Two years after the Parkland shootings, the children of a Miami middle school created a magazine entitled First Shot. Some of the students, involved in the magazine, wrote the following poem, and on the two-year anniversary of the shootings (February 14, 2020) sent it out to all the members of the House and the Senate. The accompanying letter stated that 130 children have been killed in school shootings, and they are hoping that their representatives in congress will feel “sad enough” to do something about it. I ask, along with these middle-schoolers, who exist much closer to the pulse of what is possible, than I do, “Will they feel sad enough, or even sad at all?”
Children walk out the door hands raised as in praise.
Men still talk in suits and ties
While they watch, the future dies.
I don’t want to be first shot.
The middle-schoolers, make it clear that “hands raised as in praise” in a scene involving gun violence, are hands raised in abject surrender. It is heart-wrenching to witness this poignant gesture, depicting the children surrendering, not only to the other youths, who wish to do them violence, but to the myopia of their forefathers, who “talk” and “watch” as the “future dies.” According to the children, these forefathers, dressed in the uniforms of power and wisdom, have lost their feeling for the children, for the future, and for the possible. We, the witnesses, of the moment, are obliged to suffer the voices of these children falling mute, their song extinguished, or reduced to speaking in between the voices of the things already established.
The voices ignored are the sounds of the emergence of the new. Jung terms this openness to the future, the emergence of the child archetype, which according to him heralds the “Divine Child.” The “Divine Child” surfacing in our dreams, or in our lives, fosters “the liberation from imprisonment” by the frozen and inert aspects of our psyche, and “the liberation and strength in advancement.” (Black Book 7, pp.76-70, The Red Book) This wise energy supplies the telos for the individuation process both personally and collectively.
Ferenczi, calls this intuition for, or whiff of the future, the “Wise Baby.” For Ferenczi, dreaming of the “Wise Baby” is dreaming of the child who, having been extremely and often traumatized, has acquired, highly acute sensitivities, intuitions, and wisdom beyond his years. Dreaming of the “Wise Baby” announces the potential within the dreamer for this kind of wisdom. (Ferenczi, 1923, p. 349)
For both Jung and Ferenczi, in the poem above, the voice of the child archetype, or the voice of the “Wise Baby,” are reduced to the shadows, and eradicated of their power to transform our vision of the future. Ignoring the child, ignoring what the children have to say, we close our ears and eyes to the possible, and allow the future to be a carbon copy of the past.
According to Levinas, “fecundity is the property of the child.” (Quoted in Critchley, 2015, p. 102). It is through the fecundity of the child, through the dynamic of the child archetype, as expressed through the force of their fears, their hopes, and the power of their song that stale repetition ceases.
Viewing change in this way, it appears the dynamics of the child archetype, has the potential to create a different sense of time, one that is transformative and creative. One can imagine that through the refreshing, and creative energy of the child archetype, monotonous, and iterative time is dislodged. Instead, the child archetype introduces a time that moves creatively through a multiplicity of transforming acts, where each of the following acts resolves the preceding one, and opens, and anticipates the next. Through this transformational time, there is a rupture in stagnating continuity. This is a rupture that at the same time is a linking, a “continuation across that rupture.” (Ibid., 107) Living in “transformational time” created by our connection with the child, and through the child archetype, can bring us into a renewed and renewing light of day, where the novel is a welcome companion.
Story reported on NPR, on February 14, 2020, from WRLM by Jessica Bakerman
Critchley, Simon, 2015. The Problem with Levinas. Oxford, Oxford University Press.
Ferenczi, S. (1923/1994). “The Dream of the Clever Baby”. In Further Contributions to the Theory and Technique of Psychoanalysis. (J. I. Suttie, Trans.) London: Karnac Books.
Jung, C. G. The Red Book. 2009. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.
Joan Golden-Alexis, PHD is a clinical psychologist, a Jungian analyst, and couple and family therapist located in New York City. She is a senior training analyst at the Philadelphia Association of Jungian Analysts, and the Jungian Psychoanalytic Association of New York. She writes on art, psyche, and the intersection of psychoanalysis and the political. (email@example.com)
He came just before dawn my first companion in chains the father of four sons who died exhaling his last fevered breath onto my back now he returns breathing softly onto my worn flesh he whispers in my ear words I cannot understand but I know it is him telling me of the pain the joy of leaving his body the apprehension of giving up life. I listen intently to know what my life could be on another journey a different kind of journey.
He does not touch me will not touch me unless I say yes, take me.
Pushed forward by the cradle rock of the ship, leaning, I smell him not as when we were chained brothers with the pungency of vomit, bloody sweat sticking to our salt bodies, but different.
Slight guava scent after first morning rain.
I am tempted to touch him, let him take me
beyond where my captured body lay but a great fear grabs me.
