Women Who Run With the Wolves, Introduction and Chapter One


In my continual search for myself, I have hit a road block.  I have felt myself transforming; but into what?  While reading the introduction of Clarissa Estes’ book, I felt a stirring within.    As Estes explains about Wild Woman a call, a primal, beautiful call, wells up inside, telling me to listen, carefully, to the senses and intuition I feel as I read the words.  I find my psyche painting pictures of my Wild Woman and singing Her songs.

What is Wild Woman and how do I release her?

Estes explains that Wild Woman is “a metaphor to describe the force which funds all females. [It personifies] a force that women cannot live without (p. 6).” She explains that “the comprehension of this Wild Woman nature is not a religion but a practice.  It is a psychology in its truest sense: … a knowing of the soul (p. 7).”

How do women find her, especially if they have suppressed her for years?

No matter how many times she [the Wild Woman] is forbidden, quelled, cut back, diluted, tortured, touted as unsafe, dangerous, mad, and other derogations, she emanates upward in women, so that even the most quiet, even the most restrained woman keeps a secret place for her. Even the most repressed woman has a secret life, with secret thoughts and secret feelings which are lush and wild, that is, natural. Even the most captured woman guards the place of the wildish self, for she knows intuitively that someday there will be a loophole, an aperture, a chance, and she will hightail it to escape (p.8).


The rest of the book, Estes explained, is devoted to stories that help us – all of us – find and release our Wild Woman.

With the introduction, I found myself close to tears as Wild Woman calls to me.  I know she exists, and I know she wants released, but part of me is scared that I have suppressed her for too long.  I fear that I won’t know how to release her.  I fear that I have ignored my primal nature for too long that my natural instincts have dissipated.  I have hope, though, that Estes will guide me in my search as I read the stories and release that stirring within.

Discussion Questions:

Describe what frightens you the most about Wild Woman and what you most love about her.

Which of the forms of Wild Woman is your favorite? Explain your answer.

 Chapter One, The Howl: Resurrection of the Wild Woman

In chapter one, Estes tells us two stories: La Loba and The Four Rabbinim.

La Loba creates life as she sings over the bones.

The Four Rabbinim behold the sacred Wheel of Ezekiel. Each has different reactions to the experience.

Discussion Questions:

What are your reactions to these stories?  

Did one story speak to you more?

How will these stories impact your search for Wild Woman?

 (My answers will be in the comment section later.)

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22 responses to “Women Who Run With the Wolves, Introduction and Chapter One

  1. I love that description of the “wild woman.” (And if I am a wolf, then wouldn’t I prefer to run with wolves? 🙂 )

    To me, this seems like an essence that is about surviving. I imagine men have it as well, though it may manifest differently, perhaps more openly.

    I believe it’s harder to “allow” our stronger, more ferocious, more passionate selves “out” when we’re younger, though I realize I’m generalizing. As long as we do so eventually…

    • admin

      I think you have a point. However, I think it’s harder for women in general to release our wild side because we’ve been taught for so long to ignore Her. It’s the same fight, isn’t it? As women, we must ignore what society tells us and let our true hearts sing. Not an easy task.

  2. Kristi

    I have a hard time opening up to anyone, even myself. So I found myself feeling sad as I was reading the introduction, because I really want to find the wild woman inside of me. But I find it really scary to let go and let her in. (or let her loose inside of me). The section in the introduction where she talked about a “disrupted relationship with the wildish force in the psyche,” really resonated with me. I think she was describing me. She talks about:

    “Feeling powerless, chronically doubtful. . . to be self-conscious, to be away from one’s God or Gods. . . To fear to reveal oneself, fear to seek mentor, mother, father, fear to set out one’s imperfect work before it is an opus, fear to set out on a journey, fear of caring for another or others, fear one will run on, run out, run down, cringing before authority, loss of energy before creative projects, wincing, humiliation, angst, numbness, anxiety.

    “Afraid to bite back when there is nothing else left to do, afraid to try the new, fear to stand up to, afraid to speak up, speak against, sick stomach, butterflies, sour stomach, cut in the middle, strangled, becoming conciliatory or too nice to easily, revenge.”

    But she also describes how getting in touch with the wild woman can help me. And I find myself really responding and wanting to get to the point where I can “establish territory, to find [my] pack, to be in [my] body with certainty and pride regardless of [my] body’s gifts and limitations, to speak and act in [my own] 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 [I] can.

