Image: [Left] Marion Woodman [Right] Jill Mellick
Marion Woodman: So, Jill, what had you thought we might talk about?
Jill Mellick: Well, Marion, when you asked me to be the one to choose the topic a while ago, the words “water” and “blue” kept coming to me.
MW: Water, Jill?
JM: Water! So, because the word kept coming, I mused about the role of water—within and without—in our lives, yours and mine.
So many bodies of water we’ve each crossed. Many times. “It furthers one to cross the great water.”1
MW: I’ve never looked at that! I think it’s extraordinary that you picked on water!
Of course, we’re both familiar with how important water is in the imagery of the unconscious.
But how important water has been and is to me physically in my life! And at an imaginal level! And as a pointer to where I wanted to go and where I’ve lived and how I’ve behaved … “Water, water, everywhere …”2
I’ve never thought about this, about how many of my decisions were based on water, on whether there was space to see the horizon.
Even choosing where I was going to speak: if there was water, a beach—particularly in the wintertime, of course, walking out under a night sky with that “eternal note of sadness”3 roaring in, the sound of the waves … How many decisions I have made beside water!
I tell you until this moment, I’ve never really thought about Port Stanley, the town beside Lake Erie where I was born, never thought about my roots as being in the lake.
I lived there for the first seven years of my life and the water was part of my life. We were down by the lake almost every day.
In the wintertime, we walked along the beach where it was icy but invigorating. And fish were a daily part of our diet. We took it all for granted.
I had an experience there of nearly drowning.
I was sitting on the bottom of the lake when my father found me and brought me back in.
After my family left Port Stanley, we had a cottage up on Inverary Heights and the lake was always present in the summertime.
Much later, before Ross and I moved into our present condominium, our house in London [Ontario], although not truly “by” the water, actually had water behind it.
Ross used to walk along beside it to go to the university. So many decisions I’ve made have been based on water!
Workshops for example—like the ones at Pajaro Dunes [in Northern California] where we used to lead Body Soul Rhythms intensives for years.
Ross and I would go out on the beach and walk for two or three hours and watch the pelicans and the tiny birds that dance right at the edge of the water.
Now we go to Grand Bend for the workshops [on Lake Huron], which, as you know, is closer to my home.
Then of course I think of our cottage on the island. [ShaSha, the island in Georgian Bay, Ontario, that Marion and her husband, Ross, owned and where they spent summers.
Jill’s paintings of ShaSha appear in Coming Home to Myself.4]
I think of sitting at the desk, the table, looking out on the vast expanse of Georgian Bay.
Getting up in the morning at four o’clock, watching the sun rise, sitting there just watching the sun gradually take over the sky, gradually take over the water, watching the loons turning upside down in the water, the ducks.
As I would sit there, I would go out of consciousness into my own depths and let ideas float up. Being in the waters of my own unconscious, writing from that place.
Putting the pen down and looking at it all again.
Feeling it all come through, letting that happen, letting the space take over, writing from there, and going with those rhythms. No fear whatsoever.
JM: Fear of—
MW: —Of dying into archetypal space where I’d get lost and never come back.
Because that, as you know, can happen, sometimes, with a writer.
I always realized the depth of Georgian Bay and the container of stone that was each of those islands. It was a primal world.
When we went into the woods behind the cabin, we were in primal space.
Somebody must have walked there some time but we couldn’t feel it.
We were with the pink rock—the oldest rock in the world, I’ve been told. We had a friend who could shape rock.
He created “rooms” on the island. Each room had its own monumental identity, its own name.
So our home, “Miranda,” was just a tiny cabin on the edge. But my joy was in contact with the water. I loved the space.
No—nothing, nothing interfering with that space … And … ahhh!
JM: I remember your pointing out the “great beyond” to me, the horizon line beyond the islands.
We’d sit out at the end. What did you call it? Prophet’s Point?
MW: Mt. Sinai! It was indeed “prophet’s point!” It was a huge rock, on the highest point of the island.
We had to climb up to the top. Hours we’d spend out there, by ourselves and with guests. At night we’d go there and be with the stars.
We were in an eternal world. When I say that, I feel the wash that goes through me.
It’s as if my body is empty of everything except that eternal rhythm, moving through my musculature.
We had all the special points on the island named.
But we knew we were only perched there for a moment in eternity—and perched we were!
There was nothing we could really hang on to.
The word “perched” became very meaningful when I had a fall that landed me on the rocks below; I realized the precariousness of the eternal and how tiny we are.
JM: And the journey across to the island was almost as important as being there.
MW: Yes, it was. I suppose water for me is a bridge.
JM: Bridging worlds.
MW: Bridging. Always bridging. It was a forty minute journey in the boat. It was a ritual.
We were leaving land. Ross and I were not sailors.
We were not used to living in the wild. We bought the island when we were well into middle age.
So for us, the journey across was a Passover into a very different world that demanded different energies from us.
We were like two kids exploring a world we didn’t really know or understand but found terribly enticing.
Then, for several years, I invited doctors and therapist friends like you to come to help me with those weeklong intensive retreats for women each summer.
