GODDESSES IN EVERYWOMAN
With JEAN SHINODA BOLEN,
JEFFREY MISHLOVE, Ph.D.: Hello and welcome. Today we're going to examine the power of mythological archetypes in our own consciousness. We're going to look at whether the ancient gods and goddesses of the pantheistic cultures, such as Greece, Rome, Scandinavia, India, and China, are actually influencing the lives of us here in the twentieth century today. My guest is Dr. Jean Shinoda Bolen, who is an active feminist, a member of the Ms. Foundation. She is also on the faculty of the University of California Medical School in psychiatry, and a training analyst at the Jung Institute in San Francisco, as well as the author of several fascinating books, including The Tao of Psychology and Goddesses in Every Woman. Welcome, Jean.
JEAN SHINODA BOLEN, M.D.: Thank you. It's nice to be here.
MISHLOVE: It's a pleasure to have you here. You know, in a way you have launched a new phase, a revolution in the women's movement, looking at women's spirituality. So many women these days are beginning to ask themselves about the archetypal role of goddesses within themselves, and to begin to question, what goddess is operating within me at this moment? Your book, Goddesses in Every Woman, is a very serious, scholarly text. I imagine you were a little bit surprised at that kind of response.
BOLEN: Well, I wrote the book as a new psychology of women, because mostly women were expected to be sort of in one type, and actually women are complex, and there are lots of different parts of us that operate -- either operate together, or in conflict, or whatever. We're rather complex people, and so to write a psychology that took in the complexities of women was what it was all about, within the range of what's normal. What surprised me is that it also made sacred women's lives, and so it became a text on women's spirituality, when it started out as basically a Jungian feminist new psychology of women.
MISHLOVE: Well, I know that feminist writers, including yourself, have really taken Freud to task with this whole concept of a female psychology based on penis envy, of all things.
BOLEN: Right -- based on what you don't have, rather than on what is innate in you. And even what is innate in you may not determine how strongly you feel about it. For example, we have uteruses, and so the whole capacity to be a mother is a biological part of us. But you can biologically be a mother and yet it may not touch the deep archetypal level of the mother. And if that happens, you biologically are a mother, but something really deep doesn't click.
MISHLOVE: It seems as if women must really relate to this notion that within themselves are these powerful deities operating, these psychic complexes, because women really do have extraordinary power in their own way, and this power is very aptly reflected in the mythology of the ancient goddesses.
BOLEN: Right, it is. The various goddesses have different kinds of power, and they operate through women, so that a man might feel her power if she were thinking strategically like Athena, or really into being Aphrodite. But the woman herself may feel taken over by a goddess pattern. For example, one of the first ones that I saw in my practice, because that's how it first began, was a jealous Hera. Not all women are like Hera, the goddess of marriage, and if you are like Hera, then no matter how the rest of your life is going, if you don't have a mate there is a feeling of some major emptiness in your life, because it's through being a partner that you have a deep meaning. If you have a partner, like the goddess herself had, who is a philandering Zeus, then time and time again you're wounded and jealous, and you get caught up in the vindictiveness of it. What I saw initially, the goddess that walked into my office, was a woman that I had known before -- before this had happened to her, before she had married, before she had gotten jealous when she found out her husband was being unfaithful to her. She came in feeling like something had happened in her, that she was behaving in a way that she didn't even like herself. You know, that jealousy business is a heavy-duty, terrible feeling to be possessed by.
MISHLOVE: The interesting thing to me that you've described in this pattern is that the Hera archetype will attack the other woman, rather than confront the husband.
BOLEN: Right. That's very, very typical. The positive side of it is that she has the capacity to bond and really go through thick and thin, while another woman, for whom the Hera bond is not innate and instinctive and strong, doesn't feel that way at all. She isn't as susceptible to jealousy or emptiness, and doesn't get as much of her deep meaning from being a wife.
MISHLOVE: Let's step back for just a moment and ask the question, how is it that these mythological images that were written in another culture, thousands of years ago, can still be operating in an active way within us?
BOLEN: Well, one of the things is that it's amazing that myths live so long. These are images that go back three thousand years, and yet we're still fascinated by them. They're still powerful stories, because they're like collective dreams. You know, you can wake up in the morning and sit around the breakfast table, and someone can say to you, "Guess what dream I had last night?" You can listen to the dream and be spellbound by it, without understanding the interpretation of it. But the dream itself has power; it's someone else's dream, but it zings into some layer in yourself that resonates with it. Well, I look at myths that way too. They're like collective dreams. We may not understand them, but they move us. And they move us because there's something in us that is like that.
MISHLOVE: Now, I don't know so much about the goddesses, but my sense is that with the gods of the various cultures -- Greek, Roman, Indian, Scandinavian -- they almost seem to parallel each other. There's a king of the gods; there's a god of war. Is this also true with the goddesses?
