The Other Woman
“The opposites are the ineradicable and indispensable preconditions of all psychic life.”
— C.G. Jung
Write to be free of it. Or understand it. Or perhaps just to be at peace with it.
Flannery O’Conner once said, ‘I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.’ That seems as apt now as ever.
This is a difficult piece for me to write and yet it’s been sitting there in the far recesses of my psyche for decades waiting for a proper hearing. Reading Thomas Moore’s beautiful book, ‘Care for the Soul’ recently has impelled me to turn towards these shadows and attend to the rejected archetypes that continue to do battle inside, making me avoid the potential that embracing them might just unleash.
The name she most commonly receives is ‘The Other Woman’. Type this rather unflattering pronoun into your search engine and you will find countless warnings to women to watch out for her or even sadder the tales of women who have been defeated by her. Rarely will you find a mythological understanding of her or an attempt to delve deeper into the soul of this most potent archetype. For not only is she unflattering and kind of creepy in a Sharon Stone / ‘Fatal Attraction’ kind of a way, in her portrayal under this name, she is also deeply mistrusted and rejected by a society who has firmly placed their moral adoration and respect towards her opposite, the wife and mother.
She has however, many other names.
Femme Fatale. Concubine. Siren. Companion. Friend. Mistress. Prostitute. Whore. Inspiratrice. Muse.
Just to name a few.
Yet none of these come even close to the way she has shown her face in my life.
The closest any have come to the archetype that seeks expression in my personal myth is what the Ancient Greeks called ‘Hetaira’ which simply meant female companion. What distinguishes her in both modern and ancient descriptions of her function is that she is primarily committed to the quality of her relational life.
As a woman who has struggled her whole life to find alternative feminine archetypes, I have done a great deal of digging here and have felt at times compelled to lift her out of the shadows and exalt her with the dignity I feel she deserves. At other times though, I have also outright rejected her, in a mirroring of the collective, and thrown her back into the shadows convincing myself that I could jump into her opposite and ‘fit in’ like a well bred, socially acceptable wife should. It’s funny how that one never quite works out very well! Apparently, to quote the wisdom of another beloved muse Tori Amos, “you can’t be someone you’re not. You just can’t.”
According to Toni Wolff who renewed this archetype in her fourfold study of the ‘Structural Forms of the Feminine Psyche’ (Zurich, 1956) ‘The hetaira archetype often confused with concubine, actually means companion. This type relates to a man for his sake alone and not as the father of her children. She sometimes becomes the ‘mistress’ or extramarital companion rather than wife or mother. Her closeness to the forest realm of unconventional inner life calls her onto a path of emotional wanderings. This type of woman, depending on how well she knows herself, can either play the role of awakening psychic life in her companion (muse) or the role of temptress luring the other away from realistic adaptation to the world. The hetaira is not an easy role for women to play as it does not fit into accepted patterns of society.’
This apt description has often mirrored my own experience and even in her most benign form she is still not fully recognized or trusted by the majority who still aim to homogenize a woman’s experience and completely deny the need for her existence. Some European cultures I think do better with this where there appears to be more space allowed for the coexistence of feminine archetypes and more willingness to open and explore a variety of relational modes.
Toni Wolff herself was a highly controversial figure in playing this role for her deep companion and colleague Carl Jung and the one woman who did the most work it seems to elevate and understand the significance of this figure in his life was Jung’s own wife, Emma. In a touching series of interviews recorded as part of the biographical film, ‘A Matter of Heart’, Emma Jung is celebrated by Jung’s pupils as a women who was both practical and extremely understanding of the need for this other expression of womanhood in her husband’s life;
“In our time, when such threatening forces of cleavage are at work, splitting peoples, individuals, and atoms, it is doubly necessary that those which unite and hold together should become effective; for life is founded on the harmonious interplay of masculine and feminine forces, within the individual human being as well as without. Bringing these opposites into union is one of the most important tasks.” (1955)
This integration of the opposites which appears to be the cornerstone of the individuation process has been profound in exploring the tensions that exist between the archetypal forces that seek expression in a woman’s life and as Thomas Moore so beautifully outlines, they are done the greatest justice when seen as aspects of soul and therefore having their origins in the realm of the gods.
In Wolff’s analysis she pits the hetaira archetype against the maternal figure as opposites. Irene Claremont de Castillejo, another Jungian contemporary of Emma and Toni writes,
“The extreme opposite and furthest away from the maternal type is the hetaira or companion…she can be a companion on any level, intellectually, spiritually or sexually or all three at once, but not necessarily all three. She may in extreme cases be a ‘femme inspiratrice’.
She goes on to emphasize how important it is for a woman to properly understand her potential in both a positive and negative aspect and highlights a common mistake made of woman who tend to embody this archetype;
“…the women of this type don’t always realize that they have a role to play so they continually try to change their status of mistress to that of wife mistakenly believing that marriage is the inevitable desired goal.…The hetaira woman who breaks other people’s marriages in order to become the wife herself has not yet learned what belongs to her particular form of relationship.” (1973)
Understandable really that such a woman should strive for the role that society places most value on and struggle to do the work of finding a relationship between these opposites within her. I can’t help but wonder at times that if more men and women were more familiar with the necessity of this archetype that she might not cause so much strife for both the women who embody her and the ones who don’t.
