a speech by Marion Woodman
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following is a transcript of the keynote speech delivered by
Marion Woodman at the 3rd Annual Women & Power
Conference, organized by Omega
Institute and V-Day in
September 2004. To order the CD of this speech or to purchase
other CDs from this event, please click
you very much ladies. Thank you very much for your welcome. It’s
indeed an honor to be here. It’s an honor to be on this stage with
all these magnificent paintings, the coloring so feminine, and the
love that has gone into every detail of this conference is femininity
in itself. I come to you this time, also, as I was sitting in my
room this morning and looking out over the towers of New York, I
was so glad to be here on this day. And to think, you know, of the
innocence with which those towers were standing in the sunlight,
as it turned golden on them and then thinking what happened within
minutes three years ago today.
Having been through a loss myself this year, and realizing my
age, of course is involved in this—but with each passing of someone
we love, more of us is on the other side. And gradually the reality
of that other side is coming in and shifting our reality here,
so that the suffering of the loss brings through the transformation.
I know that many of you have heard me over the years and I can’t
help but think as—I haven’t been on a stage for six months. And
my cardiologist said well, you just tell your audience if you get
the least bit tired, that it’s okay. You’ll be gone for ten minutes.
Have a good time. But I’m not going to do that. I know that’s not
going to happen. But it does at the same time, you know—just makes
me think about the reality of the whole situation. And that’s good.
That business of transformation, suffering happens at a cultural
level as well as an individual level. I’m sure you all know individually
how the suffering has brought you through to transcendence and
to a whole new feeling about soul. At a cultural level a similar
thing is going on. As we are losing community, if you think, for
example, of the farmers — I’m sure it’s true in the States as well
as in Canada — they cannot survive. An individual farmer has to
look at the big farms coming in. And the big farms can put him
out of business. The pig farm comes in and says look, you don’t
want to raise ten pigs. Why don’t you just join us and have hundreds
of little pigs. And when they get to be ten weeks old, there will
be a truck that comes along and they will take them all along to
the next person, who will have a different kind of barn, and he
will raise them until they’re six months old. And then we’ll move
them again. So the farmer never gets to know his pigs. The pig
never sees the sunshine. We are creatures of the sun and we are
being asked to eat food that never sees the sun? Chickens are in
the same situation.
The individuality is being lost, and a whole process is going
on where the suffering that this is causing at every level in our
society is only just beginning to be felt. You take the community
away from the farm. You say yes, we’ll put a highway through this
part of the city. We’ll get good money for that. And you kill that
part of the city. How far can you go with this loss of relatedness,
loss of love, loss of recognition that we are human beings, individuals,
who live our lives with an open heart, only to be clobbered by
insensitivity? People saying I’m right and you’re wrong. No recognition
of soul or heart. So it seems to me that as we talk this morning,
if you can just sort of hold that position. I’m trying not to be
too dark about it. But I am really alarmed.
I saw pictures on T.V. the other night of Indians in Bolivia raging
angry with their pitchforks. They looked like the French revolutionaries
going to storm the Bastille. And I couldn’t see what they were
so angry about. And as they were marching, more and more joined
them. And then they got to the capital, and what they were angry
about is they were having to pay for their own water. Some trade
law had been passed. They didn’t know anything about it. But they
suddenly were asked to pay for their own water. How can you take
the heart out of people? Just exactly that way. Don’t recognize
them. And eventually—again let me just refer to something I saw
on television. It showed the people in the concert hall — the Russians
who are in the theater the night of the Chechnyan rebellion when
they came in. And it was a whole — I don’t know how many of you
saw it. It was simply horrific. No feeling at all. And the terrible
moment was when they gave up. One of the men who spoke said if
you could see some people died a few hours before their body actually
fell over, but their heart went out of them. They couldn’t see
any hope. And even before the gas was released in the theater,
they died. So what I would like to focus on this morning is the
loss of the feminine where the heart is no longer recognized. The
individuality is no longer realized. The soul is not even thought
about. And how that reverberates right through our culture.
And again to keep in mind what we’re talking about at the conference,
where is the real power. When everything is looked at. Where is
the real power?
In T.S, Elliot’s Four Quartets, he talks about the rose
of the soul. And if you’re following the Quartets he talks about
the wandering of the soul and the flower — the rose in Christianity
is like the lotus in India. You know, the lotus comes up out of
the roots, out of the water and opens the top of the water to consciousness.
