Dr Marion Woodman: Analyst, teacher, author, friend, woman, visionary by Deanne Bogdan
Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto, Canada
(Received 20 October 2007; final version received 14 December 2007)
This paper is a biographical introduction to the life and works of Dr Marion Woodman.
Written from the vantage point of one who has known Dr Woodman personally and professionally as a colleague and friend for the past two decades, the article’s purpose is two-fold: to present a chronological digest of Dr Woodman to readers who may be new to her; and, secondly, to reprise her life events and publications to seasoned readers of her works and audiences of her many tapes, lectures, and intensives.
The paper attempts to combine a chronology, personal anecdotes that illumine her character and personality, brief explanations of some of the terminology associated with her writing and teaching, and to foreground some of the major themes in Dr Woodman’s oeuvre.
A shorter version of this paper was read on 4 June 2007, on the occasion of Dr Woodman’s having received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto.
Keywords: Marion Woodman; biography; publications; conscious femininity;
Carl Jung; Lifetime Achievement Award; Marion Woodman Foundation.
It is my pleasure and honour to present to you this biographical introduction to Dr Marion Woodman on the occasion of receiving her Lifetime Achievement Award from
the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto.
Many of you already know Dr Woodman and her work.
For those already familiar with her, this introduction will reprise a lifetime of passionate devotion to expanding and deepening Jungian theory to the dimension of what she calls ‘‘the feminine’’, through her many books, articles and interviews (now translated into French, German, Croatian, Portuguese, Russian, Italian, Swedish, Czech, Spanish, and Japanese, among other languages) as well as workshops, intensives, creative collaborations, and the internet.
Marion even has a rose garden named after her at Pacifica Graduate Institute in Santa
For those new to the phenomenon of Marion Woodman, you are about to encounter one of the most remarkable women of our time.
Though I had studied English Romanticism under her husband Ross Woodman at the
University of Western Ontario decades ago, I first became aware of Marion Woodman in
the early 1980s at the home of a teacher friend who regularly attended lectures at the Jung Institute in Toronto.
Shortly into my visit, I heard a strange woman speaking in the house.
The sound was coming from a recording, but I couldn’t quite make out what the woman
was saying except for the repetition of the word ‘‘chrysalis’’.1
When I asked my friend what this was all about, he replied, ‘‘The words don’t matter; just listen to the voice’’.
The voice was soft yet clear, distinctly musical (even Marion’s voice-mail greeting has a lilt to it), and not a little mesmerizing.
Of course the words did matter.
What I think my friend was referring to was what Dr Woodman calls the ‘‘spiral’’ of the journey to the Self, through which the traveler makes her way, each level of the descent revealing new material, each time going a little deeper, offering a new perspective on the old.
Something similar happens with the listener’s experience of Marion Woodman’s recordings; and with the reader’s, of her books.
As she sometimes advises, ‘‘Don’t worry if you don’t seem to be ‘getting it’; just keep going on the spiral and whatever you’re struggling with will come up again’’ – often
on the very next page.
Reading Marion Woodman is rather like learning a Bach fugue.
Instead of concentrating on each note, you look for patterns: themes appear, are repeated, inverted and developed, intersect, and reappear in new contexts.
Perhaps that’s why reading Marion Woodman is always a rereading.2
The auditorium at OISE/UT is historic for Marion Woodman.
It not only housed the meetings of the Jung Society of Toronto in the 1980s, in which she was a major figure, but is also the site of a momentous lecture she gave in 1986 to an audience of professors, graduate students, and Jungian enthusiasts, during which, at a pivotal moment, the subway train came roaring through, marking a revolt in which some people actually walked out.
Sponsored by OISE’s then Department of Applied Psychology, and personally invited by
me as a new faculty member, Dr Woodman spoke on ‘‘Women, Madness, and Creativity’’,
a topic that later became one of the central chapters in one of her most celebrated
(and radical) books The pregnant virgin (1985).3 Dr Woodman’s lecture that night
engendered admiration in many, awe in some, and anger in others.
The professor who had co-invited Marion with me left the stage, refusing to thank her because of what she thought was Marion’s essentialist use of the terms ‘‘masculine’’ and ‘‘feminine’’.
As Professor Joel Faflak of the University of Western Ontario has recently written, however, these categories in both Marion Woodman’s writing and her analytical practice are ‘‘a reconsideration(emphasis mine) of the creative feminine and (emphasis original) its relationship to the creative masculine.
