Marion and Ross Woodman at the Michael Gibson Gallery in London, Ontario, October 2008.
Body and Soul Relations: Marion Woodman and C.G. Jung by Punita Miranda; University of Amsterdam
The psychophysical relation was a problem that the Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung (1875- 1961) reflected upon his whole life.
As early as 1904 Jung was already aware that unconscious complexes also had a somatic aspect.
He noticed through his word association test and the devices supplied by experimental psychology – the pulse curve, the respiration curve and the psycho-galvanic reflex phenomenon – that contents that are difficult to handle or are important are somehow associated with physiological reactions that are beyond the control of the will.
Jung’s mature thoughts on the interaction between mind and body, the hypothesis of reciprocal action and psychophysical parallelism, found similar relationship-connection with the modern quantum-mechanical conception of nature and is discussed at length in volume 8 of his Collected Works (The Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche), culminating in his conclusive 1952 essay on the phenomenon of Synchronicity: An Acausal Connecting Principle.
Arguing for the metaphysical account of this experience, Jung points out: ‘it is not only possible but fairly probable, even, that psyche and matter are two different aspects of one and the same thing’.
In saying this, he not only laid the foundation for the notion of the complementary realms of psyche and matter as one reality, but also contributed to putting an end, at least psychologically, to Western dualism.
Among modern Jungians the Canadian Marion Woodman (1928-) has been one of the most important analysts to focus on the integration of psyche and soma.
Through her groundbreaking study on the spiritual and psychological core of eating disorders, she was one of the first Jungians to connect addiction with the neglect of the feminine principle in both men and women and its effect on the natural world and the physical body in Western culture.
After a mid-life breakdown and ill health, Marion had to abandon her successful 24-year career as a teacher of English literature and creative drama.
Her search for healing brought her to Europe and in the course of time she become a Jungian analyst.
She trained in the C.G. Jung Institute in Zurich between 1974 and 1979 and had analysis with Marie Louise von Franz (1915-1998), Barbara Hannah (1891-1986) and Dr. E. A. Bennet (1888-1977) in London, England.
Her dissertation on anorexia was published against the advice of her supervisors in 1980, as The Owl Was a Baker’s Daughter: Obesity, Anorexia Nervosa, and the Repressed Feminine.
Marion’s work stems from her painful experiences fighting anorexia in her 20s, kidney failure while in Zurich, and uterine cancer in 1993.
Furthermore, each of her consecutive books has gone further into exploring the psychological masculine-feminine and body-soul dynamics.
Marion’s analytic journey led her to, for some Jungians, unorthodox territories and before long a dream told her to take the images from her dreams and put them into her body.
She recounts: ‘When I arrived [in Zurich], there was nobody doing body work at the time … So many weekends I spent, maybe ten hours Saturday and Sunday, lying on the floor on a woolen blanket with another woolen blanket over me.
I was in a womb, and I worked with the imagery from the dream and allowed the energy of the dream to go into my body.
Over the period of four years a very severe kidney condition was healed.’
Years of conscious, personal analytical work integrating imagery with movement, combined with the study of Jung’s psychology brought Marion the profound insight that the body informs the soul as much as the soul informs the body.
For her both image and bodily symptom are symbolic ways of working: paying attention to a headache or a back problem can be as enlightening as confronting a shadowy figure in a dream.
Back as an analyst in Canada, Marion became a specialist in addictive behaviour and decided that the body, too, must somehow be involved in the psychological healing of her clients.
She amplified and integrated her bodywork techniques, using her own physical struggle as the basis for the metaphorical understanding of eating disorders.
She realised that in Western culture there is a failure in the imagination and we confuse soul food with material food – that metaphor is the true food of the soul.
‘Metaphor’ (from the Latin for ‘carrying over’ and the Greek ‘to transfer’) is of significant importance for Jungian psychology through its symbolic capacity for bringing together mind and body.
Marion elaborates: ‘I always try to grasp the metaphor at the root of an addiction.
With food, it can be mother; with alcohol, spirit; with cocaine, light; with sex, union.
Mother, spirit, light, union – these can be archetypal images of the soul’s search for what it needs.
If we fail to understand the soul’s yearning, then we concretize and become compulsively driven toward an object that cannot satisfy the soul’s longing.’
Thus the image, i.e., the symbolic counterpart of our bodily symptom becomes the connecting bridge between psychological mechanisms and instinctive processes.
Marion points out that metaphors affect the person on three levels: mental – on which we interpret meaning, imaginative – where the actual transforming power resides, and the emotional – that connects the feelings embodied in the metaphor.
But how can we recover the energy contained in the image and bring it to infuse the body with healing?
In order to deepen her understanding Marion drew Jung’s concept of energy in a diagram:
Psyche and matter interact through the relationship between mind and body and in between the somatic pole (Matter) and the psychic pole (Psyche) there is a liminal space where the apexes touch and do not touch; Jung described it as a zero-point.
This connecting space for Marion is the home of metaphor, the world of soul and the ‘subtle body’.
At this psychophysical threshold both symbol and symptoms become ‘embodied metaphors’, as, for example, the expressions to have a “broken heart,” “cold feet,” or “guts” represent unconscious motivations translated into picture-language.
Marion places great emphasis on this: ‘it’s the metaphorical body we’re building. It’s that place between spirit and matter.’
I would like to illustrate this with a summary of one of Marion’s most poignant accounts of how a dream image coupled with bodywork can help to bring powerful archetypal energy into the body.
