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“It is saddening that many Jungians still tend to speak of the feminine as if it is the special province of women, or speaking of women’s psychology as “feminine psychology” or men’s psychology as “masculine psychology” ~ Masculine and Feminine, Gareth S. Hill,
To look at any depth psychological theory means contending with the biases and bigotries that the theory is built upon, and to consider whether or not there are useful notions and ideas which are salvageable when the bias has been confronted, or if the theoretical construct is itself is so completely contaminated, serving only to maintain an oppressive status quo, that it needs to be tossed out with the rubbish.
One of the key examples of this is the notion of “penis envy” associated with traditional Freudian theory. “Mother blaming” notions about the psychoanalytic origins of homosexuality, and schizophrenia – are another example of misogynistic theory.
Jung – a student of Freud’s, working in Victorian Europe, seeing women with “hysterical” paralysis – may have rejected Freud’s reductionist sexual theories, but baked plenty of his own and his historical era’s misogyny into his own theories of “women’s psychology.”
Most people have encountered a gender essentialist interpretation of Jung’s Anima and the Animus archetypes through an (infamous and heternormative) self-help book published in the mid-nineties by John Gray: “Men are From Mars, Women are From Venus”. Gray took Jung’s ideas about the archetypal “Masculine” and the archetypal “Feminine” and reduced those ideas to traditional gender roles. Men need women to soothe and reassure them, to be patient with them in order for them to move out into the world of work as “warriors.” Women who are insufficiently nurturing, or “too dominant” unwittingly create obstacles to receiving the attention and affection from men that they yearn for. When women help men feel like “men” they are more likely to have their primary, emotional needs met by their partners.
And truly, there have been many generations of Jungian couples therapies that have unfolded along this ridiculously oppressive model. And in fact, reading Jung’s clinical examples of how he himself applied Anima/us theory in practice – is just as infuriating. I hated these notions upon my first exposures to them, and experienced them as utterly unsalvageable. But the more I sat with them, the more that I found ways that these archetypes – these instinctive ways of being – live in each of us, without regard to embodied gender, I began to find small treasures embedded in the rubbish.
So: what do these words “Anima” and “Animus” mean?
For Jung this is an extension of his idea that wholeness is the result and the resolution of the “tension of the opposites” – That everything that is whole contains opposites. The 24 hour day is composed of both daylight and darkness. Inferiority masks unconscious desires for superiority, and superiority is the attempt to compensate for unconsciously held feelings of inferiority. Jung saw the relationship between the unconscious and consciousness as compensatory and bivalent – a dance between opposing energies which, when it is in a state of health, keeps us in balance, and moves us toward wholeness.
Compensation is a fundamental concept in Jungian psychology, which corresponds to the self-regulatory functions of a living organism. To express this idea that one-sidedness is answered by its opposite in the psyche, Jung used the Greek word enantiodromia. ~ Masculine and Feminine, Gareth S. Hill,
And in Jung’s era, and beyond– gender was perceived as binary, and compartmentalized: Man was the opposite of Woman, Masculinity was the opposite of Femininity. Which for Jung, meant that for each of us, our gendered “opposite” lived in our unconscious. The repressed, unconscious “feminine” was called the Anima. The repressed unconscious “masculine” was called the Animus. Men had to make contact with their repressed feminine “soul” to be whole, and women had to become conscious of their repressed masculine “spirit” in order to become whole.
Moreover, Jung believed that those who kept these energies repressed could become “possessed” or inflated by this unconscious content – and men could become neurotically femininely “moody” and “irrational” when they were “anima possessed” and women would become strident, opinionated if their animus had no conscious expression, and took hold of them in unconscious ways. Men who were unconsciously overwhelmed by emotion or passivity and women who were driven by unacknowledged ambition were viewed as neurotic as a result of the force of these unconscious instincts.
For Jung: The anima/us were also archetypes which emerge in dreams as the “contrasexual” characters in our dreams – a man who dreams, for example of following a golden haired maiden into the forest, may be dreaming of making contact with his own “feminine” soul and emotional life. A woman who dreams of being guided by a wise old man is encountering a psychopomp, a guide and teacher who may lead her to deeper theoretical understanding of her own being.
In traditional Jungian theory – these are also the archetypes that we project out onto potential (heterosexual) romantic partners. A woman may encounter her Animus through myth and dreams and analytic explorations, or she may encounter “her perfect type” in the guise of all that she projects onto her partner/husband. And, for Jung, a heterosexual man will encounter his anima as he seeks out his “ideal feminine” mate. And, in this theory – heterosexual couples fall into conflict when they unconsciously pressure each other into manifesting their ideal: when a woman’s animus “attacks” a man’s anima. Or a man’s anima responds to his wife’s animus with moody irrational rejections.
When I first began to wrestle with this content it would start out momentarily interesting and then quickly get very yucky– But the more I labored with it – the more I began to suspect that although the culture/era/patriarchical applications of these theories were grossly oppressive – it felt like Jung’s notion itself was like an attempt to break down oppressive gender and gender role binaries, and to free the “contra-sexual” element in all of us.