The rose has that symbol in Christianity. And as we’re working
with our own souls, we open our rose petal by petal. And hopefully
no petal is damaged. At the right time it opens and how ever fierce
the fire that it finds itself in, if it’s given time and love,
it opens. And gradually the whole flower becomes a totality. The
reality of the rose is there. And it may be in fire, but it’s the
fire that’s giving it its strength. The fire — the suffering as
we go through. We can’t avoid suffering, that’s simply part of
life. But can we hold the reality of our own rose while we are
going through that fire?
I would like to refer to the Greek games — how many of you saw
the opening of the Olympics? It was very interesting. You know,
I wrote a book 20 years ago called The Pregnant Virgin.
And nobody quite knew what it was about. As Elizabeth said, you
have to just listen to me in terms of spirals. I’ve given up trying
to use logic. I don’t think that way. I think with my heart. And
so it goes in spirals. But in the Greek opening, it began with
the beautiful scenes that we’ve seen from Canastas and then we
went to Mosinee and Minolta and classical Greece and the beautiful
statues we have seen where living people with white on them — how
they did that is magnificent. And then we talked about the Greek
theater. And everything was emphasizing here is the cradle of civilization.
Here is where it all began. Here in this patriarchy we have the
beginning of everything that Western civilization has begun. It
was magnificently done, the theater, philosophy, medicine. All
the glory of Greece.
Then there was this peculiar little moment when we saw the backside
of a woman stand up. And I thought she must have wandered into
the camera. And she had long, tousled hair with flowers in it,
a little gauzy dress, bear feet. And she was sort of just wandering
around. And I thought what is going? And then she turned around
and she had a huge belly. And she was carrying it like the primavera,
you know Bottocceli’s primavera, and she was holding it that way.
And it was a bright, bright light inside it. And she was showing
it off, having a wonderful time. And walking with that wonderful,
feminine sag. And I thought My God. There’s the pregnant virgin.
It was. It was. That’s exactly who she was. Not one commentator
did anything with it. Now, you laugh. But isn’t that pathetic?
Nobody knew whether she was — it seemed as if they didn’t know
whether she was supposed to be there or not. And she was just wandering.
And then they turned the lights off in the auditorium, and all
you could see was this bright, bright belly. And it was once again
saying here is Greece, the center of civilization from which it
all came. And maybe — maybe this is my interpretation. But here
is the feminine, somebody dares to put a little pregnant girl in
the middle of this darkness and say, 'you figure out what it’s
about' ...and some of you may have seen the closing even if you
didn’t see the opening. But the Greeks being the Greeks, carried
through the idea. And by the way, it was a woman that organized
In the end there was a girl who blew out the light of the torch.
And took that light and gave it to children. So that the light
that was lit through the first part of the opening, with the bright
belly and the pregnant child — and with the child within the belly—here
are children carrying out the light. So I thought it was profoundly
moving to see it put on — I mean everybody was watching the Olympics.
But you know, practically nobody saw that girl. I asked people,
they say, 'Well, I saw it, but I didn’t see that.' It was right
at the end. But anyway, just keep it in mind ...Maybe you’ll read The
Pregnant Virgin again and have more of an idea what it’s about
the next round.
The last time I spoke to you — I closed with an image of the goddess
coming in on a wave. And she was coming in with her arm up like
this and the strength in that body and dark. And she was on her
way to land. And all these women — particularly women—they were
the droplets in the water. And those droplets were carrying this
woman into land. I would suggest to you that we’re much closer
to the power of that wave now than we were a year ago.
It’s becoming more and more clear that the old way is not going
to work. We can no longer say I am right and you are wrong. We
can no longer make fun of people who don’t think the way we do.
There is a shift in consciousness, and that wave that we are all
a part of has radically changed. And if you think back to when
you were a child, I’m sure you looked at the globe, you know, the
world, and you thought China is a long, long way away, I’ll never
see China. And all of these parts were unrelated. Where I see the
hope is that we are now one world. We’ve been praying that for
a long time, that we would be one world.
Now technology has made us one world. And we haven’t got the slightest
idea what to do with it. We don’t know morally what to do. Ethically
what to do. Politically impossible. And the dangers are becoming
more and more terrifying. And what I’m suggesting to you in that
dream of that woman coming in on that wave, it is the feminine
principle that can bring a whole different thinking process to
the patriarchy, as we have known it. Patriarchy thinking that way
I mean you can’t have people worshipping God — and everybody saying
they’re worshipping God — with totally opposing ideas. The feminine
principle would attempt to relate. Instead of breaking things off
into parts, it would say, where are we alike? How can we connect?
