Rachel and Leah, sisters married to the same man and in eternal competition with one another is not the most action-packed or exciting story in the Bible but it is one that speaks to me in a profound way. There are some parallels between the sisters’ stories and my own but not enough to explain the draw that I feel to this story.
In order to understand why this story became so personal for me, I turned to the archetypes. By looking at the story on an archetypal level, I was able to recognize Rachel and Leah as wife and mother archetypes that are in eternal competition within soul of every married mother. The lessons I learned from writing that paper are helping me find some balance and to be more compassionate for myself and others as I realize that we are all struggling with balancing our archetypes. By looking at the archetypes through another lens, I hope to further my understanding of these archetypes and create a new, more attainable archetype for married mothers because they are not and cannot be only wives or mothers and need to find balance.
The story of how Jacob came to marry both Rachel and Leah and the fallout from this action is really tragic for the women involved. While in search of a wife, Jacob saw and fell in love with his cousin, Rachel. Jacob agreed to work for Rachel’s father, Laban for seven years in order to marry her. He “served seven years for Rachel and they seemed to him but a few days because of his love for her” (Gen 29:20). On the wedding night, Laban sent his older, less attractive daughter, Leah, to Jacob. The following morning, Jacob realized that he was tricked into marrying the wrong sister. Laban dismissed his trickery as custom and agreed for Jacob to also marry Rachel. With this act, Leah became doomed to live the rest of her life as an unloved wife. Not even a second choice, but only wed through deceit.
Things did not fare much better for Rachel. Although she was loved, she was also infertile. She wanted a son. Leah had son after son hoping that each birth would finally gain her favor with her husband. All Leah wanted was for her husband to love her and recognize her contributions to his household. “The names that Leah gave her sons reflected her hope that Jacob would come to love her because of the sons she was bearing him” (Otwell, 52). With each birth, Rachel grew increasingly desperate. “When Rachel saw that she had borne Jacob no children, she became envious of her sister; and Rachel said to Jacob, “Give me children, or I shall die.” Jacob became incensed at Rachel and said, “Can I take the place of God, who has denied you fruit of the womb?” (Gen 30:1-2). Rachel’s discontent threatens her only archetypal role as wife. In the end of the story, Rachel does have sons but she does not really get to experience archetypal motherhood. She died in childbirth with her second son.
On an archetypal level, Rachel represents the Wife. She is able to devote herself entirely to her marriage and her husband loves and desires her. Leah represents the archetype of the Mother. Since her husband is not interested in her as a wife, she is able to devote herself entirely to her children. The problem occurs because these women are not archetypes, they are people. Rachel is a wife that wants to be a mother and Leah is a mother that wants to be a wife. Both women fulfill their archetype but neither is fulfilled by their archetype.
Interpretation and Lenses
The stories of Genesis are specific and at the same time, they are general enough to be open to a variety of interpretations. They are archetypal, both personal and universal. In this story alone, the range of interpretations is vast. For example, some critics see Rachel as a sympathetic character, desperate to become a mother and contribute to her husband’s lineage. Others have viewed Rachel as a once-beloved wife that becomes intolerable in her single-minded desire to best her sister in a competition for sons that in the end, kills her. My interpretation is personal. I see Rachel and Leah as archetypal mother and wife in competition with each other because I identify with the struggle of these archetypes in my own life. Like many mothers, I was first a wife and the shift between archetypes is a struggle I live daily. This is the reason I was so drawn to this story, I identified the sisters as the archetypes within myself and other married mothers.
So many women fill the dual archetypes of wife and mother without realizing that they are separate archetypes. There are subtle differences between these roles, shifts that are made that need to have balance. In order to gain balance, the archetypes need to be understood. Archetypes are tricky because they can be so personal in interpretation. For this reason, I used Craig Ballard Millet’s book In God’s Image: Archetypes of Women in Scripture to look at the archetypes of wife and mother in the original paper. Her archetypes are based on the scriptures and on modern women. Her lens gave me an understanding of the archetypes but I wanted to go deeper and understand more. To do this, I will attempt to look at these archetypes through another set of archetypes.
