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Tracking the Wild Feminine

BY Maria Souza September 26, 2022

Public domain.

The Goddess, on the other hand, is in everybody, in every place, and is every place; the business of recognizing her there is the business of this mythology.

Joseph Campbell, Goddesses: Mysteries of the Feminine Divine (232)

Our world is deprived of images of the Goddesses. That is not to say they don’t exist, but they are buried, hidden, and disguised in our culture, or they have been misunderstood and polluted. How can we recognize someone if we do not know how She looks or what Her name was?

The truth is that outside of specific niche circles, we have little metaphysical representation of the divine feminine nature. We are starving for images of the goddesses that can encompass our whole being as women and so allow us to recognize it in ourselves, others, and the living world.

In the West, this is most visible through Christian mythology. As Marie Louise Von Franz states in her book The Feminine in Fairy Tales, Protestantism must accept that it is purely men’s religion. (1) Catholicism offers only the Virgin Mary as an image, which is an incomplete image of the feminine as it only embraces the light aspects of the divine, and excludes many of its core principles.

Even beyond the West, the divine feminine is equally scarce. I have lived in Asia for more than half a decade, and have observed how women in the East are also starving for mythology and history in which we are portrayed fully, powerfully, fertile, and robust. One of my Chinese students in the program where I teach has said that women in China live under an invisible veil that keeps them domesticated and living unfulfilling lives. She has described how the culture is deprived of clues and tracks for women to discover, and how hard it is for them to find liberation and belonging within this limiting environment.

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It’s not only the lack of stories and images that make us feel this loss of representation but also the lack of attention to the tales we have in hand and the tools to interpret them, and the inability to read stories symbolically. In many parts of the world, mythological tales are still considered stories for children, a change that emerged in the seventeenth century, shifting fairy tales from the adult domain to nurseries. Von Franz suggests this has to do with rejecting the irrational, the imaginal, and respecting only rational thinking. Time and again, the masculine, the logos, and intellect suppresses the feminine, the intuitive, and the mystical.

Today, fairy tales are accepted for their immense psychological value in academic and clinical circles. However, this knowledge has not reached the mainstream, and many women lack the tools to interpret and value them as cultural medicine. We forget that these tales are journeys of the soul.

This leads to a Self that is disorientated and uncertain about one’s place in the world, a Self that feels arid and lost. Starting from this space of emptiness and confusion, I came to find my own medicine in myths and fairy tales. Now, out of my own discoveries, women from over 30 nationalities have taken part in my work, “Women and Mythology.”

Women come looking for resources to support their connection with the feminine, to help them define their identity, and even find permission within themselves to step into their full creative powers as women, dismantling their fears and burned-out value system. Through tracking nature mythologies, we begin to rediscover feminine images and to re-learn how to gain insights into our soul’s journey.

Joseph Campbell said:

(…) All I can tell you about mythology is what men have said and have experienced, and now women have to tell us from their point of view what the possibilities of the feminine future are. And it is a future—it’s as though the lift-off has taken place; there’s no doubt about it.”

Goddesses: Mysteries of the Feminine Divine, 263

To forge and build the possibilities of this feminine future, we must bring these divine feminine figures and their journeys back into the public consciousness. We must let them live through us. We must confront our dysfunctional and patriarchal ways of being, dismantle the old values deeply embedded into our belief system and create space for new feminine ideas to emerge.

This is not only a journey for women. I believe it’s a journey for all genders, but it does start with women. We must do the work, travel the journey, and hold the door open for those who also want to rediscover the feminine within themselves. Clarissa Pinkola Estés suggests that women must heal themselves and the feminine first, and only then can we support others to do the same. (Women Who Run With The Wolves 97)

This is not a simplistic journey to take. It’s one with many inner and outer ogres and dragons; however, as Campbell states, the old indigenous mythologies will show us the way. Its myths carry the assortments of images we look for and showcase the inextricable relation between the natural world and the feminine. Through them, we can relate and locate our true nature, reclaim our authentic values, awaken to our creative power, and manifest our integrated self, which is vital, fertile, and creative.

Maria Souza is a Brazilian mythologist, educator and writer. She holds a postgraduate degree in Ecology and Spirituality, and she worked for seven years in the Amazon with indigenous people. Maria fell in love with mythology during her studies in the UK in 2015, and since then she has begun a personal and academic exploration of the topic. Her book, Wild Daughters, draws from mythology and time-worn tales while illuminating the challenges, dangers, beauty, and reality of the first initiations of a woman’s life. Blending ancient wisdom with contemporary culture, Souza’s writings reflect a woman searching for depth in times of superficial ornaments. She runs a mentoring program based on Clarissa Pinkola-Estés's Women Who Run With The Wolves and is the creator and host of the Women and Mythology podcast, hosted as part of the Joseph Campbell Foundation's MythMaker℠ Podcast Network. Podcast: Women and Mythology Website Instagram: @womenandmythology

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Campbell’s famous, mind-expanding essay explores the fundamental connection between myth, symbol, and human culture. In it, he looks at the origins of western culture’s myths and symbols, and asks whether these are still relevant in the modern era. This piece, along with classics such as “Mythogenesis,” “Bios and Mythos” and Campbell’s foreword to Grimms’ Fairy Tales, was published as part of the collection The Flight of the Wild Gander (re-issued by New World Library in 2002). This digital edition has been published by Joseph Campbell Foundation.

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All I can tell you about mythology is what men have said and have experienced, and now women have to tell us from their point of view what the possibilities of the feminine future are. And it is a future––it’s as though the lift-off has taken place, it really has, there’s no doubt about it.

-- Joseph Campbell

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Myth Resources

Women Who Run with the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype

Within every woman there lives a powerful force, filled with good instincts, passionate creativity, and ageless knowing. She is the Wild Woman, who represents the instinctual nature of women. But she is an endangered species. For though the gifts of wildish nature belong to us at birth, society’s attempt to “civilize” us into rigid roles has muffled the deep, life-giving messages of our own souls.

In Women Who Run with the Wolves, Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estés unfolds rich intercultural myths, fairy tales, folk tales, and stories, many from her own traditions, in order to help women reconnect with the fierce, healthy, visionary attributes of this instinctual nature. Through the stories and commentaries in this remarkable book, we retrieve, examine, love, and understand the Wild Woman, and hold her against our deep psyches as one who is both magic and medicine.

Dr. Estés has created a new lexicon for describing the female psyche. Fertile and life-giving, it is a psychology of women in the truest sense, a knowing of the soul.

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Goddesses

In this evocative volume, Campbell traces the evolution of the feminine divine from one Great Goddess to many, from Neolithic Old Europe to the Renaissance. He sheds new light on classical motifs and reveals how the feminine divine symbolizes the archetypal energies of transformation, initiation, and inspiration.

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“There is so much wisdom in Joy Harjo’s memoir Poet Warrior, a hero’s journey that weaves rhythms of poetry together with the miraculous, spiraling through experiences of exile, soul-searching, and challenges, as ‘Girl Warrior’ becomes ‘Poet Warrior,’ and discovers writing as a ‘portal to grace.’

“Poet Warrior inspires us to reflect on our inner truth and knowing: our histories, our memories, our dreams, and the stories that make us who we are, even though ‘sometimes memory appears to be an enemy bringing only pain.’ Harjo lights a fire built with kindling soaked in sorrow. A fire that will, no doubt, warm our hearts with inspiration, wisdom, and grace.”

Leon Aliski, PhD
Editorial Advisory Group
Joseph Campbell Foundation

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