Author Topic: Alt. Interpretation of "Nixie of the Mill-Pond" (to John Betts')  (Read 19880 times)

Matt Koeske

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I've finally gotten around to listening to Jungian Analyst John Betts' podcasts interpreting the fairytale, The Nixie of the Mill-Pond.  I sometimes wish we had gotten into more fairytale interpretation at Useless Science.  Of course, some of the fairytale interpretation we have wandered into here has led to conflict.  I like to look at conflict as healthy, at least innately, but this health isn't always realized unless all participants share the same slightly combative attitude.  To be fair, fairytale interpretations at this site also have to contend with my own input, which can be problematic.  I have derived many of my theories with close accord to fairytale psychology and interpretation . . . and my theories are largely reactive and therefore inherently contentious.  But I have always greatly enjoyed fairytale interpretation . . . in the way one might enjoy single malt scotch or dark chocolate.  I haven't done all that much of it here, perhaps because I've worried that it's too indulgent.  The last thing we'd want is for me to have too much fun  (-)monkbggrn(-).  But I'm not one to eschew indulgence very often, and I suppose I have a craving.

The first thing I should say before I continue is that I like very much what John Betts is doing with his Jungian podcasts.  I'm entirely in favor of giving Jungian thought a legitimate web presence and getting it out of its "cultic" professionalistic tribalism.  Betts' approach to this is like the antithesis of mine, and he is sort of like the white knight to my black one (speaking personae, that is).  Betts' is attempting to educate non-Jungians and amateur lay Jungians in fairly conventional, primarily (but not exclusively) "classical" Jungianism.  He is putting a modern (internet-based) twist on the time-honored Jungian "community service" of trying to introduce Jung to "beginners".

I have two general hesitancies when it comes to this time honored tradition.  The first is that I don't think the project is really doable.  It seems, rationally, like it should be . . . but it simply isn't.  It is impossible to take Jung's complex and digressive, often self-contradictory, and at times very dated writing and distill it into a simplified form that is still representative of (classical) Jungianism.  This is one of the reasons I don't attempt this on this website or in any of my writing.  It is my opinion that the only way Jung's (admittedly excessive) complexity and complication can be simplified is by pruning and revising it (and perhaps at times replanting its seeds or shoots).  There is no simplified Jungianism that is the "true Jungianism" . . . and this is not because Jung's ideas are esoteric (although they are at times), but because they are complex, diverse, and interrelated in ways that disallow functional reduction.  So the attitude I take here is not merely that of a puer's pathological attempt to fell the Jungian giant (and chop down the beanstalk it's climbing down) . . . it could also be seen as the kind of flipside or shadow side of the kind of thing Betts is also trying to do.  That is, we are both trying to bring Jungianism into a modern medium in the (Erotic) desire to rejuvenate and perpetuate it.  We are both, I believe, driven by a sense of Eros or connectedness to our tribe's survivability.

Whereas I am generally antagonistic, moody, gruff, barbarous, hairy, unwelcoming, and seemingly uninterested in introducing newbies to Jungianism, Betts is personable (using audio rather than written words), gentle, kind, and fostering (a cynic might use the term "pedantic" instead, but I don't think that's fair).  The white knight/black knight metaphor I used above is an apt way of understanding the personae we each choose in order to enact our Erotic projects.  My guess is that his choice of the white knight persona is just as semi-compulsive for him as my black knight persona is for me.  Perhaps each of our complexes lies in some logical association to these masks (I can only, of course, attest to this in my own case).  As one who chooses to communicate to others (a group or community of others, more precisely) through a shadow(y) persona, I tend to look upon the white knight persona with suspicion.  I worry, for instance, that such an approach can be misleading to the point of deceptiveness in its seductive indoctrination into a Jungian tribalism that is in many ways dysfunctional and (in its classical school manifestation) perhaps even bound for impending extinction.  Less gloomy but still a major concern is the non forthcoming or non-transparent indoctrination of people into a mindset that has some serious flaws that aren't being adequately dealt with within the Jungian community.

More specifically, I see it as a signature failing of Jungianism that it attracts people toward the "numinous unconscious" but has no functional system to work with many of the problems of that numinous unconscious outside of tribal indoctrination.  In other word, despite being the coiners of the term individuation, Jungians do not have an effective individuation system.  My (rather prejudicial) take on many of the Jungians (especially lay Jungians) I've encountered is that they are really only tourists in the forest of the unconscious.  In the fairytale idiom, we could say that they follow the numinous stag into the forest, but then usually fail to undertake the heroic journey (usually the king who follows a stag into the forest gets lost and is the one who sets the pathological or Demonic aspects of the complex in motion or makes a devil's bargain with a Demonic or bewitched animi figure . . . requiring the hero to remedy that disease).  So I'm concerned about the promotion of that attitude.  I strive to make the discussions at Useless Science challenging both psychologically and intellectually in the hope of saying to the lay Jungian tourist "abandon all hope ye who enter here" . . . because only then, in that state of Socratic ignorance or Zen not-knowing can any real work be done with the psyche (the psyche-as-Other, that is).  In other words, we must follow that stag, and we must get lost in the forest and run into the Demonic aspect of our psychology in order to then find our heroism and work out a viable solution or healing treatment or synthesis.

Of course, as a result of this token and superficial forbiddance in my approach, very few people actually "enter here".  Which is not really my desire.  I would really like people to use this forum freely but also bring a less tribalistic, more intellectually rigorous attitude to the discussions.  Amateurs, I like and welcome.  In fact, I have a deep love for devoted and enthusiastic amateurism, for an ability to approach thinking and living with a sense of innocence and non-professionalism.  Engagement, even if foolish, is always preferred to detachment in my book . . . and I seek to embody this attitude as much as possible.  I am, after all, an amateur . . . although a fairly well-read and "established" (through auto-didactic experience) one.  Amateurs who bring an overly inflated narrowmindedness and excessive narcissism to the discussions are, of course, less appreciated . . . but I sympathize with this mindset, as it is the emblem of the Jungian Disease (that we should all take a deeper look at), and must be worked through rather than spurned and shamed into an ever more ruthlessly contained imprisonment in its "infantile grandiosity".  What I like to see in members is a willingness to grow together in parallel, to experiment, to go out on limbs and risk falls.  But that itself is a very burdensome request . . . and I have certainly never demanded it.  What I would most like to see at Useless Science is a collection of others and otherness all knocking together like excited molecules, encouraging some kind of complex self-organization to form.  I see my role in this as, on one hand, one of those molecules looking to be excited, and on the other hand, as the one who tries to turn up the heat a bit to nudge this along.

The second reason I usually oppose the indoctrinating education of Jungian newbies is that I'm not sure Jungianism has anything of value to sell to the "unconverted".  Many Jungians have approached the creation of an "intro to Jung" text as a noble endeavor, as something wholly good.  But I see a bit of Don Quixote in this mentality.  Jungians have proven themselves significantly unprepared for communication with a modern academic/intellectual/scientific world outside of those they have been able to indoctrinate into the Jungian tribe.  Most non-Jungians do not take Jungians seriously . . . and although some Jungians are willing to admit this, few seem to be willing to take any constructive action regarding it.  The developmental/psychoanalytic schools of Jungianism have decided to treat the Jungian inferiority complex by hopping over to supposedly superior psychoanalytic ideas and stances.  I don't really buy this intellectually/analytically, and I feel this behavior and expressed attitude are largely complex driven, to boot.  It is a psychopathological evasion of the problem of true Jungian inferiority feelings.

My proposed treatment would be more along the lines of helping the Jungian puer come out of the shadow and move toward a threshold of initiation . . . and certainly not a return to the Father (Freud) to have a second, repentant go at being the Good Son that Jung refused or failed to be.  But from what I've seen, the sense of shame is too powerful and too repressed in the Jungian tribe to undertake such an initiation journey.  As a result, Jungians have either pretended that they have esoteric, initiatory experience unjustifiably and inflatedly (the classical/fundamentalist schools) or they have "blamed Jung" for being a flawed Father-guide and sought to spurn his shadow, returning to the original shadow caster's fold, psychoanalysis (which of course has a long tradition of blaming and demeaning Jung).

All that said, I like John Betts (perhaps, though, he is too hard not to like?), and I'm glad (even as I embody his opposite in many ways) to have him up to the same Erotic task that I am also compelled to pursue.  I think he's done an excellent job introducing and explaining core Jungian ideas while avoiding many of what he has called the "Jungianisms" that plague weaker Jungian writing and thinking.  And that he has done this in podcasts rather than books is also commendable in my opinion.  It seems like a better format somehow.  I like John Betts enough that I feel some conflicted feelings about undertaking the following endeavor.  It is not my intention to hold Betts up to criticism as a fairytale interpreter.  In fact, it is because Betts does such an admirable job of implementing classical Jungian fairytale interpretation techniques that I felt inspired to write this "counterpoint".  That and some kind of devilish amusement at the notion of playing black knight to his white (i.e., "It's the role I was born to play, Baby!").

Compulsive complex be damned.  Sometimes it's simply fun to play trickster.  Every Batman needs a Joker, and vice versa.  I guess I find it amusing how polarized my approach and John Betts' approach are from one another.  I feel like there should be some kind of complimentary merging, perhaps a "Coniunctio" of sorts . . . as if to demonstrate how, by themselves, each of our approaches is truly incomplete.

I should also mention that John was kind enough to read an excessively lengthy plug for Useless Science (graciously sent to him by our own Keri) on one of his podcast feedback sessions (as well as one for Kafiri's Jung 2.0 website).  I am grateful to him for this kindness . . . and perhaps a bit ashamed that I have only my own brand of tainted gratitude to repay the gesture.

Counter Interpretation of Nixie of the Mill-Pond

So, without further ado, I would like to "shadow" Betts' interpretation of Nixie of the Mill-Pond with my own.  I will also shadow a bit of his exposition on interpretive technique.  Aside from all my usual pathological reasons for this reactive bit of writing, I would also like to use Betts' fine interpretation of the fairytale as an example of how the theory I've been developing differentiates itself from conventional Jungian theory . . . in the arena of interpretation, specifically.  Nixie of the Mill-Pond is not really the most conducive tale for my theory.  Its fit is neutral, and I hope this puts my attempt on even ground with a more classical Jungian one.  Finally, in the name of full transparency and disclosure, I have actually written about this particular fairytale before . . . about 10 years ago when I was taking a literature class with professor of literature and Jungian analyst, Ron Curran, who assigned it as a text in one of his classes.  I can't say I remember what I wrote, and I'm not sure I still have the interpretation.  But if I can find it in my old files after I finish this attempt, I might post it to show how my thinking on things Jungian has developed over the last 10 years or so.

