Friday, July 27, 2012

Snake symbolism: Birth of the Sun Child

Zeus is the Eagle, raising itself higher and higher; competent, bright, bringing self-esteem upon oneself. The snake is pain and difficulty, feeling helpless, lost in the dark woods. The ego naturally seeks out the Eagle... but the Self seeks wholeness, because what the ego doesn't realize is that it's in our weakness that God can enter our lives. Children are our wholeness, including what is frail, weak, stupid, helpless and frustrating. It's our humiliation, and our uncontrolled passions. It is what is in us that is exactly what it is, regardless of what is socially desirable... or even socially acceptable. The Child, like the Ouroboros, is the symbol of wholeness.

Child, snake and lion
Very often, the snake appears in ancient mythology combined with the motif of the child. For instance, the mythical god of the Athenians was King Erechterus, who was the son of Athena and who was kept as a little child in a basket into which one should not look, for one would see a child surrounded by snakes. One cannot be sure exactly what it means, but coffrets grotesques have been found in Southern France (probably material from the Middle Ages and not earlier), in which naked children are playing with snakes. The child-god and the snake-god were very often combined like that.

The child-god is also the archetype of the poisoner, so to speak. The Cupid of antiquity has a very poisonous arrow with which he can even subdue - as the poets say - the great god Zeus, for if Cupid shoots an arrow at him, Zeus may have to hopelessly pursue an earthly woman, though he may not even like the situation... If you do like it, you will be happy and say that you have fallen in love. If you do not like it,  you will say that you have been poisoned; you are bound to do something you do not like and are forced into a situation which feels like subjection or poison to the ego.
(Marie-Louise von Franz, Puer Aeternus)

Some people have a frustrated infant within them. Usually they are very correct and polite, and make very few demands on the analyst, but being too polite and correct and considerate is always suspect. One knows that they would like to eat up the analyst completely like the lion, making childish demands and scenes, because the analyst has stopped five minutes before the time, or answered the telephone, or put off the hour, or even had the flu!

That is the symbolism of the madness in the lead, but it also contains Osiris, the immortal man, and if only you accept that spot within you, you will come to the creative content where the Self is hidden. The frustrated child could be said to be an aspect covering up an image of the Self, and the devouring lion also an aspect of the Self.

If you take the image of the devouring lion this is quite clear. If I think I ought to be top dog everywhere, have the most beautiful partner, have money, be happy, and so on, that is a paradise fantasy, and what is that? It is a projection of the Self! So actually, the childish thing is the desire to experience everything in the here and now. The fantasy in itself is entirely legitimate, it has the idea of the coniunctio, a perfect state, a state of harmony. It is a religious idea, but naturally if projected onto outside life and wanted there, in the here and now, that is impossible. The way in which the person wants to realize the fantasy is childish, but in itself it is valuable and has nothing wrong or unhealthy in it.

So just in that undominated mad spot of the person, or in the wild or problematic spot, there is the symbol of the Self. That gives it the drive, which is why people never know what to do for they cannot repress it; or if they are reasonable and just give the thing up and realize how childish it is and that one should be resigned and adapt to life, then they feel that they are cured but that they have been robbed of their best possibilities and so are frustrated.
(Marie-Louise von Franz, Alchemy)

Oh snaaaaaaap, more stuff related to the owl dream! I love when this happens :D  In it's positive aspect, the child is the symbol of renewal, but the child archetype also has some negative aspects: being incapable, less than perfect, weak... and being "childish;" irrational and unreasonably demanding. This is definitely a problem of mine. I want everything, but I deny myself anything. I know I have this devouring wolf inside of me that could eat, and eat, and eat whole fucking world, so I make sure to keep it down by not asking for anything, and being scrupulous about what I take from others. In fact, if I get more than I give, I feel uncomfortable.

This is also deeply intertwined with my need for love and connection. I grew up being sent from one family member to the other. I always thought my mother had sent me away; she was sick and almost died but, upon learning when I was twenty-four that even on (what she thought was) her death bed she begged to keep me, I burst into tears. I never even knew this had bothered me, just as I never realized that deep down, I felt like I always had to make people like me so they wouldn't send me away again. These are all realizations that came up years later.

