A woman, a lake spirit, and a skull: A Chukchee (northern Siberian) story of the animus

A Woman and a Lake-Spirit.1

The Jessup North Pacific Expedition, Edited by Franz Boas.
Memoir of the American Museum of Natural History, New York, Volume VIII.
I. Chukchee Mythology, by Waldemar Bogoras,
Leiden & New York, 1910

Click here for an audiotape of a lively class discussion and analysis of this tale

A girl refused to be married at the behest of her father. “To whom do you want to be married? You do not consent to be married to a man. Perhaps to a ke´lẹ you want to be married.”

She paid no attention (to her father’s words). At the same time, every evening she would sing outside of the tent, “From the lake, O penis, come out!”

After that she would enter (the house). Her father heard this, and said to his wife, “Oh, this daughter of ours, when we try to persuade her to marry, she quarrels with us; but to whom is she married? She is married to a ke´lẹ of the lake.” They said nothing to her.

Evening came. She went to the lake. Then she began to sing on the lake-shore. “From the lake, O penis, come out!” Then a [mere] penis appeared. She sat down upon it, and she herself copulated with it. At the dawn of the day she went home.

The woman refused to obey her father’s wish that she continue normal life. Because her connection to her father was injured, her connection to a future mate was complicated.

She could not have remained within collective consciousness, thinking and doing as her parents did, finding her mate just as her parents had done. Collective consciousness opposes individual consciousness. In Jung’s view, to be contained within collective consciousness is to be unconscious of one’s individuality. The woman had to be more individual. She bonded to a penis alone.

The penis in the lake is like King Arthur’s sword which also emerged from a lake. In that story yang emerges from the collective unconscious (the Great Mother) with the help of woman (the lady of the lake).

arthur sword lake.jungian psychoanalysis

Arthur receives Excalibur. Illustration: Daniel Maclise, In Alfred Tennyson: Poems London: Moon, 1857


Hindu myth says the same. A South Indian carving shows the kundalini serpent emerging from Shakti’s yoni.

snake yoni.jungian psychanalysis

Shakti. A manifestation of Devi, Hindu Great Goddess, shown as a temple dancer with kundalini snake emerging from her yoni. South Indian wood carving
Photo: Ajit Mookerjee, South India. In The Heart of the Goddess, Austen, H. I. Wingbow Press, Berkeley, 1990.

This represents the ‘Tantric belief that kundalini serpent energy (whose movement up the spine leads to enlightenment) is already active in women. Through prayer, worship of the woman’s body as that of the Goddess, and finally sexual union, a practitioner may merge with the Goddess, or life force, herself’ (Austin, The Heart of the Goddess p. 116)

‘The pre-Aryan Dravidian culture, which persists in South India, included a cult of the Mother Goddess which is expressed today in Shaktism and Tantrism’ (Wikipedia).


There are related images in Polynesian myth:

Maui and Tuna (Tuamotu islands). In: Maori Myths and Tribal Legends, Copyright Antony Alpers 1964. Longman Paul, Aukland; Johnson and Alcock, London.

Swimming eel.Jungian analysis

Eel. Photo: source unknown.

Hina was living with Tuna in his land beneath the sea; but she became tired of her eel-husband, also of the coldness there. One day she said to eel Tuna that she was going out to fetch food for them. Then she travelled far away, to find a new man for herself.

She came to the land of the Tane tribe. When she saw those husband-people Hina sang her chant about what she wanted:

Inland eel here–manly thing!

Eel of the sea there–watery thing!

I here am a woman for the eel-shaped one,

I have come to find him ….

Eventually Hina marries the trickster-hero, Maui. Tuna then comes to challenge Maui and Maui kills him.

Again yang appears first in the collective unconscious (the ocean). Then Hina sought a more conscious (dry land) relationship with yang.

Once emerged, yang needs differentiation. This is shown in a story from Mangaia, population 700, a coral atol in the Polynesian Cook Islands:

A young woman, Hina-moe-atu (Hina-sleeping-with-a-god) bathed in a fresh-water pool beneath a coral cliff. An eel came from beneath the rocks, slid under her and gave her pleasure with its tail. The same thing happened many times. Then, while Hina gazed at it, the eel became a handsome young island man. Many times he came to her house and they made love. Then he told her he would leave forever and what she should do. There were torrential rains. When the water rose to the threshold of her house, the eel came and laid its head in her doorway. She cut of its head with her ancestor’s sacred adze and buried it behind her house. She visited that place every day to see what would happen. A green shoot grew and became two coconut palms. The coconut palm provides food and many raw materials for the island’s technology and this is how it was created.

