Decent Into Darkness

Through a careful analysis of the original meaning of two esoteric folktales, psychoanalyst Patrick Tummon and psychiatrist David Kibel demonstrate that a "modernization" of Jung's archetypal theory provides a powerful paradigm which unifies the findings of disparate areas of research in psychology, namely evolutionary psychology, attachment theory, and cognitive development.

Descent Into Darkness: Redemption of Depressive States in Folktales :
Reflections from Archetypal Theory / Evolutionary Psychology/ Involuntary Submission Strategies / Attachment Theory Perspectives

Patrick Tummon (Analytical Psychologist) E-mail This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and
David Kibel (Psychiatrist) E-mail
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


We will approach the dynamics of depressive states from an unusual angle, one which draws on our deep cultural heritage of myth and folklore. In exploring the meaning of two folktales, one from the European tradition and the other from the Bushpeople of South Africa, we hope to demonstrate that a "modernization" of Jung's archetypal theory provides a powerful paradigm which unifies the findings of disparate areas of research in psychology.

Analytical psychologists have long regarded myths and folktales as potent metaphors descriptive of the many psychological dilemmas that beset human life (Jung 1916; Von Franz 1970; Dieckmann 1971; Kast 1995). This is in line with their position that we are born both with in-built expectations about life and with strategies for dealing with the degrees to which these expectations are met by the environment (Stevens 1982). This is the core of Jung's archetypal hypothesis. Writing in 1917, Jung spoke of the inherited possibilities of human imagination as it was from time immemorial (CW vol 7:101). Later in 1948, he wrote the archetypes force man's ways of perception and apprehension into specifically human patterns (CW8 para 280). Again in 1949 Jung revised an earlier paper to read : Man "possesses many things which he has never acquired but has inherited from his ancestors. He is not born as a tabula rasa , he is merely born unconscious. But he brings with him systems that are organised and ready to function in a specifically human way, and these he owes to millions of years of human development. Just as the migratory and nest-building instincts of birds were never learnt or acquired individually, man brings with him at birth the ground -plan of his nature. These inherited systems correspond to the human situations that have existed since primeval times: youth and old age, birth and death, sons and daughters, fathers and mothers, mating, and so on. Only the individual consciousness experiences these things for the first time, but not the bodily system and the unconscious. For them they are only the habitual functioning of instincts that were preformed long ago" (CW 4 :728).

Despite Jung's inconsistencies and the difficulties of his writings, his archetypal hypothesis closely prefigures the emergence of the basic tenets of evolutionary psychology today. The current hypothesis in evolutionary psychology that the human mind is made up of a series of inter-related, domain specific Darwinian algorithms which are assumed to focus attention, organize perception and memory, organize procedural knowledge that will serve to guide decision making behaviour is very close to Jung's archetypal hypothesis (Walters 1994:289).

At first glance this definition may seem too rational, but if one understands that the focusing of attention and organizing of perception may involve reptilian and old mammalian parts of the brain , and all that this implies in terms of primitive feelings which can overwhelm consciousness, then this definition can be seen as an update on Jung's archetypal hypothesis(Le Doux 1996).

Hence in a neo-Jungian framework, archetypes can be understood, we suggest, as interrelated sets of Darwinian algorithms that evolved in response to the individual's search for resources in the environment throughout our evolutionary history, from our reptilian beginnings onwards. Within each archetype there are a variety of strategies available and depending on the individual's genotype( =core personality ) and environmental input, a particular strategy will be activated within the individual. However, the potential for other strategies still remain and when the one initially constellated is dysfunctional, there will be an innate urge to search for environmental support for a more harmonious strategy.

While in our Environment of Evolutionary Adaptedness (EEA), a wide variety of strategies (archetypal potentials) emerged for each developmental stage of life, we would suggest that the strongest selection pressure was for the middle position that gave a balanced access to resources i.e. neither too much nor too little (Bowlby 1973:80). Thus the strongest tendency, in our view will be to move the individual to the middle range of possibilities. This middle position is evidenced in the strict rules that governed the sharing and distribution of resources amongst hunter gatherer societies (Lee,R and DeVore,I 1976; Lee,R 1984).

