All human control comes to an end when the individual is caught in a mass movement. Then, the archetypes begin to function, as happens, also, in the lives of individuals when they are confronted with situations that cannot be dealt with in any of the familiar ways.Carl Jung, Essay on Wotan.
Way back in the very first essay in this series, I stated that my position on corona was that it was a mass hysteria facilitated by the internet. The cornerstone of my analysis was that we invoked what I call The Plague Story even though corona is clearly not in the magnitude of a plague (pandemic). This raised the question of why that happened and throughout the other posts in the series I have been working through a number of different answers to that question some of them cultural, some political and some psychological. But I have always had the nagging feeling that I was missing something fundamental. Then recently I finally got around to reading Carl Jung’s essay on Wotan, which was his explanation for the Nazi phenomena, and suddenly it clicked. It was the above quote which really struck home not least because Jung uses the phrase “mass movement” which is almost the same as my “mass hysteria”. It’s in a mass movement that the archetypes begin to function according to Jung. For WW1 and the Nazi movement he identified Wotan as the driving archetype. So, I started to think about what archetype has been driving corona and now I think I may have the answer or at least the beginnings of an answer.
Jung believed the archetypes to have an autonomous existence. They existed independently of humans but were the driver of much human behaviour. When Jung asserts that Wotan was driving the events in Nazi Germany he means that literally. In less secular ages, one would have said that Hitler was possessed (by the devil) and that’s kind of what Jung meant too. Because we cannot say that Hitler was possessed by the devil, we have simply turned Hitler into the devil. What earlier societies would have called “evil” we call “Nazi” or “fascist”. The meaning is identical but our words have a quasi-secular ring to them. Jung’s way of thinking is at odds with the extremist materialist philosophy that dominates current Western thought. The archetypes are not testable and not amenable to the scientific reductionism that is our default criterion for truthfulness. Of course, corona has revealed the deep flaws that exist in applying scientific reductionism to the living and breathing biological and psychological world that we all live in. What better time to expand our criteria for truthfulness.
I got my first inkling that corona was touching on something deep and dark down in the depths of the psyche from a couple of direct encounters with some people I know. Obviously, there have been all kinds of crazy things to be seen on television and the internet throughout corona, but it was two face-to-face conversations that really struck me as odd early on. The first one took place at the end of the first lockdown here in Melbourne. During a conversation with a person I have known for quite a while the subject of corona came up. I said something that contradicted the dominant narrative. I didn’t say it in a confrontational manner or to make any kind of broader point. It was just an offhand comment delivered in a very casual and non-threatening way. Nevertheless, the person I was talking to raised their right arm over their chest in an involuntary protective gesture as if I was about to punch them. What was especially weird about it was that they seemingly did not realise they had done it. It was a purely unconscious reaction and something I had never seen from this person or any other person that I can recall in my life. It struck me as deeply weird at the time but I didn’t really think much more about it.
A second example was another person I know who was, up until 2020, a logical and rational person; arguably too logical and too rational. The subject of corona came up in a conversation and with this person I was more forthcoming in my views as he was somebody I thought I might be able to have a rational conversation with. I was wrong. But what was notable was not that we disagreed but that his argumentation was completely illogical. This is a person who makes his living from logic and would in any other circumstances be fully aware that he was speaking basic logical fallacies. As the conversation proceeded, nothing he said made sense. It’s one thing to disagree with somebody, it’s quite another when their entire argument is clearly illogical. It was like talking to a different person or, rather, like talking to a zombie. In both of these cases, I got a very strong sense that something had ‘possessed’ these two people. I simply wasn’t dealing with the same person I had once known. It is only in the last few weeks that I have started to think more about Jungian psychology and have taken seriously the idea that these people and millions more like them really have been possessed by something. In and through them, a force has been at work. An archetype has taken over our lives in the same way that an archetype took over at the beginning of WW1 and continued right on through the Nazi regime until the end of WW2. Unlike Jung, I am not familiar enough with mythology to come up with a Wotan equivalent, so I’ll just use one of Jung’s own archetypes to explain it: The Devouring Mother.
