Clarissa Pinkola Estés, author of Women Who Run With The Wolves

All human beings are born gifted, that means you dear soul. Read on for two exclusive letters from Clarissa Pinkola Estés, author of the underground classic Women Who Run With The Wolves

Women Who Run With Wolves

Dearest reader,

Now an old storyteller woman in my seventies, I began writing Women Who Run with the Wolves in 1971 as a young mother. The basic premise then, as now, running through all my work, unequivocally asserts that all human beings are born gifted, that means you dear soul. 

I coined the word 'overculture’ to mean the larger society which often attempts to tell girls, women and elders what we ought, should and must be, do, act, react — but, and, as you know, often the deeper wild nature says otherwise — for the wild instinctual nature is wise and wild both, with innate gifts and creative callings — all following the naturally insightful voice of the true self, rather than the often 'one-inch deep overculture’s voice' that values uniformity and only pre-authorized dancing. 

Remember … Psychology, in its oldest sense, means the study of the soul. In my works, I refer to the soul aspect of psyche by many titles, including the true self, the instinctual nature, the wild self… all these separate from the small 'ego of appetites and ambitions' that may serve its own purpose — but by no means is ego to be the leader of the enormous psyche. 

Ego is but a small island in the midst of the oceanic psyche. The enormous soul, the true self, by contrast to ego, is concerned with meaningful growth in the interior world; blossoming in the outer world above ground; understanding calling, creativity, unleashing what matters most to the wild and true self; healing and sheltering the wild nature, and the precious life forms that cannot be allowed to vanish from this earth. 

In the tales in Women Who Run With the Wolves, which come from my ethnic immigrant and refugee families, my travels in unique and strange lands, sudden engagements with highly unusual forces and persons, my insights from my psychoanalytic consulting room — the underlying storylines are imbedded with similar trajectories time and again. That is, how the soul, the true self, sets out to find new life for the first time or once again, but comes up against an impenetrable wall, a restriction, an abuse, a land of bones, and thence, in whichever ways learns to create, devise, outwit, resist, build, prevail, propel oneself back into the wild self again, the wild self becoming again, the one and only true sovereign in a woman’s life. 

But first, in most tales, the true self, is sometimes buried, forgotten, becomes lost, overshadowed-- perhaps by blind ambition; or too much good-girlness’; having been seduced into taking care of everyone minus self; or falling into know-it-allness that turns to a deadly form of daily failed perfectionism; or via not having a guide to a deeper way of life that teaches meaningful connections to self, others and one’s world that hold. In tales, we see all manner of such losses, sufferings, travails, agonistas, challenges, seeming dead ends… 

yet in most tales, the wild self, most ever holding a fine and great heart like a torch afire, finds her way back to her true and wild homeplace, the motherground of her greatest strength, greatest creativity, greatest visionary way of life. 

I value most that you take your time reading Women Who Run With the Wolves. If you choose, please do as literally millions have done over the last 25 years this work has been published, that is, meet face to face with one or more friends, or new acquaintances. Have tea together and take turns laying aspects of your lives down alongside my stories given in this work. See what matches, where and how and why. See what hopes arise, what is not understood [and pursue understanding], what old or new wounds need mending, and see to mending these matters with one another— a form of wild conversation, wild education --which can also be taken up in solitary contemplations [with sipping tea always acceptable]  if one prefers. 

This work was written slowly over 20 years time, beginning in 1971 and received 42 rejections by publishing companies during that time. Yet… as I sought to devise my writing in a universal code, placing stories, blessings, poems, commentary in a precise and certain order — I wrote, then went away, and thought about matters that arose from the writing, [tales of certain kinds often cause vivid dreaming, for instance] came back and wrote some more, went away, contemplated more, then came back and wrote some more. Most read Women Who Run With the Wolves the way it was written. A little at a time, then go away, dream, see, listen, let heart, mind, body, soul, spirit think about ’the matters that matter to you', then come back again, trotting forward over the beautiful vast and wild terrain of your own psyche, making the substance of your own precious life, visible and blessed by the wild self.

