One of the central questions in understanding the female subject is related to the possibility of giving women a unique, authentic voice. How can woman’s voice find its place in a society where men, to this day, are privileged? Therefore the question “Can you hear my voice?” is relevant to the entire issue of understanding women.
To pose a question is to try to bring something that is unconscious into consciousness. By using Neumann’s understanding and writing on women, I will focus on the situation of the feminine and of women.
In Jung’s writing about the feminine, we find an absence of a realistic autonomous woman. When Jung wrote about contemporary women, he seems to have been writing mainly about his own anima, experienced in projection, loathed and love. He did not write about the real other, embodied woman.
Let’s imagine the first encounter between the experienced woman, Naomi, and the young woman, Ruth, who was walking towards Naomi on her way back from the granary. “Who art thou, my daughter,” Naomi asked. And Ruth replied, “Are you speaking to me? What’s happened to you? What a strange question to ask.”
These two questions represent central issues in any psychoanalysis. The analyst strives to fully understand the patient; the latter questions his or her ability to truly understand and help.
Ultimately, the particular accomplishments and the personality of each woman, which cannot be reduced to the common denominator of a group or a gender entity, have not only become possible but have also been proudly proclaimed. It is because I am myself, and specifically myself, that I am able to ask the question, “Who are you?” How we can help every woman to find her singularity? How can we help women work toward unique, innovative creations and remark on the human condition? How is it possible to preserve each woman’s uniqueness within the diversity of the group? Neumann guides us in helping the mature woman discover her authentic self and voice.
This lecture addresses this topic – the feminine subject – about which countless theories, articles and research have been written. I will discuss the notable unique contribution of Erich Neumann to understanding the unique psychology of woman.
This is not only a discussion about women: Neumann helps us observe, listen, identify, and understand the roots and the unique character of the woman’s voice. It is important to remember that psychological knowledge was largely born by means of the twisting and turning of women in therapy.
This conference addresses the exchange of correspondence between Neumann and Jung. In reading the letters, we discover a wealth of issues that occupied both men during the period of their acquaintance. Undoubtedly, women played an important role in the lives of both these men, and their work involved encounters with many women. There is a great difference between the women who surrounded Jung and those that Neumann was associated with during his life in Israel. However, both men had a powerful attraction for women.
I was briefly acquainted with Erich Neumann’s wife, Julia. I went to her twice for a hand test, and I was greatly surprised by the house on Gordon Street with its huge library. Julia’s hand tests and the conversations that followed were a turning point in my life. I had been in analysis for many years with with Dvora Kutzinski, one of Erich Neumann’s first students, and after that I continued analysis and with Ella Amitzur. Although the women differed from one another, both were Neumannites in spirit and soul. Erich Neumann wrote extensively about the feminine. I will refer to three concepts that are central to understanding the feminine, that represent his unique perspective. According to Neumann, the concepts I will discuss are dynamic, developmental, and spiritual, but they do not encompass the entirety of his writings and work about women.
First, as a point of departure: In all his work, Neumann referred to the feminine aspects of the psyche and the matriarchal layers as a psychological finding – a psychological, not sociological base. As the cultural researcher, Camille Paglia wrote, he did not long for the days of matriarchy in the style of the soap opera. It is important to emphasize this distinction.
To quote Paglia, “He cited and praised Bachofen’s pioneering work in prehistory but was careful to note that the latter’s idea of matriarchy (as Neumann puts it in The Great Mother) must be ‘understood psychologically rather than sociologically’ . . . Neumann insists that the matriarchal stage ‘refers to a structural layer and not to any historical epoch.’”
The first concept I would like to discuss is taken from Neumann’s book, The Great Mother. In the book, he discusses one of his most comprehensive studies – a thorough analysis and study of the archetype of the Great Mother. Neumann stressed the dual element of the nature of the Great Mother, which led him to understand the two main facets of the feminine, or as he put it, the two characters of the feminine: the basic elementary character, and the varying, transformative character.
The elementary character is defined as the aspect of the feminine; it can be likened to the Great Round that tends to hold fast to everything that springs from it, and everything born of it belongs to it and remains subject to it. The elementary character is a great container. The transformative character of the feminine is the expression of a dynamic element, a drive toward motion and change.
The two characters interpenetrate and combine with one another in many ways. Both belong to a dynamic understanding of the feminine personality.
These concepts of the elementary and the transformative character allow us a dynamic understanding of the feminine personality. These two different characters are essential to understanding women, and their meaning is completely different from that ascribed to an archetype, which has a positive and a negative pole. The elementary and the transformative are intertwined; sometimes they appear together, providing a fascinating perspective, in my view, on women’s distress, pain, and dreams.
