Into the Heart of the Feminine: Excerpts and Resources

Into the Heart of the Feminine: An Archetypal Journey to Renew Strength, Love and CreativityAn Archetypal Journey to Renew Strength, Love, and Creativity

Chapter 1: Facing the Death Mother (excerpts)

“When we begin to talk about the feminine principle, it is very hard to separate it from our ideas of gender and from the wounds we have all received in our struggles for recognition, empowerment, respect, and equality. This differentiation is so difficult because the feminine principle, as an archetypal part of all of us, also transcends our identities, and yet many of its characteristics are not only discounted but actually ruthlessly denied in our culture… When it’s all said and done, our concept of the feminine principle as one of the two great archetypal foundations in life—whether you call them masculine and feminine, creative and receptive, or yin and yang—is most often associated with the Great Mother.”

“Negative complexes arise from a variety of wounds and experiences. All complexes are combinations of at least three experiences we have. First, they are based on our own personal wounds and experiences of growing up. In addition, our parents and grandparents, through their psychology, pass on to us their wounds, unsolved problems, and unlived lives. Finally, the neuroses—the out-of-balance or one-sided aspects, the conflicts, and the inadequacies—in the social character of our culture affects our experiences as we struggle to form our identity and feel secure in the world. The Death Mother is the foundation of a destructive complex that is both personal and cultural, and it is a special form of the negative mother. With certain complexes, we cut off some of our particular gifts and are unable to live out some of our potentials. But the Death Mother causes us to cut off the essence of life within us.”

Fair Rosamund, John William Waterhouse
Fair Rosamund, John William Waterhouse

“Learning how we are really wounded, how our childhood was lacking, and how we need to be healed and grow is crucially important to living a fulfilled life. If we aren’t able to determine and face the truth of how we were formed, then in our radical achievement- and identity-oriented society we will constantly blame ourselves for what we consider to be our failures and inadequacies.”

Water Years, Susan Coffey
Water Years, Susan Coffey

“As we search for our own truth and begin the quest for loving ourselves, so that we can be our own good enough mother to ourselves, we need to keep in mind that birth comes out of darkness. And in the ancient tradition of the alchemists, darkness was a necessary condition for purification and transformation. The reality of the early events in our lives and their powerful emotions that we have tried to keep locked away in the dark, defensive compartments of our souls need to be brought into the light so we can begin refining them through our hearts until compassion can turn them into gold.”

Chapter 2: Where Love Begins (excerpts)

“Our culture’s wounding and belittling of the feminine and its values has led many mothers to mistrust the world and men to a greater extent than ever before, and this mistrust inevitably becomes part of the emotional heritage of our children.”

“In recent history, Harry Potter has been one of the most widely popular series of books around, among adults as well as children. As the series’ first book, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, opens, Harry is delivered to a home of people who were proud to say they were “perfectly normal, thank you very much.” The family he was delivered to were “Muggles,” people who, as we say in Jungian terms, sleepwalk through life and deny their own potentials for depth, wholeness, and communication with the more profound dimensions of themselves and life. Harry knew that Mr. and Mrs. Dursley would never understand him or value his potentials. They regarded his uniqueness with disdain and housed him in a closet under the stairs. It would be a long time before Harry would learn that he was special. Harry was taught, “Don’t ask questions—that was the first rule for a quiet life with the Dursleys.” The Dursleys often spoke about Harry “as though he wasn’t there—or rather, as though he was something very nasty that couldn’t understand them, like a slug.” The home of the Dursleys could have been my home, or Margaret’s. Margaret, as you may recall, came from an affluent family in which everything “looked good,” but her parents were cold and distant, seeming to value social appearances above all else. This is a home dominated by the Death Mother, and our culture, too, is dominated by her.

“In fact, when he was young, “Harry dreamed and dreamed of some unknown relation coming to take him away.” In many ways I was like Harry when I was a small child. I was convinced that my mother could not be my biological mother. Many of us dream, wish, or hope that somewhere out there our “real” parents exist or that if we wait long enough and try hard enough, the parents we have will turn into real parents, “good enough” parents. Meanwhile, we live and grow up in a hidden world, often one of reading, filled with fantasies and magic. Like Harry’s other world, the realm of our imagination protects us from being emotionally demolished. This world is our refuge until we develop the power to find or redeem our true parents, the archetypal positive mother and father within our own psyche. Like Harry found Hogwarts, we must find within ourselves a safe and nurturing place, the elemental feminine, or we will be in a never-ending losing conflict with the Muggles, the “normal” people who sleepwalk through life. I am convinced that these scenarios and what they touch in all of us are why these kinds of childhood books are immensely popular among both adults and children. They represent the secret feelings and longings in us. When such stories are really worthwhile, they use the words and images of our times to bring to life many of the timeless themes in fairy tales.

