The Archetypal Dimension of the New York Terrorist Tragedies of 911

On September 11, 2001, America and the civilized world woke up to the horror and the tragedy of the destruction of the World Trade Center twin towers by fundamentalist Osama Bin Laden's terrorist organization.

On September 11, 2001, America and the civilized world woke up to the horror and the tragedy of the destruction of the World Trade Center twin towers by fundamentalist Osama Bin Laden's terrorist organization. Over six thousand unarmed civilians were killed in the glaring daylight of the world media. Suicidal terrorists made civilian planes into lethal missiles hurled into high-rise office buildings where thousands of unsuspecting people were just getting down to their days work. The world is still in a state of trauma, shock, grief and anger about these terrorist attacks as the innocence and tranquility of America bled away that portentous morning.

All of us are searching to make sense of this trauma, cataclysm, and chaos. We are asking questions that we may never know the answers to. Did we provoke the terrorists? Could we have predicted and prevented these attacks? Are more attacks on the way? Will there be bio-terrorism or chemical warfare on the streets, boulevards and fields of America as children go to school and people go about their business? Is there anything we can do to prevent further attacks and a vicious globalization of this conflict? What should be the response of the civilized world? Should we retaliate or merely contain future attacks? What should be the intensity of our response? What is a fair and just response under these unique circumstances?

We are over two hundred and seventy five million Americans and over five billion earth citizens. So I would posit that there are possibly five billion response paradigms and exponential combinations thereof. There is a government response, a civilian response, a Western response, a European response, a Chinese response, a local response a global response, ad infinitum. We may respond as individuals and families, as members of a certain ethnic or political group, as members of certain religious faiths or any combination of these and other axes of identity. What is to guide us in this hour of darkness and desolation? Each one of us is in multiple roles and may experience this trauma and its aftermath from many different lenses.

While many lenses are needed to scope and understand these apocalyptic events, after much self-reflection, I have concluded that one brief exploration of the present crisis from an archetypal and mythic perspective may yield a useful lens to inform us and guide us as we grope for our way in the darkness.

To construct the archetypal perspective, I have proceeded as follows. First, I have examined the nature of the traumatic event. Second, I will explore the archetypal activation of the relevant myth. Thirdly I will explore the mythogram of Shiva, Parvati and Kali. Fourth, I will explore the key protagonists in the present narrative trajectory and how they are informed by the relevant myth. Fifth, I will explore the prognostic guidance of the myth in the present crisis. Lastly, it is my hope that an awareness and honor for the archetypal activation may better guide us in forming an optimal and adequate response to this crisis and its healing potential.

The Nature of the present trauma

The traumatic events in the present crisis are of apocalyptic and global proportions in terms of their scope, impact and repercussions. Such a global upheaval activates the collective wisdom of the cumulative human psyche embodied in our timeless, ancient myths. When an archetype is activated, it recruits the contemporary wisdom along with the collective human memory and experience since the genesis of civilization in an adequate and informed response to the present crisis. This deepens our response based on a cumulative experience of the human race in similar circumstances.

The Archetypal Activation of the relevant myth

The Hindu Trinity is composed of Shiva, the destroyer of dysfunctional order in the world who consequently lays the groundwork for Brahma to create a new world order. When a new order is created, Vishnu maintains the just or dharmic order. Dharmic order is one, which is in accord with the Spiritual wisdom of the cosmos. In their tasks in maintaining the dharmic order, each of these gods are the templates, or forms, while their goddess consorts are the fuel or energy that guides their deliberations. Shiva's consorts are Parvati, the domestic consort and Kali, the martial ally. Saraswati, the goddess of knowledge is the consort of Brahma and paves the way for informed invocation of new creation. Laxmi is the consort of Vishnu and she is the goddess of plentitude, prosperity and peace.

Whenever there is disorder or chaos in the human psyche or civilization, these archetypes are activated to restore order and Dharma. As Lord Krishna advises his protégé in battle,

"Whenever sacred duty decays
And chaos prevails,
Then, I create
Myself, Arjuna.
To protect men of virtue
And destroy men who do evil
To set the standard of sacred duty,
I appear in age after age."
Bhagwad Gita, Chapter 4, Para 7-8

The Myth of Shiva, Parvati and Kali

As there is activation of chaos and an imbalance towards darkness in the collective consciousness, it is my hypothesis that there is a commensurate activation of the myth of Shiva, Parvati and Kali to deal with the present chaos. Let us now examine the myth.