That is, that Jungian psychology, along with the rest of the world, often distorted the feminine signaled something wrong with our understanding of the feminine and the masculine’’ (emphasis original, Faflak, 2005, p. 128).
Since that 1986 lecture, those who read and follow Marion Woodman’s work have come to understand that she uses these terms within their context as ‘‘non-gendered energies’’.4
As Ross Woodman (2005a) has written, ‘‘The masculine and feminine are the other of each (each other), which is essential to a conscious recognition of their identity.
The conscious feminine thus resides in its masculine other, even as the conscious masculine resides in its feminine other’’ (p. 49).
Who is this woman who inspires devotion, resistance, recognition and misrecognition
scenes in the psyches and somas of ordinary people of all sexes?
Who is this internationally renowned analyst who both extends and critiques Jungian theory, who uses imagery, poetry, ritual, and such terms as myth, metaphor, and archetype, Sophia as the feminine side of God,5 ‘‘soul-making’’, and the integrated notion of bodysoul as a single word – ‘‘the pulsating presence of the life force’’ in which ‘‘the soul [is] understood as the incarnate body’s consciousness of itself’’ (R. Woodman, 2005a, p. 44)?
Who is this woman who, before becoming the ‘‘Marion Woodman’’ of today, was compelled by her shock at discovering her inability to successfully hail a taxi ‘‘one cold winter night’’ in London, Ontario, in 1968, unassisted by father, husband, or brother, to travel alone to India, to confront her fear of death directly, and consciously to take up residence for the first time in the materiality of her own flesh (M. Woodman, 1985, p. 176)?
The eldest of three children, Marion Boa was born in London, Ontario, on 15 August
Her siblings were both boys, one of whom, Fraser, went on to become a well-known Jungian analyst.
As Ross Woodman writes, little Marion, raised in a parsonage, was taught to read at age three by her father by tracing the sounds of words.
‘‘Literacy, for Marion, . . . [became a] ‘‘second birth’’ (R. Woodman, 2005a, p. 52).
When she reached school age, having been weaned on the novels of Dickens, she soon became bored.
This is an early example of her having felt out of synch with the world around her, something Marion insists is a pre-condition for her own creative work and for her ongoing process of becoming.
As Tina Stromsted (2005) recounts in an interview with Marion, Marion’s mother, a suffragette, bedridden by a physiological condition set within a sexist cultural milieu that inhibited her astute business sense, had felt uncomfortable with her own body (resenting Marion for not being born male), and felt caged by a village life that was alien to her urban, entrepreneurial spirit.
However, ‘‘though Marion’s mother felt sorry for Marion for being a girl’’, she nevertheless mirrored her daughter’s body to Marion, as she witness[ed Marion’s] ‘‘. . . hair, skin, and hands, parts of Marion’s body that are still vibrant and expressive today’’ (p. 16).
Thus it was Marion’s own parental figures – a supportive, intellectual father and brilliant mother trapped in a body incapable of containing her repressed energy – that comprised the backdrop in Dr Woodman’s personal life which became foundational to her subsequent reconceptualization of the archetypal masculine and feminine and their dynamic interrelationship as they played out, first, in her own struggles with eating disorders, and later in her theorizing about conscious femininity as well as in her heterodox approach to clinical practice.
Marion offers as a template for her life and work the story of her sunstroke at age 16
when she worked for the summer on a farm as her contribution to the war effort. Marion ploughed fields and planted trees, engaging in a ritual that marked the end of her high school years.
As Ross Woodman (2005a) writes:
Grieving for what she had lost, day after day under a hot sun she sat on her tractor ploughing.
Finally, one day the farmer took her out to show her what she had done.
To her amazement, Marion saw stretching before her long curving furrows which seemed to be turning in upon themselves toward a center that was not there.
The next day, determined to follow a straight line she realized she was losing consciousness. . . . By nightfall, her face had begun to swell, and by morning she could no longer see. (p. 63)
This is one vignette of Dr Woodman’s impulsion to being in touch with ‘‘what the other
world wants’’,6 to being forced to surrender to the transpersonal. Her excruciating bloat at 16 was a manifestation of what she would come to see as the experience of ‘‘nothingness’’ that could set her free (M. Woodman, 2005, p. 64) – in Christian parlance, the Crucifixion that precedes Resurrection. Dr Woodman’s acceptance of her propensity to react somatically to forces over which she has no control and thereby to live in the eye of paradox, while standing to her own truth, has been a perpetual refrain of both her life and work.
