The Mantis makes an eland

In The Mantis and His Friends: Bushman Folklore, ed. D. F. Bleek: Cape Town, South Africa: T. Maskew Miller, 1924

The Mantis makes an eland (first version)


The Mantis put Kwammang-a’s shoe into the water-pool. Then Kwammang-a [a mierkat; also a rainbow deity] missed the shoe. He asked his wife about it. His wife said to him: “I do not know.” The Porcupine was his wife.



Then the Mantis made an eland out of Kwammang-a’s shoe. The Eland grew up eating the Mantis’s honey. Kwammang-a missed the shoe, but he was silent.

The leather of Kwammang-a’s shoe was alive still and it regenerated with water and honey into an eland.

Jung showed that each image in a myth functions as a symbol. Water symbolizes feeling and also the unconscious. Honey is an eloquent symbol of psychological energy in the unconscious: it is an energy-rich substance — linked to feeling because it is liquid — which accrues spontaneously by the activity of unconscious agents (bees).

Honeycomb, wild bees

Photo: May 11, 2011

A shoe, however, is crafted consciously (out of eland skin), then used to further conscious purpose. Jung showed that a shoe represents the capacity of consciousness to take a position, a stance, to have a perspective. As one walks, viewpoint moves and perspective changes.

Consciousness shifts its illumination like a flashlight, focussing attention on whatever is in front of it in the moment. Anything to the side slides into the unconscious as attention moves forward.

upright meerkats.jungian psychoanalysis

Meerkats stand upright to detect vultures by smell.

Photo: source unknown

Thus the Eland represents the unconscious elaboration of the shoe (which is an agent of consciousness). This content grows vigorously as it absorbs psychological energy.


horned grazer.jungian psychoanalysis

Young eland

Photo: source unknown

These images demonstrate the mechanism by which consciousness expands creatively beyond its own borders. A content of consciousness grows in the unconscious before it is absorbed back into consciousness. Consciousness can make a content visible (just as publication makes writing visible) but the accretion and elaboration of that content occurs in the swirling darkness, before it is fixed in the spotlight of consciousness.

An unconscious creative development does not follow a linear plan. It is emergent, that is, formed by self-organization. Self-organization is spontaneous and autonomous, composed of trial-and-error explorations of pre-existing possibilities (archetypes). By contrast, if a development does take place within consciousness then it is premeditated and willed, less creative. An example is studying grammer to learn a new language.

The germ of a creative development, however, is previous conscious work. The unconscious needs to be fertilized, just as an egg needs to be fertilized before the foetus develops in the darkness.

You can confirm this from your own experience. When faced with a new problem you examine it for awhile, consciously trying out different solutions. If no workable solutions appears then you shelve the problem. Later a new solution occurs to you.

There is a deeper meaning to this story. Not only does it describe the mechanism by which consciousness creates itself but, more important, the story is the medium within which consciousness creates itself. On the surface it seems that we tell a story but it is more accurate to say that the story tells us, that it creates our humanity as it composes itself in our minds.

As Bushmen told their story, the story created within them the images, metaphors, and transformations which are the stuff of consciousness. As the story came alive, consciousness came alive. Who are we? We are the people of this story. What distinguishes us? We are distinguished by our stories. What describes how we are? Our stories.

This is confirmed in the stories themselves. Many different entities become conscious; animals, animal skins, even pieces of wood acquire intentionality and purpose. In the cauldron within which consciousness creates itself, everything present acquires some of the magic.

All of the above confirms, by many repetitions, that the Mantis’ role was to trigger the growth of consciousness.

Collective versus individual

While mierkats form cooperative groups, a praying mantis hunts alone.

green insect.jungian psychoanalysis

Praying Mantis

Photo: source unknown

The Mantis is a trickster-hero who plays tricks and makes trouble. While Kwammanga-a and the other mierkats represent collective consciousness, the Mantis began the story by stealing Kwammanga-a’s shoe, opposing the status quo, acting as an individual to trigger new developments.


The Mantis went out; he went to cut honey with his knife. He gave it to the Eland …

knife.jungian psychoanalysis

African iron knife.

Photo: source unknown

When the Mantis cut honey with a knife, he discriminated unconscious energy and made it available to the content he chose. The Mantis had the phallic power to make distinctions and thus to promote the growth of an unconscious content which, when it was slaughtered, would in turn nurture consciousness.