Archetypes, Attachment Systems, Submission Strategies and Depression

The first experiences of regulation of the individual's search for resources in the environment, occurs in the mother-child relationship. This begins in utero and continues throughout childhood with the father, siblings and external world becoming seemingly more important as the child grows older (Haig 1993, Nesse and Williams 1995:197-200; Trivers 1974). However, attachment research indicates that the self regulation (strategy) activated in the child, by its relationship to its mother in the first year of life, has strong carry over effects into all other domains of the child's life thereafter (Grossman and Grossman 1991; Main 1991). Schore's comprehensive review of research on the interface between neurobiology, neurochemistry, affect regulation and the origins of the self, add further weight to this position (Schore 1994). Sroufe's work however, has shown that a positive change in parenting styles, can help a child to transform an insecure avoidant attachment system into a secure one. This may then move the child to a more positive developmental pathway (Sroufe 1985).

The mother-child relationship, we suggest, is where the primary metaphor of submission (how to deal with the world when met with constraint) is established, and where the basic rules of constraint and reciprocity are first learned, at a pre-verbal emotional level. By reciprocity we here mean the mother's capacity to respond to the child's signals and the child's capacity to respond to the mother in a reciprocal manner. Where constraint is positively mediated the child is able to acquire a flexible attitude toward submission. This generates a positive sense of self (basic trust) for the child, who retains faith in its capacity to gain resources from its environment. Constraint or limit setting, here is seen to operate within the bounds of reciprocity. Here one has "the good enough mother" in a Winnicotian sense.(Winnicot 1971). However, where the mother fails to mediate a positive experience of constraint, the child learns not to trust. Lacking the core feature of reciprocity, excessive or inadequate constraint will predominate. Submission may then be actively avoided or actively sought for. Hence, we see submission strategies as central to attachment systems and all self regulatory functions.

Attachment research seems to suggest that the fundamental outlines of the Involuntary Submission Strategy (ISS) (Sloman '94), which operate in adults, are established in the first years of life.

The submission strategy generated by excessive constraint is characterized by a loss of a sense of efficacy vis-a-vis the world, and a primitive effort to break out. Destructive forms of rebellion result in an attempt to get the environment to respond in a positively constraining way. Such a personality is vulnerable to depression when confronted by the constraints evoked during the different developmental stages of life.

Depressive mothers are a particularly good example of this. They tend to apply a narrow band of feelings towards their child, in order to limit the impingement's upon her own meagre resources, a dark space devoid of feelings. If threatened, she closes off and holds onto a rigid position (excessive constraint), or withdraws and allows a lack of constraint, or limit-setting i.e. mother cannot allow good or bad feelings to be openly expressed (Radke-Yarrow 1991).

Such a situation enforces a primitive self regulation within the child, which is invariably characterized by excessive constraint. True submission and true reconciliation become impossible. The child is locked into angry negative feelings, or feels vulnerable, unprotected, anxious and tyrannical in an attempt to produce a reaction and be involved and interacted with. The child's inability to be heard, makes it impossible to talk and put in place other possibilities, other ways of reacting. A deficit in metacognitive knowledge results, for there is no inner space capable of reflection and good-enough mothering, to draw from, and then move forward. Images of great and threatening monsters abound, magically, from on high. There can be no dialogue with a monster. Piaget's concept of the rule of unilateral constraint and Gilbert's biosocial goal of competing apply (Piaget 1932, Gilbert 1989). Unable to test out the limits of reality, submission is harsh, unilateral and only in fantasy.

Attachment research has also shown how some mothers mediate a mixture of intrusive constraint, coupled with a lack of constraint . She intrudes when the child is happily self contained and fails to respond when the child is showing signs of distress and is in need of containment. This leads to a highly ambivalent internal world, full of conflicting good and bad creatures. Any form of later constraint, will generate enormous internal conflict and pain. The submission strategy generated by this style of mothering, leaves the individual in a highly ambivalent and unresolved position, vulnerable to various psychiatric disorders (Salzman 1996). Where the mother mediates lack of constraint , i.e. where she puts few limits on the child's demand for resources, the resultant individual is usually highly narcissistic and vulnerable to major depression, when finally, constraint is imposed on them by circumstances in life.

In contrast, sensitive mothers are able to provide an expectation of reciprocity , in which, submission is associated with a positive feeling tone and outcome. The child discovers that he/she has a voice, engaged in reciprocal communication. This opens an exploration of other possibilities, and therein a development of metacognitive knowledge (Mains 1991). A responsive, mirroring mother can thus soften the rigidity of the experience of submission and allow separation into the world with confidence. Piaget's rule of reciprocity and Gilbert's biosocial goal of co-operating apply (Piaget 1932, Gilbert, P 1989).