Shiva—the destroyer

Shiva is known as the "Destroyer," the source of both good and evil. He is a god of antithetical concepts, presiding over creation and destruction, fertility and asceticism, good and evil. Shiva is the lord who dances out the creation of the universe. He destroys the corrupt old order to make room for the new in conjunction with his consort, the Goddess Parvati.

Parvati—The Domestic Consort of Shiva

In her aspects as Sati and Parvati, the goddess is a devoted wife. In her domesticated form, she is depicted as benign and carries no weapons. She sits next to Shiva while he looks at her with tenderness. Without Parvati, Shiva appears as the terrifying one, but Parvati brings him into relation with his feeling function and his domestic side. Thus the sacred feminine brings the raw and archaic masculine energy into the cultivated form of its feeling, relational, mutual and mature potentials.

Kali's Myth

Kali most often appears as the destroyer of evil in battle. Kali's warrior aspect is the goddess Durga who is summoned by the gods to battle the demons. In this battle, Kali appears twice to assist her. Early on, the demons approach Durga with their threatening weapons and thus provoked, Durga becomes angry, and suddenly the goddess Kali springs forth from her forehead, ready for battle. She tears and crushes the demons. Later in the battle, Durga summons Kali to help defeat the demon Raktabija (one who arises from the seed of his own blood). He has the ability to clone himself instantly whenever a drop of his blood falls to the ground; so wounding him only multiplies him. Kali destroys the demon by sucking his blood away.

It is crucial to clarify one important aspect of the Parvati/Kali split I have discussed so far. In Hindu mythology, these two aspects of Shiva's feminine potentiality are part of a whole. This whole is Shakti, the archetypal feminine force or energy. (When Shakti is united and balanced with Shiva, the archetypical masculine form or template, a wholeness of personality is achieved.) These domestic/martial aspects of the feminine are often split and projected off onto a suitable psychological twin, who carries the disavowed aspects of this Shakti continuum. In the situation we will discuss, First Lady Laura Bush consciously carries the Parvati aspect of Shakti, while her Kali aspect is unconscious and projected onto a psychological twin Dr. Condelleza Rice. Laura Bush is the container of President Bush's domestic Parvati Anima. Dr. Condelleza Rice is the embodiment of President Bush's warrior Anima-his inner Kali.

On a clinical side note: (For the sake of conversation I will make some assumptions and generalizations using the concepts of man and woman loosely.) In my analytic work with my patients, I have noted that women generally struggle with this Parvati/Kali split. Consciously they live out one pole of this split, either the domestic or the warrior mode. It becomes an important individuation task to assimilate the other pole into their consciousness. In relationships, if the partner is unwilling or unable to honor this development, it may disrupt the couple. Conventional women live out their domestic Parvati aspect in their first half of life and must assimilate their Kali-warrior aspect in their second half of life. Contemporary feminist women may live out of their Kali-warrior nature in the first half of life and often have to acknowledge and assimilate their Parvati-domestic strivings in later adulthood.

For male patients in analysis, the problem of this Parvati/Kali split has important clinical implications. They may usually project their inner Parvati, their feeling function onto their mate, while they carry the split of Kali of their mate that is projected onto them. In midlife, as their individuation proceeds, they must withdraw their Parvati projections from their partner and take responsibility for their own feeling function. Simultaneously, they must resist the Kali-warrior hero aspect projected onto them by their partner. In time, this opens the window for the partner to become conscious of their own Kali potential and live it out in their own life and enterprise. While this rebalancing of the mutual projection system may be cumbersome and a flash point for many relationships, if both partners can endure the rigors of this midlife initiation, the dividends of individuation are handsome for both parties. Speaking generally, men enrich their consciousness with the incarnation of their feeling function while women are empowered by the vitality of the goddess Kali.

The Key Protagonists in the present Drama

In my archetypal assessment, the key protagonists in the present terrorist crisis are

  • Osama Bin Laden: the mastermind of the terrorist network
  • President George W. Bush, the leader of the free world,
  • First Lady Laura Bush, president's consort
  • Dr. Condelleza Rice, President Bush's National Security Advisor.

Osama Bin Laden is the 17th son of a Billionaire Saudi businessman. He is one of over fifty children and lost his father in an airplane accident. He is estranged from his family because of his political views. During the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, Osama Bin Laden was politically and ideologically aligned with the United States. After the withdrawal of the Soviet troops, Afghanistan lost its strategic value and was marginalized in our foreign policy. This had the potential of further exacerbating his sense of abandonment by father figures, leading to narcissistic fragmentation and consequent rage.