I have the eternally hungry infant inside me, and this makes me both fear and long for love. What I long for is the rest and peace that comes with having a place of my own, without fear; as the Wiccan's say "perfect love and perfect trust." This is why I get so crazy in relationships. And this is precisely why I need to work through relationship issues.

In the owl, the child was beheading owls with a stick. I still don't know what the stick means but the child and the owls are pretty obvious: this neediness and childishness in me is beheading my wisdom - my owl's are "losing their heads." Also, both my interpretations are right: the child is a symbol of renewal, but a frustrating, childish one. And the owl is a symbol of wisdom. I don't think the dream is telling me whether I should do one thing or the other as much as just giving me an objective understanding of my situation.

Traveling in Egypt

This is a long excerpt, but it is positively overflowing with gems of insight and wisdom. And straight up excellent advice, in general and for the different types/functions. Here von Franz talks about the value of the inferior function/the child-like parts of ourselves.
[T]he child has a naive view of life, and if you recall your own childhood, you remember you were intensely alive. The child, if it is not already neurotic, is constantly interested in something. Whatever else from which the child may suffer, it does not suffer from remoteness from life, normally - only if it is thoroughly poisoned by the neuroses of its parents. Otherwise, it is fully alive, and that is why people, thinking back to their own childhood, long to have that naive vitality which they have lost in becoming a grown-up. The child is an inner possibility, the possibility of renewal, but how does that get into the actual life of a child?...

It has to do with he inferior function - through which the renewal comes - which has remained childlike and completely naive. Therefore, it conveys a new sight and a new experience of life when the worn-out superior function comes to its end, and it imparts all those naive pleasures which one has lost in childhood. That is why we have to learn to play again, but on the line of the fourth, or the inferior, function. It does not help if, for instance, an intellectual person starts some kind of intellectual play. If a thinking type were to quote the Bible, saying that unless you become like little children you will never enter the kingdom of heaven, and then would go to a club to play chess - that would not help at all, for it would again be on the main function. There is a great temptation to do that; namely, to accept the idea of play and of turning to something else, something noncommittal, but to do it within the field of the main function. I have often seen feeling types whose feeling functions have run out. I tell them they must do something which has no purpose, something playful. Then they propose working in a kindergarten, or something like that. But that is nonsense, for that would again be on the feeling side; that would be a half-way acceptance and an escape at the same time. The really difficult thing is to turn directly to the inferior function and play there. For this, the ego must give up its directing line, because if you touch your inferior function, it decides on the kind of play; you cannot decide. The inferior function, just like an obstinate child, will insist that it wants to play at something or other, though you may say that it is not suitable and would not work well. For example, in an intuitive, the inferior function may want to play with clay, but the intuitive person lives in a hotel room and would much prefer something clean because clay makes a lot of dirt in a hotel room! But you cannot dictate to the inferior function! If you are an intuitive and your inferior function wants to play with stones or clay, then you have to make the effort to find an ambiance where that would be possible. That is exactly the difficulty. That is why the ego always has thousands of objections to turn to the inferior side. It is always something very difficult to arrange in practical life

The inferior function is a real nuisance, just as children are, whom you cannot put in a box and take out when it suits you. It is a living entity with its own demands, and it is a nuisance to the ego which wants to have its own way... But if you accept the humiliating experience of making the ego submit itself to the demands of the inferior of childish part of the personality, then the divine child becomes a source of life; then life has a new face, you discover new experiences, and everything changes

