Mother World: splitting, integration & evolution in the mother archetype

Whore of Babylon, Russian engraving, 19th Century, US Public Domain
Whore of Babylon, Russian engraving, 19th Century, US Public Domain

Recently, I have been writing on the aims and instincts of the human soul. Carl Jung speaks of the human soul’s “longing to attain rebirth through a return to the womb, and to become immortal like the sun” (CW5, para. 312). In biblical terms, rebirth is associated with entrance into Jerusalem. Jerusalem is the holy city, an image of the divine mother.

Jung says, “the Old Testament treats the cities of Jerusalem, Babylon, etc. just as if they were women” (para 303). While Jerusalem is an image of the holy mother, Babylon is the unholy mother. In Jung’s words: “Babylon is the symbol of the Terrible Mother” (Jung, para 315). In Revelation 17 it is written:

17:1 And there came one of the seven angels which had the seven vials, and talked with me, saying unto me, Come hither; I will shew unto thee the judgment of the great whore that sitteth upon many waters: 17:2 With whom the kings of the earth have committed fornication, and the inhabitants of the earth have been made drunk with the wine of her fornication. 17:3 So he carried me away in the spirit into the wilderness: and I saw a woman sit upon a scarlet coloured beast, full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns. 17:4 And the woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet colour, and decked with gold and precious stones and pearls, having a golden cup in her hand full of abominations and filthiness of her fornication: 17:5 And upon her forehead was a name written a mystery: Babylon The Great, the mother of harlots and abominations of the Earth (emphasis added).

And in Revelations 18:

18:1 And after these things I saw another angel come down from heaven, having great power; and the earth was lightened with his glory. 18:2 And he cried mightily with a strong voice, saying, Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen, and is become the habitation of devils, and the hold of every foul spirit, and a cage of every unclean and hateful bird. 18:3 For all nations have drunk of the wine of the wrath of her fornication, and the kings of the earth have committed fornication with her, and the merchants of the earth are waxed rich through the abundance of her delicacies.

In these passages, we meet the whore of Babylon. Babylon is the “mother of all abominations” (Jung after Revelation, CW 5 para 313). Babylon is “a cage of every unclean and hateful bird.” Carl Jung says: “the birds are soul-images.” He notes that in these passages the birds represent “the souls of the damned and evil spirits” (CW 5, para 315). There is also a relationship between the terrible mother and the damned of the underworld. Jung says: “The mother becomes the under-world, the City of the Damned” (ibid). She is “the receptacle of all that is wicked and unclean” (ibid).

The mother as ‘receptacle’ is reminiscent of the work of psychoanalyst Melanie Klein. Klein postulated that the infant splits the mother image (as breast) into good and bad aspects which then become internal representations (or objects) within psychic life. Hanna Segal discusses Klein’s view:

“The child attacks his mother’s breast and incorporates it as both destroyed and destructive — ‘a bad persecuting internal breast’. This … is the earliest root of the persecuting and sadistic aspect of the super-ego. Parallel with this introjection, in situations of love and gratification the infant introjects an ideal loved and loving breast which becomes the root of the ego-ideal” (Segal, p.4).

From a Kleinian perspective, a predominance of  ‘envy and greed’ leads to splitting in the infant. The infant splits the mother image into two primitive forms: a ‘bad and persecuting’ object and a ‘loving and gratifying’ object. These two object representations are internalized and become part of the psychic world. The infant projects intolerable emotions into the ‘bad object’: the mother becomes a ‘receptacle’ for unwanted emotions.

In the presence of ‘love and gratitude,’ raw need and greed find sufficient solace to integrate and resolve enough splitting for the child to grow. The growing, integrating child is able to handle more tension and more experience without splitting.

While such fantasies are a normal part of infantile development, it is interesting to see them in our collective development as well. The relationship to the mother archetype is reflected in our religious and spiritual narratives: the whore of Babylon reflects a split in the archetypal mother. Based on our Biblical narratives, it appears that we, collectively, may have a surplus of ‘envy and greed’ over ‘love and gratitude’. Our collective mother is projectively seen as a ‘whore’ to be diminished and denigrated: “a receptacle of all that is wicked and unclean.”

Our narratives are capable of affecting and altering our relationship to life and world. A culture of collective greed and envy develops out of a monovalent attitude in which we collapse the dialectical tension of opposites inherent in life. The splitting can be so deep and so common that we, together as a social body, begin to form mass delusional representations that trap and enthrall us. In turn, our collective perceptions, and fate, become determined by enthrallment to and dominance of a split condition.

