Nature In Uproar


The tale of “The Fisherman and his Wife” tells a story for our times: Our human willfulness can finally ask too much of Mother Nature. In “Frau Holle,” discussed in last month’s article, we saw that cooperating with Mother Nature brought golden rewards. Attempting to manipulate Mother Nature likewise got results: but tar, rather than gold. “The Fisherman and his Wife” depict Mother Nature becoming more and more agitated by human demands.

As I wrote in last month’s article, we can read some of these traditional stories literally. Other traditional stories don’t make any sense at all from a literal point of view. After a certain point in the narrative we have to move to allegory and symbol. First, what do I mean by “allegory” and “symbol”?

I mean a story (or poem or picture, etc.) in which the characters and events express or reveal a pattern that informs/structures the narrative of different characters in different circumstances. Usually an allegory represents particular moral, ethical, religious, or political ideas. And I would add: psychological insights.

A symbol, 1) means more than it (literally) is, and 2) seems to convey endless meanings. We can legitimately understand a symbol in many ways. An authentic symbol continues to fascinate us. If only we had more words, we could better say what it means.

So when you read “The Fisherman and his Wife,” let yourself “hear” the tale on many levels.  

There was once a fisherman who lived with his wife in a pigsty, close by the seaside. The fisherman used to go out all day long a-fishing; and one day, as he sat on the shore with his rod, looking at the sparkling waves and watching his line, all of a sudden his float was dragged away deep into the water: and in drawing it up he pulled out a great fish. But the fish said, ’Pray let me live! I am not a real fish; I am an enchanted prince: put me in the water again, and let me go!’ ’Oh, ho!’ said the man, ’you need not make so many words about the matter; I will have nothing to do with a fish that can talk: so swim away, sir, as soon as you please!’ Then he put him back into the water, and the fish darted straight down to the bottom, and left a long streak of blood behind him on the wave.

When the fisherman went home to his wife in the pigsty, he told her how he had caught a great fish, and how it had told him it was an enchanted prince, and how, on hearing it speak, he had let it go again. ’Did not you ask it for anything?’ said the wife, ’we live very wretchedly here, in this nasty dirty pigsty; do go back and tell the fish we want a snug little cottage.’

The fisherman did not much like the business: however, he went to the seashore; and when he came back there the water looked all yellow and green. And he stood at the water’s edge, and said:

’O man of the sea!
 Hearken to me!
 My wife Ilsebill
 Will have her own will,
 And hath sent me to beg a boon of thee!’

Then the fish came swimming to him, and said, ’Well, what is her will? What does your wife want?’ ’Ah!’ said the fisherman, ’she says that when I had caught you, I ought to have asked you for something before I let you go; she does not like living any longer in the pigsty, and wants a snug little cottage.’ ’Go home, then,’ said the fish; ’she is in the cottage already!’ So the man went home, and saw his wife standing at the door of a nice trim little cottage. ’Come in, come in!’ said she; ’is not this much better than the filthy pigsty we had?’ And there was a parlour, and a bedchamber, and a kitchen; and behind the cottage there was a little garden, planted with all sorts of flowers and fruits; and there was a courtyard behind, full of ducks and chickens. ’Ah!’ said the fisherman, ’how happily we shall live now!’ ’We will try to do so, at least,’ said his wife.

Everything went right for a week or two, and then Dame Ilsebill said, ’Husband, there is not near room enough for us in this cottage; the courtyard and the garden are a great deal too small; I should like to have a large stone castle to live in: go to the fish again and tell him to give us a castle.’ ’Wife,’ said the fisherman, ’I don’t like to go to him again, for perhaps he will be angry; we ought to be easy with this pretty cottage to live in.’ ’Nonsense!’ said the wife; ’he will do it very willingly, I know; go along and try!’

The fisherman went, but his heart was very heavy: and when he came to the sea, it looked blue and gloomy, though it was very calm; and he went close to the edge of the waves, and said:

’O man of the sea!
 Hearken to me!
 My wife Ilsebill
 Will have her own will,
 And hath sent me to beg a boon of thee!’

’Well, what does she want now?’ said the fish. ’Ah!’ said the man, dolefully; ’my wife wants to live in a stone castle.’ ’Go home, then,’ said the fish; ’she is standing at the gate of it already.’ So away went the fisherman, and found his wife standing before the gate of a great castle. ’See,’ said she, ’is not this grand?’ With that they went into the castle together, and found a great many servants there, and the rooms all richly furnished, and full of golden chairs and tables; and behind the castle was a garden, and around it was a park half a mile long, full of sheep, and goats, and hares, and deer; and in the courtyard were stables and cow-houses. ’Well,’ said the man, ’now we will live cheerful and happy in this beautiful castle for the rest of our lives.’ ’Perhaps we may,’ said the wife; ’but let us sleep upon it, before we make up our minds to that.’ So they went to bed.

The next morning when Dame Ilsebill awoke it was broad daylight, and she jogged the fisherman with her elbow, and said, ’Get up, husband, and bestir yourself, for we must be king of all the land.’ ’Wife, wife,’ said the man, ’why should we wish to be the king? I will not be king.’ ’Then I will,’ said she. ’But, wife,’ said the fisherman, ’how can you be king–the fish cannot make you a king?’ ’Husband,’ said she, ’say no more about it, but go and try! I will be king.’ So the man went away quite sorrowful to think that his wife should want to be king. This time the sea looked a dark grey colour, and was overspread with curling waves and the ridges of foam as he cried out:

’O man of the sea!
 Hearken to me!
 My wife Ilsebill
 Will have her own will,
 And hath sent me to beg a boon of thee!’

’Well, what would she have now?’ said the fish. ’Alas!’ said the poor man, ’my wife wants to be king.’ ’Go home,’ said the fish; ’she is king already.’

Then the fisherman went home; and as he came close to the palace he saw a troop of soldiers, and heard the sound of drums and trumpets. And when he went in he saw his wife sitting on a throne of gold and diamonds, with a golden crown upon her head; and on each side of her stood six fair maidens, each a head taller than the other. ’Well, wife,’ said the fisherman, ’are you king?’ ’Yes,’ said she, ’I am king.’ And when he had looked at her for a long time, he said, ’Ah, wife! What a fine thing it is to be king! Now we shall never have anything more to wish for as long as we live.’ ’I don’t know how that may be,’ said she; ’never is a long time. I am king, it is true; but I begin to be tired of that, and I think I should like to be emperor.’ ’Alas, wife! Why should you wish to be emperor?’ asked the fisherman. ’Husband,’ said she, ’go to the fish! I say I will be emperor.’ ’Ah, wife!’ replied the fisherman, ’the fish cannot make an emperor, I am sure, and I should not like to ask him for such a thing.’ ’I am king,’ said Ilsebill, ’and you are my slave; so go at once!’

So the fisherman was forced to go; and he muttered as he went along, ’This will come to no good, it is too much to ask; the fish will be tired at last, and then we shall be sorry for what we have done.’ He soon came to the seashore; and the water was quite black and muddy, and a mighty whirlwind blew over the waves and rolled them about, but he went as near as he could to the water’s brink, and said:

’O man of the sea!
 Hearken to me!
 My wife Ilsebill
 Will have her own will,
 And hath sent me to beg a boon of thee!’

’What would she have now?’ said the fish. ’Ah!’ said the fisherman, ’she wants to be emperor.’ ’Go home,’ said the fish; ’she is emperor already.’

So he went home again; and as he came near he saw his wife Ilsebill sitting on a very lofty throne made of solid gold, with a great crown on her head full two yards high; and on each side of her stood her guards and attendants in a row, each one smaller than the other, from the tallest giant down to a little dwarf no bigger than my finger. And before her stood princes, and dukes, and earls: and the fisherman went up to her and said, ’Wife, are you emperor?’ ’Yes,’ said she, ’I am emperor.’ ’Ah!’ said the man, as he gazed upon her, ’what a fine thing it is to be emperor!’ ’Husband,’ said she, ’why should we stop at being emperor? I will be pope next.’ ’O wife, wife!’ said he, ’how can you be pope? There is but one pope at a time in Christendom.’ ’Husband,’ said she, ’I will be pope this very day.’ ’But,’ replied the husband, ’the fish cannot make you pope.’ ’What nonsense!’ said she; ’if he can make an emperor, he can make a pope: go and try him.’

So the fisherman went. But when he came to the shore the wind was raging and the sea was tossed up and down in boiling waves, and the ships were in trouble, and rolled fearfully upon the tops of the billows. In the middle of the heavens there was a little piece of blue sky, but towards the south all was red, as if a dreadful storm was rising. At this sight the fisherman was dreadfully frightened, and he trembled so that his knees knocked together: but still he went down near to the shore, and said:

’O man of the sea!
 Hearken to me!
 My wife Ilsebill
 Will have her own will,
 And hath sent me to beg a boon of thee!’

