Children’s Dreams: Notes from the Seminar Given in 1936-1940
[Carl Jung on the Symbolism of the “washing of the hands.”]
We have shown the connection between the nature of the girl and the elves. Elves don’t have souls.
In her playful way, the girl now does something very significant: she washes her hands.
Washing one’s hands has always been connected with a great and magnificent ceremony.
At first, washing one’s hands was probably done out of politeness and custom, but it is also a symbolic act.
Thus the priest in Catholic mass prays for moral lustration during the washing of hands, the introductory part of mass.
In Matthew 27:24, there is the well-known passage: “When Pilate saw that he could prevail nothing, but that rather a tumult was made, he took water, and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, I am innocent of the blood of this just person: see ye to it.”
Something similar is found in Deuteronomy, where the following is demanded after a manslaughter: “And all the elders of that city, that are next unto the slain man, shall wash their hands” (21:6).
In Cornwall, according to the biblical tradition, washing one’s hands was the sign of innocence of a certain crime.
An Icelandic prayer says: “I remove my enemies and adversaries from me by washing.”
In this context let us also remember the statement of Lady Macbeth: “A little water clears us of this deed: How easy is it, then!”
Who can forget the scene in which Lady Macbeth enters the hall after the bloody deed at midnight, watched by the doctor and the gentlewoman: “Look, how she rubs her hands
It is an accustomed action with her, to seem thus washing her hands.”
In ancient customs, too, washing one’s hands is considered necessary in extraordinary circumstances, for example, in Silesia, one has to wash one’s hands after a burial to avoid dying or losing one’s teeth.
In the Rhineland, you should wash your hands after a sudden fright to prevent lasting harm. In Southern Germany and in Switzerland, special blessings by washing the hands are customary, which impressively show the importance of this act.
In all cultures, washing one’s hands is a symbolic act, an integral part of the ritual.
The Egyptian priest, for example, is called uibu, the washed one, or uibu totui, the clean one with both hands.
In alchemy, too, we know of the ablutio, when the pure white color emerges after the nigredo, the blackness.~Carl Jung, Children’s Dream Seminar Pages 301-302.