Remember how the journey there and the crossing of the bay was such a ritual for us all?
How we would drive all those hours to Parry Sound? And sing!
Th en we would get in the boat and begin that journey out into an eternal space we had inherited for a few seconds in eternity.
We were cut off from the mainland and there we did our work in that mystical, mysterious world.
We had to be extremely careful leaving the island, too, because that’s where accidents happened.
Taking “the treasure” home became very important because, in the flurry of getting ready to leave, there was often an accident if there wasn’t recognition that we were in transitional space.
JM: Speaking of “taking the treasure home,” I remember our taking the garbage back on the boat with us! For practical reasons, of course, because of bears and so on, but to “cross the great water” with the garbage seemed symbolically important as well: to have what was no longer needed contained and disposed of responsibly.
I always found myself singing on the way back to Parry Sound through the passages.
I often sang “Suzanne”: ”She shows you where to look amid the garbage and the flowers.”5
I’d look at us all, at the garbage and flowers we were bringing across the water. The last time we were there, I somehow knew we wouldn’t return….
MW: We took the essence, the treasure, and we also took what was no longer needed, took it away from the island to dispose of in a meaningful way.
JM: Did you go swimming in the summers in Georgian Bay?
MW: Oh yes. I’m not a good enough swimmer to dare to go out with two hundred feet below me, so I had what I called my “Bumblebee,” which was a gorgeous yellow life jacket.
I used to be out three or four hours a day in my “Bumble.” I could do all sorts of things with my legs and arms with no fear.
I wouldn’t have dared go without it but I loved the water. I never really learned to swim.
I think I might have been a good swimmer if I’d dared to take the Bumble off.
JM: So you both loved the water and feared it?
MW: I feared it. Absolutely. Always feared it. Let’s say I had and have immense respect for it.
The kids [Marion’s brother, Jungian analyst Fraser Boa’s children] always used to laugh at my Bumble but I was confident with it.
I could handle myself with all the swimming motions with no fear of drowning.
I’m sure the fear was from that early, almost fatal accident when my father rescued me.
JM: Th at experience of your father’s rescuing you sounds a little like your description of how you would go out of consciousness into your own depths and let ideas float up to consciousness for your writing.
MW: Th at is true.
JM: Th e conscious masculine energy—
JM: —That brought you up.
MW: Th at brought me up, and brought me back into … life.
JM: Did you see the film, Th e Piano?6
MW: Yes I did. Oh, yes, I did, Jill! I not only saw it; I lived it! [laughs] Even as I sit here right now, I can feel it in my body.
JM: I think of that moment when the woman finally escapes her husband’s cruelty in the small boat with her lover and daughter.
Her beloved piano, her only voice, falls overboard.
The rope attached to the piano wraps round her boot and pulls her overboard as well.
Th ere is that excruciating moment when she seems to be choosing whether to struggle free or give up. She chooses life.
The film, for me, can be seen as a myth about redemption of the feminine principle—and of women—and about sacrifices we make to live our own lives. I was reminded of that when you described yourself “sitting on the bottom of the lake.”
But as a child, of course, you would have had no idea….
MW: I had given up. I was about three or four.
I remember splashing around in the water trying to stay up. I knew my father was on the shore but couldn’t get my feet onto the bottom.
I can remember the fear but I also remember giving up … relaxing into the thought, “I can’t win on this one.”
I was partially unconscious when my father got me.
I think, you know, there’s something in me that measures, even now, whether I can win on this one or I can’t, by which I mean
whther I can move into life at a new level or perhaps not move into life at all. It’s strange to say that, Jill, but that’s the way it is.
JM: We don’t have to include this exchange in the final version, you know. At this point, this is all written in water, not stone!
MW: Well, that’s the way I handled the cancer.
It’s the way I always seem to handle experiences like that: I may live and I may not.
I’ll do everything I can but if this is my time, this is my time.
JM: The way you’ve spoken and written about these experiences before has sounded more … you’ve smiled a little when you’ve said, “I might give up.” Today, you seem to have more equanimity….
MW: I’ve smiled when I’ve said “I might give up”?
JM: It hasn’t sounded to me as though your feelings have been simply “Oh well, if it’s my time, it’s my time.”
It has sounded to me rather as though there’s something that draws you, another perhaps archetypal world.
Even today, you were talking earlier about the possibility of “dying into archetypal space where I’d get lost and never come back.”
It sounds as though it’s a beautiful place for you.
MW: … Yes…. It is. I am not afraid of it. I know it’s a highly controversial place.
I know that it’s very much related to the Death Mother. And … I know you could say, “Well, once you start feeling yourself hooked in there, it’s pretty hard to pull yourself through and out the other side.
It is easier to surrender to death if you’re in that space.
But so far I haven’t hit that space and I still really, really try to stay on the side of life.
But I’m well acquainted with the other side, not only through my own experience but through my experience with dying people. I think there is a place where … the fear has gone.
And something totally other is on the other side.
JM: You’ve said you felt close to that other world even as a child. Is that how you now view that early lake experience?
