What is Wife Worship?

[Below is an edited transcript. A downloadable audio podcast is available at the very bottom.]

MICHAEL: My name is Michael Ellsberg, and I want to talk to you about wife worship.

JENA: My name is Jena la Flamme, and I’m here to talk to you about receiving wife worship

MICHAEL: I see countless couples out there having one flavor or another of relationship problem. And always I trace it back to a lack of wife worship.

There are certain problems people are aware they have. If someone has a drinking problem, usually at some point or another they become aware of that. Or if someone has a weight problem, at some point they realize they are overweight. But very few people who have a lack of wife worship (or goddess worship, or woman worship) in their relationship ever come to realize that’s what is going on. So part of my mission is to spread the word about that.

Some typical “symptoms” I see in relationships that I trace back to a lack of wife worship include: when a guy in a relationship is repeatedly saying something along the lines of, “I love my wife, but… She’s just so irrational sometimes.” Or, “I love my wife, but… She always wants to talk so much.” Or, “I love my girlfriend, but… she can never tell me her reasons for wanting to do things—she just does them impulsively.” To me, these are crazy statements. These are like saying, “I love my wife, but I’m just so frustrated that she’s a woman!”

You chose her. You chose a woman. You could have been with a guy, and you didn’t choose a guy. You chose a woman.

These statements are very common in our culture. I hear a lot of my guy friends say these kinds of things. A guy that complains about his wife’s emotions is kind of like a guy saying he wants to have a car in his life, but complains that it has an engine, and an ignition. That’s the engine of your woman. That’s the ignition. That’s what turns her on. That’s why you want to be with her. That’s why you’re drawn magnetically to her. That’s why you want to fuck her. It’s that juicy emotionality—that “rawness.”

I’m surprised at how often guys devalue this in their woman, or look down upon it. This is the topic both of us are going to talk about—a cultural devaluation of the feminine. It’s historical and still rampant in our culture today.

JENA: For a man to be able to value your feminine, you have to value it first. Otherwise, if he comes to you saying, “I worship…” You’re immediately going to think, “You’re a freak. Weirdo…” It’s important for us women to realize this, because we grow up in a culture that doesn’t honor the feminine. We’re told—in subtle and not-so-subtle ways—that the masculine way IS the way. We want to be men. I’ve heard it said that all women are bilingual: we speak feminine, and we speak masculine. Because we are “forced” to. Whereas most men only speak the masculine.

I definitely was in that category. My value was all tied up in my achievement. Achieve this, achieve that, accomplish this, accomplish that. The feminine? Eh. Maybe I’d get it on the weekends—maybe not. A big turning point happened when I read a book by David Deida. It was actually a book he had written for men, called The Way of the Superior Man. And I totally identified with the men he was writing for! I thought, “Yeah, that’s me!” But then he said, “Men, you’re missing out on the feminine. Here’s all the value in the feminine…” And I suddenly realized that all these other parts of me—which I’d always known were there, but never valued much—ARE valuable.

Around the same time another teacher said to me, “Jena, a man can have all the wealth, fame and riches in the world. Unless he has a woman to share his life with, it’s empty. It’s meaningless. He’ll be miserable.” And I thought, “Hmm, that’s interesting.” So I adopted the metaphor of the butterfly being the symbol of the feminine. The butterfly floats around here and there. She’s feminine. She doesn’t have any particular mission or purpose. She’s not specifically accomplishing anything. But wow, isn’t she inspirational? Does she take your breath away? Does she make you happy to be alive? Yes! I realized, that in itself is a huge contribution—one that’s been devalued and underplayed, but is valuable.

I began to make a place for that in my life. I began to value radiance as the gift of the feminine. I began to cultivate it. How do you cultivate your radiance? You realize that we are here as women to project light—to cultivate light. One of my friends calls me a “light-caster.” Yeah. I work on that.

Part of what makes us feminine is this feminine body. In the accomplishment model, I was accomplishing outside goals, and neglecting her—my female animal. In this transition, things like self-care, good nutrition, movement, dance, play, and decorating my body with great clothes—that were not a priority before—ratcheted up my priority list. So my radiance grew.

As a side-note, if you’re thinking, “Oh Jena, that’s easy for you to say. You’re beautiful, slim…” It was actually through the process of focusing on pleasure and radiance that I healed my relationship with food. I had been a compulsive eater for many years, which I now realize was my misguided attempt to fill myself with the feminine (food being the stuff of Mother Earth). In the process of embracing femininity, I lost 20 pounds. And the offshoot of that is my now business, Pleasurable Weight Loss— where I teach women how to lose weight, have the body they love, and be at peace with food. All by bringing MORE pleasure into their life, instead of restricting or limiting it.

