Tami Simon: You’re listening to Insights at the Edge. Today my guest is Clarissa Pinkola Estés. Clarissa Pinkola Estés is an internationally recognized scholar, award-winning poet, diplomat, senior Jungian psychoanalyst and cantadora, keeper of the old stories in the Latina tradition. She is the author of the international bestseller Women Who Run With the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype, along with over a dozen audio programs from Sounds True including a new five-volume series on the Dangerous Old Woman: Myths and Stories of the Wise Woman Archetype.
Now, brand new, Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estés has released a book from Sounds True and an accompanying four-session audio series called Untie the Strong Woman: Blessed Mother’s Immaculate Love for the Wild Soul. This is a book of stories, prayers, blessings, and original artwork bringing to life the Blessed Woman. With Untie the Strong Woman, Dr. Estés invites you to encounter the force of Immaculate Love so that your memory of her is renewed or so that the knowledge of her miraculous, fierce, enduring ways is drawn into your heart for the very first time.
In this episode of Insights at the Edge, CPE—as I refer to Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estés, someone I have known for over two decades—CPE and I spoke about different manifestations of the Holy Mother and how she is ultimately beyond representation. We also spoke about CPE’s own first experience with a visitation from the Holy Mother and how our relationship with our own biological mother affects how we relate to this Great Mother force. We also spoke about the relationship between the archetype of the Wild Woman, the Wise Woman, and the Holy Woman, and finally, what it means to live with “an unruined heart.” Here’s my conversation with Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estés on Untie the Strong Woman.
CPE, when you speak and write about the Blessed Mother, you speak about her as both a presence—a real, felt, palpable living presence—and also as an archetype, a symbol. I’m curious if you could talk a little bit about this, how the Blessed Mother is both an archetype and what that means, as well as a real living presence.
Clarissa Pinkola Estés: Archetype is an enormous force that we are susceptible to feeling, seeing, sensing, hearing, but it’s representable as itself because it’s beyond our ability to capture the universe: horizon-to-horizon. Representations are what we can understand. The archetype of Holy Mother, Blessed Mother, Great Mother, comes to us in symbology—in symbols—as the Great Woman who, for instance, is called the “Tower of Ivory,” or she’s called the “Black Madonna,” or she’s called different things by various people who see her in various ways, symbolically. The greater spirit of the archetype actually stands behind the archetypal representation and it’s enormous. We, here on earth—who are part angelic blood certainly, part divine but fully human—we can sense, feel, see, hear aspects of that huge spirit emanating through symbolically in images, ideas, songs, music, dance. That appears to us to come right up to us and to emanate sometimes toward us but often even through us. So the difference is, archetype is a representation of something irrepresentable. The Great Mother, the Holy Mother, is irrepresentable in her magnitude.
The actual experiences of Holy Mother are what we can experience of that greater magnitude in ways that we can understand, that we can digest. I’ve often thought of Moses. Seeing Creator reveal to him—he had asked, begged, to please see God. Creator had said to him, “No, this can’t happen. You’re only a human. I would destroy you if you could see me in my magnitude.” Moses begged and begged, and finally, Creator picked him up in the palm of his hand and put him in a crevice in a rock to protect him. And he said, “I will pass by and let my shadow fall upon you.” When he did, afterward, Moses’ hair turned white and he ran into the desert ranting like a madman for many days and many nights after having even a glimpse of the shadow of the magnitude. So representations tend to be in our experiences of Blessed Mother—in apparitions and visitations—they tend to be the ones that truly open our minds and our hearts. They truly may, in a sense, blow our minds—as it used to be said—but so that we can comprehend them without becoming completely undone.
TS: So in a sense, the Blessed Mother is beyond any singular representation, although there are lots of different representations, but what I’m curious about is: In all of the different images and symbols, is there some common energetic signature, if you will? Where you think, “Oh, that’s the Blessed Mother.”
CPE: Holy Mother protects life. Holy Mother is there when life runs out. Holy Mother is there when life burgeons. Holy Mother is concerned with love and with life. As Rabbi Zalman Schacter says, “Enough of the rebuke of the father. It is now time for the love of the mother.” The characteristic of the Mother archetype is one of creation in the sense of incubation, in the sense of growing something quietly into its great strength and fruition and giving birth to it, bringing it into manifest reality in the world. And then nurturing it, protecting it, teaching it, caring for it, nourishing it, and helping it in every way to live fully alive in a state of love for other—but also in a state of love that comes from one greater than oneself.