The denigration of the mother archetype may form the basis of the paternal monotheism that has dominated the last few thousand years. Such splits are reflected not only in our relation to the mother archetype but in relation to the mother world as well. Our split condition can have grave consequences, as an unconscious attitude of degradation drives us to enviously attack and deplete our mother world.

Our relationship is ever evolving, as are our narratives. If we are able to integrate this split, our relation to the mother world will be restored. Such work takes place within the human heart. In the presence of ‘love and gratitude’, our collective envy and greed may find sufficient solace to integrate and resolve.

What from one perspective appears as splitting appears from another perspective as a dialectical dynamic. This is the perspective of spirit; splitting resolves into a dialectical relationship of contraries. If we take the perspective of Hegel, we might say that the relationship between the contraries proffers a dialectical tension that resolves to a telos of spirit.

The dialectical tensions inherent in the contraries creates a force or tension that resolves as the forward movement of history. Hegel says: “contradiction is the root of all movement and vitality” (Science of Logic, 1816). The forward movement of spirit, and of history, is born in the tension and the unfinished resolution of contraries. Hegel’s famous triad illustrates the forward movement: thesis, antithesis, synthesis. Through struggling with the dialectical tensions we may develop a capacity for integration and thus transformation and synthesis. Hegel adds: “The grasping of opposites in their unity or of the positive in the negative … is the most important aspect of the dialectic” (ibid, emphasis added).

This idea appears in the theory of Carl Jung as well, forming the central movement of psychic life. The movement occurs not consciously but unconsciously, through symbols. Symbols act as transformers. Symbols are won from the formless void as spontaneous originations which heal the splits within psychic life. In this regard, Jung says:

“symbols act as transformers, their function being to convert libido from a ‘lower’ to ‘higher form.” … “It is able to do this because of the numen, the specific energy stored up in the archetype” (CW 5)

Transformations of libido (psychic energy) are acts of transcendence. Symbols are wellsprings of sacred numen, guiding the individual, or collective, from ‘lower’ to ‘higher’ states of awareness. Symbols guide the flow of psychic energy ‘upward’, as sublimation or sublation.

This transformation of psychic energy resolves into growth, individuation and wholeness. Hegel understood that spirit transforms, as expressed in progressive images of growth and development. Hegel dwells on the image of a tree: a seed seeks to spout, grow, bearing fruit, becoming what it is destined to become. Spirit bears its density within its seed. Hegel says:

“Universal history is the exhibition of Spirit in the process of working out the knowledge of what it [Spirit] potentially is. Just as the seed bears in itself the whole nature of the tree, including the taste and form of its fruit, so do the first traces of Spirit virtually contain the whole of its own history.” (Lectures on the Philosophy of History)

The seed sprouts from within the fertile soil, growing ever upwards. For spirit, transformation emerges as growth, as knowledge. Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit culminates in ‘absolute knowledge.’ The idea of absolute knowledge emerges as an archetypal motif on the path of Self-realization. In Latin, the root of absolute is absolvere, which includes the meaning ‘to set free.’ Knowledge is linked to freedom from its first seed, as its first sense is ‘sets us free.’

For those who seek knowledge, the question becomes: what does it mean to be ‘set free’? For some individuals the idea may take on a rather concrete form. Ray Kurzweil seems to take the concept of absolute knowledge or what is sometimes called the singularity quite literally. He states:

“Dumb matter and mechanisms of the universe will be transformed into exquisitely sublime forms of intelligence. This is the ultimate destiny of the Singularity and of the universe.”  (The Singularity is Near)

A literal conception of the absolute leads to the somewhat grandiose and arrogant views of a technical life that is superior to human life. It engenders an evolutionary cosmology which sees ‘pure mind’ evolving to the point that it is no longer dependent on the ‘dumb matter and mechanisms’ of our mother world. Here, I might also reference Ken Wilber’s Atman Project, regarding the ego’s desire for transcendence from the ‘great mother’.

Such views can be seen as expressions of a reigning fantasy of escaping the womb of life, of leaving the mother’s body, of surpassing the mother world– so as to enter into pure heavenly realms of father mind.

Klein might see such concrete fantasies as a phase in infantile development. Such fantasies arise out of an envious denial of our radical dependence on the mother (or mother world). Klein saw that envy arises from unresolved feelings of inferiority in the face of overwhelming awe. It is only when we can tolerate our dependence and vulnerability that we are capable of awe and gratitude. Working to tolerate the dialectics of envy and gratitude, of feelings of inferiority and awe, we win psychic integration–we may yet grow in our subject/ object relations.