I often notice that when the feeling type begins to think, he does so exactly like the early Greek pre-Socratic philosophers. He has thoughts like those of Heraclitus or Democritus, and such people, and is as fired by these as were the early Greek philosophers. If you read Empedocles or Heraclitus, you will find an eternal youth in the way they think. That is why I love those philosophers so much. Nowadays, it seems very like mythological thinking - not very scientific. For instance, the atomic theories of Democritus are awfully naive, if looked at according to modern theories, but there is a kind of wholeness and enthusiasm about them, together with the idea that now they see the whole picture. Naturally, the material is full of projections of the symbol of the Self, so one gets quite carried away when reading it. There is a kind of springtime of the spirit; the early Greek philosophy is like the blossoming spring of philosophy. Very often, if a feeling type gets down to his own thinking, he comes to this kind of experience; when that happens, the thinking type must retire to his own estate and not say that one knew that twenty-thousand years ago! The same thing applies to the thinking type if you get him or her to bring up naive real feeling, rather than something organized. Usually, the thinking type is so much a thinker that he even organizes his feelings appropriately, and because he does not get on with his real feelings, because they are unadapted, he generally has a pseudo-adaptation to feeling. I would say that the main method for getting to the playfulness of the inferior function is to scratch away the pseudo-adaptation with which we all cover the inferior function. The feeling type, for instance, is usually full of school and university theories and imagines that those are his thoughts. But they are not: they are pseudo-thinking adaptations to cover up the fact that his real thinking is awfully embryonic and naive. The same holds true for the thinking type who has very naive feelings; for instance, "I love you, I hate you." If he went round the world saying that, or saying, "I can't stand you," you can imagine what a stumbling block it would be! It would not work for two minutes! Even in school, you cannot tell your teacher that you cannot stand him! I am a thinking type myself and I loved certain teachers and hated others. But I would never dissimulate my feelings sufficiently; I always showed her how I felt. I knew it would have been much more diplomatic not to show too clearly how much I despised a certain teacher, but it was always quite obvious. When you become adult, you hide these reactions and acquire a pseudo-feeling adaptation. Thinking types are often very amiable and seem to have very balanced, amiable feeling reactions, but never trust that! That is just a pseudo-adaptation, because the other is so painful and helpless and childish that one cannot show it. But if you have to go to it, then you must again dig up the naiveté of your real feeling and get the crust off the pseudo-adaptation

Intuitives very often have no relationship to the body and are likely to dress badly or be dirty, but since that does not work, they learn to wash and put on nice clothes, and so on; although they may be quite correctly dressed, there is no personal style. If they would dig up their real sensation, their taste would be artistic, but weird and very much out of the ordinary. Intuitives who get down to their sensation cannot buy ready-made clothes; everything has to be made for them. Neither can they eat hotel food; they must either have a cook or they must cook for themselves, and it must be very special. It gives them a lot of trouble to discover this, and, what is worse, it is a nuisance and expensive both in money and time. You can have the tailor and the cook but that is not quite genuine, or you can go down to the inferior function, but that is the greatest time thief in existence, because it is primitively slow

You know that in primitive countries it is impossible to hurry people. If you travel in Egypt, it is no good ordering the cars for 9:00 am and expecting to be beyond the Nile or in the Kings' Tomb at 10 am. Everyone who travels in the Orient knows that he must put up with being two or three hours late; he cannot arrive on time as Europeans do. But once you have made the adaptation, life is much nicer, because you have all kinds of experiences: the car breaks down and causes a lot of fun, and instead of arriving at the Kings' Tomb, you get into the desert and do a lot of swearing, and so forth. But that's life too! You cannot organize the inferior function. It is awfully expensive and needs a lot of time, and that is one reason why it is such a cross in our lives: it makes us so inefficient if we try to act through it. It has to be give whole Sundays and whole afternoons of our lifetimes and nothing may come out - except that the inferior function will come to life. But that is the whole point. A feeling type will only bring up his thinking if he begins to think about something he cannot use in this world, neither for examination nor study; but if he will think about something which interests himself - that is how to get going because it is not possible to yoke inferior playfulness to utilitarian motives. The essence of play is that it has no visible meaning and is not useful. I would tell a feeling type to learn what he needs by heart for his exams, and not try to think, because he won't be able to do so. He should make pseudo-adaptations, and if the thinking type gets into a situation where he has to behave - say he has to attend a funeral - then he must on no account pull out his personal feelings. He must just behave and do the conventional thing with flowers and condolences; that is the right pseudo-adaptation for him. To get at his real feeling, the thinking type must find a situation where he can play with it, and then it will be quite different. So the first thing to do is to take it out of the adaptation field and keep the pseudo-adaptation for those cases where it is necessary. I think nobody can really develop the inferior function before having first created a temenos; namely, a sacred grove, a hidden place where he can play. The first thing is to find a Robinson Crusoe playground, and then when you have gotten rid of all onlookers, you can begin!
(Marie-Louise von Franz, Puer Aeternus)

So basically, the Snake is also the Child, for ill and for good. It's the part of us that causes us humiliation and pain... and also the door through which God comes. It's the poisoner... and the source of new life. Its why its our weakness and imperfection that is the part of ourselves that is the most valuable.

There's not much I can actually add to this. Go and do as von Franz suggests (as will I.)

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