Robert Bly and Marion
Woodman undertook a national tour in November to talk about their new book The
Maiden King: Reunion of Masculine and Feminine. Menís Voices publisher Bert H. Hoff and his wife
Bernetta had the pleasure of talking to them about the themes in the book
before they began this tour. Robertís prior books include The Sibling
Society, and Marionís include Addiction to Perfection. They talk bout both of these books in the
In the interview Robert
and Marion refer to themes and images in the Russian fairy tale ďThe Maiden
Tsar,Ē the central story in The Maiden King. Those of you who saw the Applewood videotape series On Men and
Women will remember that Ivan is out
fishing with his tutor when the Divine princess sails up, and tells him sheís
loved him all her life. Ivanís step-mother tells the tutor to put a pin in his
tunic to put him asleep when they sail out to meet her. On his quest to re-find
her, he encounters three Baba Yaga, who long to gnaw the bones of young Russian
lads. W hen he arrives at the house of the Wise Old Woman, she tells him, ďShe
doesnít love you anymore.Ē The love is hidden in an egg in a duck in a hare in
a coffer in an old oak tree. He carries the egg home, where the Wise Woman
serves it to the Maiden Tsar and she remembers her love for him. Iíve left many
rich details out of this summary of the story, but mentioned the ones that
Robert and Marion allude to in this interview. Thereís a lot of richness in The
Maiden King that they didnít have the
time to get into here.
Bert: I noticed
that in the pre-publication publicity for The
Maiden King the subtitle was given as The
Triumph of the Feminine. When it came out, the subtitle had been changed to
Reunion of Masculine and Feminine.
Whatís the story behind that?
Marion: Yes, it started out with that
subtitle, but as we worked with it and went deeper into it, we realized that
that wasnít the message we wanted to convey. ďTriumphĒ has such a connotation!
But that wasnít where the story was taking us.
Bert: We have so
much resistance to the ďinner work,Ē and we seem to relish conflict so much. I
remember when Robert was going to give a talk with Deborah Tannen,
the New York Times ballyhooed it as
ďthe battle between the sexes.Ē
Robert: But it
wasnít, of course. When it was men and women talking, they didnít want to
report on that. Deborah is coming out with a new book The Argument Culture. We hear stories about it, but she will be
bringing together facts and data about it.
Marion: I think that in our culture we are
deathly afraid of intimacy and we engage in conflict to avoid it.
But thatís not what we do in our relationships. There, we do
the deeper work, and work on creating and keeping intimacy. Or else we donít
Bert: I wonder if
we donít have a higher expectation of relationships than we did before. In 1900
people just worried about surviving, getting by and raising our kids.
Marion: And in 1900 there was more acceptance for finding intimacy outside the relationship.
That was certainly true in Europe. Now we expect all of
our intimacy needs to be met in the relationship.
Robert: So heís
trying to project all of the Divine Feminine onto her in the relationship. But
no human can hold all that.
Marion: I think that with the loss of
interest in religion, we try to put these Divine characteristics onto ourselves
and each other.
Robert: I joke
that thatís less true for Catholics than for Protestants. We saw that when Ruth
and I were in Spain
last week. We went to go see a church with a statute of the Virgin. We took the
bus and we went out quite a ways. When we got to the church the people said,
ďSheís not here right now. Sheís over at another church for a few weeks.Ē We
went there, and there were bouquets of flowers next to Her.
They treated her as if she were a person.
Marion: And when we do that, we donít need to
project the Divine onto each other.
Bert: I wonder of
part of our thirst for conflict might be that our lives are so safe, so
ordinary now. We donít risk death, fighting off wild animals. We donít struggle
with starvation and illness like we used to. So we try to fill this need with
risk-taking, body piercings, going in for ďextremeĒ sports and things like
Marion: But thatís not the same thing, of
course. These things donít connect us with spirit, or with the mystery of life.
Robert: I remember
hearing about a young girl who cut her arm. ďWhen I saw the blood running down
my arm,Ē she said, ďI knew I was real.Ē
I think that what we need to feel real is to feel connected.
We all hunger for that connectedness.
Bert: You mean
connected with people, and animals, and with the universe?
