Excerpt by Marie Louise Von Franz, The Feminine in Fairy Tales
Synopsis of the Tale
In an empire in a faraway country there once lived a merchant and his wife and their one beautiful daughter called Vasilisa. When the child was eight years old, the wife suddenly became very ill. She called Vasilisa to her deathbed, gave her a doll, and said, “Listen, my dear child, these are my last words and don’t forget them. I am dying and leave you my blessing and this doll. Keep it always with you, show it to nobody, and whenever you are in any trouble, ask it for advice.” Then she kissed her daughter for the last time and died.
The merchant mourned his wife for a long time, but then decided to marry again and chose a widow with two daughters. But for his daughter Vasilisa, the marriage was a disappointment, for the new wife was a real stepmother who gave her all the hard work to do, hoping that the sun and wind would spoil her beauty and that she would begin to look like a peasant girl. But Vasilisa bore everything without grumbling and became more beautiful every day, while her stepsisters got thinner and thinner and uglier all the time, because of their envy, although they sat still with their hands in their laps all day. The doll, however, always comforted Vasilisa and did a lot of the work for her.
A year passed in this way, but Vasilisa, though much sought after, was forbidden to marry before her stepsisters, whom nobody looked at. Then the merchant had to go away to another country. In his absence the stepmother merchant had to go away to another country. In his absence the stepmother moved to a house at the edge of a great forest. In this same forest there was a little house in a clearing in which the Baba Yaga lived. The Baba Yaga permitted nobody to approach, and anyone who did she ate up. The stepmother, for whose plans the new house stood in exactly the right place, always sent Vasilisa into the wood, but she always returned safely, thanks to the doll.
One autumn evening the stepmother gave the three girls work to do. One had to knit and the other to embroider, but Vasilisa had to spin. The stepmother then put out the fire, left a small light burning so that the girls could see to work, and went off to bed. The candle burned down, and the stepsister took her knitting needle to clean the wick, and in so doing deliberately put it out. But one daughter said she didn’t need any light, her knitting needles gave enough, and the other said that her embroidery needle gave her enough light too, but that Vasilisa must go to the Baba Yaga and fetch fire; and they pushed her out of the room. The latter went to her room and fed her doll as usual and told her about going to the wood. The doll told her not to be afraid, but to take her along and nothing bad would happen.
Although terrified, Vasilisa put the doll in her pocket, crossed herself, and went into the wood. Suddenly a man in white rode by on a white horse, and day came. Farther on, a man in red rode by on a red horse, and the sun rose. All through the night and the next day, Vasilisa walked through the wood and in the evening came to a hut surrounded by a hedge made of human bones with skulls stuck on the posts. The doors were made of bones, the bolt to the door of a human arm, and in place of the lock there was a mouth with grinning teeth. Vasilisa was almost senseless with horror and stood rooted to the spot. Then suddenly another rider came by, this time all in black and sitting on a black horse. He jumped off and opened the door and disappeared as though swallowed up by the ground, and it was black as night. But soon all the eyes in the skulls that made the hedge began to twinkle, and it was as light as day in the clearing. Vasilisa trembled with fear, but didn’t know where to go and stood still.
Then the trees began to rustle, and the Baba Yaga appeared sitting in a mortar, steering with a pestle, and wiping out her tracks with a broom. When she reached the door, she sniffed and cried out that it smelled like Russians and asked who was there.
“I am, Grandmother. My stepsisters sent me to you to fetch the fire.”
“Good,” said the Baba Yaga. “I know you. Stay with me for a bit, and then you shall have the fire.” So they went in together, and the Baba Yaga lay down and told Vasilisa to bring her everything that was in the oven to eat. There was enough there for ten, but the Baba Yaga ate everything up and left only a crust of bread and a little soup for Vasilisa. Then she said, “Tomorrow, when I go out, you must sweep up the yard, sweep out the hut, cook the midday meal, do the washing, then go to the cornshed and sort out all the mildewed corn from the good seed. Everything must be done by the time I get home, for otherwise I shall eat you.”
When the Baba Yaga began snoring in bed, Vasilisa gave the doll the food she had and told her of the hard work she had to do. But the doll said she should eat the food herself and not be afraid, yet say her prayers and go to bed, for the morning was cleverer than the evening.
In the morning when Vasilisa woke up, the eyes in the skulls were just shutting, the white rider ran by, and the day came. The Baba Yaga whistled, and the pestle and mortar and broom appeared; the red rider rode by, and the sun came up. When the Baba Yaga had gone, Vasilisa was left quite alone and troubled as to which work she should begin, but it was all done, and the doll was just removing the last seeds of the mildewed corn. Vasilisa called the doll her savior, saying it had saved her from great misfortune, and the doll told her that now she only had to cook the dinner.
When evening came, Vasilisa laid the table and waited, and when the Baba Yaga came, she asked if everything was done. “Look yourself, Grandmother,” said Vasilisa.
The Baba Yaga looked at everything and was furious not to be able to find any fault, but she only said, “Yes, it’s all right,” and then called on her faithful servants to grind her corn. Thereupon three pairs of hands appeared and began to sort out the grain. The Baba Yaga ate just as much as the evening before and then told Vasilisa she should do the same work the next day, but in addition, she should sort the poppy seeds in the granary and clean the dirt away.
Again Vasilisa asked the doll, who told her to do the same as the evening before, and next day the doll did everything Vasilisa was supposed to do. When the old woman came home, she looked everything over and then again called to her faithful servants. The three pairs of hands came and removed the poppy seeds and pressed out the oil.
While the Baba Yaga was eating her meal, Vasilisa stood silently beside her. “What are you staring at without speaking a word?” asked the Baba Yaga. “Are you dumb?”
“If you will allow me to do so, I would like to ask some questions,” said Vasilisa.
“Ask,” said the Baba Yaga, “but remember that not all questions are
wise; much knowledge makes one old.”
Vasilisa said she would only like to ask about the riders. The Baba Yaga
told her that the first was her day, the red her sun, and the black her night. Then Vasilisa thought of the three pairs of hands, but didn’t dare to ask and kept silent.
“Why don’t you ask more?” said the Baba Yaga.
“That’s enough,” said Vasilisa. “You said yourself, Grandmother, that too much knowledge made people old.”
The Baba Yaga then said that she was wise only to ask about what she saw outside the hut, but that now she would like to ask her questions, and she asked how Vasilisa had managed all the work.
Vasilisa said that her mother’s blessing helped her. “Is that so?” said the Baba Yaga. “Then get out of here. I don’t want any blessing in my house.” And she pushed Vasilisa out of the room and out of the door and took a skull from the hedge with the burning eyes in it and put it on a pole and gave it to Vasilisa, saying, “Here is your fire for your stepsisters. Take it home with you.”
So Vasilisa hurried away and by the evening of the next day arrived home and thought she would throw the skull away, but a voice came from it saying she should not do so but should take it to her stepmother. And because Vasilisa saw no light in the house, she did just that.
For the first time the stepmother and her stepsisters came to meet her in a friendly way and told her they had had no fire since she left, that they had not been able to light any fire and what they fetched from the neighbor was extinguished as soon as it got to their room. “Perhaps your fire won’t go out,” said the stepmother. She took the skull into the living room, but the glowing eyes stared unceasingly into hers and her daughters’ eyes, right down into their souls. They tried to hide, but the eyes followed them everywhere, and by the morning they were burnt to ashes.
When day came, Vasilisa buried the skull, shut up the house, went into the town, and asked a lonely old woman to let her stay with her until her father came home, and so she waited. One day she told the woman that she was bored, with nothing to do, and that she should buy her some thread and she would spin. But the thread which Vasilisa spun was so even, and was so thin and fine as silk hair, that there was no machine fine enough to weave it, so Vasilisa asked the doll for advice. In one night the doll got a beautiful machine, and in the spring when the cloth was finished, Vasilisa gave it to the old woman and told her to sell it and keep the money. The old woman took it to the royal castle, where the king noticed it and asked how much she wanted for it. She said nobody could pay for that work and that she had brought it as a present.
The king thanked her, gave her presents, and sent her away. But no tailor could be found to make the stuff into shirts, for it was too fine. So the king called the old woman and said that since she had spun and woven the cloth, she should be able to make the shirts. Then she told him a young and beautiful girl had made it. The king said the girl should make the shirts, so Vasilisa made a dozen of the finest shirts, and the old woman brought them to the king. Meanwhile Vasilisa washed herself and combed her hair and put on her best clothes and waited at the window.
Presently a servant came from the court and said that His Majesty wanted to see the artist who had made the shirts, so that he could reward her with his own hands. Vasilisa followed the servant to the palace and appeared before the king. When he saw the beautiful Vasilisa, he fell in love with her and said he would not be separated from her. She should be his wife.
He took her hands and put her on the throne, and they were married the same day. Soon Vasilisa’s father came back from his travels, rejoiced over her good fortune, and from then on stayed with his daughter. Vasilisa also brought the old woman to the palace. And the doll she kept with her to the end of her life.
This story is much richer than the German and other Cinderella versions. The dramatis personae are the merchant, his wife, and their only daughter. The wife dies when the daughter is eight years old. In fairy tales the age of fourteen or fifteen is often an important age for a girl since it is a transition stage and the end of early childhood. But here the fatal change takes place when the mother is replaced by a stepmother. In general, ruling persons in fairy tales represent dominants of collective consciousness, and the heroes are often princes or poor peasant people. But this time there is a kind of average bourgeois milieu, so we can take this father figure as a symbol of the average collective spirit. The father does not play a great role; he is neither good nor bad and appears only at the beginning and at the end, where the problem does not seem to be very concentrated. The whole drama takes place in the feminine realm. The merchant’s wife dies suddenly. As shown by the fact that she has no name or title, she would represent the average feminine type in life, the habitual type repeated over and over again in a country. There are always women who live the average life in various forms. But here there is suddenly an accident, and the life which collapses and cannot function anymore is replaced by something magical —that is, the mother’s blessing and the helpful doll.
In the German version of Cinderella, the mother dies and is buried. On her grave grows a tree on which there is a bird, or from which there comes a voice which helps the girl, so she gets all she requires from the tree. In an Irish version, she finds a tortoiseshell cat that gives her everything she needs. The general motif is that after the death of the positive mother figure, something supernatural and numinous survives; that is, the ghost of the mother enters into an animal or an object and is incorporated there. In primitive countries, ancestral ghosts are often incorporated in fetishes and so carry on with their helpful functions.
What does it mean when a human being is replaced by a cat, tree, or doll? Archetypal contents sometimes appear in human and sometimes in other shapes. Only if they approach consciousness, then they come in human form. Human personification of a content of the unconscious shows that it can be integrated on the human level. One has a kind of feeling or vague idea as to what it could be. When an animus figure appears as a human being in a dream, you know that it can be dealt with, more or less, and you can usually make the working hypothesis that the dreamer has a general idea as to what it could be. But if there is a destructive voice coming from a grave, which would also be a personification of the animus, you would say that she could not deal with that, for it is removed and relatively autonomous and is therefore more powerful and has not yet entered the field of consciousness.
