I will be speaking on November 28 in a plenary session from 9:40-10:20 Beijing times at the 11th China National Conference for Analytical Psychology and Sandplay. The theme of the conference is: “Choices and Changes: Reflection on COVID-19 from the Perspective of Depth Psychology.”. The title of my presentation is “A Jungian and Ecological Perspective on the Covid-19 Pandemic”.
Monday, November 16, 2020
I will be speaking on November 28 in a plenary session from 9:40-10:20 Beijing times at the 11th China National Conference for Analytical Psychology and Sandplay. The theme of the conference is: “Choices and Changes: Reflection on COVID-19 from the Perspective of Depth Psychology.”. The title of my presentation is “A Jungian and Ecological Perspective on the Covid-19 Pandemic”.
Wednesday, June 10, 2020
A confluence of elements in the murder of George Floyd is moving America and even other countries into a deeper and most serious confrontation with race issues. We have been witness to a number of murders of African Americans thanks to the ubiquitous presence of cell phones, but several things came together in Floyd’s death that may finally wake up white culture to the horror’s of police brutality and the bullying African Americans have experienced as an extension of the ghoulish history of slavery in America.
The killing occurred in broad daylight on the streets of a major city witnessed by several bystanders, not in the cover of darkness between police and a terrorized black man or woman nor filmed only by a policeman or police dash cam. This was not a sudden and violent death from gunshot but a slow and deliberate killing of another human being as others pleaded for his life. It did not involve a struggle between a young black jogger and armed white men as in the murder of Ahmaud Arbery on February 25, 2020 or a crazed teen marching down a Chicago street threatening police with a knife as in the Laquan McDonald murder in 2014. (1, 2) Floyd was handcuffed behind his back lying face down with officer Derek Chauvin’s knee on his neck for eight minutes and forty six seconds while two other policemen helped to hold him down and a fourth kept bystanders at bay. We looked directly into the face of Chauvin, aghast to see a human being so utterly unmoved by the cries of a helpless man gasping for breath repeatedly saying “I can’t breath” and crying out for—his mother, who died two years prior. (3) The whole world would soon be able to watch and bear witness.
A policeman’s life was not being threatened nor was this an angry or panicky response by an officer or a trigger-happy racist. It was a statement about a whole system personified by four policemen unable to see or feel an African American man as a human being; unable to hear and feel the cries of a man dying under the weigh of that system on its neck. To do this while hearing the shouts of anger and disbelief and knowing they were being filmed seemed to say this is not extraordinary; this is how it is—get used to it.
And in Minneapolis, a progressive, prosperous mid-Western city—“Minnesota nice”; home state of Eugene McCarthy, Hubert Humphrey, and Walter Mondale; Prince, and Garrison Keiller—this is not Lake Woebegone. America has no excuses now; the video images will forever float around in the cloud to remind us least we forget again, or perhaps see for the first time, what a long nightmare it has been for African Americans, especially African American men.
The perfect storm was completed by president Trump’s response. Trump has been the Divider-in-Chief since announcing his candidacy for president having been a “leader” in insisting Obama was not an American citizen and basing his campaign on race-baiting Latinos as drug dealers and murderers. He is a genius in his ability to maintain the allegiance of a zenophobic, racist, right wing base and Christian conservatives. His malignant narcissism makes it impossible to accept even the slightest criticism that he responds to with brutal attacks on the character of his opponents. He has accomplished the amazing feat of bending the entire federal government to his whims and insecurities, locking in the Senate with re-election threats to any Republican that doesn’t toe the Trump line. (4)
The “beauty” of Trump is he reveals how vulnerable and manipulatable our American systems are and how serious are the divisions and inequities in American society. It took the crisis of the pandemic to begin to change the course of his presidency. Trump is so inept as a leader and so locked into the decay of Neo-liberalism plus in dread fear that his one hope for re-election, the economy, will collapse that he has been incapable of a humane response to the virus. His support of gun-toting men rallying in front of stage capitols to force governors to prematurely open state economies is a disturbing reminder of the lengths he will go to get re-elected. (5) Many “believers” are realizing the death numbers from the virus cannot be construed as “fake news” promulgated by the “enemy” Democrats.
George Floyd’s murder within the context of Trump’s behavior in the pandemic set the stage for a surreal scene at the White House on June 1, 2020. Rather than recognizing the horrors of Floyd’s murder and the long-standing suffering of the African American community, Trump resorted to the law-and-order staple of his presidency. He had accused the governors of being weak if they wouldn’t dominate the demonstrations and he would send in the military if he deemed it necessary to restore order. Peaceful demonstrators were forcibly removed so Trump could triumphfully parade his cadre of followers, including Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and Mark Milley, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in his military fatigues, to a nearby church for a photo op of him holding up a Bible. (6) The grotesque message is that Trump is aligning with the will of God to use the military if necessary to do what he deemed most important at this time—establish law and order in America. A few days later Trump had the audacity to channel the spirit of George Floyd to approve the type of economy Trump was hoping to resurrect.
His ignorance of the Constitution, narcissism, and total arrogance forced Greg Mattox, his former Defense Secretary, to finally come out against him as did Collin Powell and a host of other military brass. (7) Trump has accomplished the important task of literally showing us the dead end faith in a corporate economic system and the ugly racism in America and much of the world.
Trump is a modern day McCarthy thriving on lies and innuendos. On June 9 he tweeted (!) that Martin Gugino, the 75 year old man who fell on his head and started bleeding from his ear after being pushed by a policeman, “could be an ANTIFA provocateur” trying to block out police communications and had fallen harder than he was pushed as a “set up”. Trump got this totally baseless conspiracy theory from a far-right cable news channel that had aired false information in the past. This is how the president of the United States communicates to an agitated and frightened public?! Gugino is a long-time peace activist “involved in a range of political issues, including immigration, climate justice, prisoners' rights, economic justice, and homelessness”. (8)
Jelani Cobb, historian and professor of Journalism at Columbia University, calls for a “gigantic, systemic overhaul” in much of our country, saying “you’re never going to have a time when you have bad housing, bad education, poor quality of employment, low wage work and pristine policing”. He sees the relationship between police and the African American communities as a gauge for race relations in general. “Police departments bear a disportinate burden because whenever something is happening overwhelmingly its in response to police use of force. People react and it detonates racial tensions that were there before”. Cobb was surprised when he went into Ferguson, Missouri in 2014 after the riots following the murder of Michael Brown: people wanted to talk about schools, excessive teen suspensions, unemployment, poor housing and institutional disparities. He went on to say you can’t understand Floyd outside of Covid-19 and the disportinate number of people of color succumbing to the virus; a deadly consequence of the cumulative effect of racial biases. (9)
This dovetails into my recent article, “Covid-19: Inflection Point in the Anthropocene Era and the Paradigm Shift of Jung’s New Age”. (10) I describe how the pandemic has performed the invaluable task of halting our species race towards an abyss as we destroy the environment and sow the seeds for the apocalyptic conditions of human generated climate change, taking down up to 50% of the species on the planet. I use Jungian ecopsychology to understand at the deep, archetypal levels how we got into such a dysfunctional relationship with each other and the environment and offer archetypal guidance on how to move forward. Jung said we need more psychology because “We are the origin of all coming evil”. (11) In a Jungian manner, we can begin a paradigm shift within our own psyches by taking an ecological approach to the world of our dreams and extend it like a fractal through culture and societies and into our relationship with the natural world. The fear, confusion and massive upheavals caused by the virus has loosened up rigid social and economic systems offering a rare opportunity for swift and major change. The devastating impact on so many people from George Floyd’s murder can propel us to finally start on the path toward a “gigantic, systemic overhaul” in the paradigm shift Jung saw coming back in 1940 when he coined the terms “new age” and “age of Aquarius”. (12) Floyd’s death, all eight minutes and forty six seconds of it, will be a significant moment in the inflection point.
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5. In my article “Guns and the American Psyche” I discuss how American gun culture as a product of an interpretation of the Second Amendment has led to paramilitary organizations and a vigilante mentality that perverts the law and justice because a person with a gun can be a one person judge and jury.
Retrieved June 10, 2020
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6. https://www.marketwatch.com/story/violent-clearing-of-lafayette-square-and-a-frustrated-presidents-controversial-photo-op-how-one-of-trumps-most-consequential-days-in-the-white-house-came-about-2020-06-08. retrieved June 10, 2020
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8 . https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/tasneemnashrulla/martin-gugino-buffalo-protester-trump-tweet
Retrieved June 10, 2020.
Retrieved June 10, 2020
McGuire, William and R. F. C. Hull, eds. 1977/1993. C. G. Jung Speaking: Interviews and Encounters. Princeton: Princeton University Press. p. 436.
12. Jung, Carl. 1973. Letters. Vol. 1. 1906-1950. Gerhard Adler and Aniella Jaffe, eds. R. F. C. Hull, trans. Princeton: Princeton University Press, p. 285.
Tuesday, June 9, 2020
This is a recording of my presentation at First Unitarian in Milwaukee on May 10, 2020 titled “Covid-19: Inflection Point in the Anthropocene Era and the Paradigm Shift of Jung’s New Age” based on an article I wrote by the same title posted on my blog on April 6 <JungianEcopsychology.com>. I make the case that Jungian Ecopsychology offers one of the best frameworks for understanding our dysfunctional relationships with each other and the environment by putting issues into an archetypal perspective. You will meet my badger up close and personal and be reminded that Pink Floyd sang about the I Ching on their debut album in 1966. I misspoke that I attended a concert on their first American tour in 1968: it was the fall of 1967. I close by suggesting the I Ching could offer an excellent bridge between Chinese and Western culture.
