What comes after civilisation? – the wild women versus the wild men

In the article that follows I am clearly making what some readers will consider to be sweeping generalisations about a particular set of attitudinal and behavioural differences between men and women. And so I’d like to say a couple of things about that right up front.

First: I am very much aware that not every man and not every woman will fall into the categories of people I’m describing – that there will be many exceptions. I’m a psychologist and a trained scientist; I know that a variety of attitudes and behaviours exists in both men and women. But the evidence that there are also many genuine differences is significant and easily available. And anecdotally, I see it every day in the writings and attitudes of people I come across in the course of my work. It pervades contemporary culture – literature, film, TV … so if my generalisations offend you, please do take the time to do the research. I think you’ll find that there’s a real sex difference here that is worthy of exploration, and it is also related to a very real anti-feminist/anti-woman backlash that we’re seeing more and more of in contemporary ‘culture’. Writers such as Rebecca Solnit are exploring these issues with grace and passion. And just as is the case in the media at large (see this link if you doubt: http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2012/nov/27/women-fighting-sexism-media-page-3) women’s voices in many groups and movements which discuss issues of the kind I’m writing about here are being ignored, marginalised, or actively shouted down. This article argues for the necessary contribution of a uniquely female perspective – not to replace male perspectives, but to be valued equally. More importantly, it argues for listening, for sharing, and ultimately, for balance.

I’ve spent many of the last few years of my reading life retreating from contemporary literary fiction. With a few memorable and very wonderful exceptions, as a genre I’m increasingly finding it more and more dull, the older I get. So little of it either deals with issues that I care about or has narrators and protagonists that I can relate to, and so much of it is focused on issues and on ways of living which seem trivial in the light of the environmental and sociopolitical challenges that dominate the lives of so many of us. And so I find myself more and more, when I read for pure pleasure, reading only science fiction, with a particular penchant for post-apocalyptic and dystopian fiction, or novels about the challenges faced by humans moving to new worlds. No, it’s not about anything as simple as apocalyptic yearnings or wish-fulfilment; it’s simply that I want to read about things that are really worth fighting for, instead of some middle-class North London intellectual’s clever but minor and deeply irrelevant meanderings through what seem to me to be the most meaningless and uninteresting ways of living (with no apologies at all to Ian McEwan). What’s interesting, though, is that no matter how many of those books I’ve become engrossed in over the years, and no matter how beautifully spun the worlds which they present to the reader, there are very few of them that I have wished I could actually live in.

The exception to this rule? It came in a beautiful and unusual book written by a woman – one of the very few women writers who are taken seriously in the male-dominated world of science fiction and fantasy. That ‘other world’ that I still often yearn to live in is the post-post-apocalyptic world of the novel Always Coming Home, by the feminist writer Ursula Le Guin (http://www.ursulakleguin.com/ACH/Index.html) Always Coming Home isn’t really a novel – it’s part-fiction, part-fictionalised anthropology, part … I don’t know what. It defies categorisation, that’s for sure. Published in 1985, it’s about a group of humans – the Kesh – who ‘might be going to have lived a long, long time from now in Northern California’. The book weaves around the story of a Kesh woman called Stone Telling, whose story fills less than a third of the book, with the rest a mixture of Kesh cultural lore (including poetry, prose of various kinds, myths, rituals, and even recipes), essays on Kesh culture, and the musings of the occasional ‘narrator’, Pandora. Pandora describes the book as a protest against contemporary civilization, which the Kesh call ‘the Sickness of Man’. In contrast, LeGuin’s Kesh live in a beautiful simplicity, in small towns, surviving on a mixture of hunter-gathering and farming. They have an elaborate set of rituals to honour the earth and mark the passing of the year and the seasons of a life. They live with respect for each other, and an abhorrence of territoriality and war.

I suppose it’s not surprising that it would take a woman’s vision of the future for me to feel at home. Because what made me want to live among the Kesh was that it offered a world that was built on strong, caring community. A community in which everyone does their bit, everyone’s special gifts are cherished, and no-one is easily marginalised or tossed aside. Problems are dealt with by the community; responsibility is collective. Interestingly, if there’s a problem in this world of LeGuin’s, it’s with some of the men. Only some of them: the ones who still want to go off and play at being warriors. And it is precisely in this contrast that we come right to the heart of an interesting difference that is polarising some men and women today: their differing ideas about how we should handle the possibility of a collapse of global Western civilisation – specifically, how we should live while we’re dealing with that possibility; what might be important in a post-civilised world, and their differing visions for what might constitute a better future.

This is an issue that comes up surprisingly frequently in discussions around and about groups of all kinds – primitivists, disaffected environmentalists, survivalists, collapsoholics – who believe that the collapse of ‘civilised’ society is imminent. In this respect, a number of concerns have been raised by women who’ve participated in such groups (which almost always are male-dominated) about a vision of the world which often predominates in those groups, and which advocates (if you’ll forgive me for the caricaturisation) some brand or other of walking away: heading off into the hills alone or with your immediate family – wife and children, if any – preferably armed, and ideally after having acquired a few survival skills, in order to ensure your own survival in the coming chaos.

There’s a growing number of writings about this issue, but one which particularly spoke to me recently comes from Naomi Smyth (http://howtosurvivethefuture.org/2012/09/07/uncivilisation-and-dark-mountain-anthology-3/) in the context of the Dark Mountain Project’s ‘Uncivilisation’ festival:

“… This field of interest is, like many others, very male-dominated. And that can result in the Dark Mountaineers and friends seeing themselves as lonely pioneers, out on the clifftop leading the way, dragging us recalcitrant girls along behind, like as not whining that there’s no power for our hairdryers. Though there is much that is compassionate and good in this movement, this posturing should be taken with a large pinch of salt. There is also a fetishisation of physical labour and the toughness of withstanding the elements. I’d agree that as more of us need to grow food, and ecological conditions become more erratic, we will all need to become reacquainted with the elements and stretch the capacities of our own bodies. We do need to get in touch with the ecology that we rely on in every possible way. Our alienation from it has caused such irreversible devastation. In that case though, where does the Dark Mountain movement begin to address how we take care of the growing elderly population, and others who are unable to take on this kind of physical challenge? While the Dark Mountaineers are encountering stags in the wilderness, who will look after their elderly mums or disabled children? Or maybe that won’t be such a problem. A few attendees at the festival spoke with casual bluster of ‘die-offs’, and how the key to survival will lie in managing to sit those out until it’s safe to emerge and reconnect with the resourceful few who made it. One man in his 70s joked nervously about ‘killing off all the oldies’ for fuel. Ha ha.

My friend Zoe Young led a session called ‘Bright Valleys’ at last year’s Uncivilisation … Part of Zoe’s point in this session was that come what may in the outside world, the essentials of home and hearth remain the same. The food must be prepared, the fire lit, the children cared for, friendships and loves nurtured. Globally and historically the bulk of this work has fallen to women, and changes less between eras than the range of economically viable careers. From her work on witchhunts among tribal peoples, Zoe said that often when hard times come, the men find it harder to cope because their identity is bound up in going out into the world to provide. This could apply equally to career women whose identities are not also rooted in something more durable. When the particular role they play loses its relevance, they can enter a tailspin of panic and violence.

Women are also often scapegoated in hard times, bearing the brunt of poverty in the developing world, and the harsh end of the cuts in the UK.  Witchhunts are not just for so called ‘primitive’ societies. So the alienated way women are portrayed in several of the stories in [Dark Mountain book 3], and in many of the other ‘survivalist’ and ‘collapse’ narratives out there, is a source of disquiet to me.”

I absolutely don’t want to get sidetracked into discussing the relative merits, accuracies and inaccuracies in the portrayal of any particular movement (and I have many friends who actively participate in the Dark Mountain Project, so my aim isn’t to criticise): this excerpt is simply to illustrate the point that, very broadly speaking, there is often a difference in the ways men and women approach the possibility of collapse. As women, we know how hard any kind of collapse – whether it is a discrete event or just a slow unpleasant decline into a Soylent Green-type future – will be. Because we’re the ones generally who do the active caring. Many women have no problem with the idea of overthrowing industrial society; the question is always what you plan to replace it with. Unfortunately, we know deep in our hearts that something better won’t inevitably arise, and that whatever does arise, it’s probably not going to be pretty for the women. (Sarah Hall’s excellent dystopian novel The Carhullan Army, about a band of women who live a communal existence in the remote hills of Cumbria, imagines for us all we need to know about that. And others, too numerous to mention here.) Women know, too, that you don’t create change or a better vision for the future by running off into the woods, hills or desert and fighting with words, and only coming out when it’s all over. You create change by getting out into the community – the hardest battleground of all – while the bombs are falling and the shit’s still flying, and working with the grassroots. Our strategies for creating and dealing with change include the need to care for those who don’t represent the ‘fittest’ – the sick, the elderly, the disabled. It’s all about transformation, about taking responsibility, about growing community. There’s no room in most women’s lives and minds for running off alone into the hills and mountains with a bunch of survival gear and an intention to sit out the apocalypse (if any), smugly repeating ‘See! I told you so!’ It’s a luxury we can’t afford.

The influence of the men’s mythopoetic movement

To me, with a background in psychology and many years of study and practice in narrative, myth and archetype, this difference in the way women and men approach the prospect of collapse goes deeper still: it goes right to the heart of what it means to be wild – to the heart of the wild man and wild woman archetypes, and the differences between them. This debate about the disconnect between male and female perspectives on how we might live in a way that allows us to more deeply embrace our wild natures isn’t new; the issue was discussed at considerable length in the context of the emergence of the men’s mythopoetic movement in the late 1980s and 1990s. For those of you who aren’t familiar with it, the mythopoetic movement is most notably connected with the poet Robert Bly and specifically with his 1990 book Iron John: A Book About Men. A significant amount of media attention was focused on the movement at the time – mostly in the form of irreverent stories about men running off together into the woods so that (partially clothed and usually bearded, so the stories go) they could get in touch with their “inner,” “mature,” or “deep” masculinity.