The death of an archetypal figure is its transformation, for archetypes in themselves cannot die. They are eternal, instinctive inherited dispositions; however, they can change one form of symbolic appearance for another. If they lose their human shape, it means they do not function anymore in a form which can easily be integrated into human life. Here the positive mother archetype of the little girl dies, but there remains with her the doll, representing the deepest essence of the mother figure, though not the human side. Most daughters have a certain archaic identity with their mother if they have a positive relationship with her, especially in childhood when the child talks to her doll as the mother talks to her, even repeating the mother’s voice and words. Many women with a positive mother complex arrange the linen, cook for the family, and decorate the Christmas tree “as mother did,” even educating the children in the same way. That creates a continuity of the same form of life, with the idea that everything goes smoothly and life goes on. But it has the disadvantage of preventing the individuation of the daughter, who continues the positive feminine figure as a type, not as an individual, and cannot realize her specific difference from her mother.
If the mother dies, that means, symbolically, a realization that the daughter can no longer be identical with her, though the essential positive relationship remains. Therefore the mother’s death is the beginning of the daughter’s process of individuation; the daughter is confronted with the task of finding her own femininity in her own form, which entails going through all the difficulties of finding it. The archaic mother-daughter identity is broken off, and Vasilisa realizes her weakness. Again and again it is the great problem in feminine psychology. Women, even more than men, tend to identify with their own sex, and to remain in this archaic identity. In a girls’ school, for instance, one girl copies the other’s new hairstyle or way of talking. They are like a flock of sheep, all of the same type. As far as I know from what I have read, the same thing seems to be true in primitive villages. The archaic participation mystique has a great impact on women, who in general are more interested in eros, in relationship, and are identical with each other and swim along together. The fact that they have trouble in disidentifying accounts, perhaps, for a certain “bitchiness” among women. Because they are so apt to identify, they malign each other behind their backs. Being unconscious of their own unique personality, they indulge in all such tricks in order to make a separation.
In the Swiss mountains there exists a relationship between doll and ghost in the spook known as the Doggeli or Toggeli (little doll). The lonely man in the mountains who lives with no woman around is oppressed by the Toggeli, which comes in by the keyhole and sits on his chest and suffocates him, and he wakes up with a nightmare and aroused sexual feelings. The doll here personifies a primitive anima with sexual desires and fantasies. The same Toggeli sometimes comes as the haunting spook; it also comes through the keyhole and makes little rapping noises. There you have the same relationship between doll and ghost as in this Russian story. The basic archetypal idea is the same as that of the fetish, which you meet up with all over the world.
Usually the doll is regarded as the projection of the child’s fantasy of having children. If you watch little girls playing, they imitate the whole mother-child relationship. But this seems not to be the only aspect of the doll, for in an earlier stage of childhood it is more an object which contains the divinity. Many little children between two and four cannot sleep without perhaps the washcloth near their pillow, or a little teddy bear, or some kind of fetish, which has to be in a certain place, for otherwise the child cannot sleep and is exposed to the dangers of the night. It is not yet the child’s child, like the doll, but is the child’s god; it is like the soul stones of the Stone Age men. In those days people made so-called caches some of which have been found in Switzerland. A hole was made in the ground, stones of a special shape were collected, and a nest was made in which they were kept. The place was kept secret and was a symbol of the person’s individual secret power. Australian aborigines still have such caches.
In the Easter Islands, Thor Heyerdahl, after slowly becoming intimate with the population, discovered that some families had a key hidden under a stone that opened a door down into the earth. But only one member of the family knew of this hole in the earth, or cache, in which were stone carvings of the most different types, some of them recent and not particularly artistic, but others of beautiful old imported Indian sculptures, as well as stones of different regions and a number of animal sculptures. Lobster fishers had a beautiful stone lobster, which, if rightly kept, provided the lobsters, a kind of hunting magic. Formerly such stones used to be washed and brushed four times a year. The owners waited until nobody was around, then took the stones out and cleaned them, spread them on the sands to dry, and then hid them away again. When the man who had the secret died, another member of the family was always initiated, though not necessarily the eldest son, perhaps even a nephew. There you see the original meaning of the magic object which has the divine power and guarantees the survival of the clan. These stones are a symbol of the Self; they represent the secret of eternity and uniqueness, and the secret of the essence of the life of the human being.
The early relationship of the child with the doll or with the washcloth carries the earliest projections of the Self. It is the magic object on which the life of the child depends and by which it keeps its own essence, and therefore it is an awful tragedy if it is lost. Later on it turns more into the parent-child play. The archaic identity between mother and daughter is the unconscious foundation from which the individuation of both begins. This is at the bottom of a major problem which I have met with in several cases in my practice. I have had to analyze mothers who could not get away from their daughters and daughters who could not get away from their mothers. They could not detach, and there were constant quarrels. The daughter’s marriage made no difference, and that the daughter had left home was no help—the problem could go on to any age.
In the second half of life the mother usually cannot get to her own work and creativity and does not know why; the daugher is out of the house, and she has the time, but somewhere there is sand in the machinery. One of the mothers in such a case had the following dream: She saw a big potato and a smaller one attached to it, just as in oranges there is sometimes a small orange inside, which can happen in any fruit. Out of the potato, at the joint between the two, came a pole with a crucified snake around it. This winged snake had a crown on its head with light coming from it. It was a kind of tree-of-life symbol and very impressive, but at the bottom were these two potatoes in the earth. The mother was tortured over the problem of her daughter, who seemed to be going the wrong way in life. She tried constantly to have it out with her. The two would talk and cry together, but to no effect. According to the dream, something is not right; the potatoes are in the earth and still attached to each other, yet the tree of life is growing. The process of individuation is developing in a bad spot, in a place of evil where something is tied and the borders are not clear. There is such a basic archaic identity of mother and daughter that a superhuman effort has to be made for them to get away from each other, and only then can each one become completely conscious of her own personality. Both must take back all their projections and become individual themselves, and that is very difficult for all women. You hear of mothers eating their sons, but in many cases they are in a worse way tied up with their daughters. It is a natural phenomenon, and a typically feminine problem. In such cases one always finds that the mother has projected a symbol of the Self onto her daughter and, since the daughter represents the Self for her, she cannot get out of the projection. In a woman’s psychology, the Self is represented by an older or a younger woman, just as for men there is the older man or younger man, the senex and puer, the God-Father and God-Son, the father and the boy, the oldest and the youngest. The image of the eternally old or the eternally young woman probably has to do with the timelessness of the Self. If the Self appears as a young person in a woman’s unconscious productions, it means the newly and consciously discovered Self. Then the Self is my daughter. But insofar as the Self was also always within me, the Self is my mother and existed long before my ego consciousness. Feminine ego consciousness rests on the foundation of the Self, which has always existed and is the eternal mother. Insofar as I discover the Self within and let it enter completely naturally into my life, it is my daughter. That is why the Self, like the father and son in male psychology, is represented by mother and daughter in feminine psychology.
In the moment when Vasilisa receives this magic doll from her dying mother, instead of being identical with the mother, she begins to realize a germ of her own personality, the first hunch of the Self, which one perhaps does get at about the age of eight. It is the first initial realization of being a personality, though one cannot yet guess how it will take shape in one’s own later life.
The merchant then marries the witch with the two daughters, three jealous bitches who persecute the girl. This is an archetypal motif: where the pearl is, there is also the dragon, and vice versa. They are never separate. Frequently, just after the first intuitive realization of the Self, the powers of desolation and darkness break in. A terrible slaughtering always takes place at the time of the birth of the hero, as for instance the killing of the innocents at Bethlehem when Christ was born. Some persecuting power starts at once to blot out the inner germ. Outwardly, it is often that the innermost kernel of the human being has an actually irritating effect upon outer surroundings. Realization of the Self when in statu nascendi, when only a hunch, makes a person unadapted and difficult for those around, for it disturbs the unconscious instinctive order. Jung often said that it is as if a flock of sheep resented it bitterly that one sheep wanted to walk by itself.
In Germany, group psychology experiments have been made with hens and other birds. Hens and crows, for instance, observe a certain pecking order. There is the rooster, and his first wife, who has first rights. The others have special rank in the order in which they may eat and build their nests. Most animals, and also apes, have an order which one calls the alpha, beta, gamma order. Some psychologists say that in a human group, or in a crowd, people also try to peck each other. The alpha hen is generally the most disgusting and pushy person, and the best in I.Q. are the gamma and delta hens. Clearly, wherever people form a group, there is this interplay of unconscious balance; however, if any one person gets just an idea of the Self, he falls out of the group, and the balance has to be reestablished. Now that one factor is out, the others feel the gap and are naturally angry and try to force the miscreant to the former unconscious level. If you analyze one member of the family, usually the whole family begins to wobble and gets upset. Insofar as we are herd animals, we have within ourselves that essential conflict between the inertia which wants to remain in the flock, and the disturbing factor, the possibility of individuation. A woman who gets the first hunch of the Self is immediately attacked, not only by the stepmother outside, but from within, by the inner stepmother, that is, the inertia of the old collective pattern of femininity, that regressive inertia which always pulls one back to do the thing in the least painful way. As in many other Cinderella stories, the stepsisters are characterized as lazy, and the heroine has to do tremendously hard work, such as separating grains, which entails a superhuman effort. There is the conflict between that which calls upon you to make the superhuman effort and the desire to follow the old pattern.
As soon as the merchant leaves the country, the stepmother and her family move near the woods; that is, the stepmother regresses from the human way of functioning to the borders of vegetative unconsciousness. Women, much more than men, especially if they do not have a strong animus, vegetate in an amazing way. They can live ten or twenty years like plants, without either a positive or a negative drama in their lives. They just exist. This is a typical form of feminine unconsciousness and means sinking into inertia, into doing things the easy way and just following the daily plan. That is known as the conservatism of woman; there is no conflict but also no life. The stepmother here has a wish to push out Vasilisa, but she just goes to live near the woods and hopes the thing will happen. She has a plot and wants Vasilisa to be eaten by the Baba Yaga. That is the name for the archetypal witch in all Russian fairy tales. She is a great magician who can turn herself into a well or a paradisiacal garden in which the hero is torn to pieces “to the size of poppy seeds,” or she turns into a gigantic sow that kills the hero. In our story she is not completely evil, though when she hears that the girl is a “blessed daughter” she tells her she does not want her in her house. In a hidden way, she is not thoroughly evil, and sometimes even helpful; she wonderfully portrays the Great Mother in her double aspect.
There is a Russian story of the Maiden Tsar, in which the Baba Yaga lives in a rotating little round house standing on chicken feet, and you have to say a magic word before you can enter. The Tsar’s son goes in and finds her scratching among the ashes with her long nose. She combs her hair with her claws and watches the geese with her eyes, and she asks the hero, “My dear little child, are you here by your own free will or by compulsion?”
One of the great tricks of the mother complex in a man is always to implant doubt in his mind, suggesting that it might be better to do the other thing; and then the man is lamed. But the hero in the story says, “Grandmother, you should not ask such questions of a hero! Give me something to eat, and if you don’t. . . !” Whereupon the Baba Yaga goes and cooks him a marvelous dinner and gives him good advice, and it works! So it depends on the hero’s attitude. She tries to make him infantile, but when she sees he is up to her, she helps him.
