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Inner Man, Inner Woman

An Interview with Marion Woodman

Copyright © 1993, 1997 by Bert H. Hoff

This article appeared in the December 1993 issue of M.E.N. Magazine

Marion Woodman, a prominent Jungian analyst, appeared with Robet Bly in the Applewood videotape series On Men and Women which we praised in our review last spring. She is the author of Addiction to Perfection, The Pregnant Virgin, and The Ravaged Bridegroom, all of which have been very influential for women. Bert called her in Toronto to talk about menís and womenís inner work and about ways to bring men and women together.


Marion Woodman

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Bert: Why is Menís Work important?

Marion: I think that we are in an evolutionary state in consciousness. Women need to do their work alone, and men need to do their work alone, in order to come to a new understanding. Women, of their own femininity and men, of their own masculinity, in order for the sexes to come together at a new level. I think that all the work that we are doing separately is in order that we can eventually talk to each other and understand each other at a new level. Certainly, in working with womenís dreams, as women become more conscious of their own femininity a very new masculinity develops within women. I think this is equally true of men, that as they work on their masculinity they are beginning to find a new femininity. The dialog is very different from what it was, even five years ago.

Bert: The inner dialog?

Marion: Not only the inner dialog, but as within, so without. When you do start to interrelate, the outer dialog is very different. Instead of coming from a place of judgment or blame, weíre beginning to understand what love is. Weíre just beginning to have some understanding of what soul meeting soul is.

Fifteen years ago I tried to do groups together, and both the men and the women asked to work alone. They couldnít find their own center, so long as they were trying to work together. But now they want to work together. People who have done their work on themselves alone are very, very happy and anxious to work together in a brand new way.

Bert: So thatís what happening in the On Men and Women series, and the other Applewood conferences you do with Robert Bly?

Marion: Yes. Weíre trying to bring the dialog into a new level, where we can genuinely share what is deepest in our own hearts. That means you canít be judged. The minute you feel you are being judged, you are no longer being yourself.

Bert: As my wife and I do our dialog, it reminds me of what I saw on the Applewood videotape. You talk of spirit meeting spirit and soul meeting soul, yet no matter how much we try to do that, other stuff comes up and it turns into almost an explosion against each other.

Marion: Yes, thatís true. I think that thereís a lot of stored anger and grief in our bodies. It comes not only from our own generation, but from past generations. Until that is released at a personal level, you canít get beyond it to what I would call the soul level, or the transcendent level. That personal anger has to be recognized. If you try to leap over it, eventually it will come back and impede the dialog.

I call it soul work, because as long as we relate only on a sexual, biological level weíre really not conscious of what genuine love can be. Weíre still working in terms of need, of dependency. I think that what weíre moving towards now is a love that is far more encompassing than at the biological level. When the inner eyes are opened, the inner ears are opened, we become aware of a a sensibility and a sensitivity that is way beyond what was known twenty years ago. Thatís not true for everybody, of course. Some people have always been at this more evolved level. Weíre all evolved at different levels. But as a culture weíre beginning to realize that thereís something new evolving.

Bert: I think we can see that when Robert Blyís Iron John and Clarissa Estťsí Women Who Run with the Wolves top the New York Times bestseller list. There seems to be a cultural hunger to dive into this level.

Marion: Yes. I think people are much more aware of their own inner partners. They are recognizing that if they can set up a genuine relationship with the inner partner, then this is the creative source in their own life. Thatís what Jung calls the Royal Marriage -- the Inner Marriage where youíre married to your own inner God or, in the case of men, your own inner Goddess.

But the recognition of that leaves the personal relationship with the real man or woman on the outside free of the God or Goddess projections. Then you donít demand far more than the human person can give. The human person doesnít have to try to be perfect.

Bert: Does that mean that we shouldnít marry early, before we have developed the inner relationships?

Marion: I donít know. I think that some people, even if they do marry, can still keep on working on the relationship. Iíve known many couples that have worked a lifetime on the same relationship they began with, in their early twenties. But the marriage they have now is not the marriage they started out with.

Bert: So they awaken and become alive together.

Marion: Yes. The great danger is that one will move faster than the other in the relationship. For periods of time they will seem to fly right past each other. Thatís where a great deal of patience is required.

