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The Hag and the Dark Feminine

An Interview with Carolyn Baker

Copyright © 1996 by Bert H. Hoff

This article interview appeared in the September, 1996 issue of M.E.N. Magazine


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Carolyn Baker, Ph.D., has contributed several articles to M.E.N. Magazine. M.E.N. Magazine editor Bert Hoff phoned her to talk about her just-released book, Reclaiming the Dark Feminine: The Price of Desire (Tempe, AZ: New Falcon Press, 1995)(Order on-line). She is a storyteller, consultant, educator and Director of The Fourth World Institute, which offers education and healing processes for cross-cultural awareness, gender reconciliation, ecopsychology, ritual and sacred space. She lives in Santa Rosa, California. She will be at Elliott Bay Book Company to talk about her new book on Saturday, October 5, at 5 p.m. She can be reached at P.O. Box 15185, Santa Rosa, CA 95402, or via e-mail: CBaker1996 @aol.com



Reclaiming the Dark Feminine book cover
(Order on-line)

Bert: What was the personal path that you took that got you into women and spirituality?

Carolyn: My book opens with a life-changing experience that I had when I attended my first menís conference that was open to women, in 1991. It was called "Tough Guys, Wounded Hearts." Shepherd Bliss, John Lee and Sam Keen were there, as well as a lot of other well-known people. The last day of the conference was open to women. I attended a workshop for women only, on healing their masculine selves. Mary Richardson, a therapist from Phoenix, facilitated it. I alluded to this experience in my article in Jack Kammerís book, Good Will Toward Men.
The experiences of this one day, I must say, turned around forever many of the assumptions I had as a veteran feminist of some 25 years. It really cracked my heart open to the wounding of males in our culture. Some deep place within me totally identified with this wounding. I knew that, somehow, I was different after that conference. From then on, I began to read and explore more about menís issues. I read Iron John and Fire in the Belly twice. I began to attend gatherings of men that were open to women.

Bert: Your process sounds like something that happens for me sometimes. Every once in a while, thereís a zinger kind of experience that my heart and spirit captures, and then I spend the next few years reading and studying about it so I can understand it rationally as well as instinctually.

Carolyn: It was kind of like that for me, like a bomb had hit me and then I spent considerable time figuring out what happened.

Bert: How did that lead you into writing this book? What were you trying to accomplish when you wrote it?

Carolyn: Writing this book took me exploring deeper into why I identified so closely with the wounding of men. I was really intrigued with the story "Rapunzel," which is the basis of my book. Iím a storyteller, and the book centers around the telling of this story and my interpretation of it. The book addresses a variety of current issues that are up for all of us today.
The key character in the fairy tale, of course, is the Hag. Everything else in the book is about how people deal with her. I come from an archetypal, mythopoetic perspective when I deal with that character, in that I see her as someone who inhabits the psyche of every woman and man, and the collective psyche of the planet. This is particularly true at this time in human history, when we have a patriarchy or what Sam Keen calls a "technocorporarchy." This is not the same as the masculine way of life based on power and control. We need to become conscious of what role the Hag plays in the patriarchy.

Bert: The idea of separating masculinity and the patriarchy, of course, is a theme that Marion Woodman develops.

Carolyn: Yes, she addresses that theme beautifully in her new book, Dancing in the Flames. I think that a woman needs to become conscious of how the Hag works in her psyche. Men need to do this as well. The culture must become conscious of the Dark Feminine in our presence if thereís any hope of pulling the planet back from the edge of the abyss towards which we are hurtling with lightning speed.

Bert: When you say that men need to be aware of how the Hag works in a woman, couldnít this be taken by some as an open invitation to say that women are dominated by the Hag?

Carolyn: I think the Hag can take over in all of us, and very often the Hag does take over women. This is a great chance to go into another theme in my book. We hear a lot about men going off to war, and men starting wars, and the military transnational corporation complex being run by men. We seem to have a huge dark spot when it comes to seeing the role of the Dark Feminine in this. For example, in Care of the Soul, Thomas Moore points out that we get the word "gun" from a Scandinavian goddess named Gunnhilda. I have to note that many of our aircraft carriers and aircraft have feminine names. We have Big Bertha and Enola Gay, the plane that dropped the first atomic bomb. Saddam Hussein referred to the Gulf War as the "mother of all battles.! " In World War II, the slogan for the Womenís Army Corps was "the woman behind the man behind the gun."

Bert: So how does the Dark Feminine contribute to this urge to go to war? We blame men for causing wars, but women have roles in this process as well.

Carolyn: Whenever the Dark Feminine isnít recognized, it doesnít get smaller or just stay there. It gets bigger. One of the things that the fairy tale points out is that whenever we desire something or someone, this desire irrevocably brings up the Hag in the psyche. The moment that we desire a person or a promotion or a piece of property, or even when we desire to create something like a child or a work of art, in that instant we propel ourselves into the domain of the Hag.