Holy Mother is characterized by the conditions that you would find in a good mother on earth, but it has even more magnitude than that. When she is near, people report feeling comforted to the depths of their being. They report often feeling healed of emotional uncalm. They report it is as though a warm hand is placed over their hearts. And the loneliness that they were feeling that has caused such depression in them is healed and taken away. So when the Mother is near, people feel love and are filled with love. When Holy Mother is near, life is valued. And even in the dying, life to the very last moment is still valued.
TS: Now I want to see if I can get a better understanding of your sense—you ready for this?—your sense of Divinity, this force beyond representation as a whole. Do you have the sense that there’s a masculine holy force as well as this feminine force that you’re describing as the Holy Mother?
CPE: I have to tell you, honestly, my brain is too small to truly comprehend the magnitudes. What am I aware of though, as are many of my patients, my colleagues, my friends, my family, and myself, is that—like a tuning fork can tune itself to a certain tone— many of us are tuned to the magnitude as Holy Woman. And we see it, feel it, smell it, and know it when we know it. I’m not sure that there aren’t other ways of seeing, being, with the magnitude—but have a sense that this aspect of magnitude chooses us, as well as that we’re tuned to her.
It’s meaningful to us—beyond meaningful. It is not a simple endeavor of hyper-fascination, or “isn’t that interesting?” It is necessary, and necessary in the way that water is necessary, that air is necessary to the soul. I have said many times that the soul in our world is the most endangered species of all the species—in part because, with so many avenues, Holy Mother is left out entirely: in conversation, in the boardroom, in invention, in creation, in commercial endeavors, in private endeavors, in family life, in creative life.
She is creator. She is creative. She takes the very tiny and nourishes it and brings it to life. So my understanding is, in a way, not a full understanding. It is only the understanding I’m capable of. I perceive Holy Mother everywhere, as enormous and unending for everyone.
TS: You say that she’s left out of our family life often, or our corporate life often, or our community life. What would it mean to put Holy Mother at the center of these aspects of our life? What would that actually look like?
CPE: I think several things, depending on how she appears to each individual who’s in those lives. But I think most certainly you will find her—let me say this in a different way—let me say how you will not find her. You will not find her in a family, corporation, endeavor, unit, group that will not allow that tiny ideas, hopes, dreams have potential—that has to have everything be a fait accompli, or else it dies. It’s kicked out. It’s aborted. In a corporation or a family where people are not allowed to grow and develop from embryonic states forward, where it’s said: “No, that’s a bad idea.” They don’t even know what it’s going to look like yet, especially if it is enflamed with the love of the Holy Mother, and so they reject it out of hand. That’s one way.
Another way, and it’s a very personal way for human beings, is to reject the charism—or the gifts that we’ve been given, that we bring to earth here—and to say instead: “I’m not worthy enough. I’m not good enough. I’m not ready enough. It’s not time enough. I have to wait until I’m perfected or more perfected or more healed or perfectly healed,” or whatever it is. You know Holy Mother is not there because she is the one who will guard the wound and help the healing and strengthen the person until they can dance—right now, every day. So when people reject out of hand the charisms—the gifts that are spiritual gifts that they brought to earth for good reason—you also find some absence of Holy Mother.
She is exemplar, is how I would put it: how she is, we can be in human form. And she sets the drumbeat, she sets the patterns for what it means to mother, what it means to care for, what it means to bring things to true life, true fruition—creatively, psychologically, sexually, in every way you can imagine a human being can be a full human being. When she is present, she will help because you will be copying, in a sense, all of her life stories and there are many, many throughout the world. The Catholics have been probably the most proficient at preserving many of her stories about the way that she has manifested on earth. But the Muslims have their story about Holy Mother, Holy Mary. The people who have ideas in Asia about Holy Mother call her Kannon or Quan Yin. She’s called by a million names by six billion people. And she is everything that people say she is, particularly in her protective, burgeoning, life-giving and life-sparing presence.
TS: In these appearances that you are describing, whether it’s as Quan Yin or Mary or the Black Madonna, what do you think is actually going on in a sighting?
CPE: I think the worlds leak. I think that between this world and other worlds, there are other canals, pathways—underground, overland—and that a certain moment in time emotionally can cause leaking between the worlds or a sudden bridge to erupt from one world to another. For instance, Mother Mary often appears to people when they are heartbroken. They feel a nudge at their shoulder, they see something in the sky, a bird comes to their window, a little ladybug lands on their hand. Something happens: a cloud comes by in a certain shape and for a moment everything stops. And they realize that they are thinking, feeling, seeing, hearing, sensing, in a world that is not this world only. It’s somehow “other” and that presence is not from this world alone. It’s an emanation that comes from … we don’t know where. We can only give names like archetypes and the magnitude that stands behind the archetypes, or the spirit that stands behind the symbol, and so on and so forth.
