Sacred Texts in Women’s Spirituality: The Holy Woman

This is the 3rd installment in a 3 part series. Go to Part 1 here and go to Part 2 here.

The Holy Woman

Virgin of Guadalupe - Sanctuario de Guadalupe Santa Fe, New Mexico Photo K. Stanley

Virgin of Guadalupe – Sanctuario de Guadalupe Santa Fe, New Mexico
Photo K. Stanley

Dr. Estés (2011) latest book, Untie the Strong Woman: Blessed Mother’s Immaculate Love for the Wild Soul, is a treatise on the Virgin Mary that uses stories, poetry, prayers and artwork to articulate the healing power of the Divine Mother, the Holy Woman. She rescues the Virgin from what she calls the “Lilliputians that have tied her down into more manageable form. No matter which dissertation or diminution she has been tied down by, she is greater than any Lilliputian mind by far” (p. 21). Estés “unties the strong woman” who is Mary. Similarly, Naomi Goldenberg (1979) reflects on the treatment of Mary in Changing of the Gods: Feminism and the End of Traditional Religions: “Mary has been castrated by popes, cardinals, priests and theologians, by all who fear the sexual and emotional power of natural womanhood” (p. 75). Estés brings Mary back from the sanitized “good girl” version and locates her as a Holy Woman/Goddess, active across all traditions and countries. Goldenberg (1979) says:

Mary has a legitimate base of power in the psyche. Behind her sanitized figure lurk all the great pagan goddesses of the ancient world . . . Mary derives her power in the fact that she compels minds and hearts from the vestiges of these vibrant goddesses she was suppose to replace. (p. 75)

Estés uses poetry, images and stories to untie the Holy Woman. A story of an alcoholic man Estés employed to build a shrine to the Virgin Guadalupe in her yard is the story of redemption and a miraculous healing from his alcoholism as the man works daily on the shrine.

A chapter on the Black Madonna contains a personal story that Dr. Estés shares about her grandmother who looked for images of the Virgin in the burnt out embers of the yard fires:

‘Is there a Virgin in there?’ She would poke through the white-ash and the blackened log remnants, stirring up showers of orange sparks, asking, asking, ‘Any Night Maria in here?’ . . . And many a time, there the Great Woman was, right in the fire, a little Black Madonna . . . Old Katerin said this Black Holy Mother carried wisdom and knowledge and understanding about repairing the land and making things grow. That this little black wooden Holy Mother, once she had cooled, would be the carrier of prayers form Heaven to Earth. (p. 138)

Dr. Estés shows how the old reverence for the Black Madonna was carried from her European grandmother to North America and the ways that these traditions have been kept alive for centuries even when they faced the institutions, tyrants and religious powers that would try to erase them and build over their sacred places.

Untie the Strong Woman celebrates the Divine Mother, revealing her interventions in the world of prisons, street gangs, old pagan practitioners, post-abortion rituals, African villagers, immigrants, miraculous healings, visitations and most especially, to those most suffering and calling out to Her for compassion. This is not the Mary that primly sits to the side while others do the heavy lifting. This Virgin is the one who lifts the most. Dr. Estés gloriously releases those straps that have tied her down.


 As I reflect on Dr. Estés work I am reminded of the words of Judith Duerk (1989):

How might your life have been different if there had been a place for you? A place for you to go . . . a place of women, to help you learn the ways of woman . . . a place where you were nurtured from an ancient flow sustaining you and steadying you as you sought to become yourself. A place of women to help you find and trust the ancient flow already there within yourself. (p. 4)

I contend that Dr. Estés has given us that place. She has given us sacred texts where women find wisdom, encouragement, validation, clues, insights, guides and allies for the journey on their spiritual path. Dr. Estés volume of work in books and sound recordings is staggering in its richness and vibrancy, reflecting a multi-faceted excavation of the feminine psyche from one who knows. Naomi Goldenberg (1979) said “Feminist Theology is on its way to becoming psychology” (25). This statement aptly describes the blending of women’s psychology and sacred literature woven into the storytelling work of Dr. Estés.

The Wild Woman, the Wise Woman and the Holy Woman sit in the place where the women gather. Dr. Estés shines a strong light on them, bringing them out of the shadows, so that we can see and feel their essences illuminated in our own hearts.~ Copyright Kathy Stanley


Duerk, Judith. (1989). Circle of Stones: Woman’s Journey to Herself. San Diego, CA: LuraMedia.

Estés, Clarissa Pinkola. (2011). Untie the Strong Woman: Blessed Mother’s Immaculate Love for the Wild Soul. Boulder, CO: Sounds True.

Goldenberg, Naomi R. (1979). Changing of the Gods: Feminism and the End of Traditional Religions. Boston, MA: Beacon Press.


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