C.G. Jung and the Heroine’s Journey by Sally Abbott

I was intrigued by the discussions of Jung and Jungian motifs, such as the sacred marriage, that sprang up in response to Mary Sharratt’s wonderful post “The Via Feminina:  Revisioning the Heroine’s Journey,” partly based on Maureen Murdock’s book. Carol Christ pointed out the problematical nature of the whole notion of the sacred marriage, relying as it does on our stereotypes of the masculine and feminine.

Sara Wright reported that her sense of the dangers of Jungian thought led her to change her profession; she had once been a Jungian analyst. Barbara McHugh put forward a well-thought out and articulate version of the Heroine’s Journey, corrected for sexist thought.

Years ago, I taught a women’s literature class in which we examined five works of women’s literature through the lens of the hero journey archetype. In devising the class, I referenced Murdock’s book, as well as The Female Hero: In British and American Literature by Carol Pearson and Catherine Pope, a wonderful book of feminist literary criticism that I’ve turned to again and again over the years for insight, inspiration, and guidance. I was also influenced by Carol Christ’s terrific discussion of women’s spiritual journeys in Diving Deep and Surfacing. I taught a creative writing class I called Vision as Voice, which used stages of the hero journey as writing assignments.

The great bulk of my teaching, however, was on the Goddess—Goddess Worship in Prehistory and Women’s Spirituality. In my research for the class, the Jungians were among the first I encountered to acknowledge the existence of a matriarchal era and the persistence of the goddess in our psyche as an archetype. I think Esther Harding’s Women’s Mysteries was the first book that I read, following up on my own mystical experiences and intimations of the Divine Feminine. Erich Neumann followed, along with Sylvia Perera, Betty Smith, Christine Downing, and Jean Shinoda Bolen. I went to a weekend workshop on the Goddess with Joseph Campbell, based on the work of Marija Gimbutas, at Esalen Institute. I attended numerous slide lecture presentations by Campbell and others at the SF Jung Institute.

Over the years, I was no longer actively researching these subjects and I stopped receiving notices from the Jung Institute. By request, I was put back on their mailing list two years ago, and though I never attended anything, I enjoyed perusing the content of their workshops.

This came to a grinding halt one day when I saw the announcement for a workshop on the #Me Too Movement: Embodied Shame and Scapegoating Sexuality in Modern Day America.  “Polarization and blame are on the rise in the social narrative. The perpetrator and victim complex is being enacted politically and culturally …”

Contrary to my expectation, the workshop was being taught by three women, an MD, a PhD, and an MFT.  The illustration for the course was a statue of Proserpina attempting to fend off Pluto.

I was infuriated. Is this how depth psychology was framing this movement, a phenomenon of abuse and predation so prevalent as to be legion—apologizing for the perpetrators and blaming the victims?  Is this how Harvey Weinstein saw himself when he yelled out after the verdict in the courtroom:  “I’m innocent. This is America.”

My longstanding absence from the mailing list at the Jung Institute began to make sense. A path had forked in the woods and we had gone our separate ways.

When I saw the 2011 movie “A Dangerous Method,” about Jung’s affair with analysand Sabina Spielrein, I had a much clearer understanding of Freud’s break with him. This time, I saw the break from Freud’s point of view and I agreed with him.

The Jung Institute will be moving to my neighborhood in San Francisco this year, but I doubt I will be attending many (any?) of its lectures. Ideas and organizations once important can be outgrown and left behind. We move on, go in another direction. None the less, some of its ideas can be foundational to some of our own. The Hero/Heroine’s Journey, which can be tweaked and repurposed to our own ends, meanings, and values, is one of these for me.


The sky rolled back, a leaf was torn
A page dropped down and fell away,
As though I’d broken through a seal.
My hair stood up, as though some hand
Above my head had gathered it into a knot,
And then I heard my name.
I saw the crimson sky, the sun,
And then the Gotterdammerung, the ending of an age,
Amidst the blazing of the new.
And in the fatherland I saw a mechanistic thing of death,
A clock that ticks till it’s unwound,
An arms race to oblivion, and angels dancing on a pin.
Then the voice I’d heard before
Arose and spoke and said again,
The reign of men has run its course and reached an end,
It’s only years before it’s buried in the ground.