Whatever we are not biologically, whatever we are not allowed to be by our families and our cultures, whatever opportunities are withheld from us with regard to our biological gender identity (male, intersexual, female) or our gender role presentation ( how we perform “feminine” or “masculine” cultural standards) no matter who we are or what culture we live in, our opposite, our unlived aspects reside within us. And when we can become more conscious of that we are more whole, and more free.
Gareth Hill, in his book “Masculine and Feminine” – writing also in the mid-nineties – undertook the task of reformation and rescue of some of the salvageable aspects of Anima/animus theory.
And Hill is also restricted by his era: Binary gender “opposites” still hold sway in the thinking of the time – as opposed to gender continuums, homosexual marriage is illegal at the time of his writing, and was only fairly recently depathologized in the revised DSM of that decade. There was no popular discourse on intersexuality, transgender identities, or gender queer presentations or gay or queer parent households. Many gender “associated” qualities are still considered inherent and biologically based in this generation – but Hill does his best to avoid the gender essentialist arguments that Men are From Mars puts forth:
Anima and animus are the archetypal patterns of masculine and feminine which transcend gender. ~ Masculine and Feminine, Gareth S. Hill.
So maybe we can think of it this way:
Animus or anima otherness is an expression of what a person cannot in that moment be. Shadow otherness is that which we don’t like to be, or don’t want to admit being. ~Masculine and Feminine, Gareth S. Hill,
Or maybe it is the archetype of all that we are not permitted to be: that requires we become “disobedient” and “radical” in order to claim for our conscious selves. And sometimes Anima/us may be the unlived aspects of our being that we foreclose upon and mourn because the opportunities to manifest them are thwarted by oppressive cultural structures and expectations.
I find this all far easier to consider when we strip gendered language from this entirely- the clearest archetypal image that I return to make sense of this theory is the T’ai Chi: reframing Anima/us as Yin and Yang, remembering that each state also contains its opposite.
(But sometimes I want to get past even those classifications: Sometimes, privately I think instead of my grandmother-in-law’s childhood pets: A massive great dane named “Bitsy” and a tiny dachshund called” Zambor.” Everything great has something tiny inside of it. Everything that is small contains something huge and heroic. We might also think of these archetypes as The Left and the Right. Although we associate gender with some of these qualities, that is because we have filtered them through cultural lens which have assigned gendered expectations to universal states of being.
We can call these energies anything we like, and to me, we are closer to wholeness when we remember that all of them are present inside of each of us.
Hill further breaks these archetypes (despite the gendered language) down in to useful and recognizable patterns of being and behaving (which I have used and amended to include my own thoughts) :
The Static Yin/ Feminine/Left :
Interdependecy, primal dependency
Mothering (by any gender)
In its “negative aspect” – when it is too one-sided out of balance: this will look like smothering, merger, engulfing, devouring, passivity.
The Dynamic (Yang/Masculine/Right) :
When out of balance: Aggressive, abusive, domineering, self-serving, grandiose.
The Static (Yang/Masculine/Right) :
Fathering (by any gender)
When out of balance: rigidity, excessive control or punishment of others, righteousness, disconnection, systemic oppression.
When out of balance: “spacy-ness” disorganization, magical thinking, chaos, rot, substance abuse/intoxication, and delusion/hallucination
So: these metaphysical energetic states are natural states that are accessible to all human beings regardless of their gender. Yet when Jung and his more dogmatic binary followers attempt to apply it to their worldview of binary and “opposite” sexes – these ideas become damaging and toxic.
So how might we use our awareness of these instinctive ways of being in the therapeutic session in practical and liberating way? I find that primary usefulness of these ideas are to help me and the client remain alert to a basic “onesided-ness” or imbalance – that has risen up from within, or has been imposed from the outside:
I very rarely make any direct reference to these archetypes in session. I can count the times I’ve spoken to a client about “masculine or feminine” archetypes or anima/us on one hand. But here are some fictionalized accounts that demonstrate how applying these constructs in the therapeutic session can be helpful:
A gentle, somewhat passive cis-straight married man with an unacknowledged yearning to be a primary caretaker (static-yin) and adventure guide/play mate (dynamic yin) for his child, in a traditional gender-role divided marriage, pressed into expressing his love for his family by taking on assertive bread-winning (dynamic-yang) energies and unhappily trapped in the (static-yang) role of household provider. Noticing the one-sidedness of his role, naming the yearning to care for his child in more nurturing and related ways, and grieving the ways that this is an impossibility for him.
A trans man in transition, being nursed by his supportive and attentive mother, in the weeks following his top-surgery (double masectomy) has a powerful dream that his breasts “are still there.”
Upon waking he is frightened by potential implications/interpretations of the dream, but the dream itself was not distressed, but felt deeply pleasurable, comforting, whole, powerful.
As the dream is explored, it becomes clear that the client is feeling very connected and grateful for his mother’s maternal care, devotion and nursing, (static-yin) and that the client feels strongly identified with his mother and hopes to manifest the same kind of steadfast support for his loved ones. We discuss all the ways that the archetypal Static Yin (without naming it as such) will remain central to the client’s values and being through his bodily transition into his gender identity.
