Gender and Soul Wound.

The psychopathology that attends the loss of the Great Mother seems to be different for boys and girls. I will tease these differences out by comparing two fairytales, the ‘Wild Swans’ by Hans Christian Anderson and the ‘Drummer Boy’ retold by the brothers Grimm.

In the ‘Wild Swans’, the protagonist is Elisa, a princess whose mother has died. The king remarries an awful witch who wants the kingdom all to herself. She turns Elisa’s eleven brothers into swans and banishes them to a far off land. Elisa herself is disfigured with enchanted mud (or blood) that won’t wash off. Her father can’t recognise her and she is cast out.

The swan brothers find Elisa but can’t recognise her because of the foul mud. She must rid herself of the enchantment or die trying and, following the example of a wounded deer, leaps from dangerously high cliffs into a magical pool which returns her to her former recognisable self.

Elisa is carried to safety across the sea by the brothers. She is determined to lift their spell. A crow reveals to her that she must weave jackets made of nettles, one for each prince, which will restore them to their human form. During the time it takes to weave the jackets she must not breath a word or they will all die.

She finds a secret cave in which to begin the work but no sooner has she began than a commotion outside catches her attention. A wild sow is being hunted by the young king of the land who falls in love with Elisa when she rushes out to protect the pig and her babies. He takes her to his castle where his first minister, who is in cahoots with the wicked step mother, plots against her.

The minister spies on Elisa. When she goes to the churchyard for more nettles in the night he sees his chance, wakes the king and denounces Elisa as a witch. The sorry figure of the mumbling, crying girl pulling nettles up in the dark is enough to court suspicion and when she fails to defend herself the king hands her over to the minister who announces her imminent execution .

Even as the tumbril rolls towards the gallows Elisa knits her jackets. Mice from the castle have warned the swan brothers of what has happened and they swoop in, but it is she who rescues them, changing them back into princes as soon as the jackets are cast across their wings.

The second story, the Drummer Boy, with a male protagonist who must redeem a swan maiden, is very different.

In this tale the hero finds a shift of beautiful linen by the shores of a lake and takes it. That night as he settles down to sleep he hears a distressed voice begging for the shift to be returned. It transpires that it is in fact a swan skin that the maiden must wear if she is to return to her sisters on the Glass Mountain where a wicked witch holds them all prisoner.

The boy resolves to help her. He returns the swan skin and sets out next morning for the Glass Mountain, helped by giants whom he tricks into carrying him there by saying that he is the advance guard of a great army which will attack them if they refuse.

Having arrived at the foot of the impossibly slippery mountain he finds two men fighting over a magical saddle which he steals and rides to the top with ease. Once there he finds the witch’s house and asks for board and lodging. She agrees provided he complete three chores on three consecutive days. The first is to empty a huge pond with a thimble and arrange all the fish in order of their size. The second is to chop down the forest behind the house and the third is to set the logs ablaze.

He immediately gives up saying it is impossible. Then the Swan Maiden emerges from the house and invites him to go to sleep with his head on her lap. When he wakes the chores are all done.

Drummer Boy and Swan Maiden return to his home town where he says he must visit his mother. The Swan Maiden agrees but warns him not to kiss her on both cheeks lest he forget her.

But he does kiss his mother on both cheeks..

and he does forget.

His mother chooses another bride for him and the Swan Maiden has to beg to be allowed to speak to her former fiance, efforts frustrated by a sleeping draught poured into his wine by the new bride from which she cannot wake him. Only on the third evening, when by chance he fails to drink the potion, is the drummer boy returned to his senses and his memory returns.

You could say that the wicked witch/evil stepmother in both stories represent the dark aspect of the Great Mother, intent on limiting consciousness and autonomy.

Equally, when the Principle of Relatedness personified by the Divine Feminine is repressed we can expect relationships and consciousness itself to suffer. Loss of relatedness is not just an outer phenomenon. It is also a loss of inner dialogue and a disconnection from the psyche which diminishes consciousness.