MW: Yes. Now I do remember, too, the comfort of knowing that my father was there and that he would take care of it.
But I was unconscious enough that I just let go.
JM: I think of another important body of water in your life, the Zurichsee.
I remember your telling me how you saw a man jump off a bridge into the lake only to surface, much, much later, near you—to your relief.
MW: Th e man on the bridge had to do with our marriage. I had been studying in Zurich for several months. I was at the lake every day.
My apartment was five minutes from the lake. So I could go down any time I wanted—and did. Ross came to visit me from Canada.
It was a critical time of growth in our marriage. We were beside the water and saw a man hurl himself off the bridge.
The man was living out, in Ross’s eyes, Ross’s fear and conviction that the marriage was over, life was over, everything was finished.
I didn’t identify with the man but I sure identified with what was happening to Ross.
And that ran my blood cold. Those were terrible moments for both of us.
And the relief I felt when that man came out of the water very, very close to us! Th at was a huge Passover for Ross.
It was a whole new relationship coming out of the water.
We bought ourselves, for our new relationship, an ancient candlestick. We took it home and burned a candle in it.
Th at was our way of saying a new relationship is wanted, is coming through the fire.
JM: Fire out of the water.
JM: I smile when I remember you told yourself, on being shocked at the size of an audience shortly after you published Addiction to Perfection7:
“Marion, you should never have left the church basement in Port Stanley!”
You certainly had traveled a long way from the church basement by the time you got to Zurich.
And didn’t it really all begin when you did what all we Canadians and Australians did in those decades: cross the great water to go to what we thought of as the center of culture: Britain, Europe?
MW: Yes, Jill. Like you, I did an English Honors degree [a graduate degree, equivalent to a U.S. Master of Arts, offered in universities following British academic tradition].
So my world had been Coleridge, Byron, Keats, Shelley, the Bronte sisters, George Eliot, Jane Austen, Virginia Woolf—very big.
And William Blake—oh my goodness. London London London. My world was London. For four years at university.
I wanted to be in England and see it and live it through my own body. Besides, I wanted to get away from all the old images.
I didn’t want to be a minister’s daughter any more. I didn’t want to be a schoolteacher any more.
I didn’t want to have any projections on me at all.
JM: You taught before you left for England?
MW: Oh yes, I taught first. I couldn’t possibly have gone to England right after the Honors degree.
I mean, I was just a frightened little girl when I left university. I couldn’t have dealt with going to a foreign country at all.
So after receiving my degree, I went to the Ontario College of Education for a yearlong course that led to my teaching certificate.
That was my first venture into the world.
But when I attempted to speak during my teacher’s training, I lost my voice completely.
Only because my lesson plans were so excellent was I allowed to stay! I both was and am profoundly introverted.
I know I look extraverted but I am an introvert.
That’s why water is so important to me: it’s essential to my introversion and to my Being and yet it is also essential to my transformative process.
The image of Aquarius, the water carrier, is so important in my world.
It’s that new vision and new hope, the Aquarian splitting off from what it is into what may be.
I had a difficult time crossing the water into practice teaching.
For example, I was trying to teach Wordsworth’s “Michael” to these big Grade XIII guys.
It was a poem that struck my heart profoundly—about a young man on the farm who wants to leave and go to London.
His parents loved him so very much. He brought “light to the sun and music to the wind.”
Luke promises his father they will lay the cornerstone of the sheepfold and that he will go to London and come back.
He did not come back. And he did not write letters. Old Michael used to walk “and never lifted up a single stone.”
Well, these young men were only interested in getting the highest mark in their national exams. I couldn’t deal with this.
My heart broke when I was putting this sacred material out to these guys who just wrote down everything I said and felt nothing.
So that was part of the problem and the other part was that I was shy, very shy. I eventually did learn to get my voice out.
I was training with a teacher for three weeks who said, “I want you to go home and sleep. And relax.
Then when you’re completely relaxed, come back here and speak.
There’s a man putting coal in that cellar window over there.
You have to learn about putting coal down the chute into the cellar, Miss Boa. When you learn that, you’ll be able to speak.”
Well, I went home and did exercises on my belly, particularly my lower belly.
I knew that’s what he was talking about and sure enough, when I relaxed, I could speak.
After I finished the teacher training, I taught for two years to get my permanent certificate, and I took a job in Northern Ontario, as far away as I could possibly go from everything I knew.
I had to find some kind of strength in myself that was me—that was not trying to please the university professors, not trying to please my parents, not pleasing anybody.
So this opportunity for a job came up in August—most unusual—so to Timmins I went.
And when you got in there in the wintertime, you didn’t get out.
JM: Not by the water!
MW: Not by the water.
But they had a magnificent dance floor— on springs. You could dance all night and not hurt your knees.
I learned to dance up there and to throw away all the images I had always lived with of myself and find something else inside.
In that sense, I did cross the great water at that point in dancing.
But then I grew afraid I might give up and stay in Timmins so I resigned in January and got my ticket for crossing the great water in June.
JM: And the name of the ship?
MW: The “Homeric.”
