Healing narcissistic injury and addiction: Tahaki of the red skin.



wood carving male. jungian analysis

Male Figure. Mangareva, French Polynesia, Wood. 18th-early 19th century.
Copyright © 2000–2009 The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Organization in the personality

Jung found empirically that dreams, myths, legends and fairy tales all show how the personality is organized. In this tale the text itself affirms its psychological purpose…. (see the appendix at the end of this article for a discussion of organization and archetypes).

Method of interpretation

I interpret a legend according to the logic of its structure and, as Jung taught, by staying close to the details of each image. I look for internal repetitions, in which a similar interpretation is suggested by a series of different details or by a series of separate images. I compare the story with similar stories.

I check my interpretation against clinical observation. Does the tale, thus interpreted, describe what I see repeatedly with my patients? If my interpretation satisfies all these criteria then it ‘rings true’ for me.

I use similar criteria for interpreting dreams except that, when the dreamer is present, the interpretation must ring true for the dreamer. There must be an assent from the dreamer’s unconscious, a visceral reaction, like a flush, or tears, or a sudden relaxation of tense muscles, or a sigh, or an involuntary ‘Oh yes!’.

If my interpretation is not confirmed by the dreamer’s visceral assent, then I assume it is wrong, in content or in emphasis or in timing. By ‘timing’ I mean that the dreamer is not ready for the insight. Jung showed that dreams seem to offer information which is presently useful, either to the dreamer or to the therapist.

Another criterion for interpreting a dream is that the interpretation should have a constructive effect on the dreamer’s life. The same is true for fairy tales: I ask whether my interpretations help myself, or my students, or my patients, to grow.

Thus the knowledge which I develop around this legend is, as Jung showed, like the knowledge of a gardener with a green thumb. A gardener cannot prove his or her ideas but tests them repeatedly by trial and error. If you wish to succeed in a garden you need a gardener’s knowledge.

To use another analogy, these interpretations are like interpretations of poetry. A poem’s meaning cannot be proven scientifically, but its meaning may be subtle and deep in a way which science is not.

Of course the story can be interpreted in other ways. I try to use the word ‘suggests’ to convey this but when I use ‘is’ or ‘represents’ these also should be understood as possibilities not absolutes.


An outline of the Tahitian legend

Hina’s two sons are Punga and Hema. Because Punga refuses to delouse her, she curses him to have a common wife. He and his wife then have common sons, the first named Kahiri.

But Hema does delouse Hina and she helps him to capture his wife, Huauri, from the world of the gods. Hema and Huauri’s son is Tahaki.

Because Huauri teaches Tahaki the gods’ techniques for making balls and toy canoes, he wins competitions with Kahiri and Kahiri’s brothers who, out of envy, beat him and leave him for dead in the sand.

Shamed by this, Hema enters the underworld and is covered by shit in the gods’ dunny. But Tahaki is revived by Huauri and becomes an island-creating giant.

Then Tahaki and Kahiri journey together to the underworld to rescue Hema. They meet their blind ancestress, Kuhi. She is about to eat Kahiri when Tahaki stops her and restores her sight. She directs them to Hema.

Tahaki embraces filthy Hema, restores his eyes which the gods had gouged out, and brings him back to the human world.

In what follows I give the complete text of the tale, interpreting the symbols as they are introduced. This version of the story is from Antony Alpers’ Legends of the South Seas.

The great mother

Hina remained with No’a in his house. When a certain time had arrived she bore a son, and they-two named their first child Punga. After that Hina had another son whose name was Hema, and no more children were born to them.

Hina is the grandmother. In a preceding tale she was the daughter of all-devouring Rona but here she has assumed Rona’s role as mother. Rona, Hina, Huauri and also the ancestress in the underworld, Kuhi, all suggest what Eric Neuman called ‘the great mother’, the goddess who was worshipped in many cultures as the source both of all life and of all death. In some images she has many breasts which emphasizes that she nurtures infants indiscriminately, that her mode of engagement is unconscious and impersonal.

The great mother is like the earth because the earth both nurtures and reabsorbs all life indiscriminately. Psychologically she represents what Jung called the collective unconscious, psychology in its original, undifferentiated, all-encompassing state (my definition). She is the source from which all psychological development emerges.


ivory figurine of woman. jungian analysis
Venus of Hohle Fels.
Mammoth ivory; excavated in 2008 from a cave in southwestern Germany.
At least 35,000 years old. This is the earliest known depiction of a human.
Photo: H. Jensen. Copyright: Universität Tübingen.


clay figure of woman. jungian therapy
Large female enthroned with lions or leopards.
Catalhoyuk, Anatolia (Turkey), 8000BC.
Cybele, and the earlier Hitite goddess Kubaba (related to
Kybele) were often shown enthroned with a lion or lions.
Photo: Archiwum “Roweromaniaka wielkopolskiego”


female outline temple walls. jungian therapy
Mnjandra temple.
Malta, 3000 BCE. These ancient temples contained
statues of the Great Mother.
Photo: source unknown.


statue, woman many breasts.Jungian therapy
The Great Artemis
Cult statue from Ephesus (Turkey). 2nd Century AD.
The temple to Artemis was built around 650 BC on the
site of the temple to Anatolian Cybele.
Photo: source unknown.


Consciousness begins

Those sons of Hina grew well, they became expert surf-riders. One day when the surf was good and they-two were leaving for the reef, Hina asked her first-born son to pick her head-lice for her. But Punga grumbled, and refused. Then said Hina: ‘Your wife will not be anyone of note.’

She therefore asked Hema to delouse her hair, and Hema put his surfboard down and did that service for her. And his mother said: ‘Your wife, O Hema, will be a woman of quality.’

Afterwards Punga took a wife, who was no one in particular, and she bore him five sons. The first-born son was Kahiri nui apua, and he and his brothers were common persons. But Hema, helped by Hina, found a wife who was connected with the gods.