Where is the love? Can you listen to me? Can you really hear what
I am saying? Can you see me? Do you care whether you see me or
not?Now, these are very, very serious questions. Because the feminine
is so difficult, ladies and gentlemen, to talk about the feminine
because so few people have experienced it. What I’m talking about
here is presence, and relatedness.
A heart that can open so that when you meet another person or
you’re talking to a group of farmers who are in despair because
they can’t grow anything but grass and they’ve lost their beloved
animals, they’ve lost their beloved fields, and they cannot figure
out what to do — what meaning does life have without love?
What meaning does it have if nobody has ever seen you? I tell
you the number of people who sit in my office sobbing — men and
women — saying nobody ever saw me. Nobody ever had time to listen
to me. So I am unlovable - the saddest word in the language. I
am — don’t touch me. Sometimes I’ve had a real flood of feeling
about somebody, and I think they have had one for me. And I put
out my hand and they say, 'Don’t touch me. I’m unlovable.' And
they mean it. There is a trauma someplace.
There’s a child that was brought up by a mother, probably father
as well, where the feminine was not present. Now, I have to make
clear what I mean by feminine in so far as one can make that clear.You
have to experience the feminine to understand it. And I know that’s
the hardest thing to say because so many people say, 'I don’t know
what you’re talking about', and they don’t. And how do you — how
do you talk about something or try to live something that you have
not experienced. But let me just try here.
When I use the word feminine, I’m not talking about gender. I’m
talking about an “energy”. It’s as ancient as the Hindu religion.
Shiva and Shakti. And those two energies go right together. Shiva,
the masculine. Not patriarchal. I don’t think patriarchy has anything
to do with masculinity. It is a power principle that becomes a
parody of itself. You know as well as I do that women that are
trapped in patriarchy could be worst patriarchs than men. So patriarchy
has done as much profound damage to men as it has done to women.
And I — you know, watching — if I ever get to write another book,
that’s what I’m going to write about, is the patriarchal handling
of men. And I mean handling.
I’m not talking about a gender where I use the word feminine and
masculine. I’m talking about the masculine as a creative energy,
that fire, that air, that is just so powerful when it comes in,
there’s the egg, it drops its golden — golden what? Sperm. And
a new life is born. It’s that creative principle that can just
move in and bring new energy, new faith. The feminine is the receptive
side of that. The loving, the heart side, the soul side. That is
balancing the — the feminine being the water and the earth. So
the two energies balance, night and day. Nature is full of them.
And when we’re talking about that feminine that’s missing, we’re
talking about the heart energy. That can fill a room. Certainly
in a relationship it’s the energy that holds presence. By which
I mean the child comes in or the person comes in, has something
to tell you or they have prepared a little bouquet. Have you got
the time to see it? Have you got the time to see the love that
went into it? Can you hear the anguish in the voice that is talking
And some of you might think this is for the birds. But quantum
physics tells us very clearly that the presence watching the experiment
is influencing the experiment. It’s two different experiments —
the outcome depending on who’s watching it. You see the responsibility
that that puts on the presence in a room? And this is where the
feminine is crucial.
And it’s in men and women. In a family, for everybody running
as fast as they can, the cell phones are going off everywhere,
and nobody has time really to sit down to a meal that somebody
has taken hours to prepare, where is the presence felt. Or if the
parents never experience presence, can they hold presence for their
own children? The presence is the soul that is holding in love.
So there’s no agenda. The parent can listen to the child, be very
curious about this little creature that they have produced. They
don’t want it to be the best little scholar or the best athlete
or the best — the best, the best, the best ... Who is this person?
Can I be really interested? Enough to love them? And that feminine
presence is what — you see, again to go to the woman on the wave.
That is what is able to change any situation. It’s in the consciousness
of the person who is holding it.
I would just ask each of you to think about that for a minute
and ask yourself who was able to hold presence for you as a child.
