First published Aug 12, 2016
In 1949, professor Joseph Campbell, made famous by the public television series and companion book, The Power of Myth with Bill Moyers, published The Hero with a Thousand Faces, which became a tome for the Western literary and psychological imagination. Chronicling the role of the hero as the singular representative—or “monomyth”—of the human condition, Joseph Campbell’s work has resonated for more than fifty years to give Westerners a cultural touchstone that has unified film, literature, psychology, and more. The Hero with a Thousand Faces has influenced everyone from George Lucas to J. J. Abrams and inspired people to think mythologically about our place in the world. In this monomyth, the hero is called to action, he goes on a quest, he battles forces within and without, and he learns something about himself, which is really about humanity. He then brings this knowledge back to his people.
Campbell said that the great myths of culture, from Europe to Asia, were told by, and for, men. These tales spin stories of male heroes: Hercules, Hamlet, Odysseus, Jason, Cuchulainn, Yue Fei, Arjuna, Ogun, and many more, across every culture. The plots are similar, though they take place at different times and places across the world. Campbell tried to bring women into the monomyth but found through his research, that women weren’t well represented by it. He felt that women’s lives were filled with sacrifice and loyalty, but he couldn’t find any monomyths that encompassed a journey for women on par with the stories of male heroes. Fairytales were as close as Campbell came to understanding women’s roles in a monomyth, but fairytales as we know them today, are also mediated by a patriarchal culture.
Marie-Louise von Franz and other twentieth century analytical psychologists writing at the same time as Campbell came to a simultaneous conclusion, and added to a body of knowledge based on researching fairytales. However, no one has ever produced a monomyth for, or truly inclusive of, women. There have been many authors over the last fifty years who have attempted to identify a course for modern women, authors such as psychiatrist and Jungian analyst Jean Shinoda Bolen and religious scholars including Merlin Stone and Carol Christ. Carol Pearson, in her 2015 book, Persephone Rising: Awakening the Heroine Within, has even reframed the entire Persephone myth as a heroine’s journey.
These accomplished women have told the stories of goddesses and heroines and shown where those stories align with Campbell’s monomyth. The hero is called to a journey, she chooses to take the journey, she finds that the things she searches for are within her or fundamentally change her, and she takes this knowledge back to humanity—that’s the basic foundation of the hero’s journey. But some important pieces are missing. While you can look at that breakdown and recognize the traditional hero’s myth, there remains a fundamental difference between the archetypal stories that men and women align with, and that difference is that the primary archetype in a woman’s life is not a hero or heroine but …a divided Queen. Most women are forced to chose between the perfect ingenue, or a flawed exile. A new force is emerging though, a re-unified Queen.
Having a fundamental archetype of this kind is a problem because it implies women have the right to place themselves above men and other women. But that is not the case with this Queen. The foundation of the queen archetype is built on sovereignty. She is a woman undefined by the cultural divide. She defines herself. She owns her body, her identity, her mind, her sexuality, and her relationships. She is not under anyone’s control. It is this self-ownership—not an ability or a power over others—that defines her as a queen.
In contemporary culture, the queen archetype has been transforming over the last century, and is now emerging in pieces seeking unity.
As the cultural product of thousands of years of patriarchy, society isn’t comfortable with women owning anything, not even themselves. So, 400 years ago, a woman who owned herself was called a witch and burned at the stake. Today, women in many places in the world are punished for even small acts of self-sovereignty: Malala Yousafzai was shot in the head for demanding an education, a physiotherapy intern named Jyoti Singh in India was gang-raped for riding alone on a bus, and women in the US who wear short skirts are raped and blamed openly in courts of law.
A woman who seeks power in the twenty-first century is called a bitch, and those who question authority are said to be “asking for it.”
Movies have picked up where culture and fairytales leave off. In Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1939), the widowed woman who owns herself is called “The Evil Queen.” She is portrayed as evil and bent on destroying innocence (in the form of Snow White). She doesn’t even have a name, like Susan or Jane. While we have been struggling with our vision of women for centuries, modern culture has struggled with the representations of womanhood throughout the twentieth and into the twenty-first century.
A woman who owns herself is a queen because she is sovereign unto herself. But Western culture (and indeed, much of global culture) has not been very keen on this idea. There are some psychological reasons for this, which I will go into in another article on the topic of anima protection.
But back to sovereignty. The queen is returning to our culture—a positive queen who owns herself and her power. The most interesting thing to me is that she is coming back not as a conqueror but as a loving, magical partner. She is emerging in a unique way, as an archetype that I call “Queen Sulla.” SULLA is an acronym that stands for Strong, Unmarried, Life and Love Affirming. This archetype is not bent on revenge; rather, she has transformed the anger of the last century’s maligned women archetypes into something else, relationship.