“Harry Potter, Margaret, and I spent much of our early lives longing for the presence of the positive, nurturing feminine. Something deep inside of Harry, in the world of magic, knew he was special, and people meeting secretly in the depths of his unconscious were drinking a toast, “To Harry Potter—the boy who lived.” That is the part of ourselves that we long to get in touch with—the part that finds joy in the fact that we are alive. This is the inner good enough mother, an important component of the archetypal feminine. The inner good enough mother values and respects us, sees and listens to us, and accepts that our thoughts, desires, and feelings are real and legitimate. Yet the wound to the archetypal feminine denies us all of these things. It is this wound and how we suffer from it without giving it the healing attention that it needs that fuel the fury of the Death Mother. An untended psychological wound becomes driven by its need for healing and transformation, a need that should now bring us to a turning point.”

Chapter 3: Turning Points (excerpts)

Poem of the Soul, Louis Janmot
Poem of the Soul, Louis Janmot

“As we are touched by the feminine and are able to step outside of our traps of rationality, efficiency, and ‘things that have to be done,’ we become more open to our innate wisdom. An awareness of our innate wisdom helps us understand the language of love, the mystical, art and poetry—the language of symbolism, metaphor, meaning, eternity, and, most of all, the real language of stories.”

Barche, Antonino Leto
Barche, Antonino Leto

“The complexes that will most affect our lives have to do with relationships, because the way others respond to us as we grow up shapes our view of ourselves and of the world. Once we awaken to a complex, we face a task, a journey. Yet this journey isn’t one that will take us “back to normal,” for in Jungian terms, there is also a promise. The promise of the journey is to have an enlarged life of increased empowerment and authenticity. It is to free ourselves of the complexes that have been sapping our energy like remoras.”

Chapter 4: From Paralysis to Full Vitality/The Myth of Medusa (excerpts)

Perseus and Pegasus,  Baldassare Peruzzi
Perseus and Pegasus, Baldassare Peruzzi

“The myth of Medusa is an extraordinary mythic story from our collective past. What it can tell us today is as sacred as any religious parable. This myth is a symbolic story of how the patriarchy has abused and banished the feminine, how it can be redeemed, and the tremendous healing and instinctual power that can be freed in this process. As you will see, the bridge enabling us to make this great story relevant to our own healing, growth, and freedom is the Jungian perspective. The Jungian point of view is that our most troublesome complexes, which result from the wounds that shaped us, also hold a promise. Jung considered complexes to be the “royal road” to our unconscious and the architect of symptoms, dreams, and a transformed life. A myth like this one will show us what has been wounded, how the wound occurred, and the suffering such a wound inflicts. And we will then see what must be healed within ourselves by dying and being transformed and, finally, what new potentials we must live.”

Despair, Sandro Botticelli
Despair, Sandro Botticelli

“When a man loses his relationship to his anima and a society loses its relationship to the feminine, he and we lose our real relationship to life, to love, and to our sources of purpose and meaning. Consequently, we ignore our deep human longing for love and for meaning.”

Chapter 5: Power, Reality, the Feminine, and Projections (excerpts)

The Paradise, Salvatore Di Giovanna
The Paradise, Salvatore Di Giovanna

“We have all experienced the destructive effects of the projections onto the feminine in Western societies. These projections trace their origins to the joining of the patriarchy with institutionalized monotheism. The patriarchy grew out of the middle ages into the Age of Reason, and this movement birthed a cultural mentality that became rational, verbal, and literal. This new mindset rejected the mythological and symbolic values in our religious writings, which had nurtured and guided people’s lives for centuries. Today, because we have lost these values and are allowing information to replace knowledge, we no longer realize that symbols and images carry a deeper reality than words. Part of our devaluation of the feminine results from our loss of the art of thinking symbolically. To lose this art is to lose the kind of grounding that enables us to experience the beautiful depths of love and the Divine presence that is potentially within our capacities…