The text of Nixie of the Mill-Pond can be read here (see also here and here*).  Although all of Bett's podcasts on the interpretation of this story are well worth listening to, you can find his complete and uninterrupted reading of the story here.  Also, he summarizes his full interpretation in the 7th and final installment of the fairytale interpretation podcasts:

[* I never realized at the time how fortunate I was to have both Ron Curran and D.L. Ashliman as professors during my college education at a university where there was no general emphasis on Jungian thought or fairytale interpretation.  The significance of the classes I took from these two professors (6 in all, I think) has only increased as I've aged.  Many thanks to them both!]

Some More Transparency

Other than listening to 6 of the 7 Bett's podcasts on the Nixie interpretation before I started writing this response, I made no other preparation.  I didn't even reread the story until half way through the writing below.  In other words, nothing here is planned or orchestrated.  But in the hope of showing how fairytale interpretation is an organically unfolding process with largely creative and arbitrary structure and not a tea leaf reading of "the Truth", I have left in the essay below my mistakes, wafflings, and changes of opinion.  I did not know how the tale "should" be interpreted before I began writing, and I ended up trying a few things on for size before I made my final purchase.  Even with that final decision, I am not satisfied with the treatment of the fairytale's backstory.  I doubt there is a perfect psychological solution to this backstory, but there is probably a better one.  Whatever the case, I think it is important to recognize that there are textual and subtextual problems we will face in fairytale (as well as dream) interpretation that we do not bring to the tales (in addition to the many problems we do bring) . . . and these problems cannot be magicked away.  Such interpretation is the re-languaging of a logic inherent in the structure of the text, but most texts don't have a pristine sense of logic.  Fairytales tend to be the most frequent exception to this rule . . . but even they are sometimes too complexly structured to be neatly deciphered.  Nixie of the Mill-Pond is an example of this.  It is easy to understand the inherent logic of the text if we break it up into the miller's story, the hunter's story, and the heroine's story . . . but put these three simple systems together in a narrative interrelation, and complexity overwhelms our reductive intellection.

Still, these snags have to be admitted too, or we run the risk of becoming inflated in our "power" to render symbols of psychic dynamism and organization into verbal language.  That's the intellectual power of paradigm making where we are subject to Demonic possession whenever we believe in our languaging constructions at the expense of the logic of what we mean to render linguistically.  It is acceptable as a writer and thinker to indulge some negative capability.  We should never convince ourselves that the dynamic stuff of the psyche should submit to out egoic ordering of it.  In interpretation, we set out to discover, and never to impose, order.  I may not have unearthed viable answers, but I think I have put my finger on some of the problems.

I've added a few passages in blue on my second read through.  One specifically points to a more elegant construction of the backstory interpretation.  It is my best guess thus far.  Apologies for the incongruity it might seem to create in a linear reading of the whole essay.

Some Critiques of Jungian Fairytale Interpretation

One of the most meta-intriguing things about this story for Jungian interpreters is that the story itself is like a reflection of the nixie . . . with the potential Jungian interpreter as a reflection of the miller.  That is, it seems like such a nice, neat Jungian fairytale to interpret with its fat, juicy archetypes dangling off the low branches like perfectly ripe fruits . . . when in fact it is devilishly challenging, at least in its rather unusual (by fairytale standards) construction.  It "nixies" us by tantalling down all those obvious and juicy archetypal hooks . . . how can we resist such a sweet temptation?  But it has a nasty little counterpunch waiting for the unsuspecting (at times inflated?) Jungian interpreter who dives at those archetypes.  And this counterpunch is specific to Jungians and the Jungian interpretive method.  As John Betts explains adeptly, in Jungian fairytale (and dream) interpretation, one begins with the detection and assumption of a masculine/male or feminine/female perspective.  After this is established, the next step might be the establishment of an ego character (a character in the story representing the ego) who is often thought (by Jungians) to be the hero of the tale.  Jungians then attempt to apply an ego psychology to this hero.

This story completely throws these rules of thumb on their ass . . . and the nixie rears up, grabs the dumbfounded Jungian interpreter, and pulls him or her down into the pond.  The first temptation is to assume that "Nixie" is a story representing a male psychology.  It isn't.  This is undoubtedly a woman's story.  Why?  Because the hero is female and the process of individuation depicted is one of female/feminine becoming.  The story is extremely deceptive (to Jungians) on this issue, because it seems to begin as a story about male individuation in which the miller is the hero.  As the miller's tale recedes int to the background, it then seems as though his son will be playing the hero (perhaps in a redemption of the father's sins motif).  This also does not happen . . . and it is the son's wife who finally takes up the heroic quest with which the fairytale is eventually concerned.

This structure is extremely rare in fairytales (at least as far as I have seen).  Much more typically, a fairytale does not concern itself so deeply with backstory.  It is not uncommon to get a "sins of the parent" background summary in a fairytale, but usually this segues into the establishment of a redemptive son or daughter theme.  "Nixie" is a real curveball . . . and it is especially tempting (and ensnaring) to psychoanalysts because it dwells so much on establishing what any analyst would see as the parenting environment and inherited complexes of the child.  The magnificent feast of "now this is where the son's complex really came from" is wafted right under our noses.  I would argue, therefore, that the functional interpretation of this fairytale can only be made if we are able to resist our psychoanalytic tendencies to pathologize personalities and texts (or to see things too rigidly in a technical psychoanalytic language instead of an intuitive one).

In this area, I have an unfair advantage over a trained analyst, as being a non-professional, I have no genuinely established analyst persona with which to contend.  Still, it is a Jungian rule of thumb (in dream interpretation, but essentially in fairytale interpretation, too) to disregard our professionalism and formal training as we approach a text and admit to ourselves right away how it doesn't accord as neatly with our preconceptions as we might like.  Here, there is a discord between the frame of the tale and the eventual heroic protagonist on which the tale will center.  If we miss this, we will never get out from under the surface of that pond.  The nixie will have us underwater forever.

Other than indoctrinated habit and understandable tendency to approach texts methodically rather than creatively (understandable because analysts are not trained to be artists while they are often trained to be scholars), the Jungian will likely be vexed with the interpretation of this tale due to the inadequacy of Jungian theory in regard to the hero archetype.  For instance, the idea that the hero in a tale is a representation of the ego is deeply flawed, and it prevents the functional interpretation of many fairytales*.  This assumption is less dangerous in the analysis of heroic epics and some classical myths, where hero and ego are often conflated.  In fairytales, we have a purer representation of the psychic process than we see in epics and myths (as von Franz notes and Betts quotes, saying that this is generally accepted by Jungians).  In practice this translates into the idea that, in fairytales, the hero is "pure" and distinct from the ego.  In many fairytales, I would argue (heretically, from a Jungian standpoint) that there is no true ego character.  When we see ego characters in fairytales, they are often the sibling/s of the hero, and they play no direct heroic role (they might even play the role of a personal shadow figure).

* The conflation of ego and fairytale hero is not utterly absurd on its face, and some degree of error in Jungian thinking on this point is, I feel, acceptable.  But the problem of conflation here has gone on unchecked for decades . . . and the only reason such an obvious differentiation has not been made in the name of intellectual and scientific progress and revision is that a complex (a nixie, perhaps) is holding the delusion in place, imprisoning it.  To be fair, the hero is an archetype with which the ego does in fact need to identify in some way in order for it to be functional in the personality.  It is the heroic attitude that the ego needs to incorporate into the conscious decision making process.  This incorporation must be an addition and not a replacement in order to work functionally.  The ego might identify at times with the hero (and I don't see this as pathological), but as long as the ego doesn't usurp the costume of the hero to defend itself against vulnerability, no inflation is afoot.  This differentiation is not adequately made in Jungian thinking.

What I do see in the Jungian attitude toward the hero is a kind of paranoia that any heroism in the personality is inflated and might possess the ego.  This strikes me as an attitude reflective of a projection of guilt.  In other words, inherent in the Jungian tribal mindset is a possession of the ego by the "hero" (what I would actually call the Demon in the hero's disguise).  It is sensed that something has gone wrong here, and so the whole Demon/hero issue is shunted into the closet or put into deep freeze.  As a result, Jungians (who execute this deep freezing well enough) stall the absolute takeover of the personality by the Demon, but only at the expense of neutering the true hero, as well.  This means that individuation (which depends entirely upon the hero or Syzygy, the hero/animi pair) cannot progress beyond the point of distant recognition of the Self.  This distancing of the Self encourages Jungians to totemize it and form a dualistic or animistic attitude toward it.  The Self is "Good" just as long as it is appeased . . . but if it is not adequately appeased (through tribal totemization and totem worship), it will go "Bad" (become an angry god) and exert amoral and destructive forces upon the personality.  Thus, the Jungian dualism that dissociates the Self concept.

Accompanying this deep freezing of hero and Demon is a Jungian attitude toward affect that is overly negative and forbidding.  This is actually "rational" in that it is precisely the excesses of affect that can melt the deep freeze and allow the conflated Demon-hero to surge up into consciousness and wreak havoc with delusional ideas, feelings, and compulsions.  The Jungian "senexy" system of "maturation" is devoted to keeping these affects down (repressed) so that the Demon/hero issues don't invade the psyche.  Regrettably, this tends to lead to the construction of a Bad Faith position.  That is, since the hero and the individuation process are stalled, and Jungian psychology relies so heavily on the notion and promotion of individuation . . . totemic, abstracted, and artificial portrayals of individuation are established and "sold".  These formulations of individuation don't actually work (for the reasons mentioned above) as individuation.  They work fine, though, for tribal indoctrination and the totemization of the Jungian tribe, its adored numinousness, and the dualistic, distanced Self.  Part of the Bad Faith contract of Jungianism is its claim that this tribal indoctrination and totemization is actually equivalent to individuation.