It is probable that as a lost child (one of about fifty) the only way he can secure attention from parental figures is by acting out of the dark side of the human psyche. He seems to have many well-achieved siblings and great positive achievement is unlikely to secure much attention. His violent acting out seems to be a desperate attempt to maintain a sense of cohesion of a narcissistically fragile ego by securing negative attention. This archaic negative mirroring by his self created adversaries seems much preferable to perceived abandonment and resultant fragmentation of his sense of "Self." It seems symbolically significant that he lost his father to a plane crash, the very instrument he used to wound his father surrogate—the leader of the United States!

George W. Bush on the other hand is the son of the former leader of the United States. Unlike Osama Bin Laden, George W.Bush has been able to achieve parental, national and global acclaim by assuming national office and becoming the spokesperson for the free world.

First Lady Laura Bush is a composed former schoolteacher who has a quiet but deep strength at the side of her husband and the nation.

Dr. Condelleza Rice is a solid strategist, and a seasoned professional in matters of war and peace who has the closest access to President Bush's ear in this time of global crisis.

How the Protagonists may play out the Archetypal Script

The present archetypal constellation and the way the protagonists may play it out bode well for the free world. President George W. Bush is entrusted with the task of Shiva. Like Shiva, it may be his destiny to destroy the corrupt order of the terrorists and with the help of his consort, the feminine archetype, create the new world order.

First Lady Laura Bush is like Parvati, the devoted wife. She supports her husband and the nation emotionally and carries his feeling function. She keeps President Bush grounded in his feeling and empathy for friends and foe alike. She brings his raw, youthful, masculine potential in the groove of his feeling, relational and mature potential. She is a true asset to him and our nation.

Dr. Condelleza Rice is the goddess Kali reincarnate—metaphorically speaking. She appears as the strategic ally of President Bush in the archetypical context of destruction of evil in battle. She has the constant ear of President Bush and has a decisive input in his final decisions in National security matters. This is a blessing for him, our country, and the free world. She is archetypically positioned to invoke the beneficence of the Kali archetype in the current crisis. She has been summoned by the collective to deal with the demonic, dark side of the terrorist threat to the current free world order, just as goddess Kali in her Durga aspect was summoned by the gods to battle the demons. Early in the battle, the demons approach Durga with threatening weapons like the terrorists approached and attacked the World Trade Center in New York. Durga would be the Diplomat aspect of Dr. Rice. The attack provokes Durga, who becomes angry and suddenly goddess Kali springs forth from her forehead, ready for battle.

Archetypically, this would be akin to the transition of Dr. Rice from Durga to her Kali aspect, from Diplomat/Strategist to the patron goddess of war and destruction of the demonic and dark side of human psyche. In accordance with the mythogram, Dr. Rice would play a decisive role in wartime planning for America and the free world's decisive victory over the global terrorist threat.

The prognostic guidance of the Myth

The mythogram of goddess Kali also provides us some insight into the most likely strategic interventions by Dr. Rice as part of the President's "Operation Enduring Freedom" initiative.

Initially, Kali tears and crushes the demons. In martial terms, this may imply an initial crushing defeat of the terrorist network in the initial stages of Operation Enduring Freedom. This may be achieved in surgical military strikes.

Later in battle, Kali defeats the demon Raktabija. Raktabija means one who arises from the seed of his own blood. He has the ability to clone himself instantly whenever a drop of his blood falls to the ground. Wounding him only multiplies him. This has important parallels with the terrorist networks. Killing them only inspires others and thus they are instantly multiplied. Kali destroys this demon by sucking his blood away. This phase of the Operation Enduring Freedom may involve the diplomatic and covert operations to dry up the lifeblood of the terrorist establishment. This could be accomplished in number of ways including

  • Drying up the money supply of the terrorists by following and sucking away their financial feed.
  • Draining out their breeding grounds by diplomatic and trade embargos on rogue nations that support terrorism
  • Confronting Western policies that may be perceived as unjust and lopsided by subgroups that eventually get persuaded by terrorists in the elusive quest for archaic justice. If more fair and mutual platforms are offered by the Western powers to these marginalized constituencies in the world, they are less likely to be attracted to terrorist alternatives for self-assertion.
  • Let the feminine psyche like Kali's be the final arbitrator of resolution of this crisis. The feminine psyche in Kali mode uniquely blends the opposites of empathy and justice, war and peace, selective destruction of the darkness in the service of new creation of the new order. Kali is like a mother who lovingly feeds but sternly punishes.
  • Kali's world-view is one of logic and attention to details. Typologically, this implies invocation of the thinking and sensate functions in the crucial aspects of the management of the crisis. Kali cuts through the irrelevancies and steadfastly attends to the details logically. This is how the present crisis needs to be attended to in context of the activated archetypes.

