The Anima’s Role in a Man’s Spiritual Journey


In an early post I wrote about a man who, in the middle of his life, had a powerful dream in which he briefly identified with being a woman. I’d like to explain what this means from the perspective of Jungian psychology. In his work life, this man had become a highly successful and respected authority in his field. He was a responsible, law-abiding citizen and a loving husband, father, and social benefactor. Looking from the outside, one might ask, “What more could he possibly lack or want?” What more but a satisfying and meaningful inner life?

This introspective, scrupulous man is aware of his inner world beneath the surface of his life. For him, filling society’s roles, following conventional rules, and acquiring worldly success are not enough. He is realizing his fulfillment lies in coming to terms with his whole self, including his unconscious feminine side. Something deep within him wants more than external observances: it wants internal congruence. It wants more than the appearance of caring and compassion: it wants the deeply felt reality. It wants more than the attainment of social power and authority: it wants a connection with his inner spiritual power and authority.

In his book Jung and the Lost Gospels, Dr. Stephan Hoeller summarizes the psycho-spiritual task of the serious seeker: “In Jung’s psychology, women need to integrate their animus, and men must do the same with their anima; the bringing to consciousness of the contrasexual image of each person permits entry into the kingdom of individuation and consequent wholeness.”

The word anima literally means soul. Jung saw the main qualities of the anima as relatedness and mediation, both between self and other and between ego and unconscious. The foundation for these qualities is love, or Eros, with its attributes of intimacy, harmony, tolerance, empathy, compassion, etc. In Volume 16 of Jung’s Collected Works he summarized the four stages in which a man’s anima develops.

  1. His image of women is purely biological. A woman is equated with the mother and only represents something to be fertilized. He expects women to provide nourishment, love, and security; or he might thing of them as evil, untrustworthy, unfaithful, uncaring. Jung named this level of the anima, Eve, the archetypal mother.
  2. He begins to develop an aesthetic and romantic attitude toward women. His anima is a collective sexual image, like a beautiful model or actress. Sex still dominates, but he’s beginning to see women as having some value as individuals.
  3. He acquires a religious devotion to  thein which Eros is elevated to spiritual motherhood.
  4. Sophia, Wisdom.

Dreams of women show men at least two things about their unconscious selves: unknown feelings and attitudes toward femininity, and the health and maturity of their anima. In the dreams of a man who fears, distrusts, or disdains women and represses his “feminine” qualities, his anima will show up as an angry shrew, hag, witch, nag, victim, tease, or dangerous siren, and his dream ego will respond in ways typical for him in waking life. Conversely, the dreams of a man who is accepting his feminine side — i.e. getting in touch with his feelings, developing respect for women, learning to express tender emotions, becoming comfortable with intimacy, growing more understanding and nurturing in his relationships, etc. — will be visited by increasingly friendly, kind, helpful, loving, trustworthy, and profoundly fascinating women. Thus is the wicked witch transformed into the beautiful princess who awaits the prince’s kiss.  Thus does the feminine Spirit Warrior awaken and bestow her blessings of self-acceptance and spiritual meaning.
Next time I’ll discuss the role of men in women’s dreams.

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0 Responses

  1. Jeanie,
    Thank you for such an informative article. You’ve packed so much good solid material into a condensed form here!!
    I think this kind of positive (and still practical) envisioning of the anima & animus is essential. Ribi’s “Demons of the Inner World” lays out the negative forms that each takes, which is useful to keep an eye on our development. But it is the positive forms each takes that holds out the promise of restored wholeness and psychic integrity.
    In the ancient Toltec tradition there are two Schools of Spirit Warriors: The Eagles and The Jaguars. Because the Eagle is a daytime being, its mode of stalking is thought of as Direct, Because the Jaguar is a nighttime being, its mode of stalking is thought of as Indirect. In this context, “stalking” means the way in which we approach our “enemy within” (our self-destructive habits of thought, feeling, and memory).
    The Direct strategy is thought of as masculine and the Indirect as feminine. The Eagle can see perfectly in the daylight while the Jaguar can see perfectly in the shadows of night. Which is the most powerful? The wisest? The best? Obviously, these are not even relevant questions. They are two parts of each of us, strategies that we can draw upon to transform ourselves and adapt better to our surroundings.
    Women are not, as a rule, as physically strong as men, and so they have developed strategies of indirect approach to problem-solving, which requires a longer view, patience, and identification with others. Men, as a rule, are not as reflective as women and tend to rely on a straight-ahead direct and confrontative approach to problem-solving, which requires confidence, purposefulness, and identification of weaknesses in others. These are gross generalizations, of course, but they represent to me a working model of bridging the external “real” woman or man and the internal anima or animus. And they also demonstrate how difficult it is to think of “women” not having these masculine qualities or of “men” not having these feminine qualities.
    As we mature, especially, I think we tire of exploring our gender specific qualities and long to explore our “uncharted territory”. The “contrasexual” other half of our psyche becomes infinitely more interesting…..
    I apologize if I’m rambling, but such are the thoughts your lovely article provokes on this cloudy Sunday Oregon morning over coffee. Leonor, my wife of 39 years, is away in Los Angeles, visiting her sister–so the “real” woman who has taught me so much about the anima is much missed and brings the inner and outer aspects of your post into sharp relief…..
    Wishing All Well,

