The myth of Cassandra has been used as a metaphor for various social and psychological phenomena, referring mainly to the silencing or disbelief of aspects traditionally related to the feminine by dominant figures or instances. These invisible feminine elements are, among others, intuition, imagination or creativity .
This eclipse of qualities considered feminine can be called “Cassandra complex”.
Cassandra: the Trojan Princess
The myth, which was immortalized in Homer’s Iliad, tells us that Apollo, god of reason, lucidity and moderation, fascinated by Cassandra’s beauty, promised her the gift of prophecy in exchange for her becoming his lover. Cassandra, daughter of the kings of Troy, accepted the gift, but rejected Apollo , who offended her by making her predictions, although accurate, not be believed or taken into account.
Unable to avoid or transform the events she foresaw, including the fall of Troy and her own death, the gift became for Cassandra a continual source of pain and frustration, and she was also excluded and stigmatized by her visions.
The myth of Cassandra speaks to us of the dark aspect of Apollo, that is, when the rationality that characterizes the patriarchy, forgets its matriarchal roots and arrogantly reveals itself through misogyny, equating the feminine to the lacking, the weak and to that which is susceptible to be dominated, exploited and violated.
The myth makes visible the need for linear, logical, analytical, quantitative and penetrating thinking, which offers pragmatic solutions and is usually related to the masculine, to be complemented by the so-called thinking of the heart, by receptivity, by the qualitative, by creativity, by synthesis and acceptance, traditionally related to the feminine.
The disqualification of the imaginary in modernity
Within the context of scientific materialism, framed in the Newtonian and Cartesian paradigm, different aspects reluctant to subscribe to instrumental and productive logic such as intuition, imagination and the whole field of the non-visible (traditionally related to the feminine) began to be considered as erroneous, obscure, puerile, superstitious and with no legitimacy to provide valid knowledge about the human.
The Myth of Cassandra represents the tragedy and imbalance that entails the neglect and contempt of the non-rational , subjective and ineffable field of our nature.
Within science itself, quantum physics, whose object of study is the smallest particles of which the universe is composed, that is, the infinitely small, the non-visible, has invalidated the absolute concreteness that was presupposed for matter from scientific materialism, revealing to it a mysterious, paradoxical and irrational aspect that has forceful similarities and correspondences with the nature of the psyche.
For example, it demolishes the pretense of objectivity, showing the effect of the observer on what is observed when experimenting with quantum proportions.
The discredit and expulsion of the soul in the contemporary world
Cassandra was confined and expelled from the collective life because her words were uncomfortable to the instances of power, to the dominant thought.
The popular expression “it is only psychological” shows the disdain towards the psychic and the subjective , in clear subordination to what is considered objective and physical.
The discredit and confinement of the soul alludes to the process of dehumanization and disharmony that is denounced from different instances, generated by the excess of technification, rationalization and instrumentalization.
It refers to the rigid bureaucracy that, instead of facilitating processes, creates obstacles, does not accept individual cases or the emergence of new conditions. It refers to medical practices in which economic interests predominate over people’s health, and where patients’ subjectivity fades away in diagnoses, protocols and statistics. It also refers to the medicalization of sadness and social nonconformity.
Other expressions of the confinement of the soul are the cult of appearances, packaging, happiness, youth, speed and growth. All the previous unilateralities that disregard the complexity, depth, ambivalence and cyclical dynamics of the psyche .
The Cassandra Complex and the Marginalization of the Feminine
The curse on Cassandra consisted in the fact that the warnings coming from her visions were not taken into account , that her words were not heard, that her contributions were denied. One of the readings that has been made of the myth of Cassandra is with respect to the exclusion and invisibility of women in patriarchal societies.
In ancient Greece, submission and silence were ideal virtues for female behaviour and these conceptions and practices have been maintained over time.
There is ample evidence that despite having been in inferior conditions in access to knowledge, women have historically been present in a relevant way in the political, artistic and scientific fields. However, their contributions have been made invisible or absorbed by a figure of greater legitimacy within the patriarchal logic, such as their father, brother, husband or lover.
In this same sense there are also multiple testimonies of how scientific knowledge has not only advanced from rationality and empiricism but from intuitions, imaginative visions and other aspects related to the non-rational field, but as with women, these findings are made invisible or taken as simple coincidences .
Invisibility towards women is also present when they are not taken into account in the media or for activities in which they could perform efficiently, because their age, their figure or their appearance does not match the expectations of a certain male gaze, disappearing, as well as objects of desire.
The feminine as merchandise and property
Once Troy was defeated, Cassandra was kidnapped and taken as the spoils of war. The woman’s body was and still is treated as a commodity, as an object of pleasure, as a showcase for advertising.
The logic of commodification and objectification of the female body is based on forced prostitution, trafficking in persons, pressure for the slim figure, the rise of aesthetic operations, and rape as a weapon of war.
This logic is implicit in the mind of the abuser who considers his partner or ex-partner as his property and therefore has the possibility to make use of it as he pleases.
The woman who belongs to herself and structural disbelief
In some versions of the myth, Cassandra is given the role of priestess or virgin. These aspects, in that context, symbolize women’s resistance to the subordination and dependence of men, as well as to the logic of domination and power that they personify. Cassandra then represents the woman who belongs to herself and not to her father or husband.
