In Memoriam. Katrina: Water and Sacred Rites

I. Introduction

The Negro Speaks of Rivers

I’ve known rivers:

                                    I’ve known rivers ancient as the world and older than the

                                                flow of human blood in human veins.

                                    My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

                                    I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young.

                                    I built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep.

                                    I looked upon the Nile and raised the pyramids above it.

                                    I heard the singing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln

                                                went down to New Orleans, and I’ve seen its muddy

                                                bosom turn all golden in the sunset.

                                                           I’ve known rivers:

                                    Ancient dusky rivers.

                                     My soul has grown deep like the rivers. 1

August 2015 marks ten years since the levees of New Orleans broke, flooding the city with sea water and ecological despair.  For African Americans, it also brought what could not be denied, the recollection of not only the sacredness of water as healing element, but also the painful remembrance of water as cultural symbol of slavery within cultural collective consciousness. Disaster by water was not an unknown nor unbelievable possibility, but the impact of Katrina was more far-reaching than anyone would have anticipated. The spiritual and secular relationship of African Americans with water as symbol, the cultural mores of racism and the collective trauma of environmental disaster were all evidenced from the Katrina floods.  In this interweaving, runs the sacredness of not only rites in terms of spirituality, but also those collective rights that are basic to us as human beings.  These are the collective rights we encounter when as Americans we consider skin color and race.

The effects of slavery and issues of contemporary racism, continue to concern many Americans, particularly African Americans and especially those who live in the southern part of the United States.   But the rites and rituals of West Africa, especially those of the Yoruba people who came to the new world, and were practitioners of  Santeria and Vodun, were believed to  mitigate some of the effects of  slavery.  Centuries later, the sacred rites of Vodun were still alive, as the earth of New Orleans was covered by the sea.

The flooding of New Orleans captured America’s attention partly because of the encompassing nature of the environmental disaster.  Weather reports prepared residents for one of the projected biggest storms of American history, and they were still wrong.  It was far worse.  This is not only because of the deaths and loss of homes, jobs, and the practical rituals that represented the essence of life.  It was also the loss of faith for African Americans in the very fact of being Americans.  The government agencies that were supposed to take care of the citizens of New Orleans had failed them: from the levee building Corp of Engineers to the Oval Office.  The proof of this failure could be seen in the faces of those who took shelter in the Superdome, on the roofs of their homes, and those traveling the roads leading out of New Orleans.

Faith lives in the space doubt has relinquished.  The residents of the city expected and believed in the politics of government to protect and save them in an environmental disaster.  They woke to realize and later acknowledge, with the devastation brought by Katrina and duplicated by man, that this had not happened. An African American collective cultural trauma followed the hurricane, tornadoes and flooding.  It could not be denied that the hurricane of Katrina which begun as a natural disaster, became a man-made one by the time it reached New Orleans.2   Most of the collective misery which followed were then also man-made.  When an occurrence of nature, a hurricane, is allowed to develop into an environmental disaster caused by man, what does it mean for the  psychology of those who are effected by such  disasters?

We are steeped in rites and rituals of the Judeo Christian tradition.  Most of what we learn as American children includes the artifacts of knowledge from this heritage.  New Orleans is still considered to be a Catholic city based on its founding and the early establishment of this religion by the colonial Spaniards and French.  It is a city that eventually embraced the rituals of Catholicism, joined with the early slavery rites of African traditional ancestor and spiritual practices. The sea waters which flowed over the city on the week of August 30th, 2005 might have been considered by some to belong to Yemonja, Yoruba goddess of the sea, the mother and protector of children, The Mother whose children are the Fish. 3

What does it mean on a psychic level to be closely bound to the goddess of the sea in a situation like Katrina?  The Africanist tradition is to look for the blessing, the grace of the waters.  Is there a way of  understanding Katrina’s sea waters as part of  an initiation into a deeper questioning  of African American life and race relations?

Barbara Bush, mother of then president George W. Bush called the victims of Katrina refugees. How did she and others like her come to this belief that African American citizens were refugees as if from a foreign country?  Is this the perception of only non-African Americans or does it also belong to African Americans themselves?

These questions  and others in this writing are important because they ask us to inquire into ideas and opinions regarding economic, social and political differences which exists due to race in America and the interplay of these differences in environmental disasters.  These differences were important factors in pre- and post Katrina

New Orleans.  Racial inequality is frequently the reason given by some as to why the levees were allowed to fall into disrepair, and therefore cause flooding destruction.  Most of the geographical sections of New Orleans negatively affected by flooding were African American.

Flooding and the images of death could not escape our American vision.  We were caught by the stories of storm waters falling and surging past the levees into the homes and lives of the city’s residents. We bore witness:  some of us watching television from our dry, far away homes, others who witnessed it more closely from boats passing lifeless, bloated bodies, and, finally those who were swimming in the same waters as the previously consecrated dead and buried.

It was as if the sacred rites of birth, death and baptism had been desecrated by Katrina.