Dysfunctional adaptive strategies (negative archetypal patterns), we suggest, evoke strong selection pressures for environmental inputs, which mediate more positive systems of constraint and reciprocity. Since we are verbal creatures par excellence, we suggest that a significant part of this environmental input was mediated and facilitated by myths and folklore, which evolved as the result of this selection pressure. Such stories express the logic of the emotional mind. This may explain why people resonate so deeply with them (Goleman 1995:54). The wide range of folk tales extant in every culture, are, we suggest, particular expressions of specific problematic adaptions and their potential resolution. Hence we concur with many other depth psychologists and folklorists, who view stories as expressions of the purposeful workings of the human mind. We regard the hero/heroine as representative of the ego function and all other characters as representative of various other elements in the individual's psychological makeup. Folktales give expression to problems both in attachment systems and in submission strategies, and to their potential resolution. To illustrate this thesis, we will analyse one story from a paleolithic culture and one from European folk culture.

Story Background

We are very fortunate to have a story, Mantis and the Elephants, directly from a pre-colonial paleolithic culture, the !Xam, in South Africa (D.Bleek 1923)--particularly so, since the bushpeople of Southern Africa are the closest one can get to our common ancestors in Africa. They have been found to have the highest level of mt DNA-sequence divergence yet found, indicating that the Bush people are the oldest people on earth (Kingdon 1993 pg. 258). It is perhaps worth mentioning that there has been, until recent times , a continuous tradition of Palaeolithic rock art in Southern Africa stretching back over 20,000 years (Lewis-Williams1990). The stories from the Bleek collection have been a major key in deciphering this rock art, which suggests a continuity of mythological tradition over that time period. Close similarities have been noticed between the mythological/symbolic traditions of the !Xam and the surviving !Kung in Botswana today (Guenther, Hewitt). This gives us some confidence in suggesting that the story we propose to use has its origins in our environment of evolutionary adaptedness (EEA).

The story deals with Mantis, the trickster god of the Bush people and the problems that arise from his preoccupation with honey.


The story begins with Mantis digging out wild bee's honey from a hole. As he eats he throws up honey to little Springbok, who is sitting in the edge of the hole, with the statement "are you eating as I am eating?" An elephant comes along and carries Springbok away on her back. Mantis, unaware of what has happened, continues to eat and throw up the honey. Finally, getting no reply from Springbok, he emerges from the hole only to discover a calf elephant in its place. Realizing what has happened and outraged by his loss, Mantis kills the calf elephant. He returns to Springbok's mother (his sister). She admonishes him for his neglect and demands that he recover Springbok. When she has packed a bag of dried meat, he sets out on his journey. Before departing, Mantis tells his sister that the wind blowing from a certain direction will foretell his return. He follows the spoor and, from a hill spots Springbok playing with the young elephants. Mother elephant sees Mantis and immediately swallows Springbok. Mantis demands it's return but Mother elephant denies any knowledge of Springbok's whereabouts. Mantis insists he has seen her swallow Springbok.

After a fierce argument Mantis enters her navel and, on finding Springbok there inside, he proceeds to cut her insides to pieces. While the other elephant angrily await his reappearance at her navel, Mantis, with Springbok on his back, escapes through her trunk. Mother elephant dies. Mantis confidently claims his victory and flies away "on the wind", escaping the wrath of the other encircling elephant. At home his sister notices the change in the wind and on return from his journey, Mantis is met with jubilation by all. (D. Bleek 1925 pg.41-44).


The story begins with Mantis in the hole apparently sharing honey with Springbok. For the bush people, honey epitomizes the essence of the sweetness of life and has transformative qualities. It is of interest to note that honey was regarded as food of the gods in ancient Sumer, Greece and in many other cultures (Cooper 1984:84). Honey was always shared by the Bushpeople and the location of each hive was closely guarded, watched over and utilized only when ready. The sharing of this precious resource of sweetness, which was invariably met with great jubilation, consolidated the strict rules of reciprocity within the group. However, Mantis becomes so absorbed in the sweetness, that he seemingly forgets about the existence of Springbok and his responsibility in this regard. This forgetfulness and absorption in the sweetness allows Mother elephant the opportunity to steal away with Springbok unnoticed.

The bush people always refer to Springbok in intensely respectful, even sacred phrases, like "beloved Springbok". The Springbok was, after all, the main source of food, something to be shared. The sharing of Springbok meat was done according to strict rules of reciprocity, which reaffirmed the cohesion of the group. Their attitude of perceiving the Springbok as a gift from life also connected them to the wider cosmological world. Their gratitude to it, was an affirmation of their sense of a reciprocal relationship with the natural world.