Especially, connection with other people. We donít feel a real connectedness,
so we seek it out by creating conflict. Itís another way of connecting with
other people, but it isnít a very good one.
been thinking about Addiction to
Perfection. The idea that struck me was there are lots of forms of
addictions, from addiction to alcohol to addiction to exercise. I know I want
to have a perfect, healthy body. But at heart, arenít all of these addictions a
form of addiction to perfection? That we canít accept ourselves the way we are,
and life the way it is?
Robert: Iíve just
got to say that I admire that title, Addiction
Marion: I think youíre right, Bernetta.
Thatís the pin that the tutor puts into Ivanís neck in the story,
that puts him asleep when the Divine Feminine comes to him. Itís what
makes us unconscious.
Robert: And we
expect the world to be perfect. I remember a delightful story about the Sufi
Abu Said, who lived about the 13th century. Women prepared their food in
braziers. Abu was talking through a street on the village when a woman on a
second floor threw the ashes from her brazier out the window and they landed on
him. The disciples wanted to storm the house, break down the door, rush
upstairs and take the woman to task for defiling the Master that way. Abu said,
ďI search for fire, and I get ashes ...Ē and 5 disciples went into ecstasy.
Weíre missing that ecstasy in our lives now. We hunger for
it, and try to fill it with material things.
Let me get to the central part of the story in The Maiden King. The surprising and
astounding thing to me was when Ivan is told that the Divine Feminine doesnít
love her any more. What does that mean, when we say that the Divine Feminine
doesnít love you any more? What did that bring up for you, Bert and Bernetta?
Bert: Iíve had misgivings
about some of the New Age stuff, the smiley faces and saying the right
affirmations. I could relate to what you were saying about talking only about
the good side of the Goddess, and not recognizing the Devouring Mother.
like what we were talking about earlier, about addition to perfection, and not
accepting life as it is. Not accepting sickness and death.
Marion: But thatís part of the birth-death
cycle. Something has to die, to make room for what is being reborn. Weíre at
that time of the year right now. Winter is coming on, and things are dying.
Robert: But that
doesnít affect us now. We live in houses, and donít have to put up with winter.
Bert: Itís like
what I was talking about earlier, about risk-taking and being alive. Our life
is so safe now, we donít face dying. Malidoma Somť and
James Hillman have talked about this. Malidoma tells of trying to explain the
concept of insurance to his Dagara village elders. Now, if your house burns
down, you donít ask what it means or why this happened now, you just figure out
how to file an insurance claim and maybe even make a little extra money off of
Robert: But what
if it was the flames of the Destructive Feminine that burned it down?
Marion: But those are two different worlds.
One is in the realm of the soul.
Bert: And we get
so caught up in the physical, because we donít want to deal with matters of the
soul. But in so many respects our connection with the physical isnít real. I think about how we handle death.
Death really isnít in our lives. The family doesnít lay out the body in the
home any more. We send it off to a funeral home, where itís prettified and
wrapped up in cellophane. When we think of scattering the ashes, we think of
someone in a white robe daintily picking up a bit of ash and scattering it.
Itís not like that. I remember taking my Dadís ashes up to the mountains to
scatter them to the four winds. It wasnít a dainty little handful. There was a
big plastic container of ashes, and you had to reach in with both hands to take
double-handfuls, with bone chunks and all.
not the half of it! The wind was blowing. We did it at sunrise, and had our
breakfast out. The ashes blew all over our tents, our sleeping bags, and the
food we were going to eat. So in a sense we ate pieces of Hank for breakfast.
Field mice were running around, and getting into our food. They ate some of
Later, Bert and his friend climbed up a mountain peak. I was
slower, behind them. The biggest herd of elk Iíve ever seen came by, within a
foot of me. Itís like they were saying ďgood-byeĒ to Hank.
Marion: Yes! Yes! Thatís that cycle of death
giving birth to life!
Accepting life the way it is is difficult. I have a friend who is dying of
cancer, and may not last the week. I was talking to her a while back, and she
said, ďRemember, I will always be a part of you.Ē She said itís hard to leave
her children. Luckily, theyíre pretty much grown now. She said, ďI have to
remember, I will always be there. I will always be a part of them.Ē I love that
taking it in.
