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One of the central concepts of Julius Evola’s philosophy of gender is the distinction between absolute man and absolute woman. But he seldom gives explicit definitions of these terms. Absolute man and woman can be likened to Platonic Forms, thus defining them can be as difficult as defining Justice, Truth, or Love.
The term “absolute woman” inspires more controversy than “absolute man.” Since the male principle is associated with light, goodness, and activity, whereas the female principle is associated with darkness, evil, and passivity, feminists can easily claim that Evola’s views are inherently misogynist. Another point of controversy is Otto Weininger’s influence on Evola. Evola himself admits that Weininger must be read critically due to “his unconscious misogynous complex” (Julius Evola, Eros and the Mysteries of Love: The Metaphysics of Sex [Rochester, Vermont.: Inner Traditions, 1991], 157–58).
It is important to address Evola’s writings on women so that his views are correctly understood. Since he was opposed to the emerging feminism of his day, it would be easy for those unfamiliar with his ideas to infer that Evola also was anti-woman. By explaining his views and not glossing over any points that do in fact sound misogynistic (as is the case with some Evola devotees) the New Right can set the terms of discourse and accurately elucidate his position.
Evola on the Composition of Human Beings
The simplest definition of “absolute woman” is the female principle, the feminine force of the universe. Individual men and woman have varying degrees of the absolute man and woman, although the feminine principle usually is the underlying force in women.
In the modern world (the Kali Yuga) these forces appear in more degenerate forms and also do not always manifest properly. In fact, Evola said that “cases of full sexual development are seldom found. Almost every man bears some traces of femininity and every woman residues of masculinity . . . the traits that we deemed typical for the female psyche can be found in man as well as women, particularly in regressive phases of a civilization” (Eros, 169). In addition, these “manifest differently depending on the race and type of civilization” (Eros, 168).
To understand the influence of the “absolute woman,” it is first necessary to understand Evola’s conception of the human being. He held that humans are comprised of three parts:
- the outer individual (the personality, or ego).
- the level of profound being, the site of the principium individuationis. This is the true “face” of a person as opposed to the mask of the ego.
- the level of elementary forces that are “superior and prior to the individuation but acting as the ultimate seat of the individual.” (Eros, 36)
It is at the third level, that of elementary forces, where sexual attraction is aroused (Eros, 36). Thus it is here that the elementary forces that comprise the absolute man or woman are located. This matches Evola’s description of some modern women, who are able to develop “masculine” skills such as logic or intellectualism. He says they have done so “by way of a layer placed on top of [their] deepest nature” (Eros, 151–52). However, they have not succeeded in altering their fundamental nature, only their superficial personalities.
A Metaphysical Starting-Point for Male and Female
According to Traditional doctrines, the sexes were metaphysical forces before they manifested in the world. Absolute man and woman exist from the beginning of time, when the Universal One splits into a Dyad, which then causes the rest of creation. In most forms of Hinduism, Shiva, the male principle, is identified with pure Being. Shakti, the female principle, is identified with Becoming and Change. In a similar vein, Aristotle associated the male principle with form and the female with matter. According to Evola, form means “the power that determines and arouses the principle of motion, development, becoming” while matter means “the substance or power that, being devoid of form in itself, can take up any form, and which in itself is nothing but can become everything when it has been awakened and fecundated” (Eros, 118). In the Far Eastern tradition, yang (the male principle) is associates with heaven, while yin (the female principle) is associated with the earth (Julius Evola, Revolt Against the Modern World, trans. Guido Stucco [Rochester, Vermont: Inner Traditions: 1995], 157.).Thus, form and matter combined to create the manifested universe. And from the coitus of Shiva and Shakti “springs the world” (Eros, 122). (This is in contrast to Oswald Spengler, who believed that becoming was the essential element, rather than steadfast being.)