As I understand it, Holy Mother exists everywhere, all at the same time. She is at the center of every heart that is a heart. She’s at the center of every soul that’s a soul. And she is larger than any number of souls that one could possibly put together. As your tuning of your senses is sharpened, as your ability to ask to see, to hear, to feel, to know more than just yourself of the magnitude that is useful and good and holy—you will find yourself having more dreams of Holy Mother. You’ll find yourself having more experiences symbolically of Holy Mother and sometimes actual apparitions of Holy Mother.
TS: Now this is more of a personal question, but are you willing to share with us your own meetings? Maybe the first time you met Holy Mother or there was an appearance and it was incontrovertible for you.
CPE: I’m always happy to share. You know it took me years to bind together my courage bones to write this book Untie the Strong Woman. And the reason I wrote, finally after all these years, about my personal experiences but also my experiences with other people—who have a devotion to Holy Mother and who have apparitions and visitations and who listen and hear her, smell her sometimes (she has fragrances that are associated with her)—is because I saw the loneliness of the people in the world, more and more, more and more, year after year, decade after decade, for mother, for Holy Mother.
I also saw people in a sense—if I could put it like the song goes to be paraphrased—looking for Holy Mother in all the wrong places. By that I mean putting faith in things that are faithless, putting hope in things that are not going to be loyal to you in terms of nourishing you and caring about you. So I wrote this book and I felt as I wrote it—also with your encouragement, Tami—that the truth has to be told about what one’s experiences are. We cannot fear that people think that we are fatuous, or that we are in some way not seeing, hearing, thinking clearly. That in fact, we are hearing clearly. We are seeing clearly.
It needs to be said that the human mind, soul, spirit, body, and heart are capable of walking in more than one world, and more than one world at a time. So yes, I write deeply in this book and also in the audio Untie the Strong Woman, I talk about personal experiences with Blessed Mother.
The earliest one that I know of that I had was as a child. We had gone to Lake Michigan to try out a new, used car that one of my relatives had gotten a hold of. And no one had a car so it was a really big excursion. We all piled into the car. I think the car was maybe made for six people and there were probably at least three times that many people: aunts and uncles, fat, short, thin, mustachioed—that was just the women, no I’m just kidding, that was the men. [Laughs.] And they were wearing their hats and their big coats and it was wintertime.
So we went and there was the Great Lake. My relatives became occupied with laughing and talking and drinking. I slipped away—a little girl maybe four years, maybe five-years-old—going down long steep steps all the way down to the beach. I saw, far out in the water, what looked like the kind of lace that my grandmothers made by hand, with beautiful openings in the lace—and then I saw what looked like a beautiful woman against the sunset in red and yellow. I wanted to go out into the water to see her. I thought maybe she was making lace out there. So I ran into water in my long, long, hand-me-down winter coat that was so full and heavy and my big rubber goulashes with the buckles on them. The water immediately filled my boots and made everything so heavy that I was falling over and I couldn’t find the bottom. I saw the lady and she started running toward me, holding her hands out in front of her, saying, “Run away, run up the beach.” I thought we were playing a game.
I slogged until I could turn around and face the beach again and I started trying to run in my big heavy boots and my wet, wet heavy coat that was dragging me down into the water. I fell several times and I couldn’t find the bottom with my little hands. She kept saying “Run, run.” I’d look over my shoulder and she’s holding her hands out, like to fluff gooses on their way, you know the geese, making them go on their way. Finally, I got all the way up onto the beach and stampeding down the stairs were my relatives. They were calling, “Yes, yes, Ida Claire, yes, come to us. Come to us. Come to us.” And the minute they got a hold of me, man they grabbed me up under their arms. I got hit so hard I was almost into the next world.
They carried me up the steps and I could still see the lady. I was holding out my hands to her; I wanted her, I wanted to be with her. I wanted to be with her because I wanted to see her beautiful handiwork. I wanted to be with her to save me from my own relatives. Taken all the way up the stairs, thrown into the back seat of the car, stripped of my clothing—which was soaking wet—and an old army blanket that smelled like motor oil put around me, and my relatives saying, “Why did you do that?” I told them there was a lady, a beautiful lady. And they said, “There’s no lady, no lady. Stop telling lies or else you’ll get it worse.” And so I learned not to say what I had seen. They said, “There’s a lighthouse out there on the jetty, that’s what you saw. You didn’t see no lady.” There was a lighthouse and it was red and it was out on the jetty and it didn’t look anything like a lady whatsoever. I knew I had seen a beautiful woman.