In a variant of this tale from Mangareva, Hina orders her sons to eat the lice they find: Hema eats a red louse (red is a rare and special color in Polynesia) while Punga eats a common black louse. A similar image reoccurs later in our Tahitian version of the tale, this time between Huauri, Hema’s wife, and her son:

In a secret place where none could see she made Tahaki open his mouth above the crown of her head, and breathe. Then her iho entered into him, and he felt great workings in his heart.

Consciousness emerges out of the collective unconscious as we mature and returns to it again when we forget, or sleep, or – symbolically – when we die.
It emerges through the integration into awareness of archetypal possibilities. Collective consciousness is not the same as individual consciousness, though the two inform each other: collective consciousness is the common awareness of the community while individual consciousness allows a person to know him- or herself as distinct from the community.

Individual consciousness has many layers and evolves over a lifetime. It includes all of the following – and more:

being literally awake rather than asleep;

recognizing that one’s mirror image is an image of oneself (some other mammals can also do this);

recognizing that each person has a mind whose thoughts can be private as, for example, in being able to keep secrets from one’s mother; hence the excitement of hide-and-seek; (a gorilla or a chimpanzee also seems to know that another individual has a private mind);

being alert and attentive, rather than blinded by fantasy or daydreams;

being aware that one may project one’s own desires, feelings, thoughts, and potentials onto another person, as, for example, in a crush;

being aware of one’s attitudes, thoughts, feelings and impulses – constructive and destructive – and being able to talk about them;

being able to integrate intellectual awareness with bodily and emotional awareness;

having a sense of humor, being playful;

being creative;

being ambitious and assertive;

understanding, empathizing with, and respecting others;

loving and committing to both self and others while being aware of and respecting boundaries;

being aware that one is bound to everybody and everything by love, that one is part of a larger whole;

having an individual, ongoing dialogue with the collective unconscious by interpreting dreams or through other symbol systems. (A religion provides an ongoing connection with unconscious symbols but it tends not to support an individual dialogue).

Because a major function of consciousness is to adapt us to the practical world, consciousness tends to narrow and rigidify. To remain vital it must have an ongoing dialogue with archetypal possibilities. This is the symbolic meaning of Hema’s marriage to Huauri who is from the world of the gods.

Our story emphasizes that Hema is special but Punga is common. We will see that Hema – and his son, Tahaki – represent developing consciousness. The point is that individual consciousness is not normal: individual consciousness challenges the norms of collective consciousness. Jung said that the psyche is aristocratic meaning that individual consciousness is an attribute of leadership.

Hema eats Hina’s head-lice and Tahaki in turn breathes in Huauri’s iho (spirit) from the crown of her head. Because Hina’s lice and Huauri’s iho are the products of their minds, they suggest the potential for consciousness. This suggests that the development of consciousness is anticipated in the unconscious.

Hina’s instructions to Hema on how to capture Huauri are an internal repetition which again suggests that the unconscious foresees the development of consciousness.

In Hebrew mythology the words ‘Let there be light’ – light is a metaphor for consciousness – imply that consciousness springs out of Jahweh’s foreknowledge of it. The polynesian images are more earthy, perhaps because polynesian culture is more closely tied to nature.

Why is this emphasized in the tale? Why is it important? Because it is the foundation of what makes life meaningful to us. Those who use traditional religious language would say the development of consciousness fulfills God’s plan. I would use secular language: consciousness fulfills an archetypal potential of the self-organized dynamic system which is the personality.

I argue that these two statements – though made in different languages – have identical meaning. Both the inner and the outer world are created by self-organization under the guidance of archetypal possibilites, which are accurately – though metaphorically – portrayed by the images of gods. This why most (perhaps all?) mythological systems show that gods created the world. For more explanation, see my paper on this website The three gorillas.

Developing consciousness, therefore, is not an empty diversion like playing bingo or accumulating material possessions; it is worth devoting a lifetime to. This is what gives me the incentive to write this analysis and perhaps gives you the incentive to read it.

Hema captures Huauri

It happened in this manner:

One day Hema’s mother told him: ‘Go, my son, in the coolness of early morning, to the east bank of the Vai po’o po’o. You must dig a hole beside that stream and hide yourself, and then a beautiful young woman will come there from the world below to bathe. You will find her very strong, but she has long hair, so you must catch her from behind by that. You will need to carry her past four houses on the road before you put her down: then she will come.’

Hema therefore did this in the way his mother said. He dug his hiding-place beside the stream, and as soon as it was light a young woman of great beauty came up from an opening in the earth, her name was Huauri. Before she entered the pool to bathe she squatted to relieve herself, and Hema watched her from his pit; and the jerks in his ure were strong to have that woman.

Then she dived into the pool and swam about, and rinsed her long black hair, and Hema waited for his chance. Then Huauri came out on the bank and wrung her hair, and Hema sprang. He took a twist of Huauri’s hair around his hand, he grabbed her in his arms and carried her away, she kicked her legs.

When they had passed two houses on the road, Huauri stopped her kicking. She said to Hema, ‘Put me down, then I will walk.’ He therefore did so, and she rushed away–she darted to her opening in the earth, it opened for her, she was gone.

When Hema told his mother this she frowned and said, ‘But I told you: you must carry her past four houses on the road, my son. Then she will come.’

Therefore Hema went next morning to the same place, and Huauri came to bathe. He seized her by the hair once more, and he carried her past four houses, and all the way to his house.

It was because people of this world had seen her in Hema’s arms and therefore looked upon her as his wife that that spirit-woman consented to remain.

Huauri bore a son to Hema, and when this son was born she found that he was ehu, auburn-haired, and that his skin was the color of kura. Therefore she named him Tahaki kirikura.


Hema is choosing a young woman who he wants to marry. He begins to distinguish one woman from another, that is, he becomes more conscious of the feminine as an other whose qualities he can know.