Squeezes my heart. Holds my breath. I cannot release, free myself.
And so he leaves me with my fear and the terror of this life.
From, Journey: The Middle Passage, Psychological Perspectives, v. 59, Issue 4
A Day in August
Four hundred years ago the White Lion arrived in Hampton, Virginia,following it’s ocean voyage from Britain.This ship’s arrival and its occupants were to contribute to the creation of an American society that combined all that many of us hold dear, and paradoxically that which many of us have the strongest desire to change. Aboard the White Lion were twenty-plus enslaved Africans stolen from Angola. These men and women, were the ancestors of African Americans who were sold throughout Southern states, building an economically strong plantation system that amassed wealth for white America.
Many of us who seek change in our American social system wish to increase social justice. This type of justice points to a history of slavery and racism in the early American colonies and through four hundred years of social injustice. Injustice that included not only economic suffering, but also immense psychological and mental trauma.
It is difficult to separate Africanist suffering into strands of economic, gender, educational. These and more are so evenly braided together—from our American Constitution, to our contemporary education system. Not one place of our American society and psyche has been untouched by the arrival of the White Lion Africans who came ashore that day in August.
Engaging the psychological work of healing intergenerational trauma, recognizing cultural complexes, understanding archetypal DNA and epigenetics involved in attachment theory, related to the African Holocaust, binds us. All of us—as Americans. There is often a wish, perhaps as an aspect of a racial complex, to forget, create amnesia regarding those first African American ancestors. However, it rests with all of us who live today to remember them as creating the path for millions who followed. Their journey was one of suffering, as was that of their descendants. My writing is to remember and honor those first Angolan Africans stolen and brought to America. It is to remember them with love and compassion because their path has been our path, and we have not yet finished the journey.
Dr. Fanny Brewster is a Jungian member analyst with PAJA, Professor at Pacifica Graduate Institute, and the author of The Racial Complex: A Jungian Perspective on Culture and Race. (Routledge 2019). Dr. Brewster is available through her website, www.fannybrewster.allyou.net/
trauma is often defined, less in terms of the personal (the individual), and
more in terms of the collective (the social-political) with its potentially insidious
soul-destroying qualities. This is Maria Root’s concept of everyday or
“insidious trauma.” Root, here is referring to the “traumatogenic effects of
oppression,” racism, marginalization, and hegemony.
psychoanalysts recognize the resulting condition of psychic paralysis that
exists in an individual exposed to collective psychic trauma. Such individuals
are said to have a psyche colonized by collective and colonial imperatives, including
the internalized attitudes of cultural inferiority. (Fanon, 2008)
This internalization often entails “the loss of an unnamable domain…which one
might…mistake for constitutional exile.” (Kristiva,1982)
exile (the feeling of being set adrift, disoriented, and disconnected from
oneself) produces one of the most damaging aspects of psychic trauma. This is the
loss, of a connection to one’s interiority, and access to a creative
unconscious that can provide the psychic space for the reparation and
reconstitution of internal processes, impacted by trauma. The result is a
devastating inhibition in the growth of awareness of the extent of the psychic
injury, and above all, a loss of a linking to one’s autonomy and agency that could
provide the psychic space for repair.
schools of psychoanalysis emphasize the power of the unconscious in the healing
of a socially traumatized psyche. Some point to dreams for bringing a more
detailed map of the psychic territory impacted by the trauma, and exposing the
linkages to other vulnerable places within the individual. In this context,
Jung offers what he terms “The Spirit of the Depths,”  an aspect of psyche,
composed of both conscious and unconscious processes, available through our
dreams, that offers a space
of reflection, born of an understanding of the images that flow from the
is this force, according to
Jung, that offers the vision to unshackle both an individual life and also provides
the symbols that offer recovery from the impact of a culture that may be
tumultuous, disorienting, and assaultive to its members’ autonomy. These kinds
of dreams can prove fertile for the personality, enabling it to move creatively
forward, reacquiring or transforming inadvertently overlooked parts of the self,
and linking them to those encapsulated by the trauma.
It follows, that our
dreams, once embraced, can provide, one way, that we can return from a place of
exile, homelessness, rootlessness, and powerlessness, and help reinstate the inalienable
rights denied by a corrosive, society. Our dreams can offer us entrance into
the psychic space that we can call “home,” a home that offers acquaintance with
what is essentially ours, initiating autonomy from what has been destructively imposed.
Freedom, redemption, depth of feeling and understanding of the world around us,
and ourselves, is intimately connected to keeping the door ajar to this psychic
There are some dreams
that appear to be specifically commenting on the “Spirit of the Times”—the impact
of the social context—the collective—and at the same time seem to be commenting
on the personal. These dreams offer the special gift of shedding light on both
the distinction between the personal and the political, and their juncture, giving
insight to their linkage, and their impact on each other.