MICHAEL: One of the things I’m so in awe of about my wife—you, Jena—is the journey you’ve taken to overcome this cultural devaluation of women that most girls are born into all around the world. I admire your fierce determination to overcome that for yourself, and then to empower other women to do the same.

I was very interested in this topic, even before I met Jena. As early as my teens, I was reading very widely in a field called ecofeminism, and thinking about these kinds of things. I learned about this history of devaluing the feminine that has been expressed in many different ways. We could have a whole lecture devoted to the ways that various authority figures—whether religious, cultural, or political—devalue the feminine.

I want to talk about just one aspect of this. Our Western culture prizes rationality, and the mind. In the process, we have devalued the body, carnality, and the emotions. There’s something in philosophy called, “The Law of Non-Contradiction.” If you study Western philosophy, this is at the very root. Aristotle talked about this. It’s the basis for the logical system that mathematics, science, and all these Western gifts are based on. Yet, there are problems with it too. The basic idea of this law is: if you have one statement, and you have another statement that contradicts it, one of those has to be false. They can’t be true at the same time if they contradict each other.

Can you imagine trying to relate to a woman in her full-blooded woman-ness, really committed to the idea that two contradictory statements she says can’t be true at the same time? [Laughter.] You wouldn’t get anywhere, even before you started! Think of all the beautiful utterances that come out of a fully-expressed woman. These are the things that tend to drive men crazy when they haven’t adopted this perspective yet.

Guys, have you ever heard a woman say something like, “Part of me really feels safe with you. But part of me wants to run the other way and hide.” Or, “Part of me is just repulsed by him. But part of me is really turned on…” Or more temporally, “Yesterday, I was feeling really into this plan we have. But today I woke up and I’m having cold feet about it.” If you tried to approach a woman who is expressed in all these complicated, beautiful ways—with all these shades, crevasses, and different angles—with a deep conviction that something has to be true OR not true, you won’t get anywhere with that. You won’t even get started.

The worship of the feminine—the worship of your woman—starts when you start to climb into this world where there can be many different shades and paradoxes. It’s like the weather. You wouldn’t say to the weather, “Damn it, you were sunny yesterday! And you’re rainy today. What’s wrong with you?! Make up your mind!” That’s crazy. Yet, that’s how most men talk about their women’s emotions. I wouldn’t have been able to relate to this full, expressed goddess of energy if I hadn’t started to step into this understanding of revering the shades of the weather—revering the full storms, the sun, and all of it.

There’s one more metaphor I want to express before I turn it back to Jena. Have you seen those graphs that track earthquakes? They’re called seismometers. They graph all kinds of energy. In some sense, a woman is like a seismometer.  Imagine if you took that and said, “What’s wrong with you seismometer? Why can’t you just be flat?” That’s not what it’s there for! It’s there to track all these subtle shades of energy. That’s what it is doing: expressing all this energy.

In the field of seismology, the things that those meters track are called “body waves” and “surface waves.” There are body waves in the earth, and surface waves on the surface of the earth. And get this (I’m not making this up)—there is actually something in seismology called “love waves.”

So a woman has these body waves of energy going through her. She has surface waves—where just the slightest touch on the surface of her skin is like a wave of energy. And of course, love waves. My conception of worshipping the feminine is to realize that I my level of understanding of those energetic movements through the body is just a speck—compared to my woman’s understanding—and that I have everything to learn from her. That’s what charges me up. Like Jena said, a man would be nothing without that. My writing would be nothing if I didn’t have that inspiration to guide it—that engine charging it. I worship that in you. I bow down to that in you. And I am so happy to be sharing this stage with you.

JENA: We’re not talking about husband worship in this talk, but husband worship is absolutely going on here too. It’s only because it is more normal to idolize the masculine that we’re not going to talk about that today. But another day, we’d love to.

On that note, ladies: if you notice yourself going, “Ugh, typical man,” that is a crack in your husband worship ability. (We say “husband,” but if you’re not married, it’s your boyfriend and the men around you.) So just catch yourself. Because chances are, that “typical man” is just being human. Better to go, “Ugh, typical human,” rather than put men down. You can’t expect their reverence if you’re disrespecting them.

In terms of respecting your own feminine, it helps here to take a very big-picture approach. Because in our modern culture, men have 90% of the wealth. Men run the governments. We can see why women want to be men! We want that kind of power. Yet if you look at the big picture, and go back to ancient times (before we had a written language), things were very different.

It used to be thought that women created babies by themselves. They were worshipped as the miraculous source of life. I think the women probably caught on first that men were involved (but just kept it to themselves). Eventually, the men realized that they were a part of the process, and that whole charade was over. But you can see that it hasn’t always been that the masculine is superior to the feminine. In fact, it may have been the other way around, once upon a time.

