on April 11, 2010
Steven B. Herrmann, PhD, MFT
Author of "Walt Whitman: Shamanism, Spiritual Democracy, and the World Soul"
This is one of the most fascinating books on fairytales I have ever read! In this book von Franz is clearly at her best. What I find most helpful is what she has to say about bewitchment. By "bewitchment" she means the experience of being overtaken by what C. G. Jung called a complex and its archetypal core. Typically the subject who has become "bewitched" has been possessed by something larger, evil, and toxic, often in early childhood or latency. To be "bewitched" means that "a particular structure of the psyche is crippled or damaged in its functioning and the whole is affected." To become free of bewitchment through Jungian psychotherapy, the object-imagoes of the complexes need to be projected onto an analyst, then re-collected as inner psychological structures belonging to the patient, whether a child, adolescent, or adult, who is the projector. This is the only way, von Franz asserts that "the value or the energy invested in the image can flow back to the individual, who has need for it in his development." For instance, when the toxic core of the negative mother complex is projected onto an analyst, who becomes the carrier of the Witch archetype, we find, as we do in fairytales, the condition where some character in the story or dream, or some functional complex in the patient's object relations, has been "cursed or bewitched and through certain happenings or events in the story is redeemed. This is a very different condition," Von Franz says, "from the Christian notion of redemption." Sometimes the Witch functions together as a pair, as in "The Wizard of Oz." From an analytic standpoint, von Franz writes "any archetypal complex, any structural unity of the collective unconscious psyche can be cursed or bewitched." Bewitchment is made translucent in von Franz's masterful analysis of the story of Hansel and Gretel, where a latency-aged boy and his little sister are companioning together towards overcoming a psychological state of distress. Their father, a poor woodcutter has been "bewitched" by a famine in the land; he has been put under a spell by the children's evil step-mother who has power over him and tricks him into abandoning his biological children. As Von Franz says, Hansel and Gretel presents an answer to the problem of bewitchment. The solution comes by way of a feminine wisdom-ethic, an ethical teaching that reveals clearly how a person might dissolve the complexes that are poisoning her psyche; first, by finding a suitable hook to hang her projection on, then, by recollecting and integrating something of the Witch's trickster-like characteristics, as an aspect of her own personality. Both father and step-mother are possessed by Evil in the story. The "redemption motif" is latent in the pattern of the two companioning siblings that are faced together--as hero and heroine--with the problem of redeeming the poor father, and liquidating or eliminating the curse of the evil step-mother. As von Franz says, the "accent on the girl and the witch-like, rather evil, mind of Gretel" is what saves the two siblings from their curse of bewitchment. The accent on "compensatory values" is stressed in the story: "the natural mind of women and their seeming wickedness" is "represented" as the most important redeeming "factor." For anyone interested in depth-psychotherapy, dreams, fairytale interpretation, or Jungian analysis, this is a valuable book to have. It is practical, down to earth, and full of wisdom.