I knew. I knew it. As I wrote in the book, and as I say in the audio series Untie the Strong Woman, I saw her and more importantly, she saw me.
TS: As a child, what did you make of that experience? I mean, how did you make sense of it or not make sense of it? Where did it fit?
CPE: I felt such overwhelming love for her, a child who was not … cared for, let me put it that way. I don’t remember ever before feeling the immense power of complete and pure love in my entire life. And I wanted her. I wanted her. I wanted to see her again. I wanted to be with her. I wanted to look for her.
Then, within a short amount of time after that, I went to kindergarten. In kindergarten, at Catholic school, I had a nun—Sister Saint Bridgette. She was a darling nun. I bet she wasn’t five-feet tall. She was very little, like us. And there was, in the school, a statue of the woman—and the nuns told us that she appeared everywhere. In my heart was a great big thud, like a truth had suddenly settled straight into my heart that said, “They are the same. They are the same.” And I felt like I knew.
Because I went to Catholic school, we were consecrated to Holy Mother at age six, which was maybe first grade or thereabouts. We took vows to her. And we prayed to her and we were taught devotions. We were taught all of her songs. I probably know 50 songs to Maria, May, Miriam, Holy Mother. We made processions for her. We grew flowers just for her—great big chrysanthemums and huge dahlias and wonderful lilacs. We carried them in the May procession just for her, a whole month of devotion just to her. We were little girls in white dirty socks and funny brown shoes, devoted to Holy Mother. A child, I think, understands Holy Mother completely. There are no reasons to have to explain anything because she is love—love, and more love, and more love, and more love—complete love.
TS: I need to ask this question so you’ll have to bear with me, which is, if someone’s listening who has a rationalist bent, and the thought is: as a symbol of pure, immaculate love, the Holy Mother is a beautiful image and symbol that evokes this in us but the idea that there’s a leak between some other world and some actual forces manifesting—that’s where the rational mind just kind of gives up and can’t really follow what you’re saying.
CPE: I think it can but I think parallels have to be drawn. My patients, over the 41 years that I’ve been practicing clinically, probably a good half of them are what—in Jungian psychoanalysis —we’d call “thinking types,” as opposed to “intuitive types” or “feeling types” or “sensate types” of people. People who are thinking types are in no way set aside from the realm of magic and beauty. And that’s her channel; if there’s a channel on a television set, and there’s a factual channel of news (which as you know the most you could ever hope for is being fair rather than being entirely factual), and there is a channel for beauty and truth and magic.
So with people who have linear thinking as their main gift, usually all I have to do is ask how they felt when they saw their first child born, or when the child was born, if the child had difficulties and how they leapt to protect that child, how they almost turned themselves inside out, would have done anything, including die for that child. I ask them how much they loved their buddy in the Marines that they would have given their lives for. And when I ask, they enter immediately the other world, which is a world that is not based on fact. It’s based on love, such love of devotion that it actually defies trying to define it in a linear manner. And they understand, too. Everyone has their way into understanding. They’re just different ways.
TS: As someone who’s not very familiar with Catholicism, I’m curious how the Holy Mother, the Blessed Mother that you met within the Catholic Church, jives or doesn’t jive with your current understanding of the Holy Mother.
CPE: I think that culturally, you know, there’s the over-culture in the Church as well as in society and there has been an over-culture in the Church for a long time. It has said that if you are going to have a devotion or have an experience, it has to be this way, this way, this way, and this way but not that way, that way, that way, or that way. And that’s a too-narrow door, an aperture to pass through. In fact, I’m not sure many can pass through it.
Holy Mother, thankfully, doesn’t use doors, [Laughs] doesn’t use doorways. Holy Mother just comes wherever she’s most needed. Sometimes, in the people who say they know how it’s all supposed to go—in some narrow way—they are convinced that Holy Mother appears to the pure, to the well put together, to the innocent, to the people who are rule-followers and obedient. I would say—watching Holy Mother and her visitations to the literally thousands of people in my lifetime that I’ve known personally—that she appears to those whose hearts are broken. She appears to those who don’t know which way to go. She appears to those who are in terrible desperation, or in the midst of war, who have just been raped, who have watched their child dying, who are—without end—wanting to bring life into the world and unable yet to bring life. She comforts soldiers who are in the equivalent nowadays of foxholes. I have watched her appear to those who are in duress, and appear also to those who seek beauty, and those who seek artfulness, and those who are in the heat of creation.