Because he wants an individual relationship with Huauri, he must become more aware of his own mind as distinct from hers. She tricks him by telling him he has carried her enough. He forgets – and Hina has to remind him – that he must carry her past four houses. Note how directly and economically the tale shows us that its subject matter is consciousness.

figurine of woman. jungian therapy
Female figurine with pannier headdress from Harappa. 
Baked clay. Harappa, Indus civilization, western south asia: 2600 to 1700 BCE.
Photograph: J. Mark Kenoyer. Copyright Harappa 1995-2001.


Hema has to capture or steal Huauri from the world of the gods. As a goddess Huauri represents the archetypal feminine but she suggests the anima aspect of the archetype – attraction, inspiration, entanglement in life – rather than the mother aspect. The point is that the unconscious beguiles consciousness, entangles it and inspires it to create.

The animus serves a similar function, particularly in a woman’s psychology (see How Hinauri found her second husband and Diirawic on this website).

By stealing Huauri Hema drags a quantity of her potential into the land of mortals, that is, into consciousness. The idea that archetypal potential must be stolen for consciousness is universal – another example is the theft of fire by Prometheus. In our story this theft is a repetition, another image which shows that Hema is becoming more conscious.

The struggle between Hema and Huauri shows that it is hard to incarnate archetypal potential. When we dream of an archetypal figure and then struggle to assimilate its meaning we are changed irrevocably.

Hema and Huauri’s son, Tahaki, has red skin – again red is a rare and special color translated here as ‘red’ in order to convey its significance to Polynesians. Consciousness is the personality’s highest achievement and this is suggested by Tahaki’s red skin.


Tahaki is attacked by envy

Tahaki played in childhood with Kahiri his elder cousin, and with those other sons of Punga. They played at flying kites and spinning tops, at sailing toy canoes and riding surfboards on the reef; they also played at offering a person to the gods, they used the man-long stem of a banana tree, and fire. After a time Tahaki and Kahiri lived as brothers, for Hema and Huauri became Kahiri’s feeding-parents.

One day Tahaki’s cousins made round balls of sun-dried clay and bowled them fast on level ground. The ball that lasts the longest is the one that wins this game, the first that cracks is out. Huauri showed Tahaki how to mix fine sand with his clay to make it even, in the manner of her people of the world below, and when Tahaki had made his ball he ran to join his cousins. They had begun their game but when they saw his ball they cried, ‘Come on, Tahaki, have a throw!’ He replied, ‘Not so, I will wait my turn. The first must be first, and last must come in last.’ So they played by the rules, and young Tahaki won the game. His well-made ball outlasted all the rest, and there was jealousy of him.

At the season of the south-east winds those cousins played totoie; they made toy canoes of sharpened sticks, with sails of plaited leaf and leaflet rudders at the stern. Then they ran down to the cool lagoon to make them race. They swam them to the starting place, then they let them go and shouted all the chants they knew, to make them race more quickly to the beach.

Tahaki’s mother showed him how to make totoie from a pithy stem. Its lightness made it fly before the wind and so Tahaki won – he played correctly, and he won.

One day therefore his cousins grabbed Tahaki and they beat him up. He lay quite still, so they left him buried in the sand, they thought him dead. But Huauri knew; by her magic powers she knew what had been done to him. She therefore dug him out and brought him back to life – and this occurred again. At other times those cousins did the same.


Because play is not tied to practical consequences we can use it to explore archetypal possibilities. A culture tends to be renewed by its children’s play as, for example, the play of computer geeks has transformed our present culture.

Huauri’s magical techniques are a metaphor for consciousness. Consciousness uses special technical knowledge to enhance our performance and to make new distinctions that open new levels of understanding.

Tahaki is creative because Huauri connects him to the archetypes. An artist delves into the unconscious where the archetypes have free play and bring back into consciousness new archetypal possibilities. These enliven collective consciousness which otherwise grows stale and rigid.

Tahaki’s cousins envy him, gang up on him, beat him and leave him for dead buried in sand. This is how the collective responds to creative insights. It tries to preserve the old verities by forming a gang – in gangs we regress to a lower level of consciousness – and burying the disruptive knowledge.

In western tradition Christ was killed by the priests and a judge in an attempt to bury his insights. In this regard Tahaki is a Polynesian version of Christ.

This cycle occurs within us when we forget or ignore a dream, trying to deny its challenge, or when we avoid a creative impulse. Our own conscious personality is threatened by our creativity and tries to bury it.

Since a baby is newly conscious and newly creative, a baby may evoke envy in its mother. Next I discuss Hema’s narcissistic injury, but what I say here about envy and the injury it causes applies equally to the effects of maternal envy. I will discuss maternal envy later, when it is portrayed in the legend.


Hema’s shame: narcissistic injury

Because of the unkindness of those cousins toward Tahaki, Hema, his father, became deeply aggrieved and he left this world. From deepest shame he went below to live; he descended to the Po, and was degraded by the gods. They put him in the dunny where they went to squat, and he lived in that place. But Huauri remained, she continued dwelling in this world of light.


Hema seems distant and unrelated to his son. He does not talk to Tahaki, comfort him, or try to stop the beatings. A child often has to absorb abuse in silence. If the child could talk about the abuse, express the hurt, and be listened to with empathy, then the hurt could be assimilated and released.

The combination of abuse and silence causes psychological damage. The child is traumatized which means that the memories and feelings are not assimilated; the best the child can do is encapsulate them with defenses.

The silence between Hema and Tahaki repeats the image of unconsciousness. Father and son become even more cut off from each other when Hema is buried in silence. Everything is acted out.

Why does the story emphasize that Hema’s shame is of the gods, or archetypal?

Tahaki is marked from birth by the color of his skin; later he is marked by his special knowledge and by winning competitions. If his specialness had been mirrored – seen and appreciated – by his parents and peers then he could accept it as an integral part of himself.

