The well

Our world is dominated by rationality and superficiality, resulting in loneliness and meaninglessness, but by restoring the relationship between ego and Self, one my draw from the wellsprings of Life.

IMAGE CREDIT: ‘Empty Street’, watercolor by Rajesh Paravoor, from The Straits Times, ‘Making sense of Covid-19 through art, words, food’.

All over the world, wells have been dug by hand since the ninth millennium BCE (1). Human settlements have always been dependent for survival on a well with a fresh clear spring, so that social structures developed around it.

In mythology Demeter is often depicted next to a well (2); Mother Holle is found at the bottom of a well. (3) Christ as symbol of the Self standing next to a well, described himself as the source of the Living Waters. (4)

The well resembles a tree, for water can be drawn up to serve life and growth similar to how a tree draws up water through its roots and fibers. It conveys the idea of a dispensing of nourishment, available to all. Life is inexhaustible. It grows neither less nor more; it exists for one and all. Generations come and go, and all may enjoy life in its inexhaustible abundance. (5)

Wells have been associated with sacred ceremonial descent, ritually lived, for millennia. Like the holes in the ground, hand-dug by men and women over time, it resembles the development of consciousness over time. Archetypal patterns of descent, linking above and below, ego and Self, became more fully known by humanity and potentially available to anyone who would ‘go down all the way’ to the roots, who ‘does not neglect the work’ (5).

A well needs to be maintained, cleaned, lined. Through Jung’s psychology the existence and mechanisms of this psychic structure was made conscious and accessible to any individual who felt called upon to undertake the journey, perhaps a first step in the collective ‘restoration of the well’. No longer only the property of the shaman or priestess, it is freely available to any individual who would take it up in all earnestness. By undertaking the night sea journey, the individual relationship between ego and Self may be restored and the individual replenished by the waters of Life to find connectedness and meaningful nourishment.


1., well

2. JE Cirlot, 2002. Dover Publications Inc, NY. A dictionary of symbols, p. 369

3. Grimm’s Fairy tale of Mother Holle

4. John 4: 4 – 26

5. I Ching, p. 185 – 6

An African Tale

Seven maidens went to the river to fetch water. One girl went a little further. While the others were waiting, they decided to play her a trick and hid their bead necklaces in the sand, pretending to have thrown it into the pond to see what might happen. On return, the girl trustingly believed them and threw her necklace into the pond. Laughingly they retrieved theirs and went away. In great distress the maiden cried out at the pool but was told to move on. At another pool she was told to enter. Without hesitation she jumped into the pool and encountered a one-legged, one-armed old woman. A cruel Dimo (1) kept the old woman enslaved and had devoured her one arm and leg. Deeply touched by her suffering, the girl cleaned her wounds. In turn, the old woman protected her when the Dimo appeared, declaring that he smelled a human and, after he had left, rewarded her richly. On returning to her village the other maidens were jealous of her fortune and thought they could also be lucky. They jumped into the pool, but they were rude to the old woman and mocked her. When the terrible Dimo appeared, she did not protect them… (2)

IMAGE: Artodyssey, artwork by Loyiso Mzike, from his Pinterest page

A tale of individual seeking and descent leads to encountering one’s own one-sidedness, the wounded old woman, in the depths of one’s being. A trusting, sincere and compassionate approach is naturally rewarded by the archetype itself. But natural resistance to ‘the other world’ often results in a self-damaging attitude of disrespect.

The wounds have to be tended. In another version of the tale, it is cleaned by licking it, like an animal might do: “saliva is symbolically a healing water that we are all born with.” (3)

“The threaded bead necklace stands for the unifying of diversity… it becomes a cosmic and social symbol of ties and bonds.” (4) Associated with the heart chakra it represents our capacity to relate to our deeper selves and others. An apt symbol of Ubuntu, a conscious descent may restore this sense of identity and interconnectedness. (5) (6)


1. DIMO: is said to be ‘partly man, partly animal, partly spiritual’, a trickster figure. It is widely found in Africa in Swahili and the Niger-Congo basin and in Southern Africa, e.g., in Zulu and Sesotho cultures. From “Tricksters and Trickery in Zulu Folktales” by Noverino Noemio Canonici, 1995; PhD dissertation, University of KZN, SA.

2. Edith McPherson, 1919. Native Fairy Tales of South Africa, London Harrap, UK. Distributed by Heritage History. “The lost beads” p.45.