The contrasexual aspect of oneself, a man’s inner feminine and a woman’s inner masculine, become alienated from the personality, less differentiated and therefor symbolised in their animal form.

”Something is unlawfully won from, or done to Nature, which results in a curse.” M. L. von Franz. 

Erich Neumann suggests that the loss of the Goddess is a price worth paying for the increase in consciousness brought in its wake. Our stories suggest otherwise, a corresponding loss of humanity and self alienation with diminished consciousness giving rise to a….

”…personality which is split up into partial aspects, that bundle of odds and ends which also calls itself ‘man’.” CG Jung.

Girl and Boy approach their shared predicament very differently. Elisa allows herself to fall from the cliff tops to wash off the enchanted mud. She descends, trusting the example of the wounded stag. She is still connected to her instincts from whom further help comes in the form of the crow who tells her the secret of the nettle jackets, the sow who inadvertantly catches the young king’s attention and the mice who warn the brothers about the minister’s treachery.

The nettle jackets are a symbol of the painful work of individuation, the sheer hard graft required to humanise and make conscious the loss of relatedness that results from the Great Mother’s banishment.

The Drummer Boy’s attitude is very different. He too must make a difficult journey but does so with smooth talk and trickery. His pretense to be at the head of an army intimidates the giants. His theft of the magical saddle carries him effortlessly up the mountain. He doesn’t have to lift a finger. And despite these fortuitous interventions he throws his hands up in despair when given his chores by the witch, declaring they can’t be done. He falls asleep in the maiden’s lap instead.

”You may ride to your highest hieght, but when you get there you will stumble.” F Nietzsche.

This kind of helpless posturing, passivity and entitlement are typical of the narcissistic, motherbound man. Despite his cleverness and trickery he lacks the resolve to do whatever he can. He avoids the despair and hard work entered into by Elisa and so his triumph is a bit academic and by-the-way, evidenced by his failure to kiss his mother only once….

…unlike Elisa whose taboo against speaking is observed throughout all her trials.

The restriction of the second familial kiss is the Swan Maiden’s demand that the Drummer Boy separate from his mother, but he can’t do it and again falls unconscious. Even his final remembering seems like an accident, all rather typical of the ‘Puer’ personality whose fate comes to him from outside and who expects to be given life on a plate.

And so he is swept along by events, freed finally not by his own efforts or courage but by the Swan Maiden’s persistence.

By contrast Elisa is entirely dynamic. She continues her work even as the dreadful tumbril rolls her to the gallows, finally redeemed by her own efforts.

All this suggests something…

and not just that women are tougher than men.

which they are…

It suggests that Consciousness blooms in adversity.

Life is not supposed to do that.

The whole theory of natural selection and survival of the fittest is predicated on the Drummer Boy’s gambit. Move away from negative stimulus towards easier less competitively disputed environs where you are bound to do better…

The subjugation of the Great Mother has had an unforseen and counter-intuitive effect….

the flourishing of feminine consciousness.

Almost-fish and Nearly-bird.

It is difficult to spot things that fail to occur. This is most obvious in Nature. You rarely glimpse the Almost-fish or the Nearly-bird. But the best example in the genre of the quasi-substantial by far is the Bolus Bolan tree, visible only at its roots and very unlikely to ever be spotted at all unless you trip over one that has been upended in a Just-About storm.

A curious property of the Bolus Bolan,  wild scent that can drive a rail spike through memory, makes its whereabouts difficult to recall even if you are lucky enough to get tangled up in its spiky thorns.

Which is why those secretive and wily alchemists will pay their weight in gold for a front door made of planks from the Bolas Bolan.

Difficult to see and immediatly forgetable.

Good for those in fear of persecution..

or being hassled by their landlords.

Ebeneezer Scratchbottom, a noted alchemist, achieved some local fame by carving a chess set of Bolas wood. He stapled himself to the tree so as to keep a sharp eye on it and kept all his tools on strings threaded through his sleeves like kiddy mittens so as not to lose track of them.

He got a bit side tracked but duly carved the chess pieces as well as several spoons, a life-size Buick and a scale model of the Eiffel Tower.