But his specialness evokes envy rather than recognition and he – in our story, his father – blames himself for this and feels ashamed. The greater his specialness, therefore, the deeper his shame.

Since every baby newly incarnates archetypal possibilities, every baby is special and needs that specialness to be mirrored. An envious mother may withhold mirroring.

All of this means that narcissistic injury is universal. Because we incarnate archetypal possibilities – because we are human – we are all prone to injured self-esteem.

When a person’s – or a baby’s – self-esteem is injured he or she may defend against the injury by splitting. One half of the self feels shamed and degraded: small, defective, inadequate, dirty, worthless, depressed. This shamed part is denied or split from the other, compensatory half of the self which feels grandiose, that is, untouched, omnipotent, larger than, better than, above it all, not connected to grounded reality.

The grandiose part preserves the person’s sense of hope and creative possibility, that there is something of inestimable value in the person, that he or she is special. All of this is portrayed by the split between Hema and Tahaki.

Hema’s god-like shame also suggests negative grandiosity which means that, in the face of injury, a person defends his or her specialness by feeling specially degraded, the worst ‘piece of shit’ there ever was. When a person has such a defense he or she compulsively recreates degradation and shame in order to reassert specialness.

A narcissistically injured person may be preoccupied by grandiose fantasies, of winning the lottery, for example, or winning battles, or of fame, or of shameful humiliation. The person may avoid intimacy and commitment because these contradict the grandiose fantasies. He or she may avoid education, career success, creative work, buying a home, having friends, having fun. He or she may compulsively seek attention, dominate conversations, devalue others, and become enraged when disappointed or frustrated. While the injured person may be unconscious of most of this, the people around him or her are likely to see it.


A specific traumatic event?

Sometimes grandiosity is a defense against the hurt of a specific traumatic event, perhaps abuse, abandonment, a death, or the break-up of the family, or a disastrous relocation.

In therapy that event must be identified and made conscious with all its memories, associations and feelings. Much time can be wasted if a traumatic event is missed.


Giant Tahaki

Tahaki excelled in all he did because his mother imparted to him her knowledge from the world below. In a secret place where none could see she made Tahaki open his mouth above the crown of her head, and breathe. Then her iho entered into him, and he felt great workings in his heart. Then lightening flashed from Tahaki’s armpits, and those who saw this knew that he was of the gods.

Tahaki the son of Hema grew to chiefly greatness in his mother’s care. All about him was sacred, wherefore his name is told to all who are of rank and would excel.

A giant chief he was, his shoulders were above the heads of other men, and when he walked the earth his tread left footprints in the rock.

Kura, the sacred color–that is the color of Tahaki of the red Skin. All those birds and flowers and fish that have red parts have them from him.


Tahaki’s “name is told to all who are of rank and would excel.” This says explicitly that the legend guides the psychological development of exceptional people.

The polynesians were familiar with the earthquakes and active volcanoes which formed their young islands. The sharp peaks seen here are due to a recent eruption.


pacific island lagoon. jungian therapy
Bora Bora
Society Islands (which include Tahiti), French Polynesia
Photo: source unknown.

Tahaki stills the land

Tahaki’s first great deed for this land was the cutting of the sinews of the fish.

Tahiti the fish was moving no more, it was turned into land. But men to cut the sinews were required, so that Tahiti nui might remain forever stable in the world.

No mortal men came forward who could do this work. No gods there were who would assist! But then Tahaki took the adze, he took up the immense adze called Te pa hurunui.

Haapapura’ a whenua was the ceremony!

Te pa hurunui was the adze!

Tahaki was the chief!

polished stone. jungian therapy
Tubuai adze
Taputapuatea, French Polynesia
Photo: source unknown.

Immense Tahaki took the adze in his hands and said:
‘This is the adze Te pa hurunui, for the ceremony of Tinorua Lord of Ocean, to cut the sinews of this great fish Tahiti. The sinews must be cut, well cut! That the growth of the land might find room, that the lowering blackness might pass through, that the wind-with-clouds might pass through, that the wind might sweep around the mountains, that the mountains might be walked upon by man – all for heralds of the awe-inspiring sky!’

Then the adze became possessed, it became light in Tahaki’s hands and he chopped the land, he chopped the sinews of the fish.

Then all the warriors who were with Tahaki did not cease their chopping until the sinews of the throat were severed. Then the head of the fish was drawn far back and there remained still land, unmoving plain, between the two great mountain-ranges of Tahiti nui mare’are’a – yes, of Great Tahiti of the red Haze.

So was formed Tara vao, that narrow part of land which joins Tahiti and Taiarapu. So was completed the cutting of the sinews of the fish, that Great Tahiti of the red Haze might be forever firm, that it might have fixedness in the world.

Afterwards Tahaki crossed the sea and rendered stable other lands. He took his shoulder-spear, the spear no other man could lift; he took his paddle which no other man could wield, and many wooden fish-hooks also which were magic at his touch; and in the great canoe named Rainbow he sailed with warriors north-west to Mo’ orea, and he cut the sinews of that land also, that it might remain forever firm……


Tahaki stabilized shifting islands with an ancestral adze. Stable land is a platform: it is cultivated and upon it daily routines are established. It suggests consciousness in which names, relationships and meanings become fixed, whereas these are fluid in the world of dreams.

An adze is made of stone and has a cutting edge. It suggests phallic power – the power to make distinctions – which is also directed, hard, and discriminating. The adze is enlivened by a chant just as consciousness is enhanced by distinctions made by language. The ancestral adze and traditional chants mean that Tahaki’s culture supports him in his task. All this repeats and confirms our interpretation that Tahaki creates consciousness.