Bert: I remember one passage from your book, "When a man falls in love with a woman, the Hag shows up sooner or later in some fashion and threatens to destroy him." You then talk about the woman being swept up by the man, and that the Hag is there to exact a price. "When human beings donít face the Hag, they act her out and do her treacherous work for her. The Hag can be counted on to try and steal what is dearest to us. When the culture ignores the Hag, children suffer." This theme sounds similar to Robert Blyís theme in his new book, The Sibling Society. Do you see the Hag as being related to the themes in his book?

Carolyn: Yes, I do. In the fairy tale, of course, the child is stolen. The young feminine is stolen. We can say this is true in the psyches of all people. It is stolen by the Hag and imprisoned in the tower. Then thereís a process that needs to happen, where the child gets freed. For Rapunzel, who has to go out into the desert and wander around to meet her prince, itís about a direct encounter with the Hag. She terrifies the prince, who jumps into a thorn bush and is blinded, and has to wander around in the desert to find Rapunzel. There is this whole process of encountering the Hag, which is different for women than it is for men, that needs to be part of the process of initiation of young women and men. On some level in our initiatory experiences, we need to encounter ! her to become mature women and men.

Bert: You brought out another theme, that the Hag can be as vicious and treacherous as any man, and a femininity that disowns men and maleness canít help but resemble aspects of the masculine.

Carolyn: I have a lot to say about that. In order for relationships between women and men to be transformed, and for gender reconciliation to occur, weíre all going to have to face this Dark Feminine in ourselves. One of the things that drew me to support Menís Work was and is the way in which men doing Menís Work seem willing to confront and work with the masculine shadow. By the way, Iím aware that the menís movement has a shadow, because every movement does. But I find itís best to leave that to the men, not me, to deal with.
What I have noticed, and one of the major reasons I wrote this book, is that women seem to have great difficulty in owning their own shadows. For the past 35 years, we have worked very hard to advance our status in this culture and enhance our self-esteem. We have to continue to do this. At the same time, however, even oppressed groups have their dark sides. In the psyche of every woman dwells the devouring Hag. If we can honor the Hag and dialogue with her, she can lead us to unfathomable transformation and creativity. However, if we insist on disowning her, and persist in laying all the ills of the world at the door of men, the Hag within us and within our culture just grows more enormous and more lethal. One of the points that I make in my book is that the Sacred Masculine is as much under attack in our culture as the Sacred Feminine. Many women that I work with in workshops and individually cannot comprehend that the masculine can be sacred. Men have been so continually and thoroughly demonized by political feminism that to some women, the Sacred Masculine seems like an obscenity.
It is crucial for women to open to the sacredness of the masculine archetype, not only in order to transform their relationships with the men they love, but also to recover what Michael Gurian refers to as the "beloved masculine" within themselves. Marion Woodman has been talking about this for many years.

Bert: In your book you discuss what Elizabeth Herron, co-author with Aaron Kipnis of Gender War, Gender Peace, calls the "princess victim." The "princess victim" waits for all those brutal and inherently inferior men to change, so that she can finally experience gender equality.

Carolyn: In the last three decades, it has been impossible for us as women to advance our position in society without using patriarchal methods. When a woman has no sense of her own inner sacred feminine or sacred masculine self, the shadow side of her masculine self, which most of the time she doesnít even know she has, begins to dominate her, particularly in a patriarchal world. I come from a Jungian perspective and I believe we all have an inner opposite. Men have an anima and women have an animus. These days the anima is usually called the soul, but it is feminine in nature.
What I notice is that some women have such rage and fear towards men that they canít conceive of having an inner masculine self. In fact, some women ask me whether the qualities I attribute to the animus arenít just the qualities of a strong woman. So I usually answer, "So whatís wrong with having an animus?" The answers are so fascinating, and also so sad, because women have been so estranged from their positive masculine self. Much of this has been the result of the demonizing of men by political feminists. If a woman doesnít deal with her animus and deal with her inner patriarch, she is guaranteed to act it out in the world. Marion Woodman calls this becoming an imitation man. When we lose our connection with the Sacred Feminine or the soul, an unholy marriage between th! e Hag and the dark side of our animus develops. This is not a pretty picture. Then we get people like Susan Smith, who killed her kids, or like Cincinnati Reds owner Marge Schott, who said that Hitler wasnít so bad in the beginning.
Also, the Sacred Masculine facilitates our ability as women, or men, to make distinctions. For example, if I have a wounded animus and I have also been wounded by males, like most of the women in this culture, Iím not going to be able to make distinctions between individual males and the patriarchy. I notice that very often itís much more difficult for the woman to do the work of healing her inner masculine self than it is for her to globalize the negative masculine to every man in the world.
This ability to discern, decipher and make distinctions is important to anyone who lives and works in the masculine world on a day-to-day basis. This ability to make distinctions is important in our culture, and I think itís a testament to the wounding of the positive masculine that itís very difficult for both women and men to make these distinctions.
You hear people say, "Why do we need diversity training? Weíre all just people." Or "Why do we need to do gender work? Weíre all just human beings." For 30 or 35 years weíve had this view that men and women are equal. Thatís half of the truth. The other half is that weíre different.

