Mistaken Identities

Making Sense of Jung’s Anima/Animus Muddle

The journey of this paper began with a prickle of irritation. A niggling itch just out of reach. Something about the Jungian theory of the anima and animus felt muddled and, quite frankly, ‘off.’ 


Later, I told myself. It’ll make more sense later. But now that I find myself at Pacifica, in a program largely dedicated the theories of Carl Jung, my unease sits front and center, and stronger than before. So it is that, after a fair amount of reading and no small amount of poking at this bugbear, I finally feel I can articulate what has been bothering me. But before I explain what the trouble is, let’s take a look at the conventional understanding of Jung’s theory.

Jung’s Anima & Animus, Aspect ‘A’ 

For an initial definition of anima and animus, I will borrow from The Critical Dictionary of Jungian Analysis, a source that seems likeliest to get down to brass tacks: anima and animus The inner figure of a woman held by a man and the figure of a man at work in a woman’s psyche (Samuels et al., 1986, p. 23). This seems fairly clear. And if this definition suits us, there are plenty of trusted sources which unpack it further.

Robert Hopcke, for instance, tells us that Jung began to tease out the concept of anima and animus from his personal experiences, first, of an unconscious feminine side (1999, p. 84) in his own male-identified psyche, and, second, of a similar mysterious but very real ... unconscious masculine in the women in his life (ibid). In time, Jung called these sub-personalities (Hopcke, 1999, p. 84-85) the anima, Latin for soul, and animus masculine soul (ibid).

Jung would suggest that the mother, as female, is the child’s first carrier of this anima, and the father, male, bears the initial projection of the animus (Jung, 1951/1968, p. 14). In time, the anima projection gets transferred to an external-world, often romantic partner which Jung presumes will be of the opposite sex (Jung, 1943/1966, p. 197). It seems the same is likely true of the animus, though there is some sense that the analyst can also fill this role, as well (Samuels et al., 1986, p. 23).

The action of this anima and animus, in terms of egoic interrelation, seems to take two forms. The first, as mentioned above, is projection, that tendency to see what is inside of us projected on the world outside, both on persons and situations. The roots of this projection are unconscious (Jung, 1951/1968, p. 9) and often conveyed onto a romantic other, creating a feeling of boundless fascination, overvaluation, and infatuation (Jung, 1951/1968, p. 69).

The second action of anima/us is to affect the personality, often for the worse. Marie Louise Von Franz is particularly adept at depicting the unpleasantries of the anima- or animus-possessed individual, where the former might cause her male host to lie, or perhaps to think that he is the great announcer of the new truth (1974, p. 71), while the latter might create a strange devouring attitude in women (1974, p. 215). Jung, too, paints an unsavory picture of these figures when he writes, the animus draws his sword of power and the anima ejects her poison of illusion and seduction (1951/1968, p. 15). Positive accounts of anima and anima exist, too, however. In its healthy aspect, the animus can function as a principle of creativity and critical authority, fostering an interdependence and strength of ideas (Le Grice, 2021, p. 60). The anima, meanwhile, is related to the part of us that pulses with life as when we fall in love or ... are following our bliss (Le Grice, 2021, p. 57).

Jung’s Anima & Animus, Aspect ‘B’ 

But there is another — and to my mind, very different — dimension to the anima and animus as traditionally understood. According to Jung, these figures should function as a bridge, or a door, leading to the images of the collective unconscious (Jung, 1965, p. 392). Even more impressively, The autonomy of the collective unconscious expresses itself in the figures of the anima and animus (Jung, 1951/1968, p. 20).

With Stein, things get loftier, still: In the meeting with the anima/us, it is a contact with the levels of the psyche which has the potential to lead into the deepest and highest (at any rate the furthest) reaches that the ego can attain (1998, p. 140). This is heady stuff, suggesting that the workings of anima/us guide us to the farthest reaches of our intrapsychic capabilities. They are figures that move us into psychoid territories and seem capable, at the distant edges, of transporting us ‘home.’

