[Carl Jung on the Symbols in fantasies]
Lecture VI 7th June, 1935
In my last lecture I read you the beginning of a series of phantasy pictures; we will try to understand these today.
The superficial aspect is comparatively easy, it consists of small events which resemble those in a fairy tale but this does not tell us very much.
These insignificant events have a meaningful background and it is here that we shall find what we are searching for.
We could treat this phantasy as a dream and ask the patient for her associations but we should not get far in this way for the phantasy contains symbols of a very universal
Our starting point is the lake which is a mirroring surface hiding the unconscious. We come to a lake or a pond in almost every journey to the underworld.
There are many mediaeval examples of this, lakes and forests are both symbols for secret depths where unknown beings live.
Francesco Colonna, a monk of the 13th century, wrote Hyperotomachia, which means the dreamlove-conflict; it is written in dream form and contains a descent into the underworld of the psyche.
Hypnerotomachia opens in the Black Forest and a famous example of the same theme is to be found in Dante’s Divine Comedy which also opens in a wood.
Animals appear in both but whereas the wolf leads the way in Hypnerotomachia, in the Divine Comedy Dante is afraid of the animals.
The animal which appears in our phantasy is a black snake, a sufficiently alarming sight but our patient is not afraid for she regards it as a “mere phantasy and therefore quite harmless “.
If she had remained an onlooker it would have been as if Dante had watched the animals in the wood remarking:” Oh, there are some animals walking about” in which case there would have been no Divine Comedy.
But at this point the patient fortunately remembered that I had told her she should be in the phantasies herself.
She had, it is true, a quite remarkable talent for keeping life away from herself, so now she looked away from the snake, out over the lake which was, appropriately, frozen.
The snake has the character of the underworld par excellence, it is chthonic, peculiarly of the earth, sinister and alarming.
Her psyche is pointing out to her that something which is exceedingly unpleasant to her can approach from her own unconscious.
We constantly forget how far we have got from our own inner law and this revenges itself upon us with a neurosis, or digestive disturbances, which should make clear to us that “we have made out the bill without the host.”
It is only possible to live as we should if we live according to our own nature.
But in these days we live by our brains alone and ignore the very definite laws of our body and the instinctive world.
We damage ourselves severely when we offend against these, and this is what our patient has done in her efforts to live rationally.
The lake is frozen over which means that there is no connection between the conscious and the unconscious.
This is a clear statement which she could understand, everything is cold and dead inwardly.
The appearance of the lake or wood is a sign that the adventure is about to begin and the patient goes out on to the lake with the snake.
This is a dangerous enterprise for the ice may break; she has no idea how thick it is.
She evidently goes out on the lake in the way of the snake, she makes an instinctive movement.
This is proved by the snake following her out, so we may presume that her action is right.
People always try to step on to ice, the smallest frozen puddle invites the foot to test its thickness.
This is an instinctive curiosity.
The snake becomes independent after following the patient out, describes a circle, rolls itself into a spiral, and then lifts its head.
At Just she is really interested for it is the first time that she has realized that things in phantasies could move of themselves; this finally convinced her that she was
not making the whole thing up.
Hofmann was terrified sometimes by the ghosts in his own tales, they had such an effect on him that he used to scream out aloud.
When things are as vivid as this we become really curious as to what is going to happen next in our own psyche.
The snake’s movement is an encircling one which is very characteristic of snakes, especially of giant snakes, and this movement easily causes a panic.
My Somali boy taught me that if you are in the circle of a giant snake you should take your knife and stick it into the ground in front of you, edge outwards, and wait till the snake has reached the blade, then it will stop, and you can step backwards out of the circle.
The same movement is represented in the circumambulatio which was practiced in the founding of Roman cities; the centre of the circle thus described was called the fundus.
Here, in Switzerland, parishes are still ridden round in order to protect them from demoniacal enemy influences; this is done in the Canton Lucerne, for instance.
The snake rearing its head means that it is lifting itself above the earth.
This is an anticipation, for going down is always a preparation for going up and vice versa.
This is like the movement in the Kundalini Yoga, it is the movement of the snake which heralds the moment of uprising.