After Hema was shamed, Tahaki became god-like. Two Greek myths show the reverse sequence, that god-likeness leads to shame: Prometheus, a giant who stole fire from the gods, was chained by Zeus to a rock to have his liver eaten every day by an eagle; when Icarus flew too close to the sun his wings melted and he fell to earth.

eagle eats man's liver.jungian therapy
Jacob Jordaens, Cologne, 1640, Wallraf-Richartz Museum



farming, icarus falls.jungian therapy
The Fall of Icarus
Pieter Bruegel the Elder,1560.
Musée des Beaux Arts, Brussels
All three figures, Prometheus, Icarus, and Tahaki, assume god-like powers, and each is degraded to a god-like or inhuman extreme. In narcissistic injury a person is tortured by oscillating between inhuman extremes.


Grandiosity and creativity

Tahaki was creative not only in children’s games but also in creating stable land or consciousness. Prometheus’ gift of fire was a major creative act. These legends show that creativity is closely linked to grandiosity.

If parents see and admire their child’s ‘grand’ accomplishments but accept their child unconditionally, on good days and bad, then the child incorporates both admiration and acceptance and develops a human-scale, unified sense of self. The child – and later the adult – can then accept his or her own limitations and sometimes feel grand.

To the extent that the child’s parents are narcissistically injured, however, they need the child to be grand and reject the child when he or she fails. Then the child’s sense of self splits into shamed and grandiose parts.

The sense of self is protected from further injury by the split but also is prevented from learning through dialogue with the environment: its maturation stops.

Whatever the child creates is an expression of the child’s self. The child expects his or her parents to value it. If the parents do not value it then, again, the child’s sense of self may split into shamed and grandiose parts.

Then, when the child is older, being creative will stimulate grandiosity and activate the split. Because grandiosity makes the person feel crazy, he or she may fear being creative and avoid it.

Tahaki fulfills the potential of his grandiosity with earth-bound creative accomplishments.

If a person is to heal a narcissistic split, he or she must do likewise. He or she must sacrifice the fantasy of limitless potential and transform it into creative accomplishments which, being real, are limited.

The child’s sense of self naturally includes feelings of omnipotence. If the child’s sense of self becomes split these archaic feelings are preserved as grandiosity. Under favorable circumstances, the sense of self does not split and omnipotence is transformed gradually – in the face of incremental, tolerable frustration – into realistic pride and ambition.

It is much harder to achieve that transformation as an adult. The sacrifice of grandiose fantasy evokes rage which the person has to understand and endure. If the rage is not understood, it sabotages real accomplishment in order to preserve grandiosity.

For an artist each artistic product is a small universe within which he or she is the omnipotent creator. The artist must desire this omnipotence. But, to be healthy, the artist must also accept him- or herself as an ordinary, limited person. The artist needs to move flexibly between the omnipotent position and the ordinary position, not over-identifying with either.

Alcoholism is common among artists in part because an artist has difficulty with this transition. Alcohol allows an artist to maintain a grandiose feeling when he or she is not being creative.


Tahaki and Kahiri face Kuhi

After these acts were complete Tahaki determined to go in search of his father Hema, to restore him to this world of light. He therefore asked his mother, ‘Which is the way to the world below?’ and she promised to tell him as soon as he was ready to depart.

Then Kahiri asked that he might go as well, and Tahaki gave consent. And Huauri, when the time was propitious, caused the earth to open for them. They went down through that hole, those cousins, and they travelled many days through the long damp caves that lead toward the Po.

At last they reached an open space and there they saw a house, it was the house of their ancestor, an old blind woman named Kuhi.

Kuhi was sitting on the ground counting yams, she was talking to herself.

Then Kahiri as a mortal felt great hunger for that food, for his journey had been long. When Kuhi had counted ten yams they took one away, and Kuhi, finding there were only nine, exclaimed, ‘Who is this little maggot who has come here to the Po?’

Then Tahaki feared for his brother, and he answered in his chiefly voice, ‘It is I, Tahaki,’ and the old ancestor said, ‘Oh then, be seated properly.’

Then Kuhi drew out a splendid fish-hook, it was dressed with finest kura and its line had magic strength. Tahaki warned Kahiri by a sign that he should never touch that hook, but Kahiri did so, he could not resist its red sheen.

Then Kuhi had that common person on her hook!

‘Aha, my food!’ old Kuhi cried, and Kahiri tried in vain to run from her, he feared her open mouth and her distending belly. But he only ran in circles while she pulled on the line with all her strength.


bone hook.jungian therapy
Fishhook, mother-of-pearl, Tahiti.
Photo copyright: 2007 National Museum of Australia
Tahaki withdraws energy from his grand outer-world activities and devotes that energy to the underworld, to introspection: he uses his conscious strength to analyse his narcisistic injury. He discovers the ultimate source of envy, the terrible mother.


The blind, devouring mother

Kuhi has blind eyes, an open mouth, and a distended stomach. She sees all living things with cold eyes, as no more than fodder for herself. She absorbs everything into herself like a whirlpool.


wooden mask.jungian therapy
Tribal mask
Ruben Museum of Art, New York
To the extent that a mother feels internally dead she may, out of envy, attack her baby’s liveliness by withholding.

When her baby tries to engage her, she may respond with a cold stare; later she may greet her child’s accomplishments with the same cold stare. The child internalizes negation. The child – later the adult – reacts to success by negating it and then reacts to the negation with rage. Success therefore evokes unconscious rage which undermines the success. The person will underachieve.

All of this maintains the narcissistic split. Unable to accept success, the person feels worthless and compensates with grandiose fantasy. Narcissistic injury which began at such an early level has pervasive effects and heals slowly, even with skilled treatment.

Such injury may manifest in somatic disease. Rheumatoid arthritis, for example, is sometimes – in part – an expression of early narcissistic rage. The symptoms of such disease may be dramatically reduced if the person becomes conscious of the underlying feelings.