3. Helen Luke, 1995. The Way of Woman, Double Day Publishing, US, p. 100

4. JE Cirlot, 2002. A Dictionary of Symbols, Dover Edition, p. 227

5. UBUNTU: a quality that includes the essential human virtues; compassion and humanity.

6. MOTHER HOLLE: This tale is reminiscent of the tale of Mother Holle, where a young girl loses her spindle, jumps into a well and serves a fearsome old woman with compassion. Her envious stepsister represents the individual shadow to be integrated.

Mother Holle

A negative relationship with the personal mother may be deeply wounding, but in the tale of Mother Holle we find a relational archetypal pattern (personified as feminine) aimed at restoration and inner growth.

A maiden had a cruel stepmother who forced her to work hard and spin till her fingers bled. One day while rinsing her sore fingers, the spindle slipped from her hand into the well. Ordered to retrieve it immediately, she jumped into the well in great sorrow. She awoke to find herself in a meadow through which she started to walk. Along the way she was requested to do certain tasks which she did with compassion, as was her nature. After a while she reached a hut where a frightening old woman lived, Mother Holle. She was instructed to shake the bedding till the feathers fly, for it brings snow on earth. She took courage and served the old woman well for a time but then she became homesick. To her surprise the old woman helped her to find her way home through a doorway where she was showered with gold. Upon her return her lazy envious stepsister wanted her share of the gold. She stung her finger and jumped into the well. She was careless while attending to the simple tasks on her way and Mother Holle soon tired of her lazy servant. Dismissed, leaving through the doorway, she was showered in pitch which clung to her for the rest of her life.

Image credit:

Trying to gain approval and love a person may work hard to serve the negative mother complex, working one’s fingers to the bone and wounding oneself. All one receives in return are envy and rejection. In utter despair and great sorrow, a descent follows. One discovers a different world, and a new path unfolds where one learns to undertake tasks simply and for their own sake, ‘cooling off’ the complex.

Undertaking this service is frightening, it demands courage, but one may learn to serve an aspect of the Self truthfully. The envious stepsister, the shadow, may be tamed, and spiritual meaning may be found, extending far beyond the personal complex.


Dougherty, Nancy J.; West, Jacqueline J. The Matrix and Meaning of Character (pp. 142-144). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.

The Dog

Dogs are often intimately part of both our visible and dream worlds, valued for their loyalty, guidance and protectiveness, as playmate, companion or working dog. Due to this familiarity, when a dog appears in a dream it may be easier to assimilate than a wild animal. 

Image credit: Howling dog by Paul Klee, Article in The Wallstreet Journal Online, A Lifechanging Art Encounter

An experienced dog handler once told me that you never stroke a stranger’s dog; you never know; similarly, when a dog appears in a dream, one has to determine whether it is a helper or not; the context within which it appears may assist one. Barbara Hannah highlights four opposing characteristics of the dog as an archetypal visitor: as friend-betrayer; guide-hunter; watchdog-thief, and as licking wounds and eating grass, as healer. (1)

Because they howl to the moon, the dog was the companion and protector of the Moon Goddesses of old, later replaced by the lion. Like the moon that dies and are regenerated again anew every month, dog sacrifices were known to have been made at least since 6000 BCE. Sometimes they are depicted together with butterflies signifying transformation. (2)

As carrion eaters, ‘cleaning’ away the dead, they were originally part of funerary rites which earned them the role of guardians of the beyond. Greek Cerberus is guardian of the Western gate, associated with Hecate, searching for the souls of the departed. In Egyptian mythology, Anubis the gold-collared jackal/dog is guardian of the beyond and guide of the journeying Osiris through the underworld, overseeing the process of transformation and rebirth.  