Fantasies of transcendence are coincident with paternal monotheism. For centuries the divine image was a masculine form, on a throne, atop a heavenly cloud. Transcendence exemplified! With science (and airplanes), we have had the fate and privilege to explore atop the clouds– only to find no literal ‘heaven’ there. So logic might just have it that the true transcendence, the transpersonal, is within. A literal and concrete transcendence is the realization of a false father principle; false transcendence diminishes the potential for knowledge.

Carl Jung dreamed on and imagined a true dialectics: a sacred dialectics, a religious and philosophical dialectics. He noted a true dialectics in his patients; he studied them in sacred texts. For Jung, the aims of the spirit are not literal or concrete aims, but symbolic aims. Jung realized the psychical immanence of spiritual forms (archetypes). He understood that spiritual forms are not transcendent to life, but transpersonal (transcendent to the personal ego). In other words, symbols and archetypes are both transcendent to the personal self and immanent to the cosmic Self, in the very heart of the Self.

For Jung, the dialectical movements of psychic life, of splitting and integration, lead the psyche toward a final unification or integration– as a coincidentia oppositorum. The unification may be seen as a sort of ‘absolute knowledge’, as sacred knowledge. These are movements within the Self that lead to a realization in the heart.

The profit, Bahá’u’lláh, offers such a realization in sacred terms. He draws upon the image of a divine seed of wisdom in fertile soil of the heart:

“Sow the seeds of My divine wisdom in the pure soil of the heart, and water them with the waters of certitude, that the hyacinths of knowledge and wisdom may spring up fresh and green from the holy city of the heart” (Persian Hidden Words).

The seed of wisdom (of absolute knowledge) returns to the fertile soils of divine life and love. The heart is the place of integration, of fertile spiritual growth, in the ‘holy city of the heart.’

The ‘holy city of the heart’ is a reference to the Book of Revelation, as the final chapter of the Biblical narrative. Genesis is the beginning; Revelation is the end. Sacred images which demarcate the forward arrow of time point to an absolute knowing: in Biblical terms this is revelationChurch Latin speaks of revelation as apocalypse, from Greek apokalyptein: to uncover, unveil, reveal. Revelation is thus the archetype of vision, a seeing of something previously unseen, or knowing something previously unknown. Revelation 21:9 says:

“One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came and said to me, “Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.”

Revelation 21:10 reveals the nature of the bride, as Holy City:

“And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God.”

Revelation is an ungainly text, full of strange images and overwhelming forms, breaking the bounds of sense. Yet read with a telos of spirit in mind we find that revelation reveals a deeper logic. Along with the whore of Babylon, the Book of Revelation offers another mother image: mother as bride, as Holy City.

A city is a place of habitation. Habitation is the “act or fact of dwelling.” Through union we begin to dwell. Jerusalem as bride, as wife, proffers herself as a place for sacred dwelling. Here, we meet an alternative to a transcendence which seeks to ‘go beyond.’ The word is immanence, from in manere: “I remain within” or “I dwell within.”

The soul’s teleological aims point to a primordial image of wholeness, of containment– of a hieros gamos, as indwelling, a withinness. In an image (below) from the 14th century we see the holy city, the bride, in the form of a mandala. Mandalas are archetypal forms of wholeness, of indwelling. The infinite may be held within this holy city as dwelling. Hermes Trismegistus tells us: “God is an infinite sphere, the center of which is everywhere, the circumference nowhere” (Book of the 24 Philosophers). The divine mother emerges as a circumference that is everywhere, center nowhere.

Spiritual evolution is teleological, expressing the aims instincts and aims of spirit. While we may not be able to ascertain the ultimate aims of the forward arrow of time, we can begin to understand the ways that biblical time reveals the ends and means to our personal and collective development. Revelation ends with a sacred marriage. The image of sacred marriage is an archetypal message from the cosmic Self to the personal and collective self: the aim of spirit is not pure transcendence, but integration, unification, and wholeness within our hearts, within the very heart of this world. In archetypal terms, this is the coincidentia oppositorum of mind and world. ♂♀

Mapa Jeruzaléma, 12th Century. US Public Domain.
Mapa Jeruzaléma, 12th Century. US Public Domain.