Mantis's absorption with the sweetness and the subsequent loss of Springbok reflects a core narcissistic position. In this position he has lost his capacity both to connect to his fellow human beings and to the world at large. Absorbed in the sweetness he becomes a slave to his greed which blinds him. There is a fundamental lack of capacity to reflect to the other. The fact that it is mother elephant who carries Springbok away suggests that it is a negative aspect of the mother complex which deprives Mantis (ego) of his capacity to relate.

Despite his absorption in narcissistic pleasure, something inside him calls his attention to the lack of an appropriate response from Springbok. Here we can see the workings of the archetype of the Self, that which attempts to redress the destructive imbalances within the individual. Just as in the classic narcissistic position he is engulfed with primitive rage when he discovers his loss. Children with insecure/ambivalent attachment patterns are seen to exhibit similar reactions to loss (Mains 1991; Grossman and Grossman 1991). They are easily engulfed with rage and show a distinct inability to reflect on their feelings of loss and simply act out their distress. Their failure on a metacognitive level to reflect on their feelings, can leave them trapped in a position where no learning occurs. They are prone to repetition of their reaction again and again.

This however is not how our story unfolds. Mantis does indeed initially rush off in his rage to track the elephant but his memory of his relationship to his sister, draws him back to a different response to the situation. In this more personal relationship to the feminine, Mantis is held accountable in a way which allows him to undertake a more differentiated, considered response to the loss. She not only admonishes him for his self absorption and demands that he recover Springbok, but also provides him with food for the journey. The initial rage response to the primitive abandoning, devouring mother (elephant) is now very different. In this interaction, higher metacognitive functions can operate. Springbok's mother can engage Mantis in a reasoned dialogue in which Mantis can submit to certain restraints without rage. From a Piagetian perspective this can be seen as both a capacity for positive constraint and reciprocity working within the individual. Springbok's mother embodied a very powerful feminine function for the bushpeople, which mediated constraint and reciprocity within the community. As she is also Mantis' sister this suggests her position is relatively equal to Mantis, the trickster-creator god.

While achieving many heroic feats in Bushman mythology, Mantis is not all powerful. He frequently has to submit to a feminine function that mediates constraint and reciprocity amongst relationships. Hence the urge for mastery epitomised by Mantis had to operate within a field which imposes firm limits, co-operation and negotiation. This suggests that in our Environment of Evolutionary Adaptedness, constraint and reciprocity were essential features of the human condition . The centrality of constraint and reciprocity in the E.E.A., meant that negotiation and compromise were central features of decision making within the community. As a consequence individuals were relatively equally empowered and the capacity to embrace another's position and be understood oneself, was intrinsic to our E.E.A. Embedment within such a social group is the best protection there is against depression (Nesse and Williams 1995 :215-221)!!! Springbok's mother is perhaps a precursor of the many old feminine deities that mediate similar functions of constraint and reciprocity world wide (Cooper 1984:108-9). Athena, who is credited with introducing the legal justice system to Athens, can be viewed as a more sophisticated urbanized version of Springbok's mother.

In our story mantis makes use of a reference to the change in wind direction as foretelling his return. Mantis is beginning his journey with the knowledge that he will return, but knows not when. Wind, as a natural element beyond his control, is a suitable metaphor for his destiny- "that adventure of unknown proportions, that even if we meet with self confidence and the best of faith, will inevitably prove to be something very different, very much more complicated, dangerous and difficult than we expect " (Zimmer 1971). Mantis submits to a living process beyond ego control. Hence the story also indicates the importance of holding the correct attitude to one's fate. Whilst voluntarily submitting to the journey Mantis is not submissive and moves forward with a buoyant, heroic attitude.

He tracks the spore of the elephant to a hill from where he has a good vantage point. Is not his capacity to accurately track the elephant spore itself a metaphor for the ability to consciously trace the source of our emotional suffering? Reaching the vantage point he is able to perceive the wider emotional picture. He can now reflect on his internal emotional scenery in relation to the loss, before acting. His ability to contain what were initially overwhelming feelings creates the freedom for a higher order of focused and considered attitude and response.

For the bushpeople, elephants were regarded as destructive, intrusive creatures. This is compatible with the idea that mother elephant represents the destructive aspect of the mother complex. In leaving behind her own calf, unattuned to its needs, she shows a fundamental lack of differentiation as well as neglect.

From his vantage point, Mantis is confronted with a somewhat unexpected scene. Springbok plays happily with the young elephants, apparently showing no sign of missing his connection to Mantis or his mother. Is this not a regression of the capacity for reciprocal relationships to an earlier phase of development? A stage where reciprocity is still in a primitive form? From a Piagian view, this would perhaps correspond to the role of unilateral constraint, in which is seen the predominance of egocentricism, animism, the magical world of the young child absorbed in its own imagination. Our story illustrates the necessity of regression to an earlier , positive narcissistic phase before development can proceed again (Jung 1913. CW vol 4, 404-406; Kohut, H and Wolf, E.S.,1978).