’What does she want now?’ said the fish. ’Ah!’ said the fisherman, ’my wife wants to be pope.’ ’Go home,’ said the fish; ’she is pope already.’

Then the fisherman went home, and found Ilsebill sitting on a throne that was two miles high. And she had three great crowns on her head, and around her stood all the pomp and power of the Church. And on each side of her were two rows of burning lights, of all sizes, the greatest as large as the highest and biggest tower in the world, and the least no larger than a small rushlight. ’Wife,’ said the fisherman, as he looked at all this greatness, ’are you pope?’ ’Yes,’ said she, ’I am pope.’ ’Well, wife,’ replied he, ’it is a grand thing to be pope; and now you must be easy, for you can be nothing greater.’ ’I will think about that,’ said the wife. Then they went to bed: but Dame Ilsebill could not sleep all night for thinking what she should be next. At last, as she was dropping asleep, morning broke, and the sun rose. ’Ha!’ thought she, as she woke up and looked at it through the window, ’after all I cannot prevent the sun rising.’ At this thought she was very angry, and wakened her husband, and said, ’Husband, go to the fish and tell him I must be lord of the sun and moon.’ The fisherman was half asleep, but the thought frightened him so much that he started and fell out of bed. ’Alas, wife!’ said he, ’cannot you be easy with being pope?’ ’No,’ said she, ’I am very uneasy as long as the sun and moon rise without my leave. Go to the fish at once!’

Then the man went shivering with fear; and as he was going down to the shore a dreadful storm arose, so that the trees and the very rocks shook. And all the heavens became black with stormy clouds, and the lightning played, and the thunder rolled; and you might have seen in the sea great black waves, swelling up like mountains with crowns of white foam upon their heads. And the fisherman crept towards the sea, and cried out, as well as he could:

’O man of the sea!
 Hearken to me!
 My wife Ilsebill
 Will have her own will,
 And hath sent me to beg a boon of thee!’

’What does she want now?’ said the fish. ’Ah!’ said he, ’she wants to be lord of the sun and moon.’ ’Go home,’ said the fish, ’to your pigsty again.’

And there they live to this very day.

At one level of reading this tale needs no interpretation. Even though I have read it many times and thought about it often, the figure of Dame Ilsebill, her intimidated fisherman husband, the enchanted prince / fish, and the progressively more agitated ocean arouse an instinctive gut-level fear in me. The Greek word hubris characterizes Dame Ilsebill’s attitude and behavior. “Hubris . . . describes a personality quality of extreme or foolish pride or dangerous overconfidence, often in combination with (or synonymous with) arrogance. In its ancient Greek context, it typically describes behavior that defies the norms of behavior or challenges the gods, and which in turn brings about the downfall, or nemesis, of the perpetrator of hubris.”

Enough said?

Without going into details about each of the figures, we understand the message of the tale: For months now, the news has reported the fall of prominent men who have exploited their social, professional and/or political positions for personal gratification. But can we get more out of this story than meets the eye? In this story we want to understand more what the fisherman, his wife, the fish (who is an enchanted prince) and the ocean may mean. We can deepen our understanding as with a dream that makes an emotional and intuitive impact. This moves us into the allegorical and symbolic dimension. I’ll start with the ocean.

Myths and stories from the past give us a clue to the meaning people have experienced in various natural phenomena. We recall that creation according to the Book of Genesis commences when God separates the waters above from the waters below. The Babylonian account predates even the Biblical account:

When skies above were not yet named
Nor earth below pronounced by name,
Apsu, the first one, their begetter
And maker Tiamat, who bore them all,
Had mixed their waters together,
But had not formed pastures, nor discovered reed-beds;
When yet no gods were manifest,
Nor names pronounced, nor destinies decreed,
Then gods were born within them.

Another set of creation myths feature a creature that dives deep into the primal ocean to find bits of sand or earth out of which the solid land is formed.

The earth-diver is a common character in various traditional creation myths. In these stories a supreme being usually sends an animal into the primal waters to find bits of sand or mud with which to build habitable land. . . . Earth-diver myths are common in Native American folklore but can be found among the Chukchi and Yukaghir, the Tatars and many Finno-Ugrian traditions. . . .

Characteristic of many Native American myths, earth-diver creation stories begin as beings and potential forms linger asleep or suspended in the primordial realm. The earth-diver is among the first of them to awaken and lay the necessary groundwork by building suitable lands where the coming creation will be able to live. In many cases, these stories will describe a series of failed attempts to make land before the solution is found.

Following the pattern of these creation stories, the ocean in The Fisherman and his Wife contains all possibilities, not just for life, but for life on dry land, which is where we humans live. Viewed psychologically, the ocean symbolizes everything of which we are consciously aware and the source of everything. The shorthand for this is “the unconscious:” everything that exists but of which I am not now, and perhaps never yet was, conscious, but nevertheless “something” real, powerful, some potential or “energy.” I want to call this “the matrix of being,” the source and continuing ground of our existence.

The human figures of the fisherman and his wife form an ambivalent pair. We must not get hung up on the gender of the figures. Rather they correspond to a capacity to take action and make choices and decisions (the fisherman), and the innate human function of desire (the wife). If we must personalize the figures, then the fisherman could be a flesh-and-blood man, and the wife would then be that man’s desire nature. (As I suggested earlier, from this point-of-view the fisherman and his wife characterize many men who have fallen because they have abused their powerful positions for financial, professional, and/or sexual gratification.) Turn this around, and the pattern can just as accurately describe a flesh-and-blood woman who lets her desire nature compromise her ability to make appropriate choices and decisions. In either case we see hubris as the outcome: over-weening ambition or greed or lust for power leads to downfall.

Back to the story.

The human capacity for judgment (the fisherman) encounters something bigger than (human) life: a powerful content from the matrix of being (the fish, which is actually a prince under a spell). The human desire nature (the wife) overpowers the capacity for judgment (the fisherman), who then exploits a powerful content from the matrix of being (the fish), with the consequence that the matrix of being (the ocean) becomes more and more agitated.

I need to introduce one more term into the discussion of this tale: inflation. We have various colloquial terms that vividly depict inflation: too big for his britches; all puffed up; pompous; high-and mighty. All of these terms, and others, identify a state exceeding the human dimension. I might add, as a paraphrase of hubris; the phrase, “pride commeth before the fall.”

In the tale, the human capacity for judgment (the fisherman) becomes inflated by the prospect of profiting (new cottage, castle, etc.) from the matrix of being (the ocean). With each demand, the fisherman (the capacity for judgment) initially hesitates, then, after getting what was demanded, the fisherman believes the wife (the desire nature) will be satisfied. He has an anxious little conversation with himself: Surely we’ll live happily ever after. But Dame Ilsebill, “We’ll see.”

For some reason I am reminded of what J. Robert Oppenheimer, director of the Manhattan Project, said as he witnessed the first above-ground atomic explosion in the desert of New Mexico: “Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.”

The fisherman goes to the ocean every day to fish. We all do that: the intuition, the insight, the hunch, the surprising discovery, the bright idea. We seek human-scale fish that feed us. But what if we hook the enchanted prince? That could be the get-rich scheme, the “killer app” that will make us rich and famous, the “angle” by which we gain power and prestige, the “ultimate truth” that everybody “must” embrace? Then we have usurped the power of the enchanted prince who is powerless to stop us.

So who is the prince? And what has enchanted him or put him under the spell in the ocean / matrix of being / the unconscious?

Although there have been exceptions, over the last several thousand years a male has been the dominant figure laying out the laws in most social groups. In other words, the human capacity for taking initiative, making judgments and decisions has been imaged as male whereas the human capacity for containing, birthing, nurturing, desiring has been imaged as female. In many societies, these two capacities have become “personalized,” that is attached to anatomical males and female, as in our tale of the fisherman and his wife. Hence our human history of kings, emperors, strong men, dictators, and imperial presidents, and the dynasties they sire.

In our tale, the enchanted prince stands next in line to be king—but not yet. The figure in line to rule, to articulate the way the society is to function, can be dominated by human desire. Shifting from viewing the pattern organization of society to organization of the human psyche, we see that human desire and an inflated although anxious consciousness can usurp that power of the matrix of being to satisfy its own boundless desires.

From time to time each of us faces the temptation to get high and mighty, bigger than our britches, to yield to the temptation to “have it all out” with someone, to “lay down the law,” to “fix it once and for all.” It’s a rush of power – Intoxicating, Self-righteous, Dangerous, Hubris. We don’t have to look far around us to see it doing its mischief in the world today. That’s the easy part. Seeing it operating in ourselves challenges our honesty.