So the Baba Yaga can be good or bad. Just as the male image of the Godhead has usually a dark side, like the devil, so the image of the feminine Godhead, which in female psychology would be the image of the Self, has both a light and dark side. Usually in Catholic countries the light side is personified in the Virgin Mary. She represents the light side of the Great Mother, of the man’s anima, and of the woman’s Self but lacks the shadow. The Baba Yaga would represent a more archaic similar figure in which the positive and negative are mixed. She is full of the powers of destruction, of desolation, and of chaos, but at the same time is a helpful figure. Viewed historically, she probably represents the surviving image of the late antique Greek Hekate, the queen of the underworld. In Hellenistic times this goddess of Hades became more and more identified with the Neoplatonic world soul, and as such she became the feminine spirit of the universe, a goddess of nature and of life as well as death, who was even praised as Soteira, the feminine savior. Her daughter was Persephone, with whom she was secretly identical. This throws a light on the heroine of our story, who is called Vasilisa. This is identical with the Greek Bassilissa, which means queen and which was one of the titles of Persephone. Russian fairy tales have been deeply influenced from the south by the late Greek civilization, and thus we have in Baba Yaga and Vasilisa really a survival of the great cosmic goddesses Hekate and Persephone. The divine rank of the Baba Yaga is clearly proved by the fact that she has three riders at her disposition—“my day,” “my night,” and “my sun.” So she is a cosmic Godhead. There are also the three pairs of hands which sort out the grain—that unspeakable, horrible secret no one ought to ask about. The three hands are probably the secret of complete destruction or death. The Baba Yaga sits in a mortar, steers with a pestle, and with a broom blurs or extinguishes all her traces. Human witches like to do the same thing with the famous “Hush, hush” technique—“For God’s sake, do not mention me!” Mother Nature likes to hide herself, it is said in Greek philosophy.
The mortar and pestle are important symbols in this story. The mortar as a vessel, naturally, is a feminine symbol. The Virgin Mary is called the vessel of grace, and “the Holy Grail” has also been applied to the Virgin Mary. The Baba Yaga, too, has a round vessel in which substances are ground to powder. She sits in a vessel that serves to pulverize matter. In alchemical literature the basic fantasy of the alchemist was that at bottom there is one ultimate basic material of the universe on which all the rest is built up. This is still the working hypothesis for many physicists—the idea of a basic building material which would unify the whole of nature, and by means of which one could get to the root of the phenomena of the universe. This hunt for the basic material has always haunted the human mind and particularly the natural scientist’s. It is, so to speak, God’s own secret. It was the material with which he built up reality and, therefore is divine, or contains a divine secret. In former times, before the splitting of the atom, the way of getting such a basic material was to burn everything to ashes and call that the basic material, or to pulverize it to the finest dust in a mortar, and the idea was that that was the prima materia, the most elemental basic element of matter. The Latin verb tero means to grind, and from it is derived a very interesting word used in Christian theology, namely contritio, contrition. If you realize your sins, you feel remorse and penitent. If you get to the bottom and feel annihilated by your sins, then you are reduced to ashes and pulverized and are in a state of contrition, which would be the deepest kind of remorse, which has the highest merit; by contrition you can be healed of all your sins. It is a realization of the shadow, which goes so deep that one can say nothing more in one’s own favor. As in all highly disagreeable situations, it has the advantage that you are at the bottom of the hole and cannot fall lower. Therefore, it is the turning point. The ego in its negative aspect has been pulverized, has reached the end of its selfish willfulness, and has to give in to greater powers.
The Baba Yaga has this instrument of contrition, the pestle and mortar; therefore, she symbolizes that life power which, with its ultimate truth, will bring the human being to his own ultimate truth. Hence her archaic connection with the principle of death. Many people keep a little bit above the truth and reach this stage of complete contrition only when they have to face death. We are like corks. When God does not depress us too much, we float on the surface, but when death approaches people suddenly shut up and sink down to something more substantial. On the deathbed their expression changes and for the first time you feel that they are quiet and really themselves and that all the fuss of the ego has come to an end. So the Baba Yaga is also the demon of death; she brings this ultimate contrition. She is the great alchemist who reduces everything superficial to its essence.
In our story the Baba Yaga goes to sleep, leaving the girl to select the good from the bad grain. This is a theme to be found in many Cinderella fairy tales and appears also in the ancient story of Amor and Psyche. It is a typical task in mythology for the heroine. Separating the good from the bad grains is a work of patience, which can neither be rushed into nor speeded up. The Greek word krino means to discriminate, to make a distinction between A and B; it is a work of careful, detailed feeling judgments, but not discrimination as done by the male logos. When the latter is confronted with chaos, he says, “Let’s find a mathematical formula,” and the like. That is the bird’s-eye view of the logos principle; it does not look at details.
The feminine principle also has its way of seeing clearly, but it acquires it in a different psychological way, more by the selection of innumerable details, showing that this is this and that is that. For women it is important to go into things in detail, to see, for instance, how and where a misunderstanding began, for this is frequently caused by a lack of clarity. By working it out in detail, the grains are selected. In a problem of relationship, one has to do this all the time. Boring as it often is, and gossipy as it seems, a psychological problem cannot be worked out without all these little details. Some women like to be a little unclear, giving rise in that way to those marvelous witch muddles where nobody knows what is what anymore. That is the famous way by which women get into their shadow troubles. Jung always said that women love to be unclear even about a rendezvous, and to add something such as, “If I am not there, ring up So-and- So.” They make a vague arrangement, then a big scene if the thing does not work. Men do it also, but women much more. The shadow cannot intervene if one is precise.
I can give you an example. A daughter has a pair of ski shoes she cannot wear anymore. The old mother thinks the other daughter should have them. Then the daughter-in-law comes in and tries them on, but says they are too big. The old mother suggests wearing socks inside, but they are still too big. The old thinks that the daughter-in-law has refused them and tells the other daughter to take them, but they cannot be found—the daughter-in-law has taken them with her! Then the son has to defend his wife, and there is a general family battle because all these ladies did not take the trouble to be clear as to what they meant! The daughter-in-law seemed to refuse them, but went off with them! At the back of such things there is a participation mystique among the women. So the process of becoming conscious for a woman is that, within herself, she has to become clear about her positive and negative reactions and know where they are, instead of making a lot of muddles and half muddles. That is a superficial aspect of a very deep problem. The old mother had not come to terms with the mother archetype. Promising the ski shoes first to one daughter and then to her daughter- in-law, and then leaving it all undecided, is just laziness in relationship. The insidious thing at the back of it is that, as a mother, she does not function rightly, and therefore creates muddles. If you go further into this, in itself a silly incident, you will see that there is a kind of uncertainty of instinct. She didn’t know whom to mother, or whose needs to answer or not answer; and she wasn’t clear about the feeling needs of the other women and the necessity of holding the family together. All that was, in the deepest sense, uncertain in her. Such a woman has sacrificed much too much of her private needs and life to her family, and consequently hates the family somewhere, which is often expressed in the form of symptoms. For example, one mother got diarrhea and had to go to a sanatorium, and her dreams quite clearly said that she was once again sick of the whole lot, but the only way she knew of pulling out was by retiring to the sanatorium. She always put on this unconsciously deliberate pretense at the worst possible moment; namely, just when the family needed her. That is a part of the devilish mechanism. Thus, behind that superficial vagueness, if one digs deep enough, one generally finds a very great problem constellated.
Therefore, when the witch gives Vasilisa this task of sorting grain, it is as though she makes a test saying that if the girl could make the right selection, she would not fall into the witch’s power.
The motif of corn seeds is often connected with the underworld mother goddess, and among other things, seeds are a symbol of the souls of the dead and of the ancestral ghosts. In ancient Greece, near the hearth in the house, pots were placed in which were corn seeds made up into a kind of fig jelly with other ingredients. The pots symbolically represented the womb of the underworld, the womb of the earth, and the seeds were the dead who rest in the earth, like the corn that resurrects in spring. The dead, or the ghosts, were called Demetreioi, those who belong to Demeter and who rest, like corn, in the womb of that goddess. In a festival held at about the date of our All Souls’ Day, the pots were uncovered, and it was believed that the underworld was thus opened. The Latin expression that Karl Kerényi often uses is Mundus patet, the cosmos is open. For three days the ghosts lived with the living. They came back and roamed about the house, and everything was full of spooks; they participated at the meals, where a portion was always put aside for them. Then, after three days, they were driven out of the house with olive twigs and holy water and told that now they had had enough and were to return to their own world and not spook about and disturb the living any longer, and the lids were replaced on the pots.
Poppy seeds also point to the world of the dead and the ghosts. They are nourishing and also have a soporific effect similar to hashish and all those remedies which, according to primitive belief, are a means for contacting the Beyond, such as chewing ivy leaves and other poisonous substances. So poppy seeds have to do with the mystery of sinking into the Beyond, the underworld, and getting into touch with its secrets. Thus, in its deepest meaning, grains have something to do with the mystery of life and death and of transformation; this metaphor appears in the Bible, where Jesus speaks of the grain of wheat falling into the ground and there dying and then bringing forth much fruit (John 12:24). The analogy in alchemical writings is referred to as the problem of multiplicatio. They say that at a certain moment when the philosopher’s stone is made, the vessel is opened and the stone begins to emanate a transforming activity, and every metal touched by it is transformed into gold. The analogy is that the philosopher’s stone is made inside a vessel, where it goes through dissolution in the darkness and then resurrects. The vessel is opened and the stone develops into an activity which was called the process of multiplication. The psychological analogy seems to have to do with the fact that when one succeeds consciously and positively to relate to an archetypal constellation, there is a widespread effect. If the rainmaker, or the medicine man, gets in touch in the right way with the powers of the Beyond, rain falls over the whole country. Confucius said that if the noble man sits in his room and has the right thoughts and writes down the right things, he is heard a thousand miles around. The Taoist philosopher Chuang-tzu always comments on the point that as long as the ruler of the country tries to do the right thing, actively making good or bad laws, the empire will get worse and worse. If, on the contrary, he retires and gets right inwardly, then the problems of the empire are solved by themselves too. Another variation is the story of the ruler of the Yellow Earth who went to the Original Mist, the primeval mist, saying he wanted to do the right thing and be inwardly right, so that people did not cheat in his empire and everyone had enough to eat. Original Mist simply said, “I have no idea how you can do that.” So the ruler of the Yellow Earth left his empire and for three months sat on straw in a hut, and then returned to Original Mist and said, “Could I humbly ask you how I could bring myself into order?” Original Mist replied that he should not think of putting things right, but should stay in reality and not bother about outer things, stay where he was, and so on. Then the ruler asked, “And what about nature?” To which Original Mist replied, “You always think nature comes to an end, but she is only at the beginning; you always think nature knows her aims, but it goes much further. You always think nature has now given everything, but nature has still more in store.” But then he added, “I don’t want to talk to mortal beings; the people are fading away, they are dying. I am alone; I am eternal.” And he turned away from the ruler of the Yellow Earth.
All these stories refer to the secret that ultimately we can touch something which is the universality or oneness of nature, which generally manifests itself in synchronistic events. If one succeeds in getting oneself right about a problem, miracles begin to happen, and the outside falls into place too, as though one had had an effect which, rationally, one could not possibly have had. One probably should not think of cause and effect in this connection, for we have not caused things to get right; they get right, synchronistically. I have quoted earlier the Chinese saying in the I Ching that “the superior man knows the germs and acts at once” and so brings things into order. One could compare the corn and poppy seeds to these germs, for they are germs of situations which one has to clarify in the moment when they are still germs. And if, patiently, one succeeds in doing so, then one can disentangle, or give a possible turn to, impossible situations.
How deep these things go one cannot say, but I think that has very much to do with feminine godhead and her uncanny powers. Women to a great extent—and the less they know about it, the worse it is—rule even life and death in their surroundings. If the husband dies, or the children die, very often the women in that family had something to do with it. But it would be inflation, and it is absolutely destructive, if a woman thinks she is responsible, for then she identifies with the Great Mother goddess. As an ego, the woman is responsible only for her conscious deeds and no more. I have seen many prepsychotic borderline cases who became psychotic by thinking that they were responsible to a greater extent than they were.
