Following Our Symbols: Water


2400ejf_willow“From the living fountain of instinct flows everything that is creative; hence the unconscious is…the very source of the creative impulse.”~Carl. G. Jung

“Without water, there is no life;  so water is not an image or simile, but a symbol of life.” ~Tom Chetwynd, Dictionary of Symbols (p.422)

Water is not only a symbol of life. It is the very precondition of life. Without water, there can be no life. Is it any wonder that most cultures have associated water with the feminine and the dark depths of the unconscious?  After all, it has always been the female of our species who gives birth to new life.

What does water have to do with the processes of your psyche? Chetwynd explains:

“The feminine unconscious moistens the dry, hard, conscious realm of the male Ego, and brings life to it.  Vice versa, the too moist, the too emotional and unconscious, may need to be dried out in a fiery male domain (hellfire). 

It’s crucial to understand that when Chetwynd uses the terms “feminine” and “male” as adjectives, he’s using them the same way Jungians do: as metaphors for the basic energies of the psyche of every man and woman.  In Jungian terms, “masculine” and “feminine” are the primary pair of complementary opposites under which every other pair of opposites can be subsumed.

Thus, the moon is “feminine” and the sun is “masculine.”  The unconscious is “dark” and “feminine” and the conscious Ego is “light” and “masculine.” Soul is “feminine” anima; Spirit is “masculine” animus.

Jungians are not the only ones who think like this.  Throughout history we’ve always used words this way, not for the purpose of assigning different roles and characteristics to men and women, but in recognition of the fact that we all perceive life in terms of pairs of interconnected opposites.

Many languages assign feminine and masculine endings to words depending on their associations. For example, agricola, the Latin word for farmer, ends with “a,” a feminine suffix. This did not mean that only women could be farmers, but that the fertile earth and its life-sustaining vegetation was associated with femininity. Likewise, the word for wolf, lupus, ends with “us,” denoting masculinity. Obviously not all wolves are males;  however, Latin speakers associated wolves with the animal ferocity of aggressive male warriors.

You’ve probably already realized that the same way of thinking designated the Latin word for Soul as anima, and the word for Spirit, animus.

“There is an alchemical saying: Man is the heaven of woman and woman is the earth of man. The woman’s task is to bring things down to earth.” ~Marie Louise von Franz, Psychological Perspectives by E. Rossi 

imagesCAECWPK9That might have seemed appropriate to the alchemists, however, many Jungians today would not say it is a woman’s task, but the “feminine” task to bring things down to earth. Consider: What is the Latin for heavenly? Caelestibus. Masculine. And how about earth? Moon? Water? Terra, luna, aqua: feminine associations all.

Jung believed your purpose in life is to attain conscious union with the Self: your physical, earthy, sacred source, the life-sustaining fountain at your core composed of your animating (anima + mating?) anima and animus.

The Latin word for conscious union is neuter: coniunctio. And is there a Latin word for consciousness itself: “knowledge of self” or self-awareness? It appears there is. According to Lewis and Short’s Latin Dictionary, Cícero and Livy used the word conscientia to mean “self-consciousness.” Feminine.

Thinking in this symbolic way leads to a startling conclusion which logos thinking fails to grasp; which, in fact, our “male ego” seems to be fighting with all its might not to grasp lest it be forced to give up its presumption of primacy. Were it not for our feminine sides, we would have no animating, rejuvenating fountain, no Self, no ego, no psychological life. No consciousness.

We would not be sentient creatures. We would not feel, love, care, be aware of our bodies, perceive with our senses, think, imagine, will, or create. We could not surpass our ignorance, grow, change, become conscious of the miracle of life.

Every day, political leaders and common criminals alike demonstrate disrespect for the feminine elements of life by violating women and restricting their rights. Reinforcing hierarchies of male supremacy. Amassing wealth while permitting life-sustaining water and earth to be exploited and polluted. While this disrespect may serve the aims of the minimally-conscious “male ego,” it does not and cannot serve life.

 Yin and Yang
Yin and Yang: The Coniunctio


What symbols have the power to overcome our toxic lack of consciousness? Can you or I do anything to help?  Can our vote in the coming election promote greater respect for the feminine waters of life? For the healing of humanity and our planet?

Photo credits:  Kasko Marine Fountain.  Ackenberry Trout Farms. Moon over water: Google images.

Healing the Sacred Divide can be found at Amazon and Larson Publications, Inc. Ebook versions of The Bridge to Wholeness and Dream Theatres of the Soul are also at Amazon as well as KoboBarnes And Noble, and Smashwords.

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0 Responses

  1. Thank you Jeanie – animating as in ‘anima’ – ‘mating’ – that is lovely! Those metaphors and symbols of masculine and feminine have great power for animating our souls, pouring refreshing water or dew drops onto them, becoming the flow, the stream..
    I’m not wholly surprised that the feminine is still under attack – the masculine has held ‘power’ for so long and power is never given up without a battle getting bloodier and more awful as time goes on … one day, hopefully not too far a day, we will all see the values inherent in the dew drops – of Gideon – (as per E. Edinger in The Mysterium Coniunctio).