Creative depression

[He gave it to the Eland] on a hollow stone, when he had called the Eland from the middle of the reeds in which it stood. The Eland came out to eat, it went back again into the reeds when it had finished eating.

Eland in bush

Photo: African Safari Masai Mara Migration Photography Tour Report 2007

That the Eland hid in the reeds is a repetition which confirms that it represents unconsciousness. An unconscious content emerges now and then, shows itself briefly, and then disappears again.

The people did not know that it was an eland to whom the Mantis was giving honey, for the Mantis used to come and tell them that the honey was not fat. When he came home, he kept saying that the honey was lean.

Not knowing and lying are qualities of consciousness which is limited in extent and can easily be deceived. Individual consciousness could manipulate collective consciousness.

Energy was not available to collective consciousness (mierkats), because it was absorbed in unconscious transformations in preparation for later use. This was a creative depression in which energy was withdrawn from consciousness as the unconscious created a new form.

Why is this happening?

Then Kwammang-a said to the young Ichneumon [his son, a mongoose]: “O Ichneumon, you must find out why Grandfather does not bring honey home.” So the Ichneumon went with the Mantis.

Slender Mongoose

2010 Copyright

Consciousness grows by asking “why is this happening?”

Kwammang-a said: “O Ichneumon, you must lie down to sleep and cover your head with a kaross, you must slit the kaross and look through the hole. You must lie as if sleeping, you must look.” The Ichneumon did so, because it was Kwammang-a who spoke. The Ichneumon was a child. He lay down, he pretended to sleep while he looked out of the hole in the kaross.

Ichneumon had come to gain information for the people. He would steal a glimpse of the unconscious, like Ibronka observing the devil through a keyhole, or like Prometheus stealing fire. To look through a narrow aperture with one eye is to exercise consciousness. Consciousness violates natural order, translates information into a different realm, like a telescope or a microscope.

The Mantis put the honey into the water; he called the Eland, it was a big eland. Then the Eland came leaping out of the reeds, while the Ichneumon was lying there. The Mantis thought that the Ichneumon was looking with one eye. The Eland came up and stood; the Mantis moistened its hair and smoothed it with the honey-water.

Then the Ichneumon jumped up. He said: “Hi, stand! It is that strong thing that comes to drink the honey-water.”

Ichneumon spoke out to claim his discovery. Consciousness is magic and speech is magic. When a thing is named and described then its reality is fixed in consciousness.

The Mantis drove the Eland away; it went into the reeds, it sat down.

The Mantis was ambivalent about consciousness. He tried to protect this natural, harmonious content because he knew consciousness would disrupt it.

The Mantis took up the quiver, he slung it on, he went away. He said: “O Ichneumon, let us go home!” They talked, he said to the Ichneumon: “O Ichneumon, you are a fool.” The Ichneumon said: “I am not a fool.”

Consciousness discriminates itself in argument. Mantis and the Ichneumon argued about whether the Ichneumon had seen accurately.

The Ichneumon went and told Kwammang-a. “O Kwammang-a, a strong thing is there, that keeps eating the honey; it is not small, it is big, it is dark, it has gone into the reeds.” Kwammang-a said: “My shoe it is, you must take me to see it.”

This paragraph is full of detail. Consciousness accumulates information.

The Mantis went out; he called the young Ichneumon, the young Ichneumon would not go with him. They were plotting together; the Ichneumon whispered, Kwammang-a also whispered, the Porcupine also whispered. And they went out when the Mantis had gone. The Ichneumon said to Kwammang-a: “O Kwammang-a, you must go and cut honey, you must take the honey to the water, you must call, while you are wetting the honey and pouring it out, then you will see.”

By consultation, discussion, advice, consciousness prepared itself to confront unconscious harmony.

His own name

This Kwammang-a did. He put honey into the water, while he called the Eland. The Ichneumon told him that the Mantis had said “Kwammang-a’s shoe” to it. He also called it his shoe.

In precise detail we are shown how consciousness grows. The Ichneumon told Kwammang-a the name the Mantis used for the Eland: Kwammang-a’s shoe. Kwammang-a learnt of the outer event but the use of his own name suggests that he also became conscious of the inner development, within the unconscious, of his conscious standpoint.