BOLEN: Yes, very much so.
MISHLOVE: Isn't that striking, that this would happen in different cultures? It makes one think that they really are reflections of psychic energy patterns.
BOLEN: Right, and that's the basic idea of an archetype -- that it is an innate pattern that is evoked or called out by a combination of culture and nurture. But it also varies as to which one is built in strong at the factory, so to speak, so that when I wrote about goddesses in everywomen, I also said you can often tell the basic pattern when you see your eighteen-month-old daughter, which I did. I saw my kid being able to focus on something that pleased her, not because it made any difference to anybody else. That ability to really focus on something is typical of a class of goddess images or goddesses, those that the initial Greeks called the virgin goddesses -- those who could really, say, focus on a target like Artemis, the goddess of the hunt; you know, the bow and arrow. That was what my daughter was being like when she focused on accomplishing something that mattered to her. Other women don't have as strong a drive to do that.
MISHLOVE: It's an interesting distinction that you make between the virgin goddesses, who are in effect not so much influenced by their relationships with men, as opposed to, say, the vulnerable goddesses, where a relationship with a male -- a father, a son, or a husband -- seems very much to be central in their lives.
BOLEN: Well, the vulnerable goddesses are relationship-oriented in general. One of them is the mother-child bond, too; it's a powerful one. It's like without the other person I don't have a meaning. With the other person in my life, I feel fulfilled, and because I am so dependent on having a relationship to give my life meaning, I am vulnerable, because the other person can leave me, and I can be bereft and in grief, or jealous if I am Hera. Or I can try to have a baby and it doesn't happen, and I can just feel the emptiness of not having a child, because that archetype just demands to be fulfilled through me. Another one could say, "I never want a child, never wanted babies." The archetype is just a very different one. So the vulnerable ones set you up to make commitments to people that really last, but they also set you up to suffer and to grow, and it makes for depths in relationship.
MISHLOVE: Is there a sense in which if one recognizes that one of these archetypes is operating -- if a woman senses that this is happening, one of these vulnerable goddesses is a force moving through her -- that it's best to kind of go with it, rather than to deny it or fight it, but just to allow yourself to be vulnerable and to find your power in that?
BOLEN: Yes and no. There's first the sense of fulfilling it at some point because it does give you meaning to do it. But it's like telling a goddess at times, "Not now." You know, if the impulse to have a baby arises when you're fifteen, it would be a very good idea to say, "Not now." Or at a certain phase of your life, when things aren't right, to say, "Not now." Because I've found in my practice, for example, that the woman for whom that archetype is the strongest will perhaps get pregnant when she doesn't intend to, when it's really not a good time. If she has to go through the whole process of making a decision to have the baby or to abort the baby, it is a terrible struggle for her. If she aborts that child, she is the one who gets depressed and has a real hard time of it. You'd think that given the difficulty that she had, she'd make good and sure that that wouldn't happen again. But because the archetype really wants the baby, this is the very woman for whom it might happen again, where someone else could much more easily have an abortion, feel it was very sensible, it was over, and she would also be very careful not to have another one. It really differs.
MISHLOVE: In other words, what you seem to be saying is that these archetypal complexes, while they are very powerful and associated with the deities of ancient cultures, don't really stand at the core of our being, at the exact center. There's some other part of us which has to choose and make decisions for ourselves.
BOLEN: Well, the individual woman is the choice maker.
MISHLOVE: In other words, we are not really these gods and goddesses.
BOLEN: No, but if a woman isn't conscious of what's oeprating in her, and doesn't make choices, then she can repeat a pattern that is just brought on by a particularly strong goddess. And then she can really have a series of repetitious bad scenes in her life. For example, if she is by nature a bonding Hera woman, and she allows that to happen before she even knows the man -- I mean, she's the kind of woman where the archetype operates on her so on the first date she's fantasizing walking down the aisle -- and should that man want to marry her, she is ready to because the goddess wants to be fulfilled. Now, this particular woman would do very well to realize that she needs to know the character of the man and his capacity to be faithful and to love her. Otherwise she's really at the mercy of jealousy and pain. So the more she knows that of herself and her susceptibilities, the better.
MISHLOVE: You know, Freud once wrote towards the end of his career that in spite of all his investigation into the psychology of men and women he was never able to answer the basic question, what does woman want? It seems as if in your psychology of the goddesses, you really are addressing that question. These goddess archetypes represent the different things that women want.
BOLEN: Yes. And it varies from woman to woman, that's the other thing.
MISHLOVE: And varies from time to time for a single woman, also.