But to appear to those who are obedient to what humans say obedience ought to be, as far as I know, that teaching I have to set aside. Mainly because of the fact that I see her appear to everyone in every condition possible—all the way from the most polished to the most impoverished.
TS: Can you share with us one of her appearances that perhaps has really surprised you or you thought, “Wow, I never thought that Holy Mother would appear in that guise, in that form, in that way?”
CPE: Yes. She has appeared to women who have had abortions. She has appeared as merciful mother, holding them in her arms—I know several people, interestingly, women as well as men. The Holy Mother will come to comfort, even when there’s loss of life. She’ll come to comfort even if some condemn a person for whatever they have done. Years ago, when I first found this to be true, I was sitting with a woman who had had more than one abortion. She had come in to therapy because she didn’t feel good, but she didn’t feel bad. So there was a rolling anxiety about her. And so I said to her, bring a dream. See if you can catch a dream and let us see.
The next week when she came back, she brought out her little notebook, and she couldn’t read the dream. She began to weep. And she cried, and cried, and cried. I held her hand and just remained silent. I said, “Let me read your dream to you. Would that be all right if I read it to you?” She nodded. And so I read the dream. It was a dream of Holy Mother bringing her little babies—one by one, who she had let go—to say that they are well and alive and in spirit fully and in soul fully. The Holy Mother was wearing a mantle that was made of the kind of fabric that you would see in an operating room. She had a little hat on, like an operating room hat and was carrying a little banner over her head that said, “The nursery is still alive.”
What that meant for that woman was, first of all, the cleaning out of the wound, which a mother would do. The wound had festered for years and of course, was filled with self-hatred, opprobrium from others, any number of condemnations, cruelties. Coming to terms with her own decision had to be made again. Coming to terms in a different time with Holy Mother close, caring to even let her know that what she has decided has not ended the soul. It ended the body.
I was surprised. I didn’t know. I didn’t know that Mother would go everywhere and anywhere because we’re all raised in a culture that, in the last many decades, has been so vociferous about abortion. I wrote in the book and I speak in the Untie the Strong Woman audio too about post-abortion compassion because that’s what’s needed: for Holy Mother to be holding people, to help people, to let them know they are loved, to allow help to come to that person so that they come to terms realistically, spiritually, cognitively, with what has come to pass.
TS: Now of course, this is a controversial area that you are moving into here, CPE, in talking about the soul and abortion. I’m curious what you might want to say to someone who is listening with a feminist ear, saying I hope nobody is hearing this and considering bringing up a baby to full term when they really don’t feel prepared or called to mother in that way.
CPE: Well, I’ve been shouted down for my opinion—many times—or talked over, or told not to say that. I would put it to you this way: I have not had abortions, but each time I was pregnant, the person closest to me tried to force an abortion and I was able to bring my two children to life. However, I see it this way: if a young woman, or a middle-aged woman or man came to me and said, there’s an unexpected pregnancy, or pregnancy that’s arisen out of violence, or a pregnancy that’s come from whichever direction that is difficult or cruel or in any way upsetting to the person, the first thing I would say is don’t panic. Do not panic. Let us think these things through.
There are many, many ways to move. Let’s talk first about your body, your health, your mind, your spirituality, your religiosity, your finances—everything that composes life on earth here. And let’s carefully see what can be done here. Once we know and weigh everything, everything in spirit, then you decide how you will go. At that point, they fly free. The thing that I have watched in regret in humans, so many times post-abortion, is that no one would talk to them. No one helped them. No one spoke to them. No one talked about all the avenues. And I don’t just mean adoption, abortion, or bringing to life, I mean all the ways that a human soul is affected in every way by the fact that a person is now in a state where they may be able to bring a life to earth. So I don’t like to argue with people but I can’t be argued out of my position. It’s a solid one and it’s filled with love for people no matter what.
Our idea is to try as hard as we can to truly, sincerely be like Holy Mother. And Holy Mother would talk to us. Holy Mother would hold us and help us and not just say, “This solution in this way is a solution for all parts of your enormous psyche.” Different people are different. Different people have different ideas and I think we can listen when a woman or man together are pregnant. We can listen to all their ideas. Theirs. Not the over-culture’s—theirs. And then we can see from there. What is the holy way to proceed? What is the pragmatic way to proceed? What is the holy pragmatic way to proceed?