    So I am feeling hopeful that she is in me, and I can connect with her and draw on her powers. I really think have some doors for her to come in. “The doors to the world of Wild Woman are few but precious. If you have a deep scar, that is a door, if you have an old, old story, that is a door. If you love the sky and the water so much you almost cannot bear it, that is a door. If you yearn for a deeper life, a full life, a sane life, that is a door.”

    Sorry to quote so much, but I really can’t express myself nearly as eloquently as Dr. Estes can. But I really do think I have so much to learn from her.

    • admin


      I had to refrain myself from high-lighting the entire introduction and first chapter. 🙂

      When Estes referred to the disrupted relationship that impacts our psyche when we ignore or hide Wild Woman, it resonated with me as well. I was, literally, in tears as I read and realized that Wild Woman exists and it’s up to me to release her. That scares the heck out of me!

      For me, I recognize that our societal expectations and cultural indoctrination of what a woman is supposed to be has highly impacted how I feel about myself. It took until just a year ago for me to actually hear my voice. For the longest time, and I know my mental illnesses played a role in this, I could only hear other people’s voices inside my head. When I ventured to speak, the other voices shushed me and reminded me of my follies. I stayed within this shell for so long that when I finally heard, really heard, my own voice, I crumbled. I didn’t even know I existed, if that makes sense.

      I believe that’s when my search for Wild Woman began, although I didn’t know who Wild Woman was at the time.

      Back to societal expectations and cultural indoctrination, if we look at the history of how women have been viewed over the centuries, it was either as creatures who could not be trusted or the absolute epitome of virtue and morality – the keeper’s of men’s virtue. I think that because of this, we have a difficult time breaking through and finding our true voices.

      I am with you on this journey. Together, maybe we can find Wild Woman and release her.

  3. Genevieve

    What I fear most is the release of my wild woman. She knows what I need, but has no concept of moderation or cultural constraints. I fear my own need. “Cut in the middle and strangled”, yes.
    My bones are strewn about, waiting for La Loba. I just hope she sees me as worth her time.
    I’ve already caused pain to others in my quest to release her because I was thinking so much of myself. How do we seek her out with the least collateral damage? Other people DO matter, and I don’t want to be a cause of pain. At the same time, I realize that I can’t keep from hurting anyone unless I live my life in an even tighter cage than the one I’m breaking out of now. It’s a dilemma, and I’ve never been very good at balance.

  4. After reading Chapter 1, I set aside the book and gave up reading it for a while. It took Genevieve to convince me to give it another try and start with Chapter 2 to get me into it. Chapter 1 honestly seemed drawn out and rambling. I got the main point, I was on board with the purpose of the book and I wanted to get to the point. Instead it seemed like she took 15 pages going on and on even though I completely understood her point and was ready to jump in. I’m glad that Genevieve talked me into picking it back up because I was fully committed within a couple of pages of Chapter 2, and finally got the vision for why people felt the book was so meaningful. The who concept of finding the inner Wild Woman was pretty obvious for me because I was familiar with the concept already. It wasn’t a revelation for me like it was for many of the people who read it. I know its for that reason why the chapter is there and so drawn out. Its an effort to convince women that its worthwhile to find that part of themselves and its a well done effort to be sure. If people think that the introduction and Chapter 1 were powerful, then keep reading. Its gets even better.

  5. I guess I’m in a bad habit of skipping Introductions. I’ll have to go back and read it. From chapter 1, though, I definitely felt like the story of La Loba spoke the most to me. I believe that life is a journey of finding ourselves. I love how Estes relates, “The old woman sings over the bones, and as she sings, the bones flesh out. We too ‘become’ as we pour soul over the bones we have found.” I have always loved Nietzsche’s saying, “Become who you are.” And I connect with the symbolism in this story that becoming ourselves involves continual death and resurrection, and creative truth-telling.

    From both stories I understand that I must be mentally prepared to find myself, and my roots of being. In searching, I must find pieces of myself that are sick, dead, or in need of help. And after finding what I am looking for, I must make those pieces whole and make my life better with creative expressions of self, excitement, and a balanced approach to life.

    I’m really excited to learn how to sing my own creation hymn! My online name, Creatrix, illustrates my passion for embracing this goal in my life.

  6. admin

    What frightens me the most about Wild Woman is that by releasing her, I will go against cultural expectations. While it might sound silly, I fear that others will judge or criticize me for allowing my natural self to emerge. In a sense, as women, we have long been taught to be submissive, meek, virtuous, etc but the Wild Woman does not have those traits. She is free, creative, assertive, and uses her instincts to guide her morality. I suppose that’s what I love most about her – how she allows me, and other women, to realize our full potentials and uncover our true selves.