Bert: This brings up a doctrine I hear in academic feminism, which rejects "essentialism," the idea that there are essential differences between men and women. All the differences between men and women that we see, they assert, are due to social and cultural conditioning.

Carolyn: Somebody hasnít been reading any Deborah Tannen or any of the brain research of the last decade. If you want to satisfy your intellect on this, there are a lot of places you can look.

Bert: One of the strongest points in Aaron and Lizís book, I thought, was the idea that we should honor these differences, and that the differences donít mean that one is inferior to the other.

Carolyn: Yes, the differences are lateral differences, rather than one-up, one-down differences.

Bert: Our inability to make these gender distinctions means that itís not "politically correct" to say some things. Iíve heard stories of people who had difficulties with publishers, who wanted them to take some things out of their books that werenít "politically correct." I understand you had some issues with publishers as well.

Carolyn: In 1995, I thought I had a publisher for my book. My agent and I had a verbal agreement with a woman editor at a large New York publishing house, who seemed ecstatic about the book. She took it to her marketing committee, comprised primarily of women, then called me back to tell me that if I wrote a womenís self-help book and took out everything about men, weíd have a deal. To use a phrase from Clarissa Pinkola Estťs, at that point my inner wild woman howled loudly. I knew that I had been sniffing down the wrong path, and that a large New York house wasnít where I needed to take this work. A friend suggested New Falcon to me. When I submitted the manuscript, the publisher called me back, enthusiastically welcoming the book precisely because of some of its ! disturbing and daring ideas. When that happened, I knew I was home.
A couple of prominent women declined to give my book an endorsement because they didnít care for the fierceness of my tone.

Bert: I didnít see the tone of your book as being at all fierce.

Carolyn: A couple of women heard it as being too harsh on women. Iíve experienced this subtle censorship of views before, when I was promoting Jack Kammerís book Good Will Toward Men. One woman with a San Francisco paper was very turned off by the title. Her response was, "Havenít we had enough of that?" I said I didnít think she knew what the book was about, and went on to explain it to her. She didnít seem very interested.
Some women believe that men own and run the world, and everything in the world is by, for and about men.

Bert: The idea that we donít need menís studies because thatís all weíve been studying for the last 2,000 years.

Carolyn: I wrote an article a while back for Man! magazine, where I described walking into a bookstore in Arizona shortly after Iron John came out. I asked the woman owner where the menís section was and she told me, "The whole bookstoreís the menís section."

Bert: What youíre suggesting is that the lack of menís sections in bookstores and lack of interest in menís issues is as harmful to women as it is to men.

Carolyn: Absolutely. This is the work that I do with women. I work with a lot of women, helping them to discover and honor the positive masculine within themselves. Without it, a woman is like the woman in the fairy tale "The Handless Maiden." We need that positive masculine energy within ourselves to put ourselves out into the world, to empower ourselves. If we canít distinguish the different kinds of masculine energy, then we project negative masculine energy out into the world.

Bert: Then thereís the other side of that, that men doing Menís Work need to be developing their inner feminine.

Carolyn: Iíve seen that happening a lot.

Bert: When I got started into Menís Work, my wife was doing a womenís spirituality seminar. Our vision as we began doing this work is that powerful men who have done this work could come together in new ways with women who have also been doing this work. The Woman Who Runs with the Wolves meets Iron John, as it were.

Carolyn: You asked me earlier about transcending gender wars. Iím not very big on transcending, but I am big on transforming. The only way I know from my own experience how that works is to go into, not above and away from, the grief, pain, rage, fear and despair that so many women and men feel about gender wounding.

Bert: What is the grief, rage, pain, fear and despair that women are experiencing?

Carolyn: What I hear from women in midlife is the old, familiar line that they crave positive masculinity, but itís not out there and they donít know where to find it. Where do I meet men who want to do this kind of work? Theyíre also struggling with pain, rage and fear around male violence, which so many have experienced in the past.

Bert: I know quite a few relationships where the woman married a sensitive and gentle man, then grew frustrated years later when there was nothing hard to push against. But frequently, when a man starts to be fierce, or takes a fierce stand, the woman becomes fearful that this is the beginning of violence.

Carolyn: This is the part that women have to struggle with in the dialogue that has to happen between the genders. In the work that I do with women and men together, thatís certainly something that comes up. When a man develops a fierce tone, women begin to have a fear of violence. If a woman can stay with that and not run out of the room or leave the room emotionally, she can experience that fierceness in a new way and learn to deal with it.

