Wild Woman


Women Who Run with the Wolves

by Clarissa Pinkola Estes

Chapter Six: Belonging as Blessing

The Mistaken Zygote

“Over the years of my practice it became clear that this issue of belonging sometimes needs to be hailed from a lighter side, for levity can shake some of the pain out of a woman. I began to tell my clients this story I created called “The Mistaken Zygote,” mainly as a way to help them look at their outsider material with a more empowering metaphor. This is how the story goes. Have you ever wondered how you managed to end up in such an odd family as yours? If you have lived your life as an outsider, as a slightly odd or different person, if you are a loner, one who lives at the edge of the mainstream, you have suffered. Yet there also comes a time to row away from all that, to experience a different vantage point, to emigrate back to the land of one’s own kind. Let there be no more suffering, no more attempting to figure where you went wrong. The mystery of why you were born to whomever you were born to is over, finis, terminado, finished. Rest for a moment at the bow and refresh yourself in the wind coming from your homeland. For years women who carry the mythic life of the Wild Woman archetype have silently cried, “Why am I so different? Why was I born into such a strange [or unresponsive] family?” Wherever their lives wanted to burst forth, someone was there to salt the ground so nothing could grow. They felt tortured by all the proscriptions against their natural desires. If they were nature children, they were kept under roofs. If they were scientists, they were told to be mothers. If they wanted to be mothers, they were told they’d better fit the mold entirely. If they wanted to invent something, they were told to be practical. If they wanted to create, they were told a woman’s domestic work is never done. Sometimes they tried to be good according to whichever standards were most popular, and didn’t realize till later what they really wanted, how they needed to live. Then, in order to have a life, they experienced the painful amputations of leaving their families, the marriages they had promised under oath would be till death, the jobs that were to be the springboards to something more stultifying but better paying. They left dreams scattered all over the road. Often the women were artists who were trying to be sensible by spending eighty percent of their time doing labor that aborted their creative lives on a daily basis. Although the scenarios are endless, one thing remains constant: they were pointed out very early on as “different’’ with a negative connotation. In actual fact, they were passionate, individual, inquiring, and in their right instinctive minds. So the answer to Why me, Why this family, Why am I so different, is, of course, that there are no answers to these questions. Still, the ego needs something to chew on before it will let go, so I propose three answers regardless. (She may pick whichever one she likes, but she must pick at least one. Most pick the last one, but any are sufficient) Prepare yourself. Here they are: We are born the way we are, and into the odd families we came through 1) just because (almost no one will believe this), 2) the Self has a plan, and our pea-brains are too tiny to parse it (many find this a hopeful idea), or 3) because of the Mistaken Zygote Syndrome (well… yes, maybe… but what is that?). Your family thinks you’re an alien. You have feathers, they have scales. Your idea of a good time is the forest, the wilds, the inner life, the outer majesty. Their idea of a good time is folding towels. If this is so for you in your family, then you are a victim of the Mistaken Zygote Syndrome. Your family moves slowly through time, you move like the wind; they are loud, you are soft, or they are silent and you sing. You know because you just know. They want proof and a three- hundred-page dissertation. Sure enough, it’s the Mistaken Zygote Syndrome. You’ve never heard of that? Well see, the Zygote Fairy was flying over your hometown one night, and all the little zygotes in her basket were hopping and jumping with excitement. You were indeed destined for parents who would have understood you, but the Zygote Fairy hit turbulence and, oops, you fell out of the basket over the wrong house. You fell head over heels, head over heels, right into a family that was not meant for you. Your “real” family was three miles farther on. That is why you fell in love with a family that wasn’t yours, and that lived three miles over. You always wished Mrs. and Mr. So- and-So were your real parents. Chances are they were meant to be. This is why you tap-dance down the hallways even though you come from a family of television spores. This is why your parents are alarmed every time you come home or call. They worry, “What will she do next? She embarrassed us last time, God only knows what she will do now. Ai!” They cover their eyes when they see you coming and it is not because your light dazzles them. All you want is love. All they want is peace. The members of your family, for their own reasons (because of their preferences, innocence, injury, constitution, mental illness, or cultivated ignorance), are not so good at being spontaneous with the unconscious, and of course your visit home conjures the trickster archetype, the one who stirs things up. So before you’ve even broken bread together, the trickster madly dances by just dying to drop one of her hairs into the family stew. Even though you don’t mean to upset the family, they will be upset no matter what. When you show up, everyone and everything seems to go quite mad. It is a sure sign of wild zygotes in the family if the parents are offended all the time and the children feel as though they can never do anything right. The unwild family wants only one thing, but the Mistaken Zygote is never able to figure out what that is, and if she could, it would make her hair stand up in exclamation points. Prepare yourself, I will tell you this big secret. This is what they really want from you, that mysterious, momentous thing. The unwild want consistency. They want you to be exactly the same today as you were yesterday. They wish you not to change with the days, but to remain as at the beginning of Steaming Time. Ask the family if they want consistency and they will answer affirmatively. In all things? No, they will say, only in the things that matter. Whatever these things are that count in their value systems, they are too often anathema to the wild nature of women. Unfortunately, “the things that matter” to them are not cohesive with “the things that matter” to the wild child. Consistency in manner is an impossible sentence for Wild Woman, for her strength is her adaptation to change, her innovation, her dancing, her howling, her growling, her deep instinctual life, her creative fire. She does not show consistency through uniformity, but rather through her creative life, through her consistent perceptions, quick-sightedness, flexibility, and deftness. If we were to name only one thing that makes the Wild Woman what she is, it would be her responsiveness. The word response comes from the Latin “to pledge, to promise”—and that is her strong suit. Her perceptive and deft responses are a consistent promise and pledge to the creative forces, be it Duende, the goblin-spirit behind passion, or Beauty, Art, or the Dance, or Life. Her promise to us, if we will not thwart it, is that she will cause us to live. She will cause us to live fully alive, responsively and consistently so. In this way, the Mistaken Zygote gives her fealty, not to her family but to her interior Self. This is why she feels torn. You might say her wolf mother has hold of her tail, her worldly family has hold of her arms. It is not long before she is crying in pain, snarling and biting herself and others, and finally, the deathly quiet. You look in her eyes and you see ojos del cielo, sky eyes, the eyes of a person who is no longer here. While socialization for children is an important thing, to kill the interior criatura is to kill the child. The West Africans recognize that to be harsh with a child is to cause its soul to retreat from its body, sometimes just a few feet away, other times many days’ walk away. While the needs of the child’s soul must be balanced with her need for safety and physical care and with carefully examined notions about “civilized behavior,” I always worry for those who are too well behaved; they often have that “faint soul” look in their eyes. Something is not right. A healthy soul shines through the persona on most days and blazes through on others. Where there is gross injury, the soul flees. Sometimes it drifts or bolts so far away that it takes masterful propitiation to coax it back. A long time must pass before such a soul will trust enough to return, but it can be accomplished. The retrieval requires several ingredients: naked honesty, stamina, tenderness, sweetness, ventilation of rage, and humor. Combined, these make a song that calls the soul back home.”


Pages 140 – 142