The Great Mother

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The Great Mother
An Analysis of the Archetype
The Great Mother, first edition.jpg
Cover of the first edition
AuthorErich Neumann
Original titleDie große Mutter. Der Archetyp des grossen Weiblichen
TranslatorRalph Manheim
SubjectMother goddesses
PublisherPrinceton University Press
Publication date
Media typePrint (Hardcover and Paperback)
ISBN0-691-01780-8 (paperback)
0-691-09742-9 (hardcover)
LC Class55-10026

The Great Mother: An Analysis of the Archetype (German: Die große Mutter. Der Archetyp des grossen Weiblichen) is a book about mother goddesses by the psychologist Erich Neumann. The dedication reads, "To C. G. Jung friend and master in his eightieth year". Although Neumann completed the German manuscript in Israel in 1951,[1] The Great Mother was first published in English in 1955.[2] The work has been seen as an enduring contribution to literature inspired by Jung.


Great Round of female archetypes[edit]

As a brief introduction to a fraction of the book's narrative and analysis, presented here is an abbreviated abstract of a diagram Neumann identifies as "Schema III".[3] Around a circle, or Great Round,[4] various mother and related entities drawn from the history of religions were placed.[5][6] From these were selected the following six representatives:


                               Isis                 Sophia
                              Lilith                 Kali
                                      the witches

Neumann, employing the values of traditional cultures,[7][8] describes the different positions as: Kali, the terrible Mother (sickness, dismemberment, death, extinction); the witches, negative change;[9][10] Lilith, the negative Anima (ecstasy, madness, impotence, stupor); Isis, the good Mother (fruit, birth, rebirth, immortality); Mary (spiritual transformation);[11] and, Sophia, the positive Anima (wisdom, vision, inspiration, ecstasy). They are grouped in three polar opposites: the Mother axis (Isis-Kali); the Anima axis (Sophia-Lilith); and the Transformation axis (vertical).[12][13]

Archetypal articulation and consciousness[edit]

Following the theme of his The Origins and History of Consciousness (1949; 1954),[14] Neumann first tracks the evolution of feminine archetypes from the original uroboros (primordial unconsciousness). These archetypes become articulated from the "Great Round".[15] "The psychological development [of humankind]... begins with the 'matriarchal' stage in which the archetype of the Great Mother dominates and the unconscious directs the psychic process of the individual and the group." Eventually, from the symbolic Great Round, new psychic constellations are articulated, e.g., the Eleusinian Mysteries.[16]

Increasingly, opportunities opened in these ancient cultures for spiritual transformation which liberated the individual ego consciousness, the awareness of self. The "rise to consciousness" through a semi-unconscious social process affecting the group becomes institutionalized as ritual.[17][18] Later more individual paths may evolve to augment this process.[19][20]

Academic, cultural context[edit]

Psychology of gender dichotomy[edit]

As discussed in Neumann's prior work The Origins and History of Consciousness, the Great Mother archetype is eventually transcended by the mythic Hero. His victory personifies the emergence of a well-established ego consciousness from the prior sway of unconscious or semi-conscious forces. The gender dichotomy framework, however, necessarily favors a focus on the liberation of male consciousness.[21][22]

In his subsequent The Great Mother, Neumann directs most of his attention instead to elaborating the feminine archetype. Yet its seldom-stated back story remains by default the emergence of the ego consciousness of the male hero.[23] "Neumann was well aware that The Great Mother told only one side of the story, and had plans to complement the study with a volume on the female psychology of the Great Mother." His early death foreclosed work on this companion volume.[24]

Neumann did publish an article, followed by an amplification of it, which outlined his multilateral understanding of the rise of a woman's ego consciousness and corresponding relationship to the Great Mother archetype.[25][26] Other Jungian studies, however, have addressed analogous paths of female consciousness.[27][28]

Archetype compared to archaeology[edit]

In an unpublished manuscript of the late 1930s, Neumann praised J. J. Bachofen, author of Das Mutterrecht (1861) [Mother Right: an investigation of the religious and juridical character of matriarchy in the Ancient World]. Yet Neumann viewed him not as a cultural historian but as a "modern researcher of the soul". In fact, Bachofen's theory of "female dominated epochs" did not survive scrutiny, but had been "criticised and rejected by most contemporary historians". Although Marija Gimbutas's 1989 book advanced a position that inclined to the contrary, "most archaeological scholars today agree that there is no evidence for ancient worship of the Great Mother goddess... ."[29] Yet Bachofen's views remained influential.