TS: If someone’s listening to this and what’s coming up for them is some form of grief perhaps about an abortion that they had, or someone that they knew who suffered in some way—but maybe in some other way, or some other kind of suffering that they might be coming in touch with and they want to invoke Holy Mother’s blessing power, what would you suggest?
CPE: The Memorare. The Memorare is a prayer that says, “O most Holy Mother, it’s unto you that I flee for your protection, for your love, for your guidance.” The Memorare, which means “remember” in Latin, is the prayer that is both in my writing of this book as well as in the audio work. It is the prayer that I think is all-encompassing because it says, “never was it known that anyone who fled to you, who sought your protection, who sought your intercession, was left unaided.”
This I believe all the way down into my bones: if you call for Holy Mother, she will come. She will comfort you. You will feel it. Maybe a dream will come, maybe a sudden inspiration, maybe a friend will suddenly appear. Maybe a person you’ve known for a long time will say something that’s extremely poignant, helpful, healing, useful to you—but she will come. She will either come in person, or she will come through another individual, or she will come through dreams. She will come through artwork. If you lay your watercolor on the page, she will come. She will come in ways that each individual can best understand her.
TS: One of the themes, CPE, is this idea that the Holy Mother has somehow been suppressed throughout history and even in our world today—or maybe especially in our world today. That’s why we need to “untie” her. Can you talk about that? How has she been suppressed?
CPE: She’s suppressed by various groups of people who say it’s not all right to have a devotion to the Great One who is feminine in nature, unless it follows a certain trajectory. But in the majority, not at all—one is not supposed to have a devotion to Holy Mother. It’s oh, some ancient idiocy that’s not really real, that you must be somewhat a dolt if you think that it is really of consequence on this earth. And yet, we’ve had enough of “I-create-I-destroy, I-create-I-destroy, I-create-I-destroy.” We’ve had enough of that, which is always a sign to the male aspect of God that is highly creative, but also highly destructive—punishing people left and right. Yet Holy Mother—and she is represented at least throughout the world in 12 different mythologies and forms—is the woman who gave birth to the Child of Light. A Holy Mother Mary, in the beliefs that the old believers of Christianity carry, is thought to have brought the Child of Love to light, the God of Love, the God of Love to balance out all of the “I-create-I-destroy, I-create-I-destroy, I-create-I-destroy.”
Holy Mother is made small anytime a person says that we’ll have to think in a certain way—only. We’ll have to behave in a certain way—only. We can’t allow people to love—love, for heaven’s sake. We can’t allow people to love that which would bend near to protect the lonely, the sick, the ailing, the flailing, the uncertain. We can’t have any of that.
Anywhere we find it in culture, we find Holy Mother tied up. She’s not allowed to open her arms to us and yet, and yet, and yet, and yet for quite a few people on this earth, including myself, there is no way to keep her back. There’s no way. She’s here. She’s present, always. It’s only a matter of: Will you see? Will you open your inner hearing? Will you open your inner seeing? Will you open your heart? Will you open your soul? Will you let your spirit seize what it sees and rejoice in it?
TS: One of the things I’m curious about is how you think it operates in people’s psyche, their personal experience with their mother or their grandmother—their actual experience of their biological mother and grandmother—and their openness to Holy Mother, to Blessed Mother, what the relationship is.
CPE: It’s a really good question. I think that, first of all, as I said, being in duress often allows us to see more than just the world that’s right in front of us. It opens up other avenues. And it might be because the ego is so occupied with feeling such pain that it allows other things to come through into our minds and into our hearts as ideas, as sudden inspirations—the inspiratrice not only survives, but arrives full-fledged in various forms, one of them certainly being Holy Mother.
Many people think that we only have one mother and that’s a biological mother. That’s true in one sense, but in a mind that can think of different levels or in different layers, in a person who can walk in more than one world, you see that having many mothers is actually the fact, rather than having only that one mother—and that one mother is only biological. So like I tell my children, if you’re lucky in life, you’ll have many mothers because there is the mother, the life mother, the natal mother, who gave you life and brought you to earth. That’s true, but there are many, many other kinds of mothers. The lady who lives down the road might be your mother or a special teacher, of course, might be your mother. Or an hombre con pecho, a man who is a motherly kind of man—he might be your mother.
