Before writing there were stories. We told one another these stories which preserved our knowledge. The stories told by our ancestors and passed down to us are their understanding of the nature of the things they experienced, the workings of the world so to speak. Eventually people were able to symbolize the sounds of their languages into written forms and record their stories. Often these stories continued to be transmitted by word of mouth, as there were not a great many people who could read and write. The remnants of the most important stories of our ancestors, the myths and legends, as we call them now, were the focus for Carl Jung, the Swiss Psychiatrist. He had direct experience of the strange and unusual world of the mentally ill. Unlike his colleague Sigmund Freud, who only treated neurotic patients, Jung worked with both neurotic and psychotic patients. Through his interest in philosophy and mythology Jung discovered that the stories from the world’s religious traditions could emerge from the mouths of his psychotic patients, people who were uneducated and could not have been exposed to the material. Myths seemed to emerge from a mysterious aspect of human nature which was not available to the conscious mind (the ego as Descartes referred to it).
Not too surprisingly, these stories which emerge from the great mystery, have common characteristics and patterns. After all they are the inheritance of the human experience on the planet, the stories which help us adjust to the planet’s changing conditions. Throughout his published work Carl Jung
attempted to trace the intellectual threads which go back into pre-conscious times and humanity’s attempts to talk about these things in words. Words like ‘breath’ and ‘breathe’ are used to describe these mysterious concepts which seem to enliven the world of the soul. As a symbol of transformation the butterfly or ‘psyche’ in ancient Greek seemed to characterize the soul. Psyche is feminine and roughly equivalent to the Latin word ‘anima’. This is the word Jung used to characterize the mysteriously ancient aspect of the feminine in man.
The most ancient creation myths describe a time of oneness, which becomes differentiated into a duality. The emerging difference in things is symbolized in a sexual way. The oneness is a blend of male and female, creative and receptive. When these qualities split into two distinct sexes, their merger creates a third, symbolized by the child. The mother and father making love eventually results in the child, which we now know carries the genetic material from both parents. What Jung noticed (in both his patients and in the preserved history of the psyche) was the way inner invisible traits (of the opposite sex) come out in a person’s behavior. The body acts out a story; one of which the mind is not yet aware. Acting out in this way is integral to being human. But the message of the body comes before the mind’s awareness of the message. The actions are not part of consciousness.
Like the undifferentiated primal man, the instinctual human, there are woven into us, survival tools, embedded in our DNA which become activated when the environment requires appropriate responses. This mysterious and rather amorphous aspect of human nature, the part of which the mind is not aware, has been covered with a catch-all phrase ‘the Unconscious’. In using this phrase we are acknowledging the existence of something of which we are not aware (in the moment), but which seems to “act through” us. We don’t think about fighting or running away in the moment. We just do it. Later when we tell the story to others we might think about the process, but not in the moment when action dictates our choices.
One of the most confusing and surprising things about human nature is the phenomenon of projection. Before we become aware of unconscious traits, we experience those traits in others. We actually locate the phenomena as coming from the other person. We perceive an attitude or body language. We understand that non-verbal communication, but when language is added to the scene, there is a much deeper level of psyche activated. The inner world now has a stage, like a movie screen, where it can project itself and hopefully enter conscious awareness. We assume we are perceiving only what the object is, says, or does. It never dawns on us that part of what we are experiencing is coming from our inner world, not until we start thinking about it. This is were consciousness is so helpful.
When we notice an incongruity between the way the other person acts and our expectations of how we know them to be, we are uncomfortable. How might we explain this alarming change of events? Perhaps the other has deceived us. We do that, we lie and deceive, so maybe they have been lying all along and we just didn’t notice it until now. Or perhaps we could share this very distressing situation with an elder, someone who has lived a long time and has seen a lot. When we consult the wisdom of the culture we are likely to discover the concept of projection, which accounts for the discrepancy. Part of what we experience is coming from that mysterious well of magic called “the Unconscious”. We can’t be aware of its source in the moment, only in retrospect. And that is how the personality grows, by embracing this unconscious process to the extent we are able. Once we become aware of the existence of an ancient patterning process (an archetype) we can begin to interact with it.
