The Heroine's Journeyby Maureen Murdock
This book describes contemporary woman's search for wholeness in a society in which she has been defined according to masculine values. Drawing upon cultural myths and fairy tales, ancient symbols and goddesses, and the dreams of contemporary women, Murdock illustrates the need for—and the reality of—feminine values in Western culture today.
"Murdock's personal journey will surely speak to many women, but I hope also to those men willing to hear these newly awakened female voices—and of the feminine in their own souls."—Utne Reader
"Combining personal experience and painstaking erudition, Maureen Murdock's The Heroine's Journey shares with us the essence of the female journey. A fine, warm, and insightful book."—Carol Pearson, author of The Hero Within: Six Archetypes We Live By
"The Heroine's Journey offers a map of the feminine healing process. Murdock writes in a clear and compassionate voice which draws inspiration from her experiences as a mother, artist, and therapist and from the collective wisdom of the community of women on the path of the goddess. This book speaks to each woman who longs for a spiritually alive feminine self, one who is actively engaged in the world, and who embraces the masculine principle as a mirror of herself. The Heroine's Journey guides the reader in reweaving the threads of her life story into a mantle of empowerment for herself, for other women, and for Gaia, the Planet Herself."—Patrice Wynne, author of The Womanspirit Sourcebook and co-founder of the Gaia Bookstore and Catalogue Company
"Maureen Murdock's important book on the heroine's journey contains a wealth of insight that is of great value to contemporary Western women. It explores a rich territory of the feminine psyche and opens an understanding of female development that relates not only to personal transformation but cultural transformation as well."—Joan Halifax, President of the Ojai Foundation
"A great roadmap for the changing landscapes of women's lives. It's assuring, rich in personal stories, and leads us securely to the Goddess."—Z. Budapest, author of The Holy Book of Women's Mysteries and The Grandmother of Time
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Read an Excerpt
There is a void felt these days by women and men—who suspect that their feminine nature, like Persephone, has gone to hell. Wherever there is such a void, such a gap or wound agape, healing must be sought in the blood of the wound itself.
It is another of the old alchemical truths that "no solution should be made except in its own blood." So the female void cannot be cured by conjunction with the male, but rather by an internal conjunction, by an integration of its own parts, by a remembering or a putting back together of the mother-daughter body.
Moon and the Virgin
Working as a therapist with women, particularly between the ages of thirty and fifty, I
have heard a resounding cry of dissatisfaction with the successes won in the marketplace. This dissatisfaction is described as a sense of sterility,
emptiness, and dismemberment, even a sense of betrayal. These women have embraced the stereotypical male heroic journey and have attained academic,
artistic, or financial success; yet for many the question remains, "What is all of this for?"
The boon of success leaves these women overscheduled, exhausted, suffering from stress-related ailments, and wondering how they got off-track. This was not what they had bargained for when they first pursued achievement and recognition. The image they held of the view from the top did not include sacrifice of body and soul. In noticing the physical and emotional damage incurred by women on this heroic quest, I have concluded that the reason they are experiencing so much pain is that they chose to follow a model that denies who they are.
My desire to understand how the woman's journey relates to the journey of the hero first led me to talk with Joseph Campbell in 1981. I knew that the stages of the heroine's journey incorporated aspects of the journey of the hero, but I
felt that the focus of female spiritual development was to heal the internal split between woman and her feminine nature. I wanted to hear Campbell's views.
I was surprised when he responded that women don't need to make the journey.
"In the whole mythological tradition the woman is there. All she has to do is to realize that she's the place that people are trying to get to. When a woman realizes what her wonderful character is, she's not going to get messed up with the notion of being pseudo-male."
This answer stunned me—I found it deeply unsatisfying. The women I know and work with do not want to be there, the place that people are trying to get to. They do not want to embody Penelope, waiting patiently, endlessly weaving and unweaving. They do not want to be handmaidens of the dominant male culture,
giving service to the gods. They do not want to follow the advice of fundamentalist preachers and return to the home. They need a new model that understands who and what a woman is. In
The Journal of an Artist
The cave of womanhood feels cozy to me, and I shall always, I think, retreat to it with the comfortable feeling that I am where I should be in some sense deeper than words can articulate. So men may feel about some cave of manhood that I
can only imagine. There is sturdy common sense in accepting the differences between men and women as salt. But because womanhood is "home" to me does not mean that I wish to stay home all the time. The cave would become fetid if I never went out, I have too much energy, too much curiosity, too much force to remain so confined. Whole areas of myself would either atrophy or sour. If I wish to be responsible to myself, and I do, I have to pursue my aspirations.