  1. Wilfred R. Bion, Attention and Interpretation
  2. Gilles Deleuze & Félix Guattari, What Is Philosophy?
  3. G. W. F. Hegel, The Phenomenology of Spirit
  4. Carl Jung, Cw 5, Symbols of Transformation
  5. Hanna Segal, Introduction to the Work of Melanie Klein


  1. Wilfred Bion writes about the container and contained ♂ ♀ in many of his essays.

6 thoughts on “Mother World: splitting, integration & evolution in the mother archetype

  1. Thank You, Jenna….it reminds me of the ‘symbo-mythical’ meaning behind Draupadi’s role in the Mahabharata….as always, crystal clear elucidation of the Terrible Mother Archetype…aka Dakini…a fierce form of Maya Devi, Mother of Jîzo, The Protector of Children.

    Here is a poem

    “The Legend of the Humming of the Sai-no-Kawara”,

    ~ by Lafcadio Hearn:

    But lo! the teacher Jizô appears,
    All gently he comes, and says to the weeping infants:
    “Be not afraid, dears! be never fearful!
    Poor little souls, your lives were brief indeed!
    Too soon you were forced to make the weary journey to the Meido,
    The long journey to the region of the dead!
    Trust to me! I am your father and mother in the Meido,
    Father of all children in the region of the dead.”
    And he folds the skirt of his shining robe about them;
    So graciously takes he pity on the infants.
    To those who cannot walk he stretches forth his strong shakujô,
    And he pets the little ones, caresses them, takes them to his loving bosom.
    So graciously he takes pity on the infants.
    Namo Jizo Bosatsu!

    …& a Haiku by Issa, 1814


    Suzume no ko
    Jizoo no sode ni

    The young sparrows
    return into Jizo’s sleeve
    for sanctuary




    1. My anonymous friend,

      Thank you for sharing the lovely poem and haiku, offering some profound insight.

      Jizo speaks of himself as the ‘father and mother in the Meido.’ Jizo may be seen as an image of archetypal union, guiding us in the ‘region of the dead.’ Jung understood that ‘the region of the dead’ is not only found in the afterlife, but always with us as the shadowy realm of psychic life. The archtypal father-mother (as Syzygy) may contain us, offering ‘caresses,’ a ‘loving bosom.’ Union is a ‘sanctuary’ for our little bird souls.

      Blessings to you for your thoughts and care…

  2. Jenna,
    I feel that what you’ve written on this, the tensions of the opposites and their resolution, is brilliant. I’ve recently experienced this personally in a long series of vivid dreams and nightmares where I’ve met both the kind Father God and the sadistic Father devil. They seem to often play “good cop/bad cop” to move the soul toward realization.

    I’ve spent the last seven years studying Emma Jung’s life-work, “The Grail Legend,” which focuses on this very dilemma: the split between the opposites within God, created when Christ split them too far apart by projecting all of Yaweh’s dark aspects onto an adversary. Jesus painted the Father as all-good, misunderstood by men: Which of you, if your child asks for bread will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish will give him a serpent? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him?

    In my view, there is no devil in an objective sense. The opposites of good and evil are both contained within one whole divine being. But, as Emma wrote, in earlier Old Testament times Yaweh was too unconscious of his own dark side. Christ articulated and defined good and evil in his sayings and parables, but split the opposites so far apart that the average person was incapable of resolving them, from an inability to think in paradoxes. The Grail legends appeared at a time when men and women were beginning to understand that Christianity had a serious flaw:
    The dualistic division of Heaven vs. Hell, which cannot truly exist since all things must ultimately resolve, dwell within God (all things are Buddha things).

    It appears we need to move toward a God-image that contains, takes responsibility for both good and evil, but in a much more conscious way than Yahweh/Zeus of antiquity, (a god that was more of a nature god than a god of wisdom). The prescription for this realization is consciousness (awareness of one’s shadow), plus love (the denigrated pearl of great price).

    Keep it up, Jenna!

    1. Douglass,
      Thank you for sharing your insight into the God image. You are touching on the splitting and integration in the image, and of the psyche’s capacity for holding paradoxical tensions. In Symbols of Transformation, Carl Jung ponders this tension:

      “What is the nature of this God who is both creator and destroyer? Who is this God that knows himself to be love and devil? This pure, unsplit form of God is an “elemental force… a primitive power.” This primal power of God is both good and evil, light and the dark, the affirmed and negated.”

      The contraries are a creative tension, an elemental force which sets the play of life in motion. Self-realization entails the integration of such dualities, both in ourselves and in our images. Love, ‘the pearl’, is the image of such integration– as is the heart.

      Blessings & love on your journey of integration…

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