The Mystique of the Woman Warrior

            She is legend from the dawn of time: an army of women, strong, brave, caring nothing for fashion or male approval, advancing out of the mist to protect her community, her female sovereignty, her very life. From ancient Greece we have the myth the playwright Aeschylus called, “The warring Amazons. Men-haters.” Sadly this anti-male stigma prevails even in our modern time, where women who display Amazon-like qualities–confidence, independence, certainty, and, yes, fury–are condemned by people of both sexes who are intimidated by female power.

            Yet, I argue that even people who are threatened by strong women are fascinated by the “otherness” of a band of female warriors. Why? What makes them so different from a band of brothers? Does it have to do with our deeply ingrained cultural expectations: men do the fighting, women stay home? Or does it go deeper than cultural conditioning, into the deepest longing of our souls?

            In her essay, Structural Forms of the Feminine Psyche Toni Wolff gives us clues. Arguably a warrior herself at the dawn of the creation of the science of psychology, Ms. Wolff wrote and first delivered this paper in 1934 at the Psychological Club in Zurich. She was an intimate and collaborator of Dr. Carl Jung, though the title of collaborator was never given to her in her lifetime. She was known more notoriously as his secret lover in a relationship that spanned forty years, alongside his marriage to Emma Jung. One glance at this essay, and an investigation of her life, reveals a woman of brilliant intellect and sensuality who served as Jung’s analyst during his mental collapse after the breakup with Freud.

            Ms. Wolff writes, “For self-knowledge and self-realization it is important to understand structural forms of the psyche that may or may not correspond to the cultural period concerned. “ 

Deep within our unconscious mind, archetypal structures have a life of their own that may be in conflict with external cultural or familial expectations. This caused a great deal of anxiety, depression, and mental confusion with women of earlier centuries, where the external role was dictated by society for a life of devotion to motherhood and family and nothing else. And yet, there she is, from antiquity: the Amazon, beguiling us not only as a myth, but as a vibrant archetype in our very souls.

            Ms. Wolf writes, “She is independent of the male, because her development is not based upon a psychological relationship to him. Her interest is directed towards objective achievements which she wants to accomplish for herself.”

            If we look at Toni Wolff’s perceptions in light of the revolutionary thinking about gender in our modern world, it is important to know that the archetype of the Amazon is a symbol of qualities that apply to a human of any gender, sexual orientation, trans-gender or non-binary. You don’t have to identify as female to comprehend that there is a longing for wholeness in the psyche of every human being. In Ms. Wolff’s view, this wholeness is embarked upon when we become aware of all structural forms within us, ie, the Amazon, the Mother, the Medial Woman (one who mediates between the world of the psyche and the material world), and the Hetaira, one who has the ability to awaken creativity and originality and lead people beyond societal restrictions to the formation of the total personality.

            What if the fascination with the woman warrior is a call to the heart of our souls to become unpredictable, bold, original and true to our deepest nature? We see evidence of this fascination in our cultural media today. The brilliant Netflix film The Woman King has appeal for humans of all genders and orientations. I personally watched it with two gay men, who were captivated. For my dime, the part of the story I loved the most was the relationships, those between the women warriors, the fierce young warrior trainee and the clueless but well-meaning Portuguese man, and most wonderfully, the mother and daughter who struggle to find love.  To me these relationships showed the full spectrum of a warrior woman, taking down the “man-hater,” stereotype of Aeschylus and showing us fully integrated, fully original human beings.

            I confess to a bias in this regard. Relationships are at the core of my novel, The Language of Water (Aqueduct Press, May 1. 2023 release) which features the women of the Kurdish YPJ in the northern Syrian province of Rojava. Our setting is 2100, a world teaming with too much water, or, in Rojava, far too little. A war commences between the women warriors of the YPJ and the woman president of Turkey, a powerful and conflicted woman who controls the headwaters of the Tigris and Euphrates. At stake is the health of planet, the lives of thousands of “water refugees,” and the fate of patriarchal values that have ruled our planet for millennia.

            Be on the lookout for women warriors in your life: the office manager who commands and organizes with brilliant authority, the mom on the playground who starts up a creative activity that inspires all the children, the basketball player who raises money for Ukraine. Explore how observing Amazons in life and art can bring you closer to the soul-making archetype deep within, an adventure into wholeness that can bring substantial rewards.