Who saw you? Who heard you? Did you have a teacher that could hold
presence for you? Was there anyone where you could be totally yourself
and trust your own heart responses with that person, your own exploration
with speaking your soul responses? Where you knew that when you
came into their presence, they were, you know — you could say,
'Gosh I am somebody. They’re happy when I come.' Or did you think,
'I have to please this person so I better turn off, be cool.' You’ve
heard that over and over again in our culture. Be cool. Don’t get
too excited about anything. Don’t be yourself. And sure don’t depend
on anything. Don’t be there. And the vitality goes out. It’s tragic.
Most people in analysis are there because nobody had time to see
them or hear them. They spent their time trying to please somebody
else so, so they never found their own values. They never dared
to live their own values. And they come to be adults, and you see
them sort of trying to, you know, stand straight and walk strong.
And all of a sudden it goes out and you say what happened? And
they say the old voice came in. You know what the old voice said?
What does it say in you? Who do you think you are? Or you’re too
big for your britches. When all this airy-fairy flaky stuff is
over you’ll come back to yourself. But the person has spent a lifetime
trying to be who they are not. And what I’m talking about in the
feminine is, 'Who am I?' And God knows that’s hard enough to find
out. Where you can sit down with your journal or in a situation
you think, if I stay about my integrity, what do I do here. God,
you must know this so well in this country. If I stay with my integrity,
what do I do here? Who am I? Do I know well enough to speak it?
Where in my body — see, the body is the feminine. Where in my body
do I feel the integrity that allows me to come from that place
and speak from that place? Do I feel the ripples in my resonators
when I speak? I mean that. When I’m really speaking, I resonate,
and I can feel it to my feet. And I know I’ve been telling my real
truth there. You can know it. If you’re not coming from that reality,
where are you coming from? And could you stand up if you were being
faced with that? See, here is where I think the real power is.
That you can relate to your body. That you can relate to your heart.
Even as I say that, I’m sure somebody is saying, 'What’s she talking
about the heart?' You know, you must wander in a culture where
autoimmune break down is the most prevalent of diseases — lupus,
AIDS, cancer, chronic fatigue syndrome — these are all illnesses
in which the body refuses to play host to the soul. Is that not
a terrible blight in on our culture? Why would a bowel start eating
itself? As in Chromes disease. Why would a skin suddenly start
to look like armor, you know? Sometimes you see psoriasis that
is so scaly you can’t get through it. It’s all over the arms, legs,
sometimes neck. What is going on in a person where that — the symptoms
are screaming out loud for recognition. You know, those of you
who saw Angels in America — how many of you did see that?
Can I use that? You know you’re dealing with AIDS in Angels
in America. And all of a sudden this flappy angel smashes through
the roof. And she is sort of is not quite able to fly and hold
her balance. She has come smashing through the ceiling. The paper
is all hanging. Her golden tiara is half off. She’s a pretty rattled
looking angel. But she says, 'I’m here to do the great work.' And
you’re saying, well, what’s the great work? And I suggest to you,
ladies and gentlemen, it is to bring the feminine into this culture.
That is the great work. And it’s not an easy path.
Because, time wise, how do you take time each morning to listen
to your dreams, to write them down. How do you take time to recognize
that there’s something going on and somebody is in terrible grief?
Have you got time to listen? Have you got the stamina to deal with
the anguish in our culture?
15 minutes, right. Five? It is five.
Well, there you see, it is. There’s just not time. But that is
my point. If we have not got time to hear the soul, to listen to
its values, to allow it to touch in to the divine feminine that
knows us before we were born, and to live that reality, despair
sets in. And when despair sets in, there is an undermining of the
culture. People turn to addictions in order to try not to live
at all. They can’t deal with the agony of the reality of life.
They get into the addiction. I’m going to talk really fast now.
And great mother becomes food. As much food as you can put into
your body because the hole is so big. And you cannot feed the body
with a spiritual longing — the spiritual longing that is involved
in an addiction. It cannot be satiated with anything physical.
The spiritual demands spiritual food. So the alcoholic wants spirit
out of the whiskey bottle. The great mother, who we all long for,
becomes food. Sweetness, cherishing. Anything to bring love into
the body. And everything is concretized. Look at our culture in
terms of concretization. Covering our planet with concrete cement.
And hoping somehow that we’re going to be able to stay alive with
that concretization. But to be able to take time — also I remember
when I was in India I had all the time in the world. But I got
dysentery. You laugh; I tell you it’s a terrible disease. I couldn’t
walk at all.
