Inuit woman wearing fur parks. Nome?, Alaska. 1903-1915.
Photo: Lomen Brothers, Nome, Alaska. Glenbow [Museum] Archives ND-1-116, Calgary, Alberta.
The tale in brief
A mother lived with her youngest son who was ill. Her ‘secret enemy’, with the help of a fox, had killed her older sons. A second mother lived with her daughter. There was no husband in either home. The daughter went naked to the son’s house, watched at night and captured the fox. The fox directed her to the secret enemy. Still naked, she confronted the secret enemy. He died of shame. The daughter healed the son, married him, and prospered with many children.
This synopsis reveals the tale’s underlying similarity to a Hungarian story, Pretty maid Ibronka:
Because Ibronka had no beau she flirted with a young stranger. Then she watched him in the night and saw that he was the Devil. She thwarted his attempts to control her, married a prince, and prospered with children. The Devil died of frustration.
The two tales may derive from a common ancestor or they may each have arisen independently. Regardless, each explores the same potential, one shared by all humans. The tales amplify each other, that is, each makes more explicit parts of the other. In each a heroine was first separated from men, then saw and conquered a man’s destructive aspect and married his fertilizing aspect.
Each tale is naive rather than literary, that is, a “dream” of its culture, a creative reverie sharpened and conserved by retelling; in such tales each character represents not a person but an archetype. Each tale shows how archetypes may interact.
A visual example of such reverie is the yin-yang symbol.
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
This image shows that the archetypes of yin and yang are complimentary, that their meeting is dynamic, and that together they make a whole.
That is the meaning of every love story and, in part, the meaning of this Inuit tale. Love stories fascinate us not because they are endlessly different but because, again and again, they explore the dynamic of yin and yang. This dynamic underlies much of personality development which is why we never tire of contemplating it.
Unlike an archetype, a person is complex and nuanced and requires compromise. But, whether we are conscious of it or not, our personality is built upon archetypes.
Everything in the natural world, a galaxy, a solar system, a planet’s geology, biology, ecology, psychology, is, of necessity, self-organized. Self-organization occurs spontaneously, as a consequence of thermodynamics and other physical laws (1), but its outcomes are predictable (with the wisdom of hindsight) rather than random.
(1) Physics of far-from-equilibrium systems and self-organization, Gregoire Nicolis, Chapter 11, 316-347, in The New Physics, Paul Davis (ed), 1992, Cambridge University Press
A cosmic instance of predictable outcome is a spiral galaxy, …
Messier 101, a spiral galaxy photgraphed by Hubble.
… a biological instance, the repeated (2), independent evolution of wings, …
Cynocephalidae, Dermoptera. The colugo or ‘flying lemur’ is the closest living relative of the primates.
Photo: Norman Lim, National University of Singapore.
… a psychological instance, an oedipal triangle. Each of these forms evolves spontaneously, ‘guided’ by its corresponding organizing principle: the principle of the spiral, the principle of the wing (3), and the principle of the triangle.
(2) We can predict with confidence that if complex biological life has evolved on another planet, it will have evolved wings. A prediction easily tested is that new forms of independently-evolved wings will soon be discovered in the fossil record.
(3) When a curved surface moves through a liquid, the pressure underneath the curve is greater than the pressure above it. This creates lift.
In psychological language an organizing principle is an archetype, in mythological language, a god. To question whether a myth is ‘true’ is to miss the point. It is true in the sense that mathematics is true: each of its symbols represents an organizing principle.
When we see an archetype operating in our life, we recognize that we are ‘guided’ by a universal principle. We may feel, in this way, at one with the universe which gives us a sense of meaning. Religious thought expresses this as ‘living according to God’s plan.’
With meaning comes energy. We feel accepted, included in a ‘purpose’ larger than ourselves, hence valued, supported, encouraged, motivated. Religious thought expresses this as ‘God’s love.’
Each archetype is an elementary or nuclear principle of organization. As we face it, it radiates psychological energy which is why a story about archetypes gives us energy and courage. Individuation — becoming more conscious of archetypes — enlivens the whole personality.