Monday, June 8, 2020
My son Frazer Merritt, with input from Kevin Lu of Essex University, added to my article on this blog on April 17, 2012 titled "Hunger Games from a Jungian, Political, and Environmental Perspective". I included a new section on Trump as an archetypal Trickster figure. Scroll down till you run into the text of the article.
This is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis in Jung Journal, 12:3, 26-44, on 10 Aug 2018.
Available online: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/19342039.2018.1478558
Illustration by Debora Nicosia. Jung Journal: Culture & Psyche, Volume 12, Number 3, pp. 26-44, PrintISSN1934-2039, Online ISSN 1934-2047. © 2018 C.G. Jung Institute of San Francisco. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/19342039.2018.1478558. A Jungian Interpretation of The Hunger Games
A Myth that Defines Our Times
FRAZER MERRITT, DENNIS MERRITT, AND KEVIN LU
Since the first novel’s publication in 2008, The Hunger Games trilogy has skyrocketed in popularity to sell over 70 million copies in the United States, or one book for every five Americans (Scholastic.com, News Room). It has been translated into fifty-three languages, spent over five consecutive years on The New York Times bestseller list, and has even outsold the seven-part Harry Potter series on Amazon to make it one of the best-selling novels in history (Doll 2012; Rogers 2012; Scholastic.com, News Room). Equally impressive, the first film garnered approximately 700 million dollars; Catching Fire is ranked as one of the top fifty highest-grossing films of all time; and the four films combined have earned 3 billion dollars (Scholastic.com, News Room; The Numbers.com). With such phenomenal success, it is little surprise that in 2010 author Suzanne Collins was featured in Time magazine’s top 100 list of “the world’s most influential people” (Scholastic.com, News Room).
Clearly, Collins’s imaginative powers have touched a cultural nerve, striking something deep within us, beyond logic, beyond rationale. But what accounts for her stories’ astonishing popularity? More importantly, what does it say about us, our culture and society, and the zeitgeist of our time? C.G. Jung’s literary theories and mythological perspectives provide a trenchant insight into the stories’ underlying archetypal dynamics and help to elucidate the trilogy’s appeal. This essay examines the first Hunger Games book and film, focusing on the dichotomy of President Snow as a senex figure (also known as an Old King) versus Katniss, who represents a hero aligned with the archetypal Self. As an aged king without a queen, Snow’s reign has petrified and is in need of renewal and invigoration by new feminine unconscious energies, or eros. This more classically oriented Jungian perspective is complemented by a post-Jungian approach, as we explore the extent to which The Hunger Games is both a product of, and reflection on, the cultural moment of its creation. Although our analysis aims to highlight the potential insights of a classical approach, it also seeks to move beyond the temptation of simply aligning characters to archetypal figures. It is our contention that the efficacy of a Jungian and post-Jungian approach lies in a more holistic perspective that includes archetypal amplification without losing sight of the extent to which cultural products are shaped by their contingent context. We believe this to be a major contribution of analytical psychology: it aims to speak to both the general and particular aspects of human experience.
The tension between senex and Self is, we argue, central to the narrative and may provide a psychological interpretation for the series’ popularity. Mythic motifs, which according to Jung are expressions of archetypal imperatives, may compensate for the one-sided dominant attitude of an era (Jung 1922/1978, CW 15, ¶¶129-31). We suggest that The Hunger Games speaks not only to the present-day risk of further collapse of cultural and societal principles, but also to the continued conglomeration of power in the form of big corporations and intrusive government. The story, from a Jungian perspective, is a deep critique of us and where we are right now, serving as a clarion call to take action against the entrenched powers of the status quo.
The paper begins by outlining Jung’s thoughts on the role of the artist in society and his distinction between psychological and visionary art. We suggest that in writing The Hunger Games, Collins reflects the function of the artist Jung had in mind. We further contend that although the trilogy and subsequent films are products of popular culture that may be classified as psychological art, the story’s archetypal themes and social significance bring it closer to visionary art. To support this contention, we critically assess President Snow’s role as the senex and Katniss as the hero redressing the repressed feminine in Panem’s society. We then situate the text in the context of its creation, mainly, the George W. Bush presidency. We argue that the psychological themes of The Hunger Games provide a platform through which a poignant commentary and critique of society is made, pointing to a possible unconscious position that underlies the deep dissatisfaction and unease with the Bush administration.
Why Pop Culture?
One may question how a pop-culture story – which some Jungian thinkers would classify as psychological rather than visionary art – could contain deep psychological truths about ourselves and our current era. A pop-psychological analysis of The Hunger Games leads to superficial observations, such as “Katniss volunteers to replace her younger sister Primrose [because] it pays to self-sacrifice for siblings, especially if the benefits for them exceed the costs you make” and “Katniss forms an alliance with Rue [because] the ‘You-Scratch-My-Back-I-Scratch-Yours’ rule works better than fending for yourself” (Vugt 2012)! Such interpretations, insightful in their own way, fail to look beyond literal interpretations expressing commonsense truisms. Avoiding reductionism, a depth psychological interpretation of art applies psychological scrutiny without violating its innermost essence (Jung 1922/1978, CW 15, ¶99). It takes seriously the influence of a deep and dynamic unconscious that operates beyond conscious intention. A critical analysis of pop-cultural products is not anathema to a psychological lens that has always, since its inception, been concerned with society and culture (Kittelson 1998; Lu 2013). Jung puts it succinctly: “All conscious psychic processes may well be causally explicable; but the creative act, being rooted in the immensity of the unconscious, will forever elude our attempts at understanding” (Jung 1950/1978, CW 15, ¶135). Freed from the shackles of positivistic interpretations, an analytical psychological interpretation allows for art to be examined on a deeper and broader level.
Jung’s Understanding of Art and the Role of the Artist
Whereas Freudians may argue that Suzanne Collins is refashioning a sublimated sexual Oedipal wish into The Hunger Games, a Jungian might view Collins’s writing as a vehicle for the expression of a collective creative power stemming from the collective unconscious (Jung 1922/1978, CW 15, ¶125). Jung believed “the meaning and individual quality of a work of art inhere within it and not in its extrinsic determinants” (¶108). In other words, the creative process is a completely autonomous complex, like “a living thing implanted in the psyche” and “a force of nature” (¶115). Jung writes, “A work of art is not a human being, but is something supra-personal” (¶107, emphasis added).
Jung posits that it is a mistake to analyze literature solely on the basis of the artist’s biography and personal psychology – even though this does, of course, inform many aspects of his or her writing. Literature is the product of complicated psychic activities – seemingly intentional and consciously shaped – yet only inferences may be drawn about the artist from his or her art, and vice versa (Jung 1950/1978, CW 15, ¶134). Deeper wellsprings must be explored from which dreams, fantasies, the imagination, and myths bubble up: the collective unconscious, the realm inhabited by archetypes. From a Jungian perspective, one of the first questions to ask when examining a story is, “What primordial archetype lies behind this artwork’s imagery?” (Jung 1922/1978, CW 15, ¶124).
Psychological vs. Visionary Art
There are, according to Jung, two broad psychological divisions in literature: psychological (aka personalistic) and visionary (aka archetypal). The former consists of
Materials drawn from man’s conscious life – with crucial experiences, powerful emotions, suffering, passion, the stuff of human fate in general. . . . The raw material of this kind of creation is derived from man’s consciousness, from his eternally repeated joys and sorrows, but clarified and transfigured by the poet. (Jung 1950/1978, CW 15, ¶139)
Generally, this type of literature is concerned with tales of love, family life, crime, and society, which includes didactic poetry, a majority of song lyrics, and some comedic and tragic dramas (¶140). Although psychological literature is informed by archetypes and archetypal life situations, the work is self-explanatory, clearly understandable, and no effort is required by the psychoanalyst (hence, why Jung also called this psychological art – that is, the “psychology” has been consciously shaped by the author, with little to no participation required of the reader) (¶¶139-40). Visionary literature is far trickier and ripe for a deeper interpretation. Jung cites Melville’s Moby-Dick and the second part of Goethe’s Faust as prime examples (¶¶137-38). Such literature is heavily symbolic, and it is difficult to derive its deeper meaning, much as with nightmares, big dreams, and visionary fantasies. Jung remarks:
[Visionary literature] is a primordial experience which surpasses man’s understanding. . . . The very enormity of the experience gives it its value and its shattering impact. Sublime, pregnant with meaning, yet chilling with its strangeness, it arises from timeless depths [and] bursts asunder our human standards of value and aesthetic form, a terrifying tangle of eternal chaos. (¶141)
Visionary art evokes or speaks to that which is unconscious in the reader. It touches, in a compensatory manner, what consciousness has yet to realize and what society may be unprepared to face.
The Hunger Games as Visionary Art?