Technology is yang. When a physical relationship with yang was sacrificed, a spiritual relationship replaced it. Raw material from the palm was crafted for conscious purposes.

There are similar images in a Winnebago (native american) myth:

Folkloristics: an Introduction, Robert A. Georges, Michael Owen Jones, Indiana University Press (September 22, 1995) page 240.

Because of its huge size, Trickster carried his penis on his back coiled up in a box. A group of women were bathing on the other side of the lake and he dispatched a penis across the water, where it lodged in the vagina of a chief’s daughter. Only an old wise woman’s repeated stabbings with an awl could dislodge the penis. Trickster laughed as he watched from across the lake but regreted the old woman’s interference. “Why does she do that when I am trying to have intercourse?” he asked. “She has spoiled the pleasure.”

Later he sent his penis to catch a taunting chipmunk. He probed for it in the hollowed out part of a tree. When he pulled his penis out he saw that the chipmunk had bitten off pieces and made it smaller. He captured the chipmunk, found the half-chewed fragments, and transformed them into useful things like potatoes, turnips, artichokes, and rice.

Fragments of the trickster’s penis became new human technologies.

All of these stories – from several unrelated cultures – show that yang, when differentiated, expands conscious knowledge. Our Chukchee story also repeats (below) that sacrifice is required for a more conscious relationship between yang and yin.

The story of Adam and Eve is another parallel. As in the Polynesian story Hina and the Eel (above), a woman was in union with a man/serpent within a pristine unconscious world. Then they acquired knowledge from the tree (technology), were expelled from Eden (unconscious union severed), and were ashamed of their nakedness (became conscious of desire).

adam, eve, and serpent, painting.jungian therapy

Eve and the Apple. Hugo van der Goes, 1436-1482.

Vienna Diptych, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

Patriarchal cultures suppress female sexuality; the union between serpent and Eve is implied in the Bible but disguised. Hina and the Eel makes clear what the Bible disguises.

All of the above stories symbolize psychological developments in the feminine which (the feminine) is an aspect of men as well as women. The stories also show how a heroine’s journey differs from a hero’s, and thus show how a woman’s individuation may differ from that of a man.

Both yang and the seductive aspect of yin emerge from original unity; the lady of the lake, Shakti, Hina, and Eve all represent the anima. The emergence of yang and the anima makes possible consciousness, a semi-independent position from which can become aware of and related to the unconscious. The alchemical image of the inner marriage, much discussed by Jung, symbolizes a conscious relationship between yin and yang.

18th C woodcut of king and queen on sun and moon, marrying. Jungian therapy

Alchemical marriage of King and Queen. Woodcut, 18th century
Photo: source unknown.


The Chukchee story continues:

Then her father said to her, “Go and fetch some wood!” She obeyed. Meanwhile they went to the lake, he and his wife, and they deceived it (by this song): “From the lake, O penis, come out!” Then from the lake a penis was thrust out. They caught it and cut it off. Thus they killed it.

The collective opposed her unconventional liaison. To become more conscious was to betray the old order and the old order was threatened and defensive. Paradoxically, its actions served only to push the woman further into her individual path.

The wood-carrier came home. Evening was approaching. The girl quickly cooked food. Evening came. Then again she went out to the lake. Then she was secretly watched. Again she began to sing, “From the lake, O penis, come out!” Nothing appeared. Another time, “From the lake, O penis, come out!” After that she even began to cry. “Oh, how strange!” Then again, “From the lake, O penis, come out!” Nothing (appeared).

Then she cried. She sorrowed much for the penis. Her house-mates were secretly watching her. Oh, oh! but it was not there. She finished crying, and again (sang), “From the lake, O penis, come out!” She cried much, as if she were sorrowing for a dead (husband). At last she came home. She could not do anything.