All of these issues would remain extremely abstract and esoteric (and perhaps impossible to argue one way or another) if it wasn't for the notable data from fairytales and alchemy (so prized by Jungians) that contradict Jungian constructions of individuation.  Where fairytales and alchemy contradict Jungian individuation theories, Jungians are compelled to "misinterpret" them and force them to fit the accepted Jungian individuation paradigm.  We can often notice this because the Jungian interpreter will pathologize (or render in overly technical or analysis-specific terms) the individuation journey portrayed in the story or claim that the story represents only an "incomplete individuation".

Since fairytales (of the kind Jungians like to interpret) are purified individuation stories, no ego character is necessary.  As purified individuation stories, these tales are telling us specifically what the heroic attitude toward individuation is.  The "invisible" ego can decide to identify with this archetypal heroism more or less . . . but that is no concern of the fairytale.  The fairytale is telling us what is heroic, not what is real or rational.

Also problematic in the Jungian misunderstanding of the hero (and I'll have to suggest that anyone curious about what I mean in using this word "hero" look into the many things I've written on this subject in other topics of the forum) is that the unfolding of a symbolic individuation process is likely to be only inadequately understood.  Where it is not adequately understood, more often than not the analyst will project patholigization onto the narrative constructs.  This is a regrettable, but not truly condemnable development.  After all, pathologization is what an analyst knows, and we all see the world in terms of what is familiar to us.  But the Jungian interpreter is working from a flawed paradigm as well as a set of understandable prejudices and habits.  In other words, how can one interpret a pure individuation story when one's paradigm for individuation is inadequate as a descriptor or languaging?  I actually think Jungians do amazingly well with fairytale interpretation while hobbling along with the crutch of a broken paradigm.  Generally, fairytale interpretation is not absolutely botched by Jungians . . . and all that results from the paradigm's flaws is a "Jungianization" or misty spiritualization or numinization of aspects of the narrative and characters that aren't up to the level of rigor and precision seen in areas of interpretation in which the Jungian paradigm is more functional.  (So, this is were a Jungian might say that something means "The Feminine" or "the Unconscious", and leave it at that . . . but what really do these abstractions mean?  The Jungian cannot adequately say.  These are tribal power words which "real Jungians" are expected to know and accept unquestioningly.  They are totems or tabooed objects meant to preserve the tribe's faith and unconscious commitment to tribal Eros.)
« Last Edit: May 07, 2009, 12:26:23 PM by Matt Koeske »
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Matt Koeske

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Re: Alt. Interpretation of "Nixie of the Mill-Pond" (to John Betts')
« Reply #1 on: May 04, 2009, 12:12:14 AM »

Deviations from Conventional Jungian Method

With this general attitude toward Jungian interpretive methods in mind, I'd like to turn to general interpretive methods in my revisioned approach to interpretation (and then to the text itself).  I won't reiterate many of the points that Betts makes with which I am in general agreement.  All I will say preliminarily is that Betts, in presenting a solid, classical Jungian interpretation of the fairytale, errs (in my opinion) in typical Jungian over-amplification.  To be fair, part of this over-amplification is done in the name of edification . . . and Betts admits to this.  But as Betts also prefaces his interpretation with a warning (or multiple warnings) about over-amplification as a typical interpretive error, I was a little surprised to see how much (in my opinion, unnecessary) amplification he proceeded to do.  He reads extensively from a symbol dictionary and a couple other symbolic theory texts.

I was also "trained" to use symbol dictionaries and apply conventional Jungian methods.  But I see these things as habits that must first be learned and must secondly be unlearned after a more instinctual interpretive expertise is developed.  In both dream work and fairytale interpretation, I see amplification as either 1.) a purely academic exercise best left to academics and academic discussions, or 2.) a technique employed only in absolute last resort.  Jungians, in my opinion, have a fetish for amplification that seriously impairs their ability to understand texts.  Symbols in both dreams and fairytales are often purely intuitive and only very, very rarely have historical or academic attributes to their construction.  Yes, we can apply the comparison of such amplifying texts . . . but this is an academic exercise and not some form of interpretive divination.  Bett's foray into the Jungian indulgence of amplification is much more academic, in my opinion, than his general approach to the podcasts.  Only an indoctrinated Jungian would assume that such amplifications are appropriate for newbies or truly essential to the interpretation of folk texts.  This is a quaintness of Jungians, and I don't mean to say it is unendearing . . . in the sense that a stuffy and erudite professor is not unendearing in his or her obsession over academic minutia.  I like to see someone in love with the toys of their obsession.  Jungians are too identified with the senex to use such a term, but what I think we should see in the Jungian tendency to over-amplify texts is a devout "geekiness".  Jungians are simply amplification geeks.  And I like geeks.  I think we all have to exercise some geekiness in order to be human.  It's a form of enthusiastic innocence.

I certainly don't mean to condemn Jungian geekiness or scold Jungians for ever getting their geek on.  I wish merely to point out that this geekiness is one of those puerisms that Jungians (who wish so badly to be senexes) have a hard time seeing for what they really are.  And that is a shame, I think . . . because while Jungians have remained in senexy stuffiness and self-importance, the rest of the world has started to find that geeks and geekiness are lovable.  Wake up call to Jungians: it's OK to let the geek out of the closet!  While we were following our bliss into our navels, the rest of the world loosened up and found something wonderful we have always denied ourselves.

So, primarily, I will not amplify symbols in "Nixie", but instead analyze them in terms of their innate logic and intuitive physics and structure.  What amplifications I do pursue are intended specifically for the indoctrinated Jungian reader and involve academic discussions pertaining specifically to Jungianism.

Millers and Hunters

Betts does address these fairytale occupations as meaningful and interpretable types, but I'm not sure he zeros in effectively on the significance of these common fairytale occupations to psychic structure.  He begins in a way I would agree with, but quickly segues into symbol dictionary amplifications that strike me as off topic.  So I will recreate this in my own style.  What we generally know about a miller in the fairytale universe is that he (millers are generally male in these stories) grinds or mills grains to make flour . . . and flour is necessary to make bread.  Bread is what "everyone eats", a dietary staple.  Bread is one of the dietary staples that is unique for being processed.  It is not merely taken directly from nature, perhaps cooked, and then consumed.  It must be farmed (planted and harvested), milled, mixed with water and yeast, baked, and then eaten.  Bread is therefore a symbol for "life", where "life" here means living in the world or promoting human culture.  It can also be seen as an interesting symbol of human consciousness, because it not only combines the toil of the farmer and miller and the expertise of the baker, but it relies on the magical or "spiritual" assistance of yeast to make the bread rise (in the case of leavened breads, at least).  This means breadmaking can be seen as an alchemical work where the "alchemist" perfects what nature has created . . . but not without the spiritual element of "grace" descending into the opus.  Most Jungians are familiar with the Rosarium Philosophorum emblems Jung analyzed in "The Psychology of the Transference".  We should then recall the dove-spirit descending over the union of Sol and Luna . . . and later the same dove-spirit as the Holy Ghost descending over the crowning of Mary in the Annunciation emblem.  That dove-spirit is equivalent to the "yeast" that goes into the construction of our consciousness.

I offer that alchemical amplification to help orient the specifically Jungian reader, but I'd like to point out that no academic amplifications were needed to construct a viable interpretation of the miller symbol.  The next thing to note is that in the breadmaking process mentioned above, the miller plays only a specific role: the transformation of the harvested grains into flour.  So this is neither harvesting nor baking/selling.  He is taking something harvested in its natural form and grinding it down into a more refined form in which it acquire greater cultural usefulness and palatability.  It is sort of like a sublimation (in the Freudian rather than the alchemical sense) . . . where the ego is taking "raw instincts" (or perhaps more accurately, "affects") and processing them into a refined form.  After this, the process of baking (which is a bit more like art and involves the "spiritual"/inspirational yeast) will transform the flour into consumable cultural stuff.  Perhaps the miller is something like boards that rate movies, television, and video games.  He gives these products a cultural definition, a way for others to make a quick assessment of the value and content of the product.  There are no doubt numerous other ways to "intuitively" interpret the miller symbol, but instead of riffing on them, let's see what additional clues the text gives us.

We can logically assume that the miller grinds grain using a large stone driven by flowing water that turns a water wheel (Betts talks about this process in his podcast).  So something dynamic and flowing is being harnessed to refine grain into flour through an apparatus that translates the force of the water into milling.  Psychologically, we would call this "libido", even if that term is not generally acceptable outside of depth psychologies.  What we can say is that this flowing water is perceived as Other, as a natural resource, and as only useful through the conversion of energy we could call "egoic".  What's more, the eponymous mill pond through which this water flows and pools (I'm not sure if a mill pond comes before or after the water wheel) is occupied by a nixie . . . which could thus be seen as the occupying "agent" and owner of this water or its dynamism.  Or, equally, we could say that the nixie is a kind of colonizer or even parasite of this water.  The process of using "libido" in this way causes a "pooling up effect".  It is not perfectly efficient or innocuous to the natural environment.  And the nixie represents the "spirit" that causes water to pool up in the mill pond and is also responsible for the success or failure of the work the miller does.  We will have to decide these things based on later cues in the story.

For now, we can be certain that the nixie has power over the occupational success of the miller.  We could stretch this a bit to say that, since the miller can mill as much grain as the flowing water driving his millstone allows, any disruption to this flow would damage his financial wellbeing.  And since the story begins with his financial wellbeing taking a turn for the worse (his "drive" is depressed), we know this has happened.  We also learn that he can reinstitute this wellbeing by making a devil's bargain with the nixie.  It's a devil's bargain, because the miller is deceived and ends up losing something of even greater value than his "productivity".

There are numerous real-life parallels we could introduce to psychologize this narrative so far.  For instance, we could say that the miller was a pretty reliable guy who worked hard and stayed inside the lines of social mores.  But then things just stopped falling "naturally" into place, and he grew dissatisfied with his life.  He fell into the projective trap of trying to remedy this with an extramarital affair that promised to be a "good bargain" (i.e., sexual excitement without any serious consequence).  But whether his wife found out about the affair or the miller-personality simply recoiled with the "morning after guilt" of his sinful Fall, the event ended up being a "never again" experience.  That is, he never learned why it really happened or what made him dissatisfied with his life.  He "pulled himself up by the bootstraps" and got his head on right . . . and repressed the moment of shame and weakness.