Arguably, The Hunger Games fits into the visionary category. First, the story’s archetypal and mythological nature may resonate with readers at the individual level, paralleling and amplifying motifs experienced in both conscious life and unconscious fantasy. Second, the more nuanced, post-Jungian approach we advance here examines the story’s societal, political, national, and cultural implications, that is, the psyche of the collective society. Accordingly, such an analysis may reveal what a society as a whole may be unwilling to acknowledge. Third, Jung notes that “literary products of highly dubious merit are often of the greatest interest to the psychologist” (Jung 1950/1978, CW 15, ¶136). Because Jungian literary criticism may focus on novels with “dubious merit” – such as The Hunger Games – Jung writes, “The public for the most part repudiates this kind of literature, unless it is crudely sensational, and even then the literary critic finds it embarrassing” (¶143). But Jung defends this embarrassment by explaining that literature touching the archetypal realm offers the richest opportunity for psychological elucidation, an elucidation that may guide us and our society to seeing what lies in the unconscious:
Whoever speaks in primordial images speaks with a thousand voices; he enthralls and overpowers. . . . He transmutes our personal destiny into the destiny of mankind and evokes in us all those beneficent forces that ever and anon have enabled humanity to find a refuge from every peril and to outlive the longest night. That is the secret of great art. (¶¶129-30)
Contentious as this may sound, The Hunger Games – at least from a Jungian perspective – may fit the criteria for being considered “great art” and explain why millions around the planet, particularly in the West, have become feverishly enthralled by this dystopian nightmare in which teenagers fight to the death.1 The story’s plot lacks the beautiful complexities of literary masterpieces; moreover, it fails to provide – at least on the surface – psychological depth and a trenchant examination of society. Collins’s writing style is simplistic and at worst ham-handed. The characters are two-dimensional and more memorable for the situations they encounter rather than the strength of their personalities and conversational prowess. Granted, Collins is a magician of suspense; she illustrates tense action sequences with ease, and her imaginary world continuously seduces one’s curiosity. The movie, too, is enjoyable to watch, but not exactly Oscar material (Ross 2012). The Hunger Games is, then, your clichéd “page-turner” and “popcorn thriller,” but what separates it from the thousands of others in the genre?
The futuristic premise of The Hunger Games is, quite frankly, bizarre: in the ruins of what was once North America, ravaged by civil war and climate change, a new nation has emerged called Panem that consists of the Capitol and twelve outlying districts. The war was lost by the districts seventy-four years prior, and as punishment they are enslaved on their impoverished lands and must harvest their resources for the Capitol, a high-tech utopian city of wealth and opulence. In an annual ritual known as the Reaping, the twelve districts must send an adolescent male and female, known as Tributes (sacrifices), to participate in the Hunger Games, a reality TV show in which the children fight to the death. Whoever survives this Roman gladiator-style thunderdome, filled with mutated beasts and traps that are controlled by the Gamemakers for audience appeal and higher ratings, is crowned Victor. Fame, money, and adoration are showered on the Victor by the Capitol’s citizenry – garishly flamboyant, superficial, uncompassionate, and always eager for next year’s bloody spectacle.
President Snow as Senex
Controlling all aspects of Panem’s political and economic scene is the totalitarian dictator, President Snow, yet his power is showing signs of strain in a decadent society. Much like in a fairytale or myth, Snow represents the archetype of the king who, according to Jung, “represents a dominant of consciousness, such as a generally accepted principle of a collective conviction or a traditional view” (Jung 1955-56/1970, CW 14, ¶424). The king is the embodiment of a society’s attitudes and behaviors, the arbiter of values who underpins and directs the political system. More than being a mere symbol, however, Jung details how the power of kings throughout history strongly depended on sacred theological assumptions. In Egypt, for example, “Pharaoh was an incarnation of God and a son of God. In him dwelt the divine life-force and procreative power, the ka: God reproduced himself in a human mother of God and was born from her as a God-man” (¶350). Regarding kingship in the Near East,
the psyche of the whole nation was the true and ultimate basis of kingship: it was self-evident that the king was the magical source of welfare and prosperity for the entire organic community of man, animal and plant; from him flowed the life and prosperity of his subjects, the increase of the herds, and the fertility of the land. (¶348)
“Primitive” societies believed the king or the chief of the tribe had magical qualities, mana, and they might die if they looked into the chief’s face (von Franz 1996, 51). When a king became sick, weak, or impotent, a younger king had to replace the old king and “re-embody” the king energy so the archetype could be “renewed in the lives of the people of the realm” (Moore and Gillette 1990, Kindle Location 725, hereafter “Loc.”). Kings essentially are, as Robert Moore and Douglas Gillette argue, mere mortals who are vessels of collective psychic energy; they are the “human vehicle for bringing this ordering and generative archetype into the world and into the lives of human beings” (Loc. 835-42). The fact that the concept of a sacred king in monarchies worked worldwide for thousands of years suggests that this king energy is a projection of a basic construct of humanity’s psyche.
The king is a symbol of the archetypal Self: the self-regulating, centering force of the psyche, the totality of consciousness and unconsciousness. Since the Self symbolizes psychic wholeness and is the goal for the process of individuation, how could it age and become an old king? Von Franz lucidly explains Jung’s position that over time religious ritual and dogma
lose [their] original emotional impact and become a dead formula. Although it also acquires the positive qualities of consciousness, such as continuity, it loses the irrational contact with the flow of life and tends to become mechanical. This is true not only of religious doctrines and political systems but for everything else as well, because when something has long been conscious. . . . It becomes a dead world. (von Franz 1996, 53, emphasis added)
Von Franz adds that resisting challenges to its dominant attitude “is typical behavior of the old king, and it can be stiffened into mistrust and real tragedy” (66). All systems and ruling ideas age, and what may be good for one epoch and generation may be terrible for the next. This includes President Snow, the aging senex of Panem.
One could surmise that when the Capitol rose to power after the Rebellion, strong centralized power was needed for that particular moment to reduce fear and chaos, but, over time, the system petrified. Collins does not provide an in-depth historical account, but this scenario is plausible given the current state of Panem and the real-life conditions in which strong centralized governments have thrived. Panem’s rulers may have never transitioned away from their military mindset during the civil war and were unable to relinquish their newfound power and return to America’s former democratic ideals. Accordingly, Panem was divorced from the will of its freedom-loving people, the revitalizing aspect of any functioning nation, and President Snow (like his namesake suggests, symbolizing that which is “cold” and “frozen”) has come to symbolize “a moribund system of spiritual and worldly order” (von Franz 1996, 152).
The aged President Snow is a faded image of the Self in need of replacement: “With increasing one-sidedness the power of the king decays, for originally it had consisted just in his ability to unite the polarity of all existence in a symbol” (Jung 1955-56/1970, CW 14, ¶471). Because kings are archetypal images of the Self, “being the dominant and most central symbol in the contents of the collective unconscious,” they are in special need of revitalization through contact with, and an understanding of, the contents and processes in the collective unconscious (von Franz 1996, 53-54).
The Missing Feminine
Another telltale sign of decline is the lack of the feminine, the absence of a queen. Neither the book nor the film adaptation mentions Snow being married. (However, Snow’s granddaughter is mentioned in Mockingjay, and she is briefly shown in the second film.) This motif of a king without a queen or children is not uncommon in myths and fairy tales (von Franz 1996, 50-51).
The queen in fairy tales and myths is important because, while the king represents the dominant logos content of the collective’s conscious position, the queen is his accompanying feminine counterpart – the emotions, feelings, and “irrational” elements of human nature so crucial to a “holistic” experience of life. She also signifies “a certain habit or style of life, a feeling style, and that Eros style in society influences how people relate to one another” (54). She is, put summarily, the feeling tone of the culture and society. A culture lacking a symbolic queen is sterile and without creativity because the eros principle – signifying relatedness to the feminine and the unconscious – has been lost. The Hunger Games poignantly expresses the problem of a dominant collective attitude that has become petrified, empty, and stiffened into rigid defensive positions because eros is absent (55).
In The Hunger Games film, when the Reaping begins, the town square is revamped for the TV audience: banners, large monitors, and a stage for the name drawing. The host, Effie Trinket (“trivial,” “insignificant”) appears in a garish purple dress, high-heeled shoes, and a face plastered with lurid makeup. She announces with glee, “Welcome, welcome, Happy Hunger Games! And may the odds be ever in your favor” (Ross 2012). For her, the Reaping and the Games are a joyous affair, an annual event that gives her television exposure to indulge in her narcissistic gluttony. She is a primary feminine figure – a sad symbol, indeed. Later, when the Capitol is explored, the full absurdity of its citizenry is displayed: they are all dressed like Effie Trinket, men and women alike, ridiculous in appearance, jubilant to meet the victims they are sending to slaughter. Trinket, then, is the feeling-tone embodiment of the collective mindset and the zeitgeist of the Capitol as power center: shallow, superficial, oblivious to the suffering of others, self-absorbed to a neurotic degree.
The Capitol is a city of gleaming skyscrapers, impressive architecture, and technological marvels, providing a life of leisure and ease for its citizens. Advanced science was used to create bioengineered beasts, force fields, hovercrafts, holographic windows, and so on, which are signs of a highly developed logos (logic, rationale, and ordered attitudes). This, in combination with the citizens’ superficial mindset and their militaristic society, shows a whole civilization that has lost contact with eros and is in need of redemption via “the dark, fertile loam of unconscious, archetypal processes of transformation” (von Franz 1996, 165). Von Franz suggests that in this type of story, “the general structure seems to point to a problem in which there is a dominating male attitude, a situation which lacks the feminine element, and the story tells us how the missing feminine is brought up and restored” (51).