I have termed this
type of `dream, “dreams at the interface.”
Although not all dreams prompt a feeling that they are commenting on the “Spirit
of the Times” as well as personal complexes and issues of the individual
dreamer, Lama Z. Khouri in her poignant essay “Buried Neck Deep” in Room 10-18.5offers just such a dream and gives us the opportunity to study the linkage
between the personal and political in some detail.
As we explore Khouri’s dream we will see how the
personal and political have interacted to produce her current experience. The
dream, itself, with its message understood, can help her restore generativity
and choice in her psyche, a psyche that she describes as impacted through her
identification as a Palestinian (a people, both colonized and abandoned by
other Arab countries, their plight overlooked) and having a profound emotional
connection to, and understanding of the people of a village in Gaza
symbolically (and literally) described by her as an “open-air prison.”
It is almost impossible, not to pause, as one
attempts to absorb the catastrophic and emotive power of the image, which is
center stage in Khouri’s dream, dreamed 12 years ago, when her son was age 4,
and now again is rising to consciousness. It seems that such an image can only
emerge from a psyche that has had the primary experience, and in addition been
a primary witness to, the insidious traumatogenic power of oppression. The
dream imagery carries forward to her consciousness and ours the soul-destroying
aspects of collective trauma.
However, it is important to note, that dreams rarely
restate what the dreamer already knows, their gift is always to be our most
informing friend, constantly surprising, urging us to notice shadow aspects of
ourselves, existing, in the darkened areas of our psyche. Focusing on these areas,
clarifies linkages, and assumptions that may give us the capacity to unlock doors
to internally, and externally constructed prisons.
It is this aspect of Khouri’s dream that we look to for
the vision to unshackle her personal complexes, and issues that have arisen in
relationship to her collective experience of trauma. These personal issues can
be just as catastrophic and immobilizing, left unnoticed, as the original collective
psychic trauma. In addition, when the collective and personal aspects of the
trauma are not sorted, their interaction can dramatically intensify psychic
In addition, when such a powerful dream image
rises to the surface of consciousness yet a second time, it carries the suggestion
that there must be something important that Khouri needs to notice. Perhaps it
might possess the quality of the “unthought known” of Christopher Bollas. a
“thought” that is existent in one’s psyche, but its poignant and
transformational power makes it impossible to process.
Lately, a dream I had twelve years ago has been coming back to me. I dreamt that my four-year-old son (he’s sixteen now) was buried neck deep in the middle of a neighborhood and surrounded by modest houses. Passersby would kick his face, but he remained silent, as if the kicks were part of life and not to be contested — as if, to survive, he needed to keep his mouth shut.
This dream has had many meanings for me. Twelve years ago, I thought my four-year-old son in the dream was me: buried in a failed marriage with nowhere to go. Of late, my son in the dream has become the Palestinian people: “You either capitulate or we will continue to beat you to the ground.” Their struggle for freedom is terrorism, children throwing rocks are arrested or killed, many young adults have no hope —
Although many of the assumptions and images in the dream
may seem resonant to, and even a result of living intimately connected to a
colonized nation, it is important to note that there are many assumptions in
the dream that are stated as “just so” aspects of life, and it may be those
that the dream seems to be opening up for consideration and questioning. I have
noted these in bold above.
Are kicks in the face part of life and not to be
contested? The dream figure acts “as if” this is true He acts as if to survive, he needs to keep his
mouth shut. Is it true that in orderto
survive, one must remain silent?
Khouri says, at
first, she thought the dream image was her, buried in a failed marriage with no
place to go. However, one can be buried in a failed marriage without being
silenced and kicked in the face, and buried neck deep with no efficacy, no
motility other than the voice.
says, later that she felt that the dream image reflected the reality of the
Palestinian people. However, one can be oppressed, harassed, socially
imprisoned, and impacted by the Israeli’s abuse without assuming kicks are part
of life, and not to be contested, or without assuming that abuse is normal.
centrally one can be in an oppressive marriage, and/or oppressed by an
aggressive nation, and still not decide in order to survive one must keep their
mouth shut. The dream describes a certain conscious orientation to reality, certain
assumptions about life, and what one needs to do in order to survive, and it
shows the dream figure “buried up to the neck” in these assumptions, and
immobilized by them. It appears to me that it is these assumptions that allow
the dream figure no “wiggle room,” and
that it may be these assumptions, left unquestioned, that have accumulated to construct
his “open-air prison.”
appears that it is not the collective trauma itself that has destroyed the
dream figure’s power, and autonomy. Rather it is these assumptions about life
that has the dream figure catastrophically and hopelessly mired. The dream figure
has no wiggle room in relation to the assumption that abuse is a normal part of
life; that there is a normal and natural connection between abuse, and the
inability to act; that the connection between abuse and silent acceptance is
normal; and that silence, and
immobility are the only survival techniques. Above all, the
dream appears to be attempting to bring to the consciousness of the dreamer a
new option—the possibility of questioning the wholesale truth of the powerful
phase—”You either capitulate or we will beat you to the
It appears that the dream is here now, or 12 years ago,
and is remembered, again, to continue its dialogue with her. The dream specifically
throws light on these assumptions, and opens them to reflection.