However, re-emergence from such a regression is never easy. In the true heroic tradition the treasure cannot be recovered without a great struggle. The hero's journey, we suggest, is a metaphor for the ego's struggle to claim potentials from within the unconscious that are necessary for the onward movement of the individual's life (Steinberg 1989:341).

Mantis' initial effort to claim Springbok is met with denial and the threat of destruction. Once again Mantis demonstrates courage and a positive attitude when faced with these threats. The capacity to withstand threats of inner annihilation is crucial to the healing process. Mother elephant's swallowing of Springbok, and the subsequent threats against Mantis, are indicative of the enormous power and negative pull of inner regressive tendencies. Every phase of development, from birth to death, involves an encounter with such inner demons.

In the next phase, our story intimates extraordinary psychological accuracy when Mantis enters through the navel of mother elephant to find Springbok within. Mantis consciously returns to the core of the regression through the umbilicus - the original connection to the great mother. This fearless descent into the heart of darkness, is repeated in hero myths world-wide. In order to resolve serious psychological conflicts, such as addictions and depressive states, one must face the core terrors that generate them. Therapeutically, this implies exploring and containing the early attachment experiences with the mother. This is never an easy process and one can see the value of stories which point toward successful resolution of suffering and the possibility of transformation of early damage.

Another crucial element demonstrated in our story is the need for focused aggression in order to extricate the treasure from the negative mother complex. Neither a diffuse, destructive, impulsive, narcissistic anger, nor the suppression of anger would be helpful at this point (Cochrane,N., and Neilson,M. 1977; Fava,G.A., Kellner,R., Lisansky,J., 1986). We see Mantis cutting mother elephant's inside to pieces with his spear, and escaping through her trunk. He dissects her inner core into small pieces. The spear is an image of an archetypally evolved capacity for assertiveness in the service of individuation. It symbolises a capacity which enables the individual to interact with his/her instincts in a more conscious way.

Mother elephant dies. Death of the regressive side of the mother complex is essential if the individual is to move out of an infantile position of dependency. Marduk, the heroic god of ancient Babylon, kills the goddess Tiamat who represents primitive chaos, while Perseus, one of the classic heroes of Greece, slays the Medusa, the petrifying aspect of the mother, the look that kills.

While all the regressive energy is focused around the navel, Mantis makes his escape through the head, thereby demonstrating a relative freedom of action. His aggression, coupled with his incisive analytic skills, gives him this freedom. His success fills him with confidence and allows him, metaphorically, to fly home with springbok "on the wind". The return of Springbok to the community, we see as a metaphor for the establishment of constraint and reciprocity. His renewed self esteem allows him to return home where he is met with great jubilation. The successful resolution of a psychological loss is invariably followed by a sense of exhilaration which allows, once more, a feeling of being connected to life.

In terms of submission strategy Mantis initially lacks constraint in his consumption of the prized honey and reacts with unrestrained rage to loss. Such a lack of capacity for submission, could potentially have disastrous consequences. But fortunately, a positive form of constraint and reciprocity is mediated by another internal element, his sister, to whom he can willingly submit, helps him to transform rage into more effective psychological action.

We have attempted to explore the meaning of the different elements of the story as understood by the Bushmen themselves. Our analysis, we hope, has shown that the story fulfils the definition of a Darwinian algorithm as defined previously. The story offers a metaphor for psychological growth but of itself is no guarantee that such growth will occur. Each individual retains the freedom to choose whether to undertake such a journey or not. We all have our own honeypots that can absorb us completely, to the detriment of relatedness to others. We all know what it means to be filled with rage and we all know the struggle to contain that rage and convert it into effective action at an interpersonal level. There is, after all, a moral choice in each individual's journey.

We will now analyze how this moral choice is exercised by a heroin on a more recent story from European folk culture.


This story deals with a heroine's journey from the house of a cruel stepmother and stepsister into the realm of Frau Holle.

The story begins with a wicked stepmother who despises her beautiful stepdaughter. She much prefers her own ugly and idle daughter and forces her to spend her days sitting by the well spinning until her fingers bleed. Then, one day whilst washing her blood off her shuttle, the stepdaughter accidentally drops it into the well. Distraught, she runs back to her stepmother for help. Her cruel stepmother forces her to retrieve it herself. In the sorrow of her heart, she jumps into the well, loses her senses and, much surprised, she awakens in a beautiful meadow. Here she has entered the realm of Frau Holle. She is confronted with a bakers oven full of bread which cries out "take me out, or we shall burn." She gladly obliges. Further on she meets an apple tree full of ripe apples which call out to her "shake me or we shall fall off and rot." Again she gladly obliges.