An envious therapist may also withhold mirroring. This betrays the patient’s trust and may severely compound the original injury. The image of the terrible mother inspires fear which, being unconscious, makes people vulnerable to intimidation. By identifying with the terrible mother, a person in one of the ‘helping’ professions may gain destructive power over others.

In more general terms Kuhi suggests the regressive power of the unconscious.

If a person comes home from work needing to exercise but, instead, pours a glass of wine and curls up on the couch to watch TV and eat an unhealthy supper, then he or she is being devoured by Kuhi.


Integrating shame: realistic self esteem

Tahaki journeys with Kahiri whose jealousy and abuse caused Tahaki’s split in the first place. Their alliance confirms that Tahaki is healing the split, that is, integrating his unconscious envy, shame, aggression and depression. As a person understands what caused shame and depression, as the person works through the memories and all their hurt, then grandiosity lessens and self-esteem is based more on realistic factors.

These include – not in order of importance – being honest and real, maintaining material security, being fit and healthy, succeeding in competition, developing talents, playing, having fun, being creative, understanding oneself and others, being close to others and intimate with someone, giving to others, being valued by others, belonging to community.


Kuhi is transformed

Cried great Tahaki then: ‘O Kuhi, set aside your fish, lest the Great Shark come for you!’ But Kuhi answered, ‘He shall not escape. This is the fish-hook Puru i te maumau! He is my food!’

Therefore Tahaki seized the line, and saved his cousin from that old blind woman. And finding that her hook was loose, she cried ‘Aha! There is a personage of note beside me here! Can you restore my sight?’

Tahaki replied, ‘E ora ho’ i ia ia’u.’–‘I can restore it.’ And he took a piece of coconut and cast it in her eyes, and that old woman saw.

Then Kuhi looked admiringly upon her grandsons, and she asked what service she might do for them.

‘Please tell us where my father is,’ Tahaki said.


When Kuhi finds that Tahaki’s power equals hers, she regains her vision and offers help. This is a dramatic moment in the story and its symbolic meaning is correspondingly important: it shows how consciousness heals. When a person consciously confronts the unconscious its destructive tendency is reduced and it (the unconscious) becomes more insightful. It’s flashes of insight, for example its dreams, are the beginning of increased consciousness.

Jung described a similar exchange in his book Answer to Job. Yahweh had repeatedly shown himself to be blind to his own contradictions. When he reduced Job to misery, Job challenged his injustice, thereby inducing Yahweh to acknowledge that he was behaving like an amoral force of nature.

This acknowledgment, Jung said, implied an increase in Yahweh’s insight and led to Yahweh’s further evolution. Here Yahweh can be understood as the archetypal principle of unity which manifests itself in the integration of unconscious potentials into a more unified personality.

The polynesian story is more human-scale and more specific about the healing process.

Tahaki rescues Hema

‘He lives further on along your road,’ that woman said. ‘You will find him in a certain forest where the gods throw all their filth and where they squat. They have torn out his eyes and given them as lights to the girls who weave mats for the orators. The sockets they have filled with shit of birds‘ (my italics).

Then Kuhi called two children to direct those brothers to their father’s place, and when they reached the god’s dunny Tahaki snatched up filthy Hema in his arms. Before the gods found out, Tahaki and Kahiri had restored their father to the world of light. They also snatched his eyes as they departed from that place.

Then Hema was scraped, the hard-caked filth was picked out from the sockets of his eyes and he was washed, and they restored his eyes….


Why these oddly specific details about Hema’s eyes, details which echo Kuhi’s own blindness? Hema’s eyes have been illuminating the weaving of mats for orators, that is, the weaving of conscious knowledge. This is a repetition which confirms that Hema’s and Kuhi’s eyes represent the potential for new consciousness.


Black glass, three blue ‘eyes’, bead. Phoenician, found in Turkmenistan

Photo: Silk Road Heritage


Mat ta’ovala. Plantain leaf strips. Tonga

Photo copyright: 2007 National Museum of Australia


Until now we’ve been told that Hema was buried in the gods’ shit; here it is the shit of birds which fill his empty eye sockets. A bird is like a thought which flies quick and free over long distances; a bird’s shit is immobile and earthy, the opposite of the bird. Just as an empty eye-socket suggests the negation of consciousness, so the shit of birds suggests the negation of thought. This is another repetition. Thus when the gods degraded Hema they focussed special attention on degrading his consciousness. Why?

Remember that Tahaki and Hema were shamed in the first place because Tahaki had special knowledge from his mother who was of the gods. The gods attack Hema’s eyes because consciousness is hubris. It is consciousness itself which evokes envy and narcissistic injury. The story of Oedipus also shows that consciousness, hubris and archetypal envy are linked.

Tahaki and Oedipus

Tahaki’s story has many parallels with the story of Oedipus.

Oedipus was guilty of hubris. He said: “You pray to the gods? Let me grant your prayers” (line 245, Oedipus the King, Sophocles). Tahaki also had god-like knowledge.

Oedipus was accompanied by his brother Creon and guided by blind Tiresias. Tahaki was accompanied by his brother Kahiri and guided by Kuhi, who had been blind.

Oedipus had to face the devouring sphinx and Tahaki the devouring Kuhi.

Oedipus killed his father, married his mother and blinded himself when he understood his crimes. When Tahaki’s father was blinded and degraded Tahaki inhaled his mother’s essence.


Oedipus and the sphinx of Thebes. Red Figure Kylix. Cup by Douris. 5th C BCE

Museo Gregoriano Etrusco


Tahaki’s ‘incest’ is first with Huauri, then with Kuhi. For Jung the image of incest meant that a new adaptation could develop more in accord with the instincts:

Whenever [the] drive for wholeness appears, it begins by disguising itself under the symbolism of incest, for, unless he seeks it in himself, a man’s nearest feminine counterpart is to be found in his mother, sister, or daughter (The Psychology of the Transference. Jung, CW 16, par. 471).