Marion: Yes! Yes!
the thing that helps us get through these things, I think, is that taking it
in. Although it isnít always easy.
Marion: I think thatís an important part of
the book. I came to that recognition of that difference between the part of the
step-mother and the so-called dark side of the Goddess. The step-mother is life
in the service of death, and the Baba Yaga is death in the service of life. The
one would kill lifeÖ
Marion: Without humor, and with no purpose
except to kill it. She would pass judgment and out of power cut off the
life-force. Sheíd cut it off out of power, because she needed the power because
she needed to find her own identity in that control. But for Baba Yaga death
happens in order to make new life. Thatís a law of life. Thatís how I perceive
Robert: Well, also
Baba Yaga would be connected with something like flamenco dancing, in which you
see the woman and the man with a tremendous amount of physical energy. They
make gestures toward each other which are both loving and threatening. Theyíre
a little like to cock birds circling each other.
Marion: Thereís nothing better than that for
Robert: You can
just feel that, that it is not just step-mother stuff. It has a great deal of
humor, but also animal force.
Marion: A force for life!
possible for death, too, to come into that environment. You remember that Lorca
felt that that would come into gypsy songs sometimes. The word that is used in
Spanish is duende. In a particular
form of art, whether itís music or poetry or dancing, it gives you feeling that
death is in the room, but you feel more energetic that youíve ever felt. Thatís
called duende. Itís a beautiful thing
to talk about.
Marion: Thatís that mystery that just comes
in and opens up everything into a new dimension, even if it is death. Itís that
edge, right on that razorís edge between life and death.
Robert: You also
notice that this conflict that takes place between Baba Yaga and the people who
come into her domain. Sheís always asking difficult questions. I donít know if
you know Walter Ong. Heís down in St. Louis.
He must be 85 now. He gave some of the first ideas about the medium is the
message. Marshall McLuhan was a student of his. One of his books that isnít very well known is Fighting
for Life. (Ong, Walter J., Fighting for Life: Contest, Sexuality, and Consciousness) Itís a
history of human beings fighting verbally. I wonít go into the whole thing, but
there are interesting details about the old habit of really powerful verbal
sparring between students and between students and teachers. This was a great
part of the training in Tibetan monasteries. It began to disappear in the West
when the state universities came. It was present in Oxford
and Cambridge, and in all the
Marion: Why, Robert?
Robert: Well, one
of the things is because they felt that people could get hurt feeling there.
The more you went into state universities the more you went into universities
for everyone. There as a sense that they should be protected. They should be
shielded. If they went to all the trouble to go to the university they
shouldnít be isolated, or left out, or defeated. You know, thatís happening
with political correctness now. Itís incredible, because I had never really
understood how much positive energy of learning could come out of powerful
exchanges with aggression.
Marion: Yes, because otherwise youíre just
being told what to think. Thereís no room for your own creativity and your own
life-spark, to challenge the old order.
Robert: But itís
also true that when the state universities came in was the time when more women
were educated. The men wanted to protect the women. They didnít want the women
to be talked to in that way.
fascinating! My ex-husband was a college professor. I noticed that they would
weed out the out the professors who were controversial. They would not get
tenure. And they were some of the best professors. I would think that that was
exactly what the school needed, a person who that was
giving a whole different side from what everybody else was, so the students
could make up their own minds. They could argue back and forth. I wondered, is this an educational system, or is it an regurgitation
This is a way to have small children and try to disguise them as adults.
Protect the small children.
Marion: That is right!
Bernetta: It takes
away all the energy. Things become sort of sluggish.
Robert: Thatís how
poetry is reviewed in the United States
now. Thereís almost no negative review of a book. They feel if youíre going to
review it, you should say something positive about of it. Of course, that
drives the young poets nuts! They look at a book and
they know itís bad. Then some
50-year-old says, ďNo, itís very good.Ē
so interesting, because we just cut away education, by not having those
differences of opinion.
Marion: I think that has something to do with
Baba Yagaís question. ďDo you come here of your own free will, or do you come
Robert: How do you
connect it? Tell me.
