Women enrolled in Aaron Ortega's workshop, 'The Luminous Warrior,' practice postures with wooden swords. - Bob Pennell

Warrior women

If the ancient Mayans' mathematical calculations and interpretations of the heavens are correct, the world will shift Dec. 22 into an era of femininity, says Ashland resident Aaron Ortega.

So the longtime instructor of martial arts and men's self-awareness decided to teach his first course in the concept of archetypes — specifically the "warrior" — for women.

"They're within all of us," he says of archetypes, which are referenced in astrology, Native American traditions and Eastern philosophies. A branch of psychology based on archetypes was founded in the late 20th century from the work of Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung. According to the 2009 book "Theories of Personality," Jung described archetypes as "ancient or archaic images that derive from the collective unconscious."

Although terminology can vary, the archetypal "warrior," "king," "magician" and "lover" are the facets of masculinity that Ortega's clients explore with the goal of attaining emotional and psychological health and maturity. Citing decades of self-study, the 48-year-old hosts one-day intensive workshops and multiday quests, most with support from Native American tribal elders. But he's also held classes, some for youth, at the behest of psychologists, professional organizations, even prisons.

In January and February, Ortega plans a month of meetings for women, who can tap into male, archetypal counterparts — "warrior," "queen," "sorceress" and "lover" — but also the strictly feminine "goddess," "healer," "dark mother," "orphan" and more, he says. Capable of embodying some 12 to 13 archetypes, women also shift more easily between them than do men, says Ortega.

"There's a range that women have in their superiority to men," he says.

The warrior archetype's association with action, however, makes it a particularly timely topic, says Ortega. Society is rapidly moving in an undesirable direction, he adds.

"There's more stopping that needs to be done," says Ortega. "Women represent more of that 'be' energy," he says, referring to the Chinese concept of "yin." The male counterpart, "yang," is considered active.

Another quality largely lacking in modern society is nurturing, fueled primarily by feminine energy, says Ortega. When men are able to embody that energy, it benefits them and their loved ones, he adds. Yet many women still struggle to embrace healthy masculinity, so Ortega's workshop also will help women understand how men are "hard-wired."

"It increases their compassion for the men," he says.

Known locally for teaching to his gender, Ortega also has a following of female martial-arts students and colleagues who signed up for the January workshop. They say they anticipate getting in touch with themselves, releasing emotions, feeling empowered and learning techniques that they can share with other women.

"It's awareness training for me," says Shianna Karen Pedersen, 54, of Talent. "We don't see ourselves very clearly."

Participants' movements, postures and vocal inflections reveal strengths and weaknesses, says Ortega. His background in martial arts helps him interpret movements and give feedback. He delves deeper during "respectful inquiry" with forthcoming volunteers but also provides journals that keep responses private.

As much as Ortega's groups — usually about 20 people — become open forums, he focuses on creating "safe environments" for exploring the "shadow side." The experience is ultimately about letting go of some things and reclaiming others, he says.

"Women have been so suppressed by these darker energies."

Agreeing that "we live in such a male world," Pedersen has been teaching conscious movement exclusively to women for the past 15 years. Ortega encouraged Pedersen to share his methods with students — usually eight at a time or in one-on-one sessions — of her "Art of Feminine Beauty in Motion."

"It felt like a really good combination for me," says the former dance and ski instructor who has worked with professional athletes and studied martial arts for most of her life. "I'm curious what does he have to bring to the feminine."

Approaching movement "from a really powerful place" — a woman's "center" — Pedersen has presented the warrior's persona, along with other role models, for women in her classes. Participants usually "find their voice," become creative and turn their dreams into realities, she says.

"Let's explore who we are in motion."

The warrior — "more of a presence," says Pedersen — is a version of femininity she's eager to enhance.

"The feminine is such a mystery," she says. "We have a different kind of depth than men have.

"There's a softness, there's a relaxation that's so powerful."

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