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Chaos Theory, Archetypes, and a New Feminine

Transcript of the talk by Evija Volfa Vestergaard at the conference: "Chaos and Interdisciplinarity," Asheville, North Carolina, 26-29 June 2019.

I confess that I have a gut reaction when I hear that the feminine is all about body and feeling and caring which implies that thinking is not feminine, and it belongs to the domain of the masculine.

I am concerned about our notions of the feminine.  Therefor I will talk about archetypes, archetypal images of Anima and Animus. Whether they serve us well today. [1] 

I will make use of the insights of the Chaos Theory because Chaos theory is one of the most recent and, seems to me, one of the most promising theories about the natural world that we humans belong to and, thus, we must make use of it.

In my talk, I follow a set of questions:


  1. How may chaos theory inform Jung’s notion of archetypes?

  2. Would chaos theory back the archetypes of Anima & Animus (as they have to do with the notions of the feminine and the masculine in Jungian psychology)?

  3. Then I’ll point out some significant social changes and changes in gender roles that have taken place in the world in the last 50 years and ask: What does that mean for us and our notions of the feminine?

  4. My next question will be about a potential new feminine and its characteristic.

  5. And finally, I will pose the question for all of us: What responsibilities might lie with Jungian psychology in the emergence of a potential new feminine?


 How may chaos theory[i] inform Jung’s notion of archetypes?


Chaos theory itself is superbly complex. At this time, however, we know of its hallmarks and will stick to those.


 Chaos theory..,

  • Is used to study nonlinear & dynamic systems—systems that change at non-constant rate. Basically, they are unpredictable, e.g., weather, stock market, populations, human behaviors, and so on.

  • Chaos theory tells us that any trajectory, any movement in the system depends significantly on initial conditions. Because the initial conditions vary, we cannot predict how the system will look in the future or in its mature state. This unpredictable change makes it chaotic.

  • However, chaos theory also provides us with concepts and tools to recognize patterns in chaos. It tells us that locally chaotic movements show global patterns.

  • BUT there is no one idealized state that describes the pattern as a whole. We can only make statements either (1) about the averages of the pattern or (2) describe particular trajectories or states within the pattern.

  • One more thing—these patterns have a fractal structure. It means—they are self-similar—the pattern propagates from the smallest to the largest scale repeating itself.


Now, how may chaos theory inform Jung’s notions of archetypes?

Right away, I’ll say that Jung was a visionary. Having never heard of chaos theory because it had not been devised at his time, Jung recognized the psyche’s patterns (archetypes) through observations and insisted on archetypes as “forces of nature, organizing human experience for the individual” (Hopcke, 1989, pp. 15-16)[ii].

Application of chaos theory to psychology has been done by numerous authors in the last couple of decades[iii].

I side with those who do not treat the insights of the chaos theory as metaphors for something psychological.
I resonate with Terry Marks-Tarlow (2008)[iv] who describes archetypes as self-referential structures AND processes that govern the full spectrum of individual’s experiences.

She wrote that the  “self-similar patterns [archetypes] demonstrate lawfulness to often invisible seams of connection between physiological, psychological, social, cultural and historical levels. Linking physical to social phenomena, this lawfulness extends from micro to macro size and time scales” (Marks-Tarlow, 2008, p. 191).

I conclude that Chaos Theory and its insights about patterns with the typical hallmark characteristics mentioned earlier and the Jungian notion of archetypes as patterns of human experiences are in synch.

It makes sense for us to employ the learnings of Chaos Theory.


Now the second question: Would chaos theory back the Anima/Animus archetypes?

To describe archetypal patterns, Jung employed images and stories found in myths and alchemy.

Interestingly, the scientists who deal with chaos theory, while using mathematical formulas, tend to revert to metaphors quite a bit. Because the theory is hard to convey.

The best-known metaphor is the so-called butterfly effect. It says that the flattering of a butterfly’s wings in Texas may result in unpredictable tsunamis in Asia. In chaos theory, the butterfly effect describes the system’s sensitive dependence on initial conditions[v].

Here I want to remind us of one particular hallmark of the chaos theory as we consider this question:

  • While the theory tells us, that chaotic movements show global patterns, it also tells us there is no one idealized state that describes the pattern as a whole. We can only do two things: (1) make statements about averages of the pattern or (2) describe particular trajectories or states within the pattern.


Going back to Jung. Jung used images and stories and gifted us with the descriptions of such archetypes as Anima and Animus among others. Anima, for Jung, was the unconscious feminine in the psyche men. Animus—the unconscious masculine in the psyche of women.

The Jung proceeded to describe Anima (or the feminine) seen as soft, warm and emotional; Animus (or the masculine) as assertive and also power seeking, rational, and at times ruthless. (These descriptions remain and dominate Jungian literature).

