Icarus Aloft

Jungians often relate a social phenomenon or individual situation to a myth or fairy tale. As the old saying has it, there is nothing new under the sun, and the truths of myths and tales connect us to our common psychic bones—the larger context of archetypal patterns that constitute the universals of human nature. Myth and image allow us to relate to a larger whole and provide a context for making meaning. I have therefore pondered a mythical context within which to understand the Donald Trump phenomenon: that of a modern-day Icarus.

In the Greek myth, Daedalus, a skilled craftsman, made wings for himself and his son Icarus, so they could escape from prison by flying to freedom. Daedalus cautioned his son not to fly too high lest the wax that glued the feathers to the wings melt from the sun’s heat. Icarus, however, possessed with his newfound power of flight, disregarded his father, flew too high, and crashed. It’s no wonder that we use phrases like “high flying,” “above himself,” and “sun-struck,” as images of grandiosity. Even the name Trump is likely to trump yours.

As Donald Trump careens through his campaign with the press ever more heatedly pursuing him, I imagine Icarus soaring above his erstwhile captors. I imagine his intoxication with his newfound power of flight, and his thrill at one-upping his captors. Icarus’ ingenious father enabled his son’s flight; Donald Trump’s wealthy realtor father lofted his son into bigger and better ventures. “The Donald” appears to revel in winning deals and the soaring success of his campaign thus far.

Marie Louise von Franz, analyst, scholar, and member of Jung’s inner circle, discusses the German term frevel. It “means much more than just a frivolous attitude. In former times…frevel meant stepping over the border, going beyond a respectful attitude toward the numinous powers.” She says this “needs quite special treatment. You must not be impressed by it, you must not get into a panic, but you must also not have this kind of frivolous daring [or] it gets very nasty and destructive.” Furthermore, von Franz says, frevel is “primitive…[and] still the way to get possessed and fall into evil.”

Icarus’ youthful frevel brought disaster on himself. We are meant to heed the tale’s psychological warning: pride goeth before a fall. Donald, however, is no youth. He is approaching 70, and his pride would likely result in others having to fall, whether Mexicans, Muslims, or others here and abroad. They are us, so we would all pay the price for the wide swath of decision-making power–without congressional or judicial constraint–that Trump would have as president.

If, as Jung famously says, a defeat for the ego is a victory for the Self, what happens if ego wins? History and current affairs provide us with countless examples: ego- and power-driven leaders, from conquerors seeking subjects to visionaries seeking followers. Today, we are called neither to minimize the importance of Trump’s candidacy nor be swept away by it. We are called to consciousness and to voice it. The collective wisdom of humanity, held in myth and symbol, tells us that Icarus must ever fall.

Quotations: Shadow and Evil in Fairy Tales (Chapter on Possession)

Deborah Stewart, LCSW is a Jungian analyst in private practice in Brooklyn, NY.