The wise old woman and the wise old man are archetypes of the collective unconscious, a well-known symbol in myths and fairy tales for the wisdom of the eternal female nature. The Wise Old Man is her male counterpart.
In Jung’s thought, the individuation process was marked by a sequence of archetypes, each acquiring predominance at successive stages, and so reflecting what he termed an ascending psychic scale or ‘hierarchy of the unconscious’. Thus, starting with the intermediate position of ‘anima or animus…just as the latter have a higher position in the hierarchy than the shadow, so wholeness lays claim to a position and a value superior’ still. The Wise Old Woman and Man, as what he termed “Mana” personalities or “supraordinate” personalities, stood for that wholeness of the self: ‘the mother (“Primordial Mother” and “Earth Mother”) as a supraordinary personality…as the “self”’.
As von Franz put it,
‘If an individual has wrestled seriously and long enough with the anima (or animus) problem, so that he, or she, is no longer partially identified with it, the unconscious again changes its dominant character and appears in a new symbolic form representing the Self, the innermost nucleus of the personality.
In the dreams of a woman this centre is usually personified as a superior female figure — a priestess, sorceress, earth mother, or goddess of nature or love.
In the case of a man, it manifests itself as a masculine initiator and guardian, a wise old man, a spirit of nature and so forth’.
The masculine initiator was described by Jung as ‘a figure of the same sex corresponding to the father-imago…the mana-personality [a]s a dominant of the collective unconscious, the recognized archetype of the mighty man in the form of hero, chief, magician, medicine-man, saint, the ruler of men and spirits’.
The archetypes of the collective unconscious can thus be seen as inner representations of the same-sex parent — as an ‘imago built up from parental influences plus the specific reactions of the child’.
Consequently, for the Jungian, ‘the making conscious of those contents which constitute the archetype of the mana personality signifies therefore “for the man the second and true liberation from the father, for the woman that from the mother, and therewith the first perception of their own unique individuality”’.