Marion: Well, Iím thinking about those
students that are silenced, and their compulsion to drive a thing to the edge
where they are recognized. At that place, they could be destroyed, because who
wants to be bothered with someoneís new ideas, and who are they to defy the
authorities? But they take that chance. Some of them take that chance from
their free will. Or they are compelled by that life-force within them, even
when itís going to cost them their Ph.D. or first-class marks. They are
compelled to stand up for their own truths. And if things go wrong, they have
to ask themselves, ďWell, did I come here of my own free will, or did I come by
compulsion?Ē I just find that such an important question in my own life now.
Robert: I also
recognize that thatís what Freud did, when he brought up these things that no
one wanted to talk about. And then Jung did the same thing to Freud. He talked
about the things that Freud didnít want to talk about!
Bernetta: We all
have things we donít want to talk about. There are things we donít talk about
with family or friends because we know theyíre not going to like it. It cuts
Marion: That nakedness, though, is so
important to honesty.
Because you donít really get to know someone if you canít
talk to them about things.
Marion: I think thatís essential to
relationships, to love somebody enough that you can be honest with them.
Bernetta: Itís the
hardest thing. Iíve grappled with that myself, too, to tell the truth. You can
tell yourself a million time to do it, but itís that risk. They might not like
hearing the truth.
Marion: You might not like hearing it,
either. Thatís where I think the crone energy comes in. The
old lady. She would tear him to shreds if he talked to her now. But she
does make him face the truth.
Robert: You know, I want to come back to the end of the story, and what we
were talking about earlier, about addiction to perfection. Toward the end of
the story, it turns out that the crone says about the Goddess, ďshe doesnít
love you anymore.Ē And then it comes out that the love has not been
annihilated. If it was, we would all die. Itís been stored somewhere. Then the
interesting thing is, where is it stored. One of us
would say, ďitís stored in New Age books,Ē or ďitís
stored in a library somewhere,Ē or ďitís stored somewhere in Afghanistan,
where there are some wonderful old teachers.Ē But thatís not what the story
tells us. The story says that itís stored inside manner. Itís stored in an egg
which is stored in a duck, which is stored in a hare, which is stored in a
wooden chest, which is stored in an old oak.
I was thinking about that this morning, not starting with the
oak, but with the egg. Then you have something which Marion
has often talked about. What does it mean
that spirit is inside matter? What does it mean
that matter is something that holds all of these things that we want? To me,
there are amazing images there. If we want to find this love, we have to go
into matter. Going into a computer is not going to do it.
Marion: No, itís the living matter.
Bernetta: Is it
the going into yourself, your own living matter?
Robert: No, Iím
not going to accept that, because it sounds like going into your own memories.
Maybe youíre not thinking of that. Maybe youíre thinking of going into your own
body work. Marion wonít do an
Intensive, unless thereís a body-worker and a voice-worker there.
Marion: Thatís true, Bert. Because
we have to deal with the whole person. You have to bring psyche and body
Robert: You know, when you talk about going into your own body,
sometimes it feels a little elegant, but one of the poems thatís been one of
the most important in the 20th century is where Beaudelaire described the
maggots inside a dead dog. They made sounds almost like the shiftings of
grains. Thatís matter!
Bert: That comes
back to the addiction to perfection point we were talking about, because of the
whole Western split, the Gnostic split, between spirit and matter. Matter is
something that is dirty. If Iím perfect, I rise above
What would happen if you went to your therapist and the therapist, instead of
saying for you to go home and study your dream, he said, ďI want you to go home
and find a dead dog with maggots, and watch it for two hoursĒ?
Bernetta: Oh, God!
Robert: Did that
get you, Bernetta? (chuckling)
you pick something else for me to look at?
Robert: No, itís
got to be a dog, and maggots.
Bert: Well, the
Tibetans went for air burial. And part of a young priestís training was to cut
up a body and feed it to the birds.
hard for us to think about, in our culture.
Marion: But, you see, thatís that theme of
deathís sacrifice to life. The whole last part of the story is one sacrifice
after another. It connects right back to the Tree of Life.