A silver scarab perched upon the wall.
A hand much larger than my own placed
The scarab in my mouth and bade me eat.
I chewed the living, bitter thing
Its blackened juice ran down my chin
I felt its struggling leg and wing inside my throat.
I screamed and writhed and then the scales fell from my eyes,
A sea of vision rushing in on me.
The strangest sea I’ve ever known, a remnant of an ancient mind
Atlantis and the Amazon, the matriarchal clan and tribe,
Repealed, taboo, now back again.
A new and glorious mind I had, so full of light
But darkness too.
And now the perfect balance struck,
The golden mean, the androgyne,
The equidistant sun and moon.
The earth shimmers in her radiant health,
Her dawning light and emerald dress, and precious dew.
O glorious day!  O brave new world to be.

Sally Mansfield Abbott is the author of a coming-of-age novel, Miami in Virgo, that focuses on feminism and mysticism. She has taught classes on Goddess Worship in Prehistory at several colleges and universities in the Bay Area and is a poet and antiwar activist.

25 thoughts on “C.G. Jung and the Heroine’s Journey by Sally Abbott”

  1. Jung took advantage of his power position and her age and vulnerability when he had sex with/abused Spielrein. Freud dismissed the legion stories he heard of sexual abuse on his couches as hysterical fantasies. It is amazing and disheartening that Jungian women continue to fabricate this story. And that art historians continue to dismiss the idea that the history of art is at least in part a history of memorializing rape culture. Then we as women students are taught to “appreciate” it if we want to be considered smart. I could go on but alas this is an infuriating and also a boring story!

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Oh my goddess, that poem – I am going to have to post it on my blog – amazing.

      This is EXACTLY what hooked me into Jungian thought: ” In my research for the class, the Jungians were among the first I encountered to acknowledge the existence of a matriarchal era and the persistence of the goddess in our psyche as an archetype.”

      Of course, I didn’t realize that it was the reality of the goddess (even though she was presented as being identical with the dark unintegrated side of humanity – Neumann) that hooked me. And thank goodness She did. These archetypal patterns are real and carry both energy and information so throwing them away would be foolish – but Jungian psychology? Well, you know my position.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Thanks, Sara. You must have had quite a journey with Jung. My own limited experience with the Jungians gives me a bit of insight into what it must have been like. That’s very upsetting to think of them as presenting the goddess as the dark unintegrated side of humanity. More like the light suppressed side of culture!

        Liked by 2 people

    2. I am repelled by all of this – You are so right Carol. As an artist’s daughter I was subjected to an amazing amount of pornographic art by the “masters” UGH. Disgusting. I am not sure I will ever recover from this covert collective form of sexual abuse.


    3. Yes, the very far reachingness of the #MeToo Movement documents what feminists have been saying all along about our culture, and gives voice to all those women on Freud’s couch who he didn’t believe. Fortunately, we have all these feminist thinkers pointing out these underlying scripts and telling our story.

      Liked by 3 people

    1. Carol, thank so much for this link. I had no idea of Spielrein going on to a full productive career as a psychoanalyst and making all these valuable contributions to the field. It’s interesting that she chose to work with Freud rather than Jung.


  2. You and I have read a lot of the same books. In fact, my copy of the 1973 printing of Harding’s Women’s Mysteries recently fell apart, so I’ve just ordered a new one so i can read it again. Nevertheless, I am not a fan of Jung or his ideas or his life. (Ditto Freud.) Let’s tell the stories from the women’s POV, not that of the old boys (and old gods). Yes, they’re boring.