A queer relationship between a self identified professionally powerful “cis-butch” lesbian and her artistic gender-queer partner. The couple would like to start a family, and explore the implications of pregnancy and parenthood on their bodies, their gender identities, and gender roles. The conversation also explores the ways that the archetypal Static Yin, without labling it as such, is desired and feared (in its devouring negative aspect) – experienced as a potential threat to both Dynamic-Yang career ambitions and to Dynamic-Yin creative processes.
A self identified cis-straight woman, in a “traditionally male” working class profession, the only woman on her job site, eliminates any trace of vulnerability or femininity that might impact her role at work. Placed in a supervisory position (static-yang) over a group of large, physical, dynamic-yang–possessed men who are threatened by her authority at the job. Some men recoil and rebel. Other’s on the team, “soften” toward her, and respond to her nurturing, (static-yin) maternal or sisterly care for them. She drinks to excess and is plagued by intrusive nightmares. (dynamic-yin in its negative aspect)
A deeply religious cis-straight woman, attached to traditional gender roles, who married young and whose mastery experiences organized around motherhood and housekeeping – decides to separate and leave her substance-abusing (dynamic-yin) husband, and head out into the world to start a new life- (dynamic yang). She assesses her skills and capacities for order and organization and decides to return to school to become a C.P.A and take on the financial support of her household. (static yang)
Or myself: an old psychotherapist whose relationship to her work life as a therapist (static-yin) and her commitment to working heroically and taking on “hard” cases that others turn away (dynamic-yang) has been dramatically reorganized by chaos, (dynamic-yin) in the year following a life-threatening diagnosis.
We can see in all of these examples, that we are more likely to experience symptoms, or “fateful” external obstacles when we fall into (or are pressured by external circumstances) into imbalanced “one-sidedness”. When we find our selves “stuck” in one state – facing down every obstacle like a warrior going into battle – for example – we are undervaluing and under utilizing other energetic strategies, such as patience, or play, or restructuring. Nature notices these imbalances – and responds to correct/compensate for us: either with psychological or somatic symptoms, or through strain and conflict in our relationships in the world around us.
If we can hold the words “masculine” and “feminine” lightly in our minds when discussing the Anima and Animus archetypes, we can see that in the mythical and folkloric cannon – that these energies are often (but not exclusively) represented by gendered characters, and that these myths and stories can tell us something about the pathological one-sidedness of an entire culture:
The captive princess awaiting rescue is an oppressive image only if it taken literally to imply that everyone in a female body must wait passively to be saved by a powerful man.
But, if we look at the princess as a symbol of the collective Static Yin archetype which is too often devalued, repressed and made powerless by a patriarchal culture – it may require that we all summon our heroic Dynamic-Yang energies to break “her” out of imprisonment and move us toward wholeness as a community.
We are all the princess. We are all the hero. We are all the ruling King. We are all the tricky old Witch.
And our myths and scriptures and our nighttime dreams often use gendered characters to talk to us about what energies are ascendant in us, as individuals and as a community – and what aspects of our identities are experiencing repression or oppression.
But in truth these archetypes exist in all of us.
Each of us have hard, strong dominant aspects which will need to be softened.
Each of us has soft, passive, reactive, nurturing aspects that will need to be strengthened.
Each of us has creative, disorganized, chaotic energies which need to be more structured.
All of us can become rigid and rule-bound and need to learn to allow more inspiration and freedom and play into some area of our lives.
We are all susceptible to one-sidedness. Our culture and are families of origins and our sexual and romantic relationships can cauterize and prune our gendered identities in ways we can’t always notice- that may drive our development to consciously identify with one set of these qualities and repress its complement into underdeveloped unconsciousness.
To be whole and stable , we need all four legs under our table of be of equal size and strength. When we over-develop one area of our being, and neglect, or silence its “opposite” it makes us wobbly, unstable in both our personal and our collective lives.
Perhaps, long long ago, once upon a time, in the year of our Lord, when the world was new – tribes of giants really walked this earth. Maybe we slayed them all or maybe they were so dim-witted and so aggressive that they destroyed themselves. Maybe giants were just really very tall people, not really giants at all. Seven or eight-footers, the kind who still roam the earth today – and who are weary of strangers asking if they play basketball.
There is no fossil record of a giant humanoid to measure out in cubits.
In the psychical world, however, giants do still exist.
It is completely beside the point whether they really exist.
~ C. G. Jung, Children’s Dreams
We live in a time of giants. Whether they exist or not.
There are giants on every side: In our personal and professional relationships, in our communities, our economies, our media, our political systems, and in public office.
And also in our hearts and deep inside our instinctive lives – giants live.
We’ve been facing giants together and on our own for thousands of years.
We write about it, and pass the stories on from generation to generation.
And a generation or two ago, all the psychoanalytic theorists and practitioners, living through the aftermath of the Holocaust told their own stories of facing dangerous giants – in the world and in themselves, wrestling with the cowardice and the heroisms they had each shown and seen in the face of a great and insidious horror.
They spoke plainly of the problem of evil:
I can tell you stories which say if you meet evil you must fight it, but there are just as many which say you must run away and not try and fight it. Some say to suffer without hitting back; others say don’t be a fool, hit back!