In this most sublime form, anima and animus are tied to the archetypal principles of eros and logos, respectively, where eros serves as what unites, relates, brings together, connect (Hoffman, 2022b) and logos functions as what distinguishes, divides, separates, defines (ibid). Taken together as a divine pair (Jung, 1951/1968, p. 21), the animus and anima complement one another — our own internal Hermes and Aphrodite, perhaps (ibid). Though they remain masculine and feminine in principle, this second facet of anima and animus seems to have shifted them away from biological sex or gender roles, and towards something far more numinous, powerful, and transcendental.

Not two, but four?

For ease of reference, let’s title our first image of anima and animus — the one that depicts them as a representation of the gendered other in the psyche — anima/us A. And let’s refer to the anima and animus that bridge us to the unconscious as anima/us B. (For clarity, I will leave these terms italicized throughout this paper.)

With that tentative terminology established, I now return to the original problem I described at the opening of the paper: my sense that something about Jung’s anima and animus theory is ‘off.’ Essentially, my feeling is this: the picture presented in anima/us A and the one offered in anima/us B seem to have so little in common, it is as if the concept of anima has become a container for not one phenomenon, but two. Similarly, it feels like the animus is a basket holding not a single archetype, but a pair of them.

The ‘behavior’ of anima/us A strongly resembles the personal complex. The complex settles over the ego like a blanket. It affects how a person behaves and views the world, often for the worse, and seems to vanish once its energy is spent (Shargel, 2016, p. 64). Complexes respond to a hook (Samuels, 1985, p. 48) in an outside person — some feature, for instance, that echoes anima/us A enough to initiate a projection onto that person. These traits certainly do call to mind the anima/us A tendency to project onto prospective love interests, for instance, followed by a later emptying, creating sentiments like, ‘you’re not the woman I married.’

But, while Jung does describe anima and animus as functional complex[es] (Stein, 1998, p. 128), he ultimately portrays them as archetypes acting in the psyche (Jung, 1951/1968, p. 20). In my understanding, such archetypes differ theoretically from the personal complexes one might experience in the inner world, such as a Cassandra complex or an inferiority complex. Rather, in referring to them as psychic archetypes, anima and animus are likened to figures such as the Wise Old Man, Puer, and Trickster. Archetypes like these certainly can wrap themselves in personal complexes as the Mother archetype does, but my sense is that we tend to see their effects more purely, as in dreams where they clothe themselves in archetypal images, or when they affect the world to create synchronicities.

Anima/us B, then, more strongly resembles an archetype permeating the personal unconscious without the trappings of the complex ’shell.’ And like the Trickster, for example, it serves a particular, pervasive function within the psyche. Where the Trickster functions to shatter our illusions of control, (Hoffman, 2022a), the anima/us B acts as a gateway to the wider, inner world of the unconscious. These are figures of grand scope.

Jung’s combined anima figure seems to have very disparate jobs. On one level, for example, it acts as complementary to the character of the persona, containing all those fallible human qualities [the] persona lacks (Jung, 1921/1971, p. 468), and, on another, 2) it mediates between consciousness and the collective unconscious (Hillman, 1985, p. 130). In its function as a sort of ’shadow’ figure for the persona, the anima would again seem to resemble a personal complex, with inferior or undesirable functions relegated to the field of shadow. As mediatrix, (Hillman, 1985, p. 129), on the other hand, the anima seems to work on a far broader scale than one would expect to see in an inner figure allocated the specific task of compensating for a single — though very foundational — complex.