And I used to go down to the hotel foyer
because I thought I had to get comfortable at least. I went down
to the foyer and I sat on the couch and wrote a letter to my
husband.And a large, very dark woman came and squeezed between
me and the end of the couch. She didn’t speak a word of English.
And I thought, 'What is she doing?' I’m right handed and she
gets where I can’t even write my letter. But she had a warm arm.
And I thought, gee, that’s so good. It’s warm. And she kept pushing
this arm against me. We ended up at the other end of the couch.
And the next day I went down again and behold, there she was.
And she did the same thing. And I loved it even more that day.
We couldn’t speak a word to each other. It happened five days
in a row. And then — I don’t like telling my story so fast. I
like to go slowly. But anyway, her husband — this man came along
and he said my wife won’t have to come to sit with you anymore.
And I said your wife? He said yes. She’s the lady that comes
to sit with you. He said, "I saw
you were dying and I sent her to sit with you. " And she saved
my life. That wonderful, warm, skin. That’s relatedness to a total
stranger. And you know that really did change my life. I thought,
gosh - she had time to do that? And took the time? And I could
receive it.So it’s that kind of relatedness that we so desperately
need. And the kind of strength that’s in that dream.
I’ll tell you one of my dreams. It’s very clear. I dreamt that
I was taken by a beautiful snake along a path. And the snake moved
like this. Not on the ground. It went merrily along as I wrote
in my journal. It went merrily along. It had on its head an eye.
A crown that was an eye. And it took me into a cave, you know —
the snake is related to the feminine. It took me into this cave.
There were two huge books in the cave, old ancient books. The one
was called The Seven Chronicles of the Western World. And
I picked that book up. I was going to read it, for a moment anyway.
And the snake just pushed it out of my hands. And said that’s not
for you. Here is your book. And the other booked the same eye on
the front of it that the snake had in the crown. It was a living
eye, a loving — the eye of God. A loving eye. It just looked at
me. And my whole body just opened to that. And there was on the
cover a motif of roses and flowers. And when I opened the book,
there wasn’t a word in it. Everything the book had to say was in
that eye. And it was, you know—when I came into my body— that’s
what I like to do with my dream. Take it and bring it into the
body. The whole body just reacts and opened. In the moment, in
I would like to just finish with Elliot’s Four Quartets about
the rose and the fire. The rose is the soul we talked about earlier
and the fire is the struggle to keep on the path. It is a struggle,
yes. But once you’re on it, you wouldn’t be anywhere else. It’s
the only way to go. And here is how Elliot puts it. "Here
now, quick, now, always. A condition of complete simplicity. Costing
not less than everything. And all shall be well. And all manner
of things shall be well. When the tongues of flames are in-folded
into the crowned knot of fire. And the fire and the rose are one. " Then
the suffering that we go through, the life that we live in the
moment — in the moment — see that’s where the body lives. That’s
where nature lives.That’s the feminine. Now. Here. That beating
of the eternal and the personal. The fire and the rose are one.Thank
keynote speech was delivered by Marion Woodman at the 3rd Annual Women & Power
Conference organized by Omega
Institute and V-Day in
September 2004. To order the CD of this speech or to purchase
other CDs from this event, please click
Marion Woodman is a widely read and acclaimed author,
a leader in women's spirituality and feminine consciousness, and
a Jungian analyst. Internationally acclaimed for her work as a "bridge
builder between the male and female worlds," the former high
school English and drama teacher has, in the 25 years since she
enrolled in Zurich's C.G. Jung Institute, earned a name as a groundbreaking
analyst with a rare understanding of the role of the feminine in
bringing about personal and cultural transformation.
Perhaps best known for her videotaped workshop with men's movement
pioneer Robert Bly, Bly and Woodman on Men and Women, she
is also the best-selling author of many books, including Addiction
to Perfection, The Ravaged Bridegroom: Masculinity in Women, Conscious
Femininity, Leaving My Father's House, and, with psychologist
Elinor Dickson, Dancing in the Flames: The Black Goddess in
the Transformation of Consciousness.
In Woodman's presence, the often enigmatic world of Jungian archetypal
psychology becomes accessible to anyone, and especially to women
who are on a quest for wholeness. Woodman believes that centuries
of "patriarchal thinking" have stripped the soul from
the inner and outer lives of individuals and in the world. To recover
the soul, we must engage with the complex shadow world of the unconscious
and go beyond absolute, either/or thinking to embrace the "dance