Trauma and the Death Mother

Marion Woodman
London, Ontario, Canada
Association of Graduate Analytical Psychologists

My lifetime work has focused on the connection between psyche and soma, taking me ever deeper into the unconscious where dreams and inner dialogue can build bridges between images and symptoms. My analysands and I, taking our lead and timing from the inner guide, have worked for years building an ever stronger ego, at the same time releasing both the creative and destructive energies in the unconscious. Repeatedly we have discovered trauma locked in Medusa’s deadly gaze, sometimes at a pre-verbal level. I call this Medusa the death mother. Her presence is capable of literally activating a death wish in the body, a yearning for death that is barely conscious, if at all. Most of us can recognize what we call the negative mother archetype, the voice inside that asks, “Who do you think you are?” More difficult to endure is the death blow that swings out of the unconscious, paralyzing every cell of the body. The tension between trying and giving up becomes palpable. Ego tells the body to keep driving ahead; body tries to obey. The crux in this conflict and its outcome may not be clear for months.

A genuinely positive outcome requires a loving space, what I call a loving Presence that fills the molecules of the space around. It is a Presence that hears and loves the other as he/she is, a Presence that radiates from the depths of the unconscious with archetypal power (the life instinct), the only power strong enough to overcome the Death Mother. In analytic practice, I have found how important it is for the analyst to be able to recognize the Presence as well as the Death Mother, and to be able to differentiate him/herself from these powerful archetypal forces.

Since our culture is dominated by rational thinking, financial gain, personae pomposity, obliteration of subtle body and basic values of soul, Presence is not easy to find. Many people don’t know the difference between empty space and Presence. That energy, however, is essential to a soul that has not been seen or heard; too often the lack of connection to vitality is masked by a compensating throwing of oneself into life, even if it is a death-dealing space.

Our culture, as I see it, is ravaged by the death mother. Addicts are undermined by an empty pit that cannot be filled by food, alcohol, sex, work, money, hate – all of which carry death at their core if they are out of balance. Sooner or later, the victim cannot run any farther or faster. The death wish actively moves in and a life and death battle follows or is quickly surrendered to. Illnesses related to this archetype have to do with auto-immune break down; the body can no longer play host to the soul. The healing process is slow, dangerous, tortuous because the soul is deciding whether to stay in the body or leave. If someone can be present to the soul, the journey into life is a powerful step-by-step walk. Call it Presence, Femininity, Sophia, Holy Spirit, Buddha Consciousness – by whatever name – it is the Love strong enough to birth One World.