The Boogey Man, Loneliness, and the “It”

Excerpt from Marie Louise Von Franz, the Shadow and Evil in Fairy Tales

One may wonder whether it is physical loneliness or spiritual or mental loneliness which seems to invite possession by evil. Personally, I would say both. In the stories I have told it is mainly physical loneliness, being alone out in the woods or mountains, though nowadays with overpopulation one can be just as lonely in a tenth-story flat in a town as people were in the Amazonian forests. That is mental loneliness but also, in a way, physical loneliness. The Arabs in the Sahara Desert say that a man should never approach a woman who lives alone close to the desert, for she certainly has a secret lover, a jinn, a desert spirit. There again is the motif of loneliness. On the other hand, in Christian and Buddhist traditions loneliness is something sought after by people who strive for saintliness and higher spiritual and religious conscious development. If you take that into account, you can say that loneliness invites the powers of the Beyond, either evil or good. The natural explanation would be that the amount of energy normally used in relating to one’s surroundings is dammed back into oneself and activates the unconscious, loads up the unconscious part of the psyche, so that if for a long time one is alone, one’s unconscious will come alive, and then you are caught for better or for worse; either the devil will get you or you will find greater inner realization. If you introvert in this way, as has been reported by people who strove for saintliness in the past, at first you will always be attacked by devils, because at first this energy strengthens what we would call the autonomous complexes in the unconscious. These become more intensified, and before you have worked them out, the fruit of loneliness will not be positive but it will mean fighting with twenty thousand different devils.

I once tried that myself. Having read in Jung that the saints in the desert found that such isolation strengthened their unconscious, I thought that I must try that out! It was my curiosity behavior, you see, the one thing I warned you against! I naturally tried it out in my youth and so imprisoned myself in a hut in the mountains in the snow. I felt perfectly happy because I occupied myself the whole day with cooking, with what I was going to eat next, and that one pattern of behavior prevented me from getting caught by other devils. Being by nature introverted, if I went once a day to the village to get bread and milk and exchanged comments about the weather, that was quite sufficient to keep me in balance, so the effect was nil! But then I reinforced the cure and bought everything in tins so I would not have to go to the village. But I still went around skiing, so that I also stopped. Finally I forced myself, with only a pencil and paper to write down my dreams and possible fantasies, to sit the whole day and do nothing, to cook only very quickly cooked boring stuff—spaghetti or something like that—so that couldn’t take all my energy, and the first experience I had was that time began to drag! It dragged like hell! I looked at my watch and it was ten o’clock. I sat and listened to the birds and the snow water dripping on the roof and thought I had sat an eternity, but it was only ten-thirty and not yet time to cook the spaghetti, and so on, forever. It was interesting, because I had once had a patient who had been in an acute psychotic episode in Burghölzli, and the first day she was in the asylum she had exactly the same experience, namely that time dragged, minutes were eternity. This got worse, but I stuck it out, and then the unconscious became alive because my mind got wandering on the idea that sometimes burglars got into such huts, especially escaped prisoners looking for weapons, a revolver, or civilian clothes if they still had on their striped clothes. That fantasy got me completely, and not seeing that it was just the thing I was looking for, I was absolutely panic-stricken. I took the ax for chopping the wood and put it beside my bed and lay awake trying to decide whether I would have the courage to bang such a man over the head if he came in, and I couldn’t sleep. Then I had to go to the toilet, which was outside in the snow in the wood, and in the night I put on my skiing trousers and went through the snow and suddenly something plopped behind me, and I ran and fell on my face and got back panting. Then I realized it was just the snow which had fallen off the tree, but with my heart pumping and the ax beside my bed I still couldn’t sleep.

Next morning I thought that now I’d had it and must go home, but then I had a

second thought and said, “But that was what I was looking for!” Those were the devils I wanted to meet, so now I was going to make an active imagination with a burglar. I sat down and at once I saw the burglar coming in and made contact with him, and my panic vanished. After that I stayed another fortnight and put the ax back and did not even lock the door. I felt absolutely safe. But whenever such an inner image came up, I wrote it down and dealt with it in active imagination, and then there was complete peace. I could have stayed weeks more without the slightest trouble, but at first when I met it without the means of coping with it by active imagination, I was on the way to being really nicely possessed. I was even stupid enough, though I knew something of Jungian psychology, not to see that this burglar was the animus invading my territory. I was just absolutely terrified of a real criminal who would come in the night.

That experience taught me that loneliness piles up whatever you have in your unconscious, and if you don’t know how to cope with it, it comes first in a projected form. In my case it was projected into the idea of a criminal, and if I had belonged to a layer of civilization which still believed in demons, then I would have thought the Kurupira was coming or that the “It” from the mountains had thrown snow at me. I would have given that name to it, but because I am more modern I gave it the name of an escaped criminal. Yet the thing itself is absolutely the same. Most people are not capable of standing such situations for a long time; they need the companionship of other people to protect themselves against “It.”