At last she comes to a little house occupied by a frightening old woman. About to flee, the old woman speaks kindly to her and promises her a reward if she does service for her. The girl agrees, and dutifully obeys all of Frau Holle's instructions. Consequently, she never hears an angry word from the old woman who is kind to her. As time passes the girl becomes homesick and asks permission to return to her family. Frau Holle gladly accedes to her request and leads her to a large door. As she walks through the door, the girl is showered with gold. On her return home, she retells all that has happened. Her jealous stepmother immediately sends her daughter on the same journey in order that she too might have such gold. However, on reaching the realm of Frau Holle, she refuses to retrieve the bread or shake the apple tree. Indeed, she is slovenly in her work for Frau Holle and soon asks to return home. Frau Holle agrees. As she passes through the door, she is covered with pitch, just as Frau Holle is saying "this is the reward for your service." The pitch clung fast to her and could not be got off as long as she lived.


The story opens with our heroine trapped in a network of envy and cruelty. Her natural mother is absent and her father is unavailable. She is left alone to face the punitive criticisms of her stepmother and stepsister. Clearly, her self esteem is under great threat with seemingly no resources to protect and nurture her. Such experiences lie at the core of many depressive states, which are characterized by an inner narrative of pessimism and self doubt. We can see entrapment in such a position echoed in dysthymia or major depression.

The intensity of her pain and suffering is poignantly represented by an image of the girl spinning until her fingers bleed. Inevitably her blood stains the shuttle and, in an attempt to wash it off, she drops it into the well. She, somewhat surprisingly, returns to her stepmother expecting help, but instead she receives a cruel and potentially murderous rebuff. Was she still hoping for some form of kindness from her stepmother, a projection of the good mother? This is typical of anxiously attached children to cruel parents and all abusive relationships. She is trapped in a hopeless position. It is only when faced with the intransigent negativity of the stepmother, does this projection finally breakdown and forward movement progression becomes possible.

On the edge of the well, she stands beyond hope, even in despair. But is it important to note that European folklore, was replete with stories, of such descents and encounters with the positive aspect of the great mother, who protected the individual from complete loss of hope. Both the Bushpeople and the Bantu peoples of South Africa, also describe descent underwater as part of their healing processes (Donald 1996). There are similar traditions in the Middle East, going back to prehistoric times (Persephone's descent into the underworld, Inanna's descent in ancient Sumer etc). Such descents are always faced with fear and trepidation, as the outcome can never be guaranteed.

It is only possible to fully enter the darkness once the ego has given up an untenable psychological position. Our heroine will never get the nurturing care she so desperately longs for from her stepmother. It is only when she finally gives up all hope of ever receiving this from her, that she is free to experience a more positive side of the mother archetype. This internal letting go is experienced as a descent, a falling into the darkness. It is the fear of this darkness, of not knowing, of no inner certainties, that traps the individual in maladaptive strategies. Hence the importance of stories which facilitate the process. By jumping into the well, the ego leaves behind the cruelty and also, the certainty of the known world and opens itself up to other possibilities. This voluntary aspect of the process is central to its efficacy. (Is this not analgous to Jung's voluntary descent into his inner world of fantasy?)

The heroine's voluntary submission opens up a new world and a new way of experiencing life. She awakens in a beautiful meadow. In this world, the tasks confronting her are experienced as serving a more benign mother. Thus picking the ripe apples and taking the bread out of the oven are pleasurable tasks done gladly, and not with a sense of burden. Fulfilling her daily chores for Frau Holle, she is submitting in a very different way from the rigid, cruel constraints imposed by her stepmother. These seemingly trivial daily tasks are the necessary substrate that create order, the very nuts and bolts of life, that we denigrate at our peril. They also represent the modelling of appropriate cultural behaviour. European folk culture abounded with stories of characters like Frau Holle, who's emotional meaning was well known.

This sustained immersion in the realm of Frau Holle represents, we suggest, an evolved disposition to move the ego from the experience of cruel constraint and with little reciprocity to a more benign one. From another perspective, it can be viewed as an effort to evoke the inner representational model of a more secure attachment system, where submission is rewarded with adequate reciprocity.

