Goddesses in Everywoman by Jean Shinoda Bolen: Review
Page after page, we, the women, take form. Exposed, illuminated and revealed in all of our shadows and light, in Goddesses in Everywoman, Jean Shinoda Bolen holds up a mirror in which we see ourselves clearly reflected. We are the goddesses of ancient myth, incarnate in human form. Virgin, vulnerable and alchemical, there we all are, magnetised through Bolen’s brilliant binocular vision, whereby Jungian psychoanalysis meets feminism in a unified yet complex kaleidoscope of character and personal growth.
Goddessses in Everywoman was first published in 1985. The cover of my copy is flagged as the 30th Anniversary edition. 38 years since it’s first printing! And througout the book I couldn’t stop thinking, “How is it that I’m just reading this for the first time now?
Goddesses in Everywoman: Expanding Upon Jung
That we are all unique and beautiful souls, this is given. But in sharing the wisdom gained through both knowledge and practice, Bolen reveals how, from infancy onwards, we are driven by powerful archetypes that have been a part of our collective consciousness for over 3,000 years.
She introduces us to seven significant Goddesses, first and second generation Olympians, whose individual characteristics are shown to have been fragmented from the single and unified Great Goddess that preceded patriarchy. In doing so, Bolen expands upon the limited vision of femininity proposed by Carl Jung.
Jung theorised that traits such as competitiveness, strategy and intellectualism were simply expressions of a woman’s animus, or the male part of her psyche, and therefore not truly her own. But the goddess archetypes, Bolen says, tell us a different story. These “mascuine” traits are and always have been a natural facet of a woman’s inherent feminine psychology. Goddesses in Everywoman, then, has liberated generations of women from the narratives and structures that would undermine our self confidence and consign us to a limited range of roles.
The Goddess Archetypes: Virgin, Vulnerable and Alchemical
Of the seven goddess archetypes that are presented, we find that one or two are dominant in our character, some are absent, whilst others are active only in particular periods of our lives.
Artemis, Athena and Hestia are the Virgin goddesses. Finding fulfilment through autonomy, these “one-in-herself” archetypes are competitive, stategic and wise. They have no driving desire for an intimate relationship with a man, nor for maternity. Significantly, they were never controlled or abused by the patriarchal mythscape into which they were born. But the dark side of their independence was emotional aloofness, which, under pressure, became ruthlessness, lack of empathy and social ineptness.
Hera, Demeter and Persephone are the Vulnerable goddesses. Deeply fulfilled through their roles as wives, mothers and daughters, these archetypes are loving, nurturing and receptive. Through their relationships, they explored the full range of emotions, from the high states of blissful union through to the horror of the Underworld. The dark side of their openess was defencelessness, and they were abducted, raped, betrayed and abused by the male gods.
Aphrodite, alone, is the Alchemical goddess. Her sense of fulfilment derives from passion, beauty, sensuality and the free expression of her sexuality. Aphrodite was the irresistable lover, and the divine embodiment of peace, love and harmony. Through the lens of her gaze, all were transformed, believing themselves to be exclusive beloved. But the dark side Aphrodite’s passion was an inability to commit, to promiscuity and a blindness to the consequences of her actions.
Importantly, Bolen constantly reminds us that the archetypes are exactly that: “models of being and behaving we recognize from the collective unconscious we all share”. We, on the other hand, are real women who are living in the world, having to make choices that can impact upon the course of our lives. Conscious recognition of which goddess archetype is dominant in our lives can help us avoid the problems that arise when they are given free reign.
“Archetypes exist outside of time, unconcerned with the realities of a woman’s life or her needs. When goddesses exert an influence, the woman as heroine must say yes, or no, or “not now” to the demands. If she does not exercise conscious choice, then an instinctual or an archetypal pattern will take over. A woman needs to “resist the power of the bear” and yet honor its importance to her…”
Activating the Goddess in You
Rather than being passively driven, Bolen invites us to be the heroines of our own story, and shows us how to do so. In order to “grow beyond” the challenges, we need to become intimately acquainted with our archetypes. Bolen introduces us first to the genealogy and mythology of each goddess, which sets the stage for the character traits and behavioural patterns that are particular to each one. She then presents in detail how we can recognise the dominance of a goddess throughout the various stages of our lives. Childhood and our parental relationships, adolescence and young adulthood, work and career, relationships with women and with men, sexuality, marriage, the middle years and the later years are all contextualised according to the archetypes.
Finally, Bolen shows how, by “activating” particular goddesses in our psyche, we can downplay those that are getting out of hand. We can transform overwhelm into balance and confusion into clarity. We can strengthen weak or missing characteristics and move, ultimately, towards individuation, or wholeness.
Rising with your Inner Goddess
Which goddess is prominent in you? Virgin, Vulnerable or Alchemical? Sister or Strategist? Mother, Daughter, Wife, Lover or Wise Woman? Or are you a mixture of many?
I found myself in Artemis, when I was a wilful, wild and curious child. I saw myself as Persephone during those difficult years of adolescence, and as Aphrodite, when as a young woman I was blooming, sexual and creative. I recognise myself now in Hera, happily married to my chosen man. And now, as I cross the bridge into menopause and desire more time for spirituality and tranquility, I find myself affirmed in Hestia.
And then there were all of the others. I discovered the goddesses in my mother, my sisters, my neices and my friends. In all of the versions and ages and hormonal changes that mix and amalgamate to make up who we are – we’re all there.
As you explore the archetypes in Goddesses in Everywoman, you’ll be fascinated at how their psychological profiles are so recognisable in yourself and in all of the women that you know.
This recognition is powerful. It alters our perspective. It opens us to compassion and empathy. And it lifts us higher.