it. You can hurt it and scar it. You can leave the marks of illness upon it, and the scorch marks of fear. But it does not die, for it is protected by La Loba in the underworld. She is both the finder and the incubator of the bones.

People do meditation to find psychic alignment. That's why people do psychotherapy and analysis. That's why people analyze their dreams and make art. That is why many read Tarot cards, cast I Ching, dance, drum, make theater, pry out the poem, and fire up the prayer. That's why we do all the things we do. It is the work of gathering all the bones together. Then we must sit at the fire and think about which song we will use to sing over the bones, which creation hymn, which re-creation hymn. And the truths we tell will make the song.

There are some good questions to ask till one decides on the song, one's true song:

  • What has happened to my soul-voice?
  • What are the buried bones of my life?
  • In what condition is my relationship to the instinctual Self?
  • When was the last time I ran free?
  • How do I make life come alive again?
  • Where has La Loba gone to?

Go back and stand under that one red flower and walk straight ahead for that last hard mile. Go up and knock on the old weathered door. Climb up to the cave. Crawl through the window of a dream. Sift the desert and see what you can find. It is the only work we have to do.

You wish psychoanalytic advice?
Go gather bones.


From Chapter 2 - Stalking the Intruder: The Beginning Initiation

All creatures must learn that there exist predators. Without this knowing, a woman will be unable to negotiate safely within her own forest without being devoured. To understand the predator is to become a mature animal who is not vulnerable out of naïveté, inexperience or foolishness.

A predatory person misappropriates a woman's creative juice, taking it for their own pleasure or use, leaving her whitened and wondering what happened, while they themselves somehow grow more rosy and hearty.

The pattern of surrendering one's core life may have begun in childhood, fostered by caretakers who wanted the child's gifts and loveliness to augment the caretakers' own emptiness and hunger. Generally, a woman with good instincts knows the predator is insinuated nearby when she finds herself involved in a relationship or situation that causes her life to become smaller rather than larger.

Many women have literally lived the Bluebeard tale. They marry while they are yet naive about predators, and they choose someone who is destructive to their lives. They are determined to "cure" that person with love. They are in some way "playing house." One could say that they have spent much time saying, "His beard isn't really so blue."

While it may be the woman's actual mate who denigrates and dismantles her life, the innate predator within her own psyche concurs. As long as a woman is forced into believing that she is powerless and/or is trained to not consciously register what she knows to be true, the feminine impulses and gifts of her psyche continue to be killed off.

The deceitful promise of the predator is that the woman will become a queen in some way, when in fact her murder is being planned. There is a way out of all this, but one must have a key.

The key is both permission and endorsement to know the deepest, darkest secrets of the psyche, in this case the something that mindlessly degrades and destroys a woman's potential.

Asking the proper question is the central action of transformation —in fairy tales, in analysis, and in individuation. Questions are the keys that cause the secret doors of the psyche to swing open.

  • Where do you think that door is, and what might lie beyond it?
  • What is behind the visible?
  • What is it which causes that shadow to loom upon the wall?
  • What is not as it appears?
  • What do I know deep in my ovaries that I wish I did not know?
  • What of me has been killed, or lays dying?

Those who would develop consciousness pursue all that stands behind the readily observable: the unseen chirping, the murked window, the lamenting door, the lip of light beneath a sill. They pursue these mysteries until the substance of the matter is laid open to them.

Instead of reviling the predator of the psyche, or running away from it, we dismember it.

We dismantle the predator by countering its diatribes with our own nurturing truths. Predator: "You never finish anything you start." Yourself: "I finish many things." We dismantle the assaults of the natural predator by taking to heart and working with what is truthful in what the predator says and then discarding the rest. We dismantle the predator by maintaining our intuitions and instincts and by resisting the predator's seductions.

When we refuse to entertain the predator, its strength is extracted and it is unable to act without us. When the predator's psychic energum is rendered, it is formable to some other purpose. We are the creators then; the raw substance reduced down, it becomes then the stuff of our own creation.

The predator's rage can be rendered into a soul-fire for accomplishing a great task in the world. The predator's craftiness can be used to inspect and understand things from a distance. The predator's killing nature can be used to kill off that which must properly die in a woman's life, or what she must die to in her outer life.