“As analysts, one of the hardest things that we have to do is help people overcome their hidden contempt for the feminine as they begin their inner work. People in our society are easily swallowed up by busyness, productivity, and their crammed schedules. The modern technology that promised easy free time has brought, instead, tension, anxiety, and a compulsion to get more of the same. To escape this cycle, we have to learn to sacrifice some of the values and activities in this driven approach. This entails giving new appreciation and respect to taking time for silence and reflection as well as being receptive to and nurturing our inner lives. This necessity is as urgent for men as it is for women, and it lies in the heart of the archetypal feminine: relatedness, receptivity, and valuing the nonrational. Until we make this shift in how we value ourselves and life, our ability to respond with intense interest and love to each other and to ideas will be fettered. Our deepest creativity needs a transformed atmosphere in which to flourish.”

Apple Tree 1,Gustav Klimt
Apple Tree 1,Gustav Klimt

“Let’s consider the story of Eve and the snake, which has been used to denigrate women for centuries. The biblical tradition of this story, as it is interpreted in a literal and shallow way, is that nature as we know it, especially human nature, is corrupt, and woman as temptress is a corrupter of men and social values. I believe that anyone who thinks this tradition has not affected women at a deep level or the way men fear the feminine within themselves hasn’t been paying attention to how we feel about ourselves. When Bud has answered questions about this story during his lectures on mysticism, he refers to it as the story of our fall out of naïve unconsciousness and into the opposites that define the struggles and potentials of life. By reflecting on the opposites of life and death, sickness and health, joy and sorrow, consciousness and unconsciousness, we learn that growth results from repeating processes of transformation, life, death, and rebirth experiences. We must struggle for a life of consciousness, and this consciousness, when gained, increases our capacity for love and for experiencing the Divine.”

Chapter 6: The Reality of Medusa’s Myth (excerpts)

Odysseus and Nausicaa, Salvatore Rosa
Odysseus and Nausicaa, Salvatore Rosa

“Every myth represents a treasure-house of wisdom regarding the world and our personality. On the other hand, the way to these treasures is difficult and tangled. All too often when it seems like the mythic map is clear, we suddenly discover that there is a whole new level of the myth before us. Myths are meant to take us beyond ourselves, beyond the ways we have looked at life and particularly at our difficulties and struggles. For example in the Odyssey, we find two levels in the story. The first is the quest of Telemachus to find his father. The second is the quest of Odysseus to return home to his wife. In mythic terms, Telemachus is searching for his own inner authority and Odysseus is trying to return home through a journey haunted by his encounters with feminine figures. Both quests come together as Odysseus completes the symbolic masculine search for the inner feminine. Myths are about the realization of different aspects of our wholeness, and they are not about gender roles. They reflect how the archetypal patterns of the masculine and feminine live and intertwine in all of us. And they describe what happens when such patterns become one-sided: Nature sets the stage to redirect them through journeys of transformation.

“When the feminine and our vitality become lost to power drives and life becomes a wasteland, the stage is set for the mythic world to give rise to a hero to transform and revitalize the situation. The mythic hero is a metaphor for our struggle to transform our consciousness and bring new life to ourselves.”

Chapter 7: Women Turned to Stone: Confronting Fear (excerpts)

“…over the years, I have worked with woman after woman who was intelligent, capable, even professionally trained, and yet was still paralyzed when it came to pursuing her life with a sense of authenticity and security, grounded in her own ability. I am even more saddened to see how our ability to love and be loved and to be whole people in relationships has been frozen by the Death Mother’s influence in our families and in our society. Not only have I seen this in the people I work with, but I have experienced it myself. I have questioned my own ability to believe in myself, in my potentials, and in my own success, not for years, but for decades. And I have wondered if I would ever really know what love is and if I would ever really experience it.

“The effect of this paralysis is, therefore, very potent and very frightening. It has the ability to numb our capabilities to be productive, energetic, creative, and independent without our becoming fully aware of it. I have worked with women who were unable to finish college or graduate school because they were “paralyzed,” and with women who had chosen to get married, not out of love, but because they were “paralyzed” and couldn’t figure out what else to do. Moreover, the Death Mother limits our capacities to trust love and friendships as well as life. And all too often we, both men and women, unconsciously try to heal ourselves by seeking a good enough mother in our spouses, lovers, or partners.”

