Jean Shinoda Bolen’s Goddesses in Everywoman: Book Review

Jean Shinoda Bolen
Goddesses in Everywoman
HarperCollins, 1984

Most of us think of goddesses only as characters from myth—as images entirely unrelated to modern life. In Goddesses in Everywoman, Jungian analyst Jean Shinoda Bolen explores how the stories from ancient mythology can be relevant to women today. It’s a Greek mythology “personality type” book about how to become a better heroine in your own life story.

This was one of my favorite books when I was starting college, since one of its main purposes is to help the reader in the quest for self-discovery. But it could equally appeal to any woman interested in psychology and personal development, or who’s in a transition phase: whether due to a new career, a break-up, becoming a mother, a mid-life crisis, retirement, or the death of a loved one.

Despite the title, this book is not about discovering your “inner goddess,” worshiping female deities, or any New Age spirituality. Dr. Bolen is a Distinguished Life Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association, and the personality types in Goddesses are all based on the work of Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung (1875–1961). He claimed there were universal (but unconscious) archetypes that influence human experience and development. Some of the most common Jungian archetypes are the Mother, Father, Hero, Sage, Wise Woman, the Trickster (or Devil), and Rebirth.

Each chapter in Goddesses includes a summary of the myths of particular goddesses, which I always love rereading. These are followed by Bolen’s description of how the character traits of each archetype are revealed in modern women. The book details how each type of woman might deal with their parents, young adulthood, sexuality and marriage, motherhood, other women, work, mid-life, and old age. Each chapter also includes advice on developing as a person and outlines psychological difficulties that each type might face.

"Goddesses in Everywoman: A New Psychology of Women" by Jean Shinoda Bolen, M.D.

“Goddesses in Everywoman: A New Psychology of Women” by Jean Shinoda Bolen, M.D.

Bolen’s descriptions illustrate that women don’t have to be everything to everyone: Some women are independent; others long for a traditional family; and others prefer a life of excitement and romance. All are equally valid paths, and most women will identify with at least several of the goddesses. And since women will experience various archetypes on the journey from childhood to adulthood, each of the profiles can be useful for understanding oneself and other women in your life.

Here’s a brief outline of the goddess archetypes in Bolen’s book:

The Virgin Goddesses:

All remained unmarried, and their primary pursuit in life was something outside of marriage. These archetypes illustrate how women can be independent while still being feminine.

  • Artemis: The Competitor.

    Artemis was both a huntress and the protector of animals. As a woman, she is confident, goal-oriented, and can take care of herself. Bolen portrays her as very concerned with the sisterhood of women, just as Artemis was known for aiding women and seeking revenge for wrongdoing. She also is a lover of nature. Her biggest challenges include developing a connection with her inner life and finding productive ways to deal with anger about injustices.

  • Athena: The Strategist.

    The goddess of wisdom was logical, skilled in battle, and a patron of the crafts. As a woman, she is usually successful in work, perhaps with interests in academia, science, or politics. Her biggest challenges include learning to live “in the moment,” being more carefree, and thinking in terms besides merely the practical.

  • Hestia: The Hearthkeeper.

    Hestia was the goddess of the hearth, the center of life in the ancient world. As a woman, she is intuitive, contemplative, and often religious. Her biggest challenge is learning how to effectively deal with the “real world” while remaining true to her otherworldly nature. She may struggle with low self-esteem, since Hestia’s qualities are often discounted in secular societies.

The Vulnerable Goddesses:

These archetypes represent the three traditional roles for women. They can make a woman vulnerable, since fully engaging in one of these roles means that a woman’s identity is based on other people, and thus, out of her control. Regardless of which goddess is dominant, all women will likely experience each of these archetypes as they make the journey from childhood to adulthood, to being a wife and mother.

  • Demeter: The Mother.

    Demeter was the goddess of grain, whose daughter Persephone was abducted by Hades into the underworld, and the crops died each winter due to Demeter’s grief. Demetrian women will long for children and find great satisfaction in providing for them (often by cooking). Her challenges are dealing with “empty nest” syndrome, finding interests outside of her children, and avoiding being over-controlling.

  • Persephone: The Daughter.

    Persephone was a carefree young girl who later became the Queen of the Underworld. As a woman, she may be very much a “mother’s daughter” and receptive to the influence of others. Her biggest challenge lies in taking the difficult initiation into the “underworld,” which will result in forging an independent self and developing adult personality characteristics, rather than dealing with life via childhood emotions like tantrums and narcissism.

  • Hera: The Wife.

    Hera was Zeus’ wife and the goddess of marriage. As a woman, she is fulfilled by marriage, extremely committed, and is unhappy if she’s single. Her biggest challenges come from societal expectations in today’s world, in which women are told that simply being a wife is “not enough.”

The Alchemical Goddess:

Bolen places one archetype in a category by herself, since Aphrodite, though never married, certainly doesn’t fall into the virgin goddess category. In addition, when this archetype is fully developed, a woman gains the power to transform through love—that is, when love is used as a spiritual and not merely mundane experience. Some women are Aphrodistic types, but all women channel Aphrodite when flirting, dating, and in any act of creation. Not to mention, many women are eager to learn how to better develop certain qualities of the goddess of love.

  • Aphrodite: The Lover.

    Aphrodite was the goddess of love and beauty. As a woman, she may be fully engaged in her sexuality and have many lovers. Or, she may learn to channel Aphrodistic qualities into artistic passions or a career that requires charisma. Her biggest challenges include learning to develop meaningful relationships (with both men and women), dealing with the challenges of aging, and learning how to develop the compassionate side of love in addition to just the sexual.

Doing Is Becoming: Balancing the Goddess Archetypes

Bolen makes an important point in the chapter “Activating the Goddesses.” Sometimes we end up stuck in a habitual pattern and become unbalanced. We’re too much of a “mom” and neglect our sensual side, or become so driven by work that we neglect our spirituality.

But, as Bolen says, “doing is becoming.” By simply recognizing what aspects of ourselves we want to change, we can self-activate the various character traits we want to invoke. A college student who feels she’s still too much of a “daughter” can become more independent simply by taking on more financial responsibility. The sensual side can be activated as easily as wearing lingerie or a sexy dress. Engaging in prayer and meditation works to shift one’s consciousness to be more spiritually minded.

Would I recommend Goddesses in Everywoman? Definitely. It’s rare to find a book that covers so much ground. It gives the reader a thorough overview of mythology and Jungian psychology, combined with the benefits and readability of a good self-help book.

Gods in Everyman

Bolen also wrote Gods in Everyman: A New Psychology of Men’s Lives and Loves. It’s the exact same format as Goddesses, and deals with archetypes relating to power, fatherhood, exploration, the emotions, war, creativity, and sensuality. It’s a great gift for any man who’s interested in mythology, Jungian psychology, self-improvement, or self-exploration. I enjoyed looking through it at the bookstore, since it sheds a lot of light on what goes on inside the hearts and minds of men.