Incarnating the Mystery with Psychological Awareness by Jean Benedict Raffa

image010As a college professor I taught Children’s Literature. Mythology, stories about humanity’s relationship with the gods, always raised a few eyebrows. Students tended to feel uncomfortable when this term was applied to their own faith traditions since it generally connotes “untrue.” So I found it helpful to note up front that myths are not necessarily literally or historically true, but they’re always psychologically and spiritually true.

From his extensive study of myths, psychologist Carl Jung concluded that we are all born with a “religious function,” an inherent sense of awe about, and longing to connect with the Sacred Mystery of life. He saw it as a faculty of our central archetype, the Self: our core and circumference, our god-image.  Myths, rituals and religious symbols are our attempts to incarnate the Self so that we can be infused with love, hope and holy wonder. Some myths are helpful in this endeavor. Others are dysfunctional; for example, myths which justify the dominance, exclusion or destruction of others considered less worthy or entitled.

When our primitive ancestors reflected on the miracle of life, the Self prompted the thought that because humanity is gendered, the Mystery must be as well.  Since Earth was the foundation of existence and had an inexhaustible fruitfulness, it felt like a Mother. This shaped our earliest images of God. Mircea Eliade noted: “In some cases, the sex of this earth divinity, this universal procreatrix—does not even have to be defined. A great many earth divinities…are bisexual. In such cases the divinity contains all the forces of creation—and this formula of polarity, of the coexistence of opposites, was to be taken up again in the loftiest of later speculation.”

Images of a Divine Androgyne of integrated masculinity and femininity appear throughout the world. Jungian analyst June Singer says they arise from the intuition “that the Ultimate Being consists of a unity-totality…[within which] exist all the conjoined pairs of opposites at all levels of potentiality.”

As a religious image, the Divine Androgyne was not about gender or sexuality. It was a metaphor for healthy interaction between life’s opposite, yet complementary energies within one unified, integrated being.

As humans grew more conscious of ourselves we created a new god-image of a single, omnipotent male Sky God without a feminine counterpart.  Psychologically, this heralded the birth of the ego and its desire to separate from the unconscious maternal matrix from which it was emerging so we could develop our individuality and enhance our survival. While this “masculine” emphasis on self-preservation was a natural and necessary development, over time the ego’s need to associate with the masculine drive and reject the feminine drive for species-preservation has become the major threat to our survival.

The Garden of Eden story represents the awakening of our species from the purely physical consciousness we shared with other mammals into a new era I call Epoch II Ego Consciousness. This is when Hero myths emerged. They represent a phase of ego growth on the way to greater consciousness, not the end point. We have the potential to transcend the ego’s dualistic perspective and realize our essential oneness; to find holiness not just in the high-minded spirituality of a masculine Sky God, but also in the earthy Divine Feminine who pervades our bodies, minds, and all creation. But our growth has been stunted by the ego’s resistance to relinquishing its role as the center of the psyche.

Goddess myths provide an alternative way of living and incarnating the Mystery.  Whether the main characters are women or men, Jungian analyst Monika Wikman says that myths about descent symbolize the “inner readiness to meet the larger facets of the psyche in the ways it manifests in our lives.”

The story of the Sumerian goddess Inanna’s descent was not just a fertility myth. It was also a metaphor for our initiation into the dark winter of our unconscious selves.  Her meeting with her sister Ereshkigal, goddess of the underworld, represents the psychological trauma of confronting the reality of our previously disowned shadow selves.  Her experience of being hung on a meathook for three days symbolizes the humbling ego-death in which ego relinquishes its worldly throne and accepts the feminine aspects of our natures so that the androgynous Self can assume its rightful position as center of our being.

The incarnating Self requires that both the masculine and feminine myths be lived in us.  Our ego’s magnum opus is to enable this development by bringing the light of consciousness to the dark chambers of our psyches. As this happens, the incarnating Self replaces resistance, pride, ignorance and intolerance with openness, humility, self-knowledge and compassion. From a psychological perspective, psycho-spiritual maturity comes from integrating ego and Self, our masculine and feminine sides, and God and Goddess in loving partnerships.

Epoch II Ego Consciousness is dying.  Humanity is acquiring the psychological awareness to change the course of history by consciously merging herstory with it. Many individuals already employ their egos in service to attaining Epoch III Integrated Consciousness. Those who already dwell there know that consciously integrating the feminine drive brings the enlightened experiential knowing of which mystics speak. Alchemists called this the philosopher’s stone. Some Jungians call it the incarnated Self.

To them, as to inward-looking people everywhere, Paradise is not a realm outside ourselves which we can earn by having proper beliefs. It is an ever-present reality available to all who courageously explore their own depths, create their own myths, unite their own opposites, and live their own lives with authenticity, wisdom and compassion.