Sea Charm

Sea charm

                                                            The sea’s own children

                                                            Do not understand.

                                                            They know

                                                            But that the sea is strong

                                                            Like God’s hand.

                                                            They know

                                                            But that sea wind is sweet

                                                            Like God’s breath,

                                                            And that the sea holds

                                                            A wide, deep death.

As the West African Disapora arrived to the water-edged land of what was to become southern Louisiana, they brought with them the culture and spiritual rituals of their ancestors. These spiritual practices especially for the Yoruba of Nigeria, included the wisdom of Ifa.  Gods and goddesses of this religion became the transformed saints of Roman Catholicism in attempts at reconciling the old spiritual beliefs with a survival religion within the context of  slavery. Yemoja, was honored as the Yoruba goddess of  the seas and maternity.

One of the symbols of African American spirituality following  Africanist sacred water rites  has been that of baptism.  The belief in immersion baptism has survived its passage from the waters of the Osun River in Nigeria when it was believed that this immersion allowed divine spirits to enter the human body.  This in turn created the idea of spiritual salvation proceeding from birth rituals using water in the New World.

However, even before this adult experience of re-birth, Africanist individuals had for centuries undergone the sacred birth rites of  passage.   John S. Mbiti tells us of the birth ritual of the Wolof people of  Senegal and Gambia.   The birth day of a child, family and neighbors gather and perform rites using blessed water for protecting mother and child.

Before suckling, the child is made to drink a charm made from washing off a Koranic verse which has been written on a wooden slate. Then a goat is killed on the day of birth….A fire is kept burning night and day in the house where birth has taken place.  Beside this fire stands an iron rod which is used for pressing seeds out of cotton wool, and a pot with pieces of a water plant (rat) which have been boiled.  The woman drinks the water from this pot. 4

A part of the ritual includes placing the rat plant with other tree leaves at the door of the birth house.  These same leaves are put at the entrance of the compound.  Every aspect of the birthing is a part of the rites performed.  The knife used to cut the umbilical card is placed under the pillow of the child.  During the immediate period following the birth, the new mother and child remain indoors.  Even if she goes outside, she must bring the knife with her as protection for her newborn child against spirits who might cause harm.  Plant leaves are left in place of the borrowed knife.

The children are named one week after their birth.  Parents and family gather to participate in the rites and rituals by sacred water.  It is most often mixed with plant leaves or roots to create a tonic specific to the protection and wisdom of the mother and child as with the rat plant.  Every aspect of the new life of the child is marked with rites which have been passed on for generations.  These birth and naming rites are sacred as each name has meaning based on many possibilities:  the day of the week, noted child’s personality or a grandparent whom the child resembles in affect.

On the appointed day, the child’s mother extinguishes the fire and sweeps the house, takes a bath and the baby is washed with the medicinal water.   These are symbolic acts marking the end of one phase of life, and the beginning of a new one….In the centre of the compound a mat is spread where an old woman, usually the midwife, sits with the child on her lap. The child is shaved, starting on the right side.  Nearby stands a clay bowl with red and white kola nuts, cotton and millet.  The red kola nuts symbolize long life, and the white ones symbolize good luck.  An elderly person rubs hands over the child’s head, prays and spits in its ears to implant the name in the baby’s head.  After that the name is then  announced loudly to the crowd, and prayers are offered for long life and prosperity.  The child and mother are hidden away, if it is the      first born, in case someone with an evil eye should see them. 5

It seems important to show a lineage of sacred rites and rituals which were practiced amongst Africanist people before their arrival as slaves to America.  The history of  racism in America has insisted until recent times, on disavowing many valued Africanist cultures(customs) which preceded colonial slavery. These cultures included rites not only of birthing but also marriage and death. All of the important human passages were marked by rites and these most often included the use of water.

Amongst the Batoro of  Uganda, there is a marital ritual which speaks to not only new life but also death as a transformative experience. The following quote, once again from John Mbiti is an indication of this symbol of marriage in an Africanist tradition from a central African country. It is a rite performed after the wedding day.

The following morning the guests who had been invited to the party return to their own homes.  The bride and her husband wash themselves in very cold water which has been placed in the courtyard enclosure and which is guarded by the bride’s sister. When they come to this water they undress themselves,  and each splashes the other with water.  This is the rite of binding themselves to each other and of cleansing themselves from the former state of unmarried life.  Symbolically these ritual ablutions  are partly the death of the former life of unproductivity, and partly

The resurrection of the new life of procreation.6

The “river cults” as they were identified by non-Africanists, participated in sacred water rituals in order to obtain the healing and psychic energy of  a named or followed god or ancestor. The immersion into water by Africanist people was to induce the visit of the gods.  This taking over of  ego consciousness caused the excitement which we can note in present day spiritual and religious rituals.  They include ‘speaking in tongue’ and the rhythmic dance of being taken over by the spirit.  African American religious practice is noted for its expectation of a baptism, oftentimes full-body, which mimics the collective spiritual practices of Africanist groups.  In Myth of the Negro Past, Melvin Herskovits says, “ Among the Ashanti, pilgrimages to Lake Bosumtwe and other sacred bodies of water regularly occur.   It is on such occasions that the spirit of the river or lake or sea manifest itself, by “entering the head” of the devotees and causing him to fling himself, possessed, into the water.”

