MLVF on the Self

My reading has taken a Jungian turn in the last week or so.

His book, Man and His Symbols is a great way to start. Jung can be complex and difficult to follow – much of it is beyond me – but this book lays out his fundamental ideas beautifully.

The following excerpt is from an article in the book by one of his most prominent early collaborators, Marie-Louise Von Franz.

It’s worth a read:

     The dark side of the Self is the most dangerous thing of all, precisely because the Self is the greatest power in the psyche. It can cause people to "spin " megalomaniac or other delusory fantasies that catch them up and "possess " them. A person in this state thinks with mounting excitement that he has grasped and solved the great cosmic riddles; he therefore loses all touch with human reality. A reliable symptom of this condition is the loss of one's sense of humour and of human contacts.
     Thus, the emerging of the Self may bring great danger to a man's conscious ego. The double aspect of the Self is beautifully illustrated by this old Iranian fairy tale, called "The Secret of the Bath Badgerd”:

     The great and noble Prince Hatim Tai receives orders from his king to investigate the mysterious Bath Badgerd [castle of nonexistence]. When he approaches it, having gone through many dangerous adventures, he hears that nobody ever returned from it, but he insists on going on. He is received at a round building by a barber with a mirror who leads him into the bath, but as soon as the prince enters the water, a thunderous noise breaks out, it gets completely dark, the barber disappears, and slowly the water begins to rise.
     Hatim swims desperately round until the water finally reaches the top of the round cupola, which forms the roof of the bath. Now he fears he is lost, but he says a prayer and grabs the centre-stone of the cupola. Again, a thunderous noise, everything changes, and Hatim stands alone in a desert.
     After long and painful wandering, he comes to a beautiful garden in the middle of which is a circle of stone statues. In the centre of the statues, he sees a parrot in its cage, and a voice from above says to him: "Oh, hero, you probably will not escape alive from this bath. Once Gayomart [the First Man] found an enormous diamond that shone more brightly than sun and moon. He decided to hide it where no one can find it, and therefore he built this magical bath in order to protect it. The parrot that you see here forms part of the magic. At its feet lie a golden bow and arrow on a golden chain, and with them you may try three times to shoot the parrot. If you hit him the curse will be lifted; if not, you will be petrified, as were all these other people."
     Hatim tries once, and fails. His legs turn to stone. He fails once more and is petrified up to his chest. The third time he just shuts his eyes, exclaiming "God is great," shoots blindly, and this time hits the parrot. An outbreak of thunder, clouds of dust. When all this has subsided, in place of the parrot is an enormous, beautiful diamond, and all the statues have come to life again. The people thank him for their redemption.

     The reader will recognize the symbols of the Self in this story - the First Man Gayomart, the round mandala-shaped building, the centre-stone, and the diamond. But this diamond is surrounded by danger. The demonic parrot signifies the evil spirit of imitation that makes one miss the target and petrify psychologically.
     As I pointed out earlier, the process of individuation excludes any parrot-like imitation of others. Time and again in all countries people have tried to copy in "outer " or ritualistic behaviour the original religious experience of their great religious teachers - Christ or Buddha or some other master - and have therefore become "petrified. " To follow in the steps of a great spiritual leader does not mean that one should copy and act out the pattern of the individuation process made by his life. It means that we should try with a sincerity and devotion equal to his to live our own lives.
     The barber with the mirror, who vanishes, symbolizes the gift of reflection that Hatim loses when he wants it most; the rising waters represent the risk that one may drown in the unconscious and get lost in one's own emotions. In order to understand the symbolic indications of the unconscious, one must be careful not to get outside oneself or "beside oneself," but to stay emotionally within oneself. Indeed, it is vitally important that the ego should continue to function in normal ways. Only if I remain an ordinary human being, conscious of my incompleteness, can I become receptive to the significant contents and processes of the unconscious. But how can a human being stand the tension of feeling himself at one with the whole universe, while at the same time he is only a miserable earthly human creature? If, on the one hand, I despise myself as merely a statistical cipher, my life has no meaning and is not worth living. But if, on the other hand, I feel myself to be part of something much greater, how am I to keep my feet on the ground? It is very difficult indeed to keep these inner opposites united within oneself without toppling over into one or the other extreme.

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