A Good Story Always Encodes an Archetype

The Heroine's Journey

A few years back I attended a workshop by Maureen Murdock on the Heroine’s Journey. (She has a book with the same name.) This is her take:

  • Shift from Feminine to Masculine
  • The Road of Trials
  • The Illusion of Success
  • The Descent
  • Meeting with The Goddess
  • Reconciliation with The Feminine
  • Reincorporation of the Masculine

I think a woman’s journey is very similar, but subtly different from the man’s. My analyst sent me home after my first session with a copy of Marie Louise von Franz’ The Feminine in Fairy Tales and told me to read "The Handless Maiden". Clarissa Estes also uses that folk tale to describe the woman’s psychological journey. (I’m working with the outline of this story in parsing out the meaning of the myth of Iphigenia to me.)

One difference in the Heroine’s story is that I can’t think of many (any really) “calls to action.” More often, she experiences a wounding and/or a loss. Unique among fairy tales, the motif of not having hands occurs only to heroines. She gives up her psychic grasp, her hold on the outer world to begin a time of initiation, sometimes incubation, a wandering in the woods. Both Hero and Heroine experience tests and challenges as well as a descent. Both meet mentors. I think Murdock may be correct that the Heroine meets hers more often in the underworld. Her quest seems more about gaining knowledge of the deep feminine.

Creating Sanctuary

So, let me tell you the story of my two sanctuary experiences, formed decades apart -- one in my first half of life, the other in my second.

WEC: The Women Executives Committee

In the 1970’s/80’s women building careers in corporations often found themselves “silo-ed” as they attained middle management and, rarely, senior level positions. They were often the only woman at that level in their corporate division or department, even entire company. Few women preceded them as role models. Norms for how professional women should behave or look were undeveloped (and often got wacky – remember floppy bows?).

In 1980 senior male executives got particularly gun shy about mentoring younger women after the scandalizing Bendix affair, a business soap opera featuring the CEO and the very attractive 29-year old newly-minted Harvard MBA he hired as executive assistant.

The silo was lonely. Then during the late 1970’s, a woman hired into the Greater Hartford Chamber of Commerce for an unrelated agenda called together a meeting of the women in the silos. Ann asked if we would be willing to join a committee to work toward what needed to be done to help mentor women and address obstacles to their career advancement.

We named ourselves the Women Executives Committee (even though most of us weren’t executives yet). We held an annual conference. We mentored women on welfare who wanted to start their own businesses. We did “good deeds.” (Isn’t that what women are supposed to do?) Most importantly we taught ourselves. What skills did we need to learn? One of us would figure out a way to teach that. We went off on an annual weekend retreat (usually at a spa) where Andrea, who owned a PR business, bartered chits to entice two or three people to come and teach us three more things.

Our mentor and godmother, Eileen Kraus, gave us advice, counsel and cover at the Chamber. They never did quite figure out what we were up to until Eileen became Chair and then it didn’t matter. Over time that annual retreat group became enduring friends sharing personal and professional joys and pain, accomplishments and defeats. Stories. We are now going on 40 years, still gathering together three or so times a year to tell our stories. We still call ourselves WEC.


In my second half of life, I joined a seminar that meets weekly to study the works of C.J. Jung. For two years I doubt I spoke a total four paragraphs aloud there. The participants were exceptionally learned (including one of the three translators working on The Red Book). What the heck did I understand? Who was I to contribute?

The seminar had just taken up reading the two volumes of Visions: Notes of the Seminar given in 1930-1934. Jung in his seminar was working with a series of visions recorded and painted by a young American woman in analysis with him. It is an extraordinary account of a feminine self, experiencing the unconscious through active imagination. As Jung dialogues with the members of his seminar about Christiana Morgan’s visions, he articulates his developing theories. But throughout it, the struggle between his ideas about the feminine principle and Christiana’s dramatic and different experience of it is illuminated and exposed.

My inner work began and developed alongside the seminar. As we reached the end of five years and 661 pages (we proceed at glacial speed), I had enough theory in my head to start testing it against my heart and own experience. I got cranky. Some women in the seminar I had come to admire joined me in muttering at the edges of coffee break. We agreed to meet one Saturday morning and talk about what it was that Jung was “saying” about the Feminine that didn’t resonate at all with us. However, we didn’t want to upset the Learned Ones (whom we also love) and agreed that what we say within our circle stays protected there.

We call our gathering Temenos. Within it we share our dreams and our stories.

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