In patriarchal societies, women who are belligerent, who say what they do not want to hear, who transgress the canons imposed by men, have been silenced, marginalized or ridiculed by being labeled as crazy, witches or “hysterical”.
Many women today have to deal with this structural disbelief in various circumstances. For example, when after overcoming multiple obstacles and disadvantages in relation to men, they gain access to spaces of power or recognition beyond those traditionally attributed to women (beauty, care for others, objects of pleasure) and are delegitimized, disqualified or not taken seriously.
Disbelief is also present when testimonies of sexual abuse or harassment are presented and are often discredited as fantasies or provocations by the woman herself.
Another expression of disbelief is the case of conditions in which it is not possible to find a visible and quantifiable element in the body, such as chronic pain, fibromyalgia or mood disorders. People have to face being questioned about the truth or intensity of their suffering, or even endure being accused of manipulative behaviour.
Rift between mind and body: the lost animality
In some versions of the myth, Cassandra’s prophetic ability is expressed as the ability to understand the language of animals. In mythology, animals are usually representations of our instincts, of our body’s needs and its rhythms, of our basic drives.
The myth of Cassandra refers to how the civilizing process, which has elevated rationality and empiricism as dogmas, has opened a breach with our animality, with our innate capacity for self-regulation, with the inherent wisdom of our nature.
The estrangement from our animality, from the wisdom of our body, manifests itself as disorientation and dissociation.
Women are forced to construct their identity in a context where their sources of identification are valued in a pejorative way, giving them connotations of weakness, victimhood, dependence and irrationality. On many occasions, the mother herself becomes the reference point for what women do not want to become. The associated male values, on the contrary, are highly valued considering men as enterprising, logical, pragmatic, uncomplicated, objective, independent, strong, brave, powerful.
For Maureen Murdock, the denigration of the feminine increases the chances that many women will seek approval under patriarchal values, leaving aside or minimizing other fundamental areas of their personality.
Thus, the invisibility, the marginalization, the lack of consideration to which women are exposed, is internalized becoming an internal psychic factor from which negative judgments and evaluations towards themselves emerge.
Women then identify with rationality and the search for external goals, constantly seeking approval from the male gaze. Internalised devaluation is installed as a feeling of insecurity and disability that can be manifested as compensation through a constant search to demonstrate how efficient and capable one can be, on many occasions under criteria of excessive demands that exceed the requirements of the context itself.
Psychological changes that are generated
Women can then be possessed by an obsession with perfection and the need to be in control in different areas: work, their own bodies, relationships, while rejecting or distancing themselves from other aspects of themselves that have traditionally been related to the feminine.
She then becomes deaf to the signals of her body and its rhythms; to the possibility of recognizing the excesses or deficiencies that happen to her. She does not give credibility to the inner feeling that can guide her in relationships or attitudes that need to be abandoned; nor to the voice that promotes her in the unfolding of her own vocation, that encourages her to be faithful to her own truth.
The gradual unfolding of the deepest needs of our psyche was called in Jungian psychology a process of individuation and is considered to become more relevant in the second half of life, when the needs of adaptation to the external world, vanity and the need for recognition begin to lose relevance, while at the same time the development of our interiority emerges as a priority .
The Cansandras as Medial Women
Cassandra is named by the choir as the very unhappy and very wise one, evoking the traditional relationship of wisdom that emerges from suffering and frustration.
For Newman, the process of the evolution of the collective conscience in the western culture has passed from the matriarchal unconsciousness with predominance of the instinctive, animism and the collective, to the patriarchal skepticism in which rationality and individuality have prevailed. For Newman, the necessary patriarchal stage is living its decline by exhaustion.
The spirit of the time then corresponds to the need for a perspective in which the two principles interact harmoniously, which implies an integration of the feminine that is denounced and repressed in this last stage.
The Jungian analyst Toni Wolf suggests that there is a type of women with a special sensitivity that makes them serve as mediators between the internal and the external world . Medial women, as she calls them, are absorbed and shaped by what she seeks to become aware of in a certain period, becoming carriers of new principles and values.
Medial women capture and stage in the conflicts of their own lives, in the pain of their own bodies, what “is in the air”, what the collective conscience does not just admit: the need to integrate the feminine that is denigrated and repressed.
Through their art, their suffering, they shed light on the collective drama of erotically linking the male and female aspects, which like a sacred marriage act as complementary opposites without any kind of subordination. They consecrate themselves unconsciously, in the service of a new and hidden spirit of the times, as did the first martyrs. Their pain becomes a scythe for the superfluous and for the encounter with the most essential and genuine.
The collective conscience cries out for a recognition and integration of the soul, of the feminine, in relationships, in institutions, in the productive model, in the instances of power. It is impossible to postpone a participation in equal conditions of the qualitative, of the non-visible. Let the conquering, warlike and colonialist patriarchal logic be nuanced under the integrating and welcoming gaze of the feminine that unquestionably highlights the interdependence of all peoples and the brotherhood that binds us as a species. That it also restores the sacredness and respect that the planet and all the elements of nature deserve.
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