Bert: I think Iíve seen a lot of that, where one partner grows and the other partner doesnít. The result usually is that they need to grow apart, and leave each other.

Marion: Thatís right ... for a period of time. Or, it may be that they have to separate forever. If theyíre not both working on themselves, then one will have to go on alone. Often, however, if they have the patience to hold, and if theyíre both working, I find they do come back together after a separation. Because theyíre coming back to a new person.

Bert: One of the themes in your book Addiction to Perfection is that as women are taking a more active role in the outside world, they are robbed of their femininity through the pursuit of masculine goals that are in themselves a parody of what masculine really is. "Perfect job, perfect house, perfect clothes, so what? What does it all add up to? Thereís got to be more than this." You seem to describe the stress and the emptiness that men describe in our Wisdom Council circles.

Marion: I see patriarchy as a power principle, wanting to get control over oneís self, another person or over nature. I think that men and women are equally damaged by this, because it sets up the perfectionist goals of ambition, competition, moving most efficiently. If one persists in that, the heart goes out of it. You become a mask, doing the best you can to fulfill your goals. But then when you go home at night you are so exhausted that you havenít got time to develop what I would call the feminine values.

Iím not saying that you should have the feminine values at home and the masculine values at work. Ideally, there should be a balance of masculine and feminine in both realms. But if itís not at home, if itís not in the personal relationships, you just feel empty. Men are no different from women in that.

Bert: My boss is not paying me to do soul work at work, But when I come home, I guess I need to be doing the soul work in my non-work time.

Marion: Donít you think, though, that even at work, as you work with soul work, more and more you perceive the real person?

Bert: I think thatís true. Iím open to seeing things in the relationships at work that I had not been seeing before.

Marion: Itís a kind of space to work in. It calls forth a different kind of expression of the soul where you are working, as well as in the relationships around you. And I think that other people pick that up. If youíre conscious enough to be seeing their reality, they respond to you in a different way.

Bert: In Addiction to Perfection you point out that perfection is defeat. You go on to say that living by principles is not living your own life. Care to talk about this?

Marion: Perfection is not a human attribute. We are not perfect. Wholeness is what most of us want. We want to find our own totality. So therefore, to put perfection up as the first order is essentially to say, "I am not a human being, I can be as a God. And I will not have any truck with human lust, human greed, human filth. I am better than that."

That puts you into what I call a suicidal expectation, because you cannot live up to that. Thatís where addiction comes in. Because the addict may have tried to reach that kind of perfection, and found himself or herself more and more closed off from the human condition, more and more centered on perfection. This will end up in death, because you cannot be perfect. In trying to escape from your imperfections, you get into an addiction, which has a death wish at the center of it. Because you are continually failing.

Bert: I feel more open to accepting human lust into my own life than human greed or filth. But I imagine I need to recognize the inner shadow and the human greed.

Marion: The thing is, Bert, that if you try to be perfect youíre going at a terrific speed. Because youíre trying to achieve the impossible. And our body instincts cannot keep up with that speed. So the natural satiation point is never achieved. Thatís where the greed goes completely out of control. Thatís the American consumer society, as I see it. In normal circumstances, people eat what they need, buy what they need, and live by their instinctual need. But if your body is going so fast that it canít recognize when itís satisfied, then all those instinctual drives go out of control. And there is no satisfaction, anywhere. Does that make any sense to you?

Bert: Yes, I think I see that on the cultural level as well. For a movie or TV show to have impact, itís not enough to let you know in the movie plot that someone has been killed. You need to see it in all its gory detail. Weíre so over-stimulated that it has to be more dramatic this time.

Marion: Yes. I just saw Age of Innocence. That, of course, is the opposite. Everything is held in, controlled. I found it so powerful. Thereís no open sexuality at all, but in one of the scenes the hero takes off the loverís glove. Itís so sensual, it almost makes your body quiver.

I think it could be that there will be a backlash against all this overstimulation.

Bert: If we donít burn ourselves out first.

Marion: Thatís right. And if we donít become so hooked in our own self-dramatization that we just keep buying more and more. Weíre literally being destroyed in our own garbage.

Bert: Psychically and ecologically.

Marion: I agree.

