The Anima: a post-Jungian perspective

The Anima: a post-Jungian perspective

The Jungian concept of the anima and animus is one of Jung’s most engaging and potent contributions to psychoanalysis. Of all the articles we have published on this site the posts on the anima and animus consistently get the most views and rank highest on Google’s search engines. It is one of those ideas that has come to be definitive of Jungian psychology.

Simultaneously, of all the concepts we have taught at the Centre none has proved more difficult than the anima and animus!

From my reading on this idea in contemporary Jungian literature and hearing several prominent Jungian scholars speak on the topic, this problem is conceptual and widespread. My friend and mentor Andrew Samuels once said to me that when he first encountered Jungian psychology, he considered the anima and animus to be the crown jewels. The emphasis being on the past tense of that consideration because he clearly had cause to reconsider such view over time.

Part of the difficulty is simply the complexity and subtlety of the idea. It is not the easiest idea to get a hold of and like many ideas in psychoanalysis it has a phenomenological character. It requires more than mere intellectual understanding. This is not to diminish the thinking function or to dismiss the need for clear rational articulation. Rather, as anyone who has spent enough time reflecting on and trying to get a hold of such an idea realises, it is more than an abstraction. It is an experience, and language is limited in its descriptive power to convey such experience.

This difficulty, the need for experience and not just rationalisation, is however, as mentioned, a ubiquitous one in the field of depth psychology.[1] The added and particular complexity with the concept of the anima and animus is its prima facie sexism. It seemingly assumes and is built on an essentialist Platonic ontology where reality is governed by eternal archetypes. This essentialism extends in Jung’s model of the psyche to gender and he characterises the unconscious psyches of men and woman as distinct.

The anima of Jung’s theory, the feminine subpersonality of a male person and then animus, the masculine subpersonality of a female person, are biologically driven natural evolutions of contra sexuality.”[2]

The additional and perhaps more challenging aspects of this essentialism is the apparent sexism and chauvinist bias in the characterisation of these two archetypes anima and animus by Jung.

This issue led to the following exchange with a female student on a group process I am currently facilitating for the Jungian Book Club based on the text The Secret of the Golden Flower. I think this exchange helps to illustrate the nature of the problem quite well in terms of how a female person might experience the theory as sexist and prejudicial. And hopefully, all be it too briefly, how a post-Jungian response may redeem the inherent sexism in the original theory.

I posted the following short extract from the SGF text and another passage from the Collected Works,

The word hun is translated by Wilhelm as animus…Hun means then, “cloud-daemon,” a higher, spirit-soul belonging to the yang principle and therefor masculine…The Anima called p’o…is “white-ghost”, belongs to the earth-bound, bodily soul partakes of the yin principle and is therefore feminine….The fact that the animus as well as the anima part after death and go their separate ways independently, shows that…they are separable psychic factors which have markedly different effects, and, despite the fact that they are originally untied in “one effective true essence,” in the “ house of the creative”, they are two.

The animus is in the Heavenly Heart….by day it lives in the eyes (that is in consciousness)…it is that “which we have received from the great emptiness, that which has form from the very beginning.” The anima on the other hand, is the force of heaviness and sadness”; it clings to the bodily, fleshy heart. “Moods and impulses to anger” are its effects. “whoever is dull and moody on waking is fettered by the anima.

(C. G. Jung, The Secret of the Golden Flower. ‘Animus and Anima’, p. 114)

There is no position without its negation. In or just because of their extreme opposition, neither can exist without the other. It is exactly as formulated in classical Chinese philosophy: yang (the light, warm, dry, masculine principle) contains within it the seed of yin (the dark, cold, moist, feminine principle), and vice versa. Matter therefore would contain the seed of spirit and spirit the seed of matter.”