Simply by choosing a set of archetypes to use as a lens, I am making specific and personal decisions that will color the findings of this research. For this reason, I will acknowledge why I chose to look at the archetypes of wife and mother through the lens of individuation. Along with the roles of wife and mother, I am also a doctoral student and community college teacher. It is in these areas that my interest in archetypes meets my interest in individuation. For my dissertation, I am working on a curriculum that includes literature to encourage individuation. This is what sparked my interest in Carol Pearson’s Awakening the Heroes Within: Twelve Archetypes to Help Us Find Ourselves and Transform Our World. To further understand both wife and mother archetypes, I will use the lens of the archetypes from Pearson to see where the shifts occur and where the need for balance comes in for the creation of a new, more realistic archetype for women balancing wife and mother.
Millet writes, “The archetypal wife is not simply a mirror reflection of her partner. She is a woman who innately has within and who intentionally cultivates skills of intimacy, commitment, and love. These are difficult skills to cultivate and difficult ones to exercise. They require constant attention and constant work, but the rewards are also generous” (78). These are some of the very same skills required for motherhood but the attention and focus for these skills are changed. Wives and mothers contain elements of all of these, some more than others. This lens is my own and is therefore limited by my knowledge, experiences, and interests.
In her book, Pearson divides the hero’s journey and the archetypes as follows: the preparation for the journey – innocent, orphan, warrior, and caregiver, the journey – seeker, lover, destroyer, creator, and the return – ruler, magician, sage, and fool. “The journey of the Ego (preparation) teaches us how to be safe and successful in the world; the journey of the Soul (journey) helps us become real and authentic as we encounter the deepest mysteries of life; and the journey of the Self (return) shows us the way to find and express our authenticity, power, and freedom” (Pearson 27-28). While a mother and wife can contain the elements of all of these archetypes, I argue that she is most likely in the second stage – the journey. As a person, she may develop and experience elements of the return but as the archetypal wife and mother, her role is dependent on relationship with others and Soul, not of Self. It is important to keep the distinction between the archetypal wife and mother and the “real” wife and mother. For this reason, I will not include the last five archetypes in this paper and will conclude with our most complicated aspect in a life, love.
Not all married women are mothers and not all mothers are wives but those that are inhabiting both of these roles know that there can be direct conflict of these archetypes. In fact, Millet never mentions children in the chapter on wives. Children automatically change a woman’s role to include the mother archetype so she can no longer be a pure wife archetype. If a married mother tried to be a wife archetype, her children would suffer and that would not be good for the marriage just like a mother completely switching to the mother archetype is not good for a marriage. In order to give married mothers an archetype that is more about balance, I identified a third archetype, I simply call it the Married Mother.
The Married Mother realizes that in order for her husband to be happy, she needs to be a mother and in order for her children to be happy, she needs to be a wife, and most importantly, in order for her to achieve her own happiness, she needs to find self-awareness and balance. The Married Mother needs to balance the relationships and archetypes. A mother simply cannot spend the amount of time and attention on keeping the house clean, making meals, having relationship time with her husband, maintaining her appearance, or on any of her many former activities from her wife archetype days. In reality, this balance is not possible but this is the ideal. The Married Mother is one that has managed to attain this balance.
When the wife becomes a mother, the husband also becomes a father. She can easily lose herself in her new archetype to the point that her husband feels unloved and uncared for. He has also had a transition of archetype to deal with and has his own new needs. He may become angry or frustrated at the situation and since he loves his new children, he takes his anger out in other ways which harms the marriage. Both parents are dealing with the loss of their old archetype but they are also dealing with the loss of the other’s archetype.
This disconnect from the former archetypes of the new mother can lead to problems with the other areas of her life, like it did for me with my classes and marriage. I became so immersed in the Mother that I let the other areas and relationships slide, to a point, this is expected. The problem is when the mother does not return her attentions to her former archetypes that she risks losing those roles. If the mother does not realize that she has lost her wife archetype, she becomes at risk of losing her husband’s affections (like Leah and even at one point Rachel). She may lose the relationship that creates the archetype and would simply live without that part of her Soul. Some people lose other archetypes when taking the new role as mother, many quit school or work, and some, often not by choice, quit the archetype of wife.
