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Carl Jung analyzes dreams of the Terrible Dreadful Mother.


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Modern Psychology: C. G. Jung’s Lectures at the ETH Zürich, 1933-1941

Lecture III 9th November, 1934

At the end of the last lecture we spoke of the interpretation of the crab-lizard monster from Freud’s point of view.

To him it would be an image of childish recollections, when the child seemed very small and the parent fabulously large.

The symbol of the Mother is rich in aspects.

Mother love can be a most positive quality.

We all know what it can be at its best, so there is no need to enlarge up on it, but here we are considering its dark background which is the aspect that seems most important to Freud.

One example out of many will make this clearer:

It is the case of a young neurotic woman suffering from a mother complex.

She loved and admired her mother beyond all reasonable bounds and yet, as quite a young child, she began to have very singular dreams in which the mother figured as a ghost, a witch or a wild beast.

These dreams gave her an exceedingly guilty feeling and made her feel inferior.

When she was 14 she forced herself to confide in her 16 year old sister, only to find that the sister had exactly similar dreams.

Their mother was a very instinctive woman; her aims for her children were ideal and she was willing to sacrifice herself very genuinely for them and
yet the result of this devotion was such dreams.

This happened because the home was too warm and comfortable; in such ideal conditions the children naturally wish to stay in the nest where they feel so secure, it would be foolish to leave such a pleasant situation for a cold outside world.

A young man also finds it far too nice in such a home, the young girls whom he meets seem stupid and, moreover, they all have one aim “to get married”.

His mother, with her greater experience of life, is far more interesting to him, moreover she understands her son better and is willing to excuse his moods as no young girl would or could.

So why marry?

Yet if a man is to achieve any independence, or to have children of his own, he must get out into the world; he cannot marry his mother, but the parting often amounts to a tragedy.

Nietzsche speaks of the “sacrilegious backward grasp”.

A mother can swallow the entire instinctive life of her daughters, the daughters then feel hopelessly inferior beside her and their feelings become hyposensitized in a way that men are never able to understand.

Whether it is hate or love which they feel for the mother, is immaterial.

It is the being bound which matters.

Such girls either have the greatest difficulty in marrying, or even if this is accomplished, in forming any relationship to their children, for their own mother is the Mother.

A man in a similar condition finds himself unable to adapt socially, he often becomes homo-sexual, for all his hetero-sexuality is in the mother, or the available sexuality is of such a brutal character, that it can only be related to a certain type of woman.

These are the causes for the negative Mother motif in dreams and in folklore.

We find magnificent pictures of this problem in myths.

In Red Riding Hood, for example, the wolf (the mother) eats the grandmother and Red Riding Hood herself.

These negative experiences have a very sinister character and belong to the most archaic experiences of mankind, archetypal in character,
constantly repeating themselves.

Ernst Barlach gives an excellent picture of such a theme in his book Der tote Tag.

The son, inspired by his father’s glowing descriptions of the world, resolves to ride forth into it, but his mother does all she can to dissuade him.

He disregards her warnings and saddles and prepares his magic horse, but in the night she creeps out and murders the horse; when the son
wakes up and finds his steed dead in the stable, he goes mad.

This is a classical picture of the problem, the mother seen in this aspect from the unconscious is a dreadful demon.

If our dreamer were a woman her monster image of the Father would be on parallel lines, but with differences which we have not time to
enter up on now.

In mythological motifs the dreadful Mother plays a significant role.

(Here a fragment of a Babylonian epic was read).

This fragment relates the mythological story of the slaying of Tiamat, the dreadful Mother-Goddess.

She is portrayed in many forms in the temples of Babylon: as a lion with dragon’s wings , a two-headed serpent, etc. Marduk, the god of spring,
the victorious sun, is chosen to fight her.

His weapons are the seven winds, the cyclone and the net, in which last he entangles her.

She cannot close her mouth into which the winds rush and rend her body; then Marduk cuts her body into two parts, out of one he makes
the earth and out of the other, the heavens.

The motif of the net is the attribute of wisdom, it represents the logos and is the net of understanding in which the Mother can be caught.

I will not explain this, but leave you to think it over.