  2. Hi William,
    Thanks for your very interesting, pertinent comments. You always add so much to these discussions. I’m not aware of Ribi’s “Demons of the Inner World” but will check it out.
    I love the Toltec model of the Eagle/daytime Spirit Warrior and the Jaguar/nighttime Spirit Warrior. This symbolic language makes it easy to see that we all contain aspects of both, as well as to acknowledge that both have their negative forms, i.e. the “enemy within.”
    In my early years of dreamwork I often dreamed of finding myself in the company of a big cat which I thought of as a panther. Sometimes we were inside; other times outdoors. Once it rode in the backseat of a car I was driving. Another time it walked beside me down a public street. It was always loose and free and very close and potentially dangerous. At first I was afraid of it, but even in the early years I knew that to run away would place me in greater jeopardy. Over time I learned to trust and befriend it and now realize these dreams were showing me my ego’s developing relationship with my “wild” instinctual nature and powerful emotions which, of course, had the potential to be helpful or harmful.
    After all these years it still amazes me to see how valuable, no, I will say ‘essential’, it is to become literate in this symbolic language if we are serious about becoming Spirit Warriors. As a former academic, I often forget how much more effective it is in communicating inner truths. Thank you for your gentle and extremely effective reminders!!!
    My very best,

  3. Hi Jeanie, thanks for the kindness of your reply….
    Alfred Ribi, a Jungian analyst from Europe (wrote mostly in German, I think): “Demons of the Inner World: Understanding Our Hidden Complexes.”
    I think what interests me particularly at this stage of my life is not the importance of dreams–of that I, like you, am fully convinced. What really intrigues me is this question: when am I NOT dreaming? How much effort it takes to not slip into a Sleepwalking state every day! How difficult it is to see things as they are instead of through the dream symbol they correspond to inside my ever-bubbling unconscious…..
    Perhaps this is apparent in my comment above: How do the animus and anima reveal themselves in the “waking life” of society? In other words, do men act as they do because they are fulfilling the animus projection of women or is the animus a reflection of men’s psychological development? Likewise, of course, for the anima. Reading your outstanding description of Jung’s developmental stages of men’s anima (from the purely biological in which a woman is equated with the mother and only represents something to be fertilized; to an aesthetic and romantic level in which sex still dominates but woman has acquired some value as an individual; to a stage of religious devotion in which Eros is elevated to spiritual motherhood; and finally to Sophia, Wisdom), it’s fair to ask whether this progression of the anima reflects the development of the fully-lived life of a woman. And objectively, though it goes against my personal predilections, we ought ask, (as we did with the animus) are the psychological stages of a woman’s development fulfilling the projections of men’s anima? This latter question has to be asked, I think, based on the research into mirror neurons.
    Perhaps irrelevant questions. And perhaps unanswerable. But I’d love to hear what you think….
    Because if as some would say all this is biological, then do the anima and animus represent part of the trap we have to transcend or the luminous door of freedom itself….?
    The universal nature of the animus and anima points to their importance. The Jaguar as the feminine within the masculine. The Eagle as the masculine within the feminine. I am so glad to see you bringing all this out into the light!!
    All The Best,

  4. Dear William,
    How I do love the way you think…and make me think! I, too, am fascinated with the question of “how awake” I really am in waking life. Unfortunately, far too often my inner observer’s conclusion is a disappointing, “Not very,” and so I am motivated to keep trying.
    Your question about the fit between theories of anima and animus and the archetypal reality is decidedly relevant and, I think, very important. Coincidentally I’ve addressed it in a post that will be published this Saturday. But your question has stirred up so much thought that I may write another one to follow it. I’ll just say here that in my search for self-knowledge I’ve struggled with this very question for years. (Why? Who knows. It seems to be my job!! Seriously, I do have a theory but it’s too long to go into here.)
    Anyway, I do not know the answer. Certainly our projections, combined with our observations of Nature, have led us to make certain generalizations about this duality which have too often led to rigid and unassailable stereotypes that have ruined countless lives. In Jung’s theory, these cultural stereotypes are the trap we need to transcend, and in discovering and empowering our “authentic” anima and animus (whatever they may actually be, there is little doubt of their archetypal reality) we are led to your “lluminous door of freedom.”
    What do I think about this? Right now it works for me, but that could change as I learn more about myself, the nature of consciousness, and the workings of our universe. I also think I want to know more about mirror neurons! I loved Charon’s The Stranger Within, but don’t remember him using that term….
    Onward to freedom…