The woman’s loss and grief are emphasized here because they represent a crucial change, the beginning of consciousness. Because she suffered so much she became aware of what was happening to her and her inner life began to develop. Inner work usually begins with sharp or severe suffering, with physical hurt, or perhaps illness or severe frustration, or loss, grief, betrayal, humiliation, shame, or guilt.

On the next day she went to the open country and found a bare skull.


1. This tale was left unfinished, because the next one, which was taken down earlier, and from another person, forms its continuation. The two tales form a unit; but the second half is more popular among the Chukchee, and has been found in various localities.


A Woman and a Skull.

The Jessup North Pacific Expedition, Edited by Franz Boas.
Memoir of the American Museum of Natural History, New York, Volume VIII.
I. Chukchee Mythology, by Waldemar Bogoras
. Leiden & New York, 1910


Once upon a time there was an old man and his wife. They were three in the family. Their daughter was the third. The daughter was a girl unmarried, without a husband. This daughter had a separate sleeping-room. They had two sleeping-rooms. That of the daughter was separate. She was sleeping all by herself. The parents were sleeping together.

 tundra tent females.jungian psychoanalysis

Three Inuit in front of a tent: Left to right- Utak Enookoolook, Uttuqak (Utak’s mother) and Zipporah. Low Point, Inuktitut Natlua about 50 to 60 miles from Pond Inlet at the Navy Board Inlet.

The girl’s lonely sleeping suggests her absorption into an unconscious union with yang. Her father and mother were in a semi-unconscious union (semi-unconscious because marital strife develops consciousness; Nancy Reagan maintained the image of a strife-free marriage in which she appeared to be unconscious) but theirs was a collective state, lived in human relationship, which supports collective life. Their state we call collective consciousnesswhich is something of a contradiction in terms. The girl could not accept their half asleep/half awake state which is the norm and so pursued a lonely path, seeking more.

Once upon a time the (young) woman went out and was walking about there. Then she found a bare skull lying in the wilderness. She put it into one leg of her breeches and took it home, this human skull. She carried it into her sleeping-room. There she concealed it. She made a cap, puckered (along the border). With that cap she covered the skull. Then every evening, as soon as the sleeping-rooms had been put in order, the woman sets the skull near the rear wall, then she laughs at it. And that bare skull also laughs a little.

In the wilderness, walking about, means that there is no direction provided. She has to find her own way.

Jungian analysis Jungian therapy in new york: narcissism narcissistic personality disorder

Alaskan tundra. Photo: source unknown

The woman had abandoned the collective pattern and so had to search here and there, allowing chance to offer her some other way. Her lack of direction might might have lead to creative development, or it might have lead to frustration and emptiness. Though her situation was dangerous, nevertheless it is the only way for an individuation journey: there can be no blueprint. Whenever we follow a spiritual path laid out in a system of thought, Christianity, Buddhism, 12-step programs, or any other system, we are side-stepping our own individuality. Jung was insistent that his approach to psychology was not a system but a radical departure from system. He said “Thank God I am not a Jungian.”

The bare skull was a naked, deathly, head spirit, a deathly aspect of mind. It symbolizes the power of mind to destroy life.

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Human skull.

Photo: source unknown

This was the plaything she had taken into her bed. It would not create new life with her – she could not conceive from it – but it (such thoughts) entertained her and made her laugh. Since the bed is a place of warmth and sometimes sex, the cold skull was the more sterile and deathly by contrast.

The skull also hints at a possible development, from the purely physical penis to a phallic power that is more symbolic, more located in awareness. It suggests that, for her, yang might evolve into a higher level of consciousness. But first she had to deal with the destructive tendency of her mind.

By crafting a cap for the skull, the woman was playing a game, as with a doll. Together with her laughter, her game suggests that she had begun symbolic play, a repetition which confirms the possibility that the skull might lead her towards symbolic thought. Symbolic thought is necessary for a relationship with the unconscious, hence for consciousness, and hence for psychological individuation.

“Hm!” Her mother heard it, and said, “What may she be laughing at, this one?”

“I am laughing only at a cap, newly made and adorned.” Thus she deceives her mother. Then every time when she awakes in the morning, she puts the skull in the bottom of the bag, lest they should find it.

Her deception of her mother also shows that she had left the collective: she no longer was guided by her mother’s experience; she kept her inner life secret, as she had to if it was to grow. Again these are repeated hints that she was on a path to individuation.