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

To possess good intuition, goodly power, causes work. It causes work firstly in the watching and comprehending of negative forces and imbalances both inward and outward. Secondly, it causes striving in the gathering up of will in order to do something about what one sees, be it for good, or balance, or to allow something to die.

I will not lie to you; it is easier to throw away the light and go to sleep. For with it, we clearly see all sides of ourselves and others, both the disfigured and the divine and all conditions in between.

Yet, with this light the miracles of deep beauty in the world and in humans come to consciousness. With this penetrating light one can see past the bad action to the good heart, one can espy the sweet spirit crushed beneath hatred, one can understand much instead of being perplexed only. This light can differentiate layers of personality, intention, and motives in others. It can determine consciousness and unconsciousness in self and others. It is the wand of knowing. It is the mirror in which all things are sensed. It is the deep wild nature.

Yet, there are times when its reports are painful and almost too much to bear: for it also points out where there are betrayals brewing, where there is faintness of courage in those who speak otherwise. It points out envy lying like cold grease behind a warm smile; it points out the looks which are mere masks for dislike. As regards to oneself, its light is equally bright: it shines on our treasures and on our foibles.

The way to maintain one's connection to the wild is to ask yourself what is it that you want. One of the most important discriminations we can make in this matter is the difference between things that beckon to us and things that call from our souls.

We choose a thing because it just happened to be beneath our noses at that moment in time. It is not necessarily what we want, but it is interesting, and the longer we gaze at it, the more compelling it becomes.

When we are connected to the instinctual self, to the soul of the feminine which is natural and wild, then instead of looking over whatever happens to be on display, we say to ourselves, "What am I hungry for?" Without looking at anything outwardly, we venture inward and ask, "What do I long for? What do I wish for now? What do I crave? What do I desire? For what do I yearn?"

It takes spirit, will, and soulfulness and it often means holding out for what one wants.


From Chapter 4 - The Mate: Union With the Other

If women want men to know them, really know them, they have to teach them some of the deep knowing. Some women say they are tired, already have done too much in this area. I humbly suggest they have been trying to teach a man who does not care to learn. Most men want to know, want to learn. When men show that willingness, then it is the time to reveal things: not just because, but because another soul has asked.

To win the wildish woman's heart, a mate would understand her natural duality through and through. Anyone close to a wildish woman is in fact in the presence of two women; an outer being and an interior criatura, one who lives in the topside world, one who lives in the world not so easily seeable. The outer being lives by the light of day and is easily observed. She is often pragmatic, acculturated, and very human. The criatura, however, often travels to the surface from far away, often appearing and then as quickly disappearing, yet always leaving behind a feeling: something surprising, original, and knowing.

A woman has tremendous powers when the individual dual aspects are consciously recognized and beheld as a unit; held together rather than kept apart. The Power of Two is very strong and neither side of the duality should be neglected. They need be fed equally, for together they bring an uncanny power to the individual.


From Chapter 5 - Hunting: When the Heart is a Lonely Hunter

There are seven tasks that teach one soul to love another deeply and well:

  1. Discovering another person as a kind of spiritual treasure.
  2. The chase and the hiding, a time of hopes and fears for both.
  3. The untangling and understanding of the Life/Death/Life aspects of the relationship and the compassion for the task.
  4. Relaxing into trust, the ability to rest in the presence and goodwill of the other.
  5. Sharing both future dreams and past sadness.
  6. The use of the heart to sing up new life.
  7. The intermingling of body and soul.


From Chapter 6 - Finding One's Pack: Belonging as Blessing

The wild nature, when pressed into circumstances of little nurture, instinctively strives to continue no matter what. The wild nature instinctively holds on and holds out, sometimes with style, other times with little grace, but holds on nevertheless.

Even though we have only heard or seen or dreamt a wondrous wild world that we belonged to once, even though we have not yet or only momentarily touched it, even though we do not identify ourselves as part of it, the memory of it is a beacon that guides us toward what be belong to, and for the rest of our lives.

What is the basic nutrition for the soul? Well, it differs from creature to creature, but here are some combinations. Consider them psychic macrobiotics. For some women air, night, sunlight, and trees are necessities. For others, words, paper, and books are the only things that satiate. For others, color, form, shadow, and clay are the absolutes. Some women must leap, bow, and run, for their souls crave dance. Yet others crave only a tree-leaning peace.