Most of the people I see for psychotherapy and analysis have suffered under one or another form of tyranny: parents, siblings, spouses, employers. Most of them survive on a catch of very little fishes. The temptation, however, sometimes—maybe often—arises in the fantasy of catching the “big fish:” the prospect of setting things right once and for all, of telling it like it is, of finally giving as good as they have gotten. In the long run nothing good comes from acting when in the grip of a bigger-than–human power. We call that “archetypal inflation,” being in the grip of a transpersonal power, a “god.” Legitimate power does acts decisively, soberly, from a position of integrity, and calm inner strength. No drama. No fireworks. No uproar.

As a friend of mine so simply puts it to his clients: Discover who you are. Be who you are. Tell others who you are. Then forget who you are and just be.

That’s the great challenge to us human beings.

1. Originally recorded in the 19th Century by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm in their Kinder- und Hausmaerchen.

2. recorded in the 19th Century by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm in their Kinder- und Hausmaerchen.  

3. Genesis 1:2




August, 2018 Boris Matthews, PhD, LCSW practices Analytical Psychology (a.k.a. Jungian Analysis) at the Ommani Center for Integrative Medicine in Pewaukee, WI. He is a teaching and supervising faculty member of the C. G. Jung Institute of Chicago, IL, and Director of the Analyst Training Program. He has been in practice since the mid-1980s.  To schedule an appointment, call the Ommani Center, 262-695-5311. Learn more at

Willfulness and Greed vs Mother Nature

Guess who’s going to win? It’s Mother Nature every time.

Two traditional stories—“fairy tales,” Märchen (in German) – tell the fate of human greed and willfulness. One, Frau Holle, I will discuss this month. I will take up the other, The Fisherman and his Wife, in August. Both tales teach the same lesson: given half a chance and a little help, Mother Nature always wins in the end, and the greedy, willful person loses.

We can read some of these traditional stories literally. Other traditional stories don’t make any sense at all from a literal point of view. Up to a certain point, the Frau Holle story could describe a family triangle: widowed mother, daughter, and step-daughter. But after a certain point in the narrative, literally makes no sense. We have to move to allegory. But I’m getting ahead of the story. First, the story, originally recorded in the 19th Century by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm in their Kinder und Hausmaerchen.

Once upon a time, there was a widow who had two daughters; one of them was beautiful and industrious, the other ugly and lazy. The mother, however, loved the ugly and lazy one best, because she was her own daughter, and so the other, who was only her stepdaughter, was made to do all the work of the house and was quite the Cinderella of the family. Her stepmother sent her out every day to sit by the well in the high road, there to spin until she made her fingers bleed. Now it chanced one day that some blood fell on to the spindle, and as the girl stooped over the well to wash it off, the spindle suddenly sprang out of her hand and fell into the well. She ran home crying to tell of her misfortune, but her stepmother spoke harshly to her, and after giving her a violent scolding, said unkindly, ‘As you have let the spindle fall into the well you may go yourself and fetch it out.’

The girl went back to the well not knowing what to do, and at last in her distress, she jumped into the water after the spindle.

She remembered nothing more until she awoke and found herself in a beautiful meadow, full of sunshine, and with countless flowers blooming in every direction.

She walked over the meadow, and presently she came upon a baker’s oven full of bread, and the loaves cried out to her, ‘Take us out, take us out, or alas! we shall be burnt to a cinder; we were baked through long ago.’ So she took the bread-shovel and drew them all out.

She went on a little farther, till she came to a tree full of apples. ‘Shake me, shake me, I pray,’ cried the tree; ‘my apples, one and all, are ripe.’ So she shook the tree, and the apples came falling down upon her like rain, but she continued shaking until there was not a single apple left upon it. Then she carefully gathered the apples together in a heap and walked on again.

The next thing she came to was a little house, and there she saw an old woman looking out, with such large teeth, that she was terrified, and turned to run away. But the old woman called after her, ‘What are you afraid of, dear child? Stay with me; if you will do the work of my house properly for me, I will make you very happy. You must be very careful, however, to make my bed in the right way, for I wish you always to shake it thoroughly so that the feathers fly about; then they say, down there in the world, that it is snowing; for I am Mother Holle.’ The old woman spoke so kindly, that the girl summoned up courage and agreed to enter into her service.

She took care to do everything according to the old woman’s bidding and every time she made the bed she shook it with all her might so that the feathers flew about like so many snowflakes. The old woman was as good as her word: she never spoke angrily to her and gave her roast and boiled meats every day.

So she stayed on with Mother Holle for some time, and then she began to grow unhappy. She could not at first tell why she felt sad, but she became conscious at last of great longing to go home; then she knew she was homesick, although she was a thousand times better off with Mother Holle than with her mother and sister. After waiting awhile, she went to Mother Holle and said, ‘I am so homesick, that I cannot stay with you any longer, for although I am so happy here, I must return to my own people.’

Then Mother Holle said, ‘I am pleased that you should want to go back to your own people, and as you have served me so well and faithfully, I will take you home myself.’

Thereupon she led the girl by the hand up to a broad gateway. The gate was opened, and as the girl passed through, a shower of gold fell upon her, and the gold clung to her so that she was covered with it from head to foot.

‘That is a reward for your industry,’ said Mother Holle, and as she spoke she handed her the spindle which she had dropped into the well.

The gate was then closed, and the girl found herself back in the old world close to her mother’s house. As she entered the courtyard, the cock who was perched on the well, called out:


Your golden daughter’s come back to you.’

Then she went into her mother and sister, and as she was so richly covered with gold, they gave her a warm welcome. She related to them all that had happened, and when the mother heard how she had come by her great riches, she thought she should like her ugly, lazy daughter to go and try her fortune. So she made the sister go and sit by the well and spin, and the girl thrust her hand into a thorn-bush so that she might drop some blood on to the spindle; then she threw it into the well and jumped in herself.

Like her sister she awoke in the beautiful meadow and walked over it till she came to the oven. ‘Take us out, take us out, or alas! we shall be burnt to a cinder; we were baked through long ago,’ cried the loaves as before. But the lazy girl answered, ‘Do you think I am going to dirty my hands for you?’ and walked on.

Presently she came to the apple-tree. ‘Shake me, shake me, I pray; my apples, one and all, are ripe,’ it cried. But she only answered, ‘A nice thing to ask me to do, one of the apples might fall on my head,’ and passed on.

At last she came to Mother Holle’s house, and as she had heard all about the large teeth from her sister, she was not afraid of them, and engaged herself without delay to the old woman.

The first day she was very obedient and industrious, and exerted herself to please Mother Holle, for she thought of the gold she should get in return. The next day, however, she began to dawdle over her work, and the third day she was idler still; then she began to lie in bed in the mornings and refused to get up. Worse still, she neglected to make the old woman’s bed properly and forgot to shake it so that the feathers might fly about. So Mother Holle very soon got tired of her and told her she might go. The lazy girl was delighted at this, and thought to herself, ‘The gold will soon be mine.’ Mother Holle led her, as she had led her sister, to the broad gateway; but as she was passing through, instead of the shower of gold, a great bucketful of pitch came pouring over her.

‘That is in return for your services,’ said the old woman, and she shut the gate.

So the lazy girl had to go home covered with pitch, and the cock on the well called out as she saw her:


Your dirty daughter’s come back to you.’

But, try what she would, she could not get the pitch off and it stuck to her as long as she lived.

This tale of the Dirty Daughter gives me a lot of satisfaction: I haven’t succeeded at greed and willfulness like a lot of people, and I’m always gratified when they get their just desserts, fall from grace, or otherwise run out of what they call their “luck.” There’s a part of me that wants what it wants when it wants it: now. My unsatisfied greed shadow is “happier” when someone else’s greed shadow loses out.

We can read this story in several ways. We can take it as a family drama: a widowed mother, daughter, and step-daughter. Unfortunately, stepchildren sometimes get stepchild treatment. Some parents treat their biological children far better than their stepchildren. In some families, one child works overtime trying to please the parent(s), but without success. Unfortunately in waking life such a family drama usually doesn’t have the “fairy tale ending” of this story. We can also read the story from the viewpoint of either daughter. And in principle we could take the stepmother’s stance as our point-of-reference, or – more challengingly – look at the events in the story through Frau Holle’s eyes. However, the story told in Frau Holle makes the most sense when we look beyond the literal reading and take the setting and the actors in terms of allegory and symbol.

First, what do I mean by “allegory” and “symbol”?

I mean a story (or poem or picture, etc.) in which the characters and events express or reveal a pattern that informs/structures the narrative of different characters in different circumstances. Usually, an allegory represents particular moral, ethical, religious, or political ideas. And I would add psychological insights.

