The real meaning of the motif of the dying god
Princess Cottongrass, by John Bauer
(images are public domain)
: Narcissus, and other tales, have been abundantly
used in concretistic types of psychological interpretation. The article shows
that they ought to be viewed in abstract terms as portraying processes in the
individual and collective psyche. The examined stories depict the mystery of
, symbolic of the emancipative effect of conscious
realization. The gender of the god is discussed, and it is argued that the
dominance of the masculine divinity depends on natural processes of conscious
: archetype, Princess Cottongrass, Coyote Blue, Narcissus, Unicorn, Christ, Lucifer, Oedipus.
Freud viewed dreams as disguised
wish-fulfillments. It isn’t workable as a general dream theory, since it
isn’t universally applicable. According to a modern view, corroborated by neuroscientific
research (cf. Solms, 2004), dreams aren’t hiding anything —
what you see is what you get. Myths and dreams would better be analyzed
in terms of archetypes
, that is, more in the way of abstractions. It’s
easy to understand why. For instance, to argue along with Freud that an image signifies the male genitals, means to pin down the image and to run to conclusion. It is better to argue that it is ‘phallic’ in tone, which is to reason in a more
tentative and tactful way. Thus, we
haven’t shut the door to the dream, but may continue relating to the image. We
aren’t ready with it, yet. It is a
that cannot be deciphered like a code. Symbols are difficult
and multi-faceted. They elude the linear intellect, as they represent a
form of non-discursive thinking. If a content is said to be “disguised”,
hidden behind the dream image, then the dream is effectually devaluated. It’s
tantamount to trashing the dream image. As such, it has no value, since it is
regarded as a mere screen.
One would better keep to the dream image,
circulate around it, even extend it. It represents a positive attitude
toward dreams and mythical content, and not a depreciatory. The “disguised
content” theory harms the relation to the unconscious. That’s why we ought
to stop thinking in terms of disguised content, which is a harmful method through
which a dream is immediately understood in concretistic terms. By example, should
one dream about a giraffe, then the dream means a giraffe. The meaning hinges on
the symbolic quality of the dream content. Although it is a wild animal, living
on the dark continent, and has a long neck, it does not imply a cloaked genital
content. It is better to say that the dream image has a certain phallic quality
to it. That’s what the dream wants to say: an entity exists, which is not a male
organ, yet is certainly phallic in some sense. It doesn’t necessarily point at
sexuality, but it could in some sense be coupled with instinctuality.
Alternatively, it could mean the eros
principle. After all, the phallic
aspect is only one aspect of the giraffe dream. Dreams are wholenesses and are
also able to point at spiritual content. There are, of course, cases where
dreams appear almost like wish-fulfillments. M-L von Franz
“The Interpretation of Fairy Tales”:
In many so-called Jungian attempts at interpretation, one can see a
regression to a very personalistic approach. The interpreters judge the hero or
heroine to be a normal human ego and his misfortunes to be an image of his
neurosis. Because it is natural for a person listening to a fairy tale to
identify with the main character, this kind of interpretation is understandable.
But such interpreters ignore what Max Lühti found to be
essential for magical fairy tales, namely, that in contrast to the heroes of
adventurous sagas, the heroes or heroines of fairy tales are
abstractions — that is, in our language, archetypes. Therefore,
their fates are not neurotic complications, but rather are expressions of the
difficulties and dangers given to us by nature. In a personalistic
interpretation, the very healing element of an archetypal narrative is
nullified. (1996, p.viii)
She is referring here to a regression to a Freudian personalistic
view. The Narcissus myth, as such, has no bearing on the pathology of
narcissism. However, it is important to point out that the myth is suitable as a metaphor when discussing narcissism. But we cannot make scientific
conclusions drawing on the myth. We may only use it as an illustration. For
instance, say a person is enveloped in his own misfortunes of the past. In that
case one can draw on the saying that “it is no use crying over spilt
But one couldn’t write a psychological article and draw on the
qualities of milk and make scientific inferences from this. We mustn’t discuss
homogenized milk versus pasteurized milk and, from this, make inferences as to
patient pathology. In that case we are putting the cart before the horse. But this type of error is committed again and again in psychoanalytical
The Swedish fairytale of Princess Cottongrass has
become slightly famous in psychoanalytic circles, being cited in journal
articles and books. True to tradition, it is undergoing pathologization
by the various authors. The following is Schwartz-Salant
of it, building on Kjellin’s adaptation of the original folk story. Cottongrass
makes a more authentic impression than the Narcissus story. Judging from
elements in the fairytale, and its naive accuracy, it is quite possible that
it has emerged independently of the Narcissus story. It has elements in
it that are lacking in Narcissus.