About Jean Raffa:

Jean Raffa is an author, speaker and workshop leader. Her newest book, Healing the Sacred Divide: Making Peace With Ourselves, Each Other, and the World, is about psychological integration as a spiritual path to evolving consciousness. It recently received the 2013 Wilbur Award from the Religion Communicators Council for excellence in communicating religious issues, values and themes, and for encouraging understanding between faith groups on a national level. You can find more about Jean’s books at her website, Matrignosis, her blog about inner wisdom, is at

image009About Healing the Sacred Divide:

Healing the Sacred Divide is timely, as we become increasingly polarized around divisive issues of faith and politics. Raffa helps us work creatively with strife and divisions in ourselves, our relationships, and our world by first associating common dysfunctions with several popular ways of thinking about God. Then she shows us how to enter the “divide,” where polarized views and forces meet and mingle, as a sacred place of innovation and potential common ground.


Categories: God, Politics, Spirituality

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35 replies

  1. Great read. I will be ordering your book. “Humanity is acquiring the psychological awareness to change the course of history by consciously merging herstory with it”. Yes, I agree. This is absolutely essential in the process of healing the sacred divide. Thank you.


    • Thank you, Jassy. I hope you find Healing the Sacred Divide to be great reading too. I believe that if peace on Earth is ever to become more than a utopian ideal, psychological awareness is the missing link, the magic key, the secret potion, the third wish….(okay, enough mythological symbolism)….in short, the long sought-after solution! A basic tenet of Jungian psychology (and alchemy) is that our search for wholeness and spiritual meaning is a process of uniting our inner opposites in a sacred union of loving reciprocal relationship. How desperately insecure and needy of reassurance must the Epoch II ego be to insist on denying sovereignty to one half of the psyche and one half of humanity in order to protect its throne? Our growing awareness of humanity’s terrible fear of life cannot help but engender more passion for it, as well as more compassion for ourselves and each other.


  2. Thankyou Jean , informative article :-)


  3. This is enormously helpful to me and I will be reading the book. I do find it sad to see how divisive politics and faith has become in the US. We also experience some of this in the UK. However I see this tension as evidence that respectful dialogue needs to be had and how people everywhere are yearning for a more authentic leaders and lives. The big question is acknowledging our darkness and healing that so we can help others heal.


    • Thank you, Annette. I absolutely agree. Psychologically, our egos’ inability to accept and carry on a respectful dialogue with our shadows (both individual and collective) is the primary obstacle to humanity’s progress toward psycho-spiritual maturity. It’s impossible for anyone to live or lead authentically until this barrier falls. And that’s only the beginning of the long journey we have ahead of us! The inner ocean is as vast and mysterious as the outer, and without a secure connection to the depths, an individual ego is about as powerful as the captain of a canoe!


  4. Jean, interesting that your post came up on FAR a day after I posted the following on the website for my class on Return of the Goddess at CIIS. “As a student in the field of religion, I was taught that myths express deep or ultimate meaning about the world and the human place the world. I was taught to find this kind of deep meaning in every myth. Now that I am aware that cultures did not simply develop and evolve but also were taken over and dominated, I do not expect every myth or every detail in a myth to convey deep meaning. Sometimes myths are–as Merlin Stone taught us–‘tales with a point of view’ created to justify conquest and domination.”

    Over the weekend I reread INANNA by Wolkstein and Kramer. I was interested in the fact that when I read this book 30 years ago, I was reading to find out who the Goddess is or in your words to find spiritual truths in the ancient poems to Inanna. Thirty years later I am far more aware than I was then, that many of the details in the Inanna poems do not embody “spiritual truths” as I recognize the meaning of the term–rather they are “patriarchal [un]truths” justifying a patriarchal world created at the juncture of control of female sexuality, private property, and war.

    To give just one example: in the story titled “The Huluppu Tree” the sky or heavens are given to the God An, the earth and the air to Enlil, and the underworld to Erishkegal. Immediately, Enki “sets sail” to the underworld apparently intending to take it from Erishkegal who retaliates with storm floods.

    For me this story says more about the ownership and division of land as private property (in this case by Gods) than it does about the “spiritual truth” that the world is the body of divinity. This later meaning may be there too, but in the context of a culture founded on war and violence, it is important to be aware that all the details of the story may not have a core of spiritual meaning. I also note that in this “division” of the cosmos, the male Gods take the upper world or Life, while leaving the underworld or Death to the Goddess. For me this is a spiritual untruth: a severing of earlier people’s knowledge that birth, death, and regeneration are part of a single process, which in Old Europe and elsewhere, was associated with the Goddess.

    While I too find spiritual meaning in the story of the descent of Inanna–along the lines you discuss–I think we can ask questions about some of the violent details in the story: Did Inanna have to be hung on a meat hook? Did Dumuzi deserve the punishment she meted out to him? Similarly, in the parallel story of Persephone, we must ask: Did Persephone have to be raped? Should we be trying to find spiriual meaning in an act of violence as many Jungian and other commentators do? Or should we be rewriting the story as Charlene Spretnak did, to reflect a world in which rape can never be justified?