Another psychologization might generally hold that the miller always had a Demon in his personality that resembled and is embodied in the story by the nixie.  So long as his ego functioned in society adequately, the Demonic presence was unconscious and operated more or less innocuously.  But when his social egoism no longer produced comfort and satisfaction, he was tempted to make a bargain with the Demon whereby it would drive the ego (possess is a more accurate word) and protect the miller socially . . . but only at the expense of any new developments in his personality.  He initially underestimated the value of such new developments, and by the time he realized he was desperately in need of them, he was fully possessed by the Demon.  He knew that if his heroic attitude ever got too uppity (too close to the pond), the nixie would seize and devour it.  So he always repressed it.

. . . . .

We could also look at the milling symbol in a Freudian way.  "I ain't no miller, no miller's son, but I can do your grindin' 'til you miller man come" (as we might imagine it rendered in a blues double entendre . . . I found the very lyric in the Bo Carter song "All Around Man"! (  In this case, his "depression" could more literally be impotence.  There are many viable interpretations.

This all seemed to work surprisingly well until the miller's son (who perhaps the miller initially worried he would be unfit to father?) came of age.  Then the miller-father had a terrible time relating to the sexual; awakening of his son . . . and projected all of the pent up guilt and censorship onto his son's passage into manhood and into the "world of women".  The miller's son, then, develops a kind of sexual/relational dysfunction . . . but it manifests very differently than it did for the father.  The son, just emerging from the turmoil of adolescence, has become identified with the sexualized shadow that the father could never deal with in himself and ended up projecting.  Instead of a prude, the miller's son has become a Don Juan, a womanizer.

Though pretty arbitrary as a parallel, I am going to back this psychologization as at least viable and point to the occupation the son chooses: hunter.  He has not opted to carry on the staid family business (as would have been common in the era of the tale's setting).  He has become a very skilled and successful hunter . . . much the opposite of his father.  The son has taken a reactionary position . . . but he carries his father's disease and relational/sexual dysfunction.  He is estranged from his own eros by getting himself ensnared in the "thrill of the chase" repetition compulsion.  We have the interesting detail about disemboweling the deer and having to wash his bloodstained hands in the mill pond (realistic, but not really necessary to the fairytale's overt text . . . therefore, a conspicuous psychological detail).  That is, the hunter has blood on his hands and is perhaps starting to feel stained from his repetitive pursuits.  Each compulsive repetition is leading the hunter closer to his father's curse

Well, that's one way of psychologizing the story so far, but I can think of a number of reasons that this psychologization doesn't hold up for the rest of the story.  Foremost among these is the incongruity that this hunter definitely is an animus figure and partner of the heroine.  In other words, he is a representation of an instinctual organizing principle, an agent of the Self system.  Which means that he is not fully subject to psychologization or the assignment of egoic personality traits like "complexes" and neuroses.  Animi figures can be "diseased" . . . and in fairytale language, this is called "enchantment".  I have come to generally understand the enchantment of fairytale animi and Self figures as a matter of conflation with the Demon (see my other writing on the Demon, but if you have read Kalsched's The Inner World of Trauma, that should get the ball rolling).

We can see the enchantment/Demon possession of the animus as his capture by the nixie . . . but we are also told that the animus is captured because of a sin of his father's.  Who then could be the father of the animus?  My best guess is that the "father" of the animus would be the masculine figure with which the animus instinct/archetype first imprinted . . . so this would probably mean the literal father of the "invisible" woman whose personality and individuation this fairytale is a construction of.  The miller, then, can be seen as this abstracted woman's father or father image . . . and the problem he left her with was an inadequate mirror for her relational masculinity.  Perhaps he always terrified her with stories about "those kind of men" that she had better stay vigilant for, the ones who would use her, hurt her, seduce her and leave her.  We could guess that this father feared he himself was capable of this kind of womanizing behavior . . . and maybe he even had "illicit" feelings about his daughter's sexuality that disturbed him and which he sought to projectively quash in her "education".  So, of course, she has "created" a hunter-animus as a result of her father's "education" of her sexuality or sense of femininity (a femininity that is, by implication, guilty of ensnaring and tempting those bad kind of men).  And this hunter-animus, initially a fantasy of the "bad boy", pursues her through the woods like she is some kind of mysterious, uncivilized nymph (i.e., "game") with a sort of regressed sexuality.  She is a grown woman who might "act out" like a "lolita".  She is, say, in her 30s, but still calls the men she desires "boys".  She cannot let herself have a fully adult and responsible sexuality.   The fantasy of the dark "bad boy" lover (perhaps demon lover) is the typical counterpart of a woman with this kind of psychology.

And this attracts a certain kind of man, a Don Juan who loves the thrill of a chase after such nymphs.  We could continue this active imagination to propose that, finally, like a deer who slips out of the cover of the forest, she is exposed to him and he "shoots" her.  But the hunter thought of the whole pursuit as a game in which the "kill" would bring out the sexual appetite of the pursued nymph (it was, in fact her game, after all).  She would be a full-grown woman and a great lover to him once "captured" . . . that is the hunter's fantasy or at least the fantasy this woman projects upon this hunter-animus figure.  But what he finds (and she finds) is that he has "blood on his hands".  She is psychologically virginal, emotionally unprepared, and incapable of embracing her adult sexuality . . . so his capture of the roe ends up being a more literal "killing".  He experiences himself as a rapist, an assaulter.  He wanted to find and feel her sexual power (the Don Juan personality is actually in pursuit of the anima, the Great Woman . . . and his complex is often a matter of not being able to separate the maternal from this projection), but he ends up finding that she is "impotent" in her own right.

This opens him up to seizure by the Demon.  The nixie grabs him and pulls him down beneath the water.  It is only when the heroine discovers this that she is faced with the problem that her unwillingness to own her adult sexuality has produced a Demon in her personality that devours and destroys anything "newly born", anything that has the kind of potent sexuality she needs to reach her "Coniunctio".  In essence, she comes into the awareness that she has created the animus-as-hunter and lured him into being the kind of man her father warned her about . . . the kind he was terrified he would turn into if he ever lost control.  She realizes that she does in fact have sexual power, but that she has used it in destructive and self-destructive ways (like a nixie).  Therefore, as heroine, her task is the redemption of the animus from the Demon's clutches.   She must first free the animus from the Demon and then transform him into a shepherd, one who tends and holds together animal instincts.  He preserves and facilitates in his relationality and eros rather than hunts and kills.  With this transformation, the woman's adolescent fantasy of sexuality is put to rest, and she comes into a deeper, more adult sense of self and connectivity to others.

There are ways to muddle through this snag.  We have two main options: 1.) we can see the miller's son as "coming into being" out of the miller's disease (in the sense that the "gods have become diseases") and the miller would then be a representation, not of a personality, but of the disease or complex itself, or 2.) we can see the miller (as natural parent of the animus) as a kind of stunted Self figure.  I'm not sure either of these are attractive solutions, but of the two, I prefer the first.  We have no reason to equate the miller with a Self figure.  There is nothing numinous about him, for instance (as we would normally see with Self figures in fairytales).  At least as significant as that reason to discard the second option is the fact that the miller is a man and the heroine of the story is female (the hunter is the contrasexual Other).

I suppose another possibility is to break faith with the story's contract and propose that it is a muddled fairytale, a kind of Frankenstein's monster inadequately cobbled together from disparate and incompatible parts.  We see stories like this frequently, but this phenomenon is more common among single-author narratives that reflect the incomplete or inflatedly imagined individuation of the author.  In fairytales, time and multiple authorship have usually brought the narrative in line with an instinctual paradigm.  But I'll work with the complex but rather intriguing paradigm of the miller as disease/dysfunction and the hunter-animus as the reanimating potential born out of that disease [the section in blue above expands and refines this line of argument].

Another thing to consider revising in the meandering attempt at interpretation thus far is the pathologizing psychologization of the miller's son as Don Juan.  If he were an ego personality, this psychologization could hold up, but what if we decide to interpret his hunting as an animus behavior and not as a complex [the section in blue above synthesizes the idea of the hunter as both animus and constructed from an inherited complex]?  What does the animus (once activated in a woman's personality) do?  It seeks and is attracted to the hero in her, the heroic and adult or fully realized potential in the ego . . . and the animus materializes and develops more definition as the woman increasingly incorporates the heroic attitude into her conscious personality.  In this conceptualization, a hunter could be seen as an animus figure, and the deer he hunts is the magical connection and uncanny magnetism of the Syzygy (hero/animi pair).  That's a little more abstract than I like to go in fairytale interpretation, but The Nixie of the Mill-Pond is such a devilishly tricky story that some kind of deviation from the norm is called for.  It would be nice to find a more elegant solution, but perhaps that is overly idealistic.

If the hunter's forest pursuits are indeed random animus longings for a heroine, then we can still say that his Don Juanism is a factor of his father-derived disease.  It is not unusual at all to see portrayals of animus figures as Don Juans.  In fact, if Don Juans couldn't carry animus projections so well, they would never succeed in their womanizing.  Part of the dysfunction of Don Juanism is a pathological identification with the animus figures projected onto the man (I would here direct anyone puzzled about this to the works of Leonard Cohen, and although it is not one of his better albums, to Death of a Ladies' Man").

There are two subtle tips in the story that help us characterize the hunter.  They aren't as substantial as the indicators we might see in most fairytales, but again, this is a very unusual tale.  These tips are 1.) that the hunter is exceptionally gifted at hunting, so gifted that 2.) he attracts the attention and blessing of the "lord of the village", who endows the hunter and his wife with a house of their own.  This again is quite vague, but it stands out as special . . . and perhaps we could suggest that the "lord of the village" who can exercise such beneficence and reward such skill is a kind of positive masculine Self block off which the hunter-animus is chipped.  I don't mean to suggest that a "masculine Self" resides in the personality of the woman reflected by this tale, merely that the hunter is endowed with a higher libido.