Of course, given the extraordinary role suggested by the mediatrix image, we can only speculate as to what jobs are included in the ‘duties’ of an anima/us B. But I imagine such a presence as performing major intrapsychic and psychoid tasks — things like providing and assembling dream material, casting numinous ‘light’ on outer figures that resonate with inner archetypes, and organizing synchronicities. (I would envision the animus-as-mediator as having similar tasks, perhaps in the domain of logos, while anima-as-mediatrix would operate in the territories of eros.) This is work that, to me, seems fitting to an entity given such grand a title as psychopompus to the unknown (Hillman, 1985, p. 131). Such sublime stuff hardly seems in keeping with the often petty behavior of the projected anima/us A, with its relatively narrow focus.


Let’s take a step back for a moment, however, and return to the question of whether the anima/us B archetype might show such disparate faces because it wraps itself in the shell of a complex. The Mother archetype is known to do this, after all. But the noteworthy thing about the mother complex is that its ‘behaviors’ are very much in keeping with the nature of the Mother archetype: nourishing and nurturing, or the failures of same. The complex acts as a sort of microcosm of the more macrocosmic Mother archetype. Can we say the same of the anima/us?

 To put the question another way, is an inner figure who functions as a bridge to the unconscious mostly likely to affect the personality in the ways that anima/us A does, projecting intoxicating allure onto the romantic other and causing the personality to take on inferior or stereotypical traits of the gendered other? The connection between archetypal anima/us as macrocosm and complexed anima/us as microcosm, in such a case, seems tenuous at best. There is so much more in the unconscious, after all, beyond the gendered other. Just consider all the varied compensations the unconscious psyche makes in our dream life — images relating to how we interact with power, with spirituality, with survival issues. The list goes on.

On that basis, I would think it far likelier that anima/us B, if it did take a personal complex-form, would reflect a wider range of unconscious other, one more demonstrative of its role as psychopomp to the boundless world of the collective unconscious. It might, when constellated, manifest in the personality as a spiritual emergency does, one that mimics, but is not a schizophrenic break (Grof & Grof, 2017, p. 31). Rather than projecting onto an individual, such a complex seems likelier to project onto the broader world, spewing unconscious content that might resemble psychotic hallucinations and delusions. Interestingly, Hillman does not disagree, noting that Jung more than once likens anima and animus experience to psychosis (Hillman, 1985, p. 131). Anima, indeed, has the potential to ‘unleash forces’ of the collective unconscious (Hillman, 1985, p. 133).

Finally, let’s consider Hopcke’s observations about the anima and animus as they appear in dreams. He tells us that evidence for the mediatory function of these figures appears in dreams where anima and animus appear as companions and helpers, reminiscent of figures in stories where a figure of the opposite sex, an other, leads the hero or heroine to the goal at the end of the story. (Hopcke, 1991, p. 85). In response to these observations, I would offer my experience that personal complexes do appear in quotidian dreams as companions or would-be companions. On this basis, I would hesitate exclude the possibility that anima/us A is a personal complex. But in the cases of profound, ‘big’ dreams, such a companioning, helping role — a mediating figure who bridges the dreamer to a mythical narrative — seems far more in keeping with an anima/us B figure, bearing little resemblance to anima/us A.


By necessity, I have had to do a bit of hopscotching in this portion of the paper, so let me pause to sum things up. It is my sense that the anima and animus concepts Jung described suffer from labels overenthusiastically applied. Given the significant contrasts I have described above, I believe that, in talking about anima and animus, we may not be talking about two figures, but four. Anima and animus A and anima and animus B.

Because our initial definition of anima and animus centers on the gendered other in the psyche, I will leave these terms — anima and animus — with the figures I have been calling anima/us A.

And now, if you will continue on this journey with me, reader, I will introduce you to an inner figure I believe may encompass the elements present in anima/us B: the Ally.

Raff’s Concept of the Ally

Post-Jungian Jeffrey Raff believes that we each have a unique companion on our journey of growth and individuation. This figure, he tells us, is the twin of [the] soul (Raff, 2006, p. 3), a partner we meet in dreams and active imagination who acts as catalyst and midwife to our evolution (Raff & Vocatura, 2002, p. 27). This inner figure has the attributes of lover, teacher and guide (Raff & Vocatura, 2002, p. 140), acting simultaneously as friend and mystery (Raff, 2006, p. 93). It is a figure reminiscent of the unknownness mentioned in Hillman’s discussion of anima (1985, p. 131).

