If you haven’t read last week’s post, you might want to go there first to hear my thoughts about the basic masculine archetypes. This time I want to highlight the feminine ones. Please remember that these energies and qualities, so-called “masculine” and “feminine,” are part of the psychological inheritance of everyone, regardless of gender. It’s only society that assigns some of them to men and others to women, and these associations can very from culture to culture. Unfortunately, this limits all of us to only a portion of our fullest potential.
In my system, the feminine archetypes are the Queen, Mother, Wisewoman and Beloved. These images of our basic instincts serve our “feminine” drive for species-preservation and relationship. The ways we see and use their energies are transformed over time as our egos mature through three “feminine” phases: the innocent Maiden, the life-giving Mother, and the wise Crone.
In the first phase we unconsciously serve the drive to preserve our species by emphasizing relationships, conforming to tribal/cultural standards, and sexual activity; in the second, the cycles of life force us us to become more aware of our individual needs; and in the third, attending to our inner, spiritual selves becomes as important as meeting the needs of others.
Our Queen is a culture mother and the feminine sovereign of the psyche. Like the goddess Hera, a Queen in the Maiden phase automatically honors her duty to society without reflection. Her growth is usually instigated by some sort of crisis —rape or love, parenthood, illness, divorce, or loss of a loved one—which destroys the Maiden’s virgin innocence and instigates the Mother’s suffering. If she develops a conscience and learns moral responsibility she becomes a caring Crone/Queen of personal sovereignty, moral virtue, respect for individual differences, and social leadership.
The Mother archetype represents our instinct for physically serving the birth/death/rebirth life cycle. In our unreflective Maiden phase our Mother is, like the warrior goddess Artemis and Mother Nature herself, as capable of destroying life as mothering it, simply because she is not very aware of the significance of otherness and puts her own needs first. In our Mother phase our Mother archetype struggles to understand and serve the needs of individuals as much as her own and the activity of the impersonal Great Mother who gives and takes all life. As our egos mature, the Crone Mother helps us value the life in our bodies and souls as much as life outside ourselves.
The Wisewoman is diffusely aware of, and deeply sensitive to, the maternal depths of the unconscious. In our unreflective phase she is like Greece’s Persephone, Stephen King’s Carrie, and Walt Disnery’s Sorcerer’s Apprentice. Because we lack the experience and logical thought to handle the vast unknown, our Maiden can get us into trouble with archetypal powers we don’t understand and can’t control. Our transformation into the Mother phase begins when our mistakes force us to distinguish between objective facts and subjective symbols in the inner and outer worlds. Our Crone Wisewoman integrates logos with mythos to see the big picture, understands how the parts connect, and creates personal psychological and spiritual meaning.
The Beloved is the magnetic principle in relationships. Our Maiden Beloved is like Aphrodite: an innocent, unconscious seductress driven to attract sexual, emotional, and spiritual fulfillment by attracting and pleasing others. Our Mother phase begins when we suffer the conflict between wanting to please our lovers and wanting to discard them when they no longer please us. Our Crone Beloved is like a hospitable, emotionally authentic hostess who lives in beauty, inspires others, and gives what we could only hint at in our youthful phase: full sensory and emotional intimacy with fully respected and loved otherness.
Whereas shadow masculinity destroys otherness, shadow femininity is self-destructive. A compulsive Queen can burn us out if we give too much of ourselves. Our Mother can sabotage our relationships by being too receptive or smothering. An obsessive Wisewoman can cause us to be depressed and overwhelmed by the unconscious. And if our egos obsess over the outer appearance of beauty, our Beloved can compel us to sacrifice the true beauty of our souls. But as we accept our feminine sides and partner them with our masculine sides, their union can give birth to a Spirit Warrior of perfected selfhood and completed relationships.
What does your attitude toward the feminine archetypes say about your ego’s maturity and your acceptance of the feminine side of your psyche? How are your relationships and service to our species evolving in ways that benefit all?
I wish you all a happy and love-filled Thanksgiving Holiday. I am so very thankful for you, my internet community. You have enriched my life immeasurably.
Fascinated by the inner forces that influence human attitudes and behavior, I’ve spent years trying to understand archetypes. Nobody can describe them with any certainty because they are deeply unconscious. However, there are many theories based on research and careful observation of human nature.