When a child learns his or her own name and can understand and create phrases about his or herself, then the child’s consciousness of self develops. This development is routine in childhood while the Bushman story describes a further, parallel development which sometimes happens in adulthood.

The hunt

The Eland came leaping out of the reeds; the Ichneumon said: “You must lie in wait for it.” The Eland ran up, it stood, it drank the water.

Eland, Taurotragus oryx, drinking at waterhole.

Etosha National Park, Namibia. Southern & Eastern Africa. Credit:  Martin Harvey

Kwammang-a shot it, as it drank. It jumped up, it bounded off, it went bounding away, for it felt it must go quite away to lie dying on the ground.

The phrase “for it felt it must” shows that consciousness was emerging throughout this tale, even in the Eland who represents unconscious energy.

Using his phallic power, Kwammang-a transformed the Eland into a new realm: it would become a carcass which would nourish the the people, collective consciousness.

Foreboding, seeing

Meanwhile the Mantis was getting honey, and the honey which he first reached was dry. He wondered why the honey was like this that day, and he suspected that the young Ichneumon had done this, that he had guided the people. “For it seems as if blood is flowing, and that is why this honey is lean. It is not always so, for the honey is usually fat. It seems as if danger has come upon my home. Now I will once more seek honey, that I may find out, whether it is true that danger has come.”

Honey, meat (fat or lean), and blood are all images of unconscious energy which are in communication with each other. Within the unconscious distinctions do not hold; one image bleeds into the next.

Detection, evaluation, argument, conclusion; these are characteristics of conscious mental processing which were employed by the mantis, that is, which occurred in the unconscious: consciousness develops in the unconscious. Unlike Kwammang-a, the Mantis always acted alone, playing tricks on the people: the Mantis represents individuation which is always in tension with collective consciousness.

He went up to other honey, he cut it once more; that honey was also dry. Then he picked up his quiver and slung it on, and said he would go and see for himself, because he felt a foreboding in his body.

The story is precise about how consciousness develops. Foreboding was in his body, so he went to see with his eyes, to transform bodily, unconscious awareness into something more conscious.


Then the Mantis went to the water. He called the Eland, it did not come. Then he wept; tears fell from his eyes, because he did not see the Eland. He rose up, he sought the Eland’s spoor, he saw blood, he wept again. He took his kaross, he covered his head over, he returned home weeping. He went to lie down while the sun was high, he was angry, angrily he lay down.

Tears of grief and anger. Consciousness must include feeling in order to evaluate what is happening. Tears fall from the eyes which are the seat of consciousness: this is a repetition of the idea that feelings are integral to consciousness.


Kwammang-a went and called to Ki-ya-koe: “A mierkat is here, another mierkat is here, another mierkat is also here, another mierkat is also here; Ki-ya-koe is here, Kwammang-a is here.” Then they went to the dead Eland. Kwammang-a looked at it, he returned home, while Ki-ya-koe and the others cut up the Eland.

Kwammang-a gathered other mierkats. The collective cut up the unconscious energy source and assimilated it into consciousness.


Then the Mantis rose up, he picked up the quiver, he ran along the Eland’s spoor. And he ran out on a little bank and caught sight of the mierkats as they stood cutting up the Eland. Then he took out an arrow, for he meant to fight the Eland’s battle. He ran up to the people, he planted his foot firmly and shot at them, but the arrow returned; it passed over his head, he dodged it.

When a new content enters consciousness it arouses fierce resistance. When a patient attacks the therapist, it may be because change is beginning. Here the Mantis resisted the transformation.


The Mierkats went on quietly cutting up, and feeding themselves with the Eland’s meat which they were cooking, because they knew that these arrows would not kill them. The Mantis called out: “There is still an arrow in the quiver with which I will shoot you; it will hit you.” He ran forward, he shot, but the arrow came back, it passed close to his head, and he saw that he had nearly killed himself. Then he let the arrows be and ran up to the people meaning to strike them with a knobkerry. But a Mierkat snatched the knobkerry out of the Mantis’s hand and caught hold of him. He beat him, throwing him down on the Eland’s horns.

The collective overcame the resistance and continued to assimilate new energy.

Then the Mierkat told the Mantis to bring wood. He brought wood, they lighted a fire.