Katniss as the Redemptive Feminine
The protagonist, Katniss Everdeen, is the missing feminine eros that is hidden among the “dirt” of one of the districts – the alchemist’s gold in the dung. Similar to the role of Sophia in Answer to Job, she embodies the instinctive impulse to restore the feeling connection with the depths of the unconscious and nature that is sorely missing in society (Jung 1952/1969, CW 11, ¶¶620-23). She represents a symbol of the Self that may bring greater balance between the dark and light aspects of the psyche (von Franz 1996, 165). Her name hints at the vital role she plays: “Katniss” sounds like “cat,” an animal associated with the archetypal feminine, sensuality, sleekness, and cunning (de Vries 1976). The book reveals that her father named her after the aquatic plant known as Arrowhead; probably without coincidence, her weapon of choice is the bow and arrow. The Arrowhead’s tubers can be boiled or baked to taste like a potato, thereby suggesting a strong connection with the earth and indicating a further connection to the feminine principle (Collins 2008, Loc. 550). “Everdeen,” her last name, sounds like evergreen, a tree symbolic of hope and rebirth. Her first action is to slip into the forest, beyond the District’s electric fence, and hunt for deer. The ability to transgress boundaries and return safely are traits of the psychopomp, like Mercurius/Hermes, that function as a bridge to deeper regions of the psyche (von Franz 1996, 119). Katniss embodies the qualities of Artemis (the huntress) and possesses the heart of an Amazon female warrior. She is connected with the earth and embodies the archetypal energies of what Jung called “the two million-year-old man within” (Jung 1977, 359-64). This is a link back to nature, a place where cleansing and regeneration can occur when, according to Jung, the overexposure to civilization has caused a deep psychological fissure or sense of disenchantment (Jung 1984, 142).
Katniss hails from the last of the districts, similar to the archetypal significance of Nazareth, from which Jesus came. This domain, often found in fairy tales, is that of an outlying, neglected realm – sometimes even attacked – and is, importantly, disconnected from the collective’s dominant values. Katniss is a young, passionate, courageous woman who has not been corrupted or destroyed by the ruling forces in her society. She represents the salt-of-the-earth working class of her coal-mining background, true to a value system that cares for another because of mutual poverty. At the age of eleven, Katniss’s father died in a mine explosion, leaving her mother incapacitated with severe depression, abandoning all caregiving and home duties. This experience traumatized Katniss as she was forced to adopt both a male protective role as well as a mothering position toward her little sister, Prim. But Katniss does not lose her resolve or heart. During the Reaping, she displays supreme compassion in offering to sacrifice herself for Prim. Katniss is an emblem of empathy, courage, fearlessness, and grit, qualities that Jesus said are required in this difficult world: “to be as cunning as serpents and as innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16).
Katniss thus represents the possibility of new hope and change in a realm dominated by the constellation of senex energy. As Jung says, “At a certain level, therefore, woman appears as the true carrier of the longed-for wholeness and redemption” (Jung 1955-56/1970, CW 14, ¶500). Katniss’s symbolic role is nothing short of a redeemer figure for all of Panem, someone to carry it out of darkness and to restore its psychic wholeness. She is, therefore, an archetypal hero. In traditional mythological stories, it is the hero’s duty to save her country and its people from dragons, witches, and evil spells; to seek hidden treasure; to reconnect her people with the gods; to venture on a night-sea journey and enter the belly of the whale, saving those who were swallowed before her (Campbell 1949, 90-95; von Franz 1996, 58).
Regardless of the task, the hero is the restorer of balance between the conscious personality and the unconscious, a potential wellspring of creativity and vitality. Katniss can usher in the change required to end the collective neurosis (or, as in The Hunger Games, the collective psychosis). Von Franz writes, “[Heroes are] the one ego that restores to healthy, normal functioning a situation in which all the egos of that tribe or nation are deviating from their instinctive, basic totality pattern” (von Franz 1996, 62).
Heroes are fascinating figures because they can represent either the ego or the Self – but, in truth, they are both. As von Franz explains,
The hero is an archetypal figure which presents a model of a functioning ego in accord with the Self . . . . He serves as its instrument and completely expresses what the Self wants to have happen. In a way, therefore, he is also the Self, because he expresses or incarnates its healing tendencies. (1996, 62-63)
Von Franz further expands on this concept in The Feminine in Fairytales by explaining that
The hero represents the ideal ego-complex in accordance with the requirements of the psyche. He is the one who cures the sterility of a country and restores total health through a flow of life in healthy forms. . . . When the heroine functions in accordance with the requirements of the psyche, she becomes the pattern of the conscious feminine personality. (von Franz 1972, 19)
Katniss’ responsibility, therefore, is to operate as this ego-complex by acting in accordance with the Self in order to become the conscious feminine model for her culture. Although she is put into deadly situations in the Games and is forced to take violent action and kill in self-defense, she still remains, psychologically, in tune with the Self. As von Franz suggests, “If the woman is in Tao and functioning according to the inner laws of her being she can afford that kind of feminine nastiness and it is not animus” (34). The Self as the totality is the dormant, inherent possibility in a person “that needs actual conscious life with its tragedies, conflicts and solutions to bring the total into reality” (19). Indeed, throughout the series, Katniss has her fair share of tragedies and conflicts to resolve as she brings the narrative arc to its climax.
Throughout The Hunger Games, Katniss displays compassion in accordance with the ways of the Self. As mentioned previously, she sacrifices herself to save Prim in an act of altruistic surrender, which means “needs are met by fulfilling the needs of others rather than one’s own” (Klein 1993, 3-13). Time and again, Katniss expresses that the prime reason she acts – and tries to survive – is for Prim. For example, during the Games, Katniss uses Prim as motivation for her thoughts or actions: “My thoughts turn to Prim. . . . For her sake, I try not to look desperate” (Collins 2008, 205). Katniss lives for Prim; she negates or sacrifices herself in the name of family love and duty. Prim is the archetypal child: innocent and full of potential. Through her sister, Katniss sees what is more pure, vulnerable, innocent within herself, and in need of protection: the snake eyes for the dove.
In the Games, Katniss allies herself with a waif of a girl, Rue, who is so small that she has no chance of winning. Katniss starts caring for Rue because she reminds her of Prim, which is established the first time she notices her: “Rue. Primrose. Neither of them could tip the scale at thirty kilos soaking wet” (Collins 2008, 121; Ramberg n.d., 6). When they join forces in the arena, Katniss admits Rue “reminds me of Prim” (Collins 2008, 244; Ramberg n.d., 6), a clear indication that a psychological process of projection has occurred. When Rue is impaled with a spear, Katniss sings her a death song and covers her corpse with flowers, a gesture that incites a riot in Rue’s home district, the first incendiary incident that begins the slow downfall of Panem. It should be noted that Rue (“regret,” “sorrow”) is black and from an agricultural district in the Deep South that is heavily patrolled and abused, recalling America’s slave history. The parallels between District 11 and America’s treatment of African Americans seem intentional on the part of both Collins and the filmmakers. Katniss’s compassion for Rue may be read as a redemptive act for America’s history of racism and slavery.
The most important act of eros is when Katniss and Peeta emerge victorious at the end of the Games. The Gamemaker increases the tension by revoking a rule allowing two winners from the same district. With only one winner allowed, either Katniss or Peeta will have to kill the other. When Peeta rips off his bandage and threatens to bleed to death, Katniss pleads with him: “‘You’re not leaving me here alone,’ I say. Because if he dies, I’ll never go home, not really” (Collins 2008, Loc. 3886). Peeta represents a masculinity more attuned to cooperation with the feminine. Katniss engages in an act of rebellion that forces the senex energy of the state – the repressive rule of the father – to temporarily submit to the energies of the feminine and, by extension, the Self. She takes out poison berries from her pouch and together with Peeta decides to eat them, thereby committing suicide and guaranteeing no winner. The rule of the senex is dethroned by the values represented by the feminine – an altruistic act of surrender and love. Realizing the severity of the situation, the Gamemaker frantically announces they are the Victors, thereby securing their release, much to the delight of the Capitol’s citizenry. The rule of the father is maintained for the time being, but ultimately the damage has been done and the wheels of change have been set in motion. The Gamemaker is executed, since this is the first major defeat for President Snow, and it is the first real threat to the Capitol. The profound act of eros, which was desperately lacking in the culture, creates a strong affinity between the citizens and Katniss and inspires a rebellion from outlying districts, which is explored in the later films and books.
The Cultural and Social Significance of The Hunger Games
So far we have spoken to one of the main tasks of a more classical Jungian literary critique, namely, critically deciphering the archetypal foundation behind the characters and imagery in The Hunger Games. Our second task, although it may prove more difficult, speaks to a post-Jungian ethos that aims to address the implications of such theoretical interpretations for society and culture. What are these archetypal constellations in The Hunger Games compensating in the dominant one-sided attitude of the collective society and culture? Given the extent to which the series has resonated with Western society, what unconscious aspects has it touched? Stated another way, what collective psychic imbalance is being corrected by the story’s archetypal manifestations?