A symbol, 1) means more than it (literally) is, and 2) seems to convey endless meanings. Said otherwise: we can legitimately understand a symbol in many ways. An authentic symbol continues to fascinate us. If only we had more words, we could better say what it means.

Back to Frau Holle via a detour. Many years ago I had a young man client who came because his uncle thought it would be good for him. We didn’t have many sessions because a dream alerted me to his lack of interest in anything outside of his consciousness. Here’s his dream:

I enter an underground room. It’s very large. There are all sorts of things there on tables and shelves. In one corner there is a little old woman sitting. I walk around, looking at all the stuff, and then walk out.

When he told me this dream, I immediately thought of the Frau Holle story: he wasn’t interested in all the “stuff” underground, nor in the old woman. Here’s why this is important.

We, humans, live above ground. For us, what’s underground is hidden; we are “unaware” if it, that is, “unconscious” of its existence. In the Frau Holle tale, the girl finds the bread ready to be taken from the oven and the apples ready to be picked, and then Frau Holle herself, whom, as the girl leaves for “home”, showers her with gold coins as a reward for her service. In his dream, my client saw nothing of value in the underground room. Only the above-ground world meant anything to him, so I concluded that he wouldn’t be able to do anything useful in therapy with me. As I said, we humans are unconscious of whatever may be “underground,” i.e., outside of our conscious awareness. However, both the story and the dream tell us that there is much of value “underground,” below our threshold of awareness.

Let’s think about both the “good” daughter and her “ugly” sister, and the different conscious attitudes they portray.

In the story, the good daughter cooperates with the oven, the apple tree, and Frau Holle. Translated into conscious terms, she pays attention to “messages” that emerge into her awareness of “the unconscious.” In terms of the story, these messages are the baked bread, the ripe apples, and Frau Holle herself. The good daughter has the correct relationship to those real needs, possibilities, hunches that enter her consciousness unbidden. Because she has a right relationship to the unconscious (Frau Holle’s underworld realm), she prospers.

Willfulness and greed characterize the ugly daughter’s conscious attitude. She – and her mother appear to operate on the basis of “where there’s a will, there’s a way.”  She and her mother want the “gold,” but the only way to get the gold comes through honoring and workings with the natural growth and fulfillment processes of the unconscious dimension of the psyche; or in terms of the story, taking the bread out of the oven when it is baked, picking the apples when they are ripe, and fulfilling to Frau Holle’s – i.e., Mother Nature’s – requirements. For her part, Frau Holle – Mother Nature – can and does respect the good girl’s need to relate to her conscious world, her home, crappy though it may be.

Now what about the “stepmother”? We all know that “stepmother” neither necessarily, nor always, refers to a woman who is not the biological mother. Similarly, feeling treated like a stepchild characterizes a second-class (or worse) status in a family. The stepmother and Frau Holle reveal two aspects of mother: mother as a conscious, waking-life experience — the stepmother – and mother as an “inner” or “in-born” capacity to nurture and provide guidance.

Maybe this is a little difficult to get our heads around. We’ve all heard the admonition, “Be good to yourself.” But some people really do not know how to be good to themselves. Sure, they may indulge in food, drink, shopping, or something else, but indulgence doesn’t work. “Be good to yourself” means open to your innate, inner good mother, or as in the story, open to Frau Holle and her realm. Following the story, we could say that people who do not know how to be good to themselves have, in effect, a cruel stepmother, just as does the girl.

Early childhood experience influences whether a person – man or woman – has, in effect, a stepmother or a Frau Holle, an abuser or a nurturer, dominating their conscious life. Early relationships establish patterns of expectation and behavior that can and all-too-often do endure for life unless a person realizes that change is possible. Then with courage and perseverance, a person can gradually replace old patterns of relating to others and to oneself with less-punitive and more nurturing patterns.

We can easily extend this story from individual to mass psychology. The blessings of industrialization on our little planet no longer look quite so inviting as they did over the last seventy years following the Second World War – if you are old enough to remember the advertisements and the promises of “better things through chemistry.” Monsanto, anyone?  Chernoble? Deepwater Horizon? Dakota Access Pipeline? And yet we also know that, given half a chance and a little help, Mother Nature rebounds: Bison again “gradually roam much of the 3,500-acre Nachusa Grasslands — the key part of an ambitious prairie restoration 95 miles west of Chicago.” And this is only one example of many.

Nevertheless, the struggle between Frau Holle and the evil stepmother – personal and collective – is far from over.

What I have written here only begins to discuss the richness in this “fairy tale.” If this story touches your compassion or your wounds, think on it. Note down what comes to mind: emotions, memories, thoughts. As you live with Frau Holle, chances are you will deepen your understanding of this powerful and paradigmatic tale. And maybe it will begin to change your life, if only a little bit . . . at a time.

  1. Text from “This eBook of “Fairy Tales” by the Grimm Brothers (based on translations from the Grimms’ Kinder und Hausmärchen by Edgar Taylor and Edgar Taylor and Marian Edwardes) belongs to the public domain.”

July, 2018 Boris Matthews, PhD, LCSW practices Analytical Psychology (a.k.a. Jungian Analysis) at the Ommani Center for Integrative Medicine in Pewaukee, WI. He is a teaching and supervising faculty member of the C. G. Jung Institute of Chicago, IL, and Director of the Analyst Training Program. He has been in practice since the mid-1980s.  To schedule an appointment, call the Ommani Center, 262-695-5311. Learn more at

Finding Your Purpose in Life

In the April 2018 blog I wrote about the “soul’s code,” a term popularized by James Hillman in his book by that name. As I wrote there, “Essentially it’s the idea that we grow down into this world from a spiritual dimension, and that gradually we discover—if we are blessed and have good-enough mentors along the way—what we are supposed to manifest on the planet.” This month I will expand that idea in some ways that may make it easier to embody and manifest. The Japanese idea of ikigai—a concept meaning “a reason for being” similar to the French phrase, raison d’êtrewill help us ourselves discover our soul’s code—our ikigai—and ways to operationalize it in our lives.

The illustration at the left* shows several interlocked and overlapping circles as one way to visualize ikigai. At the center of all the circles is ikigai, the reason for being from which we proceed. The world’s spiritual traditions proclaim this notion: we do not just matter, we are much more complex than matter. Rather, as material creatures, we are physical manifestations of “something” immaterial, of an “energy” or of a “spirit.” (This notion, by the way, finds support in the view of the world formulated by quantum physics and in chapter 5 of  Dr. Kumar’s book, Becoming Real.) For me, the “soul’s code,” ikigai, and “what God made us to be” express this basic idea in different ways.

Ponder the ikigai diagram. I think you will notice your attention moving from one segment of the diagram to another, and then to another, round and round. They interlock. Notice that each circle includes the central element of the diagram: ikigai. “Passion” proceeds from ikigai and embraces “What you LOVE” and “What you’re GOOD AT” and can develop into “profession.”And “What you LOVE” can manifest as “passion” or “mission” leading on to other intersecting areas. If we start with “What you can be PAID FOR,” it can develop into “profession” or “vocation,” leading to meeting “What the world NEEDS” and/or to “What you are GOOD AT.”

Discovering and living one’s purpose in life—ikigai—charts the path to fulfillment: one has discovered “what one is essentially good for” and “how to manifest that essence in a way that both benefits the world and secures one’s worldly existence.” It doesn’t get much better than that. The ikigai diagram helps in visualizing what I have written about in past blogs: adaptation to one’s essence and adaptation to the world. (See Ommani Jewel, Dec 2015, Potentials & Adaptations.) Or to put it differently: realizing one’s “soul’s code” in one’s lived life, here and now.

Now comes the hard part: discovering and realizing one’s soul’s code, or one’s ikigai. As C.G. Jung pointed out, and everyone who hasn’t thrown in the towel already knows, life is full of false starts, dead ends, wrong turnings, and setbacks. Each of us needs to embrace and practice self-reflection and self-discovery. Each of us needs to be attentive to our continuing growth and development.

A colleague once gave me a piece of good advice: “The body does not tell lies about itself.” If you take the time, if you slow down, you can notice subtle body movements. These are the beginnings of emerging body memories or intentions.  These memories hint of incomplete experiences and future possibilities. Follow these hints. With practice you will become able to discern with ever greater clarity your “next step,” and then the one after that. Gradually you will become ever better attuned to what lives in you that “wants” your conscious awareness to notice and respond. In this way your “outer mind” will learn progressively more about your ikigai, and you will make real, in the here and now, what you potentially can become. This is the path to purpose and fulfillment.