Leap the Elk and Little
Princess Cottongrass was full of love: “I am young and warm. I have warmth enough
for everyone and I want to share the good I have.” She wishes to leave
Dream Castle, where she lives with her mother and father.
She sees an elk, Long Leg Leap, and asks him to take her out into the
world. He cautions her of the difficulties, but she insists and, on his back,
rides away from Dream Castle. Long Leg Leap cautions her not to let go of his
horns and not to speak to a band of elves that will attempt to confuse her. But
as they are asking her numerous questions, her crown starts to slip away and she
lets go with one hand to grab it. That is enough for the elves to snatch away
her crown. The elk warns her again, and tells her that she was lucky that time.
At night he watches over her as she sleeps, but he is seized by a longing
to do battle and a desire not to be alone anymore.
The next day, with the princess on his back, he races into the forest,
but manages to restrain himself and slow down. Again he cautions her not to let
go of his horns, this time when a witch questions her. But as her dress begins
to slip away, she reaches for it and the witch grabs it. He tells her how lucky
she is; if she had let go with both hands she would have had to go with the
All along, the elk is getting wilder and wanting to run and mate without
restraint. He manages to control himself, with difficulty, and soon carries the
princess to his very special place, a pool. He cautions her not to allow the
heart she wears around her neck to fall off, but sure enough, she looks into the
pool, and the gold heart her mother has given to her falls into the water’s
depths and she cannot retrieve it. She insists upon staying at the pool, even
though he asks her to leave. She is enchanted now, and stays, gazing into the
water, searching for her heart.
Many years have passed. Still Princess Cottongrass sits and looks
wonderingly into the water for her heart. She is no longer a little girl.
Instead, a slender plant, crowned with white cotton, stands leaning over the
edge of the pool. (See also fig.1. This is Schwartz-Salant’s
summary (1982) of the story in Great Swedish Fairytales (1974). Images (reduced)
by John Bauer, as published in the same book.)
The archetypal fairytale character
Indeed, we are
here dealing with an unconscious archetype, i.e. it’s more of a generic pattern.
Whereas the orthodox Freudian would view Cottongrass in sexual terms, the
modern psychoanalyst discusses it in terms of narcissism. Others might
connect it with the death drive
, etc. There is no end to the plethoric
expressions of modern psychoanalysis. People use these stories to shed light on
their own standpoint, that is, fairytales are used as metaphors.
is nothing wrong in this, provided that it is remembered that they do not
represent mother nature’s own diagnosis of neurosis. Their applicability as
metaphors derives from their generic quality, i.e. their archetypal language. It
is time to bring this to a conclusion. The following is my understanding of
the underlying meaning of these stories.
Princess Cottongrass portrays
an unconscious content that has reached a high level of excitation, i.e. it’s
laden with energy. She has received a golden heart and is brimming with love.
Correspondingly, in Bohr’s atom model, an electron that acquires an energy
quantum, will reach a new excitation level and jump up to an higher orbit.
Accordingly, the princess leaves the Dream Castle, which is the unconscious world of
dreams, in a journey toward conscious realization. When an unconscious content
is laden with energy it is capable of breaking the surface of consciousness.
Comparatively, Narcissus is warned by the seer Tiresias that he must not become
conscious, as this will cause his death. This is exactly what occurs to
both these figures: they pass the threshold of consciousness as they become
fixed to the image in the water. In this moment, they become self-conscious.