The male principle is associated with truth, light, the Sun, virility, activeness, and stability. Sometimes it is associated with the Universal One that existed before the Dyad. The female quality is associated with deception, changeability, the moon, the earth, darkness, wetness, passivity, and dependence on another. In Evola’s words:
What the Greeks called “heterity,” that is, being connected to another or being centered on someone other than oneself, is a characteristic proper to the cosmic female, whereas to have one’s own principle in oneself is proper to the pure male. . . . female life is almost always devoid of an individual value but is linked to someone else in her need, born of vanity, to be acknowledged, noticed, flattered, admired, and desired (this extroverted tendency is connected to that “looking outside” which on a metaphysical level has been attributed to Shakti). (Eros, 157)
These forces then manifest in actual men and women. But Evola is clear to maintain that absolute man and woman are not simply aspects of character. Instead, they are “objective elements working in individuals almost as impersonally as the chemical properties inherent in a particular substance” (Eros, 152). As Evola says:
before and besides existing in the body, sex exists in the soul and, to a certain extent, in the spirit itself. We are man or woman inwardly before being so externally; the primordial male or female quality penetrates and saturates the whole of our being visibly and invisibly . . . just as a color permeates a liquid. (Eros, 32)
As such, the absolute woman is not simply an idealized concept of woman. She is defined from the divine down to the human, and is not a human conception of something divine.
Evola’s Description of Absolute Woman
The absolute woman is the rod by which all women are to be measured. Evola writes, “the only thing we can do is establish the superiority or inferiority of a given woman on the basis of her being more of less close to the female type, to the pure and absolute woman, and the same thing applies to man as well” (Eros, 34). In addition, superiority is defined by how closely one realizes the absolute woman or man. “A woman who is perfectly woman is superior to a man who is imperfectly man, just as a farmer who is faithful to his land and performs his work perfectly is superior to a king who cannot do his own work,” says Evola (Eros, 34).
Many more characteristics are associated with the female principle than those described below; however, these are the primary ones highlighted by Evola in his writings on the subject.
The Waters and Changeability
The fundamental feminine characteristic is changeability. Thus, the female is associated with water, which is fluid, and adapts to whatever form it is put into, just as matter/Shakti is shaped by form/Shiva. Evola writes that woman “reflects the cosmic female according to its aspect as material receiving a form that is external to her and that she does not produce from within” (Eros, 153). This fits in with Carl Jung’s description of woman’s animus, which is not self-created, but instead is a subconscious collection of the thoughts of men.
This changeability is related to woman’s tendency to live for someone outside of herself, due to the fluidity and changeability of her nature. For Evola, this means following the path of a mother or lover, fixing herself to a virile force in order to obtain transcendence. In contrast, “modern woman in wanting to be for herself has destroyed herself” (Revolt, 165.). By believing that she is merely her personality, she loses her transcendent aspect.
This changeability is seen in the association of the female with water. According to Evola, water represents “undifferentiated life prior to and not yet fixed in form,” that “which runs or flows and is therefore unstable and changeable,” and “the principle of all fertility and growth according to the analogy of water’s fertilizing action on earth and soil” (Eros, 119).
Evola also describes the correct relationship between the principle of water and that of fire, associated with the male: “when the feminine principle, whose force is centrifugal, does no turn to fleeting objects but rather to a ‘virile’ stability in which she finds a limit to her ‘restlessness’” (Revolt, 158).
Evola assents that certain modern women may appear very unchangeable, but stresses that this is at an outer level of her being:
a possible rigidity may follow the reception of ideas due precisely to the passive way she has adopted them, which may appear under the guise of conformity and conservatism. In this way, we can explain the apparent contrast inherent in the fact that female nature is changeable, yet women mainly show conservative tendencies sociologically and a dislike for the new. This can be linked to their role in mythology as female figures of a Demeter or chthonic type who guard and avenge customs and the law—the law of blood and of the earth, but not the uranic law. (Eros, 153)
Thus, a woman may be quite unchanging in her beliefs about society, etiquette, and morality, but will lack an attachment to a transcendent truth. Many of women’s ideas regarding social truths such as honor and virtue are “not true ethics but mere habits,” Evola says (Eros, 155).
This changeability of women explains the notion that women are at the same time more compassionate and more cruel than men; as woman is associated with the earth, she expresses both the tenderness of the mother and the cruelty of nature. The best example of this duality is the Greek goddess Artemis, who was both the protector of wild animals and the huntress.