Carl Jung himself said eloquently of this feminine figure in his later years,
“It is unfortunately true that when you are wife and mother you can hardly be Hetaira too, just as it is the secret suffering of the Hetaira that she is not a mother. There are women who are not meant to bear physical children, but they give birth to a man in a spiritual sense, which is a highly important function.’ (C.G.Jung, Letters 1951–61)
Mythologically there are numbers of archetypes worth exploring here, though in the infamous jealousy of Hera and Aphrodite, the Greek goddesses of Marriage and Love respectively, we see the ultimate tension and need for a space to be created for these two archetypal forces to peacefully coexist.
Thomas Moore explains that to think mythologically about such things helps us to see that jealous rage and inner conflict about women’s roles might be better observed as ‘the complaint of a god (or goddess) that is receiving insufficient attention.’ (1992)To illustrate this idea he quotes Aphrodite (a most famous mythological expression of the Hetaira along with Calypso and even Circe in a more shadow personification) and her outburst in Euripides play, ‘Hippolytus’ who was more interested in Artemis’ purity than the sensuality of her opposite,
“I stir up trouble for any who ignore me, or belittle me, and who do it out of stubborn pride.”
What woman hasn’t felt that inner rage when a part of her Self has been ignored or rejected in favor of another?
Moore who also guides his patients gently towards integration and wholeness in reconciling these archetypal forces, goes on to also suggest that ‘the idea is to create enough space and summon enough holding power to let these two divinities work out some arrangement for co-existence.’
In my experience this has been an immensely challenging undertaking but one that has deeply called for investigation from a young age. Recently I had a dream advising me that it was time to air this story again and I guess doing so it brings me one step closer to integration and understanding of the nature of these potent forces that can erupt unpredictably in a woman’s life.
Someone once told me that I should only write when I have something to say and there is an aspect of this hetaira archetype within me that has been inwardly screaming for recognition for some time and in the difficulty of conveying such things, finds herself pushed continually back into the shadows till she erupts again, usually when a deep relationship potential arises. American Jungian analyst Bob Johnson articulates beautifully the positive potential of such a force when properly understood and integrated;
“She is not at all interested in providing some womb like environment of safety. Rather she is interested in providing the opportunity for the male to challenge himself to stretch his ideologies, philosophies and perceptions of life to include feminine perspectives which challenge him to develop the Sophiic qualities of wisdom. The hetaira may limit herself to an individual male, but may as well feel very comfortable having such relationships with more than one male. The hetaira is not interested in holding onto relationship that are not growing and maturing. She has either formally or informally spent a lot of time studying the ways of the world and the ways of the male. As with the mother, she innately understands the power of her feminine nature, but she understands it as a psychological vessel rather than a physical vessel. She has an excellent grasp of the relationship between the physical and philosophic worlds as well as her inner and outer realities. Sexual intimacy is not strictly a physiological experience for the hetaira, although traditionally she is very creative in such relationships. The choice to indulge in sexual intimacy is based on the hetaira’s personal preferences and interests. However, one minimal requirement is that the male readily and willingly rises to her creative ideological challenges. Only with such effort will he have even the slightest possibility of indulging in the sexual joys of the hetaira. Regardless of sexual choice, her main interest still lies in being a friend and confidant to the male and encouraging him to expand his horizons to the broadest of possible perspectives.’ (2000)
Of the more famous contemporary women that have been chosen by Molten and Sikes in their recent study, “Four Eternal Women — Toni Wolff Revisited” as modern Hetaira types, are Lou Andreas Salome and Simone de Beauvoir, both European, and two women who I have had enormous respect and adoration for in my investigations of the feminine. “Both labored to self –actualize professionally as well as to be present to their partners who were among the most famous men of the 20th century.” (2011)
Lou Salome who was an immensely gifted writer, psychologist and according to Sikes eloquent description of the Hetaira in full swing, “the occasion and spur of genius in others”, had a profound connection with Nietzsche, Rilke and Freud who were all deeply moved by her companionship and passion for their work.
It would seem that she has gone out of favor as an archetype in more recent times though she still lives deeply in the soul of those women who have found themselves in her grip. There is a compulsion in a woman that drives her to play such a role that is, as we have seen, archetypal and eternal. Despite its difficulties there is an enormous pay off for the woman who finds herself here in maintaining her independence and freedom if she is able to integrate the shadow of the archetype which Wolff claims often has to do with the fact that for the man this relationship can often be less conscious and seem to the Hetaira less important even though for her it is decisive. For the Hetaira everything else, social security, position etc is unimportant and irrelevant.
Molten and Sikes, (2011) advise in the integration of the shadow aspects that this woman “matures and begins to reflect on the choices she has made and why. This introspection process takes some real soul searching on her part and is a process that is apt to develop most fully in the second half of life. It is important that she do this self examination without debilitating guilt, negative self judgment or defensiveness.”
Easier said that done really though as always the struggle is ennobled by the grace and beauty of the women who were unafraid to own, embody and integrate the divinity that was longing to express itself through them and guide them and others towards wholeness.
- Wolff, Toni, (1956) ‘Structural Forms of the Feminine Psyche’, Zurich Students Association, C.G. Jung Institute.
- De Castillejo, Irene, (1973) ‘Knowing Woman — A Feminine Psychology’, C.G Jung Foundation for Analytical Psychology
- Moore, Thomas (1992), ‘Care For the Soul’, Piatkus books, Great Britain.
- Robert L Johnson, ’Feminine Quarternity, Queen, Medial, Amazon, Hetaira’, Tallahassee Centre for Jungian Studies.
- Molten and Sikes, (2011), ‘Four Eternal Women’ A study in opposites, Fisher King Press, California.