This represents the moment of their death, as they are then become integrated with
consciousness. Both fairytale characters are infixed in the ground as plants, and
strike down their roots in the soil. They have lost their autonomy and no longer
exist in the Dream Castle and its surrounding woodland. Thus, they have died and
passed the border to the other side, namely the conscious world.
The princess successively loses her regal insignia, her crown and her
dress. In the process of becoming conscious, she gradually loses her divine
stature as autonomous archetype. By the time she reaches consciousness she has
been reduced to a simple yet stable content. As a plant, it can be observed at
any time during the day, because it stays in place, just like any other content
that the ego has access to. Both she and Narcissus are white flowers, which is
the colour of daylight consciousness. As plants, they lean over the water, able to see their own reflection, which is symbolic of the conscious condition. To
be conscious is to be able to see oneself. At that very moment one falls into
reality, and leaves the Dream Castle. Similarly, Dionysos fell into the world when he spotted his own image in a mirror.
Obviously, then, both Narcissus and Cottongrass are generic models in
that we cannot exactly know what characterizes the content that is being established and rooted in
consciousness. It’s a mysterious process that is being portrayed. It could be
the realization of sexuality, or it could be awareness of the anima
Cottongrass could also be seen as a ”dream” leaving the Dream Castle,
reaching consciousness, there to be remembered as a fine gift, a beautiful
flower. Indeed, Narcissus could be viewed as a minuscule version of the Christ. He is a son of a god (the river god Cephissus) who
enters worldly reality. Thus, he experiences death, fastened to the stem of the
narcissus flower, much like Jesus was fixed to the tree. According to medieval legend, the Christ,
before the conception, is an unruly unicorn running rampant in the woodlands, comparable with Narcissus the huntsman.
The fairytale viewed as mystery
symbolizes the benign aspect of instinctual unconscious nature, which helps
unconscious energy to integrate with consciousness. Other archetypes
oppose the journey of realization, and tries to seize the princess (the witch,
the elves). But the elk, owing to his age-old wisdom, is cooperative and helpful. This, it
seems, is contrary to his own wild and impulsive nature (he wants to run off and
joust with other elks, and to mate).
What is here portrayed is really a great mystery. How come
unconscious instinctual nature cooperates to its own demise, namely its gradual
integration with consciousness? We don’t know why the elk does this. The Lucifer
myth is the cosmogonic version of the same motif. Lucifer, as the most beautiful
and shining of the angels, has attained a great excitation level
and this is what causes his fall. John Milton, in Paradise Lost, describes his
And now a stripling Cherub he appears,
Not of the prime,
yet such as in his face
Youth smiled celestial, and to every limb
Suitable grace diffused; so well he feigned.
Under a coronet his flowing
In curls on either cheek played; wings he wore
Of many a coloured plume sprinkled with gold,
His habit fit for
speed succinct, and held
Before his decent steps a silver wand.
drew not nigh unheard; the Angel bright,
Ere he drew nigh, his radiant
(Milton, III: 636-646)
It’s essentially the same motif of pride and vanity as in Narcissus.
In a similar manner as Princess Cottongrass, he is deprived of his princely and
divine attributes, and incarnates as the Serpent. The divine being takes on
conscious form, and brings a whole horde of angels with him. In the Book of
Enoch (2nd and 1st centuries BC) the fall of the angels brings immense
to mankind. Men become conscious of many secrets, and many new
craftmanships. This seems to portray a stage in history when a crisis
occurred due to a massive incursion of unconscious content, followed by a rapid
increase in man’s conscious powers. According to Enoch, men became giants,
then. The giants, with their great capacities, fell to the lure of power and
committed many iniquities.