The water of the ocean, lakes and streams were designated as sacred.  Oftentimes spiritual healers made pilgrimages to these locations in order to obtain such water for performing rituals.  The importance of such rituals can by seen by Herskovits’s noting the following:

In the process of conquest which accompanied the spread of the Dahomean kingdom…. the intransigence of the priests of the river cult  was so marked that more than any other group of holy men, they were sold into slavery to rid the conquerors of troublesome leaders.  In all those parts of the New World where African religious beliefs have persisted, moreover, the river cult or, in broader terms, the cult of water spirits, holds an important place.

It was these same holy men who traveled to South America, the Caribbean and eventually the southern United States.  Their influence can be seen in current Vodou and Santeria practices.  One of the most sacred rites of Santeria is discussed by  Migene Gonzalez-Wippler in Santeria The Religion. In the chapter describing Santeria Gonzalez-Wippler says of the sacred water:

The omiero is the sacred liquid used by the santero during initiation.

It is prepared in large receptacles where a certain number of the plants  sacred to each orisha  are crushed in fresh water….After the ritual crushing of the leaves, the resulting liquid, tinted green with the plants’ chlorophyll, is gathered together and mixed with other sacred ingredients, among which are rainwater, holy water, and some of the some of the blood of the sacrificial animals.  The omiero is used for many ritual purposes….

So wonderful are the properties of this liquid that the santeros often drink     it as a cure for many illnesses, especially stomach complaints.

The collective historical Africanist perspective views water as a sacred element. Gonzalez-Wippler says that water is one of the four essential aspects of Santeria. The others are herbs, seashells (cowries) and stones.  This consideration of water in such an important role in the rituals of the spiritual practice lends credence and a rich vitality to African American religious experiences.  The sacred traditions of rites of passage and rituals of daily life of both East Africa and especially West Africa have clearly survived in the Protestant and Catholic practices of African Americans. This can be seen in baptism immersion rites, spiritual bath practices of Santeria and Vodou, and the use of water as a sacred entity amongst all African American spiritual practitioners for healing.


 Troubled Water

                                                Between us, always, loved one,

                                                There lies this troubled water.

                                                You are my sky, my shining sun

                                                Over troubled water.

                                                I journey far to touch your hand.

                                                The trip is troubled water.

                                                We see yet cannot understand

                                                This fateful troubled water.

                                                Deep hearts, dear, dream of happiness

                                                Balked by troubled water.

                                                Between us always—love, and this—

                                                This sea of troubled water.

            How do we consider increasing our conscious awareness for healing of racial differences when accompanied with natural or environmental disasters?  Can we influence the archetypal and integrate its support in this type of heroic ego endeavor?  The Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s brought us to another stage of consciousness.  Segregation in public places ended with the Civil Rights Act of 1965.

Everyone was now able to drink from the same water fountain. However, the resentments and anger over racial differences has lasted until this twenty-first century.  Between blacks and whites still lay a sea of troubled water which can erupt like an underwater volcano, occurring without warning.

James Hillman in his essay “Haiti or the psychology of black” says:

Negro is not nigredo….especially in a racist society we must keep very distinct the epithets that arbitrarily and viciously color human beings on the one hand and, on the other cosmic forces that shape the soul apart from human beings.  What we fear is black magic:  the magical pull of  black attraction, the soul’s desire to descent into darkness….We fear what we most desire and desire what we most fear.12




                                                On the shoals of  Nowhere,

                                                Cast up—my boat,

                                                Bow all broken,

                                                No longer afloat.

                                                On the shoals of  Nowhere,

                                                Wasted—my song—

                                                Yet taken by the sea wind

                                                And blown along.

            We hope that we can prepare for archetypal events that flood us.  We want to believe that we can ride out the negative racial elements of our American lives.

Sometimes we are able to prove to ourselves as a collective that we can surpass our differences and choose what we think will add to the on-going healing of our American racial wound.  This is how I viewed the election of Barack Obama, as a shift in consciousness that made it possible for him to become the first African American president.

The African American Diaspora are not refugees, they never have been in the truest sense of this word.  They were initially brought as slaves.  The other women, children, and men who have followed since, may be refugees, but most are immigrants.  When faced with a physical disaster like Katrina, we are forced to acknowledge the tension between the ego’s needs and those of what appear as overwhelming collective, archetypal challenges, reflected in the environment.  Our egos can be overcome by emotional flooding which eliminates our reasoning ability.  We revert to old patterns

of tribal survival, like the white vigilantes who were defending their property against perceived intruders, all who happened to be African Americans.  At these times, some of us fall into the tribal war rituals of ancestors wherein 21st century tribal differences can include skin color.  It takes an equally powerful energy to counteract impulsive, human actions of personal destruction when confronted with the archetypal losses of an environmental disaster.  Yet, this is our responsibility, to move even deeper beneath fear and hate to that which speaks to consciousness and the inner compass of morality. This keeps us afloat as we reach out to save a fellow human being, not just in that moment of disaster, but as a re-occurring aspect of conscious living.