JM: Of course! How could it have been named otherwise! Was it a Greek ship?
MW: No, English. I’ll never forget pulling out from the station in London [Ontario] for Montreal. In those days, you used to hold on to colored papers….
After I finished my English Honors degree and taught, I left Australia by ship and went through the same ritual.
MW: Well, nobody came down to Montreal, so when I left London, I was gone. I was in a wiped out state.
I was not conscious from London to Montreal.
JM: I got on the train, left so many I loved. I almost passed out. It was an overnight trip from Brisbane to the port in Sydney—
MW: —That’s right, an overnight—mine was overnight, too….
JM: And then I got on the ship the next day. Everyone sent flowers to the cabin.
MW: None for me! My parents totally rejected my going.
JM: And then the streamers …
MW: And then the streamers! When those streamers broke, I was scared to death and … happy as I’d never been happy before!
Crossing the great water was immense. I had no idea what I was going to.
Things were pretty difficult, actually, when I first arrived—simply because of fear.
I got a job but then I realized there was no holiday time.
I was over there to see England, not to work in The Times newspaper office! Besides, the pay was very low.
So I thought I’d better go for teaching—good holidays. I got a job teaching in the East End. That was crossing the great water again.
It was a world I had no idea how to deal with. Several times I ended up crying in front of the class.
And the fifteen–year– old girls I was teaching would say, “Oh I didn’t mean to make you cry, Miss!
I didn’t mean to make you cry.” I learned to love those kids so much. I found a new person in myself.
Then I met another Canadian woman and we put a rucksack on our backs and we went youth hosteling through Europe for five months.
I’m sure you did the same thing, didn’t you?
JM: Exactly the same thing. As soon as we graduated and earned enough money to travel to Europe, we left, usually for a year.
It was a kind of graduation journey, an initiation, and a return to the cultural birthplace before we got serious.
Some stayed of course. We sailed for six weeks to London.
MW: Six weeks on a ship! Oh how fine!
JM: No, Marion, six long weeks! We even had an extra day sailing in the Pacific because we crossed the dateline.
We also, of course, left the southern hemisphere for the first time in our lives.
Our ship was Greek. I learned Greek dancing. My Timmins!
JM: The dancing, yes. But I found shipboard life confining. I loved the ocean but disliked not being able to be truly alone.
Of course, I’m sure you did the same thing as we: bought a berth in a cabin for four below deck because it was cheap.
Everyone smoked, even in the cabins!
MW: I shared a cabin below deck. I didn’t want to spend my money either. We were ten days crossing.
I was glad to get off the boat although I had learned to make the boat a safe container.
JM: It was a Bumble!
MW: It was a Bumble! Exactly, Jill! It protected me. I’d be out on the back of that ship every night.
JM: I, too—especially across the Atlantic. We hit a Force 8 gale.
The ship lost a stabilizer so it would stay at a steep angle a long time.
People were injured. We weren’t supposed to go on deck; it was dangerous.
But I needed time alone, fresh air, so I’d sneak out to the stern.
Th e ship would be in the bottom of a swell. All I could see between upper and lower decks was a curved wall of water.
No horizon line. I loved it.
MW: And the water was black and the stars were shining and I was nothing between stars and sea. I loved that feeling of going through eternal space.
JM: A between space. We were each between countries, between cultures, between selves, between sea and the sky.
MW: I was between everything. And no projections to hold me back. I was simply who I was in that body on the back of that ship.
Of course, there was always someone who came along to talk but neither of us was putting anything on. It was just stars and ocean.
Th at crossing time was essential.
I went back and forth across the Atlantic in a ship three times during those years. I hated the airplane the first time I took it across to England.
I profoundly resented … well, not being able to dance for one thing!
The ships had terrific music; not getting to know people; not having the time to actually move inwardly from Canada to Europe and worse, Europe to Canada.
JM: Th e ship gave us time that a plane does not: to truly cross the great water. In planes, there’s not much liminal time or space.
MW: No liminal space. And I live in liminal space a fair amount. I don’t mind it—at all. I quite like liminal space!
Because I feel partly in one world and partly in the other. I feel totally at home there. It’s like our being therapists, Jill.
We’re in liminal space. We’re living with the archetypal world, including sea and sky.
As therapists, we’re in that liminal space, hoping something will come through from the archetypal world.
At the same time, we’re trying to connect to the personal world of the dreamer.
I always think of working in my office as liminal space. Th e sea is important in dreams of course.
JM: In your dreams?
MW: I dream about water at least once a week. I dream of the sea. The new imagery comes up from the sea.
Even my horses come up out of the sea. Mind you, they often have wings!
But I think the sea in my dreams also has a lot to do with my own body. My body takes and releases water regularly.
I have to have two sets of clothes of different sizes. It started when I went to Timmins, actually.
I take on water particularly when I’m trying to bring something new in or having to hold, times when I’m really birthing something—like a pregnancy.
When I’m writing a book I can put on thirty pounds!
JM: Got from eating; from—
MW: —Water. I have had to accept that if I’m going to birth a book, I have to go through this period of taking on water.
