Arrogance and independence, anger and alienation, vulnerability and defensiveness, all these aspects of my character were cooked in the cauldron. They were brought to the surface, into the drama of the relationship and the light of consciousness. I remember that it was particularly painful to be vulnerable in front of another person, to allow my defenses to dissolve and stand naked. Often in these moments I would react in anger—the anger covering my wounds and vulnerability. Within myself everything was exposed and stripped of pretensions. The opposites of our characters constellated aspects of myself that might otherwise have remain hidden. Finally I had to accept my own failings, my own inadequacies, my own ordinariness. I was just another human being, nothing special, just a soul walking home. Longing to see the divine in another, I was forced to accept my own humanness. With humility these opposites were brought together.
The wounded feminine
Romantic love awakens the anima in a man. She is not only a goddess, but also his muse and guide in the underworld. As my own journey into the inner world continued, leading me into the personal and archetypal world, I found aspects of my shadow, my cruelty and carelessness, as well as my own feminine self. The intimacy of a relationship allows many aspects of the psyche to surface, many dynamics of projection to be played out. The energy of love is the container for a whole psychic story to brought into consciousness and then accepted, allowed to live in the sunlight.
My inner feminine was experienced projected onto my partner, but my anima also appeared in different forms in dreams. Sometimes she was an artist, a therapist, or an unknown lover. I also remember her wounded, in a wheel-chair. This image of the wounded feminine returned many times, and I responded with active imagination, Jung’s technique of going back into the feeling quality of the dream. There I would ask her about her pain and try to heal her. Our masculine culture easily wounds the feminine, and we thus lose our sensitivity, our openness to feelings and emotions. But a wound can also take us deeper within ourself, as the desire to heal and understand draws us inward.
I wandered through the maze of my inner self for many years, guided by both the wisdom and the wounds of the anima. Deeper and deeper I went into my own treatment of the feminine, my rejection of her and my need to redeem this wound. Again I had to encounter the dark, terrible power of the feminine of which men are most afraid. I had experienced this fear in my childhood in the demonized, shadow-figure of my mother. Now, at another level of the spiral, she appeared, powerful, but no longer so demonic. I found her both acted out in my partner and alive within myself. In the entanglement of a relationship it is often difficult to know what is a projection and what belongs to the other.
She, who is described in the Song of Songs as “fair as the moon, clear as the sun and terrible as an army with banners,” is the primal energy of the feminine. She carries the instinctual wisdom that belongs to nature and to the unconscious wholeness of life. Ignorant of her wisdom, and frightened of a power so different from the visible world of masculine consciousness, men have projected their fear and burnt her as witches. Finding this archetypal fear within myself, I was relieved to discover that Jung towards the end of his life also acknowledged it: “Woman is a very, very strong being, magical. That is why I am afraid of women.”
Romantic love had taken me into the arena of the feminine, into her passion, power, and beauty. It was easy to follow the collective pattern and idealize her, like Hamlet calling Ophelia his “soul’s idol.” I projected this image, the purity, warmth, and nurturing care, that has become symbolized by the Virgin Mary. But her dark sister is always present and cannot be ignored. Encountering her passion and power, her terrible beauty, I uncovered a personal and archetypal wound. I tried to close the door, to keep my love celestial and soulful, but I had chosen a woman who would not allow such rejection, who would not play this collective denial. She is too natural a human being.
Finally, one night I had a dream in which I heard the most pitiable and sorrowful sound I have ever heard, the cry of a wounded tiger. Until then I never realized how I had hurt the feminine, and how my fear of her power was a cause of this hurt:
I am left to look after a house while the owner of the house goes out for the evening. A fire breaks out in the house and I go in to rescue a couple who are living there. They represent the idealized anima relationship. I suddenly see that there are three tigers in the house, and realize that they will be made very nervous by the fire and could be dangerous. I rescue the couple but close the door so that the tigers cannot come out and attack us. The owner comes back and telephones the fire brigade, which is in fact already on its way. He rescues the tigers who are his pets. They are very badly burnt and as they come out one makes such a sound of pain and distress that it is awful to hear. I have never heard such a whimpering and sorrowful sound before and it deeply moves me. Two tigers are taken off to the hospital and one is left with me. Because of its pain I am not afraid of it.