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,


  1. Langston Hughes, The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes (New York: Random            House, 1994), 23.  All poems are from this text, pages, 23, 44, 48 and 577.
  1. A.C. Thompson, “Katrina’s Hidden Race War,” The Nation (2009)
  1. Migene Gonzalez-Wippler, Santeria the Religion: A Legacy of Faith, Rites, and Magic (New York:  Harmony Books, 1989), 57.
  1. John S. Mbiti, African Religions and Philosophy (Portsmouth, NH:  Heinemann     Educational Books, 1990), 111.
  1. Ibid., 116.
  1. Ibid., 136.
  1. Melville J. Herskovits, The Myth of the Negro Past (Boston: Beacon Press Books,    1958), 233
  1. Ibid., 232.
  1. Elizabeth Abel,Bathroom Doors and Drinking Fountains: Jim Crow’s Racial             Symbolic,” Critical Inquiry (1999), 435-481.
  1. Joe R. Feagin, Melvin P. Sikes, Living with Racism: The Black Middle-Class Experience (Boston:  Beacon Press, 1994), 37-77.
  1. Kathy Russell, Midge Wilson, Ronald Hall, The Politics of Skin Color among African Americans (New York: Doubleday Books, 1992), 17.
  1. James Hillman, “Haiti or the psychology of black,” Spring 61 (1997): 1-15.

The Archetype of Apocalypse in Culture and Dreams: A Jungian Perspective

“We are living in what the Greeks called the kairos, the right moment for a metamorphosis of the gods, of the fundamental principles and symbols. This peculiarity of our time, which is certainly not of our conscious choosing is the expression of the unconscious man within us who is changing” 

(Jung, The Undiscovered Self)

“Something new is trying to enter the consciousness of modern man in order to radically transform it, sinister and uncanny though it may be, meaninglessness is like a guest who knocks at our door asking for shelter…”

                                                                                      (Wolfgang Giegerich Soul Violence) typo

Why are visions of the end of the world so prevalent in our popular culture today? And why have apocalyptic themes been replicated in so many different forms across millennia; spanning art, religion, science, philosophy and our global media environments?  Do you ever have dreams with apocalyptic themes; hurricanes, tornados, tidal waves, earthquakes, floods, bombs, planets crashing towards earth (cosmophobia)?

Such dreams or inner dramas call out for our conscious attention. They provide a window deeper into our souls, and awaken awareness of the archetypal realm. Mythological themes and dream images, as well as real outward events amplify and express pieces of our human experience both personally and collectively. The theme of the Apocalypse is not a modern construct but rather is both ancient and universal. It reaches out and touches all of us. Bidden or unbidden, it presents itself in our human condition in the form of ecological dangers, wars, disease and starvation. Such themes may haunt us while we sleep as we plunge deeper into the unconscious often hoping to put the stresses of the day behind us.

As a Jungian analyst, one is often privileged in hearing the sound of apocalyptic murmurings coming from the unconscious via dream material.  Apocalyptic dreams may present when an individual is struggling to make necessary psychological changes in their lives, both inner and outer.  Strangely and surprisingly, they may signify healing efforts when the psyche is trying to assimilate trauma.  So while apocalyptic material from the unconscious may often feel scary and unwanted, it brings with it a message that contains the potential for transformation. This is quite a different perspective from a pessimistic catastrophic “end of the world” or doomsday outlook.

                       What is the meaning of the archetype of apocalypse?

Seen through a Jungian lens, the concept of the apocalypse is an archetypal construct.  An archetype is a pattern, a kind of primordial psychic ordering of images. Archetypes have a collective or generalized quality and contain dynamic energy. When archetypal energy is evoked or activated in the world, it is often autonomous.  Archetypes reveal themselves through experience and are expressed through images.  As Jung informs us, archetypes are spontaneous phenomena.  Archetypes possess their own purposefulness as both subject and object, they are universal images.

In general the term apocalypse means revelation. Apokalpsis is a Greek word with the root kalypto meaning to cover or to hide, the prefix is the preposition apo which means away from. Apokalypsis means to take the covering away from – perhaps from what has been secret, revealing what has been invisible.  From this perspective, we can consider that apocalyptic events and or psychic material may be revealing some new piece of our humanity be it personal or collective. Something new may be trying to emerge.

Jungian analyst Edward Edinger in his book Archetype of the Apocalypse, speculates that apocalyptic imagery can signify disaster only if the ego is alienated from or antagonistic towards the realities that the Self is bringing this material into consciousness.  Hence, one interpretation is that when our egos are unable or unwilling to embrace the messages coming from the guiding forces of the Self, the result can express itself symbolically in the form of apocalyptic end of world imagery.