    I find most forms of Wild Woman appealing, but am especially drawn to her as the life giver and life taker. The story that Estes tells of a mother wolf killing her mortally wounded child is strangely beautiful as it tells me that within each of us we have a natural understanding of life processes and are willing to create or allow death when we see it necessary.

    La Loba, for me, was especially chilling – in a spiritual way. To read of La Loba singing over the bones and creating life, which then becomes Wild Woman makes my heart hopeful. While reading this section, I felt Her songs deep within. After hiding from Her for so long, the fact that She still wishes to reach me brings me to tears. I know she’s there. I feel La Loba singing over my bones right now. It’s up to me to listen.

    While reading these stories, I was reminded of Disney’s Pocahontas. I think that Pocahontas represents Wild Woman in each of us. She listens to her dreams, follows her instincts, embraces the earth, and follows the counsel of Grandmother Willow. The songs in that movie ran through my head as I read, framing different scenes that helped me make sense of what I was reading.

  7. I like to think I’m pretty in touch with my inner Wild Woman and reading this mostly confirmed that. I definitely could stand to temper her from time to time, but maybe not.
    I have been on a path where I have unleashed my inner Wild Woman and am allowing her to take over and guide me to wherever it is I need to be. The more I let her be in charge, the happier I am, the more good things come my way. I even had a friend tell me the other day that I look younger since I really let it all go, that some of the lines on my face were disappearing, that clearly I was becoming a more content person. I’m not sure how true that is, but it feels good to hear.
    After reading the first chapter, I was definitely inspired to create something, anything. It actually came in the form of dinner the other night, but hey, creating is creating, yes?

    • Don’t you love how inspiration works? I have been getting this repeated image in my mind of skull jewelery. I have NEVER worn a skull in my life, always repelled by how empty they seem. When I took my kids on a road trip recently through the mountains, I stopped at every rock shop I could find, finally discovering a turquoise skull bead that I’ve made into a necklace.

      I am curious as to how your dinner was received. Were there compliments to the chef?

      • It was well received! Most of my dinners are actually, but this one was an improvisation with some black rice, leftover grilled onions & peppers, arugula, lemon basil and a can of salmon. Smoky and lemony with a bite from the arugula.

  8. Doe

    My book just came today so I’m late to the game but I promise I will post comments tomorrow. I’m so thrilled to be doing this work!

    • admin

      No, you are not late to the game. That’s the cool thing about a virtual book club. 🙂 (Can’t wait to read your comments!)

  9. I have read many books like this (this being the story of transformation in one way or another) but I have never read it from an anthropological perspective. In my past reading, it has always been modern, over-scientific (in my opinion), and too clinical or related to my body chemistry. Finally, a book that talks about spirit, and that shows that spirit us untamed and always with us. That untamed part, of course it’s scary; it will literally turn your life upside down… but that’s the whole point.

    I’m with Becky in being on the path to letting Wild Woman guide my path, but I hit a snag recently when I discovered that I was following this path with one I dearly loved (we were following it together) when our paths suddenly forked and I had to choose between Wild Woman and a broken heart or “Conventional Woman who never says no and is scared to death of heartbreak” and a disconnected soul. It took me a very, very long time to choose, but Wild Woman won, to my great relief and heartache.

    I love how Estes makes no excuses to the reader – no fluff, no “this will be easy, I promise!”, none of that. The best thing this chapter and introduction has done for me was cause me to realize that not everyone lets Wild Woman in. This allowed me a sense of great release, because for the longest time I believed it was my responsibility to guide my lost love to into the arms of his own wildness. It is not my fault that he declined, and I can be the wise mother wolf and kill my dying dream quickly, so it can rebirth into something more beautiful than I can imagine.

    Also, I look at the skull symbol differently than I did before. With life/death/LIFE, I see the sunrise in death’s night, and a skull is beautiful for me now, as well as a pogniant reminder of the process of transformation.

    There are many bones I have sung flesh into; this book is for the one’s I’ve been afraid to collect.

    Sing to me, La Loba; I’m ready.

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  11. Melanie

    Women absolutely need to get in touch with their true selves and this book is step towards to transforming amorphous feelings and yearnings into language and action. I’ve always considered myself a wild woman — maybe because I had to parent myself from the time I was three or four years old. I read part of the intro and the entire first chapter and realized that I enjoy Hemmingway-style writing far more than this very romantic style of writing. I’ve found parts of my true self in many works of fiction and fact over my life and know there’s more to come. Being the wild woman that I am, I may attempt chapter 2 but then again, I may not. I’ll be interested to read everyone’s comments though!