I ever send love, siempre,


clarissa pinkola estés, ph.d.

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... there is no one way, nor right way to understand your wild nature; there is your way.

Here are some starter questions if you would like, remembering that there is no one way, nor right way to understand your wild nature; there is your way — guided by true self, and in that, I promise you, each soul is unique and you are like none other, and blessedly so by my sights. We are not on our earth to confine ourselves to being matched, derivative sets — like porcelain tea cups. We are here to unleash our unique loves and gifts into the world straight out of the deepest wild nature we all carry… that is, one of a kind wild woman...

1.     Consider and then choose a character in each tale that has meaning for you. What commonalities might you have with the character? How so? How are you different? Which character do you have the least sympathy for in each tale? What might this mean to you?

2.     Because we are all born into cultures that sometimes try to trim back certain features of the wild nature while over-domesticating the true self, that is, the wild self, the stories in Women Who Run With the Wolves were fashioned to speak to issues of spiritual and creative development, failures and setbacks, and often lastly, coming to clarity and transformation. How do you see this pattern of 'seeking, failing, finding, transforming,' evident in each story? How do you see these in your life regarding your true wild self, vs. the overculture’s ideas about how a woman ought be/ behave/ behold?

3.     What is the value of the wild nature as a way of life for human beings? What might be the useful, and not so useful sides to suddenly "going wild?" Why is 'wildness with integrity' necessary to the creative process, to living a life of meaning, balanced and deeply instinctual? What is the difference  between wild, as in "reckless," and wildness that has an integral pattern that furthers life of the true self? What psychic attitudes would constitute a balanced life, living daily dearly connected to one’s own wild nature, as opposed to anyone else’s idea or ideal for individual women, or women as a group? 

4.     Women Who Run With the Wolves is filled with imagery and pragmatism. The instinctual nature is strongest when rationality and the imaginal are combined. Why is this dual knowledge of the down to earth and the creatively wild, so important to the lessons in this book?

5.     Our world is too often filled with those who attempt to colonize, encage rather than engage the wild nature, rather to invade and demand that the wild nature be subservient, when in fact the wild nature is the brilliant radiant center of the psyche, that brings new life over and over again to each free individual. Can villains in fairy tales who kill the wild nature, as easily be male as female? In the story 'Golden Hair' for instance, a man kills a beautiful wild woman who has hair of gold, for she has refused his attentions to possess her. He thinks he will evade apprehension, but her golden hair grows out of her grave. Shepherds cut the wands for flutes, which will only play the name of he who took her life. How can the killing of the beautiful wild self, whether inside one’s own mind, or in relationships, or in overculture be same or different were the gender of the ’killer of the wild’ be reversed? And most importantly, how is the wild nature, devoted to true resistance, the way the blessed body in best health, resists harmful invasions of viruses, for instance. 

6.     In the overculture that sometimes strips away the balanced wild nature as a matter of course, stripping her of self-sovereignty about her ways innate, and instead making demands about how a woman ought look, feel, act, walk, talk, work, serve, how is sexuality tied to the life-flame at the center of the psyche? Can sexuality be understood as spirit? And if so for you, how? Are laughter and sexuality related to one another [hint with levity from an old woman: Yes and yes.] How might soul and sexuality be related in the wild nature? Why has such been cast aside or castigated so? Or overdeveloped in ways that are rootless or mechanical. What does our culture say about the body of a woman? Compare this to what balanced and wild spirit says about the body.  

Remember dear souls, what I’d call 'the wild woman birthright,' by my sights, is that all souls are born with the right to take in and consider all that is offered, solicited, demanded of oneself by others-- and, then each soul has a right to respond from her best balanced wild nature, as each soul sees fit, in service of true self, and in service out of love for the true selves of others. 

Be well, be wise, be wild…

Again, with love,


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