    • Thank you for these great examples of the dysfunctional elements of myths, Carol. There is no doubt that their language and plots reflect and justify the values of the violent dominator cultures in which they arose. Like hero myths in which the dragon is slain and the dark Knight conquered, they speak to the emerging ego’s desperate need to gain some control over the frightening dark forces of the unconscious psyche, and its tendency to project this inner struggle outward onto literal battles with “otherness” that must be fought and won. Such is the power of these stories, (and such is humanity’s collective psycho-spiritual ignorance), that after thousands of years we still read our myths literally and dualistically, i.e. “masculine” hero (the ego) good, “feminine” victim (the unconscious self) bad, and use them to justify our prejudice, exclusivity and hatred of the unknown otherness without, as if this were a natural state of affairs that simply must be tolerated.

      Yet, surely our historical tendency toward literalness and projection does not invalidate the underlying metaphorical realities. In my experience, as in Jung’s, an encounter with the Self–our god-image and the rightful center and autonomous authority of the psyche–is initially experienced by the ego as an experience of violent invasion. If we set aside our tendency to associate our masculine and feminine sides with physical gender, we can see that being forced to face the reality of the autonomous Self and being hung on a meat hook (or cross) to die “feels” like rape and death to the hapless ego, regardless of whether it dwells in the psyche of a man or woman.

      Yes, physical rape can never be justified. Nor can violence of any kind. And yes, I think the stories need to be re-written again and again until we understand this and begin to search for solutions. My thesis is that these lie within, and that it is the responsibility of each individual to do the necessary inner work that renders us incapable of causing pain to any form of otherness insofar as it is possible to do this without relinquishing our sovereign right to live our lives freely and authentically.

      By the way, I’ve admired your work for a long time and am honored to be having this dialogue with you. As I write, my copies of Womanspirit Rising and Weaving the Visions sit beside me on my desk! Thank you for the significant role you’ve played in awakening collective consciousness to the power and sacredness of femininity. Without the contributions of women like you, this website would probably never exist and my book would not have been written!


      • Jean —

        I’m so glad to “meet” you here at FAR. I read _The Bridge to Wholenss_ at a time when I was thinking about writing a book entitled _The Power of Paradox_ and found your book very thought-provoking. (I never wrote the book, but went on to write other things.) I think the reason I found _The Bridge_ so engaging was the fact that you told your own story of searching and finding psychological wholeness as a woman, using fairy tales (a kind of myth) as your touchstone. I find Jungian understandings like yours helpful for myself (especially those written by women) when I’m dealing with my own personal issues. But I find them less helpful when they are (over)generalized onto the social structures of our lives.

        That’s the problem I have with your short essay here. Although I, like you, believe that what you call the Self (and I call the Goddess) is the everythingness of the universe, I don’t believe that it/She manifests very straightforwardly in history. I know that history is made by people, and that people are very complicated beings who manifest their Selves only
        incompletely and sometimes work against their own best spiritual interest. As a result, I really can’t see that, for instance, hero myths came from a spiritual step forward in our evolution as a species. From my reading, I believe they evolved from a new war-making culture that needed a religious back-up for men who could no longer see their own immortality in their children (because they might die in battle and have no children), but who would be “immortalized” by their deeds as warriors.

        I think your essay doesn’t deal with culture, but makes a leap from spirit to myth, without taking into account that people create (religious) culture and (religious) culture creates people (for e.g. as Mary Daly once said “If God in
        ‘his’ heaven is a father ruling ‘his’ people, then it is in the ‘nature’ of things and according to divine plan and the order of the universe that society be male-dominated.”) I agree with you that myths are powerful archetypal stories that can change a person’s life when we deal with them at a deep level. But when I work with myths, I contextualize them within the cultures from which they evolved. So, for instance, the Demeter myth is extremely important to me, not only because it charts a path towards personal wholeness, but also because it charts that path in a way that allows me to oppose the patriarchal forces that impede my wholeness. Demeter fights the patriarchs and wins back her daughter.

        From reading your earlier book, I’m sure your workshop will empower the women who attend. Ultimately that’s what FAR is about.


  5. I agree with Carol P. Christ. And I would like to emphasise that stories do not arise out of nowhere. People tell them to other people with a particular purpose. The Adam and Eve myth was a conscious creation by the leaders of the patriarchal Hebrew faith, aimed specifically against the Goddess religions of the Middles Eastern peoples who surrounded them as they conquered Palestine. (See Merlin Stone “When God was a Woman”)

    There is no such social actor as “humans” or “humanity”. This is why “Humanity” is most certainly NOT “acquiring the psychological awareness to change the course of history by consciously merging herstory with it.” What most humans are doing at the moment is being oppressed, exploited, and silenced by multinational corporations, which, simultaneously, are also destroying the environment that provides us with soil, air and water.