Raff’s ally is strongly aligned with the principle of eros. Initial dreams of this figure often feature a strong bonding quality and may include the sense that one has met an inner lover and friend (Raff & Vocatura, 2002, p. 121). In this way, the dreamer not only feels a deep sense of love, but an invitation to union and companionship unlike anything he or she has previously experienced (Raff & Vocatura, 2002, p. 101). This is not unlike the fascination ascribed to certain facets of the anima figure. In fact, this spiritual attraction might reasonably be confused with the physical and emotional attraction of the anima/us A, and perhaps helps explain the tendency to lump A and B together.

Like Hillman’s mediatrix of the unknown (Hillman, 1985, p. 129, p. 133), the ally is not a figure of unabated sunshine. ... Its goal is not to make us happy. Its goal is transformation and growth (Raff, 2002, p. 92-93). Raff goes on, Nor is the ally a ‘good’ being; it is an entity that seems to unite all the opposites (2002, p. 93).

Importantly, Raff describes the territory of the ally as that of the imagination, and the place where we most optimally meet her as the domain of active imagination. Defining active imagination as a means to encounter the unconscious (Raff & Vocatura, 2002, p. 113), when we meet the ally in active imagination, then, we are clearly participating in the domain of the anima/us B: the unconscious. The psychopomp (Hillman, 1985, p. 134-135) is in her optimal setting to act as bridge and bear us across.

Not every part of Raff’s ally blends cleanly with anima/us B. Despite his admission that the ally is not exclusively a figure of light, his overall tone is weighted toward the joy and love end of the spectrum (Raff, 2006, p. 11). Hillman and Jung, on the other hand, are quick to assure us that the anima is no sibylline benefactrice (Hillman, 1985, p. 133).

With the archetype of the anima, we enter the realm of the gods, Hillman tells us (ibid), and Raff, speaking of the ally, would surely agree. Hillman’s gods, however, linger in territories which encompass beauties, yes, but insanity and dark magic, too. Raff’s ally provides the means for the human and Divine [to] come into union, implying a divinity with whom we would want to attain union (Raff & Vocatura, 2002, p. xiii).

Despite the differences, Raff’s ally generally resonates with the essential characteristics of anima/us B — and certainly more strongly than anima/us A does. However, it is my experience with my own ally that, to my mind, truly solidifies the connection between the concepts.

Working with the Eros Ally

I now turn to what Raff and Vocatura call theoria, ideas based on experiences (2002, p. 103). Using my own inner encounters as a starting point, I hope to [set] the stage for further discoveries (ibid). To that end, I will begin by sharing a dream.

In it, I found I had just purchased a snake. A man, a stranger, warned me that the snake would grow to be very large. Later, I was sitting in an airplane seat, interacting with the snake. It slithered over my lap, across my hands, and I was careful to stroke it in the direction most comfortable for its scales. Though I was a bit nervous as it moved its head toward my face, I softened, settling into a profound trust, even as I had the sense that the snake trusted me, too. An extraordinary numinosity filled the encounter. There was a deep sense of bonding, and I felt a great affection for this creature. This meeting was one of the most deeply eros-laden, glowing moments of my life. Though I didn’t know it at the time, this would be my first encounter with my ally.

Not long after this meeting, I happened across Raff’s first book on the ally, Healing the Wounded God (2002). I recognized my dream snake instantly as an ally figure, and I took to heart Raff’s proposition that I might connect with this figure on an ongoing basis. 