In both stories the son is a new ruling principle of consciousness which supplants the old when the father is deposed. Like Oedipus, Tahaki is first a leader who rules collective consciousness. Like Oedipus – and like Gilgamesh, Tahaki then descends to face an individual unconscious injury. These many parallels confirm that Tahaki’s story is universal, that is, archetypal.


Embracing the whole self

In contrast to Sophocles’ tragic ending, Tahaki embraces Hema, cleans out his eye sockets, washes him and restores his eyes. Then Tahaki returns with Hema and Kahiri to the world above. Oedipal tensions seem to have been resolved!

The key lies in their embrace. As Tahaki restores Hema from degradation he lessens himself. He gives up both negative and positive grandiosity and becomes more human-scale. His growing consciousness has first induced a narcissistic split then healed it.

In analysis both patient and analyst must embrace their own despised parts rather than pathologizing them. Embrace means accept, even value and love the shame, depression, hurt, cruelty, destructiveness and guilt which one has feared and suppressed, just as one must love all of these in a child in order to help the child to grow.


Compulsive hunger and addiction

Both Kuhi and Kahiri (and the sphinx) are compelled by hunger. Compulsive hunger is a symptom of narcissistic injury.

If a person is narcissistically injured, realistic love and attention seem too limited. Because they contradict grandiosity they evoke rage and the person rejects them.

Then he or she becomes insatiably hungry for attention. This could lead a person into a career in performing arts. Or it could create a compulsion to ‘look good’, or to get attention at a party, or to compete for success and wealth or fame. Or the person may be driven by a hunger for power and control over others, power being a substitute for love.

If a person was raised with too much punishment and criticism then, as an adult, he or she may be compelled to invite negative attention, shame, guilt, rejection, anger, violence or abuse.

A similar mechanism operates in addiction. If a person is narcissistically injured he or she may form a bond – to food, or to drugs, or to sex, or to some other ritualized behavior – which substitutes for a bond to another person.

There are two related causes for this substitution. One is that early caregivers abused, abandoned, or refused to mirror the injured person, teaching him or her that no-one could be trusted. The injured person turned to grandiose fantasy for pleasure and reassurance. That fantasy is supported by getting high on drugs or ritualized behaviors.

The other cause is that a bond to food, drugs, or sex is not limited – the injured person can have as much as he or she wants, the substance is completely under his or her control – while in a bond to another person the injured person has to accept limits. Limits enrage the injured person and he or she avoids them.

Thus every addiction, psychologically, is an addiction to grandiosity.

Heinz Kohut called all such bonds, whether to a person or to a substance or behavior, selfobject bonds because every person depends upon them to preserve a sense of self.


Heinz Kohut, 1913-1981. Kohut transformed our understanding of narcissism.

Photo: source unknown.

Healing addiction

When a selfobject bond is formed with a reliably-present person then the bond may be gradually internalized to form new structure within the personality. The internalized structure helps to make subsequent relationships, both with others and with self, more secure and more productive.

A selfobject bond to a substance or to a ritualized behavior is not personal and so cannot be internalized as psychological structure: hence the hunger for the substance or behavior is insatiable.

Therapy can heal an addiction by allowing the patient to form a selfobject bond with the therapist which gradually replaces the addictive bond. This requires that the therapist empathize (understand the patient’s feelings and actions from the patient’s point of view), that when the patient is resistant the therapist does not retaliate out of his or her own narcissistic injuries. Then only can the patient gradually internalize the bond to the therapist.

A twelve-step program also represents a selfobject for its members and thus helps its members to control addictive behavior. It tends not to transform the underlying injury because it is a pre-structured program which provides everyone the same insights and rituals. A bond to a twelve-step program – like a bond to an addictive behavior – cannot be internalized as individual psychological structure.

Kohut called his approach self psychology because it focuses on the restoration of healthy dynamics in the self. Empathy is key in self psychology.

Tahaki is a stone-age self psychologist. He bonds empathically with Kahiri who abused him; he bonds empathically with Kuhi who would devour him if she could; he bonds empathically with his shamed father. The legend uses repetition to underline empathy; because both Kuhi’s and Hema’s eyes are healed, the legend also shows explicitly that empathy heals.


Organization in the personality: Archetypes

For a more detailed discussion, supported by references, of many of these issues see my published paper The three gorillas on this website.

Jung found empirically that dreams, myths, legends and fairy tales all show how the personality is organized. In the legend discussed above the text itself affirms its psychological purpose.

By personality I mean all the instincts, memories, images, ideas, affects, feelings, dynamisms and relationships, conscious and unconscious, which constitute a person’s psychology.

A human has a very small number of genes (20-22,000), little more than a microscopic nematode (19,000) which is one of the simplest animals. Moreover, humans evolved from a species of ape – the common ancestor of humans and chimpanzees – within the last five to seven million years.


Nematodes. Microscopic, multicellular, ‘tube within a tube’ animals, free-living in soil.

Photo: source unknown.




Ardipithecus ramidus.. Earliest known hominid skeleton: 4.4 million years old. Ardipithecus’s brain was the same size as that of modern chimpanzees. Ardipithecus shows a point in our evolution when we had first developed upright stature.
Illustration: J.H. Matternes, Science


These two facts prove that the claim made by evolutionary psychologists (that the human personality has evolved through genetic changes) cannot be true. The rate at which genes mutate is unchanging: seven million years is only long enough to permit a small number of mutations which, it has been proven, achieve their dramatic effects mainly by coding for differences in timing in the process by which a fertilized egg develops into an adult.

For example, one genetically-coded difference between a human and an ape is that, in human development, the cerebral cortex continues to grow in volume for a longer period of time. The result is that a human has a bigger cortex.

The greater complexity of the human cortex cannot be specified by mutations because, by astronomically large orders of magnitude, there are not enough mutations to do so. Therefore its greater complexity must be specified – during growth – by information absorbed from the environment.

