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Empowering Soul Through The Feminine – An Interview with Marion Woodman by Michael Bertrand

Michael Bertrand: Your whole work seems to be in a way about soul making.  

Marion WOODMAN-awakenMarion Woodman: I would say that’s true – or soul mirroring. More and more I tend to see the soul expressing itself in body symptoms – in the way the body moves, in the dreams. I see it almost as a prisoner with the complexes squeezing in to take the life out of it. So, I try to do the mirroring that the parents were not able to do. The soul just became more and more encased. It wasn’t heard in a child’s body. It wasn’t seen. And that’s because the parents often have their own agenda as to what the child is, so they want it to act and speak in a certain way. The result is that the soul goes underground. I see therapy as an attempt to reconnect what that child has lost, the soul child.

MB: There are a lot of books out on the concept of the soul. Do you have a definition?

MW: Well, for me, the soul is the divine part of us that is embodied in this physical form for a few years. Eventually it is released, but I see soul as the embodied part. I see spirit as the energy, the disembodied energy that can come in to union with the soul in the body.  For example, a great dancer like Nureyev can prepare his instrument. His muscles can be in perfect shape through his attention and his concentration. So, his consciousness, his light in his body–which for me would be soul–can be a perfect instrument. But, he’s a great dancer when spirit is in union with that instrument. The leap is in the union of soul and spirit.

MB: So, a lot of your work is freeing up the soul so that it can be able to get in that union?

MW: Yes, so the soul is strong enough to be able to accept that union. If it is weak, or if the body is not conscious, the spirit could come flashing in and cause a psychotic episode. It’s like a Rolls Royce engine in a Volkswagen car. The energy could blast the container to pieces and that does happen to people.  It’s in that surrender to the transcendent…that art is created.  I think of the soul as feminine, because it’s the receiver–in both men and women. The artist, for example, has to have a receiver and just hopes to God that the spirit will come and touch into soul so that there will a poem come out of that union or a piece of music or art. It’s in that surrender to the transcendent, or however you want to call the spirit energy, that art is created.  That manifests in dreams. A lot of people dream that there’s going to be a wedding and the bride is all ready but there is no groom or there’s something wrong with the groom. He’s too young or he’s got no legs or no heart or he’s dying. Sometimes there’s something wrong with the bridesmaid–the shadow side of the bride. So the union can’t take place until they come together as equals and some people are at that stage now.

MB: It seems that’s the place at the end of a long quest. Does that have to be done through processes like psychoanalysis?  Not everyone is going to be able to find the therapist to get them there.

MW: I don’t think it has to come through psychoanalysis. I mean not many people will get there if it did. I think it can come through life, with an experience, through loss–if people care enough about consciousness. You know, what does this loss – of relationship, of my partner in love, the job – mean? Suffering does seem to give us a chance to really come to consciousness.  I think the world we’re in so many people would rather go into an addiction or into unconsciousness. The journey I’m talking about is a conscious journey and certainly many people in the past, through their religious faith, have gone on this journey.  But, I do see psychotherapy as a speeding up of the psychic process. In the Middle Ages people were terrified of miners and blacksmiths. Miners went into the earth and raped it before the jewels or minerals were ready to come out. They thought this was going against God’s timing and that they would be punished.  There is a point…where people are addicted to being victims. It’s very important to want to walk on your own.
A lot of people have similar feelings about therapists and analysts, that they are raping the unconscious by putting this kind of heat on the psyche. What this process does is speed up the maturation process and one has to be strong to take that kind of fire. Not everybody that goes into therapy goes into the fire.

MB: No. They step back or…

MW: They fool themselves. They’re just not committed and are more interested in being supported than they are in doing the work. That sounds rough, and I certainly support so long as I see a need. Some people come in very, very broken and then one does support, but there is a point I think in our culture where people are addicted to being victims. It’s very important to want to walk on your own legs instead of on crutches.

MB: You said something like staying with the process is what matters, through imagery…

MW: Yes, and body symptoms and experiences that just seem to come in from nowhere. It’s amazing how synchronistic things become when you’re going through the process. You can get to the point where you can hardly tell the difference between inner and outer. When you realize that inner and outer are the same the kind of person that you love in your dreams will be the kind that you are seeking in your outer life or indeed are married to.  As the inner relationship changes the outer relationship changes or you find a different person outside.

MB: Dreams seem to be of primary importance in getting in touch with what’s stopping the process or encasing the soul.

MW: I put dreams and body symptoms on a par. Dreams bring to consciousness what’s happening in the body. The dream imagery will tell you what the blocked energy in the body is about. For example, if you’ve got a frozen shoulder, often if you work on that the dream will tell you the conflicts that are holding that shoulder frozen. So, I keep working with dreams and body images together.

MB: You have people do all different types of bodywork?

