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Supplemental Essay: Men's Societies

This supplemental essay contains quotes and expanded explanations as background for the material in the main essay. You can skip this supplemental essay if you're not interested in the details.

Men's societies as the core of the S-level patriarchy

As I noted in the main essay, Men's societies embody the Good Father aspect of the Great Father. Neumann talks of the "patriarchal line of conscious development. The development proceeds from the mother to the father. It is assisted by a series of collective authorities--heaven, the fathers, the superego--which are as emphatically masculine as the conscious system itself."[1]


Erich Neumann goes on to talk about how men's groups act as the foundation for development of the patriarchy in early society. "At the outset of culture, spiritual development is fostered by the men's societies in the form of secret societies, which later take the form of sects, mysteries, and religions. These secret societies seem from the very beginning to have arisen in opposition to the matriarchate."[2]


Neumann contrasts the female group in early society: "Conditions in the female group seem to be markedly different in this respect, and it is this contrast which explains the antifeminine tendencies of the men's society. Woman and sex, the principal representatives of those unconscious instinctual constellations which are stirred up by anything feminine, are the danger zone [...] That is why no women are ever admitted to the men's societies. On this level, where men are not yet sure of themselves, women are execrated as dangerous and seductive, and this is still largely true of cultures with patriarchal religions."[3]


Men's societies: Individualism

Recapping the N level: The N level represents a psychology of community, association, and collectivism reflecting an early state of life in the shadow of the Great Mother and participation mystique.


At the S level: At the S level the son increasingly separates himself out from the N-level matriarchal womb and participation mystique; puberty and initiation into Men's societies complete the process. Erich Neumann says, "Through the prepubertal period the ego has gradually been taking up a central position; now, in puberty, it finally becomes the carrier of individuality. The detachment from the unconscious--so far as this is necessary for the production of tension between the two systems--is complete."[4]


The boys are trained as hunters and fighters. Initiation ceremonies emphasize asceticism and mortification of the flesh. As I noted in the main essay, rites of initiation stress fire, wakefulness, alertness, being on watch, learning to overcome the body, endurance tests to overcome fear, hunger, and pain, etc. to fortify the ego and school the will. According to Neumann, "The point of all such endurance tests is to strengthen the ego’s stability, the will, and the higher masculinity, and to establish a conscious sense of superiority over the body." [See the section entitled "Great Mother vs Great Father at the S level"].


The point is to eschew matriarchal collectivism and unconsciousness and to strengthen the boys' ability to act individually and consciously while on the hunt or in war. Eric Neumann says that the accent falls on the individualism in the Men's societies, "in that each man is initiated individually and undergoes an individual experience which stamps his individuality. This individual emphasis with its elective character stands in marked contrast to the matriarchal group, where the archetype of the Great Mother and the corresponding stage of consciousness predominate, bringing with them all the features we have described--participation mystique, emotionality, etc. In the opposed group of men's societies and secret organizations the dominant is the hero archetype and the dragon-fight mythology, i.e., the next stage of conscious development. [...] Individualization, ego formation, and heroism belong to the very life of the male group and are in fact its expressions."[5]


Men's societies: Cultural canon

However, Men's societies aren't only about promoting individualism and development of consciousness. Because if Men's societies only addressed the conscious side of life, that would still leave the unconscious side of life in thralldom to the Great Mother and matriarchal culture. Thus, as part of their civilizing influence Men's societies create something called "Cultural canon" to address the unconscious side of life.


Upon entry into school and society, children are encourage to pivot away from the parents and recognize teachers, masters, and leaders as a proxy for the father in his civilizing role. The latter instruct children on social rules and how to function in the collective of the Men's societies: In other words, they transmit the prevailing "Cultural canon." Neumann says that such teachings in early societies included "religion, art, and the ceremonial group activities which may or may not be associated with these, such as the waging of war, feasts, processions, meetings, etc."[6]


Neumann says that this "Cultural canon" represents a sort of external "superego" or "conscience" for the growing child: "'Heaven' and the world of the fathers now constitute the superego or conscience which, as another 'authority' within the personality, represents the collective conscious values."[7]


Initiation ceremonies communicate Cultural canon to children "as the spiritual world of the collective by the elders who represent 'heaven.' […The child] is led to a new experience of his central position within the collective. Being initiated and being grown up mean being a responsible member of the collective, for from now on the suprapersonal significance of the ego and the individual is built into the culture of the collective and its canon."[8]


Thus, the Cultural canon fulfills the role of matriarchal collectivism and shoulders aside the influence of the Great Mother in the unconscious: It provides meaningful S-level narratives that connect deeply with the unconscious but also serve the needs of the patriarchy. 