~ Marie Louise von Franz, Shadow and Evil in Fairy Tales
Our era has its own giants to battle and it seems to me to be a time to take a account of wisdoms generated by our ancestral struggles and successes against such destructive creatures.
Giants are half-human creatures, larger than life, who obscure the sun and cast a cold shadow over the land. Giants crush and devour tiny mortals, sniff human meat out of its hiding places, and use their victim’s bones to pick their teeth.
Entities who – at first – appear to loom so large, make us feel so powerless “to ourselves we seem like grasshoppers, and so we seem to them” ~ Numbers 13:33
Yet, for thousands of years, we’ve recorded – in great detail – in scripture, myth and in fairy tale, the various methods we’ve employed to bring them down.
Generations of giant-wrestlers offer us their legacy as an inheritance.
There are tactics to avoid, but if you are wise and listen closely, you will see that there are a hundred ways to subdue a giant. And when we are clever, brave and thoughtful, when we pay careful attention?
Giants always fall.
Hercules learned, when assisting the God’s of Olympus in their battle against the giants – that giants can never be defeated on their own turf, and if they are brought down on their own terrain, they must be dragged from their land in order to be destroyed.
Giants cannot be defeated on their own ground.
And later, when facing down the Twelve Labors, Hercules took note of another important pattern:
A celebrated exploit of Hercules was his victory over Antaeus. Antaeus, the son of Terra, the Earth, was a mighty giant and wrestler, whose strength was invincible so long as he remained in contact with his mother Earth.
He compelled all strangers who came to his country to wrestle with him, on condition that if conquered (as they all were) they should be put to death. Hercules encountered him, and finding that it was of no avail to throw him, for he always rose with renewed strength from every fall. ~ Bullfinch’s Mythology.
A giant’s skills cannot be used against him.
If you use the giant’s methods, he will only be strengthened.
If you try to take him down with brute force, he will rise again.
Hercules found his own solution, he raised Antaeus high up, lifting the giant’s feet from the ground, and strangled him in mid-air.
When David faced Goliath, it seemed he had learned or thing or two from Hercules.
And there came out from the camp of the Philistines a champion named Goliath, of Gath, whose height was six cubits and a span. ⁵ He had a helmet of bronze on his head, and he was armed with a coat of mail; the weight of the coat was five thousand shekels of bronze. ⁶ He had greaves of bronze on his legs and a javelin of bronze slung between his shoulders. ⁷ The shaft of his spear was like a weaver’s beam, and his spear’s head weighed six hundred shekels of iron; ~ 1 Samuel 17: 4-7
For forty days the giant stood at the front and cried out his challenge. Until, David, a shepherd boy heard the giant’s call and decided he would answer it. He had battled bears and lions to protect his sheep, and this giant seemed no more of a danger to him than that. King Saul accepted his offer, and prepared the shepherd for battle:
Saul clothed David with his armor; he put a bronze helmet on his head and clothed him with a coat of mail. ³⁹ David strapped Saul’s sword over the armor, and he tried in vain to walk, for he was not used to them. Then David said to Saul, “I cannot walk with these; for I am not used to them.” So David removed them. ⁴⁰
David refused to dress himself in armor inauthentic to him.
He faced the giant in his own skin, no matter how exposed.
He would not match weapons with a giant.
He chose to protect himself and those he loved using only in the most natural, the most elemental artillery: five smooth stones, polished by a river – that fit perfectly into a leather sling.
Others trembled for him. The giant was contemptuous, certain of his dominance:
The Philistine said to David, “Am I a dog, that you come to me with sticks?” And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. ⁴⁴ The Philistine said to David, “Come to me, and I will give your flesh to the birds of the air and to the wild animals of the field.” ⁴⁵
But in the blink of an eye:
David put his hand in his bag, took out a stone, slung it, and struck the Philistine on his forehead; the stone sank into his forehead, and he fell face down on the ground…There was no sword in David’s hand.
~ 1 Samuel 17 1-58, The New Oxford Annotated Bible
If our nighttime dreams gather up our unnoticed fears and hopes, intuitions and instincts in response to the challenges of our daily lives – then myth, scripture and fairy tale are our the records of our collective dreaming, the counterpoint of our collective consciousness.
Compensatory tendencies are to be found in fairy tales everywhere, so before I finish an analysis or interpretation I always say to myself: to whom has such a story to be told? Who needs that? ~ Marie Louise von Franz, Shadow and Evil in Fairy Tales
I have my own questions: What function do these stories serve? Why do we tell, and retell and revel in stories of defeating dominating, slow, cruel aggressive giants? What are “giants” when you dig right down into it, and why have we had to devise and record so many different giant-killing methods? What messages might these tales transmit forward from generations past?
In her extensive life long studies of fairy tale – Marie Louise von Franz, as a student, translator, and later a collaborator of Carl Jung’s – sought out the warnings and the wisdom embedded in simple folk tales of daring, magic and adventure.
Giants, she explains, emerge in creation myths all over the world, – and were “abortive, not very successful” attempts to produce human beings. They are lumbering, their thoughts move slowly, and they are irritable and reactive. They are also perniciously unaware, or unconcerned by the destructive impact that have on the earth, and on those of us who inhabit it with them.
