Heidekolb's Blog

On AVATAR and the Return of the Feminine- A Jungian Perspective | December 26, 2009

Much has been written about the film Avatar since its release. Critical voices abound. Some see it as a “white person’s fantasy on racial identity”. This thought would have never occurred to me. Others see it as a “mythic expose” of Western militarism & colonialism. That reasoning I can appreciate. It is what one might see when the eye is focused on the history of Western civilization.  To that I will add some thoughts from psyche’s perspective.

I will focus on the intra-psychic angle, which means we will attempt to see from “the inside out”. Imagine that there is indeed a World Soul, as the ancient philosphers and alchemists believed and  captured in the image of the Anima Mundi (Soul of the world). It is the spirit in nature that animates all matter. It is the spirit that creates an interconnected, sentient and intelligent web of life of which humanity is part of.

An ancient symbol of this unity of life is the world tree. This image shows up in most world mythologies. From Yggrasil, the world tree in Nordic mytholgy to the Tree of Life in the Genesis.  It is part of the mythology of the San people of the Kalahari desert, the oldest existing culture on earth and the world tree also figures prominently in the cosmology of the Mayans. That so many seemingly unrelated cultures revere the world tree points towards a synchronistic event reflecting a much larger cosmic reality. As above so below.

The biologist Carl Calleman postulates (in “The Purposeful Universe”), a central axis, a cosmic Tree of Life which creates organizations of life on a microcosmic level, that is on the level of our lived life. The soul knows, and has always known, that the image of the tree holds a deep mystery and a connection to a transpersonal reality. The tree, deeply rooted in the ground below, opens its branches towards the heavens. It needs the water from below and the light from above to live and grow. In Jungian thought, the tree, has a bridging function and is an integral part of nature. The tree image is an exquisite image of the archetypal feminine.

Such a tree is the source of strength, knowledge and inspiration of the Na’vi, the native inhabitants of Pandora. I suggest that the Na’vi can be seen as personifications of our disowned and split off connection to nature, our own nature as well as Nature in the world. The Na’vi may represent our repressed connection to the mysteries and wonders of life and cosmic reality. This seems  true on an individual as well collective level.  On the individual level, this is what happens when cynicism wins out over a tender feeling. In that moment a bulldozer killing machine steamrolls our soul and consciousness. Not unlike the military commander, who is cut off from nature’s suffering and her plight. The abuse of the natural world and her resources on a collective level are so blatantly obvious that there is no need to go into further detail now.

Avatar can be seen as a constructive countervision to the catastrophy mongering of 2012 mania. It shows us what needs to be done. Individually and collectively. The archetypal feminine is returning. Whether we like or not, the Goddess is on her way back. Symbolically,not literally, but the forces involved are VERY REAL. Whether this will be a smooth process or a catastrophic event depends largely on us. Can we make this shift, as individuals and as a culture, to make room for  Yin, the archetypal feminine and expand our linear, mechanistic and overly rational frame of what we think consciousness is?

One intriguing fact is that the Na’vi are blue. I have no doubt the makers of  Avatar were aware of the blue god in Hindu mythology, Krishna.Krishna was the eighth reincarnation (avatar) of the Hindu God Vishnu. Significant similarities exist between Krishna and the Christ figure. Both were sent by a father god to challenge the tyranny of the ruling class. Both were considered divine and human. Krishna is often depicted with a flute, which  people found irresistable. Krishna was a rebel, a poet and a lover of many women in Hindu lore. This earthy behavior and the flute connect him to the Greek Pan and they are all aspects of the connection to the archetypal feminine that needed to be split off, denied and repressed in the Christ of the dogmatic church. (Only the Gnostics allowed for a different image of Christ to surface).

The 2012 hype aside, many sense that a major shift is demanded from us. We may need to, as shown in AVATAR, emerge into our Na’vi nature, which is living in harmony with the feminine of which the soul is part of.  This is not a simplistic return to nature or to a previous evolutionary stage. It may be the next leap in the evolution of consciousness, and the only one that  may hold the promise of survival.

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18 Comments »

  1. I look forward to seeing it tonight. Thank you Heidi for your write up and appreciate what you are saying in many ways.

    Comment by Diana Herrington — December 26, 2009 @ 8:18 pm

  2. Thank you for exploring and expanding upon some of the more subtle themes of the movie.
    Themes which are indeed consistent with the overriding theme of our time and that is restoration of what has been lost over the course of time.