When this process occurs at the modest level of Cottongrass, it is
much better. But we don’t know why the serpent in the bible wanted men to become
self-conscious. The snake, and the elk, are creatures of instinct. Apparently,
our instinctual nature is favourable to the journey toward consciousness,
although we lose much of our dependency on instinct. I contend that this
approximates the real meaning of Cottongrass. The great mysteries of the
biblical Fall of Man, and the Fall of Lucifer, are the more grand versions. They
are metaphysical and religious, since gods and angels are involved. But
Narcissus and Cottongrass are more psychological, as they speak of the same
phenomenon as occurring on a more humble human level. What earlier occurred on the
collective level, as in the Book of Enoch, may now occur on the individual
level. So one could see these stories as paradigmatic of depth psychology. It’s no
wonder why psychoanalysts love them so dearly.
Interestingly, in Milton’s version, Eve becomes fixated on her own
reflection in the water. Although she is saved by the voice, this event forecasts her fall from grace:
As I bent down to look, just opposite,
A shape within the
watery gleam appeared,
Bending to look on me. I started back,
started back; but pleased I soon returned,
Pleased it returned as soon
with answering looks
Of sympathy and love; there I had fixed
eyes till now, and pined with vain desire,
Had not a voice thus warned
me: “What thou seest,
What thou seest, fair creature, is thyself…”
Narcissus and Echo
Narcissus, an exceptionally beautiful boy, was the son of the blue
Nymph Liriope of Thespia. Concerned about the welfare of such a beautiful child,
Liriope consulted the prophet Tiresias regarding her son’s future. Tiresias told
the nymph that Narcissus would live to a ripe old age, “if he didn’t come
to know himself.”
Every youth and girl in the town was in love with him, but he haughtily spurned
them all. One day when Narcissus was out hunting stags, Echo stealthily followed
the handsome youth through the woods, longing to address him but unable to speak
first. When Narcissus finally heard footsteps and shouted “Who’s there?”,
Echo answered “Who’s there?” And so it went, until finally Echo showed
herself and rushed to embrace the lovely youth. He pulled away from the nymph
and vainly told her to leave him alone. Narcissus left Echo heartbroken and she
spent the rest of her life in lonely glens, pining away for the love she never
knew, until only her voice remained.
Nemesis heard this prayer and sent Narcissus his punishment. He came
across a deep pool in a forest, from which he took a drink. As he did, he saw
his reflection for the first time in his life and fell in love with the
beautiful boy he was looking at. Eventually, after pining away for a while, his
life force drained out of him and the narcissus flower grew where he died. It is
said that Narcissus still keeps gazing on his image in the waters of the river
Styx. (Ovid) (Detail from painting by
J.W. Waterhouse: Echo and Narcissus.)
There is an ancient myth, popular as early as the Babylonian era, about the single combat
between the unicorn and the lion. According to a legend of ancient Babylon,
the sun is a lion who constantly pursues the unicorn moon about the sky. The
lion finally manages to win the combat by positioning himself before a tree.
When the unicorn comes dashing the lion suddenly jumps aside, and the unicorn
pierces the tree with its
and is stuck! (cf. Shepard, 2009). The reason why the
battle theme was so popular in the Old Orient is, I believe, because this was a
time when man emerged from a naive and obscure moon-consciousness
into a bright sun-consciousness
The battle of the lion and the unicorn was a notorious motif in Sumerian,
Assyrian, and Babylonian times. There is also a unicorn battle in one of
Grimm’s fairytales, presented below. (Detail from painting by Domenichino: Virgin and Unicorn.)
The Valiant Little Tailor
…He took a rope and an axe with him, went forth into the forest,
and again bade those who were sent with him to wait outside. He had not long to
seek. The unicorn soon came towards him, and rushed directly on the tailor, as
if it would gore him with its horn without more ado. ‘Softly, softly; it can’t
be done as quickly as that,’ said he, and stood still and waited until the
animal was quite close, and then sprang nimbly behind the tree. The unicorn ran
against the tree with all its strength, and stuck its horn so fast in the trunk
that it had not the strength enough to draw it out again, and thus it was
caught. ‘Now, I have got the bird,’ said the tailor, and came out from behind
the tree and put the rope round its neck, and then with his axe he hewed the
horn out of the tree, and when all was ready he led the beast away and took it
to the king… (excerpt from story in Grimm’s Fairytales)
The analogy here is the motif of infixion
: the dream creature
is fixed to the tree, whereas the Princess Cottongrass and Narcissus are
fixated on the image in the water. When an archetype becomes fixed, it loses
its divine autonomy and falls down to reality. To an archetypal creature like
the unicorn, this amounts to a degradation. The process of realization is
experienced as expiration and death. In many a myth, this is how death
appeared in the world. Also in the biblical story, death made its entrance at
the fall of Adam and Eve, who were at that very moment degraded from divine
archetypal existence to human existence.