Bert: You mentioned patriarchy a bit ago, and stressed a major difference between patriarchy and masculinity. Gregory Max Vogt wrote a book, Return to Father, with the thesis that patriarchy isnít all bad, but has made and still needs to make valuable contributions. He describes a homologous patriarchy that rejects authoritarianism and competitiveness, and stresses the hunter, builder, lover, philosopher, protector of society and visionary. Would there be something work keeping, on the positive side of the patriarchy?

Marion: Oh, absolutely. I would call all those archetypes you just listed as masculine. For me, patriarchy has become a parody of itself, because itís gone into control. When the hunter hunts just for the joy of killing animals, or the joy of cutting down trees, or destroying nature, he is no longer a natural hunter. No, I would certainly agree that so long as any of those stay within natural bounds, they are the genuine masculine. The same is true of the lover, if he is really loving. But if all he is doing is going from one bed to another to prove his "masculinity," heís trying to control something thatís lost in himself. So, for me all of those archetypes are masculine. And I would add to that the creative masculine as well.

But to get to the positive side of the patriarchy, most of us have to really go beyond a huge fear, the fear of being controlled by an individual or an institution or a cultural attitude. Because we expect judgment, and we expect somebody to use power on us.

Thereís a terrible sense in schools, for example, that the teacher is going to try to control the way that students think. So the studentís attitude is that, "Well, weíll just turn off, and sit here, but we will not be controlled." That starts, I think, very early in public schools, if not in kindergarten.

Itís a very difficult thing, Bert, because many people donít realize that they are controlling in their attitudes. I think that many parents feel that if the children donít live up to their standards, and donít try to live up to their values, the children are, in their disobedience, annihilating the parents. If the parents looked closer at themselves, they would see that itís their power attitudes that are annihilating the child.

This is where we come back to soul. Can we perceive each otherís soul, and allow that soul to grow in its own way, whether it pleases us or not?

Bert: Sometimes itís the very difficult process of letting go.

Marion: Well, thatís the secret. Thatís where the patriarchy has so much difficulty. When I talk about patriarchy Iím talking about women as much as men, because many women are worse patriarchs than men. Itís not gender-related. Itís an attitude, of "I know whatís best for you. Youíd better do it the way I tell you to." I may not tell you, I may simply expect it.

Bert: You point out in both the videotape series and your books the importance of body work. Can you elaborate a bit?

Marion: I say that, Bert, because I think our culture is a head culture, that lives from the neck up. Many people try to pretend that the emotions and all the shadow side of themselves are not there. I also have to point out that often the very best of us is buried in our shadow. Many people are afraid to express their genuine feeling at all, and that feeling is trapped in the body. So for me, in order to be a whole person you have to know what is going on in your musculature. Because if you donít know that, that side of you is being repressed, and sooner or later itís going to explode.

Many people say "I love you," but if theyíre not coming from the body level, you canít trust that. The instinctual level has got to be made conscious. Thatís where the body work is important. In body work you bring instincts into consciousness. Then they become part of the totality. Instead of blocking all the energy in the head, you open the heart and the body.

Bert: You also talk about bringing spirit into body.

Marion: Thatís right. Itís a little hard to explain. If you watch a baby when its mother comes into the room, its whole body quivers. Not just the head, the smile and the hands. The whole body is involved. I think that in our society we have cut off that cellular response. Itís shut down. So many teenagers talk about "shutting down." What theyíre doing is turning off the body. But then life becomes boring. You donít see the beauty of autumn with your whole body. You donít smell, or taste, or even see, with all of your person. You merely experience it at the head. But to do something with your head is totally different from experiencing it with the body.

Bert: Media scoffing of the "menís movement" most frequently focuses on the drumming. Men who drum say itís a way to get out of their heads, and in touch with their feelings. They feel the power and the rhythm in their bodies. Whatís your view on drumming?

Marion: I use it in womenís work all the time, for the same reason. If youíre drumming to move toward consciousness, itís very, very powerful. If you use drumming to move into unconsciousness, thatís a different story. But thatís true with making love, or eating, or any other instinctual activity. You can pass into unconsciousness, wolfing down the food, and youíre not awake. Youíre asleep. You can drum yourself into sleep, and just go on in a trance.

Or you can drum into full consciousness. You can become totally alive, so you really do feel the pulse of the earth, the pulse of other people. And you really do feel the spirit move into the drum. Not only your drum, but everybody elseís drum going with the same spirit.