Once, when the girl was again walking outside, her mother took out the contents of her daughter’s bag-pillow.1 She was looking for something, and therefore searched in the bag-pillow of her daughter. Suddenly she caught that skull by the mouth and took it out. She was startled. “Oh, oh, oh, horror! horror!2 What has become of our daughter? How very strange! Our [quite] unmarried daughter has become a ke´lẹ, she has become an abomination, an object of fear.3 Oh, wonder! what is she now? Not a human being. In truth, she is a ke´lẹ.”

The collective hates and fears individuation, seeing it as a violation of the natural order, not seeing that it is a part of what nature intends.

The father presently said, “Oh, let us leave! No need of her. You speak to her to-morrow, and invite her to a walk outside with you.”

Just as before (the mother) filled her bag-pillow and closed it in the same manner. The girl came back, it grew dark, and they lay down to sleep. Again she set (the skull) in the evening before herself, and laughed at it, “Hi, hi!” And the other answered, “Hm!”

“How wonderful you are, O woman! Why are you laughing so, being alone, quite alone in your sleeping-room?” — “No, indeed! I am only laughing at a cap, newly made and adorned.”

On the next day the mother said, “Let us go and fetch fuel.” They gathered fuel, cut wood, and broke off (branches of) bushes. Then the mother said, “The wood-binding is too short. I will go and get some more. Surely, I shall be back soon.” — “No, indeed, I will go.” — “No, I.” — “Ah, well, go and get it.”

So the mother went home. When she came home, her husband had broken camp and loaded a boat. He loaded the tent on the boat. They were setting off for the opposite shore. They left their daughter and cast her off. When they had almost finished, the girl could not wait any longer; therefore she went to look. She was moving along the steep river-bank when she saw that boat loaded, and (her father’s) work finished. Oh, she ran on and rushed to them. Just as she came, they went aboard and her father pushed off. The girl held on to the steering-paddle, but her father struck her with a paddle4on the wrist. So she let go of the steering-paddle. They left her, and set off far away for the other shore.

Two men in hooded parkas landing kayaks on a gravel beach, Noatak village. Photo: Edward S. Curtis, 1927, copyright 1929. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division. 

The parents tricked, betrayed and abandoned the child. We are more accustomed to stories in which the child sets off on a journey abandoning the parents. Perhaps this is characteristic of nomads – the collective pattern is for the family move on. But the image also has symbolic meaning. It conveys the remorseless energy of the collective; it is wrongheaded, offtrack, but it continues hellbent and abhors anyone who will not go along. So we have foolish wars and the relentless destruction of our ecosystem.

The daughter was left quite alone at the camp-site. Even though a house had been there, there was now nothing at all, no house. Therefore she began to weep, and put that bare skull outside. Then she pushed it with her foot, and said, weeping, “This one is the cause5 of (it) all. What has he done, the bad one? They have left me, they have cast me off. Oh, dear!”

Then the bare skull been to speak, “You make me suffer, indeed. Do not push me with your foot. Better let me go and procure a body for myself, only do not push me so. Go and make a wood-pile, make a fire, then throw me into the flames.” — “Oh, all right! Then, however, I shall quite alone. I can talk with you at least.” — “Obey me, indeed. You are suffering, quite vainly we suffer together. I shall procure a body for myself.”

Oh, she made a fire. It blazed up. Then the skull spoke to her again, and said, “Well, now, throw me into the fire! Then stay with head drawn back into the collar of your dress, in this manner, and do not look up. Indeed, no matter who may look upon you, or what voices you may hear, do not look up!”

Jungian analysis Jungian therapy in new york: narcissism narcissistic personality disorder

Campfire. Photo: source unknown. 

She obeyed, threw (the skull) into the fire, then staid with head drawn back and bent down. Thus she remained. Then the fire blazed up with a noise for a long time. Then it went out.

Of all chemical processes with which we are familiar, fire is perhaps the most dramatic. ‘Earth’ is completely transformed into ‘air’. That which seems cold and dead suddenly becomes mercurical, illuminating and quickening life all around it. Fire symbolizes passionate affect: passion blazes up in us and may lead us into irrevocable action.