After three years studying the biological sciences at the University of Western Ontario
in London, Ontario, Marion responded to the demand of her Soul to study literature,
especially Shakespeare and the English Romantic poets, Blake, Keats, and Shelley.
This was not an easy decision.
As she tells us in Coming home to myself (1998), ‘‘In my late teens, I chose to sacrifice my beloved poetry of the microscope for another kind of poetry, the poetry of word’’ (p. 2).
In 1958 Marion Boa married English Professor Ross Woodman; she taught English Literature for 24 years mainly at South Secondary School in London, Ontario.
At the time the New Criticism was the reigning (but invisible) conceptual framework for teaching poetry. That is, the poem as ‘‘verbal icon’’ (Wimsatt, 1954) was Counselling Psychology Quarterly 107
wrested from its historical and/or cultural/biographical context and analyzed with cerebral precision for its ‘‘real meaning’’, ultimately to be envisioned as an organic but primarily conceptual whole.
‘‘Mrs. Woodman’’ taught her students differently: to embody the poem through simple yogic asanas, intonings, and basic movement exercises that increased in intensity with verbalizing the actual words of the text.
Some of her classes were held in a theatre-in the-round on the second floor, halfway between the top floor of the academic classes and the gym on the ground floor.
(The symbolic significance of this hierarchical structure will not be lost on readers.)
As Marion affectingly describes in Leaving my father’s house (1992), she and her dancer colleague Mary Hamilton, then the physical education teacher, took their first steps in ‘‘bring[ing] body and spirit together’’ (p. 121).
Here the students were viscerally empowered to release the blocked energy from their unconscious and to change the metabolism of their previously ‘‘rigid’’ bodies by living the poetry (p. 120).
These classes prepared the ground for the now famous Body Soul Rhythms intensives.
As someone who has worked in the philosophy of literature education for many
years, I can well appreciate the thoroughly revolutionary nature of ‘‘Mrs. Woodman’s’’
pedagogy of integrating psyche and soma in literary response at a time when bodies were seen but not heard, still and not mobile, in English class. (See Bogdan, 1992a.)
Though content in her high-school teaching career, Marion gradually became aware
that her destiny lay elsewhere.
Even to this day, however, she has never lost her love of teaching, which she still regards as integrally related to her intimate connection with the archetypal world.
Marion’s preliminary knowledge of Jungian theory, her spiritual rebirth in India, and a recurrent dream impelled her to travel to Zurich to become a Jungian analyst.
This process was hardly seamless, as Marion’s resistance to giving up her middleclass
security somatized into serious illness. Her body could not lie; it never can.
Thus continued a pattern that has repeated itself throughout her life in what Ross
Woodman (2005a) has called the ‘‘circumambulations’’ in Marion’s ‘‘Vale of soul-making’’ (pp. 43–85).
As Marion tells it, the circumambulation between London and Zurich went something like this.
Marion’s mother had been a soloist in the church choir, and music had figured
prominently in Marion’s education.
One of her strongest memories is of her mother’s rendition of the song ‘‘The Holy City’’, referring to Jerusalem.
In 1971 Marion had a dream in which she heard the line, ‘‘Turn your face toward Jerusalem and don’t turn back’’.
She knew that the word ‘‘Jerusalem’’ in this song was for her suffused with the energy of her own inexorable drive for spiritual fulfillment.
Despite her deep ambivalence about following through on such a life-altering decision, she applied to the Jung Institute in Zurich and was accepted.
Her dream recurred two years later, and again six months after that, the night before she tendered her letter of resignation from her teaching position: she had made the decision to follow her Jerusalem dream, albeit reluctantly.
But her resignation was rejected by her principal, who tore up the letter in front of her, saying that she couldn’t possibly be serious about wanting to leave. Marion went home secretly relieved.
That night she awoke with what at various times she has called ‘‘bear claws’’ and ‘‘pools of water in her feet and ankles’’.
Driving her to the hospital, Ross said, ‘‘I guess I’d better tell Bob that you won’t be coming back’’.7
Marion was suffering from life threatening kidney failure, which had not completely healed even as she began her studies in Zurich.
