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Symbolic Life

in writing a few introductory words to this publication, one of his last, I am discharging a duty to my dead friend, Oskar A. H. Schmitz.

I am not a literary man, nor am I competent to pass judgment on aesthetic questions.

Moreover, the literary value of “The Tale of the Otter” is of little concern to me.

I readily admit that, as a fairytale, it is as good or as bad as any other that a writer has invented.

Such tales, as we know, even though invented by a great writer, do not breathe the flowery, woodland magic of the popular fairytale.

Usually they can be shown to be products of the author’s personal psychology, and they have a problematical air that makes them slightly unnatural.

This is true also of “The Tale of the Otter.”

It is only a literary form for a content that could have been expressed in quite other words and in quite another way. Nevertheless, it was not chosen fortuitously.

The content clothed itself in fairytale form not with the secret pretence of being an allegory, but because in this guise it could find the simplest and most direct access to the reader’s heart.

Childlike simplicity of heart was a basic trait of Schmitz’s nature, known to very few people, and one which he himself recognized only late in life.

Thanks to this simplicity, he could speak to the hearts of those he wished to touch.

I happen to know how the tale came to be written.

It was not born of any conscious intention to reach a particular kind of public; it was never even thought out, but flowed unconsciously from his pen.

Schmitz had learnt how to switch off his critical intellect for certain purposes and to place his literary powers at the disposal of the heart’s wisdom.

In this way he was able to say things that are infinitely far removed from the usual style of his writings.

At times, it became a real necessity for him to express himself in this way.

For many things which reason wrestles with in vain flow easily and effortlessly into a pen emptied of all critical intentions.

The result may seem very simple, indeed naive, and anyone who read it as one reads a popular fairytale would be disappointed.

It is equally idle to take it as an allegory.

Schmitz himself did not really know what his tale meant.

He told me so himself, for we often talked about it.

The utterances of the heart—unlike those of the discriminating intellect—always relate to the whole.

The heartstrings sing like an Aeolian harp only under the gentle breath of a mood, an intuition, which does not drown the song but listens.

What the heart hears are the great, all-embracing things of life, the experiences which we do not arrange ourselves but which happen to us.

All the pyrotechnics of reason and literary skill pale beside this, and language returns to the naive and childlike.

Simplicity of style is justified only by significance of content, and the content acquires its significance only from the revelation of experience.

The decisive experience of Schmitz’s life was his discovery of the reality of the psyche and the overcoming of rationalistic psychologism.

He discovered that the psyche is something that really exists.

This changed his life and his work outlook.

For those who are vouchsafed such a discovery, the psyche appears as something objective, a psychic non-ego.

This experience is very like the discovery of a new world.

The supposed vacuum of a merely subjective psychic space becomes filled with objective figures, having wills of their own, and is seen to be a cosmos that conforms to law, and among these figures the ego takes its place in transfigured form.

This tremendous experience means a shattering of foundations, an overturning of our arrogant world of consciousness, a cosmic shift of perspective, the true nature of which can never be grasped rationally or understood in its full implications.

An experience of this kind induces an almost frightening need to communicate with sympathetic fellow-beings, to whom one then turns with naive words.

“The Tale of the Otter” describes an experience of the unconscious and the resultant transformation both of the personality and of the figures in the psyche.

The King stands for the ruling principle of consciousness, which strays further and further away from the unconscious. (The fish disappear from the waters of the kingdom.)

The stagnation of consciousness finally compels the King to make contact with the unconscious again. (The King’s pilgrimage.)

The otter, the unconscious partner of the ego, seeks to bring about a reconciliation with consciousness. (Gilgamesh-Eabani motif.)

This is successful, and a new world of consciousness arises on an apparently firm foundation.But as the King represents only the best part of the personality, and not the inferior part, the shadow, which should also be included in the transformation, the old King dies and his good-for-nothing nephew succeeds to the throne.

The second half of the tale is concerned with the far more difficult task of including the weaknesses of the personality and its useless, adolescent traits in the process of transformation.

This is especially difficult because the shadow is burdened with a still more inferior, feminine component, a negative anima figure (Brolante, the harlot).

While the masculine components are successfully brought into harmony with the vital instincts (represented by animals), there is a final separation between the spiritual and the physical nature of the anima.

The masculine half is rescued from evil, but the feminine half becomes its victim.

“The Tale of the Otter” gives touching and modest expression to an all-embracing and all-transforming initiation.

Read it with care and meditate upon it!

For when all this has been fulfilled in him, Schmitz died.

In this little fairytale he tells posterity how it fared with him and what transformations his soul had to undergo before it was ready to lay aside its garment and end its lifelong experiment. ~Carl Jung, CW 18, Pages 762-764