Discover more from Mythic Journeys
Encountering the Anima
or, Developing a relationship with inner femininity of the soul
At First Sight
Having finished our time with the Knight, a questing servant of God, we meet our guide through the next of Spiegelman’s journeys in active imagination. This guide, the Arab, describes himself as a servant of love.
The Arab begins by telling two smaller stories, one of which was detailed in our introduction to the concept of active imagination.
After two of these introductory tales, the Arab begins to tell the autobiographical story that brought him to the Tree of Life, a story that begins with a momentary shared glance. The Arab locks eyes with a woman across a town plaza. Only the woman’s eyes are visible under her head covering, but the sight of them is enough for our guide to fall madly in love.
I chanced to look up and caught a glimpse of the most beautiful dark eyes that I had ever seen. The girl was veiled and covered from head to foot, except for her eyes. When I saw them, my heart was stricken. To say that an arrow had pierced my heart would be foolish. Say only, and more accurately, that I was possessed. I knew that I had to see that girl again, to gaze at her, to have her.
Two thoughts come to mind upon reading this passage: First, the image of love at first sight is powerful; reminiscent of the meeting of Dante Alighieri and his muse Beatrice, there is an awakening of something within the soul. This can be the first moment in what becomes a far deeper journey. This love at first sight is often described in transformative terms like a “spark,” or disorienting ones, like “falling head over heels.”
But in the course of a second reading, the language around the Arab’s desire stood out. In his desire to see her, to gaze at her, to have her, the woman takes on the role of the object in the sentence. There is no “we” uttered, and even though the Arab describes himself as being possessed, there is a sense of him wanting to reach out, grab, and possess the object of his desire.
It is not, at this time, a true person that our guide sees. It is still completely unknown who lies behind the veil.1
Discovering the Other
This imagined woman, still as undiscovered as she is unequaled, maps onto the Jungian concept of the Anima. Carl Jung describes the Anima as the personification of the feminine aspects of a man’s unconscious, with the Animus being a woman’s masculine equivalent.2
The presentation of the Anima or Animus will change as one’s understanding of and relationship to their opposite changes. Jung refers to this development in four broad stages: Eve, undeveloped and dependent on the man and his maternal figure; Helen, accomplished and beautiful like her Trojan namesake; Mary, pure and holy like the mother of Christ; and Sophia, meaning wisdom, in whom the nurturing, sexual, and spiritual are united into a complete person.
The woman at this point in the Arab’s story is certainly not indicative of a developed Anima. She is an object of desire who serves to awaken our guide, but not much more. They cross paths again and she passes a note declaring her love. When the two finally do meet under cover of darkness, both lovers allow passion to drive them, sharing a kiss despite the Arab being in an arranged engagement with another woman.
The lovers meet once more and flee to a desert oasis for an encounter that becomes tragic. The Arab describes the events which follow using grasping language, associated with the manipulative functions of the brain’s left hemisphere (emphasis my own):
I was wild with desire and she seemed to be the same. I clumsily removed her clothes and trembled in my eagerness, hardly aware of the new restraint that she was now showing. I felt it as a maidenish encouragement and it made me even wilder in my desire. I grabbed and lunged and I took her, as some wild man might.
Then it was over. I was cold and hard, and did not know myself. When I heard her crying, I looked into her eyes. The light had gone out of them, and now there was only agony.
This mad, possessive desire is a repeating theme in mythological texts as well. The Greek myth of Apollo and Daphne provides one example of the dangers of this possessive desire.
In that myth, Apollo comes to honor a love that cannot be grasped, possessed, or taken. But as we return to the Arab lovers, our guide recognizes the harsh effects of his wild desire in the eyes of his beloved, once containing the spark of joy, now hollow. Our guide sends a letter to his beloved, explaining that he must leave to reform himself.
Understanding Oneself to Know the Other
The Arab joins a crew of sailors, men who each have their own struggled relationship with what they refer to as their animal nature. They each either act upon or work to tame their inner animal. In his travels our guide eventually witnesses an animal sacrifice at a temple in India. Witnessing the sacrifice, he stops trying to tame his inner animal, but resolves to let it go. He is given a jewel by a temple-goer and leaves on his ship, which is departing home.
The Arab returns to his home and meets his beloved once more. When they share their stories, she is no longer veiled. He tells of his struggles with the inner animal, and she tells of her own struggles, that the emptiness in her eyes was her shame at feeling unable to elicit a true love, rather than simple desire. She tells how she came to love a friend of the Arab who helped her through her grief. Then the Arab returns home to find his betrothed waiting for him, having truly loved him without him knowing, and having waited patiently for his return.
Each of the pair came to a true love through examining their first love. Having encountered the effects of an undeveloped relationship with their Anima/Animus, they are each able to recognize the needs of a deeper relationship. The Arab gifts her the jewel, a symbol of the love that taught them how to love.
The Anima as the Soul
It is no coincidence that the word anima is the same as the Latin word meaning “breath” or “spirit.” The development of a relationship with the Anima is understood by Jung as analogous to the development of a relationship with one’s spiritual nature.
By deepening one’s relationship with the Anima, one moves from dependency to desire, elevating the Anima through holiness and finally communing with it in wisdom. In active imagination, Spiegelman is able to explore these relationships through the imagined other.
The story told by the Arab is certainly less symbolic than the Knight’s. Being the story of a relationship between two individuals, coming from a single author’s practice in active imagination, some readers may find it more difficult to relate to the Arab than to the Knight. This was the case in my reading, as the Arab’s story was removed from the mythological symbolism of the Knight’s, following a more traditional narrative structure.
Upon a second reading this served as a reminder that these are still journeys into the individual unconscious of the author, despite insights that they offer into the collective unconscious. Perhaps exploring similar themes through the different guides of The Tree (the Knight’s mention of early adventures with women comes to mind) will promote dialogues with others who do not experience things in the same way we do.
Both the Knight and the Arab’s journeys explored relationships with others to reconcile conflicting aspects of the guides. The Knight found this through God, while the Arab found this through his relationship with the opposite gender. In each guide’s journey, the other was actually something reflected within their own self.
Each of these stories seeks to unite differing aspects of the Self in different ways; it is interesting to think of the Tree of Life which Spiegelman uses to unite his various guides. These are each insights into his own soul, and reflecting upon them can spur deeper reflection into ours.
Our next journey will follow the Ronin, a Samurai without a master, whose journey mirrors a classic Buddhist motif. I hope to see you there.
Photograph from Smithsonian Magazine sourced from https://photocontest.smithsonianmag.com/photocontest/detail/arab-womans-eyes-behind-the-black-veil/
Later Jungian psychologists have expanded these definitions to include each sex’s understanding of its own gender as well as the opposite. While one could explore the Arab’s relationship with the “wild man” within himself, that is not the topic of this blog post.