In the wake of her life-changing decision, she was stripped of every vestige of her
privileged social position.
But, once again, she had come to recognize the futility of will-power when the unconscious beckons: Soul says no to ego, and the body shows the way.
This process continues for Dr Woodman to this day in the application of her work to
issues of identity and inclusiveness in what we now call ‘‘critical multiculturalism’’.
The Zurich years (1974–79) produced a thesis that was eventually published as The owl
was a baker’s daughter: Obesity, anorexia nervosa and the repressed feminine (1980). Marion was now a certified Jungian analyst; her first book on eating disorders, a harbinger of her later work and international influence not only directly in psychology but indirectly in its increasingly interdisciplinary cognates.
That this work was ahead of its time is indeed an understatement.
Today, as researchers in obesity studies work on topics such as addiction, they surely must, to borrow from Virginia Woolf, be thinking ‘‘back through their mother’’
(Woolf, 1929/1957), and be asking, as Dr Woodman herself did over three decades ago,
‘‘What does fat symbolize?’’ (M. Woodman, 1980, pp. 40–41).
This first book was followed two years later by Addiction to perfection: The still unravished bride (1982b).
Here Woodman the author grows more fully into her own style and method.
Departing from the more conventionally academic approach in Owl, she develops, along with a more personal (almost novelistic) writing voice, her schematic use of interlocking archetypal patterns (The Demon Lover, Divine Child, Pregnant Virgin, Father’s Daughter, among others), classical mythology, dreams, fairytales, and other literature, contemporary historical events, and popular culture to articulate her major ideas: the intricate relationship between the death dealing yearning for the ideal; body-image, themes of patriarchy, rape, and ravishment; the relationship between sexuality and spirituality; the importance, especially for women, of a strong body to contain the integration of body and spirit so crucial in the attainment of identity, and of holding the tension between the opposites, i.e., ‘‘consciousness uniting with unconscious, spirit . . . with matter’’ (M. Woodman, 1980, p. 186).
In retrospect, these early books resonate well with women authors in the various fields
of Women’s Studies, thinkers who were at the time also trying to move beyond the gender essentialist assumption that women are this, men, that, authors who prefigured in their own way the combination of holism and sensitivity to difference with which scholars, teachers, researchers, and practitioners are working today, to-morrow, and beyond.
In 1983 Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar published their landmark Norton anthology of
literature by women.
The mid-1970s and 1980s saw the flourishing of feminist scholarship in psychology, literature, philosophy, educational theory, philosophy of education, religion, literary criticism, and aesthetics, signifying academe’s awakening to the significance of gender.
Although Marion does not call her work specifically ‘‘feminist’’, her battle against patriarchal structures has always been at the heart of this revolution by women reclaiming their material and spiritual identity personally and within the culture.8
In 1979 Marion opened her practice in Toronto and immersed herself in the dynamic
life of the Jung Institute on St. Clair Avenue.
At the same time she continued to speak in public and to write. While Addiction to perfection (1982b) can be thought of as a through composed work (one chapter following logically from the previous one), Dr Woodman’s next book, The pregnant virgin (1985), is a collection of interrelated essays (often developed from her lectures) bringing together the complex of archetypes comprising the overarching figure of The Pregnant Virgin.
(It was this book whose 20th birthday was celebrated in 2005 at a conference at Pacifica.)
Incorporating some of her clients’ dreams in her written work, Marion expands the themes from Addiction to perfection (1982b) in The pregnant virgin (1985), in which she fashions an icon of incubation, of being on the threshold of emerging creative energy, a place of rest where ‘‘the ego must remain conscious enough to allow the released energy to flow within the container until it is transformed’’ (p. 128).
The power of this archetype in the current collective imagination is such that it resonates today with special significance in books and films such as ‘‘Pan’s Labyrinth’’ and the apocalyptic ‘‘Children of Men’’.
The primary lessons of The pregnant virgin (1985) are first, self-acceptance, and more importantly, love.
This is one reason why this book is perhaps the single work through which Marion Woodman established herself not only in the world of analytic psychology but its academically related disciplines, in which the terms ‘‘diversity,’’ ‘‘difference’’ and ‘‘multiculturalism’’ connate a focus on ‘‘the other’’ and its place in theorizing identity.