The Egyptian sun-gods, Ra and Aten, were the origin of all life which meant, symbolically, all psychological life. Objectively the sun is a furnace of elementary particles radiating nuclear energy.
Akhenaten and Nefertiti pray to Aten, who provides his rays..
New Kingdom, XVIII dynasty.
Stone relief, detail. Egyptian Museum, Cairo.
Nefertari with Ra-Harakhte.
Wall painting. Luxor tomb of Nefertari, royal wife of Ramesses II. XIXth Dynasty (c. 1295-1255 B.C.).
Ra and Lady Taperet.
Taperet stele, Thebes, Ptolemaic period (circa 1069 – 30 BC).
The deceased is linked to the daily resurrection of the sun. Rays of flowers flow from the sun disk, illuminating her face. She offers Ra a table laden with dishes, while the hieroglyphs behind her back guarantee her ‘thousands of loaves of breads, beer, meat, and poultry,’ that is, eternal sustenance.
Louvre, Paris. Photo: commons, wikipedia.org
Andreu G., Rutschowscaya M-H., Ziegler C., L’Egypte au Louvre, Hachette, Paris, 1997, 171-174, notice # 83.
Aldred C., Daumas Fr., L’Egypte du crepuscule, L’Univers des formes.Tome III. , Paris, 1981, 115-116; fig. 101-102.
Each of these pictures show an archetypal sun irradiating humans with psychological energy.
This Inuit story is important not only for women but also for men, in part because it explores individuation from the viewpoint of the feminine. It shows how a heroine’s journey may differ from a hero’s.
The complete tale, interpreted
Two cousins lived in the village of Uñi´sak. One had five sons, the other had a single daughter. Then the sons of the former began to die, and only the youngest one remained alive; and even he began to suffer. Then his mother sent to her sister-in-law, and said,
“My last son is suffering. Please send your daughter to cheer him up. He feels quite ill.”
Both families were ruled by maternal yin (the mothers). Maternal yin includes gestating, birth, holding, nurturing, earth, darkness and death.
The two fatherless families represent an early stage in the development of consciousness. Yin does not relate to yang as ‘other’. Instead, ‘primordial yin’ contains within itself the as-yet-undifferentiated, unconscious potential for yang. Because yin and yang are not related, consciousness is primitive. The evolution of yang out of this primordial state is described in more detail in the Polynesian tale Rona long-teeth(analyzed on this website).
In the second family yin has begun to differentiate by splitting into mother and daughter. (To be precise, it is not the archetype which differentiates – an archetype does not change – it is the archetype’s manifestation). The daughter apect of yin, Kore or Persephone, is the siren entangler who pulls us into connection and also inspires creativity. She is what is usually meant by anima, yin’s potential to embrace yang.
An African story, Dirawiic who married a Lion, helps to amplify the daughter:
A young daughter, Dirawiic, escaped her incestuous brother and led her peers into the wilderness where they lived for years without men. They were threatened by a male lion but Dirawiic’s sister frustrated him and Dirawiic tamed him. Then all the girls returned home and married.
There was a similar custom in ancient Greece: before puberty well-born Athenian girls were separated from men and underwent a period of ritual wildness as Arktoi, she bears, (in, for example, an isolated sanctuary of Artemis in Brauron); they performed sacred dances, made sacrifices in a spring, and ran races (4).
(4) Burkert, Walter, 1985. Greek Religion (Cambridge: Harvard University Press): p263
Both Dirawiic and the Athenian girls were separated from men to protect their development. Both Dirawiic and the Inuit daughter were leaders. Thus the image of the Inuit girl living alone with her mother symbolizes an assertive aspect of yin which consolidates while separated from yang.
Yin and yang are unbalanced
In the first Inuit family there were five vulnerable sons, the father was missing, and there was a secret male enemy. Thus yang was missing (the father and the older sons), or unconscious (the secret enemy), or weak (the youngest son) while consciousness was dominated by yin. And yin’s potential for connection was lacking (there was no daughter).