The full story is contained in her diary Bone, Dying into Life: A Journal of Wisdom, Strength and Healing (2000) where she describes her trajectory from being diagnosed with cancer, the effects of radiation following the operation, to her recovery.
From November 1993 to March 1995 Marion was faced with death as ‘an immediate part’ of her daily life and her path in coming to terms with her illness had two parallel courses: outer expertise of both medical science and alternative medicine and inner exploration through dreams, imagery and body-work.
The night before her cancer operation Marion had an initiatory dream where she saw, both barefoot, a five-year-old girl and a gypsy-like young woman with flowing hair.
They were on a pier watching a purple ship come to shore.
It was carrying two pearls, which she could not see but knew were there.
Ross Woodman, Marion’s husband recounts in an article he wrote about her, that for two years the gypsy figure became the object of her daily meditations in which she directed the gypsy’s energy into her body.
And how after radiation she would try to bring the image of the healthy five-year-old from the unconscious to the cells of her body.
Even during the six months that she was confined to a wheelchair, Marion worked on ways of penetrating the mystery of the psyche-soma relationship until the night when she and Ross went to the birthday celebration of a Dutch-Canadian friend, which changed her life completely.
Went to Henrikus’s 50th birthday party. Too difficult to walk from car to house.
Living room full of laughing faces, platters laden with fine cheeses, breads, sweets.
And tulips, tulips, tulips only the Dutch can grow.
We talk quietly to everyone.
Don’t move from the safety of the couch. Very tired.
At 10:30, we are about to leave.
As we reach the threshold of the front door, to my surprise and
delight a sixtyish Dutchman with a sailor cap strides through the open door playing a tuba.
Then another of the same ilk, and another, and another – twelve, all playing trumpets and trombones, or some other brass … the room rocks with polkas, waltzes, fox-trots. I haven’t dared to dance for three years.
Ross and I return to the couch. I can barely endure listening.
“Come on, Ross, I finally say. “Let’s dance”. “Oh Marion,” he says, “you know you can’t dance. You could break your back.”
I sit out the polka, can’t keep my feet still, they remember tapping it out … I feel like Death sitting there with all my past.
Then my hands are clapping like a child’s.
The energy builds, becomes so fierce I feel like a puppet with hands and feet tapping … Puppet becomes young woman, vibrant with animal energy.
A voice comes up from my perineum, “Marion you can sit on this couch until you rot, but I am going to dance. I don’t care what Ross thinks. I don’t care what these Dutch-Canadians think.
I don’t care what anybody thinks. I don’t care if you break your back. I don’t care if you drop down dead. I am going to dance! I am going to live!”
I become concentration.
Then a stranger – a Dutchman who has just arrived – catches my vision, jumps into my circle, and we dance a dance as fierce as I have never danced before.
If my back breaks, if I drop dead, it doesn’t matter. I am twenty-four. I am healthy, I am whole.16
In this experience we can see symbols as converters of energy and images as the connectors between body and soul; self-reflection on her cancer became a journey towards transformation.
For over thirty years Marion Woodman and her colleagues, dance and theatre educator Mary Hamilton and vocal coach and mask maker Ann Skinner, have developed and refined what is called BodySoul Rhythms® programmes.17
The work is an intimate and dynamic interaction between psyche and soma where a series of carefully designed exercises bring into play a practical way of integrating unconscious contents into consciousness.
These include: reading preparation of Jung’s work, lectures on myth, exploration of dream symbolism, amplification of the images through art work, active imagination, creative expression through movement and bodywork, voice, mask-making and ritual.
The setting varies from three to seven days’ retreat.
In the workshops there is the opportunity to concentrate on the symbols that have been given in the dreams.
Marion’s unique embodied approach to the psyche, of allowing the image to move and transform as it wishes, involves an openness to what the somatic unconscious is saying, with its tensions, blocks and interruptions in the flow of energy.
This work was originally designed for women’s personal and professional development.
Subsequently, corporate leadership workshops have also been created and more recently mask and body workshops open to men and couples who are engaged in their own personal work are available during the summer.18
Marion’s exploration of the feminine individuation journey, her respect for the wisdom of the body and her passionate commitment to articulating the embodied soul has had a powerful effect on the lives of many, indeed has been a direct influence and inspiration on my own life and work, and indirectly on more than one of my clients.
Marion is now retired and lives in Toronto, Canada.
Jung, Carl Gustav. The Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche, 2nd edition. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1969.
______________. Synchronicity, translated by R. F. C. Hull. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1973.
16 Woodman, Bone, pp. 240-241.
______________. Experimental Researches. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1981.
______________. The Pauli/Jung Letters 1932-1958, edited by C.A. Meier. Princeton, NJ: Princeton, University Press, 2001.
Stromstead, Tina. ‘Cellular Resonance and the Sacred Feminine: Marion Woodman’s Story’, Spring, A Journal of Archetype and Culture, vol. 72 (2005), pp. 1-30.
Von Franz, Marie-Louise. On Divination and Synchronicity: The Psychology of Meaningful Chance, Toronto: Inner City Books, 1980.
_____________. Psyche and Matter, Massachusetts: Shambala Publications, Inc, 1988.
Woodman, Marion. Conscious Femininity, Toronto: Inner City Books, 1993.
_____________. Bone, Dying into Life: A Journal of Wisdom, Strength, and Healing, New York: Penguin Compass, 2000.
Woodman, Ross. ‘Marion Woodman’s “Vale of Soul-Making”’, Spring, A Journal of
Archetype and Culture, vol. 72 (2005), pp. 43-85.