I would like to emphasize another concept, which is not specifically associated with women but ties all the elements together: the concept that Neumann calls “the unitary reality.” Neumann coined this term in order to conceptualize the reality that exists constantly in the collective unconscious. In the unitary reality, the polarization between object and subject, between external and internal, between psyche and world does not yet exist. The world and the psyche are experienced as a unity, as the small child, the mystical person, and the creative person experience it. This contrasts with the polar reality that is familiar to the ego consciousness, which divides and separates. In the Eranos lectures, Neumann broadened the concept of unitary reality, claiming that it exists not only in the archetypal field but in all planes of reality, including the plane of consciousness. Thus he did not see paradoxical phenomena as projections, but rather as experiences of unitary reality.
And now for the developmental concept. In his article on the stages of psychological development of women, Neumann creates four stages of development:
From my perspective as a therapist, the most interesting of Neumann’s concepts in his article is the final stage of women’s development. In the last stage, the woman, who is in the process of individuation, seeks her feminine self. After submitting, devoting herself, and encountering the man father – the animus – she sets out on a quest for her feminine self. This is the last and most important stage in the journey. Neumann makes a very important comment: that the entire problem of femininity lies in the last two stages, the woman will either devote herself and remain only in relation to the patriarchal culture and maleness, or set out on an independent journey of her own.
Anyone who is engaged in therapy with women knows that this is a critical stage in women’s development, both for understanding the woman and regarding her potential for change and development. The possibility of these stages existing is associated with triumph over symbiosis with the masculine. The dreams that I present later demonstrate this experience, the process of liberation and the search for the every woman’s authentic voice or uniqueness.
It is interesting to consider two important female psychoanalysts, who have a central voice in understanding and creating a central theory regarding the feminine subject, in the context of Neumann. They are Julia Kristeva and Luce Irigaray.
Julia Kristeva assumed that before entering the symbolic stage, the child, boy or girl, must give up the previous stage, which she called semiotic – the preverbal stage that precedes the symbiotic stage. According to Kristeva, the authentic maternal discourse is beyond signification; it is lost when the subject first begins to speak. Kristeva perceived the creative maternal element, which she called the semiotic, as an unconscious subversive dynamic that challenges paternal signification, or the symbolic order. She claimed that the infant’s entry into the social-linguistic contract of the group entails the sacrifice of the maternal body. Thus a form of original communication with the mother is given up, and it remains subliminally active throughout life.Kristeva saw the artist – poet or painter – as having the potential to bridge the split between maternal and paternal.
I would like to emphasize that according to my understanding of Neumann’s article on the psychological stages of women’s development, he did not only see a possibility of giving up the maternal, as Kristeva argues, but saw woman’s development as different from that of man: she remains connected to the feminine territory and later, after she discovers her masculine aspects, integrates the two elements in her psyche to become unique and authentic, and set out on her own independent path.
Irigaray’s central concept, the imaginary, suggests that the masculine imaginary dominates our culture: “Our task is to uncover the feminine imaginary and bring it into the language. The masculine imaginary reduced us to silence. The imaginary is the domain of pre-linguistic specular identification.”
Again what I see and understand is Neumann’s fascinating approach, which does not direct us to look back and redeem what was repressed, as Kristeva and Irigaray do, but holds that following a process of dedication and submission to the masculine, the woman must continue to move forward towards her feminine self.
Dream 1: A Strange Sight
A student of mine is in a field next to the place where I lived in the past. I’m standing in the background. Suddenly, an animal rapidly flies towards us from the sky. I see that it’s a porcupine. It dives towards prey on the land, rummages and extracts a large rabbit.
The porcupine becomes a human body, with only the head remaining that of a porcupine.
It grabs the rabbit in its hands and places it on the ground, but then puts it on its back, with its four legs moving. I begin to approach with other people and then I see that the man-porcupine has evaporated.
I felt tremendous excitement.
This dream was dreamt by a patient of about 50, who was in an ongoing existential crisis. She awoke from the dream very excited. She occasionally has dreams she doesn’t know what to say about.
There is one strong, clear image – the transformation of the porcupine. It begins its journey as an animal coming down from the sky and slowly becomes human – a person with the head of a porcupine. The entire scene takes place in front of the dreamer, who experiences an incredibly exciting sight. Whatever else we say about the porcupine – such as its being an ancient image of the woman’s womb – turning what the porcupine represents in the dreamer’s psyche into emotional content is the purpose of the therapy, the therapeutic process. That is, within the therapy, content that was not human and unfamiliar becomes understood, becomes almost human. Here there is a moment of birth of the transformative character, which in the marvelous language of the dream also redeems the elementary character represented by the rabbit. In this dream, there is a discovery of two characteristics of the female womb (here I take the porcupine as representing aspects of the female womb from Marija Gimbutas’ archeological research presented in her book, The Language of the Goddess, as well as the rabbit, which represents elementary instinctual fertility).
