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(Part 2 of a 3 part series on Sacred Texts in Women’s Spirituality: The Work of Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estés ~ see Part I here.)
In her six part sound recording, The Dangerous Old Woman, Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estés tells stories and commentary about the Wise Woman archetype. She immediately draws the listener in by referring to herself as a member of “scar-clan.” This refers to all those who have been wounded and battle-scarred in the journey of life.

Where the Wild Woman relates to the Maiden aspect of the Triple Goddess, the Wise Woman relates more to the Mother and Crone.

The Wise Woman strives to create from the edges, not from the mangled, mediocre middle. The Wise Woman and the Wild Woman remain at the frontiers of everything, where creativity, original intuition, insight, vibrancy, visionary spark and all that you need to be effective and useful, all of that lives at the edges.

Georgia O'Keeffe photo by Arnold Newman

Georgia O’Keeffe photo by Arnold Newman

(Session 1)

Estés explains that in using the word “dangerous” she does not intend the meaning to be as a threat in the manner that we may use that word today. Her use of dangerous is in the “good meaning of the word: you stand in my danger means you stand in my aura, I will protect you, carve doors in walls for you” (Session 1). The dangerous old woman is “the Proctectoress” who will stand guard, defend, attend to crying children at night. “Her home is in the soul. She is utterly dependable. What is wise” (Session 1).

Estés equates this Wise Woman with the one she calls “The Two-Million-Year-Old Woman.” This ancient feminine source contains the wisdom inherent in women’s knowing and is located in the eternal feminine nature, “the undivided self, the great feminine force of the entire universe – one entire force of being, our legacy” (Session 2). Responding to women who say that they don’t know where their gifts are or what they should be doing, Estés (2010) says that “All women are born gifted” (Session 1.) She gives a humorous (and poignant) story of her Aunt Edna who lived and worked during WWII, and when the war was over and people were saying that women should go back to work in the home because they “weren’t qualified to do anything,” Aunt Edna would say to them: “Women, Dearie, listen, they are overqualified for everything. Everything” (Session 4). Estés uses this statement as an illustration of the Two-Million-Year-Old-Woman:

This Dangerous Old Woman, this Two-Million-Year-Old Woman is qualified, in many cases over-qualified in creating, child-rearing, inventing, innovation – all the things that make our world go around. This Two-Million-Year-Old Woman is within the psyche. It’s an ancient way of thinking. It has nothing to do with ‘am I enough?’ It has to do with ‘I am so much. Where shall I start? Where should I put my first mark, and the second, and the one after that.’ (Session 4).

For all the women out there who are overextended multi-taskers (i.e. every woman I know) we can chuckle knowingly to the notion of being “overqualified for everything.” The wisdom in this teaching about this ancient feminine self, the Two-Million-Year-Old woman is striking, deeply empowering and a sweet melody to this woman’s ears. It is not often that we get such validation for our abilities and our gifts.

The teaching about the Wise Woman would be re-miss without a teaching about learning from our mistakes. Dr. Estés uses the old fairy tale of Snow White however she says that the most important element in the story is the mirror:

This is – a story about the mirror – the blessed, blessed mirror . . . the psyche – stay away from things that are soul killers. Go toward things that are life giving. In this tale, if we imagine all the parts belonging to one single psyche, there are many ways to misuse the mirror. The matters depend on the use of the mirror. Something in the psyche that is a pure mirror – people generally don’t grow by learning their gifts. They learn by learning their foibles. (Session 2)

Estés deconstructs the Snow White story seeing all its elements as representative aspects of our psyches. The wicked step-mother as a symbol of our stinginess and the choice that we have of whether to be “better or bitter.” The dwarfs symbolize aspects that relate to wisdom.
Estés introduces the wisdom of the Crone saying that “mountains are raised by earthquakes” (Section 6).
How wonderful a metaphor for a woman and in particular a crone: a mountain that has grown out of the earthquakes that has rocked her world. It invokes images of giant strength, stability, and unshakeable presence even in the face of the greatest challenge. ~ Kathy Stanley. Copyright. All Rights Reserved.

Works Cited

Estés, Clarissa Pinkola. (2010). The Dangerous Old Woman: Myths and Stories of the Wise Woman Archetype. Available from http://www.soundstrue.com

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