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Insights at the Edge
Tami Simon's in-depth audio podcast interviews with leading spiritual teachers and luminaries.
Listen in as they explore their latest challenges and breakthroughs—the leading edge of their work.
Listening to Our Deepest Wisdom, Part Two: The Marriage of Spirit and Matter
Tami Simon speaks with Marion Woodman, a renowned international teacher, workshop leader, and Jungian therapist. A widely read author on analytical and feminine psychology with over half a million books in print, Marion has created several Sounds True audio courses, including The Crown of Age and Sitting by the Well. In the second half of this newly released, two-part interview recorded in the year 2000, Tami speaks with Marion about forgiving our mistakes. Marion also talks about the marriage of spirit and matter, what it might mean to live with mystery, and why humans can never be fully conscious. (79 minutes)
Tami Simon: You’re listening to Insights at the Edge. Today my guest is Marion Woodman. This is part two of an interview with Marion that was recorded in the year 2000 and has never previously been released.
Marion Woodman is a writer, international teacher and workshop leader, and a Jungian analyst. With over half a million books in print, she is one of the most widely read authors on analytical and feminine psychology.
Marion Woodman is a graduate of the C.G. Jung Institute in Zurich. With Sounds True, Marion has created several audio programs, including The Crown of Age, Emily Dickinson and the Demon Lover, Holding the Tension of the Opposites, and Sitting by the Well: Bringing the Feminine to Consciousness through Language, Dreams, and Metaphor, where she teaches that we are each blessed with our own well, and from this source of salvation, we must “drink or die.”
In this episode of Insights at the Edge, Marion and I spoke about forgiving our mistakes. We also talked about the marriage of spirit and matter, and what it might mean to live with mystery. And finally, we talked about why humans can never be fully conscious. Here’s the second and final part of my conversation with Marion Woodman.
So Marion, here’s my personal question. For me, because I have a sensitive heart, and I imagine other people listening to this program also have a sensitive heart, I don’t like feeling hurt. So I think sometimes what keeps me in a place of mediocrity is a fear of being hurt. So my question is, for me and for other people out there who are afraid of that pain of loss, of loving and not having it work out, of losing, of all of that—the pain of life—how do we go into it if we’re afraid of being hurt?
Marion Woodman: Well, certainly that’s a question I’ve had to ask myself. I do believe that you have to take the gamble. If you are sensitive and you seem to love from a well that’s much deeper than other people’s, and you feel as if somebody’s clobbering over you with hobnail boots, or things come at you [and] you wonder how anybody could be so cruel as to say such a thing, then you look at their face and you realize they have no idea what they said.
And sometimes they don’t, you know? Sometimes it’s just a big fat unconscious [unintelligible] that comes out of their mouths. Splat! And if you turn around and say, “Why did you say that?” they’ll say, “Well, what did I say that upset you so?” And then they will deny they said it, because it really is unconscious.
Now, a person who is in touch with the unconscious tends to bring that out of other people. There are many people who are just going on a conscious level, but where you’ve developed the depth of the unconscious, you automatically bring that out in others, so you’re liable to get the full sweep of somebody’s unconscious complex. And that can be [devastating].
My own sense is that when you’re young, it’s enough almost to kill you, to be betrayed. But if you take the first hurt and then you dare to care and love again and trust, you may take another hurt. But each time, something in you is opened in a new way, so that your, what I call “the container,” becomes stronger. And you realize that people do these things sometimes out of ignorance. Sometimes you have put your faith in somebody or something mistakenly.
Other people simply do not feel and think the way you do, and you have to understand that. The other thing, I think, that’s really important is that the timing may be wrong. You may think [about] what you value, and what you want to do, and what you 100 percent are committed to, [and] all of a sudden you realize that they are not committed, and they don’t want to be 100 percent committed, and they’re not going to do what you want them to do. You simply have to back off.