Giants are mostly responsible for the weather: they create mist and in many countries even now, if there are thunderstorms, it is said that giants are playing in the heavenly countries and rolling their balls or bowling. There are thunder giants, lightening giants, and giants responsible for landslides and for boulder or rocks falling from the mountains; when the giantesses have their big washday, then the whole country is covered in mist. From these associations we can see that they represent the brute, untamed power of nature. ~ Marie Louise von Franz, Shadow and Evil in Fairy Tales
We are overpowered by giants, as we are by nature and natural disaster – and in our inner lives, we also have storms and tantrums and moods which can sweep through us like tidal waves, settle down on us like a thick mist, or leave us as crushed as if we were pinned under a giant’s boot. The emotional currents of our lives, our internal weather-systems, can overpower us in an instant:
Jung himself, sees our interactions with giant as imagery that depicts what happens when we are possessed by archetypal instinct. We can be swept up in energies which may destroy or devour us – or swell and inflate us, transforming us into monsters ourselves.
The connection of the giant with emotion and affect is practically visible in the fact that whenever one gets emotional, one begins to exaggerate: we make, as we say, elephants out of lice. A little remark by another person, or any detail, becomes an enormous tragedy as soon as we are overwhelmed by our emotion. The emotion itself is what is powerful and magnifies everything in our surroundings. ~ Marie Louise von Franz, Shadow and Evil in Fairy Tales
Perhaps we tell stories of battling and subduing giants as a means of gaining control over our inner storms and tempests: our uncontrollable, illogical, thick-headed, reactive, and irritable emotional lives.
That is why the giants between the gods and man are generally destructive. Their stupidity is easily understandable if we look at them from this angle, because everybody who falls into a state of affect becomes automatically stupefied. ~ Marie Louise von Franz, Shadow and Evil in Fairy Tales
Giants may be big, imposing, and destructive, but you don’t need to be a genius to outwit them:
Take Jack for instance:
He wasn’t the brightest boy, he traded the family cow for a handful of magic beans after all. And we all remember what happened overnight after his mother tossed them out the window.
Jack, of course, climbs the beanstalk that reaches high up to the giant’s kingdom. His knock on the castle door is answered by a tall woman, the giant’s wife, who quickly takes pity on him and hides Jack in the oven (perhaps he set off on this adventure only half-baked, needed some more time to rise to the occasion).
Fe Fi Fo Fum! I smell the blood of an Englishman!
Be he alive or be he dead I’ll grind his bones to make my bread!
Jack’s giant may be brutal and dim-witted, but he lives close to his raw instincts. He can smell Jack’s humanity, or perhaps he just smells Jack’s fear. Mrs. Giant has a cover story ready: “It’s only some bones that the raven’s have dropped down the chimney” she says.
When the giant falls asleep – Jack is able to get away with a sack of gold. And here we see that the giant is easily confounded by his bride, as the same human odor is easily explained away when Jack returns twice more to steal the hen that lays golden eggs, and the magic golden harp that plays the sweetest music in the world.
Jack seems to have learned from Hercules and David experiences: He does not attempt to battle the giant on his own land, but relies on hiding, observation and stealth in order to lay claim to the giant’s wishes.
And when the enraged giant impulsively follows Jack down the beanstalk, Jack doesn’t engage (or inadvertently empower) the giant directly in any way. He does not attempt to respond to dominance by attempting to dominate in return, nor does he use the giant’s weapons. He doesn’t even attack the giant – Jack simply cuts off the structures that support him. With a stroke of an axe, Jack made sure the giant lost all footing and came crashing down to earth.
Only by avoiding direct confrontation, by becoming small, silent, swift and strategic is Jack able to get to the “core of (the giant’s) being whence he draws all his secret energy.”
You can’t “out-rage” a giant.
You will only strengthen him if you do.
It really is the same thing when one is confronted with somebody who is in an overwhelmingly emotional state. It is of no use to openly fight another person’s emotion. Trying to talk somebody out of a rage will just send him sky high. But if one can get at the secret curse behind it, at the basic motif, which the person generally does not know, then one may get at something to make the whole thing collapse. ~ Marie Louise von Franz, Shadow and Evil in Fairy Tales
If we follow those tidy ravens – that deposited their trash down the giant’s chimney – eastward as the crow flies, from Britain to Germany, we may find more clues about the moral nature of giants:
It turns out that ravens like to drop their bones down the Devil’s chimney too.
In Grimm’s The Devil With Three Golden Hairs, a duplicitous King send a brave and fortunate boy on an deadly quest: to return from Hell with three golden hairs from the Devil’s head.
On the road to hell, the brave boy passes through two villages who ask him for help with their communal troubles: a magic fountain has run dry, a golden apple tree no longer bears fruit. He also meets a ferryman doomed to never stop rowing who asks to be freed from his dilemma.
“I know everything” the brave boy answers “only wait until I come back”
He may not have the answers at top of mind, but he trusts that if he is courageous and patient, the answers will come.
As he approaches the Devil’s house, the Devil’s Grandmother decides to protect and assist him – transforming the boy into a tiny ant, and hiding him in the hem of her skirt.
