4 minute read

Clarissa Pinkola Estés: 1943—: Writer, Psychologist

Self Exploration Lead To Nature And Education

In the introduction to her first book, Women Who Run with the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype (1992), Estés related that when she was a small child, she "was an aesthete rather than an athlete, and my only wish was to be an ecstatic wanderer." A love of art and of nature led her toward a different life. Rather than remaining indoors, she preferred "the ground, trees, and caves for in those places I felt I could lean against the cheek of God." Estés described her childhood as one of having "been brought up in nature." She learned about nature and about the history of the land by exploring and even digging in the dirt. She learned compassion for all things by observing animals and the necessity of death for the ill and old. In Women Who Run with the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype, she discussed her childhood and the joys of living in a rural, wooded location. Estés' first book also provided an opportunity to tell stories about her childhood. She especially loved winter in Michigan and the snow that it brought, "for these meant the time of flower blossoms on the river was coming." She also related that it was on a trip that she and her family took to Big Bass Lake in Michigan, that she first learned of the unity and love that women can find in the telling of stories. She says of this trip that she was about twelve years old, and after breakfast, she was playing near where the women were sunning themselves on chaise lounges. She heard riotous laughter, as they laughed at something one was reading. Later she came to understand that the women's shared laughter was a gift, a way to strengthen their lives. These women had been widowed by war, but although she understood that "none of us can entirely escape our history," she also understood that stories were a way to move toward healing.

After she completed high school, Estés began an odyssey that would lead her both to a career and to her future as a storyteller. In the 1960s she left Michigan and moved west, eventually settling in Colorado. She was looking for a place that was thick with trees, and that was densely populated with the animals that she had loved in the forests of Michigan, the fox, bear, eagle, and wolf. The wolf was being exterminated in much of the United States, and so Estés headed to the southwest in search of wolves. What she found, instead, were stories, especially stories about wolves, which occupy the opening chapter of her first book.

Estés, however, would not become a writer or a storyteller for many years. She married for the first time in 1967 and was divorced by 1974. Estés came out of the divorce in the custody of her three daughters and minimal child support, thrusting her into poverty. To make ends meet, Estés baked bread early every morning and took on other menial jobs. It was not long, however, before she realized that the best future for her family rested on her continuing her education. Estés enrolled at Loretto Heights College, a small Catholic college in Denver that has since been purchased by a group of Japanese businessmen and been renamed Teikyo Loretto Heights University. At Loretto Heights College, Estés earned a bachelor of arts with distinction in psychotherapeutics in 1976.

After graduating from Loretto Heights and securing schooling for her daughters, Estés traveled to Mexico to meet her birth family, where she found herself an accepted member of a second family. Like her Hungarian family, her birth family also had a strong tradition of storytelling. The stories that Estés learned were more than just entertainment or the passing down of oral traditions. Both her adopted and her biological cultures viewed such stories as a path to healing. There were lessons to be learned and paths suggested in both the telling and the listening that led to personal recovery. In her travels, she visited many communities in the American Midwest and Southwest, and in Central America, where she heard many more stories. Her love of both stories and of the diversity of culture led Estés to enroll in graduate school, and in 1981, she completed a doctorate in ethno-clinical psychology at The Union Institute in Cincinnati, Ohio. Estés' field of study included both clinical psychology and ethnology, the psychology of groups, especially tribes. While studying psychology, she studied the amplification of motifs in music, archetypal symbology, world mythology, ancient and popular visual motifs, ethnology, world religions, and fairy-tale interpretation. After she completed her Ph.D., she also completed a post-doctoral diploma in 1984, as a certified Jungian analyst from the Inter-Regional Society of Jungian Analysts in Zurich, Switzerland. Jung used storytelling as a way to study the archetypal patterns of the human unconscious, and so his approach fit well with Estés' own experience and interests. After completing her education, Estés became a Jungian analyst, but she remained a collector of myths, legends, and fairytales, in her a search for the female archetype.

Additional topics

Brief BiographiesBiographies: Trevor Edwards Biography - Accepted Wisdom from His Mother to Francisco Franco (1892–1975) BiographyClarissa Pinkola Estés: 1943—: Writer, Psychologist Biography - Childhood Embraced By Storytelling, Self Exploration Lead To Nature And Education, Career In Storytelling Emerged