*Image from

June2018 Boris Matthews, PhD, LCSW practices Analytical Psychology (a.k.a. Jungian Analysis) at the Ommani Center for Integrative Medicine in Pewaukee, WI. He is a teaching and supervising faculty member of the C. G. Jung Institute of Chicago, IL, and serves as Director of the Analyst Training Program at the Jung Institute. To schedule an appointment with him, contact us at 262.695.5311

Let’s Be Real Workshop with Mary Brill, LCSW

“Let”s Be Real”… How to Live an Authentic Life

Approved and highly recommended by Drs. Rose Kumar, MD, and Boris Matthews, PhD, LCSW

A workshop beginning September 7, 2018


You get to a point where the old life no longer works. It’s possible it never did. Maybe

you ask yourself, “what’s next?” The life that you’ve known no longer seems to fit. Or

something feels off and you wonder if you’re alone in feeling this way…


This group offers you an opportunity to open your heart, enliven your body, engage your

mind, and deepen @ soul level. The possibilities are limitless when group energy

collides with intent. It takes courage to express your dreams, desires, and what you

yearn for. It involves accepting support to bring your aspirations into form. It requires

clearing obstacles that get in your way.


This is a group to explore possibilities; to consider stretching your limits, to think outside

the box, to reflect on what needs to be released and to explore untapped potential.


I invite you to explore with us. I invite you to find the Real you.  Won’t you join us?


Dates: 9/7/18- 11/16/18

Day: 6 Fridays

Time: 10:30AM-12:30PM

Fee: $95/session

Register via email  –


Mary Brill, LCSW is an experienced psychotherapist who uses her skills in problem-solving and mentoring to help people develop their inner resources. She has lead national and international seminars and tours focused on personal growth, dreams, feminine wisdom and spirituality. She is known for her unique ability to tame the inner critic and foster self-acceptance.  

A Different View of Why We Are Here

Let’s face it: Why are we here on the planet?  Apparently other people have asked this question before. I just googled “Why are we here on earth?” and got more than ten pages of hits. I’m not going to review them here. If they interest you, you can google and follow up. What I want to do is to suggest a viewpoint that makes more and more sense the older I get. Maybe it will make sense to you, too. And then I will reference an interview with the late psychologist, James Hillman, who elaborates this point-of-view with his interviewer.

First, we’re not here to keep the economy humming. We’re here to make actual, real-in-the-world, whatever potential is in us. Hillman calls this “the acorn theory.” In the interview, he says, “It is a worldwide myth in which each person comes into the world with something to do and to be. The myth says we enter the world with a calling. Plato . . . called this our paradeigma, meaning a basic form that encompasses our entire destinies. This accompanying image shadowing our lives is our bearer of fate and fortune.”

In our culture, “nature and nurture” are the terms usually invoked when people talk about what we turn out to be. The nature part is often thought of as our genetic endowment. “You’ve got your father’s nose.” (That’s genes.) “You are so dependent! Your mother spoiled you.” (That’s nurture.) Both of these views are essentially materialistic and causal (in the mechanical sense).

There is another view, the one that Hillman talks about, his “acorn theory,” which he discusses in his book, The Soul’s Code. Essentially it’s the idea that we grow down into this world from a spiritual dimension, and that gradually we discover—if we are blessed and have good-enough mentors along the way—what we are supposed to manifest on the planet. I encourage you to read the interview in which Mary NurrieStearns discusses ideas in The Soul’s Code with Hillman. It’s worth your time—especially if you’re wondering why you’re on the planet.

Here’s the link: .

Apr 2018 Boris Matthews, PhD, LCSW practices Analytical Psychology (a.k.a. Jungian Analysis) at the Ommani Center for Integrative Medicine in Pewaukee, WI. He is a teaching and supervising faculty member of the C. G. Jung Institute of Chicago, IL, and serves as Director of the Analyst Training Program at the Jung Institute. To schedule an appointment with him, contact us at 262.695.5311.


Facing the Dragon

Fifteen years ago, my late friend and colleague, Robert Moore, published a little book whose relevance has lost nothing in the intervening years. In his preface to Facing the Dragon: Confronting Personal and Spiritual Grandiosity, Moore (2003, xi) quotes a sobering passage from Jung’s Answer to Job:

Everything now depends on man: immense power of destruction is given into his hand, and the question is whether he can resist the will to use it, and can temper his will with the spirit of love and wisdom. He will hardly be capable of doing so on his own unaided resources. He needs the help of an “advocate” . . . . The only thing that really matters now is whether man can climb up to a higher moral level, to a higher plane of consciousness, in order to be equal to the superhuman powers which the fallen angels have played into his hands. (1)

Moore shows how “pathological narcissism results from archetypal energies that are not contained and channeled through resources such as spiritual disciplines, ritual practice, utilization of the mythic imagination, and Jungian analysis” (2003, xii). We need not look far to find people inflated with super-human, archetypal energies that generate pathological narcissism and the fantasies that their ICBM is bigger than your ICBM. But we really don’t have to look toward Pong Yang or Moscow or Washington at all: when we’re so sure we are right, a glance in the mirror may reveal another person swelling up with spiritual grandiosity.

“Why,” Moore asks, “do I emphasize the dynamics of human evil in my research and teaching in psychology and spirituality?” (2003, 1) He answers that we must avoid two traps when we face the threat of personal and collective destructiveness. First, a “flight into the light” enables denial and requires very little reflection or action. It’s an easy out. Second, we have to master the temptation to blame our plight on a scapegoat: the one percent; the other party in power; the other gender; immigrants; the poor. All [of us] must respond to the challenge of coming to an understanding of evil that is neither naïve nor grounded in scapegoating of the other, but which may account for some of the forces of destructiveness that threaten to destroy us” (2003, 2).

Lest this sounds abstract or esoteric, I will illustrate with two personal examples, one from my teen years and one from present time. Both reveal my vulnerability to destructive power.

As a sixteen-year-old, I got my driver’s license and a .22 caliber rifle. My grandparents lived on a farm three miles out-of-town. My grandfather was still working at a lumber company, and came home for lunch each day. There were many barn cats. My grandmother believed there were too many. She asked me if I could dispose of some of them. One summer day while my grandfather was at work I went to the farm with my gun and killed several cats. When my grandfather came home, he didn’t say anything – he typically didn’t say much – but I’m sure he noticed that there were fewer cats.

I still feel shame as I tell this story, decades later. That experience vividly showed me how easily I could get intoxicated with and swept away by destructive power.

Fast forward to present time. The lure of exercising destructive power still tempts me. I regularly watch the PBS Newshour, hardly a program given to inciting violent emotions, yet some news stories trigger murderous anger in me. “Shoot the bastards!” Fortunately, the “bastards” are far away and I have no firearm. I am aware that my irritability quickly escalates toward violent fantasies. And it’s not only the news that inflames my anger.

In both examples from my life, an energy gets activated in me that claims power over life and death. In Jungian language, we call this condition “inflation.” From the Christian Bible we have the admonition that “Vengeance is mine, sayeth the Lord.” (2) From ancient Greece, we get the term “hubris,” which is Greek for “too big for his britches.”

One example is King Midas who, in his greed for gold, got his wish. Everything he touched turned to gold. At first, he was delighted: roses, apples, etc., turned into gold. But whatever he touched – including what touched his lips – turned to gold. Realizing he was doomed to die of hunger and thirst, Midas begged to be freed from his golden touch.

Moore references spiritual disciplines, ritual practice, utilization of the mythic imagination, and Jungian analysis as approaches to these energies that inflate us beyond our human proportions. A story from Greek mythology illustrates hubris in action. Apollo, the Sun God, fathered a son with a human woman. The boy, Phaeton, wanted proof that Apollo was his father. Apollo promised to grant whatever Phaeton asked for. “I want to drive your sun chariot for a day.” Apollo hadn’t thought ahead. “I can’t let you do that. Even I have a hard time controlling the horses. Even I am afraid some times.” But to no avail. Not able to withdraw his (Apollo’s) promise, Phaeton takes off in the sun chariot.

The boy has already taken possession of the fleet chariot, and stands proudly, and joyfully, takes the light reins in his hands, and thanks his unwilling father. Meanwhile, the sun’s swift horses, Pyroïs, Eoüs, Aethon, and the fourth, Phlegon, fill the air with fiery whinnying and strike the bars with their hooves. When Tethys, ignorant of her grandson’s fate, pushed back the gate, and gave them access to the wide heavens, rushing out, they tore through the mists with their hooves and, lifted by their wings, overtook the East winds rising from the same region. But the weight was lighter than the horses of the Sun could feel, and the yoke was free of its accustomed load. Just as curved-sided boats rock in the waves without their proper ballast, and being too light are unstable at sea, so the chariot, free of its usual burden, leaps in the air and rushes into the heights as though it were empty.