At this point the ice breaks, the conscious and the unconscious are no longer separated, and a block of ice is formed, a kind of island.
An island is the idea par excellence of a piece of separate earth which belongs to you yourself, so she stands on her own ground, and it is the place indicated by the snake.
In antiquity when you wanted to make a place holy you set a snake to protect it.
In Rome, near the Palatine Hill, there is a warning sign which consists of two snakes and an inscription under them curses anyone who should defile this sacred ground in the name of twelve gods.
This procedure has worked apparently for the ground is still as it was then.
This patient is unable to find her right place.
There is a mythological parallel to this island motif. Hera, the angry wife of Zeus, swore never to let Latona find a resting place on earth.
Latona wandered endlessly till at last she found a piece of earth floating on the sea and as it had no connection with the mainland it was not under the influence of Hera.
Poseidon sent up four pillars to make its foundations strong and then it became a safe place where things could happen.
It is there that Apollo and Artemis were born. It would be very interesting to explore this piece of mythology but unfortunately there is no time to do so now.
The ice block moves in circles like the snake, this is not the circumambulatio, but a rotary movement.
Rotation plays an important role in the symbolism of islands or sacred places.
The circling turns into a spiral movement and the ice block sinks to the bottom of the lake.
The patient then leaves her island and swims about, looking for interesting things but she found nothing probably because her conscious was leading.
The snake now takes the lead and as it has a better nose it leads her to a hole in the bottom of the lake.
It is often animals that lead the action; in the Divine Comedy, for instance, the trinity of the panther, lion and wolf frightened Dante so much that he fell into a hole where he found his human guide, Virgil.
In the Hypnerotomachia the motif is similar, only here the hero has no fear of the wolf and follows him.
The wolf leads him to a ravine and down to the forgotten castle.
There he meets with other animals and studies peculiar tablets on the walls which speak of the god with the double meaning.
This upsets his Christian conscience and he would like to escape, but a dragon stands in the way.
In these two examples we find that the same result is produced through fear of and trust in the animal.
In our phantasy the snake app ears to have become quite harmless and the patient follows it.
There is nothing in the New Testament about animals, the places where they are mentioned were left out by the compilers of our scriptures.
Just as authentic documents exist in which they do appear, but they were regarded as too unclean for inclusion.
In these days, on the other hand, we are becoming very sentimental about animals, every kind of society for the prevention of cruelty to animals exists, which shows that we are getting more friendly towards our instincts.
They are not so dangerous for us as we are further removed from the primitive.
Primitives have to repress their animal natures or they become too strong for them but we can afford to be more tolerant towards them because a thicker layer of civilization separates us from them.
The snake takes her to a still deeper hole, this time she does not trust herself to go down, but only looks into it, and suddenly she sees the sun in the very depths of the earth.
This made a deep impression upon her, it was another absolutely unexpected archetype.
We find a parallel to this experience in a book called “Fairy Tales from the Unconscious” by Oscar 0. H . Schmitz.
The following passages are taken from the story “Adam’s Rambles with the Snake”:
” Adam and the snake return e d to the hut. The old peasant was no longer there, the door and the window stood wide open. Clear wintry sunshine lighted the room. The comfort had vanished but also the smell. At the request of the snake Adam opened the trap -door. The treadmill and the monk had disappeared. On the floor of the cellar there flashed between black vulcanized stones the underground midnight sun. Adam recognized it. He had seen this image once before. At the beginning of his travels on the Sunday evening when he entered the cloister from which he old man showed him the way into the depths. Now he remembered how he had had to lift a trap door in order to find the staircase. But on that stone he saw the first reflection of the red underground sun. ‘Here my wisdom stops’, said Koruna (the snake) solemnly.’ I may lead no mortal further than to the counter star of your daily sun. Cast your strongest deepest look upon it, its light does not blind like the midday sun, but opens the eyes of a deeper insight’.
‘And do you know what else I may see? ‘ asked Adam deeply moved.
‘You will see the perfection of the world. This is only permitted to man who is able to look above and below himself. We other creatures are and remain what we are. So to me, at creation, my being was given, it cannot become more or less. Man, however, can become animal or god.” ~Carl Jung, Zarathustra Seminar, Pages 219-222.