Bert: When men encounter a fierce woman, the same issue comes up. Many times, men are afraid of a fierce woman.

Carolyn: Sheís going to turn into a Hag at any second. Sometimes she does.

Bert: Iíve heard men say that in their menís groups, they can get into an angry shouting match with another man, but they stayed fully present, and know that if something comes up later, the man who was so angry will be there for them in the future. It takes a while for a menís group to form the kind of closeness where a man can express his anger towards another man in the group safely.

Carolyn: I donít think that dealing with rage work should happen in a mixed group. Itís hard for a man to stay with a womanís rage, or a woman to stay with a manís rage. But rage is not the same as fierceness. It really is possible in a gathering of women and men to create a safe container where women and men can stand in the face of each otherís fierceness.
I also think this is not the first thing that women and men should do when they come together. Thereís a lot of work that needs to be done between them before they can get to that stage.
The idea of male violence and young male initiation is something I want to take a little further, because itís something I end the book with. I was talking about this when we were talking about Robert Bly. Iím really excited about the work of Robert and Marion Woodman, Malidoma and Sobonfu Somť, and the work that Michael Meade is doing in initiating young men. I end my book with the theme that no work is more important at this time than the initiation of young people. Women must support the initiation of young men. Political feminism has completely misunderstood this and continues to equate the initiation of young men with fraternity hazing or Army boot camp. I agree with Robert Bly in The Sibling Society when he courageously asserts that because of the lac! k of initiation into womanhood and manhood in the culture, none of us learn how to become mature women or men. He further says, as do Michael Meade and Malidoma Somť, that if young men in our culture are not initiated, they have the capacity to completely incinerate our culture, and their destructive rage has the capacity to set back 30 years of advances for women. So itís really important that conscious women stand behind the initiation of young men.

Bert: The other side of that is the initiation of young females. Is there anything going on in that area?

Carolyn: There is in my womenís circle. A lot of womenís groups that are working mythopoetically and are oriented toward feminine spirituality are developing ceremonies and blessings for young women. I just had an experience of this in my womenís group at our solstice gathering, when we gave a blessing to a young woman just coming into puberty. It was a phenomenal experience. It will take that young woman years to fully integrate that experience, but even the next day she was saying that she felt more empowered and closer to her mother. She said it was the greatest thing that had ever happened to her.

Bert: She felt what it was like to be a mature woman Ö

Carolyn: She got a glimpse of that.

Bert: Öand felt that she had been recognized as a woman by the other women in the group.

Carolyn: She said she had never been so seen and honored before by older women.

Bert: Where do we need to focus next?

Carolyn: As you may have noticed, we are currently experiencing a ferocious attack on soul in our culture. If the First Lady consults with spiritual advisors, this event dominates the media for a week. Five hundred years ago, everyone consulted spiritual advisors. Insurance companies generally refuse to pay for more than 12 therapy sessions per year for their insured customers. Their basic message to all of us regarding our wounding is, "Get over it and stay over it!" People have very little discretionary income for workshops and personal development. I could go on and on, but the point is that patriarchy is growing ever more vicious and insidious in its attempts to turn all of us into robotic, desensitized pawns. One of the pivotal pieces in thi! s nightmare is the polarization of genders. Now more than ever, men and women need to come together and mourn our common wounding by a culture that has a vested interest in keeping us at war with each other.
As a storyteller, I facilitate workshops on making sense of our lives and the troubled times we live in through mythology. I incessantly hear how famished men and women in our culture are for the imaginal world. David Whyte has written a poem about this entitled "Loaves and Fishes," which begins with the lines, "This is not the age of information / this is not the age of information," and which ends with, "People are hungry, and one good word is bread for a thousand." Iím endeavoring to offer some of the loaves and fishes people are hungry for.
For several years, I have been co-facilitating workshops in gatherings of women and men throughout my local community and in California. I want to do much more of this throughout the country. I am also co-facilitating workshops for men and women with John Shanteau of the Tri-Valley Menís Network of San Ramon, California, on the Sacred Feminine and the Sacred Masculine.
More recently I have been facilitating groups in doing ritual, because Iím convinced that ritual can safely open doors for people that might have taken years of psychotherapy to open. This is not to make one better than the other, but since there is a severe backlash against therapy at the moment in our culture, we need other ways to help us transform when therapy may not be accessible to us.
There will be a second book, but Iím not sure of the focus yet. Iím certain it will center around a myth or fairy tale and that that particular story will be made relevant to the current moment.

More interviews

Men, Spirit, Soul and Shadow

Audio Cassette Tapes with Robert Bly, James Hillman, Michael Meade, John Lee, Malidoma Somé,Marion Hillman, Clarissa Ponkola Estés and many others

Books by these people available on-line


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