 As soon as they feel this, the team of four run wild and leave the beaten track, no longer running in their pre-ordained course. Phaeton was terrified, unable to handle the reins entrusted to him, not knowing where the track was, nor, if he had known, how to control the team. Then for the first time the chill stars of the Great and Little Bears, grew hot, and tried in vain to douse themselves in forbidden waters. And the Dragon, Draco, that is nearest to the frozen pole, never formidable before and sluggish with the cold, now glowed with heat, and took to seething with new fury. . . . .

 When the unlucky Phaeton looked down from the heights of the sky at the earth far, far below he grew pale and his knees quaked with sudden fear, and his eyes were robbed of shadow by the excess light. Now he would rather he had never touched his father’s horses, and regrets knowing his true parentage and possessing what he asked for.(3)

The chariot rises too high and melts the polar ice; it swoops too low and dries up the rivers. Heaven and earth complain. Phaeton cannot control the power he has unleashed. To put an end to the destruction, Zeus throws a thunder bold, striking Phaeton, who plunges into the sea.(4)

Hubris, spiritual grandiosity, pathological narcissism, characterizes much of the emotional atmosphere of our times, as cartoons, posters, and TV shows attest. I say “atmosphere” because the energy – the emotion – that empowers hubris infects us all just as polluted air does, but rather than smelling it with our noses we sense it working in our feelings and fantasies.

The Bible, Greek mythology, and contemporary cartoons(note: Hubris comics created by Greg Cravens , header) advise us that a greater power exists. What does Jungian psychology offer us?

Jungian psychology does, of course, cite the stories from the past in which overweening pride, archetypal inflation, spiritual grandiosity, and pathological narcissism depict the consequences. Waking fantasies and dreams from the night can and do offer images that may counterbalance the attitudes and preoccupations of the conscious minds. Psyche, through dreams and fantasies, presents a challenge: pay attention, notice! Sometimes psyche sends urgent messages; sometimes the information comes in subtle ways on the fringes of our waking awareness, or as a mild sense of discomfort or dis-ease, a sensation that “something” isn’t quite in order.

When I notice, I need to take the next step by finding where the image or fantasy has similarities with known stories, movies, myths, or passages from spiritual scriptures. That provides me with the human context, situating the image or fantasy from psyche within the body of experience of the ages. Then I ask: What does that mean for me? What am I doing to which the image or fantasy speaks? Finally, I have to evaluate what I am doing and the compensatory message that psyche offers. These four steps constitute part of a feed-back loop that starts with my action or attitude, psyche’s compensatory comment/response (in the form of a dream, an image, a fantasy), and my understanding and evaluating both my situation and the compensatory information. Here, in brief, we have the outline of a psychological discipline that will satisfy what Moore calls for.

The dangers of personal and spiritual grandiosity appear to be part of being human. Thousands of years of human experience attest the danger of succumbing, whether as King Midas or Phaeton or a contemporary man or woman, you or me. We live in a dangerous, infections emotional atmosphere these days. Sniff the air. Pay attention. Find an advocate to help you work at what’s necessary to climb to a higher moral level and plane of consciousness.

(1) Moore, R. L. (2003). Facing the Dragon: Confronting Personal and Spiritual Grandiosity. Wilmette, IL: Chiron Publications, quoting C.G. Jung (1952/1958), Answer to Job, The Collected Works of C.G. Jung, vol. 11, p. 459. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

“Dr. Robert Moore was Distinguished Service Professor of Psychology, Psychoanalysis and Spirituality in the Graduate Center of the Chicago Theological Seminary where he was the Founding Director of the new Institute for Advanced Studies in Spirituality and Wellness. An internationally recognized psychoanalyst and consultant in private practice in Chicago, he served as a Training Analyst at the C.G. Jung Institute of Chicago and was Director of Research for the Institute for Integrative Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy and the Chicago Center for Integrative Psychotherapy. Author and editor of numerous books in psychology and spirituality, he lectured internationally on his formulation of a neo-Jungian psychoanalysis and integrative psychotherapy.  His publications include THE ARCHETYPE OF INITIATION: Sacred Space, Ritual Process and Personal Transformation; THE MAGICIAN AND THE ANALYST: The Archetype of the Magus in Occult Spirituality and Jungian Psychology, and FACING THE DRAGON: Confronting Personal and Spiritual Grandiosity.” (Moore bio by Benjamin Law, blaw@jungchicago,.org). Several MP-3 recordings of Robert Moore’s classes are available from the C.G. Jung Institute (

(2) Romans 12:17-19; Deuteronomy 32:35

(3) Ovid. Metamorphoses, Book II, 150-178, mythological index and illustrations by Hendrik Glotzius.

(4) Ibid, lines 272-328  

(5). Hubris Comics, created by Greg Cravens, and reproduced here with his permission.


March 2018 Boris Matthews, PhD, LCSW practices Analytical Psychology (a.k.a. Jungian Analysis) at the Ommani Center for Integrative Medicine in Pewaukee, WI. He is a teaching and supervising faculty member of the C. G. Jung Institute of Chicago, IL, and serves as Director of the Analyst Training Program at the Jung Institute. To schedule an appointment with him, contact us at 262.695.5311.


Companions for the Journey IV

From time to time I discover a book that helps orient me in the turbulent times in which we live. Recently, a friend gave me Soul Food: Stories to Nourish the Spirit & the Heart, by Jack Kornfield and Christina Feldman (1). The authors have collected stories from a wide variety of sources: Taoist, Buddhist, Sufi, Christian, Zen, Desert Fathers, Hindu, and the man or woman who never gets quoted anywhere else. I want to share with you some stories.

“I have only three enemies. My favorite enemy, the one most easily influenced for the better, is the British Empire. My second enemy, the Indian People, is far more difficult. But my most formidable opponent is a man named Mohandas K. Gandhi. With him I seem to have very little influence.”(2)

These five short sentences from Gandhi focus on life’s biggest problem – self-acceptance, as Jung pointed out when he wrote, “Perhaps this sounds very simple, but simple things are always the most difficult. In actual life it requires the greatest art to be simple, and so acceptance of oneself is the essence of the moral problem and the acid test of one’s whole outlook on life.” (3)

The second section of the book opens with several accounts of simplicity. Nasrudin, the “wise fool” who appears in many stories from the cultures of the Near East through Central Asia, tells his friends in the tea shop the story of his life:

Nasrudin was now an old man looking back on his life. He sat with his friends in the tea shop telling his story.

“When I was young I was fiery—I wanted to awaken everyone. I prayed to Allah to give me the strength to change the world.

“In mid-life I awoke one day and realized my life was half over and I had changed no one. So I prayed to Allah to give me the strength to change those close around me who so much needed it.

“Alas, now I am old and my prayer is simpler. ‘Allah,’ I ask, ‘please give me the strength to at least change myself.’’ (4)                                                                                                                 

One of the Hassidic stories recounts the travels and fame of two rabbis who were brothers.

“In the course of their long wanderings, the two brothers Rabbi Zusya and Rabbi Elimelekh often came to the city of Ludimir. There they always slept in the house of a poor, devout man. Years later, when their reputation had spread all over the country, they came to Ludimir again, not on foot as before, but in a carriage. The wealthiest man in that little town, who had never wanted to have anything to do with them, came to meet them, the moment he heard they had arrived, and begged them to lodge in his house. But they said: “Nothing has changed in us to make you respect us more than before. What is new is just the horses and the carriage. Take them for your guests, but let us stop with our old host, as usual”(4)

The third section of the book, entitled “Living Our Truth,” opens with another delightful Nasrudin story.

‘One day Mulla Nasrudin got word that he had received a special message from the Sheik of Basra. When he went to pick it up they told him that he must first identify himself. Nasrudin fished in his trousers and took out a brass mirror. Looking into it he exclaimed, “Yup, that’s me all right.”(5)

To live our own truth we first must discover our own truth. Early on in the Red Book Jung admonishes the reader not to imitate him (nor what he writes in the Red Book). “It is no teaching and no instruction that I give you. On what basis should I presume to teach you? I give you news of the way of this man, but not of your own way. My path is not your path, therefore I cannot teach you. The way is within us, but not in Gods, nor in teachings, nor in laws. Within us is the way, the truth, and the life.” Jung’s words remind me of the passage where Jesus is reported to have said “Man, if thou knowest what thou doest, blessed art thou; but if thou knowest not, thou art accursed and a transgressor of the Law.” Consciousness makes all the difference.

“Mindfulness,” rather than “consciousness,” is the word people now often use. The friend who gave me the book told the story of two Zen masters, one visiting the other.

“It was raining as the visiting Zen master made his way to the other master’s house. When he arrived, he set his umbrella down by the door, knocked, and was let in. In the course of conversation the host asked his guest whether he had set his umbrella to the right or to the left of the door. Surprised and confused, the guest master could not remember. Whereupon he relinquished his position as master and returned to ranks of the students.”