We are not looking for a matriarchy to replace the patriarchy—a different kind of power play—but rather, an equality: an equal respect of our differences.

How do you worship a woman? If we look at the Celts, which is the ancient stem of my own cultural roots, they would say, “All acts of pleasure, harm they none, are in worship of the goddess.” That’s a great motto, which I encourage you to take on. As a woman, the liberation that gave me – and I learned this pretty young—was regarding sexual shame. As a teenager, I was enjoying sex, but I had guilt about it. I had shame about it. You have to hide that. It’s not what good girls do! Until I realized . . . that gives me pleasure. It’s an act of pleasure, and it’s harming none. Sex must be in worship of the divine! And this huge relief came over me. I began to see the rightness of pleasure—in sex and in all areas of life. It became a compass for me.

I make the distinction between true pleasure and counterfeit pleasure. To find out the difference, ask the question: “Does this give me pleasure now, in an hour, in a day, in a week, in a month, in a year?” If all of those line up with a “yes,” that’s true pleasure. With counterfeit pleasure—also called addiction—the answer to some of those time-frames will be “no.” It causes regret of some form. You get a hangover, or some negative side-effect that is definitely not pleasure. When you invite true pleasure into your life, it always makes the woman feel good.

Women, you set the bar on how to be treated. When you create a life of pleasure, when prioritize it for yourself, and when give it to everyone around you, your man is going to go, “Oh, so that’s how she rolls. Alright, I’m getting on that wavelength.” And he will join in the pleasure. Have you noticed that?

MICHAEL: Yes, absolutely. It would be impossible for you, Jena, to have a man in your life that didn’t respect and revere your pleasure—your embodiment of pleasure. That’s what you stand for, and your system would immediately eject any man that didn’t respect and honor that. That’s why you have a man that does respect and honor that.

JENA: The masculine qualities that I very much revere in Michael include things like direction, purpose, mission, being unshakable, steady, and his willingness to give that devotion to the goddess. Meanwhile in the feminine, what I honor in myself and other women, is play. It’s this light-spiritedness of being in the moment, being spontaneous, and willing to flow and create, without being attached to the outcome.

Creativity is interesting, because it is connected to accomplishment. When you create something, that is an accomplishment. But in creating from the feminine perspective, the focus is less on what is going to be at the end, and more on enjoying and valuing the process of creating itself. That’s something that you can infuse into all areas of your life.

MICHAEL: I want to talk a little bit about some of the objections I often hear from men about adopting this perspective, that some of you guys out there might be thinking in the back of your mind. Consider the word “worship” or “reverence.” To me those are very connected with the word “awe.” And awe is almost a trembling fear, a deep respect of something whose power is almost overwhelming. So you can see why a lot of guys would have a problem with adopting that attitude towards a woman.

For most of our culture’s history, there hasn’t been that awe. Instead it’s been an attitude that the man is powerful, the man is standing up tall. And the woman is sort of cowering in fear—almost in awe—of the man. He may view her kind of like he views a pet. You’re not in awe of a pet. You don’t worship a pet. You love it, it’s kind of cute, and you pet it. But there’s often not that profound respect for its power.

Another thing I learned from David Deida is that in the last few decades, there have arisen some relationships that flipped the script on that (relationships where the woman is completely empowered). She’s the one that gets all the attention, and calls the shots. And the man is low, kind of cowering in fear. There may be a form of worship there. So the fear all of you guys have out there has some justification. That does exist. And throughout my 20s, I feel I was in that place.

In my 20s, I was a wannabe pick-up-artist. I wasn’t even a pick-up-artist—which has its own problems—I was just a wannabe. When you hang out with these guys like I was, there’s an obsession with women. Every thought they have is about women. Every thought they have is about pussy. There’s a reverence for it, but it’s a very weak reverence. It’s coming from a place of weakness.

What I realized over time is, I wanted to have a woman like Jena in my life—if I wanted to manifest this goddess in my life—I was good on the reverence/awe part. That was never a problem for me. The problem was that I was coming from a weak place. I had to raise myself up to a place of power. So in my view, the most powerful kind of worship and awe is if you’re coming from a powerful place already. And from that power, you choose—as a man, in your masculinity—to get down and put your masculinity in service of this goddess. That is power.

The kind of reverence I was doing in my 20s—and that a lot of men do in this cultural shift we’ve had (before they empower themselves). . . If you’re already on the ground groveling, as I was in my 20s, then if you prostrate yourself, it doesn’t really mean anything. Because you’re basically already there. [Laughter.] Right?

[Here’s a brief video clip of the physical demo that went with the above paragraph.]

