Marion Woodman and Mary Daly – Soul Sisters? by Susan Gifford

Susan Gifford Conscious Femininity was the first book by Marion Woodman that I read August 2010; it is a collection of interviews with Woodman from 1985 to 1992. Marion Woodman was eye-opening to me – I started seeing a connection between the feminine side of “God,” mostly missing in our world today, and the ecological disasters that are looming.

Additionally, I recently read Mary Daly’s book, Beyond God the Father (I was enticed to read it because Sarah Sentilles wrote so movingly about Mary Daly on this forum).  Daly’s writing convinced me, at a deep “gut” level, that any possible “solving” of Earth’s current ecological crisis is directly related to an evolution in human spiritual consciousness – from a patriarchal, hierarchical view of all life to an equalitarian view.  And, this change in consciousness must be preceded by women’s liberation.  These three vital issues (ecological crisis, spiritual consciousness and women’s liberation) are inextricably linked.   Although Woodman connects these issues in a manner very similar to the way Daly links them, evidently I wasn’t ready to “get it” until I read Beyond God the Father.

I see many similarities in what these two women are saying – they both write about the profound need for a new connection to the feminine/female consciousness in our world today.  I’d love to be in a room with them both, listening to an undoubtedly fascinating conversation.  As far as I know they never met.  Mary Daly died in 2010.  Marion Woodman is 86 years old and living in Canada.  In an odd bit of synchronicity, they were both born in 1928, almost exactly 2 months apart and about 350 miles apart.

Both writers examine how women have been damaged by living in patriarchal societies.  Woodman’s writing is very personal.  She tells her own story of struggle with addiction – striving for perfection while ignoring her own human body and the illnesses that she had.  Daly’s writing seems more intellectual although her rage at the treatment of women, both past and present, is clear.

Both are very aware that the practices and policies of patriarchy are destroying our planet with wide-scale pollution of air, water and earth.  They each see that women’s coming to consciousness and personal power is the necessary first step towards humans evolving spiritually and developing a holistic approach to life.

image by cristina sitja rubio
image by cristina sitja rubio

Woodman trained as a Jungian analyst in her forties.  She feels that we all have an inner wisdom/connection to the sacred that will show up in our dreams to guide us.  She believes that she is seeing, in herself and many of clients, a new feminine side of “God,” often represented initially by the Black Madonna.  Her very blackness represents the soil of the earth, as well as our physical bodies and our unconsciousness.  Woodman writes that the goddess energy is trying to save us and that if humanity continues with its power tactics, we are going to destroy the earth.

Daly sees women’s liberation as the first necessary step to spiritual transcendence.  She says that the becoming of women in sisterhood can indicate the future course of human spiritual evolution.

Mary Daly at NWSA, 2000. photo: Joy F. Morrison
Mary Daly at NWSA, 2000. photo: Joy F. Morrison

They both write of the spiraling paths of women versus the often more direct journeys of men (“the hero’s journey,” as an example).  They see a need for a new speech that better reflects women’s reasoning.  Woodman says that, because in feminine consciousness, the spiritual and physical are two aspects of one totality, the paradox of this simultaneous presence resists the logic of prose and demands metaphor to encompass it.  Daly writes that metaphor in the deepest sense suggests a power of words to carry us into a time and space that out of the stasis maintained by patriarchy.

I also find it interesting, although I don’t quite to know what to make of it, that Woodman and Daly both often refer to William Blake’s poetry, particularly the lines:

 “Tyger! Tyger! burning bright

In the forests of the night

What immortal hand or eye

Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?”

While I am in agreement with much of what both Daly and Woodman are saying, I am concerned that this process of evolving to a higher consciousness is usually painstakingly slow and likely takes any one woman several years to several decades.  And, of course, the large majority of women (and men) do not yet consider any such evolution of consciousness to be of any importance.