(Carl Jung, CW 9i, para. 197)

This post provoked the following response from one of the female members of the group[3],

…words, or concepts they represent, acquire lives of their own, especially after millennia of use. So it is for me with “masculine/animus” and “feminine/anima.” My life experience and my wounding under the patriarchal system inform my perspective. I am not a vocal feminist, but I am a feminine living and having my being in a masculine created and masculine controlled world. Even what I am as a woman is defined from the masculine perspective. Evil, sin, suffering were brought into the world by the feminine (Eve, Pandora).The Gnostics tried to rescue Eve from that curses, but only replaced her with Sophia, who is responsible for bringing trouble into the world. Jung’s wording in the application [passage] is a reminder of the feminine as negative, while the masculine is described as uplifting/inspiring. No matter how many ways we elaborate, explain, qualify, we cannot escape the fact that even the language itself is androcentric, and subtle, because it can all be made to sound so very reasonable. And my rage, instead of being seen as legitimate, can be dismissed as simply an expression of a mood state/mood disorder – the anima/feminine aspect acting out. And yes, my initial reaction to the wording (Jung’s and Wilhelm’s) was rage. The millennia of patriarchal/androcentric attitude have breathed life into the words/concepts and have become living “truths”…

My reply

I am sympathetic to the objections of inherent sexism, patriarchy, and prejudice in the passage and more broadly in Jungian theory. Not to in any way diminish the objections raised, but to corroborate and affirm them , let me  say these objections and problems with Jungian theory have a number of precedents by prominent Jungian scholars, to mention just two here who have raised these issues: Polly-Young Eisendrath[4] and Andrew Samuels[5].

As a a general opening statement I think the most honest and respectful response is a simple concession to the objection.

Let us take this side by side comparison: 

“The animus is in the Heavenly Heart…”, and

“The anima on the other hand, is the force of heaviness and sadness”; it clings to the bodily, fleshy heart. “Moods and impulses to anger” are its effects. “whoever is dull and moody on waking is fettered by the anima.”[6]

Its pretty hard not to interpret that as prejudice. And, in as much as the animus is symbolically masculine and the anima feminine in Taoism and Jungian psychology, the prejudice has gender correspondence. It seemingly applies to men and women and their respective differences.

Okay so far so good…or if not “good” exactly, at least we are on solid ground. But as it so often is with these matters, the greater we focus on the matter, the more complex and less clear it becomes.

Serendipitously, whilst I was drafting this response, I had the opportunity to speak with a Jungian alchemist, a living master, on the topic of nothing other than the anima and animus!

He told me three things which all seem relevant and worth repeating given the context of our discussion.

Firstly, he said that Jung makes the point that the alchemists were for the most part, not exclusively, but almost, men. And as such their description of the “feminine principle” is less a description of the objective feminine than it is of the projected “anima”. This immediately tells us two things:

  1. We can concede the patriarchal prejudice inscribed in the text by virtue of the almost exclusively masculine gender of the authors of the text. In the case of SGF, if the linage we hear is correct then its authorship is exclusively masculine.
  2. We can find a possible defence for Jungian theory by recognising that the anima whilst symbolically feminine is in fact an image of the feminine held in the unconscious psyche of the masculine, rather than an objective description or characterisation of femininity. Whilst subtle that is a very important distinction. When Jung is speaking of the anima he is speaking of the feminine imago held in the psyche of the masculine.

Beyond the above it is important to recognise that in the post-Jungian movement, among whose ranks I number myself, there is a strong movement away from gender essentialism and linking the anima only to the psyche of men and the animus only to psyche of women.

The above important evolution of this concept in the post-Jungian movement made, let us return to the classical model for a moment.

It is worth noting, that whilst there is arguably a myriad of masculine prejudice tied up in the anima concept, there is also no shortage of idealisation and enchantment. To the extent that the animus – at least in Jungian psychology, is for the most part a poor cousin the anima. Or maybe a better metaphor is to say it is a very plain brother to a larger than life sister – the anima. Whilst that in some sense only confirms the gender prejudice, it also is one which recognise the feminine principle in the form of the anima as a goddess.

Building on the above, let me share two additional short stories told by my enchanting interlocutor this afternoon. Both about the anima in homosexual men, which extends and challenges the stereotypical heteronormative framing of the man’s anima being embodied in the person of his mother or wife (or both).

The first story concerns the well-known Jungian analyst (and expert on the anima as matter of lifelong study and devotion) who also happens to be homosexual. He was once asked about his own view of what exactly the anima was in his life. Without hesitating he said, it the love and relatedness between my partner and me.

The other story also concerns a homosexual Jungian analyst. One who is quite flamboyant. When asked (possibly challenged) during a live lecture as to where he located the anima in his psyche and life, he unhesitatingly answered, “I sir, am the anima!”