To help clarify my understanding of the role of ally, I will need to share a bit of backstory: Some years before my encounter with the dream snake, I had attempted several varieties of imaginal work, first attempting to communicate with inner figures in a more Jungian mode, and later with the help and training of a contemporary shaman. My experiences were halting, frustrating, and led me to abandon my efforts. Active imagination? Shamanic journeying? Nope, apparently not for me.

But something astonishing happened when I connected with the dream snake, my ally. Inviting her presence into imaginal journeys opened new doors. I was now able to consistently communicate with inner figures. I traveled imaginal landscapes and re-entered dreams, if not with ease, than with sufficient success to keep at it. The ally acted as an undeniable bridge to the unconscious, helping images to render in ways that I could work with and, to some degree, understand. In short, the ally made possible what I could not do alone.

The eros-based nature of our connection began to stand out, as well. Our exchanges were highly relational – a quality traditionally described as central to the anima (Hoffman, 2022b). My bond with my ally deepened, and I believe her imaginal presence was a key factor in allowing me to form ongoing relationships with other inner figures.

There have been anima B-type frustrations. My ally is unfailingly patient. Too patient, I sometimes feel, as if she thinks my mortal body has all the time in the world. She occasionally speaks, as Hillman posits of the anima,  in sphinx-like riddles (1985, p. 135). And if she does not [insist] on uncertainty, (ibid) she clearly has no problem with it, either. As with Hillman’s observations of analyst bias concerning the anima, perhaps because I [depend] on her help, [I] must see her as helpful (Hillman, 1985, p. 135).

But if I see the face of anima/us B in my ally, could I also connect anima/us A traits to her? Not with any authenticity. While my ally’s energies might constellate in my surroundings in the form of synchronicities, for instance, she does not seem to project or color my experiences in the way that anima/us A does, in the way that personal complexes do. I do a fair amount of imaginal dialoguing, and so am commonly on the lookout for personal complexes to work with. None of these projecting, coloring figures has ever been my ally.

In my experience, then, most every feature that I associate with the anima/us B is present in my ally, and in my experiences with her. But if she — and Raff’s ally generally – is so clearly an eros figure, I cannot help speculating about whether she, like Jung’s original anima, might have a logos counterpart.


At this point in the development of this paper, I had a significant dream. I intuit that it connects to my own animus A — the gendered other in my psyche. In it, I met a man who had the same unusual hair color as my own. He was a student like me, and more than once, I puzzled over his age because, while he looked a bit younger, we engaged at such an in-sync level. At one point, he made an analytical assessment of an image in the very dream we shared, calling to mind the tendency of the animus to freely share opinions (Le Grice, 2021, p. 52). Interestingly, both my father and husband featured in the dream, both of them in images of reduced energy — as if, perhaps, the animus had called back his previously-projected material back to himself.

The connection between myself and this male dream figure was certainly tinged with a numinous glow, but there was no sense of the extraordinary soul-shifting that I experienced with my ally (anima B-type) dream.

While it is, of course, difficult to draw firm conclusions from a single dream, my sense is that comparing this animus A dream to my anima B (ally) dream provides an interesting opportunity to consider the scale of these energies and how they might differ in felt-sense between anima/us A and anima/us B. While Animus A is an engaging figure I would gladly meet for coffee and conversation, he does not seem a likely figure to serve as bridge to or representative of the collective unconscious.

With that in mind, how might an animus B manifest?

Philemon — the Logos Ally?

I offer this portion of the discussion more tentatively, as I am only beginning my studies of Jung’s imaginal work as depicted in The Red Book (2009). As renown wizard Albus Dumbledore once said, From here on in ... I may be as woefully wrong as Humphrey Belcher, who believed the time was ripe for a cheese cauldron (Rowling, 2005, p. 197).

In Memories, Dreams, Reflections, Jung introduces us to an imaginal figure who held a central spot in his work and his understanding of his internal world: Philemon (1965, p. 182). He associates this figure with the principle of logos (ibid), and describes him as representing superior insight (Jung, 1965, p. 183).