We come now in our dream to the left-right motif; the monster moves first to the left and then to the right, forming an angle in which the
dreamer stands.

Here we have Freud’s symbolism again, the angle is made by the two thighs of the mother, and the disguised wish is to be there, either to be born, or to commit an

The next image, the rod, is also a sexual symbol; the dreamer beats the monster with it.

Beating with rods is a frequent symbol of impregnation.

It is used as a spring rite; the boys beat the girls with switches or, in other places, sprinkle them with water, this is to make the land and the women fruitful.

Many children are considered a blessing in primitive conditions, but they are a curse in civilised countries!

Mussolini believes, it is true, that we should return to primitive beliefs on this point, but the birth rate continues to fall all over Europe and this is exceedingly fortunate .

These rites were often still more indecent, phallic symbols even being carried through the streets.

Goethe mentions such processions in his “Italienische Reise”, where they carried exceedingly indecent instruments.

These customs have since been abolished, but we can still see old phallic field gods being used as boundary stones in the cornfields of Egypt.

All these things are survivals of primitive days when people were more naive.

In old German, the word which now means “to beat” had the universal meaning of “to make fruitful”; beating therefore has a ceremonial significance.

Striking a knight (dubbing him knight) is a similar rite which has for the most part disappeared, though the King of England still uses this procedure.

The idea behind is to convey mana.

The next motif in the dream is the contemplation, this aims at allowing mana to stream from the eyes until it fills the monster with life again, so that the incest wish can be fulfilled. According to Freud’s conception, the incompatible wish has found its fulfilment in this dream, though the censor has fortunately entirely prevented the dreamer from being disturbed by any understanding of what is taking place.

For Freud, then, the principal content of this dream is that the man is bound to his mother by his secret incest wish.

This was already shown in the second dream when cramp prevented him from running to the station, although he had big plans
and really wanted to get there.

He is caught in the morass of his longing for the mother and his fate resembles that of Lot’s wife.

In our dreamer’s case the mother is dead, but that is of no importance, it is the Mother Image which is meant.

Freud’s chief concern would be to acquaint the man with these facts and help him to free himself from them, so that he could proceed up on his course.

To illustrate this idea I will quote the case of a patient of my own, a doctor, a man of 36 who was unmarried and living with his mother.

For some time I struggled to make him see how childish his situation was, but I made no impression on him whatever.

I then discovered that he made copious notes of his analysis and sent them, after every hour he had with me, to his mother.

By doing this he sterilized the analysis.

At last one day I took him most specially by the ear and said “Listen, you are just sitting in your mother’s lap” – “What!” he said
“but you don’t mean that you think I should leave home!” – “Yes”, I replied, “I do mean just that”.

He had a dream that night:

He was standing under a steep hill and wanted to reach the top, but the grass was wet and slippery so it was very difficult, but at last he succeeded.

The mother stood at the bottom of the hill and was trying to climb after him.

He shouted to her not to do so, but she obstinately persisted, slipped, rolled to the bottom and broke her thigh.

This dream made a great impression on him.

He said “That is my greatest fear, that if I leave her, my mother will be injured.”

The next day he received a telegram saying that his mother had broken her leg!

I will not try to explain such f1 thing, I will leave it to the realm of higher physics!

This dream really says clearly “It is difficult, but desirable and possible for the man by understanding to reach his goal”, and Freud would interpret our crab-monster dream in the same way and would maintain that our dreamer could also get further if he could understand and renounce the longing for the Mother.

We come now to the next chapter in our theme, namely Adler.

Freud believes in the “Lust Prinzip” (principle of pleasure).

It is pleasant to stay in the warm nest.

But Adler says that is only apparently so, but that the real urge of man is to make himself felt.

Adler does not indulge in any incest wishes, he wants to tyrannize over the mother, and put himself in authority over her, to become so important that she quotes him all the time “Der goldene Sohn hates gesagt” (My marvellous son has spoken).

He wishes to sit in the centre of the house and to be lord of all he survey.

This is also a perfectly valid point of view: the will to power principle. Carl Jung, ETH Lecture 9Nov1934, Pages 147-149.