The White Snake.

Once upon a time there lived a king who seemed terribly wise. Nothing happened that he did not know about. It was as though he heard all the news of the land in the wind.

This king had a strange custom. Every evening a secret dish would be bought to him at dinner that no-one could see him eat. Even his trusted servant didn’t know what it was though one night he could not contain his curiosity. He took the covered remains of the dish to his room and had a peek. The dish was a white snake which the king had only nibbled at.

The now not-so-faithful servant took a nibble himself and suddenly he heard a great chattering outside his window. Two sparrows were in great discussion of all the things they had seen in the woods and fields. He could understand every word. The morsel of white snake had given him the power to understand the language of animals.

On that very same day the queen lost her ring. The poor servant was the first to come under suspicion and was compelled either to produce the thief or be executed. He went down into the courtyard in despair and while he wondered what on earth to do he everheard two ducks having some conversation..

‘Oh my stomach feels rough,’ said the one, ‘I guzzled up the queen’s ring by mistake after she dropped it into the moat from her window.’

Immediatly the servant grabbed the duck and took it to Cook who served it to the queen and the ring was discovered. The servant was offered a great reward but settled for a horse and some provisions to go a-wandering.

One day he saw three fishes stuck in reeds at the bank of a river. Feeling their plight and hearing their distress he freed them. ‘We will remember and repay you,’ they said.

Further on he heard a tiny voice complaining at the horse’s heavy feet and looked down to see the Ant King lamenting his people being crushed. So the servant moved his horse to the side of the road. ‘We will remember and repay you,’ said the Ant King.

Further still he came across three raven chicks that had been rejected from the nest. Their hungry crying was so piteous that he killed his horse and fed it to them.

‘We will remember and repay you,’ they said.

Now he had to use his own legs and eventually arrived at the walls of a great city where he heard it announced that the Princess there would marry whoever could perform a task of great difficulty devised by her father, the king. The servant immediatley volunteered though his heart sank when he saw that the task was, to fetch up a gold coin thrown into the sea. He sat on the shore lamenting when suddenly the three fishes he’d saved showed their heads.

‘We said we’d help you,’ they said and spat the coin onto the shingle.

But the princess wasn’t happy. She spread eight bushels of millet over a field and demanded he collect them all up by dawn. The servant despaired over the impossibility of it all and just waited for dawn and death, but when the dawn came the job was done.

‘We said we’d help you,’ said Ant King.

The Princess was impressed but not enough to stop wanting to kill him. She gave him one final and ridiculously impossible task, to fetch an apple from the Tree of Life at the End-of-the-World.

Our languishing servant sets off and wanders through three kingdoms looking for the Tree as best he could but to no avail. Eventually he collapses, exhausted, by a stream and settles down to sleep. He hears a rustling in the branches and a golden apple falls into his hands. Three ravens fluttered down..

‘We said we’d help you,’ they said.

He takes the apple to the princess and they both take a bite….

It’s said that curiosity killed the cat because curiosity initiates us across a threshold that means the end of an old way of life. The servant’s mouthful of White Snake is more than the betrayal of his lord. It is the betrayal of his own set role in life and the disruption necessary to growing up.

Moreover the White Snake has powers. The capacity to understand the language of animals is symbolic of the hero being able to ‘hear’ the impulses, the intuitions and the wisdom of his own deep Psyche. It is the moment when you realise you are not master/mistress of your own house.

My analytic grandmother, M L von Franz tells the story of a dream which constituted her first encounter with the objective Psyche, the Other, so impactful that she curled her knees under her chin and stayed in bed all day.

Such an encounter with the Unconscious is life changing. Outwardly it is often by virtue of dubious others who are bound to enviously attack the person who has  found something seemingly unique to himself. The servant is accused of taking the queen’s ring, a motif rooted in Adam and Eve’s theft of the awakening apple.

In a sense the accusation that one must have found such good fortune by illicit means is justified, since advances in consciousness are to the cost of herd membership and its filial obligations, not to mention the gauntlet thrown at their feet. Individuation and folk going their own way depletes the collective storehouse and challenges collective hegemony.

not a popular choice.