This psychagogue (Jung, 1965, p. 184) served as a guide — at times with apparent willingness, at other times with more reticence — in Jung’s imaginal journeys. As is common for the ally, Philemon initially appeared in a dream (Jung, 1965, p. 182). Not long after, his advent was blazoned by a significant synchronicity (Jung, 1965, p. 183), very much in keeping with my intuitive sense of anima/us B as a figure who may not project so much as it constellates psychoid-type events in the inner and outer worlds.

In The Red Book, Philemon is presented as a magician (Jung & Shamdasani, 2009, p. 395-413). In depth psychological lore, the magician has been described as a logos-type figure, the archetype of understanding and hermeneutics (Moore, 2003, p. 115). And so it is fitting that we see Philemon engage in logos-type activities as distinguish[ing], divid[ing], separat[ing], definin[ing] (Hoffman, 2022b). For instance, in the final chapter of The Red Book, he compares the natures of God and the devil (Jung & Shamdasani, 2009, p. 516-517) and later provides metaphoric meanings for particular numbers (Jung & Shamdasani, 2009, p. 525).

In an intriguing contrast, however, in a chapter called The Magician, Jung refers to Philemon as a lover and, particularly a lover of ... soul (2009, p. 407). This may seem to contradict with a logos nature, but Jung considered anima and animus to connect to the principle of syzygy (Jung, 1951/1968, p. 11-22), pairing them (or us with them) in a way which might be understood as a lover’s relationship. If Philemon loves soul — anima — perhaps it is because it is in his nature as a logos figure to be drawn to eros.

Philemon’s role as an ally-type bridge to the unconscious is particularly in evidence when Jung writes that Philemon has succeeded in uniting what has been sundered (2009, p. 407) — a reference, I suspect, to the differentiated ego and the unconscious. According to Jung, Philemon’s wisdom is invisible, [his] truth is unknowable, entirely untrue in every any given age, and yet true in all eternity (2009, p. 409-410). The image of something that is never true, yet is always true, calls up the paradoxical nature of the unconscious, and the reference to unknowability, brings to mind tells Jung’s assertion that what is unknown in the inner world...we call...the unconscious (1951/1968, p. 3). Jung also refers to Philemon as a vessel of fables (Jung & Shamdasani, 2009, p. 411) What other source of fables do we have than the deep worlds of the collective unconscious?

And, lastly, from a personal, experiential point of view, when I read Jung’s accounts of interacting with Philemon, I get the sense of the unstruck drum-skin that resonates with the striking of a neighboring drum. The felt-sense of Philemon, as I read him, and my experience of my own ally, seem similar, aligned, and correspondingly numinous.

Of course, only Jung could say for sure whether the Philemon figure served as an ally in the Raffian sense. But Philemon does offer an interesting example of how a logos ally might function, in contrast to the eros-type ally Raff describes. Rather than relating, the logos ally instructs. Instead of drawing together, he pares back and reveals.


Because this journey has been a bit of a meander, let’s take a moment to consider where we started and where we ended up. Essentially, I have suggested that Jung took two things — anima A and anima B — and called them by the same name. Likewise, with the animus. And, so, like a knitter confronted with four skeins of tangled twine, I teased out four distinct yarns: the anima and the animus, representing the gendered other in the psyche, and the eros and logos allies, which act as both doors to, and representatives of, the unconscious.

While this short analysis is far from conclusive, I do consider that the inquiry has been worthwhile. The unease I felt at the start of this exploration, if not resolved, has softened into the ‘okayness’ of an open question. And, perhaps most intriguingly of all, I feel myself invited — especially after the dream that arose during the writing of this paper — to continue exploring these themes with the help of my eros ally and animus. I may even dream the journey onward, asking around at inner-world street corners, to see if my logos ally and anima might be interested in meeting up at the local imaginal cafe sometime. Perhaps you’ll join us there.


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