Engagement with inner life has its own natural cycle and our heroine eventually feels the need to return to the upper world. We see here at work, the operation of the Archetype of the Self- that self regulatory, adamantive core and seed of our being, which acknowledges to the heroine that her work is done. She approaches Frau Holle with this request and Frau Holle rejoices in her asking. This points toward a process which recognizes and celebrates the successful resolution of psychological conflict. Frau Holle's attitudes of welcoming our heroine's wish to depart from her realm is similar to that found in mothers of securely attached children, who encourage independence and curiosity, rather than clinging too their children. In fact, Frau Holle leads her to the door, suggesting a deeper knowledge beyond normal conscious awareness, which knows the way forward. On passing through the doorway our heroine is showered with gold. She is blessed with a shining protective mantel, a deep sense of connection to the archetypal realm of Frau Holle, the earth mother, natural regulator of the seasons.

The story however also presents the potential for a far darker outcome. The ugly sister emerges from Frau Holle's realm covered in black pitch, which the story tells us, remains on her till the end of her days. Her sense of self is filled with self loathing and hatred. Her failure to fulfil Frau Holle's tasks has had dire consequences. Why?

The story initially describes her as rather indulged, spiteful and selfish, possibly an anxiously attached child, generated by the mother's lack of constraint and indulgence of her narcissistic needs. This contrasts sharply with her fair stepsister, whose anxious attachment was generated by the reverse, that is, cruel, excessive constraint and profound frustration of her narcissistic needs. This lack of the necessary frustration of the ugly sister's narcissistic drives renders her incapable of letting go, incapable of submission. Unlike her step-sister who is able to tolerate the frightening process of disintegration and subsequent reintegration, she maintains the same old selfish attitude throughout her journey. Her failure to submit with a positive attitude to Frau Holle's tasks reflects a personality, which fails to submit to the tasks of life, a failure which results in a deeper entrenchment of the problem. Unable to let go of her mother's world, nothing new is possible.

The Narrow Gate

We return to the centrality of a descent into the darkness as a metaphor to describe the necessary journey the individual must undertake in order to fully recover from depressive states and loss. We have seen how the components of this journey involve a complete and voluntary abandonment of a previous entrapped position, submission with the correct attitude toward one's fate, great courage and flexibility as well as the transformation of primitive rage to effective assertion, to finally succeed. These "minideaths" make it possible for the old to make way for new.

The attitude to limits and limitations or as Walker (1994) has termed the "archetype of surrender", and Neumann " the archetype of the ego's relation to the self" in the various stages of development, is seen as crucial in the understanding of submission or to put it more poetically , entering the narrow gate . This is a rich image for being faced with a reduction of circumstances, restriction, or dopotentiation; of contemplating what must be lost of shed (Walker 1994).

Surrender is the response one makes to the realization that no further movement in a particular direction is possible. Walker distinguishes this from submission which is closer to a mere capitulation in order to "fight another day": grudgingly accepted defeat and smouldering rebellion, the "if only" syndrome. Surrender is a more complete submission, a throwing in one's lot with changed circumstance. This impulse has driven voluntary limitations such as asceticism, vows, a promise freely given to take on a limitation which form the inner dynamic of polarity. It becomes the "Ariadne's thread in the labyrinth to ensure staying on course."

Limit situations occur through the life cycle when things are out of control and unfamiliar. These situations are seen to occur in adolescence where the struggle between liberty and captivity in the search for inner freedom is intense. In mid-life, it involves the struggle for abandonment of idealised youth (Stein 1983 ). To be in a position to be delivered one has first to be able to acknowledge reaching the limits of ones personal resources. Depression and dysthymia may represent unresolved dominance/ submission struggles, rather than the complete surrender and acceptance of prevailing circumstances, necessary for individuation. In this sense dominance/ submission strategies can be seen as subsystems of the archetype of the self. Through facing the limits of one's unique humanity, one is initiated into one's universality. Surrender to our limits allows one to receive from a source beyond the ego. It is as if ego must reach this point of surrender, this descent into darkness to experience a transformation mediated by an inner wisdom (evolved adaptive strategies), that is timeless and profound. Perhaps this wisdom is the gold showered upon our heroine and the true meaning of Mantis reclaiming springbok.


In looking at two stories, one from a preliterate, Paleolithic culture, the other from European culture, we have tried to demonstrate that from a "neo-archetypal perspective" they represent naturally selected environmental inputs that have the potential to transform malfunctioning attachment systems and submission strategies, protecting the individual from transitional turmoil, loss and depressive states. The stories, bring a temporal element to the description of psychological transformation, and offer templates or patterns for psychological action. But the choice remains with the individual whether to follow the journey or not. The stories bring one back to the centrality of moral choice in life.