Woman’s Lack of Being or Soul
Perhaps the most controversial characteristic of Evola’s absolute woman, which he gets from Weininger, is a common conception throughout history: that woman has no soul, or being. Weininger states that woman has no ego, referring to the Transcendental Ego of Immanuel Kant, which Evola describes as “above the whole world of phenomena (in metaphysical terms one would say ‘above all manifestation,’ like the Hindu atman)” (Eros, 151). In some schools of Hinduism, the atman (or “higher self”) is identical with the Brahman, the infinite soul of the Universe. In other Hindu conceptions, the atman is the life-principle. As manifested existence would be impossible without the atman, this description of woman as lacking a Transcendental Ego should not be taken to mean that women are incapable of developing and solidifying this aspect, though they may be at a disadvantage to men. Also, in the Kali Yuga, all people are the furthest removed from the divine, so modern men and women are likely in the same starting position in terms of development of Being.
Evola expands on the notion, stating that if soul means “psyche” or “principle of life,” then “it should signify in fact that woman not only has a soul but is eminently ‘soul,’” whereas man is not a soul but a “spirit.” He continues: “the point we believe settled is that woman is a part of ‘nature’ (in a metaphysical sense she is a manifestation of the same principle as nature) and that she affirms nature, whereas man by virtue of birth in the masculine human form goes tendentially beyond nature” (Eros, 151).
Deception and a Connection to Truth
Another attribute of absolute woman is deceitfulness. In fact, Evola states that it is so essential that telling lies has been acknowledged as an essential characteristic in female nature “at all times and in all places by popular wisdom” (Eros, 155). According to Weininger, this tendency is due to her lack of being. With no fixed essence, most women (and modern men) are attached to no transcendent truth, and therefore there is nothing to lie against—Truth only exists when one has substance and values. In Evola’s words:
Weininger observed that nothing is more baffling for a man than a woman’s response when caught in a lie. When asked why she is lying, she is unable to understand the question, acts astonished, bursts out crying, or seeks to pacify him by smiling. She cannot understand the ethical and transcendent side of lying or the fact that a lie represents damage to being and, as was acknowledged in ancient Iran, constitutes a crime even worse than killing. . . . The truth, pure and simple, is that woman is prone to lie and to disguise her true self even when she has no need to do so; this is not a social trait acquired in the struggle for existence, but something linked to her deepest and most genuine nature. (Eros, 155)
This quality of deceitfulness, while springing from the fundamental makeup of women, should not imply that it must be accepted as a given trait of all women, as some of Weininger’s writings imply. For, just like man, the ultimate goal of a woman’s existence is to connect with and live by the transcendent, which requires a fixation that cannot accept deception.
Woman’s Intuition, Man’s Ethics and Logic
Another idea Evola gets from Weininger is the notion that absolute woman, since she lacks being, also lacks memory, logic, and ethics (Eros, 154). In order to explain this, Evola distinguishes between two kinds of logic: everyday logic, which women can use quite successfully (though sometimes like a “sophist”) and “logic as a love of pure truth and inward coherence” (Eros, 154). This distinction can most commonly be seen when women use logic in arguments as a means to personal ends, rather than to arrive at a truth beyond their desires. Evola writes that
woman, insofar as she is woman, will never know ethics in the categorical sense of pure inner law detached from every empirical, eudemonistic, sensitive, sentimental, and personal connection. Nothing in woman that may have an ethical character can be separated from instinct, sentiment, sexuality, of “life”; it can have no relationship with pure “being.”
Women’s primary tool of cognition is not logic but intuition and sensitivity (Eros, 154).
In explaining memory, Evola turns to Henri Bergson, who described two types of memory. One is more common in women: the memory connected to the subconscious, which may remember dreams, have premonitions, and unexpectedly recall forgotten experiences. The second type of memory, which women lack due to their fluid nature, is “determined, organized, and dominated by the intellect” (Eros, 154).
The Female Principle as Powerful, Sovereign, and Active
Generally the female principle is described as passive, and the male as active. According to Evola, this only is true on the outermost plane. On the subtle plane, he says, “it is the woman who is active and the man who is passive (the woman is ‘actively passive’ and the man ‘passively active’)” (Eros, 167–68). In Hindu terms the impassible spirit (purusa) is masculine, while the active matrix of every conditioned form (prakriti) is feminine (Revolt, 157). Thus, to use the creation of a child as an example, man gives his seed, but it is woman who actively creates and gives birth to the child.
