Clarissa Pinkola Estés on the Animus as a Merchant of Soul

“By classical Jungian definition, animus is the soul-force in women, and is considered masculine. However, many women psychoanalysts, including myself, have, through personal observation, come to refute the classical view and to assert instead that the revivifying source in women is not masculine and alien to her, but feminine and familiar.

Nevertheless, I believe the masculine concept of animus has great relevance. There is tremendous correlation between women who are afraid to create—afraid to manifest their ideas in the world, or else are doing so in some manner that is disrespectful or haphazard—and their dreams may present many images of injured or injuring men. Conversely, the dreams of women strong in outer manifesting ability often feature a strong male figure who consistently appears in various guises.

Animus can best be understood as a force that assists women in acting in their own behalf in the outer world. Animus helps a woman put forth her specific and feminine inner thoughts and feelings in concrete ways—emotionally, sexually, financially, creatively, and otherwise—rather than in a construct that patterns itself after a culturally imposed standard of masculine development in any given culture.

The male figures in women’s dreams seem to indicate that animus is not the soul of a woman, but ‘of, from, and for’ the soul of a woman. In its balanced and non-perverted form, animus is an essential ‘bridging man.’ This figure often has wondrous capabilities that cause him to rise to the work as bringer and bridger. He is like a merchant of soul. He imports and exports knowledge and products. He chooses the best of what is offered, arranges the best price, supervises the integrity of the exchanges, follows up, follows through.

Another way to understand this is to think of Wild Woman, the soul-Self, as the artist and the animus as the arm of the artist. Wild Woman is the driver, the animus hustles up the vehicle. She makes the song, he scores it. She imagines, he offers advice. Without him the play is created in one’s imagination, but never written down and never performed. Without him the stage may be filled to bursting, but the curtains never part and the marquee remains dark.

If we were to translate the healthy animus into Spanish metaphor, he would be el agrimensor, the surveyor, who knows the lay of the land and with his compass and his thread measures the distance between two points. He defines the edges and establishes boundaries. Also call him el jugador, the gamesman, the one who studies and knows how to and where to place the marker to gain or to win. These are some of the most important aspects of a robust animus.

So the animus travels the road between two territories and sometimes three: underworld, inner world, and outer world. All a woman’s feelings and ideas are bundled up and carted across those spans – in every direction – by the animus, who has a feeling for all worlds. He brings ideas from “out there” back into her, and he carries ideas from her soul-Self across the bridge to fruition and ‘to market.’ Without the builder and maintainer of this land bridge, a woman’s inner life cannot be manifested with intent in the outer world.

You needn’t call him animus, call him by what words or images you like. But also understand that there is currently within women’s culture a suspicion of the masculine, for some a fear of ‘needing the masculine,’ for others, a painful recovery from being crushed by it in some way. Generally this wariness comes from the barely- beginning-to-be-healed traumas from family and culture during times previous, times when women were treated as serfs, not selves. It is still fresh in Wild Woman’s memory that there was a time when gifted women were tossed away as refuse, when a woman could not have an idea unless she secretly embedded and fertilized it in a man who then carried it out into the world under his own name.

So, rather than being the soul-nature of women, animus, or the contra-sexual nature of women, is a profound psychic intelligence with ability to act. It travels back and forth between worlds, between the various nodes of the psyche. This force has the ability to extrovert and to act out the desires of the ego, to carry out the impulses and ideas of the soul, to elicit a woman’s creativity, in manifest and concrete ways.

The key aspect to a positive animus development is actual manifestation of cohesive inner thoughts, impulses, and ideas. Though we speak here of positive animus development, there is also a caveat: An integral animus is developed in full consciousness and with much work of self-examination. If one does not carefully peer into one’s motives and appetites each step of the way, a poorly developed animus results. This deleterious animus can and will senselessly carry out unexamined ego impulses, pumping out various blind ambitions and fulfilling myriad unexamined appetites. Further, animus is an element of women’s psyches that must be exercised, given regular workouts, in order for her and it to be able to act in whole ways. If the useful animus is neglected in a woman’s psychic life, it atrophies, exactly like a muscle that has lain inert too long.

