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The psychological birth of Jung: the Siegfried complex

Jung’s great triumphal struggle for male individuation is played out against the backdrop of the re-engulfing, seductive mother. Jung’s journey takes him to the maternal realm of the dead, a place “where young men die." The unconscious itself is the living representative of the Great Mother, and the hero’s reason for descent, primary source of deeds, and greatest danger is always some form of the Terrible Mother:

I am with an unknown, brown-skinned man, a savage, in a lonely, rocky mountain landscape. It was before dawn; the eastern sky was already bright, and the stars fading. Then I heard Siegfried’s horn sounding over the mountains and I knew that we had to kill him. We are armed with rifles and lay in wait for him on a narrow path over the rocks.

Then Siegfried appeared high up on the crest of the mountain, in the first ray of the rising sun. On a chariot made of the bones of the dead he drove at furious speed down the precipitous slope. When he turned a corner, we shot at him, and he plunged down, struck dead.

Filled with disgust and remorse for having destroyed something so great and beautiful, I turned to flee, impelled by the fear that the murder might be discovered. But a tremendous downfall of rain began, and I knew that it would wipe out all traces of the dead. I had escaped the danger of discovery; life could go on, but an unbearable feeling of guilt remained.

(Jung, 1965: 180)

I would like to change the word guilt to shame, for the words in which the dream is told, as well as its images, are more related to his struggle with shame - it was simply not a word in Jung’s vocabulary (i.e. shame is not a word in the General Index to his 20-volume Collected Works). Nevertheless, the presence of this affect is supported by the central fear of the self being revealed, that the murder “might be discovered” - rather than Jung feeling badly about having committed the crime which would point to guilt. Jung, or his shamed self, lays in hiding to murder Siegfried, the German tribal hero who comes proudly blowing his horn. So the hero, slayer of dragons and rescuer of the fallen Valkyrie Brunhilde, has to die at the hand of Jung’s shamed self, an unbearable feeling that surfaces upon Siegfried’s death and remains despite the rain “wiping out all traces” to escape “the danger of discovery.” The rain cannot erase Jung’s feelings of disgrace. The fact that Siegfried is assassinated is also true to the story: he was murdered by a perfidious traitor from among his closest associates.

In Jung’s dream, the hero is shamed by not being felled in a fair fight. His is not a noble death but a treacherous one. This murder fills Jung with feelings of shame, revealed in the words “disgust” and “remorse.” These feelings compel a fight or flight survival anxiety; Jung turns to flee in the face of the destruction of the hero, but instead rain “wipes out” any traces of the act. The shame that has surfaced is repressed, and its denial and petrifaction is also indicated in his feeling that “life can go on” only if the danger of discovery is erased.

At the outset of his confrontation, Jung articulated the meaning of Siegfried to be what the romantically nationalistic Germans wanted: to heroically impose their will. He realized that the attitude embodied by Siegfried no longer suited him. He deposed his superior function. He could no longer follow in Freud’s footsteps, and this is why Siegfried was shot: “This identity and heroic idealism had to be abandoned, for there are higher things than the ego’s will, and to these one must bow” (1965: 181). The heroic image that displays all of the essential elements that make a man a man no longer suits Jung. He professes to put an abrupt end to his proud egoism; a savage, primitive shadow self leads the charge, and Siegfried, shot, “plunges down, struck dead.”

The heroic self, however, lives on in Jung’s determination to have power over the content of his dreams and visions, indicating that perhaps his interpretation of Siegfried is only partially true. In his June 1925 seminar, Jung is commenting on the nature of the “killing of the hero dream.” He begins by noting that “dissolving an image means that you become that image” (1989: 88). The libido invested in the image moves into the unconscious, and one is forced into the hero role by it. He goes on to say that when a power motive is behind a fantasy, one can be aware of a fantasy system, and yet have its activity persist in the unconscious. When power is the motivating factor, “the killing of the hero . . . means that one is made into a hero and something hero-like must happen” (p. 89). In other words, murdering Siegfried means that Jung becomes Siegfried - and in repressing his shame he does indeed.

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