Women do have a quest at this time in our culture. It is the quest to fully embrace their feminine nature, learning how to value themselves as women and to heal the deep wound of the feminine. It is a very important inner journey toward being a fully integrated, balanced, and whole human being. Like most journeys,
the path of the heroine is not easy; it has no well-defined guideposts nor recognizable tour guides. There is no map, no navigational chart, no chronological age when the journey begins. It follows no straight lines. It is a journey that seldom receives validation from the outside world; in fact, the outer world often sabotages and interferes with it.
The model of the heroine's journey is derived in part from Campbell's model of the heroic quest.
The language of the stages, however, is particular to women, and the visual model appeared to me in a very feminine way. It emerged out of my back.
In spring 1983 1 was in a postgraduate training program at the Los Angeles Family
Institute studying a therapeutic technique called "family sculpting."
Family sculpting uses enactment of a scene repeated in a person's family of origin, such as a typical dinner scenario. I was participating as myself in a dinner scene that included my mother, father, and younger sister, whose roles were played by fellow students. As we held the frozen positions once held by my family members, my back went out. I could no longer sustain the position I had held of "bending over backwards" to keep the peace.
was immobilized for three days. I lay on the living room floor on my stomach and cried about the pain and chaos in my family that I had learned to shut out through work and overachievement. Out of those tears came the image of the heroine's journey, a circular path that moved clockwise. It began with a very abrupt rejection of the feminine as defined by me as dependent,
overcontrolling, and full of rage. It continued with total submersion into the familiar outer heroic journey, complete with masculine allies, to achieve the boon of independence, prestige, money, power, and success. This was followed by a bewildering period of dryness and despair which led to an inevitable descent to the underworld to meet the
Out of this darkness came an urgent need to heal what I call the
The return trip involved a redefinition and validation of feminine values and an integration of these with the masculine skills learned during the first half of the journey.
The image appeared whole, and it has been my task in the intervening years to understand the stages of the journey. This has been a slow process of listening to the stories of my clients and friends and looking at the deeper level of my own need for recognition and approval in a male-dominated society.
This journey is described from my perspective and from the perspective of many of the women of my generation who have sought validation from patriarchal systems and found them not only lacking but terribly destructive. We are the children of the post-Sputnik era who were encouraged to excel in order to recover
am what is called a
woman who has identified primarily with the father, often rejecting the mother, and who has sought attention and approval from the father and masculine values. The model I am presenting does not necessarily fit the experience of all women of all ages, and I have found that neither is it limited only to women. It addresses the journeys of both genders. It describes the experience of many people who strive to be active and make a contribution in the world, but who also fear what our progress-oriented society has done to the human psyche and to the ecological balance of the planet.
Movement through the stages of the journey is cyclic, and a person may be at several stages of the journey at one time. For example, I am working on healing my mother/daughter split as well as integrating the two parts of my nature. The heroine's journey is a continuous cycle of development, growth, and learning.
The journey begins with our heroine's search for identity. This "call" is heard at no specific age but occurs when the "old self" no longer fits. This may be when the young woman leaves home for college, work, travel,
or relationship. Or it may be when a woman in mid-life divorces, returns to work or school, changes career, or is faced with an empty nest. Or it may simply occur when a woman realizes that she has no sense of self that she can call her own.
This beginning stage of the journey often includes a rejection of the feminine as defined as passive, manipulative, or nonproductive. Women have often been portrayed in our society as unfocused, fickle, and too emotional to get the job done. This lack of focus and clear differentiation in women is perceived as weak, inferior, and dependent—not only by the dominant culture but by many women as well.
Women who seek success in the male-oriented work world often choose this path to dispel that myth. They seek to prove that they have good minds, can follow through, and are both emotionally and financially independent. They discuss issues with their fathers and male relatives. They choose role models and mentors who are men or male-identified women and who validate their intellect,
sense of purpose, and ambition and generate a sense of security, direction, and success. Everything is geared to getting the job done; climbing the academic or corporate ladder; achieving prestige, position, and financial equity; and feeling powerful in the world. This is a heady experience for the heroine, and it is fully supported by our materialistic society, which places supreme value on what you
Anything less than doing "important work in the world" has no intrinsic value.
Our heroine puts on her armor, picks up her sword, chooses her swiftest steed, and goes into battle. She finds her treasure: an advanced degree, a corporate title, money, authority. The men smile, shake her hand, and welcome her to the club.
