In his controversial essay, “The Psychology of Woman and her Psychosynthesis,” Assagioli discusses the psychological characteristics of both women and men, and how together, “each can become, psychologically, a complete human being.” He also describes in detail “womanly functions” such as the maternal function and wifely function.
In June, 2016, Piero Ferrucci related a funny story about this essay and Assagioli’s ideas concerning feminine roles. In the 1970s, Betty Friedman, author of the Feminist Mystic, came to meet Assagioli in Florence. She had a great time and during a guided meditation, the image came to her of a rainbow uniting men and women in the world. She asked for some of Assagioli’s writings to take back with her. Despite Ferrucci asking Ida Palombi, Assagioli’s secretary and associate, not to give Freidman his controversial writings on the psychology of men and women, Palombi did. And they never saw Friedman again.
Significantly, Assagioli ends this essay with a description of woman’s spiritual function. He writes:
“It is one of the noblest and highest callings for women to inspire others. In this spiritual activity, woman makes use of the highest feminine power, her intuition. It is, therefore, hoped…that woman will recover consciousness of her superior psycho-spiritual gifts, and that man will appreciate them and make use of them again for the sake of their mutual spiritual growth.”
For International Woman’s Day, let’s take a closer look at some of the spiritual women that inspired and influenced Assagioli. Here are five women that I have come up with – just to start. Perhaps you can suggest others?
Helen P. Blavatsky (1831-1891)
Born into a Russian-German aristocratic family in the Ukraine, Blavatsky was a spiritual medium and writer who co-founded of Theosophical Society in 1875. She gained international recognition as the leading theoretician of Theosophy, which ultimately helped to spread Hindu and Buddhist in the West. Assagioli was a theosophist all his life. When recalling the first time he met Assagioli in Florence, Ferrucci laughingly remembered, as a young 25 year old, feeling quite uncomfortable and upset as he sat in Assagioli’s waiting room where a portrait of the formidable Madame Blavatsky hung.
Alice Bailey (1880-1949)
English-born, Bailey was also a theosophist and one of the first writers to use the term “New Age.” In 1925, Bailey and her husband created the Arcana School, which continues today to provide educational correspondence, meditation instruction, and guided study based on her writings. Assagioli was closely associated with Bailey during the 1930s. He contributed articles to Bailey’s magazine The Beacon and was a trustee of Bailey’s organization, the Lucis Trust.
Elena Kaula (1863-1925)
Born in Alexandra, Egypt, Assagioli’s mother was also a theosophist and undoubtedly a spiritual inspiration to her only son. We know very little about her, but in his autobiographical notes in Freedom in Jail, Assagioli writes:
“Family: a mother who gave me freedom!”
Nella Ciapetti (1893-1973)
Assagioli’s wife (as well as his mother-in-law) was also a theosophist. In my last blog, I wrote about the importance of their life together as a couple. As a good friend of the family, Luisa Lunelli knew the Assagiolis for many years, and wrote:
“Their relationship was the best. They were different, but they complemented each other and communication between them was easy and continual. Indeed, you could see their understanding and love only increase every day.”
Olga Fröbe-Kapteyn (1881-1962)
A Dutch spiritualist, theosophist, and scholar, Fröbe-Kapteyn gained recognition in the 1920s when, at the suggestion of Carl Jung, she started to use a conference room in her Swiss home as “meeting place between East and West.” This gave birth to the annual meeting of intellectual minds known as Eranos, which today continues to provide an opportunity for scholars of many different fields to meet and share their research and ideas on human spirituality. Assagioli attended these meetings during the 1930s. But perhaps more significantly, one of Fröbe-Kapteyn 80 paintings (that she realized between 1926-1934) hangs in his study, directly across from his desk.
Before his death in 1974, Assagioli was interviewed by French feminist and journalist Claude Servan-Schreiber who noted that “on the subject of women, he had in the past been limited, and he knows it and frankly admits it.” During that interview, Assagioli said that while each of us is a human being before being a ‘man’ or ‘woman,’ differences in gender principles and function remain. However, through our consciousness and will, we can perform any role that life requires of us or that we decide to play. Assagioli’s reflections hold true today:
“I believe that woman is evolving perhaps more rapidly than man… Society needs women to contribute the higher aspects of their femininity – altruistic love, compassion, the sense of and respect for life… The psychosynthesis of humanity is possible and needed and within our reach – for not only is it very beautiful – it is very human.”