    In this situation, certain groups of people arise to challenge this order of things. And the Goddess movement is one of them. Feminist movements in established faiths are another. There are also vegans, Communists, freegans, no money communities, sustainable towns, and so on. Getting our message across is a political struggle against powerful forces – it is not riding on some wishful thinking wave.


    • Hello Nancy and Oxana. Thanks for taking the time to write. Unfortunately there’s no “REPLY” prompt after Nancy’s comments, so I’ll respond to both of you here.

      Nancy, I’m very happy to meet you here too, and am glad to know you found “Bridge” both engaging and personally helpful. You’ve raised some important issues that I’m happy to address.

      I agree with your point that Goddess hasn’t manifested very straightforwardly in history. I would add “thus far.” For me, that’s direct proof of our lingering psychological ignorance and fear of the unconscious “everythingness of the universe” (love that phrase), especially the universe within. What the ego fears it ignores, disdains or tries to destroy. I see this as the reason for the historical repression of Goddess and the ongoing repression of women by more physically and economically powerful males.

      I also agree that hero myths came from a new war-making culture that needed a religious back-up for men who could no longer see their own immortality in their children (because they might die in battle and have no children), but who would be “immortalized” by their deeds as warriors.” I would only point out that that culture was created by fearful egos with a bias toward the archetypal energies imaged in the archetype of Ares and other war-like gods and goddesses. For Ares-oriented people, fighting, killing, and dominating serve as distractions from things their egos fear, especially the intolerable reality of their inevitable mortality. Hence their ongoing struggle to deny it.

      The reason I say that the ego and its attempt to validate its existence with hero myths represents a spiritual step forward in the evolution of our species is that ego consciousness is an advance over our previous epoch of physical consciousness in which we lacked self-awareness and hence were utterly unconscious of any priority other than to satisfy our instincts in whatever way we could, including killing and eating whatever fed our instinct for nurturance, satisfying our sexual lust without regard for the significance of the beings we violated, and so on. Ego consciousness is responsible not only for war, but also for the extraordinary advances we’ve made in civilization and culture. Without growing awareness of our uniqueness and the desire to express it creatively, we’d still be living in caves with little time for anything other than basic survival. The problem is that too many egos are still in their youthful phase in which they have less awareness and control over their physical instincts than the rarer ones that have evolved beyond that stage.

      Finally, I, too consider the cultures in which myths arise. For example, I find personal meaning in the descent story of Jesus’ birth/death/rebirth, at the same time I fight the misogyny of male authorities who still use scriptures to justify cultural messages about women’s lack of spiritual authority and right to be sovereign over their reproductive rights. Again, from a psychological perspective, this happened because physically powerful and barely conscious males were desperate to protect their fearful egos from the uncomfortable awareness of the authentic and rightful power of Goddess and women.

      Thank you for these thoughtful observations that have raised my awareness about the need for more information about mythology’s impact on culture!


      • Oops. I forgot to respond to you, Oxana, so I’ll do it here! First of all, I appreciate your thoughtful input here. To the extent that your agreement with Carol refers to the fact that my essay didn’t address the impact of myths on culture in general, hopefully my responses to her and Nancy have addressed that. I totally agree with you that, “Getting our message across is a political struggle against powerful forces – it is not riding on some wishful thinking wave.” Frankly, I don’t see myself as riding on a wishful thinking wave, but I can see where the fact that I didn’t emphasize specific cultural issues in this brief piece might cause someone with a strong streak of social activism to suspect it! I confess that while social injustices are of great concern to me (I address them more fully in my book), my particular gifts seem to lie more with the psychological underpinnings that give rise to them.

        From my perspective, we can’t possibly resolve social injustice or create lasting peace as long as individuals continue to neglect the powerful forces in their inner lives that create dysfunction in their outer world relationships. Yes, there is no such actor as “humanity” but collective psychological ignorance is dangerously vulnerable to unhealthy archetypal forces from within, and the only solution I see to that is a commitment to self-discovery and self-knowledge on the part of every individual! Hence, my book’s thesis that the world problem is an individual problem and only individual change can aid collective change.


        • I agree that change must come from within individuals, but how do we motivate people to try to understand what lies within? Most are so busy just trying to keep body and soul together, raise children, and get enough sleep – how can we encourage them to want to delve into their unconscious depths – to think about WHY they do things – to plan ahead – to delay gratification (all of those things that are aspects of the “executive function” of our frontal lobes) – in an effort to effect change? We need PRACTICAL ways to start making changes in the world. Most people aren’t even aware of ” the powerful forces in their inner lives that create dysfunction in their outer world relationships.” They don’t KNOW that unconscious forces are pushing them around.