Following the Greek and Roman tradition and using the plethora of tremendously rich images of myths generated by those cultures, Jung coupled the notion of the feminine with the image the Moon. He linked the masculine with the image of the Sun.


  • The weak rays of the Moon cast a mysterious night light on the awaiting and unpredictable—sometimes round in her body, sometimes hiding—Anima.

  • The bright southern sun, in Jung’s imagination, burned through the idea of Animus that was enlightened but harsh.

In all Romance languages the sun is masculine, and the moon is feminine[vi].

However, is this a description of a global pattern—an average that applies to all cultures?

In my native Latvian language, the sun is feminine, and the moon is masculine. And so it is in German and Arabic. Danes, Swedes, and Norwegians use a common gender when referring to the sun and moon[vii].

Does it have something to do with nature?

In Greece and Italy, there is plenty of scorching sun. Differently, in Latvia, one is lucky to have a sunny day. Apparently, there are only 9 fully sunny days in a year there.

And, so in the Latvian culture,

  • The feminine which is loving, bright, and the bringer of the daylight is associated with the Sun.

  • The masculine Moon is in the pursuit of the Sun. It desires to be with the Sun ….while the Sun chooses the times of connection.

One of the key masculine (and male) activities includes safeguarding (rather than ambushing), watching with care, especially during the nighttime.

Biochemistry may give an explanation to my gut reaction when I hear about the moonlight feminine.

A recent analysis by quantum physicists give us data on how the amount of light taken in through eyes of living beings affect their internal chemistry. In fact, the light triggers chemical reactions in animals and birds. The migrating birds use them to navigate south and return back north never missing the destination  (BBC, 2018).

Humans, as biological creatures also have experiences of light. We do not migrate, but we do weave stories about the experiences that reveal the relevant somatic and cultural patterns.

The weak light of the Moon as the awaiting feminine or the harsh sunlight of the power-seeking masculine are not a part of the Latvian biochemistry. 

These images are also not dominant in the Latvian culture, likely do to its strong pagan rather than Christian traditions that I will not go into today.

Would chaos theory back Animus/Anima as archetypes? No.

It would accept those as archetypal images describing a particular state or a trajectory of the system relevant to a cultural and historical space[viii].

As Robert Sapolsky, a Stanford professor of biology and neurology put it: “The notion that there is a solution at the center is a fabrication … there is no correct idealized answer in there . . . Variability is the system[ix]” (Sapolsky, 2011).

While we can talk about a generalized human ability to relate to others and about our ability to apply rational thinking, any particular description of these abilities is necessarily an image that is culturally and historically embedded.

This brings me to my third pint. The world we live in now is radically different then what it was even 50 years ago.

What are some important changes for women and men living today that may be relevant for our notions of the feminine?

Among the greatest of the changes that have taken place in the past 50 years are:


Drop in number of children born to an average woman.

Here are some data from 2017 [quote] “Over the last 50 years the global fertility rate has halved and globally the average woman has fewer than 2.5 children today . . . The decline of the fertility rate is one of the most fundamental social changes that happened in human history” [end quote] (Roser, 2017).


Why is this important when we consider the notion of the feminine? Let me explain by bringing up some data from neurosciences.

Interestingly, until recently very little was known about the female brain specifically. Luckily, numerous studies have been carried out in the last decade.

According to Daphina Joel, a neuroscientist from Tel Aviv University, “the three-pound mass lodged underneath the skull is neither male nor female . . . We all belong to a single, highly heterogenous population[2]” (Denworth, 2017).

However, there is a difference that shows up during pregnancy which might be one big reason why the traditional ideas about the females and the feminine dominate.

A study from 2015 reported that “[pregnancy] renders substantial changes in brain structure, primarily reductions in gray matter volume in regions subserving social cognition[x]” (Barba-Müller, et al., 2017).

For a pregnant woman (and 2 years after her pregnancy), her relational circles are bound to the immediate and her ability for abstract planning is reduced for the benefit of the child[xi].

Today’s average female and her activities, however, are not so different from those of the average male.

Today’s males take greater part in childcare activities than those 50 years ago. Interestingly, the testosterone levels of these men drop, and empathy begins to play part in planning activities. Their amygdala—the center of emotions—show increased activity similar to that of women (Hopffgarten, 2017).  


The second big change is the availability of global connectivity offered through technology.


Technology allows us to connect outside our immediate circles. It provides us with tools to learn about others and to collaborate. It is not necessary to attack or conquer or to leave our homes in order to ensure wide networks of collaboration and resources. 

I hope you see where I am going with it. As discussing technology could be another full talk.

If we are basing our field on global patterns and their local manifestations, data is important and updated theories matter.


If we were to perceive the new feminine of today what would be its characteristic?