In dream logic, that which precedes is the cause of that which follows: thus yin-dominated, unrelated consciousness probably made the son sick.
Then the first mother said that the daughter would cheer her son up. If the son met yin in the form of a girl his own age, his potential for yang would be enlivened. This is a repetition, the same idea – that yang needed to be stronger – conveyed by a different image. The repetition provides objective, internal evidence for the interpretation.
When a family is broken and a son is raised only by his mother, he may be injured by his mother’s yin. The anima has extra power and is hard for him to face. But he may mature through his relationship with a girl.
The other woman said to her daughter, “They have sent for you. You may go after the meal.”
“No,” said the girl, “Let me go at once!”
The mother said, “Then at least put on your clothes.”
“Why should I? It is not a long way.”
The mother stood for convention but the daughter had individual ideas, that she should go at once and naked, fully displaying yin. Within an Inuit dwelling nakedness was a convention (because clothing was made of fur) but to visit another family while naked was not conventional. This is another repetition which suggests again that the daughter’s version of yin would help the sick boy.
An archetype has two poles. By exposing her body the girl asserted yin’s ‘hot’ active pole as opposed to yin’s ‘cold’ pole: passivity, darkness, and death.
In respectable convention, a woman’s body is covered to suppress active yin, to keep it unconscious. That cover-up is compensated for by lipstick, eye-makeup, nail polish, high heels, bras, miniskirts, bikinis, and see-through clothing. But none of these symbols insist that yin can be active.
Active yin does not wait for yang to choose it but goes out and engages yang. The girl asserted herself, not by seduction, but by her own agency.
Psychological unity requires that we give yin its due. We must overcome sexist prejudice to see what the yin-yang symbol makes clear, that yin and yang are equal powers. This tale must have served, in part, to compensate for sexism in Inuit culture.
The meeting of yin and yang furthers individuation which defies convention. Therefore romance is charged, private, and often secret. But the girl, a leader, cheerfully upended convention by exposing herself.
She put on only her boots …
This detail is another repetition which accentuates both her nakedness and her power. She had her feet on the ground. Going naked was not a whim or aberration but a choice grounded in earth, that is, in instinctual yin.
… and, being quite naked, went out of the sleeping-room and crossed over to the other cousin’s house. She entered the sleeping-room. The suffering boy was stretched out upon the skins, moaning. He could neither eat nor drink.
Night came, and they lay down to sleep.
The family went to sleep but the girl stayed awake. No detail is without meaning. The girl worked at night like a shaman, exploring the unconscious.
A new line, made of a thong-seal hide, was lying near the entrance. The girl picked it up, made a noose in the shape of a lasso, and crouched near the entrance, watching. She was quite naked, and had on only her boots, as before.
The girl became a huntress with a weapon. Like Artemis of Greek myth (Diana to the Romans) she claimed her own unconventional access to power. Diana is shown naked, hunting with hounds, while the Inuit girl was aided by a fox.
Diana the Huntress,
Masters of Fontainebleau. 1550-60. Oil on canvas, 192 x 133 cm.
Musée du Louvre, Paris
The Inuit girl’s weapon represents yin because it is an enclosing loop. Diana’s weapon, by contrast, was all yang. In this and other details her story expresses more yang.
The raven and the fox
The sun had set, and it was quite dark. Then she heard a rustling-sound from the direction of sunset. She listened attentively, and heard some wary steps. She peered into the darkness, and at last noticed a form. It was a Raven. He approached noiselessly. Behind the house were some scraps of food. He picked at them, and crept slowly to the entrance. The girl threw the lasso over him, and caught him.
Edmonton, British Columbia, Donna’s River Valley
“Ah, ah, ah! Let me alone! I have done nothing.”
“And why do you steal in here in the night-time, without giving notice to the master of the house?”
“I am looking for food, gathering meat-scraps and even excrements. Let me go!”
“All right!” She let him go, and he flew away.
