Untie the Strong Woman may be the most unusual book I've read in the last ten years. Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estés, or perhaps we should say, Mother Clarissa, has offered those with ears and eyes to perceive meditations on the Holy Mother in her vast panorama of faces and names; a bridge of reflective wisdom between literati and rustic alike; and (for some who yearn for a bit of mothering themselves) a glimpse into at least one wild soul's devotion and discipline set toward new life and hope in a world in desperate need of both.
It is not an easy book to read, mind you, but that has less to do with the book (I suspect) and more to do with what the author might call "the overculture" in which we swim, the shaped expectations for immediate access or sound-bites imprinted into readers today. Untie the Strong Woman is an important text to receive, in the end. It is one that will take me years to read well, which I do commit to completing/receiving. I'll share here only a couple `two-cents' worth of what I mean, or why.
Untie the Strong Woman is classic Estés: story-formed teachings, poetry, blessings, all interwoven with decades of Jungian-flavored insights into the human condition in its beauty and difficulty. Devotees of her and her work will find nourishment they've hoped for, perhaps even come to expect, with a clear sense of the sound of her voice in their ears. I wonder if some will be surprised, however. The text shows a strongly steeped Catholic voice, though not in any staid-traditional sense. Those on the outside of her circle of devoted students, such as myself, those who are familiar with her Jungian-archetypal work (especially Women Who Run with the Wolves) may read even the obvious subtitle "Blessed Mother's Immaculate Love" without awareness that a Catholic-nuanced "Blessed Mother" and her Holy Child will appear in these pages. Because traditional-association with religion can be so isolating, so misperceived, or even rightly perceived and wounding, some devotees within earth-spirituality circles (let's say) may be faced with the discomforting truths that the Great Mother has indeed spoken within historical traditions--even institutions--of faith, as well as beyond them. Integration of that discomfort into a broader heart, even led by an immaculate heart, may push some readers where they didn't intend to go. Like I said, classic Estés.
The text offers a fascinating bridge between highly literate readers yearning for deeply steeped wisdom and those whom Estés often refers to as rustic, whose wisdom is deeply steeped but not expressed in (or constrained by) precise requirements of high literacy. What I'm talking about here has less to do with being able to read and write or not--often what literacy refers to in public discourse--but the habits of mind and community that come with literate and oral communities. (Read Walter Ong, S.J., if you want details). Untie the Strong Woman refuses to leave the shores of oral-formed community, which tends to be much more immediate, intensely relational, highly affective-emotive, repetitive with refrains (easier to remember that way, without written source-language), integrative of all forms of expression (language, art, poetry, music...), and normed by relationship, not professional expertise or aesthetic. The stories, ex-voto offerings before each chapter, regular prayers and blessings offered are all these things. Yet the text also refuses to leave the shores of literate finesse or habits. There are endnotes, didactic teachings about use of language, citations of other authors on the topic, a rationale for the popularist aesthetics.
Therefore, if you're a reader who wants highly professionalized treatises on different cultural `takes' on the Great Mother archetype, you'll have to cross the bridge with oral forms of expression to receive them. They're there, but in a form you won't expect or perhaps enjoy. You may even be tempted to discount what you read. If you're a reader who wants the stories and archetypal reflections and communal wisdom for life that the Mother offers, you too will have the cross the bridge with professionalized-literate forms of expression to receive them. After all, the blessing "so may it be for all of us" means just that, for us all. Readers of every kind may have to learn broader skills of listening-reading to welcome all, regardless of oral or literate expectation. Sometimes what is most important to receive takes more willingness and heart than 'easy-media' now trains us to allow--cognitively, emotionally, spiritually.
Most of all, Mother Clarissa has extended herself, her essential Self, to enjoin more of us to come sit with her (yes, by the fireside) for the discomforting wisdom the Strong Woman offers a world in dire need of it, of Her. Her wild-hearted compassion leads readers into contexts and communities traditionally bastardized in global media but sanctified and strengthened when surrounded by such embrace. Holy pilgrimage to an immigration-detention center--prison--for instance. Listening-readers gain insight into the origin of Estés own devotion to Holy Mother with stories from her personal narrative. Mother, light, and the waters of a Great Lake birthing a young imagination with tenacity of vision. We listen alongside an activist-voice as well, offering a portion of her book as gentle force in a local parish dispute, potential injustice. Given the iconic book-cover with Our Lady of Guadalupe, we can both smile and cringe that the public-private dispute is far from over.
Here at the end of my two cents' worth, I find myself with a smiling, perhaps impish-query, delightful in its cultural juxtapositions. The Nur community, a Muslim 'community of light' originating in Turkey, honors its teacher with a particular term, bediuzzaman, which means a singular "wonder of the age," a visionary voice and irrepressible teacher in faith, truth, light. As I was driving home from work last night, I found myself wondering whether there's such a word as bediuzzawoman for this visionary voice and irrepressible teacher in faith, truth, and light. I'd have to delve into the etymology to find out whether such cross-cultural word-play would serve uniting purpose, but the shoe fits her vision, her voice, her work, the fruits of her labors, so very well. La Cantadora, from within her own circles; Bediuzzawoman from afar.
In sum, I'm beginning to appreciate the title of Untie the Strong Woman as a communal declaration of its author. It's not an easy book to read, but it's an important one. Here you will find strength of vision, strength of voice, strength for the world to receive. Untied. United. Uniting. Poetic word-play well suited to such a one as Clarissa Pinkola Estés, PhD, for those who have ears to hear, eyes to see, and heart to break open for the largest good of us all.
[also published as review at [...]]