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Supplemental Essay: The Muse

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.

In The Fear of the Feminine Erich Neumann describes a stage in the development of female consciousness where, like the Struggler, the daughter undergoes separation-individuation and flees the Great Mother. But like the Maiden, the Muse never manages to escape; she falls into the clutches of the Antagonist acting as companion to the Great Mother. Neumann says that the daughter "is seized by an unknown, overwhelming power that she experiences as a formless numinosum. [...] Because the power of the unconscious penetrates and overwhelms, woman experiences it as something Masculine that sweeps her away, seizes and pierces her, and transports her beyond herself."[1]


Neumann likens the encounter to an abduction and rape, harkening back to the Persephone myth: "An obvious symbol of this is the mythologem of the death-marriage in which the masculine energy as robber and ravisher can become Hades, the god of death, who abducts the woman, as Kore, into his realm."[2]


However, in the case of the Muse this entrapment by the Antagonist elevates the daughter out of the sexual realm of the Great Mother and into a spiritual realm: It's a father-daughter bond where the daughter serves as the "muse" of the Antagonist. Neumann says, "The workings of this form constellate the figure of the 'daughter of the eternal father,' i.e., a woman who as 'virgin' remains bound to the spirit-father in visible or invisible form. [...] In this case she leads her life as the man's 'anima,' that is, as his inspiratrix, and consequently can forfeit her individual life that also has earthy, maternal, and other qualities that ought to be developed. She 'lives beyond her means' and is inflated."[3]


However, as was the case with the Son-lover and the Struggler, this captivity keeps the daughter at the stage of a child and becomes a prison for her: "This constellation retains the intoxicating component in the relationship of the small female to the great male, and hence a certain infantility and daughterliness is never overcome. [..T]he Spirit-Father often appears as a sorcerer who negatively fascinates the woman and holds her prisoner."[4]


Furthermore, the daughter remains in the orbit of the Great Mother: The punishing Terrible Mother figure is still lurking in the background. Neumann says, "[T]here now appears, alongside the negative figure of the father as sorcerer, also a negative form of the Great Mother, who avenges the daughter's betrayal. The figure of the Great Mother regresses to that of the mythological witch who, for example in fairy tales, casts a spell over the daughter and imprisons her."[5]


Neumann says that the daughter's estrangement from the Great Mother leaves the daughter alienated from her own earthly, feminine side. Neumann says that to grow to full maturity the daughter needs a positive bond to the Great Mother; without such a bond, the daughter remains an undeveloped child: "For woman the positive bond to the Great Mother is also always the prerequisite psychologically for becoming a mother, for being fertile, and for having a healthy relationship to her own body and to the earth. On the other hand, being estranged from the Great Mother leads to the inability to develop the maternal and fruitful qualities of her feminine nature and consequently to the typical symptoms of hysteria, of estrangement from body, indeed even of sterility."[6]


To sum it up: Like the Struggler, the Muse distances herself from the Great Mother and yet never really escapes. She becomes a prisoner of the Antagonist and at the same time a child and a Wanderer, unable to find her way back to an identity of her own. And as a Muse to the Antagonist she plays an influential role in the world, but she does so from a "distanced" perspective: She interacts with the world at second hand, through the agency of the father figure who holds her captive.

Link: Return to Intuition (N)

~Posted January 27, 2024


[1] 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. 15-17.

[2] Ibid., p. 18.

[3] Ibid., p. 21.

[4] Ibid., pp. 21-22.

[5] Ibid., p. 22.

[6] Ibid., p. 23.

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