We all know The Devouring Mother at some level as it is an extension of the natural relationship between child and mother which needs to exist in the early stages of life when the infant is completely reliant on the mother for its existence. In the normal course of development, the child learns to become successively more independent of its mother but along the way there will be times when the mother is too over-protective. Mostly, the child will try to assert independence and the mother hopefully will yield it as appropriate. It’s when the mother does not yield that things can start to go wrong and if the mother is not yielding due to her own insecurities leading to her not wanting to let go at all, she can become a Devouring Mother. The Devouring Mother archetype occurs when both mother and child are in a dysfunctional relationship of co-dependence in which the mother is just as trapped as the child. The guilt, however, lies with the mother as it is the parent’s duty to ensure the child’s proper development. Of course, the process of letting go is not easy. Many mothers cry, for example, on the first day the child goes to school for this occasion represents the growing independence of the child. Similarly, in tribal societies, when the male child (for it was almost always the male) was taken away for initiation the mother would wail and cry as the boy was now becoming a man and the mother’s role in his life was about to be changed forever.
It is precisely this autonomy that The Devouring Mother prevents her child from attaining. She wants it to remain perpetually dependent and she does this out of her own insecurity and selfishness. The key reason why The Devouring Mother is relevant to our context, however, is because one of the main ways The Devouring Mother attempts to hide her intentions is on the pretext of protecting the child. This protection is necessary when the child is an infant. The problem occurs when that protection turns into over-protection and hampers the child’s development but that is something that will happen slowly and almost invisibly until one day you wake up and you’ve got a 30 year old grown man living in his parents’ basement playing computer games all day. Just last week, the Prime Minister of Australia, whose Treasurer had just delivered a “woman’s budget” (perhaps we should call it a “Devouring Mother’s budget”), said that his primary mission was to “keep Australians safe”. But that is exactly the excuse that devouring mothers use. Is that just a coincidence? Not according to Jung. According to Jung it would be a synchronicity and evidence that an archetype is at work.
A feature of The Devouring Mother is that she gaslights her children. This happens in two seemingly contradictory ways. On the one hand, she won’t allow any criticism of them at all even when it is necessary and justified. Rather, she suffocates them with false praise. The author D H Lawrence, who wrote a lot about the devouring mother phenomenon as he believed his mother to have been a prime example, once wrote in a letter “I feel I am all the time rescuing my niece and nephew from their mothers, my two sisters; who have jaguars of wrath in their souls, however they purr to their offspring.” One sees this purring in the modern world in corporate marketing. One of the weirdest examples I ever saw was a tweet saying how much Corporation X really loved “you” from the bottom of its heart. You may write this off as marketing bullshit, but it’s bullshit that sounds exactly like a Devouring Mother.
While dishing out false praise and empty promises of eternal love on the one hand, The Devouring Mother will be extremely critical, even violent, with her children if ever they should say or do something that threatens the co-dependence relationship that the mother seeks. This gaslighting has the effect of preventing the child becoming intellectually and emotionally independent, a key part of its overall development. Remember when you were told that if you didn’t support the lockdowns it meant you wanted old people to die? That kind of emotional manipulation is par for the course with The Devouring Mother. There are a thousand and one other ways to keep the elderly safe that don’t involve locking healthy people in their house, but those are never discussed. The Victorian Premier, Dan Andrews, showing that The Devouring Mother can take male form, gave what I think might be one of the most succinct expressions of this kind of gaslighting last year. He was asked by a reporter whether he was concerned that his measures, which included curfews and five kilometre travel restrictions, were a violation of human rights. He replied “would you prefer to be on a ventilator?” This was a complete non sequitur. Only the tiniest fraction of the population had any chance of ending up on a ventilator but one hundred percent of the population had had their humans rights removed. The Premier could have answered in a logical, rational way. Instead, he chose to gaslight. That’s how The Devouring Mother operates. None of the governments in Australia has ever, as far as I know, released the “science” they have supposedly been using to justify their decisions. In the adult working world, we communicate to each other based on facts and models. A democracy is supposed to involve public debate about those facts and models. But in the sickly sweet world of The Devouring Mother, we are kept in the dark and given only one option: to acquiesce.