Khouri, concludes her essay with these thoughts:
It is not enough for me to hold and contain the client’s
pain. I need to do what I can to change their sociopolitical environment.
Impacted by the powerful image in her dream, I would also
add that Khouri may notice dream images of her clients, or thoughts and
associations that demonstrate personal vulnerabilities and narratives, that exist
in their personal psyche in relationship to the larger collective trauma. Bringing
these to consciousness, differentiating the power imposed
from the outside, from the power given to the outside through internal personal
assumptions, and personal narratives, giving the link between the two, heat, focus,
and conscious reflection, may bring these “just so” assumptions to awareness,
and create a greater inner sense of personal choice for her clients.
Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks, (London, United Kingdom: Pluto Press,
Kristeva, (Leon S. Roudiez, Trans.) Powers
of Horror; An Essay on Abjection, (Columbia University Press,1982).
CG, “Liber Primus,” The Red Book, (New York and London, W.W. Norton and
Company, 2009), 241.
A Sketchbook for Analytic Action. (2018) Iptah.org (analytic-room.com)
Bollas, The Shadow of the Object: Psychoanalysis of the Unthought Known (New
York, Columbia University Press, 1987).
Golden-Alexis, Ph.D. is a Jungian psychoanalyst and psychologist in New York
City. Her practice consists of individuals as well as couples. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
I have been thinking about the Frog Prince, and more specifically about the method, so to speak, of his transformation from frog to prince. I first encountered him a long time ago at the children’s library. The librarian took my mother and me to the shelves to the right of the entryway, where I met Mother West Wind and Tom Swift. I worked my way across and down the shelves four books at a time – the maximum number I could check out – until I got to the fairy tales, a riveting upgrade in drama.
In this fierce new realm bad people, like stepmothers, witches, and Cinderella’s sisters, were punished in gloriously gory ways: burning, beheading, and blood. Good people—aka heroines–were rewarded, usually with a prince, for various virtues: Cinderella persisted in going to the ball, Snow White nurtured dwarves, and Beauty’s compassion transformed a beast. I was hardly into dress-up and dancing, much less homemaking or marriage, but I understood that personal strengths were rewarded. I did have a low opinion of Sleeping Beauty, however, who received her prince merely for falling asleep on the job.
Eventually, I came across the Frog Prince, in which a rather prissy princess makes a deal with a frog: if he will retrieve her golden ball from the bottom of a pond, the princess will allow the frog to eat from her plate and sleep in her bed. The princess gets her ball back, ditches the frog, but when her king father insists that a deal is a deal she has to endure the frog’s proximity. Some nights later, the princess even had to kiss the frog—which turned him into a prince. I didn’t think it would be so hard to kiss a frog, and accepted the rightness of a by now familiar fairy tale trope: eros transforms.
But in the second version of the tale, maybe a couple of shelves down, I read that the petulant little princess, required merely to share her food and pillow with a frog, had a royal tantrum and flung the frog against the wall. I imagined the frog exploding like a balloon filled with Jello, and was shocked that the princess’ rage, revulsion, and rebellion were rewarded with the usual prince. This was a whole new storyline – talk about cognitive dissonance! – and it thrilled me.
Suddenly there was room in the goodnesses of the feminine for the authenticity of no, even if it meant defaulting on a deal, acting aggressively, and defying patriarchal authority. There was, and is, room for protest, even if it’s emotional and messy. This princess – and all our inner princesses – may be rageful, impulsive, and defiant, but they are entitled to no – and to choosing their own bedmates.
The Jungian perspective on fairy tales is principally internal, and considers the characters in the tale (or a dream) as images of individual psychic realities. But before we get to that, I’d like to make the case for a frog-flinging recent event: Christine Blasey Ford’s protest against Brett Kavanaugh’s suitability for the Supreme Court. Her truth hit the media and splattered Kavanaugh’s reputation everywhere.
But Kavanaugh did not become a prince in anyone’s eyes–unless there’s someone somewhere who doubts Dr. Ford’s testimony and the courage it took to provide it. Kavanaugh’s wilding days of inebriated sexual predation belied the “choir boy” persona the PR team had promoted. Perhaps there was some justice for the Justice after all, for when the Kavanaugh frog hit the wall it left a permanent stain.
