Jung developed his theories about anima and animus in a place and time where gender stereotypes ruled. Despite his intention to draw from “the spirit of the depths” where these archetypes have universal meaning, to modern sensibilities some of his ideas might seem to have been contaminated by the spirit of his times. For example, in his day men were generally considered to be more intellectually capable and women more emotional, and these assumptions occasionally crop up in his writing. To us this is obviously related to the fact that women in his time were still subjugated in many ways, including being denied equal educational and work opportunities. Nonetheless, he developed far more objectivity in this area than most people before or since; because of this, and because ignorance about these issues creates so many problems, his descriptions are still useful.
In essence, he believed the animus matures as we cultivate an independent, non-socially conditioned idea of ourselves, growing more aware of what we truly believe and feel, and more articulate in expressing these beliefs and feelings. In sum, if the anima’s “soulful” activity is centered on nourishing inner and outer relationships to preserve the species, the animus’s “spiritual” activity is focused on becoming more conscious and individuated to preserve oneself. In the big picture, of course, both goals are vital to the mature development of soul and spirit, individual and species.
Jungians believe that like the anima, the animus develops in four stages. In Jung’s Man and His Symbols, analyst Marie-Louise Von Franz writes that in the first stage the animus appears as “a personification of mere physical power – for instance as an athletic champion or ‘muscle man'” such as Tarzan. Next, the animus demonstrates initiative and has the capacity for planned action; thus, it might show up in a dream as a romantic poet, war hero, hunter, etc. Third, it becomes associated with inspired verbal and intellectual proficiency and might manifest as a dream image of a professor, clergyman, lawyer, or politician. At its most mature it becomes, like Hermes and Sophia, a messenger of the gods who mediates between the unconscious and conscious mind. Thus, the highest calling of the animus, is, like the anima, to embody Wisdom and incarnate meaning.
Is this a true and accurate description of the animus? No one really knows because our ideas about masculinity and femininity have been forming for thousands of years and vary widely from culture to culture. I have no doubt that as the ego grows more conscious these ideas will continue to change. But currently in the West we tend to think of a healthy animus as the part of us with the strength, drive, motivation, self-discipline, and courage to peel away the layers hiding the Self’s light, and we recognize him in the temptation to risk letting that light shine through until we are transparent in our uniqueness.
In the long run our uniqueness may not look anything at all like traditional ideas about masculinity and femininity. But that, of course, is a very good thing. It will simply look like who we really are. In essence, the message of both anima and animus is to know ourselves and develop loving relationships with everything no matter how this might look to anyone else!
The Wilbur Award is given by the Religion Communicators Council for excellence in communicating religious faith and values in the public arena and for encouraging understanding among faith groups on a national level.