Exploration of God and Goddess Archetypes

by Laura Bryannan

One hears so much mythological talk these days: tales of kings, queens, magicians, priestesses, tricksters, mothers, lovers...the list seems endless. You may wonder just what it all means. How does a modern American work with this information? Three books do a good job of bringing these archetypes "to life" in a way that makes it easy to recognize oneself, as well as friends, family and work associates.

Jennifer and Roger Woolger's The Goddess Within, and Jean Shinoda Bolen's Goddesses in Everywoman and Gods in Everyman take the major gods and goddesses in the Greek pantheon and tell their stories in a modern context. Working with these god and goddess archetypes is one of the best ways to learn about yourself I've ever encountered. It has an advantage over other methods of self-discovery, such as astrology or Enneagram study. Astrology and the Enneagram work with archetypal profiles--twelve and nine of them respectively--but a person is not assumed to be functioning in all of these realms, nor are these systems designed to analyze a person in this way.

The profiles in the aforementioned God(dess) books are meant to be read holistically. That is, the reader is assumed to be functioning more fully in one or two particular gods or goddesses, but the other profiles also apply, and are there to show what areas may be stunted, warped or non-functional. They can act as a guide towards a fuller life. Perhaps some examples might be enlightening. The Woolgers briefly describe the orientations of the six goddesses like this:

ATHENA--"Education, city culture, careerist, competitor, intellectual,

dutiful daughter or rebel in the fatherworld."
ARTEMIS--"Amazon shamaness, adventuress, huntress, lover of wilderness,
lady of the beasts."
APHRODITE--"Sexuality, body as sacred, sensuality, romance, beauty,
passion, the arts, salons, patroness, muse."
HERA--"Empress, ruler, wife, worldly power, tradition, marriage, partnership,
morality, matriarch."
PERSEPHONE--"Occult, medium, clairvoyance, visions, dreams, death and
transformation, inner guide, healing, psychic power."
DEMETER--"Body as vessel of life, lady of plants, childbearing, earth mother,
generation, nurturance."

Any woman reading these descriptions will see a few that "fit" her and a few that do not. (And I'm sure men will recognize their women in them also.) So often, in a quest for healing and wholeness, one has a sense that something is missing; or that something is there but it's not really functioning properly, but you can't quite put your finger on what is wrong. Learning the abilities and faults of the gods and goddesses--their "jurisdictions" so to speak--can give you a way to describe what is missing or non-functional in your life. These books come from the perspective that people have all of these energies in them to a lesser or greater extent. Reading the descriptions of the gods and goddesses can help you identify the areas in your life that have been denied, repressed, stolen or twisted; they can help you find the words to describe the missing parts of you.

For metaphysical seekers, this information can be especially useful. Women out there who recognize themselves in the description of Persephone are strongly recommended to pick up The Goddess Within over Bolen's book. Anyone actively exploring or teaching in the metaphysical realm is working with the archetypes of Persephone and Hades. Bolen has a subtle bias against the magician/priestess as a functioning, healthy archetype in it's own right. Her description of Hades and Persephone is incomplete; she seems to see these two archetypes as unhealthy in even their most functioning aspects.

The Woolgers discus Persephone in a very rich manner. They do not subtly imply, as Bolen does, that psychic experiences are crazy or manifestations of unconscious complexes. They do, however, have some very valid warnings and guidelines for the Persephone woman that are a must-read! One can only hope that the Woolgers are, at this very minute, busy working on a companion volume for gods in men. Until that time, metaphysical men may do well to read their description Persephone also. Their warnings apply to anyone exploring "the underworld."

This warning has to do with the basic "requirements" of the Persephone/Hades archetypes; requirements that many New Age teachers and students are loath to admit. From The Goddess Within:

"...the young Persephone woman yearns for the spirit to rescue her and deliver her from her inner confusion. So when she learns of metaphysics...she will frequently seek solace in the higher authorities of spirit guides, ascended masters...and so forth. This is part of the motivation that leads her to become a healer or channeler herself.

