The Woman as Mana Figure
In these primordial mysteries of the Feminine, all of which lie on the natural plane, woman is already the Lady of Transformation. The transformation of matter and of life is subordinated to her, whether as goddess of the water, as “she who promiseth torrents,” she commands the magic of rain; whether as goddess of the earth she commands the fertility of the soil; whether as Lady of the Beasts she governs the fecundity of the animals; or whether as goddess of the blood she ordains the transformation of blood into milk or rain.
But beyond this, she transforms nature into a higher, spiritual principle, which she has power to distill from the natural substrate of matter. As goddess of the food-giving plants, herbs and fruits, she numinously transforms these basic elements into intoxicants and poisons. It is quite evident that the preparation and storage of food taught woman the process of fermentation and the manufacture of intoxicants, and that, as a gatherer and later preparer of herbs, plants and fruits, she was the inventor and guardian of the first healing potions, medicines, and poisons.
…. The transformative character of the Feminine rises from the natural to the spiritual plane. The culture-bringing primordial mysteries culminate in a spiritual reality that completes the mystery character of the Feminine.
Thus there unfolds before us a magnificent world of feminine cultural development, which is at the same time an unfolding of feminine power. In ever new circles of numinous fascination it takes form around the Archetypal Feminine, which as goddess represents the center of the female group and the self of the individual psyche. At first the image of the Feminine as goddess and as Great Round has filled the human horizon. But now, as the development progresses, the earthly-human vehicle of this numinous principle, the woman as a figure endowed with mana, enters the foreground of human consciousness. The Feminine, at first worshiped as an animal — lioness, she-bear, bird, snake — has become a human goddess, beside which the animal stands as an attribute.
And now, by a corresponding development, the vessel, the central symbol of the Feminine, becomes at length her attribute and instrument. Here, as so often, psychic-symbolic and objective sociological factors work together. The vessel on the one hand is the form within which matter is transformed, whether it be cooked or allowed to ferment; whether it be made into medicine, poison, or intoxicant. But on the other hand — and this is fundamental — this transformation, which is viewed as magical, can only be effected by the woman because she herself, IN HER BODY THAT CORRESPONDS TO THE GREAT GODDESS, is the cauldron of incarnation, birth, and rebirth. And that is why the magical caldron or pot is always in the hand of the female mana figure, the priestess or, later the witch.
The magic cauldron is originally a symbol of fertility belonging to the elementary character of the Feminine. As such it yields food, it is the cornucopia, for example; and even its latest form, the Christian, sublimated Grail, which has almost lost its original significance as the magical kettle of the cult priestess, retains its food-giving aspect. This food-giving quality is imputed to many magical vessels in Irish legend; the Grail itself, as the legend has it, nourished Joseph of Arimathea during his imprisonment, and in the Castle of the Grail it still fulfills this function: “It proceeded to every place in the hall, and as it came before the tables, it filled them with every kind of meal that a man could desire.”
The Great Mother: An Analysis of the Archetype, by Erich Neumann (Translated by Ralph Manheim)