Now, what you do with that energy is another question. When you’ve got your energy coming up full blast and you’re ready to make a big, big move, and suddenly you find yourself with nobody behind you, nobody supporting, that’s anguish. Just flat-out anguish. And you have to immediately find a place for that energy that was in full flight to move. Otherwise it will turn against you.
And then, I think, you have to say, “Well, what is the meaning of this?” Maybe it just wasn’t God’s timing. And destiny wasn’t with you in this moment. You are not in Tao. For whatever reason, you are not in Tao. Now, that’s painful, but it is the way it is. So you surrender. God said, “No,” and that is the way it is. That is reality.
But I still believe it’s worth going for the 100 percent on the next round. Maybe you’re a little bit more circumspect about who you’re trusting. You know a lot more about human nature than you did the last time. You move more slowly, perhaps, but I think it’s important to go the 100 percent.
And if it is God’s will, it will happen. If it is destiny, if it is conscious destiny, it will work out the way it is supposed to work out. And I have come to trust that. Things that hurt me dreadfully, I now look back and I think, “It was for the best.” And there is a surrender. What was my ego desire had to be surrendered. And then the soul comes in, and you have to work with the spiritual dimension, because you’re crushed in the ego side. But gradually over the course of life, you begin to realize that what the ego wants is not necessarily the right thing for you at all. And more and more you say, “Thy will be done.” And that’s where the soul grows and flourishes.
TS: Can you tell us more about this process of surrender? How do we actually do it?
MW: Well, how do I actually surrender? It depends on how deep the hurt is or how precious the thing is that’s to be surrendered. If it’s something very precious, like a relationship, I work out, in my journal, what exactly I’m surrendering, and that may take me weeks. “This is what I loved about this person. This is who I loved in myself when I was with this person. This is what life was when we were together.” So what am I surrendering?
And I work that through consciously to figure out what the projection was. What of myself did I project onto that other person? What do I now have to bring back in order to take responsibility for that in myself? And that’s sometimes pretty sobering.
So then I decide to take time off my work, and go into seclusion for at least four or five days. And I pull the telephone out and go by myself someplace. And I keep the candles burning. I create an altar. I walk a lot. I often clean cupboards, wax floors, because I like to do things while I’m thinking. I get into my head and everything gets blown out of proportion because I’m, by nature, a feeling type, feeling intuitive. So therefore, I have to be careful not to get ideas that are a little out of proportion.
So I clean, and I wax, and I make things beautiful. Not that I’m really concentrating on the cleaning. I never stop thinking about what I am going to do. And what I am going to do is burn, sacrifice, something very precious that is related to the thing I am surrendering. And I choose whatever it is with great care, and it’s always something I just can hardly bear to do without, because God demands the fatted calf, not the skinny one.
And so I have my little altar. I put the thing on the altar so that every time I go by it, I know that it’s not going to be there next week. And sometimes I just say, “I can’t give that up.” And I stop the whole thing. And I take my precious thing back. And I stop the whole process, because to go on with it would be melodrama. It would be dramatics.
But if I do decide to go on with it, I say, “OK, I’m going to do the ritual tonight.” I go into my ritual space inside. I spend a lot of time in prayer. And light the candles. [I] usually do quite a bit of dancing. [I] go through the thanksgiving of what this relationship was to me, because I worked on it through my journal. And then [I] burn the sacrifice, watch it burn. Often it’s quite interesting how it burns.
And then I usually am so exhausted by the time that’s over that I go to sleep. The candle goes out. It’s finished. That’s a terrible moment. And then I usually just can’t get up off the floor, so I just go to sleep on the floor, hoping that there will be a dream or a vision that will show me where the new road is.
Now, I’m sure in a way I’ve described a vision quest. The whole idea of ritual in the past, in sacred societies, was that the ego would be so weak by the time you came to the point of the sacrifice and the total surrender that the unconscious could come up with the new image.
