Review: The Dangerous Old Woman

October 22, 2021

When I was in my mid-twenties, I was introduced to The Secret Dakini Oracle, a deck of cards (unfortunately out-of-print) loosely based on the Dakinis, fierce Tantric goddesses somewhat analogous to the Crone archetype in Western culture. It was when I saw the card that incorporated this photo of an anonymous old spinster that I decided I had to have this deck. The young women in my cohort loved anything related to “The Crone,” mostly because we saw it as subversive. Too bad The Dangerous Old Woman wasn’t there for us back then. Clarissa Pinkola Estes correctly states that the stories about the heroine confronting the old woman are really recorded for the young woman.

This audiobook has actually been out for about ten years, but I only discovered it this year. I had mixed feelings about Dr. Estes’s first book, Women Who Run With the Wolves, and I can only relate my impression at that time, as I remember it, because I gave my copy away. On the one hand, I loved Dr. Estes’s retelling of Bluebeard and many of her insights about the tale. That alone was worth the price of the book. I was put off, however, by the Jungian flavor of much of her prose. I wasn’t alone in this assessment, even at that time. Recently, a young radical feminist book group chose to read Wolves and gave up in frustration, deeming it “too patriarchal.” I think they were probably reacting to Carl Jung and Dr. Estes’s training as Jungian analyst.

Because The Dangerous Old Woman is immediate, heart-centered, and personal, unencumbered by psychoanalytic definitions and terms. Dr. Estes draws on stories of women in her family, relating multi-generational and cross-cultural experience to fairytale and myth, making the wise woman tales refreshingly contemporary. Dr. Estes has a marvelous storytelling voice that feels conversational, even though the material is very focused. I found the stories from Eastern European immigrant culture fascinating and exotic, yet the stories from Latina culture gave me a warm nostalgic feeling from my years of living in the Southwest.

This is a recording to be savored. I would have loved The Dangerous Old Woman when I was a young woman and found it revelatory, yet as a woman now well into the second half of her life I could only nod and say “Uh-huh, uh-huh” to the lessons Dr. Estes draws from her material. This audiobook is a jewel. Even if you had trouble relating to the author’s earlier work, check this one out.