For those who don’t acquiesce, The Devouring Mother is also perfectly capable of violence as our police forces have shown us. What was particularly interesting about the police response, certainly here in Australia, was that it was unnecessarily brutal and heavy-handed to the point where it seemed counter-productive. The police seemed to be going out of their way to generate resentment. Their behaviour, like the behaviour of my two conversation partners, seemed out of character as if having a source somewhere other than reason. Were the police also playing the role of The Devouring Mother and lashing out against minor indiscretions out of a sense of insecurity? The most heavy-handed policing has been employed against otherwise law abiding citizens who happened to disobey a corona commandment. One Australian example which went viral was a pregnant woman being handcuffed in front of her children in her own home but there were countless others. Meanwhile, mass protests such as BLM were seemingly given a free pass. At a time when politicians were calling for unity, they engaged in favouritism. It doesn’t make any logical sense but it does make sense within The Devouring Mother archetype. The Devouring Mother is happy to play her children off against each other. Such emotional manipulations help her maintain the co-dependence relationship.
To my mind, one of the defining features of corona is the seemingly complete disregard for the effect of our response on children. This is even more puzzling as it’s a simple statistical fact that corona is less dangerous to children than the average flu. This should have been a matter for rejoicing. Instead, in many places children have been kept out of school and, even when allowed to go to school, forced to wear masks and undergo other unnecessary interventions. In Germany, children are now forced to test themselves for corona at the start of the school day. Just this week, a video went viral of a ten year old boy explaining what he has had to go through at school in the US. What he describes is Devouring Mother behaviour coming from his teachers. This is yet another synchronicity and evidence that the archetype is at work. The Devouring Mother only pretends to be acting to protect her child but with corona there was essentially nothing to protect them from. That would have made a difference if logic was at play. But logic was not at play.
In a similar vein is the mask. The mask is perhaps the ultimate symbol of The Devouring Mother. It purports to keep the wearer safe even though there is no scientific evidence for this claim and plenty of randomised control trials that show masks are useless. Worse than useless in fact, as we are only now starting to see some evidence of the effects of long term mask wearing which causes the wearer to inhale more carbon dioxide than is considered safe among other problems. In any case, you didn’t need scientific studies to see that the authorities were making it up as they went. We were initially told that masks were counterproductive and could actually cause more spread of disease as they would be used improperly. Then they became recommended. Then mandatory. Then the recommendation was to wear two. Arbitrary dictates given without rhyme or reason are a feature of The Devouring Mother. What she desires is simple subservience and that’s what the mask represents: a very public display of obedience. With mouths covered, the children of The Devouring Mother will not answer back, will not demand their rights, will not ask awkward questions. Silent obedience is what The Devouring Mother wants and, at least symbolically, the mask gives her that. Once again, I must quote the State Premier of Victoria who gave us another perfect example of The Devouring Mother at play on the subject of masks. After four months of lockdown and with cases finally back at zero, restrictions had eased in Melbourne. We were heading into summer but masks were still mandatory in enclosed spaces. Some people, perhaps looking to other Australian states where nobody had to wear a mask, started relaxing their behaviour and wearing their masks below the nose. Andrews tweeted on a Sunday morning something like “Good morning to everybody, except those wearing their masks below the nose.” Why was the Premier engaging in unnecessarily divisive behaviour? The risk was over and, even if it wasn’t, his tweet was not going to convince a single person to cover their nose. It was inexplicable as a political tactic unless the point was not achieve an outcome but simply to reward the ‘good children’, to make them feel good and to separate them from the ‘bad children’.
