THE GODDESS WITHIN: A Guide to the Eternal Myths that Shape Women's Lives

THE GODDESS WITHIN: A Guide to the Eternal Myths that Shape Women's Lives

Jennifer Barker Woolger and Roger J. Woolger
Fawcett/Columbine 1989; paperback.

Amid the rising and welcome tide of books on the feminine, this book stands like a beam shedding light in all directions for women and men alike. Psychotherapist and teacher Jennifer Woolger and her Jungian analyst husband, Roger Woolger, author of Other Lives, Other Selvesshow that goddess psychology makes sense. Their book takes the enduring and heretofore quite puzzling ancient myths of the goddesses and decodes them in warm, human, sometimes humorous terms, showing them to be apt reflections of our own contemporary propensities. The goddesses are no longer frozen on Mount Olympus in the past; they are alive and well in every psyche. Women can identify with them, and men will discover them in the projections they make upon the women in their lives, or find them in their own animas, as Jung has suggested.

Hera is to be found at the committee meeting next Tuesday; Demeter is baking cookies for the children; Aphrodite is twirling in front of the mirror trying out a new perfume; while Artemis scoffs at her, pulling on her jogging shoes and lifting her rucksack. All the while, Persephone is writing a poem on fading and festering petals, while at the local college, Athena is giving a brisk lecture on the importance of accepting female intellect as a sign of the times.

This book is filled with anecdotes that help us perceive the various goddesses with which we women identify and the ways we tend to continue their divine quarrels as we put down what we disapprove of in other women. We learn that in so doing we are suppressing those very aspects of the feminine in ourselves. To make sure that we understand, a comprehensive test is included in the book to help readers recognize the goddesses (or inner processes) they approve of and those they have difficulty with.

I could not help but apply this to Louisa May Alcott's classic and enduring book, Little Womenwhere Marmie (Demeter) dealt with four of the above-mentioned goddesses as her young daughters. No wonder the book endures!

The Woolgers have been giving “Goddess Wheel” workshops, and they share some of their techniques, games, and strategies for making women conscious of how we often take a stance and fail to understand how other women feel or where they are coming from. It might help a Demeter to stop worrying so much about the kids, take off her apron, and put on a sexy nightie for her husband. It might help many a man to understand that it is not reasonable to expect all the goddesses to appear simultaneously in one woman, but how, with patience and skill, he could uncover them one by one by appreciating and encouraging them as they appear. Potentially we have them all, as men have all the gods; we have them in both their light and their darker, or negative, aspects. (Myths, unlike religions in the West, do not suppress the Shadow or project it onto a devil.)

The average American woman is currently expected to be Aphrodite in bed, Demeter at breakfast, Hera or Athena on the job, to rush home to feed the family and tuck in the kids, and be off as Artemis on a camping trip for the weekend! This impossible dilemma and variations of it are the stock-in-trade of our advertisements, movies, and soap operas, as the Woolgers point out. In fact, there is a helpful guide to books and movies featuring the various goddesses in modem disguise. Add to this, a whole chapter just for men, and you can see that this is a veritable goddess almanac.

We should never be bored again waiting in line at the supermarket or sitting through meetings or coping with families. We can goddess watch and see both the dark, cruel, or bossy and power-seeking aspects and the caring, loving, or irresistible ones shining through the eyes of every girl, woman, and crone.

Above all, this book restores the timeless depth of wisdom and dignity of myths and their power to convey their messages of compelling truth in that eternity we call Now.


Summer 1990