Marion Woodman Dancing in the Flames is an extraordinary documentary life story of a Canadian Jungian analyst who pioneered the exploration of the `Sacred Feminine.’ The film speaks eloquently and powerfully to this historic moment, in a poetic approach that illustrates, as much as tells, how the inner and outer life of each human being mirrors the sacred and visceral life force energies of our planet Earth.
Marion Woodman‘s down-to-earth, personal narrative is powerful in and of itself and, more so, accompanied by renown mystic scholar, teacher and author Andrew Harvey, as “guide through the labyrinth of Marion’s life,” and also by her husband Ross Woodman.
Ross, her life partner, has stood steadfast on the shores of her inner and outer travels to welcome her home each time. Nevertheless, he found himself transformed as well, in the continuing journey of their inner and outer marriage in which each partner was awakened, singly and together, to negotiate an ever-evolving relationship. The film, then, also presents to us an incredible love story.
The poetry of the storytelling is enhanced by visual and musical elements that enable the drama and poignancy of the story to enter our bodies, touch our hearts and resonate with our souls. Woven through the fabric of the film story are dynamic, brightly coloured, mythical animated figures from the amazing art of the late Academy Award winner Faith Hubley. They holistically bring alive the telling of a deep, multi-layered story, as does original music by Canadian composer Jim McGrath.
The playfulness of Hubley’s animations, and McGrath’s music, together offer the perfect counterpoint to the dramatic content of Marion’s life, whose series of life crises that she has navigated are jaw-dropping. Playfulness also is evident in the working relationship between Marion and director/editor Adam Greydon Reid, who first became enchanted by Marion through taking one of her workshops.
During the 1990s, after reading several of her books, I also took one of her weekend workshops, focused on the body and movement. What really floored me at the time was, here was a woman, labelled by our society as a senior citizen, showing movements through her own graceful physical example, after a period of being in a wheelchair as the result of cancer. Wow! I was impressed then, and Adam apparently still is impressed, as we see and hear in one of his off-camera responses to Marion’s lively spirit. Adam gives a hearty chuckle, exclaiming, “Man!”
Why I understand Marion’s story as so important is, it takes me back to a significant transformative threshold in my own life, when I began a seven-year journey focused on how to connect my body with my soul. Initially, of course, I did not have the language to understand my disconnectedness and the necessary journey to change my life or, otherwise, experience total breakdown. I could have ended up severely broken if I had not set out to discover the wilderness of the soul. This trip to deeper understanding never really ends.
Indeed, Marion shows us that a life journey that embraces a fuller discovery of the layers of our unconscious – and how to live and to relate more fully in the larger world – never ends as long as we have breath in our body and, essentially, a willingness to keep learning. The latter, in fact, is what keeps the spark of being alive so vibrant.
Andrew Harvey is introduced to us in a film scene that shows his passionate style of public presentation to an audience. This presentation serendipitously frames the heart of the discussion between Andrew and Marion in Dancing in the Flames. For her life story speaks to the dance of opposites within us, and the possibility of their eventual unity, parallel with the same dance of death and rebirth unfolding on our planet:
“Everyone knows there is a tremendous crisis going on, and that there is a great death happening now, – environmentally, socially, politically, economically – and that this great death potentially threatens the whole of nature and the whole of the human experiment. There is also a great birth of a new kind of humanity.”
Well, perhaps the “everyone” in that audience was aware of such a crisis – and I certainly am. If so, his audience undoubtedly yearned to hear the other part of Andrew’s expansive proclamation, that there is good news in the hope for the birthing of a new kind of humanity. I totally am on board with Andrew, in my own professional work to help fellow humans awaken to the much-needed evolution of consciousness at this moment.
The problem is, a lot of folks are in denial of any crisis. They do what Marion and Andrew point out in the film: become more acquisitive and oblivious to environmental harm caused by obsessive consumerism – the sadly prevalent reaction to an inner hunger for a sense of security and wholeness that all of the material possessions in the world can never fill.