For the individual, the psyche’s rebalancing – realized through the correction of the ego’s myopic attitude – happens primarily via dreams and fantasies that arise from the ancient well-springs of the collective unconscious. This process occurs naturally and is, for the most part, beyond our control; its purpose is to move an individual into becoming more complete and whole, which should not be confused with perfection. Art and literature may be understood as dreams for the collective, which have the effect of bringing a culture’s one-sided, unadapted, inferior, or dangerous state of consciousness back into equilibrium (Jung 1950/1978, CW15, ¶152). Jung suggested that a nation’s epoch is like an individual – with inferiorities, limitations in conscious outlook, blind attitudes, hypocrisies, and so on – and therefore requires compensation in the form of archetypal images in art to better understand itself (¶153). Although the use of an individual’s psychology to explain collective phenomena like art is not entirely unproblematic (Lu 2013), the central archetypal themes of The Hunger Games speak poignantly to the current social and cultural framework that has become so enamored with Collins’s trilogy. As Jung describes the social significance of art,
It is constantly at work elucidating the spirit of the age, conjuring up the forms in which the age is most lacking. . . . The artist seizes on [the archetypal] image, and in raising it from the deepest unconsciousness he brings it into relation with conscious values, thereby transforming it until it can be accepted by the minds of his contemporaries. (Jung 1922/1978, CW 15, ¶130)
These archetypal images primarily appear in fairy tales, myths, and formal literature, and they are the works of the imagination guided by general human principles and patterns (Jacoby 1992, 64-65). Without archetypes, we would be unable to re-experience the content and structure of a work of art; we would not be able to enjoy the deep connection that allows us to feel a piece of art as it expresses and mirrors the human condition.
According to a classical reading of Jung, basic motifs that articulate human experience have not changed drastically in 3,000 years of written tradition. There is evidence that certain themes in tales go as far back as 25,000 years before Christ, practically unaltered (von Franz 1996, 4). The most basic and concise expressions of archetypes are found in fairy tales, “the purest and simplest expression of collective unconscious psychic processes” (1). Fairy tales are the “international language of mankind” because any fairy tale can be repeated in any culture, no matter how diverse, and the tale will be understood since it portrays our basic psychic patterns, mirroring the barebones anatomy of our psyches (27-28).
Myths, however, are different in some respects. Although they, too, are manifestations of archetypes, there is an overlay of cultural material, what Jung himself distinguishes as the difference between an archetype and an archetypal image (1). Whereas myths are archetypal, their manifestations as archetypal images align them with the cultural, collective consciousness of the nation in which they originated, thereby expressing the problems of that nation in that particular cultural period (27).2 For example, Grapes of Wrath reflects the social inequalities between laborers and business owners in the 1930s, and Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird addresses racism and the maltreatment of blacks in 1960s America. Such novels offer a psychological snapshot of a nation’s collective psyche, revealing the collective psychic imbalances of that era. Authors, therefore, play a crucial yet underappreciated role in society: they may educate us on the defects of our national character, where we have gone wrong and where we need to pay attention, and conjure stories to challenge and change the zeitgeist.
It is interesting that Suzanne Collins has said in interviews that a major inspiration for The Hunger Games was the myth of Theseus (Margolis 2008). As punishment for antagonizing King Minos of Crete, Minos orders Athens to send seven boys and seven girls to be thrown into the Labyrinth and be devoured by the Minotaur. This scenario is repeated every nine years until Theseus volunteers and decapitates the Labyrinth’s beast. There are obvious parallels here to Collins’s story, and she remarks that “Katniss is a futuristic Theseus” (2008). It is not that Suzanne Collins “copied” Theseus or the Theseus myth is “purer” because it was the original, but rather The Hunger Games and the Greek myth share the same constant source that is available for all people in all eras: the instinctual realm of the collective unconscious (Hinz and Teunissen 1992, 196). In many ways, then, Collins’s Hunger Games seeks to “dream the myth onward” by re-creating and re-imagining the original myth to make it more relevant to contemporary society (Huskinson 2008). Yet with the differences also come similarities: as much as The Hunger Games is an updated, modern version of the Theseus myth, it remains a direct revelation of how we are and how we have always been. The central message of the text continues to resonate today: we are at risk of creating a heartless senex society and losing our eros connection to each other and the replenishing source that is the unconscious (Hinz and Teunissen 1992, 198).
Although we cannot thoroughly ascertain the cultural conditions that co-created the Theseus myth, we do know the contemporary times in which Collins was writing The Hunger Games: the George W. Bush years in America.
One night I was lying in bed . . . and I was channel surfing on television. I was flipping through images of reality television where there were these young people competing for a million dollars or a bachelor, and then I was seeing footage from the Iraq War. These two things began to fuse together in a very unsettling way and that was the moment I got the idea for Katniss’s story. (Scholastic.com)
The novel was published in September 2008, weeks before the election of Barack Obama, in what was arguably one of the darkest periods in recent American history. There were several disturbing incidents during the George W. Bush years that many considered unmitigated disasters. These failures, in turn, betrayed the nation’s core values and diminished its trust in the government, a government influenced by frightening Evangelical Christian fictions and neoconservative imperial fantasies of worldwide dominion (Lifton 2003). Not surprisingly, the presidency of George W. Bush is regarded by historians across the political spectrum, even at this early stage, as one of the worst in the nation’s history. A survey conducted by History News Network in 2008 reported that of 109 historians, 98 percent considered Bush’s presidency to be a failure (The Editorial Board 2008). As to whether he was the worst in history, 61 percent said “yes” (2008). The Bush presidency began with the Florida election debacle in 2000 in which he won by a mere 537 votes owing to disruptive protests instigated by Republican Congressional staffers to shut down the vote counting, a canceled statewide recount, disenfranchisement of 58,000 ex-prisoners’ right to vote, and an unprecedented one-off Supreme Court ruling. It was just the beginning of the loss of democracy (Berman 2015; Greenwald 2007, 29-30, 32; Margolick 2014).
Then September 11 happened. It was an ideal nightmare for the Bush administration because it gave them political cover to pursue their radical neocon agenda. Chief – and worst – among Bush’s legacies is the Iraq War. Iraq had not attacked, had not threatened to attack, lacked the capability to attack the United States, and had no ties to al-Qaeda or Osama bin Laden (Gannon 2012, 6; Greenwald 2007, 5). It was an unnecessary war based on false pretenses, such as the discredited purchase of uranium oxide in Niger, nonexistent aluminum centrifuge tubes, alleged stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons, mobile production laboratories for WMDs, unmanned aerial vehicles for WMD delivery, and Iraqi training of al-Qaeda terrorists (Gannon 2012, 96). No Bush official ever explicitly said they could prove Saddam planned 9/11, but they issued innumerable misleading statements, such as Iraq “could have a nuclear weapon in less than a year”; “there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction”; “Iraq has trained al-Qaeda members in bomb-making and poisons and deadly gases”; and “Saddam Hussein is harboring terrorists and the instruments of terror, the instruments of mass death and destruction,” to name a paltry few (Greenwald 2007, 9, 108, 109-10). The propaganda campaign worked: six months prior to the invasion an astonishing 70 percent of the American people believed Saddam Hussein personally participated in the planning of the 9/11 attacks (107).
From White House officials, there was a stream of exaggerations, half-truths, and blatant lies proffered to justify the Iraq War (Gannon 2012, 92). Literally on a daily basis, the administration’s exaggerated claims were published on the front pages of American newspapers as though they were uncontested facts, even in the once-venerated New York Times (Greenwald 2007, 111). The Democratic Party offered pitiful resistance because the administration had conjured a powerful and uncompromising mythology that blinded the nation: a Manichean war of Good versus Evil (98). Fearful of being cast as Evil, the media and Democratic Party relinquished their critical faculties and abdicated their roles as adversarial watchdogs (108).
Foul myths – or the conscious creation and manipulation of myths – have consequences: 100,000 Iraqi civilians were murdered and 2 to 4 million made homeless (Gannon 2012, 77). Thousands of American troops were rendered disabled and 4,000 died (77; Trotta 2013). The direct and indirect costs of the war added up to $2.2 trillion (Trotta 2013). Estimates predict the final cost, still to be determined, could be $6 trillion (2013).
Another appalling incident the Bush administration forcibly enacted was the secret approval of torture, “justified” by two infamous Torture Memos drafted by the U.S. Department of Justice in 2002 without the public or Congress’s knowledge (Gannon 2012, 119). The program was, disturbingly, “modelled on the inhumane Chinese torture of American prisoners to induce false confessions during the Korean War,” which, at that time, Americans had deemed in violation of the Geneva Conventions (108). The Abu Ghraib atrocities occurred not because of a few “bad apples,” as the administration claimed in an attempt to scale the pinnacle of hypocrisy, but because they were hatched in the vice president’s office and approved by the president (101-102, 117). The torture techniques were used at secret prisons throughout the world, known as “black sites,” where a suspect was transferred in order to avoid due process, a program known as “extraordinary rendition” (113).
Equally as disturbing as extraordinary rendition, the Military Commissions Act of 2006 (MCA) vested power in the president to order American citizens to be detained and imprisoned indefinitely without having been charged for any crime or provided with a lawyer or court to determine innocence (231). Such power is one of the most tyrannical any leader can possess. One of the core rights established against the British king by the Magna Carta was to prevent such abuses – which means that the MCA literally vested in President Bush a power no British king has possessed since 1244 (231-32).