For those of us who have the luxury of time to “work” on our consciousness, there are many inter-related steps to be taken.  This journey requires a period of working with one’s personal shadow and projections onto others.  There may be a process of realizing how much fear, pain, anguish and terror has been stored in our body and then that “Pandora’s Box” has to be opened and released – an often terrifying task.  There is usually some type of existential crisis with the realization that one’s personal ego is not the center of the world and that “consciousness work” is and must be part of a spiritual quest.  Many start seeing through the patriarchal origins of organized religions and reject their authority, leaving no authority but one’s own; another possibly terrifying experience.  Awareness develops of the connection between patriarchy and our hierarchical society where the value of others lies in their monetary worth.  In this type of society, more money is the highest goal because it leads to more power over others.

My fear is that the Earth and the all beings that live on it do not have the time that it will likely take for some significant number of humans to evolve to a higher consciousness.  Confronting this real possibility is perhaps the most terrifying step.  I don’t know that either Daly or Woodman directly address how one can emotionally accept that humanity may be on the brink of causing its own extinction – accompanied by incomprehensible amounts of suffering by all living things.  I personally have found it necessary to allow myself to consider that outcome.  I feel that anything else is a form of denial and wishful thinking.  Going back to my imagined conversation between Marion Woodman and Mary Daly – I would love to know how they each personally dealt with such fears.


Susan Gifford has a B.S. from Millersville University and did extensive graduate work in Behavioral Genetics at the University of Colorado. She worked as a Mainframe Computer Systems Analyst and Programmer for many years, while living in Colorado. She and her husband are retired and, along with their dog, moved to the southern Oregon coast last year. Susan reads extensively and thinks about what she’s read as she walks along the incredibly beautiful beaches.

7 thoughts on “Marion Woodman and Mary Daly – Soul Sisters? by Susan Gifford”

  1. Interesting comparisons, Susan. Despite the fact that Daly hated the term “feminine” and all things Jungian, there are similarities in what Daly and Woodman say. The differences would also be interesting to explore.


  2. Thanks Susan!! Fascinating to see the “Black Madonna” manifest here within the context of Woodman and Daly and the need for “a new connection to the feminine/female consciousness in our world today.”

    Matthew Fox, a scholar of Hildegard of Bingen, wrote a magnificent tribute online to “The Return of the Black Madonna” in our times. He says she guides us back to our Divinity, our beginning, “where the true self lives” — she “invites us into the dark and therefore into our depths.”


  3. Thanks for this analysis of Woodman’s and Daly’s similarities. I’ve never paired them before, except as feminists, I think because Daly was anti-Jungian. Maybe the similarity is that any feminist who thinks deeply, i.e. spiritually, about our plight has to come to similar conclusions. I agree with all the conclusions you’ve cited, but have a more optimistic outlook, hoping that we’ll get “our shit” together before it’s too late.


  4. I can see why Mary Daly did not like Jung. While I have found his writings interesting, he is certainly not a feminist. I have issues particularly with his theories about the animus archetype in women. Mary Daly seems to me to be thinking more literally about women and men, while Marion Woodman takes the more Jungian approach of looking at femininity and masculinity as energies that exist in both sexes. But, one way or another, the female/feminine has been suppressed for thousands of years – to the detriment of pretty much everything!

    I think I’m realistic more than pessimistic, but I agree that hope is essential!


  5. I can see why Mary Daly did not like Jung. I have found his writings interesting but he was not a feminist. I particularly have issues with his theories about the animus archetype in women. I think Mary Daly discusses women and men in a literal way while Marion Woodman takes the more Jungian approach of seeing feminine and masculine as energies that exist in both sexes. Either way, the female/feminine has been suppressed for thousands of years to the detriment of almost everything!

    I think of myself as more a realist than a pessimist, but I agree that hope is necessary and essential. I guess I think that the shadow/dark “stuff” has to be looked at “in the face” first though. (I’m not implying that you personally haven’t already done that.)


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