And I know it is not going to leave until the book is finished. And I find that … upsetting, sometimes!
JM: To say the least!
MW: And I know now that is the way it is going to be.
JM: So it doesn’t matter how you’re sleeping or how you’re eating or anything else external, it’s purely a relationship between you and—
MW: —What’s happening in my body. It’s like “Th e Ancient Mariner.”8
I feel I’m out there in a boat and the water snakes are all around me.
I do have a lot of snake dreams: snakes coming out of water or being in water—the new life, the snake bite that puts you into new space.
Like the chamber at Epidaurus. Birth, new vision comes through the water. And I certainly have always wanted to die beside water.
JM: Do I remember that water played a role in your decision to stop teaching and go to Zurich?
Is that too personal to talk about in this context?
MW: Well … well, there comes a time in life when you speak the truth? I don’t want to be too personal but let’s look at it.
I’ll tell you. The truth is that when I lost 100 pounds through anorexia, the water came on.
And I thought God had really betrayed me. And my anger was limitless.
I would step on the scales and I would have gained weight although I was not eating.
This was after I came back from Europe after those first two years. While I was in Europe, I was beautifully thin.
I don’t think the thinness was just in my imagination.
JM: No. I’ve seen the photographs.
MW: Yes, I think it was fi ne and I felt perfectly fine.
But as soon as I got back to Canada the old images came back on and I started to put on weight.
JM: What does that mean to you: “the old images came back on”?
MW: Being responsible for other people; not having my freedom any more to live in the moment and be who I wanted to be, who I was in any moment.
Being a good girl, being an ideal school teacher.
JM: Th e perfect, colonial, young woman—in the collective. And there was a lot expected of us as colonial good girls.
MW: Colonial good girls.
JM: A tremendous push to conform.
MW: And, I think, a whole lot of mother complex as a teacher taking care of the children, making sure they received the understanding they didn’t feel they had from their own mothers.
JM: But this was different, clearly, for you, from how it was when you were teaching in England.
MW: In England, I wasn’t close enough to the children.
The world that they were coming out of, the Cockney world after the war, was so horrific, that I couldn’t really relate to it.
They would come and touch me and roll their fingers down my skin … There was a huge communication between us but I couldn’t take responsibility for their psyches because I couldn’t understand how they thought.
JM: If we continue the water metaphor, we might say you didn’t immerse yourself, you weren’t drowning in their lives.
However, when you went back to Canada, were you immersed again?
MW: Imprisoned! Th e physical weight I was carrying was prison bars.
I remember I used to hold my hands on the edge of the blackboard behind me and I would think, “If I can just hold on to this board hard enough, I won’t put my fist through that window.”
I felt it was a prison when I first came home.
JM: Why did you come home? Why did you cross the great water again?
MW: Good question! I sure wondered that when I found myself on the boat in Liverpool.
I remember thinking I was saying goodbye to freedom, but I knew I had to reconnect with what I had left behind.
I had led a totally free life in England for two years, but sometimes I would come in from a dance having had a fabulous time and cry for two hours without understanding why.
I knew there was another whole dimension I had to deal with and so long as I was having this kind of joy and living my “new life,” the depths of my soul were—I was going to say untouched but they were being touched.
I was being profoundly influenced by the novelist Charles Morgan, who wrote The Fountain9 and The River Line,10 which was made into a play.
I was living in the theater. In those days, you got in for practically nothing to sit in the loggias.
Most Canadians have never heard of Morgan but I have French friends who adored him.
His whole interest was in finding the “I am.” I remember one of his novels about letting a man out of prison. Who was he if he was out of prison?
JM: So here you were holding on to the blackboard in Canada trying to figure out who you might be if you were out of prison…..You needed to be home to complete something….
MW: To release whatever was still in prison, yes.
And interestingly enough, living in London, Ontario, where there was no wide sea to look at, the water came inside instead of outside.
It went up and down a bit and did steady itself.
JM: What did the medical people have to say?
MW: They couldn’t explain it. Then of course Ross and I married and I continued to teach and lived the life of a university wife.
This all continued until Ross and I were on sabbatical in England in 1970 and I connected with a Jungian analyst, Dr. E. A. Bennet.
That was the beginning of getting out of the social structure that I couldn’t deal with. And never could. Never.
JM: You mean the collective—
JM: The colonial expectations of what you were supposed to be.
MW: As a school teacher, as a university department head’s wife, entertaining and so on.
And all of it would have been all right if I had found the person inside those roles, but I was still looking for her.
JM: Well, you had had her in England and Europe and then she had to go underground.
MW: She went underground. Jill, my weight went up and down according to whether I was living underground or on top of the ground.
It fluctuated sometimes fifty pounds. I just accepted that as best I could.
When I went to Dr. Bennet, I was crossing the great water between Canada and England.
I would work with him any time I was in England. And any time I was in England, the weight went down; I was normal size.
JM: Perhaps during those summers and the sabbaticals, you were able to hold the paradox of your two lives; you could have both.
You didn’t have to sacrifice one or the other.
MW: No! Didn’t have to sacrifice one for the other. I was embracing both.