    1. Thank you, Susan.
      How lovely that you, of all people, picked up on my use of the term ‘animating.’ It came from a dream I had three nights ago in which I was writing a note on Facebook to let my friends know that I’ve changed my animated film. That was the whole dream. My associations were that my film (my life’s story as told with my particular symbols and images) is changing, and that it’s animated (filled with life, spirit, courage, zest, and/or resolution). And then the anima + mating association fell into place.
      Sure enough, in my waking life I’ve recently felt emboldened to be more courageous about speaking certain truths which my more reserved and reflective anima has preferred to withhold. This new resolve on the part of my animus has not been easy on my anima, but I’m experiencing such a strong resurgence of mental and physical energy that I have to believe this is a healthy change. To me this indicates a stronger bond forming between my anima and animus.
      It’s especially meaningful to me that their revitalizing mating is occurring in this season of new life (as you know, it’s spring here). As a sister Jungian, dreamer and word person, you can see why I was intrigued enough to use my dream word in this post where it seemed to fit so well.
      I’m not familiar with the dew drops of Gideon, and now you’ve inspired me to get Edinger’s book. I’ve heard many references to it, but somehow skipped right past it. Apparently the time is right for me to read it now!
      With many thanks for your enriching comment, Jeanie

  2. Dear Jeanie, As always, a superbly rich article! Upon reading I sensed that I was standing knee-deep in truth, wisdom and the river of life itself! You see for the last 34 years I’ve lived only a few minutes’ walk from the sea, so powerfully resonate with her glorious, divine waters on a daily, sometimes hourly basis … perhaps more so being a Scorpio Woman. Ha-ha! Yes, those rivers, they sure run deep here! I really enjoyed your explorations re: symbolism of water, your exploration of the masculine and the feminine and how you finish with a handful of great questions.
    Personally, (like millions of people I’m sure … well essentially, all life) I believe that Mother Nature herself provides us with the greatest, truly boundless, and never-ending returning symbols to overcome that toxicity … if only we were but to look for them ourselves. What can we do? Slip on our boots and take a walk outside (it’s not far for most of us!) as it is only from ourselves that the real butterfly effect takes place. Gandhi said it wonderfully when he declared ‘Be the change you want to see in the world.’
    Easter has been the most challenging week, culminating today with six hours spent trying to fix my website so forgive me if I get a little teary and emotional here. For this battle, this conflict you speak of between the animus and the anima has been raging within myself fiercely this week as my Animus Diet draws to a close … and I feel those feminine waters building up inside of me, waiting to burst through yet for now I know I need to hold them back, and wait, wait in the pregnant darkness until I can ascend. Love and blessings, Deborah.

    1. Dear Deborah,
      Believe me, I understand! I, too, have had an unusually challenging spring in which the feminine waters have been building up. But as I noted to Susan in the above letter, a healing dream recently arrived, and with it, a resurgence of healthy, revitalizing energy. So yes, waiting, waiting, tolerating the tension with conscious resolve, has once again proven to be the best strategy.
      I agree that Mother Nature’s symbols are powerful antidotes to the toxicity that sometimes overwhelms us. My granddog, Izzy, a hulking energetic golden retriever, spent last week with us and our long, twice-daily walks were amazingly restorative. I live near the water too, but it’s a calm lake, which can have a very different effect from the primal elemental sea. Regardless, bodies of water are always magically restorative.
      I’m so sorry you’ve been having such problems with your website. I understand that too. Technological difficulties with computers and the internet are always painful and draining, but especially when they obstruct your work. Along with other stressors, my laptop has spent the last two weeks in and out of a repair shop. It came home a few days ago, only to be taken back when the case separated from the new screen because of faulty glue, of all things.
      It would appear that you and I are both suffering birth pains this spring. Fortunately, we mothers know and trust the joy that always comes with new life when it finally emerges.
      Can’t wait to read the next installment about your Animus Diet!
      Love and blessings, Jeanie

  3. I am a “word hound”, loving your article. And especially the surprise ending.
    Thanks, Jeanne.
    Diane McPhail,

    1. Hi Diane,
      I’m so pleased to know you loved this article. As a sister “word hound” I had fun writing it. Glad to know you like the surprise ending…. 😉
      I hope you’re having a happy, revitalizing spring. Thank you for writing,

  4. Thank you, Jeanie. I loved thinking about the opposites in these ways. Your political reading feels wise and true. I was especially drawn to your thoughts about water in the first paragraph and photo. It’s been a pleasure to have a little contact with the Ojibwa traditions of women as protectors of the water. Locally, a small movement to protect Seneca Lake has become a big political movement involving EarthJustice and large environmental organizations to protect our water source from the gas industry. An Ojibwa clan mother came from the midwest to lead sacred walks around the lake. Men walk, too, but women are the water carriers. It was a thrill when my turn came to carry the water vessel for a mile. I’m glad to say local farmers and wineries have become politically active on behalf of clean water.
    I think of our (it’s “ours” now) Sumerian myth of descent and the description of the Underworld or Great Below or place of Death as dry, dusty, and cold. Not a burning hell, but a waterless cold lifeless place. Then I remember how Enki, the God of Wisdom, is also the God of Water and his semen is the fluid that brings life to the land. He’s a God who carries the feminine side (a vase of water) and comes to the rescue of the Great Goddess so there can be renewal. I love this image of the masculine protecting the water of life. Thanks so much for stirring this and so much else in me.

    1. Thanks so much, Elaine, for your kind words, and for adding more meaning to Inanna’s myth. Until now I hadn’t made that connection about Enki being the image of the masculine protecting the feminine water of life. Now that’s profound! And the fact that men participate in your sacred walks around the lake is so very heartening. We’re seeing the emergence of so much more reciprocal respect and partnership between men and women, masculine and feminine, than ever before. These are the kinds of things that bring me hope these days. As many people have noted of late, we do, indeed, seem to be approaching a “water”shed moment in the history of human consciousness. May it be so.

  5. As always Jeanie this has been an interesting, rejuvenating read. I also enjoy the comments section. What hit me looking at the yin yang symbol is the similarity to water drops. Or tadpole-sperm-comets…but very much like ‘drops’ of water with eyes. Seeing water.

    1. I can’t believe I never noticed that before! I wonder if something in my unconscious did and compelled my ego to use that symbol. Very cool. Glad you enjoyed this one.

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