Clarissa Pinkola Estes, PhD

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Clarissa Pinkola Estes, PhD

Clarissa Pinkola Estés, PhD, is an internationally recognized scholar, award-winning poet, diplomate senior Jungian psychoanalyst, and cantadora (keeper of the old stories in the Latina tradition). In addition to her international bestseller Women Who Run With the Wolves, Dr. Estés is a managing editor and columnist writing on politics, spirituality, and culture at the newsblog, and she is a columnist at The National Catholic Reporter online.

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Dr Clarissa Pinkola Estes - Soul Stealer

I love the work of this beautiful lady who has a voice like chocolate, she brings me much peace and inspiration.  I joined this site to buy one of her 'Dangerous Woman' series.  I was so moved by one of her stories recently that I wrote a blog about it.  Permit me to share, or if not allowed, please feel free to delete.  Many thanks...........

Sometimes we hear, read or perhaps even see something, that although might appear quite random, feels like an arrow of clarity which wham hits a spot of comprehension in us with chilling precision.  Like it is being sent forth from the libraries of wisdom especially for us to either affirm our ideas or actions, or to guide and inspire us intoaction.
‘The Erl King’, a story told by Dr Clarissa Pinkola Estes, about a ‘soul stealer’, was just one of those arrows for me:  An absolute pearl of insightful wisdom that hit with both startling synchronicity and perfect timing just as I was pulling my child out of mainstream school.  It also opened a door to a deeper understanding of the unconscious processes and threats that can attack our children from every angle. 
The physical dangers that are frequently (and boringly) listed in ‘Health and Safety’ policies and ‘Risk Assessments’ are considered so important they are standard corporate legal requirements.  But little or nothing is done about the more serious, long term threats to and thefts of spirit and soul which pervade our culture and lives.  This is because the threat often IS the culture’s rules and is so deeply embedded in the ‘norm’ we don’t see it.  Even if we do suspect something’s wrong, resistance to obeying the cultural rules often carries such heavy social penalties or internal fears we generally settle with conformity instead.  Blinded and oblivious, we are now unconscious of this often irreparable kind of harm which saps the light and dampens the spirit of ourselves and our children.
This story, ‘The Erl King’ rattled around my head for months after hearing it, like it was calling to be passed on, calling to be re-told.  It was a powerful story for me, I heard it as confirmation of right action just as I was pulling my child out of the state school system; the ‘Erl King’ of my experience.
Without further ado here is a transcript of the story as told by Dr Clarissa Pinkola Estes
There is a story called “The Erl Konig” and it means “The Erl King”.  The Erl King’s story is set in a dark forest and the Erl King is a soul stealer, bloodless, malevolent, claw-handed creature who thieves the minds and hearts of humans so they become hollowed, like the withered woods that the Erl King, himself, lives in. 
And so, in the story, the way that it is told in our family; a father is riding through the forest on his horse and he has his little son in his arms and they’re riding through the forest. And the child, of course, has a vulnerable child-like heart and the father is more callused and he is, of course, older, he’s lived longer and he’s seen more. 
Suddenly, the little child says, “Father, who’s behind us… something following us?” And the father says, “Oh, no, no,, no, my son. There’s nothing there…nothing, nothing, there’s nothing there.” And, the child is quiet a little more and the horse just trots along in the dark forest. And suddenly the little child says, “Father, don’t you see the Erl Konig? He is there! I can see him…don’t you see him?” And, the father says, “No, no, no, you don’t understand, son. There is no such thing…there is no such thing. Just lean against me now and be quiet”, and they continue trotting through the forest.  And, the little child says, “Father? Don’t......…don’t you see, he has a crown and he has a long train on his gown.”   And the father says, “No, no…no, no, my son. That’s only the fog. You are only seeing the fog swirling.  You know when you see some of the branches in the trees…they look like a crown.”  And they continue to trot through the forest.  And the child, again, says, “Father! Look! The Erl Konig is close by our side!  Don’t you see? He is here!” 
Just as the father says, “No, no! It is only the mist rising over the plain”, the horse…the horse senses and feels the Erl Konig and he gallops and begins galloping, and galloping and galloping as fast as he possibly can. The father is holding on for dear life, and the child is, too.  And, the child is crying, “Father, father, I tell you…I tell you, the Erl Konig is here! He is here!” And the father keeps saying, “No, he is not!  No, he is not!  No, he is not!” Finally, they arrive breathless, the horse wheezing, at their destination.  And the little child is dead in his father’s arms,....... for the Erl Konig has stolen his father long ago and made it so that his father can no longer see the medial world…can no longer make sense of what the little child heart sees clearly and knows is a peril to its self.  
Clarissa Pinkola Estes is a great story teller.  She wrote the famous book ‘Women who run with the wolves’ which gathers together stories, myths and legends from all over the world and goes into great depth in each one explaining many different levels of meaning into an apparently simple story.  The message of Erl Konig, she explains, is one where the Earl King represents the dominant culture that we live.  One that seems intent on squashing our spirit, our individualism, our spark and our creativity.  One “who tells us what to do, how to be, where to go, how to act, No, no don’t jump! No, no don’t play!  No, no don’t explore!  No, no don’t look!  No, no don’t see!  Don’t experiment!  Don’t think!  Don’t ask questions. Just do as I tell you to do!”  