Iron John recreates and re-evaluates a Grimm Brothers tale about a young boy who meets a wild hairy man – the Iron John of the title – who becomes the boy’s mentor and initiates him into various stages of development. Bly’s thesis was that contemporary men have become ‘soft’ and disconnected from their inner wildness. The mythopoetic men’s movement which emerged from his work also grew largely as a reaction against the second-wave feminist movement. The movement’s leaders believed that modernisation had led to the feminisation of men, and Bly claimed that contemporary men could counter this problem by rediscovering the Wild Man (Iron John) within themselves. Masculinity in the male mythopoetic movement is defined by a particular set of archetypes: the Wild Man, King and Warrior (echoing, interestingly, themes of masculinity which are associated in other contexts with aggression, assertiveness, leadership and the exercise of power in the public domain).

Robert Bly said as often as he could that mythopoetic men were not trying to injure women, nor were they trying to perpetuate a patriarchal system that disenfranchised women. The mythopoetic approach to masculinity travelled in search of an instinctual wildness, or un-niceness, as Bly put it, that was associated with a kind of fierceness, a ‘forceful action undertaken not with cruelty, but with resolve’. Nevertheless, women watched carefully as the groups of mythopoetic men retreated into the woods to find their inner Wild Man, and in a world still fraught with inequality, rape and violence against women, they saw the painting of faces and the pounding of drums in rather a different light. Gloria Steinem, for example, took Bly to task for his ‘warlike language of kings and battles’ and for what she considered to be a misogynistic attitude that insisted on ‘closeness only to males’ and ‘measured adulthood by men’s [rejection of and] distance from mothers, thus reconstructing patriarchy in a supposedly gentler form.’

Enter the wild woman: Clarissa Pinkola Estes runs with the wolves

A few years after Bly’s book was published, Clarissa Pinkola Estes’ influential Women Who Run With the Wolves: Myths and Stories of The Wild Woman Archetype was published, and remained on the New York Times Best Seller list for 145 weeks. Estes’ perspective on the need for a return to the ‘Wild Woman’ in many ways reflected Bly’s: ‘Wildlife and the Wild Woman are both endangered species. Over time, we have seen the feminine instinctive nature looted, driven back, and overbuilt … The spiritual lands of Wild Woman have, throughout history, been plundered or burnt, dens bulldozed, and natural cycles forced into unnatural rhythms to please others.’ Estes likens the Wild Woman archetype to the wolf: ‘Healthy wolves and healthy women share certain psychic characteristics: keen sensing, playful spirit, and a heightened capacity for devotion. Wolves and women are relational by nature, inquiring, possessed of great endurance and strength. They are deeply intuitive, intensely concerned with their young, their mate and their pack.’

This conception of the Wild Woman archetype as ‘relational by nature … intensely concerned with their young, their mate and their pack’ is clearly very different from Bly’s conception of the Wild Man and the related mythopoetic archetypes which are all tied up with warriors, kings, and the exercise of power. It tells us all that we need to know about women’s values – those very values that we find inadequately reflected and often actively discouraged in male-dominated movements focused on possible post-civilised worlds. The Wild Woman can still be found in the woods, for sure; she can even bang on a drum from time to time. Her journey takes her to the deepest and darkest places inside herself, and she very often needs to run off to be alone. But she always comes home to her community; she always, like the wolf, takes care of her pack. In the context of collapse, those who fully embrace the Wild Woman archetype continue to seek social change and transformation, whereas the Wild Man is all too often focused primarily on himself.

The Hero’s Journey versus the Heroine’s Journey

In the same way that the Wild Man and Wild Woman archetypes differ in their relation to the world and to community, so too do the archetypal mythical journeys associated with them differ. Many people who study mythology today receive their introduction to mythological themes through Joseph Campbell’s work, and in particular, The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Campbell’s welding together of many different stories and myths from a variety of cultures and a variety of historical timepoints very much emphasises the heroic male, the young hero who leaves his village, his home and his family to heed ‘the call to adventure’, struggling alone with the aim of conquering an adversary. He fights various multiple-headed beasts or slays the odd dragon, wins a treasure, and brings it back to the village, at which point some form of personal glory descends upon him. Campbell’s examples of the perfect ‘hero’ at the end of his journey, returning to a world which he now plans to save, are focused on characters such as Buddha and Jesus – hardly just one of the guys. Campbell’s heroes are super-heroes; all too often they are rulers or saviours, rising above the community rather than finding ways to integrate themselves into it.

Do women have a different journey? Do they undergo different stages of initiation? Well, curiously, Campbell didn’t discuss that. Maureen Murdock, a student of Campbell’s work, developed a model of the feminine journey based on her work with women in therapy, and showed it to him in 1983. In the book that followed, The Heroine’s Journey, Murdock explains that Campbell’s response was: ‘Women don’t need to make the journey. In the whole mythological journey, the woman is there. All she has to do is realize that she’s the place that people are trying to get to.’ It would be funny if it wasn’t so appalling.

In criticising Campbell’s refusal of women, I’m not detracting from the rigour of his mythological scholarship, which probably is unsurpassed, and the importance of his vision for contemporary mythological studies. But it’s necessary to understand that Campbell’s framework for the Hero’s Journey is inevitably associated with the values, conventions, and perspectives of the sources from which it draws. Most of the myths he considered arose in societies and in eras of human history in which women were very clearly second-class citizens. It’s not surprising, then, that in Campbell’s seventeen-stage framework for the Hero’s Journey, only two stages (‘Meeting with the Goddess’ and ‘Woman as Temptress’) relate to women; in each of those stages women are peripheral (defined only in relation to the Hero) and Campbell’s consideration of them verges at times on the condescending and patronising.

The Hero’s Journey, then, is clearly designed for male heroes, emphasizing traditional male choices and values, particularly of the American variety; Campbell was a man of his place and time. In spite of Campbell’s dismissal of her work, Maureen Murdock went on to develop a model of the heroine’s journey which, while arguably flawed in many ways, at least offers a more relevant template for those who want to understand the feminine on both a personal and cultural level. In it she describes the cyclical nature of the female experience. While certain aspects of the journey are similar to those of Campbell’s Hero, it emphasises the inner journey as a critical part of women’s initiation, focusing strongly on myths associated with the archetypical Descent to the Underworld – such as the myths of Innana and Persephone. The heroine travels deeply, learns new skills, and develops more authentic and creative ways of living. As in my own view of the Heroine’s Journey, the heroine doesn’t want to kill the dragon, for heaven’s sake: she wants to save it, to transform it, to put the essence of its dragonness to good use in the necessary transformation of the world.

And at the end of her journey? The heroine, Murdock tells us, ‘will then begin to use these skills to work toward the larger quest of bringing people together, rather than for her own individual gain … She brings that wisdom back to share with the world. And the women, men and children of the world are transformed by her journey.’

Healing the masculine – feminine divide

The fact that there are sex differences in the way men and women view the world and their place in it is neither earth-shattering nor problematic. We’ve known that such differences exist for a very long time. What really matters is what we do about them. Those of you familiar with Jung’s work will know about his discussions on the anima and the animus, and about the strength of his focus – for both women and men – on healing the wounded masculine and feminine within. Interesting, Robert Bly and Jungian feminist Marion Woodman wrote a book together – The Maiden King: the Reunion of Masculine and Feminine – that was intended to address these subjects, and to deal with some of the criticisms that the men’s mythopoetic movement had been subjected to. There’s little need, then, to repeat all that here: the individual work of balancing our own masculine and feminine energies is there for anyone to do. But when we broaden out beyond the individual to the societal, the perspectives of both men and women are valuable and necessary in this and other relevant debates; what we should be focusing on is not fighting, but inclusivity. Not polarisation, but balance. Listening. Sharing. Collaboration. Cooperation. Maybe, even, community.


52 thoughts on “What comes after civilisation? – the wild women versus the wild men

  1. This is very interesting and I take your point about generalisations – broadly true though cluster points on a spectrum rather than rigid categories. That said, there’s a strong sense in which these expressed ‘rehearsals of the imagination’ are simply fantasies and have little bearing on how most men (or women) would respond to civilisational collapse. Some years ago, when I was student, I shared a house with a skinny New Agey chap in his 30s who ran ‘Warrior Within’ workshops in the basement. Every Saturday, a group of rather nervous, physically unimpressive chaps would gather to bang drums, roar, and act out their inner warriors. It struck me at the time that anyone who needed to attend a Warrior Within workshop was unlikely to really have a Warrior Within. Ultimately, it was a bit of fantasy roleplaying by men who (it seemed to me) felt inadequately masculine. I could not imagine the guys I trained at martial arts with, or the grizzled, weather-beaten chaps who taught me to sail, going to one of these things. Anyway, just an anecdote but one that underlies my view that many of the men who most enthusiastically imagine themselves as Conan of the Apocalypse would likely wet themselves and recant or die quickly if one ever actually occurred.

    Younger males (teens, early twenties) are a different story though, In the event of civilisational collapse, we’ve only to look at countries like Somalia to see what could happen on that front. Much of that has nothing to do with any sort of noble warrior ethos – it’s sordid, cowardly, destructive, and I don’t know what the answer to it is.