This is an image that comes to me:

The new feminine is mighty and it’s bright.

It leads with embrace.

It is not solely fueled by her amygdala juices

leaving the remote spaces of her prefrontal cortex dry.

And, oh so importantly, the feminine ways are intra-actional with the masculine. Each emerges from within the contacts of the involved entities  (Barad, 2014).

What responsibilities might lie with Jungian psychology in the emergence of a new feminine alongside the masculine?


To begin, we must be mindful that the archetypal images we invoke are culturally relevant and therefore more useful than damaging. No matter how eloquently we speak, we need to be up to date and in worst cases—watch out for mythological imperialism and colonization[xii].

I believe that our psychology has a particular contribution it can make towards human experiences of more livable (nurturing) life and a bit more sustainable world.

Why? Because, first, humans are unique and different from other animal in their ability to abstract—to use metaphors and symbols[xiii] in imagining what is now and what could be in the future. AND, second, Jungian psychology is perfectly equipped to utilize this purely human propensity.

These are many things we can do. I would like to take responsibility and participate in this one. I invite you too …to do more to expose images of the feminine from various cultures not only to make unconscious complexes conscious but to inspire.

Put a concerted effort in creating insights and narratives not so much about cultural complexes but rather about cultural potentials.

About the cultural adjacent possible (Kauffman, Prolegomenon to Patterns in Evolution, 2014)[xiv]. [check Joe Cambray’s (2017) works to understand the adjacent possible. Essentially, it is a potential future available to us. It is a way to “increase the diversity of what can happen next” (Kauffman, 2003).

The kind of images and narratives I have in mind are those not dominated by trauma. For example, the Latvian mythological feminine sun that leads with the rhythms of the nature, bringing both light and caring presence.

The Danish Queen Thyra [tiera], a historical and mythical figure, who is smart, beautiful, capable of both fighting and defending, married but not subservient, a human being, a leader and also a symbol of her people (Skogemann, 2016, p. 261).

I am certain that other cultures have similar inspiring images that are dynamic, animated, vivacious, spirited, and industrious. I think we need them more than ever[xv].

I believe that we all have a responsibility to ask ourselves and each other a question: What kind of future I/we want to co-create? And then, we must do what we can to make it happen.


Barad, K. ( 2014, May 19). Feminist Theory Workshop Keynote - Karen Barad. Retrieved November 18, 2017, from

Barba-Müller, E., Pozzobon, C., Picado, M., Lucco, F., García-García, D., Soliva, J. C., . . . Oscar, V. (2017). Pregnancy Leads to Long-Lasting Changes in Human Brain Structure. Retrieved November 24, 2017, from Nature Neuroscience:

BBC (Producer), & Scott, K. (Director). (2018). The Secrets Of Quantum Physics: Let There Be Life (Full Physics Documentary) | Spark [Motion Picture]. Retrieved May 19, 2019

Cambray, J. (2017, February 16). The Emergence of the Ecological Mind in Hua-Yen/Kegon Buddhism and Jungian Psychology. Journal of Analytical

Psychology, 62(1), 20-31. Retrieved from

Chamberlain, L., & Bütz, M. R. (Eds.). (2013). Clinical Chaos: A Therapist’s Guide to Nonlinear Dynamics and Therapeutic Change. New York, NY: Routledge.

Denworth, L. (2017). Is There a "Female" Brain? In The New Science of Sex and Gender. Scientific American. Retrieved from

Hopcke, R. H. (1989). A Guided Tour of the Collected Works of C. G. Jung. Boston, MA: Shambhala.

Hopffgarten, A. (2017, September/October). In Baby Mode. Scientific American Mind, 49-55.

Kauffman, S. (2003, September 11). The Adjacent Possible. Retrieved October 20, 2017, from

Kauffman, S. (2014, September). Prolegomenon to Patterns in Evolution. Biosystems, 123, 3-8. Retrieved from ScienceDirect.

Marks-Tarlow, T. (2008). Psyche's Veil: Psychotherapy, Fractals and Complexity. New York, NY: Routledge.

Robertson, R., & Combs, A. (Eds.). (2014). Chaos Theory in Psychology and the Life Sciences. New York, NY: Psychology Press, Taylor and Francis.

Roser, M. (2017, December 2). Our World in Data. Fertility Rate. Retrieved June 14, 2018, from

Sapolski, R. (2011, March 2). Robert Sapolski: Are Humans Just Another Primate? Retrieved May 19, 2019, from YouTube:

Sapolsky, R. (2011, February 11). 21. Chaos and Reductionism. Retrieved May 22, 2019, from YouTube:

Skogemann, P. (2016). Mother Denmark. In J. Rasche, & T. Singer (Eds.), Europe's Many Souls. Exploring Cultural Complexes and Identities (pp. 257-274). New Orleans, LA: Spring Journal Books.