BOLEN: Yes, because at different times in your life a goddess pattern will be much stronger. For example, if you're a teenage girl, it could be that you are a horse-crazy Artemis, who just wants to go ride horses, be a backpacking Girl Scout in the wilderness. Or you could be an Aphrodite that is really boy crazy. Or you could be a scientific-minded, chess-playing Athena, or a meditative Hestia, or something like that. And it's pretty clear at that time that there's one or two goddesses that really run the show for a while. And then, come your adult years, it may be that you will get married, and Hera will get a vote, or may not. It may be that you'll have a baby, and Demeter, the mother, will be evoked; or it might not. You know, when Demeter is not evoked, it can be very sad. I had a number of people say to me, "Go see Mary Tyler Moore in Ordinary People. Then you'll realize what my mother was like." Basically what they were saying is: "I had a mother who was my biological mother, but at some deep level she didn't bond with me, and I knew it." And what is said is that often the woman knows it too. She may know that she felt it for another child, and isn't bonded at this deeper level with this particular one.
MISHLOVE: Because the archetype --
BOLEN: The archetype didn't get constellated, didn't get pulled out, didn't connect.
MISHLOVE: Many of the images that men have formed of female goddesses -- sort of the dark, terrible mother, the Kali image -- what do you think of that?
BOLEN: There are a couple of terrible mothers. Interestingly, in Greek mythology they're not as powerful as in Indian mythology, so that mostly the goddesses in Greek mythology were right under a patriarchal major god, and mostly they had a tough time of it, or they stayed independent. But there wasn't a really heavy-duty, powerful Greek goddess.
MISHLOVE: Because Greek mythology really reflected the patriarchal culture that developed, which is the culture that's still in effect, of course. So there's real meaning for women today, I suppose, in looking at the goddesses who operated in that system.
BOLEN: Often the dark side of a goddess is like the enraged one, the one that is feeling that she has been dishonored. Hera can be reduced to being just a jealous shrew, which she often is, or she can be seen as a powerful aspect of the feminine that has been discounted, dishonored, and devalued, and she's enraged from that standpoint. Or you can have a goddess like Demeter, who is the abundant, giving, nurturing mother, who if she doesn't have a baby of her own, is the woman who is nurturing everybody. And yet if she doesn't say no to the goddess inside of her, and the person on the outside that says, "Help me, do this for me, take care of me," etcetera, the human woman is going to get burned out. And so Demeter women often do get burnt out, and when they do they're like Demeter the goddess who sat in the temple and didn't care if the whole world died of famine. This woman that used to be all-loving and all-giving, gradually feels as if there is no mothering energy in her whatsoever -- that she could let the whole world die. And the observing women in whom this has happened, then gets distressed, because she knows that somewhere there's a part of her that's missing now, and she goes into this negative side of Demeter, who is really representative of the depressed woman. There are an awful lot of depressed women in this culture too.
MISHLOVE: You seem to be suggesting that these constellations of psychic energies are in a way rather precise, and that one can get a good deal out of rereading the ancient myths and looking at the patterns of life that are attributed to these goddesses.
BOLEN: Yes, it's really fascinating when you do, and you realize that a minor myth is reflective of something in you. Like I have a lot of Artemis, the goddess of the hunt. To go to medical school you have to be able to aim for a distant target and go for it. So I don't have much difficulty with that focused, go-for-it energy that some other women, because they're not naturally in this mode, have. There are characteristics -- like this is the goddess who comes out of the forest and the wilderness; she's like a deer, in that now you see her, now you don't. People that are my friends had that; you know, I would get focused on something, and I'd get totally absorbed, and it would be like disappearing into the woods, and then I'd come out again when I finished the project, or what have you. So even a little vignette of this fit something of the pattern.
MISHLOVE: Is there something about feminine psychology, the way we often think of women as being more intuitive, that would lead women to be more interested in the goddess within than, say, men would be interested in the god within?
BOLEN: It could be, because if you believe in imagery -- well, not if you believe in it, but if imagery and metaphor and story and myth move you -- then if I say to you that somebody is, say, like a Persephone gathering flowers in the meadow,a then there's the picture of this innocent who is picking flowers in the meadow, but you know, oh my God, the earth is going to open up, and Hades is going to come up and abduct her. Just by giving the picture, I say the whole story for someone who's metaphorically minded. But someone else might say to me, "Why don't you just say that she is unconscious of her environment, and susceptible to being victimized?" Which is true, too.
MISHLOVE: Right. I mean, why do you need all this goddess business?
BOLEN: Yes, why do you need all the goddess business? And what the business does, or archetypal imagery does, is that it puts image and affect and story in one, and it deepens your whole sense of what it's about. But you have to be much more right-brained, I think. Women are supposed to have more of those corpus callosum strands that go between right and left brain, and so maybe they can move into their right brain easier, and go back and forth.
MISHLOVE: Well, I should think connecting up with the mythological stories helps to make us feel as if our lives in some way are part and parcel of the great stories of humanity.
