Book Review: Dancing in the Flames -
 Marion Woodman and Elinor Dickson

Gill & Macmillan, £9.99


This is an exciting book as well as challenging and important. In October, Marion Woodman with two colleagues came to Ireland and led a workshop for forty-six people to celebrate its publication. Both authors of the book are Jungian analysts who work with the body. The subtitle of the book explains its theme which is about the dark goddess in the transformation of consciousness. This goddess has found expression in the mythic images of every culture – in such figures as the Hindu goddess Kali, the Egyptian Isis, and the Black Madonnas found throughout mediaeval Europe. Her repression in the modern West is a tragedy that has been felt on personal and 
global levels as a split between body and spirit, resulting in suffering ranging from addiction to ecological crisis. This goddess speaks to men as clearly as to women. She demands embodiment.

The workshop gave space for embodiment as it opened and closed with dance. We worked also with sound. At another stage we worked in threes. One person did inner directed movement to some music of Chopin. One of the others was the ‘heart’, tuning in to the feeling tone, the other the ‘head’ sometimes supplying an image to the person who was moving. In our sharings we found it a powerful learning.

This book and the workshop explore what we mean by the conscious feminine and the conscious masculine. We are not talking about gender but rather about two energies – Yin and Yang or Shiva and Shakti. Each of us contains both masculine and feminine energy and both energies are divine. Some words that people associate with femininity are ‘presence’, ‘trusting’, ‘surrender’ ‘paradox’ and process’. Some attributes of the conscious masculine are ‘focus’, ‘discernment’ ,’struggle’ ,’sacrifice’,’perseverance’ and ‘courage’. Patriarchy is a parody of masculinity and works by taking 
identity from a power structure. We are working with the damaged masculine and 
there is a colossal depth to the wounding. The feminine has to recognise its collusion in this. As a culture we are presently stuck in parental complexes, The archetype of the Dark Goddess may provide a way to freedom.

The Dark Goddess embodies Virgin, Mother and Crone. The feminine that is trying to find its own voice comes from the Virgin archetype. This archetype carries the new consciousness which may radically shift the consciousness of the planet, and already in the new physics is shifting it. The mother archetype has two aspects – the nurturing, protective feminine and the devouring, terrible Death Goddess.

Relationships in our culture are in crisis around mothering. The real work in many relationship problems for both men and women is separating their new femininity, their own virgin, from the mother complex. This means living spontaneously from the emotions and values that are grounded in our musculature. The Crone evolves out of the conscious Mother and the conscious Virgin. As we respond to what life brings, the Crone very gradually presents herself. She is free and fearless. She knows how tough and how gentle we have to be to enter this life and to leave it. The beauty and the horror of the whole of life are held together in love. The Crone energy is strong enough to guide men into the feminine. She can hold the container in which they can experience their own shadow rage without destroying themselves or others. This archetype is only reentering our culture – having been banished for centuries.

At this point in time our frameworks are breaking down and we stand in chaos. At such a time how do we take responsibility for ourselves? Both the book and the workshop spoke about the need to situate ourselves at the still point. This still point is constantly on the move but it is still because of its connection with the higher power. The feminine presence is ‘I am’. We must find our own creative icons or we cannot live this. The imagery must come from our own body as well as from our dreams visions and the feeling that comes out of our own musculature.

The authors use the inner psychological work of numerous men and women, illustrated with art, poetry, dreams and fairy tales, to show how integration of the feminine is healing the split in lives of people today. This book calls us all forward – to move from the stance of matriarchy or patriarchy to a new androgyny. This is an inner marriage where spirituality is interiorized, not projected outward, where power is love, not domination, and where we live not in a state of dependence or independence but of interdependence. This is the dance the dark goddess challenges us to enter into, in her passionate flames of becoming. To dance from fear to freedom, trusting the light in matter, love vibrant in our very cells.

Anne Gill