My perspective is based on Jungian psychology. Like Jung, I think of the archetype of the Self—our core, circumference and God-image—as an alchemical blend of so-called “masculine” Spirit (animus) and “feminine” Soul (anima). Obviously, Spirit and Soul have nothing to do with gender; everyone contains both. However, using “masculine” and “feminine” to describe these foundational forces of every psyche can be helpful. As metaphors, they help us understand differing and often conflicting forces in ourselves and others. But when, in our ignorance, we assign them to the genders and reject the qualities of our opposite, we repress our fullest potential and obstruct our growth.
I’ve found it helpful to think of four main feminine archetypes as Queen, Mother, Wisewoman and Beloved. These serve our drive for species-preservation and relationship/wholeness. The masculine King, Warrior, Magician/Scholar and Lover serve our drive for self-preservation and individuation. Since the masculine archetypes are more familiar to most of us, I’ll begin with them and discuss the feminine next time.
It is by no means necessary that we all agree with any one way of imagining our instinctual energies. Indeed, the fact that I’ve found it useful to organize them into mental categories simply reflects my masculine penchant for clear, logical distinctions. I could just have easily focused on experiencing them in my body, nature, relationships, needs and emotions. But I was educated with the left-brained academic bias which has dominated Western culture for thousands of years. This does not in any way violate or diminish the power of feminine energy. It simply blinds us to it. Which is why I believe that clarifying the differences that divide us is a necessary step to integrating them.
I also want to note that while everyone is furnished with the same basic patterns of psychic energy, how we and our culture see, activate and manifest them differs. Moreover, each archetype changes as our egos mature through three phases of self-awareness and self-knowledge.
In the first phase we see our King as a cultural Father figure, protector, and preserver of law and virtue who leads us with clear thinking and hierarchical order. The Old King is authoritarian and tradition-bound; questioning his law is taboo. But if we keep growing, he becomes a restless, searching, ego-driven Son/Prince who challenges outdated standards and risks breaking old rules. In turn, the Prince can become a mature and wise masculine sovereign of the psyche who, like England’s Queen Elizabeth I or the legendary King Arthur, actively promotes tolerance, healing change, order, virtue and justice in himself and society.
Our unreflective Warrior is focused on perfecting the body and the world. He proves himself and acquires power and success by influencing others with aggressive, impressive behavior while having little real concern for their feelings. In the Son phase he begins to question his motives, methods and values and struggles to channel his dynamic manifesting activity into work that provides a satisfying outlet for his true talents and ideals. In his final phase he is like Merida, the warrior princess in Disney’s animated film Brave, a Samurai Warrior, or a Star Wars Jedi master who channels his expertise, self-discipline, courage, and moral maturity into activities that heal the broken, protect the vulnerable, defend human rights, and preserve every form of life.
The unreflective Magician/Scholar seeks release from delusion by processing information with focused consciousness and logical thinking. He prefers the objective to the subjective and the known to the unknown and keeps the two sharply separated. In his Son phase he questions tribal wisdom and pursues unorthodox and occasionally original ideas and ways of thinking. The mature Magician/Scholar is a creative, reflective Wise Old Man like Hermes, Avatar’s Dr. Grace Augustine, or Professor Dumbledore whose “magical” knowledge, acceptance, and integration of the visible and invisible forces of life makes him an effective thought leader who can transcend boundaries between people and worlds.
Finally, the Lover is the idealistic and passionate dynamic principle in relationships. In his unreflective phase he seeks emotional release and physical love and pleasure with little compassion or moral responsibility. As Son he treats his Beloved with less selfishness and moodiness and more responsiveness to her differing feelings and needs. The mature Lover is a playful, romantic, aesthetically aware and psychologically balanced lover of life. Like Dionysus, poets Sappho and Lord Byron, or William Blake he appreciates the beauty, worth and inspiration of femininity and honors it in himself and his partners.