      • Jean, I enjoyed reading your blog and all the comments following it. I am troubled by something you said in the blog. You said that as humans grew more conscious of ourselves, we created “a new god-image of a single, omnipotent male Sky God without a feminine counterpart. Psychologically, this heralded the birth of the ego and its desire to separate from the unconscious maternal matrix from which it was emerging so we could develop our individuality and enhance our survival.” You said this was natural. Yet, why wouldn’t it be as natural for humanity to create a new goddess-image of a single omnipotent female God? Why isn’t there a desire for girls/women to separate from the unconscious maternal matrix from which it was emerging so we could develop our individuality and enhance our survival? I’m not a psychologist, so maybe there is psychological theories that say women don’t want to separate from their mothers/fathers and become individuals.


  6. I am interested in your idea that “paradise is not a realm outside ourselves which we can earn by having proper beliefs.” I agree absolutely. But take that a step further beyond the self, beyond religion and psychology, where the planet is our paradise, and to earn it we need to protect it. The diversity of gods in mythology seems a good mental construct to encourage environmentalism. The idea of one god overwhelming everything, evokes the figure of humanity overwhelming the planet with overpopulation and industrial pollution, destroying natural habitats and wiping out so many other species. Women exploring careers instead of rearing large families, the right to choose and the acceptance of bisexuality and gay marriage can also help humanity to pull back dramatically on overpopulation.


    • Thank you for introducing this theme into our discussion, Francesca. Yes, in keeping with the common thread running through all wisdom literature that there is validity in both poles of every pair of opposites, both a metaphorical and a literal paradise is available to all. On the literal level, our planet, and not some imaginary realm in the sky, is indeed our paradise and it is the responsibility of each one of us to incarnate a mindset that fosters its flourishing. Overpopulation, and the religious rules that give rise to it, is a huge concern of mine, as is any legislation that restricts honest and open expression of one’s sexuality. Again, it is a literal mindset combined with our collective lack of self-knowledge and self-acceptance that prevents us from healing these and other dysfunctional divides that must be bridged before we can enjoy the paradise that is everyone’s birthright.


      • Hi Katharine. Sorry I couldn’t respond directly beneath your comment. Again, there was no way for me to do it there.

        You’re right of course. This is the major frustration of my work. I know how life-transforming introspection and self-knowledge are because I’ve benefitted from them beyond my wildest expectations. But though I’ve been interested in understanding myself better for as long as I can remember, I didn’t have the time or inclination to take my longing seriously until my late thirties. Even then I probably wouldn’t have done it had I not experienced a whale of a mid-life crisis precipitated by a major psychological, spiritual and moral conflict that kept me awake nights and made me so miserable during the day that I lost 20 pounds in six months. This while I was holding down a job, maintaining a household with a husband and two pre-teen children, and going back to school for my doctorate.

        There’s not an ego on the planet that wants to leap into the abyss or take Inanna’s trip to the underworld, and yet, some of us are practically forced to by painful outer crises combined with a combination of life experiences and personality traits that predispose us to try to ease our pain that way in preference to making hasty choices we know we could regret for the rest of our lives. I didn’t ask for this. I didn’t want it. It happened. But there was something I did ask for one night before all this started. In the most sincere, heartfelt prayer I had ever made I asked God to please, please, please teach me to love, no matter what it took, no matter what it meant for my life. So somehow I must have chosen this path for myself and somehow forces beyond my control pushed me in that direction even though I was totally unprepared for what it would require of me.

        Many people have mid-life crises that cause them to pause and take stock of their lives, but few take the road I did. I know this and I have no explanation for it. The most I can hope for is to tell others what happened to me and how I handled it and what the results were. I know because I’ve been told that my story offers comfort and hope to some, and I suspect it might possibly embolden a few to adopt a practice or two that provides access into their inner worlds. In my desire to offer practical advice, I suggest activities after several chapters in Healing the Sacred Divide that people can try if they want to. And I give workshops and lead dream groups and mentor individuals in individual dreamwork and all that, but these things combined with my writing are the extent of my practical contributions.

        So of course, social activism is far more practical and it provides immediate relief to many who suffer from injustice. I’ve done some of it myself and have the deepest admiration for the noble souls whose life work takes them into the trenches every day. But the truth is that I’m driven to…, a more apt phrase is “obsessed by a powerful compulsion to” share what I know in a way that I love and am uniquely equipped to do. This feels right to me. I see plenty of room for all of us to make our own unique contributions to fostering social justice in the best way we know how. I’m afraid that’s the best answer I can give you.


  7. On behalf of Jean Benedict Raffa and Book Marketing Services, I would like to thank you for hosting Jean today on Feminism and Religion. Jean will be by later in the day to respond to any comments and/or questions your readers may have.

    Please follow Jean on her virtual book blog tour for Healing the Sacred Divide Making Peace with Ourselves, Each Other, and the World. Tomorrow she will be the guest of Bonnie White at Depth List


  8. On behalf of Jean Benedict Raffa and Book Marketing Services, I would like to thank you for hosting Jean today on Feminism and Religion. Jean will be by later in the day to respond to any comments and/or questions your readers may have.