After a period of time of enjoying the view from the top, managing it all, including perhaps both career
there may be a feeling of "Okay, I've arrived, what's next?" She looks for the next hurdle to jump, the next promotion, the next social event,
filling every spare moment with
She doesn't know how to stop or say no and feels guilty at the idea of disappointing anyone who needs her. Achieving has become an addiction, and there is an incredible "high" associated with her newly won power.
It is often at this stage that a woman begins to feel out of sync with herself, or she may experience a physical illness or accident. She begins to ask,
"What is all of this for? I've achieved everything I've set out to achieve and I feel empty. Why do I have this gnawing sensation of loneliness and desolation? Why this sense of betrayal? What have I lost?"
In her desire to dispel the negative associations with the feminine, our heroine has created an imbalance within herself which has left her scarred and broken.
She has learned how to get things done logically and efficiently but has sacrificed her health, dreams, and intuition. What she may have lost is a deep relationship to her own feminine nature. She may describe and mourn the numbing of her body wisdom, the lack of time for family or creative projects, the loss of deep friendships with other women, or the absence of her own "little girl."
According to Campbell, "woman is primarily concerned with fostering. She can foster a body, foster a soul, foster a civilization, foster a community. If she has nothing to foster, she somehow loses the sense of her function." I find that many women who have embraced the masculine hero's journey have forgotten how to foster—themselves. They have assumed that to be successful they have to keep their edges sharp, and in that process many have ended up with a hole in their hearts.
Campbell says of men in their mid-life crisis may also apply to the perplexity and dissatisfaction women feel in the face of success. "They've gotten to the top of the ladder and found it's against the wrong wall. They made some misjudgments in the beginning."
Some women find that their strivings for success and recognition have been predicated on pleasing parents, particularly the internalized father. When they begin to look at their motivation, some have a hard time finding the parts of themselves that are their own. A feeling of desolation takes hold. "When I
look inside, I don't know who's there," says a filmmaker in her early forties. "The only thing I am sure of is a yearning to whole my heart. The only thing I can trust is my body."
What has happened to these women is that they didn't travel far enough on the road to liberation. They learned how to be successful according to a masculine model, but that model did not satisfy the need to be a whole person. The
"misjudgment in the beginning" may have been a decision to play by others'
for self-worth and success. When a woman decides not to play by patriarchal rules anymore, she has no guidelines telling her how to act or how to feel. When she no longer wants to perpetuate archaic forms, life becomes exciting—and terrifying. "Change is frightening but where there's fear, there's power.
If we learn to feel our fear without letting it stop us, fear can become an ally, a sign to tell us that something we have encountered can be transformed.
Often our true strength is not in the things that represent what is familiar,
comfortable, or positive but in our fear and even in our resistance to change." An initiation process has begun.
During this part of the journey, the woman begins her descent. It may involve a seemingly endless period of wandering, grief, and rage, of dethroning kings, of looking for the lost pieces of herself and meeting the dark feminine. It may take weeks, months, or years, and for many it may involve a time of voluntary isolation—a period of darkness and silence and of learning the art of deeply listening once again to self: of
instead of doing. The outer world may see this as a depression and a period of stasis.
Family, friends, and work associates implore our heroine to "get on with it."
This period is often filled with dreams of dismemberment and death, of shadow sisters and intruders, of journeys across deserts and rivers, of ancient goddess symbols and sacred animals. There is a desire to spend more time in nature being nurtured by the earth and an increasing awareness of seasonal changes and the rhythms of the moon. For many women, the time of menstruation becomes an important occasion to honor womanhood, blood, the cleansing and renewal of body and soul. The descent cannot be hurried because it is a sacred journey, one not only of reclaiming the lost parts of oneself, but also of rediscovering the lost soul of the culture—what many women today view as reclaiming the Goddess. An entry from my own journal during this period reads:
"This is uncharted territory. It's dark, moist, bloody, and lonely. I see no allies,
no comfort, no signs out. I feel scraped open and raw. I look for the dismembered parts of myself—something recognizable—but there are only fragments and I don't know how to put them together. This is unlike any struggle I've had before. It's not the conquest of the other, it's coming face to face with myself. I walk naked looking for the Mother. Looking to reclaim the parts of myself that have not seen the light of day. They must be here in the darkness. They wait for me to find them because they no longer trust. I
have disowned them before. They are my treasures but I have to dig for them.
This journey is not about some fairy godmother showing me the way out. I dig .
. . for patience, for the courage to endure the dark, for the perseverance not to rise to the light prematurely, cutting short my meeting with the Mother."