One of the most shocking events of the Bush years was the revelation that the administration had ordered the mass wiretapping surveillance of US citizens. Rather than obtain a warrant through the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA), Bush decided to illegally bypass them and direct the CIA and NSA (traditionally used against foreign countries) to spy on its own citizens. Warrantless wiretapping was a felony, a violation of the Constitution, and a potentially impeachable offense (Greenwald 2007, 93; Stout 2006). Whereas articles for impeachment against Nixon included the wiretapping of seventeen individuals, Bush had wiretapped thousands (National Public Radio, 2005). This felony was wholly unnecessary because the FISA court has almost always allowed presidents to do almost any eavesdropping they desired (Greenwald 2007, 93). Journalist Glen Greenwald conjectures that Bush committed this crime “because he wanted to violate the law in order to establish the general ‘principle’ that he was not bound by the law, to show that he has the power to break the law” (94).
Other administration blunders included the slashing of the Army Corps of Engineers’ budget by $500 million in 2001 and the inept response to Hurricane Katrina (Gannon 2012, 135); the alteration, censorship, and suppression of climate change reports(139-43); the squandering of a Clinton budget surplus of $236 billion to a $1 trillion deficit (Editorial Board 2010; Gannon 2012, 128); income inequality worse than the Great Depression (Madland and Pawlak 2008); and massive tax cuts benefiting the richest 1 percent (Goldfarb 2013).
The list goes on. All of these stories were floating in the media miasma, permeating the culture and society, and Suzanne Collins would have sensed the nation’s mood, for these elements of war, social inequality, climate change, loss of democracy, and an authoritarian state are reflected in The Hunger Games. The parallels are striking to say the least.
Many Americans had hoped President Obama, a thoughtful and intelligent African American capable of rhetorical genius, could usher in a brighter future. But working-class voters, particularly in the Midwest Rust Belt, experienced eight years of acute failure to address the adverse consequences of globalization, growing income inequality, and the consolidation of corporate and government power. The fact that Trump was elected despite his many glaring weaknesses and character flaws speaks to voters’ desperation for fundamental change in society and a disruption of the senex position. We now face the cultural and political crisis of the Trump phenomenon, and here too an archetypal discernment can provide a deep analysis and understanding of the problem we are dealing with.
Trump has been diagnosed as an extreme narcissist (Buser and Cruz 2016) – although, it should be noted, not unproblematically given the inherent difficulties with psychobiographies – but Narcissus was so self-absorbed that he harmlessly faded away by being captivated by his image. Trump does not present a passive form of self-absorbed energy, but an aggressive in-your-face bravado. This is in line with the Trickster archetype, where narcissism is but one attribute of its character. Tricksters can wantonly muck around in the unseemly sides of life, grossing out people with crudeness and sexual displays. They are the archetypal deceivers and untrustworthy characters, doing and saying anything to get what they want. Nonetheless, Tricksters serve an important cultural function by upsetting the status quo and overthrowing static, decrepit forms in an unheroic manner. Trump’s skillful destruction of an entire field of Republican primary candidates suggests that he is a near-perfect incarnation of the Trickster archetype. Ultimately, he could usher in a profound change in American society. His brash exposure of covert hypocrisies in both Republican and Democratic parties – around such issues as racism, Christian self-righteousness, neglect of the middle class, incompetent policies on immigration, and so on – make them impossible to ignore any longer.
An important function of the Trickster is to raise consciousness, and it is better to see the Devil in front of you than have it lurk in the shadows. Many have been shocked into awareness of how serious and deep the structural problems are in our social and economic systems. Many are finally getting politically involved. We are in a period of dangerous and chaotic transition into a new paradigm, and, like any major transition, it could end badly.
The Hunger Games initially appears as an absurd story about teenagers killing each other in a television survival show; however, upon closer examination with a Jungian lens, much is revealed about the neglected aspects of our society and culture, indicating a dangerous one-sided attitude that must be addressed. “Every myth [is] an important psychological truth,” Jung proclaimed, and The Hunger Games reveals the truth of the ugliness we have allowed ourselves and our society to become (Jung 1931/1970, CW 10, ¶190). Myths are expressions of archetypal resonance that, in turn, are historical signposts of any given time (in the form of archetypal images) (Lu 2011). The Hunger Games is a keyhole through which we may glimpse the cultural moment of its creation. It reveals that at this particular time, in this particular place, our society had become caught up in a deleterious psychic dynamic. If a myth is, according to Jung, “the textbook of the archetypes,” then Suzanne Collins’s trilogy is a map showing us an overly powerful senex in the form of government intrusion, corporate power, and plutocracy that needs to be replaced, in addition to a missing feminine eros as personified by Katniss Everdeen that needs to be introduced (Jung 1988, 24). Granted, the actual overthrowing of such a system may belong to the realm of fantasy, but read psychologically, a radical revolution in the minds of individuals – who, together, ultimately make up any given society – is a precursor to change in societal institutions.
Since the book was written during the Bush years, it is reflective of an America that was losing its democracy, its moral sensibility, and its soul. The message of The Hunger Games is that if we follow the lead of a hero like Katniss, who is in tune with the Self, and align ourselves closely to unconscious energies, we activate the potential to restore our psychological selves and, in turn, to begin a parallel process in society. By studying Suzanne Collins’s myth and interpreting its possible psychological significance, we can become conscious of our personal and cultural shortcomings and muster the courage to change. We can make that which is unconscious, conscious. Stated another way, if we listen closely to the artists of our time whose work accesses what is missing in our society, we can achieve greater psychological insight and give ourselves a chance to be the vehicles of transformation.
1. This is not to say The Hunger Games is original when it comes to dealing with these themes. Parallels to the plot can be seen in William Golding’s Lord of the Flies and Koushun Takami’s Battle Royale. The latter’s film adaption is regarded as a cult classic. See Haikasoru’s Battle Royale Slam Book: Essays on the Cult Classic by Koushun Takami.
2. Joseph Henderson posited the existence of a cultural unconscious, although the origins of the idea have been challenged by Lu (Lu 2013).
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National Public Radio. 2005. “Timeline: Wiretaps’ Use and Abuse.” National Public Radio, December 20. http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5061834 (accessed October 3, 2016).
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———. (2012). The Hunger Games. http://www.the-numbers.com/movie/Hunger-Games-The#tab=summary (accessed October 2, 2015).
Ramberg, Malin. n.d. “What Makes Her Tick? Katniss Everdeen’s Use of Defense Mechanisms in ‘The Hunger Games.’” English-C essay. Karlstad: Karlstads Universitet.
Rogers, Simon. 2012. “The Top 100 Bestselling Books of All Time: How Does Fifty Shades of Grey Compare?” The Guardian Datablog, August 12 https://www.theguardian.com/news/datablog/2012/aug/09/best-selling-books-all-time-fifty-shades-grey-compare (accessed October 20, 2016).
Ross, Gary, dir. 2012. The Hunger Games. Screenplay by Gary Ross and Susan Collins, based on Susan Collins, The Hunger Games, London: Scholastic, 2008. Santa Monica, CA: Lionsgate Films.
Scholastic. “Classical Inspiration: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.” Scholastic.com. http://www.scholastic.com/thehungergames/videos/classical-inspiration.htm (accessed September 28, 2015).
———. News Room: The Hunger Games. http://mediaroom.scholastic.com/hungergames. Scholastic.com (accessed October 2, 2015).
Stout, David. 2006. “Federal Judge Orders End to Wireless Wiretapping.” The New York Times, August 17. http://www.nytimes.com/2006/08/17/washington/17cnd-nsa.html (accessed October 3, 2015).
Takami, Koushun. 2009. Battle Royale: The Novel. San Francisco: VIZ Media LLC.
Trotta, Daniel. 2013. “Iraq War Costs U.S. More Than $2 Trillion: Study.” Reuters.com, March 14. http://www.reuters.com/article/us-iraq-war-anniversary-idUSBRE92D0PG20130314 (accessed April 25, 2016).
U.S. Department of Justice. 2002. Memorandum for Alberto R. Gonzales Counsel to the President. Office of Legal Council, Washington, DC, August 2. http://nsarchive.gwu.edu/NSAEBB/NSAEBB127/02.08.01.pdf (accessed October 17, 2016).
von Franz, Marie-Louise. 1972. The Feminine in Fairytales. Dallas: Spring Publications, Inc.
———. 1996. Interpretation of Fairy Tales. Boston: Shambhala Publications.
Vugt, Mark van. 2012. “The Social Psychology Behind the Hunger Games.” Psychology Today Blog, March 27. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/naturally-selected/201203/the-social-psychology-behind-the-hunger-games (accessed October 2, 2015).
FRAZER MERRITT, MST, obtained a master’s in Creative Writing at the University of Cambridge after receiving a bachelor’s in English Literature & Mythology from the University of Essex. He currently works as an assistant editor at Lutterworth Press and James Clarke & Co. He has published an article about the economics of helping refugees in Left Foot Forward, a travel essay in Crack the Spine’s Anthology 2016, and op-eds in Z Magazine. Correspondence: firstname.lastname@example.org.
DENNIS MERRITT, LCSW, PHD, has a doctorate in entomology from UC Berkeley and is a graduate of the C.G. Jung Institute-Zürich. He practices as a Jungian analyst and ecopsychologist in Madison and Milwaukee, Wisconsin. His book publications include the four-volume The Dairy Farmer’s Guide to the Universe – Jung, Hermes, and Ecopsychology. Correspondence: The Integral Psychology Center, 1619 Monroe St., Madison, WI 53711. Email: DennisMerritt4@hotmail.com.
