BOOK REVIEW: The Way of the Woman: Awakening the Perennial Feminine

By Helen M Luke. Gill & Macmillan £8.99.

Today there is a spiritual hunger, an appetite to explore an interior aware­ness and to discover the meaning and purpose of life through its exploration. There is a preference for esoteric and non-rational ways of accessing this interior awareness, dreams, meditation, I Ching, Tarot and many other systems.

Parts of the interior are poorly charted. Maps are colourful and decorated like medieval navigation charts reflecting more the imaginations of the map-makers rather than the territory they are supposed to represent. Those who set out to explore these waters do so at considerable risk because there are tides and currents that can sweep one off course. When one loses sight of the shore how does one get one’s bearing without navigational training or a pilot who knows the waters.

Helen M. Luke was a pilot of these waters. Her journey began when she read a book about interpreting a dream in a Jungian way. Then through a combination of dreams and coincidences (are they ever!) she went to Zurich to study in the newly created Jungian Training Institute. Later she emigrated to America. After working for some time in California as an analyst she set up Apple Farm in Michigan – a community where people who had long experience of dreams and the inner life could talk to each other and develop a dialogue with their inner selves. There were no rules, conditions or pledges just a basic commitment to finding out who you are; what you are born to be, which is the meaning of Jung’s word “individuation”.

She died in 1995. “The Way of the Woman” is a collection of her beautifully written essays. Reading them is like taking an excursion across the boundary into the unconscious where the two main protagonists are the daimons of the animus and anima.

Every individual derives from the masculine and feminine genes, and one’s sex is determined by whichever genes predominate. In the psyche a person’s conscious mind reflects the majority genes while the unconscious is an expression of the minority genes. The conscious in a woman has a feminine sign but the unconscious is masculine (the animus). The reverse is true of a man. Wholeness consists of the union of the conscious and uncons­cious personality. On the way to wholeness and at different times in a person’s life either the conscious or unconscious can hold sway over the personality.

In the essay “The life of the Spirit In Women”, Helen Luke addresses the implications of this for women who want to fulfil their true natures and the danger that exists if they mistakenly let the unconscious dictate their fulfilment;

“the creative power in a woman can never come to fruition if she is caught in an unconscious imitation of men or identification with the inferior masculinity in her unconscious. He (Jung) defined the masculine as the ability to know one’s goal and to do what is necessary to achieve it. As long as the animus remains unconscious in a woman he will persuade her that she has no need to explore her hidden motives and will urge her to a blind pursuit of her conscious goals, which of course liberates her from the hard and undramatic task of discovering her real individual point of view. Unrecognised and undifferentiated, he will actually destroy in her the possibility of integrating her contrasexual powers. Her spirituality will thus remain a sterile thing and this negative animus will poison her attitude to her own nature.”

The emergence of women in this century into the masculine world of thought and action has led to an increasing contempt by women for their own values. She sees it as a necessary but devastating phase not only on women but also on men.

“For the animus – the unconscious masculinity in a woman – when it takes possession of femininity, has a terrifying power, charged as it is with the numinosity of the unconscious – and most men in their turn, when faced with this power in their women, either retreat into inferior passive femininity, seeking to propitiate the power of the animus, or else react with brutal aggressive masculinity. Small wonder that women thus possessed, having lost their true roots in nature, are constantly beset by the anxious feeling of being useless, however outwardly successful. The dreams of modern women are full of this basic insecurity.”

On the political stage, Thatcherism is an allegory of our time. Mrs. Thatcher would appear to exemplify this predicament but she probably represents many others.

An antidote to this condition is found in the second sign of the I Ching, K’un the Receptive, which Helen Luke summarises:

“… if we discover in ourselves the hidden beauty of this receptive devotion, if we learn how to be still without inaction, how to “further life” without willed purpose, how to serve without demanding prestige, and how to nourish without domination: then we will be women again out of whose earth the light may shine.”

Exploring the unconscious is a rapidly growing industry. Just look at the trends in any bookshop. The principal purchasers are women, mostly pro­fessional, between 30 and 45 years. Perhaps very few are aware that what they will discover is their dormant masculine unconscious. Its discovery releases an experience of the supernatural but there is a danger;

“The danger of mistaking an experience of spirits for the experience of the Spirit has always been recognised by the wise. ‘It is not every spirit, my dear people, that you can trust; test them to see if they come from God’.” (Jerusalem Bible, I John 4:1).

The rush to escape from scientific materialism and its left brain methods of thinking can lead just as quickly to spiritual materialism, where spiritual­ity is desired as a means of satisfying the demands of the ego and all things are subordinated to this criterion. Spiritual progress and material wealth or personal gratification coincide in the new spiritual supermarkets. The latest offers for the spiritual consumers are, “Losing Weight through Meditation”, “Becoming Rich through Meditation”. These are seductive offers but who is fooling who? When Cola makers promise us happiness we know they are deluding us. But when the spiritual brand managers invert the process – buy a book on spirituality and you can have Cola – can we discriminate? When the damage is limited to rotting our teeth it is regrettable but spiritual poisoning is much more devastating. Just as we have interfered with the human food chain and produced deadly effects, will the spiritual fast food chain produce soul destroying viruses despite its initial convenience? In this context it is worth reminding ourselves that Jung defines evil as the militant unconscious.

“The danger can be very great for the unconscious can swallow as well as nourish, and the Spirit from within, seized upon by the immature ego, becomes a demon overthrowing all human values … Then indeed the end is a descent from the superhuman to the subhuman.”

The final part of the book consists of two interviews with Helen Luke entitled “A Freedom to be Oneself” and “Letting Go”. It would appear that she achieved both on her journey. Her writing revitalises and reinvigorates a sense of spirituality that has been lost through neglect. She defines feminine originality as the capacity for unique individual responses and she has done this by presenting spirituality as a profoundly challenging process. The writing resonates with meaning and can be read repeatedly to peel back the layers.

She poses a particular challenge to the women’s movement because she asserts that the real damage done by the dominance of masculinity for so many centuries is the contempt for the feminine in so much of the propa­ganda of the women’s movement.

One can make inferences from “The Way of the Woman” regarding the way of the man. In some of the essays she makes parallel observations about the masculine psyche but it would be nice to have someone like Helen Luke to guide men through the exploration of their unconscious.

Aidan Maloney