So the old cavemen, for example, would climb the mountain, dare the wild animals, dare everything on the way up, exhaust themselves getting up to the cave, and then, having made the sacrifice, they would draw the animal or whatever on the wall. And it was essence. What came out on that wall, it was reduced to the very essence of what it was. And it came straight out of the unconscious with all that energy.
So when you wake up the next morning, you either draw it or dance it, write it out. Be sure you get it into consciousness. You won’t have any idea what it is, probably, because you’re being taken onto a new dimension of understanding, a new opening of the heart. You’d have no idea what it’s about, but you just keep working until you’ve got it. And then you have to get through that day, and it’s usually quite a difficult day. And then the next day, maybe, go back to work.
I do believe in grieving, and I do believe in taking time to grieve, but not to wallow in it. Because , you see, the grieving has gone on before the ritual. There has been deep, deep grieving. And the ritual itself is deep grieving, but there may be another dimension [that’s] come up. And you will be exhausted, so that you can’t really go back into the world quite yet.
Now, that would only happen maybe once every two years. When I was younger, I’d go through a ritual like that maybe once every two or three years. But there are many small surrenders as well. And I utterly believe in—distraction is one of my horrible—I just feel sometimes that if I could get rid of all this garbage in my mind, in my life, and go for essence. Especially now, I want to go for essence, because there’s just no time and energy for these other things.
So I write on a piece of paper what I need to do to let this particular distraction go. What do I have to sacrifice to let that go? Again, I work with my journal until I’ve got it clear, and then I burn the paper. And it feels swept clean.
That’s what I mean by surrender. In my life, I was never able to make that surrender until I knew exactly what I was surrendering. Because I didn’t want to let it go, and so long as it was fuzzy, I could hold onto it. But that fuzziness is no good when it comes to deep grief and having to give up something you really love. You’ve got to clear the decks, because that’s where the real opening comes, in the heart; and the new perception, new insight in the mind.
It’s Christ in the garden of Gethsemane, and the first prayer is, “Let this cup pass from me.” And the second one is, “Thy will be done.” So you’re accepting your destiny. So instead of accepting blind fate—Jung says what is not brought to consciousness comes to us as fate, and that’s blind fate. You want to open it up into consciousness and make it an integrated part of your life. And that’s what ritual is all about. I mean, even in the church, I think that it’s very important that if you are going to participate in the ritual of a church—or a ritual of any religion—that you are present, that you don’t go through it as a trance, but that you get yourself there in presence.
TS: So Marion, I’m curious if you can talk a little bit about your early life. I’ve heard you describe yourself as a father’s daughter, a minister’s daughter. I’ve never heard you talk about your mother. I don’t know where you were born. I’m just curious if you can give us a description of your early life and maybe some of the seeds that were present that blossomed later, that we see now but that you could now reflect on and say, “Oh, that makes sense to me.”
MW: Well, I was the oldest child, and only daughter of my parents. I had two younger brothers, two years apart: Bruce and Fraser. We were the minister’s kids in the town, which set us apart. Other kids had their cliques in the town, but we came in as strangers, so we were extremely close, the three of us.
We played funeral, wedding, baptism—those were our three great games. Archetypal, right? Everything was archetypal in our world. And we would take any bird that we found in the spring or any dead creature, like a beloved cat or a beloved dog that somebody had given us to take care of, and we would take it through the town on our wagon with the Union Jack, and it got a proper funeral.
My mother was ill throughout most of my childhood. She had a very terrible tubercular [disease]. And so my life was mostly in parlors, being taken care of by somebody else. My father went visiting as a minister. He had to go around to all the farms and visit, so I would go with him and stay in a parlor in the afternoons and waited for him to come back. I had such a wonderful time in the parlor by myself, and I always cased the joint for doilies. That was my first little effort, because I needed blankets for my doll. So the doilies were very important to me. I just loved to take them and curl them up and fix them.