  2. Agree, Sara, and beautifully put:-) I guess the place I was coming from was less a criticism of the mythopoetic men types (I am all for people trying to find their inner truths, in whatever ways work) as a criticism of the non-inclusivity and lack of openness to alternative perspectives of some of the people and groups who shout loudest on these issues – which a number of female friends have also experienced. But ultimately, yes, most of the people who are going to make a difference are out there doing it already rather than talking about how they’re going to do it and what the rest of us should be doing when the deluge finally comes …


  3. Carol Gilligan has written about initiation in respect to gender socialisation, and the break in the psyche created when boys dissociate from the feminine within themselves, and girls dissociate from the masculine within themselves. She describes these two aspects not as masculine and feminine per se but as voice and relationship/care. In very general paraphrase: the idealised, socialised female will suppress or surrender voice (eg her own perspective and agency) in order to maintain relationships, while the idealised, socialised male will suppress or surrender relationship (vulnerability, emotional interdependence) in order to maintain voice. These aren’t conscious choices, they are responses to cultural and social expectations, behaviour and environments.

    I like this way of looking at it, that men and women both hold within them the capacity for relationship and voice, along a spectrum which allows for the unique expression of these capacities by each individual. But then on top of that, gender socialisation impacts on where in the spectrum they are allowed to comfortably dwell, and on how much they exercise each capacity.


      1. Well she first started to explore the issue of women’s voice in her book In a Different Voice, written in the 70s I think? Her most recent book, Joining the Resistance, was published about 2 years ago now, and it reflects in hindsight on her work and research, with a particular look at the experience of adolescent young women who are resisting the expectation to surrender voice (hence the title.) She also wrote about masculine and feminine in the context of mythology in her book The Birth of Pleasure. 🙂


  4. There’s an awful lot in here that I agree with utterly. I’m a huge fan of Clarissa Pinkola Estes, and Ursula K Le Guin. I’ve also been thinking an awful lot about feminine mythology, Inanna and Persephone, and it’s awesome (if slightly creepy) to see that we’re floating around the same issues.

    The one thing I do have a bit of a problem with is the idea that there are any absolute ‘male’ and ‘female’ narratives or spheres. I know you covered it in your intro, but it’s something I’m particularly sensitive to as a woman who is more likely to want to be out in the woods, beating a drum, than keeping the hearth and the home.

    Personally? I think that it’s important to view the whole thing not as male and female people, stories, and narratives for dealing with collapse, but as masculine and feminine forces, both of which are present in varying quantities in different individuals. It’s a subtle difference, but it’s one that’s important if we’re going to build a world that is welcoming to everyone: including women who feel drawn to wander the woods alone, with a spear and a firesteel.


    1. Allegra – I know, and agree. And of course I’ve simplified a bit here or I’d have 10,000 words worth. Murdock’s ‘Heroine’s Journey’ has aspects of the ‘Hero’s Journey’ and if I’ve given the impression that it’s about sitting at home just doing caring then I’ve not done it justice. The real difference to me in all of this is that however we pursue our individual journeys, we do it in a way that is relational, inclusive, and community-led. As simple as that: that is the key difference, whether you’re out with your drum or raising the kids – or ideally, both! We’re talking about incredibly complicated phenomena (as Julia indicates in her comment below) in a necessarily simplified way. I certainly don’t mean to be essentialist about male-female differences.


  5. hi friends … i was absolutely LOVING this post until i got to your treatment of campbell’s work. perhaps i am a desensitized, ignorant male… stuck in “privilege”. It’s possible. But if “equality”, freedom, community, love, support and great vitality is what we’re after, I think you’re making a couple of mistakes. Firstly, there’s enough subtlety and lack of context to Campbell’s apparent reaction, that positing it as a “refusal of women” is a move bordering on divisive sensationalism. I sooo don’t get that reading from it. Rather, I actually hear it echoing and supporting some of the sentiments that you propose earlier in the work. For heaven’s sake you say it yourself – “It tells us all that we need to know about women’s values … she always comes home to her community; she always, like the wolf, takes care of her pack.” This is what I hear Campbell touching on. He’s not saying that women don’t have a life journey, but that at the level of awakening (which is the point of mythology) the male has to make an inner journey only in that his tendency (as you pointed out!) is to stray away from community and care – he must realize that that’s where its at. Women, as you point out (and as campbell points out) are “already there.” Their values (generally) are situated in the midst of what really matters.

    Moreover, I think you are holding up mythological, poetic material as literal prescription. And that if “healing the masucline feminine divide” is your goal, this is a huge mistake. You’re confusing mythological poetic energies which are represented as male and female with male bodies and female bodies…. You’re taking the offerings of mytholgy too literally. One of my favorite poetic teachings right now is the “female form” of Vajrayogini. I glean so much instruction, vitality and inspiration from this teaching, and I’m sooo not confused that it’s a female. I don’t say, “this teaching has nothing for a man.” I don’t say, “oh this teaching is only for women.” I know that the depiction is ME … it’s MY INNER SELF, in this case represented by a female form. And knowing that, I get inspiration and insight which helps me live in the world as a man. Mythology with male heroes is not speaking to men… it’s speaking to your inner self. The inspiration you glean from the story (if any) helps you come back and be a good woman. To take these stories literally is to entrench deeper into separation and dysfunction. Peace


    1. Hi Raven – I did try to say that Campbell’s work has many fine things about it. It also has things which are less fine. His approach to the world is deeply anthropocentric and mine isn’t. His focus on the journey is deeply male, and mine isn’t. That doesn’t mean that I hate him or dismiss his work; it does mean – and this is normal and OK, I think – that there are certain aspects of it I personally don’t like or agree with. Murdock presented Campbell’s reaction to her work in that way (in interviews as well as in the book) and as only she was there it’s really hard to know how to justify taking it differently. But it doesn’t matter: the only point I was trying to make is that the Heroine’s Journey has (not surprisingly) different aspects to it which are not covered in the Campbell model.

      Again – this is a short article and these are complex issues. I absolutely 100% do not ever hold up mythical material as literal prescription; that would be ridiculous and would make them completely irrelevant to today’s world. (Also, I don’t see any evidence of it in the article; I certainly didn’t intend to put it there.) You can’t do psychology with literal prescription, and the whole point about myths and stories is that the images, metaphors, learnings within them speak to us all as individuals – we take from them what they give to us. I certainly didn’t say that only myths with strong female characters are relevant to women, either; I’ve been deeply moved by myths and stories with male protagonists and have used them in therapy with women. My point was much broader than that: that there are aspects of that journey as he delineated it that don’t apply to women and that critical aspects of women’s journeys aren’t covered in it. That’s nothing to do with male and female BODIES, it’s about properly representing women’s LIVES.

      That’s all! – hope it makes more sense.


          1. Hi Sharon…

            I’ve re-read your piece here, and again, while i appreciate the territory, I’m still disturbed.

            You say, “Campbell’s welding together of many different stories and MYTHS … very much emphasises the heroic male.” The next paragraph starts, “Do women have a different journey? Do they undergo different stages of initiation?” This shows to me that you have melded the myths with the lives. You’re not asking if “the mythological women” have a different journey, you’re asking if “women have a different journey,” and as such there is a conflagration of the two, mythological stories of women and the lives of women.

            I’m not saying that it’s not rich territory for interpretation and discussion, however, your reaction to Campbell’s comment, feeling ‘appalled’ and suggesting that it constitutes a “refusal of women” plays off of and entrenches the male female divide, it doesn’t address it.


  6. Fascinating article. I do appreciate your disclaimer at the very beginning, because I for one, do not resonate with 99% of the ‘feminine’ talk that exists today. I was born and raised here in America [the Midwest and East coast respectively]; however I wasn’t raised with a Western Mindset or a closed Traditional community mindset. I was raised what I like to call ‘beneath the radar’, with a pinch of both worlds; just enough to establish a foundation, however with the never-ending encouragement from my mother to always, Always go within for guidance. To this day, I continue to do so.

    It is great to see and hear talk of the ‘re-defining’ of feminine or what it means to be a woman; however this addresses an issue with those raised within the Western mindset. I am sure there is a lot out in the world that is still ‘under the radar’ that the Western Woman [or Traditional Woman] is missing and will probably not come across in this lifetime. Yet, for the current times [I believe that would be labeled under ‘contemporary’] the concern is with the re-defining’ of feminine and woman, mostly with regards to the Western Woman – since it is the values of the West that governs the world.

    I really loved this paragraph in your post:
    “Do women have a different journey? Do they undergo different stages of initiation? Well, curiously, Campbell didn’t discuss that. Maureen Murdock, a student of Campbell’s work, developed a model of the feminine journey based on her work with women in therapy, and showed it to him in 1983. In the book that followed, The Heroine’s Journey, Murdock explains that Campbell’s response was: ‘Women don’t need to make the journey. In the whole mythological journey, the woman is there. All she has to do is realize that she’s the place that people are trying to get to.’ It would be funny if it wasn’t so appalling.”

    For the first two questions, I say yes. I am sure a lot of people, both men and women, would agree. That is obvious because one is a male and one is a female. Both are different. What I find interesting here is Murdock’s work on women in therapy. Her findings seem to be based on women defined by man’s image of women. My curiosity on all things out there to guide women back to ‘self’ is, where’s the research and work done on women that have NOT been defined or interpreted by men?? That’s probably a question a lot of us have asked, be it consciously or unconsciously. Perhaps Murdock’s work is based on the first phase of that journey Campbell mentions in his response to her. First, there is that journey or liberating oneself from the defined image given to women based on men’s ideas/ideals/filters/interpretations. The stars know that men themselves have their own absent knowledge of who they are in essence, so of course their concepts on women would be inaccurate.
    Second, and this is a huge personal observation and opinion, perhaps what Campbell was pointing to exists in the very last sentence of the above quote – “All she has to do is realize that she’s the place that people are trying to get to”. That is a powerful statement; yet there is the lack of telling how that is. Of course the lack would be there, because NO ONE has spoken of it from a place of authenticity, without pain/hurt, blame, or judgement.

    What is it exactly that people have been and are trying to get to? Especially now? If Campbell is hinting at it, then perhaps that should be the focus of a woman’s initiation into the true essence of HERself.