In preparing this Introduction, I reviewed my notes (dated 11 April 1988, but not titled)
from a lecture Marion gave in Toronto; I could still hear the shimmer of her voice. In the
hindsight of our awareness of issues beyond the psychological per se both in clinical
practice, the humanities, education and the social sciences, Marion’s emphasis on the
material as integral to the spiritual and her refusal to be bound by polarities resonate in
these lines: ‘‘Image is part material and part spirit’’.
‘‘The archetype will manifest in image
and in body, bringing the dynamism of instinct to consciousness’’. ‘‘Soul is the container
through which matter and spirit become human’’. ‘‘How many times can the heart break?’’
‘‘As I listen to my patient’s anguish, I hear another voice –my patient singing ‘Love me’’’. In these last excerpts we note the poignancy of Marion’s compassion supplanting the safety net of analytic ‘‘objectivity’’ or aesthetic distance. (See Faflak, 2005, p. 111ff.) That night Marion’s voice seemed to wash over the audience, as each one of us, within the perspective of our own individual location, took in this phrase or that aphorism or this metaphor, letting it drop deep into our consciousness at whatever place on the spiral we happened to be.
So, as early as 1988 (and even earlier), Marion was sowing the seeds of her theories, now being applied to the kinds of compelling current social issues with which psychologists and academics with a critical perspective on their own theory and practice are now so concerned.
For Marion Woodman the 1990s was a decade of extraordinary productivity and
An explosion of books, invited book chapters, workshops, interviews and accolades, international speaking engagements, collaborative projects, three honorary
doctorates, as well as scores of audio and videotapes abounded.
Dr Woodman was now in her prime, but in 1991 was suddenly diagnosed with cancer. Despite this setback, other books followed in quick succession.
The ravaged bridegroom: Masculinity in women (1990); Leaving my father’s house: A journey to conscious femininity (1992); Conscious femininity: Interviews with Marion Woodman (1993); Dancing in the flames: The dark goddess in the transformation of consciousness (co-authored with therapist Elinor Dickson,1996); Coming home to myself: Daily reflections for a woman’s body and soul (co-authored with Jill Mellick, 1998); The maiden king: The reunion of masculine and feminine (co-authored with
Robert Bly, 1998); and The forsaken garden: Four conversations on the deep meaning of
environmental illness (with Thomas Berry, Sir Laurens van der Post, and Ross Woodman,
and interviewed by Nancy Ryley, 1998).
Though the language of these books may not be that of the critical discourse familiar to postmodern and post-colonial ears, Dr Woodman’s categories of ‘‘masculine’’ and ‘‘feminine’’ become the ‘‘ground bass’’, as it were, for their application across cultures to what it might mean to call oneself fully human in the twenty-first century, when the psychological and psychoanalytic dimensions are so integrally connected to ethical and global considerations.
Marion’s prodigious output in the 1990s was interspersed with surgery, radiation,
countless medical consultations, chronic pain, conflicting diagnoses, and long periods of
recovery. Her suffering and treatment are chronicled in her latest book Bone: Dying into life, published in the millennial year. Bone reveals Marion undergoing and recapitulating in her own birth canal the literal regeneration of the feminine through matter that she had been writing and speaking about professionally – but living personally – throughout her life.
In his deconstruction of Bone: Dying into life (2000), David Clark (2005) refers to Marion’s cancer as ‘‘the ‘gift’ of her experience with illness’’.
For Clark this becomes ‘‘a testament to the project of Marion Woodman’s own soul-making’’ (p. 139).
Here again, Virginia Woolf springs to mind. In her brief essay, On being ill (1930/2002), Woolf can be said to be holding the tension between the opposites as she meditates on the reversal of the normative hierarchy between mind and body that characterizes the state of physical illness.
All day, all night, the body intervenes; blunts or sharpens, colours or discolours, turns to wax in the warmth of June, hardens to tallow in the murk of February.
The creature within can only gaze through the pane – smudged or rosy – it cannot separate off from the body like a sheath of a knife or a pod of a pea for a single instant; it must go through the whole unending process of change, heat and cold, comfort and discomfort, hunger and satisfaction, health and illness until there comes the inevitable catastrophe: the body smashes itself to smitherings, and the soul (it is said) escapes. (Woolf, 1930/2000, pp. 4–5)
Ultimately, for Woolf, the soul’s escape from the body would mean taking refuge in
death; for Marion Woodman, being stripped to bone is figuratively and literally a ‘‘dying
Throughout her illness, and even to this day, in the painful aftermath of having been
over-radiated after her surgery, Marion has coped with serenity and that perpetual smile in her voice.