So, in the clutches of the Erl King, slowly and gradually we lose sight of our gifts, we forget who we are, we lose that connection to spirit, and to our spirit; we become numb to our life, our joy, our creativity and, I suppose, our freedom too.  The horse, Ms Estes explains, represents the instinctive psyche that is still alive and despite all the conditioning, it is intent on protecting our spirit; so that although the ‘father’ (our deadened selves) is asleep to the pleas of the child, the instinctive part of us still kicks in to try and outrun the cultural teaching that says (in Ms Estes words)... ‘it’s alright for us to live deadened, to not be in your fullest potential, to cut yourself off, it’s alright because actually it makes you obedient and a very good worker for others.
This story touched me very, very deeply because at the time of first hearing it the Erl King had been attempting to take my son.  We weren’t on a horse in the woods with a pantomime figure chasing us, it’s not as obvious as that, this was everyday life and the Erl King in this instance was his school.  My son is pretty dyslexic, but that does not mean he’s stupid; he’s bright and has a strong will.  His natural skills and abilities do not come to life in the classroom though.  He’s very social, great with many different types of people, thrives in the outdoors and with animals; but words, numbers, books and containment rooms (classrooms) are a total switch off. 
I think he tried to please at school in the beginning.  He tried to fit in but clearly wasn’t finding it easy.  Schools, big state schools at least, work with academic achievement, statistics, averages, high student numbers and lots of stress.  My son, particularly due to his dyslexia, could not shine in the classroom and was humiliated by one of the teachers quite early on.  So it seemed like he started to look for recognition and status in other areas, among peers.  At the same time that I was starting to feel concerned about what was happening with his friendship circles, he was starting to get very rude to me and I was also getting letters home from his school complaining about him, asking for my support in their disciplinary procedures!  I was getting very anxious and concerned, not sure what to do and feeling quite helpless.
This is where my internal horse was alerted.  Although I had not heard this story at this point I was feeling the contradiction of these two different aspects to my psyche.  The father aspect that felt I needed to tell my son to behave, to be good, to be liked, to fit in and conform was very strong.  But the horse aspect, that was screaming (silently at the school) “what are you doing to my son?" was really showing up.   It was such a critical time for me as a parent.  Do I conform with my own very strong conditioning of being a good girl and align with and support the ‘Erl King’ or do I have the courage to rebel and to see my son as a bright beautiful being that is fighting for his own spirit, and so step in and support him?  This might sound like a stupid no-brainer, obvious thing to say but I could really feel the Erl King lurking there entrenched in my conditioning. So entrenched at times that this is the first time that I have really started to see him and notice the words he speaks out of my mouth.  (Of-course the more aware we are of the Erl King in our culture, psyche and reaction to things; the more conscious we become of the words that he speaks out of our mouths.  The easier it can then become to notice them, catch them and replace the fearful control reaction with love and wisdom.)
My son is now at a democratic school where pupils and teachers are equal; where weekly meetings allow them to have an equal say in all that happens at the school.  The children are even allowed to opt out of classes if they choose, which admittedly can go too far the other way at times, but at least they are learning, and being permitted, to think for themselves and take responsibility. He is much happier there; children at that school seem to look forward to the holidays being over!  He is still challenging me a lot, early teens are not easy years for parent or child as the child is desperately trying to individuate.  But it feels that, at this critical time in his life, I would rather my son have the opportunity to find and follow a path of his spirit and soul rather than be herded and shoved along the cultural highway of working for the system that pushes one way of living; one which has rampant consumerism at its heart.  I don’t doubt that there will be problems and issues with things I have done but I do feel that, at this juncture in the road, I did what was best for him and his best interests rather than what was expected by the culture.
Had he stayed in the state system, it is unlikely that he would have conformed to their demands and expectations of behaviour and performance.  It was unlikely that he would have been able, even if he wanted to.  Heaven knows where that road might have taken him.  Which makes me wonder too, how many amazing, gifted unique children have been labelled bad or have been drugged up and eventually imprisoned in some circumstances simply because they threaten the culture's norms?  Ms Estes concludes her story by a warning that ‘The Erl Konig is everywhere. It’s a very serious element in the psyche of any individual. Any of us carry the Erl Konig, and if we allow it to take us over, in part by not resisting where it touches us in our culture, then we become deadened and we pass that deadening on to others.


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