Sunday, November 12, 2023


[My Introduction to a course offered through the C.G. Jung Society of St. Louis in 2007.]

In our class last semester, we read and discussed The Odyssey. It quickly became apparent that Odysseus' struggle to return home may be a quintessential masculine psychological and developmental story, but it didn’t resonate with the women in the class. And neither did Penelope’s passive role as the long-suffering, take-a-backseat perennial wife.


I want us to entertain in this course, “Empowerment of Feminine Values,” this question: Is it the case that ego consciousness for both women and men has been overlaid with patriarchal, hierarchical structures to such an extent that feminine values are rarely recognized or lived our in modern culture?

Another way to ask the question is with an image. Imagine our emerging consciousness as a very large ever-expanding balloon.[1]  Now imagine that balloon being inflated inside some kind of structure--large, small, rectangular, circular, but a definite bounded structure. That balloon will take on the shape, volume, size, and atmosphere of its limited environment. Now imagine yourself confined inside that balloon. What will its interior feel like? Is it possible to imagine anything outside the balloon? What happens when you hear things emanating from beyond the balloon skin?


Now step outside the balloon and look. Imagine there are many structures with many inflated balloons in your sight. Imagine there are even connections between the balloons so that travel through them and outside them is possible. Imagine getting stuck in one balloon temporarily, that you are unable to find the door to escape.

When ego consciousness is confined to one ‘balloon,’ as it were, we say that it is an ego identified with its consciousness. With the ability to step outside and examine several or many ‘balloons,’ we are talking about an ego that has disidentified, an ego that is free to travel, more or less, between and through various states of consciousness. The ‘one-balloon’ state can lead to an ego consciousness that finds life boring and sterile: There is nothing new under the sun. I am the way I am, and the world is the way it is. I can’t do anything about it.


On the other hand, an ego that can entertain various states of consciousness is much freer. Such an ego may be capable of changing itself and the world it finds itself in. 

However, like Chinese boxes, there may be balloons around balloons around balloons. Let’s remember that in our analogy, balloons not only limit, but they also protect. Sometimes that protection is a very necessary thing for our budding ego. We might translate them psychologically to  protective psychological defense mechanisms,.   There are, however, healthy defense mechanisms and not-so-healthy ones.

Our slender text, Descent to the Goddess,[2] is a challenge to a common psychological state. Let’s call it the good-mother complex. The angry, devouring, haggish, and powerful but unconscious side of the mother figure is a frightening reality for many of us, and we will go to great lengths to keep her out of our awareness, even so far as to deny her very existence. Women and men are acculturated to demur to the negative mother but not to respect her. The energies bound up in this very real but largely unconscious archetypal figure can emerge in insidious and often damaging ways. Perhaps they emerge in men as flight over fight and in women as self-destructive tendencies. Men simply will not engage with angry women. And women have few healthy outlets for justifiable outrage, and hence tend to internalize it. 

If our primary symbol for this dual-natured mother archetype is Mother Earth, we can readily understand the outrage she is expressing at the ways she has been treated. Fortunately, our species is starting to listen up.[3]

As we read and discuss this text and our topic over the next several weeks, let's pay attention to our dreams, to synchronistic experiences, to the 'balloons' of our lives. Perhaps in doing so we can enter the realm of the Great Mother--loving and powerful, rageful and vengeful.  Recognizing the flow of her energies within us can help us humanize some, apply others in a more constructive way, and escape some that are stifling to our being. 

[1]This image emerged from a long-ago story  A friend of mine, as a practical joke, inflated a weather balloon in a co-worker’s office while the co-worker was away.  Upon his return, he opened the door to discover his space had been co-opted.

[2]Sylvia Brinton Perera, Descent to the Goddess, Toronto:  Inner City Books, 1981. 

[3]I wrote this introduction in 2007.  My optimism has waned considerably since then.