So I was alone most of the time. That was where Joan of Arc came in, you see. I just put her on the lovely polished mahogany table—I don’t know if you know parlors in those days. Nobody ever went into the parlor. There was a living room, but then there was a beautiful room. And all the old precious furniture was in that room.
And I quite enjoyed that. And I always managed to have some tea or something with the people, and they were good to me. And my father would teach me. I spent hours with him in the garden. He started teaching me when I was about two or three to read. And I had a little desk beside his desk, and I had my register of my students and my class. All imaginary, of course. I just had one doll and that’s all I wanted.
But the teacher was in my bones. And I was not mothering to my doll; I taught her. And my father taught me. There’s the father’s daughter. And my mother was ill, so all I thought about was not bothering her, not making trouble, being as quiet as possible, and trying to take care of my younger brothers as best I could.
The churchyard was just beside us, so I spent a lot of time in the churchyard because there were lovely flat graves that made great tables for lunch for my doll and me. And I would go over there and people would come and visit the grave of one of their beloveds. And they would start talking to me, and they would tell me the story of their son or their daughter. Of course, I identified totally with this. And then I would invite them to come and have tea with me, providing they gave me some flowers they had brought.
And my life as a Jungian analyst began back there, because I loved listening to these stories, and they seemed to love telling me. So it was a strange childhood, I suppose, from one point of view. But it was perfectly right for me. I was happy. I never wore shoes, except on Sunday. I never had my hair combed, except on Sunday, because it was so curly I couldn’t stand the sight of a comb. And I had a corncob pipe, which I smoked. It was a bubble pipe, of course.
But the rebel in me—my parents allowed that rebel to be whatever she wanted to be. I had a great huge easel that I could paint on with both hands. I was never constricted in my early childhood. When I went to school, of course, it was a big problem, because suddenly there was no big easel and we made windmills.
I went to school to learn and read, and I made windmills the first day, and the second day, I made a windmill and ran around with this thing. But the third day I just looked at the teacher and said, “I will never make another windmill! Never!” And she phoned my father and said that I was just an unruly child, “I couldn’t control her.”
And I told my father that we didn’t do any reading, nothing that I went to school [for]. I had been so excited about going to school. I thought it was going to be the most marvelous thing that could have ever happened to me, to go to school. And to be confronted with paper windmills? So anyway, we had some difficulty getting going, as you can imagine, in school. I guess I really didn’t get going very well until about grade 7, and then sort of began to balance out what I was interested with what was coming.
What I thank God for about my childhood was that although people laughed at me for what I was interested in, the other kids I mean, I never lost faith, myself, in what I believed in and what I wanted to do. And if anybody laughed at what I wanted, I just simply decided that I would never speak about it again. And I would never put myself out where I could be hurt like that again.
And then I turned to writing in my little journals, and put my whole soul into my writing. Of course, I always have to come back to that Joan of Arc. That was crucial to my spiritual trust. I just trusted that. And so long as I felt that connection to the divine, I didn’t care whether anybody laughed at me or not. And the aloneness gave me strength. And I have no fear of being on the outside of society. And I have really been on the outside most of my life.
The other thing, of course, that I am so grateful to my parents for is my love of the Bible. My father read to me constantly and told me stories. He read poetry to me. And my mother was a very practical woman. So she brought me up in the kitchen, making cookies, and she really put me in touch with the practicalities of life.
So I’ve got this incredible combination of poetry and vision and then the practical just comes in, flat out. And sometimes that’s very funny, when people get used to the whole poetic side and then they hear the practicality coming through. So I’ve got both sides. My father [had a] Scots background and my mother was Irish. And that’s the tale.
TS: Now, Marion, you’ve talked about Emily Dickinson, Beckett. I know you have a great love of Shakespeare. How has literature played a role in your own development coming to consciousness? And I guess further along with that, too, what do you think might be the most elevated relationship one could have to literature? What can it provide us?
MW: Well, of course, literature was the best friend I had. And given the archetypal dimension of the world I lived in, I just moved into literature as naturally as a duck into water. I loved going to plays. I loved being in plays.