One of my most vivid memories is of meeting her outside the Princess Margaret
Hospital in Toronto, where she had just collected ex-rays of her spine that I learned
sometime later were to be sent to California for ‘‘a second opinion’’.
That day Marion’s mood was not in the least morose; my husband’s architectural offices were close by, and she said she’d like to check them out.
There she was, barely able to walk, and harboring a death sentence; and there we were, going south on Sherbourne Street like two old friends taking a stroll.
This capacity for being totally present to the other and for remaining in the stream of life amidst her own adversity is constitutive of Marion Woodman, both as world-figure and as a woman.
So, too, is the intermingling of her impish humor with total seriousness.
When she received her first honorary doctorate from her alma mater, The University of Western Ontario, before her address to the graduands, she had the audience stand up and wiggle our behinds, reconnecting with our ‘‘dog energy.’’
But once we were seated, she declaimed loudly in her no-nonsense voice the first line of her address: ‘‘Have the courage to live your own life, not the one projected onto you!’’
One of Dr Woodman’s books that I consider especially significant is Leaving my father’s house (M. Woodman et al., 1992), a collaborative work with three other co-authors in which each writer addresses the same fairytale from the vantage of her own ‘‘journey to conscious femininity’’.
In the very first paragraph Dr Woodman most clearly articulates that the term exponentially rejects the rigid parameters of any conventional interpretation of ‘‘gender’’:
The eternal feminine is thrusting her way into contemporary consciousness. . . . whatever her name, she is the manifestation of the divine in matter. Among her many faces are the Black Madonna, White Buffalo Woman, Shaktri, Kali, Aphrodite.
Hers are the ways of peace, compassion, reverence for life and death and the oneness of nature. . . . It is our immediate task to relate to the emerging feminine whether she comes to us in dreams, in the loss of those we love, in body disease, or in ecological distress. Each of us in our own way is being brought face to face with Her challenge. (M. Woodman et al., 1992, p. 1)
Carl Jung was inspired by the papal bull of 1950 ‘‘promulgating the Assumption of the
Blessed Virgin Mary’’ to include the feminine in his conception of consciousness by
entering ‘‘the feminine into the patriarchal Godhead, thereby releasing into consciousness both a new understanding of the feminine, released from the mythological identification of Eve with Satan, and a new understanding of the masculine, released from the mythological identification with patriarchal power’’ (R. Woodman, 2005b, pp. 100–101).
Jung was particularly distrustful of the anima as it relates to the arts (R. Woodman, 2005a), Counselling Psychology Quarterly 111 however, and was personally unable to confront ‘‘the dark materiality of the body’’ itself (Faflak, 2005, p. 117). Marion Woodman not only recognized this limitation in Jung’s theories as impeding his own work (R. Woodman, 2005a), but dissolves Jung’s underlying dualism in her conception of feminine consciousness as ‘‘rooted in the heart.
The feeling comes with the thought, and as the thought is spoken, the heart opens, and feeling flows to deeper, richer levels’’.9
This kind of body thinking, Marion avers, ‘‘is silenced in our culture’’ (p. 116) – and, I would add, too often in our somanaesthetic universities, in which Jung Studies have become anathema in favour of more readily abstractionable accounts of the relationship between body and mind, intellect and emotion, the conscious and
unconscious. (See Flafak, 2005, p. 113ff).
In this sketch I’ve attempted to show how Marion Woodman could go from teaching
the English Romantics to counselling and writing about eating disorders to theorizing
conscious femininity to her ideas about the future of the planet.
Her life and work are of a piece, and, above all, born of her own experience, in the recurrent circumambulations in which the spiritual yearning she experienced from early childhood has been so strong that the body periodically breaks down, will-power is not at issue, and the ego capitulates to the Self.
The spiral as a means of renewal – of the spirit and/or of the earth – manifests in my
own discipline of philosophy of education as what Ross Woodman calls the subversion of logocentric theory by ‘‘the feminine as praxis’’ (R. Woodman, 2005a, p. 49): that is,
a necessary condition of all learning is that the theatre of the mind must take its cue from the instincts of the body.
What is Dr Woodman doing now?