MW: I don’t think it matters what kind you do. I think it’s the practitioner that matters. That means for me that they will not be trying to exert their own power, that they will allow the soul to express itself through the body just as it expresses itself through the psyche. In my experience the soul has been so raped that it just can’t deal with power. It just turns off completely from anybody that tries to use power over it.

MB: So the process is fairly subtle and empathic.

MW: Yes, it’s very subtle, because we’re so used to power we don’t even recognize it. Often the body recognizes it before the ego does. In other words, the ego may like a certain practitioner, but the body doesn’t want to work with that person and will pull the energy back. You have to really look at that when it happens.  I’ve worked with people that I’ve really, really liked and yet when they touched my hand it said, “Thank you and good-bye”. The energy just went out. The practitioner knew it had gone out and I knew and we knew we couldn’t work together. Afterwards she found out from her own teacher that she was moving into another level of giving up power and my body had picked that up.

MB: When you talk about giving up power so many women feel they’re only just coming into their power, so the word power has a lot of connotations.

MW: I’m using the word in the sense of controlling somebody else or trying to control yourself or your own body. An anorexic, for example, will drive her body as if – well, in their dreams they dream about concentration camps and Nazis, just so so cruel to the body.  What I strive for is empowerment, where you sense your own strength right through your whole being.  When I’m talking about power I’m talking about the kind of attitude that does not value other people, certainly isn’t interested in soul and couldn’t care less about holy spirit. They just leave no room at all for things to happen.  What I strive for is empowerment, where you sense your own strength right through your whole being, that you are in touch with your feelings, anxieties and needs in your body. You are grounded in that and are embodied and through that embodiment you are empowered. You can act out of who you are, stand in your own truth and express your own truth.  At the same time – and here’s the paradox – you’re strong enough to step aside and let the much greater energy through. That’s a real strength, the real power too, because you’re in the tao if you’re able to do that and not trying to push your own stupid little ego desires and trying to force them on yourself and other people. To me that’s power.

MB: You have said that you try to write your books in a way that’s not of the will of the patriarchy. You’re trying to write from your own voice, in a different way, trying to write from the feminine.

MW: Yes. I don’t always succeed and the more I work with it the more I’m coming into that feminine voice, but I used to be able to work according to the laws of unity and emphasis and coherence and I used to lecture from that point of view. But, there was nothing spontaneous and it didn’t leave for anything to come flashing through. I found it very boring.

MB: I read a paragraph in your books and all of a sudden there’ll be a line in there coming right out of left field that will be totally pertinent and it will stop me. I can’t read the book for a couple of weeks.

MW: I don’t experience it as coming out of left field, but I know people do. I think it’s because I’m so used to working with the unconscious. I work with dreams six, seven hours a day so I’m used to the logic of the unconscious and it is very logical in its own way. It will just fire in an image that just hits you right in the belly, but sort of brings it all together and says, “Okay, you want to bring together emotions, intellect, imagination – there’s the image.” And it does make your gooseflesh zip up on your arms.  People have told me they don’t understand the books at all, but their stomach is going round and their heart’s beating fast and they can’t understand why. It’s because the unconscious is ringing in at the body level. I assume that’s what’s going on.

MB: You’re hitting something that some part of one knows is true.

MW: Yes. I don’t try to do that.

MB: No, you wouldn’t succeed.

MW: No, I wouldn’t. I just let it flash through and I hope I never do understand it. I think if I ever did I’d lose it. You know, it’s like after Gretzky saw himself playing hockey on TV he couldn’t hit the goal for a few weeks. He suddenly got his consciousness between him and the goal. I think he’s a real Zen hockey player and in that sense I’m a Zen writer. I really don’t try to do that, but I’m delighted when it happens.

MB: Your writing in some way is an antidote to what’s been called patriarchal thinking, some way of moving out of the bind that we seem to be in.

MW: I try to stay more with feeling and imagery is, of course, tied into that feeling.  I want to make clear that I don’t associate patriarchy with men any more. To me men are the victims of patriarchy just as much as women are, in fact moreso. I know many women are now coming into their femininity and they’re looking for a masculine to balance that in themselves and they dream of poor broken men with no hearts and no legs. They’re often little boys who’ve been smashed over the mouth so that they’re very damaged. I think the full horror of what’s happened to the masculine is just beginning to come into consciousness and to me patriarchy is a power principle of which Nazism was the epitome.  I think all of us have to really look so carefully at how we collude with patriarchy. We’re so used to it that we don’t even know how we’re being struck by it.

MB: In these buildings and architecture and technology and air conditioning, whatever, it all seems to be a product. We live McLuhan’s curse, that the medium is indeed the message.

