Women Who Run With the Wolves Book Club: Chapters 3 and 4

Reading this book is like finding a treasure.  I think it will take at least a year for me to fully process all I’ve learned.  Thank goodness for highlighters.

Chapters three of four of this book cover the stories of Vasalisa and Manawee.

Chapter Three: Vasalisa the Wise

Vasalisa’s tale includes a wicked stepmother and sisters (think Cinderella) that abuse and use Vasalisa and finally send her to the forest to retrieve light from Baba Yaga in order to kill her.  In the end, Vasalisa learns a great deal from Baba Yaga and destroys her stepmother and sisters.

Clarissa Estes breaks down this story into nine tasks.  I think each are worth reading through, but will only focus on two that struck me for this post.

The Second Task – Exposing the Crude Shadow

Estes explains that the wicked stepmother and stepsisters represent our shadow nature, or “the exclusionary, jealous, and exploitative aspects of self” that we must acknowledge, make a relationship with, which will ultimately allow the old self to die and the new intuitive self be born (p. 88).

My shadow nature is petty, immature, vindictive, and ruthless.  Much like the stepmother and stepsisters of the story, this part talks to me with cruel statements like “you are worthless,”  “you have no talents,” “no one will hire you” “you will fail at whatever task you attempt” and so on.

I have encountered this in my culture as well.  It’s the harmful, patriarchal notions that tell me what I must do as a woman – I must nurture, have (lots of) babies, stay home, act gracious, calm, and pleasing at all times.  I’ve also found it in groups of friends, among family members, at church, and at work when people have told me what I must do/must not do, putting my dreams and desires down in an attempt to control my future.  As Estes explains, “the culture in which a woman lives, and the family in which she was raised, can painfully exacerbate that natural but moderate nay-saying aspect in the psyche” (p. 90).

How do we, then, overcome the shadow nature?

In the story, the light has gone out inside the home and Vasalisa is sent to the forest to retrieve some from Baba Yaga.  Estes explains that when the light goes out inside our psyche, “”a woman begins to lose her psychic bearings.  She may feel cold, alone, and willing to do anything to bring back the light again” (p. 90).

As Vasalisa enters the forest, she sheds her old self and begins the birthing process of the intuitive self begins.

One concept I find important is that our shadow self isn’t bad.  Darkness is part of human nature.  When we force it to form some kind of evil vs good nature is to ignore an inherent and natural component of our real selves.  Rather than ignore and put down our shadow character, Estes advocates understanding of all parts of our psyche – the positive and the negative.

The Fifth Task – Serving the Non-Rational

Vasalisa has found Baba Yaga and asked for fire.  Baba Yaga agrees but only if Vasalisa performs tasks and household chores in exchange.  These chores include washing Baba Yaga’s clothes, cleaning, sorting (discussed in the sixth task), and cooking.  Estes describes the meanings of these tasks thusly, “coming to recognize your power and the powers of inner purifications; unsoiling, sorting, nourishing, building energy and ideas” (p. 98).

Washing

“Baba Yaga charges Vasalisa to do the laundry to bring this weaving, these patterns known to the Life/Death/Life Goddess, out into the open, to consciousness; handling them, washing them, renewing them.  (p. 99)

“To wash her laundry is a metaphor through which we learn how to sort, mend, and renew the instinctive psyche through a purificatio, the washing of the fibers of being.” (p. 100)

Cleaning

“To sweep the premises means not only to begin to value the nonsuperficial life but to care for its orderliness.” (p. 101)

Nourishing

“To cook for Baba Yaga, one lays a fire—a woman must be willing to burn hot, burn with passion, burn with words, with ideas, with desire for whatever it is that she truly loves.” (p. 101)

“The fire bears, requires watching, for it is easy to let the flame go out.” (p. 102)

“So, it is the cooking up of new and completely original things, of new directions, of commitments to one’s art and work that continuously nourishes the wild soul.” (p. 102)

Summary –

“Women’s cylces according to Vasalis’as tasks are these: To cleanse one’s thinking, renewing one’s values, on a regular basis. To clear one’s psyche of trivia, sweep one’s self, clean up one’s thinking and feeling states on a regular basis.  To build an enduring fire beneath the creative life, and cook up ideas on a systematic basis, means especially to cook, and with originality, a lot of unprecedented life in order to feed the relationship between oneself and the wildish nature.” (p. 103)

According to Estes, “A wise woman keeps her psychic environ uncluttered” (p. 100). To organize our psychic selves requires that we recognize what our psyche is telling us by sweeping away the dust and removing things we don’t need.  In my life, to really create I need to have my space clean.  Thus, to help my psyche in its creative powers, I need to cleanse my mind of negative self-talk and developing those things I have long wished to develop.  While pregnant with Amelia, I became a certified Zumba instructor. The steps leading up to that were over a year of passionate longing to pursue something I love and to share my passion with others.  But I consistently ignored the washing and cleaning ceremonies and starved my instinctive nature. I allowed the wicked stepmom and stepsisters to rule my psyche, until I was forced into the forest by them to find fire. In one evening, I signed up for the class vowing that nothing would stop me.  I actually signed up for the training unaware that I was pregnant and sure that any pregnancy I had would end in loss.  When things turned out differently, and I found myself pregnant (with all the ultrasounds and blood draws indicating it as a healthy pregnancy), I decided to continue with the training program.  While I have yet to use this certification, taking that step was necessary to incinerate the step mother and step sisters inside and allow for a new creation within my psyche.