    Please follow Jean on her virtual book blog tour for Healing the Sacred Divide Making Peace with Ourselves, Each Other, and the World. Tomorrow she will be the guest of Bonnie White at Depth List


  9. Jean, in one of your comments you also talked about an “advance over our previous epoch of physical consciousness in which we lacked self-awareness”. I am wondering what your thoughts are on the bicameral mind theory of Julian Jaynes. It would argue there is a stage between our current consciousness and your epoch of physical consciousness. Most psychologists I’ve talked to are not fond of Jaynes.


    • Thea, I’m familiar with his theory but don’t know enough about it to have a strong opinion. I do know he argued that the era of the bicameral mind was from 1000 BCE to the beginning of the common era. Yet, the myth of Gilgamesh, which depicts the characters’ actions to be based on conscious, introspective thinking, occurred around 2000-2100 BCE. For that and other reasons I’m not inclined to give it a lot of credence. We actually know so little about consciousness before alphabets were invented so most of what we say about it has to be speculation.


      • Hi Jean. It is true we know so little about consciousness before writing and therefore much has to be speculation — this can be said to be true of everything spoken here in this blog and the comments. It is all speculation about cultures and societies and the birth of the patriarchy (which some scholars argue was all there ever was). We have no problem with the idea of evolving physical parts to the bodies of species, even to growing physical parts of our own bodies — but when anyone mentions evolution of our brains, people find ways to deny it. Our brains are cells just like the rest of our bodies, and there is an organization to our brains. Jaynes is suggesting the possibility of a slight change in the organization and studies the implications of it. First, he is not saying there was a ‘from’ to the era of the bicameral mind, he is saying our human brains were bicameral and bicamerality broke down over a time period when cultures began using complex metaphorical language. He says consciousness is a learned process based on metaphorical language, which occurred in Greece and Mesopotamia around the end of the 2nd millennium BC.

        Consciousness and intelligence are two different things. It doesn’t take consciousness to be intelligent — one can still walk, talk, have feelings of fear, shame, anger, be animated, be social, draw, write.

        In terms of the Epic of Gilgamesh, that is not an argument against bicameral minds. The really old fragments we have are just fragments, and as we know well as women, old stories can be rewritten. Also, the breakdown of the bicameral mind was gradual and different regionally.

        I am not saying I firmly believe in the bicameral mind, I am about to start studying it in a lot more depth. I just find it annoying that people cannot open their minds to the idea that there is more to our brain then we realize. We take it for granted we are born with this consciousness. Those of you with children — are your babies conscious? We are aculturated into our lives — we are taught we have only five senses when I bet many of you know women (in particular) who missed some of those lectures and have other senses — that what we only call ‘extra-sensory perception’ because our culture still doesn’t believe in that
        aspect of our central nervous systems. What would we be like if our collective consciousness didn’t teach that away?

        I could go on, but I’ll stop for now.


    • Thea, I just saw your previous question above so will address it here. I’m not a psychologist either, but according to psychologist Nancy Chodorow and the philosopher/psychologist Dr. Michael Washburn, there are significant gender differences that emerge during ego development. This quote from Washburn’s Transpersonal Psychology in Psychoanalytic Perspective describes Chodorow’s analysis of the situation.

      First, “Gender identity between mothers and daughters causes girls to separate from the mother later and less completely than boys do. Gender difference between mothers and sons causes boys to separate from the mother sooner and more completely than girls do.” Second: “Girls individuate themselves while remaining associated with the mother; boys individuate themselves in part by dissociating themselves from the mother.” And third, “Girls, in remaining associated with the mother, continue to identify with the relational, affective-nurturing capacities that the mother represents. Boys, in contrast, in dissociating themselves from the mother, also dissociate themselves from these capacities.”

      Dorothy Dinnerstein (author of The Mermaid and the Minotaur: Sexual Arrangements and Human Malaise), adds a theory to this that may be of interest here: (Again, this quote is from Washburn): “Girl children, given their gender identity with the mother, always remain linked, however slightly and unconsciously, with the realm of pre-oedipal, maternal, experience. This link…works against women in a double way. It both haunts them with a sense of their own incompleteness and makes them symbols of, and therefore displacement objects for, the repressed ambivalent feelings that were originally aimed at the preoedipal mother….[This] is the crux of the double standard that pervades adult gender relationships….[Women] are seen—primarily by men but also, secondarily, by themselves—as beings of flesh and feeling who are weak or lacking in reason, as providers of love and nurture who do not themselves need love or nurture, and as bearers of an awesome power that needs to be controlled, “tamed,” “domesticated,” that is, repressed. The pre-oedipal mother is a specter that haunts the patriarchal world, stirring infantile perceptions and feelings and provoking hostile, repressive actions, almost all of which are aimed against women.”