MW: I always think in terms of microcosm and macrocosm and I think the body is the microcosm and time is the macrocosm. Every addict that I’ve every worked had to have their knees against the wall before they did anything really. They have to come to a place where they’re on their knees asking for help and it’s choosing between life and death.  I have faith that…the feminine will come into consciousness – the manifestation of light in matter, that matter is sacred.  That may sound apocalyptic, but I suspect we may have to suffer on this planet a lot more before we’re going to change. But, I also have huge faith. I do believe in the evolution of consciousness and the evolution of God and I think that the feminine side of God is now going to come into consciousness and we don’t want her. She sure is going to make one chaos of patriarchy and yet if she isn’t brought to consciousness the planet is going to die. We know that, and we’ll die in our own garbage.  So, I have faith that, maybe not in my lifetime but the feminine will come into consciousness. By that I mean the manifestation of light in matter, that matter is sacred, and that God can be manifested through light in matter. That’s what the French Impressionists were trying to paint and what the Romantics were trying to write music about.

MB: So, the Gaia principle and all these ideas that are coming to the fore are ways of bringing this symbology at least here and the reality…

MW: I think the reality will come. We are living in the atomic age and Einstein is about matter releasing into energy and that’s what I’m talking about. Unconscious matter is actually, at a cellular level, capable of becoming energy and radiating light.  So long as we just go along defiling it and thinking that we’ve got the right to do as we please we’re raping the feminine side of God and we will not get away with it. We do it to our bodies. We treat them like junk shops.

MB: A question about Leaving My Father’s House. It’s quite different from your other ones in that you’ve had three other participants.

MW: I like other people to have a chance to express their creativity and felt that each of those women was totally able to express their own experience and what was the point of me getting between her and the reader. I had my input in the book. It’s an example of stepping aside.  That book wanted to be. The three of them all started writing at the same time. They were all totally on their own, miles apart, beginning a process of articulation and that’s how it turned out.

MB: Is the process for doing this sort of work different for men and women?

MW: I think the rituals involved are different. Women’s rituals tend to be around body, menstruation, women’s biological worlds. Men’s rituals, I’m sure, are around men’s biological worlds. They’ll likely be on a very spiritual level.  Every process is different. No two women’s process is the same either. So I think while the imagery is different in men’s and women’s dreams and certainly while the energy in the body is different – you know, when I worked with men only in body groups I used to get blown against the wall. But, there is an archetypal part that is very similar.

MB: The journey, the quest.

MW: Yes, the fundamental images of the quest seem to me very much the same. In the man’s dreams he has to separate out from the mother, then reconnect and find the virgin within himself. I think many men think that once they’ve found mothering they’ve found the feminine and they aren’t anywhere near the virgin in themselves, with that kind of femininity. But, it’s all beginning to flower.  I do have men in my practice. I like to hold that balance. But, I like to take 30 women away into nature alone and let the process take over. Most women can’t endure being with men at this point. They’re too vulnerable. They don’t know what their own femininity is and they can’t deal with the confusion of being with men, at least until they get stronger.

MB: I’ve experienced that with men’s groups, too. They feel they’ve finally made some leap to actually get together in some meaningful way and that they need to do the work by themselves for a while.

MW: Yes. That’s what Robert Bly and I try to do at our conferences. He works with the men, I work with the women and then we bring them together. It’s always immensely moving when the two come together. The moment is unforgettable.

MB: You once said that once you rely on dreams it’s like a rudder in the unconscious and will help convert the conscious ever so subtly. It’s important to stay with those images.

MW: Yes, I see the whole cycle of life as a ship and a sailboat specifically, because it’s not got a motor that’s going to propel it. It’s going to take its energy from the wind and the sails and the wind, of course, is an image of the holy spirit.  Often [the dream] will echo back through the years to the places where you betrayed soul in the same way as you betrayed it in the last 24 hours.  At the same time the hand is on the rudder, taking the energy from the sea itself and you have to direct your boat with the imagery that’s coming from the unconscious, so that the dream will tell you if you have been true to soul during the last 24 hours. Often it will echo back through the years to the places where you betrayed soul in the same way as you betrayed it in the last 24 hours.  It may give you a dream of living in your house when you were 20 years old and what happened yesterday is the same kind of thing you did when you were 20.

MB: So the soul wants 24 hour awareness.

MW: Yes. Some people, of course, it takes 36 or 48 hours. People have to figure out how long it takes a dream to respond. Some people it’s not the same day, it’s maybe even the third day. The body will come back to equilibrium through sleep and the psyche also comes back to equilibrium through sleep. It’s the dreams that bring equilibrium.  They’ve found that it’s not the sleep deprivation so much as the dream deprivation that makes people wild if they don’t sleep.

MB: I know some people can’t get their dreams if they’re wakened by an alarm clock or if they don’t have enough sleep or they’ll get them later if they sleep in.

MW: Yes. Certainly the process we’ve been talking about is dependent on bringing the dream into consciousness, but I think the dream can do a great deal even if you don’t get it. It’s doing something to re-establish a balance.  Even if you only get the feeling of the dream and don’t try to interpret at all the feeling can give you a very different kind of balance for your day.

Source: AWAKEN


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