The Devil also sniffs out the scent of human vulnerability, is placated, and eventually falls asleep with his head in his Grandmother’s lap. Once he snores she suddenly plucks a golden hair from scalp: “Do not take it ill,” she says each time she jolts him awake for another hair, “I did it in a dream.”
“Who can help bad dreams?” she says.
The Devil asks about her dreams – she tells him she dreamed of a town whose magic fountain has gone dry, a village whose golden apple tree is dying, and of a sad ferryman who must row forever. The Devil tells her he has blocked up the fountain with a toad, he has set a mouse gnawing on the tree’s tap root, and that the ferryman has only to hand his oars to an unwitting passenger to be released from the Devil’s curse.
When the Devil had gone out again the old woman took the ant out of the folds of her dress, and gave the child of good fortune his human shape again. ‘There are the three golden hairs for you,” said she. “What the Devil said to your three questions, I suppose you heard?” “Yes,” answered he, “I heard and will take care to remember.” “You have what you want,” said she, “and now you can go your way.” He thanked the old woman for helping him in his need and left Hell well content that everything had turned out so fortunately ~The Complete Grimm’s Fairy Tales
The brave boy leaves the gates of hell behind him, releases the villages from their dilemmas, and tricks the cruel King into accepting the ferryman’s oars.
Perhaps is he ferrying still? If he is, it is because no one has taken the oars from him.
Here our hero is trapped between two evils, a lying mortal king and the Devil himself. He doesn’t enter into any combat with these forces at all, but in the end, undoes them both by setting them against each other. He has no tools. No tricks, no arms, no armor, no axe. Not even five smooth stones.
He is confident, that if everyone can be patient, he will eventually find the answers that will liberate others from their suffering and fulfill his own quest.
He relies upon grand Mother Nature to protect and guide him.
He is willing to become small and still.
He takes care to remember.
He will not be distracted from his purpose.
The phenomenon of evil is simply the appearance of something demonic or abnormal, a kind of overpowering nature phenomenon, which does not pose any ethical problem but the purely practical one of how to either overcome or successfully escape it. It becomes a question as to whether one can overpower the phenomenon or whether one simply has to save one’s own life. ~ Marie Louise von Franz, Shadow and Evil in Fairy Tales
Holding back to assess the circumstances rather than going off half-baked, is necessary in order to assess what kind of evil we are encountering, what its motives, strengths, and vulnerabilities might be. We need to first understand what kind of giant we are facing before we can develop a strategy to survive it, or defeat it. It is necessary to spend some time hiding in the oven, under the bed, or in the folds of a skirt in order to determine what kind of evil we are up against.
von Franz speaks of the temperamental differences in myth and folktale between fire giants and ice giants – and the importance of discerning between “hot evil” and “cold evil.”
Hot evil – is passionate, reactive, irritable, explosive, angry, volatile. But it is also more easily confined, restrained. Its fire flares and recedes. The raging giant spends himself and falls asleep at predictable intervals. Our heroes have, so far, encountered irritable giants with hot tempers, and fiery emotions.
But there are cold and calculating giants, giants who feel nothing, whose blood runs with ice and who send chills down the spine of any who encounter them. Cold evil requires entirely different methods to survive, restrain or defeat. von Franz recounts a tale of an encounter with cold and deadly giant which I will tell you briefly:
The Giant Who Didn’t Have a Heart in Him:
A king sends six of his seven sons out to search for brides. On their return journey a giant turns them all, six princes and six princesses, into stone. The youngest, seventh son sets out, upon an old, slow horse, to rescue his brothers and their wives.
Along the way he meets a starving raven and shares his food.
He meets a salmon, trapped in dry mud, gasping for air, and returns him to the water.
He meets an emaciated wolf, who offers to carry the prince on his own back, if only he might eat the prince’s old horse. The prince gives the wolf his horse and the wolf becomes very strong, and the prince is able to harness him and rides him to the giant’s court. The wolf shows the prince a secret door, and there he meets a young princess, who agrees to help him conquer the giant and save his siblings.
The princess informs the youngest prince that no one can kill this giant because “his heart is not with him.”
She tells the prince to hid under her bed, to keep still, to listen carefully.
Like the Devil, and like Jack’s giant, the giant without a heart detects the smell of humanity – each time he returns to the room: And as before, the princess deflects and blames the birds for dropping bones down the chimney.
Just before sleep, for three consecutive nights the princess asks:
“I would like to know where your heart is”
He tells her it is buried under the threshold, hidden in cupboard. She and the prince search in those spots, and leave a wreath of flowers when they cannot find it.
The third night, simultaneously flattered by her apparent devotion and calling her a fool for believing him, he offers up the truth:
His heart is where she can never reach it: Far away, on an island, on a church well, on which a duck sits, “inside which there was an egg, which was his heart”
An infertile heart, unhatched, unborn.
The wolf carries the prince to the island. They summon the raven to help them find the key to door in the church wall. The duck releases its egg, which sinks to the bottom of the well only to be retrieved by the salmon.