So where, you may be wondering, is the prince? He resides, as ever, in every woman, and Christine Blasey Ford demonstrated that we all have access to our inner prince. It takes the qualities all those other fairy tale heroines demonstrated, especially fidelity to one’s inner truth, and adds our right to claim it with all the fury and force of an authentic no.
Sisters, if there’s a horrid frog in your life, you know what you can do.
My thanks to Jungian-oriented friend and colleague Lisa Benger, LCSW-R in Brooklyn, NY for a conversation about this tale, and Brett Kavanaugh as an example of an invasive frog who galvanizes the princess into full-blown authentic protest.
Deborah Stewart is a Jungian Analyst and Licensed Clinical Social Worker residing in Cape Cod, MA. She can be reached at www.DeborahCStewart.com She is a member of the Philadelphia Association of Jungian Analysts, where she co-chairs and teaches in the training seminar. She is an active member of the Inter-Regional Society of Jungian Analysts and participates in other professional organizations. She is co-creator and contributor to This Jungian Life podcast at www.ThisJungianLife.com. She has a special interest in trauma and is the author of Encounters with Monsters: The Significance of Non-Human Images of Trauma in the Psyche.
According to Jung, the unconscious spontaneously produces images that are mythological in nature, meaning that they are symbolic, universal, and address the nature of the cosmos, and our place in it. Mythologems, or mythological motifs, are a kind of pre-existing psychic natural resource, present at least in potential in the deep layers of the psyche of every person. These mythological images are the raw materials from which the grand narratives that we know of as myth are formed.
Myths are products of the unconscious and reveal its workings. Jung wrote that “myths are original revelations of the preconscious psyche, involuntary statements about unconscious psychic happenings.”[i] Jung believed that myths and dreams spring from a common source – that they both draw from to the same aquifer of universal images. “The whole world of myth of fable is an outgrowth of unconscious fantasy just like the dream.”[ii] Jung believed that the motifs found in dreams and myths were so similar that they were nearly identical.
Dreams, being statements of the unconscious, play no small part in the therapy….The indubitable occurrence of archetypal motifs in dreams make a thorough knowledge of the spiritual history of man indispensable for anyone seriously attempting to understand the real meaning of dreams. The likeness between certain dream motifs and mythologems is so striking that they may be regarded not merely as similar but even identical. This recognition not only raises the dream to a higher level and places it in the wider context of the mythologem, but, at the same time, the problems posed by mythology are brought into connection with the psychic life of the individual.[iii]
Joseph Campbell adds some nuance to Jung’s assertion that myth and dream originate from the same source. He contends that myths are produced with the help of consciousness, and contain not merely upwelling of instinctual wisdom, but the distillation of generations of lived knowledge.
If we are to grasp the full value of the materials, we must note that myths are not exactly comparable to dream. Their figures originate from the same sources – the unconscious wells of fantasy – and their grammar is the same, but they are not the spontaneous products of sleep. On the contrary, their patterns serve as a powerful picture language for the communication of traditional wisdom. This is true already of the so-called primitive folk mythologies. The trance-susceptible shaman and the initiated antelope-priest are not unsophisticated in the wisdom of the world, not unskilled in the principles of communication by analogy. The metaphors by which they live, and through which they operate, have been brooded upon, searched, and discussed for centuries – even millenniums; they have served whole societies, furthermore, as the mainstays of thought and life. The culture patterns have been shaped to them. The youth have been educated, and the aged rendered wise, through the study, experience, and understanding of their effective initiatory forms. For they touch and actually bring into play the vital energies of the whole human psyche. They link the unconscious to the fields of practical action.[iv]
The grand mythic narratives, therefore, have been forged by culture. Myths tell us how to live and contain the distilled wisdom of the ancestors. Mythological stories, then, always tell us something important about the collective. They instruct the individual about how he or she ought to orient toward the wider culture. It may be that, at decisive moments in personal individuation, our individual choices intersect with larger collective currents. At these times, our personal story becomes part of the larger myth unfolding in the life of society around us. It is likely that mythological dreams appear at just such junctures.
As Jung points out, our dreams often include images that could have come from myths or fairy tales. There are big symbols such as snakes or trees, and these are accompanied by big feelings. Or our dreams have supernatural creatures or occurrences. Animals talk. There are witches or vampires. Then we know we are in the realm of the mythic. When mythological dreams appear, it may be that these are there to link our personal story to collective events, to place our personal drama decisively in a historical context. If we are indeed connected to the entirety of human experience through the underground rhizome of the collective unconscious, and influence flows both ways, then receiving a dream from this level of the psyche alerts us that we are in the flow of a collective psychic happening.