We are left now with the interpretation of the image of the hunter washing his bloody hands in the mill pond.  Instead of the negative twist I put on this earlier, we could look on the hunter's "catch" less squeamishly and modernly.  We could say, then, that shooting his game was like Cupid's arrow shot into the instinctual heart of the heroine.  He pursued and pursued her through the forest and finally he "got through" . . . just outside of the forest and next to the mill pond.  But of course, it is always just at such moments of animi breakthrough that the Demon retaliates.  This is a well-known and often observed occurrence in analysis, and in the language of psychoanalysts and developmental Jungians, it is typically called "resistance to analysis".  This is when something in the psyche opposing any healing progress or transformation of personality or individuation event reacts to any glimpse of progress or hope with ruthless, vicious retaliation against the "upstart" ego that considered identifying with the heroic.

What we learn from the story now is that the Demon in this personality construct is the nixie.  This Demon is the arch-nemesis of the hero.  We aren't given a great deal of information about the nixie, but we can surmise that she is seductive and devouring, especially of masculine energies.  If she can possess these masculine energies, she can keep the Syzygy from reproducing, as reproduction disrupts the Demon's control over the personality . . . it is a dynamic state change, and the Demon is dedicated to stasis and controlled repetition.

If we psychologize the Demon here, what kind of dysfunction in the personality might we see?  Perhaps a femme fatale construct, the ice queen.  She wooes men into her pond with sweet talk or perhaps mysterious helplessness, only to be, in intimacy, entirely incapable of relationship.  She is a husk.  Perhaps she has many casual sexual relationships but remains terrified of commitment or anesthetized against true intimacy . . . or perhaps she is prudish or "frigid", condemning any man who would dare look upon her with sexual interest.  We are not given enough clues to psychologize either way with any conviction.

Luckily, at this point, the story passes out of its own interpretive forest and become symbolically clear.  Not clear enough to make good sense of the elaborate backstory in a psychological way, and perhaps not clear under a conventional Jungian paradigm, but from this point forward, the story behaves precisely and rather neatly like a woman's individuation fairytale.  That is, it deals with a conflict between a hero and a Demon over the rescue/redemption of a animus figure.

To get the animus out of the clutches of the nixie-Demon and to find a way to direct libido into the act of living in the world, reanimating the personality, the heroine must complete three feminine tasks.  The more classical Jungian take on these tasks that Betts weaves in his interpretation is not, I think, "wrong", but it is a little muddier than I'd like, primarily due to the excessive amplifications.  The hero receives sage advice from the wise old woman, a kind of familiar Self figure and teacher of heroes.  This Self figure understand the particular weakness of the Demon, which is a covetousness of heroic things.  This heroic artifact coveting is the most common manifestation of the Demon during an active and progressing individuation process.  It can very easily lead to spiritual or "archetypal" inflation in which the Demon impersonates the hero by usurping the hero's "prestige" in the psyche in order to exercise a Demonic programme of stasis.  The solution to this Demonic ploy is to be able to use but then let go of heroic modes and artifacts, to not identify heroism with such "personal effects" or wardrobe items or trophies (trophies sit perfectly still on a shelf; they are not truly equivalent to the heroic act or attitude itself . . . and this fact can easily become the undoing of the hero who forgets it).  Of course, in reality, no one succeeds as easily as the hero of the story does in letting go of these heroic and triumphant modes, but this relinquishment is indeed the way out of inflation . . . the way to outwit the Demon.

This lesson is the wisdom the Self imparts, but there is no indication the hero really understands what is happening.  She is merely following the Self's advice.  In between full moons, the hero (acting more like an ego here) despairs.  She despairs because she doesn't understand the process she is engaged in from a removed perspective (like the old woman has).  She doesn't see the forest for the trees.  At this point in the story, Betts makes what is I feel a very serious (though seemingly innocuous) interpretive mistake.  He suggests that the first two attempts at freeing the hunter from the pond are "failures".  To be fair to Betts, the heroine is also concerned that these were failures, but again, that is a perspective that doesn't see the whole picture.  In fact they are necessary stepping stones, and we know this must be the case not only because they are advised by the Self figure (who is not guessing, but knows perfectly well they are necessary), but because they correspond to essential stages of individuation development.  Of course, we always hope with each breakthrough that that will be enough to get the Demon out of our psychic systems, but this is not ever the case.

The first task is the combing of the hero's "long black hair" on the mill pond's shore with the golden comb given to the hero by the old woman-Self.  Betts amplifies the comb symbol as the "rays of the sun" and as a representation of "the feminine".  This is a symbol dictionary amplification, and it is really pretty useless.  We must think more basically and intuitively here.  Hair is often associated with sexuality.  It grows rapidly, hairstyle can differentiate not only a woman from a man, but express the "kind" of woman she is or at least her mood.  Hair is reminiscent of our "animal instincts", it can get "out of control" if not tended to regularly.  Yes, it can also (more abstractly) be associated with thoughts (as it comes from the head) and other symbol dictionary abstractions, but in this story, the problem or dysfunction seems to have a decidedly sexual factor, so I will concentrated primarily on the symbol of the hero's hair as fundamental sexual drive and perhaps also expression (we could compromise and say it is sexual thoughts or an intellectual understanding of sexual desire and relationality, of eros).  We could guess that the color of the hair here is black because this reflects the shadow surrounding sexuality in the psychologized ego personality the story constructs.  Black is also specifically not "gold", the other most common hair color in fairytales.  Golden hair might have more spiritual significance than sexual, depending on the story's context.

The comb, though, is the golden element here, and although it is a common Jungianism to associate gold symbols with "consciousness", or worse, "masculine solar consciousness" (not illogically, but heavy-handedly), there is actually a much better and just as simple equation we can make.  Gold in fairytales (as in alchemy) represents valuation.  Valuation is achieved through heroic consciousness.  It brings shadowed or repressed elements of the instinctual psyche into consciousness as that which is valuable to the organization of personality.  The comb is first and foremost a differentiation symbol.  It takes tangled, knotted hairs and divides them into differentiated strands.  This differentiation allows what is combed through to flow and not strangulate itself.  Our unconsciousness is a kind of knotted chaos which we have no idea how to untangle and see order in.  The Self's advocacy of the heroic allows us to begin to see the instinctual ordering of the Self system.

In this particular story, sexuality (black hair) is being differentiated (comb) and valuated (gold) as it is integrated into consciousness.  This achievement is deeply heroic, and the superficial symbol of a woman combing her hair on the shore of a pond belies the deeper meaning.  It is such a huge breakthrough to be able to differentiate and valuate one's sexuality after having that sexuality controlled by the Demon for so long, that it certainly seems like this alone should be "enough" to transform the personality into a functional and healthy system.  But this is simply not the case, and that tends to result in a renewed sense of despair.  The animus emerges (head only) and then sinks back beneath the pond.  In the meantime, the golden comb is snatched up by the Demon.  It can no longer be relied on to drive the heroic quest.  If we keep turning to this differentiation and valuation of our sexuality with pride and complacency (i.e., as a trophy in the case), the Demon will monopolize it.  In fact, despair is a healthier alternative (to what would amount to an inflation).  There is no available libido in despair, but at least it's "honest".

The next Self-given task for the hero is the playing (and relinquishing) of the golden flute.  Again, the gold is the gold of valuation (and we must be careful not to fall into the Jungian self-deception of thinking that gold symbolizes some kind of conquering heroic consciousness that triumphs over the dark, unseemly, instinctual unconscious . . . a kind of egoic sublimation; if we can understand gold as valuation rather than conquering, we can sidestep the main charge of the bull of inflation that plagues Jungian thinking).  Again Bett's quotes the symbol dictionary which too abstractly says the flute is a symbol of the feminine.  There is also the temptation to consider the flute a phallic symbol . . . and this could go along with the sexuality expressed by the black hair.  But I don't think the phallic aspect of the flute is very important here.  One thing Betts touches on but doesn't delve deeply enough (or exclusively enough) into is the idea of the flute as a woodwind.  That is, it is an instrument through which breath is blown, and this breath is differentiated into distinct notes.  Breath or wind is a common symbol of spirit, and like "animus" itself, it is an animating principle.  Here we need to understand that "spirit" is another term for instinct or libido.  Jung placed spirit and instinct on opposing poles of archetype, and in attempting to construct this paradigm, he wrote a very curious and searching exposition of the spirit/instinct relationship ("On the Nature of the Psyche," CW 8 ).  But ultimately, he can't equate spirit and instinct, and his essay reads like an argument with himself in which the little gremlin of genius in Jung's mind keeps whispering, "spirit and instinct are the same thing Carl, ol boy", but Jung's ego voice of reason keeps countering with , "No no.  Preposterous!  It can't be.  That would be indecent!"  It is one of those moments in which the 19th century thinker in Jung reared its head and refused to think progressively.  It is not hard today (at least if one is not a devout Jungian or Christian) to see that spirit is an instinctual phenomenon.  We no longer (at least in the science of evolutionary biology) work under the 19th century materialistic prejudice that holds that instincts are base and animalistic . . . and only culture enlightens the darkened, instinctual mind.  We now understand (but are only really beginning to do so) that instinct also drives social organization, cultural construction, empathy and morality, and reorganizations of personality (such as those in individuation).  Instinct is, in fact, a complex systemic behavioral organizer and is behind even "elevated" or "transcendent" orderings in the complex system of the psyche.  This is why I define the Self in the way I do and frequently refer to it as the "instinctual Self".

What Jung failed to do in his paradigm of polarization of instinct and spirit was valuate instinct (or "matter").  It is the very thing that the alchemists (at least symbolically) managed to achieve in their magnum opus.  The alchemical work is all about valuation . . . not attainment, enlightenment, or even "rebirth".  It is about the valuation of Matter (i.e., the Crowning of Matter, as one famous alchemical text is titled).  Spirit and Matter are equated.  Jung never fully grasped this essential project of alchemy adequately . . . and it is one of the major factors behind his fallacious (however erudite they might be) psychological interpretations of alchemy.  Most Jungians don't realize how perverted Jung's overall take on alchemy really was, because they have only read Jungian interpretations of alchemy . . . but non-Jungian explorations of alchemical texts can be extremely eye-opening.

