I just love myths and legends, don’t you? But it took me a long time to get bitten by the wisdom within them. Mainly because—all the ones I was exposed to featured men, dealing with men’s issues.
Not that I haven’t gone back and fallen in love with those too! The crux was I just couldn’t really relate, while navigating the roiling waters of teenage-hood, to searching for the Holy Grail, going on a mammoth Odyssean quest, or any number of those myths and stories that featured, well, guy stuff.
I loved guys. I just didn’t want to go on their mastery quests with them. They didn’t resonate with me. Being the best sword master wasn’t on my to-do list (although now young women by the droves are learning to be archers! How cool is that!).
Imagine my shock when decades ago I moved to the farm to write, and ran across myths and legends about women. About the issues girls face trying to become women, and women face trying to make sense of their worlds. Oddly enough, I didn’t even know female-featured protagonists existed in myth.
Of course, I grew up in a male-oriented Freud-centric home! But it wasn’t as though girls then were exposed to myths featuring strong heroines once we outgrew Nancy Drew and Alice and the like.
And then dropped into my sphere came a huge tome that featured myths all about women.
The male of our species has resoundingly cracked jokes about it. Of course, had any said male actually read it, he probably would be as bored with these female-oriented tales as I was of Gawain, et al.
Unless of course he wanted to actually understand the women in his life. The converse of course leading me back to those guy tales and the wisdom within, later down the road.
But it was Women Who Run with the Wolves that opened my eyes to a huge canon of literature I never knew existed. In it, Clarissa Pinkola Estes retells ancient myths with female protagonists (and to be clear, males as well at times), then delves into the psychology held within them like glittering jewels.
It truthfully opened my world to the vast inner wealth of the female psyche. I felt, literally, physically, emotionally, psychologically as if I had come home.
Nearly all of the stories resonate and sing into my soul. They’re all pieces of the psyche, all digging down into the bones of us. Teaching, comforting, showing us the way. And so importantly—reminding us that others have gone before and lived to tell the tale.
It was here I first found the story of “The Doll in her Pocket: Vasilisa the Wise.” Why I’d never come across this ‘til then, I’ll never know, because it’s an ancient story, and many iterations of it exist, in cultures near and far.
But that myth literally changed my life.
The very essence of the story is about finding and listening to one’s intuition (which was anathema in the home and culture I grew up in). By listening to that deep soft voice, Vasalisa (and I as well) heard the heartbeat of that profound internal guidance that contains all of the collective wisdom of those who came before.
I was like, why weren’t we taught this in school? Right?
But wisdom, as any virtue, tends to reach you about the time you’re ready for it 🙂
Not only did this impact my personal life in a huge way, but it cracked open my creativity as I was writing what was to be my first published novel, By the Book. I didn’t use that in that book per se, but it planted the seeds for what was to become a lifelong joyous study of mythology, and for my novel, I Just Came Here to Dance.
Dance follows many myths and legends as it wends its way to understanding, but Vasalisa provides the heart of it, as Paula Anne finally hears and follows her own intuition. Finally lives her authentic life, rather than being stuffed into the conformity of some creature designed by the culture.
As Estes says in her introduction to the book, “I have not forgotten the dark years, hambre del alma, the song of the starved soul. But neither have I forgotten the joyous canto hondo, the deep song, the words of which come back to us when we do the work of soulful reclamation.”
Ah, can’t you feel the rhythm?
Award-winning writer and editor Susan Mary Malone is the author of the novels, "I Just Came Here to Dance" and "By the Book," as well as four co-authored nonfiction books, including "What’s Wrong with My Family?" and many published short stories. Forty-plus Malone-edited books have now sold to traditional publishers.