The negative poles of the masculine archetypes can be as contemptible as the positive are commendable. The shadow side of the masculine drive for self-preservation abuses and destroys otherness. Whether in a male or female, an unconscious King is a morally rigid, biased, rule-oriented and uncaring tyrant; a Warrior is an abusive invader and wanton destroyer; the Magician/Scholar is a cleverly manipulative, duplicitous, and critical know-it-all; and the Lover, a perverted, hedonistic addict. But when all four are fully developed and partnered with equally mature feminine archetypes, the result is a profoundly powerful, uniquely creative, psychologically whole and spiritually enlightened being.
Next time I’ll address the basic feminine archetypes. Meanwhile, if you’re in the mood for a little inner work you might reflect on which of your masculine archetypes are more fully developed and which could use some growing.
Without this playing with fantasy no creative work has ever yet to come to birth. The debt we owe to the play of the imagination is incalculable. Carl Jung
Culture is created by the human psyche. Intended or not, there is a psychological dimension to every art form. This is nowhere more evident than in James Cameron’s 2009 epic science-fiction film Avatar, a personal favorite.
Avatar’s characters, symbols and themes are updated versions of archetypes featured in stories from every nation, generation, and religion throughout history. Its symbols of interconnectedness—the wormy squirmy tentacled pony tails that bond with similar anatomical appendages of bizarre beasts, and the electrochemical connections between tree roots—are imaginatively resonant of ancient Hinduism’s Diamond Net of Indra, Jung’s collective unconscious, and quantum physics’ holographic universe. And its themes of self-discovery, initiation, revolution, transformation, and redemption have been with us since the first story ever told around a fire.
This lush film eloquently depicts the transformation occurring in humanity’s heroic journey into wholeness and consciousness. It does so by contrasting an ego that succeeds by opening to otherness and change with one that fails because it refuses to grow. Indulge me for a moment as I engage in a bit of imaginative word play to illustrate my point.
The time is the mid-22nd century. The place is Pandora, (mythically, the Greek goddess whose curiosity unleashed all the evils onto the world but whose ultimate legacy was hope). Pandora is a moon in the Alpha Centauri star system that is being colonized to mine a rare mineral. The plot revolves around the expansion of the mining colony which is threatening the existence of the local tribe of natives known as Na’vi.
Corporal Jake (Biblically,Jacob was Isaac’s son and Abraham’s grandson who overcame adversity to become the patriarch of the Israelites) Sully is a soldier whose body is bound to a wheel chair and whose soul has been sullied—i.e. contaminated and made impure—by bitterness, self-pity, and the aggressive mind-set of his dominator culture. Yet, by the end of the story, he is transformed into a heroic Warrior and passionate Lover.
Where love rules, there is no will to power; and where power predominates, there love is lacking. The one is the shadow of the other. Carl Jung
After undergoing training to be an avatar, Jake’s crippled body rests in a remote location while his mind inhabits a genetically engineered Na’vi body that interacts with the natives. His bravery, his respect for princess Neytiri (who says”nay” to tyranny and is Sully’s equal, savior, and Beloved), and his receptivity to the foreign ways of her culture all lead to his redemption and the salvation of the Na’vi.
And what might the name Na’vi symbolize? This tribe has long navigated safely through a difficult world by honoring the sacred underlying patterns of life. But because the people will not capitulate to the dominator ego mentality which has destroyed Earth, their culture is in danger of extinction.
Other archetypal themes are represented by the Na’vi’s spiritual leader Mo’at, (an abbreviation of Mother Earth?) who is a blend of the Jungian archetypes of Queen, Earth Mother, Wisewoman, and Beloved. Her earth-based values and connections to Nature are the glue that have enabled the Na’vi to flourish thus far. Then there’s Jake’s mentor, Dr. Grace Augustine (a saintly name if ever there was one), who symbolizes the archetypal Queen’s regard for shared authority and individual differences and the Wisewoman’s intuitive intelligence and pursuit of truth.
Finally we have a plot with the necessary obstacles every hero must overcome: the self-absorbed and self-serving ego symbolized by Selfridge, corporate administrator of the mining program; and the obsessive Warrior mentality of the head of security, Colonel Miles Quaritch (from quarantine, a place of detention? Or quarrel, an angry dispute? Or quartz, a hard rock?). Cameron’s soulless dark invader, like Lucas’s Darth Vader, has miles to go in his own journey because of his rock-hard rigidity and unrelenting itch to maintain his power regardless of the cost to anyone or anything.