KEVIN LU, PHD, is director of Graduate Studies and director of the MA Jungian and Post-Jungian Studies at the University of Essex. He is a former member of the Executive Committee of the International Association for Jungian Studies and a member of the adjunct faculty at Pacifica Graduate Institute. His publications include critical assessments of the theory of cultural complexes, the possibilities of a Jungian psychohistory, the Chinese-Vietnamese Diaspora, and depth psychological approaches to understanding comics. Correspondence: Department of Psychosocial and Psychoanalytic Studies, University of Essex, Wivenhoe Park, Colchester, CO4 3SQ, United Kingdom. Email: email@example.com.
C.G. Jung’s literary theories provide insights into the archetypal dynamics behind Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games and help elucidate the trilogy’s astonishing global popularity. President Snow represents a senex archetype whose reign has petrified and is in need of renewal, whereas Katniss represents a feminine hero aligned with the Self. Jung believed myths compensate for the one-sided dominant attitude of an era, and it is plausible The Hunger Games speaks to the present-day danger of an overly powerful senex in the form of big government and corporate power. Published in 2008, the story offers a metaphoric understanding of the deep dissatisfaction with the Bush administration.
archetype, George W. Bush, feminine, The Hunger Games, C.G. Jung, Jungian, Katniss, myth, President Snow, Senex, Suzanne Collins, visionary art, Marie-Louise von Franz
Sunday, May 31, 2020
Jungian Psychoanalytic and Ecopsychological Perspectives on Eco-justice
I gave this presentation via Zoom on May 28, 2020 as part of Environmental Justice Week at National Lewis University in Chicago. The university has played a historic role in academic and professional training in early childhood education. There were some problems with the slides on Zoom. Introductions begin at 16:40 minutes and my presentation begins at 20:00 minutes.
Saturday, April 11, 2020
Monday, April 6, 2020
The Covid-19 pandemic has created a unique moment in the history of our species. Something so small it takes an electron microscope to see is disrupting millions of lives and threatening the world’s economy. Frontline workers risk their lives trying to save patients who may die alone without friends or family at their sides. A virus, a strand of nucleic acid that highjacks the functioning of a cell to reproduce its unique viral form, is bringing our species to a near standstill. Despite the wonders of science, technology, and economic systems we can still be humbled by nature, indeed, by a strand of nucleic acid. It is crucial how we respond to the situation. What can we learn from it and how do we go forward?
We start with an adequate framing of the issue. This is a matter of life and death, which means it is in the most fundamental archetypal realm and requires an archetypal perspective. The fear of death from the pandemic is bringing a sense of immediacy and urgency on a planet-wide scale. Death cannot be separated from life, death makes us aware of the preciousness of life, and death confronts us with questions about the meaning of existence and our place in the bigger scheme of things. Death can bring an end to systems and beliefs that no longer support life and a healthy existence, and that could be the most important outcome of the present crisis.
The virus is demonstrating to what degree we are interconnected and how much we need each other. The forced social isolation and six-foot distancing has cut us off from intimate contacts and group experiences making us aware by absence how important we are to each other. The ghostly empty streets in otherwise bustling cities are eerie reminders that our systems are in shock at all levels. Like a nightmare that wakes us in the middle of the night, this shock is meant to shock us into a new awareness.
Our species needed to be shocked into an awareness that we have been barreling towards the edge of a cliff for many decades while showing no signs of being able to halt our “progress”. Well before Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring in 1962 and the first Earth Day in 1970, environmentalists have been warning us about overpopulation, destruction of natural habitats, loss of biodiversity, mining our lands with modern agricultural practices, collapsing ocean fisheries, etc. Greta Thunberg rallied millions of young people to demand action on climate change but powerful oil lobbies and vested political interests have been unmoved. The long term consequences of climate change will make any losses from a virus seem inconsequential, making this a moment for us to re-examine our fundamental relationships with each other and with the environment.
A most fundamental problem is that humans do not think of themselves as being part of nature. We are the only species that has to consciously be aware of this basic fact and adjust our systems and life styles to acknowledge that “we are all related” as the Native Americans say. This includes a relationship with all other two-legged, four-legged, six-legged (insects), standing brothers (trees), etc. Diseases play an important role in limiting populations of a species so it doesn’t overrun its environment. Because we have been so successful in curing diseases we have to consciously limit our numbers. Systems and beliefs that do not acknowledge this reality have to be changed or die off: planet Earth can no longer tolerate them.
Maybe it took something like this to wake up the approximately forty percent of Americans who have been blinded to the facts of science about pandemics, climate change, and a host of other issues. It took the cold number of coronavirus deaths and the harsh mathematical reality of exponential increases in the spread of the virus to finally force Trump out of the real “fake news”—his personal world of beliefs and “gut instincts”. The denigration of war hero John McCain, the abandonment of the Kurds in Syria, the adoration of dictators like Putin and Kim Jong-un, the Khashoggi murder by the Crown Prince—none of this woke up the “faithful”. Environmental standards are still being eliminated and industry regulations loosened to boost what Trump perceives to be his popularity poll, the stock market index.
Trump has been properly diagnosed as a malignant narcissist, but I believe his power goes beyond that into the archetypal domain of the Trickster. He is a self-described “stable genius” but we must recognize his gift—he is an evil genius. He has a unique gift of continual lying that undercuts facts and a trust in anyone but him. Hitler had such a gift. The Greeks recognized the Trickster as sacred in the form of the god Hermes; Mercury to the Romans. Hermes can “lead the way or lead astray”. We see this most clearly with Hermes as god of advertising. Drug companies pour millions of dollars into promoting drugs on tv while having to tell you that you might become suicidal, your immune system could be comprised and make you more vulnerable to tuberculosis, you could suffer serious internal bleeding—quite a trick! Watch carefully to see how it’s done the next time you see such a commercial and label Hermes as the god alive at the moment.
Trump has used his unique talent to subvert the entire federal government to his ends. Every other president has contended mightily to enforce their aims but only Trump has succeeded. (1) The name calling and denigration of opponents, the demonization of minorities and the encouragement of white supremacists; even the intimidation of the judiciary—our democratic systems have been severely weakened. Trump brought all his tricks to bear in his mishandling of the Covid-19 crisis but the death toll does not lie—it is not fake news. Hopefully many believers will come to realize they have been sold a bill of goods and begin to question the many other things they have led to believe are true. This would be a giant wake up call thanks to the virus; it’s just sad that so many will have die to sound the alarm for the deep sleepers and see what a real swamp looks like. An important function of the Trickster is to hold up a mirror to a society to show it the ugly truths about itself.
One ugly truth is how inadequate and unfair our health care system is. Trump continues to attack Obamacare—the first serious reform of our broken system in decades. This system has accentuated the pandemic in America. Those without health care or policies with high deductibles are more likely to go to the hospital late while they continue to spread the virus to others. Worrying about being covered or having to pay exorbitant costs only increases the anxiety and torture of those battling the disease. Many of those working in the “necessary services” are low paid and with little or no insurance coverage—the bus drivers and grocery industry workers, the delivery personnel, the janitors and cleaners in hospitals and stores. Many have underlying health issues like diabetes and high blood pressure making them more vulnerable. On April 6, 2020, NPR reported that 72% of the Covid-19 cases in Chicago are African American while they make up only 30% of the city’s population. The mythical dimension is Hermes as the god of servants; the support staff in our societies. He comes to this role as god of the unseen and invisible that provide the working foundations of a person and a society, a role many “illegal immigrants” fill in America.
Even the presumed source of the virus has archetypal dimensions. The “wet markets” in East Asia are where wild animals from around the globe are crammed into cages stacked atop each other with the animal excrement contaminating the cages below them. Every species has viruses and the wet market provides a unique opportunity for lethal recombinations to develop. Such was the case with the SARS epidemic and epidemiologists have been well aware of the inevitability of a pandemic arising from these horror houses of wet markets. A man who has campaigned for years to shut these markets down describes the Covid-19 pandemic as being “nature’s revenge”, and so it seems. (2)
How do we go forward? Hexagram 42, Increase, in the Chinese book of wisdom, the I Ching, offers us an archetypal framework for the future. The message of the hexagram, an archetypal image, is that those with power in whatever form, come down to help the less fortunate. The Wilhelm/Baynes translation declares
This conception…expresses the fundamental idea on which the Book of Changes is based. To rule truly is to serve.
A sacrifice of the higher element that produces an increase of the lower is called an out-and-out increase: it indicates the spirit that alone has power to help the world. (emphasis added) (3)
As with any archetype it is a pattern that can be seen across many levels. It is relative to income inequality in our society and the increasing gap between the haves and the have-nots. It refers to racism and sexism, political and social inequalities, people with no or inadequate health care coverage—you get the point.
The most significant power imbalance we face is between humans and the environment. The Book Religions—the Jews, Christians, and Muslims—share a creation myth of humans being made “in God’s image” and commanded to have “dominion over” nature. Were not the frogs and toads and elks and bears not made in God’s image as well? Were they left out of the sacred domain, a domain they inhabit in all indigenous, so called “heathen” cultures and in the “zoological cathedrals” of our dreams as Hillman called them?