However, there is often a huge element of compensation in the way of the spirit...since it is all upward, into the light. Unless she fully honors her dual nature, one that mediates between both the light and the darkness, the living and the dead, she can become unaccountably arrested in her development. Using the safe persona of the loving New Age teacher, she may cling tenaciously to the archetypal purity of the Maiden. Ever wanting good Daddy Zeus to save her, she evades her terror of the deeper darkness by talking only of her luminous and loving guides and of soul evolution forever onward and upward.

Yet her true savior is not Zeus, but paradoxically, his dark brother Hades...the source of Persephone's transformation comes from beneath, from the lower depths of soul, not from the higher reaches of spirit...the spirit in its Olympian form cannot initiate Persephone."

I can imagine that many New Agers will not agree with, and even be angered by, this perspective. But I challenge those who seek wholeness at any cost, even at the cost of one's dearly-held hopes and beliefs, to read this book and see for yourself. It may be the key you've been seeking. We've been looking for the answers on Olympus, but they've been in the rich realm of Hades all along. Gold and gems are found in the earth, in "the underworld," not in the sky!

"The Inner Quest: Bringing a Mythological Perspective to Psychotherapy," by David Feinstein, an important article in the February 1990 issue of Common Boundary, investigates an area not often discussed in relation to myth work. This is the idea that, while using mythological structures to further growth is often highly productive, blind adherence to these structures, no matter how out of sync they may be with present-day reality, is not. Feinstein notes, "It is important to realize that personal myths that are appropriate and effective during one period of life or at one level of development may become inappropriate or dysfunctional at another. As myths become outmoded, they fail to support an individual's psychosocial and spiritual needs and begin to restrict his or her personal development."

Feinstein works with clients to help them identify where their personal experience is in conflict with the dominant myth(s) they have accepted as reality. The article follows the process of a client, "Carl," and the steps they took alter the outmoded myth hindering Carl's progress.

Carl was a 38 year old psychotherapist trying to understand his intense fear of commitment and his yearnings to be unfaithful to his wife of three years. During the course of therapy, Carl was able to identify the "players" in his internal drama: On one side was a beautiful, sensual goddess image who made him feel peaceful and warm. "She told me I could have all I am looking for and more, but in order to receive it, I would have to open myself to the total vulnerability of living fully within my body."

On the other side was a warrior aspect who preferred to stay in the mental realm, filled with memories of war and strife. "I settled finally onto a vision of being an ancient warrior gamely reassuring his terrified family as he goes off to protect the village from savage attackers."

Feinstein's point that "the guidance from the mythologies of previous generations is not adequate for our times" was very powerfully revealed by an image arising during a vision quest of Carl's. As he sat beneath a great California redwood, the tree seemed to convey, "...Even in your brief lifetime, the laws governing the human story have again changed. The warrior, one of the most sophisticated, though most terrible forms you have created, cannot protect his loved ones from nuclear bombs. The disciplines of mind over feelings, action over patience and suspicion over trust, like the way of the warrior, no longer keep you on a path that will lead to a future for your children. Another law has changed...The best reproductive strategy...has been for the strongest males to impregnate as many females as possible...[But] your technology has given you unbalanced advantage so earth is overpopulated with your species. The need is not for more humans, but for more humane humans. It is no longer evolutionarily advantageous to be spreading your seed to every...female who would have you, however much you may still be wired for that response."

This paragraph shows how men working with the mythic structure of the Warrior are often living out more than just the Warrior's strength, reason and ability to act. They may also be experiencing the Warrior's lack of emotion, violence or sexual excess--qualities no longer productive for human males.

One must take care when tuning into a mythological archetype. In doing so, a student usually seeks to empower themselves with the positive traits of that particular archetype. The student using myth in this way should never forget that these powerful archetypes contain negative, or no longer useful energies along with their positive aspects. To tune into the energy without careful analysis of the whole can be disastrous.

Toward this end, Feinstein advises therapists to follow these three steps with clients: "(1) Identify outdated or otherwise dysfunctional personal myths that have been operating largely outside of their awareness, (2) revise these myths based on a balanced integration of deep intuitive sources and an informed cognitive analysis, and, (3) bring this renewed mythology to bear upon their daily lives."

The Common Boundary between Spirituality and Psychotherapy. Circulation office: 8528 Bradford Rd., Silver Spring, MD 20901. 301/589-6536.

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Last Updated: 27 may 98
Laura Bryannan