Woodman, M., & Dickson, E. (1996). Dancing in the Flames. The Dark Goddess in the Transformation of Consciousness. Boulder, CO: Shambhala.





[1] All the images that you will see in my presentation are paintings done by Latvian artist Ilze Avotina. These images are also illustrations that the artist did for my book Dragon of Riches that talk about fertile value of the psyche’s shadow.

[2] “You can’t divide students into a group that is very active, likes sports, is very good at mathematics, and doesn’t like poetry and another group that is the mirror image. There are very few kids like this” (Denworth, 2017).

[3] Intra-action is different from an interaction. In an interaction, bodies maintain independence as they get in contact with one another.


[i] Chaos theory originated in the 1960s. One of the early pioneers was a professor at M.I.T. named Edward Lorenz, who designed computer models of the weather.

[ii] Archetypes, as we read in Jung’s collected works are “’psychic modes of apprehension’ (CW 8, p. 137). [Archetypes are] patterns of psychic perception and understanding common to all human beings as members of the human race” (Hopcke, 1989, p. 13).

[iii] Some of the books include: Clinical Chaos: A Therapist’s Guide to Nonlinear Dynamics and Therapeutic Change (Chamberlain & Bütz, 2013), Chaos Theory in Psychology and the Life Sciences (Robertson & Combs, 2014), and my favorite Psyche's Veil. Psychotherapy, Fractals and Complexity (Marks-Tarlow, 2008)

[iv] “Fractal pattern is both transcendent and immanent. The pattern is transcendent—some may call this archetypal—by existing in a purely abstract realm outside of any particular scale of time and space. Simultaneously fractal pattern is immanent, by manifesting concretely within each scale. Temporal and event dynamics range from the tiny scale of minute-to-minute events to large scale life circumstances that might extend over months, years, decades, and even generations” (Marks-Tarlow, 2008, pp. 185-186).

[v] A small change in one state of a deterministic nonlinear system can result in large differences in a later state.

[vi] Spanish- sol (m.) luna (f.), Italian- sole (m.) luna (f.), French- soleil (m.) lune (f.), Portuguese- sol (m.) lua (f.), Romanian- soare (m.) lun? (f.)

[vii] In Punjabi, Hindi, and Urdu, both sun and moon are masculine. In Turkish, Estonian and Finnish, no genders are assigned at all to either sun or moon.

[viii] Robert Sapolsky, in my view, gives one of the easiest to understand explanations about the difference between linear/non-linear systems and attractors/strange attractors: (see sequence from about 1:00:05 – 1:00:15) “In fact, in non-linear systems, there is no one answer as to what you should be observing. In linear systems, there is a single stable point that can be described attracting all the activity towards it. In dynamical system, that are oscillating and following a pattern, they never settle down into a single point. In systems with strange attractor, there is no one point answer, the phenomena is the noise. There is no absolute pure answer. There is no idealized correct answer. The system cannot be controlled to allow you to get an idealized answer. The idealized point is imaginary; what you really are wanting to comprehend is the system itself.”

[ix] See Robert Sapolsky speaking on Reductionism and Chaos (1:31:15—1:31:20)

[x] [The gray matter] reductions endured for at least 2 years post-pregnancy” (Barba-Müller, et al., 2017).

[xi] It appears that pregnancy affects a woman’s brain in a way that influences what she pays attention to, her perception and memory, as well as action planning that depends on abstract thinking.

[xii] We must keep in mind a possibility for inadvertent mythological imperialism when we read the assertions like these: “With the onset of the Iron Age, worship the Son God, albeit a Sun God bound to the Mother, began to emerge. As consciousness develop, a sense of self began to emerge from the body-self. This is the natural course of human development. As the self developed further, human beings began to take their projections of divinity off Great Mother and the Goddess and to identify with the ascendant symbol of the Sun God” (Woodman & Dickson, 1996, p. 21).

[xiii] Robert Sapolsky has written and spoken about (1) how we humans are the same as other animals, (2) how we have same behaviors applied in novel ways, and (3) how we are completely unique.

[xiv] The term adjacent possible was devised by Stuart Kauffman[xiv], an American medical doctor and theoretical biologist. Kauffman argued that instead of a grand theory of development, evolution happens through continuously arising biological functions, the variables of which are not predictable.

[xv] Jungians could work with symbols and narratives not only with individuals but also with groups to affect communities: We can follow the work already started by Peter Dunlap who works in the field of political psychology. I side with Dunlop in saying: “Individual development and cultural evolution are not separate phenomena but are twin dimensions of a single process of human transformation.”[xv] We may follow Mary Watkins, a Jungian analyst with expertise in community psychology who has done extensive work with “insighting of the cultural changes . . . to mitigate psychological suffering.”[xv]

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