The problem was remembering the rules of the game. You were bound to forget them as soon as you sat down to the wild and tangily scented invisi-board. And feeling for the pieces all the time had some drawbacks too.

There are lots of rules to chess. Most of them come before the game is over. But there are one or two that follow after and for the want of which you risk being classified with the Almost-fish and the Nearly-bird.

My father taught me to play when I was little.

He played me every evening.


He always won.

Until one day I was foolish enough to forget the unstated object of the game, to question the covert purpose of his induction…

and beat him for the first time.

The silence was interminable. Peanut beetles droned about  in the uncaring  heat. Cicadaas chirped nervously.  In the background, life was unfolding around the house. But his silence enveloped it all. Slowly it sucked the rumbling vibrancy out of a temperate evening that had done nothing, didn’t mean it and certainly didn’t deserve it.

Eventually he scraped his chair back and left without a word. We never played again.

It would have been better if he’d lost his temper and had a tantrum. At least you’d know what you were dealing with.

A heading and a compass bearing.

Things that fail to occur are, indeed, difficult to spot.

But like Leprechauns..

they will take you to their gold.

The cold silence is not just a witholding of kudos or congratulation. It is also a secret unveiled, slip of a leper’s mask, the furtive life of covert sucking hate. A voiceless howling accusation of betrayal. As though I had struck him from behind against all the rules of honour..

…you have won by a cowardly sleight of hand said the unspoken….

shoulder slump of ingratitude’s complaint….

the unsteady footfall down the hall,

a body carried in rolled up carpeting.

while I sat there, forcing down the equation between success and shame.

over-riding the voice of protest…

that connected the child to reality.

”the disturbing forces that lie below the conscious level of adult life are intuited by the child and give rise to vague fears, apprehensive fantasies, disturbing dreams, disocciation from reality and… anti-social acts.” F Wickes.

And so the boy spends years sabotaging his own efforts, disowning experience, scraping through the fright of  achievment’s unspeakable anguish and spunking endlessly into his hanky.

guns and drugs came later.

The Old Man had been orphaned, molested and abandoned  in that order by the time he was ten.

What do you do with a horror that wants even less to be told than heard by others? You excise it, licence it through repetition and ram it down the throat of the next generation.

You send your own child to a place …


the things that happened.. happen again.

and history repeats itself with all the faithfulness of an old dog waiting for the master’s return.

You distance yourself like the dead

and order safari-suits from your tailor by the dozen….

so that the horrific split from stem to stern of a fractured psyche need never be more than a running sore, need never open right up, or make you want to cry and scream.

One of his favourite stories was how he would have to get a dugout canoe ride down the Mara river to reach civilisation from where we lived on the Serengeti plain in a tin rondavel at the time.

‘The hippos were so close you could have truck a match on their backs!’

and he’d make a flicking motion with his wrist to demonstrate how it was done, so successfully shored up against some silent terror that even a brush with death by terrible tusks was no more than a moment of amusing nonchalance.

But when the boy wins at chess, he might triumph in all kinds of other ways, not to mention throwing off the legacy bequeathed by trauma’s necessity.

It may all still surface yet.

Not to worry.

Send him to war.

Martyrdom will caulk this threatening spillage. Send him to the thickest part of the fighting. He will soon be cut down.

And so I was duly sent. All my comrades were indeed cut down. But I was not. I lived and lived.

I was on first wave Fireforce duty with the Commandos. Heli born hell. White boys with ancient, dull grievances forged to hate and murder…

armed to the teeth..

I’d hurt myself in a para jump. Rocky outcrops can be so unforgiving. I got my lieutenant to change my name on the Ops white-board…

for another.

The siren went before long. Gooks at ten o’clock. The boys blacked up, were duly briefed and scrambled off in some old Hueys.  They were mostly rookies from intake 163, average age, eighteen. The chopper I had been assigned to got hit by a SAM7. Everyone died. Though some managed to survive both the impact, the flaming crash and then crawled 20 metres before being boiled alive in their own subcutaneous fat.