  5. Jeanie, if you google “mirror neuron” you’ll find lots of interesting stuff. it’s brand new, and still in the formative stage of research. but it holds out some possible models of imitation, empathy, understanding intentions, etc.
    my own thinking on the questions above….
    i think patterns of behavior are important and need to be studied. They indicate strategies that work. Among us humans, there is this archetypal pattern of the unconscious anima and animus that, with time and effort and luck, has the potential to reach fuller consciousness.
    Why? What is the value of the feminine within men? The masculine within women? It really seems to go against all the imperatives of species survival. What is this strategy?
    It seems to me that its sole purpose is individual well-being. It fulfills us to be able to incorporate our own opposite-complement. Unlike so many other strategies that emerge from the unconscious without our conscious will, this one seems to really care about our personal fulfillment. I personally don’t see any other reason for it.
    But at this point, I lose the precise trigger activating the strategy. So it may be, and this is my best guess this week, that there is some kind of feedback loop influencing the inner anima/animus and the gender behavior of men and women in the social arena. I suspect men learn from the animus of the women around them, adapt their behavior in some way, which in the long run induces the animus to change slightly, and so on, around and around. Obviously, ditto the same process for women and the anima. But like say, that’s what I think this week. It’s all open for revision at the drop of a hat!
    To switch gears slightly, or really, to switch terminology: what do you think of the chances of the anima/animus being a living psychic component in the “mysterium conjunctionis”, the missing other which when found completes the union of opposites and leads to the metamorphic transmutation of lead (unintegrated anima/animus) into gold (whole person)?
    Thanks for such a great conversation!

  6. Dear William,
    I started to write my response to the above and it got so long I decided to incorporate it into a future blog post. Would you mind if I quoted 3 paragraphs of your comment in my post?
    This is such fun.

  7. William,
    P.S. The last paragraph of your last comment brings up a subject very dear to my heart. I’ll address it soon as well. Thanks for always getting me thinking!
    My best,

  8. I found this post by accident but Jung may point it out as more than “coincidental”. I was looking for a visual image to represent the idea of dreaming of being a woman so, there may be no coincidence at all that I found one that had a meaningful body of text with it. Short of a much larger article or on-line seminar, I think the explanation is as good as I’ve seen. I decided to respond here since the thread is still less than a year old.
    I very active dream states. I was lucid dreaming before I knew what lucid dreaming was and I also discovered “shared dreams” before I knew I knew there was a field of thought that corresponded with it.
    As recurring dreams go, I’ve have several dreams about being a woman. I’ve always taken it at face value that is was the dream manifest of wanting to be female and finding it in those moments of sleep. I wish I could find more articles such a this and if you have any you can pass along, I would be grateful.

  9. Hi John,
    I’m happy to hear from you and so glad you found this post helpful. I’m afraid I don’t know of any other articles on this topic but I can suggest some books. Jungian analyst Robert Johnson has written a wonderful book titled “He” that treats this subject. Also, check out “Dreams, God’s Forgotten Language,” by John A. Sanford (also a Jungian analyst), which has a section about the anima and masculine psychology. Finally, June Singer (another Jungian analyst) has written a wonderful book called “Androgyny: The Opposites Within,” which also discusses this subject. You might also google Inner City Press for some titles on the topic. I wish you the best of luck in your search.

  10. Jean, thank you for this post–it was exactly what I was looking for this morning as I was recording a powerful dream and struggling to understand its meaning. In it, I meet a woman, a college professor, and we head into a home up to the second floor. Outside a window a threatening man has thrown my mother off the roof and she is clinging to the eave, crying for help. The professor is first onto the roof, and pulls my mother up. I am late getting there and provide only minor assistance in getting my mother safely to the rooftop. She is naked.
    I am somewhat familiar with the concept of anima, so I searched for help in understanding the figure of the female professor and her role in rescuing my mother from what I suppose is my shadow figure. I was stunned to find that anima can manifest in our dream as a witch, which is exactly what I dreamed as a child. I was repeatedly tormented by witch dreams actually.
    This dream feels like a treasure trove, and I’m grateful you are helping me mine it this morning.

    1. Hi Kevin. You’re very welcome. And thank you for sharing your fascinating dream here. Yes, the anima will appear in many guises. In general, the more a man comes to terms with her and accepts her energies as part of his own, the friendlier and more helpful she becomes in dreams. In my interpretation, the fact that she used to be a witchy tormentor in your dreams but is now appearing as a very helpful female Wisewoman/college professor who saves your mother (who probably represents your personal mother-image as opposed to the anima archetype) suggests a great deal of positive growth, indeed!
      I would see this growth as pertaining to your attitude toward your personal mother-image as well. Of course, the fact that your shadow pushes your mother off the roof suggests there’s more work to be done in that area, but what else is new? Our shadows are always with us, and will always need to be seen and recognized to be healed. But the fact that the Wisewoman saves her and that you help as much as you can suggests a healthy and conscious collaboration between your ego and anima.
      Well done, Kevin! Dreams are incapable of lying. To me, this one says you’re obviously doing something right in terms of consciously integrating your feminine side!
      Blessings on your good work,

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