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Carl Jung on the Scarab and the Snake


Zarathustra Seminars

[Carl Jung on the Scarab and the Snake]

Prof Jung:

We talked last week of that shepherd who was in danger of being penetrated by the black snake, and I find here a contribution: the dream of a young Swiss girl thirteen years old who also dreamt of a snake, but she behaved quite differently with it.

She dreamt that she was on a road with many adult people, and as they were about to reach the crossroad, she became suddenly aware of a huge grey snake that was moving along beside them, looking as long as the road they were on.

The snake said, follow me, but the adult people preferred to go in another direction.

The girl, however, obeyed; in spite of the fact that she was afraid, she followed the snake.

Of course, she didn’t know how to protect herself against such a monster, but as she followed along, the snake became more and more benevolent and less and less dangerous.

The way on which she was then walking was bordered by great boulders, and she saw that the way the other people were following was bordered, not by stones, but by huge scarabs.

First, they were ordinary scarabs but as the people approached them, they increased in size until they were as large as human beings; she describes them as horrible animals,
and she was very glad that she had not to pass them.

You know, scarabs live on rotten matter: they dig into carrion in order to bury their eggs in it, or they make balls of manure to feed on and deposit their eggs in, so they are not particularly nice animals in that respect, though they look all right.

If they attain human size they would be quite dangerous, naturally; those people who have chosen the other way, the way that is not parallel to the snake, would be in danger of
being eaten up by them.

Now what is a scarab?

It is a very typical symbol, but one cannot assume that this child had any notion of its meaning.

Mr. Baumann: The scarab is male and female at the same time.

Prof Jung: That is the old legend, but that is only one aspect. What would the scarab denote under all conditions? What is the beetle anyhow?

Mrs. Fierz: It is coldblooded.

Prof. Jung: Well, a snake is coldblooded also. No, I mean the fact that it has a sympathetic nervous system and no cerebro-spinal system.

To dream of a worm would have the same meaning-they stand for the sympathetic system. Now I don’t know how man knows that.

I assume that it is as a wasp knows that the third dorsal ganglion of the caterpillar’s sympathetic system is the motor ganglion and puts its sting just into that, so it lames the caterpillar without killing it; and then the eggs which the wasp deposits thrive on that still living caterpillar.

It is the wisdom of nature itself apparently, and with that knowledge as key, one can unlock the dream.

Then, you remember, the scarab was the symbol of resurrection in Egypt, the transitory form of Ra when he is invoked as Cheper or Chepra, the rising sun.

Ra in the form of the Chepra is buried in the ball of dung, and then he rises as the sun.

That means man in the incubation sleep, in a state of rebirth, man buried in the sympathetic system when consciousness-which is a function of the cerebro-spinal system-is entirely extinguished.

So the beetle represents the state of man when there is only deep unconsciousness.

Now when the dream says that those people are threatened by such animals, what would it mean?

Miss Hannah: That they are being caught by the unconscious.

Prof. Jung: Well, to be caught by the unconscious, or devoured by the unconscious, would mean what?

Miss Hannah: Madness in its worst form.

Prof. Jung: It might be madness, or it might also be a neurosis, or simply being at variance with one’s unconscious, hollowed out from within, a loss of libido, a loss of intensity of life.

Sure enough, people who don’t follow the serpent suffer from a loss of life; they are drained from within, for the faculty of realization is lacking.

It is as if the unconscious were all the time sapping their vitality, so something gets lost; they are only fragmentary.

They are usually in contradiction with their unconscious; therefore circumstances are unfavorable and they become neurotic-or if it is not exactly a neurosis they are at least only half existing. The world is full of such people.

Now, this child of thirteen is of course at the age when she would encounter the serpent, namely, the whole force of the instinctive being.

If you choose to follow the way of fear, you are sure of experiencing the totality of life, because the snake is the mediator between the conscious and the unconscious worlds.

Therefore, the snake is the symbol of the savior, the Agathodaemon, the good daimon, the redeemer that forms the bridge between heaven and hell, or between the world and god, between the conscious and the unconscious.

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In the Evangel of St. John, Christ likens himself to the serpent that was raised by Moses in the desert, against the many poisonous snakes that were killing the people.

That is exactly the same motif, but instead of the beetle, it was the serpent directly.

If one is at variance with one’s cerebro-spinal system plus the sympathetic system, it would be expressed by the poisonous snake.

Many people resist not only their sympathetic system, but the cerebrospinal system as well, and they are of course directly threatened by the serpent.

The snake then becomes poisonous.

There is no question of Nietzsche’s being threatened by the sympathetic system, for that would be very little in comparison with his dissociation from the cerebrospinal

He raised himself too high, onto the point of a needle, with his idea of the superman, so he is naturally in contradiction to his human side and that forms the black snake.

This dream is most typical.

This is a normal child and it shows what the normal solution would be.

Now, we are not yet through with that vision of the shepherd and the snake.

We tried to explain it last time from the standpoint of Nietzsche and Zarathustra.

Today I should like to look at it from our own point of view.

You see, it remains rather distant and perhaps more or less incomprehensible as the vision of Nietzsche’s Zarathustra, but if we try to realize what such a vision could mean if it happened in our own life today, it looks somewhat different.

At all events it gains in intensity and immediate importance.

Nietzsche would not have had such a vision if it had not been a problem of that time and the following decades.

He anticipated, through his sensitivity, a great deal of the subsequent mental development; he was assailed by the collective unconscious to such an extent that quite involuntarily he became aware of the collective unconscious that was characteristic of his time and the time that followed.

Therefore, he is called a prophet, and in a way he is a prophet.

He is the man who said that the next century would be one of the most warlike in human history, which was quite true, unfortunately-at least up to the present moment.

And he foretold, as you know, his own end. So his life and fate, one could say, was a collective program; his life was a forecast of a certain fate for his own country.

It is not exaggerated, therefore, to assume that we also might have such a dream, because we are in a way in his situation; everybody is a bit at variance with his own cerebro-spinal system.

Now, if a modern man knowing of analysis, should have such a vision, or let us say, if Nietzsche himself had known about it, what could he have done?

Of course, such a speculation is like asking what the old Romans would have done if they had had gunpowder and rifles.

To be sure they had no such thing and therefore it is futile to speculate about it, and so here too it is in a way futile to make such a speculation.

But Nietzsche is so close to us that he might almost have had that knowledge.

You see, I was a boy when he was a professor at the university.

I never saw him, but I saw his friend Jakob Burckhardt very often, and-also Bachofen, so we were not separated by cosmic distances.

Nietzsche’s mind was one of the first spiritual influences I experienced.

It was all brand new then, and it was the closest thing to me.

So we could easily assume that he might have known what I know now. ~Carl Jung, Zarathustra Seminar, Pages 1298-1301.

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