”Every step towards greater consciousness creates a kind of Promethean guilt. Through self knowledge the Gods are robbed of their fire. The one who has ‘stolen’ the knowledge becomes alienated from others…” D Sharp.

Despite proving his innocence the servant still has to leave and, like Parsifal, goes wandering the world.

He is bound to feel be-wildered and disoriented as he sets out on his journey. Not only has he undergone a Copernican revolution of consciousness but his values have also changed. The Principle of Relatedness which has been awoken in him cannot endure the cries of the poor Fish trapped in the reeds. He has to do something. Increases in consciousness do more than constitute the capacity to ‘hear’, they also demand that we take action in line with what we know.

The vignettes about the Fish, the Ants and the Ravens all have this quality of relatedness to them, of carefully paying attention to the contents of the unconscious. The episode with the ravens adds something further. He sacrifices his horse to feed them. He gives up his own resources in a seemingly counter-intuitive way, he relinquishes an attitude that brings him down from his ”high horse”.

The scene of the Ant King and his thousands of subjects collecting up the millet seed is reminiscent of and has its roots in the story of Eros and Psyche who is tasked by Hera to separate out thousands of seeds by morning.

”there is still something which can rescue one. The unconscious is not only chaos but also order…’ ML von Franz.

Speaking of the role played by the ants as agents of the Self in the story of Psyche and Eros, von Franz says..

”The ants have mysterious unexplored qualities, they just collaborate.” ibid

but only in the wake of a brush with death.

Though he wanders and searches the three kingdoms the Apple cannot be found. The philosopher’s Stone only appears Deo concedente, by the will of the Gods, once we have well and truly exhausted the project of being author of our own meaning.

The gift of the Ravens is a kind of Mana, the experience of a redeeming intervention. Something Unknown is doing I don’t know what. Victor Frankl tells the story of a dying girl in Auschwitz who, in the moments before her death, gave thanks for the tree she could see out of the window.

The Prince and Princess eat the Apple. The gifts of the Unconscious have to be embodied. They have to be both experienced and then expressed in some way in the world.

‘When you have a big dream you have to tell it to the People. Black Elk.

A big dream of my own was that I was backpacking in a forest with friends. Bit by bit we lost our way. Then we began to lose each other. The group shrank. Then i started to lose my stuff. My boots were gone. I lost my pack somewhere, then my bearings. I was alone and naked and stumbling about in the dark.

Then there was sound ahead, beating drums, a glow in the forest, drums and dancing, wild frenzied dancing and in the middle a great pillar covered with vines and grapes the size of plums which all shook down. A great voice said, ‘Eat, so you may enter the kingdom of Heaven and live forever.’ Then I realised that the pillar was a finger and the voice came from the mouth of that to whom the finger belonged.

So getting lost is not just inevitable. It is required. The servant has to wander the three kingdoms. We do way too much to combat stress. We constue it negatively rather than seeing it as grist to the mill, part and parcel of the three kingdom’s rich tapestry. When did you ever grow when life was easy?

Once in a while I remind myself that dreams do not simply ‘mean’ something. They are help.

”We said we’d help you”, they said.

Like the Ants they work at night, ordering, gathering, suffusing us with meaning.

The belief that the Psyche is whatever we know of it is the deathknell of aliveness. Knowing you don’t have the answers…

and perhaps not even the right questions,

and that much of life is supposed to be a mystery, is precisely what evokes wonder and appreciation. You’ve gotten sufficiently out of your own way to make space for that which is looking for you, while you have been so busy looking for it.




Love’s Hazardous Quest.

There is a story from Asia of a kasturi-mriga, or musk deer, that describes the dangers and trials of self-realisation. One day, whilst roaming about the forest, the kasturi-mriga was suddenly aware of an exquisitely beautiful scent, unlike anything he had ever known. The scent stirred the deer so profoundly that he became determined to find it’s source.

He looked under the Rhododendron bushes and in the bamboo groves. He searched the rice fields and the open steppe. He wandered the cliff tops, sought out the hidden valleys of the forest and combed the cultivated gardens right up to the edges of the feared man dwellings.