While conceding the negative conclusions of cultural history and archaeology, there was an effort "to rescue Bachofen's concept of an age of gynaecocracy through a psychological revision." Starting from an article by Jung on the mother archetype,[30] Neumann expanded its range and depth. Utilizing many Eranos illustrations to supplement his text, he eventually produced his book, The Great Mother. It presents "a detailed examination of the different archetypal appearances of the Great Mother in mythology and religion." Liebscher cautions that it is "important today to read Neumann's study not as a contribution to a failed ancient cult of the Goddess but as an exemplary study of archetypal psychology."[31]


Psychologist James Hillman criticizes Neumann's reductionism in interpreting every kind of female figure and image as a symbol of the Great Mother. Hillman suggests that, "If one's research shows results of this kind, i.e., where all data indicate one dominant hypothesis, then it is time to ask a psychological question about the hypothesis."[32]

Jungian analyst Robert H. Hopcke, who calls The Great Mother "monumental in its breadth", considers it "Neumann's most enduring contribution to Jungian thought" alongside The Origins and History of Consciousness (1949).[33]

Archaeologist Marija Gimbutas "much appreciated" Neumann's book. His "psychological approach has opened new avenues in the interpretation... of the prehistoric Goddess." Yet Prof. Gimbutas felt that "the term mother devalues her importance and does not allow appreciation of her total character. Further, much of Neumann's archetype is based on post-Indo-European religious ideology, after the image of the Goddess had suffered a profound and largely debased transformation." Accordingly, for the prehistoric period, Gimbutas preferred "the term Great Goddess as best describing her absolute rule, her creative, destructive, and regenerative powers."[34]

Siegmund Hurwitz, among other references to Neumann, quotes approvingly from The Great Mother for Neumann's description and characterization of the "anima figure" as a distinct female archetype, to be distinguished from the originally more powerful mother type.[35]

Scholar Camille Paglia identifies The Great Mother as an influence on her work of literary criticism Sexual Personae (1990).[36] She has called it "a visual feast" and his "most renowned" work.[37]

Scholar Martin Liebscher writes, "Neumann's The Great Mother provided a watershed moment in the way archetypal studies would be conducted." The many previous monographs focused on a particular archetype could not compete "with the minute detail and careful structuring of Neumann's examination of the Great Mother archetype."[38]


  1. ^ Liebscher (2015) article, p. ix.
  2. ^ Neumann 1955, 1991. p. iv.
  3. ^ Neumann (1955, 2d ed. 1963), Schema III is between pp. 82/83, discussed at pp. 64-81.
  4. ^ Neumann (1955, 2d ed. 1963), pp. 18, 211-225 (the Great Round).
  5. ^ At the end of his The Great Mother (1955, 1963), Neumann presents a rich array of 185 Plates (source: Eranos seminars), mostly female archetypes drawn from the world religious cultures, of different eras.
  6. ^ Neumann (1949; 1954) included a long Chapter III, "The Great Mother", pp. 39-101, approached from another context: creation myth and the hero.
  7. ^ A reduction of the values here simplifies, for brevity and clarity, their otherwise great dynamic and polyvalent power. Neumann (1955, 2d ed. 1963), at pp. 74-79, explains that each of the archetypes may "shift" or "reverse" into its opposite; the two dimensional diagram is, in fact, actually three (p.77). Cf. p. 293 (magic of "priestess and witch"); p. 305 (the archetype may "guide" or "beguile").
  8. ^ Jung (1938, 1954; 1969), p. 82 [¶158], mentions that Kali, here being a symbol of her ferocious negative aspect, is more. "In India 'the loving and terrible mother' is the paradoxical Kali."
  9. ^ Neumann (1955, 2d ed. 1963), re p.149 (death, distress, hunger; vampires, ghouls);
  10. ^ Cf., Neumann (1953; 1994), p. 22. A fairy-tale witch "casts a spell over the daughter and imprisons her."
  11. ^ Neumann (1955, 2d ed. 1963), p. 80. Mary maternally is likened to the "Jewish figure of the Shekinah"; as positive Anima, to the "virginal Athene".
  12. ^ Neumann (1955, 2d ed. 1963), p. 82*83: "Schema III". Analysed at pp. 64-81.
  13. ^ Cf., Jung (1950; 1967), p. 236 [¶352]: the good mother in confusion might become the "most frightful danger" of the "Terrible Mother".
  14. ^ Neumann (1949; 1954), pp. 5-127 (Creation Myth: I. the Uroboros, II. the Great Mother, III. the Separation of the World Parents: Opposition).
  15. ^ Neumann (1955, 1963), p. 18 (uroboros), p. 211 (Great Round).
  16. ^ Neumann (1955, 1963), p. 91 (quote); pp. 305-306, 317-321, cf. 162.
  17. ^ Neumann (1955, 1963), p. 11 (individual), p. 268 (ego consciousness), p. 281 (ritual).
  18. ^ Cf., Jung (1950; 1967), transformation: p. 224 [¶332] (The "incest-tabo" stimulates "the creative imagination" which leads to "the self realization of the libido". It "becomes imperceptibly spiritualized"); pp. 363-364 [¶569] (Until the son becomes conscious of himself, the libido treasure "lies hidden in the mother-imago, i.e., the unconscious". It is "one of life's secrets" that "the total personality, the psychic totality... consists of both conscious and unconscious.")
  19. ^ Neumann (1955, 2d ed. 1963), p. 355 (self, tree of life).
  20. ^ Neumann (1952; 1956), p. 153. "The most fascinating aspect of [the story] is... the liberation of the individual from the primordial mythic world, the freeing of the psyche."
  21. ^ Neumann (1949; 1954), pp. 39-101 (the Great Mother), pp. 131-151 (the Birth of the Hero).
  22. ^ Cf., Monick (1987), pp. 57-62, who challenged Neumann's development theory of consciousness based on myths, interpreted as a male ego's heroic fight with the maternal uroboros, the unconscious source. Instead Monick suggests a masculine archetype, coequal partner to the feminine, both originally inhabiting the unconscious source.
  23. ^ Neumann (1955), pp. 27-28, 286.
  24. ^ Liebscher (2015) article, pp. x-xi (quote, discussion).
  25. ^ Neumann (1950) and Neumann (1953).
  26. ^ See also Neumann (1952, 1956).
  27. ^ E.g., Perera (1981). This work focuses on the Sumerian goddess Inanna, also known as Ishtar, but the author notes at p.9 similar myths of antiquity, "the Japanese Izanami, the Greek Kore-Persephone, Roman Psyche... " among others.
  28. ^ Harding (1936, rev'd 1955).
  29. ^ Liebscher (2015) article, pp. vii-x (Bachofen, Gimbutas; two quotes at pp. viii & x). Footnoted is Goodison and Morris (1999) re contra Bachofen.
  30. ^ Jung (1938).
  31. ^ Liebscher (2015) article, pp. viii-x, quotes at p. viii ("rescue"), p. viii ("detailed"), p. x ("important").
  32. ^ Hillman 1979. p. 216.
  33. ^ Hopcke 1989. p. 70.
  34. ^ Gimbutas (1989), p. 316.
  35. ^ Hurwitz (1992) p. 231, cf. p. 217.
  36. ^ Paglia 1993. p. 114.
  37. ^ Paglia (2006), p. 4.
  38. ^ Liebscher (2015) article, p. xi.