Sirius the dog star is said to be the brightest star in the heavens. It is the star of Isis, searching for the dismembered Osiris, the star of the way. Scent and smell govern the life of a dog, tracking the way. (2)

Artemis as Lady of the Hunt is often depicted with her hounds. When Acteon saw her bathing, saw the goddess unveiled, she was offended, turned him into a stag and he was torn to pieces by his own hounds, sacrificed. The bath, the nakedness of the Goddess and the tearing to pieces of the sacred king, was all part of an inner drama of death and renewal. (3)


  1. Barbara Hannah. The Archetypal Symbolism of Animals: Lectures Given at the C.G. Jung Institute, Zurich, 1954-1958 (Polarities of the Psyche) (Kindle Location 659). Kindle Edition.
  2. Buffie Johnson, Lady of The Beasts, Inner Traditions International, Vermont, US, 1994. Page 114 – 7
  3. Barbara Walker, The Woman’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets, HarperCollins, 1983. Page 58 – 60

The Creative Way

The creative space, the space between heaven and earth visited by shaman and artist alike since the dawn of the human race, has always been a sacred space, a sanctuary, and the cradle of all creativity.  No serious artwork can be produced without engagement with the sacred side of being, or without a personal struggle with one’s own demons. Some measure of integrity towards one’s own depths are demanded, for any honest creative endeavor is born, manifests, through the pain and suffering of the soul, however simple or unperfect the expression may be, is alive and commands our respect.

To create is to give shape to unconscious contents, to bring into being that which is hidden. An unfolding process, it may provide one with a perspective on aspects of the manifesting unfolding lifeforce. Like a tree it grows from below, from the unconscious towards consciousness. Deeper psychic processes often appear in creative inner work and may be witnessed, made conscious. The archetype, the ‘god,’ wants to enter our real lived lives and to exist in time and space.    

Through this living creative process, the reality of the deeper life may be consciously experienced and conversed with. The experience of ‘something’ communicating with one is a profound testimony to the reality of psychic life. A form of active imagination, this approach allows one to contain overwhelming unconscious content consciously in a moment of crisis.  

One’s own unique symbol vocabulary, originating from ‘the stories of our lives,’ may be allowed to unfold. Images arising from these foundational archetypal patterns have the ability to contain one profoundly, making senseless suffering meaningful, endurable.

From Rilke: 
“I live my life in growing orbits 
which move out over the things of the world. 
Perhaps I can never achieve the last, 
but that will be my attempt. 
I am circling around God, around the ancient tower, 
and I have been circling for a thousand years, 
and I still don’t know if I am a falcon, or a storm, or a great song.” (1)


1. M. Beazly in Reflections on Madison County, Ex Press Bridges Publishing Inc, GB, 1994, quoting from Selected poems of Rainer Maria Rilke, edited and translated by Robert Bly.

A Meaningful Worldview

A worldview that originates from our archetypal roots is meaningful, containing. Jung often encouraged his patients to give thought to developing a worldview and many eventually returned to childhood faith. However, the modern individual may no longer feel so contained by the religious systems of earlier times.

Image credit: Scarab beetle and scarab god Khepri as symbol of rebirth,

The religious attitude, a basic psychic attitude, may instinctively manifest as traditional religious practice, an ‘-ism’ of some kind, a living conscious relationship to the divine within, the Self, or a mixture of it all. Making sense of human suffering, and mortality, is a basic containing religious function. Religion, as a mythological pattern with an archetypal foundation, centering around and contained by the Self, grows from the instinctual depths of the unconscious. In the relationship between ego and the Self, the Other is experienced as numinous, sacred, godlike, and this mystery has been projected outside and worshipped since time immemorial.

Death followed by rebirth is one of the oldest mythological patterns, dating back thousands of years; in the moon mysteries, “the moon, after the full, wanders across the heavens in search of its vanishing light until the darkness seizes it completely, and it is gone,” to reappear again after three days, reborn (1). In ancient Egyptian mythology the scarab beetle was a symbol of rebirth carrying great weight.

In the final months of his life Jung described the beneficial effects of a meaningful mythological worldview:

“The need for mythic statements is satisfied when we frame a view of the world which adequately explains the meaning of human existence in the cosmos, a view which springs from our psychic wholeness, from the co-operation between conscious and unconscious. Meaninglessness inhibits fullness of life and is therefore equivalent to illness. Meaning makes a great many things endurable – perhaps everything.” (2)

He ends by saying about meaning and meaninglessness that both are true, but if meaninglessness outweighs meaning, the meaningfulness of life will vanish, and with it hope and faith in Life, for “Life is – or has – meaning and meaninglessness.” In the words of Lao-tzu: “All are clear, I alone am clouded.” (3)


  1. Anne Baring and Jules Cashford, 1991. The Myth Of The Goddess, Evolution Of An Image, Penguin Group, GB, p. 385
  2. CG Jung, 1961. Memories, Dreams, Reflections, Random House Inc, New York, p. 340
  3. Memories, Dreams, Reflections, p. 358, 359

Learning from the Other

Inherent in the confrontation with Otherness is a possibility to learn from the Other, but when coming face to face with a stranger, one may unexpectedly feel overwhelmed by the otherness of the Other and act accordingly.