The Devouring Mother has been ascendant in the West for several decades. We see her in the metastatic bloat of the modern medical industry especially in the United States where The Devouring Mother will happily bankrupt you for a simple trip to the hospital. We see her in the relentless gaslighting of the modern media, the ideological drivel that comes out of the universities and our hallucinatory political debate which somehow manages to avoid all contact with reality and all genuine issues of politics. We also see her in a less obvious place, which is the rise of Jordan Peterson from being an obscure Canadian professor of psychology to being a worldwide phenomenon. His rise to fame touches on the other half of The Devouring Mother relationship: the children. If Dan Andrews was appealing to the ‘good’ children with his tweet, he was also singling out the ‘bad’ children. In fact, these are the only two pathways available to the child of The Devouring Mother: to rebel or to acquiesce. Jordan Peterson has offered an entire generation, in particular the young men of that generation, raised by The Devouring Mother a way to rebel primarily by the simple act of striving for autonomy and independence. That Peterson would be considered a revolutionary figure speaks to how far The Devouring Mother has become dominant. Most of Peterson’s teachings are what would once have been considered plain common sense but in the world of gaslighting and emotional manipulation that we now find ourselves in, common sense threatens the entire order. Whatever one thinks of Peterson and his ideas, there can be no doubt whatsoever that he tapped into a deep emotional vein. His book “10 Rules for Life” could just as well be called “10 Rules for Breaking Free of The Devouring Mother”. Rule 1: clean your bedroom. Do something for yourself. Show some initiative. In an older time, you cleaned your bedroom or you’d get your backside smacked. But now cleaning your bedroom becomes a political act. It shows the first inklings of individual will, the development of autonomy that so terrifies The Devouring Mother. Peterson’s infamous interview with Cathy Newman was a direct symbolic confrontation between The Devouring Mother and a strict disciplinarian father. It had a surreal feel to it. It barely existed on the logical and rational plane but seemed like a battle between archetypes in the unconscious itself. Much more could be said about this because if The Devouring Mother is dominant, where exactly is the father and what sort of father is he? But that would lead us too far astray for now.
If Peterson offered a way out to the children who wanted to rebel, what of the other children; the ones who have acquiesced? Such children have been given false praise while being protected from any and all criticism about themselves and their work. On the other hand, they have become exquisitely sensitive to the veiled barbs and emotional warfare that goes on in the household of The Devouring Mother. For them, objective reality is of no concern. They are apt to see a psychological and political agenda behind every utterance because that is exactly what has been behind their relationship with their mother (where ‘mother’ can be both literal and symbolic for the state). When they are eventually forced to confront the real world with all its messiness, it is no surprise that they demand ‘safe spaces’. It’s also no surprise that their politics does not seek any actual outcomes but rather is all based entirely around establishing the ‘good people’ and the ‘bad people’ where there are no shades of grey but only absolutes, including an absolute assurance in one’s own self-righteousness.
Children who acquiesce and become part of the co-dependent relationship with the mother can be expected to have not developed into fully autonomous adults. One would expect them to have problems with exercising their will and finding motivation from within rather than without. As it happens, a random social media post I saw during corona provides the perfect example of that. It was during the Melbourne lockdown that happened right in the middle the Australian Open tennis earlier this year. On the Saturday morning on which the lockdown began, a young woman posted how nice it was to wake up during lockdown because it meant she had nothing to do and could happily lie in bed. Such a statement reveals a complete lack of willpower and autonomy. It takes almost no willpower to organise to do nothing on a Saturday but even that simple task must be beyond this person. When the government did it on her behalf, she apparently breathed a sigh of relief. Some have called this attitude Stockholm Syndrome but it is just another aspect of The Devouring Mother archetype. More specifically, the child who has acquiesced and almost doesn’t exist as a separate, adult person separate from the mother. Praising the government for allowing you to sleep in on a Saturday morning is surely one of the most surreal expressions of that mentality. When given in this form it reveals, I think, very clearly the psychological aspect of what is going on deep down: the attachment to the “mother” in the form of the state.
The phrase Nanny State was coined about fifty years ago in Britain to describe the prevailing form of government which took hold post WW2. Britain, Australia, New Zealand and Canada all share this kind of interventionist government, far more than the USA and so it can be no surprise that The Devouring Mother found the most fertile soil in those countries and perhaps nowhere more than here in Australia. We have let The Devouring Mother run rampant. I’m not aware of any other country which is preventing their citizens from leaving the country. Even New Zealand, with nanny-in-chief, Jacinda Ardern, at the helm, allows that. In Australia, we have had internal state borders closed and even the ‘borders’ around Melbourne shut for four months in one of the longest lockdowns in the world. State Premiers have left residents stranded and unable to return to their houses with snap border closures. Australian citizens languish overseas unable to get home and recently we went an extra step and even made it illegal for our own citizens to return if they have been in India recently. Once again, none of this has a basis in logic or reason. It is the vindictiveness of The Devouring Mother on display. The ‘bad’ children who left the state or the country apparently don’t deserve our ‘love’.
