The Ponte Vecchio (“old bridge”) in Florence, Italy
Recently a reader asked this question: “If a woman performs the function of being an artist’s ‘muse’ and if the artist believes (to paraphrase Joseph Campbell in ‘The White Goddess”) that ‘she is a representative of the goddess deconstructing and remaking him’ then where does muse/anima begin and end?”
I wasn’t exactly sure I understood the question fully, but here’s how I replied…in a slightly revised form now that I’ve decided to make a post of it.
Well, right off hand I’d say that the muse is one of several functions of the Anima. Anima is the name Carl Jung gave to a man’s unconscious feminine side. As I use the term however, I essentially mean the unconscious or undeveloped feminine in everyone. Sometimes I use Anima and Soul interchangably. I do the same with the unconscious masculine: i.e. Animus or Spirit.
Our feminine side is associated with empathy, intimately relating, nurturing, receptivity, tender feelings, the instincts, and all the soulful, material, physical aspects of human life. Whichever of these are not consciously developed remain in the unconscious as our Anima.
Our instincts are the source of all creativity: i.e. we need to eat (the instinct for nurturance), so we create weapons and tools to catch and kill animals and fish. Or look for work we can enjoy and earn money doing. Paradoxically, we contain an instinct for creativity itself, although not everyone activates it as much as artists and other unusually creative people.
Patriarchal culture educates us into a one-sided way of thinking and behaving with values that are active, productive, dynamic, goal- and achievement-oriented, practical, clear, structured, logical, linear and competitive. In this masculine-oriented environment, many of us repress our Soul into the unconscious, thus losing the ability to care deeply and have empathy for others, cultivate intimate relationships, feel and express tender emotions, tend lovingly to our bodies and the everyday physical requirements of life, and be receptive to our own repressed needs and instincts. Soul requires more time, quiet, stillness, space, receptivity and contemplation to get in touch with the inner life—including inspiring inner images, visions, dreams and imagination—than the fast track allows.
As a result, many, if not most, men project their Anima onto a woman and let her carry it for them. A man can learn a lot about Soul vicariously through her, but he won’t necessarily learn to experience his own Soul, which might be quite different from hers.
“In the middle of the journey of our life I came to myself within a dark wood where the straight way was lost.” ~Dante Alighieri
Dante sees Beatrice for the first time.
This can create real problems between them because he expects her to behave “appropriately,” i.e. as his own idealized feminine side would. When she doesn’t mirror his ideal image, or Anima, he may be critical, disappointed, or angry at her. This is because he doesn’t see her as she really is, or even necessarily like her; he can only see her and appreciate her when she appears to be who he wants her to be. Yet if she leaves him, he can be devastated. It’s as if she’s taken away an essential part of him. Which she has: his connection to his feminine side.
Now, let’s assume this man has a strong, conscious connection with his creative instinct, and is a writer, artist, poet, composer, actor, etc. Let’s also assume that the woman onto whom he has projected his Anima inspires him to use his creative instinct in unusually imaginative and enormously satisfying ways. In this case, the woman also assumes the function of his muse. As such, she provides him with an important connection to the “inspiratrix” aspect of his own Anima.
This is exactly what happened to Dante when he first saw the girl Beatrice on the Ponte Veccio in Florence. His Anima awoke with a lightning flash and immediately took residence in her image. Even though he married someone else and Beatrice died at a young age, her image forever after functioned as his Anima/Muse/Beloved and inspired him to write The Divine Comedy.
In bringing him in touch with his deeper inner life, the muse as his Beloved also provided access to his entire Soul, not just the inspiratrix part of her, but also the other instinctual parts that helped him care and feel deeply, develop intimate relationships, learn about his own feminine side, and ultimately connect with his Self. It was this inner relationship with his Soul and her conscious union with his Spiritual side that activated his authentic Self, expanded his vision into the Sacred Realm, and illuminated his brilliant masterpiece.
Unfortunately, most men never see the woman to whom they are profoundly attracted as an individual in her own right. Nor do they realize that the reason they are so attracted to her is because she represents the feminine half of their own authentic Self.
But a man who can learn about his own Soul from the woman onto whom he projects it—i.e. a man who recognizes that the qualities he admires in her belong to him, and who can gain access to these qualities whether she is physically with him or not—is the most fortunate of men. Why? Because to consciously activate and create harmony between one’s own Soul and Spirit is the whole point of the human journey…or should I say, of the Divine Comedy?
And what is that point? To consciously make of one’s own life a work of art.
Image credits: The Ponte Vecchio, http://www.asceville.org, Google Images. Dante and Beatrice, Henry Holiday, Wikipedia. Divine Comedy, Google Images.
Jean Raffa’s “The Bridge to Wholeness” and “Dream Theatres of the Soul” are at Amazon. E-book versions are also at Kobo, Barnes And Noble and Smashwords. “Healing the Sacred Divide” can be found at Amazon and Larson Publications, Inc.