I remember the case of a mother through whose mind the thought flashed, when saying goodbye to her son, when he went to war, that she wouldn’t much mind if he didn’t come back—and he didn’t! And then she was convinced that she was responsible for his death. That is plain inflation! It is quite natural that people who live together should at times wish each other dead. I have never analyzed any human being, man or woman, where I couldn’t see that they had such wishes against others, half consciously and half not. That is nature, and it is better to admit it. Neither have I analyzed a mother who, from time to time, hasn’t wished all her children at the bottom of the sea—not literally, but, “For God’s sake, let’s get rid of the whole lot!” If the ego identifies with that in the wrong way, the devil is loose. But all the same, though the ego is only responsible for what it does, there is underneath this tremendous nature in woman which wishes for life or death for those around her. I would say that the dark side of the Self in every woman has that capacity of wishing for life or death. If it is not misused in white or black magic, if the ego remains with its own task, this has a tremendous effect. People blossom in the surroundings of a woman who is in the right relationship with herself, because then she is rather like the positive mother goddess who makes corn grow. But if the relationship with her own inner self is wrong, she is more likely to emanate the effects of the death goddess Hecate and put a blight of death over those around. Children sometimes look marvelous and blossom in a house where the mother may shout that she wishes they were all in hell! Why? Because, in her own way, she is right with Tao. Her positive instinct supports the children with a positive vital something which gives them security, even though she may tell them they are the devil’s spawn and horrible brats.
The Cinderella task would be the task of the woman, to penetrate into the depths of her secret, small effects and to bring consciousness and selective discrimination into that hidden nature of hers, which operates in her background. If she can penetrate that realm and there separate bad from good, she does something which corresponds to the hero’s deeds of slaying the dragon, or building the new town, or freeing the people from terror.
In analysis one often has to sort out such seeds with the analysand. For instance, once a woman from South Africa went on a trip with her husband and their two boys to fish in a river, and the boat overturned. The two boys could not swim, and the father carried both ashore but then collapsed with a heart attack and died on the spot. The woman couldn’t drive the car, or was too much shaken to do so, and the three sat there for a day and a half until someone came by and found them and brought them back with the husband’s dead body. Later the younger son began to behave in a completely psychotic way. For two months he did no work at school and then didn’t go at all, but climbed onto the roofs of lower cottages and houses, and stood there absolutely raving and throwing knives at the passers-by. He never slept, but cried and raved the whole night through and looked absolutely mad and miserable. The mother went to doctors all over the world and everybody, including myself when she consulted me, thought that it had to do with that trauma, the horrible accident in which the father lost his life and their sitting out in the cold with his dead body.
I asked her about the boy’s dreams, and, among others, she told me the following: he was shut in a room where there was a television—that was some years ago when in that country not everybody had a television, so it was rather a thrill. The door of the room was shut, and a voice said, “You must stay in here from now on, and your life is a failure.” That dream had just knocked him out. Here is the plain statement of the beginning of the psychosis. He is shut up with the images of his own unconscious; he is cut off from life, and life is from now on a failure—at seven years old! And the outer picture said exactly the same thing. Diagnosis: hopeless!
But something in me revolted, and I couldn’t accept that and thought that perhaps the dream could have a prospective meaning, for something in it did not seem to indicate a psychosis. The dream was plain, clear, and well constructed, which was healthy. In its wickedness the dream had a healthy smell—a smack in the face, but so well given that it didn’t seem psychotic; it was too plainly wicked. So I wondered who would benefit from such a slap in the face, and thought that a madly, morbidly ambitious person might. For somebody crazily and psychotically ambitious, it might be a good thing to have to face the fact that one’s life was a failure, that one just had to sit in one’s room and everything was finished! I asked the mother whether the boy had always been ambitious and had tried to push himself in school. She said no, that he was quite an average boy and didn’t care if the others were better than he; he wasn’t ambitious. Then I wondered if it was the mother’s ambition for the boy, so I made a shot in the dark and told her that the boy’s trouble had nothing to do with the accident to her husband, but with her, and that she was exaggeratedly ambitious for the boy, which was what was ruining him. She broke down and howled and howled and howled—tons of sea water—and admitted it! Apparently she had always spun hero fantasies onto her husband, who was a rather miserable, delicate, introverted, helpless little man, and had always been disappointed. Directly after his death, the weight of her ambitious demands fell upon the son, and as she preferred the youngest boy, it fell upon him. After the accident she had read some psychological books about what happened to a fatherless child, about the Oedipus complex, and decided that her son should not become a mamma’s boy, so began to be absolutely hard with him, planning to make him into a hero.
Imagine the situation of a small boy who had lost his father with such a horrible shock, and whose mother, instead of comforting him, dropped him like a hot potato! That was enough to make a boy go up on the roof and throw knives at people—anybody else would have done the same, looked at from the boy’s standpoint. Well, she was a tough woman, tremendously vital and quite intelligent, so I told her what I thought of her. The next day when she came, she said the boy had slept eight hours completely normally and in the morning had gotten up and gone to school. The real trouble had been her dream of the hero, and the boy had to be the hero. She had the hero archetype in her unconscious, but was too lazy to live up to her own capacities—so she thought that her men should do it, if not her husband, then her boy. To live a heroic life herself would be too much trouble. The hero fantasy was the seed, the germ, that constellated the archetypal layers of the unconscious. If she had sorted those seeds, known what was in them, she would (a) not have put her hero fantasy onto her husband or son, and (b) probably have discovered that she had to do something herself. It was the tremendous greater potential within her that had such destructive effects, something positive at the bottom of her soul that had negative effects, since she had never sorted it out within herself. Naturally, she alone was not responsible for the husband’s death and the boy’s behavior, because another person might not have emanated any negative effects. People always try to project their fantasies onto others, but a fairly healthy person shakes them off, unconsciously and instinctively. If I had had to analyze her husband, I would not have spoken of the wife as the guilty person, but looked to see what was wrong in him, and that woman shouldn’t now say that she was responsible for the two events; that is only true cum grano salis. The extent of her guilt lay only in not having sorted the seeds.
If a woman has a powerful animus, she just has it; it cannot be gotten rid of. One can only make the best of it, and our experience is that one is less possessed if one makes some use of it. All that business of burying the husband and then quickly reading up what Freud had written and then determining to make the boy a hero—that is animus! She was already in the thrall of the animus. But usually, if a woman does something about a powerful animus, it wears off a little, and the needle swings back to the feminine side. If you have worked like a man, then you are apt to feel that it would be nicer to be a woman and not work so hard.
The question of guilt is terribly delicate, one simply does not know where to put the exact borderline. To some people one has to say, “For God’s sake, do not have such a silly inflation as to think you are the mother goddess of nature and that you govern the life and death of those around you.” But to those who have the illusion that they always do the right thing, one has to say, “Well, I do think it is a little strange that two of your husbands died!” It is a question of a millimeter, one thing to one person and the opposite to another. Some people exaggerate their guilt, and the dreams show that they have an inflation. Then one must say, “Nonsense, you are not powerful enough to kill all those men! You would just like to feel like the mother goddess who is responsible for everything, and that is a silly inflation. Nature killed your husband. He died of cancer, or a heart attack, and not because of you!”
One can just as well say that the suicidal man chose her because he wanted a rock against which to wreck his ship, and therefore he is guilty, not she. It is a question which can only be decided individually with oneself and with the others involved. One must try to make a balance from the dreams, find a middle attitude without an inch too much or too little guilt. That is exactly the work of the sorting of the seeds, trying to become conscious down to the very bottom of the situation and then to know what’s what, and what has what effect, and to be as humbly conscientious about it as possible, but without inflation or making sweeping statements. Quite practically, sorting the seeds would require an enormous amount of careful self-discipline and great conscientiousness, and to do it for a long time would be the woman’s heroic deed. Such work strengthens consciousness and the feeling of responsibility, because, as I have said, the devil tells you all the time that one more or less doesn’t matter, or that there are no more black seeds in that—and there you are!
Now comes the problem of the three pairs of hands, about which the heroine prefers not to ask any questions. As we cannot understand this motif from that one fairy tale, I would like to amplify it, for it is an archetypal motif that has many variations which are very revealing. There is a Grimm’s fairy tale called “Mrs. Trude” (“Frau Trude”). A little girl who is very obstinate and never obeys her parents lives near the woods and is told by her parents not to go into the woods or to Mrs. Trude’s hut, or that will be the end of her. Naturally, she slips out of the house at the first chance and goes there. At the door of the hut a black man meets her, on the stairs a man in green, and at the top, a man in red clothes. They just quickly walk past her, and she enters Frau Trude’s room. There the old witch with the big nose sits by the fireplace. The child, shivering slightly, says, “Frau Trude, who was that black man?” And the witch says, “Oh, that was only the chimney sweep.” “And who was the green man?” she asks. Frau Trude answers, “Oh, that was the huntsman.” Then she asks who the red man was and is told that that was the butcher. And then the little girl says, “I looked through the window, and I didn’t see you, but the devil with a fiery head.” “Oh,” says Frau Trude, “so you saw the witch in her right form. I have long waited and longed for you, and you shall give me a good light,” and she takes the little girl and turns her into a piece of wood and throws her into the fire. When the wood is glowing hot, she sits beside it and warms herself and says, “That gives a good, bright light!”
In the Vasilisa tale the men were white, black, and red, and here they are red, green, and black. The black man very often appears in fairy tales as the green huntsman, and the red man is another form of the devil. So, actually, those are three of Frau Trude’s familiars, namely three aspects of the devil. Frau Trude, or the Great Mother goddess, generally lives in close association with the dark underworld Godhead, the devil, and there is very often this triadic structure. In our civilization, this lower triad is a compensation for the upper trinity. Just as the Virgin Mary would be the female figure in the upper trinity—God the Father, God the Son, and the Holy Ghost—with the Virgin Mary a little outside, so there is a quaternity below with Frau Trude and three aspects of the devil, the divine underworld totality against the spiritual and positive divine totality. The three pairs of cut-off hands, therefore, probably refer to the same kind of secret, namely that of a close association of the mother goddess with the last ultimate principle of evil and destructiveness, which is at the bottom of the abyss of every human being.
As we cannot take this figure of the Baba Yaga as a personal content of the unconscious, but rather as a personification of what one could call nature itself, as a nature goddess, we can say that the pairs of hands refer to the unthinkable cruelty and murderousness of nature itself. Nobody who has normal human feeling can avoid being shocked by this incredible cruelty at some time in life. One sees how animals eat each other, and we can thank God when it is possible not to have to look at it. In fact, we blind ourselves; we look and turn away. We have probably all had the mortal shock of discovering how nature deals with her children, of seeing a human being slowly and cruelly eaten up by cancer or some such disease which just slowly consumes the person. The worst sadistic torturer, a psychotic torturer, could not have as cruel fantasies about how to torture people to death as nature has. Sometimes, for instance, in the woods, or on the mountains, you see a roebuck trying to crawl over the ice with a cancerous growth hanging from it—the other roebuck kick it aside, and it sinks, then struggles up and walks a few steps farther, dragging itself along for weeks with the cancer, until one day, thank God, it does not get up anymore. Or a fox will partially eat a swan frozen on the ice and leave it to struggle for hours and hours with a wing eaten away—unless a human being chances to come by and give it the coup de grâce. Who is responsible? Those are the horrors of nature which nobody can swallow; it is something one cannot even talk about. And this fairy tale says that it shows a certain kind of healthy reaction, or wisdom, not to poke into these things too much and not to ask too many questions. How would a question help? There is no answer! We can shake our fists at the goddess, but that doesn’t help, and we shall never figure out why this is so—it is just so. This is the abysmal shadow of Baba Yaga, an abyss into which one can only look with horror and turn away. Nature has that secret of killing in the most cruel way, and also giving birth in the most beautiful way to the most beautiful things.