And there never has been a day in my life, I don’t think, that I haven’t read. And as a result of the reading, I have book after book that I have written by hand. I look at them now and they’re just sort of like beautiful tapestries. They’re all the different colored ink, and the little handwriting [from] when I was a child.
Literature opened my vision to the very best that culture had to offer, and opened my depths. I couldn’t understand what was going on in me. I couldn’t understand it at all, because I did not fit in with my peers. And had I not had literature, I think I would have gone stark mad. Well, of course I had my parents, but it’s a terrible thing to be alone as a child, with nothing out there in your peers mirroring you.
So the literature—I just read voraciously in order to find friends and ideas that mirrored what I was thinking. And then, of course, I decided to be an English teacher, and went deeper and deeper into the literature. And then I taught English literature and loved it. I can’t imagine anything more wonderful than teaching adolescents English literature and creative theater. That was the two worlds. They were one world, actually, because we took the literature into the theater.
And then, when I went to Zurich, I realized that I had this world of the archetypes at my fingertips. Shakespeare is archetypal from beginning to end. So are all the great poets, so are all the great novelists, and so on. And a dream is a poem. There is a basic image, and once you find that basic image, you find all the language that is moving around that image. So there was no big break. It was simply a move from working with poems to working with dreams. And that’s who I am.
TS: I’m curious if you’ve had a personal dream, a recurring dream, that you feel is a central image for your life?
MW: Do I have a dream that is a central image for my life? Well, the dream that I still don’t quite understand—it’s a 20-year-old dream—is of being taken to a cave, directed by a snake. And the dream said that this was a very merry snake, M-E-R-R-Y. And it was [a] happy, happy snake. And it went in a movement like this. It didn’t go along on the ground; it went along like that. It had a large living eye crowning its head [that was] gold.
And it took me to this cave, and in the wall of the cave was a sort of bookcase. It cut right in the rock, just slithered out of the rock. And there were [only] two books. And the one book was called The Seven Chronicles of the Western World. And the snake pushed it out into my hand with its head and said, “This one is for you.”
And it was a large book with a golden eye exactly like the crown on the snake’s head on the front of it. Living; the eye of God on top of a cross. A Saint Andrew’s cross, it was. And the snake said, “This one is for you.” And this immense eye was so loving. So I opened the book to see what it was about. There was not a word written in it.
I’m still wondering what that dream was about. I think it’s about love. I think The Seven Chronicles of the Western World are about the patriarchal world that I was brought up in, and words and learning and cherishing that world. But what I have been forced to move into—and cancer has taken me one step further along in this road—is recognizing that it’s not what I write, and it’s not what I say, but it’s who I am in my capacity to love that I have to live. And that may be in silence before it’s over.
But it’s about the eighth eye. See, I believe that there’s a whole new consciousness coming on the earth. And that The Seven Chronicles, the patriarchal world as we have known it—and it’s still, right around the globe, it’s still patriarchal. The values are patriarchal. The power principle is patriarchal. The achievement, who’s going to get to the top, patriarchal.
Words, words, words. Blather. Listen to the television. Blather. And yelling! Blather. But the new world, if we ever get to the planetary world, is going to be about opening the heart, and forgiving ourselves our mistakes, and knowing—knowing—what compassion is. And I believe that that dream is not only my personal dream, but an archetypal dream for the whole culture, for the whole planet. Because without that compassion, and that merry feminine snake, and the eye of God in love, the planet can’t survive. The planet itself can’t survive, let alone the people on it.
TS: So is this new consciousness really coming, or is this the fantasy desire of people like yourself? I guess I’m not—I don’t see around me enough change throughout the course of my life to have much faith in it.
MW: Well, this is the dream of an idealist, the dream of a visionary. Is there really any change going on on the planet, or is it just fight, fight, fight? The thing that gives me hope is that I have 100 percent faith in something coming from the other side. It’s not going to be our call, in the end.