    One thing I would like to point out within myths, using that last quote by Campbell – if woman has been there, the guiding force of the man’s journey throughout, then that is a huge testament to the overall importance of Woman in any world. It would state that any world cannot fully function without the presence of Woman. That the presence of Woman is a key factor. However, clearly defining it must come from Woman, and not Man. Man can give his experience of woman, and that will be based on judgments and filters. The definition of Woman must come from Woman…not from a woman defined by the ideas of men, which is usually from a place of hurt.

    Then there’s the separating of Woman from Feminine and Men from Masculine because the latter are nothing but qualities. They exist in both. I see it as something that should also be int eh process of re-defining women. Perhaps this is already out there – I’ve become so unfulfilled with the debate, I often wonder if people have overlooked the foundation from where they present their work. If you are basing your work [I’m using you/your to generalize] on what comes through in therapy, then it should be made known that that is only part of the work, part of the way. For in the words of Mircea Eliade and many Indigenous sayings “In order to have power over something, you must know its Origin”.


    1. Thanks for the thoughtful comment. It’s an interesting question, who defines women’s image, but most of the therapy that Murdock did with women (and that people like me have done) gets right to the very heart of that. Murdock’s book is all about redefining women in their own image. As is ‘Women Who Run With the Wolves’. I think you’d enjoy them!

      And yes, there is an interesting point (raised also by Raven, below) in relation to that statement of Campbell’s, ‘She’s the place that people are trying to get to.’ As you suggest, in one way you can read it as very powerfully affirming the centrality of women in the world; in another you can read it as women having no active agency of their own and being there only so that men can ‘get to them’ after their long hero’s journey so that they can make it all OK in the end. (I’m simplifying!) It’s that latter aspect of that sentence only that I’m taking issue with. That’s where the problem comes from, with women’s roles in the world being defined by their relationship to men. Women have fought long and hard, and are still fighting, for their own ways of looking at the world and themselves to be just as valid. I believe that if we can’t get that straight in ourselves, and accepted by men, then that business of healing the masculine-feminine divide is always going to fail.

      Which is a too-negative note on which to end. I wouldn’t be putting this out there if I didn’t believe it could be done!


  7. I want only to leave a note of appreciation for the wonderful conversation here, initiated by your stellar writing, Sharon. Having lived the life of a drum beating wild-wife all of my adulthood, removed from larger society for thirty years, (no radio, tv, telephone) , its fascinating and quite invigorating to find the evolution of ‘Change’ that is occurring. In the tiny community nearest us, indigenous values still rule our involvement.
    It’s good to see interest in re-invigorating, re-enchanting, re-inhabiting our relationships with the wild and one another. Thank-you each for your part.


  8. Interesting piece and well written too. My main beef with it is the assumption that everything is going to collapse. We are utterly addicted to the idea that our culture/economy/planet is going to collapse/undergo tremendous change/end entirely. Our Western minds are underpinned by early Christian thinking, like a template etched into brass. You can remove the religion, but the thinking still remains underneath, unconscious and eternal. Therefore, apocalypse, plague and destruction are ever expected, even longed for. These events are proof of a vengeful God, punishing us for our iniquities.

    No one seems to take the view that we may (probably with some hiccups and complaints), adjust to our changing conditions, adapt and invent. Humans are extraordinarily resourceful, male or female.

    Perhaps the reason women’s views are not adequately represented in the realms of post-apocalyptic thinking, is because we are not actively participating in any numbers as we instinctively know it’s indulgent nonsense.


    1. Pollyanna – there are actually a number of very serious people from all disciplines out there with a lot more expertise than I have, who have delineated very clearly all of the reasons why a collapse is highly likely. I’m not competent to argue for them but there is plenty of good valid reasoning and plenty of credible references to read up on. I absolutely don’t consider it to be indulgent nonsense. For me personally I think it’s more indulgent to believe that humans, having caused as much destruction as we have, and continuing to do so in the name of endless growth, will stop doing it just in the nick of time. (Though most experts believe that the nick of time has already long gone.) I could pour examples out; the UK government’s approval of an enormous tax break for fracking this week is just one recent example amongst too many to mention. We’re adapting and inventing our way to a dead planet.

      We’ll have to agree to disagree on that one 🙂


  9. Also (just realised I wanted to add something else), I’m not clear why you find Campbell’s view so offensive. What he is saying is that men need to go on a journey to discover their gold, but that women are always connected to theirs. He is essentially saying that woman is life. It’s seems to me that we are entirely missing the point if we think that he is excluding women or refusing them. I know that it often appears that way in his writings and interviews. He is of an era that had no language for the true role of women, so I imagine he struggled with trying to express this. In fact I have heard an interview where he stated that he was always viewing it from a man’s perspective – an admission of not having the full picture.

    I believe there is another way to view his comments. Woman is life, she is always present, always connected to the deep wellspring of life, not needing external trials or a journey to reach her truth. That is why the wild woman always returns to community, because she is life and instinctively protects it. We have been led astray by trying to ‘keep up with’ and emulate the masculine ideal. We have desired fairness at the expense of our own inner natures.

    By the way, thank you for this provocative piece.


    1. Think I’ve covered that in replies to the comments below, Pollyanna. It’s because, as he said the words, they give women little agency outside of their relationship to men. And yes, Campbell did agree consistently in other writings and interviews, when challenged, that that was how he saw the world. But arguing over words that we never heard – and we can’t possibly know better than Murdock who was actually there how they were meant – isn’t the point, really. Murdock, others, myself – we’re clearly not arguing for women to emulate the masculine ideal. If we wanted to emulate the masculine ideal we’d be holding up the Hero’s Journey as a perfect example of how women should live. We’re arguing for our own form of agency, and the right to be defined by people who understand women’s lives – that would be ourselves – and not by folk like Campbell who clearly didn’t (yes, because of the era he grew up in, no doubt).

      Thanks for engaging!


  10. Hi Sharon, thanks for thoughts – and the reading tips! I will have to get me a copy of ‘Always Coming Home’.

    As with others above, my first instinct was also that Campbell was saying something positive about the difference in men’s and women’s inner experience – though I wonder if earlier myths are more balanced in terms of gender agency, becoming increasingly biased towards the male perspective / protagonist as patriarchy advances.

    Of course, the nature of the psyche is such that the same truth can be represented in different ways – as men going on a solo journey, while women stay rooted in connection, for example; or as two different kinds of journey, men going out into the unknown space beyond, whilst women descend down into the underworld; or as men encountering a witch in the woods and women encountering a wolf; or as a male and a female child both entering the gingerbread house together.

    Ultimately, these are all symbols of something that is both a journey, in the sense of self-development and discovery, and a staying-still, in the sense of doing inner work, wherein all the “unknown territory” discovered is just a part of the self. And then we have a further complication that what is discovered in these journeys and stillnesses is often a connection to the opposite pole within oneself – men’s animae and women’s animuseses.

    Each of which have the capacity to go on journeys and discover stillnesses of their own…

    All of which, I suppose, is simply to say that both men and women have both masculine and feminine within them (albeit, perhaps, on average, in slightly different proportions), each of which in turn are made up of both yin and yang in different proportions, and so on all the way down to the last turtle. This being so, I think all of these stories and practices can be of benefit to people of any gender on different levels and at different times of their lives, and can all be embraced.

    Children, as ever, understand and play with this automatically (until they’re trained not to) – a boy can feel as empowered watching ‘Mulan’ as a girl identifying with Luke Skywalker. Hayao Miyazaki is particularly good on this, I think.

    Anyway, thanks for the stimulus! I’m off to encounter some stags now… 🙂


    1. Thanks for the insightful comments, Steve. I’m beginning to wonder why people are so averse to the idea that Campbell wasn’t especially interested in women’s journeys, because really that’s all I’m saying, and that’s all that Murdock was saying too: not that he was a bad person or even a bad scholar and certainly not that he was misogynistic. I’d imagined it was just a simple statement of fact … Anyway: yes, I think you’re right; the myths that he primarily considered were heroic myths. There are certainly plenty from matriarchal societies (some earlier, some not) that he doesn’t consider and which present I think a more meaningful reflection of women’s lives and concerns. And it is those myths that Murdock and others like her have gone back to in their writings about women’s journeys. All of the points you and others have made are relevant; I would only encourage you all perhaps to read Murdock’s book to get a better flavour of how she presents the heroine’s journey and that very question of the anima/animus issues that I mentioned at the end of my article but didn’t feel I had the space to pursue (and so much has been written about that by others already). There is much that is common to both genders, for sure, and yes: balance is critical in all of this – it is precisely what I was arguing for. But the fact remains, I think, that what primarily distinguishes the two types of journey – yes, simplified and generalised as they are – is that the heroine’s journey is very much more focused on healing the world and the community after you’ve healed yourself. That doesn’t make it better: it makes it different, and I wrote this article because I believe we need to recognise that difference and make room for it in our discussions.
      Enjoy the stags 🙂


      1. I’m concerned with the way you’ve handled the Campbell section in the work above because I think it entrenches the male female divide. I soooo don’t see his legacy as somehow being more interested in men than women… that’s what you’re saying isn’t it?

        I don’t think you’re being clear enough about the word “journey” to use it the way you do. When you say that he wasn’t interested in “women’s journeys” it’s as though you’re saying that he didn’t care about women. Also, it’s as though you’re using the fact that the myths he brings up involve the “male hero” to mean he thinks women can’t be heros in life. And thirdly, if Campbell did interpret the mythology into prescriptions for men and women, I think you’re vastly under representing it in your treatment. For example, if he did suggest that men had to go through some kind of drastic ordeal or go on a specific “journey” to come to their senses and that women were more naturally in touch with their senses, I don’t see how that constitutes “a refusal of women” or some kind of lack of interest in their life journey… i see it as a specific treatment of the material… one that’s open to dialog as far as i can see. I’ve only studied Campbell a little but I remember him telling stories about the women who he mentored and taught at Sarah Lawrence. It stuck me that he was VERY concerned with the journeys of their lives.