Carl Sagan, as co-chair of Religion and Science for the Environment way back in 1982, said that unless we can establish a sense of the sacred in the environment it will be destroyed because the forces aligned against it are too great. At the same time he declared we need an understanding of science. (4) How do we establish a sense of a sacred environment in modern men and women so far removed from nature? This has been the subject of my writings presented in the four volumes of The Dairy Farmer’s Guide to the Universe: Jung, Hermes, and Ecopsychology. (5) I believe that Jungian psychology in the form of Jungian ecopsychology offers perhaps the best system for diagnosing and understanding our disastrous relationship with the environment and with each other. (6) Jung believed that unless we established a sense of the numinous, the sacred, in our societies we would not have a holistic culture, and this includes our educational system. (7) One avenue for doing this is by the application of complexity theory to basic Jungian concepts that offers a way to integrate modern mathematical theory with a mythological foundation by seeing Hermes as the god of complexity theory. Jung said a task for Christianity was to come to terms with the tortures it has perpetuated upon our indigenous “heathen” ancestors. A supreme challenge he gave us was to unite our cultured side with the “the two-million-year-old man within”, what I call the “indigenous one within”.
Hopefully the virus will do what the titanic hurricanes or the hellish wildfires in the Western United States in 2019 couldn’t do nor the fires in the Amazon or the toasting of the koala bears in Australia—shock us into consciousness of the almost unimaginable significance of the present time being labeled by many as the Anthropocene Era. For the first time in our planet’s four and a half billion years of existence an era is being named after the effect of one life form—humans. Other eras arose out of the planet being entirely covered with ice or a meteorite hitting the planet and taking down the dinosaurs who dominated animal forms for millions of years. Every species has some effect on the environment and manipulates it to some extent, but our species is unique with our ability to figure out the “laws of nature” and manipulate them for our advantage. We have the powers of the gods but lack their wisdom.
Some good news is that human-created systems are at the root of most of our problems, systems that can be changed by humans. These systems act in unseen and insidious ways, but Jung and Hillman’s emphasis of the power of personification is a godsend. Jung said the modern day monsters and dragons, repeat, monsters and dragons, were big things—big machines, big militaries, big governments, but his particular example is most poignant. “All the little merchants…crushed by the Standard Oil Trust”, he said, must have felt it to be “a great crushing monster”. (8) We have the ultimate development of that with the modern giant corporations that rule the planet. A corporation is interested only in making a profit for its shareholders assessed on a quarterly basis. It tries to eliminate competition, people are expendable, and the environment is treated as a resource base and a waste dump. In other words, our planet is in the grips of the ultimate narcissistic dragons and monsters—the corporations.
The dimensions of the changes required are in the archetypal domain of a paradigm shift. Jung knew a new paradigm had to come to the West and countries influenced by the West, which is now the entire world. In 1940 he labeled that shift a “new age” and “age of Aquarius”. (9) Significant elements in the shift, as Jung saw it, were a rise in the importance of the archetypal feminine, new spiritual forms, and a concern about the decimation of the environment. Transition from one age to another entails a great deal of confusion and fear as old power structures and institutions, including religious institutions, crumble and die or are significantly reconfigured. It is hard to imagine changing the corporate model given the economic and structural power behind it, including the conservative Supreme Court nominees Trump has put in place, but that is but one aspect of a necessary paradigm shift.
This is a revolutionary moment whose archetypal parameters are prescribed in Hexagram 49, Revolution (Molting); a time of “extremely grave matters”. A revolution “should be undertaken only under stress of direst necessity, when there is no other way out.” Real leadership is needed “by someone quite free of selfish aims” and then only when the time is ripe. (10) Even the conservative Financial Times British newspaper said in an April 4, 2020 article
…The great test all countries will soon face is whether current feelings of common purpose will shape society after the crisis….
Radical reforms — reversing the prevailing policy direction of the last four decades — will need to be put on the table. Governments will have to accept a more active role in the economy. They must see public services as investments rather than liabilities, and look for ways to make labour markets less insecure. Redistribution will again be on the agenda; the privileges of the elderly and wealthy in question. Policies until recently considered eccentric, such as basic income and wealth taxes, will have to be in the mix. (11)
These sentiments were echoed in an April 5, 2020, NPR interview with historian Yuval Noah Harari, author of Sapiens—A Brief History of Humankind. Harari emphasized the rare opportunities for major change emerging from the extreme fluidity of the moment when old, solid forms could be quickly overturned. Experimentation is occurring with things that were previously considered to be crazy, like universal basic income and improved safety nets. Many choices are on the table with no predictable outcomes. Like any revolution things could turn out badly in the form of authoritarianism and mass surveillance for example. (12) Things will solidify quickly once this is over in 2021, what in biology is called punctuated evolution—rapid major change followed by a plateau of indeterminate length of the existence of the new form.
I have long favored the concepts of the green or sustainable economists that include many of the possible positive changes Harari mentions. Enough is Enough, a book by by Rob Dietz and Dan O’Neill, offers an excellent presentation of the premises, many of which are touted by the Green New Deal. (13)
Jung said, “We are beset by an all-to-human fear that consciousness—our Promethean conquest—may in the end not be able to serve us as well as nature.” (14) Jung also said, “Nature must not win the game, but she cannot lose”. (15) At this moment it looks like nature could win as our modern economic structures might conceivably collapse if the pandemic lingers for several months. The real horrors are yet to come when the virus ravages developing countries with weak or nonexistent health care systems and massive shanty towns and favelas. A Jungian analyst inquired of the I Ching about the pandemic and got hexagram 56 for the future—The Wanderer. I call this the “divorce hexagram” because I have often seen people get this hexagram who were in the throes of a divorce or post-divorce machinations. The metaphor is that of a wanderer in a strange country: “A wanderer has no fixed abode; his home is on the road”. (16)
We are in a period of massive uncertainty, fear, and confusion. A diminishingly small virus has stopped us in our tracks. We had been racing towards oblivion and no economic or environmental disasters seemed to be able to change our direction. Maybe our species, and the planet, needed this virus to shake us into consciousness. It is of utmost importance how we respond and go forward.
Dennis L. Merritt, Ph.D., is a Jungian psychoanalyst and ecopsychologist in private practice in Madison and Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Dr. Merritt is a diplomate of the C.G. Jung Institute, Zurich and also holds the following degrees: M.A. Humanistic Psychology-Clinical, Sonoma State University, California, Ph.D. Insect Pathology, University of California-Berkeley, M.S. and B.S. Entomology, University of Wisconsin-Madison. Over twenty-five years of participation in Lakota Sioux ceremonies have strongly influenced his worldview.
Dr. Merritt is the author of Jung, Hermes, and Ecopsychology: The Dairy Farmer's Guide to the Universe Volumes 1 - 4.
2. For an excellent report on the wild animal markets in East Asia, see:
For greater detail on the history of the wet markets and their link to the coronavirus see:
3. Wilhelm, Richard. 1967. The I Ching or Book of Changes. Princeton, New Jersey: Prinston University Press, p. 162.
4. Sagan, Carl. “To Avert a Common Danger”. Parade Magazine, March, 1992: 10-12.
5. Merritt, Dennis. The Dairy Farmer’s Guide to the Universe: Jung, Hermes, and Ecopsychology. Sheridan, Wyoming: Fisher King Press.
Volume 1. Jung and Ecopsychology. 2012.
Volume 2. The Cry of Merlin: Jung, the Prototypical Ecopsychologist. 2012.
Volume 3. Hermes, Ecopsychology, and Complexity Theory. 2012.
Volume 4. Land, Weather, Seasons, Insects: An Archetypal View. 2013.
6. Ecopsychology is a new field of psychology that emerged in the early 1990s. It is a study of the human relationship with the environment and explores ways to connect people more deeply to nature with the belief that a person connected to the land will naturally want to protect it.
7. Jung, Carl. 1969. Psychology and Religion: West and East. Volume 11 of The Collected Works of C. G. Jung. 2nd ed. Herbert Read, Michael Fordham, Gerhard Adler and William McGuire, eds. R. F. C. Hull trans. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. par. 735.
8. Jung, Carl. 1984. Dream Analysis: Notes of the Seminar Given in 1928-1930 by C. G. Jung. W. McGuire, ed., Princeton University Press: Princeton. p. 538, 539.
9. Jung, Carl. 1973. Letters. Vol. 1. 1906-1950. Gerhard Adler and Aniella Jaffe, eds. R. F. C. Hull, trans. Princeton: Princeton University Press, p. 285.
10. Wilhelm, Richard. 1967. The I Ching or Book of Changes. Cary Baynes, trans. Princeton: Princeton University Press. p. 189, 190.
11. “Virus lays bear the frailty of social contract”, Financial Times, April 4, 2020.
Retrieved April 5, 2020
Retrieved April 5, 2020.
13. Dietz, Rob and O’Neill, Dan. 2013. Enough is Enough: Building a Sustainable Economy in a World of Finite Resources. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.
14. Jung, Carl. 1969. The Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche. Volume 8 of The Collected Works of C. G. Jung. 2nd ed. Herbert Read, Michael Fordham, Gerhard Adler and William McGuire, eds. R. F. C. Hull trans. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. par. 750.
Prometheus was the Greek Titan who stole fire from the gods for humans to use, enabling progress and civilization. His punishment was to be chained to a rock and have his liver pecked out by an eagle, the emblem of Zeus. The liver grew back by the next day and was eaten again, a scenario eternally reenacted.
15. Jung, Carl. 1967. Alchemical Studies. Volume 13 of The Collected Works of C. G. Jung. 2nd ed. Herbert Read, Michael Fordham, Gerhard Adler and William McGuire, eds. R. F. C. Hull trans. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. par. 229.
16. Wilhelm, Richard. 1967. The I Ching or Book of Changes. Cary Baynes, trans. Princeton: Princeton University Press. p. 217.