  12. Genevieve

    Definitely don’t give up yet! You’ll miss the best stories. If it’s still not speaking to you after Bluebeard, I won’t say anything if you put it down. 🙂

  13. Doe

    First, I have to say that if you haven’t heard Clarissa’s voice tell these stories you have missed what is special about her work. She’s a storyteller. Hearing her voice is like hearing poetry. I discovered WWRWTW when it was first published. I was living in New Jersey at the time, spending 3-4/5 working days a week in therapist offices, discovering and then coming to terms with my own captivity. Working out childhood abuse was MUCH easier than coming to terms with my rage at the Church. So when I picked Clarissa up at Sam’s Club and read the flyleaf, I immediately put it down. I knew it would change my life and I wasn’t quite ready for it. It took several years, but I was finally ready to face the complete facts of my captivity and bought the book. Then I bought the cassette tapes of WWRWTW as well as her two volume Theater of the Imagination, a radio program. Her voice is extraordinary. My children hated it as I drove them to and fro, but her voice made me believe I could stay alive. Now all of these products are available as CDs and/or digital downloads at the Sounds True website. In addition, she just completed a series of live programs that are available for purchase. They are worth every penny.

    I said I was waiting for my book to come. In fact, I own several copies of this book but they are all in storage and I didn’t have it in me to go hunt for them. And I don’t in the least mind owning one more copy.

    So, having said all of that, I will answer the questions posed in this discussion prompt. (Can you tell I’m an online professor?!?)

    Describe what frightened me most about Wild Woman was that I knew she was in me and I was terrified of what she would say and/or do. I was terrified I would die from want, from lack, from rage. I had been repressing and suppressing most of my feelings (both “positive” and “negative”) ever since I joined the Church at 16. It had become too exhausting to keep the Wildness in, yet I was terrified of what it meant and what would happen if I let it out.

    What I love best about Wild Woman is that she is in me and always will be, and I am no longer terrified of her because I am the chooser. I no longer have to make her presence in me mean something negative….that I am “bad” or “rebellious.” Her wild, lush presence is the fuel for my soul. I love that she is “instinct”; “incubator”; “far-seer.” I love that she is “criatura,” *creature*. She is, in fact, all that I value.

    If I understand the question correctly, my favorite form of the Wild Woman in the Introduction is Spider Woman. I fancy myself a weaver much in the same way I identify as a singer-songwriter and musician. Long has it been since I have practiced those things, but they are still who I am; I still claim them. Spider Woman holds the worlds together, weaves connections between people and places, walks between the worlds.

    However, my favorite story from Chapter 1 is La Loba because she is Keeper of the Bones; Keeper of Stories; Mother of Days; Truth Teller. She is the Desert Woman; I am the desert woman. She journeys to the underworld to retrieve my broken body and soul. She is the Knower. She is the Seer. She knows and sees ME.

    It is no coincidence that I am coming alive again at the same moment that this forum was created. So I am reading this book again, listening to Clarissa in the night as I drift into sleep, calling for dreams and visions of/from La Loba. I am remembering. These stories will continue to transform me.

  14. Jeannine

    Just wanted to pop in and let you know that I’m planning to participate in this book group, but due to some other things in my life, I got a late start. I should have my book in a couple of days and then I’ll come back with things to share.

  15. I’m still not sure what to say about the introduction & first chapter. Reading them, I felt like I was getting a glimpse at something that sounded familiar but I couldn’t quite grasp. It’s just out of reach. I’m hoping that as I read I’ll be able to understand and get in touch with the Wild Woman, because I think it’s something that I’m missing.

    Not quite a response to the questions, but it’s all I’ve got for now 🙂

  16. Now their end-of-day fatigue comes from satisfying work and endeavors, not from being shut up in too small a mindset, job, or relationship. They know instinctively when things must die and when things must live; they know how to walk away, they know how to stay.

    And then later on she says again: The Creation Mother is always also the Death Mother and vise 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.

    This is speaking to me. I have many roles that I have played over the years. I’m starting to see that I chose to play them. And I don’t have to. And what do I actually want anyways? That’s what is actually so scary to me: having everything I want. I’m petrified by the idea that I don’t deserve it, or it’s too good to be true, or who am I to be that full and happy?