The Self according to Jung is first an archetype and it represents the archetype of wholeness, a centerpoint of the psyche. The Self as seen through a Jungian lens has an ordering principle, and a transpersonal power that transcends the ego. It may be symbolized through images of the circle or mandala.  A recent popular film Melancholia by Lars Von Trier presents us with themes that may echo what both Jung and Edinger are telling us. Films can be considered a type of collective associative dreaming.

                    What role does a sense of meaning play in our lives?

Jung believed that man could not survive without a sense of meaningfulness about our lives. His psychology is essentially about finding meaning to address the alarm and anxiety he felt modern humanity was facing. Perhaps we are living in a time when the sense of the world hanging on a thin thread is piercing into our consciousness.  Jung believed in the redemptive role that we as humans play with the universe. In essence, when we change ourselves, we change the world.

The void in cosmic meaning is the deepest reason but not the only reason why the apocalypse meme is replicating around the world. Removed from nature and the cosmos, humans seem to possess an existential and insatiable thirst for visions of doom…  (Barry Vaker, The End of the World Again)

As we hopefully choose to consciously attend to the apocalyptic musings in our world both inner and outer, we hold in our hands the potential to effect change and transformation both personally and collectively. If we turn our attention away due to fear, anxiety, distrust and disinterest, we may be aligning with destructive anti-life forces rather than transformational forces. Destruction and transformation sit side by side. Our attitude and our unflinching awareness to both face uncertainty and to seek meaning may hold a key to how it all turns out.


Ronnie Landau, MA is a certified Jungian Psychoanalyst and is a senior training analyst with the Inter-Regional Society of Jungian Analysts and the Philadelphia Association of Jungian Analysts where she received her certification. She is the past President of PAJA and past Director of Training. She is also the past Secretary on the Executive Board of the Inter-Regional Society of Jungian Analysts. Ms. Landau has taught and lectured on dream theory throughout the United States. She has also taught Transference-Countertransference dynamics in analysis throughout the US as well as Zurich, Switzerland along with “The Holocaust: Through a Jungian Perspective.” She is the author of The Queen of Sheba and Her Hairy Legs, The Exile and Redemption of the Erotic Feminine in Western Monotheism and Jungian Process.

Earthquakes and the Garden of the Heart and Soul

Earthquakes trigger the deepest and most ancient anxieties we have about our vulnerability as human creatures on the earth. While our physical existence is catastrophically threatened when the earth shifts from far below our feet, our sudden awareness of the tremendous power beyond our control also conjures up the fear of profound, destructive change in our psyches in the same instant. The same energies that created the Himalayas, and continue to raise them even higher, also have the possibility of inconceivable destruction.  The rupture of the earth and the rupture of the psyche are parallel traumas; when either one happens–let alone both simultaneously–healing of the highest order is called for.

On May 12, 2008, a magnitude 8.0 earthquake shook Sichuan, China. Approximately 69,000 people died, another 18,000 were missing, over 374,000 were injured, and 4.8 million of those who survived became homeless, many of whom had lost family members and their livelihood. In order to work with the enormous number of children who had been traumatized by the disaster, a group of Chinese Jungian analysts began a project in Sichuan beginning the first week after the earthquake.  They named the workstations they created “the Garden of the Heart and Soul,” and their service continued for three years.

The work made use of traditional Chinese music and ritual (including breathing and other body-based practices), painting, psychodrama and sandplay.  All of the supports were offered from the perspective of “the psychology of the heart,” guided by the principles of “loving grief” (a translation of the Chinese character ci-bei) and the healing and transformative capacity that lies within ancient cultural practices.

The Chinese characters ci (love, compassion) and bei (grief, suffering, pain)

Describing their work with the children who had experienced this overwhelming disaster, Heyong Shen and Gao Lan wrote:

“For the first six months, we could see in the sand trays the process and images as victims expressed their trauma, their feelings of chaos and suffering, helplessness and wounding.  In the next period, after several months, through the sandplay we can see that they were touched by the heart; images of angels emerged along with figures of the heart, and the healing process took hold in the Garden of the Heart and Soul.”

On May 12, 2015, exactly 7 years after the Sichuan earthquake, Nepal experienced its second large tremor and aftershocks, only weeks after the even more devastating one that wreaked havoc from which the country is only beginning to emerge.

We humans are made of so many opposites:  body and spirit, feeling and intellect, imagination and concrete sensation.  When we are ruptured across any of these realms, the very core of our existence is at stake.  Whether an external earthquake, or the internal shattering of psychological suffering, or abuse at the hands of a beloved other, trauma leaves wounds that call for tending in the Garden of the Heart and Soul.

By that name or others from the numerous languages of Nepal, we can imagine that those who suffer there find healing over the months and years to come, with help from the next village or from those of us across the earth that we share.