She forced a confrontation: she asked the Raven questions and acted upon its responses. This is like listening to a dream and acting upon its message: she was relating like a shaman to the unconscious.
She watched on, the lasso in hand, quite naked. Then from the direction of midnight she heard a rustling-noise approaching guardedly. It was a Fox creeping toward the house. As soon as she approached, the suffering boy moaned louder. The Fox stopped, and put her nose close to the ground. She listened, and then said,
“This time I shall probably carry him away.”
Alaskan red fox
The Fox approached nearer, and the girl threw the lasso and caught her. “Qa, qa, qa!”
“And why are you stealing in here in the night-time? The master of the house knows nothing about you. It is you, probably, who have taken away those boys.”
“Why, yes, I did it.”
“Then I shall kill you.”
“Why will you kill me?
“Why, you scoundrel, you make all the people mourn. You source of trouble!”
“Oh, it is not my fault. This neighbor of yours induces me to do it, and pays me for it.”
“Is that so? Nevertheless, I shall kill you.”
“Oh, I will leave here and go away!”
“No, I shall kill you.”
“I will pay you a large ransom. You shall be happy along with your husband. And I will kill your enemy.”
“Ah, then you may go!”
The raven is male, the fox female. They form a polarity and polarities are symbolic. The raven is spirit (yang), like a thought, above ground, simple and direct, equally effective in dealing with meat and shit. The fox is underground (yin), complex, devious; she controls riches, fortune-telling, and death. She represents unconscious knowledge and tricky unconscious dynamics which can change things for good or ill.
When a dynamism operates unconsciously, like the fox, it can disrupt life and send it spinning off course. When the dynamism is made conscious it can function more as thought, like the raven, more straight-forward and less disruptive. A shaman enters the underworld like the fox and flies long distances like the raven. The two animals together represent shamanism.
The girl used the noose (yin), her questions (yang), and listening (yin) to converse with fox and raven. Thus she integrated yin and yang.
Mursi Shaman Woman, Ethiopia
Psychoanalysis is a modern version of shamanism: it enters the unconscious, brings back knowledge, integrates it, and thus expands consciousness.
The Fox ran away. The girl entered the sleeping-room; and her body, which was quite naked in the cold, felt warmer. She awakened the sleeping ones.
Like a shaman, she re-entered warm life after facing the underworld. She made the boy conscious.
“Get up! You have slept enough,” she said.
The boy did not moan any more, and asked for food. They gave him some. She cut it into small pieces…
… with a knife. No detail lacks meaning: again she integrated yang so that it functioned constructively.
He swallowed a morsel, then another one, and still another. So he ate five pieces of meat. She gave him some water to drink. Only then she herself ate and drank. They went to sleep. The boy also slept. In the morning they awoke, and the boy was quite well.
As a shaman, she healed the boy
Yang and destruction
Yang includes sunlight which supports life but can also burn and kill. In Egyptian myth the eye of Re burnt up the people.
Eye of Re
Photo: source unknown
The personality is a tissue of images, memories, associations, feelings and instincts. It is easily burnt by an opinion, reductive explanation, or judgement. When children play an imaginative game on the floor they may ask adults not to look.
A gaze can be objectifying, contemptuous, degrading, predatory and greedy. This is an aspect of what Jung called the animus which, while it is unconscious, compulsively injures relationship (written in the time of Trump and Harvey Weinstein).
The personality needs to be seen with acceptance, love, delight, admiration, and also with tact. All of this is beautifully symbolized by the flowers which flow from Ra to the girl’s face, and also by the sun’s rays which end in hands bearing gifts.
For all these reasons the girl had to confront the destructive manifestation of yang.
But their neighbor came, the secret enemy.
“Ah, ah! What girl is that whom I saw last night going around quite naked, lasso in hand? She must be my secret enemy.”
The girl took off her clothes and went out.
“It was I. Then I know that you also are my enemy.”
He felt ashamed, and from mere shame he fell down and died.