Bert: Thatís what happens at Wisdom Council, when we have 200 men gathered in the same room.

Marion: Absolutely. You move onto a transcendent plane with the drumming. Youíre all working with the same spirit. It can be quite powerful. I know the first timed it happened to me, I was electrified. I had been feeling exhausted, and felt I couldnít go on. Then, the person beside me and I struck the drum at exactly the same instant, only it was coming from a new energy. And then we realized that the whole group had been moved in the same way. Then something quite different begins to happen. You add to it, as Iím sure you know. Particularly in nature, when you have the heartbeat of the earth coming through your beat.

Bert: I would like to talk to you a bit about your book, The Ravaged Bridegroom.

Marion: I stress that the title of the book is The Ravaged Bridegroom, not ravished. The subtitle of Addiction to Perfection is "The Still Unravished Bride." Thereís a huge difference, Bert. Iíve been criticized for not bringing out the positive side in The Ravaged Bridegroom. The positive side only comes up in the last chapter. But what Iím saying is that the masculine is so ravaged in women, that they have to look at this. We canít move to the ravishment, which is the full, open acceptance of love, until we have worked through the ravaged side. These are two totally different meanings. To ravish is to make love to the point of transcendence. But to ravage is to destroy. You ravage a town. I did that purposely. You see, a ravaged bridegroom cannot ravish a bride. What Iím pointing out in The Ravaged Bridegroom is the agony of the masculine in women. Iím doing my best with women now, to heal the masculine. Men are trying to heal the masculine in themselves, I know. My point is that until both find the pregnant virgin in themselves, heal the feminine within themselves, and heal the masculine in themselves, they cannot get to the Inner Marriage.

Bert: I must confess, the subtlety of that distinction escaped me.

Marion: I think itís very important that we donít lose sight of these subtleties. Itís the subtleties weíre working on now, not the big coarse issues. I think thatís one of the huge difficulties with feminists looking at the menís movement. They donít understand the difference between the archetypal mother and the personal mother. And therefore they think that the men are bashing the personal mother. And thatís not what theyíre bashing at all. Theyíre bashing the negative side of the archetypal mother.

Bert: A main theme in The Ravaged Bridegroom is "soul-making." The book has one of the most succinct statements of the relationship between spirit and soul that Iíve seen. Soul is what we are missing in this specialized, mechanized world, that keeps us from being full human beings. Soul mediates between spirit and body; it is through the soul that we bring spirit into the body. Can you talk a bit about this?

Marion: This brings together a lot of what weíve already talked about. To me, the soul is the eternal part that lives in the body. It lives within the confines of the five senses, and uses the experience that comes in through the five senses to create poetry, to write music, to dance. All the arts come through the soul. But, if you are a dancer, and have worked very, very hard to bring your body into perfect alignment, if your muscles are strong, and if you are really able to express your soul through your dance, often something happens that electrifies you. For example the music comes into your body, or you feel spirit move in. And then you are being danced. Or, if you are a writer, thereís a point where youíve done all you can do to develop your technique, but youíre still just making little ego scribbles. If spirit moves in, you are being written. This is true in any great art. To me, thatís the Inner Marriage, where soul and spirit meet. Soul has done all it can do to prepare itself, but then it takes the spirit to really move it into the transcendent dimension. The ego is greatly expanded into another realm.

Bert: If youíre not burned up in the process.

Marion: Thatís possible. You can be burned up in the process.

Bert: You talked in The Ravaged Bridegroom about the cello player who came into your office, smiled, and said, "Too much spirit." She then played air-cello. You saw a real connection that she had not had before, between her technical proficiency and the spirit and soul moving through her.

Marion: She had been playing Wagner night after night. Every night she felt the energy of Wager's music coming through the cello, right through her body. Her body was going into burnout because of the intensity of the archetypal rhythm in her body. She strengthened her own body and her own ego to be able to be able to take the power of that music. It takes huge strength to open to that other side.

Bert: Youíre talking about physical strength and ego strength.

Marion: And soul strength.

Bert: As opposed, say, to Keats, who was burned up by the Firebird by age twenty- five.