When a child learns to speak, the language centers in the human cortex expand relative to adjacent cortical areas. If the child does not learn to speak, those areas do not expand. Thus the information required for the structure of the language centers in the brain is acquired by learning to speak, that is, from the environment.

(Experiments with ferrets have confirmed this. Visual information from the eyes was surgically redirected to the auditory region of the ferrets’ developing cortex: the auditory region became a visual region.)

It follows that the structure of the personality must also be specified almost entirely by information from the environment. Much information comes from interacting with family and peers but information from the wider culture also contributes. For example, wisdom is transmitted through legends and fairy tales. But from whence comes the wisdom contained within fairy tales?


Because there are not enough genes, archetypes cannot be genetically inherited. In a dream, a bicycle ride may serve as an archetypal image which represents a universal issue or essence: the image of a bicycle ride may represent the labor-intensive, individual journey by which a person develops consciousness.

It is obvious that the image is learned from the environment; before there were bicycles a knight’s quest on horseback served as an equivalent image.

The essence of an archetype is a different problem. It is not learned from the environment but seems to be pre-existing, a constant over time and space, like a mathematical principle.

Jung said that the essence of an archetype was like a mathematical principle (he also made contradictory statements about archetypes, in part because he did not understand the mechanism of Darwinian evolution):

[the essence of an archetype]
might perhaps be compared to the axial system of a crystal, which … determines only the stereo-metric structure but not the concrete form of the crystal … [Amongst different crystals of the same substance] the only thing that remains constant is the axial system, or rather, the invariable geometric proportions underlying it. The same is true of the archetype. In principle it can be named and has an invariable nucleus of meaning – but always only in principle, never as regards its concrete manifestation [image].

(Psychological aspects of the mother archetype. Jung, Collected Works 9i, para. 155, 1938).


An archetype in astronomy

Messier 101, a spiral galaxy photographed by Hubble.

Photo: NASA

The whirlpool is a universal, archetypal form which makes manifest a mathematical principle. Everywhere in the universe dynamic systems of fluids-in-motion organize themselves under the ‘guidance’ of this principle.

The evolution of wings

It is easy to see an archetype in action in biology. The principle of the wing is a archetypal principle which is pre-existing, universal and unchanging: when a curved plane moves through a fluid, the unequal flow-speeds over the two surfaces generates lift.

In many different, completely independent evolutionary sequences, in plants, in insects, in squid, in fish, in amphibians, in reptiles, in birds and in mammals, the wing has been realized in physical form (in some species the wing flaps, in others it only glides). I’ve gathered 13 pictures here to illustrate:


plant seed.jungian therapy
Sycamore seed
Photo: newscientist.com.


fly wing.jungian therapy
Photo: source unknown.



winged squid.jungian therapy
Ommastrephes bartramii, flying squid,

gliding live near Hachijyo-jima island, Japan

Photo copyright: Geoff Jones.


winged fish.jungian therapy
Exocoetus volitans, blue flying fish, can glide more than 100 meters, steering with their tail.

Photo: Eirik Grønningsæter, IMR Bergen


frog winged toes.jungian therapy
Wallace’s flying frog. Borneo
Photo: Tim Laman, National Geographic


winged reptile.jungian therapy
Sharovipteryx mirabilis (extinct reptile)
Drawing: Dmitry Bogdanov


winged reptile.jungian therapy
Pterodactyl (extinct reptile)

Photo: source unknown.


winged reptile.jungian therapy
Yi qi.
Carnivorous dinosaur, 160-million-year-old fossil, from China. Featherless, batlike wings. For gliding? (Artist’s impression.)

Picture Credit: Dinostar Co. Ltd:



winged lizard.jungian therapy
Draco volans. Flying lizard

Photo: Tim MacMillan & John Downer Pro/naturepl.com



snake body wing.jungian therapy
Flying snake. The snake flattens its body into a curved plane; it can change direction as it glides.

Photo: source unknown.



bird wings.jungian therapy

Photo: Grahem Owen.



winged mammal.jungian therapy
Maiopatagium. A rendering of a mother climbing on a tree branch with a baby in a suspended roosting position.
Highly primitive branch of mammal family. Mesozoic. About 160 million years ago. (One of several Mesozoic mammals which, independently of each other, evolved gliding wings.)

Illustration: April I. Neander. University of Chicago


winged squirrel.jungian therapy

Flying squirrel

Photo: source unknown.


winged lemur.jungian therapy

Cynocephalidae, Dermoptera. The colugo or ‘flying lemur’ is the closest living relative of the primates.
Photo: Norman Lim, National University of Singapore.



bat wings.jungian therapy
Photo: source unknown.


If multicellular life has evolved on another planet, we can be sure that wings will have evolved there too. The principle/archetype of the wing ‘guides’ evolution along this path. Evolution occurs spontaneously by means of random genetic variations which are tested by trial-and-error, but the variety of organizations for movement which can possibly evolve is limited and predictable.


An archetype in psychology and myth

In psychology ‘father’ is an archetypal principle
which organizes authority, responsibility, and relationship to objective reality. Freud referred to an aspect of this archetype as the reality principle. The principle of the father is independently realized, again and again, during the development of myth (realized as story) and during the development of each person (realized as individual psychology).

Mythology and individual psychology develop much faster than biology but all three are self-organizing complex dynamic systems in which an archetype plays a homologous role: an archetype is a predictable organizational possibility which is realized as the system organizes itself.

Each character in a myth, legend or fairy tale serves as an image of an archetype. Such stories identify the archetypes and explore their possible interactions. Thus the story is a map which guides the personality as it organizes itself. The resonance of the story, I argue, derives from its self-organization around universal principles.

When a boy imagines himself as a cowboy, for example, this archetypal image helps to organize his developing ego strength.