So keen was his longing that the deer didn’t notice either the severity of cold or the intensity of scorching heat. Day and night the deer carried on his ardent search for the source of the intoxicating scent.

Finally the determined deer finds himself up high on a treacherous mountain path, the stones are loose, he slips from exhaustion…

and falls to his death.

As he lies broken at the base of the cliff, breathing his last, he tucks his nose under his belly….

…and finds that the scent that had ravished his heart and inspired all these efforts came from his own navel.

”The true source of happiness, which is joy, does not lie outside of us in any one thing, object or person. No-one can give us happiness, because it is a state of consciousness that exists within us.” S. Sturgess.

Many great teachers concur..

but there are a couple of problems with this question of what lies ‘within’ and how to find it…

The first is the judgement most of us have about how foolish the deer is to cast himself about to such an extent, dissipating himself so fruitlessly. We forget that ‘giving our power away’ or projecting our inner worth onto outer things and people is a necessary part of the individuation process.

Self realisation requires this chaotic process of endless casting about, dead ends and blind alleys. Like Parsifal we start out foolish and ignorant, heading off we know not where, a journey as much a fleeing from, as it is a search for the Self.

{ fled Him, down the nights and down the days;

I fled Him, down the arches of the years;

I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways

Of my own mind; and in the midst of tears

I hid from Him.

Across the margent of the world I fled,

And troubled the gold gateway of the stars,

Smiting for shelter on their clanged bars…” F. Thompson.

Part of him doesn’t want to find the source of the scent at all….

”following your own star means isolation, not knowing where to go, having to find a new way for yourself and that’s why there has always been a tendency to project the uniqueness and greatness of the Self”. ML von Franz.

Its tempting to follow the path of least resistance and simply remain a slavish follower of some other realised person and yet it is an integral part of the hero’s journey that contents arising from the Unconscious are, to begin with and by their very nature, bound to be projected into the outer world.

Such projections may even be useful…

”If one projects the Self onto a truly wise person you can learn a lot. That is even the secret of miraculous cures. People project the Self onto a healer personality and from such faith they are cured of all sorts of illnesses.” ibid

One’s individuality can actually be promoted and an as yet self-actualising ego preserved from the impact and potentially fragmenting effect of too premature an awakening.

The thing with ‘looking within’, is that what one is searching for is the psychic non-ego which is, to all intents and purposes is still ‘outside’ the personality. Hence the despair and incomprehension of so many who look within and find..


And should the objective psyche be stumbled over…

on some precipitous cliff…

its not necessarily very pretty…

or much fun…

”The integration of contents that were always unconscious and projected involves a serious lesion of the ego.” CG Jung.

And so it is not just a question of, ‘seek and ye shall find’, but, as in the original gnostic rendering…

”He who seeks, let him not cease seeking until he finds and when he finds he will be troubled and when he is troubled he will be amazed.” Gospel of Thomas

Our story tells us that finding the treasure hard to attain involves a death. This is both literal and metaphorical. The seeker is confronted by their own mortality which squeezes itself into awareness from all the peripheral events of life that once contained it.

But why add unnecessarily to all the bitter trials of the Quest? Is it not difficult enough already? And yet this paying attention to death is the proper name for much of life’s angst.

Taken deep enough most of our daily pressures are precisely this unwanted reminder of death. The washing machine broke down, you’re late to the office and incured your boss’s wrath. There are unexpected bills on the mat, the weather is closing in, the mirror hates you and the kids act like you don’t exist.

Ordinary anxiety tends to disappear when death is caught in the corner of your eye because ordinary anxiety is where death lives.

The metaphorical death is no less easy.

”The collapse of existing ego structures is closely analagous to the schizophrenic state…and should be taken very seriously. Becoming aware of the psychic non-ego… involves a loss of soul…” CG Jung

hence the warning of the alchemists…

”not a few have perished in our work.” Rosarium Philosophorum.

The broken body of the poor deer..

”is the residue of the past and represents s/he who is no more, ” CG Jung.