JM: And, in a way, crossing the water enabled you to do it.
MW: Yes. Another thing was that one sabbatical in 1963, before I even met Dr Bennet, I went to Central Drama School when I was in England so my wild side got expressed in my acting.
JM: You could try her out!
MW: And I did!
JM: Acting was a Bumble.
MW: It was my Bumble.
And it wasn’t that I wanted to be crazy or do a whole lot of stupid unlived life stuff . I just wanted to … I found out at Central Drama School that I had a zany sense of humor, which I had not known.
I mean, I discovered a person who I never knew in myself anywhere—and I sure liked her. She would say what she thought.
She had a huge capacity for emotion—no, feeling. I could bring that into my acting.
In fact, at Central Drama School, the teacher said, “Your timing is born in you and your sense of humor with an audience. We’ll make a character actress of you.”
It was a huge temptation. I tell you I loved it. Again, my weight plummeted.
There was no dieting. There was no … I was so totally at home. I was finding this person that I’d never found.
We were working with poetry and with Shakespeare. I was so happy with that life. But then the sabbatical was over.
I came home and let the kids do the acting while I did the directing at the high school. Eventually even that solution collapsed.
I worked with Dr. Bennet during one sabbatical year, 1970, when Ross and I were in England, and then the three summers following.
Then I had to give up teaching in 1974.
JM: And it was the water retention that did it?
MW: It was. I had a dream before I left Dr. Bennet at the end of that sabbatical year in 1970: “Turn your face towards Jerusalem and do not turn back.”
I knew that Jerusalem was Zurich. So did he.
That would be really crossing the great water: to go to Zurich and leave the safety of my home and teaching.
I had learned to love teaching school—I loved it and I didn’t want to leave it.
I said to God—I know you’re not supposed to make bargains but I believed that the dream was from the Divine—“If you give me two years, I will make enough money to go to Zurich.
I’m not going to ask my husband for money because the whole thing might end in divorce!”
Well, I had a marvelous time teaching school when I came back from England because I had a new sense of being when
I returned from having been in analysis for a while.
So I didn’t really want to go to Zurich any more and I didn’t really want any more analysis either. I was happy.
But in January of that year came the dream again, “Turn your face towards Jerusalem and do not turn back,” and I thought, “I’m going to have to stay with my vow.”
So I handed in my resignation at the end of January. The kids cried, I cried. By this time they were totally in love with creative drama.
Anyway, I quietly walked toward May 31st, the last day one could resign.
However, on the 31st, the principal met me on the stairs and said, “Marion, shall I throw your resignation in the waste basket? We all know you’re not going to leave.”
And I said to myself, “Abraham didn’t have to sacrifice Isaac. He was willing to do it but he didn’t have to do it. Thank you Sophia!”
The principal had freed me from having to follow through with my resignation. I went home happy happy happy.
This was the last day to resign and I didn’t have to do it. God was merciful after all. Ross was delighted.
However, that night I woke up at three o’clock and my fingers were like bear claws.
Absolutely swollen stiff and three times the size they should be. By five o’clock my feet were in the same condition.
And I knew what was wrong: the great water …
JM: You had become a body of water …
MW: A body of water. So we went to the hospital and on the way Ross said, “Marion, I think I’d better call Bob [the Principal] and tell him you won’t be back.” And I said “You’d better.”
He did and we both knew we had to surrender our desires to our souls’ destiny.
I knew that my destiny was in the direction of Zurich and there was no getting out of it. I knew I had to cross the great water.
I see, looking back, that each of these turning points was destiny: “You are going to go that way whether you want to or not.”
As dear old Dr. Bennet used to say, “You can either go like a pig squealing to the slaughter or you can muster as much grace and majesty as you can and walk.”
I was in the hospital for three weeks.
I did go back to say goodbye to the kids and went to the last Morning Assembly. But I never did return to the classroom.
No it was done, finished. Finished. I mean I cannot help but accept destiny. Not once in my life. Ever.
And I’ve hit these points in my life repeatedly. And every time there is a crossing of the great water.
It’s immense to leave “this” behind and venture out into the totally unknown world.
JM: I’m not sure you’ve always had a Bumble!
MW: No, I haven’t. I had no Bumble when I went to India in 1968. That’s for sure! I was in terror all the time. I was alone.
I didn’t understand what was happening to me and no way to get through on a telephone, no way to mail even a letter because I didn’t understand that it had to be franked before I put it in the slot!
So I was just sinking deeper and deeper into the great water of my imagination. Real sinking.
And I thought I was … drowning. I hadn’t begun work with Dr. Bennet at this time.
JM: What do you mean by the water of your imagination?
MW: Well, not understanding that when I went out onto the street I wasn’t in the presence of evil or in danger of being killed necessarily.
But my imagination would think that the man who came up to me in the street and said that he knew that the Africans were the best lovers in the world but that Indians were second—I would think I was supposed to understand that and … or seeing somebody, particularly a little child—and the faces of those children were so haunted—and they would take hold of my skirt and hold onto it all day so that the dress was all torn in the seams—and I would think, “What am I supposed to do with this child?” It was one unknown incident after another.