Marion: Well, true, but he also had tuberculosis. His body couldnít support what was happening to him. But, of course, many of the Romantics were burned up by the time they were thirty- five. The same thing happened to women. Look at Sylvia Plath, or Anne Sexton, or Emily Bronte. They also were burned up by the Firebird. The energy coming through was more than they could sustain.

I think also, sometimes, if you do touch into the other realm, itís difficult to come back into this one. In science, they say that Albert Einstein did see the equation for God, and passed over into it. Look at Beethovenís last quartets, for example. Beethoven moved over into the other dimension. You can feel that, when you listen to them. You move into a place where you have to struggle to come back.

But thereís a time when itís right to just move with that. But not until your time is right.

Bert: Robert A. Johnson takes the traditional Jungian view that the soul is feminine, in men and women. This doesnít resonate with me. It feels like the feminine is the gateway to the soul in a man, and the masculine is the gateway to the soul for women, but that the soul is a yin-yang balance between masculine and feminine. How far off am I?

Marion: I donít worry too much about categories, actually, Bert. To me, and I think Robert Johnson would agree, the soul is the receiver, that receptive part that can open to spirit. I think that if you take soul as possessing both yin and yang, then you have to take spirit as possessing both yin and yang. Then they together become a microcosm of the God and Goddess. In other words, the individual has within him the microcosm that is married to the macrocosm of God and Goddess in divine embrace.

Bert: In the Dance.

Marion: In the Dance, yes. But I would always remember, too, that the yin has some yang in it, and the yang has some yin in it. There has to be a bit of yang in the yin in order for that feminine assertiveness to come through. Theyíre constantly going around in the Dance. You need both in order for the feminine to experience the full masculine and the masculine to experience the full feminine. In the Dance, or in love-making, it takes the feminine moving into the part of her masculine to open the feminine in the man. That keeps going on, in a circle, so that both experience the totality of themselves.

Bert: Simultaneously coming into the totality of themselves, and losing themselves in the other.

Marion: Thatís right. Momentarily. Or better still, transcend themselves, which opens them up to a new level of consciousness.

Bert: In the story of Ivan and the Firebird in the On Men and Women videotape series, Ivan encounters the Baba Yagaís crazy house spinning on a chicken leg. He says, "Stop as you stopped when your father was alive." The image that brought up for me is that the house is your container, where you live. Baba Yaga was the witch because her life was spinning crazily because her father was dead to her. Care to talk to our readers about their roles as fathers of daughters?

Marion: Thatís certainly one of my big, big issues. The relationship to the father can either make or destroy the girl. If the father is not there, if he had been killed in the war, or is drunk, or divorced, or whatever, she can idealize him, to the point where she canít relate to other men at call, because she gets thinking, "If only Daddy were here, everything would be all right." Then she looks to men to make everything perfect. And, of course, they cannot do that. So she becomes embittered, looking for that kind of perfection which she thinks the father would supply. As you say about the Baba Yaga, that energy can be contained, and the house can stop swirling on its chicken leg, if there is a masculine energy strong enough to control it.

Itís a rare thing in our culture, to find that kind of strength that can stop that swirling energy. This is what we were talking about before, that swirling energy that wants to consume everything.

Bert: That perfectionist energy.

Marion: Yes. The energy that wants to cut down more trees, eat more food, buy more stuff at the store, watch more television, everything is in a swirl. Everything is going so fast they canít stop. Stopping that swirling energy takes an authority from within, that can say, "Sit down, pull yourself together, and meditate." The body would also be quieted and brought into balance by that. How many people can do that, in the midst of the swirl?

Bert: Continuing with fathers and daughters, the daughter then reaches adolescence, and the blossoming of her sexuality and her beauty. The father that used to hold her on his lap and kiss and hug her seems to have trouble dealing with the daughter, and may withdraw.

Marion: I think that itís a natural separation. Weíre getting back now to why men have to work alone, and women have to work alone, before they come back together at a different level. A girl who is experiencing her own budding womanhood is going to relate to her father in a very different way. She can no longer be as open because now sheís looking at a sexual being as well. Of course, sheís going to draw back. I think under normal circumstances, she would draw back into the company of other women until she can trust her own womanhood. But itís rate in our culture for there to be a company of women for her to withdraw into. Similarly, for boys, the father has to remain there.