The Shadow part of the human personality is partially conscious and hence the easiest to acknowledge. All those character traits of which our environment disapproves are pushed out of our conscious awareness. Each family has its inappropriate behaviors, as does each culture. We repress the characteristics which are not valued by our families and our culture. Since these character traits were once conscious, they are available for immediate appearance on the scene of life. The angry adolescent can break through the most civilized CEO when provoked. That is the Shadow aspect of the unconscious. It has deeper roots into what Jung called the Collective Unconscious, those aspects shared by all humans of all cultures and times. Instinctive ways of behaving are not conscious, but they are real and can be very dangerous. The history of warfare illustrates this fact. Aside from the Shadow, the most important archetype in men is the feminine, or what Jung called “the anima”.
In a paper published in 1936 and later revised in 1954 called Concerning the Archetypes, with Special Reference to the Anima Concept (Collected Works, Volume 9, part I) Jung sketches out the more important aspect of this archetype. He says,
“The anima is a factor of the utmost importance in the psychology of a man wherever emotions and affects are at work. She intensifies, exaggerates, falsifies, and mythologizes all emotional relations with his work and with other people of both sexes. The resultant fantasies and entanglements are all her doing. When the anima is strongly constellated, she softens the man’s character and makes him touchy, irritable, moody, jealous, vain, and unadjusted. He is then in the state of “discontent” and spreads discontent all around him. Sometimes the man’s relationship to the woman who has caught his anima accounts for the existence of this syndrome. (pp. 70 & 71)”
There are some technical terms here which need explanation. The anima is an archetype, something like a crystalline matrix in solution waiting invisibly to crystallize. When a psychic pattern manifests in the environment Jung uses the term “constellate”. Like the constellations in the night sky before they are named, the sky is filled with points of light. When one names the pattern of stars it seems to emerge from the amorphous mass of stars as a familiar pattern. That is what happens to the archetypes. They are potentially able to constellate, to be projected onto objects in our perceptual field. In the case above, the object is a woman, although it could as easily be projected onto a man. As long as the man is not conscious of this process, he is “possessed” by the unconscious archetype. It is as though these fragments of the Collective Unconscious called archetypes have a will of their own and can do whatever they want. Jung says they are “autonomous”, literally “a law unto themselves”. This fact was recorded in the ancient myths of Greece. The archetypes are the gods and goddesses who were here long before humans. They have a will of their own and do things which our Judaeo-Christian culture finds immoral. When an archetype is constellated we could say that we are compelled to do things which we would not otherwise do. As Jung said above, the anima “intensifies, exaggerates, falsifies, and mythologizes all emotional relations with his work and with other people of both sexes.”
Consider the well known fact that men fall in love with people in their workplace. This puts stress on a marriage when you fall in love with someone other than your spouse, someone whom you see everyday and with whom you must interact. Books and movies illustrate this phenomenon as did tales told round the campfire. People with whom we work, the ones who are not caught in the projection, will tell us that our feelings for the boss or a co-worker are “exaggerated” and “false”. When we act on our feelings we might get slapped, fired, or fucked, certainly “intensified” responses. We might become “touchy” or “irritable” when our friends try to talk to us about what seems to them a projection. They are immune for the time being from the constellated anima and are the source of reasonable, objective observation. Usually, when we are possessed by the anima, we act in ways which could be called “feminine” as opposed to our “normal” male way of behaving. We don’t see this of course. We are seeing our world from our subjective point of view and we, being manly men, cannot see what is obvious to everyone around us. We might even pick a fight with a friend to prove it! That’s when the Shadow comes into the picture, when we come to blows over a projection.
