I had a dream, woke, and wrote it down. It was as if I had watched a clip from a silent movie. I used my conscious mind to find the words but the dream had been vivid and I believed my words captured it.
It surprised me: ‘I would not have thought of that.’ Its weirdness convinced me it was from ‘elsewhere’. But where is ‘elsewhere’?
In an Inuit myth a lemming that dropped from the sky served to unlock the underworld. This small mammal with its own independent life, its own intent, symbolized a dream.
In Bushman myth !haken, white grubs exposed by digging the soil, symbolized dreams. They would wriggle back into the earth (be forgotten) unless they were collected. The Bushmen intended to collect them; they intended to escape.
Both images show that a dream is an independent piece of life which appears suddenly in consciousness and can as quickly leave it again. It is foreign to us, has its own intent, but can sometimes be assimilated (its message can be deciphered). Both show that a dream illuminates the unconscious. This interpretation is supported by the repetition that, in two unrelated myths, a small living creature represents a dream.
Jung called the world from which dreams come the unconscious. As his word implies this ‘world’ is best understood by understanding the limits of consciousness. Consciousness tends to focus. Its attention is selective. It discriminates and clarifies. But the more it does so, the more blind it becomes to what it does not select.
The unconscious is everything not selected. It includes all those other perceptions, memories, images, ideas, intuitions, impulses, desires and feelings which could easily be retrieved. Also all the repressed content which can only be retrieved if repression is lifted.
The unconscious also includes archetypes. An archetype is an organizing principle which, being based in mathematics (spirit), is eternal and omnipresent. It normally operates outside awareness.
An example is Freud’s Oedipal triangle, in which a child desires one parent and competes with the other parent for the first’s love. I can only be social if I master this triangle: when my person talks to someone else I must accept my jealousy and enjoy them both.
The essence of this archetype is its mathematical principle, the triangle. The proverb “two’s company, three’s a crowd” captures not only its mathematical essence but also one of its manifestations.
But this archetype is manifest whenever a triangle appears anywhere in the universe.
Painting by zen master Sengoi Gibon (1750-1837)
Todd Mervosh, CT Agricultural Experiment Station.
Snow crystal with triangular facets.
[footnote] Jung himself said that an archetype was like a mathematical principle and that it guided the self-organization of consciousness: “the word ‘archetype’ is thoroughly characteristic of the structural forms that underlie consciousness as the crystal lattice underlies the crystallization process” (Letter to Bernhard Milt, 1946). In Jung’s time mathematicians had not yet discovered self-organization in complex adaptive systems, which now helps to confirm Jung’s intuition (McDowell, 2011). Jung’s Larmarkian (mistaken) ideas of biological evolution also led him to a contradictory explanation of archetypes.
The above shows the triangle manifest in psychology, in art, in a plant, and in crystal structure. An archetype informs the entire natural world, of which the unconscious is just one part. The unconscious teems with fertility, variation, and destruction and is often represented in dreams as a jungle or the ocean.
Every archetype can be reduced to a mathematical principle. Yin is the principle of the cup, yang the principle of the vector.
Because both tales are naive rather than literary, they are “dreams” of their culture, that is creative reveries, sharpened and preserved by the community through retelling. In such tales each character represents not a human but an archetype. An archetype is an organizing possibility which, being essentially mathematical, is universal and eternal. Each story explores ways in which organizing possibilities may interact.
A visual example of such exploration is the yin-yang symbol, two comma-shaped figures combined, top-to-tail, to form a disk.
Diagram of the Supreme Ultimate.
From the Compendium of Diagrams (detail), 1623 Zhang Huang (1527-1608) Woodblock-printed book; ink on paper
Photo: © The University of Chicago Library, East Asian Collection
The image says much: it shows that yin and yang are complimentary, that their meeting is dynamic, and that they make a whole when they join.
That is the meaning of every love story and, in part, the meaning of our Inuit tale. Love stories hold endless fascination for us, not because they are endlessly different but because, again and again, they illustrate the archetypal dynamic of yin and yang.
Sex is an aspect of yin because yin joins and entangles while yang discriminates. Imagine a field of beets intersecting with a field of cabbages. The area of overlap creates a new field, beets and cabbages. This underlying principle of sex (intersecting sets) manifests at the level of chromosomes and in bodily sex, but also in psychology when two personalties intersect.
We see an archetype not as its essence but as its manifestation, as an image laden with human detail. The detail makes visible some of the archetype’s potential. The oedipal triangle we know is the one we faced in childhood, perhaps fraught with competition and jealousy, or perhaps loving and supportive.
