Marion Woodman is a Jungian analyst—and is one of the most inspiring voices in the global movement for peace. Here she joins forces with Elinor Dickson, Director of Psychological Services at St. Michael’s Hospital, Toronto to produce an informed and penetrating investigation of a source of spiritual and creative power, not popular in Western circles. In Dancing in the Flames, they point to a constellation of archetypal ideas which they hope will be a source to inspire and inform: the mythical complex of the Dark Goddess. Their book operates on two levels, as a guide for individual transformation and ultimately transforming society.
The core of the book is a cluster of chapters using psychoanalytic material that draws on the mythology of the Dark Goddess. Mind you, the frame of reference is European, but Woodman does attempt to bring in a non-Western perspective, honoring as best she can the thousand years of Hindi veneration to Kali, the root source for this archetype.
At a broad-brush level, this initially involved the matriarchal phase, a belief in a living world where everything in nature held spirit-life flowing from source, the Great Mother. This was followed by the emergence of a separate. individual 'self', then the formation patriarchal and hierarchical power structures.
Throughout the early part of this history, the archetype of this Goddess progressively is split off more and more from that of the Great Mother, emerging as a her polar opposite---killer, and scourge. In reality, it's the cleansing aspect of the Good/Bountiful/Great Mother. The split of the Great Mother vs. Dark Mother mirrors that schism between matriarchy and patriarchy, the body and the spirit.
The authors make the case that in the period that followed, both the Great Mother and the Goddess are repressed, and driven into the "murky depths of our unconscious." Yet the culture of the Goddess lives on, underground, in succeeding centuries. It eventually finds expression, despite repression, in the form of the Black Virgin from the twelfth century onwards. And I would argue, our own veneration of La Virgen, of Tonatzin, who survived colonization, a remains a vital life force in the Chicano/Mejicano soul and psyche.
The authors make an impassioned case that society as a whole must reclaim the Dark Goddess. To underscore, they turn to personal analytic material, allowing the reader to make their own contact with the goddess archetype. The mythological aspects of Virgin, Mother and Crone, making up the European triple goddess, are followed through their appearance in the therapies of both men and women, these images used as tools in the process of personal evolution. In my experience of Eurocentric, new-age feminism, its subtle racism links creativity/goodness with the idea of light and so I found it powerful and liberating to be reminded of the imagery of the holy darkness, its power to cleanse, nourish and renew.
This idea of darkness, again, is no stranger to indigenous ideas of the Mother--She Who Is. I have a personal source of connection to the Santeria/Yoruba deity of Oya Yansa. Oya is also also Dark Goddess, keeper of the whirlwind, sweeping clean all that is decayed, corrupt. It was important for me to reframe my own ideas of Mother, particularly in contrast to the long-suffering, pale Virgin of my Catholic school youth. This book was a thought-provoking resource, stirring up a fleshy, full-bodied, powerful female deity, one with deep hunger, deep ability to consume, transmute and transform.
The authors give a picture of integration inspired by the qualities of the Dark Goddess, a process in which fear of death, fear of nature, and fear of our own femininity (whether we are men or women) are reconciled in the dark. They stress the dangers of yearning for a world of "pure" spirit and "light," a state where in our yearning for perfection, we confuse a certain kind of "perfection" with wholeness.
I would further challenge the notion of light equaling perfection---light without the regenerative power of darkness is half of what is and only half. And under the harshness of unending, unshrinking light, all fades and withers away, spent beyond resources, starving for rest, for the dream world, for losing oneself and finding the body made anew.
One of the most interesting parts in the book subdivides the process according to the traditional chakra system, while still basing the account firmly on the actual material of analysis. From this viewpoint, integration is seen as a process of “building the subtle body,” of embodying spirit in a complete and integrated way.
The key step in this process, for the individual, involves the recognition of our own autonomy, the acceptance of ourselves, and the finding of our own voice. For this to happen, "it takes great resolve to enter the darkness of our own chaos, to give up the familiar path and begin to trust in our own experience. The recognition and unconditional love of oneself is never a selfish journey."
It's a journey of seeking awareness, increasing confluence between those things we normally separate as "physical" and "spiritual." At the end, the book returns to the societal level, where the authors’ believe the protests of the Sixties "were the seeds, at a culturally recognized level, of a movement based on hope for a more meaningful existence.... What began as a protest has become a challenge, a challenge that will involve not only technology, but a new understanding of human mythology."
Depending on how we choose to phrase it, either ideas of ' science' must be revamped to include this relatively unused 'female' approach, or should be blended into a larger perspective that gives equal status to this view. The authors’ account at the end gives us a start -- some tools that may enable us to do this. They give us immense hope, and also a profound challenge. This new vision is not one that we can dream up intellectually: it can be reached only by transformation, only if we "throw ourselves into the flames and dance in the refining fire..."
Our traditional ideas of 'science' stresses the intellect, the rational—in archetypal terms, a 'masculine' construct. It operates with ideas of impersonal, 'objective' discovery and 'absolute' truth. While it's an important way of knowing, it has limits as a basis for a new world view. There are deep questions that emerge. How do we construct gender and identity? How are those concepts linked to to behaviors like violence and passivity? How can we integrate complicated, contradictory ideas of male/female that include ‘dark’ and healing forces in both?
This book kept me up at night. It was another piece of encouragement to let go, to delve deep, and look at what's revealed without flinching. I'm always on the lookout for things that will strengthen me, as well as shake me up. The themes of violence, sexualized violence in particular, are shot through the fabric of this American life, and to ignore them is one darkness I find unacceptable. Dancing in the Flames provides a kind of comfort, as well as a challenge.