Within the house of my psyche there is a fire, a conflict. From this conflict I try to rescue my idealized anima relationship, my fantasy of how a man and a woman might be together. However I find that this couple are not the only inhabitants of the house; there are also three tigers. The tigers image the primal power of the feminine—traditionally the goddess rides on the back of a tiger. A conflict was burning within me, a split between the idealized feminine and her darker, more powerful nature.
But I am frightened of the tigers, and so shut the door of the house and leave them to burn. How often through fear do we close the door on our shadow, unaware of the pain that this inflicts on these wounded and neglected figures? These figures of the unconscious are real, and the pain that they felt was my own inner suffering. Possibly these tigers could be dangerous; such primal energies will always have a dangerous element. But out of my fear I left them to burn. I left them caught in the conflict.
Eventually the tigers come out of the house and their pained moaning is one of the most distressing sounds I have ever heard. To see such beautiful and powerful animals limping from the house, moaning in distress, touched me deeply for days. Later, in active imagination, I asked one of the tigers, “Why did this happen?” To which the tiger simply answered, “It had to be that way.” Possibly the only way I could realize this inner energy and treat it with love and not fear was to see it so wounded, so pitifully hurt.
When the owner of the house comes back he knows exactly what to do. The fire brigade is already on its way. The owner rescues the tigers who are his pets. The owner is the Higher Self, the master of all the energies of the unconscious. The Self, the true owner of the house of my psyche, let my ego experience the conflict and the pain caused by my idealization of the feminine. Only through seeing the pain of the tiger would I cease to fear her, and thus be able to live the power of my primal feminine self. The day after the dream synchronicity reinforced its significance when I saw a film on television about a “wild boy” from Africa, whose pet was a tiger.
After this dream I embraced the wounded tiger, took her to my heart and, with the energy of active imagination, nurtured her with love. Months later this dream had a sequel which imaged a deeper integration of the feminine:
I am with my teacher beside a clump of tiger lilies which have to be cut down. I cut them with a bush knife. In the next sequence I have woven a meditation mat from these lilies and am shown a diagram which describes how their energy is integrated.
The image of the tiger lilies beautifully embraces the two sides of the feminine. The lily is sacred to all virgin goddesses, and in Christian symbolism is associated with purity, innocence, and the Virgin Mary. The tiger lily thus images the natural flowering of the feminine, in both her purity and her passion, her innocence and her instinctual wisdom. Yet this flower has to be cut down; only then can the dual nature of the feminine be integrated and its energy put to creative use. The tiger lilies are woven into a meditation mat, suggesting that this energy now has a spiritual dynamic. The feminine no longer holds me in the embrace of an idealized lover, but has the potential to reveal the secret hidden within creation.
The cutting of the natural flowers points to the alchemical mystery of the opus contra naturam. On one hand the alchemical opus is the most natural process. The birth of the Self follows the deepest rhythms of the psyche, and dreams often use the images of nature—of giving birth and the opening of flowers—to express this mystery. Yet, in the realm of the Great Mother, there is no such transformation. In the rhythms of nature everything that is born decays and dies; nothing can escape this closed circle. The Great Mother is the spider-mother eating her children, resisting the birth of individual consciousness. She resists even more the inner birth that takes us beyond the duality of opposites, beyond life and death. It is the flowering of the Self that finally frees us from her power, and this is experienced as a violation of nature, as in the cutting of the flowers.
My relationship, my human loving, had taken me deep into the realm of the Great Goddess. There I found both the power and the wounds of the feminine and was able to nurture her pain. The transformation of the feminine took me out of the captive wonder of her embrace, beyond the opposites of masculine and feminine, into the mysterious union that belongs to the birth of the Self. Soon I began to have dreams of babies, children born with stars in their eyes.