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.