The Norse god Thor and his friends Loki and Pjalfi had been travelling for days in the land of Giants.
Eventually they came to a massive stronghold.
The giant king, Útgaroa, greeted them. “Am I mistaken in thinking that this little fellow is Thor the Charioteer? Maybe you’re stronger than you look. In what skill do you excel? We never allow anyone to stay unless he is a master of some craft or pastime.”
Loki stepped forward. “No one can eat faster than I. “Útgaroa called for the giant Logi to step forward to meet the challenge. Servants brought in a trencher and loaded it with meat. Logi sat down at one end and Loki at the other. At a signal from the king, they both began eating, meeting in the middle. While Loki had eaten all the meat, Logi had eaten the meat, the bones, and the trencher. He was declared the winner.
Útgaroa asked Pjálfi what he could do. Pjálfi volunteered to run a race against anyone in the hall. Three times, the giant Hugi ran against Pjálfi. Three times, Hugi beat Pjálfi by wide margins.
Útgaroa turned to Thór and asked him which of his skills he would demonstrate. Thór said that he could drink more than anyone in the hall. Immediately, a huge drinking horn was placed in Thór’s hands. The giant king said that a good drinker could drain it in one swallow. Some might take two, but no one was so feeble that he couldn’t finish it in three.
Thor took three enormous swallows, each larger than the last. Each time, the level in the horn dropped, but never did the horn empty.
The giant king said, “It’s clear your might is not as great as we thought. Would you like to try your hand at another contest? Young giants perform the feat of lifting my cat off the ground. I wouldn’t have suggested it unless I had seen that you’re a much less impressive person than I thought.”
A cat jumped out from under the giant king’s chair and planted itself on the floor. Thór put his arm under the cat’s belly and lifted. The cat simply arched its back such that its four feet stayed on the floor. The giants laughed at the way the cat’s effortless movements frustrated Thór. At last, Thór was able to lift the cat so high that one of its paws left the floor.
Útgaroa remarks, “Thór is short and small in comparison to the mighty men here in this hall.”
Thór, beside himself with his failures and the taunts and abuse, spoke. “Small as you say I am, just let someone come out and fight me. Now, I am angry.”
Útgaroa, looking around the room, replied, “I doubt anyone would wrestle you; they’d feel it’s beneath them.” Then, continuing, the giant king exclaimed, “Find Elli, my old wet-nurse. Thór can wrestle her if he likes.”
The giants laughed as a horrible old crone entered the hall. She agreed to wrestle Thór. He threw himself at the woman, but she was stronger than she seemed. She stood firm and unshaken. Then she tried a hold or two on Thór. Catching him off-balance, she forced him to one knee.
“Enough”, cried Útgaroa to Thór. “You’ve shown your true strength. There is no point in Thór’s challenging any one else in the hall.”
Places were found for the travelers. They were given food and drink and bedding for the night.
The next morning, Útgaroa asked, “Well, how do you feel things turned out?”
Thór replied, ” You’ve put me to shame. I have never suffered greater loss of face. It irks me to know that you will say to all that I am a person of little accord.”
The giant king said, “I’ll tell the truth. Had I known how strong you were, I’d have never let you inside in the first place. You were nearly the end of us all.
“I have deceived you,” he went on…
“Loki ate fast, but Logi was Wildfire itself. He burned up the trencher and the meat. When Pjálfi ran against Hugi, he ran against Thought. Nothing can keep up with the speed of Thought.
“When you, Thór, drank from the horn, you thought you were found wanting. But the other end of that horn connected to the sea. When you get back to the ocean, you’ll see how much it has ebbed from your efforts.
“And the cat was not what it appeared; it was Jörmangandr, the Midgard serpent. You raised it up off the sea bed so high that its back grazed the sky.
“And it’s a marvel that you withstood Elli for so long. Elli is Old Age. No one can withstand Old Age in the end.
We may often feel that our efforts and contribution are of little account. In fact, an encounter with the Self can be so deflating that we assume our personal gifts and skills are irrelevant to the point of despair and dejection.
Spirtual awakening, though it may be experienced as a joyful rush of aliveness, of meaning and purpose, does not last for ever. Moreover, it may well seem that our new perspective throws the relative smallness of the personality into an entirely desultory light…
”characterised by an acute sense of unworthiness, a systematic self-depreciation, and self accusation.” R Assagioli.
These sentiments are echoed in ‘the Dark Night of the Soul’,
”When the rays of divine light shine upon the soul, it perceives itself as so unclean and miserable that it seems as if God had set himself against it.” St John of the Cross.
Of course a negative inflation may well be a cover up for a superiority complex…
”Inferiority is really ambition. One wants to be more than one is. One wants to be a great person and knows one isn’t and therefore feels like the last worm on earth.” ML von Franz.
I once had a client with a very low opinion of himself who came to our first session armed with a sealed ‘to-whom-it-may-concern’ letter from his psychiatrist warning me of his covert superiority. I couldn’t see it at all as he began to systematically demean himself. Not until he asserted that he was the very worst person in the world to which, fore-armed, I was able to reply, ‘that is a very exclusive club.’
So its true that this feeling of being worthless and having no power can be a kind of compensation for hidden arrogance. Its also true that we project our potential onto others as a way of avoiding responsibility. The great leader or personality will do it all for us while we remain dependent and infantile.
Yet it is also true that spiritual awakening can produce a feeling of insignificance which may even border on..
”the impression of going through hell, the delusion that one is irretrievably damned.” R Assagioli
It is impossible to experience the vastness of the Universe, the depth of the Unconscious or the fragility of life without a somewhat crushing sense of one’s own smallness..
”The experience of the Self is always a blow to the ego.” CG Jung.
…which is why it is necessary to remind ourselves of the truly heroic nature of treading upon the path of individuation and to re-frame what we might consider to be our insufficient contribution to Life.
This is an uphill struggle for the western psyche, steeped as it is in the exclusive value placed upon outer acheivement and material success.
”Try not to become a person of success, but rather try to become a person of value.” A Einstein.
For this to happen there has to be something of a revolution within us. The yardstick by which we were raised wants whittling….
Raising a child, trying something new, holding your tounge, standing your ground, saying ‘no’; all these things may be tantamount to a re-inventing of oneself, a forging of one’s own path through the undergrowth that is not unlike facing death itself, requiring courage and resolve that may not be apparent to others but which we should not therefor lose sight of ourselves.