        1. Hello again Raven – I’m replying to both of your recent comments here as WordPress has clearly had enough of the nesting in the older thread below 🙂

          First off, all I can do is repeat again that I’m not suggesting Campbell disliked women or anything similar. Yes, he taught at Sarah Lawrence, and yes, he acknowledged several times that teaching women had expanded the boundaries of his own thought. However, it is very clear to me, and it has often been commented on often, so I haven’t just made it up, that Campbell’s focus was on the Hero’s Journey and he didn’t write about the inner journey of women. He said so to Murdock and he said it several times in other interviews. I don’t think this is a problem – he wasn’t a woman so if he had he’d probably not have done it justice – I simply think it is a fact. What you make of that fact get angry, sad, think it’s irrelevant, whatever – is up to you.

          On your comment that I’m entrenching the male-female divide by pointing out that Campbell didn’t focus on the Heroine’s Journey, or by insisting that the Heroine’s Journey is different and that women need to have a voice too – well, if you can’t accept that I don’t know where to begin 🙂 We ARE different. We sometimes have different needs. Certain aspects of our inner lives are sometimes different. Certain aspects of our outer lives sure as shit are different. I hope you’ll forgive a strong response here – I’m not intending to be argumentative – but maybe sometimes you just have to have been a woman, treated as irrelevant, shouted down, criticised, called a harpy when you try to put forward a different perspective on the world – blah blah blah – in order to see that this is not just some luxury for women who have nothing better to do with their lives, but critical to both healing the male-female divide and maybe even the world.

          And finally: I’m not sure what you mean by ‘real’. To me the inner life is life. The imagination is life. These journeys are journeys of the heart, of the imagination, and that is as ‘real’ to me as anything. But perhaps you’ve not understood the way those of us who make use of these journey ideas in psychology – that is, moving out of the realms of pure mythology – are working. Those of us who use these journeys and all of the rich metaphors and images nestled within them in therapy are using them as guidance for life. For who you decide to be, where you decide to live, what job you decide to take. I use the Heroine’s Journey to explain to a woman why a ‘midlife crisis’ isn’t a crisis at all but an opportunity. I tell her that she’s not going mad – that everyone must enter the underworld (for that, read have a really hard time reevaluating their lives, make some difficult decisions, lick their wounds, explore their dreams, their creativity, all of the things they maybe have never had time to do as they’ve hurtled through either the wrong journey up to now or a journey that was very fine but nevertheless needs to take a different turn …) but that everyone also comes out transformed. I work with them to explore the boundaries of that transformation: what it means for them, what it means for their community. I use that journey and the rich metaphors and images nestled within it to help women transform not only their perspectives on themselves but their actual real everyday lives. Where will they live. How will they live. This is real! What I can’t do is use the Hero’s Journey to do the same thing. It doesn’t work for most women. It doesn’t resonate. They don’t want to kill a monster and come out triumphant (I’m simplifying again or I’ll be here all day!) They want to make the Heroine’s Journey, not the Hero’s Journey. We are different creatures, and that is OK. That’s not entrenching a divide, it’s recognising that there is one, not trying to fit round woman pegs into square male holes, and celebrating that difference (as I have tried to do briefly in the last section of the article).

          Sorry, Raven. I understand your concerns and very much appreciate you engaging with me politely and constructively in spite of them, and hope you’ll forgive a fairly robust response in return, but I think there is something here that’s maybe worth listening to? I’m back right where I started …


          1. Raven – sorry, on reflection I’m wondering if some of this disconnect is because you’re not used to looking at myth in this way? In which case (and apologies if this isn’t the case; of course I know nothing about you) then I can recommend reading Bly. I’m actually a big fan of his work and there’s lots that’s good to be derived form it. I’m so used to talking to folk steeped in Jung that sometimes I forget this.


  11. To show how much I’ve over-simplified here in focusing on women’s archetypes and journeys that are community-centric, those of you interested in following up might enjoy this article on those which derive from Jung’s work: http://jungian.info/library.cfm?idsLibrary=7 Note The Hetaira, who probably represents the kind of female archetype Campbell was referring to in the comment he made to Murdock: ‘Unlike the mother, she is not interested in family or community. Rather she is interested in one-on-one relationships with males that challenge her and in which she can challenge them. She is not at all interested in providing some womb like environment of safety. Rather she is interested in providing the opportunity for the male to challenge himself to stretch his ideologies, philosophies and perceptions of life to include feminine perspectives with challenge him to level 3 and 4 anima projections which may lead him to develop the Sophiic qualities of wisdom. The hetaira may limit herself to an individual male, but may as well feel very comfortable having such relationships with more than one male. The hetaira is not interested in holding onto relationship that are not growing and maturing. She has either formally or informally spent a lot of time studying the ways of the world and the ways of the male. As with the mother, she innately understands the power of her feminine nature, but she understands it as a psychological vessel rather than a physical vessel. She has an excellent grasp of the relationship between the physical and philosophic worlds as well as her inner and outer realities. Sexual intimacy is not strictly a physiological experience for the hetaira, although traditionally she is very creative in such relationships. The choice to indulge in sexual intimacy is based on the hetaira’s personal preferences and interests. However, one minimal requirement is that the male readily and willingly rises to her creative ideological challenges. Only with such effort will he have even the slightest possibility of indulging in the sexual joys of the hetaira. Regardless of sexual choice, her main interest still lies in being a friend and confidant to the male and encouraging him to expand his horizons to the broadest of possible perspectives.’


  12. Hi Sharon,

    I read this post a few days ago, on my mobile waiting for a friend and was heartened, thankful, as I appreciated so much of how you have articulated in these important and timely ideas.

    I don’t have a lot of knowledge of Campbell’s work at all, other than been very aware of the ‘heroes journey’ being such a fundamental template for a lot of western cultural works, and I have been involved/know about Dark Mountain as an onlooker. I’m listed on their site and have so appreciated their work to highlight cultural responses to this earth under such ecological stress, but have often wondered at the lack of other voices in the discourse and some leading exponents of the group suggesting just a ‘withdrawing’ from society approach. To me, some perspectives from Dark Mountain and other groups too are coming from under-acknowledged positions of comfort/wealth/education/privilege. I have preferred to seek other writers/artists, activists, environmental legal types, who are sensitive to other cultures/indigenous views of relating to the land and also feminist writers too. It now makes some sense to me what I have been searching for/missing and I think your article has helped me see this. I think its important too, that you have emphasised the caring/community/relating work that will be fundamental in the many challenging transitions we will be facing.

    Thanks again Sharon.


    1. Thanks, Cathy. Glad it provided some perspective. I don’t think any one group is ever going to be all things to all people but I do more generally fear that the lack of women’s voices and perspectives when it comes to discussing these issues is a real danger when you look at the bigger picture. I have sometimes thought that we need a new ‘group’ or movement that focuses on women’s perspectives, but I don’t believe that any longer – (a) because that wouldn’t help heal the divide and (b) because I think it’s not about groups at all but rather about loose communities (such as you seem to have found). Rising above the kind of ‘group membership’/ gang attachment thing entirely and just getting on with talking to and working with those who seem to share our values, men and women alike. Anyway: thanks for the thoughts!


  13. This is great, and I’m enjoying the complex navigations of language and thought going on in the comments – thanks for posting it, Sharon: this is important stuff that so easily – and often – gets swept aside (consciously or not, and often the latter, I’m sure) by those with the loudest voices. The fact is, an encyclopaedic knowledge of myth and story doesn’t guarantee any understanding of privilege or systems of power, nor does a thorough immersion in the wilds *or* Jungian analysis of our complex humanity. Thanks again – I look forward to more about this!


  14. I am disturbed by this.

    Obviously I disagree with some of the characterisations about Dark Mountain, which I feel are partial and in some cases (I know for a fact) agenda and personality-driven.They also seem to show little respect for the many women who are actually involved in running the thing. I hear certain people on the margins (not you) having a pop at DM for being overly male, but those people never include the women who are involved in making it happen in the ‘critique’ or ‘dialogue’ they are calling for. This makes me suspicious of their integrity and their agendas.

    More than this though, I sense a lack of respect for the search that some men might be on, in much of this discussion. it’s almost as if that search itself, for male self-actualisation, is to be regarded with suspicion. Let me just quote from boneland, above:

    ‘I shared a house with a skinny New Agey chap in his 30s who ran ‘Warrior Within’ workshops in the basement. Every Saturday, a group of rather nervous, physically unimpressive chaps would gather to bang drums, roar, and act out their inner warriors. It struck me at the time that anyone who needed to attend a Warrior Within workshop was unlikely to really have a Warrior Within. Ultimately, it was a bit of fantasy roleplaying by men who (it seemed to me) felt inadequately masculine.’

    Well – that’s lovely, isn’t it? Lots of sneering at mens’ physical appearance, laughing at their attempt to find something they think they have lost, and dismissing their attempts to find it again, in the company of other men. What would you rathe they were doing – going out and getting pissed and beating up women? And if they did feel ‘inadequately masculine’ and wanted to get together to address that – do you think the right response was to laugh at them?

    If I were to make a similarly dismissive comment about a gathering of eco-feminists ‘howling over the bones’, which focused on their physical appearance and their supposed inadequacies, how long would it take you to call me a misogynist? And probably rightly.

    Overall here, as a man, I sense an undertone that I find unpleasant. As so often in these discussions, I also find a confusion between some men wanting to ‘find’ their maleness, and men wanting to use it to dominate women. There are plenty of occasions where the latter is the case, of course, and I wouldn’t seek to question anyone’s experience of this. I’ve had plenty of experience of it in my own life.