I believe there is a God. I believe there is a Sophia, a feminine side to that God that manifests in all the magnificent forms that are on this earth: the beautiful flowers, the multitudinous world that we are destroying. And I believe there is a purpose to all that has gone on on this planet. It’s not random.
And I don’t believe that we are going to be allowed to shatter ourselves. I think something will happen from the other side that will make us bend the knee. In other words, there will be volcanoes, there will be floods, there will be one thing after another. I don’t think we’ve come anywhere near it yet, the catastrophe that may lie ahead.
But we are in the transition now. I really believe we are in the transition. And hopefully, enough people can hold a vision of cooperating with the destiny of the planet that we can keep going.
TS: Marion, you talked about being a father’s daughter, and you’ve also talked a little bit about the patriarchy worldwide, and the power of the patriarchy. And it seems to me that one of themes of your life has been honoring the feminine and talking about how important it is to honor the feminine. What I’d like to know is if you can describe what that really means to you at a personal level, to honor the feminine. And then also, at a cultural level, what you think is required.
MW: I was not always interested in the feminine. In fact, in the addiction, which nearly took my life, I had a willpower that was absolute. If I told myself I was not going to eat something, I did not eat it. And I had a will of iron [when] it came to my own body.
Here’s where the trick comes in. In order to survive in my childhood, I had to develop that willpower in order to go to school. I loathed school. Interesting that I became a schoolteacher. But I had to, every day, put one foot ahead of the other to go to school, and had to take teasing and all kinds of other things. And I had to be able to say to myself, “You will do it.”
So, my survival technique was willpower. To break that willpower felt like death to me. So here’s where the picture becomes very, very difficult. And then, as my body began to break, and it became clear that my willpower was turning my body into such a rigid mass that everything in my dreams had turned to winter, and the whole kidney system broke down. And I realized that the only way I was going to live as to let go, literally let go of that rigidity in my body.
But I found it very difficult to do that because it felt that if I let go, I would just die. So I began by attempting to love my body. And then I began a spiritual discipline [that] I made up for myself. And the Christ became very important me, the loving, cherishing side of Christ, which was very feminine, and compassionate, and forgiving. And I certainly needed the forgiveness, because I began to realize the brutality with which I had treated my body, and I began to remember my dreams of having intercourse with goring.
And so the concentration camp that I had lived in as an anorexic, the only way out of that holocaust was through letting go and through cherishing what I had, in fact, hated. And here’s the question again: Are you here of your own free will or did you come by compulsion? So I worked with letting go of that complex. And of course, that began to spread into my realization that the perfectionist in me was what was killing me. And that perfectionist wanted power over everything that was imperfect.
And so it spread into my whole life. My workaholism—some people might say I’m still a workaholic, but I work now through loving and through commitment to what I’m working in. And I am no longer a perfectionist. I really love humanity in all its mistakes, it all its diversity, and I have let go. Things happen, and I think, “Well, so I made a mistake,” or, “So it didn’t work out.” Instant forgiveness. I no longer have this voice in me that says, “Look at that, you did it all wrong,” or, “You could have done better. Try again.”
And I began to see that the addiction was a way of life. It wasn’t only focused on food by any means. It was right through everything. It was a denial of humanity. I was totally up in the heavens, idealizing everything, and on the other side, demonizing everything. So to find that middle balance, and then when I went into [Jungian] analysis, which was when I was 42, I began to find words for this letting go, this surrender.
I began to find words like “process” instead of “product.” Paradox—being able to accept very different things and recognize that both are valid, beautiful. Losing one’s life in order to find it. Words like “receptivity,” “resonance” in the body. The whole body vibrates to love, and love is indeed an energy. It’s not something that one talks about up in the sky, it’s a force that changes the cells of the body.
