What has happened to our understanding of the goddess, the divine feminine, in the contemporary times? Why is woman’s sexuality so exploited, so debased, when once it was revered? How can man come to know and to value the deeper meaning of femininity? And why is sexuality cut off from spirituality, as if they were opposites?
Seeing and listening to the stories men and women told me, I became increasingly aware that in their lives sexuality and spirituality were often in conflict, and sometimes both were absent.
I saw and I see many people who felt they were unloved, or even unworthy of being loved, and many who had altogether lost the capacity of love. I saw that the acquisition of material gains or power offered only falses hopes of personal fulfillment. This disease was expressed in many ways: “I feel empty inside”, someone would say, or: “My life has no meaning”, or “my body is dead”; or even: “my soul is dead”.
It could be explained in terms of the loss of the goddess - the one who renews life, brings love, passion, fertility - the connection to an important layer of instinctual life - joy, beauty, a creative energy that unites sexuality and spirituality - had been lost.
My observations were not restricted to the consulting room. The proliferation of substance dependency, physical abuse, sexual promiscuity, and living on the fast track in order not to feel the emptiness of one’s life - all point to the loss of a vital element in life. Without superficial props, a certain dullness creeps in and we are confronted with the lack of personal resources with could engender a new sense of vitality.
In the body of psychological thought developed by C.C Jung, such images as the goddess, are considered “archetypal”. An archetype is a pre-existent form that is part of the inherited structure of the psyche common to all people. These psyche structures are endowed with strong feelings tones. The archetype, as a psyche entity, is surrounded by energy which has the ability to activate and transform conscious contents. When the archetype is activated, the release of the specific energy is recognized by consciousness and felt in the body trough emotions. When the archetype of the goddess is activated, we are imbued with the vitality of love, beauty, sexual passion and spiritual renewal.
Jung writes that the loss of an archetype “gives rise to that frightful discontent in our culture”. Without the vital feminine to balance the collective patriarchal principle, there is a certain barrenness to life. Creativity and personal development are stifled.
When the divine feminine, the goddess, is no longer revered, social and psychic structures become over mechanized, over politicized, over militarized. Thinking, judgment and rationality become the ruling factors. With the disregard of the archetypal image so related to passionate love, a splitting off of values, a one-sidedness, occurs in the psyche.
During the millennium where the goddess were worshiped, cultures were built on a matriarchal system. Matriarchy here does not simply mean that women replace men in authority positions, rather, the focus was on a different cultural values.
“Where patriarchy establishes law, matriarchy establishes custom, where patriarchy establishes military power, matriarchy establishes religious authority, where patriarchy encourages the aresteia of the individual warrior, matriarchy encourages the tradition-bound cohesion of the collective.” (William Thompson, the time falling bodies take to the light, p. 149)
What did happen to the goddess? What became of her archetypal image?
Marie-Louise von Franz explains that the church maintained that sense of mystery which surrounded the goddess, the warmth and principle of relatedness was replaced by organization, its laws and hierarchies. The church recognized neither the attributes of the goddesses nor the inherent sexual nature of women (or men); consequently, a chasm between body and spirituality was maintained in religious teachings.
Positive qualities of the goddesses have been integrated, to some degree, into the figure of the Virgin Mary, particularly in Catholic countries.
In another side, from psychology, Freud based his theories of feminine sexuality on a male model, and assume that a woman feels as though she were a mutilated man. But there’s no reason to assume that masculine pride in the penis necessarily implies a corresponding humiliation for the female.
As the masculine spiritual principle became more dominant, the appreciation of feminine instinctual nature receded into the unconscious. It is this nature which needs to be redeemed, for it is vital in the movement toward wholeness of men and women alike.
In the male’s psychological development, a similar attitude toward the sacrifice of the son-lover is necessary. Since the boy infant’s primary relationship is with the protective, nurturing mother, the boy first identifies with the feminine. This relationship is comfortable and undemanding; however, it creates a childish and dependent ego. Once free of the possessive mother, a man is then able to enter into a mature relationship with a woman.
The man who is not separate from the mother, views a woman as only an object which, on demand, immediately gratifies his sexual desires. This gratification is ephemeral, it passes quickly, and with such an attitude toward the feminine the spiritual dimension of the sexual act is never experienced. The heart is not touched, the soul is not nourished. In a mature alliance, the partners realize both the erotic and the spiritual potential of the relationship.
In Jungian terms, the anima, which means soul in Latin, is the personification of the contra sexual side of a man’s unconscious - his own inner feminine nature, the soulful element in his psyche. She is the inner guide which leads the man through the labyrinth of the unconscious to the ultimate center of his being, the Self.
According to Erich Neumann, the anima is “the vehicle par excellence of the transformative character in a man”.
The stage of anima development in a man is concretely reflected in his external relationships with women. When he views the female as a sinister threat, someone to distrust, or as an inferior species which must be kept in its place, it is a sign that his inner feminine nature is still at a juvenile stage.
In a women’s psychology, the male stranger is an aspect of what Jung called the animus, the contra sexual side of woman’s psyche an inner man, so to speak. At his best he functions as a bridge between the woman’s ego and her own creative resources. At worst, he manifests as opinions and assumptions that play havoc with her relationships. The word animus in Latin means spirit.
The positive animus enables a woman to focus on and to discern the attributes and beauty of her feminine nature. He guides her into the conscious realization of her femininity. She then has the ability to make choices that do not compromise it.
Whatever she undertakes, she does so with confidence, without regression, submissiveness or a feeling of inferiority to a patriarchal system. She may not be able to change the patriarchal system with surrounds her, but, more importantly, she doesn’t allow the system to change her.
For individuals unwilling to change narrow collective attitudes - especially those based on the laws of the patriarchy - psychological maturity is not possible. The neglect of goddess results in a sterile, abrasive encounter with life; dullness and lack of purpose creep in. A compulsive need of power replaces the joy of love. When feminine nature is valued, not seen as a toy to be played with but as an energy to be embraced, psychic life blossoms and becomes fruitful, bringing a new perspective.
Written by Juliana Lopes