Cooking transforms a natural energy source for assimilation into consciousness.

Gall bladder

The Mantis gathered more wood; then he saw the Eland’s gall on a bush. The Mantis said he would prick the gall open, as it hung on the bush. The gall said it would break and cover him with darkness. To this the Mantis agreed.

Gallbladder and ducts

Photo: source unknown

The Mantis could converse with the gall bladder because everything in this story had some consciousness. The gall bladder was an orb of dark fluid suspended above (in the bush); the story imagines it as the counterpart to the sun, releasing darkness instead of light. In western tradition also, gall suggests dark psychological forces like bitterness, envy, and presumption.

The Mantis pricked the Eland’s gall open. The gall said he should spring into the darkness. So the Mantis sprang into the darkness, so that he did not see the bushes. He kept getting into the bushes, because he could not see the ground.

The unconscious fought back, seeking to preserve its own state, to undo the gains which consciousness had made. When consciousness increases the unconscious mounts resistance to the change. When a person grows and becomes more conscious he or she may suffer anxiety and sleepless nights.

The moon

His thinking-strings quickly told him to take off his shoe and throw it up into the sky, for the shoe to light up the earth for him. So he quickly snatched off the shoe from his foot, with the dust on it, he quickly threw it up. He sat down, he peered into the night.

His mind (thinking strings) and his conscious standpoint (shoe) create reflection (the moon) which represents personal, individual consciousness.

Then he saw the Mierkats standing cutting up the Eland in the dark. He rose up and went to them in the night. The Mierkats scolded him: “The Mantis has been playing tricks with the Eland’s gall. The sun has gone into the dark.”

The Mantis said to them: “You must hold a torch to light yourselves in cutting up the Eland….

Burning wood torch

Photo: source unknown

… but my shoe stands up there in the sky where I have thrown it, to shine for me, so that I can see you as you stand.” He went to pick up his quiver in the night, he picked up the kaross in the night, he slung on his quiver in the night, he went home in the night.

Full moon, Africa

Photo: source unknown

The story distinguishes between different degrees of awareness. Moonlight is available to all but here the Mierkats (collective consciousness) could notsee in the moonlight. While the Mantis had cool, individual reflection, the Mierkats had to use a torch which burnt like a tiny sun. Thus the story distinguishes individual consciousness (cool and steady) from collective consciousness (hot and unsteady).


The Ichneumon asked him: “O Mantis, was it really you who bewitched the Eland’s gall, so that the sun went into the dark, while the moon shone?”

The foregoing events were recounted. Consciousness strengthens itself by reflecting upon what has happened.

The Mantis said: “The sun was shining brightly when I grew angry, because the Mierkat had wrestled with me and beaten me with a stick. I gathered wood, but I was angry. I made a hole for the fire, but I was angry. I put wood on the fire, but I was angry. I placed stones on the wood, I gathered more wood and put it on, I lighted the fire, but I was angry. The place was light because it was midday, but I was angry …..

Nothing is without meaning. The Mantis’s personal anger is emphasized by many repetitions. His anger led the trickster to further creation. Individual consciousness is derived from individual passion.

…. so I pricked open the Eland’s gall, because I wanted the sun to go into the dark. Then the sun set behind the mountain; darkness covered the earth. Darkness covered us all, even the Mierkats, we were all in the dark.

Out of his anger he obliterated collective consciousness, setting the stage for a new individual development.

Moonlight versus sunlight

Then I quickly thought about it, I quickly snatched off a shoe and spoke to it as I threw it up. I said: ‘I am the Mantis, and this my shoe shall verily become the moon which shines in the dark.’”

That is why the moon shines at night. That is why the moon is cold, because it is a shoe, it is leather. It is red, because it has earth on it, the dust in which the Mantis had walked.

It is the Mantis’s standpoint, the standpoint of the individual, which becomes the moon. Moonlight is reflection upon the dark unconscious, while sunlight is unquestioning recognition of that which is manifest.

The sun feels warm, because it is the sun’s armpit.

Because the armpit is a hemisphere of darkness suspended above the earth, it suggests the sky. Hence the sun could be located in the armpit. There are images from ancient Egypt of the sun radiating from the Sun-God’s armpit. In Polynesian myth Tahaki was a collective hero – not a trickster like the Mantis – who made lightening in his armpit.

