This is the fourth post in the Mythology and the Psyche series, a list of all the posts in the series can be found here.
In myth, the only place duality and separation exist is in the visible world. In the eternal realm, from which the physical world emanates at the beginning of the cosmogonic cycle, there is no separation whatsoever, only oneness, the whole. As a beam of white light breaks into every visible colours when it hits a prism, so does the visible world only come into focus through the consciousness-constricting lens of the ego. And even though the psyche is itself a reflection of the greater, transcendent consciousness of the universe, the mind is so narrowed as to make the eternal realm not only invisible, but inconceivable. The visible world is but a single, ragged shard of a lost whole. Each and every division so obvious and real in the visible world simply disappears in the transcendent realm, even the most basic distinctions like light and dark, male and female. From the point of view of the eternal, male and female mean nothing, in fact, neither exists. They are, although practical categories, the delusions of the ego perspective, who only believes in their reality (and the reality of all such categories) because its vision is obscured from seeing beyond the physical world. Expanding our vision, and our consciousness, to the great, transcendent reality behind this world is the heart of mythology.
For Jung, the psyche is made up of both masculine and feminine aspects. Masculine and feminine are not analogous with male and female here, they are expressions of complementary types of psychic energy, and are not necessarily tied in any way to male and/or female people. The Self holds the potential for the full expression of both types of energy, and whether that Self is contained in a male or female body is insignificant. Masculine energy is characterized by the realm of the mind, rationality, logic, assertiveness, directed will and intention, and outward action. Feminine energy, contrariwise, is the realm of emotions, tenderness, sensitivity, patience, connection with nature, and the nurturing and creative instincts. These do, unfortunately, correspond with many gender stereotypes, and Jung, who quite famously had a few strange ideas about women, certainly meant it. But he was also human, and alas, none of us get everything right. It’s also irrelevant what Jung really believed. Don’t take these categories too seriously, mythology only borrows the language of the physical world – because we understand it – in order to talk about what we have forgotten. As Campbell reiterates in The Hero with a Thousand Faces: “The function of ritual and myth is to make possible, and then to facilitate, the jump – by analogy. Forms and conceptions that the mind and its senses can comprehend are presented and arranged in such a way as to suggest a truth or openness beyond.” The physical fact is that women bear children, men don’t: mythology thus aligns femininity with the creative, emotional, and unconscious energies, and men with the more physical, practical energies. Women, in myth, are also typically more closely aligned with the eternal, or, they can access it more directly and easily than their male counterparts, because their bodies are a microcosm of the transcendent creative energies that birthed the visible world. This is also why the heroes in myth are always male, but this does not exclude women from the hero’s journey: it only requires our egos to learn not to take the symbols of myth literally. More broadly, the masculine represents the conscious, intellectually curious energies, its avatar is the ego; the feminine represents the unconscious, creative energies which are the whispers of the eternal realm. The hero’s journey is the conscious mind (masculine in symbol only) coming to know its own inner (and symbolically feminine) depths, and, by extension, the eternal. Or, as Campbell puts it: “Woman, in the picture language of mythology, represents the totality of what can be known. The hero is the one who comes to know.”
We come then, at last, to the anima, the archetype in men, and the animus, the archetype in women. It lies deep in the unconscious:
Essentially, the anima/us is the inversion of the persona. For while the Self is the full expression of every human potential, the ego and persona are made up of the fraction which allows us to fit into our specific society. The rest of our energies we reject, and they sink deep into the unconscious, knotting into the archetype of the anima/us. As it’s common for men to be required by society to over-emphasize masculine traits (forming their persona), the anima is thus made up of the predominantly feminine energy which has been thereby suppressed. And likewise, in women who have personas which express mostly feminine energy, their animus is comprised of their forgotten masculine traits. Now, this is not always the result of some conspiracy of society. As Jung reminds us, the persona is a “compromise” between society’s ideas and expectations, and the individual’s own desires. Many expressions of either masculine or feminine energy in the persona are merely the ticks, or preferences of the personality. It is critical to realize, though, as Campbell points out in Pathways to Bliss, “biologically and psychologically – we have both sexes in us; yet in all human societies, one is allowed to accent only one. The other is internalized within us.” This internalized self is the anima/us: the shadow of the persona, which Jung calls the “soul-image.” While we use the term ‘soul’, typically, to refer to what’s ‘transcendent’ about someone, Jung uses ‘soul’ as another word for personality, where the persona is your personality in the external world, the anima/us is the inner personality, or soul-image, which has not been allowed to develop.
