“I want to die having lived my own life.” Woodman began, her temples white with the mark of cronedom, and we breathed a collective sigh of relief. The sort of relief that one feels in finally belonging, after having lived a long life in a world divorced from the cosmos, in denial of nature.
Marion Woodman; author, teacher, crone, shepherd, came to remind us that what is most missing from our culture is the Mature Feminine. Real Mothering, she explained, is the ability to “hold presence”. It is not divided attention, like the sort you feel when you are speaking to someone and they are psychically composing their grocery list while you talk. “I don’t have time for that.” she says. Holding presence “is to love the other exactly as they are, not as you want them to be.” It is love without judging, without getting the other tangled up in your own unconscious, unlived life. “Holding presence is to make space so the other can grow into their destiny. They can feel that.” Woodman assures us.
“There is a destiny that shapes our ends, rough hew them as we will.” Woodman recites William Shakespeare to illustrate the battle between the Ego and the Essential Self. It is important to have a strong ego, she warns, so that your container is able enough for the archetypal to come through. Paradoxically, Woodman explains, the ego should ultimately surrender to that transpersonal love. The hope, she says, is to become “congruent with the Self.”
It’s hard to imagine Woodman as such, but she confesses to having spent a great deal of her life seeking approval. She draws on the story of King Lear, whose desperate demand for validation from his daughters poignantly expresses the ego problem. For Lear, it swallows him in a storm of madness before spitting him out the other, more kingly side.
Woodman reads from Yeats; “An aged man is but a paltry thing, a tattered coat upon a stick, unless soul clap her hands and sing, and louder sing for every tatter in her mortal dress.”
But Lear’s anguish, Woodman says, is key; “There has to be a sacrifice for transformation.” She speaks from experience, of course.
As written about in her 1993 book “Bone; Dying Into Life”, Woodman was diagnosed with uterine cancer. The doctors told her that the cancer was metastasizing, and that her prognosis was significantly bleak. She says she didn’t know how she knew they were wrong, but she did know. This didn’t, however, stop the onset of her own storm. After her diagnosis, she went home and prayed. She begged the forces that are to spare her. She was quite simply terrified and unprepared to die. That night, she had a dream. She was a shepherd on a hill, looking for the North Star. Suddenly a giant, impossibly sexy angel descended from the sky and gripped her shoulders with such force that she was utterly planted by it. And then he spoke two booming words; FEAR NOT! When Woodman woke in morning, her life had changed. “Never since then,” she said, “have I felt fear again.”
When one listener asked her how she brought the angel about, Woodman quoted Marie Louise von Franz; “It takes the hare to constellate the hounds.” In other words, if we want to affect real movement in the unconscious, we have to put unfaltering attention to our question. And, as Woodman laments, the unquestioned problem of our culture is the loss of the symbolic life. We have taken that impulse to worship and misdirected it towards matter, become devoted to the literal world instead.
We see the results of this inversion everywhere. It is in the rampancy of auto-immune disorders in our bodies. It is in the hemorrhaging of our ecosystem. It is in our eating disorders, our wars, our fallow cultural products. It is the great impoverishment of the Feminine.
But Woodman gives us hope, and with it, comes responsibility. She says in a society consumed with addiction, we must refuse to be assimilated. Instead of binging and escaping, we should dance on the fringes, and let ourselves be danced. She says the wisdom of the crone is in surrendering to the Nowness. That by listening to our bodies and the interior world, we are strengthening the domain of the Feminine.
January 21, 2005, Michener Institute, Toronto