The story makes a simple, but profound point: be aware of what you do. Another story (this one from the book) reminds us that mindfulness, that knowing what we are doing, depends on attention and on intention. No autopilot here.

“A young female disciple undertook to develop the meditation on loving-kindness. Sitting in her small room, she would fill her heart with loving-kindness for all beings, yet each day as she went to the bazaar to gather her food, she would find her loving-kindness sorely tested by one shopkeeper who would daily subject her to unwelcome caresses. One day she could stand no more and began to chase the shopkeeper down the road with her upraised umbrella. To her mortification she passed her meditation master standing on the side of the road observing this spectacle. Shame-faced she went to stand before him expecting to be rebuked for her anger. “What you should do,” her master kindly advised her, “is to fill your heart with loving-kindness, and with as much mindfulness as you can muster, hit this unruly fellow over the head with your umbrella.” (8)

So what is it about these stories that make them “soul food”? Why call them “soul” food at all? These and similar stories produce a specific effect on me: They alter my point of view. More precisely, they take me out of my “business-as-usual” mindset. By shattering the expectations of my conditioned mind, they open me to a different way of seeing and being. But why call them “soul food”?

In Psychological Types, Jung defines the soul as “the relation to the unconscious . . . and as a personification of unconscious contents.” A little later on he writes: “The organ of perception, the soul, apprehends the contents of the unconscious, and as the creative function, gives birth to its dynamis in the form of a symbol”.

In other words, “soul” is that capacity in each of us: 1) to become aware of something not in our current consciousness; 2) to be moved by that something, by its dynamis; and 3) to experience that “something” in a form and shape that carries more meaning than we can unpack (i.e., it is a symbol in Jung’s sense).

These stories feed that capacity in each of us that takes us outside of and beyond our current mental state. They enliven and energize our consciousness in unexpected ways. (That’s the dynamis, the energy effect.) In a word, they liberate us from our stuckness in the here-and-now that so often can feel oppressive and stifling. Understood in this way the question in Mark 8:36 begins to make sense: “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” Then we have Scrooge, Midas and the whole lot who, as people used to say, “Know the price of everything, but don’t know the value of anything.”

Soul food stories combat the soul-less-ness of a dog-eat-dog reality and offer us a liberated way to see and understand what’s going on around us.



(1) Kornfield, Jack, and Chrfistina Feldman (1996). Soul Food: Stories to Nouris the Spirit & the Heart. New York” HarperOne.

(2) Kornfield and Feldman (1996:55).

(3) Jung, C.G. (1953). Psychology and Religion, The Collected Works of C.G. Jung. Princeton: Princeton University Press, para. 520.

(4) Kornfield and Feldman (1996:184)

(5) Kornfield and Fledman (1996:269).

(6) Jung, C.G. (2009).  The Red Book: Liber Novus, A Reader’s Edition. Ed. Sonu Shamdasani. New York: W.W Norton, p. 125. (Italics in the original.)

(7) “List of authentic agrapha,” Codex D of Luke 6:4.

(8) Kornfield and Feldman (1996:274).

Feb2018 Boris Matthews, PhD, LCSW practices Analytical Psychology (a.k.a. Jungian Analysis) at the Ommani Center for Integrative Medicine in Pewaukee, WI. He is a teaching and supervising faculty member of the C. G. Jung Institute of Chicago, IL, and serves as Director of the Analyst Training Program at the Jung Institute. To schedule an appointment with him, contact us at 262.695.5311

Emotional Responsibility

In his Emotional Intelligence (1995) and Working with Emotional Intelligence (1998), Daniel Goleman focused our attention on the profound role that emotions play in our personal, work, and social lives. His presentation is well grounded in neurology and richly illustrated with vivid examples of emotions running riot; as well as calm and calming responses to infectious emotional situations. In a section on self-control, he writes: “The ultimate act of personal responsibility at work may be in taking control of our own state of mind. (1998, p. 84). Taking control of our own state of mind implies emotional responsibility—not only at work, but in all areas of life. Practicing emotional responsibility frees us to follow the advice of the I Ching about brightening our bright virtue, as I wrote in the December column.

What does it mean to be emotionally responsible? To illustrate emotional responsibility I often use the term “emotionally house-broken.” We know what happens if our domestic pets are not house-broken: they let go wherever they happen to be. A person who is not emotionally house-broken “lets go” wherever and whenever, pretty much regardless of the situation or who is present. Such an individual has no sense of responsibility for polluting the environment. Because emotions are contagious, another person’s uncontained, emotional outburst can trigger a corresponding or complementary emotion in us. Whether we wish for that to happen or not.

For example, we feel intimidated or assaulted by the angry person’s uncontained anger. We cringe or want to strike back. The whiner elicits revulsion in us or the impulse to “give him (or her) something to whine about.” In the presence of a depressed person, we may try to cheer him up or try to escape and avoid the deadening pull of depression. In these examples, the angry person, the whiner, and the depressed person let their emotions flood the area, affecting everybody nearby. These people take no responsibility for their emotions.

What tells us that a person is emotionally responsible? We feel emotionally safe in that person’s presence. We can recognize that the other person is experiencing some sort of emotion, yet we don’t feel infected. Taking responsibility for emotions means containing them; but containing does not mean suppressing them, and it does not mean denying them. You can contain an emotion while at the same time tell another person what emotion you are experiencing. You experience the emotion, but the emotion doesn’t do the talking. Another part you your mind that is in charge speaks about your emotion. That is emotional responsibility in action.

The importance of cultivating emotional responsibility extends beyond our private lives. The constant emotional bombardment from advertising, news, and politicians aims at arousing and manipulating our emotions to further their purposes, buy their product, believe this or that side of a dispute, support this or that candidate or policy. In both private and public life, letting emotions have their way with us polarizes and divides us one from another. As difficult as it may be to develop emotional responsibility so that we contain our emotional reactions, we must do just that if we want to find common ground with others and make it possible to live together in the same house, the same city, the same country, and ultimately on the same planet.

What I write here proclaims no new wisdom, yet each one of us has to learn it for ourselves, probably the hard way.

Return of the Light

Several years ago the husband of a friend had a life-saving experience of light. During a psychotic episode due to a severe infection he felt he was in a pitch black space. In the distance he could see a point of light. He knew that he would survive if he could keep the point of light in sight. For him, “the light at the end of the tunnel” was much more than a metaphor.

In a few days, we arrive at the longest night and shortest day of the year: the Winter Solstice. Flicking a switch to turn a light has dulled our appreciation for the natural rhythm of light and dark. Winter Solstice—the return of the light—meant incalculably more to people who lived by firelight and candle light. Consequently we can have light on demand. We can easily get stuck in the literal meaning of light, but we also associate light with consciousness. A return of the light implies a return or an increase in consciousness.

When I started thinking about what needed to be said in this December article, the famous lines from Charles Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities came to mind:

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way . . . .

Dickens’ first edition came out in 1859. The frontispiece has two panels: on the left, a bourgeois garden party; on the right, a poor slob sitting in a cell in beggars’ prison. We could easily update the pictures for 2017.

Then I consulted the ancient Chinese Book of Changes, the I Ching, perhaps the oldest of all books. You can read the I Ching as a wisdom book; you can also approach it as an oracle. I asked the I Ching a simple question: What needs to be said in the December issue of the Ommani Jewel. The I Ching’s answer surprised me: “Progress.” The sun rising over the earth images “Progress” in the I Ching:

The sun rises over the earth:
The image of Progress.
Thus the superior man himself
Brightens his bright virtue.

The rising of the sun over the earth instructs the “superior man” to brighten his “bright virtue.” The “superior man,” the chün tsu in Chinese, represents “the ideal of a person who uses divination to order his/her life in accordance with the Tao rather than willful intention.” TaoRi “literally, The Way, is the flow or stream of creative energy that makes life possible, the way in which everything happens and the way on which everything happens.”

Richard Wilhelm, translator of the I Ching, comments on the image of the sun rising over the earth. He writes that light of the rising sun is by nature clear. The higher it rises, the brighter it shines, “spreading the pristine purity of its rays over an ever-widening area.” So too the “real nature” of the human being is originally good, “but it becomes clouded by contact with earthly things and therefore needs purification before it can shine forth in its native clarity.” What, then, are the earthly things that obscure the natural brightness of the human being?

Our unhealed wounds and the conditioning that has shaped and mis-shaped us, distort our essential nature. Although expressed in various ways, the great spiritual traditions agree that we let progressively more of our innate radiance shine forth as we clear away the accumulated emotional and mental debris. In this way we “brighten” our “bright virtue” and bring about progress, an “ever widening expansion and clarity.”