The Garden of the Heart and Soul: Psychological Relief Work in Earthquake Zones and Orphanages in China. Heong Shen and Gao Lan, Spring: A Journal of Archetype and Culture, Volume 88, Winter 2012; Environmental Disasters and Collective Trauma, pp 61-73.


Sarah Braun, MD is a Jungian Psychoanalyst and psychiatrist trained in adult and child psychiatry. She graduated with a degree in Biology from Harvard University, where she concurrently studied neurobiology and studio art. She completed medical school at the University of California, San Francisco, and continued as a resident in adult psychiatry at the Langley Porter Psychiatric Institute. Her interests include the inter-relationships among art, myth, dreams, medicine, religion and spirituality, honoring the potential healing capacities that they contain for individuals, families and the culture as a whole. Dr. Braun is Vice President of the Philadelphia Association of Jungian Analysts and is on the faculty of the Philadelphia Jung Institute. She also is a member of the Jungian Psychoanalytic Association in New York. She has a private practice close to the center of Philadelphia, in Narberth, PA, which includes adults as well as children and adolescents

Why Are Images So Dangerous?

“A psychic entity can be a conscious content, that is it can be represented, only if it has the quality of an image.”
Jung, CW 8, para 322
 “An archetypal image is not only a thought pattern…it is also an emotional experience—the emotional experience of an individual.”
von Franz, Interpretation of Fairytales, p.10

Why are images so dangerous? Why would ISIS smash the Assyrian statues, or the Taliban the giant Buddha’s, or the Protestants the icons and frescos in churches all over northern Europe in the 1500’s? What is threatening about pieces of stone and surfaces of paint? What ISIS did, what the Taliban did, what the Protestants did, was not wonton destruction. It was purposeful annihilation –of images. What is it about images that pose such a danger?

One answer is that images, such as the Assyrian statues, relativize; they remind us of the grand sweep of history. They put the moment’s concerns in relief. He/she who controls the images controls the ideology. No leader allows the images of his predecessor to remain; the more ruthless the leader, the more images are destroyed. More civilized ways of demonstrating a change of power include taking down the loser’s flag and putting up the winner’s, or changing the corporate logo or, as in the case of civil rights movements, making sure that there are images of African Americans and women on the government’s sites.

But I suggest that the savaging of the Assyrian statues and artifacts by ISIS is not just a propaganda move and an attempt to control the conversation, although of course, it is clearly propagandistic.  Rather this destruction is a deeper, more profound attempt to try to cut people off from the wellsprings of the numinous.

Images carry history with them; images carry meaning as well. Whether they are rebuses as in hieroglyphics or carefully crafted icons for use in devotion and prayer, images put us in touch with dimensions both personal and archetypal. Images encourage us to fall into reverie and to encounter ourselves in non-verbal ways. Images, such as those destroyed in Iraq, remind us of myth and metaphor, and cause us to be humble in the face of their vast Otherness.

Each time in history when images have been destroyed, the excuse has been that the worshiping of idols misleads the people. Yet, that has never really been the case.  Take the story in Genesis for example.

The Golden Calf was not an arbitrary image of greed or an idol to be worshiped. The cow is the symbol of the extremely important Egyptian Goddess Hathor, Goddess of fertility and abundance. The Hebrews were evoking the Goddess of the land they just left—at a time when they were hungry, frightened and in need of abundance. Moses had to smash that symbol—not because it was an idol, but because it was an authentic object of devotion and worship. Moses had to break it to bits because of what it stood for, what it evoked, what it engendered in the spirit of the people. He was trying to establish Yahweh as the one God; the power of the Egyptian Gods had to be undone in the hearts and minds of the people.

I am certainly not equating Moses with ISIS, but rather seeing that tale as an example of how powerful images/symbols are, how dangerous they can be felt to be, and how essential it can be to do away with previous power-laden archetypal images when trying to change the power structure.

Another example: In Bern Switzerland in 1528, Ulrich Zwingli proclaimed, “That to set up pictures and to adore them is also contrary to Scripture, and that images and pictures ought to be destroyed where there is danger in giving them adoration.” (from the 10 propositions of the public disputations, Bern 1528) His reform movement caused thousands of religious paintings, frescos, statues and devotional objects, including pipe organs, to be destroyed—all across Europe. Countless artifacts were annihilated; countless images lost to humanity forever. (see The Stripping of the Altars: Traditional Religion in England, 1400-1580,  by Eamon Duffy, Yale University Press, 1992 for an wonderful and excruciating exploration of this movement in Europe)

Certainly, praying to an idol misdirects devotion away form the numinous god—if one thinks the statue or picture is the god or spirit itself. However, devotional images are not inherently idols. The relationship one has to an image is personal and profound. Images inspire us, they focus us, and they offer us glimpses into what is both universal and specific at the same time. Images transcend language; they transcend understanding. “ When the archetype manifests itself in the here and now of space and time, it can be perceived in some form by the conscious mind. Then we speak of a symbol.” ( Jolanda Jacoby, Complex Archetype Symbol, page 74)  When we make paintings and statues and images, we give the archetypal images a form and the possibilities for symbolism and meaning. Jung also states:  “Whether a thing is a symbol or not depends chiefly upon the attitude of the observing consciousness.”   (Jung, CW6, para. 603)

Jung says, “The psyche consists essentially of images.” (CW8, para. 623) We are made of images, we communicate with images and we thrive in the presence of images. We wither without them. Images hold people even more than words. Images precede thought and remain when words fail. Images become symbols. ISIS knows this, I suspect. They know very well how to manipulate images (just look at their horrific videos). They know that smashing these images will affect us all profoundly, emotionally and spiritually, regardless of our personal religious beliefs and traditions.