My imagination would take hold of an incident and try to give me … Talk about a dream! A dream coming out of the sea! I was living a dream.
JM: So was it innocence? Some fellow wants to take you off and …
MW: Oh no! I knew he was soliciting me. But how to get rid of him?
Dare I go out on the street again? Is he going to be out on the street again?
And feeling my body fill up with whatever it is you fill up with when you’re terrified.
At the same time, knowing I had to venture out. I couldn’t stay in the hotel room all the time. I had to venture out.
Robert Johnson said, “The reason you got along in India, Marion, was because Indians are intuitives. And they recognized your intuition.”
When I was at the end of my rope, some intuitive person would take hold of me and say, “I will take care of you. I will take care of you.”
And my intuition would say, “Great. You can trust this person. You can go with this person.”
JM: A little like your knowing your father would find you.
MW: Yes. In that way.
I remember one day this woman came up to me out of midair and said, “Are you alone?” And the word “alone” hit me so hard that I collapsed in the street and I woke up in her hotel.
She just took this bag of bones with her. An extraordinary thing to do. She got me into a cab and took me to her hotel. She was American.
She said, “I will take you to the airport. You are in culture shock and you are not going to live if you stay here. Go home now. And I will pay the bill for it so you won’t have to deal with this any longer.”
And I said, “Th at would be defeat. And if I am defeated, I will have to come back. I cannot go home. So let me go.”
I said goodbye to her and thanked her very much and went back to my hotel room and got myself together again in a slightly different way.
But Jill, India was … My life was before India and after India.
I had to let go. I couldn’t control anything. And my nature was to control.
And up to that point in my life, I was trying to be in control even though I might look as though I was not.
JM: Looking as though you were spontaneous but not.
MW: In India I had to say there’s nothing I can do. I will take what comes. And what came was incredible.
You know the story about my being taken off as the goddess in that sacred celebration.
What came was knowing that there was a presence taking care of me. I call her Sophia, that Black Madonna energy, that earth instinctual body that can care for you.
And does care for you, whether you know it or not. And surrendering to destiny. That’s why it was before India and after India.
Dear old Dr. Bennet, you know, every time I was over there, he would say “Why did you go to India?” [laughs]
And finally I said to him, “You ask me that question every time I come. You must be getting senile!”
And he said, “I know, but you always give me a different answer! Think about that.”
So India was crossing over to the feminine side of life and relating to what’s happening here and now. That’s what got me to Zurich.
And the waters always come. And in my dreams, water carried me to where I was going. To Zurich….
JM: To the lake, the Zurichsee …
MW: Th e lake. Yes, the lake. I got myself beside the lake. I walked beside the lake every day, morning and night.
And I loved the air of the lake. It’s the freedom. There’s nobody, nothing, nothing on one side of you as you walk.
And I guess it’s, as I think about it, I guess it’s the eternal on one side and the human on the other.
JM: When I was growing up in Australia, I used to walk those long, unpeopled, soft white beaches.
I would walk along the line where the wet and dry met—right along that line.
MW: That’s where I walk too.
JM: I loved to do that.
MW: That’s exactly where I walked.
JM: I’m fascinated by “the space between.” I’ve painted it so often. Th at line.
Again and again, I paint the line—where wet meets dry, where sky meets sea or land. I never even noticed what I was doing until a curator of a show I was in pointed out it was in each of my paintings!
It was so central to my vision and experience that I couldn’t see it.
MW: I can remember at Pajaro Dunes the little birds danced right on the edge where the tide comes in and goes out.
That’s where I walk, just at that line. And feel caged in without it.
When I didn’t get the apartment by the lake in Toronto, I chose one on the seventeenth floor. The sky became my sea.
For years, you know, I used to have a daily ritual, if possible, of a long, hot bath. My back bothers me now so I can’t do it.
But I had all these lovely perfumes and unguents.
And I would just lie in the water and intuit what I was going to teach that day, how I was going to teach it—and let it come to me—it was in the bath that my body could completely relax.
All these ideas would come through.
And when later I was speaking in various places, I would do the same thing—have a long, hot bath.
The bathtub is a wonderfully embryonic place. Winston Churchill wrote many speeches in the bathtub.
JM: One way or the other, you’ve always needed space—from the bathtub to the sky.
MW: Space and silence.
JM: Space inside you ….
MW: And silence. The immensity of that silence of the sky and the sea. I can’t write without that kind of space. I don’t do well.
Much as I love my garden and much as I have fi re, a lot of fire, in my dreams, it’s the water that is my …
JM: … Inspiration?
MW: Inspiration … It’s what gives me space.
JM: For some reason, I find myself inwardly revising the Twenty-Third Psalm as you’re speaking. I’m replacing “the Lord” with “space”: “Space is my shepherd … It maketh me to lie down beside the still waters. It restoreth my soul …”11
MW: Well, I say the Twenty-third Psalm about three times a day! Or sing it! I sing it.
