Every archetype has a dual nature because the ego automatically sees everything from a dualistic perspective. We divide the spiritual realm into the powerful opposing forces of God (good) and Devil (evil) and label everything else the same way. Last February I wrote that the Tree of Knowledge represents our potential for a great awakening into an enlightened wisdom yet is also associated with humanity’s disobedience and fall from eternal intimacy with God. Similarly, there are myths depicting the Scandinavian ash and shamanism’s birch as Trees of Life, yet Christianity’s savior Jesus loses his life on a tree.
In a post last August I wrote that the Disney Princesses are uniformly young, slender, beautiful, sweetly shy, innocently seductive, charmingly vulnerable, and, for the most part, deferential to males. If we take these stories as literal models for gender behavior, few would disagree that they reinforce very limiting and potentially damaging stereotypes. But a different perspective emerges if we view them as representations of the Maiden phase of the anima archetype. Then they are forces for good, not evil, and the only problem they present is our insistence that the anima, and by association human women, must remain in this phase forever.
Did anyone sign your high school yearbook, “Don’t ever change”? Maybe you wrote it yourself. This is the normal desire of an adolescent ego. What it wants is so simple: to be old enough to drive, get a job, earn a lot of money, become independent, satisfy all its instinctual desires as much as it wants to…and then stay that way forever.
We don’t want to face the reality that we are changing with the seasons and will someday die like my favorite tree, a large hemlock on our North Carolina property that began its life about 400 years ago and grew to 90 feet tall. Half her trunk at the point where it divided into two main branches crashed to the ground last weekend. We want to believe we’re smarter than that tree, that if we can keep the same looks, body size, beliefs, personality and life-style we had as late adolescents, we can somehow ward off aging and dying.
My hemlock’s trunk reminded me of a mature woman in a flowing gown. I thought of her needles as hair. She began her life when a cone released a seed one winter long ago. The seed grew into a pretty, pliable Maiden sapling who swayed and danced with the breezes. At age 15 she produced cones and became a Mother. Some hemlocks produce excellent crops of cones for more than 450 years before retiring to enjoy their remaining years as grandmother Crones who continue to bless the birds with safe haven for nests and the land beneath with cool shade.
Did you ever notice that by adolescence the Disney Princesses no longer have loving mothers or grandmothers to protect them? The only older women who come to mind are evil step-mothers, a ditzy fairy god-mother, and a singing teapot! Why this scarcity of images of healthy, mature women in fantasy land? Might this curious fact be related to Viv’s observation after my last post that, “Anorexia seems to fossilize girls at a pre-pubescent stage, before they become women.”?
The Maiden phase of the anima represents everything about the feminine that is sweet, beautiful, innocent and hopeful. But the flip side of the Disney Princesses is that they perpetuate our unconscious aversion to the natural cycles of life and the mature stages of feminine development. After all, an adolescent ego can control little girls far easier than Nature and wise men, women and crones!
I too have suffered from despair since childhood. It began at the age of 11 when my father died. To this day there are many occasions in my daily life when I cannot get excited about something because I know it will not last and my pleasure will not last and I will die and nobody will care and nothing I have done will make any difference, and so what?