She remained with her head bent down, then she began to hear a noise, a clattering of runners; then also, “Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh!” from a herd; loud voices, “Ah, ah, ah; ah, ah, ah!” and whistling. Then a caravan clattered by, still she continued to sit with head bent down. The clattering came nearer, and the cries, “Waġo´, yaġo´!” Then a man called her from the front. “Well, there, what are you doing? Oh, she looked up. A large caravan was coming. The herd was quite big. The man, her husband, was standing in front of her, clad in a shirt made of thin furs, in the best of skins.

They built a camp, and put up the tent. He was quite rich in reindeer. Then, in truth, she began to feel quite well.

Male caribou, Alaska. Photo: Dean Biggins, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Division of Public Affairs, WO3772-023 

The skull had transformed into a whole potent man. Why did this woman achieve such a positive transformation when, in a parallel tale, a woman’s involvement with a skull ended so badly? That woman longed to rejoin her people but she never could: instead she became the first spider (click here for The woman who became a spider on this website).

The woman who became a spider did not first copulate with a penis-spirit and she only talked and laughed with the skull; she did not make toys for it. She was passive, a couch potato. After her father skewered the skull through one eye and threw him out, she argued with him, calling him foolish and mistaken, expressing thoughts more than feelings, then left, promising never to return. Thus she she did not engage her parents with feeling but instead acted out by abandoning them. She expressed no feeling at leaving her parents and not much feeling about the skull either: when the skull/man refused to rejoin her she quickly abandoned him too. She was stubborn, refusing to listen when he warned her that the route she had chosen would preclude her ever returning to earth: she lacked a reverent attitude towards the unconscious. When later she had sex with the moon-spirit she was passive; it was all his initiative.

In the present story the woman was related to her body, her passion, and her creativity. She began by taking the initiative to copulate repeatedly with the lake spirit; then, when it was killed, she grieves bitterly. She created a cap for the skull and played creative games with it – related to it actively – she was not a couch potato. She helped her mother gather fuel and tried to hold onto her parents – fought for relationship – when they paddled away. When her parents abandoned her she wept, grieved, and got angry at the skull. She also listened to the skull and, after protesting, followed its directions: thus she had a reverent attitude towards the unconscious.

In all these ways this woman was like Hinauri in How Hinauri found her second husband, like Hina in Rona Long-teeth (both on this website) and like Hina in Hina and the Eel (see above) each of whom also achieved a fertile relationship with the animus. So, in the present story, it was the woman’s positive attitude, her full-blooded engagement in life, and her willingness to sacrifice the skull to fiery passion, which led to a good end.

In the beginning of the cold, early in the fall, (the parents of the woman) saw smoke rising. “Come, say, what settlement have we noticed just now? Come, let us go and visit it.” They crossed with a boat, her parents, the father with the mother, “Oh, sit down in the outer tent. I shall cook some food for you.” She prepared for cooking, and filled the kettle with meat and fat.

While she was cooking, she broke some thigh-bones to extract the marrow. When the meal was finished, she gave them the marrow (with the bone splinters). “Eat this marrow!” They ate the marrow, but the thigh-bone splinters stuck in their throats and pierced them. Thus she killed them, and they died.

Finished. I have killed the wind.6


The woman killed the parents who would exploit her. This is a repetition which confirms my interpretation about the woman’s active attitude. She engaged them again, fiercely and decisively.

[Told by Rịke´wġi, a Maritime Chukchee man, at Mariinsky Post, in October, 1900.]



1. The pillows of the sleeping-rooms serve as bags. Compare Vol. VII of this series, p. 171.

2. Keke´ is an interjection of fear, used by women.

3. The root of this word signifies “superstitious fear.” It is also applied to the peculiar sounds supposed to be characteristic of the voice of the spirits (cf. Volume VII of this series, p. 437).

4. “Genuine paddle,” in contrast to the large and broad steering-paddle.

5. {Is the cause.} ẹḷo´n ŭm ê´tịm is used as an expression of spite, as a kind of compound interjection.

6. On the shores inhabited by the Chukchee, wind and bad weather continue for weeks, preventing all hunting and travelling. During those days the people stay in the inner room of the house and while away the time of unavoidable leisure by telling endless stories. The story-telling is considered a magic means of laying the wind. This idea is expressed in the last sentence. The same idea prevails among some American tribes (see, for instance, Franz Boas, Chinook Texts, p. 112).