Because she was not ashamed to expose herself, she exposed him and he was ashamed. This is the crisis of the tale, the moment of maximum tension.
Then began the lysis, the resolution. Destructive yang was transformed (in dreams death usually means transformation).
Because it was conscious, yin illuminated unconscious yang, made it conscious too. Its destructive power was neutralized and the girl could then relate with yang as an equal. Again, the girl was a shaman.
Consciousness must be balanced, not one-sided. The girl was not judgemental towards her secret enemy. Rather she confronted him with her own exposed, easily hurt, human body. Her vulnerability helped to transform him.
This interpretation is confirmed by repetition. In Ovid’s version of the story, Diana threw water into Acteon’s eyes because he saw her naked. She made him cry, that is, open himself to feeling.
Diana and Acteon,
1518 (detail). Lucus Cranach the Elder, oil on wood.
Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, CT.
(Cranach’s painting includes Acteon’s transformation into a stag. This shows, like Ibronka’s story, the connection between destructive yang and pan/the devil.)
The crisis in the Inuit story astutely portrays how change occurs in relationship, both with a therapist and in group therapy. Being seen by another helps us to see ourself. In a group, another’s self exposure helps us to expose ourself.
When we admit some less-than-noble truth we feel exposed and ashamed. If we can tolerate the shame then we can integrate that truth into our conscious identity. Then we are no longer compelled to act it out destructively. Hence the power of the girl exposing herself without shame.
The girl killed the secret enemy with the aid of his fox. Atermis killed Acteon with the aid of his own hounds.
Artemis and Acteon,
Attic vase, c. 470 BC.
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
(Unlike the Inuit girl, Artemis had no love for men. Her myth emphasized her phallic power. Yin and yang were only integrated within her own being.)
Both the fox and the hounds represent instinct as it serves a person, in these stories, how it helps individuation. Thus they represent the instinct for individuation. What does this mean?
The collective, which includes schools, academia, and conventional attitudes, does not support individuation because the collective fears disruption and is suspicious of ‘going it alone’. As Jung said, individuation is an art against nature. It may require much sacrifice, for example, of conventional success and companionship.
But, paradoxically, individuation is strongly suppported by instinct. Drives like curiosity, self assertion, and desire (because it supports bonding which leads to sacrifice, self-knowlege and self-development) all play a part.
There is strong archaeological evidence for individuation with the appearance of behaviorally-modern humans, about 60,000 years ago. As our species became intelligent, the above instinctual drives, then as now, would inevitably have pushed individuals to explore new potentials. Individuation was one such potential.
When a person related individually to the unconscious this led to creativity, innovative leadership (not just getting in front of the herd but seeing a new direction), and wisdom (integrating the new with human values). All of this enabled cultural adaptation and hence the success of our species.
They lived on. The girl lived with the boy; and when they grew up, they married. She brought forth many children. All the people loved her. She was rich.
It is finished.
When yin and yang were conscious everyone prospered. In myths from all over the world the marriage of yin and yang is a royal marriage which integrates and fertilizes the whole kingdom, that is, the whole personality.
Walk in the garden.
Nefertiti and Akhenaten? Relief, Armana style. New Kingdom, 18th dynasty, c. 1335 BC.
Egyptian Museum Berlin, Berlin, Germany.
Love and shamanism
Though the Inuit story does not speak of the couple’s feelings, it implies that the girl loved the boy:
… She brought forth many children. All the people loved her.
This is not only a love story but also a story of a female shaman. Since the two are juxtaposed we must ask, how does love intersect with shamanism?
Love is a mystery that seduces us from our familiar world and makes us travel into an unconscious (under-) world of emotion and fantasy. It pulls us out of security, asks us to take risks for something outside ourself. We become conscious of new resources and must integrate them. We may be destroyed if we lose our footing.
Location and photo: unknown
Thus love is a form of shamanism. This is one reason why it is necessary for emotional maturity.
Told by Ñịpe´wġi, an Asiatic Eskimo man, in the village of Uñi´sak, at Indian Point, May, 1901.