From this point, to the end of the story, it is the wolf that directs the action:
“Squeeze the egg!” he directs the prince. The giant buckles in pain and begs for his life. “Tell him,” the wolf says, “to turn your brothers and their wives back into human beings.” The giant does this, and pleads to be spared.
And the wolf says: “Now! Squash the egg!”
and the giant burst.
The princess, the prince, his brothers and their wives return to their father’s kingdom and had a great feast, with the youngest son honored with a seat at the head of the table.
Humans are warm-blooded passionate creatures, and we have some begrudging ability to identify with big, hot-headed fire-giants. We can succumb to our impulses and our tempers too, and hot evils, crimes of passion, are easy enough for us to understand and identify in ourselves.
But cold evil, when we meet it on this earth, can paralyze us with horror. We are shocked, and flabbergasted by its cold-bloodedness. We see that it is devoid of empathy, that it is merciless, unfeeling. And a common response to exposure to icy dehumanizing evil, is to feel frozen and objectified. As though we have been transformed into statutes of stone.
It seems to me that the story of the heartless giant expresses the archetypal pattern which underlies what psychiatry calls psychopathy. In psychopathic patients we often meet a seemingly complete heartlessness, no feeling, and no ethics. ~ Marie Louise von Franz, Shadow and Evil in Fairy Tales
And we see that it is a far more complicated process, when facing a cold evil, to “get to the heart” of the matter, it takes many more allies, and it requires a longer “journey” to get to the core.
And only if we have the giant’s heart in our hands – when we have brought the heartless giant to his knees – we may see a shred of his half-humanity: He pleads for his life. We may identify with his terror momentarily. But if we are in the presence of a sociopathic evil – these are likely crocodile tears – shed only for the self, and not tears or repentance or regret. If we have not assessed the circumstances accurately, we may hesitate, entangled in a misplaced compassion.
(Socipathic evil) … behave(s) as if they had the right to lie, cheat and murder with no self-doubt, and no self-criticism. Underneath somewhere is also an ego-centric baby full of idealistic delusions, which, by its touching innocence hauls others into wanting to help and rescue the poor person; but that inner infant is a parasite – it never develops and therefore sentimental pity is inappropriate. . ~ Marie Louise von Franz, Shadow and Evil in Fairy Tales
And our young hero doesn’t make this determination himself, to destroy the giants infertile heart. The animals he has forged an alliance with carry him through to restoration. It is as some parts of our young prince, his complex moral reasoning is stunned and frozen – turned into stone as well – and other instinctive animal energies must see him through.
… one must never hurt the helpful animal in fairy tales… If you do not listen to the helpful animal or bird, or whatever it is, if any animal gives you advice and you don’t follow it then you are finished. In the hundreds and hundreds of stories that is the one rule which seems to have no exception! ~ Marie Louise von Franz, Shadow and Evil in Fairy Tales
Ravens carry messages from the heavens down to humanity. Salmon carry intuitive knowledge up from the water unconscious to the surface.
And the wolf?
The wolf shows what to do: with grim determination he squashes the egg and kills the giant. ~ Marie Louise von Franz, Shadow and Evil in Fairy Tales
We cannot take necessary action in the face of evil with out harnessing the wolf and all that it represents. We cannot make such decisions with our simple, young, idealistic humanity. We must know when to allow our response to be directed by a well harnessed, primal, animal instinct.
This would mean that obedience to one’s most basic inner being, one’s instinctual inner being is the one thing which is more essential than anything else. ~ Marie Louise von Franz, Shadow and Evil in Fairy Tales
So many fairy tales warn us of the danger and destructiveness of unrestrained wolfishness. And we’ve learned to beware wolves when we are carrying goodies through a dark forest. But it is important to recall that according to Red Riding Hood, and the Three Little Pigs wolves who are not reigned in, will die by their own greed and destructiveness.
In its negative aspect the wolf is dangerously destructive… There is a saying that if one speaks of the wolf, it appears – just as when you speak of the Devil. ~ Marie Louise von Franz, Shadow and Evil in Fairy Tales
But once we have forged an alliance and reigned in our own destructive impulse, we can see that it serves a natural, essential purpose, necessary to maintain the collective balance.
The wolf’s dark, dangerous firmness, which, if used at the right moment, is sometimes absolutely necessary in the process of individuation in order to mobilize the right values against evil… In such a moment one needs grim determination, the decision of a surgeon who has to cut off a limb to save the rest of the human being. This is what the wolf represents here. The surgical determination to cut something where there is no possibility of evolution. The combination of egg and giant has to be destroyed as a whole and then a new life begins away from this area. ~ Marie Louise von Franz, Shadow and Evil in Fairy Tales
Sociopathy summons sociopathy. Encounters with giants will activate our inner wolves.
In von Franz’s words:
To look upon evil is to become infected by it.
And we can feel our hunger for justice, our desire to dominate and destroy, a killing rage rise up inside of us.
And there are times when must repress it.
And circumstances where we must bide our time.
And dangers we must sometimes run from
And there are crucial moments, where we must summon our own capacity for destructiveness, harness it, focus, and use to it cut off an overwhelming force of unrepentant evil.