A Side Note: Shiva of the Blue-Poison Throat

Once upon a time, as the lesser gods and the demons were fighting their ongoing war, they found that the war was deadlocked. They went together to Brahma for guidance in reaching a mutually beneficial truce. Brahma said that instead of fighting each other, they could churn the cosmic ocean and thus get the ambrosia that gave eternal life. The gods and demons were pleased with the suggestion. Perhaps, they thought, they could share the ambrosia, and everybody would be happy.

They decided to use Mount Mandera, the holy mountain, to churn the ocean. Vishnu became the tortoise supporting the mountain. The lesser gods and the demons took the holy serpent, Vassuki, and wrapped him around the mountain as a churning rope to turn the mountain, the demons took one end of Vassuki and the gods took the other. But when the Serpent Vassuki got tired, he began to spout venom. The gods and demons knew that if the venom fell in the cosmic ocean, the ambrosia would be poisoned and all of creation would be destroyed. The problem was to find way to catch the venom. Neither the gods nor the demons had an answer, so they went to wake up Shiva. Being an altruist, they were able to wake him from his trance and ask for his help. Shiva said, "I'll solve the problem. I'll die, so that all else may live. Better that one dies than all of creation." He swallowed the poison to rescue the cosmos. However, Parvati came to his rescue out of love. She said, "I can't stop you from swallowing the poison, but I will not allow you to die." She held him by the throat, saying to him, "You can swallow your throat full, but that's as far down as it will go."

Thousands of years have passed since the churning of the cosmic ocean, and Shakti has been holding her Shiva, by the neck (This is how Lord Shiva got the nickname 'Blue Neck,' Neel Kantha). Shakti (the archetypal feminine; a composite of all feminine archetypes, including Parvati and Kali) has to protect him because if he swallows, he will certainly die. Her trick is to choke him enough to keep the poison up in his throat, but not so much as to strangle him to death.

In the context of the terrorist attacks of September 11th, this ancient myth assumes new meaning. In the political climate of the last few decades, the West has had to collaborate with unlikely allies like the former Afghan freedom fighters to counter the spread of communism and distribute what the West considers the ambrosia of a capitalist and free society to all nations. While we were able to secure the ambrosia of freedom for many parts of the world, like nations of the former Soviet Union, we now have the venom of terrorism to swallow. It becomes the onerous task of the leaders of the free world to contain this poison. If the leave it unattended, it may destabilize the world. If they totally swallow it, it may consume the world resources completely. At this critical juncture of management of the venom of terrorism, we must be guided by the healing wisdom of the feminine. Just as Shakti got to Shiva's throat to protect him and the world from annihilation, the feminine wisdom of containment rather than total destruction of opposing forces would be a prudent strategy. If we totally try to destroy the dark side of terrorism and swallow it, we are in danger of becoming like the dark side and compromise our basic values of freedom and fairness. It is indeed a tall order for us as a civilization to pursue the "middle way" in responding to the present crisis with an optimal blend of confrontation and containment tempered by forgiveness. It is heartening to behold that this seems to be precisely the respond of President Bush- confrontation of the terrorists and compassion for the Afghan peoples.


This brief overview of the current crisis of the impact of terrorist attacks in New York City is explored. It is my hypothesis that this apocalyptic event has activated archetypal forces. The archetypal wisdom may help the collective consciousness to deal with the tragedy. The relevant archetype of Shiva and his two consorts, Parvati and Kali is explored. How the myth of Kali informs and instructs us in adequate management of this trauma is explored in a preliminary manner. The myth of Shiva with the poison in his throat (Neel Kantha) further amplifies the understanding and management of the present crisis. This hypothesis is proposed to generate inquiry, reflection and dialogue so that analytical psychology may be brought to bear on fuller and informed management of this global event. From the perspective of the mythic lens, it seems probable that President Bush's National Security advisor Dr. Condelleza Rice may play a decisive role in the optimal resolution of the present crisis.

Ashok Bedi, M.D. is a psychiatrist and Jungian psychoanalyst. A member or the Royal College of Psychiatrist of Great Britain and a fellow of the American Psychiatric Association, he is a Clinical professor in psychiatry at the Medical College of Wisconsin and a Honorary psychiatrist at the Milwaukee Psychiatric Hospital and Aurora Behavioral Health Care System. He is on the faculty of the Carl Jung Institute in Chicago. He has lived and worked in Milwaukee for over twenty-five years. He is the author of a book, "Path to the Soul," published by Samuel Weiser Inc. His website is and email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Ami Bedi is his daughter.