In the image above, we see a fresco, circa 1090 C.E. In the image, saints battle a dragon. The dragon, according to Carl Jung, is an archetypal image of the unconscious.
The unconscious is related to the womb and is related to the mother. The unconscious, as great womb of creation, is an image of the unknown depths from which we emerge. For some this is a frightful image: as darkness, emptiness, the void, or abyss. Christian images and Western myths which depict the dragon often represent an ambivalent view of the great mother womb. The dragon resides at the edge of the darkness: gatekeeper to the dark recesses of the unknown.
The Western dragon is readily related to the Western hero (or hero-saint as depicted in the image above). The Western hero desires to defeat the monster of darkness. Jung writes: “The hero’s main feat is to overcome the monster of darkness: it is the long-hoped-for and expected triumph of consciousness over the unconscious.” (CW 9i, para. 283)
The hero in this sense is associated with the paternal principle and with logos. Jung writes: “the paternal principle, the Logos,… eternally struggles to extricate itself from the primal warmth and primal darkness of the maternal womb; in a word, from unconsciousness.” (ibid)
The struggle against the unconscious is the struggle of the paternal principle. A struggle fraught with duality and strife: “there is no consciousness without discrimination of opposites.” (ibid).
The emergence of the ego out of the great womb of creation is no easy feat. Paternal consciousness must divide within itself. The masculine divides from the feminine, the absolute divides from the relative, the eternal from the temporal, consciousness from the unconscious.
The hero is an image of masculine principle in relation to the feminine principle in all its varied forms. The unconscious, the womb, the mother, the darkness, the vast unknown on one side and the container, the vessel, matter, and the material world on another. Mater is the Latin root of mother. Mother is matter as Mother World. Masculine heroic consciousness is surrounded on all sides by feminine otherness.
Jung writes:”Divine curiosity yearns to be born and does not shrink from conflict, suffering, or sin.” (ibid). Duality creates conflict, opposition, suffering and sin. Such divisions are thought to be the necessary conditions for the birth of egoic consciousness. The Western hero is a battling hero, seeking to extricate itself not only from the primal warmth and primal darkness of the maternal womb, but, ironically, from the containing vessel of the Mother World.
The hero is clearly an image of the ego. As Freud said, the ego is a “pleasure ego”. The ego is duality ego. The ego is predicated upon splitting: good/ bad, pleasure/ unpleasure, powerful/ weak. The ego seeks to maintain a pleasurable image of itself. It wants only the good images of the self: powerful, good, strong. These are the roots of what psychology calls narcissism: an intensified, rigid egoic state of consciousness.
The work of Melanie Klein shows that in psychical terms (or symbolic terms) the mother is the receptacle and vessel containing all that the new and feeble ego cannot hold. The mother becomes the receptacle for all the split feelings that are not pleasurable to the ego. In this case, the dragon emerges as a representation for these more “ambivalent aspects” of the mother archetype (CW 9i, para. 157). In other words, whatsoever the ego cannot tolerate is projected into the mother image.
Jung writes: “Unconsciousness is the primal sin, evil itself, for the Logos. Therefore its first creative act of liberation is matricide” (ibid, emphasis added). Not only does the ego project its unwanted feelings and inadequacies into the mother image, the ego seeks liberation from these feelings through matricide: a symbolic killing of the mother.
This dualistic battle of consciousness is held within each of our psyches, buried within the collective unconscious. The archetypal images emerge within our myths and dreams: symbolizing a flight from the primal womb, a heroic battle against the mother turned dragon-monster. And, in the end, the final act is symbolic matricide.
This mythic battle with the mother-dragon is not only a children’s tale. It is not only the psychical drama of the collective unconscious. If psychology has taught us anything, it is that unconscious dramas are all to readily acted out. Freud named this unhappy truth “the compulsion to repeat”. Unconscious material presents itself in our symptoms and actions again and again until we can hear and understand the message in the symptom or the act.
Each of us is destined to act out our unconscious dramas until we learn from them. If we do not learn, then destiny will repeat itself. This is true not only on a personal level, but on a collective level as well.
Thus the true meaning of liberation emerges: as freedom from the unconscious and ever-to-be acted out dramas that haunt mankind. Spiritual liberation is freedom from the duality and struggle between masculine and feminine consciousness. In other words, spiritual liberation is non-dual union, as sybolized by these two poles of consciousness.
- The Archetypes and The Collective Unconscious (Collected Works of C.G. Jung Vol.9 Part 1)