From Chapter 7 - Joyous Body: The Wild Flesh

The cultural power of the body is its beauty, but the power in the body is rare, for most have chased it away with their torture of or embarrassment by the flesh.

There is no "supposed to be" in bodies. The question is no size of shape or years of age, or even having two of everything, for some do not. But the wild issue is, does this body feel, does it have right connection to pleasure, to heart, to soul, to the wild? Does it have happiness, joy? Can it in it own way move, dance, jiggle, sway, thrust? Nothing else matters.


From Chapter 8 - Self-preservation: Identifying Leg Traps, Cages and Poisoned Bait

When she is starved, a woman will take any substitutes offered, including those that, like placebos, do absolutely nothing for her, as well as destructive and life-threatening ones that hideously waste her time and talents or expose her life to physical danger. 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.

Nine times out of ten a woman with a spiritual/psychological problem that causes her to fall into traps and be badly hurt is a woman who is currently being or has been critically soul-starved.

The instinct-injured woman usually gives herself away because she has a difficult time asking for help, recognizing her own needs. Her natural instincts to fight or flee are drastically slowed or extinct. Recognition of the sensations of satiation, off-taste, suspicion, caution, and the drive to love fully and freely are inhibited or exaggerated.

One of the most insidious attacks on the wild self is to be directed to perform properly, implying a reward will follow (if ever). While consistency, follow-through and organization are all essential to implementing creative life, the old woman's injunction to "be proper" kills off any opportunity to expand.

When the collective is hostile to a woman's natural life, rather than accept the derogatory or disrespectful labels that are placed upon her, she can and must, like the ugly duckling, hold on, hold out, and search for that which she belongs to —and preferably outlive, out-thrive and outcreate those who vilified her.


From Chapter 9 - Homing: Returning to Oneself

In hunting cultures, the pelt is equal to food as the most important product of survival. Psychologically, to be without the pelt causes a woman to pursue what she thinks she should do, rather than what she truly wishes. It causes her to follow whoever or whatever impresses her as strongest —whether it is good for her or not. Then there is much leaping and little looking. She is jocular instead of incisive, laughs things off, puts things off. She pulls back from taking the next step, from making the necessary descent and holding herself there long enough for something to happen.

From the time we are born, there is a wildish urge within us that desires our souls lead our lives, for the ego can only understand just so much. Imagine the ego on a permanent and relatively short leash; it can only go so far into the mysteries of life and spirit. Usually, it becomes frightened. It has a bad habit of reducing all numinosity to a "nothing but." It demands facts that are observable. Proofs that are of a feeling or mystical nature do not very often sit well with the ego. That is why the ego is lonely.

Like all other lonely or hungry things, ego loves the light. It sees light, and the possibility of being close to the soul, and it creeps up to it and steals one of its essential camouflages. In a hunger for soul, our own ego-self steals the pelt.

It is hard to recognize our condition until we become like the seal woman in her distress: peeling, limping, losing juice, going blind. So it is a gift from the immense vitality of the psyche, then, that there is deep in the unconscious a caller, and old one who rises to the surface of our consciousness and begins to incessantly call us back to our true natures.

It is a profound feature of the wild psyche that if we do not come on our own, if we aren't paying attention to our own seasons and the time for return, the Old One will come for us, calling and calling until something in us responds.

Since the psyche is a complete system, all its elements resonate to the call. A woman's restlessness during this time is often accompanied by irritability and a sense that everything is much too near for comfort, or far too far for peace. She feels anywhere from a bit to a lot "lost", for she has stayed too long from home. These feelings are just the right feelings to feel. That feeling of being torn comes from hearing, consciously or unconsciously, something calling us, calling us back, something that we cannot say no to without hurting ourselves.

Home is where a thought or feeling can be sustained instead of being interrupted or torn away from us because something else is demanding our time and attention.

Home is a sustained mood or sense that allows us to experience feelings not necessarily sustained in the mundane world: wonder, vision, peace, freedom from worry, freedom from demands, freedom from constant clacking.

Home is the pristine instinctual life, where all is as it should be, where all the noises sound right, and the light is good, and the smells make us feel calm rather than alarmed.


From Chapter 10 - Clear Water: Nourishing the Creative Life

If you want to kill something, just be cold to it. As soon as one becomes frozen in feeling, thinking, or action, relationship is not possible. When humans want to abandon something in themselves or leave someone else out in the cold, they ignore them, disinvite them, leave them out, go out of their way to have to even hear their voice or lay eyes upon them.

