La vera anima del genio crudele by Shock2006 via Flickr

The Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung was a clever guy. Whenever he created a new concept, he almost always adapted previously existing ideas. This gave his overall theory a kind of historical resonance and, one could say, mythic appeal.

The same strategy is often used by rock stars, film and TV producers, fiction writers and corporations (e.g. Alice in Chains, The Omega Man, Stargate Atlantis, East of Eden, Apple Records and Apple Inc).

Jung’s idea of the anima is no exception. Historically, the word anima may refer to:¹

  • the Latin term for the “animating principle”, see vitalism
  • the Latin translation of Greek psyche
  • Aristotle’s treatise on the soul, de anima
  • in Christian contexts, the soul
  • spirit

In Jung’s psychological theory the anima is the unconscious contrasexual component of the male Self—that is, the man’s supposed “inner woman.” The anima presents itself to consciousness in a series of archetypal images, with a primitive sexual figure usually emerging first. As a man develops, this primitive symbol is followed by increasingly refined, “higher” images.

English: The Wicked Witch of The West, melting...
The Wicked Witch of The West, melting after being doused by Dorothy. From the first edition of The Wizard of Oz (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Jung says the anima has dark and light forms. Like all symbols, it mediates both destructive and creative forces from the depths of the unconscious.

An example of the negative anima would be dreaming of a leather-clad Whipping Mistress who beats and binds male victims into submission. Some activists for contemporary sadomasochism movements claim that their behavior represents a socially safe redirection or “playing out” of the negative anima. However, many places where this kind of activity occurs are designated as “Common Bawdy Houses” and remain illegal. Another instance of the negative anima could be The Wicked Witch of the West or the blood-dripping Hindu goddess Kali, for whom horrific animal sacrifices regularly take place at Kali temples in India.

Jungian thought maintains that such images (and related practices) contain enormous potential for psychological growth, providing their energy is understood and positively redirected by the conscious ego.

Lady Di memorial
Lady Di memorial by osmotic_agent via Flickr

Positive anima symbols would be the archetypal image of the Fairy Godmother or the Chinese Goddess of Mercy, Kwan Yin.

Historical embodiments of destructive anima-power arise in ruthless figures whose negative archetypal power dominates consciousness, such as Queen “Bloody” Mary of England. On the other hand, benevolent figures like Lady Diana Spencer and Mother Teresa each in their own way represent positive incarnations of the anima figure.

Jung also sees the Blessed Virgin Mary as a positive anima figure. For Jung, Jesus’ mother Mary is nothing more than an archetypal symbol of a vague “feminine principle.” Like other theories and belief systems claiming to embrace all religions within their own perspective, Jung’s rendering on this central aspect of Catholicism differs dramatically from the Catholic view, itself. And on this point Jung has been roundly criticized for simplifying complex religious and mythological data to suit his own purposes.

Related Posts » Animus, Great Mother

¹ See also



  1. Do you believe the “individual” is not dependent on outside sources for psychological needs? Is this what happens when we successfully integrate the archetypes, or become aware of them consciously (mainly the archetype of the self). I read somewhere that we must become orphans and part from dependence on projections to realize ourselves as individuals. But, don’t you think theres always some form of dependence? Is the individual completely independent (except for the obvious like food and shelter.) Also, do you believe the individual itself is not dependent on the proper function of the ego and self?


  2. I’m not a Jungian so don’t feel any need to fit my thinking into Jung’s analytical framework. Having said that, I think some of his concepts remain useful.

    These days I’d be more inclined to ask… what is the individual? the self? And I don’t think the typical Jungian answer would satisfy my own life experiences.

    For me it’s more fruitful to look at the individual in terms of a relationship with God and God’s creation. This places the emphasis on God, without whom all reverts to darkness and disorder, I would say.


  3. Yes, I agree. I take a full approach, too. I am just trying to understand Jung’s world since he seems so interesting, but I also study other religions and ideas as well. You have a great website here.


  4. In case you haven’t read it, I think a good way to get some insight into Jung’s world is through his Memories, Dreams, Reflections. It was written toward the close of his life, so he lets out a lot of little secrets kept under wraps while carving out his career.

    Thank you for reminding me of his worth and, in my opinion, limitations.


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