To really have power, don’t focus so much on the reverence (unless that’s the area you struggle with). Focus more on lifting yourself up, so then when you prostrate yourself, it actually means something to your woman. That is power. That, to me, is the highest form of masculinity—when you can surrender your masculinity in service of this goddess. That is what I’ve dedicated my life to, and that is the message I want to spread here.

JENA: The time I first realized that I was a goddess, I was traveling in India. I was 19 years old, and hearing these Hindu stories. And they sounded so human! I realized that they are a metaphor for us. We are the gods. We are the goddesses.

I also just want to say that this idea of worshipping the feminine is not about being a Barbie doll. It’s not about being an aseptic, perfect creature. It’s about ALL dimensions of you (like the weather): the storms, the sunny days, all of it. So, women—whatever your mood is, whatever phase of your cycle it is—it’s your job to remember that this is just one of the faces of your divinity.

As you prepare yourself to receive wife worship, another thing I encourage you to do is to build your “receiving muscle.” Receiving is crucial. We have so much emphasis in our culture on giving. Give, give, give. But no one can give to you unless you are willing to receive. We get guilty about receiving, “I don’t deserve it.” But you do.

Build your reverence for your desire. Desire is something I always thought was bad, selfish, and greedy. But now I see that your desires, unique as they are, are the best thing about you. My teacher** would say, “Your desires will lead you to the most exciting, amazing adventure. But only if you follow them. Only if you honor them first.” Men, be curious about the desires of your women. Women, be curious about your own. Take them for an adventure, let them take you.

Within this topic, I also want to mention sexual desire. The frame I have for that, in this culture that puts a lot of shame on sexual desire, is the idea of erotic innocence—innocence being the state that is pre-right or wrong. It’s the time before your mind has time to label, “That’s slutty,” “That’s no good,” or “My guy wouldn’t approve of that.” Pre-all-of-that is your erotic innocence. Your being, your body, all of you naturally moves toward the sensual, the sexual, the erotic. When you can welcome that and bring it into your life—and be an invitation for your partner to enjoy their erotic innocence (as well as yours)—then you have some of the most important ingredients for a happy marriage, and successful wife worship.

MICHAEL: There’s one more thought that I want to add here, in honor of Annie Lalla. There’s a phrase that Annie loves to use, “the evolution of love.” Jena and I have been together four years, and married for two years, which is a solid amount of time. But my parents have been married for 40 years. So sometimes I think, “What do I have to offer on this? What do we, in this room, who are relatively young, have to teach on this subject?” Yet, knowing couples like Annie and Eben, Bryan and Jennifer, Nathan and Amber, I’ve really come to believe that we are actually evolving love.*

For thousands of years—up until roughly the 1960s or so—there was this one model. The man was in charge, and the woman was kind of cowering in a fearful way towards his masculinity (as he totally devalued her femininity). Then a really important evolution came around the mid-60s-early 70s, with women’s empowerment. Women started to feel empowered, and own their power. They started placing value on themselves, and demanding value from men. And there was a period where the imbalance in some cases went the other way. The men were kind of emasculated and castrated, and didn’t know how to respond to these empowered women.

I think that the teachers we’ve been hearing from for a couple of days here are on the forefront of a further evolution—a full empowerment of both man and woman. I would call it a co-surrender. Each party/gender is surrendering into the power and the wisdom of the other, and becoming two aspects of one being: a powerful feminine aspect and a powerful masculine aspect. I honor you all for being at the forefront and driving this evolution. Thank you.

JENA: Symbolically, when I shifted from being in the masculine mode to embracing the feminine, one thing that changed was that I welcomed dance in. I had done dance as a girl, but thought, “I’m never going to be a professional dancer. I’m never going to make money doing that.” So I didn’t make any time for it. When I started to welcome the feminine, I also decided to make more time for dance. There was this salsa club that was near my office, and it was $10 to get in. Before I would think, “That’s $10 to put toward my investments. I’m not going to spend that.” It was very masculine.

Then I realized that by taking those classes I was investing in my radiance, pleasure, femininity and fun. So I started going to this salsa club and learning to dance salsa there. Fast-forward a few years, and I was at Burning Man. I looked through the listing of events and saw this salsa party. And I thought, “Yeah, I can do that.” So I went to this salsa party, and who was the DJ and the dance teacher? None other than Michael Ellsberg. That’s how we met.

We want to close with bringing you one of our love rituals—one of our soothing mantras—which is to do a bit of Cuban salsa for you.

MICHAEL: This is literally a ritualized dance of masculine and feminine. One suggestion I have for anyone (man or woman) who is struggling with this balance, and trying to find your way in these dynamics of masculine and feminine, is to take Latin dance. They really have this one figured out. In Latin dance, both the masculine and feminine are so empowered. You couldn’t have the dance without both. There isn’t more or less value to either. Rather, there’s this ritualized celebration of the masculine and the feminine joining and playing.