Another German fairy tale in the collection Deutsche Märchen seit Grimm (German Fairy Tales Since Grimm), called “Waldminchen,” contains the same motif as “Frau Trude,” but in a milder form. The parents of an obstinate little girl tell her that if she is not obedient, the Waldminchen will come and fetch her. The child also has the habit of teasing the other children a bit cruelly at school. One day a green-looking old woman comes out of the wood, grabs her, and carries her away into the woods to a lot of very nice children who are picking daisies and amusing themselves. Waldminchen tells her that she must behave nicely with the children and play with them, that she wants to educate her and will stay with her. The child is rather frightened, but behaves and plays with the children and has a very nice day. They get good food, and the Waldminchen looks after them, but the next morning the little girl starts her old tricks again, and the children complain. “All right,” says Waldminchen, and she seizes the little girl and puts her through one of the three water mills in the woods. There are three men standing around—the male consorts of the great goddess—and they throw her into the mill, and she is ground to bits and comes out the other end as a very hunchbacked old woman. Waldminchen says, “What is old should become young and what is young should become old.” When the child sees herself in the mirror, she is very downcast and absolutely in despair. But she has to stay like that for some time. When she has learned her lesson, Waldminchen puts her again through the mill, but in reverse, and she is young again. Then the father appears. His sorrow over his lost child has turned him into an old man, so he is put into the rejuvenating mill, after which the two walk home, and the girl behaves and becomes a good woman.
The nature goddess has a mill, which grinds people instead of corn, the mill of youth and old age, a milder form of life and death. Here the goddess is timeless, and is the great magician who bestows youth or old age upon people. If you compare what happens to the three girls (Vasilisa, the girl in “Frau Trude,” and the girl in “Waldminchen”), you will see that the facets shown by this nature goddess depend on the attitude of the visitor. In “Frau Trude” the girl was a silly, infantile, wicked little creature and got destroyed. In “Waldminchen” she only got punished. Vasilisa, who behaved correctly, was helped. So Mother Nature’s attitude depends on the human being. It is interesting to see that infantile curiosity is looked on as something extremely destructive. Curious inquisitiveness, as far as I have seen, is not so often punished in myths about heroes, though it often attracts destruction to the heroine. The fact that Vasilisa does not ask about the hands saves her life, but the “Frau Trude” child pokes into secrets which should be respected.
When women have an undeveloped animus, when they have not worked on the animus, their mental functions often remain fixed on gossip and thinking about their neighbors. They get interested in a divorce in the neighborhood and want to know how it came about. They talk in a half-psychological way. It is more than just interest in the divorce, it is a kind of germlike psychological interest. For instance, there is the thought, “Why do men and women quarrel?” But it never gets farther; it remains on the level of curiosity, and they never get to the bottom of anything. If such a woman could say, “What does this have to do with me? I am not interested in a personal way, but am fascinated by the question as to why men and women do not get on with each other,” she might get somewhere. But instead it remains stuck in a kind of half-developed mental operation, neither disinterested nor objective, which, I think, is typical for an undeveloped animus. That has to do with destructive inquisitiveness, and there the devil has his hand in it.
The problem of the divine function of evil is something one cannot really touch on openly because people always blow up about it. It is so ambiguous that one can really only do what Vasilisa does, yet, in some mysterious way, evil in its worst destructiveness is connected with the laws of life. For instance, one could say that Bergen-Belsen and Auschwitz had a positive side, for they shocked European civilization into realizing their shadow. But we cannot say that! We have to stay on the human side and say that that was simply plain murder and that no devious excuse about a secret positive effect can be made. Otherwise, we become demonic, the very thing we have looked at. It happens that natural scientists get into that demonism of thinking like nature. A famous man, named Nikolai, wrote The Biology of War, in which he absolutely coldly, and from a natural scientific standpoint, investigated the question as to war’s being a good or a bad thing from the standpoint of the biology of the race. He asked whether it destroyed the good or the bad elements, and so on. To study that needs a demonic mind. Our human nature revolts at looking at things in such a way—but go to a university, go to people who discuss the atomic question. They are in that spirit of nature! They speak of mass destruction and how to deal with it; they are possessed by the evil hands.
On the other hand, perhaps it is sometimes a man’s fate that he has to expand into such thoughts. Physicians, for instance, must acquire some of that demonic mind, because they deal too much with nature and its cruelty. In the first semester, when corpses are dissected, either the student walks out and says he cannot become a doctor, or he has to acquire something of the demonic coldness of nature and say that there are always thousands of people who die, and one must be able to look—for that is reality, But if one doesn’t know what one does, one becomes completely devilish oneself. A doctor, for instance, may impersonally watch a horrible disease in a patient, who for him is number so- and-so in bed so-and-so, suffering from a disease which takes such-and-such a form; but one day his wife or little daughter gets the same disease, and he gets the shock of his life. Then usually there is the awful conflict between the cold medical man who simply sees the illness as a process of natural science—how it will proceed and end—and the human being to whom that is now a unique event and a feeling catastrophe. It is the clash of the two attitudes.
In our tale it is not evident whom the hands belong to. That gives a hint that one should not ask what is behind. I think, to a certain extent, it is a woman’s task to hold on to the personal side against the cold spirit of natural science. A doctor has to expose himself and say that he cannot be sentimental but has to face such things and be detached. A surgeon cannot operate if he is sentimental about the person on whom he is operating. But the woman has to put the emphasis upon and hold to the human side, where things and diseases are unique, and the feeling reaction remains unique, where one does not in a cold, statistical way write off the other human being. If a woman starts to think like that, it is always from the animus, and it has a very destructive effect. She should preserve the personal atmosphere between human beings. To create the human atmosphere of eros is one of her tasks, and to that belongs the necessity of not investigating too deeply into those shadowy things, into the impersonal, cold cruelty of nature.
Vasilisa has to sort out the grain, and then those mysterious hands take the sorted grains and we do not know what they do with them. Why could Baba Yaga, the great magician, not sort them out herself ? We do not know, but it seems possible that she could not do so; that ethical discrimination is something specifically human which transcends the otherwise known Nature. That is what Jung thought: that man transcends the Godhead a very minimal bit, because of being a little more conscious. In this, man has to help the Godhead and serve Him or Her, but naturally that does not mean that we can eliminate evil either from God or from Nature.
We can work on the unconscious, but we cannot eliminate evil from nature or prevent millions of creatures dying a cruel or dreadful death every second on this planet. We shall never be able to remove sickness and death out of the world. There are limits to what humans can do and a place where Nature takes over. She will never stop those mills.
The Far East civilizations try to cope with this problem in a different way: by seeing the relativity of good and evil and then detaching from the problem. Lately I have just reread a little in Chuang-tzu, and it struck me that sometimes he says that the wise or great man just looks at Nature and becomes like her. There is a certain reckless cruelty in that. The Taoist wise man, as Chuang-tzu represents it, should not mourn too much if his greatest friend or his wife dies and if his head pupil or his master dies. He performs the mourning ceremony, but no more, and for our christian tradition this is rather shocking. But then, and that comforted me a lot, there is another place where Chuang-tzu says the really enlightened Taoist master does not strive to be good, but is just like nature; he lets things be. He neither strives to save nor to do anything good, and if the other is ill he would not go and nurse him. That looks like nature taking its course— the other is ill, so that’s that. But then he adds that he loves everybody from the overflow of his natural goodness. There is natural feeling sympathy for the other person, and that is allowed, but to strive out of moral, ethical principles is against nature and therefore dubious; it has a secret countereffect. But if, out of an overflow of natural goodness, I go and nurse my friend when he is ill, carried by a natural élan, then I am not doing evil. That is permitted, because there will be no comeback in the way of feeling demands, or wanting the other to show gratitude. It’s the most subtle way of transcending the ethical and getting into something which is perhaps the nearest to being absolutely good, but it is so subtle that one can only describe it in paradoxes. In the West it is much more difficult because we have done much more on the side of striving for the absolute good and have accumulated such an abyss of horror on the other side that our problem has become insoluble.
There is another type of story concerning the dark mother figure in which the heroine intrudes into the secret of the Terrible Great Mother and then denies having done so. There is, for instance, German story variation the girl pokes into the horrible secret of the mother goddess, who says afterward to her, “My child, did you see me in my suffering?” and the girl denies it, saying she had noticed nothing. She, too, is rewarded for her lies. So not poking into Mother Nature’s secrets, or lying about it if one has done so, pretending one has not seen anything even though one did, is a great deed and the right thing to do, according to the story. If the mother goddess were a human being we could understand it; she does not want her shadow, her deficiencies, or her suffering to be seen. Though she pretends to be the great goddess, she is really a very needy, suffering, unhappy creature, and that is what she does not want the human being to see. But this is something we meet with every day! If you try to touch an analysand’s shadow, they simply explode and go for you. An analysand may have a horrible shadow, which you may see in the first hour, and sometimes they say, “You always talk about other people, but what is my shadow?” You can just say that you have noticed nothing, that you do not know the analysand very well yet. You have to lie, because if you touch that box of dynamite, the whole thing will just blow up and all the relationship with it.
Probably there is an analogy to this human situation, but here it is the goddess who wants to be tactfully protected, and that has to do with a deep-rooted, primitive, religious attitude. Such an archaic attitude can still be found among men in the Alps. Above Seelisberg, there is a beautiful path with a view of the whole of the Vierwaldstättersee, the Lake of the Four Cantons; but when you round the corner, suddenly you see the lake from a completely different angle. If the sun in shining, the lake, instead of being green, is light, and there is a wide, open landscape and the vista of the whole of the Alps. If you can be impressed by the beauty of nature, you will experience a moment when you catch your breath. Even Swiss cowherds, who are rather tough people, are apparently impressed by that, for they say that at this corner very often the cows suddenly disappear. At this moment, they say, you must be very careful and not panic or, look for the cows, or some accident might happen, one of the cows might fall into the abyss or you might fall over the edge. They say you must crack your whip and go on calling to the cows as though they were there, and pretend that nothing has happened, and after a few minutes they will once more be walking along in front of you! That is a religious gesture! When I am overwhelmed I am likely to have an animal-like panic reaction, which would immediately react on the cows, which are extremely sensitive to the state of the cowherd, and if he is in a panic, they too are lost, or might do anything. But if one is in a panic, it is no good preaching to oneself, so the cowherd just assumes that the cows are gone and pretends at the same time not to have noticed it. He lies to himself and so saves his own skin and the whole situation.