“Presence” was the big one. Being able to live in the now instead of being terrified of gaining an ounce, and continually projecting what might happen in the future. I mean, it’s madness. You can’t imagine how an addict can structure life in terms of an eighth of an inch or an ounce. And to be free of all of that—I had to find things to do, because I had measured life in terms of calories and how to get time for exercising and so on. And then all that was gone. So how do you fill the space? And then this whole other world came in.
And when I found language for it, I called it the feminine. And that’s where the receptivity, the surrender—being able to accept life, death, rebirth. Being able to recognize a unified field, that all things are one. Everything is a part of everything else. I just found that such a beautiful idea. And then to be able to live that in experience [was] magnificent. And most important, being able to live in the now and the beingness, the is-ness, the “I am who I am.” I’m talking about soul there, not ego. This “I am” is my spiritual being in this body.
Now, at a cultural level, I believe that the power principle is going to totally destroy us. I mean, most people are taking their identity from having power over something. They have power over other people unconsciously. They call it love, but then they expect so much in return that it turns out to be power. They want power over themselves, power over their body. Look at this big thing about fitness and all of this. But the body is being treated as a machine, not as an embodied soul; not as something to be cherished and allowed to grow.
Another area of power is over nature. You want to build a new factory, rape that field. Nobody cares. I was just reading in the paper this morning, these whole areas that are going to be raped for new factories. Well, you know, in my understanding of it, you can destroy the planet to a certain point and then it’s over.
So culturally, I just found my practice was full of addicts. Of course, I know teachers and students find each other. But I think the whole culture, the whole Western culture—and the rest of the world is learning it—is based on greed. And essentially that’s power. And I don’t know anything except the feminine principle that’s going to change it, and that’s love. And love is strong enough to break power. And any addicts I know have got to learn that, that it’s love that opens up the heart, and lets the power go. Don’t want it anymore.
TS: Earlier, Marion, you talked about something coming from the other side, pushing forward as some part of some evolutionary process. My question is, what do you think our personal work on ourselves, our personal evolution has to do with the evolution of God? What’s the connection, if you think there is one?
MW: Oh, I think there is one. I think there is a connection between the evolution of God in ourselves and the evolution of God in the culture, in the universe. But it’s a matter of our consciousness.
Jung said that the mandala of the 21st century would have nothing at the core. So you’d have the frame of the mandala, in a dome, for example, [but] the center would be empty. Because the task of the 21st century will be to project from within ourselves into that empty space so that we don’t accept an image of God that somebody has painted, or a 19th century statue that is sentimentalized.
With any powerful energy, we put the image on that energy. The word is “archetype” here. Where you’re working with God or Goddess, Sophia, we project the image onto that if it’s going to be living and vital in ourselves. We are no longer in a place where we can accept what is put onto us as God. So if there’s going to be a living dynamic between the Other and us—“Other” with a capital O—if that’s going to be a living dynamic, it’s got to be coming from the energy and the image that is within us. And we fill the hole with our energy.
And so the evolution is taking place in that as we grow, our concept of God grows. See, who we are in our being depends on our concept of God. And until people realize that, the Irish are going to be fighting each other, the Protestants and the Catholics; the Jews and the Arabs—these crazy fights that go on all over the planet, the vision is too narrow. And until the vision of what I call the unified field opens, the fighting’s going to go on, but it’s fundamentally the understanding of God that’s going to change that. God and Sophia. God as masculine and feminine.
See, in my concept it’s crazy to ask, “What gender is God?” Because I understand masculinity as a spirit [and] femininity as matter, as in the I Ching, the yin-yang, or in the Hindu world, Shiva [and] Shakti. We can’t see spirit. We look at the stars [and] we can’t even begin to think how far away they are. Spirit is totally beyond our comprehension.
So all that we see is spirit manifest, as with those beautiful lilies. There is spirit manifest in matter, and the matter is Sophia. And this planet is blessed with so many manifestations of spirit. So the marriage between spirit and matter is right there in those flowers. A great Jewish rabbi, Hershel, said, “Spirit without body is ghost. Body without spirit is corpse.” We have to have the two together.