I hope that makes the point that in the practice of Jungian psychoanalysis at least, the anima is symbolically but not objectively feminine. And when we talk about her (in hushed tones) we are invoking a psychopomp, not a flesh and blood woman.

End of reply

Conclusion

Whilst the above is far from a conclusive or complete statement on the matter of sexism in the anima-animus model, I do hope it helps to illustrate a few things. Specifically:

  • Why there is a legitimate concern in the post-Jungian movement about the sexism of Jung’s original framing of the anima and animus.
  • That we can think about and work with the anima (and the animus, although this post focusses on the former) in non-essentialist fashion and more importantly in a way that doesn’t limit access to this intriguing archetype and faculty of soul to a single gender at the expense of the other.
  • Illustrates that when we are talking about the anima we are talking about a faculty of soul life, even possibly soul life itself, rather than being limited toa stereotypical and outdated description of the feminine gender.

By way of conclusion, let me say that as challenging as the anima-animus model is in a post-modern, post-gender world, I think it remains immensely valuable and relevant. It is a profound and subtle idea from one of the greatest thinkers in the field of depth psychology and an invaluable tool on the road to consciousness, meaning and individuation. With this in mind, the work being done in the post-Jungian field to reframe the idea within the paradigm of gender- fluidity/plasticity and post-modernity is important and worth pursuing for clinicians, scholars and students of Jungian psychology alike.  

Until we speak again,

Stephen.


[1] In a recent chat with the South African psychoanalyst, Michael Benn, he made the same point with respect to the psychoanalytic ideas of perversion and “the dead mother”. Just how subtle these ideas are and knowing them and understanding them is no simple matter. In my own experience of coming to terms with the conceptual framework of Jungian psychology the journey of understanding is ongoing. I can hear the same idea or concept touted a thousand with the conviction of I have understood everything I can about it. Only to one day hear it in a way I was previously unable to and for a new vista to open up, such that I am left wondering how this new insight was not always obvious to me previously!

[2] Polly-Young Eisendrath, The Cambridge Companion to Jung, p. 224

[3] My interlocuter’s name is withheld and her post has been edited to preserve her anonymity.

[4] Jungian Analyst, Psychologist, professor and author, co-editor with Terence Dawson of The Cambridge Companion to Jung.   

[5] Founder of the post-Jungian movement, professor and author of numerous books challenging classic Jungian discourse, with attention to issues of sexism, racism and anti-Semitism.

[6] C. G. Jung, The Secret of the Golden Flower. ‘Animus and Anima’, p. 114

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Comments (12)

  • Jeanie Reply

    I found this very interesting , particularly since only today have I been wrestling to convey a simple yet succinct description of anima and animus.

    Stephen, I’m curious about the woman , described as a female member of the group, whose response , indeed fury at the sexist old fashioned versions , triggered this article.
    You say at the end, having credited Jung and Young Eisendrath, that you’ve protected her anonymity.
    Was this her wish?
    Of all this post, her words rang into my heart. Sadly I feel she has been buried under the very patriarchal word heavy divisiveness she tailed at.

    July 3, 2020 at 15:45
    • Stephen Farah Reply

      Jeanie we always share clinical vignettes anonymously, it is standard protocol. I’m sorry that you read the post as patriarchal in character, this certainly was not only not my intention but exactly what I sought to avoid. Can I inquire as to why you deem it patriarchal (assuming I have understood you correctly)?

      July 3, 2020 at 17:54
      • Jeanie Reply

        Stephen,
        Thank you for replying.
        I didn’t Initially perceive it as patriarchal until I noted that other authors were cited, when she wasn’t.
        It seems unfair that her identity and voice have been cloaked by “standard protocol”, when it was her authentic and felt response that triggered the inquiry.

        I would like to hear more from her, and cite her in my work.
        I would like her not to remain “anonymous, identity protected”.
        It’s obviously triggered something in me, I take no umbrage with your content, but am alert to the need that process is included in our inquiries, or we will loose the anima aliveness of which we speak.
        Thank you, much food for thought. Jeanie

        July 4, 2020 at 07:05
        • Stephen Farah Reply

          Thanks for clarifying Jeanie. For the record,Young Eisendrath is a woman.

          July 4, 2020 at 13:31
          • Jeanie

            I was aware of that, & don’t believe I inferred that academic writing is a censorship of all women.