Robert: I think I
should bring that dead dog into my section of the book. Donít you think so,
Bernetta: All the
reviewers would say, ďWhatís that dead dog doing in the book?Ē
Marion: I think we should take that dead dog
with us on the road. (chuckling)
As I think about it, I think of the radiance of the cells,
cells that are truly divine.
Robert: What are
you thinking about, Bert?
Bert: Iím still
caught up in that dead dog imagery. We are so totally isolated from life in so
many ways. It comes back to what I was saying, that
because we donít have much contact with life we do more risk-taking and
Marion: Which isnít real
risk at all, Bert. It isnít real.
cutting your arm isnít a real risk.
Bernetta: The real
risk is getting in there and seeing whatís there.
Marion: And the real risk is breaking up all
your little boxes, and opening up your eyes to a whole new vision. It seems to
me that thatís what Ivan is doing there, at the end of the story. He breaks up
the coffin, then the hare, and so on, and each opens up a whole new
possibility, until he ends up with a gorgeous egg. Which she
Robert: Thatís the
most mysterious thing in the book, that the love is contained inside an egg.
Thatís understood as being contained in matter, and so on. And yet, the only
way that she can get back the love she had, that the Divine has for the human
being or that the Goddess has for the man, is to eat the egg. Thereís something
very deep in that.
Marion: And he has to bring it back, Robert.
Robert: Thatís an
example of the male and the female working together.
Marion: Oh, boy! Iíd say so! If you think of her as the Divine, and him as the human here, itís
his human courage that steadfastness. I always imagine him carrying a
raw egg back, and how hard that must be. That human frailty gets it back to
her. And itís the old Wise Woman who cooks it, on her birthday.
Robert: Tell me,
how do you understand the cooking? How does it strike you in the image part of
your being, that she cooks it?
Marion: Cooking has to do with putting fire
underneath the egg. In other words, itís the fire of passion or the fire of
emotion. You work with your own living humanity, the pain of it and the joy of
it, and all those human emotions that are the fire. The egg has to go through
Robert: Does that
imply that the fire is basically divine? That the coolness in the earth is
human, but if itís not met with divine fire itís not going to be cooked?
Marion: My answer, of course, would be that
human emotion is divine. Those
passions that we sometimes associate with darkness are carrying just as much
divinity as darkness.
Robert: Let me ask
you this. Iíve never asked you this. More and more, Iím getting depressed by
the failures of pop-art. In what sense is great art ďcooked,Ē and pop-art is
not? Pop-art seems to have a lot of feeling in it.
Marion: Iíll have to think on that one a bit.
Bert: I have an
answer to thatÖ
Marion: Bert, what is it?
Bert: Itís sort of
like my reaction to the ďtone poemĒ music of the 19th century. Great art
expresses something, but it also connects
with something. It has a context, a relation to Spirit. Itís not done just so I
can do it. Itís not ďIím going to write a book Love Story and use a gimmick for a first line just so I can evoke
an emotion in you and show that I can raise an emotion in you.Ē That doesnít connect to anything. It doesnít take you anywhere, once that emotion is
Robert: Well, I
donít know. Remember that night we had, called ďWe Are the WorldĒ? All the pop
singers got together. They said that they are connecting to people all over the
something that scares me a whole lot about that. Remember the commercial ďIíd
like to buy the world a Coke, and live in perfect harmonyĒ? The idea was that
people all around the world could find a commonality. But as I thought about it
more, I found it really frightening. Letís wipe out everybody elseís culture,
and letís get everybody around the world to buy an American product, consume
American products, and think like Americans.
Marion: It has to do with the transitory. You
know, Cokes arenít actually eternal. Most of the themes in pop-art has to do with transitory images. Great art has to do with
another question, thatís very much related to what Bert said. What is the
relationship between global capitalism and pop-art?
Marion: What do you see, Robert?
Robert: I donít
know. I just see them going together. Theyíre growing bigger, both of them.
Marion: People want the transitory. They want
it cheaply, and fast. Let it be destroyed as quickly as it comes in, so we can
make way for another fad.
that just another way of not facing reality?
Bert: I see
another, more immediate connection. Right now, they will spend millions to make
a 30-second commercial. Theyíll create a whole genre of art, like the Peter Max
art of the 60s. Itís then used to sell things. Or the MTV images that come up
way too fast, before the brain can absorb them, much less contemplate them.