The same thing happens when people have a very severe shock—there is a delayed reaction. If you tell them that a near relative is dead, they perhaps just thank you for telling them and go on with what they were doing—that is, they just block off the shock by pretending nothing has happened, until the worst is over, and then they generally break down and cry and have a normal reaction. To very sensitive people who could collapse through a shock, this helpful delay in nature occurs, and the pretense of not having noticed is a deep saving instinct in man and the basis of many religious rituals. I think it should be recognized positively as a healthy reaction in certain situations. But why does Mother Nature want that? That it is good for us, and was good for Vasilisa, is clear; but why does Mother Nature herself not want to be seen in her evil aspect? Naturally, we do not know what she is, in herself. But I am speaking figuratively and asking, why does the archetypal figure which seems to represent something like the power of nature want to hide its horrible aspect? We have to think naively! It looks as though she were ashamed of herself. She behaves exactly like a human being who is ashamed. There seems to be a tendency in nature which longs for the greater consciousness of man—that makes for a strange theology! We cannot say whether this is absolutely true, but the documents of the unconscious say so. And if that were true, we would have a fair chance that, in spite of the catastrophic developments with which we are now confronted, nature intends to save man and to go on with the experiment “Man,” which we are.
We cannot assert in a metaphysical way that nature in itself really does that, and it is the same when talking about the figure of God. Jung always insists that he is not saying metaphysically that God is so, but that the image of God is so in man, and the unconscious psyche manifests in such and such a way. I would not call that only a projection. The unconscious is nature in man, so one must say that nature, the psychic nature in man, describes nature as wanting to become more human and less cruel. That it is absolutely so is beyond the possibility of scientific investigation. We can only state that the unconscious psyche of man mirrors nature as having such a tendency, and it seems both healthy and helpful for us to believe it. Whether it is an und für sich (in itself) or not is something one can never say in psychology, for we do not know what nature an und für sich really is. We can only say that nature mirrors itself in our unconscious as something infinitely horrible and cruel, but that it has a secret longing to get out of that. So this is the source of a certain optimism in the Jungian approach. Why should we work with people if they were only devils?
If one looks at evil things too closely, and not in a mature way but naively, one gets cynical. If you walk through the museum which now exists about Auschwitz, what is your conclusion? Schopenhauer said that another man is to a human being just good enough to grease his boots with his fat. If you embrace that philosophy, the next consequence is that you say, “I am going to take a Luger, or a Colt, and I intend to survive and to hell with the others! They are murderers anyhow. They all want to kill me, so I am going to shoot first.” That’s the consequence! If I cannot do the human thing of turning away, then by looking at it, I act out myself the cruelty of nature. That’s why in the reverence of the chthonic god in antiquity, people turned away and covered their faces, and when they prayed to Hecate, they put on a black veil over their heads, so as not to see her—in order not to become like her.
According to different myths, there are many different reasons for the dark side of nature. In the Christian myth it is the result of the Fall of Adam and Eve; in other myths a split occurs in the divine realm; in still others it is the disappointment of the goddess of nature. An Eskimo version, with different variations, is to be found in many circumpolar tribes.44 Sedna, their mother goddess, or goddess of nature, lives under the sea and produces the whales, seals, fish, and so on, and the Eskimos, who live on these animals, pray to her for luck in hunting. Some versions say that Sedna was a strange woman who did not want to marry an ordinary man. A suitor from far away came one day, either in human form or as a seagull, and she followed him. But when she arrived at his home, she was deeply disappointed, for there was no food, he did not look after her and neglected her completely.
So Sedna sent a message to her father to fetch her home again. The father came and, in some versions, killed the unsatisfactory lover or husband. In revenge, the seagulls, or the ghost of the dead husband, caused a storm to overtake them on their way back in the boat. In order to save his own life, the father threw his daughter into the sea. She held on to the side of the boat, but he took a knife and cut off her fingers, so that she fell into the sea. Afterward, in revenge, either by magic or through talking to them, she got dogs to attack her father, and they ate his nose, or hands and feet, or both.
The father and daughter, who had crippled each other, lived together under the sea. Sedna then became the great goddess of nature and was benevolent to human beings and was also the mistress of death. She was the hidden goddess of nature, having the stores of life and death. The souls of the dead Eskimos went to live with her at the bottom of the sea. If they had behaved well, they had a relatively good life, but if not, they were tortured by her animals. Sedna and her crippled father stayed in a hut under the sea, and from time to time she accumulated a lot of lice on her head. A shaman had to dive down and rid her of them, and then fertility returned to the land of the living. So every time when it happened that the whales or the seal did not come at the right time, then the medicine man had to see to her head. Her evil side was due to her disappointment in love. Her father and her husband both let her down, so that she never attained a positive connection with the male principle.
There is a similar doctrine in the Kabbalah which teaches that the unsatisfactory aspect of reality exists because the Shekhinah is separated from God, and that if this feminine principle were reunited with God, the world order would be restored. So ethical people who strive toward higher consciousness try to restore the hierosgamos, working toward a reunion of the male and female divine principle. So if we look at different myths, evil is not always due to man’s transgression, but to all sorts of different metaphysical causes. It is a very frequent motif that the myths recommend that man should be very tactful in dealing with the evil side of the divine principle. This is what the Old Testament also recommends, namely, the fear of God. If I allow myself to criticize God, it is a kind of inflation—as though God were my brother, or Mother Nature my sister, and I intended to put my finger on their sore spots, as I could with a fellow being. But the Divinity is not a fellow being whom I can criticize. My neighbor I can criticize if I want. But to criticize God shows a lack of realization of the difference of level, and thus in the Bible God advises man to fear him, that is, to keep within certain limits and know that God is not to be judged on a human level, and that we must be fully aware that our human standards do not apply to the Divinity. Job held to the fact that God did him an injustice, but he stood by his human standards and did not give in to those friends who tried to convince him that God was right and that he must have been wrong. He was respectful enough to realize that he could not presume to accuse God of injustice. He said it once and then, “I lay my hand on my mouth. I have spoken once, and I will not answer; twice, but I will proceed no further” (Job 40:4-5). And by that he adhered to his human standards, knowing that he was a creature with human limitations, with an anthropomorphic view of reality. The Godhead has always been experienced as transcending the human, both in light and in darkness, so that not to dig into the dark side would mean recognition of the fact that that is something which one cannot presume to do. That would be a gesture of utter humility; man cannot make himself the judge of the whole of reality. We are a part of it, and have certain standards of value and instinct by which we live, but we cannot be and are not the final judges, and this we should realize in all modesty and self-limitation.
Vasilisa has that modest attitude, and additionally she has the protection of her doll. The latter we have interpreted as a magical object, so that one can say that she protects herself with a religious ritual in a way which could be compared to that of the Christian who wears a crucifix for protection. By such a gesture we express that we need divine protection and that we cannot cope with evil with our intellect alone.
I think this is a very practical problem in psychotherapy and also, naturally, in general contact with other human beings. If, for instance, you have ever analyzed another person, or even if you have had a nonanalytical but deep Auseinandersetzung with someone (an encounter in which you sort out your differences without aggression), you know that sometimes you come up against a state of opposition where it is impossible to go any further. In a quarrel, you may have to realize that the other person is absolutely and utterly possessed and incapable of discussing things on a reasonable or human level, that as soon as you touch the subject, the other goes off on a tangent into an utterly possessed state, and you are up against something you cannot deal with, namely a dark archetypal situation. Naturally that happens quite often to an analyst, for if you touch a deep problem of the analysand, you may reach a place where you feel you cannot go further. The contact is completely blocked, and the analysand is no longer willing to listen or to accept any of your arguments.
If over a long period such a constellation persists, then many people make the mistake of retiring from it with a flow of talk, instead of giving it complete respect and silence. The practical indication is to drop the treatment, but one should not say that the other person is hopelessly animus-or anima-possessed, or possessed by evil, or by this or that and that therefore one must drop the therapy. That is what our ordinary affective human ego would say. The more one wastes affect and words, the worse one gets entangled in the wrong way. One should realize that even if one considers the analysand to be completely wrong and possessed by evil, possessed by a blindness of some kind, it is not deliberate on his part. It is not his evil will; nobody is possessed voluntarily. It is a tragic fate which should be respected in silence. So it is better to say that the treatment cannot go on since we are blocked. Obviously, if I cannot help the analysand anymore, I am wasting my time, and the analysand is wasting time and money, so it would be better to separate in peace.
One should respect the evil constellation through silence and not dig into it and talk about it emotionally. But women, in particular, being more interested in relationship than men, again and again commit the mistake of continuing to talk about such emotional constellations and make them much worse in that way. My own bad experiences have taught me that it is much better to have the attitude which people had in antiquity—namely, of covering one’s head and walking away and letting things take their own course, but silently, for even if all one has to say is true, and one could say a great deal that was true, one is digging up more and more darkness and improving nothing. One is not up against human evil, but the evil of nature in the psyche of the other person.
So it is eminently practical—and really what Christ meant when he said it— that we should not resist evil. He warned against the all too human tendency, the inflation actually, to pursue shadow problems which are not one’s own. One should say, “I have done my human best and have not succeeded, but have been shown my own limitations.” It is even better not to name the other person’s evil. In the ancient Greek civilization and in our Middle Ages, people avoided naming evil powers. Also in most primitive societies it is taboo to talk of ghosts and dark spirits by name. We also say that one should not invoke the devil, because if you do, he is there. The mention of the name constellates the object right away; not to mention it would be the religious attitude of respect. One retires respectfully to one’s own estates, one’s human limitations. Most religious systems where evil is still recognized as an entity commend such an attitude. Jung showed that the great danger of the Christian teaching, of the privatio boni, of the nonexistence of evil, is that it causes an inflated identification with the good, a wrong kind of inflated optimism. The idea that we can clear up the dark corners of nature and the Godhead has given the white civilization an enormous drive and optimistic élan, but also an inflation. It is a very subtle problem, because if one did not believe in the possibility of cleaning out dark and dusty corners in the human soul, and thus improving the situation of the human being, one could not be an analyst. But when that optimism goes an inch too far, one is inflated.
Saint Thomas died when writing an article on penitence, which, naturally, is also the problem of evil; so it is a pretty dangerous thing to touch, if done with the naive optimism with which Christianity has inculcated us, and which Christ himself did not teach. This light, rational attitude is really an inheritance from the Platonic, Neoplatonic, and Stoic philosophies and not an influx from genuine Christian teaching.
Toward the darknesses of nature, a fearful and respectful attitude, and full awareness of one’s own limitations, is the right religious attitude. Vasilisa provides us with a model when she asks about certain things in Baba Yaga’s hut, but when it comes to the dark hands, she does not inquire, and Baba Yaga compliments her for it, saying that too much knowledge makes you old. One could take that quite literally. When one is young, one pokes into everything out of sheer juvenile optimism and gets some good bangs on the head. Slowly, as one becomes older, one retires more into oneself. That also can go too far, for, as you know, old people can overdo it by damping young people’s ardor over every enterprise, discouraging them by saying it won’t work, and one shouldn’t try. Such skeptical conservatism goes too far; there should be a balance. But if Vasilisa had inquired about those hands, she might have had some horrible experience and lost her élan for life, and that is something to remember. How much evil can one afford to see without losing one’s appetite for life? If one has to, if one’s destiny forces one into it, one has to take it, but to load the boat with evil which is not in one’s own fate and has been picked up out of sheer curiosity is not recommended.
That’s why, for instance, most of the really good primitive medicine men do not advertise their activity. They have no therapeutic enthusiasm and do not poke into evil, or go about telling people they should go into treatment. They prefer to confine themselves to the evil with which they are actually faced. Only if somebody persecuted by evil comes and asks for help do they unwillingly consent, which shows that they are much more aware of the dangerous living reality of evil and that one should not take on oneself more than is absolutely necessary. It may be, if one likes someone, that one has to share in that person’s fate and meet that evil, but otherwise it is better to let sleeping dogs lie, for the dog might turn out to be a sleeping devil much better left to sleep.