Integrity, William Bouguereau
Integrity, William Bouguereau

“It encourages me and sustains me on my journey to remember that although snakes inspire fear in us, they also can inspire awe. They symbolize primal instincts and feelings that are demanding to be transformed. When they are transformed, they become a source of life, like the power of the kundalini serpent, the healing they represent on the caduceus, and transformation they symbolized as they shed their skin. So, I remember that while this journey must be careful, it will be filled with awe at times, not just fear, rage, and grief. And the outcome will be one of love, in its largest sense.”

Chapter 8: Men Turned to Stone: Confronting Shame (excerpts)

Nude with Calla Lillies, Diego Rivera
Nude with Calla Lillies, Diego Rivera

“Our way of life today—with its emphasis on appearances, identity, happiness, and security coupled with its distrust of emotions and the inner life—has repressed our urge to heal and grow to our full capacities. But this urge is still within us. If it is nurtured, if like a seed it can find its place in the fertile ground of the healing feminine, growth and a new life will bloom.””Jung writes, ‘Where love reigns, there is no will to power; and where the will to power is paramount, love is lacking.’ Where the Death Mother lives, ‘love is lacking,’ and in fact, an understanding of love is rarely even present. Yet ‘love is lacking’ describes the denied conditions of our collective world. The presence of this force in our lives robs us of the great feminine values we need to live, both within and outside of ourselves. The Death Mother crushes the ability to love, nurture, and affirm ourselves and new life; the ability to foster transformation of ourselves, life, and culture by being emotionally engaged in life and devoted to it; and the ability to make Eros, the feminine principle of love and relatedness, a central value we live by. These are the potentials for healing and a renewed future that make undertaking our journey, as Perseus did, worthwhile.”

“Jung writes, ‘Where love reigns, there is no will to power; and where the will to power is paramount, love is lacking.’ Where the Death Mother lives, “love is lacking,” and in fact, an understanding of love is rarely even present. Yet “love is lacking” describes the denied conditions of our collective world. The presence of this force in our lives robs us of the great feminine values we need to live, both within and outside of ourselves. The Death Mother crushes the ability to love, nurture, and affirm ourselves and new life; the ability to foster transformation of ourselves, life, and culture by being emotionally engaged in life and devoted to it; and the ability to make Eros, the feminine principle of love and relatedness, a central value we live by. These are the potentials for healing and a renewed future that make undertaking our journey, as Perseus did, worthwhile.”

Chapter 9: Mirroring the Death Mother Up Close (excerpts)

St. Eulalia, painting by John William Waterhouse
St. Eulalia by John William Waterhouse
“Women, over the centuries, have been unfairly victimized, misused, belittled, and considered to be inferior human beings. This blaming and belittling of women, and also of the feminine principle, still goes on in this century and in some countries is a common way of dealing with women. Unfortunately, this is our modern form of the plague.

“In a similar way, men scapegoat their own feeling selves and, all too often, make fun of other men who express feelings, thus scapegoating the feminine inside and outside of themselves. In fact, men are scapegoated by their own moods as well. Their negative and often critical anima, their inner Medusa, makes them feel that they are inadequate and that their ideas and accomplishments are insignificant. Men have to discover their own inner path for Perseus, in order to take control of their moods.”

“The truth is that we can’t genuinely love someone we do not know, and this includes ourselves. When we don’t know ourselves, we relate to other people primarily through projections. This means that our relationships are controlled by our wounds and complexes, and even our notions of love often reflect needy psychological pursuits, idealistic fantasies, or sentimental hopes. Without a great deal of self-knowledge, we will relate to ourselves in this way. We will project onto ourselves, in terms of our self-image, self-esteem, and what we think we are.

“The first act of self-love is to seek to know ourselves, which requires undertaking the serious work of confronting our wounds, to start to heal them, and of confronting our shadow. The shadow, the unlikable and repressed parts of ourselves that we don’t want to admit to, frequently includes some of our best potentials, which may threaten our status quo. For this reason, these qualities have been denied and treated in shabby ways. This process of seeking self-knowledge lets us learn what our major wounds are, what our major complexes are, and how they are driving our lives. We must develop self-awareness to see how these very complexes are often pushing us to seek solutions to their symptoms in anxiety-driven, shallow, and meaningless ways that will never bring true healing and transformation. Instead, they will tend to increase our dissatisfactions with ourselves and life.”

Chapter 10: A Map for the Journey (excerpts)

Medusa, painting by Maxmilian Pirner
Medusa by Maxmilian Pirner
“We recognize the Medusa/Death Mother when we realize our mother, whom we desired to love and whose love and approval we longed for, does not accept us or wanted some part of us or all of us dead or in some way different. If we fear confrontation, disapproval, disappointing someone, or freeze when we are not pleasing people, we know the Medusa/Death Mother is present.

