Duluth, Minnesota (OpEdNews) August 28, 2014: Over the last half century or so in American culture, American white men have been challenged on a number of social fronts to work out their identities in new ways -- challenged, for example, by the black civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s and by the women's movement in the 1960s and 1970s. On the whole, progressive and liberal white men have emerged from these and other recent social challenges to their identities in socially acceptable and constructive ways.
However, conservative white men have had a much harder time of adapting their identities in constructive ways to these and other recent social challenges to their identities. As a result, I want to suggest that conservative white men are having difficulties in working out a new working relationship with the anima archetype in their psyches. Let me explain.
Arguably all men at all times have had difficulty working out a healthy and vibrant relationship with the anima archetype in their psyches. Working out such a relationship with the anima archetype is the major challenge in men's lives, especially during the proverbial mid-life crisis and subsequently in their lives.
In the story of Adam and Eve in Genesis, Eve is an anima figure. As the story unfolds in Genesis, Eve is portrayed as the one who listens to the talking snake. Today talking animals are a regular feature in stories for children. But the story of Adam and Eve and the talking snake and the talking monotheistic deity was undoubtedly designed not only for ancient Hebrew children to hear but also for ancient Hebrew adults to hear and ponder. I will discuss this famous story a bit further below.
In the Divine Comedy, Dante the poet vividly commemorates his proverbial mid-life crisis. He creates a character named Dante who visits the underworld (also known as the unconscious). Dante the character is not exactly impressive, to put it mildly. Evidently, Dante the poet had a self-effacing sense of humor about himself. As Dante the poet portrays the character known as Beatrice, she is another anima figure. To be sure, Dante named her after a young woman he had known; but the character Beatrice that he portrays is a composite figure based on Dante's experience of a number of women.
In the Roman Catholic tradition, the Blessed Virgin Mary is an anima figure, albeit one based on the historical mother of the historical Jesus. Of course the veneration of Mary in the Roman Catholic tradition includes not only men but also women. Nevertheless, the figure of Mary that is venerated is best understood as an anima figure -- that is, as a figure based on projections of the anima archetype in men's psyches. (Disclosure: I come from a Roman Catholic background. However, for many years now, I have not been a practicing Catholic. Today I would describe myself as a theistic humanist, as distinct from a secular humanist.)
As these three divergent examples show, there is great variety in portraying anima figures -- including of course a wide range of pagan goddesses. However, in the present essay it is not my purpose to discuss anima figures in great detail.
THE REVELATION OF JUNG'S ANIMA ARCHETYPE
Carl Gustav Jung, M.D. (1875-1961), the Swiss psychiatrist and psychological theorist, went through the proverbial mid-life crisis. During his experience of the mid-life crisis, he engaged in self-experimentation using a technique of imagistic meditation that he came to refer to as active imagination. He found his active imagination exercises so helpful that he subsequently encouraged other people to use this form of meditation. His various statements about this technique of imagistic meditation have been collected together in the book Jung on Active Imagination, edited and introduced by Joan Chodorow (Princeton University Press, 1997).
Evidently, Dr. Jung engaged in this kind of imagistic meditation by himself. But by doing this, he set a bad example. I would urge people not to engage in this kind of self-experimentation by themselves because archetypes in the human psyche are powerful enough to overpower ego-consciousness, resulting in a psychotic episode. So it is advisable to talk with a psychotherapist or spiritual director once a day when you use this kind of imagistic meditation.
Now, in his book Preface to Plato (Belknap Press/ Harvard University Press, 1963), the classicist Eric A. Havelock describes the thinking of people in primary oral cultures as imagistic thinking. Also see Mary J. Carruthers' book The Craft of Thought: Meditation, Rhetoric, and the Making of Images, 400-1200 (Cambridge University Press, 1998).
So the kind of imagistic meditation that Jung refers to as active imagination is designed to tap into the deeper places in the unconscious. In addition, the guided imagistic meditations one practices when one follows the instructions in the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola are also designed to tap into the deeper places in the unconscious. However, Buddhist meditation and mindfulness practices do not involve the use of imagistic meditations.
Figuratively speaking, in using this form of imagistic meditation, Dr. Jung in effect visited the underworld -- just as Odysseus visits the underworld in the Homeric epic the Odyssey and just as Aeneas visits the underworlds in Virgil's epic the Aeneid and just as Dante the character visits the underworld in the Divine Comedy. In other words, Dr. Jung visited his unconscious.
Dr. Jung's verbal and artistic record of his visits to the unconscious through the use of active imagination can now be seen in the over-sized book titled The Red Book: Liber Novus, edited and introduced by Sonu Shamdasani (Norton, 2009). A more compact and portable version of this work has been published as The Red Book: Liber Novus: A Reader's Edition (Norton, 2009).
On page 370 of the over-sized edition, Shamdasani has included Dr. Jung's record of the following message he received from the anima archetype in his psyche on January 16, 1916:
"If I am not conjoined through the uniting of the Below [i.e., the unconscious] and the Above [i.e., ego-consciousness], I break down into three parts:  The serpent [e.g., the talking snake who talks to Eve], and in that or some other animal form I roam, living nature daimonically, arousing fear and longing.  The human soul, living forever within you.  The celestial soul, as such dwelling with the Gods, far from you and unknown to you, appearing in the form of a bird [e.g., the dove is the traditional Christian symbol of the Holy Spirit]. Each of these three parts then is independent [of the other parts in the male psyche]."