Driven by the Self’s will to be fully realized, the unconscious always seeks to be known. As the conscious mind is completely unaware of the anima/us, we encounter our soul-image, craving our recognition, continually: most commonly in romantic relationships. Unknowingly, many (perhaps most) people are attracted to those who most closely resemble their anima/us, incarnating the adage “opposites attract.” Hyper masculine men tend to be attracted to hyper feminine women, for example. Put in less extreme terms, many people choose partners who ‘balance’ each other out with complementary strengths and weaknesses. But because the anima/us resides deep in the unconscious realm, we rarely have any inkling at all that our perspective partners often embody the lost aspects of ourselves. Instead, we meet someone and simply react. If this dynamic had an anthem, it would surely be the love song from Sleeping Beauty (1959):
I know you, I walked with you once upon a dream.
I know you, that look in your eyes is so familiar a gleam.
Yes I know it’s true, that visions are seldom all they seem.
But if I know you, I’ll know what you’ll do,
You’ll love me at once, the way you did once upon a dream.
This describes the feeling of ‘love at first sight,’ the mysterious sense that you already know someone you’ve yet to meet. Which is all very romantic, of course, but as Campbell well remarks in Mythos, in these ‘blind’ attractions “I don’t know what I’m doing, really. What I’m really joining up with is a projection of my own psyche.” The danger in seeking your soul-image in another is the mirage that finding that perfect match will complete you, but as even the love theme warns: “visions are seldom all they seem.” Or, as Campbell puts it, more soberly, in Pathways to Bliss: “Two people meet and fall in love. Then they marry, and the real Sam or Suzy begins to show through the fantasy, and, boy, is it a shock. … Now the one undeniable fact: this disillusion is inevitable. You had an ideal. You married that ideal, then along comes a fact that doesn’t correspond to that ideal. You suddenly notice things that don’t quite fit with your projection.” This is not a case of needing to find someone more ‘compatible,’ rather, compatibility is the lie we tell ourselves to avoid what love really requires. As Campbell explains, you now have only two choices, the first is “You can say, ‘Darling I am disillusioned, I’m taking my anima back for re-projection.’” In this instance you leave this one, and “wait for another receptive person” who fits the glass slipper. But as disillusionment is inevitable, this only creates an endless pattern of temporary and shallow (although safe) relationships.
As for the second choice, Campbell warns us “There’s only one attitude that will solve the situation,” and it requires that you “transform passion into compassion.” This means recognizing that your partner is human: complex, frustrating, fragile, and totally insane. When we are fixed on the anima/us ideal we become incapable of accepting people as they are, and thus, incapable of love for “Love is really a relationship to the person.” Romance isn’t necessarily love, often, it’s naval gazing, not much more than an obsession with your own feelings. Campbell uses the revelation of Tonio, the protagonist in Thomas Mann’s novella Tonio Kroger, to describe the transmutation of passion to compassion: “[Tonio] ultimately discovers that anybody who is in the world is imperfect, and that imperfection is what keeps the person here. He realizes that nothing alive fits [any] ideal. … It is the imperfections that identify [someone]. It is the imperfections that ask for our love. … Compassion is that which converts disillusionment into participatory companionship. … So when the fact shows through the animus or anima, what you must render is compassion … because you’re imperfect, too. You may not know it. The world is a constellation of imperfections, and you, perhaps, are the most imperfect of all.” You must be willing to love – and be loved as – a real person, not your own fantasy.
What this disillusionment is actually evoking is reality, not just of the world, but the invitation to realize “a new depth of reality in yourself.” So when you spurn partners for falling short of your anima/us projection, you are rejecting yourself. This is why the rinse-and-repeat cycle of relationships keeps spinning. While the anima/us may guide many of our romantic attractions (it is the source of our ‘type’), its purpose isn’t to be a radar for you ‘soul mate.’ Of course our inner masculine and feminine energies affect our romantic relationships (really, all of our relationships), but the encounters with our soul-image are unconscious invitations to begin the inner journey of embracing and developing the Self. Unearthing and integrating the anima/us is critical, but incorporating these forgotten selves into your conscious awareness isn’t always terribly easy. The anima/us has many positive qualities, but it also has many negative aspects and influences. Expressing a new found assertiveness, for example, may be immensely positive in many areas of your life and help maintain healthy boundaries in your relationships, but it may well tip into tyrannical domineering and sabotage those same bonds. After all, the suppression of these energies doesn’t happen entirely by accident, as much of our persona is shaped by the need to be accepted and approved of in society and by those around us. Even the more positive aspects of the anima/us may be deeply frightening to face. If these energies threaten our waking identity, and they often do, it may feel as if we are meeting our own annihilation. This fear is partially what drives the need to project the anima/us onto our romantic partners, and our resistance to seeing passed it. Aside from the disillusionment that can result from our mates departing from our anima/us vision, it’s far easier to leave someone else when we encounter what we’d rather not see in ourselves. The trouble is, as Campbell tells us in Pathways to Bliss, “The only way one can become a human being is through relationship to other human beings.”