Image credit: The Smolensk Newspaper, by Chagall,

From a Jungian point of view one’s experience in encountering another is largely determined by the projected nature of the individual’s worldview, of how one perceive one’s existence in this world to be meaningful and containing; this is in turn largely determined by the nature of one’s relationship to the Self. When encountering a stranger one may experience one’s worldview to be incomplete, not containing, a destabilization of one’s perception of oneself in one’s world.

Levinas, a Jewish French-Lithuanian philosopher (1905 – 95), saw “the meaning of existence in terms of the ethical transcendence of the Other.”(1) For Levinas, the Other is infinitely foreign and one’s relationship and responsibility to him/her is that of infinity; it is not equal or comparable. (2) An ensuing feeling of responsibility is not a rational choice but happens unconsciously; it is as if one gives oneself as ‘hostage’ to the Other, in a form of ethical surrender, to suffer from his/her suffering. (3)

If “one brings more than one can bear” (4) into the encounter, the other may be traumatized by projective identification, the ‘ejecting’ of the uncomfortable feelings, an attempt to protect oneself. Envy, guilt and shame may be unconsciously experienced by both parties, and depending on the basic personality structure, one’s ‘wiring,’ one may respond by either trying to restore the relationship to the Self in the outer relationship, seeking the other, or by withdrawing, even fighting the other.

Jung reminds us that the only way to act responsibly and respectfully towards the stranger other is to withdraw our projections, a matter of integrity. When I think I know, the other only becomes an aspect of “the narrative presence of my worldview and narrative,”(5) but a more conscious approach to the other, with humility and awareness of one’s ignorance, may enable one to listen attentively to “the narrative presence of the other,” to learn from the other. (6)


  3. Bart Noorteboom, 1995. Levinas: Philosophy of the Other, Noorteboom quoting Levinas, p. 115, on
  4. Sharon Todd, 2003. Learning from the Other, Levinas, Psychoanalysis and Ethical Possibilities, State University of New York Press, p. 15
  5. Sharon Todd, p. 15
  6. Sharon Todd, p. 15

Humanizing the Archetype


Since ancient times humanity made stone images of their gods and goddesses, for they experienced the archetype as the deity itself. The statue god was experienced as a living stone, an unconscious projection of the Philosopher’s Stone as symbol of the Self. Over millennia the single simple statue image, like the archetype of the Self, differentiated into vast pantheons but each statue image retained something of the original mystery, combining our primal roots with the ultimate ideal human.

When praying in earnest to the god/ess it was thought to answer by way of nodding. The word ‘numinous’ comes from ‘numen’ and means in Latin, ‘a nod, the nodding of the god when it is questioned.’

Interaction with the archetype may have a more positive or negative outcome: in Mozart’s opera, Don Giovanni kills Don Pedro, father of one of his many lovers; later he invites the statue of Don Pedro to dinner and it nods acceptance. But Don Giovanni is unrepentant, insincere, and the statue pulls him into hell. (1)

In contrast, in Ovid’s Pygmalion is told of Pygmalion’s resolve to remain celibate, resisting his natural needs out of fear of women. He became obsessed with his needs, prompting him to make a statue: the archetype burst forth through his natural creative ability, to give shape to herself. It enchanted him, he fell in love with it and thus was influenced to overcome his fear. Lovesick and obsessed but humbled he begged Venus for a wife resembling his statue, and was answered: the statue became alive, that is, the archetypal pattern of relating became manifest in his real lived life. Pygmalion became husband and father; his personality matured into adulthood. (2)

Edinger concludes that by “pouring loving attention into the psyche, it brings the archetypal soul to life,” (1) it humanizes the archetype.

Photo Credit:


  1. ARAS Concordance, Image of the Statue: Edward Edinger, Mysterium Lectures, p. 234 – 8
  2. Hughes, Ted. Tales from Ovid: Twenty-four Passages from the “Metamorphoses”, Pygmalion.