In addition to writing a new book, for the past few years she has been heavily involved in The Marion Woodman Foundation, an organization devoted to teaching and propagating the experiential work and guiding concepts of Body Soul Rhythms, which is well, thriving, and living on three continents.
Formed in 2002, The Foundation is rooted in belief in the inseparability of psyche and
soma and the efficacy of ‘‘group process [in] working towards consciousness’’ within the
theories of Carl Jung and Marion Woodman.10
The BodySoul Rhythms approach to developing the embodied soul, as conceived by Marion, has evolved for the past three decades through the intensives conducted by her, Mary Hamilton, Ann Skinner, and now continuing with the next generation of leaders.
As Ross Woodman (2005a) describes it, the work springs from Marion’s location of soul ‘‘in a centripetal, living, pulsating present, which, as presence, is always now, . . . the inner reality of the here and now which is always already present’’ (p. 49).
Of special educational importance for diversity is the Foundation’s scholarship program for promising women from several countries.
I feel fortunate to have been a participant in BodySoul intensives, as well as in the
‘‘Crone Seminars,’’ which took place a few years ago in London, Ontario. Here ‘‘women of a certain age’’ gathered twice annually for three years to read Jung’s Lectures on
Nietzsche’s Zarathustra (1952) under Dr Woodman’s tutelage in the mornings; and, after lunch, to embody our lessons through relaxation exercises, creative movement, yoga, journaling, poetry, drama, musical and visual art activities.
Marion’s belief in and promotion of the primary role of all the arts to education at every level have been a subtext of her own education and of her work from the very beginning of her career to the present day, and continue to be a driving force behind The Marion Woodman Foundation itself, which assumes embodying spirit in the world of art, the interdependency of art and science in the creative process, and multi-faceted expressions of differently inflected identities within the concept of upper case Soul and Self.
According to their Mission Statement, the leaders of the Foundation are committed to
the ‘‘new field of interpersonal neurobiology’’, to affirming ‘‘belief in the concept that the perceived and perceiver are one and are continually interacting with and affecting each
other’’, thus ‘‘integrating the scientific, psychological, and the creative as their work
The academic parallel to this statement is its embodiment in Marion and
Ross’s support of Jung Studies in the undergraduate Minor in the Paradigms and
Archetypes Program under Dr Ann Yeoman at New College/UT, which also offers
Programs in Women and Gender, Equity Studies, and African and Caribbean Studies.
Its affinities at OISE/UT are to be found in the new Centre for Diversity in Counselling and Psychotherapy (CDCP) under Professor Roy Moodley, housed in the Department of
Adult Education and Counselling Psychology, with Professor Marilyn Laiken as Chair.
In London, Ontario, Marion’s work is brought full circle with the recently established
Harris-Woodman Chair in Psyche and Soma at the Shculich School of Medicine and
Dentistry, University of Western Ontario.
The title of this Chair was carefully and deliberately chosen: not ‘‘Mind and Body,’’ but ‘‘Psyche and Soma’’.
For Marion Woodman, ‘‘psyche’’ signifies ‘‘the imagination of the body’’ (Faflak, 2005, p. 125).
Indeed she went so far as to assert that ‘‘the powers of metaphor’’ had healed ‘‘what the physicians could not cure’’ in her own body (Clark, 2005, p. 141).
Commenting on the current crisis of the humanities in the universities, Toni Morrison
(2005) enjoins academe to enlist the arts in the service of ‘‘sharpening the moral
imagination’’ if we are serious about challenging the threats of galloping globalization and abuses of human rights (pp. 716–717).
Marion Woodman’s appropriation of Jung’s legacy to consciousness of the feminine is directly aligned to Morrison’s plea.
Together they signal the conjoining of identity and diversity, the individual and the collective, the ethical and the aesthetic, through the creative process of embodiment.
In a city as diverse as Toronto, where public information is available in 70 languages,
and at an educational institution such as OISE/UT, where critical multiculturalism
invokes not only the ethnic mosaic but embraces considerations of race, class, gender,
sexualities, religions, comparative abilities, and other markers of difference, the long awaited celebration of Jung Studies, as revivified and enfleshed by Marion Woodman,
within the academy augurs nothing less than the truly democratic reintegration of the arts and the sciences for the future of Higher Education.
What better vision for receiving a Lifetime Achievement Award! I would like to conclude by returning to the initial image that began this introduction with a poem from her collaboration with poet/artist/professor Jill Mellick in Coming home to myself (1998):
If you watch a caterpillar You might catch the moment When the crawling stops.