            In my opinion, adhering to a “standard protocol” seems to excuse the exclusion of some voices; a protocol I regard as hierarchical and patriarchal.

            Every voice worthy of inclusion deserves equal acknowledgement.
            Thank you.

            July 5, 2020 at 03:00
  • Romeo Reply

    The fact that this particular lady took offence does not deny the truth within the masculine spirit/light and the feminine earthlyness/darkness. Both, taken separately, are equally dangerous. The masculine spirit/light can become an intellectual, aerial demon as we see in Faust and the earthly mother can give rise to instinctual onesidedness (see the Dyonisian cults).
    Both need be balanced by the other and both aspects are present in males and females.

    Also, dark does not mean negative, just as light does not mean positive. It is her own views that place such a judgement on them, not Jung’s. It is this lady that splits the masculine and feminine in such extremes, not Jung.

    When a woman, like the one in the article takes such an offense she is actually taking a stance against her own inner masculine spirit/light but also denies the value of the maternal, dark htonic body (that we all inhabit). She speaks as if this masculine spirit resides only in men when Jung clearly said that it is part of the woman as well.

    We have encountered this problem in my London training, with feminists saying that Jung’s take on anima are a prejudice against the feminine and demeaning of women, though the anima is the countersexual aspect of the man and not of the woman. The irony was that the men, being in minority there (including myself), felt that masculinity was very much under attack and our voice silenced.

    But what most Jungians and post-Jungians forget is that anima and animus are PERSONIFICATIONS of the unconscious. As such, they are more or less the form in which the unconscious presents itself to the individuals in relation to the onesidedness of the conscious mind.
    I, myself, being from Eastern Europe, I recognise that the typology of women and their animus in Romania are very much on par with how Jung described the animus.

    In the West, because of post-modernism and the relativisation of gender, coupled with the denial of the biological sex, the animus and anima act as an “other”.
    Andrew Samuels rightly points out that we should think of anima and the animus as “the other” in our psyche, which is close to the truth because the unconscious all the time acts as “the other”

    I highly recommend that people read Jung and his works extensively before one makes such judgements and I also urge Jungians to stop being afraid of offending people because of their gender identity. Then we are doing politics not psychology.

    July 3, 2020 at 18:26
    • Stephen Farah Reply

      Thanks for this value adding comment Romeo. I don’t see any point of difference from the post and appreciate the elaboration.

      July 4, 2020 at 13:34
  • Rita Reply

    A suggestion, there are 8 books I have read that are very informative, they are to be read in order the first one is “RIGHT USE IF WILL” Ceanne DeRohan.

    July 4, 2020 at 14:49
  • Isabella Reply

    It is not Jung that brings said rage to me, rather the constant projections onto the feminine, such as the feminine as nature, the feminine as a goddess that is clearly the projection of the masculine (thus anima) when it comes to goddesses that are not in themselves feminine, but provide that service as such to the masculine. In example, I use the idea of virgin goddesses in the Greek pantheon that in contrast, are not aspects of the masculine. Sophia is not a goddess, it is wisdom, so the Gnostic reference is one that lacks understanding of Gnosticism, which I take issue with since there is no way to separate wisdom from entity that has wisdom, whatever that entity might be. This alchemist you speak of is right on in terms of projection of the anima rather than reference to women: I have had this discussion with an esoteric male friend in the past and this was known to him as well.

    July 5, 2020 at 05:57
  • Cjc Reply

    Romeo makes an important point. Most ppl who don’t have a deep knowledge of Jungian principles get confused that ANIMA/ANIMUS are
    PERSONIFICATIONS of the unconscious.

    I find it interesting that feminists take this literally, typical male thinking. Is that the animus speaking? And you tell the story about flamboyant gay male therapist who embraces the anima… in his declaration ! Does snyone else see this irony?

    In anycase I’ve been thinking about this info for years and appreciate your thoughtfulness in your approach. Really appreciate the article and comments
    Will distribute gingerly.

    July 6, 2020 at 23:46
  • Paula DeMichele Reply

    I spent six years in Jungian analysis with Mary Eileen Dobson at the C.G. Jung Center in Houston, Texas. She was later its Director. Neither Ms. Dobson nor Ruth Thacker Fry, the founder of the Jung Center who went through analysis with Carl Jung, had the problems with these concepts that some women express. As a woman who went through the therapy myself, I have some comments from my own experience and my continued reading.

