Tuesday, February 13, 2007

an interview with Marion Woodman

One of my favorite articles I ever wrote was about Jungian psychoanalyst Marion Woodman. I had long been an admirer of Woodman's work (including Addiction to Perfection: The Still Unravished Bride, The Maiden King: Triumph of the Feminine (with Robert Bly), and Bone, a memoir of Woodman's battle with uterine cancer). When I discovered Woodman was going to be giving a rare lecture in her home town, I approached an editor of The London Free Press (where I had never sold a story) and in a moment of uncharacteristic boldness got my story published.

When I spoke to Marion Woodman last week, I could look out my window and see this season's first snowfall covering everything with a blanket of white. Woodman, who was leading a conference with Robert (Iron John) Bly at the William and Mary University in Williamsburg, Va., was delighted to hear that it had snowed, and asked me when the weather in London had turned cold. "Winter is coming!" she said, with anticipation.

Well-known for her work on eating disorders, addictions, and the psychology of the feminine in both men and women, this Jungian analyst, called a "national treasure" by University of Western Ontario's Alumni Association (which recently awarded her its Professional Achievement Award), will be returning home to London to give the annual George Goth Memorial Lecture at Metropolitan United Church on Wednesday night.

The lecture series, set up following the 1990 death of Metropolitan's beloved minister emeritus, has previously featured University of Alberta sociologist Reginald Bibby, Canadian historian Michael (Right Honorable Gentlemen) Bliss, and CBC Radio's Ideas host Lister Sinclair, among others. Committee chairperson Josephine Wilcox admits that the choice of Woodman for this year's lecture was not without controversy.

"There are, you know, some people who are totally opposed to any thought of Jungian analysis. We had one person who refused to contribute to the (lecture) fund, on account of we'd asked (Woodman) to speak."

Many members of the Metropolitan community are quick to point out, however, that the presence of Woodman on the speaker's podium this year is right in line with the spirit of the lecture series.

Says Metropolitan senior minister Robert Ripley: "The tone of the George Goth lectures is set to match the tone of George Goth's ministry, which was, for many years, to engage people in thoughtful debate. That was one of the main goals of his preaching and ministry. And so the committee in charge of the lectures has always sought to bring in people who will simply carry on that tradition of challenging people in their thinking."

Longtime Metropolitan member and friend of Goth, Jim Guest, concurs. "George Goth was provocative. Very much so. He was stimulating, he was colorful. Some people would say eccentric. Outspoken. Fearless."

He continues: "Marion was a good friend of George Goth's, too. George was a great admirer of hers. Marion, of course, has her own way of being outspoken, and in the forefront of opinion, and in that sense they're kindred spirits. So it seemed a nice fit to have somebody who's not afraid to say what she thinks, and George would admire her for that. He wouldn't necessarily agree with her, but he would admire her for her right to speak."

Raised in southwestern Ontario, Woodman spent nearly 20 years as a high school English teacher at South secondary school before becoming an analyst. Since closing her successful Toronto practice a few years ago, she has been teaching and lecturing and is currently working on her eighth book.

About Wednesday's lecture, titled Recognizing Advent, she says: "I'm looking at Christianity at the end, and the beginning, of a new millennium." Interestingly enough, it wasn't until this minister's daughter left for the C.G. Jung Institute in Zurich, Switzerland, in the mid-1970s that she began to understand the significance of Advent.

While in Switzerland, she found that many of the households and churches kept beautiful Advent wreaths. And through the ceremonial lighting of the candles Sunday after Sunday during the four weeks preceding Christmas, Woodman "became very aware of the 'coming of the light,' symbolically."

She adds: "I think that a spiritual preparation for Christmas is so important in our commercialized society, because without it, (Christmas) ends up being just an exhausting time. I'm going to try and say that instead of Christmas just being a time of spending so much time buying presents, and cooking food, and becoming exhausted, so that you're not even there on Christmas Day, it can be a time of new birth, where a whole new value system is possible."

When asked what attracts people to Jungian psychology, Woodman suggests that many "are finding terrible emptiness in their lives right now. They are losing some of their old beliefs. They see institutions that they have trusted all their lives collapsing. And many are losing jobs that they could never have imagined they would lose; they are being declared redundant.

"They experience the framework of their lives collapsing. And they are very frightened. So they are trying to find something inside that can be a bulwark of strength. And the Jungian work leads them to soul. Once they learn how to work with their own dream imagery, they have treasures for the rest of their lives."

Sunday, November 1, 1997
copyright 1997, Michelle Lynne Goodfellow

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