To lose focus means to lose energy. The absolutely wrong thing to attempt when we've lost focus is to rush struggling to pack it all back together again. Rushing is not the thing to do. Sitting and rocking is the thing to do. Patience, peace, and rocking renew ideas. Just holding the idea and the patience to rock it are what some women might call a luxury. Wild Woman says it is a necessity.

If you've lost your focus, just sit down and be still. Take the idea and rock it to and fro. Keep some of it and throw some away, and it will renew itself. You need do no more.

Whether our focus is on self-development, world issues, or relationship doesn't matter, the animus will wear down. It is not a matter of if, it is a matter of when.

Wild Woman expects that the animus will wear out on a regular basis. She is not shocked that he falls through her door. She is not shocked when we fall through the door. She is ready. She will not rush to us in a panic. She will just pick us up and hold us till we regain our power again.

A powerful way of renewing or strengthening one's intention or action that has become fatigued is to throw some ideas away, and focus.

Focusing is the use of all our senses, including our intuition.


From Chapter 11 - Heat: Retrieving a Sacred Sexuality

A woman's heat is not a state of sexual arousal but a state of intense sensory awareness that includes, but is not limited to, her sexuality.

The sacred and the sensual live very near one another in the psyche, for they are all brought to attention through a sense of wonder, not from intellectualizing but through experiencing something through the physical pathways of the body, something that for the moment or forever, whether it is a kiss, a vision, a belly laugh, or whatever, changes us, shakes us out, takes us to a pinnacle, smooths out our lines, gives us a dance step, a whistle, a true burst of life.

When the laughter helps without doing harm, when the laughter lightens, realigns, reorders, reasserts power and strength, this is the laughter that causes health. When the laughter makes people glad they are alive, happy to be here, more conscious of love, heightened with eros, when it lifts their sadness and severs them from anger, that is sacred. When they are made bigger, made better, more generous, more sensitive, that is sacred.


From Chapter 12 - Marking Territory: The Boundaries of Rage and Forgiveness

Rage corrodes our trust that anything good can occur. Something has happened to hope. And behind the loss of hope is usually anger; behind anger, pain; behind pain, usually torture of one sort or another, sometimes recent, but more often from long ago.

The orphaned dead of the psyche are the creative thoughts and words and ideas in a woman's life that have suffered premature death, and that deeply contribute to her rage. In a way, one could say that rage is the result of ghosts not laid properly to rest.

Although some people claim they can create out of their chronic rage, the problem is that rage confines access to the collective unconscious —that infinite reservoir of imaginal images and thoughts— so that the person creating out of rage tends to create the same thing over and over again, with nothing new coming through. Untransformed rage can become a constant mantra about how oppressed, hurt, and tortured we were.

Release yourself from the illusions that the present is an exact and calculated replay of the past.

To truly heal we must say our truth, and not only our regret and pain, but also what harm was caused, what anger, what disgust, and also what desire for self-punishment or vengeance was evoked in us.

It is possible to maintain a kind of pressure gauge for one's emotional life, and one can be fierce and generous at the same time. One can be reticent and valuable. One can protect one's territory, make one's boundaries clear, shake the sky if need be, yet be available, accessible, engendering at the same time.

Most women can feel the slightest change in someone else's temperament, can read faces and bodies —this being called intuition— and often from a plethora of tiny clues that coalesce to give her information she knows what is on their minds. In order to use these wild gifts, women remain open to all things. But it is this very openness that leaves their boundaries vulnerable, thereby exposing them to injuries of spirit.

If a woman is instinct-injured, she often has a problem with intrusion recognition; she is slow to notice territory violations and does not register her own anger until it is upon her.

Typically such women do not act upon their rage at the right time, perhaps jumping the gun, or having a delayed reaction weeks, months, or even years later, realizing what they should have, could have, would have said or done. This is usually not caused by shyness or introversion but by too much thinking, too much trying to be nice, and not enough acting from soul.

Injured instinct must be arighted by practicing and enforcing strong boundaries and by practicing firm and, when possible, generous responses, but solid ones nevertheless.

In her instinctual psyche, a woman has the power, when provoked, to be angry in a mindful way —and that is powerful. Anger is one of her innate ways to begin to reach out to create and preserve the balances she holds dear, all that she truly loves. It is both her right, and at certain times and in certain circumstances, a moral duty.