And this is the moment when it is possible to look at the relationship between these two elements of the dreamer and complete the pictures of life that are spread before us. This is the moment when we hold the porcupine that becomes a person, the rabbit, and the entire emotional event is an experience of the “unitary reality” that occurs in the ego consciousness of the dreamer. The dreamer attributes to the porcupine the way in which she gives birth to her thoughts, her thinking function, while she sees the rabbit, which runs around and gives birth to several offspring at the same time, as representing her emotional function. One can also find Kristeva and the semiotic here, as the entire image is free of words and does not belong to the symbolic system of reason and order, but is semiotic, as defined by Kristeva.
And Irigaray and the feminine imagination apply here, too. But in my view, Neumann offers the broadest possibility for therapy. What happens here is the coexistence and existential interdependence of the human, the porcupine, and the rabbit. This is the moment when the elementary and transformative are partners in the experience of a single, whole unitary reality. The powerful emotion experienced in the dream belongs to those experiences of an encounter with the religious self. That which seems to be eternally separate returns and becomes attached.
There is a sacrificial offering of victims in a large hall, resembling a central temple hall. The victim is a blonde girl, 10 years old with glasses and pigtails. There is a search for more volunteers, but no one volunteers. In the end, I volunteer. There is a large audience standing around observing the sacrificial victims. I too am standing around, waiting; I do not know what to do or why I agreed to participate. I look over at the young girl. A nurse comes over and injects her with an anesthetic. A struggle begins from within me. I tell myself “I’m not hanging around here anymore.” I decide to leave. I move to the next room, watch a ceremony of women my own age, members of a kibbutz. They are dancing in their work clothes. Their movements are those of a very sensual, seductive Middle Eastern dance. The women create two rows and lead me out of the room.
This dream has many meanings. It contains tremendous women’s pain and actually constitutes a sort of document of all that is taken from us by the culture in which we live.
However, more than anything else, one can see here the image that Neumann refers to in the stages of women’s development; the feminine redemption does not lie in devoting oneself to animus, but in the effort to free oneself from everything that has bound us until now. And the path to release from the patriarchal temple is the new feminine path, the one that leads the woman to an encounter with her feminine self.
Above all, I refuse to be a victim. If this is not possible, I will not be able to do anything. I must rescind my offer to volunteer and remember that I am not hopeless. The image of leaving the temple expresses the struggle against a central principle of our culture, a culture based upon victimization. A culture that more than anything else sacrifices our natural rhythms, the tempo of our bodies. The dreamer was raised and lives on kibbutz, a collective, ideological society. The center of the kibbutz is the dining room, where they conduct the ideological and social life of this collective community. From this central place comes a new, independent woman. Her departure is based upon strength and empowerment – busy women, working and ungroomed. Nevertheless, these are path-breaking women, who prepare the way out. We are expanding the boundaries of our lives, refusing to be victims any longer. Only when we begin to nurture our imaginative and daring aspirations for ourselves will we be able to dream the dreams that are free of chains.
This dream bears the strength of a myth surrounding death and rebirth. A mother’s loss of her daughter, a daughter’s loss of her mother – that is the core of the feminine tragedy. This tragedy is expressed in the myth of Demeter and Persephone. The true significance of the mysterious ritual lies in the renewed combination of death and birth, at a time when it seems that the patriarchal rift has sentenced them to eternal separation. The birth in the dream has yet to occur. The transition from dumbness to verbalization is accompanied by an empowering experience and greater self-esteem.
This is a women’s journey through a Nordic landscape. The journey is long and exhausting. It is cold. We arrive at a large castle. The objective of the journey is to be with women at the time of birth. It is morning. I awaken, look out the window and see a strong flow of water entirely covering the road to the castle. All around there are green hills and strongly flowing water. Until a birth occurs, we will not be able to leave the castle. I understand the time has come; it is time to give birth. The castle is high. From the upper level, I am able to see the other levels below, full of beds. The entire group remains; no one continues on. There is a tremendous sense of joy and excitement.
From within a neglected and abandoned home of the initial dream, we have reached this point.
What was born? The newborn is a new feminine consciousness that is attempting to rescue itself from the patriarchal prison, its imprisonment in the language, outlook, and expectations of men’s world. However, the castle is closed not only to women; it is closed to both men and women. Only through communication and partnership during the same journey will a new consciousness be made possible.