According to myth, an archetype can accept
its own death willingly, as an act of redemption. The foremost example is the
Christ. By the incursion into material reality the divine being, existent before
the world, gives himself up to death, and takes shape as a mere mortal, namely
Jesus of Nazareth. The power that drives him is love, a motif that
reappears in Princess Cottongrass, whose heart was brimming with love, a good that she wanted to share.
According to tradition, Jesus had the form of a unicorn before the conception.
This is the reason why the unicorn, symbolic of the unconscious archetype
before its arrival in the world, is often seen resting in the Virgin’s lap
(above). This is referred to as the virgin-capture, when a virgin is used as a
decoy for the unicorn (cf. Shepard, 2009, ch.VIII). The unicorn is viewed as a
prefiguration of Christ, since both became fixed to a tree. Notable is that
Christ was also transfixed by Longinus’s lance.
The fall of Adam is
viewed as catastrophic, since it meant the destruction of a pristine and
unspoilt condition, which is our unconscious wholeness. The analogous process,
which is the voluntary fall of Christ (the second Adam), is a redemptive act.
Mankind, in his fallen state, can only be redeemed by a process of conscious
realization and the continued demise of archetypes, which is the reason why the
Christ’s death symbolizes redemption. What was originally regarded a great sin
to a human being, namely to become conscious, is now become a virtue in the
sinful condition. What was before regarded a rebellion against God, in the fall
of Lucifer, is now a redemptive act in Christ’s incarnation. The appearance of
Jesus marks a turning point in history, when unconscious subordination under
religious authority is no longer viewed as an ideal. As usual, the redeeming act comes with a new conscious realization. Jesus takes the process in the other direction, because he returns to the Father from whence he came. Incarnation introduces a new narrative around apotheosis
(elevation to divine status).
The motif of the demise of the god is quite old. Coyote is a
cultural hero among North-American Indians. He was responsible for the theft of
fire, which he, thanks to deceit, managed to deliver to the humans (cf.
Compton, 1971, ‘The Coyote’). Coyote lost his beautiful blue colour when he
collided head-on with a tree stump, fell down and became soiled by dirt.
How the Bluebird Got its Color
A long time
ago, the bluebird was a very ugly color. But Bluebird knew of a lake where no
river flowed in or out, and he bathed in this four times every morning for four
mornings. Every morning he sang a magic song:
“There’s a blue water. It lies there. I went in. I am all blue.”
On the fourth morning Bluebird shed all his feathers and came out of
the lake just in his skin. But the next morning when he came out of the lake he
was covered with blue feathers.
Now all this while Coyote had been watching Bluebird. He wanted to
jump in and get him to eat, but he was afraid of the water. But on that last
morning Coyote said,
“How is it you have lost all your ugly color, and now you are
blue and gay and beautiful? You are more beautiful than anything that flies in
the air. I want to be blue, too.” Now Coyote at that time was a bright
“I only went in four times on four mornings,” said
Bluebird. He taught Coyote the magic song, and he went in four times, and the
fifth time he came out as blue as the little bird.