Right from the start of corona, our tinpot dictator State Premiers acted like all their Christmases had come at once. In a tweet quickly deleted, Dan Andrews expressed his delight at a photo of an empty freeway that would normally have been full during peak hour. He later felt the need to assure us that he wasn’t “enjoying this” as he gave his daily press briefing where, like a good Devouring Mother, he was most anxious to let us know just who was responsible for keeping us safe. He was also not averse to blaming us when things went wrong, including when the wrongdoing was clearly the fault of the government. No surprise then that while much of the US is returning to normal, Australia is in limbo and Canada has decided that now is the time for strict lockdowns to try and control a virus that is endemic. Americans have been up in arms about the liberties they have forgone but they look on with horror at what has happened here or in Canada. On this front, the cultural differences between us and the US are very pronounced. Of course, the US once went to war against its “mother” and it celebrates “Independence Day” as a result. One can see why The Devouring Mother would not get as much hold there.
It is a final and telling synchronicity that with corona we were locked in our houses. The household has always been the domain of the female and especially the mother. As a boy, I briefly shared a house with my mother, grandmother and great-grandmother as well as their respective husbands. It was the women who ruled the household. Woe betide the man who dared step foot in the kitchen. The men were usually elsewhere, at work or at the club. If they were home, they were in the shed. The household was very clearly the domain of the woman and children. The development of the individual takes place as they successively remove themselves from the household, firstly with schooling, then a social life and finally as they move out and become autonomous adults. With corona we were all returned back to the household, back to childhood, back to our mothers. Defenceless as we were supposed to be against the virus, we once again needed the care and protection of our surrogate mother: the State. “I’m sick of being treated like a child” is a refrain I’ve heard many times over the past year but that opinion is apparently in the minority.
What does all this portend for the future? The strange thing about The Devouring Mother is how powerless she really is. All her gaslighting is just sound and fury, signifying nothing. If it were to end tomorrow, we would remember it as nothing more than a delirious fever dream. Her power depends entirely on the willingness of the child to put up with it. Once the child is big enough to decide to go its own way, there is nothing much the mother can do about it. Right now in western society, the actions of The Devouring Mother are on full and open display. But, almost by definition, that implies the strain in the relationship. When things are good, The Devouring Mother relies on false flattery and feigned niceness. Right now, we are in full on vindictive mode. 24/7 media gaslighting, censorship of even the most tame dissenting opinion and de-platforming are now daily occurrences. There is an element of desperation in the whole thing and there should be because the pathway we have taken has no endpoint. That is not a problem for The Devouring Mother. She does not want an endpoint. She wants the co-dependence to continue indefinitely. That’s why the case of Australia is so fascinating because our Devouring Mother did her job and kept us safe. But now there’s no way out of the house. We are permanently grounded. It will eventually have to be acknowledged that we must open the borders and expose ourselves to danger once again. How that can be done while keeping up the illusion of safety is a massive political challenge that our current Prime Minister clearly has no idea how to solve because it is not solvable. It is not solvable until the children demand their independence. That can happen at any time. It is what has happened in Texas and Florida and other states in the US. As soon as the public demands that this be over, it will be over. There may be vindictiveness and even violence, but it will be short lived. Each country will now have its own dynamic about how this plays out. The USA is already on the way. Canada, Australia and New Zealand not so much. If Australia has provided the most fertile ground for The Devouring Mother archetype to take hold in the last year, it’s also true she will not so easily relinquish her grip here. But eventually reality will have to be reckoned with. In the process, we could see some serious psychological-political meltdowns. Then there is the larger question of where The Devouring Mother goes from here. If she has been ascendant in the last decades and if corona represents a brief takeover, does she relinquish the newfound power or try to hold onto it? If she does relinquish it, do we go back to where we were or does she lose hold altogether? Again, this is not really going to be determined by the mother. We know what she wants: never ending co-dependence. The question is what do the children want. Is their spirit broken or will they find the will and the energy to demand their autonomy? I fear the former is more true than the latter but only time will tell.
All posts in this series:-