The birth of the divine child and the birth of all the developments that we find portrayed in this dream are now experienced as an encounter of the woman’s ego and her female self as Neumann described it.
I am touring the Golan Heights with my family. We come to a grove of oak trees. Our trip is a guided tour and the guide is an elderly gentleman, one of the founders of the kibbutz. We come to a bare spot in the forest and look up at the sky. I see a flock of storks far off in the horizon, approaching us. As they approach, I begin to understand that their flight represents symbols or letters. As they draw closer, the birds become herons and create the shape of a Star of David, with its sides moving in a constant right-left spiraling motion. As I look more carefully, I can see that the formation is made of the letters of "Hear O Israel." I am amazed! Our guide has a pair of old, large and heavy binoculars, with glass lenses. As I look through them, the entire vision disappears. I feel a sense of disappointment; that I missed something.
This is a dream of revelation as described by Erich Neumann in his essay on the “mystical man.”
When a woman enters the depths of her unconscious in order to meet her non-ego, she sometimes comes up with something else. The fruit of this meeting is a revelation and this revelation has an impact on the woman that stimulates her religious aspects. Observing the vision through a man’s binoculars conceals the vision. However, the image has already risen, it has already been called up from the unconscious; it has already changed the accumulative state of consciousness. “Hear O Israel” is the Jewish faith in a nutshell. It is a most profound statement about loving and believing in God. The dream creates a moment of intimate union of the ego self with the surrounding world, experienced as absolute certainty of security. Meaning of life is here again; it is reconnected to the unitary reality and the split between the ego and the self. The world is rebuilt, so we can feel at one with the other and with the numinous.
Every step in life is a lengthy process of change. However, this process does not progress at a constant rate. Throughout life there are many different milestones; some are quite close to one another, while others are far apart and the journey between them is exhausting and difficult. These milestones are also the ceremonies that help us declare that “this part of the path is complete; it is time to move on.” Between one milestone and another, life is regenerated. This process cannot occur in a vacuum. As Erich Neumann wrote, individuation cannot occur in a vacuum, individuals develop within their group. This fact also entails a moral commitment that forces the woman to create herself.
The images that arose in these dreams show the psyche moving in the direction of new integration and understanding of the feminine.
I enter a very narrow corridor that is lined with shelves made of thin pieces of wood. There are different dishes on the shelves. Old women are sitting on the floor under the shelves, working as they crouch. They are making pottery and their heads are covered with scarves. They sit hunched over. From there the corridor leads into a larger room – and in the room there are shelves covered with curtains; something covered with cloth is standing on the floor, in the center. I think these are dishes, too. I leave the room to a sort of large patio, where there is an olive tree, and I see a bright, blinding light. And then I see a mountain, and I understand that the light is coming out of the mountain and I see women walking up the mountain and I tell myself in the dream: I love God so much.
All the women in the dreams I presented here today were in the process of individuation and in the second half of their lives.
In this dream there are, of course, many feminine symbols – the pots, making the pots. I won’t address these subjects right now, but rather talk about Neumann. Among other things, my understanding of this dream includes components of the elementary character that envelops the dream from all sides in the birth channel in which she walks. But this covering also holds the ability to see the light coming from the mountain and drawing the woman in the birth channel to the spiritual experience of inner love of God, a love so strong that it occurs in this dream. Here we find a description of women’s strengths concealed in the unconscious that reach far beyond those areas that we consider in women’s development.
In addition to the stages of development of men that he discussed extensively in his book on “the origins of consciousness,” Neumann discussed the stages unique to women’s psyche.
Different theories of women and femininity very quickly lose their value due to the rapid changes in our culture.
In this paper I have attempted to show the remarkable relevance of Neumann, which has remained an open possibility despite the many years that have passed since it was written. This is unique in itself.
Neumann’s writings on gender represent one area and as Camille Paglia noted, his work may be a door leading to cooperation between the academic feminist movement and analytic psychology.
In closing, I would like to add something personal.
Ruth, the Moabite – the symbol and essence of biblical hospitality, was expected to convert in religion and language, to adopt a new people, nation, and homeland. It is so important that women in therapy discover their own unique personal language.
Alienation is essential to the process of analysis, in which we need to reinvent a personal private language with each patient, a flexible language that is not grounded in any one, singular meaning. A language that responds to the experience and style and personality of each and every individual patient – and this is especially so for women.
Neumann, Erich. The Fear of the Feminine: And Other Essays on Feminine Psychology.
Neumann, Erich. The Great Mother.