TS: A couple times, Marion, you’ve said that at the end of life, your realization is that you’re human, something about being a human. Can you explain that? What do you mean by emphasizing [that] at the end of life, you discover that you’re really a human being?
MW: In the beginning of my life, I was trying to be an angel, I think. I idealized people. I idealized possibilities for my own life, for other people’s lives. And that cut me off from the body. I lived in the head.
And the sheer sweetness of the body—she is so sweet! Like a dog that you love. There’s an innocence about an animal, and when you get to know this creature, and when you see how you have used the body as a garbage dump—when you watch what people eat, it’s a garbage dump—or the way they run it when it’s so exhausted it can’t do anything. The way it has become just a donkey to be punished, the way it carries the psychic conflict—when a conflict is unendurable, it goes into the body as symptom.
And I’ve seen this over and over again. People pretending everything’s all right, and yet they’re covered with psoriasis, or they’ve got a gall bladder breaking down, or they’ve got cancer, whatever it is that’s going on. And you say, “What conflict is your body forced to carry and does nobly?”
So that the humanity of the body, and also, of course, the sheer joy of the body—you know, sexuality, the resonance you feel in music when you feel that music going right through you from top to bottom. Color—go into an art gallery, go out into the woods to paint your own pictures. The senses are so magnificent.
And so to be a human being, for me, now, is to have that perception in the body, but also to have it illumined by spirit, so that the whole being is the instinct illumined by spirit. The two go together—that coming together of matter and spirit as a totality.
TS: And so what you’re talking about is this process, you could say, of coming to consciousness. Is it possible for a human being to be fully conscious?
MW: I would say no to that. I think we have to work as hard as we can work with our dreams and our own symptoms in every way to try to bring it to consciousness. You know, paint your images. When an image comes up in a dream, you don’t know what it means. It’s a brand new thing. And if you think you know what it means, you’re arrogant. You need to sit down and paint it and feel the energy of it, and say, “What is that energy in me? Did I feel it yesterday? Did I need it yesterday? Why has it come to me now?”
So that you learn as much as you can from your painting, your writing, your dancing, all the creative fire that brings all this [energy]. You do the best you can through the world of the imagination. The imagination is the bridge between spirit and matter.
But I tell you, I was so honored to be an analyst, because the dreams—people would come into the office with what seemed [to be] a simple dream, and it would be stunning in its understanding of a mystery beyond anything we could possibly fathom. And that is the power of the dream and the symbol. It carries the mystery. And you need to remember not to psychologize the mystery. The minute you psychologize it, you kill the mystery. You need to let the mystery work in you.
But I think that the further you go, the more silenced you are by the sheer wonderment of what comes up out of the unconscious, what it knows. I have found myself in situations 20 years after I had a dream, and think, “My heavens, déjà vu. I’ve been here before. There is that very person that was in the dream doing exactly what he’s doing now.” Or the dream recognizes—I could tell you incredible stories of how the unconscious was years ahead of the consciousness and what it knew, [with] no explanation for it.
I just don’t think it’s possible ever to be fully conscious. You do the best you can. I see it as the tip of an iceberg, the one-tenth that you can see, and then there’s this vast world down below. And I think we are meant to live with mystery. It opens up the dimensions that keep us human and compassionate. It cuts out arrogance and narcissism. And opens us to God.
TS: And this concludes this archival interview that never before has been released with Marion Woodman. I’m so grateful that we were able to capture this recording when Marion was at the Sounds True studio back in the year 2000, and I feel very grateful to have this chance to broadcast it now.
Marion Woodman, with Sounds True, has recorded several audio programs, including The Crown of Age, Emily Dickinson and the Demon Lover, Holding the Tension of the Opposites, and Sitting by the Well: Bringing the Feminine to Consciousness Through Language, Dreams, and Metaphor. SoundsTrue.com. Many voices, one journey. Thanks for listening.