Mandalas, Nixies, Goddesses and Succubi: a neuroanthropologist Looks at the Anima

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Anima and interpretation. The main point I wish to stress here is that working with the anima, in any cultural setting, is an interpretive process. The anima must be involved in some form of cycle of meaning that integrates knowledge -- often social ways of knowing -- with the individual’s direct experiences. Most traditional cultures will provide an interpretive context within which anima imagery and affect will make sense within the context of their system of local knowledge.

It is very unlikely that such systems will interpret anima-like experiences as psychodynamic. Rather, they will tend to be interpreted in terms of visitation by spirits, goddesses or demons, depending upon whether they are affectively positive or negative. Anima possession may be viewed as soul-loss, or possession by some spirit for the purpose of healing or killing (Prince 1968, Bourguignon 1976, Boddy 1994). If they are considered bothersome, sometimes anima states may be seen as being due to witchcraft or sorcery. The positive aspect of anima manifestation my involve interpretations of “divine intervention” when manifestations include intuitive inspiration – the word “inspiration” being used advisedly here, for it originally meant the divine breathing wisdom into one. Intuition in many cultures is considered intervention from the external domain of spirit, rather than as in internal and largely unconscious function of the psyche.

It is very important from the anthropological point of view to understand that a “Jungian” hermeneutic is just as culturally loaded as any other. It is the purpose to which the interpretation is put that matters. From the standpoint of individuation, the Jungian approach will probably carry one to higher states of maturity than will traditional cycles of meaning. The latter are normally more concerned with social integration of meaning than with aiding the individual to optimize his or her own individuation.

As an anthropologist, I have come down heavily upon the essentially hermeneutic aspect of the process of individuation. I am inclined to do so by the ignorance of cross-cultural factors often found in the Jungian literature today. During the years that I worked with meditators of all kinds and cultural backgrounds, I was impressed with the extent to which people can uncritically accept the interpretations most amenable to their cultural backgrounds. To my reading at least, the failure to take into consideration the relativity of interpretation is antithetical to what Jung intended or taught us.


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