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.