Female Archetypes: The Divine Feminine

I am puzzling over female archetypes again in preparing for Nano. My WIP has mythic elements and I’ve been doing research, reading parts of The White Goddess, The Golden Bough, and The Hero with a Thousand Faces. I am troubled that female archetypes, and the feminine spiritual journey, are almost universally defined by their relationship to men, or male gods.

Robert Graves defines the elemental feminine archetype in The White Goddess as the three-faced female principle–lover, mother, crone. He describes the great war between matriarchal earth goddess religions and the patriarchal religions that won the war and have ever since stamped down any reemergence of raw feminine power.

This strikes an elemental chord in my soul. When the hero begins his journey it has absolutely no reference to the feminine. He goes on a spiritual journey to save the world. There is no equivalent heroic female quest.

As a writer I’m looking for those stories of the feminine that have the mythic power of the hero’s journey that George Lucas tapped in Star Wars.

Reading Robin Hobb recently I can see how she’s drawing on mythic female archetypes, as have other fantasy writers with female warriors, like Elizabeth Moon or Robin McKinley, or writers like Patricia McKillip or Gregory Maguire, who have been retelling the great fairy tales–like Beauty and the Beast, Cinderella and Snow White.

Amongst the gooey new age-y drivel online about wolves and Lemuria, there is some marginally useful stuff for writers beyond Freud and Jung and the Myers-Briggs test. For example, this listing of male and female archetypes. In 2000 I went to the Pikes Peak Writers Conference in Colorado Springs and the romance writers there had a similar list to the third one here. The one that has stuck with me ever since was “The Plucky Kid,” or I think the Colorado group may have called her “The Buddy,” the character played by Terri Garr or Jean Arthur, “come on, you can do it!” But who is she buddy to, who is she encouraging?

Thelma and Louise was so powerful because this was a female buddy movie. But once again, see, they launched their journey because of an attempt by the male to subjugate and dominate the feminine. Their journey ended with their own self-destruction. There was only one way out of the labyrinth and that was to jump off the mountain. They refused to submit to the masculine construct.

Like Anna Karenina who struggled for self-actualization and despaired. In fact, all those great 19th century novelists saw woman’s predicament clearly. They brought their women to full, rounded, passionate and thoughtful life but could not bring them safely out of the labyrinth.

Or Fried Green Tomatoes, two women who love each other and protect each other and try to live independent fulfilled lives without the constant threat of men, in this case by quietly eliminating the male threat.

When a woman tries to escape, she cannot shake her male-referenced plight until she becomes the crone, the wise woman, the repository of tribal knowledge, like Jessica Tandy in Fried Green Tomatoes, beyond the lure and trap of sexuality. Or unless she bears a sickle and spills the bull’s blood to make the earth flower, as Mary Stuart Masterson did as Izzy.

My friend and writing partner Susan and I worked with the Celtic selkie myth in our screenplay, Never Touched Her. The selkie is a shape-changing seal, who comes out of the ocean one night to sit on the rocks and change to a woman. A fisherman sees her and steals her skin, so that she cannot change back to a seal and return to the sea. She goes to his home, keeps his house, bears his children, until one night she finds her skin, and without a backward glance, leaves his house, abandons her children and returns to the sea, like Ibsen’s A Doll’s House. Another powerful example of the universality of myth that Campbell, Graves, and Frazer all elucidate.

The Greek goddesses, like the gods, were jealous, lustful, vengeful, generous at times, fickle. Artemis is a nice archetype, the huntress, the virgin, although of course the male is always hunting her, tempting, trapping, her with silver apples. It’s interesting that Athena, wisdom, is a goddess, not a god, and not yet a crone. The Greek gods certainly think with their manhood for the most part. Aphrodite, of course, love, sex, beauty, fertility. Persephone, the embodiment of the rape and captivity of the female principle. Demeter, earth goddess. I am just rambling now.

I just googled female archetypes images. Pretty interesting. Marilyn Monroe, another Anna Karenina. A sexy nurse. A girl sucking a candy.

This anime one is the waif as white goddess perhaps? Anime in general seems turned on by waifs with super powers. In fact, what about female superheroes, like Storm? The White Goddess for sure.

Oooh, check it out. Sigorney Weaver in Alien. Angry mothers in a fight to the death. I love it! Now that’s what I’ve been looking for!

This divine feminine principle is the mythic essence of ardent female friendship. And every actualized thoughtful woman I know attests to the power of those friendships. Like The Four of Us, best friends from college–Susan, Eva, Ginny and me. Or the passionate friendship of the women who went to Camp Miramichee as girls, where we learned to succeed or fail on our own merits and with our own strength and wits without any reference to men whatsoever.

Lionesses hunt while the male lions lie around and roar occasionally, when they’re not eating their rivals’ cubs. We should all tap our inner lioness and come roaring our of the dark night of the soul, ready to hunt.

Reading Update:

20-22 Liveship Trilogy: Ship of Magic, Mad Ship, Ship of Destiny, Robin Hobb
18-19 Forest Mage & Renegade’s Magic, Robin Hobb
17. Shaman’s Crossing, Robin Hobb
16. The Book of Murder, Guillermo Martinez
15. The Likeness, Tana French
14. The Secret Life of Bees, Sue Monk Kidd
13. Tales of Old Whitehaven, Leigh Anne McCorkle
12. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Steig Larsson
11. In the Woods, Tana French
10. Ysabel, Guy Gavriel Kaye (should have been published as YA)
9. The Savage Garden, Mark Mills
8. What the Dead Know, Laura Lippman
7. The Magic Thief, Sarah Prineas
6. Savvy, Ingrid Law
5. Coraline, Neil Gaiman
4-4.5 A Storm of Swords and A Feast for Crows, George RR Martin
2-3. A Game of Thrones, and A Clash of Kings, by George R.R. Martin
1. Jennie, The Romantic Years, the first volume of an old biography of Lady Randolph Churchill, Winston Churchill’s mother, an American.

Re-read.
45. The Way We Live Now, Anthony Trollope
36-44 Heaven to Betsy, Betsy in Spite of Herself, Betsy Was a Junior, Betsy and Joe, Carney’s House Party, Betsy and the Great World, Betsy’s Wedding, Emily of Deep Valley, Maud Hart Lovelace
30-35 Betsy-Tacy, Betsy Tacy and Tib, Betsy and Tacy Go Over the Big Hill, Winona’s Pony Cart, Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown, Maud Hart Lovelace
24-29 The five books in The Dark is Rising sequence by Susan Cooper
8-23 All 16 books in Mazo de la Roche’s Jalna series
1-7 Harry Potter, 1 through 7.

56 thoughts on “Female Archetypes: The Divine Feminine

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