When Vasilisa leaves the hut, she takes with her the skull with the burning eyes. On arriving home she thinks she will throw it away, but the skull says she should take it to her stepmother, so though she does not know what it has in mind to do, she does so, and then the skull’s glowing eyes stare unceasingly at stepmother and stepsisters until they are burned to ashes.
Being stared at all the time would be equivalent to having a bad conscience. One has the constant disagreeable feeling that one cannot hide. There is a beautiful poem by Victor Hugo about Cain, who, after he had killed Abel, had the hallucination that an eye looked at him all the time. He ran to the end of the world trying everywhere to escape, but the eye of God always followed him. In the end he entered a tomb, pulled the stone lid over, and sat there in the dark, but then he lifted his eyes and saw that God’s eye was even in the grave and still watched him. That would be the tortures of a bad conscience. You could say that the absolute knowledge in the human soul knows of good and evil and that one cannot escape. Conscience is not without reason related to the word consciousness. Conscience is a form of ethical consciousness which one cannot escape, even if the police do not catch one.
After Vasilisa has gone into evil, she constellates this conscience for her enemies. After she has been with Baba Yaga and has herself looked into the depths of evil, she constellates this protection for herself, this positive fruit of the very disagreeable job of looking at her own shadow. In general, looking at one’s own shadow is purely disagreeable, it is no fun, and the results also are not very amusing, but it has one great advantage: the more one knows about one’s own wickedness, the more one is able to protect oneself against that of other people. The evil within oneself recognizes evil within the other. If I am naive about my own evil intentions, then I shall fall victim to those of others. Everybody can lie to me and I shall believe them, or they will play tricks on me, and I shall fall for it every time and be the poor babe in the wood, the fool who had such good intentions, but whom the evil world has treated badly. That does happen, especially to young people, and generally to naive people—they are really harmed by evil people. But indirectly, they themselves are guilty, for they haven’t sufficiently realized the evil within themselves. If they knew more about that, they would acquire a kind of extrasensory perception for the evil of others. If, as a woman, you know about your own jealousy, you can look at another woman and catch the flicker of jealousy in her eye, and then know that you have to be careful with that woman, that it would be wiser to keep out of her way. But if you do not know what jealousy is, and have never seen your own jealous side, you cannot protect yourself and may do something silly where the other can take advantage of you. It is the same with men. The more one has looked in the mirror and watched one’s own face for hate, jealousy, dissatisfaction, etc., the better one can read the other person’s face and be wise enough to keep out of the way. One can thus avoid evil, but only by knowing how evil one is oneself, for only then has one an immediate, instinctive awareness and recognition. The idealistic fool who gets cheated by everybody and always has bad tricks played on him cannot be helped by pity, but only by being led to his own shadow. Awareness of his own evil will enable him to defend himself better.
If you want to become an analyst, naturally one of the most important things is to be able to protect yourself against destructive influences to which you are particularly exposed—as much as a doctor working in a hospital for infectious diseases. Those who have integrated much of their own darkness have a kind of invisible authority, as though they had gained weight and authority, and people do not seem to dare to attack them, instinctively feeling that they would get a slap in return. There are schoolteachers who have no need to assert themselves by thumping on the table and giving punishments all the time. The children fear them instinctively, because they feel the crocodile—or whatever stands behind that man—and they realize that impertinence could lead to trouble. The master can therefore teach undisturbed, in contrast to some young teacher who is full of enthusiasm and naive and innocent. When analyzing schoolteachers, I have often seen that the more they have obtained insight into their own shadows, the more they have gained some adult quality through which the whole problem of authority fades away. The more one realizes of one’s own shadow, the more one gets condensed and thus unapproachable—knowledge of one’s dark side serves as a protection.
The girl does not burn her stepmother and stepsisters out of revenge, which would only have involved her in her own shadow. That would have been the natural reaction—a tremendous resentment because she had been tortured, but then evil would have spread like wildfire. She has the skull, the destructive thing with her, but it is not her ego who uses it. The skull acts on its own; the revenge takes its natural course, as it were, without her taking part in it. In practical language, that is what is meant by giving somebody who has evil intentions a rope with which to hang himself. For instance, you may have a position which someone else, tremendously ambitious, wants. If you fight the other, it is just a question of ambition against ambition, but if you give up your own ambition and retire and let the other have the post, or defend the position only passively, the other is punished in getting the fruit of his own ambition and being eaten up by it. When you give the other enough rope—perhaps power—he has the worst possible punishment; he gets eaten up by his own evil. People are driven by their successes—but one can walk away; one is not one’s brother’s keeper. For a friend you must make some effort to discourage him or her, but otherwise do nothing. In the course of nature, evil always burns itself up in the end, and that is letting nature take its course. A human being’s shadow generally has to do with greed of some kind—either sex or power or something else. Such greedy libido is fire which burns itself up—people are burnt up by their own greed, and it is wise not to interfere with this.
In the case of Vasilisa, the stepmother and her daughters wanted to destroy her and so sent her to the Baba Yaga, but it is they who are burned up with what they intended for her. So the skull does not represent Vasilisa’s shadow, but the stepmother’s and the stepdaughters’, which now comes back on them, leaving Vasilisa unharmed. Once at a Fastnacht, Jung made up a wonderful verse about the poisonous dragon, to the effect that if a poisonous dragon appeared, one should not get upset, for the dragon had only forgotten his own fate: that he had to eat himself—the uroboros!
So you must just remind the dragon of his duty, and he will say, “Oh, yes,” and will eat himself up! But you have to remind him, that is, bring a little bit of consciousness into the situation. It doesn’t mean letting things go, but putting a little drop of consciousness in and then retiring. Nature will take its own course and ultimately destroy the evil. The positive seed of life within darkness is stronger than the whole darkness, as Saint John said when he spoke of the darkness longing for the light. Realization of evil can also have a positive aspect and reinforce one’s wish to live. Many people suffer from a kind of apathy. A lack of desire to live can be genuine, coming at the beginning of the fading of vitality or the onset of old age or as the result of some kind of illness or even an objective necessity to retire from life. But this lack of desire may also be seen in people who are merely not connected to, or are unaware of, the depths of darkness. They are, as it were, too good and have illusions about their own goodness. If one penetrates the horror of the destructive darkness of one’s own nature and one’s wish for death, then normally there comes the counterreaction and a desire to live. This positive instinct springs from the realization of opposites. Living means murdering from morning to evening; we eat plants and animals. We buy the meat, but do not see the slaughtering of the animals; yet, as a matter of fact, we thus take a part in the whole of nature. An Indian botanist, Sir Chandra Bose, has discovered that even plants suffer pain and even get slight temperatures when wounded. If you cut off a leaf, the plant’s temperature will increase for at least two days. So vegetarians cannot have the illusion that they do not share in the wheel of destruction. We are murderers and cannot live without murdering. The whole of natural life is based on murder. That is a terrible thing to realize, but, at the same time, if one is not very morbid by nature, such a realization brings acceptance and, strangely, the wish to live and the desire to accept one’s guilt individually, for that is the guilt of living and living is guilt, in a certain sense. The realization of destruction and the wish to live are very closely connected.
A patient’s dream might illustrate what I have in mind. The dreamer had a much too high-up religious, idealistic attitude and therefore a split-off shadow, which manifested in sudden outbursts of affect, but mostly in paranoic ideas: everything everywhere was evil, everybody had some arrière pensée, and generally these accusations were not true. Naturally, the patient herself was a dreadful liar. She dreamed that she made a religious pilgrimage and suddenly, on the left, in a house, saw a decrepit old woman with a sick cat and a voice said: “This is existential fear” (Seinsangst). The woman was terrified by this and asked a mature female figure, “Is it true that particularly people who suffer from existential fear and nervousness love cats?” The elderly woman, a symbol of the wisdom of nature, said, “Yes.” Then the dreamer quarreled over fifteen centimes with a very emotional shadow figure. The latter got into a rage, and the dreamer was absolutely terrified and did not know what to do. Then they both went to the mature woman, who turned to one and then the other and told both that they were right: that is, the emotional shadow figure and the frightened dreamer too.
At the back of her too high-up attitude, this dreamer suffered from existential fear, which is perhaps one of the most basic problems in cases where a child has not received enough maternal love. It is a deep, nervous feeling of insecurity about everything, and, in one way, the cat would be compensatory, for it is, in a natural way, egotistical. One has only to think of the symbolism of the Egyptian cat goddess Bastet to see that, mythologically, the cat is a symbol for the enjoyment of life and gaiety, and therefore the exact opposite of existential fear. A cat walks into the room when hungry and meows and gets milk. The dog reacts more as we do and shows gratitude, but the cat is a princess. She behaves as though she were conferring an honor on you, giving you the privilege of serving her and giving her milk. Then she rubs herself against your leg and affords you the privilege of stroking her! That is so suggestive that naturally you bend down and humbly do so and feel very honored! When the cat has had enough, she walks out! She neither thanks you nor attaches herself to you. It does not matter who strokes the cat—what is important is that she gets attention. The cat is therefore something absolutely divine and the right compensation for people who have existential fear. People who suffer from such fear should cultivate the idea that they are conferring an honor on others by coming into a room and “letting themselves be stroked.” They should take this as a symbol, and then they would feel secure and would learn what everyone who has a negative mother complex must learn: to look after themselves with the recklessness of nature. The animal does not deplore things in an infantile way but just takes things in the way which suits it. It uses man and animals and everything else for its own purposes, and that is the solution for that fear. In this woman’s dream she is under the spell of her fear, and therefore she should love cats and meditate on what they mean.
If people are too sensitive, too easily frightened, and say things like, “If anybody shouts at me, I can’t stand it,” then you may be quite sure that they themselves are tremendously aggressive in their shadow side. And, vice versa, the people who explode in aggression all the time are simply cowards. They constantly explode because they are afraid. If you are aggressive, and check up on yourself, you will discover this—even animals attack when they are frightened. One should never touch a dog suddenly, for if frightened it might bite, whereas approached quietly it will not. Keepers in the zoo who have to look after dangerous animals know that the art lies in not frightening the animal. We react in the same way. Naturally, someone who suffers from existential fear will be dangerous, aggressive, and emotional, and that is at the root of all paranoic states and aggressiveness.
The mature woman in the dream who says that both sides are right indicates the solution. She would represent the Self who brings the opposites together so that fear and aggression are in the right proportion. It also shows that the problem cannot be solved by understanding, only by outgrowing it. It is one of those problems which one can only slowly and emotionally outgrow and not just conquer intellectually. It requires long practice in being less frightened on the one side and less aggressive on the other, watching one’s fear while trying to give oneself security, putting a break on one’s own aggressiveness until one can slowly bring those two natural elements into the right balance, and thus outgrow this fatal constellation. In women the negative mother complex often engenders a lack of basic vital security. It is at the root of all kinds of destructiveness and inability to meet life. If one can integrate that problem emotionally, one acquires authority.
There is a lot of amplificatory material on the subject of integrated aggression in Eliade’s book on shamanism. In one chapter he speaks of the shamans as the “hot ones.” Blacksmiths all over the world are looked on as the original medicine men and magicians, because they rule the fire, and the medicine man is the man who has integrated his own devilish, dangerous element, which is the secret of his authority. Integrated evil has given him authority over his tribe.