Knowledge of the anima is not so important in the first 35 years of a man’s life said Jung. “The important thing at this stage is for a man to be a man. The growing youth must be able to free himself from the anima fascination of his mother.” Ok, the unconscious projection of the feminine anima onto one’s mother is the important thing of which to become aware and from which one must cut oneself free. Once free we are able to marry and have a family, when we can let go of mom enough to love another woman. That was common sense. Something Freud would agree about. But Jung goes beyond Freud. Being a Medical Doctor who treated patients all his life, Carl Jung was a scientist, and an empiricist, like Emerson and William James. He told it the way he saw it. He goes on to say,
“There are exceptions, notably artists, where the problem often takes a different turn; also homosexuality, which is usually characterized by identity with the anima. In view of the recognized frequency of this phenomenon, its interpretation as a pathological perversion is very dubious. The psychological findings show that it is rather a matter of incomplete detachment from the hermaphroditic archetype, coupled with a distinct resistance to identify with the role of a one-sided sexual being. Such a disposition should not be adjudged negative in all circumstances, in so far as it preserves the archetype of the Original Man, which a one-sided sexual being has, up to a point, lost. (p.71)”
Jung was saying before the Nazi phenomenon created the second World War, that being gay was definitely not pathological, as Freud asserted. Being unconscious of how the anima is running your life, i.e. “identity with the anima”, is a psychological fact which we cannot see if we are one with the feminine. Other men might be able to see how we act like a woman in a man’s body. And that way of being is the most ancient, the Oneness, unaware of its two-ness, and becoming aware of both sexes within one being. This image is the “archetype of the Original Man” which is male (hermes) and female (aphrodite). As an archetype it is able to “possess” a person as easily as the anima. This could be described as a state of bliss, perhaps that to which the yogis aspire, where duality dissolves and we are “one with all that is”. In order to identify with maleness we have to separate ourselves from the archetype of the Original Man. That is why Jung says that a one-sided sexual being has lost, “up to a point”, this attitude. But like the ancient yin-yang syzygy, there is a little bit of the yin in every yang so that the Tao can flow into its opposite. (The Greeks called this enantiodromia, literally flowing into the opposite.)
Jung regarded mid-life as a turning point. The second half of life is different from the first according to Jung. He said,
“After the middle of life, however, permanent loss of the anima means a diminution of vitality, of flexibility, and of human kindness. The result, as a rule, is premature rigidity, crustiness, stereotypy, fanatical one-sidedness, obstinacy, pedantry, or else resignation, weariness, sloppiness, irresponsibility, and finally a childish ramollissement with a tendency to alcohol. After middle life, therefore, the connection with the archetypal sphere of experience should if possible be re-established. (pp. 71 & 72)”
Although I had not read this essay by Jung at the time, I entered therapy with a Jungian analyst at age 34, evidently right on time to avoid some of the things he describes. The process was difficult. Both my shadow and the anima were in my dreams and being acted out in my life. Discussing my dreams with Malcolm Dana and Russ Lockhart in 1977 changed my life. I learned how to express the archetypes artistically and honored these images in my journal. The path has been long and I have forgotten at times to record my dreams and to take them seriously. The consequences of that neglect manifested in my relationships and soon pushed me back onto the path of individuation.
Jung was correct about the necessity of having relationship with one’s inner feminine, with the anima. I can honestly say that dancing with her has been exciting, rewarding and filled with unexpected pleasure and pain, but I feel alive and in reviewing the list of characteristics above, I have avoided everything he warns us about. You can check this out for yourself. Take a look at the men you know who, in later life, have not re-established a connection to their feminine. Can you see in them the dangers he describes above?
Hopefully this essay will help others find their way toward a more integrated personality. Everyone’s path is unique, individual, but there are recognizable patterns in the process. The elders really did care about us. They laid down these stories, which my spirit brother Meyalo called the stories of life. Jung was another elder who shared his life’s research with humanity. It is a strange but true fact that you cannot understand Jung unless you have experienced what he describes.