    Comment by Rohaan — December 26, 2009 @ 9:14 pm

  3. Jung wrote about a new age that would succeed the Age of Pisces, at the end of the second millennium or at the beginning of this one – the age of the constellation of Aquarius. Aquarius is the container of the water, the nurturer of the fish like the uterus is the nurturer of a new being – and is an expression of the archetypal feminine. Yes, I agree with you that the Goddess in coming back, and is up to us decide to participate actively in the transformation or resist to it, individually or as a culture. Beautiful your analysis of AVATAR, for me perfect down to the smallest details. And yes, amazing the correlation with the color of Krishna, the BLUE avatar of Hinduism. Undoubtedly a connection to the archetypal feminine, as you so aptly pointed out. For more than a millennium we have lived under a distorted predominance of the masculine principle: competition more than cooperation, discrimination more than union, reason more than emotion. And I would add that felines are associated with the feminine: look at the Na’vis! Any resemblance? Thank you, Heide, for this revealing analysis. Really appreciated it. Daldegan

    Comment by Daldegan — December 27, 2009 @ 3:51 pm

  4. And in one of Avatar spin-off books, the Na’vi are called the Blue Flute Clan. In the film, I don’t recall anyone playing the flute….maybe these scenes were cut.

    Comment by David — December 27, 2009 @ 11:29 pm

  5. I saw Avatar in 3D on January 2, and propitiously I had just read Edward C. Whitmont’s great Jungian book The Return of the Goddess the night before, and so I had the exact same interpretation that you had, Heidi. When I searched avatar goddess feminine on Google Blog Search, the first post in the search results was a Christian blogger denouncing the film for not being Christian. That blogger wrote: “Avatar however will tend to pull our children away from a moral way of seeing, toward a yin-yang mentality where good and evil are seen as two sides of the same coin, and the deity is in everything and inside us too. This balanced Eastern concept of God is entirely false, we know as Christians.” The second post in the search results was Heidi’s wonderful analysis. Reading Whitmont’s Return of the Goddess just before seeing this film was a moving experience. I also recommend Ann Belford Ulanov’s interpretation of the role of the feminine in her book Finding Space: Winnicott, God, and Psychic Reality, which provides a nice complementary perspective to Whitmont’s book via the ideas of D.W. Winnicott.

    Comment by Nathan — January 5, 2010 @ 12:33 pm

  6. As I have given more thought to this topic, I have shifted from my initial emotional, allegorial, mythological reaction to a more cognitive, critical, historical reaction, deepening the complexity of my interpretation of Avatar. Sam D. Gill, in his book Mother Earth: An American Story, shows based on his extensive research that the archetype of Mother Earth, as used in English-speaking North America today and as attributed to Native Americans, is really an invention not much more than a century old. Female figures in the stories of most Native American ethnic groups prior to the mid-19th century bore little resemblance to today’s Mother Earth. Yet today many Native North Americans enthusiastically embrace Mother Earth as a way of defending threatened lands, ecological communities, and traditional livelihoods. It is possible that the Goddess, as embodied in Mother Earth (or Ewya in Avatar) is not “returning” in the Americas, but is actually coming into being for the first time, as a weapon against exploitation and a means of liberation. For a Jungian approach to liberation, see Mary Watkins and Helene Shulman’s book Toward Psychologies of Liberation. For the “real” Avatar story that is happening right now in the Amazon rainforest, see this important analysis: http://news.mongabay.com/2009/1222-hance_avatar.html

    Comment by Nathan — January 8, 2010 @ 2:57 pm

  7. Yet another aspect of this film that makes a Jungian interpretation especially irresistible is the role of DREAMING in the film. The humans in the film who enter Na’vi avatar bodies literally enter a dreaming state. One of the real Na’vi calls the avatars “dreamwalkers.” This corresponds beautifully to the Jungian view of dreams and active imagination as the path to psychic processes, and it is what makes the film immediately recognizable as an explicitly psychological “inside-out” allegory, not just a social and environmental “outside-in” allegory. Through the course of the film, dreaming and reality become increasingly intertwined and indistinguishable–at a pivotal point in the film, Jake says he feels that the real has become the dream and vice versa, corresponding to the profound transformation in his self-experience. Jake’s Na’vi avatar body is like what Winnicott called a transitional object; in her book Finding Space, Ann Belford Ulanov writes: “For Winnicott, our feeling of realness arises in the space between subjectivity and objectivity. We can go mad from too much of either and not enough of the space in between…. When subjective and objective realms meet and mix, then life feels worthwhile, indeed, worth everything. The female element originates this.” The Avatar story ends in the liberation of the Na’vi and Pandora, fusion of dream and reality, integration of psyche and world, union of human mind and Na’vi body, marriage of Jake and the Na’vi princess Neytiri, a woman who appeared to him while he was “dreamwalking” in his Na’vi avatar body, like the anima that appears to a man’s ego in his dreams, and from which issues a realization of the fully alive, whole, interconnected Self and Reality in Ewya, the feminine ground of being.

    Comment by Nathan — January 10, 2010 @ 5:48 pm

  8. Heide, thank you for the beautiful thought provoking and heart felt post on Avatar. I also loved it and I cried during the whole movie the first time I watched it. It touched something very deep and ancient in me.
    The sacred feminine is too strong a force to ignore or repress and SHE is making herself felt in our own entrails, minds and hearts. It is time of her victorious return.
    AHO
    Marjory

    Comment by Marjory — January 11, 2010 @ 5:39 pm

  9. I am currently a Senior undergraduate, earning my B.A. and a B.S. in History, and I have spent the last five years studying and arguing the feminine principal within Judaism and Christianity, in the form of the Holy Spirit, on a purely academic level. My undergraduate thesis, entitled “Mother, Monotheism, and the Mystery of the Trinity” has been recommended for graduate level journal submission, so wish me luck. I stumbled on your site while updating my own, and I linked your site to mine because of your references to Avatar and Jung. Hope you don’t mind!