    But attacking or mocking male attempts to connect with a genuine maleness in an increasingly dehumanised an mechanised society is not ‘healing the divide’, it’s perpetuating it. I feel that care should be taken. I think your attack on Iron John is also suspect in this regard. Perhaps to appreciate that book you need to be a man, just as to appreciate Estes you need to be a woman. Perhaps that needs to be respected. I read Iron John closely, and I found nothing but clear and deliberate respect for feminism and for women – openly stated, throughout. But I also resonated strongly with the book’s core message – that the lack of initiation in our culture, of men by men, is one of the reasons that so many adult males are actually still boys – and that that is the reason (or one reason) they treat women with such disrespect.

    I think this story is more complex than you understand, and I think these questions are going to be resolved only by honest, open, agenda-gree discussions. There’ll be a women’s space, curated by women and running all weekend, focusing on these questions, at the Dark Mountain festival this year. Perhaps you may find it useful.


    1. Hello Paul – I’m not going to get into a fistfight with you over Dark Mountain, which is what usually happens when someone takes issue with it in some way and you feel duty bound to reply with some force. I also disagree that you can simply pass off a bunch of very genuine feelings that other people have about Dark Mountain as ‘agenda and personality-driven’. It makes me want to say that I rest my case 🙂 This wasn’t about Dark Mountain, and I’m not interested in making it so.

      On Bly and Iron John – I have NOT attacked either Bly or ‘Iron John’. As I said in reply to a comment below, I’m a big fan of Bly’s work, and have worked with ‘Iron John’ a good deal in my narrative psychology work with men who want to find their ‘maleness’. It’s rich and fine. I used the mythopoetic men’s movement and the debate it generated at the time in this article in an effort to contrast it with a vision of women for women and by women. As I stated clearly at the end of the article my call here is for both voices to be heard – not just women, but sometimes, for heaven’s sake, women – and for none (as is so often the case, don’t you think?!) to be shouted down.


      1. I feel unsure about the purpose of “simplifying” an argument for the sake of a short piece – the piece is not that short, or that simple, and I would prefer the complexity condensed rather than be signposted elsewhere to it . After all gender politics is complex. Within gender prejudice, like any prejudice, one person must not be made to stand for all – this seems to happen in the article. Similarly, stating that one will make generalisations, just means one has observed one has made them, not that the problems of the generalisations evaporate.

        So it seems there are 2 voices I can discern, one sharply aware of this complexity and the need for nuance and mixing of gender – which would be the erotic – and another set on separating the genders out in quite a forceful and sometimes impatient way.

        I guess this would correspond to the 2 movements in a jungian alchemical approach to the psyche as “rex et regina” “coagula et separatio” that is the masculine and feminine join and separate endlessly to form the philosopher’s stone/self.

        At points , women seem to be characterised as caring and community oriented, and men as aggressive and selfish. This seems unbalanced. It diminishes both as it does not allow for a feminine shadow, nor a positive masculine archetype.

        The end of the article returns to the tone of balance and mutuality – anima and animus.

        I have some other points I would like to share. One – I think that the “separating” voice in the piece that seeks a heroine’s journey misunderstands something of the mythic quest. I have worked with the Hero’s quest during my dramatherapy training. (The group was facilitated by women and 3/4 of the trainees in my group were women) The Hero’s quest does not seem to be about man slaying the dragon, as opposed to the woman nurturing it, but about the meeting with and integration of the shadow. Men and women in my group were able to work with the structure in a profound way. People find within the psyche itself what they need, and which myth to use. The Descent into the Underworld is similarly not necessarily gender bound. The psyche itself seems pretty fluid in its dealings with gender – think how fluid identity becomes in dreams or the creative process. Women as much as men needed to fight the dragon at times, because integration does not comes without struggle, and a woman may need to find her warrior strength as much as a man.

        Then, there is the image of women looking suspiciously at men going off to drum in the woods in a world of rape and violence, and getting in touch with warrior and king spirits. I am with Paul on this in his reply – I think that really in a world of rape and violence, a group of men looking to deepen and affirm their masculinity in a creative way are not the ones to be looking suspiciously at. I would look down the centre of town on a saturday night. Dark Mountain also seems open to diversity. The warrior or king spirit does not go away by being disapproved of, it just becomes more unconscious. I think the problems may lie elsewhere.

        I am also do not find Campbell’s quote appalling – unless seen as some kind of final ultimatum on femininity. The idea that the feminine could be seen as something that is right there all, or the destination at the end of a particular quest seems potentially profound.

        I think that it is in these comments section that the piece becomes more whole and finds the balance it seeks in its conclusion, as a variety of voices attempt in eloquent ways to address this timeless, complex question.

        Thanks for the article and for sharing your thoughts and writing.


        1. Hello Lupine – thanks for contributing. In order to deal with all of the complex issues surrounding this article, I’d need to write a book; another 3000 words wouldn’t have helped. And I wasn’t writing about everything there is to know about archetypes, the Hero’s Journey, Joseph Campbell, Robert Bly or anything else. I was, as I’ve stated elsewhere in these comments, making a very simple point in this article: that the wild man and wild woman archetypes differ in some significant respects (I’m talking archetypes here, and clearly they’re not visible in all examples of each sex) and one is favoured in some contemporary discourses while the other is often ignored, dismissed, or actively shouted down. And archetypes by definition are unbalanced constructs; the whole point of them is that they represent a single given specific element of the human psyche.

          I hope you will forgive me if I disagree that I misunderstand the nature of the mythic quest, but that’s just because I have a large amount of both training and practice in it 🙂 That doesn’t mean to suggest that I know everything that there is to know, or that my opinions are always correct, but I do come to these issues from a place that goes beyond reading a book or two or doing a course (I know nothing about your own background so this comment is not aimed at you!) It is possible to use the Hero’s Journey in many ways, and meeting with and integrating the shadow is just one small aspect of the overall journey of the psyche identified by Jung to which the Hero’s Journey can be applied. It is not the only one, nor the ‘correct’ one.

          The Campbell thing is perplexing. I don’t want to be the place anyone gets to; I’m not interested in being a man’s destination; I want a journey of my own. I’m beginning to believe this is quite unreasonable of me 🙂

          Many thanks again for sharing your thoughts too; they’re very welcome even when we differ.


          1. Thanks for replying Sharon. I am impressed by the extent of your replying! It is generous. I do not know if you misunderstand the mythic quest – i just think that the piece of writing above misunderstands the hero’s quests when it assumes that the aim is to kill the dragon.

            I mention my training group because it means i can speak from experience. The Hero’s quest was the culmination of 3 years of training to become a state registered dramatherapist. I and both male and female friends and colleagues found it quite profound and i would say transformative. Paradoxically, confronting shadow and being prepared to fight seemed to allow me to be more in touch with the kind of inner strength that comes from allowing oneself to vulnerable.

            That is why I wanted to state that point that it seems a mistake to me to see the Hero’s quest as masculine dragon killing. For me, it embodies the transcendental function – the meeting with and potential integration of shadow material that allows something new to come.

            I think you are right – the hero’s quest may be about shadow or something else. it is like all myth pretty malleable. But Jung also suggested that Shadow could be not only an archetype but represent the entire unconscious. He spoke of it at other times as a kind of gateway to the unconscious. This would mean that all this kind of psychological work would be shadow retrieval. He also said that beyond the shadow lies animus/anima. All i can say from my experience of it did not seem small!

            You are right that we do not need to discuss our credentials in order to discuss the issue, and it makes little difference when the medium is words on the internet.

            Perhaps Campbell’s quote becomes difficult when it gets seen as representing some final truth about femininity. Of course you, me and everyone needs a quest – life itself may be that quest. But i think he was talking about the feminine rather than a particular woman. And we would be intra-psychically bi-sexual! So a woman could not be the feminine destination be referred to anyway for anyone.

            Besides, who wants to go on a quest when you know what will happen at the end?

            But it does seem important to re-imagine what a female quest would be and a wild woman. As you say there is no need to stick with Campbell. I just think that at times your article slides towards to be doing what at other times it says it doesn’t want to do – denigrating the other. The title is wild man vs wild woman which sets up a battle of the sexes – except that men seem to not be allowed to fight even metaphorically. It seems healthy to spend time in the company of one’s own sex at times. Perhaps the hard thing is to find the way for the aspects to come together, as the mixture between men and women can be so volatile.

            I think myths offer a certain kind of malleable structure for navigating psyche, but at some point it is psyche herself that we must go to – in some ways it is her (or should that sometimes be his?) quest we may be on.


    2. Well, I’m sorry that some people think my rather lighthearted anecdote was “sneering” but there is a more serious underlying issue here around the equation of “masculinity” and “the warrior within”. The fact is that men who attempt to equate their masculinity with “being a warrior” are inevitably predicating their maleness on the major attributes of warriors: physical prowess, martial skills, aggression, physical courage. So what happens then with regards the many men who equate masculinity with warriorhood but who themselves don’t possess these qualities, or possess them in insufficient amount? Are they really “reconnecting with masculinity” or in fact upholding a romanticised ideal of masculinity that is so far removed from their reality that they will always find themselves lacking? I don’t see that as healthy or admirable but rather as a rather sad wilful dooming of themselves to perpetual disappointment (because sooner or later reality will always come along and bite your fantasy self in the ass). So I’m sorry you think my comment was sneering – my aim really was to demonstrate the very limited and limiting relevance of “warrior” archetypes and the yawning and sometimes dangerous gulf between these rather lazy fantasy ideals and reality. I have to say too that the men who attended the Warrior Within workshops – some of whom I got to know quite well as they hung around the house a lot – were not happy people and my impression was that a goodly part of their unhappiness was precisely the chasm between who and what they were and what they believed they ought to be. I’d hazard that far from helping them, those workshops ultimately made them feel more lacking. Of course, ultimately that’s their problem, not mine. But I do know that in the event of a Collapse, they wouldn’t be the first people I’d look to as allies in the struggle to survive and catch enough rabbits to feed my dogs.