How do we avoid losing our archetypes when we take on new roles? It is all about balance. This is the question for every person, no matter what archetypes they are living. To balance school, work, motherhood, family, my need to create, and all of the things that make me who I am will be a constant struggle for balance. I will never be able to fill any of my archetypes without feeling dissatisfaction with my performance in other areas of my life. This is true for everyone, it is archetypal.
The idea that we can balance the two archetypes, the idea that Rachel and Leah can unite, and the idea that any person could or should ever BE an archetype are not realistic but we can hope for clarity. To do this, I will look at seven archetypes as applied to Wife, Mother, and Married Mother. Some of the archetypes are important for the roles of wife, mother, and married mother but other archetypes have more to do with the lack of balance that can occur when a married mother attempts to fill either the role of wife or mother alone. For these second, more crucial elements of the mother and wife archetypes, it will benefit us to look in depth at the interplay between the archetypes within the described role and how they apply with subtle differences across the archetypes.
“The Innocent is the part of us that trusts life, ourselves, and other people. It is the part that has faith and hope, even when on the surface things look impossible” (Pearson, 71). This archetype is important for wives, mothers, and married mothers but doesn’t change profoundly as a woman transitions from wife to mother and optimally, to married mother. Love takes trust, it takes a level of innocence, of hope and sense that the impossible can be possible. Innocence is not forever and in order to grow and mature, some innocence must be lost. Traditionally, in order for a marriage to become legitimate, sex must occur. Sex is a loss of innocence. The innocence is lost but it can be something wonderful and more beautiful than the original purity. In order for a wife to become a mother, sex definitely has to occur and the innocent, uncomplicated love the couple enjoyed without children becomes something different. Once a woman has a child and enters the mother archetype, there is no going back – the love shared with the couple will always be different – not less or more, just different. The new love is more complex, it is deeper in many ways because it is shared with children and complicated because it requires balance. “When Adam and Eve choose knowledge over innocence, they open to receive life in all its fullness, which includes both pleasure and pain” (Pearson, 109). The Innocent will maintain the balance of hope, love, and trust but as a woman becomes wife, mother, or married mother – she steps away from the world of maidenhood and innocence.
The Orphan also experiences a “fall,” a loss of innocence but it has a different effect. “The Innocent uses the experience to try harder, to have greater faith, to be more perfect and lovable, to be more worthy. The Orphan sees it as demonstrating the essential truth that we are all on our own” (Pearson, 82). The Orphan seems, to me, inappropriate for our archetypes. It is in direct conflict with the idea of relationships which is the basis for these archetypes. There is no wife, mother, or married mother without others, without relationship.
“The Warrior within each of us calls us to have courage, strength, and integrity; the capacity to make goals and stick to them; and the ability to fight, when necessary, for ourselves or others. … Warrioring is about claiming our power in the world, establishing our place in the world, and making the world a better place” (Pearson, 95). This one gets tricky and must be looked at through our archetypal lenses.
As a warrior, the Wife expresses these traits in her marriage. “Part of the problem in discussing the archetypal wife is that we tend first to think in terms of stereotypes, and the stereotypical wife is very different from (the archetypal wife). The little woman who sacrifices her name and herself to her husband’s every whim, and who cannot know herself apart from his reaction to her, is a negative and destructive picture of what should be an archetype of considerable power” (Millet, 77). An archetypal wife is powerful and it is an important part of her role that she have the strength to care for her husband, household, and marriage. The wife must also be a challenge for her husband. The partners need to challenge each other over time in order for growth and maturity to occur.
The Mother as a warrior has profound differences than the wife. The mother will fight for what is best for her child(ren) above anything else. This includes fighting with the husband and thus abandoning her role as wife in favor of mother. Just like Millet’s chapter on wives does not speak about children, her chapter on mothers does not mention the father until it gets to the shadow side of the archetype, in other words, what happens when a person loses themselves in the archetype.