    Comment by Travis — January 18, 2010 @ 5:24 am

  10. [...] even if we’re not necessarily in touch with our longings. Movies like Avatar have a way of triggering this sense of displacement (many have reported walking out of the film feeling sad and [...]

    Pingback by Rewilding and the Ecological Unconscious | Eco-Sex — January 31, 2010 @ 11:28 pm

  11. The majority of fans cheer when they see the aliens kill the miserable, greedy little humans. You know, with what we’ve done to the world and the economy, I think most of us in the Western World have a good deal of hidden self-loathing – or at least a real dislike for the human race as it now is.

    Comment by cybervigilante — February 6, 2010 @ 7:00 pm

  12. The film filled me with a rare sense of inner integration, it brought to my mind pre-socratic philosopher Heraclitus’s doctrine of “balance of unity of opposites”.Jung’s work, as we know reflects a lot from his doctrines. Mind achieves a sense/state of much desired equillibrium when certain opposites entities arrive at a balance and in this movie we saw ” an ancient timeless pristine nurturing harmonising feeling world of wisdom” striking balance with its opposite i.e “a modern ugly brutal mindless world of exploitation and greed” all portrayed by rich symbolism taken from Hindu mythologies such as blue/monkey people,living on a endless “Tree”(Bargad Ped) and the the “Bird”(Garuda) that Jake had to tame to win the trust of Nav’i. We owe much to Jung who dared to plunge deep in his own neuroses, psychoses and psychopathies and showed us a way to understand what plagues not just all individuals but mankind i.e lack of complimentality and one sided growth.Your write up on it is so apt and enlightening.

    Comment by Davinder — February 14, 2010 @ 8:15 am

  13. I’m about half an hour from finishing a logical proof of the world as a whole and I stumbled across this blog which had already figured it out! The key has been Jung all around! There’s one thing people aren’t connecting, and this is the one piece of the puzzle left: fetishism on the worldly scale.

    Comment by Alan — June 29, 2011 @ 6:07 am

  14. 2

    =

    balance = evolution purpose = male | female
    male = west = sun
    female = east = moon
    Freud:
    -Evolution is fueled by repression
    -Eros: Conscious = light
    -Thanatos: Subconscious = shadow
    Because of cognitive dissonance, the west represses the female which over-emphasizes the male. Therefore, the west evolves quickly, and it’s expression (literature, art, music, etc.) is deeply symbolic of the male. This shows the ultimate unbalance of the west, a believe in 1, not 2.

    -+-

    Plato = purest evolution of western thought.
    -allegory of the cave = not solved because of the imbalance

    Buddha = ultimate expression of the East.
    -mind = pointless
    -nature unhealthily emphasized.
    = imbalance

    Confucius = intuitive understanding of the balance.
    = healthy philosophy

    -+-

    Repression: creates a shadow that warps our conscious. Behavior becomes representative of this through fetishism on the ~worldly~ scale. Freud felt mother was castrated: symbolic of mother nature’s “castration” by the west. All dissonance in the world explainable through this. Also explains Westerner’s fetish for east asian women, who they subconsciously realize represent balance. Also explains the evolution of evil.

    -+-

    Pure art is intuitively in touch with nature.

    “Music is a moral law. It gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and charm and gaiety to life and to everything”
    -Plato

    Aristotle knew of the importance of music’s logic.

    Plato + Aristotle = 2 (order) – shadow

    Confucius = 2 (order) – complete logical evolution of it

    realization = shadow

    conscious = subconscious

    yin = yang

    eros = thanatos

    =

    2

    Comment by Alan — June 29, 2011 @ 6:52 am

    • 1 + 1 = 2
      2 = greater good

      = holy trinity

      = deathly hallows

      = reason for taj mahal’s beauty

      = love

      keep thinking around these lines

      also look at Bach’s seal

      Comment by Alan — June 29, 2011 @ 7:06 am

  15. also the dual sunset in star wars.

    the cultural resonance of that scene proves that the theory of relativity is logic’s realization of love.
    “The force” was the name for it.
    explains children’s fascination with “the force” after they see star wars. They intuitively realize that it is representative of a truth. While in reality it may in not allow one to bend nature to their own will, it is symbolically representative of the attachment and unification of the world, which is love, or truth, or maybe some higher truth that needs to be given a word, or perhaps even not spoken of, but not repressed.

    Comment by Alan — June 29, 2011 @ 7:12 am

  16. what i’m saying is that two stars orbit around eachother, and the truth lies more in space in between them (center of gravity) than in either one. This is another representation of 1 + 1 = 2.
    This may also help westerners come to terms with acupuncture and similar eastern applications of their innate knowledge of truth.

    Comment by Alan — June 29, 2011 @ 7:14 am


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