S-level narratives allow for the use of symbolism, which bridges the gap between conscious and unconscious. Neumann says, "The world of symbols forms the bridge between a consciousness struggling to emancipate and systematize itself, and the collective unconscious with its transpersonal contents. So long as this world exists and continues to operate through the various rituals, cults, myths, religion, and art, it prevents the two realms from falling apart, because, owing to the effect of the symbol, one side of the psychic system continually influences the other and sets up a dialectical relationship between them."[9]


In this manner, both sides of life (conscious and unconscious) are monopolized by the patriarchy:

  • The Great Father and the conscious side of life are represented by teachers, masters, and leaders who serve as civilizing authorities;

  • The Great Mother and the unconscious side of life are replaced with symbols of the patriarchal collective: country, community, church, or political movement.[10]


With both both sides of life (conscious and unconscious) covered, the patriarchy monopolizes life. Neumann says that the patriarchal collective "compels the individual, however different his orientation may be at the different periods, to develop a one-sidedness which is at all times acceptable to itself. Various factors collaborate in this adaptation. Their common denominator is the strengthening of consciousness and of its capacity for action, and the simultaneous exclusion of the disruptive forces of the unconscious."[11]


Devaluation of the feminine

As the patriarchy elevates the masculine element and shoulders aside the feminine, there occurs a devaluation of the feminine. Erich Neumann says, "[T]he great wall that marks the boundary between conscious and unconscious is continually being strengthened by the revaluation--and devaluation--of unconscious contents. The patriarchal motto of the ego, 'Away from the unconscious, away from the mother,' sanctions all the devices of devaluation, suppression, and repression in order to exclude from its orbit contents potentially dangerous to consciousness."[12]


Neumann adds, "The deflation of the unconscious, its 'dethronement' by the patriarchal trend of conscious development, is closely connected with the depreciation of the female in the patriarchate." This alignment of the ego with the masculine is "apt to confuse 'away from the unconscious' with 'away from the feminine' altogether."[13]


Hence the repression of the older feminine origins of things. For example, in the earliest myths the male sun was traditionally born from the female night. But in later sun religions the sun is the starting point, independent and self-sufficient. And in Greek mythology, the goddess Demeter was one of the early fertility goddesses; she subsequently lost her crown to Zeus and was demoted to goddess of agriculture over time. Some of the early fertility rites associated with her were preserved as the Eleusinian Mysteries; but even there, over time, she was shouldered out in favor of the male god Dionysus.


I should note, however, that this "devaluation of the feminine" is a two-way street. In another context, Neumann says, "The matriarchal world is essentially 'man-hating' because it is a world in its own right with values and attitudes differing from those of the patriarchate. The juxtaposition of matriarchy and patriarchy as opposites also includes a mutual devaluation..."[14]

Link: Return to Sensing (S)

~Posted November 14, 2023


[1] Erich Neumann, The Origins and History of Consciousness, trans. R.F.C. Hull, with a forward by C.G. Jung, Bollingen Series XLII (Princeton University Press, 1954, First Princeton Classics edition, 2014), pp. 433-434.

[2] Ibid., p. 430.

[3] Ibid., p. 433.

[4] Ibid., pp. 408-409.

[5] Ibid., pp. 432-433.

[6] Ibid., p. 365.

[7] Ibid., p. 364.

[8] Ibid., pp. 408-409.

[9] Ibid., pp. 365-366.

[10] Ibid., pp. 407-408.

[11] Ibid., p. 399.

[12] Ibid., pp. 339-340.

[13] Ibid., p. 340.

[14] Erich Neumann, The Fear of the Feminine, and Other Essays on Feminine Psychology (Essays of Erich Neumann, Vol 4), trans. Matthews, Doughty, Rolfe, and Cullingworth, Bollingen Series LXI, 4, (Princeton University Press, 1994), pp. 266-267.

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