The anima/us is not, however, simply the vision of a ‘perfect’ or ‘ideal’ mate. Campbell suggests that the anima/us is also what we imagine the opposite sex is like (or, whoever we are attracted to), and this is a “[function] of our biography. This biography includes two aspects. One is general to the human species: nearly everybody has a mother and a father. The other aspect is peculiar to yourself: that your mother should have been as she was and your father as he was.” Unfortunately, we don’t all have the special luck of parents who love and adore us. Many are, as most human beings, tragically imperfect. As our personal experiences imprint upon the anima/us, the image of love for many people becomes entangled with pain: abandonment, rejection, abuse, indifference, humiliation, shame, guilt, anger. When you’re fixated on the anima/us it may manifest as a tendency to choose partners with whom you repeat these painful, damaging patterns (rather than simply seeking ‘perfection’), even if your conscious mind is aware you are continually attracted to the ‘wrong’ type of partner. Whether it manifests positively or negatively in your life, the message of the anima/us is the same, and eventually, we must learn to release our attachment to its image.
A major reason why we struggle with all of this and learning to love beyond the projection of our own anima/us is because, as Campbell tell us, the ego has forgotten how to read the messages of the unconscious, the symbols of myth. The ego is blind and simply doesn’t know what else to do. In many myths, the anima/us does appear as the partner taken by the hero in marriage, but the ego tends to interpret this literally even though these stories don’t have anything to do with romantic relationships in ‘real life.’ In mythology, the anima/us very often acts as a psychopomp: a ‘guide of souls.’ In Greek mythology, for example, this role is filled by Hermes who ushered the souls of the dead safely to the underworld (he is also Jung’s symbol for the ideal animus in women). Symbolically, the psychopomp escorts the hero (or, the ego) through the unconscious realm. In fairy tales, the soul-image often incarnates as an enchanted or cursed princess who tells the hero how to safely venture through the bewitched castle, escape its many traps, lift the curse and return to her. In the Greek tale of Theseus and the Minotaur, Ariadne, the King’s beautiful daughter and the anima, out of love for Theseus, gives him a ball of thread with which he can enter the dangerous labyrinth to slay the Minotaur and return without getting lost. Yet, the role of psychopomp is not necessarily separate from romantic attraction, Campbell explains: “Everybody, I hope, has had the experience. Somebody walks in the room, and your heart stops. … This is the appearance of the guiding anima.” And indeed, Theseus marries Ariadne following his victory in the labyrinth, as do the heroes of fairy tale always marry the princess (or prince). But what is the anima/us really awakening? It is the sudden recognition that you have “not lived life. The world has opened up.” The world without as well as within.
The anima/us appears in order to shepherd the conscious mind through the hitherto obscured and dangerous unconscious realm to reclaim our rejected energies, aspects, and talents. Marriages to the anima/us in myth represent the transcendence of opposites, and the duality of the visible world being healed. Marriage is, mythically, a microcosm of eternal wholeness, in which there are no separations, where concepts like male and female do not even exist. The ultimate end of the hero’s journey is this transcendence of the visible world and its illusions of duality, and the return to eternal oneness. This is why, finally, the distinctions between what is “masculine” or “feminine” and their initial appearance of inequality are absolutely irrelevant. Eventually, all differences are overthrown.
Other symbols of this pattern are similarly misread: the damsel in distress, for example, has nothing to do with real women. The damsels represent the rejected feminine energies of the Self, the anima/us in danger of death. They are the aspects that call out to be rescued and reclaimed by the conscious, waking self, before they turn inward and become destructive. The hero’s journey always begins in the ‘waste land’ of an ordinary world cut off from the feminine energies: creativity, renewal, openness to love, life itself. The hero, the symbol of the ego, by rescuing the damsel, rescues his forgotten self and renews the connection between the life-giving source and the ordinary world. The marriage of the hero and the damsel represents a reconnection with the eternal: both his own reconnection, and that of his world. The tale of Sleeping Beauty, therefore, is not really a romance. In this way, Angelina Jolie’s retelling of the story in Maleficent (2014) comes much closer to the myth’s symbolic meaning than Disney’s animated version. After being betrayed, Maleficent becomes bitter and angry toward humanity and cuts herself off from love. She finds a growing, yet reluctant, tenderness for Aurora, who, in her innocence, is unafraid to befriend Maleficent because she knows, in Campbell’s words, it is the “imperfections that ask for our love.” Once Aurora becomes enchanted, and after her ‘prince charming’ is dismissed without ceremony or success, Maleficent is able to release Aurora from the enchantment (that, significantly, Maleficent cast) by reclaiming her lost, rejected self when she confesses she has come to love the girl despite herself. Aurora, the guiding soul-image, restores Maleficent’s compassion (and thereby her severed wings). Clearly, this is not a story about a romantic attachment, and neither are the other versions, even those in which the charming prince does lift the curse. But in reality, there is no knight in shining armour: the knight is you and the princess he rescues is the awakened soul. For the anima/us is the rejected, resisted half of the Self, not your date.