Then Coyote was very, very proud because he was a blue coyote. He was
so proud that as he walked along he looked around on every side to see if
anybody was looking at him now that he was a blue coyote and so beautiful. He
looked to see if his shadow was blue, too. But Coyote was so busy watching to
see if others were noticing him that he did not watch the trail. By and by he
ran into a stump so hard that it threw him down in the dirt and he was covered
with dust all over. You may know this is true because even to-day coyotes are
the color of dirt. (Judson, 1912)
The motif of beauty and pride is central also here. It is what causes
his downfall. The archetype has reached a high excitation level and is running
at high speed. He commits the same mistake as the unicorn, running headlong into
a trunk or stump. Thus, he comes to an immediate halt and falls down into the
dust. This is symbolic of the process of incarnation, or in psychological terms,
realization. The god has been covered with earth and become a humble little
prairie wolf. Note that Coyote losing his beautiful blue coat is analogous with
the theme in Princess Cottongrass, where she is bereaved of her royal garments.
In this process, the divinities become reduced.
about the Oedipus tale, then? Oedipus is not formally associated with the dying
gods, but there are significant similarities. He is a hero that suffers demise.
Oedipus, in Greek mythology, king of Thebes, the son of Laius and Jocasta, king and queen of
Thebes. Laius was warned by an oracle that he would be killed by his own son.
Determined to avert his fate, he bound together the feet of his newborn child
and left him to die on a lonely mountain. The infant was rescued by a shepherd,
however, and given to Polybus, king of Corinth, who named the child Oedipus (“Swollen-foot”)
and raised him as his own son. The boy did not know that he was adopted, and
when an oracle proclaimed that he would kill his father, he left Corinth. In the
course of his wanderings he met and killed Laius, believing that the king and
his followers were a band of robbers, and thus unwittingly fulfilled the
Lonely and homeless, Oedipus arrived at Thebes, which was
beset by a dreadful monster called the Sphinx. The frightful creature frequented
the roads to the city, killing and devouring all travelers who could not answer
the riddle that she put to them. When Oedipus successfully solved her riddle,
the Sphinx killed herself. Believing that King Laius had been slain by unknown
robbers, and grateful to Oedipus for ridding them of the Sphinx, the Thebans
rewarded Oedipus by making him their king and giving him Queen Jocasta as his
wife. For many years the couple lived in happiness, not knowing that they were
really mother and son.
Then a terrible plague descended on the land,
and the oracle proclaimed that Laius’s murderer must be punished. Oedipus soon
discovered that he had unknowingly killed his father. In grief and despair at
her incestuous life, Jocasta killed herself, and when Oedipus realized that she
was dead and that their children were accursed, he put out his eyes and resigned
the throne. He lived in Thebes for several years, but was finally banished.
Accompanied by his daughter Antigone, he wandered for many years. He finally
arrived at Colonus, a shrine near Athens sacred to the powerful goddesses called
the Eumenides. At this shrine for supplicants Oedipus died, after the god Apollo
had promised him that the place of his death would remain sacred and would bring
great benefit to the city of Athens, which had given shelter to the wanderer.
(from Funk & Wagnall’s Encyclopedia)
Oedipus follows the notorious fairytale pattern of the disowned
child, representing the Self archetype, 
later obtains the kingdom. But, in becoming king and guiding principle of
(collective) consciousness, the archetype loses its autonomy and is deprived of
its inner light, i.e. its eyesight. Oedipus, who in his youth was thoroughly
emancipated from mother dependency, again finds himself caught in the embrace of
the mother. What does this mean? The conscious establishment of the archetypal
spirit of Oedipus also means, paradoxically, that the archetype falls prey to
the mother from whom it was initially disengaged. Analogously, Princess
Cottongrass, full of heroism and ambition, left her mother in the Dream Castle,
but ends up stripped of her regalia and bound to Mother Earth.
The immediate breaking free from the mother-tree is a typical theme.
It represents the emancipation of the archetype. The archetype, before it was
charged with energy, was part of a matrix of archetypes called the collective
unconscious, whose symbolical value is motherly. The energetic aspect is always
underscored. Princess Cottongrass is full of energy. That is why she is
jettisoned from the Dream Castle like a meteor.