The search for ‘the treasure hard to attain’ is not simply the difficulty of the path but that we die to ourselves en route.


”the seeker and the sought become One, both are wounded and die.”ibid.

Lover and beloved conquer each other by their devotion. The source, the essence, the fullest manifestation of love’s conquering power is the love of the soul for the supreme soul, or God. The sages who authored the sacred texts of all time found that the most astonishing of all God’s wonders was this willingness, this eagerness, not only to be touched by our love, but to be conquered by it.

The etymology of the word ‘religion’ comes from the latin ‘religare’, which means to bind, reconnect or re-tie. It has the same meaning as the eastern word ‘yoga’. The purpose of the quest is one of re-connection and a re-membering of the soul with it’s divine source.

And so we find that the sacred encounter is not strictly ‘within’ but ‘between’, between I and thou, between self and ego, between the individual soul and the lap of the Divine Mother.

Our story shows that this discovery of the source, after great effort, is accidental. The important thing is not so much the attainment of anything per se but that we risk all out of love in the process.

There is a tale of Hakuin, the Zen master, who as a young man entered monastic life. He was gruffly told by the Abbot, ‘you do realise that it will probably take you several life times to gain enlightenment…’

‘I don’t care how long it takes,’ replied Hakuin, and with that he entered the gates of Nirvana.

Narcissism Redeemed.

In 1943 Goebbles commissioned a young writer called Gerhard Burger to write a script for a Nazi propaganda movie. Little did he realize that Burger was in fact the pseudonym of banned and wanted satirist Erich Kestner whose books Goebbles had personally burned only months before….

‘Burger’ wrote ‘Munchhausen’ for Goebbles.

It was a great success.

Did Kastner sell himself out?

I think not.

The story starts as you would expect.

Munchausen is a golden super warrior, an apotheosis of Man endowed with eternal life. He knows all of Europe’s royalty and has an elite band of faithful servants all gifted with special powers. There are all kinds of heroic shenanigins.

But Kastner threw in an ending so subtle it is almost lost in the sentimentality, a message so understated as to be subliminal.

Munchausen quietly renounces his special powers for the sake of growing old with the one he loves. A much more humble vision than Goebbles  might have intended, in fact something that managed to slide entirely under his radar. The final message of the film was what Kastner wanted it to be.

The way forward is by virtue of ordinariness and love.

Which is how it is with extremism.

And, by extension, anyone else who has ‘the syndrome’.

The so-called Munchausen syndrome is at the more colourful end of the Narcissistic spectrum. From a medical point of veiw it is ‘factitious’ insofar as its seen as just a case of someone wanting attention. But perhaps anyone who wants to be ill really is. The desire to be ill or to have a reason not to go out into the world really is pretty messed up.

It is also rather typical of the ‘puer aeturnus’ archetype that underpins narcissism, a wish to identify with only one tiny, idealised corner of the personality and to present oneself as this superior front to the world from whom admiration and solicitude can then be squeezed in equal measure.

The fact is that many a child laden down with parental expectations and archetypal projections is going to feel as though there is something wrong with them.

“The truth about our childhood is stored up in our body, and although we can repress it, we can never alter it. Someday our body will present its bill, for it is as incorruptible as a child, who, still whole in spirit, will accept no compromises or excuses, and it will not stop tormenting us until we stop evading the truth.” -Alice Miller

If they follow their own destiny they fail in their parent’s eyes. If they let themselves remain co-opted they betray their own destiny.

Such a conflict is bound to  end up in A+E.

Real or imagined….

”The gods have become diseases, producing curious specimins for the doctor’s consulting room.” CG Jung.

It’s easy to critisize the arrogant narcissist as a malingerer, as someone living a provisional life, refusing to put down roots in the real world, a Dorian Grey with

”too great a dependence on the Mother.” Mats Winther.

It would be better to ask how that dependence has been fostered. If a child is  covertly handed the responsibility of providing their parent with meaning then there will indeed be much hovering and disengagment from life in respect of such a sacred task.

It’s precisely such a child’s prescribed role to wait in the wings of  parental  ambition and to appear, saviour like, at just the right moment.