      I’ve no idea what the Dark Mountain Project is and some of the stuff on this thread makes me disinclined to find out.


  15. Hi Paul,
    As it was my post that was quoted in the context of Dark Mountain, and DM wasn’t otherwise referred to, I thought I’d speak up here. You commented on the original post as well and I thought we had quite a fruitful and friendly discussion about it. I admitted that I hadn’t seen everything at the 2012 festival and had probably missed some of the fiery feminist sessions you mentioned. You seemed to acknowledge many of the points I made and disagree with others.
    That post is situated for me in a time period when I had done a lot less reading and research into collapse and post civilisation narratives. At that point, DM was where I was getting most of my input on that subject, and my appreciation and enjoyment of the movement and the festival was conveyed elsewhere in the post. I used my genuine personal feelings of disquiet at some of the narratives I encountered in the DM3 anthology and during encounters with festival-goers as a springboard into various types of thinking and writing about possible post-civilised futures. It may be that I used ‘Dark Mountain’ as a shorthand for the wider field of thinking and writing about collapse and perhaps that led to unfair generalisations.
    As a woman I do feel quite deliberately excluded from a lot of post collapse narratives. I’ve just finished reading Kunstler’s ‘World made by Hand’, where every woman the hero encounters is sized up as if she were a thoroughbred horse, for the dual factors of ability to work hard and potential fun in the sack. All the 21st century women have slipped submissively out of public life and into the background without a struggle, to serve as chattel for men.
    Is it ‘agenda-driven’ to argue passionately with this vision of the future, any more than it was for Kunstler to write it? For me it is more personal than that. That book says I am naturally an inferior to all men, and that when the crash comes I will realise my true place and submit. I must resist that view of the world because at the far end of it lies violence and slavery.
    Ideas of male power and self-sufficiency and female dependence and weakness run through the whole field of post-civ narrative- as they run through our entire culture. When I find ideas like this popping up- however seldom- in a broad based movement like DM that I’m otherwise very inspired by, it is more worrying than finding them in one book by one man. I hope you can understand this. I’m not sure what you meant about agenda and personality driven critique, if it was in relation to my post.
    Increasingly it seems that despite your own prickliness about the criticism, DM has been listening and working hard to become much more inclusive. This is a great thing.
    I am whole-heartedly in favour of men and women working together and trying to understand each other, and I do feel that was the spirit in which I wrote my piece. I also hate crass generalisations about men as a group, I don’t participate in them and I challenge them when I see them. I share your distaste with the sneering over the physical appearance and imagined inadequacies of the men in the quote from boneland.
    Maleness is something that I embrace, enjoy and respect as much as femaleness. Patriarchy is a different matter. I can’t pretend that after my 31 years in a patriarchal society I can always differentiate perfectly between them, but I can promise to keep trying. All I ask in return is that men do the same regarding the need of women to be heard on our own terms, and don’t always assume that such efforts constitute an attack on men or maleness. Even if they do aim to attack patriarchy.
    I think Sharon is well within her rights to advocate for a female perspective and a ‘heroine’s journey’. Stories of female agency and power are still massively under-represented. More of them can only help balance the narrative, surely?


  16. I have noticed that whenever strong women say something about Robert Bly I feel defensive! I was never deeply involved in the ‘men’s movement’, I didn’t much rate the drumming. But I read Bly, did a workshop with him, reviewed Iron John for a feminist journal, and still enjoy the collection of poems, The Rag and Bone Shop of the Heart, he put together with James Hillman and Michael Meade. Your comments have brought me to ponder what was significant about Bly and Iron John and the other writings about men and masculinity.

    I was around forty at the time. I had just finished graduate school in the USA and the civil rights and feminist movements had been hugely important influences. I had watched my women friends learn so much through consciousness raising groups. The question what it meant to be a man, and a white man at that, became really important.

    At a very simple level, Bly taught us it was OK to be a man. We didn’t have to start from feminism and the liberation this was bringing to women and to society, we could start by being men. We could also begin thinking about what kinds of men, and what kinds of sons, brothers, fathers, lovers we wanted to be. The underlying message I took from Bly was that we didn’t have to conform to old role models, and while what the women’s movement was telling us and complaining about us needed to be attended to, we didn’t have to swallow it whole.

    Bly did challenge us not to be weak and bury our strength, but I don’t think it necessarily led us in the direction of the archetype of Kings or Warriors. I don’t want to suggest it was all wonderful, that there was no shadow side, just to emphasize some of the important themes that emerged at that time. I learned that we men didn’t have to be heroes all the time. We didn’t have to compete with each other, but could be companions and brothers. We didn’t have to be right all the time, we could be tender and look after each other while also enjoy joshing, teasing and fooling around. We could appreciate to appreciate our emotions as well as our intellect. We could even cry.

    I remember listening to one of my students, a rather beautiful and intelligent young man. He was being challenged by women in the class to justify his reading of Iron John. In response he told them very simply about the pain he experienced when he felt he was not allowed to express his affection to another man. It seems strange now, but it was only just becoming allowable for men friends to hug each other.

    Above all, the changes associated with Bly and the men’s movement led me to think about what kind of father I wanted to be and what good fathering was really about. And when I look at my sons’ relationship with their children, I realise how much has changed, I think for the better.

    So I appreciate the stimulus of your piece about Wild Women and Wild men and these reflections that is has led me to.


    1. Hello Peter – I’m so glad you shared this because I was beginning to worry that I was coming across as critical of Bly and that wasn’t my intention: it was simply to contrast the ‘wild man’ archetype as put forward by Bly and the mythopoetic men’s movement with its female equivalent – as I said below, not in any way to say that one was better but ultimately to celebrate the difference, whilst arguing that both must have their place in contemporary discourse. As Naomi also points out in her comment below, unfortunately that doesn’t always happen and I feel that there is a danger in that. Not only have I often used ‘Iron John’ in my own psychology work, but Bly’s ‘Rag and Bone Shop of the Heart’ was the first book I bought as a gift for my husband when we met a few years ago. I have never had the good fortune to meet Bly, but he strikes me as a thoughtful and emotionally intelligent man who very much aimed to make a positive contribution to healing that divide, in spite of what Steinem and others suggested. But he did so in good part by listening to women, by allowing them their equal space and their contribution, and by collaborating with them (including with the very strong and wonderful Marion Goodman). As far as I have heard, he was never rude and combative; he never shouted down; he understood the ways in which women communicate and was able to work with that. My argument, if it is an argument rather than a reflection, is that the willingness to listen and collaborate and appreciate other forms of communication is often lacking in some of today’s more combative forums, and I think that is a very bad thing. We could all learn much from Bly, and I’m sorry I didn’t do him justice while focusing on passionately arguing for the need for a women’s perspective to be given equal ground.


      1. Thanks, Sharon! The other point to add that might add a bit of texture to this thread is the developing work on post heroic stories. What happens beyond, Happily Ever After? What happens when the post heroic identity is spoiled. There are an important book by Alan Chinen Beyond the Hero: classic stories of men in search of soul (who also wrote about women’s stories in Waking the world: Classic tales of women and the heroic feminine) which explores what men’s stories for later life stages might be like. My friend Geoff Mead writes in this blog of one post heroics story:

        “The tale beautifully illustrates three of the developmental tasks that Chinen attributes to becoming an elder: breaking free of personal ambition…; liberation from social customs…. the reclamation of wonder and delight….” See Coming Home to Story http://geoffmead.wordpress.com/ August 10 2010. Geoff has also written a great book on storytelling on the same title.

        These stories may seem initially to be about individual men’s life journeys. But if we think that our western culture has also followed an heroic arc, it is interesting to wonder what our ‘post heroic story’ might be: what might we be like if we let go of ambition (for economic growth, technological advance…); freed ourselves from old narratives; and reclaimed wonder and delight. I suppose this is part of what the ‘uncivilization’ movement is attempting. As an eldering man I am tempted to suggest that this was what we began to touch on in the 1960s, the dawning of the Age of Aquarius, of “Peace, Love, Freedom, Happiness!” We really did think we were changing the world.


        1. Oh, thanks, Peter – the Allan Chinen book looks great – I have ordered it. And I’m familiar with Geoff’s work and blog, which is extremely interesting. And I do very much like ‘post-heroic’ as a concept rather than ‘post-civ’!


  17. Hi Lupine – well, this is an interesting thread, don’t you think, and I’m pleased that so many people have taken the time to write, so it seems both polite and important to continue the dialogue. Actually, I don’t think we’re disagreeing here about the Journey/ mythic quest; I think there’s a confusion of terminology. The aim of the Journey, for the hero or the heroine, is (if you’re a Jungian) the entire business of individuation: the process through which the different aspects and components of the psyche become integrated over time into a well-functioning whole. Integrating the shadow is one part of individuation, but not the whole of it, which is why I disagreed with you that the Journey was ONLY about integrating the shadow. (Of course there are Journeys within Journeys … but we’re getting complicated here :-)) I didn’t, however, suggest either that its AIM was to kill the dragon or ‘the guardian of the threshold’. I speak about defeating the guardian of the threshold (which in most myths becomes the equivalent of slaying the dragon, the thre-headed dog etc etc) as a critical STAGE on that quest. The stage being something you have to pass through to get to the aim. The guardian of course doesn’t have to be killed; he can be outwitted or removed in some other way; the slaying is of course metaphorical. But it is a metaphor that I think doesn’t fit quite so well in the heroine’s quest, which is why I singled out that particular stage for comment. I felt that it was one of the stages which most clearly indicated some of the differences between the Hero’s Journey and the Heroine’s Journey which I was trying to delineate.
    And yes, Campbell’s quote refers to the feminine principle in the Hero’s Journey. That is imortant, just as the masculine principle is important in the Heroine’s Journey. But that is the whole point, really: Murdock did not ask him about that; she asked him where the Heroine’s Journey was. And he said very specifically ‘women do not need to make the journey’ and then went on to talk about the feminine principle in relation to the Hero’s Journey. Murdock disagreed with that, and so do I. Women absolutely 100% do need to make the journey, and I believe it is wrong to suggest otherwise. Which is where I began …
    Thanks again for the patient and thoughtful discussion.