The hero toddler is amazingly resourceful. Shortly after Hercules’
birth, Hera sent two great serpents to destroy him. Hercules, although still a
baby, strangled the snakes. On the day of his birth Hermes stole the cattle of
his brother, the sun god Apollo, obscuring their trail by making the herd walk
backward. These hero infants tend to be independent of mother and they
undauntedly confront the dangers of the world.
Oedipus is somewhat similar, although he is more human. He manages to
survive death as an infant. I hold that, first and foremost, we must think of
Oedipus as an archetype that emerges from the deeper layers of the unconscious,
and becomes a free agent, but then again ends up fettered to the earth in the marriage to
his mother. Obviously, then, the Oedipus myth lacks a strong connection
with the Oedipus complex, that is, we cannot draw the conclusion that boys
have an urge to actually kill their fathers. However, the myth is ideal to use
metaphorically, as an illustration of the complex.
The Oedipal spirit could be exemplified by a new paradigm of
collective consciousness, being resisted by father Laius, representing the old
paradigm. The king represents that idea of the Self,
the regulating centre of the psyche, that has become a representation of the
collective attitude. In rising to glory, the once expansive and powerful spirit,
which is the archetype, becomes reduced to mater
-iality. It loses its
autonomy of spirit, becomes carnal and earthly-minded. The archetype,
represented by Oedipus, puts out his own eyes. Thus, the spirit is in the
process of losing its own inner light. Oedipus grew out of the collective
unconscious, where it was initially merely a twig on the mother-tree. The archetype
again became dependent on the mother when it fell into conscious material
reality. It is the other side of the mother-principle. He went from one extreme to
Freudian psychology exemplifies this finely. It emerged as a lively
and charismatic spirit, harbouring an ambition of world dominion. But it became
wholly integrated with material consciousness and thus reduced to carnality. In
this it fell prey to the Mother and became mother-bound again. The once proud
spirit can today only contribute with mechanical interpretations that reduce
everything to carnality by means of genitalization
, whereby everything is
understood as a sexual organ. Freudian psychology lost connection with its own
inner spirit, the archetype from whence it emerged. Thus, it has
thoroughly regressed to mother-dependency, which is equal to being caught up in
materiality and an unconscious lifestyle.
So in Oedipus we again find the pattern of the archetype that rises to
eminence after having attained autonomy (independency of the mother) and great
energetic excitation. But in its vainglory, the new idea that broke into the
conscious field also strove after world dominion, without having recourse to other
fatherly principles. The overextension, i.e. the attempt to apply it on
everything, is a megalomaniacal effect of archetypal possession. An
unrestricted identification with material reality causes the downfall of the
archetype, and it becomes wholly enmeshed in materiality. Classical Freudian psychology is
today a sad sight, reminiscent of the blind vagabond Oedipus, who finally came
to rest at Colonus. The old king is wandering about the country, with a small
following of caretakers, mumbling about penises and vaginae.
The gender of archetypes and deities
Another factor to consider, relating to the realization of the
archetype, is the gender of the god undergoing institutionalization. 
The conventionalization of gods, in religious
history, seems also to imply a masculinization. But is it really justifiable to
take an essentialistic stance as regards the gender of archetypes, as
underlying the concept of divinities? How masculine is the Trinity, really? The
Holy Spirit has time and again come under suspicion of being feminine. His
hidden identity, it has been argued, is Sophia, the spouse of Jahve. Jesus is
often portrayed with feminine attributes; beautiful countenance, long hair,
dressed in a long gown. He gives himself feminine attributes: “[How]
often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her
chickens under her wings, and ye would not!” (Mat 23:37).
But why is the Trinity experienced as masculine? I hold that it works
like this. A divinity that is pulled out into stark daylight, placed on a
pedestal in a temple, and whose cult becomes institutionalized in dogma and
ritual, will more and more come to be regarded as masculine. The very process of
formalization implies masculinization. Compare with Diana, the Italian forest
goddess. She is a truly feminine goddess because she won’t allow herself to be
pinned down. She exists in the moonlight shadows, where nothing is precisely
defined. She is felt in the whisper of the trees. If somebody
catches sight of her in her naked beauty, then that person must die, because
she cannot allow herself to be pinned down by the eye of consciousness (cf.