There’s no real getting on with your own life.

And you’ll feel as sick as a dog.

The modern rendering of the story…

shows the situation more clearly and gives us the resolution to the situation. The Baron’s identification with his superiority has created terrible inner conflict with the shadow,  the less than noble side of his personality. This is personified (as it is today) by ‘The Turk’, a Muslim Pasha with a taste for sado-masochism and decapitation who beseiges the city.

Between the idea
And the reality
Between the motion
And the act
Falls the Shadow.. T S Eliot

Munchausen’s inner world has become so devoid of ordinary ideosyncratic material that he is compelled to identify with extreme, opposing roles in order to know himself. Even Catherine the Great is not sufficiently his equal.

”He becomes collectivized from within. The greater the identification with the youthful god, the less individuality although he feels so special.” ML von Franz.

This polarisation is hard work. So is covering over his inner emptiness given that his specially endowed servants are all captured or dispersed. The town’s regular troops are not fighting back because it is Wednesday. Ie his defences have regressed to autistic levels of functioning and so we find Munchausen depleted and close to death.

Narcissism in ourselves masquerades as self worth yet we see it clearly enough  in others to find it annoying. We forget the deprivation behind it, how it feels to be secretly running on empty all the time. We fail to ask what all this grandeur is compensating for or what kind of world the child was raised in.

The term ‘Symbiotic Omnipotence’,

is useful in developing some compassion for otherwise noxious people because it describes how cumulative trauma to the sacred feminine over generations has had a serious impact on the experience of childhood.

”The danger for the modern child is that his mother is invariably a dissatisfied woman.” S de Beauvoir.

Millenia of spiritual repression has taught women to be secret with their inner world. For as long as baby’s ‘primary process thinking’ is predominant..

when he’s little..

yes, thankyou..

he participates in that secret and is bound to be imbued with its archetypal power, dominated in fact by something he’s unconsciously identified with, he must be the one to save the day.

From fear she conceals her deepest longings her greatest value, her soul, in her child, her golden redeemer, the gifted god-child…

that cannot help ignore the human clay of need and dependence; made all the more difficult to spot because the child in the equation seems to gain from the situation with..

”enhanced effectiveness of each type of functioning in the total personality.’ M. Khan

..the super-charged buzz of redemptive power, the hopes, the dreams….

and so..

“there readily develops a covertly arrogant mysteriously concocted pseudo superiority and false knowledge.” K. Horney.

…..represented by the special and bizzare powers of Munchausen’s now scattered servants.

He is saved from Death only by the anger and determination of a small child who needs closure on his story.

This is the sorcery of literature. We are healed by our stories.

— Terre Tempest Williams

To recover, to tell the story, Munchausen must first find his servants. He needs the inner resources, the different perspectives, of I and me. The problem is that they are all so imbued with magical specialness that they have come to various bad ends, like  famous gunslingers that every punk kid wants to take down. Bertholde, the world’s fastest runner, has to be rescued from the Moon King, the masculine aspect of his Mother who keeps his potential trapped.

Gaining the freedom of his valet Bertholde has divine consequences. They are all tipped headlong into Vulcan’s underground forge where Munchausen meets and courts Venus. His valuing of the clumsy, gauche part of himself, his risking himself for the sake of relatedness, evokes a response from the divine feminine who is now clearly looking out for him.

But it seems it is ‘too little too late’. They are all swallowed up by a sea monster and taken down into the depths.

”Clearly they have been overpowered by the unconscious and are helplessly abandoned, volunteering to die in order to begat a new and fruitful life in that region of the psyche which has hitherto lain fallow…” CG Jung.

Munchausen must renounce the project to redeem others and get on with the process of redeeming himself. The search for his servants, the functional and unique components of his own personality is a ‘night sea journey’, a braving of the depths of himself in order to find new zest for life.

As you might expect, the servants Gustavo of great hearing, Adolphus of accurate sight and Albrect of fantastic strength are also in the fish, though they have lost their special powers. With suffering they have become ordinary. There is genuine compassion and fellow feeling between them despite their ‘failure’ to uphold the shining maternal ideal handed down to them and this acceptance of themselves and of one another precipitates their escape.