Consider the following dream:
It was a sunny day, and I was carrying a little girl dressed in a long white gown to be baptized. The path to the church led up a steep hill. But I was holding the child safely and securely in my arms. All of a sudden, I found myself at the brink of a crevasse. I had just enough time to set the child down on the other side before I plunged into the abyss.[v]
The image of the little girl alerts us that we are potentially in mythological territory. The child is a profound symbol of futurity, of that which is both fragile and yet destined to survive us. Jung says that the child is a symbol that new thing that appears spontaneously as a result of the union of opposites just at that time when we feel most stuck and desolate.
The “child” is born out of the womb of the unconscious, begotten out of the depths of human nature, or rather out of living Nature herself. It is a personification of vital forces quite outside the limited range of our conscious mind; of ways and possibilities of which our one-sided conscious mind knows nothing; a wholeness which embraces the very depths of Nature. It represents the strongest, the most ineluctable urge in every being, namely the urge to realize itself.[vi]
The transpersonal content symbolized by the little girl is being carried by the dream ego toward a ritual experience of rebirth and consecration. The dream is reassuring that this content will survive beyond the destruction of the conscious personality. As a symbol, the child can stand for that which was there before consciousness, and that which will remain after consciousness ceases to be.
The child…is thus both beginning and end, an initial and a terminal creature. The initial creature existed before man wan, and the terminal creature will be when man is not. Psychologically speaking, this means that the “child” symbolizes the pre-conscious and the post-conscious essence of man. His pre-conscious essence is the unconscious state of earliest childhood; his post-conscious essence is an anticipation by analogy of life after death.[vii]
Just as our actual children will survive us and go on to carry a part of our essence into the infinite future, the symbolic child carries transpersonal values into the future beyond our personal, temporally limited engagement with them. (The image of the child is used to suggest just such a content at the end of the film 2001 A Space Odyssey.)
In fact, this dream was dreamt by Sophie Scholl on the night before her execution. According to the biography written by her sister, Scholl interpreted the dream to her cell mate thus:
“The child represents our idea, which will triumph in spite of all obstacles. We are allowed to be its trailblazers, but we must die before it is realized.”[viii]
Such a dream reveals to us the mythic substrate on which our personal drama unfolds. Mythological dreams may also perhaps reflect the currents of history and world events which flow beneath us at all times, but which we may not be capable of detecting without the benefit of hindsight.
Mythological dreams are usually Big Dreams, dreams that affect us powerfully, and stay with us for years. Mythological dreams encourage us to fulfill our personal destiny, so that we can take up our unique role in the life of the collective. They seem to appear at nodal points in our life, often prefiguring decisive moments when we face a choice whether to move in the direction of our mysteriously pre-ordained unfolding.
[i] “The Psychology of the Child Archetype,” The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious, CW 9i, par. 261. [ii] “Principles of Practical Psychotherapy,” The Practice of Psychotherapy, CW 16, par. 17. [iii] “Foreword to White’s ‘God and the Unconscious,’” Psychology and Religion: West and East, CW 11, par. 450. [iv] Jospeh Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, pp. 256-257. [v] Beradt, C. (1968). The Third Reich of dreams. With an essay by Bruno Bettelheim. Chicago: Quadrangle Books, pp. 107-108. [vi] “The Psychology of the Child Archetype,” The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious, CW 9i, par. 289. [vii] “The Psychology of the Child Archetype,” The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious, CW 9i, par. 299. [viii] Beradt, C. (1968). The Third Reich of dreams. With an essay by Bruno Bettelheim. Chicago: Quadrangle Books, p. 108.
Crows with iridescent rich feathers swoop in layers in front of my windshield. Their chatter hales down like hard pellets fallen from an August rain cloud in this October month. I drive into furious black wings, expecting they can be swept aside, made invisible, that they have not chosen me, but only like me, are weary after night flight across a sleeping continent. Their black pea eyes refuse to blink. They push roughly against air forcing me to breathe deeper like the first time, out of the birth waters, trying to catch that first breath of air. On this umbilical highway each exhalation releases: wings rise and fall to earth, these messengers of Eshu, bring divination, falling like rain, blur my vision in embryonic thin air. Finished, they fly east to the ocean. Sunrise reflects like water and oil on wings of charcoal. The space behind my heart darkens, while nigredo feathers fallen to earth, predict my mother’s death.
The summer is only beginning, though these hot, humid days suggest August, rather than the light touch of warmth that June most often brings. For the last several months I have been thinking, actually more ruminating about mortality, and to say it in what seems a more blunt manner, dying. This is the close personal death—not the distant one of a collective ritual such as Catholic extreme unction or the death of an actor playing someone dying in a movie. It is not the hearing of the death of an actor who has been immortalized on the screen. I question. How could he die? How old was he anyway—surely not that old? Then I remember the years since I first saw him on screen. I realize that the difference of our age is not that great. I might be closer to death then I think. Of course I am because I cannot know the minute nor the hour. This thought makes dying seem so very close to me. As if I will die. Can die—soon. For these few seconds I know this and think I can actually feel my body dying.