Cochrane,N., & Neilson,N. 1977: Depressive illness: The role of aggressiveness further considered. Psychological Medicine , vol 7, 282-288
Cooper,J.C.,1984: An Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Traditional Symbols London. Thames & Hudson
Dieckman,H., 1971 The Favourite Fairy-Tale of Childhood Journal of Analytical Psychology vol 16, no1 18-30.
Donald,I., 1996 the Nguni Diviner as Hero Cape Town Mantis Journal vol 8 no1. 5-24. P.O. Box 589, Rondebosch 7701 RSA
Fava,G.A.,Kellner,R.,Lisansky,J., et al.1986: Hostility and recovery from melancholia. Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease , vol 174, 414-417.
Gilbert, P. Human Nature and Suffering . Hove and London: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1989.
Goleman,D.,1995 Emotional Intelligence . London Bloomsbury.
Grossmann,K.E., & Grossmann,K.,1991. Attachment quality as an organizer of emotional and behavioural responses in a longitudinal perspective. Murray Parkes, C. et alii op.cit. pp 93-114.
Guenther,M.G. 1989 Bushman Folktales . Stuttgart Franz Steiner Verlag Wiesbaden GMBH.
Haig, D. 1993. Genetic conflicts in human pregnancy. Quarterly Review of Biology 68:495-531.
Hewitt, R.L. 1986 Structure, Meaning and Ritual in the Narratives of the Southern San. Hamburg Helmut Buske Verlag.
Jung,C.G., All references from Jung are from his Collected Works published in London by Routledge in the USA by Princeton University Press.
References indicate the volume number followed by the paragraph numbers. e.g. C.W. vol 4 para 404-406.
Kast,V., 1995 Folktales as therapy. New York. Fromm International.
Kingdon, J., 1993 Self-Made Man and His Undoing . London Simon & Schuster.
Kohut,H.,& Wolf E.S., 1978 The Disorders of the Self and Their Treatment: An Outline. Int. J. Psycho-Anal . vol 59. 413-425.
Lee,R.B. 1984: The Dobe !Kung . NewYork CBS College Publ. ------------& DeVore,I (eds) 1976 Kalahari Hunter-Gatherers. Cambridge Mass. H.U.P.
Lewis-Williams, J.D., 1990 Discovering Southern African Rock Art. Cape Town. David Philips.
Main,M. 1991: Metacognitive knowledge, metacognitive monitoring and singular (coherent) vs. Multiple (incoherent) model of attachment: findings and directions for future research. In Murray Parkes,C. ii 1991: 127-159
Murray Parkes,C. et alii 1991: Attachment Across the Life Cycle . London. Routledge.
Nesse,R.M.& Williams,G.C., 1995: Evolution & Healing . London. Wiedenfeld & Nicolson.
Piaget,J., 1932: The Moral Judgement of the Child . Penguin Education 1977.
Radke-Yarrow, M., 1991: Attachment Patterns in Children of Depressed Mothers Murry Parkes op.cit. pp 115-126.
Salzman,J.P., 1996: Primary Attachment in Female Adolescents: Association with Depression, Self-Esteem, and Maternal Identification. Psychiatry. vol 59, pp20-53.
Schore, A.N., 1994: Affect Regulation and The Origin Of The Self. Hillsdale, New Jersey. Lawrence Erlbaum.
Sloman,l. et alii..1994 Adaptive Functions of Depression: Psychotherapeutic Implications. American Journal of Psychotherapy Vol.48 no.3
Stein, M., 1983: In Midlife Dallas Texas. Spring Publications.
Steinberg,W., 1989: Depression: A discussion of Jungs Ideas. Journal of Anal. Psychology . vol 34, no 4, 339-352.
Stevens,A. 1982: Archytypes: A natural History of the Self . NewYork William Morrow & Co.
-------------- 1993: The Two Million-Year-Old Self College Station, Texas: Texas A & M Univ. Press.
Trivers,R.L., 1974: Parent-offspring Conflict American Zoologist 14: 249-264.
Von Franz M.L., 1970: The Interpretation of Fairy Tales . Zurich. Spring Publications.
Walker, L., 1994 : The Narrow Gate, An Exploration of the Archetype of Surrender. The Guild of Pastoral Psychology June 1-13
Walters,S., 1994: Algorithms and Archetypes: Evolutionary Psychology and Carl Jungs Theory of the Collective Unconscious. Journal of Social and Evolutionary Systems 17(3), 287-306.
Winnicot D.W., 1971 Playing and Reality. London. Pelican
Zimmer,H., 1971: The King and The Corpse. New Jersey, Princeton University Press.