There are tales of mighty saints who were able to harness the powers of the greatest giants, taming and training them to building enormous cathedrals.
These are not simple tales of good versus evil. Wives and grandmothers betray their partners. Giants are undone by thieves and tricksters who would steal their treasures and the very hairs off their head. Wolves remind us that idealistic compassion is not always simple, not always wise.
These are tales which show us that evil is a universal condition, present in each and every heart.
We may either harness it and use it wisely, or we may succumb to it.
Or worse, we could become giant.
The greatest challenge in battling giants, as von Franz would suggest, may be “stepping out of a problem of evil by getting beyond the problem of the opposites, getting close to an inner center beyond the duality of good and evil and its fight.”
The only way to defeat a giant is to use one’s wit, to be wiser, cleverer, more intuitive.
Those who know their own evil well and intimately, who have an alliance with it, who have harnessed their destructive capacities – hold the advantage over those who are merely possessed and driven by the desire for dominance.
Knowledge, if linked with a state of higher consciousness, is perhaps the greatest means of fighting evil; dissociated from consciousness, it is just one magical trick against another… The rival whose knowledge means wider or deeper consciousness will probably win against the rival who simply uses traditional knowledge without knowing its real meaning, not being essentially connected to it. ~ Marie Louise von Franz, Shadow and Evil in Fairy Tales
I have one more story to tell you.
It is the story of The Valiant Tailor, retold from the Brother’s Grimm.
There was once a brave little tailor, who killed seven flies with one swat of his tea towel, and who took this stroke of fortune as a sign that he should venture out into the wider world and encounter the adventures that called to him. Before he left he embroidered his waistband with the words “Seven at Once!”
He quickly encountered a tribe of irritable giants who challenged him to a contest of strength, which the tailor wisely side-stepped with clever sleight of hand. He was able to squeeze “water from a stone” by replacing the stone with a round of cheese, and tossed another “stone” (in actuality a small bird) so high into the air that it never returned to the ground. These wondrous feats coupled with the emphatic message on his waistband, convinced the dull-minded giants that the tailor was a fearsome enemy.
A king would hear of his branded waistband and his giant victory and would conscript the tailor into tending to two more troublesome giants “who caused great mischief with their robbing, murdering, ravaging and burning.”
The little tailor, not idle gathered two pockets full of stones, and with these climbed up the tree. When he was half-way up, he slipped down by a branch until he sat just above the sleeping giants, and then let one stone after another fall on the breast of one of the giants. For a long time the giant felt nothing, but at last he awoke, pushed his comrade and said: “Why are you knocking me?” “You must be dreaming” said the other, “I am not knocking you.” They laid themselves down to sleep again, and then the tailor threw a stone down on the second. “What is the meaning of this?” cried the other. “Why are you pelting me?” “I am not pelting you,” answered the first, growling. They disputed about it for a time but as they were weary they let the matter rest, and their eyes closed once more. The little tailor began his game again, picked out the biggest stone and threw it with all his might on the breast of the first giant. “That is too bad!” cried he, and sprang up like a madman and pushed his companion against the tree until it shook. The other paid him back in the same coin, and they got into such a rage that they tore up trees and belabored each other so long that at last they both fell down dead at the same time. ~The Complete Grimm’s Fairy Tales
The cleverest ones may avoid engaging in false moral binaries all together, they side-step displays of dominance, and seek out a safe perch above and outside of the action. They may rely on the nature of giants, and Nature Herself to take care of the problem and correct those who have embraced and who exploit psychological imbalance.
Nemesis comes from the word nemo, which means to distribute, to attribute each one his rightful lot. Nemesis is a principle of natural justice by which everyone gets what he or she deserves. We cannot avoid seeing that there is such a principle in the unconscious, which has a curious way of exactly what one feels is somehow deserved. It is not justice in the human sense of the word, but there is an uncanny regulating force in nature which acts like justice and strikes one as being meaningful.~ Marie Louise von Franz, Shadow and Evil in Fairy Tales
Nature abhors a vacuum, but that is not all it abhors, like a pendulum, like the weather itself, Nature compensates and corrects any imbalance, overgrowth or inflation it detects.
The bigger they are, the harder they fall.
There is not one story.
We all have our own giants to face, and we will each have to face them in our own way.
But our ancestors have offered us valuable clues to support us as this fearsome crossroads in a land of giants:
Don’t fight them on their own ground.
They will be strengthened by your aggression.
Trust your instincts.
Don’t use methods that are not natural to you.
Women know. They live with this every day. They know how to operate safely behind enemy lines.
Don’t let the monster eat you alive.
Wait until your foe falls into unconsciousness. Giants always do.
Knock the supports out from under them.
Get small. Stay still.
Be confident that the answers will come.
Help others along the way.
Trust Mother Nature to do her work.
Don’t forget those who have been turned to stone. They may be released.
Always listen to the helpful animal.
Know your enemy. Evil is infectious.
You cannot out-rage a giant.
Harness your wolf. But trust him and let him loose if you have to.
Celebrate your small victories and let them strengthen you for larger ones.
Simpler is better.
Know yourself. Be brave. Be clever. Be simple.
And remember that no matter what, one way or another:
Giants always fall.