I would argue that the alchemical opus is a better paradigm for individuation (and the subsequent development of Self-facilitating personality that I have called the Work) than Jung's own individuation paradigm.  And one of the key superiorities of alchemy is that it is a process devoted to valuation and not enlightenment of attainment or obtaining "wholeness".  In alchemy, the task at hand is to take what is already and always present (and left on the dung heap) and learn how to valuate it.  The attitude and tool that signifies this valuation of the instinctual or material Self is called the Philosopher's Stone . . . and it is not gold, but something that transforms base matter into gold.  Therefore, it is a valuating mechanism or philosophy . . . and the valuation of alchemy is directed specifically at the element of Earth or at Matter (which we can read in modern language as "instinct").  Thus the task of alchemy is to discover the prima materia latent in all Matter and valuate this prima materia into the Stone.  The discovery of the prima materia is the most difficult and vaunted piece of the opus . . . and as the Jungian paradigm has no ability to understand what the alchemists meant by this, it has no chance of fully understanding the significance of alchemy to the process of individuation.

Back to the story.  The golden flute not only differentiates spiritual notes, it gives spiritual voices to the musician.  In other words, the hero can use the flute to channel her Self-driven longing and despair into an expression.  One of the problems of Demonic control over the personality is that no genuine, Self-derived expression is possible under the Demon's regime.  But in playing her "Blues" through the flute, the hero gives definition and expression to her erotic/Erotic longing.  It exposes her vulnerabilities and capacity and desire for intimacy.  The Demon hates this, as the Demon devotes itself to staving off any kind of vulnerability by whatever means necessary.

Whereas the combing of the hair leads to the temporary exposure of the animus's head, the flute playing and sacrifice leads to the exposure of the animus's upper torso.  We could say, then, that the differentiation and valuation of the woman's sexuality engaged the head of the animus or the animus's intellect (and hair-combed to head-emerged correlates).  But the playing of the flute engages the whole upper half of the animus.  The key organ of the animus that comes temporarily out of the nixie's clutches is, I think, the heart.  Music engages the heart.  The animus resonates with the longing and despair of the hero.  These parallel feelings become palpable.  And we learn in the end that this particular song and means of communication or "twinning" in the Syzygy is precisely what allows the separated lovers to recognize each other again.

The golden spinning wheel of the third task once again continues the motif of valuation.  In this symbol we could say (alchemically) that spirit has been rendered into matter or instinct . . . which signifies a thorough valuation of instinct.  We can surmise this because the spinning wheel spins thread, creates substantial, material stuff.  This material is something the woman can "clothe" herself in.  It is a garment of Self-alignment.  The spinning wheel reflects the mandala symbol of the Self's organizing principle . . . and as a curious resonance, we can see the mill's waterwheel symbol redeemed and healed in the golden spinning wheel.  A spinning wheel is also an instrument requiring significant physical coordination.  I have never had to use one (not surprisingly), but I believe both hands and sometimes at least one foot are involved in coordinated motion to achieve the spinning of yarn.  The spinning wheel is also a technological innovation that made spinning yarn more efficient, and innovation is at the heart of heroism.  The heroic task in the psyche is the championing of a systemic reorganization that better facilitates the Self and allows an increase in homeostatic balance and equilibrium with environment.  The hero is therefore the harbinger of the new order, an order than backs the dynamism of the Self system instead of the static ordering principle of the Demon.

We might also choose to see in the "spinning of yarns" the spinner's ability to tell stories or communicate with language some aspect of the Self's organizational drive.  This languaging of Self principles (or functional ego/Self relationship) is what I call Logos creation.  To be able to language Self principles is a step beyond the ability to render them as a music of longing and despair.  It is not a "superior" development, merely one in which ego consciousness is more fully utilized in the translation and facilitation of the Self . . . so we could say that the ego is finding a way to relate to the Self through egoic consciousness and not merely through affect valuation and numinous intuition.

Betts also brings in symbol dictionary amplification of the spinning wheel . . . which again is a symbol of the feminine.  These are not incongruous with what I have written, but some of them are superfluous.  What I mean to demonstrate is that such amplifications (e.g., spinning is associated with the Three Fates, etc.) though perhaps academically fascinating are absolutely unessential to the psychological understanding and interpretation of fairytales.  We can see that very sophisticated understanding of fairytales is quite possible without this Jungian affectation.

The next stage of the story shows us the rescue of the animus, but only at the cost of an even greater backlash from the nixie-Demon, who throws every last ounce of rage and retaliation at the lovers.  I'm reminded a bit of one of my own dreams in which a kiss and intimate contact with the anima that had been put off for so long was finally indulged.  At the very instant of the kiss, a huge brutish man who was the landlord of an apartment we were in flew into a psychotic rage in an upper room.  It seemed the rage had to do with having lost a precious "bullet" which made this Demon figure feel powerful and secure.  The flood of the nixie is a similar reaction to the reunion of the Syzygy.

This flood parts the lovers again and seems to encase them both in a kind of amnesia . . . but they survive because the old woman-Self figure renders them into a frog and a toad, amphibious creatures, creatures of enchanted instinctuality.  This is a temporary transformation, a kind of survival reaction to the explosion of Demonically guarded affect.  Even the sacrifice of the spinning wheel was not enough.  It quells the Demons power and seizure of psychic resources, but it seems that the last ditch effort of the Demon to keep the personality from finding its rejuvenating flow of instinctual libido ends up utterly destroying the glamor and glory of the heroic, introverted fantasy that drives the animi work.

As frog and toad, we see that the Syzygy has an instinctual livelihood.  They can exist even when they are robbed of their humanness (and we see similar themes in the "Opposites" of alchemy's royal couple).  The frog and toad symbol is also a reflection of the beginning of the twinning phenomenon that is always a part of later stages of the animi work, where the animi and hero figures are so much alike that their togetherness or even oneness is undeniable.  This is why I have come to refer to the psychodynamic personified in these two figures as a unified Syzygy . . . where division is essentially a dissociation of a primary wholeness.  The alchemists also understood this, which is why the Coniunctio is the premise for the conception of the prima materia (the beginning) in the alchemical opus . . . and not some kind of ultimate synthesis, as Jungians often misinterpret it.  Jungians note that alchemy symbolizes the opus as a progression of colors: black to white to red.  But what is misunderstood in Jungian psychologization of alchemy is that this primary black (Nigredo) comes after the Coniunctio, which is conflated in the Jungian-Hegelian dialectic model with a transcendent synthesis of thesis and antithesis.  In actual alchemical symbolism, the work only begins after the Solutio-Coniunctio has dissolved the Sol/Luna pair into a blackened oneness or true prima materia (a "black blacker than black").  This Nigredo stage is no mere "unconsciousness", but is the highly regarded "raven's head" . . . and this raven becomes one of the key emblems of alchemical valuation.  It's blackness is the vehicle through which the Stone is whitened and then reddened.  Everything in the work depends upon the rendering of the true prima materia, the blackening of the solution into the Nigredo.  If this blackness is not properly created, it is said that the entire work must be thrown out and begun over again.  This is not the state of mind in which patients enter analysis.  Few analysands ever reach what the alchemists symbolized with the Nigredo (and analysis is not adequately equipped to deal with individuals who have entered the Nigredo state).

Only while wearing psychoanalytic blinders can this mainstay of alchemical symbolism be misread as "depression" or "original unconsciousness".  This grave error in Jungian interpretation of alchemical symbolism has had a devastating effect on the establishment of a functional Jungian paradigm for individuation. (End rant.)

We could equate this death of the heroic fantasy or transference with the alchemical Coniunctio that is followed by a Nigredo period in which heroic resources and animi attractiveness are no longer "God-given".  When engaged in the animi work, we feel the wondrous thrust of the heroic and the melting excitement and magnetism of the animi.  We accomplish great things in the introverted world of the unconscious . . . but it is as if these heroic achievements and passionate loves are drawn from borrowed energies.  As these forces of attraction to a point of union in the Syzygy come to completion, they are depotentiated of their "divine libido".  This is portrayed in alchemy as a stage of Putrefaction, the beginning of the Nigredo or blackening that corresponds to the conception of the true prima materia.  Yes, it takes all that simply to get to this point of depotentiated (not entirely Self-sustained or Self-provided) personality.  The Demon is no longer in charge, but it feels like the Self has also succumbed to the great convergence of energy and affect in the Coniunctio of hero and animi.  In this stage, it is common for a person to have dreams of animi figures dying or parting for a long journey or being sorrowfully lost.  There isn't much Jungian writing on this (and the Coniunctio as the alchemists understood it was radically different from the analytical paradigm that Jungians typically project onto this alchemical symbol).

In fairytales, this period of post-Coniunctio separation is commonly portrayed, though (fairytales and alchemical texts share the same psychic, and often historical, universe and many of the same symbols; they are even created in a very similar way, i.e., by multiple authors over many generations as "folk texts" . . . where the author of a specific alchemical text is essentially equivalent to the folklorist's name that is attached to a tale, say a Grimm brother).  It's another curiosity (behind which a big chunk of Jungian shadow lies) that, as common as this stage is in fairytales, it would yet be so extensively absent and misunderstood in Jungian psychology.  There is a disconnect here.  Jungianism doesn't have a paradigm to language this aspect of individuation . . . and because the languaging paradigm is missing, Jungians have gone on as if the languagable thing itself were non-existent.  This requires Jungians to ignore one of their core data sources: fairytales.  It is one of those instances in which Jungian thinking fails to valuate the very data it initially signified as valuable.