BOLEN: Yes, they are. They really are.
MISHLOVE: That everybody, in their own way, is probably living out some mythological role, even if they're a milkman.
BOLEN: Right. One of the points I made in talking not about the goddesses, but about the heroine in everywoman, is that we are all protagonists in our own mythic life stories. Once we get a sense that we are leading lives in which we're the major character, the protagonist, we can either be a heroine or a hero, or we can be a victim; we can be passive and acted upon, or we can consciously make our decisions based on what's operating in us and what's operating on us. I began to feel that one way of looking at everybody is sort of like a sandwich, in that we are acted upon by these powerful forces inside us, of archetypes, and we have projected upon us and are being acted on from outside by these powerful qualities or projections called stereotypes. So here we are in the middle, with the archetypes acting inside and the stereotypes acting outside, and if we're not conscious of these forces acting upon us, we tend to just sort of fall in. The women's movement in the seventies raised awareness about stereotypes -- that we are limited by what the culture said we should be as women. Then I came along with all this Jungian training that I was fortunate enough to get, somewhere along the line, in a Freudian world, and began to appreciate how powerful these archetypes are, and that they act on us, whether we name them or not, whether we know them or not. But when we know them, we could say, "Aha! OK, I know this one's acting on me, and that when this happens, this is what I do." Or I can know that I need to go into my center. The goddess that hardly anybody knew about was Hestia, the goddess of the hearth. She's the one that in cleaning her house, putting flowers out, making it beautiful and orderly, does something about ordering her psyche, and it's a meditative quality, a centering quality. I can know that what I personally might need at a certain time is to have some solitude, to evoke the Hestia in me, and that that will help put some order in my psyche.
MISHLOVE: In other words, we can all conceive of the pantheons of gods and goddesses as resources within ourselves that we can invoke, we can call upon, as we need to do.
BOLEN: Right, much as the Greeks used to call on them and think they were outside and up on Olympus. Now this is a way of realizing that they're inside.
MISHLOVE: That's a very optimistic theme. You know, Jung himself, as I understand his psychology -- I was very struck by this -- suggests that the active archetype within males is a female, the anima, and within females the unconscious is a male, or the animus. You're suggesting a somewhat different slant.
BOLEN: Yes and no. I felt like Jung was sexist in some ways, and he definitely was when he said that all women had an animus, and that the animus was what did our thinking for us. That meant if I had a good idea, it wasn't that I thought it, but that my animus did it for me.
MISHLOVE: This male inside of you.
BOLEN: And not only is it this male inside of me, but by nature, because it is an unconscious part of me, I can't think as well, ever, as a man could, by definition. But then I found that here's Jung also talking about psychological types, without genders -- qualities. So that I don't happen to be a thinking woman by type, but I could be a thinking woman, and if I were that would be my best suit. So what is this business? Am I doing it, or is my animus doing it for me? Well, then if you have an archetype like Athena, the goddess of wisdom, who is the best strategist, the best thinker of them all, women who are naturally thinking types begin to realize that just because they're thinking doesn't mean that a masculine part is doing it. They're thinking well because there is a pattern in them that is like Athena that is beautiful and strong and thinks very, very decently. So what I'm doing is saying that for an Athena woman, the animus model does not work, around thinking. But for another kind of woman -- say, a more relationship-oriented woman -- it often feels as if thinking is a foreign, male part of her. So she may think, "I've got to call up my animus," -- she might think of it as a litigator or a gladiator -- "who will go do battle for me." It doesn't feel like first nature.
MISHLOVE: So you're making some modifications of Jungian thought.
MISHLOVE: We're almost out of time, but I'd like to ask you this in closing. It seems to me that in a way mythology is still alive within us, and I wonder if we aren't in the process of creating new gods and new goddesses, with new powers that are sort of moving us into the future.
BOLEN: I think we are, and I think -- there's a fellow named Rupert Sheldrake who even explains how new archetypes can come into being.
MISHLOVE: Through the theory of morphic resonance.
BOLEN: Right. And that by being human, we share images or archetypal fields that we tap into. So yes, as individual women change, for example, we may be building a new model for women in general to be able to move into expressing.
MISHLOVE: So if the gods and the goddesses of ancient Greece are still alive today, surely their stories didn't end when Homer died.
BOLEN: No, they didn't.
MISHLOVE: They're still progressing. We must have new images all the time. And I think, Jean, in a way the work that you are doing, as a female psychiatrist and trailblazer today, is in effect creating a new image of what it means to be an Artemis, for example. It's been a pleasure having you with me, Jean Shinoda Bolen, and you really in a way do embody the very principles that you speak of. I think especially for women, but also for men, it's very inspiring to see somebody reaching deep into history and creating new meanings for modern people as well.
BOLEN: Thank you.
MISHLOVE: Thank you very much for being with me.
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