Delicate membranes attach to a twig.
Old skin is shed, pupal skin hardens.
The caterpillar chooses the food
The butterfly will need,
Chooses the exact space
To later spread its wings.
Without the space,
The wings would never fly.
The chrysalis is essential.
It is the twilight zone,
A precarious world
Between past and future . . ..
[Where] . . . the winged beauty
That slowly and painfully emerges
[prepares, to] . . . live by a new set of laws. (p. 277) ~ Deanne Bogdan (2008) Dr Marion Woodman: Analyst, teacher, author, friend, woman, visionary, Counselling Psychology Quarterly, 21:2, 105-116, DOI: 10.1080/09515070802030132
To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/09515070802030132
Counselling Psychology Quarterly
Declaration of interest: The author reports no conflicts of interest. The author alone is responsible for the content and writing of the paper.
- See ‘‘Chrysalis: The psychology of transformation,’’ Tape #155 (M. Woodman, 1982a).
- For Woodman, this kind of spiral reading of a great work of art entails a ‘‘cellular resonance’’ that can precipitate a bodily ‘‘shimmer’’ and ultimately lead to transcendence (Stromstedt, 2005, p. 23).
- See Marion Woodman (1985), Chapter 2, ‘‘Taking it like a man: Abandonment in the creative woman’’ (pp. 33–44).
- I am indebted to Ross Woodman for this articulation.
- Joel Faflak (2005) understands Marion’s use of the appellation ‘‘Sophia’’ as ‘‘the name
Woodman uses to describe the dissenting work that she conducts on behalf of the ‘feminine,’ which is the wisdom of the ages that she marshals to resist the predations of abstraction and idealization – the seductive yet suicidally destructive impulses that she identifies with the ‘masculine’ and for which she blames modernity’s sorrowful inability to bring living and dying into a meaningful convocation’’ (p. 138).
- Telephone conversation, 3 April 2007.
- Telephone conversation, 3 April 2007.
- ‘‘The 1980’s woman is realizing that her psyche has been raped as her mother’s before her was raped. If she is conscious, she does not blame her parents, nor the men in her personal and professional life. She recognizes that both sexes are in the crisis together and she to accept her own share of responsibility. Having carried the perfectionist standards of parents, teachers, and society in general, her own world of inner uniqueness has been violated to the point where she fears even to look into the mirror, for fear she won’t be there. Her husband, brothers and sons are in an equally precarious position’’ (Marion Woodman, 1982b, p. 152).
See also Jean Baker Miller (1976), Sandra L. Bartky (1990), Mary Field Belenkey et al. (1986), Jean Shinoda Bolen (1984), Susan Cady et al. (1986), Teresa de Lauretis (1987), JosephineDonovan (1975), Judith Fetterley (1978/1981), Sandra. M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar (1983), Madeleine R. Grumet (1988), Carolyn G. Heilbrun (1979), Carolyn G. Heilbrun and Margaret. R. Higonnet (1981/1983), Jane Miller (1986, 1990/1994), Elaine Showalter (1977),and Carolyn Kay Steedman (1986/1987). In 1986 I taught OISE/UT’s first course in feminist literary criticism using Elaine Showalter’s text, published the same year (1985) as The pregnant virgin.
In 1985 Showalter’s book was already recording the history of feminist literary
Other important books in Women’s Studies published the same year as The pregnant
virgin are Gisela Ecker (1985), Toril Moi (1985), Jane Roland Martin (1985), and Christa
My own experience teaching this course is described and analyzed in Chapter 6
of Re-educating the imagination (Bogdan, 1992b). Marion Woodman’s conception of the
‘‘feminine’’ shares in a tradition of feminist thought that dates back to Mary Wollstonecraft (1759–1797), who advocated not only for women’s rights but for a fluid, dynamic conception of gender, the importance of a strong body to contain women’s intellectual and spiritual development, and, most importantly, an independence of mind and spirit free from the fetters of patriarchal constraints that are politically and socially instantiated in the culture. See Susan Laird (2008).
- Cf. Virginia Woolf (1929/1957), who draws upon Coleridge’s concept of the androgynous mind to envisage a mind that ‘‘is resonant and porous; that . . . transmits emotion without impediment: that . . . is naturally creative, incandescent and undivided’’ (p. 102).
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