With the demise of the heroic fantasy (which must be sacrificed like each of the golden, magical objects that only tempt the nixie-Demon), hero and animus must be redefined in a more mundane and human way.  Therefore, the hunter is now a shepherd.   The ex-Don Juan has become responsible for a "flock".  And his twin in the Syzygy has become a shepherdess.  Betts looks at this turn of events as the lovers falling into a "stupefied and abject shape" in which to herd sheep is equivalent to being sheep.  Without intending to cast any criticism at Betts himself, I'd like to point out that this development of personality is simply off the Jungian map and unavailable to the Jungian interpretive paradigm.  Insomuch as Betts is and remains a Jungian interpreter, he has no chance of making a viable psychological interpretation of this stage of the tale.  And this is one of those times that being a "black knight" instead of a white one pays off.  The interpreter has to break with the doting adherence to convention and Good Son persona in order to see outside the Jungian box.  Having a bit of pathological shadow identification has the side effect of enabling the heretical insightfulness the shadow has access to.  If we are fully indoctrinated and unconscious of the tribal Eros that bonds us to our tribe, we cannot make these leaps.  But if we are estranged (intentionally or otherwise) from the tribal Eros, we are freed to some degree by the blinders it insists we wear.  Of course, in that "freedom" from tribal Eros, the individual has a much greater predicament to deal with: the valuation of the tribe from the individual's/individuant's perspective.  It is easy enough to be estranged, but extremely hard to be estranged and yet to seek to valuate the tribe and supplement or facilitate its Eros.
« Last Edit: May 07, 2009, 05:41:53 PM by Matt Koeske »
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Re: Alt. Interpretation of "Nixie of the Mill-Pond" (to John Betts')
« Reply #2 on: May 07, 2009, 05:40:43 PM »

What shepherds are actually responsible for is a group of dependent animals.  The shepherd grants them a kind of limited free reign, a space in which they can self-organize and behave as if wild.  But the shepherd protects and facilitates that space.  The shepherd must keep track of the sheep, keep them healthy and organized, moving them from place to place, pasture to pasture, fertile valley to fertile valley.  This is a lovely metaphor for Self-facilitation after the grandiose, introverted heroic fantasy is concluded.  No one is humbler than a shepherd . . . and yet, Christ himself is compared to one (of course we must not confuse this with the power inflation of seeing other people as "sheep" over which the heroic ego has dominion . . . that would constitute a radical failure of valuation . . . the Church's guilt in this matter not withstanding).  The sheep can be seen to represent instincts that are coordinated in a self-organizing system over which the shepherd exerts protective facilitation.  It is like a dynamic, complex system . . . where the vitality (of both sheep and shepherd) is in the livelihood of the sheep.  The shepherd mildly steers the flock toward fertile resources.  It is his or her job to make sure the sheep are well fed and cared for.  He mediates the relationship between the sheep and the environment.

Something else to add to the shepherding symbol is that shepherds roam.  They roam over wilder lands (which makes their dedicated protection of the flock all the more important), and this means that they are away from other people, alienated.  It was a solitary, rather lonely profession (and very difficult for us moderns to even imagine it).  This idea of roaming, loneliness, and estrangement from others (from the tribe) is a wonderful symbol of the Nigredo period that spans the time after the Coniunctio to the Whitening and revitalization of the Stone (which is then called the White Stone or Elixir).  The creation of the White Stone signifies the completion of the first opus or the first leg of the Magnum Opus.  The prima materia that is conceived in the Coniunctio as a "black, blacker than black" is the first manifestation of the Stone ("our" Stone, as the alchemists often referred to it).  The first opus or process of transformation takes this blackened prima materia through a series of cyclical movements of sublimation and condensation, rise and fall . . . which is symbolized by (among many other things) the flying and flightless birds or the extraction of the soul and its return.  The contents of the vessel cycle from liquid to gas to liquid repeatedly.

Psychologically or emotionally, this would feel like the loss of a vital component of self, a loss of soul.  This Nigredo is marked by loneliness, turbulence, and the separation from Eros (both the tribe's and the Self's).  The symbol of two lonely shepherds that eventually find each other "out in the fields", yet still don't recognize one another immediately is a wonderful parallel image to the very chemical and difficult to understand Nigredo/Albedo symbols of alchemy.

I'm also reminded in this how sometimes amplifications are extremely helpful in sussing out dream and fairytale symbols . . . but these amplifications need to also be entirely logical and parallel intuitively, or else they become a distraction.  In making a parallel between the alchemical Nigredo period and the last scene of this fairytale, I am relying on a convergent gravity.  That is, I am drawing parallels from numerous other fairytales that speak of this Nigredo period in a slightly different set of metaphors as well as on my experience doing dream work with other people and on my own experiences.  I should also throw in a number of songs that reflect this theme (Blues and folk songs, especially, but also numerous songs from Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen come to mind).  I am drawing my interpretation from these numerous parallel sources in an intuitive fashion (i.e., they are so ingrained in me, that I have organized them together in my memory, and so any plucked string in that memory complex sets the whole structure vibrating with the same note).

Yet, I would not have been able to interpret or associate any of these things if I did not have a more or less "understood" personal experience that worked as a massive gravitational body around which all these metaphors clustered.  Since we cannot reproduce such experiences and share them directly with others, we are left to finding parallel metaphors that demonstrate the very same logic and emotional/affective resonance.  That is a form of amplification.  We may not know from one dream image or scene (even with very good associations from the dreamer) what is "meant".  But there is a logic to the structure of this hypothetical dream image, and we can use that inherent logic to find parallels or amplifications.  What I mean by "logic" (a word that sometimes confuses and turns off Jungians) is what could also be called a "psychodynamic" or dynamic system of psychic organization, an ordering . . . or complex (in its non-pathologized definition).  The way things fit together.

It is, I feel, extremely important to study and understand these psychodynamic parallels in order to understand human psychology and the structure of memory/psyche/dreams.  I agree with other Jungians that studying fairytales is one of the principle ways of building up a rich parallel system of metaphors for psychic (and especially individuation) processes.  But the application of these amplifications needs to be logical and apt . . . and the ability to amplify logically and aptly is an ability that is not easy to learn.  We can't just get it out of a book.  It's a creative act, a poiesis . . . and this is, in fact, the central ability of great poets.  Such languaging and the understanding of languaging derives from affect.  That is, we must first feel, overpoweringly and compellingly, the affect of something like the Nigredo before we can begin to understand how to language it.  It is not intellectual.  It is not primarily a matter of "puzzle-solving".  This original affect is reflected in our fairytale by the song on the golden flute that becomes the "awakening" of the divided Syzygy.  The shepherds could not simply say to one another who they were or what they had been through.  It had to well up prelingually, affectively.  And again, that is why the golden flute symbol comes before the spinning wheel symbol . . . just as the awakening song the shepherd plays then enables the shepherdess to language their story (the languaging of which then awakens the animus).

Is it unfair, then, for me to criticize Jungians so harshly for their overindulgent amplifying?  Perhaps, but I still feel that this criticism is deserved for the devaluation of intuitive logic and the scattershot approach to amplification that characterizes the Jungian method.  It reminds me of the very criticism Jung makes of (psychoanalytically-influenced) dream association that "free-associates" instead of only presenting apt and more feeling-driven (Jung, I think said less "personalistic", which is misleading . . .) associations.  Many amplifications (like "free-associations") take us away from the dream/fairytale text rather than more deeply into it.  But we must understand fairytales in terms of other fairytales.  So, for instance, knowing nothing about other animus fairytales or enchanted bridegroom tales is going to put the interpreter of Nixie of the Mill-Pond at a real disadvantage.  It is not essential, though, to know anything about alchemy to interpret this tale.  I happen (like many Jungians) to find alchemical symbolism extremely psychoactive, and it has intrigued me since I was first exposed to it, compelling me into a continued exploration of its mythos or logic.  I have found its symbol system, despite the esotericism, just as relevant to modern psychology as Jung did (even as I disagree with a number of Jung's interpretations of alchemy).  Since alchemy is so esoteric and arcane, I have mixed feelings about its use as a parallel logic for psychology . . . but there is simply no more precise and coherent symbol system for describing individuation than the alchemical one.  We depth psychologists are stuck with it . . . and if we choose to abandon it altogether, we would be abandoning a resource as valuable to our science as fairytales.

What is extremely helpful is that alchemical symbolism pervades and is rendered narratively throughout fairytales.  Fairytales are actually (it initially seems) astoundingly alchemical.  There are no doubt many excellent reasons for this . . . all of which are probably very difficult to study.  We also see a lot of alchemical symbolism in medieval romances . . . which perhaps supports what we know to be a resurgence of alchemy brought back to Europe from Islamic lands during the Crusades.  Many of the best known and most influential and widely read alchemical texts were written (or reconstructed/revised) in the 15th through the 17th centuries.  Yet we can see very distinct alchemical symbols in the Arthurian romances, for instance those of Chrétien de Troyes written in the 12th century.  It is a good bet that many fairytales (that we still work with today) collected in the 19th century by the Grimms and other folklorists have roots in the same era the medieval romances were written (and of course much earlier ones, as well).  This may not have been the origin of many fairytales, but they seem to have been indelibly marked by the same mindset and symbol system recognizable in the medieval romantic literature.  If this conjecture has any merit, it would mean that alchemy and fairytales came of age together.  One wonders whether alchemical ideas and symbols really pervaded fairytales or whether the symbols and ideas that pervade fairytales simultaneously pervaded alchemy.

Whatever the case, I would suggest that in studying fairytales, alchemy, and medieval romances, we are studying the same thing*  . . . a particular psychological movement or complex dynamic organization.  This is, of course, the Renaissance. or, very vaguely, the movement out of the "Dark Ages" where some kind of "Coniunctio" occurred between the revitalized (and Islamically preserved) ancient Greek and Roman paganism and Christian culture and thinking.  This great collision of Opposites fueled so much of what is still pertinent to modern human psychology and our struggle to find meaning in our world and within ourselves.

*(Which is why knowing alchemy in order to understand fairytales is unnecessary and academic, i.e., not "incorrect", just intellectually specialized and therefore unnecessary for beginners.  Alchemy reiterates fairytale psychodynamics in a slightly different language, but does not necessarily expand on these dynamics.  Although, alchemy, as arcane as it is, does present a more crystallized and concentrated formulation of what is amassed across many fairytales.  This concentration makes it more difficult for beginners to interpret than fairytales might be . . . but can also allow experts some increased facility in the understanding of symbols of individuation.)

In this humble Self-facilitation, the shepherd and shepherdess reunite, but still unknowingly.  They redevelop their intimacy.  They are clearly now twins, and it is as if their sameness is so "unpolarized" they don't even realize they are divided (they have reunited unconsciously and have only to find conscious expression for this reunion in order to realize it).  The haze of this long lost recognition only returns when the shepherd plays the sad sweet song of longing and despair he learned from his wife while she played the golden flute on the nixie's shore.  This is the song that freed his heart from the nixie, the hero's Blues.  And just as the song once freed his heart from the Demon's clutches, once again it frees the heart of the heroine, who is overcome with the emotion of reunion and recognition.  In return (recall the spinning-wheel-as-Logos interpretation), she languages the longing and reunion to the shepherd animus, who is cleansed of his forgetfulness.

