Animus Feelings Resulting in Mortal Combat

Word Smith: Animus /Animas

The word Animus is thrown around by philistines, as if the only meanings were about temper tantrums that resulted in hostility or ill feelings between two people; as in “The author’s animus toward her enemy.” Animus has also come to mean the ulterior motivation to do something hurtful because of personal grudge or resentment. Animus, in the vernacular, can also come from a systemic break or violation of group norm; as in “The reformist’s animus came from deep within the Republican Party.”

That said, there is a near-same homonym, Animas, that is spelled with an A instead of a U, which holds tight to my memory bank. Animas, with the final AS, has always had for me a very different set of meanings. Perhaps that is because it is a completely different word; however, it seemed to be worth the deeper exploration.

Colorado Connection

Having spent many years in the American Southwest, I feel the spelling ‘Animas’ has merit. Why? I have several reasons: the first is because of my many summers in Durango, Colorado.

Animas River Bridge outside Durango, CO

The beautiful river that runs from Silverton to Durango, created the backdrop for a magical highway and a famous narrow gauge railroad that is still in use today. Called the Animas River, it has strong Spanish roots. The explorer, Juan Maria de Rivera of Santa Fe, recorded the name as “Rio de Las Animas Perdidas,” which roughly translates as “The River of Lost Souls.” De Rivera, according to local legends, named the river in 1765, commemorating the people who had lost their lives in the river. Though other historians in the region, noticing that the river is calm through most of its 126 mile descent to the San Juan River, feel that de Rivera may have been confusing the water shed with the Purgatoire River in Southeastern Colorado. In Catholic traditions, Purgatory is a waiting place of suffering for sinners who have to atone before entering God’s Kingdom. They stay outside of the Pearly Gates before St. Peter allows entrance. [1]

The Plot(kin) Thickens

Another reason for spelling the word as Animas is because of the psychologist and philosopher, Bill Plotkin, who created the Animas Valley Institute with energy he experienced, studied and explored from the Animas River region of Colorado. [2] Our daughter, Eleanor Medina, is a marriage and family therapist who has wholeheartedly embraced the Animas Valley ethic into the language in her practice, studying with Plotkin and like-minded people at the Animas Valley Institute. Bill Plotkin is a prolific and compelling writer on all topics human since 1980. One of his books, Soulcraft: Crossing Into the Mysteries of Nature and Psyche has been particularly well received. As have some of his other books, including Wild Mind: A Field Guide to the Human Psyche and Nature and the Human Soul: Cultivating Wholeness and Community in a Fragmented World. If you are into deep exploration of nature and the human soul, all of these works are worth your time and attention.

Bill Plotkin’s Animas Valley Institute

Going Back to High School

My earliest recollections of the word ‘Animus’ was in my freshman Latin class at Loyola Blakefield in Maryland. Our teacher, Fr. Duggan, had us pull apart words from Caesar’s Commentaries. One of the words was animus. As part of the instruction we looked at both the plain meaning and the subtle nuance of language. For example: in Latin animus (the final letters ‘us’ for the male side of the word) refers to a rational soul, mind, and life. It also covered the mental powers, consciousness of human sensibility. Animus also referred to courage, and human desire. The female side or anima, (with the final letter ‘a’) related to “living being, soul, mind, disposition, passion, courage, anger and spirit, which are part of all our feeling.” Interestingly the root *ANE translates as the verb “to breathe,” which takes any yoga practitioner back to the breath. So in Latin there are both male and female journeys to the breath.

Breathing and following the breath

Jungian Psychology

In college, I took a series of psychology courses, one which dove into the similarities and differences between Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung. Of the two, we read more books by Freud, but I gravitated to Jung. I was particularly taken by Jung’s theories in his school of analytical psychology. He described the anima and animus as part of his theory of the collective unconscious. Following the Latin gender convention, Jung described the animus as the unconscious masculine side of a woman and anima as the unconscious feminine side of a man. Each side transcended the personal psyche. Jung’s theories go on to postulate that the anima and animus are the two primary “anthropomorphic archetypes” of the unconscious mind. Jung also believed they are the abstract symbol sets that formulate the archetype of what the psychologists call “the Self.” 

Archetypes of Animus and Anima

Carl Jung believed a male’s sensitivity is often lesser than a woman’s. In other words his sensitivity is repressed, and therefore he considered the anima to be one of the most significant autonomous complexes. He believed the anima and animus manifest themselves by appearing in dreams and influence a person’s attitudes and interactions with the opposite sex. A natural understanding of another member of the opposite sex is instilled in individuals that stems from constant subjection to members of the opposite sex. These powerful lessons lead to the development of the anima and animus. Jung said that “the encounter with the shadow is the ‘apprentice-piece’ in the individual’s development … that with the anima is the ‘masterpiece.'” [3] Jung viewed the anima process as being one of the sources of creative ability.

Jung believed anima development has four distinct levels, which in “The psychology of the Transference” he named EveHelenMary and Sophia. In broad terms, the entire process of anima development in a man is about the male subject opening up to pure emotion, and in that way a man can be open to a broader spirituality. He can also be creating a new conscious paradigm that includes intuition, creativity, and imagination. He can have psychic sensitivities towards himself and others, where it may not have existed before. [4]

Drawing of Jungian Anima-Animus

Simultaneously, Jung believed that every woman has an analogous animus within her psyche, this being a set of unconscious masculine attributes and potentials. He viewed the animus as being more complex than the anima, postulating that women have a host of animus images whereas the male anima consists only of one dominant image.

Jung stated that there are four parallel levels of animus development in a woman, which he labeled as Tarzan, Byron. Lloyd George and Hermes.

The four roles are not identical with genders reversed. Jung believed that while the anima tended to appear as a relatively singular female personality, the animus may consist of a conjunction of multiple male personalities: “in this way the unconscious symbolizes the fact that the animus represents a collective rather than a personal element.” [5]

The theory is that animus development is a process of cultivating an independent and non-socially subjugated idea of self by embodying a deeper word (as per a specific existential outlook) and manifesting this word. To clarify, this does not mean that a female subject becomes more set in her ways (as this word is steeped in emotionality, subjectivity, and a dynamism just as a well-developed anima is) but that she is more internally aware of what she believes and feels, and is more capable of expressing these beliefs and feelings. Thus the “animus in his most developed form sometimes…make[s] her even more receptive than a man to new creative ideas”. [6]

When animus and anima meet …

Anima and animus draw from Jung’s theory of individuation. In order for a person to reach the goal of individuation is to engage in a series of intra-personal dialogues which help the person understand how he or she relates to the world. This process requires men and women to become aware of their anima or animus respectively, in so doing the individual will learn how not to be controlled by their anima or animus. As individuals are made aware of their anima or animus, it allows them to overcome thoughts of who they ought to be and accept themselves for who they really are. According to Jung, individuals can discover a bridge to the collective unconscious through the development of their anima or animus. The anima and the animus represent the unconscious. The anima and animus are not gender specific and men and women can have both, however, more empirical research is required to determine whether both men and women do possess both archetypes.

Whether you spell it animus or animas, the word is rich with meanings that take a deep dive into the psyche.


[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Animas_River

[2] https://www.animas.org/the-story-of-animas/

[3] Jung quoted in Anthony Stevens book On Jung (London 1990) p. 206.

[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anima_and_animus

[5] M.-L. von Franz, “The Process of Individuation” in Carl Jung ed., Man and his Symbols (London 1978) p. 205-6

[6] M.-L. von Franz, “The Process of Individuation” in Carl Jung ed., Man and his Symbols (London 1978) p. 206.