I have begun with my own mortality but I also want to talk about mothers and our holding and lose of them. In a soft way, like a small pocket of lightly swirling cove water, under the ocean, I have been thinking only about my own personal mother’s death, and so a patient came not too many days ago, because she is in mourning about her own mother’s recent death. Of course, every one who walks through the analytical door is carrying a gift, a contributing reason for my existence as I am for theirs. They are each bringing something I must hold with love and bear with courage. This is because I have forgotten and need reminding of my necessary life work.
I wonder if it isn’t too mournful and dreadful in some way to be thinking about death in the summer. Doesn’t it belong in a dark month, a rainy, cloud-driven late January day? As a depth psychologist I can safely say not—it’s all right to bring the darkness anytime as it never really leaves us. Yes, there is safety here but there is also safety in wanting the light—the beautiful light of a blue-sky June day.
I struggle with wanting both—because I actually need both. It does remind me of what appears as a paradox to me of having someone bring you into the world, be your first place of heart connection, all the while having them die, and yet still be with them in memory. This is for all the years the rest of my life. This might seem so simplistic in thought but it holds a great importance in how I feel my life and feel into my life.
This apparent eternal connection to life and mother, even through her death, sometimes even more so because of her death, interweaves through my life and that of my patients.
As I read through pages of author discussions in service of writing a book on what I have called Archetypal Grief—African American mothers losing their children for generations due to slavery, and the emotional pain of such losses, I feel myself to now be living within the phenomenological field of mothers and death. But like many things, I feel myself to have been chosen in this moment because I have chosen a topic—a theme, that wants to be expanded upon and yet carries the weight of intergenerational trauma that remains today.
Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, a pioneer in the field of writing about death and dying, begins to inform my writing work—allowing me to develop an idea for a new model of consideration. This idea is that something changes the model of grief with intergenerational dying and mourning caused by an archetypal event such as slavery. It is almost as if a mother, and all the enslaved future daughters she births and their daughter’s daughters, moving down the maternal line, will have no place for denial or bargaining as regards death. Emotionally, there can only be room for anger, depression and acceptance. This is what can frame the lived experiences of mothering slaves bound to death through birthing and intergenerational child loss. I’m speaking of this because it has threaded through my consciousness for the past year as I write about enslaved mothers. I also know that it lives in me as a member of this cultural collective.
Working Hands Sunset red next to azure blue next to spring green, the colors of the quilt stream, an unchecked flow of colored river gradually meeting shore, the working brown of my grandmother’s hands.
This past Mother’s Day was a May Sunday in the middle of the month. I performed a short ritual in remembrance of my mother and all of the women of my matriarch lineage. I also remembered the women on my father’s side of family. This day designated for mothers is not the only one in which we think about the women who have given us life. In speaking of the mother archetype Jung says:
Like any other archetype, the mother archetype appears under an almost infinite variety of aspects….First in importance are the personal mother and grandmother, stepmother and mother-in-law….or a remote ancestress….The qualities associated with it are maternal solicitude and sympathy; the magic authority of the female; the wisdom and the spiritual exaltation that transcend reason; any helpful instinct or impulse; all that is benign, all that cherishes and sustains, that fosters growth and fertility. The place of magic transformation and rebirth, together with the underworld and its inhabitants, are presided over by the mother.
C.G. Jung, CW, vol9i, para. 156, 158
As I consider the passage of my own mother into death, I think more of my own to-come experience of dying. I think about how we can be afraid of dying. As I age, I realize I am in the category of one more likely to die. This is sobering. It doesn’t seem to matter how much presence death has when one is younger—in the twenties, thirties, the later years adds a different quality dimension. How I can be afraid of it, and how each patient who discusses dying of a parent, friend or stranger is actually referencing their own death. I believe this is why we must consider wisdom as we age. It seems an important exchange—a trade-off, a softening offered against the hard edge of ego consciousness leaving the body.
As I write now, I wonder about my own purpose on choosing this meditation on mothers, death and dying. It feels not like swimming in a spiral of self-aggrandizement but more like a spider traversing her web. Seeking a place to belong while knowing that all is at once home.
Blue Pearl Stepping outside of the hospital where she had just died, my arms have become wings. Blue pearl surrounds my heart and moves in the birthing motion of a star, unencumbered by fear of loss, now desiring only a child’s life. I am warm with sunrays. All false joys are tossed away like disappointing fruit, fallen next to discarded sorrow. All of it waiting to be washed away by the next rainfall. Ocean stone shines cerulean glory, pierces doubt, recovers with winds of truth any falsehood about love, and it’s power to heal all that hurts. Caresses heartbreak. Breathes tender. Like the velvet softness of aged skin. Sapphire reflects upon itself, star to star, captures my breath, recreates it pearl by pearl. And by this I know you have arrived safely.