  • Gimbutas, Marija (1989), The Language of the Goddess. Harper and Row, New York.
  • Harding, M. Esther (1936, 1955), Woman's Mysteries. Ancient and modern. Longmans, Green, London; rev'd ed., Pantheon, New York; several reprints.
  • Hillman, James (1979). The Dream and the Underworld. New York: Harper & Row. ISBN 0-06-090682-0.
  • Hopcke, Robert H. (1989). Jung, Jungians and Homosexuality. Boston: Shambhala Publications, Inc. ISBN 0-87773-585-9.
  • Hurwitz, Siegmund (1992), Lilith the first Eve. Historical and psychological aspects of the dark feminine. Daimon Verlag, Einsiedeln.
  • Jung, Carl (1912, 4th rev'd 1950; 1956, 1967), Symbols of Transformation. Bollingen, Princeton University, CW, v.5.
  • Monick, Eugene (1987), Phallos. Sacred image of the masculine. Inner City Books, Toronto.
  • Neumann, Erich (1949; 1954), The Origins and History of Consciousness. Bollingen, Pantheon; Foreword by Carl Jung.
  • Neumann, Erich ([1951], 1955, 2d ed. 1963; 1991, 2015), The Great Mother. Bollingen, Princeton University Press ISBN 0-691-01780-8
  • Neumann, Erich (1952; 1956), Amor and Psyche. The Psychic development of the Feminine: A commentary on the tale by Apuleius. Harper; Bollingen.
  • Paglia, Camille (1993). Sex, Art, and American Culture: Essays. London: Penguin Books. ISBN 0-14-017209-2.
  • Perera, Sylvia Brinton (1981), Descent to the Goddess. A way of initiation for women. Inner City Books, Toronto.
    • Goodison, Lucy, and Christine Morris, eds. (1999), Ancient Goddesses. The myths and the evidence. University of Wisconsin and British Museum.
    • Liebscher, Martin, ed., (2015), Analytical Psychology in Exile. The correspondence of C. G. Jung and Erich Neumann. Princeton University.
  • Jung, Carl (1938, 1954; 1959, 1969). "Psychological aspects of the Mother Archetype" in Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious. Bollingen, CW, v.9i.
  • Liebscher, Martin (2015), "Forward" to Neumann's The Great Mother, Princeton Classics Edition.
  • Neumann, Erich (1950), "Towards a Psychology of the Feminine in the Patriarchy" in Jahresbericht, Psychological Club, Zurich.
  • Neumann, Erich (1953; 1994), "Psychological Stages of Woman's Development" in The Fear of the Feminine. Princeton University.
  • Neumann, Erich (1954; 1959), "Leonardo da Vinci and the Mother Archetype" in Art and the Creative Unconsciousness, Bollingen, Princeton University.
  • Paglia, Camille (Winter 2006), "Erich Neumann: Theorist of the Great Mother", in Arion 13/3, pp. 1–14.