So here we have a story about a brave, heroic ego vs. a rigid, fearful ego. Earthly and cosmic connectedness vs. personal self-interest. Accepting our shadows. Opening to otherness. Learning from feminine wisdom and nature. Moving toward balance. Uniting opposites with respect and love. Using our Warrior energy to protect and empower the vulnerable. Overcoming crippling disadvantages to become a force for positive change.
This haunting story is more than just another movie. It is a mythic reflection of us at our worst and best. Of our blind ego with its rigid and self-righteous attitudes. Of our dysfunctional dark shadow that clings to old habits and blindly fouls our planetary nest. Of our power-hungry Warrior who continues to dominate families, neighborhoods and societies.
There is no coming to consciousness without pain. Carl Jung
Our hope lies with Jake who represents the resilience, creative imagination, and heroic potential of every ego, no matter how much suffering it endures, to overcome its lethargy and choose consciousness: consciousness of our light shadow with its unique gifts and ideals and sensitivity and care. Consciousness of our healthy Warrior with the courage to say no to ingrained attitudes and practices that produce chaos, pollution and destruction. Consciousness of the love waiting to blossom between healthy femininity and masculinity.
It seems I’ve always wanted to know who I am and why I am what I am. I smile as I write these words because they remind me of the very first official Popeye the Sailor Man cartoon: “I Yam What I Yam!”
Remember Popeye? He’s a runty, uneducated, playful, squinty-eyed guy with a speech impediment who sails the seven seas, adopted an infant foundling he calls Swee’Pea, and is in love with a tall, skinny drink of water named Olive Oyl. Unfortunately, his nemesis, the musclebound bully Bluto, is also attracted to Olive Oyl and keeps trying to kidnap her. When Popeye comes to her rescue, Bluto beats up on him until he starts feeling weak. Then he eats a can-full of spinach (and occasionally the can itself), which immediately gives him superhuman strength and problem-solving abilities to defeat Bluto. Usually.
I find two characteristics of this flawed little guy of special interest. First, he has found, and regularly uses, a magical panacea which gives him strength. Second, according to Wikipedia, he has a “near-saintly” perseverance to overcome any obstacle to please his sweetheart, Olive Oyl.
Now of course this is just a silly little cartoon meant to entertain and amuse. But like every story ever told by any human anywhere, there’s also an underlying psychological meaning. Why? Because the way the psyche is made influences our every thought, word, and action. So in psychological terms, I could say that Popeye represents the ego which has embraced the vulnerable inner child (Swee’Pea), found a wonderfully helpful way (spinach) to strengthen and stabilize itself enough to overcome adversity (Bluto), and connected with the inner feminine (Olive Oyl).
Why spinach? Well, when I google spinach I discover that its main nutritional element is iron. And when I google iron I find that psychologically it can symbolize inner strength and the will and determination to see things through to the finish. What is it Popeye always says? “I’m strong to the finich. Cause I eats me spinach.”
But Olive Oyl? Surely the name of this goofy, gangly gal can’t mean anything important, can it? Check it out. Apart from its many health benefits, particularly for the heart, olive oil has spiritual meaning. Olives come from the olive tree, which in the Bible is associated with love and charity. And olive oil was used for anointing kings and priests (earthly and spiritual authorities) and for fueling lamps which, of course, bring light, and by association, enlightenment. So psychologically, Popeye’s beloved Olive Oyl symbolizes the healthy inner feminine authority which brings spiritual enlightenment! I love it!
If you’ve read my earlier posts you’ll know why I can relate to Popeye. I’ve adopted an inner orphan. I strengthen my ego by regularly “digesting” Jungian psychology and dreamwork. I wrestle with an inner bully who’s always trying to steal my feminine authority. And I persevere in my efforts to connect with the Beloved of my psyche. Like Popeye, I don’t always defeat my bully, but I am getting stronger. And like Popeye’s relationship to Olive Oyl, the partnership between my ego and unconscious is by no means problem free. In fact, my failures are sometimes laughable.
But I, too, am determined to be “strong to the finich. Cause I eats me spinach!” I yam what I yam. And that’s becoming okay with me.
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.