Their mutuality, their single-heartedness, conjours Munchausen’s horse Bucephalus to appear, instinctive martial energy (Bucephalus belonged to Alexander the Great), a symbol of dynamic transformation that orchestrates their escape.

The personality fears that to renounce the shared specialness of Symbiotic Omnipotence is to lose all love and belonging. In fact it is to find it. They experience that love can survive ordinariness.

In fact, that’s what it depends on.




Polymorphous Perversity

Yes, its a real thing.

‘The ability to find pleasure in any part of the body.’

clearly in need of chemical neutering….

According to Freud, a young child is, by nature, “polymorphously perverse” (Introductory Lecturs 15.209)….

which is to say…..

‘that, before education in the conventions of civilized society, a child will turn to various bodily parts for sexual gratification and will not obey the rules that adults determine……….’

So, a spontaneous and irrepressible delight in the world…..

no, don’t tell me..!.

can it be that bad…?

Some adults retain such polymorphous perversity, according to Freud.

thank fuck for that.

Only now, unfortunately, ensconsed formally into the annals of science and medicine, is the final betrayal of the child whose words, or cries, will now officially not be believed and moreover, whose claim of abuse will itself be considered a symptom of illness……

Because when Freud renounced his Trauma Theory, which said that kids are driven crazy by their parents….

parents didn’t like it.

And parents were society.

So he came to the opposite conclusion as quickly as was decent to do so, without an Edwardian eyebrow being lifted too high….

which they liked better.

namely, that children fuck themselves up.

oh yes, that’s what I meant…

I remember now…

And so for a hundred years or more there has been built into the law of the land, via expert witnesses in autopsy, medicine and psychology, who, true to their training, consider, as a default point of reference that a child making a complaint is both lying and disturbed.

Its not just that Freud regarded his patients in such a poor light…

He came just in time to mark the end of a long process of disenfranchisment of the child. The quality of relatedness that the divine feminine once brought to life is lost along with the Great Mother and increasingly the child is unheld and unsafe.

When my twelve and a half year old son was asked by a court official where he wanted to live and he said with his father, this was taken to mean the opposite of what was said because the child couldn’t possibly know his own mind….

and so he was taken away…

during which time he went from am A grade student to a failing student….

and had to harm himself to get the authorities to sit up and take notice.

Apparently, at this, our pinnacle of evolution, kids don’t know what they want, don’t speak the truth and haven’t got their own minds. They are considered to be so stupid that you can’t open a window in the classroom on a hot summer’s day, in case one of them absent mindedly falls out…

…or maybe a whole clutch of them would suddenly make a mad dash for the window, and launch themselves at it…


and falling

like Lemmings onto the concrete playground below..

stupid children.

So stupid, bottle tops come with instructions, ‘Twist’! Salt comes with a serving suggestion, a packet of peanuts warns of the possibility that the packet may contain nuts and that Harry Potter broomstick in the toy shop bears the legend,..

..”does not actually fly”.

That’s not evolved. That’s a deeply regressed, collectively depressed state with all common sense and faith in the other wrung out of it.

And so Narcisissim and OCD are not just defences, but consequences…

because ‘polymorphous perversity,’ is actually required for artistic and creative expression. Its containing of the chaotic processes that creativity and artistic expression involve. If you can take equal pleasure in whatever the world/mother has to offer, then you mind it’s inclement weather a little less and can play with what’s at hand.

But if you don’t get comfy and taste everything, then that unlived life becomes cold and vengeful, like a spurned lover.

”Unlived life does not sit idly on the shelf, it will turn around and bite you.” M L von Franz.

And so if our kids aren’t given the basic credit of being able to top a strawberry without supervision then how are they to get comfy and experimental and curious about everything?

And if we then don’t live life out to the last drop, challenging all kinds of sacred cows in doing so en route, we actually invite not just boredom and apathy on ourselves but fully fledged neuroses.

Give me the polywossname any day.