In late August 2022, Patricia Martin of the C.G. Jung Society of Chicago interviewed me about my experiences with Marion Woodman from 1988 to 2011. Our enthusiastic conversation brought memories of the many ways Marion transformed my life, but the story began in 1988, decades before this interview.
“Want to go to a workshop with Marion Woodman about the Black Madonna?” a co-worker asked in the fall of 1988. “I’m going with a few friends.”
Something in me said yes although I didn’t know these women well or much about the Black Madonna. I longed for something more in my spiritual practice and psychological understanding—more feeling, more body, and less focus on abstract ideas and philosophic study. Why not try it? I’d been moved by Marion’s books Addiction to Perfection (1982) and The Pregnant Virgin (1985), but had no idea what to expect from a workshop.
The weather at Kirkridge, a retreat center in northeast Pennsylvania, was November drab with low grey clouds. I felt distant from my traveling companions, self-protective, and alone.
The first night, about 50 people gathered in a windowless room with chairs arranged in a semi-circle. A sixty-year old woman entered with a bouncy bubble haircut, a pastel angora sweater, practical shoes, and a large handbag. She looked around the room, smiled, and stood beside the podium. When she kicked off her shoes, she had my full attention.
“I like to feel grounded,” she said. So do I.
The next day, she discussed three levels of the feminine—Maiden, Mother, and Crone. I listened carefully. That afternoon Marion invited us to do “body work” after dinner. My traveling companions wanted to go out to eat and find a movie.
“I’ll stay for the evening session with Marion,” I told them, but I felt edgy and slightly threatened when I walked into the large darkened room with strangers lying on the floor.
“Find a place to lie down on the rug with space around you,” Marion said. “Grab a pillow over there.” She pointed to a pile of pillows. “Get comfortable.” I found a vacant spot in the middle of the room.
“Start at the crown of your head and notice each part of your body,” Marion instructed. “Relax your forehead, your eyes, your jaw, your neck, and slowly scan down to your toes.” She spoke slowly and quietly, giving us 10 or 15 minutes to explore our bodies and relax.
“Notice where you feel less alive or present. Now choose a recent dream image and hold the image in a spot where your body is tight or uncomfortable. Breathe into it.”
I imagined an opening rosebud in my clenched belly and breathed deeply. For the next 15 minutes, Marion reassured us in her deep gentle voice. “Pay attention to your dreams tonight,” Marion said when the exercise was over. That night, I fell asleep imagining the sweet scent of roses.
The next morning we talked about the Black Madonna which I discuss in the interview below.
“Your hand shot up when I asked for dreams,” Marion said later. “I had to call on you.”
Here’s the maddening part. I have dream notebooks going back to 1967, but I’ve never found that precious dream. I remember a goddess-sized, larger than life, dark skinned woman, and I’m still exploring the Black Madonna. Maybe that image was all I needed.
I hope you enjoy this 35 minute podcast of the interview with more stories and memories about the most influential woman teacher in my life and the lives of many others. You can also watch the interview on video on youtube.
I’ll return to writing about India, but wanted to share this interview and article while they’re fresh. For more details about some of the experiences I discussed with Patricia, see Falling in Love with Marion Woodman. You’ll also enjoy Marion Woodman and the Princess Who Said No.
I like how you show initial reluctance when trying something new. Most certainly, I can identify with the impulse to put one’s toe into the water cautiously before wading in.
Marion Woodman’s name comes up often in your posts, so thank you for sharing some of her techniques (even her body language) here.
My Pilates instructor often invites us to relax our bodies, sometimes concentrating on our faces. She may say, as you iterate, “Relax your forehead, your eyes, your jaw, your neck, and slowly scan down to your toes.” Sitting at the computer I often find myself squinting and screwing up my face when I’m trying too hard.
I’ll need to return to take in your podcast and video. Thanks for all this food for thought, Elaine. 😀
Marian, the techniques Marion Woodman used in the 1980s became common in many healing modalities–especially body scans, deep relaxation, and breath work. They also reflected Bioenergetics and Gestalt Therapy that I’d experienced in California around 1970. She loved co-teaching and also using techniques learned from others. Marion brought it all together in one experience, partly because she and the women who worked with her included fairy tales, art, movement, dreams, poetry, and more in her one week workshops. I always emerged from a week with Marion and company feeling renewed and illuminated. (Yes, I have a cautious side to balance the daring side and hearing loss has brought out more caution.)
Well, that was amazing! Thank you so much dear Elaine for sharing this wonderful interview with us! I was thrilled to watch and listen to you “live” talking about Marion and your own precious life and what moved you and moves you in so many ways. It really helped me understand the reason behind your one photo a day on Facebook re sharing something beautiful with the world and yourself too.