“Moreover, the Medusa/Death Mother creates within us a deadly fear of being exposed as inadequate. Because this makes any kind of real intimacy problematic, the Medusa/Death Mother has to be dealt with before we can truly experience love and meaning.”

“Every life, if it is going to be fulfilled, is a journey. It is a journey from one state of being to another. It is a journey through the death of an old way of life into a new one. It is a journey that parallels a woman’s giving birth—we must go with the pain, for to resist it, increases the tearing and hinders the birth. This kind of journey, which is no stranger to suffering, becomes one of transformation, healing, growth, and the realization of a life that is beyond what we could have imagined or planned.

“Part of this journey, as we saw in the reflections I invited you to make in the last chapter, is to return to our past many times in order to pick up the different threads we left behind because of our pain, carelessness, or lack of awareness. And, let’s face it, all of us would like to simply put painful or unpleasant experiences behind us and move on with our lives. But doing that would make us shallow and disconnect us from our deeper selves and the human family. So we have to go back and weep the tears we didn’t weep, feel the grief we denied when we suffered losses, and greet our younger selves with the compassion and love they really need. We may also have to revisit some of our past accomplishments, letting ourselves take the pride and delight in them that we were too modest to experience at the time.”

Chapter 11: Finding Our Voice (excerpts)

The Signal, painting by John William Godward
The Signal by John William Godward

“One of our greatest longings is to have our own voice, one that speaks of our greatest values with strength, clarity, compassion, and understanding. I want a voice like that and more. I want a voice that can also speak with authority, tenderness, love, joy, sorrow, anger, respect, and humor. I want a voice of my own that expresses the fullness of who I am. And I believe, my husband believes, and the people I have worked with believe that gaining this voice is worth every step in the struggle.”

The Return of Perspephone, painting by Frederic Leighton
The Return of Perspephone by Frederic Leighton

“Over the years, I have become convinced that seeking transformation is the Divine Way. Transformation is the theme not only in myths and fairy tales but also in all the mystery religions. One of the oldest of these mystery religions was the Eleusinian Mysteries in ancient Greece, which became the grandmother of the Western mystery religions and Western mysticism. These mysteries were secret, but they grew out of the myths and tradition of the grain goddess, Demeter; her daughter, Persephone; the descent into darkness; and the returning transformed. The Greeks believed that going through these mysteries—which consisted, in effect, of enacting and experiencing the myth—would transform them in this life and the next. Jungian psychology sees these stories and myths as rooted in our collective unconscious, where—if we can pay attention to them, experience them, and make them relevant to our lives—they can also transform us.”

Chapter 12: Changing Our Fate (excerpts)

Le Ruban De Mobius, painting by Layachi Hamidouche
Le Ruban De Mobius by Layachi Hamidouche

“Fairy tales are maps for the journey, which bring clarity to our minds. And if we are open to them, taking them in through our feminine selves, they become a means of transport as well. They help carry us through our transformation.

“As we wander on these journeys, we find that just like in the stories, we often begin in shadowy places, dark forests of the heart or lonely castles that reflect some of the gloomiest wounded and denied places within the kingdom of ourselves. Along the way, we will meet monsters, strange animals (even talking ones), and extraordinary people like dwarfs, witches, beggars, old hags, and even the devil. Some of these figures are helpful; others try to hinder us or even destroy us. But if we want to follow the maps laid out by these stories and to be transported by the stories, we must remember to embrace the world of metaphor because, in reality, the story is within us. The dangers are within ourselves, in our situation and in our unconscious. The helpful figures are parts of our unconscious as well. Psychologically, as you have probably imagined by now, to be in a spell, cursed, or enchanted is to be in the grips of a major complex in our personality. The helpful figures and the guiding plot of the story come from what we Jungians call the Self. For us, the Self represents both the center of who we are and the totality of who we are. We may also think of the Self as an integration point, the ground of our being, where the mind, body, soul, and spirit come together. Our perceptions, feelings, personal history, cultural history, and collective history join in the Self. And the Self carries the unique pattern for who we are to become psychologically, creatively, and emotionally, just as it contains the patterns of our physical growth through our DNA. These patterns come to us through our DNA in the same way our instinctual urge to grow into them does.”

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