    One primary concern in seeing discussions about any of Jung’s descriptions of the psyche – and they are descriptions, not formulas – is the way even Jungians seem to be materializing them. This is a basic bias in Western culture arising from adherence to positivist scientific and medical approaches. A second concern is that anima is not limited to the male psyche.

    First, anima and animus are not even personifications, in my understanding. In what is now called classical Jungian thought, all archetypes, including anima/animus, are energies existing in potentia – with potential for form in images and symbols from human culture. Our culture no longer has any concept of potential existence. And the words, anima/animus I recently read, actually were suggested by Toni Wolf as she helped Jung find language to express these ideas. They were both concerned to describe a contra-sexual reality in both male and female psychic structure. I have experienced these principles as something real.

    As well, literalizing an energy in the psyche so that it’s equated with human images was not what Jung and Wolfe were after. If more people would read Jung’s letters to Gustave Pauli and Pauli’s replies, it might be clearer that what Jung at least was after was the nature of psychic energy in itself expressed in archetypes as energy.

    And also – in these discussions, anima is being limited to the personal anima in the male psyche. It’s being seen as a PERSON. This to me is a distorted and incomplete grasp of anima in Jung’s thinking. It’s a materializing of a principle of energy that doesn’t exist in a concrete sexual sense at all. Have any people in this discussion read James Hillman’s book, ANIMA? In it he shows – through many quotes in Jungs writings – that in Jung’s thought about anima, there is inherent confusion. Jung speaks of the personal anima, but frequently also of anima as a basic energy principle, a ground in the psyche. Hillman takes this aspect of the concept and redevelops and redirects it completely. He brings out this aspect of anima as the basis of human consciousness. It’s an extremely complex reexamination of this concept.

    I am a feminist. At the same time, I see no value in adding feminist projections of chauvinism to a discussion about a non-material energy in the psyche – such non-material energies can only be discussed by symbolic metaphor. They are not accessible to us in any other form. We may as well be in a rage that human beings must speak of these things in symbolic language to grasp the reality at all. Especially when the discussion is not presenting the entirety of Jung’s very complex idea.

    One of the things that gets very confused in these discussions is feelings and opinions. Feelings of rage rising out of deep wounds are not opinions. Stepping out of the rage to look at its source and its effects on forming an opinion is necessary. This is one of the distinctions I had to learn to make in myself in my own psychotherapy.

    Frankly, because Hillman’s work on anima was not considered, I found the blog incomplete. I hope in future some serious discussion of Hillman’s work will happen.

    July 7, 2020 at 16:23
    • Romeo Reply

      Paula DeMichele Thank you very much for this valued comment and for bringing Hillman into the discussion.

      However, I want to clarify something. When I spoke about anima and animus as personifications, I spoke per Jung’s take on them. Evidently that archetypes exist also in potentia, I am not denying that, but the unconscious appears as such figures in relation to the conscious mind. It is the unconscious who sends a message through this image of anima or animus.
      That does not mean that the anima that appears in my dream is a person, it is both a potential but also the unconscious talking via an imago.

      As such, my take is that anima/animus or the archetype of the shadow or even the archetype of the shallow water crossing, as Jung names it in one of his seminars, are aspects of the Self. This, in a way, will run counter to Hillman’s take on the plurality of archetypes since in my theory there is only one archetype -the Self.

      What Hillman brings forth, which is of extreme value, is that these archetypal images want to individuate, to become conscious, to be embodied and to move beyond the potentia.

      And this brings me to the next point, the difference between archetype per se (in potentia) and the archetypal image (the archetype per se in time and space – in the process of embodiment). The archeype per se is impossible to prove and that is why there is still very much debate around the existence and non-existence of archetypes within the Jungian community.

      Now, returning to the anima/animus, as you’ve said, they are very much in potentia but there is no denial that there is an imago of the anima or animus.

      As for the existence of both anima and animus in men and women, as far as my own analysis and dreams have shown me, the figure of the animus in me was more or less the anima contaminated with my shadow. And this is something that Jung also spoke about. I am not sure that I have an animus, though an argument can be made for the Wise Old Man archetype as an animus figure in men.

      Once again, thank you for bringing such a valued and important comment here.

      July 8, 2020 at 10:58

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