Please know that you’re such an inspiration to me, and many I’m sure! When I watched you I thought to myself, this is what love in action looks like, beautiful, whole and true. If Marion was one of your favourite teachers in this world my dear friend, then you are one of mine! Sending much love, light and laughter across the oceans and oaks between us, always and forever, Deborah.
Your reflections make me cry, Deborah, and bring me back to what Vic said about me: “You taught me how to love.” He couldn’t have given me a sweeter complement. I’m also anxious and irritable, fussy and demanding in many ways, but I learned how to love in this life. I just read your second paragraph and cried more. You have been an inspiration to me in so many ways and a helper when I got stuck. I’ll never forget your words when I felt frozen and hopeless while writing an article, “Just follow the image.” It was the kind of thing Marion would say and you put me on the right path.
Speaking of love and beauty, my 2nd to last butterfly emerged this morning. It’s so cold outside I brought her into my office so her wings can dry and I can admire her. She has a long journey ahead and probably can’t leave until tomorrow because of unusually cold weather. We’re all trying to love this struggling world and I hope love helps your country, mine, and the many who struggle even more. When I feel frustrated by life, I remember I’m not in Ukraine, my sons aren’t being conscripted, there is no hurricane here, there is food in the kitchen. I have much to be grateful for, including remembering you over the tops of the oaks and across the ocean. With sweet gratitude and love, Elaine
Perfect! She was and is someone extraordinary, and I am happy to know you as a part of this goal. Thank you, dear Elaine, for bringing her teachings to life; then, we can learn more from them.
Thank you, Aladin. I had studied Jungian Psychology since the late 1960s with my teacher Anthony, but Marion awakened something in my heart. Her photo is on my altar along with my root teacher Anthony Damiani and the Dalai Lama. I was thrilled to be asked to give an interview about Marion. It was an honor to know her and learn from her, and I hope I passed some of her inspiration along. Her love embraced everyone in the room, women and men.
This was such a wonderful interview Elaine, you were positively glowing. I also thought how ‘authenticity’ is very identifiable when a person has this quality, because it shows. It showed in many ways – I loved how you clarified about posting a photo from Nature – something of beauty.
I had a thought the other day that the two women I met who I am convinced helped me considerably in the op etc, were like my Black Madonna – although here I had two.
So thank you! So lovely to see and hear you.
Thank you, Susan. Your comment is so loving and supportive. It’s nice to think I might be developing a little self-confidence as I leave behind my “addiction to perfection.” I began putting up one beautiful or interesting photo a day when the pandemic started and we didn’t know how to protect ourselves, so everyone stayed home in lockdown. Looking for beauty had helped me deal with grief when Vic died and this was a new kind of grief. Because of Facebook (with its benefits and limitations), I could share what I discovered each day when I watched the world closely with my camera.
I think you’ve hit the mark when you see the two women who gave spiritual support to you and your wounded leg as Black Madonna figures. I can’t think of a better way to describe your interaction with them and their desire to help and heal you. Just beautiful and may you continue to heal fully.
Thank you for interrupting your Journey to India series to include this wonderful interview about your experiences with Marion Woodman. As your dear poet friend Deborah summed it up, “Well, that was amazing!” It was lovely to hear what you had to say, and I was mesmerized watching you as you talked; your deep authenticity and integrity just shines from you and lights up your beautiful face.
I remember so well the first time I was given a book by Marion Woodman (The Pregnant Virgin) and being completely blown away. She has been a teacher to me ever since; I am currently listening to her CD (The Crown of Age: The Rewards of Conscious Aging) for the umpteenth time. I can’t imagine what it was like to have a personal relationship with her, as you did.
As I was rereading your blog entry, I was struck by the fact that you never found the “precious dream” when you went back to your dream journals. Almost seems like some trickery from Hermes, who knew you didn’t need the words once you had the image of the Black Madonna embedded in your soul.
with love and gratitude,
I’m back to India this week, Anne, but I had to share that surprise interview about Marion Woodman. It was a thrill to be asked to share memories of her. Why me? I can’t answer that. Thank you for reflecting such a positive view of what you saw and heard. I loved ‘The Pregnant Virgin’ but was swept away by ‘Addiction to Perfection’ and I loved working with myths with her at workshops. I wish I could listen to her CDs now. I listened to ‘The Crown of Age’ a little at a time some years ago and just put that on my list to try again this winter. Sounds True has other Marion CDs, too.
Marion was generous with many people and I’m grateful to have been one of them. I cherish her letters and the dreams I shared with her and have copies of most or maybe all of the other dreams. I also lost a letter she wrote and gave me at a dream workshop. I left my book bag in a cab–and the letter was in that bag to read when I got back to the hotel. I spent a wild night with two friends who also attended the workshop as we tried to get the bag back from the cab company with no success. That trickster is always hanging around waiting to turn the ego upside down and shake all the coins and special notes out of our pockets. I hope you’re having a beautiful autumn. Sending love across the land.