While some women theorize that a warrior-woman nature, the Amazonian nature, the huntress nature, can supplant this ‘masculine-within-the-feminine element,’ there are to my sights many shades and layers of masculine nature, such as a certain kind of intellectual rule making, law giving, boundary setting, that are extremely valuable to women who live in the modem world. These masculine attributes do not arise from women’s instinctual psychic temperament in the same form or tone as those from her feminine nature.

So, living as we do in a world that requires both meditative and outward action, I find it very useful to utilize the concept of a masculine nature or animus in woman. In proper balance animus acts as helper, helpmate, lover, brother, father, king. This does not mean animus is king of the woman’s psyche, as an injured patriarchal point of view might have it. It means there is a kingly aspect existent in the woman’s psyche, a kingly element that when developed attitudinally, acts and mediates in loving service to the wild nature. Archetypally, the king symbolizes a force that is meant to work in a woman’s behalf and for her well-being, governing what she and soul assign to him, ruling over whatever psychic lands are granted to him.”

Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Women Who Run with the Wolves

Jacopo Sansovino,

Jacopo Sansovino, “Mars and Neptune” in Doge’s Palace, Venice, via

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19 Responses to Clarissa Pinkola Estés on the Animus as a Merchant of Soul

  1. This 2010 blog post by Seattle-area poet Kelli Russell Agodon, advising women writers to be more aggressive in sending out their work for publication, has recently gone viral: At first, I was confused by Russell Agodon’s urging women to behave “like a man” in promoting their creative work. However, her argument is certainly persuasive, and your examination of Pinkola Estes’s points on the “merchant” function of a woman’s animus brings even greater clarity. Thank you for an illuminating read!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Maria F. says:

    Fascinating Monika, from a Greek mythological point of view, I read about Mars and Neptune, since the image you provided is about them:

    “Ares wasn’t sexist; he was equally defensive with his daughters as well. Once one of Poseidon’s also numerous sons attempted to rape Ares daughter Alcippe. When Ares saw this he promptly stopped him and brutally killed him. Poseidon was furious and demanded he be put on trials with the twelve Olympians presiding over the case. This lead to the first murder trial in recorded history. The hill, which was in Athens, was appropriately named Aeropagus (Ares’ Hill). At the end of the trial Ares was acquitted of all his charges.”-from
    Interesting, since women had been raped and killed in several myths, and Ares goes to trial for defending his own daughter.

    I also found this excerpt from Clarissa Pinkola Estés very illuminating, since Freudian terminology would use “libido” (among other terms) instead of animus:

    “…This deleterious animus can and will senselessly carry out unexamined ego impulses, pumping out various blind ambitions and fulfilling myriad unexamined appetites. Further, animus is an element of women’s psyches that must be exercised, given regular workouts, in order for her and it to be able to act in whole ways. If the useful animus is neglected in a woman’s psychic life, it atrophies, exactly like a muscle that has lain inert too long.” Fascinating, it’s also the way how I see this energy works.

    It’s also interesting to see how Freud would have seen this:

    “..The goal of psychoanalysis was to bring these fixations to conscious awareness so that the libido energy would be freed up and available for conscious use in some sort of constructive sublimation.
    According to Swiss psychiatrist Carl Gustav Jung, the libido is identified as psychic energy. Duality (opposition) that creates the energy (or libido) of the psyche, which Jung asserts expresses itself only through symbols: “It is the energy that manifests itself in the life process and is perceived subjectively as striving and desire.””-
    Fascinating Monika, how Jung desexualizes Freud approach, and synthesizes the masculine aspect as a “whole” or “psychic energy” in all individuals, and in Clarissa Pinkola Estés’ text, it focuses on the ‘animus’ as the “soul-force in women”.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for such a thoughtful comment, Maria.