When people have good mothers who care about them, watch over them, help them and encourage them, have a minimum of judgment (especially destructive judgment; they might critique their child when needed, but it’s nothing about being destructive toward the child)—they too have other mothers, besides the good mother. They might have nature as a mother. They might find rocking climbing to be a mother to them. They might find being on top of the mountain with their cheek against the sky to be a mother for them.
People who have deleterious relationships with mother, and with father too—because it’s the nurturance’s protection that appears to be at issue most for children: consistently true nurturance, consistent protection, consistent encouragement, consistent caretaking. Taking care of the child seems to be at issue. Those who do not have them, they will seek them elsewhere, of course. It’s like a flower that you cover over with a bushel basket. Guess what? It will grow a tendril on a little vine, underneath the basket and try to peak out toward the sun. It will do whatever it can to stay alive. And as you know in family life that’s fraught with people who are disrespectful and harmful to each other, where that little vine will go to find warmth, can be very problematical. They can go to all the wrong places. The place that we would hope that they would go is a place that’s holy, sanctified. In other words, where the people and the Holy Mother who stands behind them have no agenda to exploit, who won’t take advantage of them—only love them, only care about them.
So the personal mother and the personal father, they play a part regardless of whether they are—as some people call it—good enough. It always seems to me like faint praise because there are some really terrific mothers and fathers out there, in fact most of them are, I think. And you know everybody’s got an off-day, but for the most part they are doing very well. And yet, they too will find a devotion to Holy Mother because it is greater than. It affects a different part of the psyche. It fills body, soul, mind, spirit completely. The heart bursts open in love in return.
TS: One of the most beautiful images or evocative phrases in Untie the Strong Woman— and there are many, many, many, many, many, but this is one that stuck with me—is the idea of the “unruined heart.” I wonder if you can speak to that.
CPE: Well, maybe I could put a blessing on our listeners that comes from the unruined heart.
CPE: Would that be a good way?
TS: That would be perfect.
CPE: All right. I will need to shuffle papers here for a moment and then I will be able to do that for you. The unruined heart is something that we all carry. You can feel like you’re completely wrecked—as you know, we all have been down so far it looks like up to us. But there are essential things—the soul and the heart—that cannot be harmed or killed or ruined. It cannot. People have heart attacks. Their heart is not killed. Their heart is stunned for a moment. People have an ability to feel alive, even when there’s weakness in the body, for instance. They feel fully alive regardless. I can be a testament to that because I certainly have my own delicate health that I’ve had for many, many years. And yet, I feel fully capable and fully alive. You want to climb that mountain? OK. Let’s go! Well, I might only make it up the first 25 feet, I don’t know. After that, I might have to rest for a while. But the spirit is always willing because it’s tied to the heart. So when people have a heart condition, for instance, they are as fully alive as anyone else. Their heart is still unruined. You understand, in that sense?
The unruined heart is also true for people who have great heartache and heart break. I mean honestly, I’ve said it often, my heart feels like it’s made of diamond dust. It’s been broken, smashed—you know?—by so, so many times by so many things in life. And yet, SS: still standing, SD: still dancing. This is the way Holy Mother wants us to be.
I am not clear that I would be either one of those without her. I am not clear at all that I would be as well as I am, as energetic, as hopeful, as insightful, as perceptive, as creative, as all those things, if I didn’t have the Holy Mother constantly infusing me, constantly caring, bending near, whispering a word now and then, telling me which way might be the best way to go—all of those things.
So, the unruined heart. I believe, and you hear people say, “My heart is ruined, my heart is black, my heart is mush.” Well, OK—maybe so, all of those things, but you know what? It is still unruined. It is also one of those things that you can’t do anything about. It’s going to remain unruined. The thing is to realize it. You can have pain. You can have tragedy. You can have devastation. And still, still a heart will remain unruined.
You see it in dreams constantly where people have had a huge, huge loss of some sort. And so they drag their dreams into analysis and during the analytic session, you’re listening to them. And the dream is hopeful, ever and ever hopeful and heartfelt. And you ask. “Where is that in you?” And they say, “Nowhere.” And I say, “It has to be in you, it’s in your dreams. Dreams are the center of your psyche. So at the center of your psyche is all this wholeness, all this fullness, all this unruined heart.”
This is called “Mater Dolorosa,” the Unruined Heart, and it’s a blessing on you. It’s a blessing that I wrote to help people who were in straits, who were hoping for better health, people who were up against a great challenge, people who were worried—which is, as you know, a spiritual illness of its own—people who were hoping to connect to something beautiful but weren’t quite sure.