Fanny Brewster Ph.D. M.F.A., is a Jungian analyst and author of African Americans and Jungian Psychology: Leaving the Shadows. (Routledge, 2017). She is a faculty member of the Philadelphia Jung Institute and can be reached through www.fannybrewster.com
I have been thinking about Sleeping Beauty lately—remember her? She was never one of my favorites. I felt on early reading that she was rather a twit, stumbling upon the one and only spindle left in the entire kingdom and then pricking herself with it. Surely, at age 15, she should have developed more hand-eye coordination. This unlikely occurrence—how sharp could a spindle be, anyway?—caused every living being in castle to fall into a coma, even the flies. I mean really, SB.
As a child, I resonated to tales of ego strength: Jack, after his initial bad bargain (trading the family cow for a handful of beans), climbed the beanstalk and polished off a giant. Cinderella had the chutzpah to go to the ball and was rewarded with a prince. Hansel and Gretel roasted the horrid hag in her own oven—gotcha. SB, on the other hand, zonked out for 100 years, and was then awakened by a prince who happened to show up at just the right moment. If there was a life lesson in this story, it wasn’t apparent to me then.
But let’s get to the Evil Fairy part: EF wasn’t invited to the celebration of SB’s long-awaited royal birth, so she crashed the party and cursed SB, which turned into the fateful spindle-prick and 100 comatose years even for flies, not to mention innocent citizens. All this because SB’s parents were royally witless. In one version of the tale, EF wasn’t invited because the king and queen ran short of gold dinnerware. In another, they thought EF was dead, and didn’t bother to check.
Neither did they explain the evils of spindles to their daughter in case the burning and purging they had decreed missed a few. Or, the minute SB turned 15, assign a bevy of bodyguards to fend off any spindles that might be stalking her. Instead, the king and queen went on a trip, SB went poking around the castle—and guess what? There was a spindle right there in the castle—duh!
With everyone out cold, plant life sprang into action: a Trump-tower high hedge of thorns grew up around the castle and entrapped any would-be hero trying to get through (what a way to die). But on the exact day the hundred-year curse was up, the malevolent hedge opened to Hero Prince, who was visiting the area and was curious about the rumored castle avec princess. Of course HP found SB even though she was up in a remote tower with that terrible spindle. Everyone in the castle came back to life, now very unfashionably dressed, and HP and SB got married, code for Problem Over.
What I found frustrating about this tale was its lack of human agency, and along with it, assurance that I, like many a hero and heroine, can overcome even the most daunting difficulty. Feckless parents are a common occurrence in fairy tales, but even dummlings like Jack could finagle a way out of a situational jam. SB, however, totally checked out, only to be rescued by a prince who was mostly in the right place at the right time—no clever effort, brave feat, or lofty love.
From a Jungian viewpoint all the characters in a fairy tale can represent aspects of an individual psyche. We can recognize parts of ourselves in SB’s clueless parents, an innocent princess, and the fury of a disdained fairy. What an unappealing cast of characters—I mean characteristics.
But what I have found most irritating in this tale is its fatalism: sometimes you-know-what happens and we just have to wait in situ until a savior arrives. But no worries: when the time is right (even if it feels like a century), a hero-prince-rescuer will show up. Life and energy will then be restored without anyone having to make much effort. This is hardly a heartening message.
But wait: the fateful chain of events began when the king and queen excluded the 13th fairy. Because they were unable to engage her darkness, the shadow she represented became actively hostile. The royal couple had hoped to ensure their daughter a rosy life, but her life, and ours, must necessarily include shadow.
Conscious and unconscious must have it out with one another, a process Jung likens to that of hammer and anvil. Two sturdy opposites are required for psychic life and conscious individuation. Otherwise, as we see in the tale, collapse and stasis ensue.
The king and queen’s denial of shadow illustrates one of Jung’s famous dictums: When an inner situation is not made conscious, it appears outside as fate—which, as we know from the tale and from life, exacts a high price. Because everyone except the late and lucky hero falls unconscious, resolution resides outside human agency. Redemption is left to the archetypal realm as fate.
We can, of course, mitigate fate: “We have to discover more consciousness, to extend consciousness, and the more it is extended the more we get away from the original condition.” (CW 11, p. 967) Perhaps that famous, fateful spindle can prick us into the value of ever more conscious engagement in our lives.
Deborah Stewart is a Certified Jungian Analyst on Cape Cod. She is a faculty member of the Philadelphia Jung Institute and a co-creator of This Jungian Life podcast. You can reach her at http://www.deborahcstewart.com