Stories are medicine…They have such power; they do not require that we do, be, act anything – we need only listen. The remedies for repair or reclamation of any lost psychic power are contained in the stories.Dr Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Women who run with the wolves, (1992)
I first bought a copy of Women who run with the wolves (WWRWTW) back in the ’90s from that quaint online bookshop called Amazon which some said would never take off. I’d just moved into my own place and was hungry for wisdom. I faithfully struggled through the book, and waited, but nothing happened.
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I carried WWRWTW around with me for years, or so I thought, until I set myself the task of rereading it. As it turned out, my copy had disappeared. I now believe it was during a house move a few years ago. The movers were great, very relaxed with an inviting aroma of herbal remedies in their lorry, but when the haze lifted, we found that we’d lost a couple of boxes of books and in exchange we’d been gifted a mirror. Now, there’s a message from numinous if ever there was one. Rather like the one I got from my dad, via a medium, around the same time too: Look into your heart, not your books was what the ghost of my dad past had to say. In life, he often had a lovely turn of phrase probably from all the books he read.
In 2018, not long after my mum had died and I craved comfort, I bought another copy of WWRWTW. Alas, it defeated me again even though I read it slowly over several months and had incredibly vivid dreams. What they were trying to tell me, to this day, I still do not know. Frustrated, I put it back on the shelves as I couldn’t bring myself to give it away. I knew that there was a message in there somewhere for me.
So, earlier this year, I was intrigued when I accidently came across Fairytale Medicine (now updated to Fairytale medicine 2021). What? Really? A whole course on WWRWTW? The bright and colourful web site kept calling to me even though it was quite different from my usual teaching and learning activities. After some deliberation about working outside my comfort zone, I took a leap of faith and signed up in May.
It didn’t take long until I definitely knew that Fairytale Medicine was for me. Clare, the course leader, said that when she had gone to study with Dr Clarissa Pinkola Estes she was disappointed to find out that they weren’t painting their faces and running through the woods of Boulder, Colorado, to connect with the stories. They were, in fact, sitting in a formal lecture theatre taking notes. Rather Clare than me, but I’m so glad that she did, as she has transformed that fusty-dusty academic learning, and a book I just cannot understand no matter how I much I try, into something fantastically light, fun and deep all at once. And, the energy that Sarah and Clare bring to the online makes me feel that I am running through the woods, paint on my face, with my very own fellowship of fairytale adventurers.
As a computer scientist, when I started the course I didn’t think of myself as creative – I was even tempted to draw a flowchart the time we were asked to make a map – but, as we journey on, inspired and supported, I am discovering that I am creative and anything else I want to be – I am a fiery skull, an old crone, a handless maiden, a poetess and even amazingly, a dollmaker. Who knew?
I made a doll last week after having resisted the task for ages, I’m too old for a doll, but, the magic started from the moment I looked around my house to find a pair of H&M pink socks (a regrettable impulse buy at the checkout), a ball of wool, and the last scrap of an old blanket I bought during a trip to Nepal that I took around the same time that I moved into my own place and first bought WWRWTW.
The doll-making process was as magical and as transformative as I had hoped reading WWRWTW would be all those years ago, and every time I look at my doll I feel a rising fierce self-love and certainty, something I don’t have words to describe just yet, all I know is that I had forgotten I could feel this way at all.
Fairytale Medicine is powerful stuff.
We are only halfway through, but my life has changed quite a bit in the last six months – consciously on my part with changes I have made, and subconsciously on whatever part that is working me deep down. This is no mean feat during lockdown. Today, as I write this, we are on the first day of our second UK national lockdown and they are still counting the votes in the US Presidential election.
The fairytale gang, Clare and Sarah, the guest speakers, the self-enquiry, the Facebook group and the shared conversation we have during our weekly online zoom calls helps so much. It is healing and joyful and has both inspired and created change for the good in my life.
I’m even rereading and understanding WWRWTW now, well in small doses. It turns out, the key to understanding was in the fairytales themselves all along – as shero of my own story, I just needed a guide, a fellowship to journey with, and a magic doll. Flowcharts and maps are optional.