This image continues the description of collective consciousness, suggesting that it comes from body heat. Collective consciousness is hot, unsteady, and unreflective, like the consciousness of a mob. Collective consciousness is human-made: not only celestial but also a product of human energy.

Under the sun people drink, for they feel thirsty, so they drink. Under the moon they make a fire, they also sleep, because the moon shines at night, it walks across the sky by night.

The moon is a shoe because it walks across the sky at night.

Under moonlight, people burned fires and slept. These are images of receptivity and reflection, of psychological transformation and transition.

When the sun feels warm people shoot springbok, they hunt springbok. All the ground is light, all places are light, all the people hunt.

Under sunlight people practiced traditional skills.

Bushman hunters

Photo: source unknown


Our interpretation is confirmed by yet another repetition. The individual and collective poles of consciousness are shown to be archetypal: eternal and omnipresent like the sun and the moon.

The tale’s overall design is subtle: first consciousness is elaborated in animal/human form, then its celestial basis is revealed.

The Mantis makes an eland (second version)

The Mantis once did as follows:—Kwammang-a had taken off a part of his shoe and thrown it away, and the Mantis picked it up and went and soaked it in the water, at a place where reeds stand. He went away, then came back again, came up and looked. He turned away again, for he saw that the Eland was still small.

Again he came, he found the Eland’s spoor, where it had come out of the water to graze. Then he went up to the water, while the Eland went seeking the grass which it eats. He waited, sitting by the water; he was upon the water’s bank, opposite the Eland’s assegai, and the Eland came to drink there. And he saw the Eland as it came to drink. He said: “Kwammang-a’s shoe’s piece.” And the person walked up, when his father trilled to him. (He called, making his tongue quiver, as Bushmen still do in springbok hunting.)

Then the Mantis went to some honey, he went to cut it. He came and put the bag down near the water. He returned home. Then before the sun was up he came back, came to pick up the bag. He approached while the Eland was in the reeds. He called to it: “Kwammang-a’s shoe’s piece.” And the Eland got up from the reeds, the Eland walked up to his father. His father put down the bag of honey. He took out the honeycomb and laid it down. He kept picking up pieces of it, he kept rubbing it on to the Eland’s ribs, while he splashed them making them very nice.

Then he went away and took the bag to seek more honey which he cut. And he came back and laid the bag down near the water and returned home. Once more he came and picked up the bag, once more he went up to that place and called the Eland out of the water, saying: “Kwammang-a’s shoe’s piece.” Then the person stood shyly in the water; then he walked up to his father, for he had grown. Then his father wept, fondling him. He again worked making him nice with honeycomb. Then he went away, while the Eland walked back into the water, went to bask in the water.

The Mantis did not come back for a time, and for three nights the Eland grew, becoming like an ox. Then the Mantis went out early; the sun rose, as he walked up to the water. He called the Eland, and the Eland rose up and came forth, and the ground resounded as he came. Then the Mantis sang for joy about the Eland; he sang:

“Ah, a person is here!

“Kwammang-a’s shoe’s piece!

“My eldest son’s shoe’s piece!

“Kwammang-a’s shoe’s piece!

“My eldest son’s shoe’s piece!”

Meanwhile he rubbed the person down nicely, rubbed down the male Eland. Then he went away and returned home.

Next morning he called the young Ichneumon, saying the young Ichneumon should go with him, they would be only two; for he decieved the young Ichneumon. And they went out and reached the water while the Eland was grazing. They sat down in the shade of the bush by which the Eland’s assegai stood, where he kept coming to take it.

The Mantis said: “Young Ichneumon, go to sleep!” for he meant to decieve him. So the young Ichneumon lay down, as the Eland came to drink, because the sun stood at noon, and was getting hot. Meanwhile the young Ichneumon had covered up his head, because the Mantis wished him to cover it. But the young Ichneumon did not sleep, he lay awake. Then the Eland walked away, and the young Ichneumon said: “Hi, stand, hi stand, stand!” And the Mantis said: “What does my brother think he has seen yonder?” And the young Ichneumon said: “A person is yonder, standing yonder.” And the Mantis said: “You think it is magic; but it is a very small thing, it is a bit of father’s shoe, which he dropped. Magic it is not.” And they went home.