    1. Oh, and I’m sorry, I forgot to answer your point about denigrating the male. I wouldn’t say that I’m denigrating; that can have unpleasant connotations. However, there is a criticism in my article, yes, and it is overt and specific. I don’t criticise the essence either of the Wild Man archetype or the Hero’s Journey. But I do have an ongoing personal frustration at the way aspects of that archetype and that journey can sometimes evoke a response to the current ecological crisis that we face (which is where this article stemmed from and what it specifically relates to) that advocates heading off into the woods alone in survivalist mode, rather than (yes, this is my open prejudice!) doing the harder work of helping your pack through it, or going way beyond your pack and trying to stop the crisis in its tracks in a braoder way. Certainly there are women who want to turn their backs on it all and look after themselves, and through my work at EarthLines as well as in my personal life I know a large number of very wonderful men who are out there in the community getting their hands dirty every day, working through their own despair as they go. (That was my point about balance at the beginning of the article). But it seems to be that the tendency for the post-civ survivalist types to be predominantly male is tied up with these deeper issues of Journeys and archetypes, and that’s what sparked off the thoughts in this article.


      1. I am completely with you when you speak about community building being more important and making more environmental sense than lone survivalism. I was thinking about where i got this thought from and it comes from studying permaculture in my twenties. I think i understand more of how you connect the hero to the survivalists you have met.

        I understand the need to oppose this idea – but i still do not think that opposing it along gender lines makes the most sense. It seems a kind of heroism in the face of panic. What I learned from permaculture had no reference to gender, but made it abundantly clear, perhaps in my mind from a teaching from nature – the way ecosystems use diversity to become highly functioning and build resilient communities.

        I feel certain that women do need to make the journey and in some ways that they cannot avoid making it through their lives and choices. Mythological thinking does not gender discriminate. i am not sure what Campbell was thinking there but he seems a bit off key. But then Jung seems pretty mysogynist at points, despite the great subtlety of his thought at others.

        It was not the male but the other that seemed denigrated – the setting up of one set of values via the exclusion of another. Women = nourishing community and men = aggressive survivalism. “Denigrating” – the word seems strong, but it seemed hard to read it another way. I can see that you do not mean this in your replies.

        I can see the desire to demonstrate ones strength combined with a genuine necessity and the ethical imperatives of environmental crisis might set people off in all sorts of macho panic – perhaps women and men. But men do have testosterone, which is a powerful master.

        I think that the hero almost without fail has a lot to learn. and we are all the hero – and the heroine.

        I think that the journey cannot only be about any one thing, as it must be specific as well as universal and the result unknown. I am also not sure about integration of the shadow as the final teaching. I think that if we want to apply the hero’s quest or indeed myth and depth psychology to environmental crisis we need to do so in a way that allows what is found within the inner quest to resonate outwards, and to find a way of articulating that what we learn is not just trapped inside our skin. Perhaps the “inner quest” can also be the outer. Hillman says we must learn to apply psychology to the world, treat is as a person and see that it is not our individuation but the our daimons – our souls which is where he brings in the anima mundi – the ensouled world. Re-enchanting seems a good place to start. (is there an animus mundus?)

        i think that shadow returns at any point – and shadow is a master metaphor for unconciousness, for missing something, being split from it, it being a part of you that you have can’t see, that’s right behind you, like the devil in a pantomime. i think it seems interesting that Jung in his investigations saw anima/animus (ie the feminine in the masculine/the masculine in the femenine) as what lies beyond shadow in his journey into the objective psyche. I think that anima/animus (it seems quicker to use his terminology) seems particularly susceptable to becoming “shadowed” as it were. This seemed to happen to me at points in reading your post. i couldn’t follow the through line for certain sections because i felt as if i was reading “shadowed animus”, for want of a better term and i felt indignant. but then i guess i haven’t met the people you refer to our been to the same meetings.

        I would like to know more about how this connects to the natural world and how it is denied and to the ecological crisis, which needs must occupy our heart.

        perhaps although we separate into gender groups to learn and know this part of ourselves, we have to find ways of coming together to approach these problems. Certainly, the problems of the earth are not entirely distinct from the problems of gender and the other but can be expressions of it.


        1. Well, that’s all very wonderful – thank you – and I can’t disagree with any of it 🙂 I’m glad we’ve come to an understanding about what I was trying (clumsily, sometimes) to say. I will simply add that it is others who force the gender lines in the first place by denying women their voice or – if I may – denigrating that voice. It’s true that generally the best way forward isn’t to split that divide further, but sometimes one isn’t given the choice of participating. I also think women find much strength and comfort in our shared and unique experiences as women, and that in order to help integrate we have to come together to understand what we can be and what we can bring forward that is healing. Not all gender groupings are divisive – as long as the way forward is out of them and back into the ‘community’, no? Which brings me full circle.
          On bringing the concepts of the quest to the environmental crisis: well, I’ve been thinking long and hard about that, and am halfway through another article on the subject (keep watching! – I’ll appreciate your thoughts). My second novel (still irritatingly in progress) deals with precisely this issue through the vehicle of a contemporary ecological retelling of the old myth of Psyche and Eros.


          1. I will look forward to Eros and Psyche. I got into a different long, slightly entrentched and ultimately rather useful debate about Eros and Psyche the last time I went on the internet on a Jung page on linked in so that seems suitably synchronistic. Maybe its me…It think it is great that myths provoke reactions i think it shows how well they carry this stuff. I re-read it so as to know what i was talking about at least a bit and I was struck by how humourous and irreverently Apulius writes .

            Men also need to spend time with men. This too is healing. But something like Dark Mountain seems to need everyone to come together at some point. I think the desire of a man to prove himself by dragging his family into the wilderness as the world collapses suggests a certain vulnerability, which might even be best addressed in the company of other men, at times.

            When I re-read “macho panic” I think of Pan – who is half goat and very much a god of wildness and nature, and something of a nightmare force at times. And definately not macho, despite the horns yet enormously powerful as a kind of wild animal erotic force. I think it seems strange that he is so identified with nature, the twitching and stampeding of the herd, and yet also his name means the universe, everything. Panic at the collapse of nature relates to him in some way, i think.


  18. Compelling discussion here (both in the text and the comments). Food for thought for sure (as will be the recommended books) and I don’t have a whole lot to add except from my copy-editor perspective: “The heroine doesn’t want to kill for dragon” – I believe it should be “the dragon”. Sorry to interrupt comment flow…


  19. Hello Sharon,
    I can see I am a year late, followed a thread from Coyopa. I also know nothing of these writers, and couldn’t put Iron John down fast enough. This post made me think but I needed to write it out to get my thoughts straighter and from there …. Well might as well add it to the huge response you got.
    However, why does it have to be ‘wild men’ versus ‘wild women’? And why do most of your follow on contributors equate “Warrior” with violence? If the underlying premise of this post comes to pass, it will require warrior men and warrior women to meet the challenges ahead. To my way of thinking being a warrior is about confidence, skill, strength, courage, determination and an appropriate morality for the time and place. A soldier is not a warrior although a warrior makes an excellent soldier. That some men express their manliness with acts of bravado and metaphorical chest beating equally doesn’t mean that finding the inner wild man has to equate to violence. If inner-city geeks need to get together and beat drums to develop some sense of self – worth or moral strength, well, actually that is just sad. Traditionally a warrior in a tribal society had some form of rite of passage into adulthood, sometimes violence enacted, sometimes violence received (circumcision or moko) but in other places stepping up at a time of need. It isn’t necessarily the violence that gives passage but the courage, will and skill to go through it and emerge at the other side.
    In all the tales of antiquity that I have read or heard the wild-man is truly wild without any morality living purely at an emotional level with no rules other than those required to survive being around other wild men who are more capable. The hero on a quest however, steps boldly forth and wins through with planning, cunning, strength, overcoming their own fear, and because of the times in which they lived slaying some evil. But they never lose their sense of morality and may even have remorse for the slain enemy. To be a hero, or heroine requires the capabilities of a warrior and from the “Real Men” I have met, men need to meet and master their wild side in order to acquire the confidence and morality of the warrior, in other words they need to draw on their wild side for strength and courage yet have the emotional maturity to manage anger, jealousy and fear. How that works for women I have no idea but I have met many women who are equal to their men, some who are every bit the warrior (physically and mentally), others who have inner strength but are content to fulfill a traditional role – suppressing expression of that strength; as most men must do daily when they go to their place of work.
    I hope your apocalyptic vision doesn’t come to pass, an overpopulated planet with stripped resources and a huge chunk of the best farmland under the sea will be hard to deal with but it doesn’t mean a return to the stone age, maybe the mid-19th C. I doubt there is a miracle cure and while some communities/nations may go the way of the Batavia and the Medusa, altruism and empathy are hopefully a greater force in the world.


    1. Hello Graeme – yes, this all seems a long time ago now 🙂 But just to say that I absolutely agree with you on what the Warrior archetype can be at its best, for both men and women. Unfortunately, that isn’t how it is always perceived or translated. I really appreciate you taking the time to paint such a compelling picture.


      1. Thanks for responding Sharon, sometimes I think I should just button my lip, so it is nice to get a positive response.
        Have a nice summer.


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