Ultimately the whole problem boils down to a fact beautifully illustrated in an Irish fairy tale on masculine psychology, but the point applies also to feminine psychology.46 A hero goes into the land of the other world where a king kills all his daughter’s suitors by means of a magic competition. He says to the hero, “You have to hide three times and I must find you, and then I hide three times and you have to try to find me. The one who finds the other three times can behead him.” So, inevitably, this king’s daughter remains unmarried for a long time. Our hero comes to this country. He owns a little talking horse, which tells him to go in for the competition and that it will help him. The king consults his black magician, who tells him to hide once in a fish in a pool and once in a ring on his daughter’s finger, and so on, but the little talking horse always tells the hero where the king is to be found. But the king says that he will now find the hero three times and that he should go and hide. On the advice of the talking horse, the hero hides once in the horse’s broken tooth and once under the hair in the horse’s tail and once in the horse’s hoof. The king asks the black magician for help, and the latter consults all his books, trying to find the hero, but there is nothing in the books about that; he can do nothing. So the hero is allowed to behead the king and marry the princess.
The decisive factor in this story is that the animal is stronger than either black magic or book knowledge. The magician has supernatural knowledge, but it is out of a book and is codified, while the hero benefits by his horse’s living wisdom. That is the only difference between the two competing powers, so it is the animal instinct which decides. Jung once went so far as to say that goodness which is beyond instinctiveness is no longer good, and wickedness which is anti- instinctual cannot succeed either. If I try to be better than my instincts permit, I cease to do good. If I want to do evil in order to survive, this is only possible as long as my instinct goes with it. If I do more evil than my instinct allows, then I destroy myself. Instinct, or the animal, is the final judge, for that is what gives my good or evil intentions the right measure.
Chuang-tzu gives a famous simile called “Breaking Boxes Open.” It says that in order to protect oneself against boxes being opened—that is, jewel cases, trunks of silken clothes, and treasures—putting cords around them and a lot of locks on them is what the world calls intelligent. But if a strong thief comes, he will take the whole box on his shoulder and will hope to goodness that the locks and the cords hold, so that the contents will not spill out. Chuang-tzu then tells of a peaceful country in Tzu where the peasants were very moral and everything was orderly. (Cords and locks stand for morality, for good behavior.) So the land prospered. A robber took possession of that country and was then very insistent that good behavior should continue. Everybody must continue to work and behave properly, and it was now the robber who enforced this because he wanted the country to go on prospering. Neighbors, whether big or small, did not dare criticize or kill him, and for twelve generations the country remained in his and his descendants’ possession. Therefore, as you can see, robbers and thieves are very much interested in good behavior!
Another story goes even further. Someone asked Chuang-tzu whether robbers have moral attitudes. He said, “Of course, for otherwise they could not be robbers. A robber must know intuitively where the treasures are to be found, and that is his greatness; he must be the first to go in, and that shows his courage; he must know whether a coup is possible, or not, and that is his wisdom; he must afterwards make a just distribution among other gangsters, and that shows his goodness. It is absolutely impossible, therefore, for a robber to be a robber without having great moral qualities. So you can see that as human beings need ethics in order to survive, so do robbers in order that they may be good robbers. Now there are few good and many bad people in the world, therefore obviously morality teachers do not help the world but rather cause damage.”
What he is really driving at is that goodness which requires an artificial effort is not goodness. It can just as well serve the purpose of the robber, and, on the other hand, if a robber is a naturally goodnatured man, he is not a bad sort of fellow. The important thing is to be true and natural and genuine in one’s own nature; that is more important than to be artificially ethical or unethical. I do more damage if I am artificial in either way than if I am just myself, instinctively and healthily. In the latter case I also do a certain amount of damage, but—since to live is to murder—the damage I cause is relatively small, which is why Chuang-tzu always speaks against teachers of morality, showing up their secret destructiveness in estranging man from his natural goodness, which is just to be and to survive and to cause the minimum of damage necessary for survival.
Now, the doll in our story is such a symbol of instinctiveness, but in this case it is more a fetish which has supernatural powers. Other fairy tales give parallel symbols of the helpful instinct. There is one which Barbara Hannah has also mentioned in her course on animals. It is an Austrian fairy tale called “The Little WhiteCats.” In it a girl falls into the evil hands of her stepmother, a destructive witch who has also bewitched the ruling king of the country and turned him into a black raven which is imprisoned in a mountain beyond a frozen lake. The girl saves four little cats from drowning and cares for them, and one day they appear with a golden carriage and carry the girl across the frozen lake to the raven, which she kisses and redeems, and then becomes queen. In this case the helpful factor is not a doll, but a golden carriage drawn by four little white cats, which is otherwise a complete parallel to the doll. It is the helpful symbol which carries the heroine to her goal and brings her to her right life and makes her a queen. There we can see how much the right attitude has to do with instinct, with the instinctive totality, and how even the cat, which we consider an unethical creature, is there represented as the absolutely positive and redeeming thing. The carriage would symbolize the fourfold structure of consciousness: the instinctiveness of which one is conscious, in contrast to that instinctiveness by which one is unconsciously driven, and that would establish the correct balanced attitude.
To return to the story of Vasilisa: After the stepmother and stepsisters have been burned up, Vasilisa goes to town and finds a lonely old woman with whom she decides to live. While with her, she spins such beautiful cloth that it attracts the king’s attention. Through the intermediary of the lonely old woman, he asks her to make the shirts for him, and then falls in love with her and she becomes queen. Afterward she calls the lonely old woman and her father to the court so that the four live together: the father, the lonely old woman (who is obviously a positive mother and replaces her dead positive mother at the beginning of the story), the king, and herself, the queen. So it ends with a typical quaternity, the fourfold symbol of totality. It is one of the most complete stories in this sense. The story switches back and forth several times: the heroine first has a positive mother, who dies; then she falls into the hands of a stepmother who is completely destructive; then she goes to the Baba Yaga who is destructive—but not to her—so there in the archetype there is already more or less a balance of black and white. The Baba Yaga is only destructive to the bad side and not to the good, and she respects Vasilisa. Afterward the story switches again to a positive mother figure—the lonely old woman in the town, who from that time on becomes her positive mother. Nothing else is said about this lonely woman, but she is obviously positive. It is a complete fourfoldness of the mother aspect which is described, and what distinguishes this last mother figure is her complete humanity. There is nothing else interesting about her; she has not even a magic doll as did the first mother, who could not have been completely normal since she could give a magic doll to her daughter. The stepmother is completely human but destructive, Baba Yaga is a goddess, and now we return to what one would call plain humanness, as the ultimate stage of transformation.
We saw before that the woman who was left alone, like Sedna in the Eskimo story, is generally evil. The Arabs still say, “Never go near a woman who lives alone near the borders of the desert because such women are possessed by jinns.” And it is very true that if women live alone for a long time without being in touch with men, they generally fall into the hands of the animus. It is very difficult to stand loneliness without getting overwhelmed by the unconscious, and in a woman’s case naturally by the animus. So if this woman can live alone without falling into the devil, she must, though it is so little explained in the story, be of high quality, somebody who has reached a very high level of consciousness and humanness.
The need for relatedness is of the highest value and the essence of feminine nature, but a bit too much of it makes it negative because it makes that dependent clinging which men fear so much in women, and which is altogether a great evil by which women who establish relatedness so easily destroy all the good they do. If their eros—which means genuine interest in the other person and in establishing relationship, being there for the other person—gets the least bit too dependent, clinging to and needing the other, it is already on the downward grade into the devouring aspect of the female. If one is attentive to one’s relationships, it is infinitely difficult to find the right balance. Say someone you like is ill; the natural movement is to ring up and inquire, but if you do too much of this, the other feels that you want to mother and make him dependent. If you do nothing, you are not related, and if you do it, the other feels as if you had made a claim on him. Great tact is needed so that the other has no feeling of being devoured, nor is there a cold unrelatedness, and that makes the difference between positive loneliness, which means independence, and the devouring mother, the devouring female. The lonely woman, therefore, since the context shows her as a positive figure, probably here represents the ultimate capacity for independence, a feminine quality very difficult for women to acquire. It entails constant watching of one’s own shadow drive and the symbol of this independence is that lonely woman who now in complete selflessness becomes the intermediary between Vasilisa and the king. She makes the king aware of the girl who spins such wonderful material.
The very beautiful silk shirts which attract the king have a certain parallel with the shirts in the story “The Six Swans,” where the heroine had to make star flower shirts to redeem her brothers. This time, however, the king has not to be redeemed, but the heroine gets in contact via the shirts and so wins his love. He wanted the woman who could make such beautiful shirts. It is said of her spinning, weaving, and sewing that the thread is so wonderfully fine and the material so delicate that the shirts are accordingly delicate and beautiful.
We say in German, “My shirt is closer to me than my coat”; it would imply an inner subtlety in understanding life. Such a king would not rule by regulations, or make crude speeches prepared for him by his prime minister, but would be able to penetrate the actual quality of a situation in a very subtle way. That is what the differentiated anima bestows on a man and what higher consciousness gives to a woman—the capacity for living the “just-so-ness” of life in the right way, something very mysterious and very subtle. It gives the intimate attitude which can take things just as they are instead of making sweeping judgments, and it gives the subtlety of the feeling touch. Here the positive functioning of the feminine principle is not to become outwardly dominant, but to give the ruling principle the necessary subtlety. That is what a woman can achieve. She does not need to push herself into the foreground and wear beautiful clothes. She makes them for the king, and if he wears such shirts he will be a good king. Taken symbolically, he will be a king who can adapt to the situation, see it intimately, and have a feeling about it beyond the general coarseness of the collective reaction.
If we take Vasilisa as the symbol of a woman, it would mean that she bestows subtlety on her animus. Jung said that the animus is always a bit off the point, which is because it lacks subtlety. It is just this being off the point which is so irritating, as when one says something which is generally true but does not fit the actual situation. Suppose a woman’s husband flirts with another woman. The wife can say that they are modern people and her husband should be free, so she will shut her eyes to what is going on. She might be completely wrong. Perhaps —and I have seen such cases—he hopes she will put her foot down, and if she does not, he feels she does not love him, does not care much. Or her animus may tell her that she must put her foot down, that a woman must defend her rights, express her feeling, and that he would only think she does not love him if she does not make a scene—so she does this and is completely wrong, for she suffocates something in her husband’s anima development which should have been allowed to live. Therefore, if one follows either recipe, one is sure to be wrong, because in all such situations there are always two possibilities, and both are half true. As long as one clings to rules one will do the wrong thing and, naturally, being driven by one’s own shadow serves that animus argument for what one wants to do anyhow. The jealous woman who is simply driven by her jealousy will insist that a woman must defend her rights and so on—actually she is simply jealous—and the other will be driven in the opposite way. To give the animus subtlety, or the right shirt, would mean finding the attitude which suits the situation, knowing instinctively what is right in this special case, knowing how to act in each individual case, and for that, much subtlety and individual feeling into the situation are required. On such things the woman’s animus goes off the deep end, for there is, of course, the famous partnership between shadow and animus. The shadow wants to do something in a driven way and the animus provides the right collective justification, and then the whole situation is wrong! But to be married to the king who has these beautiful shirts would mean that one had a superior way of judging the situation. That would be the symbol of such shirts, and that is one of the highest achievements of the feminine process of individuation—the attainment of that subtle rightness which makes Vasilisa a queen. The latter symbolizes a model of femininity for the new age to come.