Always when I used to go out in the boat, when we used to ride the boat into Perry
Sound I would sit in the back of the boat and sing, “Unto the hills around do I lift up my longing eyes” or the Twenty-third Psalm.
My two favorite hymns, which I sang as hard as I could all the way back! I need space on at least one side of me.
JM: I need to live close to a coast.
My mother spent her pregnancy swimming in the Pacific; I spent all childhood vacations on the beach.
Now I go to local beaches and Kauai and Straddie [Stradbroke Island off the Australian coast] as often as I can.
MW: While I wasn’t born on a coast, I was born on a lake. But it still turns out to be—
JM: —“The eternal on one side and the human on the other” as you said earlier.
MW: And without that, I … I feel the same thing about my apartment in Toronto now.
I really can’t justify having it because I don’t work there very much.
But to lose that sky? Is that the end of my writing? Hmm. Is that the end of my freedom?
It’s a very real question. It’s not giving up the apartment that’s the problem; it’s giving up sky. That is my space.
JM: That is your creative space.
MW: That is my creative space.
JM: You must have felt the same thing about ShaSha.
MW: Oh yes! Looking out at that water, with the loons in the morning … Th at was where Pregnant Virgin12 was born. And several other books, too.
Well. I wonder how we’re going to bring this conversation all together, to end it!
JM: Well … for some reason, I’d like to mention an image—I don’t know why but I’ve trusted my intuition all along with this … It’s the image of a aptismal font …
MW: Oh I had a great dream about the baptismal font once! Didn’t I ever tell you?
JM: No you didn’t; I just have an image of a baptismal font and … a father figure, your father the minister perhaps.
Possibly this image came to me because I know you grew up with a baptismal font being a part of your life.
MW: It was one of the last dreams I had in analysis with Dr. Bennet. I was in my father’s church. It was his last church before I left home.
I was in the front of the church and suddenly I had a terrific desire to run on the top of the pews. So I went out of the pulpit in great glee, jumped up on the pew and ran the length of the church on the top of the pews, an impossible thing to do but anyway, I did it in the dream.
I turned a somersault through the baptismal font located at the back of the church, and landed in a blue feather tick—it was a particular color of blue.
And I knew I was home.
I was baptized into my own soul’s journey. I was free—that sacred turning upside down had set me free.
JM: It furthered you to cross the great water of the baptismal font.
MW: That’s right. And crossing the great water of the font gave me the freedom to find my own faith.
Postscript from Jill Mellick
I transcribed this conversation flying to Kauai, where my tiny vacation home on the beach symbolically links my California life to my native home in Australia.
The next day, I phoned Marion in London, Ontario, to review details. As we closed, I described the Pacific horizon line to her.
I hung up, walked to the kitchen, and my eye fell on something a previous guest had left behind the coffeepot: a can of tuna labelled “Bumble Bee: In Water.”
1 Th e I Ching or Book of Changes, Richard Wilhelm (trans.), Princeton, NJ, Bollingen Series, XIX, Princeton University Press, 1950.
2 Samuel Taylor Coleridge, “Th e Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” The Complete Poems (Penguin Classics), London, Penguin, 1997.
3 Matthew Arnold, “Dover Beach” (1867), Poems (Everyman Poetry), London, Phoenix, 1978, 78.
4 Marion Woodman and Jill Mellick, Coming Home to Myself, Berkeley, CA, Conari Press, 1998.
5 Leonard Cohen, “Suzanne.”
6 Th e Piano, Screenplay by Jane Campion, Directed by Jane Campion, Jan Chapman Productions, 1992, CIBY 2000.
7 Marion Woodman, Addiction to Perfection, Toronto, Inner City Books, 1982.
8 Coleridge, “Ancient Mariner.”
9 Charles Morgan, Th e Fountain, London, Grosset & Dunlap, 1934.
10 Charles Morgan, River Line, New York, Ballantine Books Reprint Edition, 1988.
11 “Twenty-third Psalm,” Th e Bible, King James Version.
12 Marion Woodman, Th e Pregnant Virgin, Toronto, Inner City Books, 1985.
Jill Mellick, “‘To Cross the Great Water’: A Conversation with Marion Woodman,” in THE SAN FRANCISCO JUNG INSTITUTE LIBRARY JOURNAL, 2006, 25:2, 66–89.
This conversation between friends, co-authors, and colleagues, Marion Woodman and Jill Mellick, explores the role of great bodies of water in their lives, with particular focus on Marion Woodman’s personal history.
They explore: Woodman’s perception of water’s physiological, physical role in her life and its transformative symbolic role in her dreams; its function as a liminal space and source of being, inspiration, and restoration; its function as a carrier and bridge between cultures, particularly between the colonial cultures of Canada, Australia and England in the 1950s and 1970s; its role in choices of where to live, work, and retreat, with special reference to the Woodmans’ island, ShaSha, in Georgian Bay, Ontario; water’s role in literature and film, with special reference to the film
The Piano. Particular mention is made of the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, Georgian Bay (Canada), Stradbroke Island (Australia), Pajaro Dunes (Northern California), and the Zurichsee (Switzerland).