      I think libido and animus would be two different terms for Jung, who used both. I also think Freud totally rejected Jung’s theory while Jung incorporated some of Freud’s, and then went much further and deeper with his concepts. I must confess, I have always had my issues with the animus theory, even as Jung saw it, but that passage from Pinkola Estes is so well written and so compelling, I had to rethink my attitude.
      Thank you again.


      • Maria F. says:

        Yes Monika, I know they were entirely different. Estes’ writing just prompted me to compare both, precisely because Jung must have also been influenced by Freud since he was younger and his student., yet to me Jung’s terminology is just much more complex, because it’s just so different. Yet to me, the animus, is also a driving force but just a different one.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. My wife read this book years ago, but I did not. I think it is still on one of our bookshelves.


  4. ptero9 says:

    “Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Women Who Run with the Wolves”
    Hi Monika,
    Clarissa’s book was very compelling reading for me years ago while in therapy.

    During those years of therapy, a violent male dream figure, always dressed in dark clothing, hunted me down in a variety of frightening ways. At some point my dream self began to stand up to him and of course, the male figure transformed, not so much during the dream, but through the course of a long series of dreams. I can’t say that I never encounter the violent male figure now, but it’s rare. Other male figures, very loving and benevolent make an appearance every now and then.

    The topic must be in the air – oh how Geminian!

    I am rereading Hillman’s little book on Anima in earnest after many attempts in the last six months. Hillman, as one might expect from a rebel, removes the literal understanding of Anima and Animus as an influence solely belonging to one sex or the other and discusses the distinctions between them and Psyche, Aphrodite, Eros and a few other Greek gods.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dear Debra,
      Thank you very much for sharing this. I have never heard of that book by Hillman. I posted that quote because it seems to be much less sexist than some JUngian descriptions of the Animus I have come across. Nowadays I tend to agree with Hillman, actually – I hope I am correct to assume he viewed Anima and Animus as going beyond biological gender. There must be something in the air about Hillman, I guess. I have recently liked a new post by Judith Harte and I am sure you will appreciate it too:


      • ptero9 says:

        Dear Monika,
        Thanks for the note and the link to Judith’s blog. Her book sounds good, and yes, I very much appreciate her love of Hillman’s ideas.

        I have noticed too that Hillman seems to be getting more attention these days. It’s nice to see.

        Hillman’s book on Anima is interesting in that he includes quotes from Jung on one side of each page with his own insights written on the page next to it. When read in sequence, one can really appreciate how much Hillman’s ideas were rooted in Jung’s. Yes, he expanded on them, and challenged some, but Hillman’s vantage point in time allowed him to see the sexism, and cultural influences that shaped Jung’s outlook.

        I like to remind myself that we are all heavily influenced by the culture that begot us, and although sometimes it’s hard understand how Jung, Freud, or others from the past could have had the prejudices they did, we’ll never have a full grasp on what is was like to live in their time.

        Another dynamic that comes into play, is that once Jung died, and now Hillman too, those who study their work and apply it professionally can’t help to reshape their ideas. Hillman may have been closer to the heart of Jung’s ideas than many Jungian’s today are. And, there is developing recently, a criticism of Hillman that claims he was out to destroy Jung’s ideas. I don’t agree that he was at all.If time allows, I want to write about the controversy. I don’t see a huge conflict between Jung and Hillman, and from each of them have received many wonderful gifts.

        Perhaps the last thing the legacy of Jung and Hillman need is a hyped up war between them. It certainly wasn’t that way when they were alive.

        Thanks again for the note!

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Maria F. says:

    I’m sending you a link of a blog which you may already know, if not, which may be interesting, and this page has what the author writes about the animus:


  6. lewbarr says:

    Thank you. Great read and helpful as I think about my many dreams of helpful loving men.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Pingback: ‘Sta brutta storia del “femminile” | ilblogdelbasilico

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