    I also love how Estes refers to the criatura in so many different ways. My favorite? That I am “the woman who lives at the edge of the world”. So fucking true. Living my life in the possibility of all possibilities is absolutely terrifying and the most alive I have ever felt. If you’re going to play life, then why not play big? Right?

    She is what she is and she is whole.

    I’m not deficient, just because I’m not “wild enough” either. That’s where my opponent took me as I read this (sneaky bastard). That someday I would figure out how to be a wild woman, but not today. No. I am what I am and I am whole. I love myself in this moment, completely, committed to being wild and free. And so I’m whole today, in this moment, perfect. Wildness is my practice. In every moment. It’s in the present. The present. This is huge for me.

    She is the voice that says “This way, this way.”

    This! This is what I do instinctively. I’m very analytical, and very logical. My brain is wired that way. But I go with my gut a LOT. I’m very good at trusting my instincts, to feel along with something not in my brain but in my belly. A sense where if my eyes are closed and I’m listening, really listening, then I know what to do, where to go, what to say, how to proceed. She IS the voice that says “this way, this way”. Intuition and analysis work for me, towards the same goal, in different ways, but united in me. Because I am.

    At the end of chapter 1, I love her description of the quintessential criatura. Some people don’t like how I live my life. So true! I’m too willing to break my own rules, or change my mind, or jump all over furniture or people in joy and welcome. I get stuck on when people draw back in fear and disgust. I believe them sometimes. That I am bad or dirty or stupid or whatever. I wonder if they are right.

    Do I just think that I am living a big life, inspired, wild, full? Am I actually just being childish, or silly, or bad? That’s where I get stuck. I know what I want, and who I am. But I let people’s reactions to me limit what I allow myself to be. But no more. I see that I am doing that now. And I’m not willing to sit complacently anymore. I’m going to find a way to allow myself to be who I am. I will learn. I will practice. I will not apologize. I will be myself.

    The ancients called the desert the place of divine revelation…Life in the desert is small but brilliant and most of what occurs goes on underground…[The desert] is very intense and mysterious in its life forms. Many of us have lived desert lives: very small on the surface, and enormous under the ground.

    This resonates with me so much that I didn’t even want to write it here, because I’m kind of pissed about it. I don’t want to be small on the surface. And I hate living in the desert. Right? Maybe not.

    The desert has grown on me, in very profound ways. The heat encompasses me, envelops me, and keeps me on fire. The cactuses and shrubs and wildflowers are spare and beautiful, alive under difficult conditions. The colors are vibrant. The monsoons are sudden and violent. I feel alive in the desert.

    Perhaps it’s not so bad that I am small on the surface. I don’t open up easily, or at least I haven’t been. I wait to trust people before I open, before I love. What if I just loved them anyways? What if I opened up, and even if I got hurt or burned or embarrassed, I just moved on? These are the questions I am now asking.

    So often a woman feels then that she lives in an empty place where there is maybe just one cactus with one brilliant red flower on it, and then in every direction, 500 miles of nothing. But for the woman who will go 501 miles, there is something more. A small brave house. An old one. She has been waiting for you.

    Some women don’t want to be in the psychic desert. They hate the frailty, the spareness of it. They keep trying to crank a rusty jalopy and bump their way down the road to a fantasized shining city of the psyche. But they are disappointed, for the lush and the wild is not there. It is in the spirit world, that world between worlds, Rio Abajo Rio, that river beneath the river.

    Don’t be a fool. 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 find. It is the only work we have to do.

    You wish psychoanalytic advice?

    Go gather bones.

    This was incredibly powerful for me to hear. I don’t need to leave the desert. I need to embrace it. My wild self is here, in the heat, in the dirt, in the strange desert creatures, in the threatening storm, in the soaring temperatures with clear blue skies, in my small house in Tempe where I hide from the sun. I need to go out and drink it in.

  17. Jeannine

    I found the introduction extremely interesting and empowering. And although the Wild Woman is a part of me, I kept reading the descriptions and thinking of my Heavenly Mother. That is how I see her.

    I know I must have heard the story or La Loba before, but I had forgotten it. As I singer and voice teacher, I find it very powerful. I had a dream several months ago about singing creatures back to life, and it was a wonderful reminder to me of the importance of what I do.

    I highlighted a lot as I read, but I think one of my favorite quotes was this,”To sing means to use the soul-voice. It means to say on the breath the truth of one’s power and one’s need, to breathe soul over the thing that is ailing or in need of restoration.”