Bulfinch, 1998, ‘Diana and Actaeon’).
What would happen if Diana was
caught, put on a pedestal, and intellectually defined in theology and dogma? It
would go like it always goes with deities. She would acquire more and more
masculine attributes, much like Athena, who was furnished with a suit of armour
and became a war goddess. Due to the fact that she has been pulled into
the daylight from her lush woodlands, and become institutionalized, she would
come to be regarded as masculine. Such a daylight condition is not experienced
as feminine. Soon the divine being will have been transformed to intellectual
words in a book, and she has then become wholly theologized.
So what would have happened to a feminine Trinity? It would have become masculinized. Only if it
remains in the shadows of the wood can it abide as a feminine
deity. The conclusion is that there is no other choice than to have a
masculine godhead in a culture where consciousness has reached a pronounced level of
penetrative capacity. Only in ancient cultures where people lived with half-closed
eyes, as it were, may a feminine divinity roam about. At such a cultural
level they would never theologize her, and would refrain from looking directly at her.
In fairytales and in alchemy, the old conception of the Self, associated with daylight collective
consciousness, is viewed as masculine. He is the old king
. Thus, the concept
of the Self, when it is being defined in consciousness by
exemplification in books, will become asymmetrically masculine and logos-oriented.
Infixion of the god or goddess signifies either incarnation or realization. From a
mytho-religious perspective, it signifies the incarnation of the divine
principle in the world, and in the soul of man. What is portrayed in these myths
is a mystery, underlying the greatest passion known to mankind, namely the
spiritual passion. Notice the many interesting parallels between the
myths. Cottongrass and Jesus are both stripped of their clothes before being infixed (also Coyote Blue loses his clothes, in a sense). Both are of
royal/divine ancestry and were driven by love. The self-sacrificial act on part
of the archetype implies that a great boon is conferred on humankind and the
material world. From the perspective of individual psychology, the process of
unconscious integration emancipates the individual from dependency on the
unconscious, and approximates the personality better to the Self.
is a state in which consciousness and the unconscious work
together in harmony. It has a wholesome effect on the life and health of
the individual. Analogously, the process of incarnation serves the purpose of regaining
the wholeness which was lost at the Fall of Man.
© Mats Winther (Nov 2009)
: the archetype of wholeness and the regulating center
of the psyche; a transpersonal power that transcends the ego. “It expresses
the unity of the personality as a whole […] The self is not only the centre,
but also the whole circumference which embraces both conscious and unconscious;
it is the centre of this totality, just as the ego is the centre of
consciousness.” (Jung, loc. cit.
) […] Like any archetype, the
essential nature of the self is unknowable, but its manifestations are the
content of myth and legend. “The self appears in dreams, myths, and
fairytales in the figure of the ‘supraordinate personality,’ such as a
king, hero, prophet, saviour, etc., or in the form of a totality symbol, such as
the circle, square, ‘quadratura circuli’, cross, etc.” (Jung, loc. cit.
incorporate into a structured and often highly formalized system. (Webster’s
(1998). Bulfinch’s Mythology. The Modern Library.
(1971). American Indian Fairy Tales. Dodd, Mead & Company.  (here
Franz, M-L von
(1996). The Interpretation of Fairy Tales. Shambala.
(ed.) (1912). Myths and Legends of California and the Old Southwest.
(ed.) (1974). Great Swedish Fairy Tales. Delacorte Pr / Seymour Lawrence.
(1st century). Metamorphoses. Wikipedia summary.
(1982). Narcissism and Character Transformation. Toronto: Inner City
(1991). Jung Lexicon: A Primer of Terms & Concepts. Inner City Books. (here
(2009). Lore of the Unicorn. Evinity Publishing Inc.  (here
(2004). ‘Freud Returns’. Scientific American, May 2004. (See also Counterpoint
by J. A. Hobson.) (here
& Edwardes, M.
(transl.) Grimm’s Fairytales.