Sulla has two component selves; I call them Sulla MIPE, and Sulla MISOR. MIPE stands for Magical, Isolated, Powerful and Endangered. Think of the MIPE (MEE-pay) as a magical character, like Maleficent from Sleeping Beauty (1959), or Elphaba from Wicked: the life and times of the wicked witch of the west ( Maguire, 1995). She is the one with magical powers, the one who gets angry. The MIPE isolates herself. She does not want relationships. She wants to be left alone. She thinks she is okay being angry, but it’s the anger that isolates her and makes her unable to be in relationship. Anger and power allow her to be authentic, but they don’t bring her sovereignty; only relationship can do that.
MISOR (MEE-sohr) stands for Maiden In Search Of Relationship. The Sulla MISOR is the ingénue character. She is Dorothy Gale from The Wizard of Oz (Baum,1900), always looking for the happy place and the good in people. She is in search of adventure, undaunted by her lack of magical powers and confident in her ability to have relationships that bring her into contact with the world and nature.
The best contemporary example of this dynamic is in Disney’s Frozen (2013). In this story, Elsa is the Sulla MIPE and Anna the Sulla MISOR. They have separate adventures and separate experiences that ultimately unite them. The MISOR fights for the magically empowered sister, who is culturally disempowered. The MIPE realizes that isolation may allow her to honor her magical power, but it doesn’t do more than that—she can be authentic, but she’s still alone. To be sovereign, the two must be in relationship; they must be together and empowered. A unified relationship allows one or both of them to become the queen. In Frozen, it allows Elsa to be queen, and Anna is released from the prison of the castle, free to be in relationship and enjoy the world.
I believe that the reason this film has become so popular is because children experienced the film archetypally. Elsa can be loved without having to give up her power. Anna is the key; without Anna, Elsa would have no relationship ability, she would have been condemned to live in isolation, give up her life in frustration, or become evil, like other magical queens before her. Little children (boys and girls) see this and understand fundamentally that they don’t have to give up their power in order to be loved. They can be Elsa and Anna. And they don’t have to be married to be queen and sovereign of their own lives.
The MIPE and MISOR come together in Frozen at the end of the film. It is the MISOR who saves the MIPE. It is innocence that saves power. In the end, power releases the kingdom from its frozen state, releasing love out into the realm for everyone to feel the warmth of connection. That is the true power of sovereignty, and sovereignty only comes from relationship.
For me, the new monomyth for women is about achieving sovereignty through recognizing and reconciling the two parts of the self. If you look for this relationship you will find that it is pervasive. In mythology it is found in Demeter and Persephone, Ceres and Prosperine, Eve and Lilith. In modern fairy tales and literature the dyad is represented in: Snow White and the Evil Queen, Maleficent and Aurora, Elphaba and Glinda, Katniss and Prim, Beatrice and Tris.
The goal of life is to become a queen. This feat is accomplished by recognizing that every woman has two paths to sovereignty, and she must take both of them. She must embrace the wild, innocent side that has no obvious authoritative power or magic, but, at the same time, stand up to power. She must also acknowledge the all-powerful side (under constant threat of being cut down because of its affiliation with Nature) and that this side of her is the gateway to life, magic, love, and wonder. She shows up as the enchantress, the seductress, the heart of power. This is a very complex path, for every woman must uncover both her MISOR and her MIPE self. We see this at play in new literature like the Divergent Series, The Hunger Games, and Wicked, and films like Frozen (2013), Maleficent (2014), and Suicide Squad (2016).
The sovereign cannot be crowned with the ego of the MIPE, nor can she be elevated in humility by living as the childlike MISOR forever. The sovereign must unite these two selves, only then can she ascend to her throne.
I recently saw Warner Brothers’ Suicide Squad and believe it is a perfect example of both “anima protection” and what happens when we protect the anima—a Jungian term for the feminine aspect of the soul in men—to such a degree that there is no sovereignty for women. (Spoiler: when there’s no sovereignty for women, there’s none for men.) I was so struck by the multiple messages in Suicide Squad that I wanted to write about it, but I couldn’t without going into some fundamental ideas about the queen and anima protection, so expect that article soon.
But first, whatever your gender, please spend a moment to reflect on the queen and who she is in your life. The queen archetype is available to both men and women, though she is desperately needed in our culture right now, both for women themselves, and for culture to have a new paradigm for its expectations of women. Do you see yourself as the MIPE? MISOR? How do those two identities exist within you? Do you see them at work in the culture? How about your children? Are they obsessed with Frozen? Do you see why that might be?
For a look at the power of this archetypal idea, I encourage you to reflect on a photograph. Team Freeze is a little girls’ T-ball team from Oklahoma, and all of the girls were obsessed with Frozen. The team has traditional ice-blue T-ball uniforms, but for a team photo the girls donned their Elsa dresses and cleats and struck fierce-looking poses for the camera. The picture shows twelve little girls who are unapologetic about their fire and determination and their femininity (they are wearing dresses after all) as they prepare to dominate a team sport, traditionally the realm of boys. This is what sovereignty begins to look like. For girls who grow up with Elsa and Anna as role models, unifying the MIPE and MISOR won’t be so difficult—they are queens already.