Almost-grilled and Nearly-men.

sacrificial immolation that appeased the Dark God no more than a lost pawn or the muffled bark from an old hound.

The Secret to Dreamwork.

I was visiting my girlfriend’s mother for the first time. She was a bad tempered old bat and the evening got even frostier over dinner. I was sat at the head of a long narrow table, the women either side of me facing one another. At the end of a torturously slow meal full of arkward silences mother leant forward and asked her daughter in a loud whisper, ‘does he want anymore?’

I’m right here.

Ask me.

Its laughable, but we do the same with the figures of our inner worlds when we ask what they mean or try to interpret. Perhaps mother could have saved her voice by just prodding me in the gut to see if it was sufficiently distended to clear the dishes.

As soon as we ask someone else,’what does it mean?, we do two things. Firstly we give away our inner authority to respond to such a question. Jung noticed the consistency with which persons would defer an insight into the significance of a dream but when asked what they thought he, Carl Jung, thought of the dream they would be full of ideas.

More importantly we alienate ourselves still further from the dream itself by treating it as though it were a specimin in a petri dish to be intellectually dissected, rather than an ‘inner’ other with whom to have a living relationship.

There is an Irish joke about the tourist in his car who stops a farmer on a remote country lane and asks him the way to Ballygowan. The farmer replies,

‘it depends on where you start from.’

Mostly we feel that whatever meaning there might be in dreams has to be extracted by an expert. From the Psyche’s point of veiw this is like bussing in assistance on your wedding night…

and this is not even the bold cry of ‘own your own authority, your interpretation is the best’, because all you’ve done is snatch the scalpel yourself.

Put the scalpel down.

play nicely.


maybe just nod politely.

from a safe distance.

The main aspect of the Goddess is relatedness, between one another, self and world, and the crazy gang in your neo-cortex all wanting air time and talking at once.

With Her demise not only do we disconnect from one another and the world, we dissociate internally, both in terms of our capacity for critical reflection and in ego’s relation to the Unconscious as a being-in-itself.

Something Unknown is doing I don’t know what.

And it is not inside me.

I am inside it.

The idea that aspects of a dream are all mere parts of oneself is a pleasing fancy promulgated by folk who regard the Unconscious as as the dustbin of the mind rather than the source of Consciousness itself.

Dream figures may not be part of you at all.

I had a client with a livid rash down neck and chest…….

But that was not the issue, there were more important things to talk about.

Nevertheless, she was a power driven woman with a hunger for magic and gaining the upper hand.

She dreamt of a dragon that scorched her with retributive flame, burning her in the precise pattern of her rash..

When she could face that it was her inflation that drove her to seek help in the first place, with the suffering that inflation brings,things improved..  These avatars of the Deep were not there for her utilage or plunder..

they have there own purpose and push for expression…

nascent potentialities..

birthing awareness…

stuff you were born with, inherited from ancient time, springing whole from the Psyche like Athena, fully armed, from Zeus’ thigh.

The problem with this is that it can make you feel very small. And whatever dream brings is going to be, by its compensatory intent, something difficult to swallow down. By its very nature it presents contrary perspectives that insist on us adjusting our world veiw.

We resist the deflating encounter before the Emissary of the Deep, not so much by a shooting of the messenger but by failing to bring Her in from the cold and wet.

Our ‘wanting to know the meaning’ can be a kind of defence against experience. We want it to be an object of consciousness rather than something else in the room we have to reckon with.

So there’s a meta-level at back of all the creative ideas you can bring to bear on dreamwork, its one of simply allowing yourself to be awed by the fact that there is Another..

not Self

that knows self..

and tends self…



Deprivation and Specialness.

When I was at the age that the male neo-cortex starts limbering up for a series of initiatory wilderness trials I was sent instead to the Optometrist for a series of eye tests.

Though, granted, they were conducted in grand style.

Supposedly I had some kind of rare condition.

I was special.

and destined to be the smartypants in the dorm of my new school for the extra-special.

but some quietly devious sprite in me was wise to all this  compensatory drama.