After the period of descent our heroine begins to slowly heal the mother/daughter split, the wound that occurred with the initial rejection of the feminine. This may or may not involve an actual healing of the relationship between a woman and her own mother. A healing does occur, however, within the woman herself as she begins to nurture her body and soul and reclaim her feelings, intuition,
sexuality, creativity, and humor.
There may be a sudden urge to take a ceramics or cooking class, to garden, to be massaged, to create a comfortable nest. Some of the energy that has been outer-directed is slowly redirected to giving birth to creative projects,
rediscovering the body, and enjoying the company of other women. Women whose primary focus has been career-oriented may now seek marriage and child-bearing.
This stage involves clear choices and sacrifices that to anyone with a patriarchal focus may look like dropping out.
client of mine, a dentist in her late thirties who had already lost one breast to cancer, decided to write, garden, and to mother. "It is a difficult decision, the steady paycheck makes me feel secure and useful, and I expect that it will be close to impossible to get health insurance because of my preexisting condition. But I'm impatient to be doing those things that were important to me before dentistry pushed everything aside."
had a similar experience while writing this book. The outer journey for recognition became less and less important as I explored the inner terrain. My feminine voice became stronger as I developed the courage to let go of my reliance on linear mind. Then I was free to listen to dreams, images, and inner allies. These became my guides. When a woman reduces the emphasis on the outer heroic quest for self-definition, she is free to explore her images and her voice.
As a woman focuses on the process of the inner journey, she receives little recognition and less applause from the outer world. The questions she asks about life values make those who are committed to the quest for the outer trappings of success uncomfortable. This is why such a journey involves courage and trust that spiritual assistance will be provided. Women are coming together to study, to share images, and to honor what is feminine and what has been lost to themselves and to the culture. Many women find comfort and joy in creating rituals together to celebrate the rhythms of nature and to mark transitions in their lives and the lives of their loved ones.
It appears to me that the intense focus on feminine spirituality at this time is a direct result of so many women having taken the hero's journey, only to find it personally empty and dangerous for humanity. Women emulated the male heroic journey because there were no other images to emulate, a woman was either
"successful" in the male-oriented culture or dominated and dependent as a female. To change the economic, social, and political structures of society, we must now find new myths and heroines. This may be why so many women and men are looking to images of the Goddess and to ancient matristic cultures to understand modes of leadership that involve partnership rather than dominance and cooperation rather than greed.
"Part of the calling of women as we move out of the last years of the 20th century and into the 21st is to revive a spirituality of creativity that is not afraid of the strange beauty of the underwater world of the subconscious, and to help men out of the restricted and narrow world of provable and limited fact in which society has imprisoned them," says Madeleine L'Engle in an article in the summer 1987 issue of
She goes on to say, "My role as a feminist is not to compete with men in their world—that's too easy, and ultimately unproductive. My job is to live fully as a woman, enjoying the whole of myself and my place in the universe."
What is woman's place at this stage of our cultural development? I feel strongly that it is to heal the split that tells us that our knowings, wishes, and desires are not as important nor as valid as those of the dominant male culture. Our task is to heal the internal split that tells us to override the feelings, intuition, and dream images that inform us of the truth of life. We must have the courage to live with paradox, the strength to hold the tension of not knowing the answers, and the willingness to listen to our inner wisdom and the wisdom of the planet, which begs for change.
The heroine must become a spiritual warrior. This demands that she learn the delicate art of balance and have the patience for the slow, subtle integration of the feminine and masculine aspects of herself. She first hungers to lose her feminine self and to merge with the masculine, and once she has done this, she begins to realize that this is neither the answer nor the end. She must not discard nor give up what she has learned throughout her heroic quest, but learn to view her hard-earned skills and successes not so much as the
but as one part of the entire journey. She will then begin to use these skills to work toward the larger quest of bringing people together, rather than for her own individual gain. This is the sacred marriage of the feminine and masculine—when a woman can truly serve not only the needs of others but can value and be responsive to her own needs as well. This focus on integration and the resulting awareness of interdependence is necessary for each one of us at this time, as we work together to preserve the balance of life on earth.
Meet the Author
Maureen Murdock is a licensed family therapist in private practice in Venice, California, and teaches in the UCLA Extension Writer's Program. She is also the internationally published author of The Heroine's Journey, Spinning Inward, and Fathers' Daughters. The Heroine's Journey Workbook grew out of her work with women in therapy and workshops conducted throughout North America over the past twenty years.
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