Why Andrew has such deep respect for Marion Woodman resides in his recognition of her as “a sign of this birth… a sign that it is possible to live a full, passionate, dignified, deeply concerned human life, with profound mystical awareness and really embody the Divine.” Andrew is quick to add that Marion’s down-to-earth saltiness shows us, furthermore, that the qualities of rebirth are not grand and fancy, but instead “very embodied and real.”
The film’s title Marion Woodman, Dancing in the Flames is very apropos, because we hear, and see, animated through the art images, how Marion’s life journey took her through several fires of purification – metaphorically speaking – from her first major crisis of life-threatening anorexia as a young woman, to coming close to dying of dysentery while travelling alone in India and, later in life, receiving the diagnosis of terminal cancer then proving the doctors wrong.
My golly! Just surviving one of those crises, let alone three crises, illustrates to us a very determined woman who mentally, emotionally, viscerally, and spiritually, took the bull by the horns to journey through a series of transformations that reduced her to the core of her being. Yet, the ultimate gift, needless to say, has been the hard-fought and hard-won gift of life itself – and grace and gratitude for it.
We walk with Marion through the story of her life, as she matter-of-factly describes it. She experimentally knows a profound truth, the very message that she wants to communicate:
“Death is going to happen often in your lifetime, or you are going to have to go through a death of the soul. But, out of that, something new will be born. That is what I think about the Earth right now. We are going through a death. But, for that to manifest, something is going to have to happen to the soul of human beings, and we are going to go through anguish to get there. But, that is life… If I could look back through my life, I could see what had to die, in order to give me life, painful though it was at the time. I thank God for that.”
The film story, in fact, presents what had to die in Marion’s life, and engages us emotionally, regardless of where each of us might be on our own respective journeys. Her honesty and bravery are humbling. For she speaks directly from her own awakened experience rather than pontificating from some philosophical or psychological pedestal.
Marion Woodman, in fact, illustrates how the wisest and best healers among us are those who have done their own healing, authentically, before assuming the mantle of healer and spiritual teacher.
Indeed, she knows, from the deepest part of her being, the ways in which addictions are the plague [my term] of our dominant economic system today, in which materialism and perfectionism are two foremost addictions, visibly evident through eating disorders and chemical abuses.
Marion relates her “step by step by step” journey to change from working as a creatively gifted, unconventional school teacher to training at the Jung Institute in Zurich in midlife, in order to help people with addictions and to expand on Carl Jung’s work to pioneer a feminine psychology.
In doing so, Marion points out in the film how her life pursuit to find, and manifest, the feminine principle is not solely for the benefit of women yet, moreover, “an emotional vibrancy that comes from the body right through the whole being” that both men and women can discover and express, to be more fully human.
The reason is, the connection with the feminine principle is related with discovering a different, fuller masculine principle that moves beyond the limited and disconnected masculine of patriarchy that demands power, control and submission. Those self-serving, misguided forces undermine the feminine and, in turn, destroy the planet’s life force.
Watching the film simply to enjoy the creative spirit and beauty evident in the animated art images, that evoke an emotional and visceral understanding of the power of dreams, makes viewing the film worthwhile. Do not feel that you need to comprehend Carl Jung’s archetypal language about our dream world.
As an example of Marion’s down-to-earth examination of her life, click Two Marions to witness her experience of how a split in our identity often happens in early childhood – a phenomenon to which I bet many people can relate. I sure can.
Indeed, you might surprise yourself in regard to what you could discover, if you really pay attention to Marion’s own personal telling, about how dreams, and related experiential learning, awakened her inner life to facilitate healing and renewal. In doing so, she unites the dance of opposites within and heals the split in consciousness that occurred in her childhood.
The uniqueness of Capri Vision’s Marion Woodman, Dancing in the Flames is how it interconnects a deeply personal story with the story of the Earth, particularly at this moment in time – and from a position of love, joy and reverence rather than anger, pain and despair.
Passionately and compassionately, the film speaks to the soul woundedness that calls us to begin and understand the multiple levels in which human and planetary healing relate and – most importantly – that a `new humanity’ is possible.
As Andrew Harvey points out, Marion Woodman is a living example.