There is much need and place for rightful and clear anger, especially when previous calls to consciousness have been made anywhere from dulcet to moderate tones of voice and have gone unheard. Anger is the next step in the hierarchy of calling attention.

Sometimes people become confused and think that to be stuck in an outdated rage means to fuss and fume and to act out and toss and throw things. It does not mean that in most cases. It means to be tired all the time, to have a thick layer of cynicism, to dash the hopeful, the tender, the promising. It means to be afraid you will lose before you open your mouth. It means to reach flashpoint inside whether you show it on the outside or not. It means bilious entrenched silences. It means feeling helpless. But there is a way out, and it is through forgiveness.

Nothing that a human may have done, is doing, or might do, is outside the bounds of forgiveness. Nothing.

Forgiveness is an act of creation. You can choose from many ways to do it. You can forgive for now, forgive till then, forgive till the next time, forgive but give no more chances —it's a whole new game if there is another incident. You can give one more chance, give several more chances, give many chances, give chances only if. You can forgive part, all, or half of the offense. You can devise a blanket of forgiveness. You decide.

The Four Stages of Forgiveness:

  1. To Forego - To leave it alone, not to overlook but to become agile and strong at detaching from the issue.
  2. To Forbear - To abstain from punishing. To have patience, to bear up against, to channel emotion. To practice generosity.
  3. To Forget - To avert from memory, to refuse to dwell. To forget is an active, not a passive, endeavor. Conscious forgetting means willfully dropping the practice of obsessing, intentionally outdistancing and losing sight of it, not looking back, thereby living in a new landscape, creating new life and new experiences to think about instead of the old ones.
  4. To Forgive - To abandon the debt. It is a conscious decision to cease to harbor resentment, which includes forgiving a debt and giving up one's resolve to retaliate.
How does one know if one has forgiven? You tend to feel sorrow over the circumstances instead of rage, you tend to feel sorry for the person rather than angry with him. You tend to have nothing left to remember to say about it all. You understand the suffering that drove the offense to begin with. You prefer to remain outside the milieu. You are not waiting for anything. You are not wanting anything. There is no lariat snare around your ankle stretching from way back there to here. You are free to go. It may not have turned out to be a happily ever after, but most certainly there is now a fresh Once upon a time waiting for you from this day forward.


From Chapter 13 - Battle Scars: Membership in the Scar Clan

It is good to remember that in tensile strength and ability to absorb pressure, a scar is stronger than skin.

Tears are a river that take you somewhere.

Tears make us conscious. There is no chance to go back to sleep when one is weeping. Whatever sleep comes then is only rest for the physical body.

The Scar Clan - that timeless tribe of women who down through the ages have lived through a great something, and yet who stood proud.

Most often we wound others where, or very close to where, we have been wounded ourselves.


From Chapter 14 - La Selva Subterránea: Initiation in the Underground Forest

One of the most basic things that mediate between the world of soul and the world of matter is that many things that present themselves to us are not as they seem upon first contact.

If, in our modern societies, the hands of the ego must be sundered in order to regain our wild office, our feminine senses, then go they must in order to take us away from all seductions of meaningless things within our reach, whatever it is that we can hold on to in order not to grow.

It is a psychic fact that when one has given birth to a beautiful thing something mean will also arise, even if only momentarily, something that is jealous, lacks understanding, or shows disdain.

Nurture is absolutely essential to the journey, and in substantial amounts. In fact, if it is not present in adequate amounts, the seeker will lose energy, fall into depression, and fade to a whisper.

Initiation is the process by which we turn from our natural inclination to remain unconscious and decide that, whatever it takes -suffering, striving, enduring- we will pursue conscious union with the deeper mind, the wild Self.


From Chapter 15 - Shadowing: Canto Hondo, The Deep Song

The word reclamation is derived from the old French reclaimer, meaning "to call back the hawk which has been let fly."

So what is the point of this reclamation and focus, this calling back of the hawk, this running with the wolves? It is to go for the jugular, to get right down to the seed and to the bones of everything and anything in your life, because that's where your pleasure is, that's where your joy is, that's where a woman's Eden lies, that place where there is time and freedom to be, wander, wonder, write, sing, create, and not be afraid.

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