Goddesses in Buffy
In the spring and summer of ’03, I was reading the classic by Jungian psychologist Jean Shinoda-Bolen, Goddesses in Everywoman. Bolen discovered that she could sense the archetypes of the Greek goddesses in her female patients. One woman may exhibit the practical strategy-making characteristics of Athena, while another may exemplify the nurturing and compassionate qualities of Demeter. Since I am a huge fan of “Buffy, the Vampire Slayer” (or basically anything that Joss Whedon creates), suddenly the female characters of Buffy fall into the Greek goddess archetypes.
A brief introduction to Bolen’s seminal (ovarial?) book would be in order. Bolen divides the seven main goddesses into three categories. The three virgin goddesses are Athena (whom I see as Buffy)
, Artemis (manifested by Willow)
and Hestia. (represented by (Tara).
The word “virgin” in Jungian psychology does not necessarily mean a virgin in the medical or physical sense, but rather something undefiled, pure, uncorrupted and untouched by man. The virgin goddesses kept a significant part of their psyche entirely separate from any man. Essentially, they existed for their own selves, not changed by any man’s needs or desires.
There are three vulnerable goddesses: Hera (who appeared first as Cordelia, who then went on to eventually become what I call L.A. Gaia on Buffy’s spin-off show, Angel),
and was replaced by Anya the former vengeance demon,
Demeter (Joyce), the mother archetype,
and Persephone(Dawn) the daughter archetype .
Bolen explains the vulnerable goddesses as the ones who personify archetypes that represent the traditional roles of women. “They are the relationship-oriented goddesses, whose identity and well-being depend on having a significant relationship.” (Bolen, p. 132) The vulnerable goddesses were acted upon by the gods (rather than acting upon others on their own behalf) and suffered when an attachment was broken. They experienced powerlessness and reacted with an appearance of a mental illness-Hera responded with rage and Demeter and Persephone with depression. The focus of these personae was always relationships rather than autonomy, achievement or new experience.
The last, the alchemical goddess, is of course, Aphrodite, in a category by herself. This is, obviously, to me, anyway, Faith.
Bolen also distinguishes each goddess by identifying the quality of consciousness in each category and goddess herself. For example the virgin goddesses have an extremely focused consciousness, not unlike a spotlight or perhaps even a laser beam. The vulnerable goddesses, on the other hand exhibit a quality of consciousness much like, in Bolen’s words “light from a living room lamp, which illuminates and casts a warm glow on everything within its radius. It is a generalized attentiveness that allows a person to notice feeling nuances, a receptivity to the emotional tone of the situation, an awareness of background sounds as well as whatever is in the center of attention in the foreground.” (Bolen, p133) Bolen explains that this diffuse kind of consciousness can absorb the whole of the situation-the “gestalt” if you will.
The alchemical goddess, Aphrodite (Faith), the goddess of love and beauty, had many affairs and symbolizes the erotic, sensual, sexual aspect of a woman’s life and heralds new beginnings. She achieved a perfect balance between the autonomous qualities of a virgin goddess and the relationship orientation of the vulnerable goddesses. (Bolen, p 17). Bolen assigns to Aphrodite the quality of consciousness similar to theatrical lighting, or limelight. “What we behold in this limelight enhances, dramatizes or magnifies the impact of the experience on us…What is in the limelight absorbs our attention whatever we see in the golden light of Aphrodite consciousness becomes fascinating… Aphrodite’s “in love” way of attending to another person as if he or she were fascinating and beautiful is characteristic of the archetype…Such a woman takes in people in the same way that a wine connoisseur attends to and notices the characteristics of an interesting new wine…it would be a mistake to assume that the “loving attention” and interest she pays the wine means that the particular wine is special, valued or even enjoyed. This is the mistake people often make when they respond to a woman who uses Aphrodite consciousness. Basking in the glow of her focus, they feel attractive and interesting as she actively draws them out and reacts in a loving or affirming way (rather than assessing or critical). It is her style to be genuinely and momentarily involved in whatever interests her. The effect on the other person can be seductive—and misleading if her way of interacting creates the impression that she is fascinated or enamored, when she is not.” (Bolen, p 226-7).
Bolen’s addition of the Aphrodite consciousness to the traditional Jungian concepts of focused consciousness and diffuse awareness was a big step in helping women to define and articulate their desires in a healthier and more productive manner.
By dropping these concepts into the frame of a universe that contained a popular and powerful icon, I hope to perhaps make them more accessible to a greater number of people and empower a younger generation with these timeless archetypes. In later posts I will be adding references to Bolen’s “Goddesses In Older Women” and “Artemis, The Indomitable Spirit” as I explore these myths more deeply and how they relate to Buffy and her family and friends. I will also be adding Darla and Fred/Illyria as minor representations of goddesses.
The last episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer “Chosen” shows Buffy sharing her power, activating what Bolen would call her Metis, or “wisdom” persona . Joss’ assertion was that the message of this was basically, “You’ve gone on this journey with us. It’s now time to become your own hero.” This is what I would wish for every person who joins me on this journey as well.