ISIS wants us to be afraid. And, it is right for us to be scared, for to be cut off from images is to be cut off from ourselves.

To see the images being destroyed:


Margaret Klenck, MDiv, LP is a Jungian Analyst in private practice in New York City. She is a graduate from the C.G. Jung Institute of New York and holds a Masters of Divinity from Union Theological Seminary, where she concentrated in Psychology and Religion. Margaret is the President of the Jungian Psychoanalytic Association (JPA) in New York, where she also teaches and supervises. She is also a member and on the faculty of the Philadelphia Association of Jungian Analysts and has served on the faculty of the Blanton-Peale Institute. Margaret has lectured and taught nationally and internationally. Recently, Margaret co-wrote, with the cinematographer Tom Hurwitz, the opening essay in the second volume of Jung and Film, edited by Chris Hauke and Luke Hockney. Margaret is currently the JPA’s representative on the IAAP executive council.

Our Dreaming Lives

We all lead full and complete lives: we go to work, we go go to school, we spend time with our families and friends. Yet under the thin veneer of our civilized lives exists the full panoply of our dream and fantasy lives where we are adventurers, captives, sluggards, sirens, kings, and queens.

All of us dream several times a night and there is even some speculation that the purpose of sleeping is so that we can dream. Whether or not we realize it, we bring our dream world into our waking world. Our dreams get our attention, often very dramatically, and can help us become more conscious by showing us things we have been unaware of in our lives. Jung says that dreams show us the unvarnished truth and  “… fetch up the essential points, bit by bit and with the nicest choice.”

A dream is made up of a series of images, ideas, and emotions that come to us from the unconscious psyche while we are sleeping.  According to Jung, dreams will draw on a person’s experiences as well as the collective unconscious to show us “Ineluctable truths, philosophical pronouncements, illusions, wild fantasies, memories, plans, anticipations, irrational experiences, even telepathic visions.”

Dreams can help us see possibilities and potential in our lives and they can also help us  understand some aspects of our development that have eluded us. But to make sense of dreams it helps when we understand the symbolic nature of the dreams. Dream language is the language of image and metaphor; for example your dream might offer up a snake in the grass or a rat.  Some one once told me that they had a dream and said, “I was in the same boat with my Mother.”

Do you remember your dreams and take time to savor your dream experiences? Do you notice how you feel when you wake-up from a dream? Your emotional state, your affect, can be an important aspect of the dream’s message. When we make the effort to remember the dream and honor the dream we often discover that it has something to tell us. When we understand the dream we may feel a sense of relief or of being in touch with something long forgotten that has a great importance for us.

Dreaming is a natural process and everyone can benefit from their dreams whether or not we remember them or interpret them. However, we benefit most when we are able to integrate the dream more fully into consciousness. Understanding our dreams can help us live more productive and conscious lives. Human beings have always known that dreams help us to understand our human and spiritual condition more fully. Jung says “The dream is its own interpretation, meaning, they employ no artifices in order to conceal something, but inform us of their content as plainly as possible in their own way.”

Dreams can educate and instruct us and if we can follow the dream, the dream can lead us toward wholeness with a profound wisdom. James Hillman, in The Soul’s Code, says: “Dreams can’t protect us from the vicissitudes of life, but they can guide us on how to cope with them, how to find meaning in our life, how to fulfill our own destiny, how to follow our own star, so to speak, in order to realize the greater potential of life within us.”


Cynthia A. Candelaria, EdD, LPC is a Jungian analyst and a graduate of the Inter-Regional Society of Jungian Analysts and has a private practice in West Chester, Pennsylvania. She received her doctorate in counseling and human development from Vanderbilt University and completed a re-specialization in clinical psychology at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine. Cynthia is a senior training analyst and is currently the Director of the Seminar for the C.G. Jung Institute of Philadelphia and serves on the training committee of the Inter-Regional Society of Jungian Analysts.

Recent Events in France – What Can Jung Tell Us?

As we ponder what has occurred in France and other parts of Europe in recent weeks, does what Jung writes in Memories, Dreams, Reflections shed some light on the psychology of the young men and occasionally women involved?   The extremist fundamentalist groups and activities provide a seemingly profound identity for the marginalized.  If these young people were included in the more conventional collective identities, which are usually more benign, would the extreme options be less compelling?