So here we see the two heroic, golden symbols refigured in a more humble setting.  The animus has held the song of his lover in his heart, even while his head forgot her . . . and the heroine "spins the yarn" of her heroic vigils at the nixie's pond.  As a creative writer, I am reminded of a number of personal experiences I had that accord with this final scene of the fairytale.  I have had numerous dreams in which lines or images from my poems have been refigured meaningfully.  It felt as if the Self was taking the song I once played to it on my golden flute and playing it back to me somewhat revised, completing what I had begun.  I even wrote a poem for my book, What the Road Can Afford, about this . . . or rather, the poem wrote itself as if lifting some of my mannerisms and reworking them in a language of the Self.  When I realized that this event had happened, I was instantly cured of a kind of forgetfullness that had settled over me, and I realized that the Self had never really been estranged.  It was only my recognition that had broken down.  The poem says:

Don’t you know if he loves you?
He who hears all songs—
the Great Conflagrated Listener
who soars and dives at every rut of your incantations?

As a reminder the poem also gave me (or my forgetful poeting persona) a "theme song":

And you will sing it like this:

I am a landslide, I am a storm!
I have dirtied your fastidious universe
with my horse-tongued kiss.
Who was more startled, you or me,
when I felt you ache to step into my hooves,
and prance?
The poem is titled, "A Mounting Song", and it also expresses a reunion at the end of a long estrangement.

In return for this blessing, I have given the Self all the tales of my heroic journeys, all of my Logos.  I have given it an "immortal" language in which to live.  So the symbols of flute and spinning wheel that conclude this tale have profound resonance to me.  And even as I find it difficult to work through the backstory of this fairytale psychologically, it concludes for me in a very elegant and familiar way.  But then, we so rarely understand how it is we really got to where we are . . . to this fertile valley.  Yet there we are . . . and the way from there to here was meaningful, perhaps epic, and has been valuated even if not truly comprehended.  Which is always mystery enough for our lifetime.
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Re: Alt. Interpretation of "Nixie of the Mill-Pond" (to John Betts')
« Reply #3 on: May 21, 2009, 11:07:45 AM »
I started writing a digression from this thread about the fairytale "Sapsorrow" and the problem with differentiation the figures of the Syzygy in some fairytale intepretations.  I ended up posting it as a separate thread, but it is related to this topic, as well.  You can find it here:
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Re: Alt. Interpretation of "Nixie of the Mill-Pond" (to John Betts')
« Reply #4 on: May 04, 2013, 03:38:40 AM »
I really got a lot out of this when I read it back in 2009, Matt.  I'm rereading it now as linked from your post to Micah.  Haven't gotten all the way through it again, but wanted to comment on this portion of it because I sympathize with your trouble trying to understand the hunter.  And I think it's more than an academic concern. 

I suppose another possibility is to break faith with the story's contract and propose that it is a muddled fairytale, a kind of Frankenstein's monster inadequately cobbled together from disparate and incompatible parts.  We see stories like this frequently, but this phenomenon is more common among single-author narratives that reflect the incomplete or inflatedly imagined individuation of the author.  In fairytales, time and multiple authorship have usually brought the narrative in line with an instinctual paradigm.  But I'll work with the complex but rather intriguing paradigm of the miller as disease/dysfunction and the hunter-animus as the reanimating potential born out of that disease [the section in blue above expands and refines this line of argument].

Another thing to consider revising in the meandering attempt at interpretation thus far is the pathologizing psychologization of the miller's son as Don Juan.  If he were an ego personality, this psychologization could hold up, but what if we decide to interpret his hunting as an animus behavior and not as a complex [the section in blue above synthesizes the idea of the hunter as both animus and constructed from an inherited complex]?  What does the animus (once activated in a woman's personality) do?  It seeks and is attracted to the hero in her, the heroic and adult or fully realized potential in the ego . . . and the animus materializes and develops more definition as the woman increasingly incorporates the heroic attitude into her conscious personality.  In this conceptualization, a hunter could be seen as an animus figure, and the deer he hunts is the magical connection and uncanny magnetism of the Syzygy (hero/animi pair).  That's a little more abstract than I like to go in fairytale interpretation, but The Nixie of the Mill-Pond is such a devilishly tricky story that some kind of deviation from the norm is called for.  It would be nice to find a more elegant solution, but perhaps that is overly idealistic.

If the hunter's forest pursuits are indeed random animus longings for a heroine, then we can still say that his Don Juanism is a factor of his father-derived disease.  It is not unusual at all to see portrayals of animus figures as Don Juans.  In fact, if Don Juans couldn't carry animus projections so well, they would never succeed in their womanizing.  Part of the dysfunction of Don Juanism is a pathological identification with the animus figures projected onto the man (I would here direct anyone puzzled about this to the works of Leonard Cohen, and although it is not one of his better albums, to Death of a Ladies' Man").

There are two subtle tips in the story that help us characterize the hunter.  They aren't as substantial as the indicators we might see in most fairytales, but again, this is a very unusual tale.  These tips are 1.) that the hunter is exceptionally gifted at hunting, so gifted that 2.) he attracts the attention and blessing of the "lord of the village", who endows the hunter and his wife with a house of their own.  This again is quite vague, but it stands out as special . . . and perhaps we could suggest that the "lord of the village" who can exercise such beneficence and reward such skill is a kind of positive masculine Self block off which the hunter-animus is chipped.  I don't mean to suggest that a "masculine Self" resides in the personality of the woman reflected by this tale, merely that the hunter is endowed with a higher libido.

We are left now with the interpretation of the image of the hunter washing his bloody hands in the mill pond.  Instead of the negative twist I put on this earlier, we could look on the hunter's "catch" less squeamishly and modernly.  We could say, then, that shooting his game was like Cupid's arrow shot into the instinctual heart of the heroine.  He pursued and pursued her through the forest and finally he "got through" . . . just outside of the forest and next to the mill pond.  But of course, it is always just at such moments of animi breakthrough that the Demon retaliates.  This is a well-known and often observed occurrence in analysis, and in the language of psychoanalysts and developmental Jungians, it is typically called "resistance to analysis".  This is when something in the psyche opposing any healing progress or transformation of personality or individuation event reacts to any glimpse of progress or hope with ruthless, vicious retaliation against the "upstart" ego that considered identifying with the heroic.

My understanding, and experience, of the animus thus far is that it is, as you say, an instinctual organizing principle.  And thus, to my mind, something to be trusted.  So it would be extremely important to know if this is sometimes a principle or force or Will not to trust.  I can understand if it is "enchanted," conflated with the Demon, in need of redemption, but I would expect that image or version of the animus to not be so numinous and compelling.  It would be, I imagine, ill-appearing or not well (eg, trapped underwater with the Nixie).  So to me your later reflections of the hunter as numinous, competent hunter (but maybe with some Shadow/Unknown attached since the heroic ego is not yet fully developed/more "adolescent") make more sense (or perhaps it's more accurate to say that they worry me less).

But yet I also see merit in the idea of "hunter-animus as the reanimating potential born out of that disease" (and so having some characteristics that would reflect that disease).  Tricky is right!

O gather up the brokenness
And bring it to me now . . .

Behold the gates of mercy
In arbitrary space
And none of us deserving
The cruelty or the grace

O solitude of longing
Where love has been confined
Come healing of the body
Come healing of the mind
  - Leonard Cohen, "Come Healing"

Let me be in the service of my Magic, and let my Magic be Good Medicine.  -- Dominique Christina

Matt Koeske

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Re: Alt. Interpretation of "Nixie of the Mill-Pond" (to John Betts')
« Reply #5 on: May 04, 2013, 10:36:41 PM »
Hi Keri,

I just reread this post, too.  Yes, the hunter is hard to interpret . . . too many possible ways to view it that all involve bringing personal expectations (and probably complexes) to the table.

One thing that comes to me on the rereading, though, is that the hunter ends up as a shepherd.  We might therefore reasonable contrast the two roles and imagine the meaning of the shepherd role in this case to be something more realized and evolved than the hunter.  That is not a universal distinction or rule of thumb by any means, but this story "says" it is true here.

Animi figures, of course, can be conflated and "contaminated" with Demon figures.  Fairytales are filled with such hybrids and so are dreams.  I guess I would mark the beginning of the animi work as a clear differentiation of animi and Demon (although there could still be further entanglements to come).

In this story, I don't really see Demon in the hunter animus . . . but there is something about the hunter here that is an initial and incomplete manifestation of the animus (of the invisible ego of the woman whose story this would be if it were a dream).  And it is something about the animus being a hunter and having blood to wash off his hands that leads to his capture and "enchantment" by the Demon.  After his final redemption (not just the water rescue but the storying of the heroine that brings back his memory), he has clearly become a shepherd (and the twin of the heroine).  So, the animus transformation from hunter to shepherd should logically be considered an aspect of his redemption.

To make a causal path of it, we could say that the invisible ego woman whose story this is had an animus who "killed animals for sport" and had blood on his hands from it, and this led to his capture by the Demon.  Why did he have blood on his hands?  Because of his inheritance from his father.  Perhaps because he rebelled against his father, refused to become a miller, and compensated his disappointment with his father by "acting out" and becoming a hunter.  Maybe the father was "impotent" and seemed unmanly to the son, so the son sought a very manly persona . . . maybe a Don Juan.  That makes him attractive to the ego woman, but it is a false self.  It lacks compassion and tenderness and patience (and it chases rather than follows) . . . and his servitude to the false self steals his soul away.

So, like many a Don Juan, he is very seductive and desirable to women, but once you get to know him, he is empty or childlike or broken.  He's a good lay, not a good lover.

It's a great story, but I stand by my claim that it is an extremely (and deceptively) complicated one.

Of course, my interpretive psychologizations are by no means definitive.  There is no one right interpretation with a story this symbolically complex.

You can always come back, but you can’t come back all the way.

   [Bob Dylan,"Mississippi]