The anima/us figures are, also, so often royalty because royalty, in the physical world, is ‘above’ toil and drudgery, and so the mythic lover is royal simply to symbolize they are the envoy of the Self and the spiritual realm. Similarly, the anima/us is almost always an unearthly vision of beauty (though, not infrequently first disguised by ugliness) again to signify it’s a messenger from beyond the visible world. The hero’s marriage is thus the re-attainment of spiritual wholeness, the encounter and embrace of the full Self. Campbell reiterates the importance of not taking these symbols literally, explaining that while beautiful, virtuous women in stories represent the power of being in and accepting life itself, he states this “does not mean a woman who’s not physically beautiful does not have this power.” (He also adds that women do not need to have children in order to be in touch with the eternal, this is, again, a biological fact used only as a symbol.) The myths express the power of the “female presence” itself.
The anima/us is not always, of course, royal, beautiful and gentle. The hero commonly encounters what Campbell terms ‘The Woman as Temptress’ on the journey, rather than ‘Meeting with the Goddess.’ But again, this is not an indictment on women as evil sirens. The anima/us has both positive and negative qualities, but only because the conscious mind is not equally open to every buried energy. Aside from being a practical necessity, the persona is a mask which protects you. So to some extent, the anima/us (as with all unconscious energy) threatens the integrity of your social mask. As Campbell warns, “it is very dangerous to have experiences that the ego can’t handle.” As she appears in myth, the temptress is the damsel whose cries for rescue went unheeded, and who has been allowed to perish. Being able to face and accept the feminine is accepting life itself: “As [the hero] progresses in the slow initiation which is life, the form of the goddess undergoes for him a series of transfigurations: she can never be greater than himself, though she can always promise more than he is yet capable of comprehending. She lures, she guides, she bids him burst his fetters. And if he can match her import, the two, the knower and the known, will be released from every limitation. … By deficient eyes she is reduced to inferior states; by the evil eye of ignorance she is spellbound to banality and ugliness. But she is redeemed by the eyes of understanding. The hero who can take her as she is, without undue commotion but with the kindness and assurance she requires, is potentially the king, the incarnate god, of her created world.” Ultimately, whether the anima/us appears as a life-giving, loving Goddess or a world-destroying siren, her appearance describes the conscious mind’s relative openness to life and the inner Self. As Campbell explains, “every failure to cope with a life situation must be laid, in the end, to a restriction of consciousness. Wars and temper tantrums are the makeshifts of ignorance; regrets are illuminations come too late.”
Compassion is, at last, the only key. Compassion for others, in all their imperfections, and yourself, in all of yours. This is the true meaning of the often flippant advice that to truly love others you must first be able to love yourself. This is not the so-called ‘Golden Rule’ to treat others as you would wish to be treated, but rather the understanding that there is no real separation between you and anyone else. Not unlike gravity which works on you whether you want it to or not, whether you are aware of it or not, the anima/us teaches us that spiritually, we are all expressions of the same source, and very literally, we are all each other. So, wishing does not come into it. What you do to others, you do to yourself; the love you show yourself, is the love you show others. It is only the level of compassion to which you are open that you are capable of giving away. None of this is really about marriage. Certainly, we encounter the anima/us through our relationships, but one must eventually go beyond the soul-image. If you’re searching for a partner to ‘complete’ you, or ‘fix’ you, you will only ever attract those who are missing what you are missing, who are broken in the same places you are broken. Without even knowing it, you’ll spurn those who evoke the lost Self because if you were able to accept its energy, you would have embraced it in yourself, first. At its most basic level, myths about the anima/us are about recognizing and healing your inner Self, not who you should date, or as Campbell underlines in Pathways to Bliss: “The goal of the hero’s journey is yourself, finding yourself.” These myths describe the reuniting of masculine and feminine into an inseparable whole, the reflection of the eternal realm which knows no separation. The appearance of the anima/us is “the incarnation of the promise of perfection; the soul’s assurance that, at the conclusion of its exile in a world of organized inadequacies, the bliss that once was known will be known again.” The anima/us reminds us of the way home.