If the father has sexual feelings toward the daughter, he has to recognize them. In recognizing them, the daughter doesnít pick them up on an unconscious level, and sheís free. Similarly, if the mother consciously recognizes whatís there, she can release the son. She doesnít have to speak, she just has to be conscious of it.

Bert: It sounds like shadow work.

Marion: It is shadow work, sure. Big shadow work. I think that comes back to what we talked about at the beginning. The shadow work has to go on among men, and it has to go on among women, in order for them to recognize the energy that is locked in their bodies. Once they can accept it, and claim it as their own, they donít have to fear the other sex.

Bert: And that shadow work is exactly what needs to be brought out in the same gender work.

Marion: Thatís right. And then when they come back together, something totally different happens. Because each can recognize their own shadow material. Or they can say, as you said earlier, you have no trouble accepting your own lust now, because it is part of you. And you know, if youíre working with it consciously, that itís not going to go out of control.

Bert: So that if a man talks about a womanís lust or a womanís greed, she doesnít immediately react strongly in denial and get mad back at him. Because she already recognizes what heís saying. But heís also saying, "I can still love you and respect you and relate to you. I recognize that thatís there, but Iím not condemning you as a totality."

Marion: Thatís right. I think one of the biggest problems now between men and women who are really working hard, is that women are trying to move into what I call their own virginity, that is, the woman who is what she is because thatís who she is. Iím not using the word "virgin" in the sense of chaste, but rather, "This is who I am. I have done my work, I have done my journaling, I have worked on my body, I have worked hard to recognize my own value system."

Bert: You said something else, too, in your book. That the virgin is a woman who has prepared her body to give birth to the Divine Child.

Marion: Thatís right. The Divine Child is the new consciousness, you see. But I think that what is happening in terms of human relationships is that women often look at the man who loves her, and says, "This is what I think." It may not be at all what the man thinks or feels. He may feel that she is coming from the evil witch, the bad mother. He experiences it as going through the same old circle again. He has worked so hard to deal with that side of himself, and there she is, presenting it again.

But I think itís really important to recognize the difference between the virgin voice and the bad mother. You know, I donít like to use the word "witch" any more. Thatís the word thatís used in fairy tales to describe that dark Baba Yaga energy that will always put a man down. But the virgin voice is much quieter. It says, "You know, I am different from you. These are my feelings and these are my thoughts. Yes, they are different from yours. We are not going to agree on these points. But thatís all right." But I think many men are quite discouraged and angry when they see that coming up in a woman.

Bert: An expression of difference is seen as an expression of defiance?

Marion: Yes. I think that women who have worked hard on themselves are not the slightest bit interested in defiance. But they are interested in trying to stand to their own reality, whether it agrees with their partner or not.

Bert: And then on the menís side, thereís a tendency to stuff your own feelings or desires and to be what you think the women wants you to be. And so the men should also be saying, "This is that I think, this is what I feel, this is where I am."

Marion: Yes. In other words, he has to develop his own feminine virgin, as well. Both genders have to go through the development of the masculine, and the development of the feminine. I think that many men are stuck in mother, and when the women comes is with that virgin voice, they think itís just part of the old stuff. But itís not the old stuff, itís something quite new.

Bert: One of the things thatís beginning to happen in some of the Wisdom Council circles is that men who have been raging against their fathers are now raging against their mothers as well. In The Ravaged Bridegroom you describe what happened at one of Robert Blyís Great Mother workshops, when you asked about the word "mother." Women said things like "safe," and "nurturing." The men were silent. You asked the men, and everyone was shocked at what the men were saying. "Castrating." "Dominating."

Marion: The women couldnít believe what they were hearing! But those feelings have to come out. And there has to be a safe container for these feelings to come out. That is where I think so many of us are in difficulty with our groups. The container is not strong enough to carry the transcendent love. It takes huge love to hold those poliarities together. I think we have to build ritual at the beginning, the middle and the end, to hold those contraries together. I donít know of any other way to hold them together.

Bert: I think youíre right on that. I appreciate the time youíve spent with me. Do you have anything else you would like to say to our readers?

Marion: Just that itís so important to take that time. My commitment is to keeping the dialog between the genders moving, and to try to move into a very new space. So Iím honored to be speaking with you.

Bert: Iím honored to have you speaking to me and to our readers.

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