My eyes were fine.

I was being sent away and so as it didn’t look like abandonment there had to be a fanfare.

and Appointments.

The Unreality of it all scared the hell out of me.

So I lost the totemic specs as soon as circumstances permitted..

a brief affair..

now overshadowed by the new question,

‘why has no-one said anything?’

How is it possible that I could be dragged umpteen times to the Opticians, having in-depth instruction about rare conditions and eye charts and clamps, and lens machines like some extra from Edward Scissorhands….

Strip lighting, squinting, grinding glass….

…and the crowning glory, a monstrous pair of tortoise shell rimmed jamjar bottoms with silver lightning strikes up in the corners, a demented owl doing Dame Edna impressions for spare change..

”He’ll have those ones.”

how is it possible that after all that…

nobody says anything when the damn things disappear?

It’s too crazy. Everyone joins in the narcissistic fantasy that I must have had some miraculous cure.

which made it crazier still.

A reprieve from that which never was…

the whole thing was a drama to try and plug a gushing wound of parental failure and disconnection, the means to demonstrate something to the world rather than to fulfil a real need in the child, an exercise in emotional fraud laid bare when the miracle glasses are lost and nobody notices…

and somewhere, so far off I hid them from my own memory of hiding them, the special tortoise shell specs languish. In some dark hollow. Cobwebbed and woodloused.  The lightning strikes buzz intermittently.

You will often find with emotional deprivation that the child has some supposed malady in which the parent invests great attention.

and then none.

intimacy downgraded to the to-do list where anxious fussing can parade as care.

It looks so much like loving concern at the time. But there’s something forced and frenetic about it. The kid is passive, busy fulfilling expectations to be faulty and getting attention the only way he knows.

by going along with it.

Its not all bad.

You get to be special.

Your parent gets to be an expert in the subject.

They start action groups.

I knew a woman who was determined that her child’s legs weren’t growing properly. She took him to the Podiatrist over and again. He needed calipers. Can’t you see how he walks?

The boy was a bit pidgeon toed. But hold.. what light from yonder window breaks? What shoes does he wear?


She wouldn’t buy him his own boots. He had to wear wellies that were 5 sizes too big. Of course he walked like a duck. Given an alternate environment the boy is running interschools cross countries within a term…

though he came close to being intrusively ‘hobbled’ whilst clutching the booby prize of his rare condition.

I taught a class for several semesters where more than half the kids had some kind of diagnosis of ADHD or some fancy name on the autistic spectrum. Bad seed. The scary thing was not the narcissistic little monsters themselves but how good and pure and spiritual their parents all proved to be.

Parents who were sooo good and sooo pure that someone had to be designated with the family shit..

sacrificed in fact.

and then compensated for it all with some kind of negative attention that further damned them with their awful specialness.

You may not like them and send yourself to sleep with all the things you’d like to say and do in vengeance for the cold heartedness and cruelty of the narcissist in your life. But they have already paid for their sins.

Narcissists are raised in veal crates.

My analyst, Dreyer Kruger told me I was autistic in our first session….

…which is Narcissism in its Sunday best with golfing two-tones and cleats. The words bounce slowly across the table like fumbled ice cubes doubling for dice in a crap game.

No I’m not…

I just spent three tours of duty getting shot at ….

once, whilst dangling from the hand strap of a Fireforce chopper taking evasive action from angry men with rockets and machine guns.

It wasn’t meant for the job.

angular momentum adds weight to a body…

And I was supposed to be inside the vehicle.

The hand strap was grey..

made of some kind of polymerised plastic….

Hanging in space forever.

….with fine runnels for extra grip….

Ground where sky should be.

….grooved in the grey, just in case your hands get a bit sweaty with the horror of how special you have still become….

Legs dangling, wind screaming, guns roaring, waiting for the hit.


But, autistic, hey? That sounds like a juicy bit of negative specialness. I’ll take it.

Don’t kid yourself. It just means you grew up against the odds in soil that could not sustain you.

for which you got a badge..

of non-calorific merit.