The sun will continue to rise following the Winter Solstice. We will gradually have more and more daylight. If we want more expansion and clarity, however, the I Ching tells us we must brighten our bright virtue. Simply put: we have to work on ourselves if we want to affect progress. We have to identify and heal our wounds. We have to recognize those aspects of our conditioning that prevent us from expressing the goodness in us.

It’s up to us to change the story of the best of times and the worst of times. Ultimately we must serve something greater than our narrow self-interest.  The Chinese called this the Tao, the path, the way.

I wish you all a time of reflection and the peace and courage to brighten your bright virtue as we celebrate the Return of the Light.


What are we to make of the transgender phenomenon? A Google search for “transgender” brings up 67,600,000 results. GLAAD, an organization that for more than 30 years has been at the forefront of cultural change, accelerating acceptance for the LGBTQ community”1 posts this description on its website:

Transgender is a term used to describe people whose gender identity differs from the sex they were assigned at birth. Gender identity is a person’s internal, personal sense of being a man or a woman (or boy or girl.) For some people, their gender identity does not fit neatly into those two choices. For transgender people, the sex they were assigned at birth and their own internal gender identity do not match.2

The American Psychological Association (APA) website essentially echoes the GLAAD definition, adding that “The ways that transgender people are talked about in popular culture, academia and science are constantly changing, particularly as individuals’ awareness, knowledge and openness about transgender people and their experiences grow.”3

In this month’s column I want to suggest that the transgender phenomenon continues a trend with a long history, and adds a significant new dimension. But I must also point out that some North American native peoples far outpace us in their understanding, acceptance, and honoring of transgender persons.

Various North American native peoples honor Two Spirit individuals in their communities. Tony Enos writes on Indian Country Media Network that

While the term Two Spirit was coined in 1990 in Winnipeg, Canada as a means of unifying various gender identities and expressions of Native American/First Nations/Indigenous individuals, the term is not a specific definition of gender, sexual orientation or other self-determining catch-all phrase, but rather an umbrella term.

Two Spirit people have both a male and female spirit within them and are blessed by their Creator to see life through the eyes of both genders.

The term does not diminish the tribal-specific names, roles and traditions nations have for their own Two Spirit people. Examples of such names are the winkte among the Lakota and the nadleeh among the Navajo people.

These names and roles go back to a time before western religion. Two Spirit is not a “New Age” movement, but rather a reclamation of Two Spirit’s rightful place in Native culture.3

Tony Enos clarifies that Two Spirit and “gay” do not embrace all the same people: “Being a gay native is oftentimes confused with being Two Spirit. While the two may have parallels and intersections, they are not the same. Gay specifically is about attraction to a person of the same sex. Two Spirit is more about the embodiment of two genders residing within one person.”3

Although the term Two Spirit may be used primarily or only in reference to Native American persons, transgender appears to be the non-native culture’s designation for a similar phenomenon. The emergence into public view of transgender represents, in my view, a significant development in recognizing that gender—a person’s inner sense of maleness or femaleness—does not correspond to anatomical sex. Or to put it better: the designation “transgender” proclaims the reality that gender—the sense of being male or female—can be independent of sexual orientation or anatomy.

The longer-term trend that transgender now joins has to do with the growing awareness of the archetypal feminine vis-à-vis the archetypal masculine. These terms—archetypal feminine and archetypal masculine—mean that gender traits are not subject to personal preference. Rather, as “archetypal” they exist prior to learning, personal preference, and socialization. Archetypal “masculine” traits include initiative, assertiveness, decisiveness, confrontation (to name only four). Archetypal “feminine” traits include receptivity, nurturing, soothing, feeding, containing. We all know women who are no less “feminine” when they take initiative or assert themselves. Likewise, we can name men who do very well at nurturing, soothing, and containing. Fundamentally, the ancient Chinese terms, yang and yin, serve us better than “masculine” and “feminine” because these words all too easily lead to “secondary personalization”4 which identifies archetypal potentials (the yang and the yin) with anatomical assignment sex. The “law of secondary personalization,” Eric Neumann writes, “maintains that contents which are primarily transpersonal [i.e., archetypal] and originally appeared as such are, in the course of development, taken to be personal…. If … transpersonal contents are reduced to the data of purely personalistic psychology, the result is not only an appalling impoverishment of individual life—that might remain merely a private concern—but also a congestion of the collective unconscious which has disastrous consequences for humanity at large.”4 We need think only of the excesses of empire, that arch-patriarchal—“real man”—pursuit of domination and exploitation.

For a long time our society tended to assign a person’s gender on the basis of anatomical sex: men are men and women are women, and the gender roles got assigned and societally enforced at birth. Recently I witnessed a testimony from a mother who told the group I attended what her child had told her. Born an anatomical female, she told her mother that she had known “she” was in the wrong body since age three. Society had assigned her the female gender role, which did not correspond with her inner sense of herself.

This rigidity has changed markedly over the last several decades thanks to the various phases of the Women’s Movement and Feminism. In 1976 June Singer, a Jungian analyst practicing in Chicago, published Androgyny: Toward a new theory of sexuality. “Starting as I had from a position in the twentieth century,” she writes, “I found it difficult to comprehend the meaning behind the rapidly shifting views of individuals regarding their own sexuality, and it was still more difficult to interpret the changes in the ways they viewed the sexuality of the opposite sex.” Singer “searched the pages of history and mythology,” and everywhere she “found the androgyne gazing up at [her] with that curious smile which is neither altogether masculine nor altogether feminine.” She makes the point of emphasizing “the harmonious coexistence of masculinity and femininity within a single individual” that the androgyne represents. The sexual revolution of today, she writes, “may appear to be a reaction against the injustices of the past century or two, but I have tried to show that this is a mere surface manifestation of a fundamental principle that has existed for so long that it may be said to be inherent in the nature of the human organism. Not reactive, but intrinsic, is the principle of androgyny.” 5

Although I could not appreciate her insight at the time, I now see that she had brought into focus a trend that now—after the feminist and the LGBYQ revolutions—we witness in the transgender phenomenon: the recognition that archetypal yang and archetypal yin traits exist in every individual, and some persons have a more acute awareness that their anatomical sex and their sense of gender don’t correspond. The trend, as I see it, moves toward more openly honoring the archetypal feminine principle in our patriarchal society, regardless whether it emerges in a man or a woman. But I do have some serious concerns about the men and women who identify as “trans” and take measures to alter their bodies with hormones or surgery.

So far as I know, the Native American Two Spirit individuals find no need for sex-change hormones or surgery. Not so with non-Native Americans. The long-term consequences of sex-change hormones and surgery remain unknown. Early in June 30, 2015, PBS / Frontline story, “When Transgender Kids Transition,” we read that “new medical options are allowing transgender children to start the process of transitioning at younger ages. But doctors tread carefully, navigating medical interventions that carry risks that are both known and unknown.” 6 Walt Heyer published a piece on February 2, 2015, on the website of The Federalist, “What Parents Should Know About Giving Hormones to Trans Kids.”  He writes: “The United States Endocrine Society says that cross-gender hormones should not be used on kids under the age of 16. The standards in the Netherlands, United Kingdom, and Australia agree. The reason is simple: Cross-sex hormones have irreversible effects on fertility. Cross-gender hormone treatments can sterilize kids ….”7 Although these references are neither current nor medically authoritative, as non-technical sources, they say to a general public that their long-term effects remain unknown.

In my view, sex hormone therapy and sex-change surgery look like literalizations and concretizations of an essentially psychological (for want of a better term) issue. Native Americans move on saner ground with their acceptance of and respect for Two Spirit people. June Singer addressed that issue over forty years ago when she wrote, as I quoted above, that the androgyne presents the image of “the harmonious coexistence of masculinity and femininity within a single individual.”

Tony Enos said it well: “Two Spirit people have both a male and female spirit within them and are blessed by their Creator to see life through the eyes of both genders.” Little by little we approach that day when archetypal feminine and archetypal masculine not only coexist in a woman or a man, but can generate a robust synergy.


  1. (as of 2017-10-24)
  2. (as of 2017-10-24)
  4. Neumann, Eric (1954). The History and Origins of Consciousness. Bollingen Series XLII, Princeton: Princeton University Press, xxiiif.
  5. Singer, J. (1976). Androgyny: Toward a new theory of sexuality. New York: Anchor Press / Doubleday, vii-viii. (Male and female bodies are joined in the figure of the androgyne.)


Nov 2017 Boris Matthews, PhD, LCSW practices Analytical Psychology (a.k.a. Jungian Analysis) at the Ommani Center for Integrative Medicine in Pewaukee, WI. He is a teaching and supervising faculty member of the C. G. Jung Institute of Chicago, IL, and serves as Director of the Analyst Training Program at the Jung Institute. To schedule an appointment with him, contact us at 262.695.5311.