Itís like the corporate culture can take over pop-art to define for us what our
standards and views on art are, because these are also the ones that will sell
itís interesting that you bring in spirit here, because this process in the
story of going back from the egg to the duck to the hair to the coffir is very
slow. Isnít that right?
Marion: Very slow.
Robert: And people
hate psychoanalysis now, because itís too long, 20 years.
Marion: You see, itís
all the quick fix, the fad. You will get this today, and get something else
tomorrow. That is not what this story is about. This story is about a very
slow, gentle, deep and fierce process. Itís a soul process.
Bernetta: He takes
a long to time to get to the end ... well, youíre never ended with our journey.
Marion: And youíve got to be willing to work
Robert: It took us
about seven years to do this story. (All chuckle.)
Marion: And itís a very extroverted culture
now. Pop-art is very extroverted, as contrasted to the introversion of this
story, or great art.
Bert: The story is
very vague about time. You donít know if itís one year or twenty years between
the first Baba Yaga and the second Baba Yaga.
Marion: Thereís no way of knowing that, Bert.
Itís a timeless, spaceless world.
Bert: Iím coming
back to Robertís imagery about the egg that holds the love being matter. But
itís not just matter. Itís not a turnip or a stone. It has a spirit potential,
it holds the potential for new life.
Marion: Thatís the whole point. It carries
life within it. It has the possibility of everything new.
Bert: Depending on
how itís prepared. How did he know to bake it, rather than boil it, fry it or
Marion: The Old Woman prepared it in the
story. He brings it home and gives it to her to cook.
Robert: When I was
doing that, Marion, I got almost
into a love affair with eggs. I said that this is unbelievable,
the egg is connected with all of the past of the human race. I tried to put it
into terms of their being some kind of a genetic connection between chickens and
people. But also I noticed that my favorite thing is to boil it for four
minutes, take the top off, and then eat it with a little spoon. I find myself
admiring the sculptured interior of that egg.
Marion: I know. I have a completely different
feeling about eggs, too, I must say. I really do see and experience eggs in a
totally new way, with immense respect!
Bert: I didnít
want to let you two go without asking about the Clinton
matter, since itís on everybodyís minds. I saw both the Addiction to Perfection and The
Sibling Society in the public reactions. I donít want to admit I have an
addiction to perfection, so I will project it out to our leaders, and expect
them to be perfect. And when a child reaches adolescence, heís hard on his
parents when he discovers that they arenít perfect. Isnít the publicís reaction
to Clinton just evidence that weíre
a sibling society, as well as being addicted to perfection?
Robert: Oh, I
Marion: I would agree with that, Bert.
that means that both you and I are prophets! (chuckling.)
We want our prophet pin pretty soon.
I think youíre right. I think American culture is the most
childish culture in the world. Weíre the ones that do these things.
Marion: And this yearning for perfection is
totally immature. It can only create a black, filthy shadow side. Everything
that is not perfect has to be destroyed.
Robert: You know, Kenneth Starrís name has the word ďstarĒ in it. Heís been
addiction to ďstar-perfectionĒ since he was very small.
Bert: Isnít it
ourselves that were destroying?
Marion: Thatís what I feel, Bert. So long as
weíre putting that projection on another person, we are putting it on
ourselves. As within, so without. Somewhere within us
there is someone putting those ferocious judgments on ourselves. e canít deal with it, so we project it out. But, ultimately,
we go down under our own judgment.
scary, Marion. I hate that.
Marion: Thatís scary stuff! Thatís what
causes compulsive behavior. We end up being a compulsive, addictive society.
Bert: As a sort of
wrap-up question, Iíll just throw out a general question about where this work going, what do we need to be doing or not doing?
Robert: Thatís not
a question, itís like an egg dropped on the floor! (Chuckles) Give us another
Marion: Oh, Robert, you do say it well!
Robert: I suppose
youíre talking about what kind of fight are we in. We
have a fight against people who donít want mythological information of any kid.
Ted Hughes fought that fight, too.
Marion: But I thank that there are very many
people who do respect mythology and do care about the spirit and the soul.
Those people are interested in this kind of work.