    Bright blessings to you and your work. Stay on the path and out of the way of the Jung bulldozer. Let’s hope we are indeed reaching the ending of an age.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thanks, Barbara. That’s interesting that there was a 1973 printing of WOMEN’S MYSTERIES, helps explain how I happened upon it in 1974. Yes, I agree, we’ve been listening to the old patriarchal explanations for things, or had them foisted on us, far too long. We are in fact the opening to the new.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you so much for writing this, Sally. One of my backburner ideas is a novel about Emma Jung. C.G. Jung was able to achieve so much because he married an heiress, used her money to bankroll his career and his tower in Bollingen, and he merrily cheated on her and forced her to accept his affairs with multiple women, including patients like Sabina Spielrein. I don’t love Freud, but at least he didn’t sleep with his patients as far as I know.

    Re your comments on their denial of sexual violence, #metoo, I remember a Jungian analyst warning women not to have a “victim” complex and then saying, “any victim can turn around and become the aggressor.” Okay, in theory, but in actuality, there are abuses in power and some people ARE victims.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Thanks, Mary. Your idea for a book on Emma Jung sounds great–I hadn’t put that together before, the degree that he took advantage of her and she enabled him. I also like what you said about the “victim complex.” I think it’s dangerous when responsibility gets swept under the rug of some of these psychological theories. I always feel like that when people talk about “the blame game.”

      Liked by 4 people

  4. Thanks for this fascinating read. There are some themes I’ve always been attracted to that are Jungian but now I know why I never pursued anything deeper about his theories. I also never knew that about his “affair” with a patient. But then it wasn’t really an “affair” was it? That is a clearly male POV, and an ugly one at that Ugh I feel slimed.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. Thanks, Janet. Yes, Jungian psychology is a very mixed bag–a lot that appears to be feminist and pro-women, but in the end takes some familiar and very anti-feminist positions. I feel for anyone consulting one of these psychologists about sexual abuse, although there is probably a lot of variation among these therapists’ approaches.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Thanks, Sally. What a powerful poem! I read Jung when I was very young and completely ignorant of any relationship between spirituality and psychology. I was on my way to becoming a full-fledged Jungian when I read the words “animus-ridden woman” and so opened the can of worms. The worms as still crawling out, I fear. So great to hear from all these women who know what to do with them!

    Liked by 3 people

  7. Yes, I think the term “animus-ridden woman” is very telling. So, you were alerted early on and took note. My whole involvement with the Jungians was pretty selectively around the Goddess, and it was a long time ago, so perhaps this is one of those, you can’t go home again things. Thanks for your comment about the poem.


  8. I guess I was lucky. I read Jung and the Jungians after I had already become a feminist, so I was able to take what was useful and leave the sexist trash behind. What was useful were all the wonderful images of goddesses from so many different cultures (in Neumann, for example), spiritual concepts like synchronicity (from Jung himself) and _Memories, Dreams, and Reflections_ (Jung’s autobiography), which talked straightforwardly about his mystical experiences (and God pooping!). I don’t remember much of that last work, but it opened my mind to my dreams and mystical experiences. But Jung’s theory of anima and animus, etc. was not something a young feminist would embrace.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I agree with you about the wonderful photos in Neumann’s The Great Mother, but when I first read it, I didn’t know what to make of his theory that the Goddess is the “great and terrible” mother. I had my intuition that the terrible mother was not a universal archetype, but not the tools to deconstruct it. One thing I did know was that while my mother was not perfect, she was in no way terrible!

      I am not saying that some mothers living under the conditions of patriarchy are indeed terrible. I am only saying that the great and terrible mother “archetype” is not based on universal human experience.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. This fits in with Sara’s experience of Neumann representing the Goddess as the “dark unintegrated side of humanity.


    2. I think you’re right, Nancy. Jung and Jungianism is very much of a mixed bag and it’s best to see it that way and accept it for what what it is. I certainly got a lot out of it over the years, and synchronicity has been vital and important to me as well. Then there is the down side, which we’ve been discussing. My sense is that it doesn’t have anything new to offer me anymore.

      Liked by 1 person

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