Clarissa Pinkola Estés

Women Who Run With the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype by Clarissa Pinkola Estés is an unqualified call to arms for every woman to unleash the Wild Woman buried within her depths. Estés, a Jungian analyst and storyteller, interprets fairy tales and folk tales as empowering how-to guides for women to reconnect with their wild, instinctual natures. She invites women to view wolves as their metaphorical role models, as inspirations to help them unleash the shackles silencing their voices, stunting their behavior, and smothering their instincts.

By incorporating Jungian psychology and women’s intuition, Estés explores such themes as the importance of belonging; the deleterious impact cultural socialization can have on girl’s psychic development; the ways in which women stunt their own development by internalizing the “mother” voice; the recognition that effective mothering is contingent upon being mothered effectively; the necessity of returning to one’s “soul-home” for replenishment and self-nurturance. Each chapter focuses on a specific topic, for example, “Nosing out the Facts: The Retrieval of Intuition as Initiation” or “Finding One’s Pack: Belonging as Blessing.” Estés introduces the topic by summarizing a short tale and then dissecting and analyzing it to reveal its archetypal layers of meaning. She endows even the most seemingly innocuous detail in a story with meaning and significance.    

Estés is a gifted writer who alternates between explaining complex theories of archetypes and expressing her ideas with a folksy turn of phrase. For example, in describing her clients initial fear of Skeleton Woman and the positive qualities she embodies, Estés says: “It [Skeleton Woman] careens into shore, and before you can say jackrabbit, they [Estés’ clients] are running for their lives, and as analyst I am running along beside them trying to put a word in, while guess-who bumpety-bumps along behind.” Her writing is full of similar gems. At times, however, she has a tendency to repeat herself and prolongs explanations unnecessarily as she tries to hammer home her message. And some of her sentences suffer from excessive verbosity. But for the most part, her writing is engaging, lively, and spirited.    

Estés’ discussion is full of interesting insights and theories about why we behave the way we do. Her analysis helps us gain a better understanding of both the internal and external forces that collude to impede our development. With this understanding, we are given the tools for tapping into our inner resources to manifest our authentic selves.    

This is a book that can be read and re-read, slowly and thoughtfully, to extrapolate the nuggets of wisdom to be found in virtually every page. Some sections will prove more relevant than others depending on the individual, his/her experiences and stage in life. Also, the passage that resonates with a reader today may not be the one to resonate with the same individual years from now. But no matter where one is in life, no matter one’s circumstances, there is sure to be something here for everyone.    

Highly recommended.