Clarissa Pinkola Estes is an internationally known scholar, award-winning poet, diplomate senior Jungian psychoanalyst, and cantadora (keeper of the old stories of the Latina tradition). She is deputy managing editor and columnist writing on politics and spirituality at TheModerateVoice.com. Her column El Rio Debajo del Rio runs at National Catholic Reporter, NCRonline.org, and her own website ClarissaPinkolaEstes.com.
In her first major book since the bestselling Women Who Run With the Wolves (1992), Estes challenges and inspires us to celebrate the Holy Mother, Our Lady, the Great Immaculate Heart who is always present and active in our lives although we don't often see or acknowledge her.
Poetic and passionate, wild and lyrical, Untie the Strong Woman is a multidimensional spiritual journey into the Sacred Feminine and all her guises and glory. As you take the plunge into Estes' sea of words, images, ideas, and visions, keep an open heart and mind as you try to navigate the swift currents and unpredictable waves.
Let's begin with loyalty and love, which Estes calls two signature marks of Our Holy Mother. And then there is her closeness: "She will share her breath with us when we feel we have lost ours. She will warm us when we are too cold, and cool us down when we are too hot — in emotion, in spirit, in mind, in ideation, in desire, in judgment, in the creative life of the soul."
For Estes, Holy Mother is not meant to be a fence: Holy Mother is a gate who teaches love lessons to those who are ready to receive them. Have you developed "the grace to embrace" Our Lady? Stay with us and you will begin to understand.
You may want to take a pilgrimage to a place where the Blessed Mother has appeared but you may also discover her in a "shard of glass, in a broken curb, in a hurt heart." And these are all close to home.
Estes is convinced that Our Lady of Guadalupe looks after immigrants on the road and lonely fools of all types. She reaches out to those who have been massacred and those who have been imprisoned. The author reminds us that the Blessed Mother has been withheld from believers as various leaders through history have attempted to erase holy ideas and images. But always, she has endured and carried on her mission of love and compassion.
Estes reminds us "You have to dig deep to bury the Holy Mother." Believers will never forget her: "a moving temple of devotees have spent decades, millennia, being comforted by her and all that is consecrated to, with, and for her."
She has many messages for us. The "Black Madonna says: 'Behold my dark face, my burned body, and grow, grow, flourish, flourish. Let nothing hold you back.' Black Madonna, forged in the fire leads the way." She works with her hands and bends low toward the earth. She walks the path home and has many beautiful flowers surrounding her.
Our Lady is the tricky Seat of Wisdom who refuses to be penned up in traditional channels but prefers to "intervene, lift spirits, direct, heal, and liberate souls throughout the world." Estes meets Mary and tries to be Mary in a prison where she works with women teaching them about the endless love of the Holy Mother.
The poems, stories, and blessings in Untie the Strong Woman bespeak the many names given Our Lady. We address her as a wonder worker appreciated through rituals and adored by those on the path of the broken heart.
We loved the chapter on "They Tried to Stop Us at the Borders" where Estes proclaims we are all immigrants. In a poem in the next chapter, she builds on the image of the Divine Mother as caretaker:
"Have you forgotten?
I am your mother.
You are not alone.
You are under my protection."
Through her eloquent language and treasure-trove of images, Clarissa Pinkola Estes has created a magnificent tribute to the Blessed Mother, who agonizes every night for enslaved children working in factories, for homeless families, for persecuted immigrants, for greedy business men selling arms to anyone who can pay the price, and for innocent men and women on death row awaiting execution. It is this unique mix of devotion, grace, and miraculous visitations with the hard and unyielding facts of our times that makes Untie the Strong Woman such an extraordinary spiritual work. Estes's generosity is on display in her lengthy list of other writers and spiritual teachers who understand her relationship with Mother.