“The very beginnings of societal structures reveal the craving for secret organizations.  When no valid secrets really exist, mysteries are invented or contrived to which privileged initiates are admitted…

The need for ostentatious secrecy is of vital importance on the primitive level, for the shared secret serves as a cement binding the tribe together.  Secrets on the tribal level contribute a helpful compensation for the lack of cohesion in the individual personality, which is constantly relapsing into the original unconscious identity with other members of the group…

The secret society is an intermediary stage on the way to individuation.  The individual is still relying on a collective organization to effect his differentiation for him; that is, he has not yet recognized that it is really the  individual’s path to differentiate from all the others and stand on his own feet…

Such collective identities are crutches for the lame, shields for the timid, beds for the lazy, nurseries for the irresponsible; but they are equally shelters for the poor and weak, a home port for the shipwrecked, the bosom of family for orphans, a land of promise for disillusioned vagrants and weary pilgrims…”

Memories, Dreams, Reflections, p. 342-3 (Late Thoughts, section II)

Jung’s comments seem to be relevant here, more than 50 years on.


Simone Campbell-Scott, MA, LCSW is a Jungian Analyst, Poet, Art Curator and Educator living and working in Baltimore MD. She is a faculty member of PAJA.

Stirring the Pudding

The Cornstarch Pudding Theory of Change

When I began graduate studies to become a therapist, one of my professors said that eventually—she meant after years of experience—each of us would develop our own theory of change. The mystery of the process of change and how—or if—I would ever understand it lodged in my mind. If graduate school professors in a clinical program didn’t know how people changed it must be even more complicated than I thought. Then again, facilitating change seemed so basic to any therapeutic process that ignorance was appalling.

I wended my way through developmental stages of change from Freud to Erickson. I studied psychodynamic models, interpersonal models, and behavioral models. (In social work school we didn’t study Jung—that would come later, after those and subsequent studies failed to provide the truths I sought.) Still, I didn’t know how change was actually achieved or how to explain this murky process to clients who asked, reasonably enough, how talking to me was going to make a difference to them. They wanted to know what made things change, and I wasn’t altogether sure.

As I endeavored, in those early years as a therapist, to answer doubtful, anxious, or do-I-dare-to-hope queries, a cook who had come in to “get the missus off my back” asked, “You mean we just sit here and talk and it makes me feel better?” This was a practical man whose livelihood depended on results–and he inspired me in the moment to construct a rather elaborate analogy to cornstarch pudding.

When I was a child, I liked to help my mother in the kitchen, though she was often hard put to find tasks she could readily delegate. One day, when I asked to participate, she stood me on a chair by the stove and said, “Here. Stir this until it gets thick and clear.” I looked into the pot and experimentally stirred milky liquid with a wooden spoon.

I could not imagine “thick and clear” in relation to what was in the pot. My mother, a culinary Samurai, was not to be questioned, so I stood and stirred. My patience ran as thin as the substance in the pot, so I occasionally called her over to inspect. Yes, yes–she barely even looked over her shoulder–it’s fine. I would then rededicate myself to the unpromising process of stirring. Eventually, steam rose from the top and I excitedly called her again—was this it? No, not yet, but soon after the substance in the pot suddenly thickened, became glossy and—clear!

I have a vague memory of my client looking at me quizzically, but perhaps my enthusiasm for my own story somehow convinced him to give the therapeutic process a chance. Just as Jung says, the combination of our psychic realities produced change in both of us: he took some college courses and I joined a Jungian seminar. Together, we grew our individual selves.

Cornstarch pudding is proof of transformation, and I love this story for its promise: if you stir the pot–set over proper heat–you’ll get the sweet reward. Of course I’m talking about the life-giving vessel of analysis: the pot that holds, the fire that heats, and the spoon that stirs the contents so the magic of transformation can occur.

“The movement does not lead right out of the sacred spot but remains within it.”

Jung, CG, Psychology and Alchemy, Volume 12 of Jung’s Collected Works, Para. 178

In the analytic consulting room the seeker brings the ingredients—history and hope, shadow and soul. The ingredients are contained in place, process, person and purpose. Weekly, they are stirred, a circular process that serves the basic human need for a new and transformative sense of wholeness—and it yields amazingly consistent results. I wish I’d been able to say this to my long-ago client.

If you want to check this out yourself, the recipe for transformation—I mean cornstarch pudding—can be found in The Joy of Cooking, an aptly named, time-tested and trustworthy guide. You can make it any day or every day, and it is always good.


Deborah Stewart is a Jungian Analyst and Licensed Clinical Social Worker residing in Cape Cod, MA. You can find her at She is Co-Creator of This Jungian Life Podcast.  She is a member of the Philadelphia Association of Jungian Analysts, where she co-chairs and teaches in the training seminar and contributes to the Association’s blog. She is an active member of the Inter-Regional Society of Jungian Analysts and participates in other professional organizations. 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.