      The point I make in my book is that as long as patriarchal values and stereotypes (which arose during Epoch II Ego consciousness) dominate societies, these psychological mindsets will not be resolved. Hence, the need for us to think psychologically so that we can transcend the ego’s immature, one-sided, masculine-oriented mindset and replace it with a new one which, instead of fearing women’s power, respects, admires, and integrates it fully into our consciousness.


  10. Jean, it makes me really–angry, disappointed, weary, sorry–to hear you as a feminist, who read and learned from my books as well, say that prepatriarchal societies were unconscious, that people did not have the ability to discern things and make judgments. How did women invent agricultural, pottery, and weaving if they didn’t have highly developed intelligence?

    How did humanity survive for all those years in the paleolithic without a capacity to think? For that matter how did the whole course of evolution occur if there was no intelligence until 5000 years ago when patriarchal cultures created male dominance at the juncture of the control of female sexuality, private property, and war.

    For me the Jungian system’s view that patriarchy had to evolve in order for the individual with rational intelligence to evolve is nothing more than one more justification for violence against women and other people, for a proprietary attitude towards the earth, and for owning people as slaves taken in war. Sorry–but I just can’t see that as an “advance in culture” or as “necessary.” It was not necessary for the women who were subordinated, not necessary for the women raped in war, and certainly not necessary for anyone taken in slavery.

    What is it in you and other women that makes you want to “justify” as “cultural advance” developments that harmed women, those taken as slaves, and the earth itself?

    Is it just too scary to think that bad, wrong, and evil things really do happen, and that bad, wrong, and evil things occur in patriarchy, and have done for the last 5000 years?

    Following this line of thought into the present would you or other Jungians argue that it was “necessary” for white Europeans to take land from Indians who were at “a lower stage of consciousness” in order for the “ideals of rational democracy” to develop or that it was necessary for white Europeans to make use of African slaves who also were at a lower stage of consciousness in order to develop the economic basis for rational democracy? I doubt that too many modern Jungians would make such arguments (though I am not so sure about “the great man” “himself). If you won’t make them about recent history, why make them about the past?

    Forgive me if I sound angry, I am not angry at any person, but I am angry at systems of thought that justify and legitimate great injustice as necessary to the development of culture.


    • Hello, Carol.

      I understand your anger and of course I forgive you. I’m angry at systems of thought that justify and legitimate injustice as necessary to the development of culture too. I assumed that would be obvious from many of my comments but I see that it wasn’t at all. I am a feminist, but that doesn’t prevent me from seeking to repair these systems by creating more understanding of the psychological reasons for them, and then learning how to transform them so that males and females and our masculine and feminine sides can move toward developing reciprocally loving and respectful partnerships. This is something that is happening in my own life and I want it to happen culturally as well. I abhor the patriarchal path that the collective ego has followed during the past 5,000 years, and no doubt in the grand cosmic scheme of things there are other, far healthier and more just ways it could have gone. But the fact that it didn’t happen in a far better way with our species on this planet is a “given” to me, and now I’m just trying to change it

      I didn’t actually say that prepatriarchal societies were unconscious or that people did not have the ability to think, discern things or make judgments. I said that ego consciousness is an advance over our previous epoch of physical consciousness, but I didn’t say that patriarchy developed immediately after that. This would imply that the Goddess worship that was the norm before patriarchy was unconscious. It’s my understanding that the ego would have been a psychological reality for thousands of years before patriarchy developed, which, as you point out, was only about 5,000 years ago when hero myths began to emerge.

      To me, the exquisite Goddess art that existed long before that—for example the Ice Age goddess figurines from ca. 27,000-26,000 B.C.E., the Venus of Lespugue from 25,000-18,000 B.C.E., and the images of the Bird-Goddess-Creatrix that existed for twenty-five thousand years, from the thirtieth to the fifth millennia B.C.E.—are evidence of a highly developed intelligence and reasoning that we today associate with ego thinking and that I associate with Epoch II Ego consciousness. It’s only during the very recent (from a historical standpoint) phase which arose around the time of the invention of the alphabet that misogyny enters the picture in a way we can prove.

      I find it deeply painful that for psychological reasons, males have acted out their psychological immaturity during this phase by violently usurping the Goddess and that they are still trying to do so. But I find it very reassuring that the Goddess has always existed in the depths of the psyche and always will. I also find it enormously hopeful that we are becoming aware enough of Her that She is returning to collective consciousness after approximately 5,000 years of being forced into the unconscious.

      I’m grateful for this discussion because I think the difficulties you and I are having in this very well-intended dialogue, the pain it elicits in both of us, and the desire we both obviously have to understand one another’s perspectives, is an excellent example of the kinds of dialogues that must continue to happen if we are to hope to bring more healing and balance into the world. If we and others like us can tolerate the tension between seemingly polar positions long enough, both sides can find our underlying commonalities.