Then the young Ichneumon told his father Kwammang-a about it, and Kwammang-a said the young Ichneumon must guide him and show him the Eland; he would see whether the Eland was so very handsome when the Mantis had rubbed it down. Then the young Ichneumon guided his father, while the Mantis was just at another place, for he meant to go to the water later on. Meantime they went up to the Eland at the water, and Kwammang-a looked at the Eland and he knocked it down, while the Mantis was not there. He knocked the Eland down and was cutting it up, before the Mantis came. So when the Mantis arrived, he saw Kwammang-a and the others standing cutting up the Eland.

And the Mantis said: “Why could you not first let me come?” And he wept for the Eland, he scolded Kwammang-a’s people, because Kwammang-a had not let him come first, and let him be the one to tell them to kill the Eland.

And Kwammang-a said: “Tell Grandfather to leave off! He must come and gather wood for us, that we may eat, for this is meat.”

Then the Mantis came, he said he had wanted Kwammang-a to let him come while the Eland was still alive, and not to have killed the Eland when he was not looking. They might have left the Eland to kill until he was looking on, then he would have told them to kill the Eland; then his heart would have been comfortable, for his heart did not feel satisfied about his Eland, whom he alone had made.

Then as he went to gather wood, he caught sight of a gall there; it was his Eland’s gall. And he said he would pierce the gall open, he would jump. And the gall said: “I will burst covering you in.” Then the young Ichneumon said: “What are you looking at there, that you do not gather wood at that place.” Then the Mantis left the gall, he brought wood and put it down. Then he again looked for wood at the place where the gall had been. He went up to the gall, he again said he would pierce the gall open, he would jump. The gall again said it would burst, covering him in. He said he would jump, the gall must burst when he trod on it, as he jumped.

The young Ichneumon scolded him again; he said: “What can be yonder, that you keep going to that place. You do not gather wood, for you keep going to that bush. You are going to play tricks and not to gather wood.”

And Kwammang-a said: “You must make haste and let us go when you have called Grandfather, for the gall lies there, Grandfather has seen it. So you must make haste. For when Grandfather behaves like this about anything, he is not acting straightly, for he is playing tricks with his thing. So you must manage that we start, when you have called Grandfather, that we may leave the place where the gall is.”

Then they packed up the meat into the net, while the Mantis untied his shoe, he put the shoe into the bag. It was an arrow bag which he had slung on next the quiver. And they carried the things and went along homewards. And on the way the Mantis said: “This shoe-string has broken.” And the young Ichneumon said: “You must have put the shoe away.” And the Mantis said: “No, no, the shoe must really be lying there, where we cut up the Eland. So I must turn back and go to fetch the shoe.” And the young Ichneumon said: “You must have put the shoe in, you must feel inside the bag, feel in the middle of the bag, whether you cannot find the shoe.”

And the Mantis felt in the bag, he kept feeling above the shoe. He said: “See, the shoe is really not in it. I must go back and pick it up, for the shoe is truly yonder.” The young Ichneumon said: “We must go home, we really must go home.” And the Mantis said: “You can go home, but I must really go and get the shoe.” Then Kwammang-a said: “Let Grandfather be! Let him turn back and do as he says.” And the young Ichneumon said: “O person, I do wish the Mantis would for once listen when we speak.” The Mantis said: “You always go on like this! I must really go and get the shoe.”

Then the Mantis turned back. He ran up to the gall, he reached it. Then he pierced the gall, he made the gall burst. And the gall broke covering in his head; his eyes became big, he could not see. And he groped about feeling his way. And he went groping along, groping along, groping, he found an ostrich feather. He picked up the feather and sucked it and brushed off the gall from his eyes with it.

Then he threw the feather up, he said: “Thou must now lie up in the sky, thou must henceforth be the Moon. Thou shalt shine at night. Thou shalt by thy shining lighten the darkness for men, till the Sun rises to light up all things for men. It is he under whom men hunt. For thou dost glow for men, while the Sun shines for men. Under him men walk about, they go hunting, they return home. Thou art the Moon, thou dost give light for men, then thou dost fall away, thou dost return to life, when thou hast fallen away, thou dost give light to all people.”

That is what the Moon does: The Moon falls away and returns to life, and he lights up all the fat places.