Storyteller Uses Myths to Help Balance Life of Modern Woman

“In Search of the Wise Woman,” a daylong outdoor workshop designed to explore the spirituality of women, will be held from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. June 10 at Topanga State Park in the Santa Monica Mountains.

The workshop will include storytelling, guided walks, discussions of feminine spirituality, exercises in dance and movement, and a concluding ritual, said Kathleen Zundell, who has been conducting the workshop for the past two years.

“I want women to be in touch with the Earth, their spirits and all that is,” said Zundell. “We’re at a desperate point; we must restore the balance of the feminine in our lives. As we work to restore ourselves as women, we will heal the planet.”

A woman of wisdom, she said, “is a woman who listens carefully to herself and the voice of the goddess that comes from within . . . When we stay in touch with that voice, I think we give birth to the divine.”


Zundell’s view of the world is not touchy-feely or New Age. First and foremost, she is a teacher, a creative movement specialist and a storyteller. “To educate means to draw forth,” she said. “As a teacher, I must create an environment where wisdom comes from the participants. I must pose questions, tell some stories that evoke feelings, and allow them to share their answers and feelings. My work as a leader is to be as clear as I possibly can be with my own truth.”

The workshops are held in the oak woodlands and grasslands of the park because, she said, it’s important that women gather together in places other than the office, the kitchen, the health club or the mall. “In the state park, we can connect consciously and unconsciously with the Earth Mother. We can get back in touch with the beauty of the Earth and open spaces.”

In her storytelling sessions, Zundell calls on ancient goddess myths to help reveal universal truths.

“I see the myths as great jewels hidden in treasure chests. There is great wisdom and truth when we find those stories that can teach and heal us,” she said. “The myths can help us examine our lives and relationships.”

Currently, the myth of Demeter and Persephone has captured Zundell’s attention, and forms the basis for part of the workshop. For those who have forgotten Mythology 101, the myth, briefly interpreted, is the story of Demeter, the goddess of grain, and her maiden daughter, Persephone, who is abducted into the underworld by Hades. The grief-stricken Demeter searches in vain for her daughter and refuses to allow anything to grow on Earth until the girl is returned. With the help of Hecate, the old crone, Persephone is allowed to come back, and Demeter restores fertility to the Earth.

This myth, according to Zundell, offers a number of powerful images that are meaningful to women. Demeter represents the mother archetype, Persephone is the eternal girl, and Hecate the mysterious, wise woman.

“This myth is about the triple aspect of the goddess,” she said. “It’s about the cyclic aspect of nature and--always--rebirth. The child, mother and crone; birth, life and death; the created, the creator and the destroyer.”

One of the exercises in Zundell’s workshop is an examination of ancient goddess images. She has compiled a notebook of photographs, postcards and sketches of ancient stone carvings, marble statues and other art objects, all of which depict various aspects of divine womanhood.

The archetypal images Zundell shows are profoundly different from the images that bombard modern women, images that reduce femininity to a commodity.

Flipping through the pages of her notebook, Zundell points to a rounded figurine from ancient Sparta.

“Look at that--isn’t she centered, strong and powerful? This woman knows who she is. Put that in front of your face every day. . . .”

Turning to an Egyptian stone carving of a woman with breasts exposed and arms raised triumphantly, Zundell said: “Think this woman had implants? Was she afraid of how big or little she was?”

In ancient times, Zundell said, feminine power was not only valued, it was honored and defined as divine. “These rich, beautiful images that we’re sharing feed the deep subconscious mind in a way that no advertising can. It is empowering to look at them.”

Apparently, many women are looking for--and finding--the goddess within. Each time the Wilderness Institute offers one of Zundell’s “In Search of the Wise Woman” workshops, it’s fully booked.

“There’s a definite interest in programs just for women,” said Institute spokesperson Chris Imhoff. “This is an outdoors-oriented program that focuses on the cultural and historical roles of women. We’ve had a great response.”

Zundell thinks the problems and issues of today’s world call for women to gather in nature. “We talk to each other and we create energy,” she said. “When we stand in our own light, we also light the way for other women and men.”

* “In Search of the Wise Woman,” outdoor workshop conducted by Kathleen Zundell, Wilderness Institute, 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. June 10. For more information, call the Institute, (818) 991-7327.