  11. (reposting here) Jean, I enjoyed reading your blog and all the comments following it. I am troubled by something you said in the blog. You said that as humans grew more conscious of ourselves, we created “a new god-image of a single, omnipotent male Sky God without a feminine counterpart. Psychologically, this heralded the birth of the ego and its desire to separate from the unconscious maternal matrix from which it was emerging so we could develop our individuality and enhance our survival.” You said this was natural. Yet, why wouldn’t it be as natural for humanity to create a new goddess-image of a single omnipotent female God? Why isn’t there a desire for girls/women to separate from the unconscious maternal matrix from which it was emerging so we could develop our individuality and enhance our survival? I’m not a psychologist, so maybe there is psychological theories that say women don’t want to separate from their mothers/fathers and become individuals.


    • Hi Thea. If you’ll scroll up you’ll see my answers to both of your comments. In re-reading this I see that while I answered your question, “Why isn’t there a desire for girls/women to separate from the unconscious maternal matrix from which it was emerging so we could develop our individuality and enhance our survival?” (there actually is a desire for girls to separate; it just isn’t as strong as that of boys), I didn’t answer this question: “Why wouldn’t it be as natural for humanity to create a new goddess-image of a single omnipotent female God?”

      I think it was natural for humanity to create a new goddess-image, but the reason it didn’t happen in a big, overt, and lasting way (one exception would be Christianity’s Maryology) has to do with the significant gender differences that emerge in ego development. During the lengthy historical era when the ego was developing (it would have taken many thousands of years and begun well before the dominator societies gained full power and began re-writing the older myths) the stronger need that boys have to separate from the all-powerful, potentially devouring aspect of the Mother would have very gradually begun to influence not just individuals but cultures. Male “societies” based on hunting and killing would have gained more and more power within some tribes and the most dominant and fearful males would have become their leaders. While it would have been natural for women to continue to worship Goddess, as the masculine fear of the feminine grew stronger, males would have become more physically repressive to women in some of these groups. Not all, of course, but many. And as those highly misogynistic tribal groups began to invade other, gentler tribes, their physical prowess combined with their single-minded hostility and aggressiveness eventually took over entire cultures. One result was the hero and religious myths that glorified maleness and diminished the power of women. While strains of Goddess worship were still in evidence in European cultures well into the 18th century and beyond, women were still persecuted by men like this. And we all know that many women continue to be victimized by this horrific mentality.


      • Maybe this “separation and individuation” theory is just another patriarchal theory. Jean Baker Miller and others at the Stone Center have developed a different model called the “relational-cultural theory” that is more balanced and woman-oriented. When I mentioned the Stone Center’s work in a psychoanalytic class (taught by a male) back in the 1990’s, I got a blank stare. It just doesn’t occur to the male establishment in psychology that their theories might not apply to women.


  12. Great observation! RCT is marvelous model but I don’t know enough about it to say right how it would relate to ego-development theory, which may indeed be a result of patriarchal conditioning. I love it! It’s an exciting direction I want to pursue.

    You probably know that Dr. Carol Gilligan experienced the same problem when she was helping Dr. Lawarence Kohlberg (both of Harvard) with his theory about the development of moral reasoning. The answers of women were so far from what he had expected that he ended up using only males for his study, and, of course, they corroborated his theory. However, when Gilligan did her research with women, the results were remarkably different. In short, men’s highest goal and strongest motivation for moral growth is justice; women’s is caring. Again the separation/relationship issue.

    I’ve always had a problem with Jung for focusing primarily on individuation, which I see as the goal of our masculine sides, and neglecting our inner feminine’s priority of relationship. I knew he only had part of the picture and I’ve been trying to fill in the other half in my work. I have a long way to go, however. It’s extremely difficult to see the sea you’re swimming in objectively.


    • Katnarine, your link to Jordan’s book just came up on my computer and I’ve ordered it on Amazon. Many thanks for this.


      • Thea, I appreciate your comments about the bicameral mind, especially those about how consciousness evolves and is not the same as intelligence. I fully agree with both observations. My level of intelligence has not changed in any way I can see, but my consciousness of it and other aspects of existence has expanded very noticeably beyond even midlife, and with it, my creativity. I suppose you could say my creative potential was always there and I was certainly able to avail myself of it to a certain extent,, but it took more consciousness of my body, my inner thoughts, my shadow, my dreams, and more acceptance of my fuller self before I found more authentic ways to tap into it. I feel this process still going on in me, so I’m a big believer in the evolution of consciousness.



  1. Blog Tour for Thursday, April 11, 2013 | Matrignosis: A Blog About Inner Wisdom
  2. Blog Tour for Friday, April 12, 2013 | Matrignosis: A Blog About Inner Wisdom
  3. Incarnating the Mystery with Psychological Awareness « WiccanWeb

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