And so Holy Mother. One of her images is of her heart with seven swords through it, three on one side and four on the other. So I wrote this blessing to say the names of those swords. At first glance you might think, “Oh, that must be terribly painful, seven sorrows. Oh, how horrible.” And you know, Holy Mother is not Catholic, incidentally. Holy Mother belongs to everyone. It’s just that we have a few more understandings and stories about her that the old believers have handed down over and over and over and over. She belongs to all of us.
But her seven sorrows are related to what happens to her Child of Love, the God of Love, that he is so misunderstood by people that he is harmed by people. They want to hurt him. Ultimately, of course, they do. They torture him. They literally beat him to death. And isn’t that the truth about our culture, too? That those who are holy and often quite innocent but also of tremendous purity and good will, that they are beaten in many ways about the head and shoulders to try to quiet them, to try to silence them. “Oh no, you can’t bring love in here. Whatever could you be thinking, my god—that’s against the rules here. We have to have competition, difficultly, exploitation, harm to others. No, no.”
But yes, yes. Blessed Mother says you can see the Child of Love be harmed, the God of Love, and it will practice resurrection. It will come back no matter what. No matter what, love will return. So the seven swords, these are the meanings of each one that I’ve attributed just through inspiration. And I hope that you will feel blessed by this.
Mater Dolorosa. The Unruined Heart.
The swords through your heart are not the ones that caused your wounds, but rather, these swords of strength were earned by your struggle through hard times.
Sword of Surrender is one of the swords. It means the sword to use to withstand this time of learning. Isn’t it true sometimes that learning is really painful, or really hard?
The second, Sword of Veils, pierces the hidden meaning of this time to cut right through all the fog, all the veiling that occludes the center, the core, the sweetness, the heart, the hope, the jewel at the center of the wound.
The third sword, a Sword of Healing, to lance open one’s own agony and bitterness to let it drain away.
The Sword of New Life to cut through, to cut loose, and to plant anew. Long ago, people used their swords to plant with. They would drive them into the ground, pour the seed, take a step, drive the sword into the ground, plant a seed, take a step. Because there used to be farmer warriors who were holy people and they used their swords for everything.
Sword of Courage is the next one: to speak up, to row on with, to touch others with. Remember to be knighted, a king would touch the sword to the shoulder of the knight: meaning you can take this blow. You can take this. You are strong.
The Sword of Life Force to draw from, to lean on, to purify.
The Sword of Love is often the heaviest to lift consistently. The sword turns one away from war, resentment, retaliation, and instead helps one to fall into the arms of immaculate strength at the center through the Holy Woman.
So we pray.
Oh immaculate heart of my mother, give me shelter in the beautiful chambers of your heart. Keep me strong, fierce, loving, and able in this world. Remind me. Remind me daily that despite my imperfections, my heart remains completely unruined. So may it be for you. So may it be for me. So may it be for all of us. In her name, amen,—which means “let it be so.”
TS: Beautiful. Thank you. And just one final question. I can’t let you go without asking. How is this new work related to your classic bestseller Women Who Run With the Wolves?
CPE: This work, Untie the Strong Woman, is a continuation of all my other works. I’m looking at the largest archetype of the holy, integral woman from many different angles. So Wild Woman, Wise Woman, Holy Woman, they share the same heartbeat. I wrote in Women Who Run with the Wolves that the Wild Woman archetype is not savage or out of control but is a natural, instinctual set of longings and knowings that are embedded in our psyches.
The Dangerous Old Woman audio series, which is on the myths and stories of the Wise Woman archetype, is concomitant with the idea that wisdom is not a condition, it’s a holy endeavor. In Women Who Run With the Wolves, I wrote aspects that belong to Holy Mother, that a woman who is in her instinctual, intuitive nature, eats nourishing food, rests in peace, follows calling, renders loyalty, loves the children, dances with joy, tunes her ears to more than just herself, attends to death and resurrection, creates love in the world in all ways, prays by speaking truths that will raise herself and others. You find all of these premises in all my work: Women Who Run with the Wolves about the Wild Woman archetype, the Dangerous Old Woman, about the Wise Woman archetype and Untie the Strong Woman, about the Holy Mother.
TS: Wonderful. I’ve been speaking with Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estés—she’s the author of a new book and a four-session audio series, both from Sounds True, called Untie the Strong Woman: Blessed Mother’s Immaculate Love for the Wild Soul. Thank you, CPE, as always, for sharing light from the unruined heart with us.
CPE: Thank you, Tami. Thank you for flying.
TS: Soundstrue.com. Many voices, one Journey. Thanks for listening.