An archetype has power because it is one of the first principles from which we were created. It functions in our personality somewhat as an article of the U.S. Constitution functions in the self-organisation of society.
Freud saw the link between Oedipus and the triangle. In any myth, legend, fairy tale, or religion each character represents an archetype.
Religion offers an image by which I can revere an archetype (in religion an archetype is a god). Through reverence I can relate without forgetting that I am mortal and the archetype is not. I am enlivened by the archetype but keep it at a safe distance. Thus Moses conversed with God as a burning bush.
An archetype has intense gravitational pull. If I deny its reality, then I am blind to it and may identify with it. Then my ordinary, human personality is hollowed out or ‘burnt up’ by the archetype.
An archetype’s furnace-like energy is shown in the image (below) of Sophia, the archetype of feminine wisdom.
Sophia as a solar godess.
When I identify with an archetype I assume, as Jung said, ‘godawful powers.’
‘Godawful powers’ lead us to destruction, for example in war and through the destruction of our environment. Hence the Lord’s Prayer: ‘lead us not into destruction…’
Licorne shot. July 3, 1970, French Polynesia
Photo: French military
While religion protects me from identification, it keeps me in a collective relationship with an archetype: proscribed, the same for everyone, not an expression of my individual potential. If religion no longer serves then, with much effort, I may develop a more conscious, individual relationship. This is what Jung meant by individuation. As Eddinger explained, I become conscious of an archetype only through painful, repeated cycles of identifying and dis-identifying.
Though it is outside awareness, the unconscious is not inactive. Much of our thought takes place there, only reaching awareness when it has been formulated. A common strategy for solving a creative problem is to ‘sleep on it’.
Though I am unaware of the unconscious, it is aware of me. It critiques my conscious attitude through a dream or a fairy tale or a myth.
Each dream compensates for a conscious view which has become one-sided. Each is calibrated to offer an insight which, though challenging, is yet accessible.
The apparent wisdom of the unconscious has led to mystical explanations but it may be that it seems so wise only because consciousness is so ignorant!
My personality may develop throughout life, fulfilling possibilities for which it was not prepared in youth. I may find a new possibility in the environment but its essence is an organizing principle which appears as an image. So Odyseus evolved as he faced a series of monsters and gods.
A cave, a grave, a womb, a crucible, a swimming pool, a therapist’s office, a therapy group, all are images of the archetype yin. Yin is the vessel in which an old adaptation dissolves and a new one gestates. When I am transforming, I may dream of yin:A 54-year-old, single patient had had a conflicted relationship with her mother, probably since a two-week seperation at 18 months. Several years after her mother’s death, when she was still grieving her mother and had herself ended a long-term romantic relationship, she suffered severe, prolonged somatic pain. Then she had the following vision during meditation (the equivalent of a dream):
her mother’s dead body was floating down a stream in an open coffin.
Her vision suggested that she could let go of her grief about her mother. It also suggested Ophelia who drowned, driven mad by Hamlet’s rejection. This may have referred to her mother’s unhappy marriage and to her own frustrated romantic relationship, as well as to frustrations with her analyst. Also to her tendency to dramatize.In dreams, death usually means transformation. Her mother’s dead body suggests that the relationship style she had developed with her mother had already transformed in some significant way. The coffin represents yin. Floating down a stream shows how psychological growth occurs – spontaneously, following a natural pathway, without steering – when defenses have become conscious.The woman dreaded that she could not change and would suffer somatic pain until her own early death. Her vision compensated for her dread by showing that transformation had already begun and could proceed spontaneously.She cried when I made this interpretation, an autonomic reflex which helped to confirm it. Two weeks later her somatic pain ended, further evidence that my interpretation was accurate.
This book is a collection of eight stories of women from Kalahari Bushmen, Inuit, Palestinian, Maori, Melanesian, Norwegian, and other sources. Some were directly recorded, in detail, from an oral source.
Some of these stories come from stone-age cultures. Some may reach back to early behaviorally modern humans. All are naive, that is, fresh from the unconscious, not distorted by bowdlerizing or to confirm an editor’s political agenda.
Each story is lively and surprising also because it does not collude with men’s prejudices. Its heroine does not immitate men but adventures as a woman.
Each is interpreted for its symbolic, psychological content, using a technique developed first by Carl Jung.
Each offers a unique viewpoint on the development of consciousness.
In each a woman connects individually to the unconscious and thereby transforms her own culture.
Patriarchal cultures tend to assume that consciousness is masculine but these stories show that it begins first in the feminine, through the tensions and contradictions of women.