Chapter Four: Manawee                                                                                                                 

Estes recounts the tale of Manawee as he courts two sisters.  We learn of what partners to seek and how to find these partners.

This chapter, for me, was less about teaching and more about validating my belief in the dual character of each person’s nature and of the necessity for a partner – be it friend or lover – to embrace these parts equally. To tie it in to the previous chapter, a woman has opposing parts to her psyche that she must balance out: the shadow and the instinctive natures.

In a podcast (the Official fMh Podcast) I was listening to earlier today, a panelist mentioned her belief that darkness is not inherently evil.  For a relationship to have depth and substance, a person must accept both the dark and light features of your character.  While traditional society, especially within the culture I grew up in – Mormon culture – women are generally taught to hide their “dark” selves from the world and always have a cheerful front with which to greet people. The previous chapters of this book have described why this is harmful.  In this chapter, we learn that partners who are worth having around are those that will accept your shadow and instinctive natures.  Furthermore, they will seek out the names to your characters which will require that they ignore temptations along the way and fight a shadow creature to prove themselves.

As Estes says, “We know that the creature Wild Man is seeking his own earthy woman.  Afeared or not, it is an act of deepest love to allow oneself to be stirred by the wildish nature of another.”  (p. 136)

I am lucky to have such a partner in Ben.  He does not hide from my shadow character, nor does he encourage that I only show the instinctive nature.  He loves and encourages both.

“The good match is the man who keeps returning to try to understand, who does not let himself be deterred by the sideshows on the road.” (p. 136)

I have that match.

Now tell me what your thoughts on these chapters were.  Did any of the tasks in chapter 3 particularly strike you?  Have you had experience being courted by a Manawee?

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “Women Who Run With the Wolves Book Club: Chapters 3 and 4

  1. When the kids and I went on a road trip a month or so ago, I had just read Vasalisa the Wise and was hopeful that I could make a stick doll of my own. I told the kids we were going to look for sticks and things at the Rocky Mountain National Park, which we did, and we assembled them in the hotel room that night, our stick dolls waiting to greet us in the morning. I told my kids that they had come alive the night before, and always came to life when we were gone or asleep.

    Rituals like this help me solidify the meaning of the fairy tale, and for me, the doll I created out of parts of the earth that I deeply loved and felt connected to (Colorado’s Rocky Mountains) served as a sort of reminder that I could take pieces of my life that I loved but felt were scattered, gather them, and create something new — something that would protect me from harm, whether it be inward and outward.

    As far Manawee, I have yet to be courted by such a self-aware man, but I may yet happen one of these days. As far as duality is concerned, this is the first time I have seen duality explained as something feminine; before I saw it purely in the astrological sense (in the dualistic signs like Gemini, Pisces, Libra, Sagittarius, Scorpio) and didn’t assign gender to them at all. But reading Estes’ description has helped me own my own sense of duality based on my gender. This is a good thing, I think. I can come to terms with it on a deeper level now.

  2. Genevieve

    My Manawee is my husband. He waited on my shadow self for years to manifest because he knew it was there. When I finally acknowledged it, he was there to embrace me. Our marriage has been rocky, but since I opened my psyche to name the things that hurt me and to accept my darker self so that I could learn and grow from it instead of hide from it, we have been closer than ever.
    He really gets it. He’s my soul mate. He waited for me so many times for so many things. He seriously won’t leave me or let me go without a fight. He’s my safe harbor and my catalyst for understanding myself. My dark nature and instinct are finally manifesting themselves and my guilt and anxiety is being trampled out of the way by the wolf sisters I count on to do so. Howl to my wolf sisters! And a howl to my husband! He gets it. He gets me. He freed me from the trap I was in, working patiently and lovingly (okay, and sometimes impatiently lol).

  3. I just finished finished Chapter 3 and will comment on Chapter 4 when I get there.

    It looks like the people involved here are also in one of the groups I participate in, so you may have already seen this comment, but I wanted to post it here so that future visitors to the blog know I had something to say. Also, my highlighter loved this chapter. I may have more highlighted than not.

    Last night, while finishing chapter 3 of Women Who Run With the Wolves, I had a little epiphany regarding empowerment. Focusing on intuition and self-knowing,and the divine that exists within me, acknowledging that I already know what is best for me and just have to listen to that inner guidance is extremely empowering.

    I have trust issues and I’m sure that they play into my depression and anxiety. Although I know people that find great comfort in following God, the prophets, and the whisperings of the Holy Ghost, for me it just doesn’t work. It says to me that what I think and feel doesn’t matter, that I should just do and say what I am told. And because I am a perfectionist, I think I have to do EVERYTHING that I am told to do, even though some things are definitely in conflict with each other.

    For the record, I don’t think the two need to be exclusive. I see no reason that the Holy Ghost couldn’t confirm what my intuition tells me, or that I couldn’t hear a prophet speak and have my inner knowing confirm that it is true and what I need at that moment.

  4. I’m back for Chapter 4. I have not had a Manawee in my life. The parts Chapter 4 that spoke to me most were the parts about names and distractions. I can really relate to the little dog that keeps heading to its Master with the names and getting distracted and forgetting them. I love how she talks about addictions and other things that can become distractions. “Remembering the real task, and reminding ourselves over and over in practically mantra fashion, will bring us back to consciousness.”

    I am also fascinated by names and the power that cultures associate with them. “In cultures where names are chosen carefully for their magical or auspicious meanings, to know a person’s true name means to know the life path and the should attributes of that person. And the reason the true name is often kept secret is to protect the owner of the name so that he or she might grow into the power of the name.”