Warrior Married Mother
The warrior mother will at times need to assert herself with her husband in order to do what she feels is best for her children but she will also need to be firm with her children in order to protect her marriage. She will know how to balance the two as to not harm the relationships with her husband or child. Not all battles are worth fighting and as a warrior, this married mom knows when to battle and when to strategize.
“The ideal of the Caregiver is the perfect, caring parent – generative, loving, attentive to noticing and developing the child’s talents and interests, so devoted to this new life that he or she would die, if necessary, that it might thrive” (Pearson, 108). This archetype is clear for the role of mother but how does it apply to wife and married mother and how does the shift effect the relationships?
A caregiver is more than an ideal parent, it is an ideal giver of care. As a caregiver, a wife takes care to the needs of her husband. She shows him love and takes care of his needs. Unlike with a child, the husband can thrive on his own but like with a child, her support can aid in the success of the one receiving care. The caregiving wife puts the needs of her marriage above all other needs. If it is in jeopardy, she will give it what it needs to thrive; including time, energy, and love – even at the cost of other relationships or self. This is ideal for the archetype but not for the mother or the self.
The caregiving mother, apart from being ideal for the child, is not ideal for the husband or self. Pearson says the caregiver would die in order that her child could thrive. By extension, it can be assumed that the caregiving mother would allow relationships to die in order for a child to thrive. Since the mother is only concerned with her child, she only cares for her child.
As a married mother, the caregiver expresses her dual role with balance. She is able to give her marriage and her children the proper amount of care. Not too much care as to smother them and not so little that they don’t feel loved. There will be times that the needs of the child and husband conflict but the ideal married mother knows how to balance these needs.
“The Seeker seeks to find a better future of found a more perfect world” (Pearson, 124). There are many ways in which the wife, the mother and the married mother are seekers but there is no real conflict between the archetypes and what is being sought.
“Seeking is active; we feel like we choose it. But initiation, especially under the reign of the Destroyer, chooses us” (Pearson, 136). Like the Seeker, the Destroyer is also an important part of Wife, Mother, and Married Mother. It is what allows for metamorphosis and growth. The creation of the new roles, from mother, wife or married mother is also a sense of destruction. The wife archetype is destroyed by creation of the mother archetype and the adoption of the married mother is to destroy the attempt toward mother or wife.
“Without love, the Soul does not engage itself with life” (Pearson, 148). It is love that makes us human, it is love that makes us complicated, and it is love that brings us our deepest sorrows and highest levels of bliss. “We know Eros is at work when our connection with something is so strong that the thought of losing it brings intolerable pain. Without Eros, we can be born but never really live: our Souls simply never fall to Earth. It is Eros – passion, attachment, desire, even lust – that makes us really alive” (Pearson, 149). Love is so complicated and so personal. Within the archetypes the Lover is easy to see. As the Wife, the lover loves her marriage and her husband. As the Mother, the lover loves her child(ren). And as the Married Mother, the lover shows love to both her husband and child(ren) equally. It is love and our very humanity that complicates this archetype. Humans express love in different ways and they interpret loving actions in different ways. Husbands can feel unloved if the wife spends more time or affection toward their children and children may feel unloved if the mother spends more time or affection with their father. It is only the Married Mother that can find this balance. We are not archetypes and we cannot so easily maintain balance in any of the archetypal elements but hopefully by looking at them more closely, we have discovered ways to help us maneuver that delicate dance.
Millett, Craig Ballard. In God’s Image: Archetypes of Women in Scripture. San Diego: LuraMedia, 1991. Print.
Otwell, John. And Sarah Laughed: The Status of Women in the Old Testament. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1977. Print.
Pearson, Carol. Awakening the Heroes Within: Twelve Archetypes to Help Us Find Ourselves and Transform Our World. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1991. Print.
Plaut, W. Gunther, Bernard J. Bamberger, and William W. Hallo. The Torah: A Modern Commentary. New York: Union of American Hebrew Congregations, 1981. Print.