Mythology supports the sovereign aspect of woman. Evola gives the examples of the Earth goddess Cybele drawn in a chariot led by two tame tigers, and the Hindu goddess Durga seated on a lion with reins in her hands (Eros, 167). Evola states that man knows of this sovereign quality in women, and “often owing to a neurotic unconscious overcompensation for his inferiority complex, he flaunts before woman an ostentatious manliness, indifference, or even brutality and disdain. But this secures him the advantage, on the contrary. The fact that woman often becomes a victim on an external, material, sentimental, or social level, giving rise to her instinctive ‘fear of loving,’ does not alter the fundamental structure of the situation” (Eros, 167).
Association with the Demonic and Aspiration
Another “negative” quality of the absolute woman is that of aspiration, in the sense of a sucking quality, which also is associated with the demonic. On a profane level, in a degenerate form, this could be the woman who is constantly demanding more from her husband and others—more time spent together, a better car, a bigger house, or more attention. Since she has no “soul” (as defined above), she must fill the void within herself by sucking the vital force from others in emotional, monetary, or temporal vampirism.
On a metaphysical level, this quality merely refers to the divine female, Shakti, pulling Shiva into the world of manifestation. Thus, it is not good or bad, except for Gnostics or other sects who believe the created world to be evil. As Evola states, woman “is oriented toward keeping that order which Gnosticism, in a dualistic background, called the ‘world of the Demiurge,’ the world of nature as opposed to that of the spirit” (Eros, 141). This demonic element is expressed in actual life when women draw men to the realm of earth, nature, and children. It is expressed in sex when man’s seed being draw into the woman, creating a child bound by nature. “Although ‘woman’ can give life,” Evola writes, “yet she shuts off or tends to shut off access to that which is beyond life” (Eros, 142).
In some Eastern thought, the man’s seed is thought to be the spiritual manhood—hence the formation of sects that teach men to retain this force to attain liberation rather than wasting it through ejaculation. Women properly trained are said to be able to capture this essence during sex, thus seducing the man into giving up his manhood.
The positive aspect of this trait lies in woman’s ability to overcome it, most often by following the path of the mother or lover. In the actions required by these paths (if following them in an attitude of self-sacrifice and not self-aggrandizement), she no longer drains others, but instead learns to build up a vital force within herself through renunciation of desires. By relinquishing the control of the ego/personality by instead being devoted to others, woman is able to fix herself to the transcendent.
Like the other qualities of absolute woman, that of aspiration also can be found in man, especially in the Kali Yuga. Evola refers to sexual practices found in Chinese Taoism, India, and Tibet, where the man sucks the vital female energy from a woman during sex, a technique he describes as bordering on “male ‘psychic’ vampirism” (Eros, 249).
The Value of Absolute Woman in the Modern World
In the Golden Age, we can imagine that the metaphysical elements comprising a person manifested in the proper way. In such a time, the highest classes gave birth to the highest people; race was indicative of a corresponding inner quality; beauty on the outside attested to an inner beauty; and physical gender aligned with the qualities of absolute man or woman.
But in the Kali Yuga, there are pariahs in the highest classes, men who act like women, and men of Aryan stock who do not embody any of the virtues attributed to their race. As Evola says, it is possible for a person to be a different sex in the body than they are in the soul. These cases are similar to those where individuals of one race “have the psychic and spiritual characteristics of another race”(Eros, 34).
Therefore, men today may not innately possess any virile seed, just as modern women do not necessarily express the absolute female principle. In reading Evola’s work, then, we must not mistakenly interpret what he says about absolute man or woman as corresponding with individual men and women of today. Modern men and women are almost completely removed from the deepest aspects of themselves, functioning only as personalities. Thus, a person’s sex or caste has little importance in determining vocations or social relations. What relevance, then, do Evola’s descriptions of absolute man and woman have in the modern world?
An answer is found in the existential Angst that defined the twentieth century. Martin Heidegger wrote of the inauthentic life, and Jean-Paul Sartre of bad faith; most people today still fit the description of mere personalities, lacking divine connections or the means to find them. In a world that has lost its values and connection to Tradition, discovering these principles in our innermost natures becomes even more important. By examining Evola’s work, and that of other Traditionalists, we can find our way back to our true selves, the true relation between the sexes, and a connection to the transcendent.