The Wounded Healer

Jung pointed out “the mythological truth that the wounded wounder is the agent of healing, and the sufferer takes away suffering.” (1) Chiron represents ‘the one who is wounded,’ the one who wounds self and others, ‘the wounder’, and ‘the one who suffers’ because of the wounding. (2)

Asclepios is often called the Father of Medicine. Some say that he was rescued from his mother’s funeral pyre and raised by the centaur Chiron, who taught him the art of healing. (3) The myth refers psychologically to the capacity “to be at home in the darkness of suffering and there to find germs of light and recovery with which, as though by enchantment, to bring forth Asclepios, the sunlike healer” (4)   

Looking back upon wounding encounters, we might see that it brought us inner growth and a deepening of compassion. The birth of healing power from the ‘original wound’ that we must address in the therapeutic relationship, belongs to the archetype of the wounded healer. An archetypal image can manifest in human psychology consciously or unconsciously, or often, as a mixture of the two, entangled with our wound and presenting us with a problematic situation which we must address consciously, both as therapist and as patient. The therapist as the healer has his/her own wound which may be drawn in if it provides ‘hooks’ for the patient’s projections. By each working separately on the problem, the archetype is constelated within the therapeutic space, bringing movement along the path. (5)

The wound holds a key: it plays an important role in the process of individuation as that which is the source of one’s inner suffering as well as the bringer of healing and transformation, not only to oneself, but also to others, a gift in service of Life.

Von Franz says: “In seeking for the meaning of your suffering, you seek for the meaning of your life. You are seeking for the greater pattern of your own life, which indicate why the wounded healer is the archetype of the Self – one of its most widespread features – and at the bottom of all healing procedures.” (6)

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons, Chiron


  1. CG Jung, Four Archetypes p. 136
  2. M Reinhart, Chiron and the Healing Journey p. 81.
  3. ARAS Concordance (wounded healer/NIGREDO): E. Edinger, quoting Kerenyi, Anatomy of the Psyche par 0.
  4. ARAS Concordance (wounded healer/SHRINES-AND-ORACLES-OF ANCIENT-GREECE): E. Edinger, Eternal Drama par 0.
  5. ARAS Concordance (wounded healer/TRANSFERENCE-COUNTERTRANSFERENCE): E. Edinger, Mysterium Lectures p. 317
  6. ML von Franz, Puer Aeturnus p. 114

An Inner Critic

The four weary travelers came through great danger to the king of the Mark. He looked weary, was bent over, almost dwarfed, having sat “too long in shadows and trusted to twisted tales and crooked promptings.” They came to warn and assist him but were accused of bringing bad news. Wormtongue, his advisor, praised his self-defeating viewpoint, reminded him that his son was slain, that everything was hopeless, that the courageous hero who undertook the quest against the dark was not to be trusted. It was better to give up, await certain death. (1)

This elusive figure is whispering: “Do not try, you know you can’t, why bother; everything is hopeless.” This is negative self-talk, “constant self-criticism, shaming and guilt. The task is to pay attention to the inner speaking – what we are saying to ourselves all the time.” (2)

Photo credit:  

Wormtongue, as the personal shadow, was sent to the king by the evil Saruman, the Trickster in his negative aspect. The figure of Wormtongue fits in with the passive-aggressive character structural pattern (not personality disorder or rebellious teenager) as described by Dougherty and West. This pattern or trait, perhaps as unconscious Sensation, is associated with identification with the stranger archetype, the Trickster or the Self, as opposed to the mother as the primary caregiver. This creates a false sense of independence, while the child is still fully dependent on the parent.

The hallmark of the pattern is negativism, and “of being done to”. Denial is the “bedrock” defense of this pattern. It is described as provocative and self-defeating, while obstructing and playing with reality, retreating from responsibility. (3)

The four types are patterns and aspects of the Self, our archetypal foundation, and give rise to the personal shadow. To engage consciously with the negative self-talk, and the archetypal energy behind it, is the beginning of active imagination. In a letter to PW Martin, Jung explained that there is no single technique of dealing with the shadow, but ultimately rather of negotiation and of consciously suffering it through, a crucial aspect of the integration of the opposites. (4)


  1. JRR Tolkien, Lord of the Rings, 1966, p. 533 – 537
  2. L. Sikes and MD Molton, Four Eternal Women, Toni Wolff revisited, 2011, p. 67 – 8
  3. NJ Dougherty and JJ West, The Matrix and Meaning of Character Structure, 2007
  4. Jung’s Letters, PW Martin, 8-20-1937