|Odin, from Arthur Rackham illustrations for Richard Wagner's The Ring
Note: see here for the essay Jung wrote at the end of the first world war, and here for the essay he wrote at the end of the second world war.
"I know that I hung on a windy tree
nine long nights,
wounded with a spear, dedicated to Odin,
myself to myself,
on that tree [the world Ash, Yggdrasil] of which no man knows
from where its roots run.
No bread did they give me, nor a drink [of mead] from a horn,
Downwards I peered;
I took up the runes [ᚱᚢᚾᛟ], screaming I took them,
then I fell back from there."
Hávamál, Poetic Edda
When we look back to the time before 1914, we find ourselves living in a world of events which would have been inconceivable before the war. We were even beginning to regard war between civilized nations as a fable, thinking that such an absurdity would become less and less possible in our rational, internationally organized world. And what came after the war was a veritable witches’ Sabbath.
...we shall have to wait some time before anyone is able to assess the kind of age that we are living in.
...what is more than curious – indeed, piquant to a degree – is that an ancient God of storm and frenzy, the long quiescent Wotan, should awake, like an extinct volcano, to new activity, in a civilized country that had long been supposed to have outgrown the Middle Ages. We have seen him come to life in the German Youth Movement... . Armed with rucksack and lute, blond youths, and sometimes girls as well, were to be seen as restless wanderers on every road from North Cape to Sicily, faithful votaries of the roving god. Later, towards the end of the Weimar Republic, the wandering role was taken over by thousands of unemployed, who were to be met with everywhere on their aimless journeys. By 1933 they wandered no longer, but marched in their hundreds of thousands. The Hitler movement literally brought the whole of Germany to its feet, from five-year-olds to veterans, and produced a spectacle of a nation migrating from one place to another. Wotan the wanderer was on the move.
Wotan is a restless wanderer who creates unrest and stirs up strife, now here, now there, and works magic. He was soon changed by Christianity into the devil, and only lived on in fading local traditions as a ghostly hunter who was seen with his retinue, flickering like a will o’ the wisp through the stormy night. In the Middle Ages the role of the restless wanderer was taken over by Ahasuerus, the Wandering Jew, which is not a Jewish but a Christian legend. The motif of the wanderer who has not accepted Christ was projected on the Jews, in the same way as we always rediscover our unconscious psychic contents in other people. At any rate the coincidence of anti-Semitism with the reawakening of Wotan is a psychological subtlety that may perhaps be worth mentioning.
The German youths who celebrated the solstice with sheep-sacrifices were not the first to hear the rustling in the primeval forest of unconsciousness. They were anticipated by Nietzsche... . ...every interpretation of intoxication and exuberance is apt to be taken back to classical models, to Dionysus, to the peur aeternus and the cosmogonic Eros. No doubt it sounds better to academic ears to interpret these things as Dionysus, but Wotan might be a more correct interpretation. He is the god of the storm and frenzy, the unleasher of passions and the lust of battle; moreover he is superlative magician and artist in illusion who is versed in all secrets of an occult nature.
In 1863 or 1864, in his poem To the Unknown God, Nietzsche had written:
I shall and will know thee, Unknown One,
Who searchest out the depths of my soul,
And blowest through my life like a storm,
Ungraspable, and yet my kinsman!
I shall and will know thee, and serve thee.
In the dithyramb known as Ariadne’s Lament, Nietzsche is completely the victim of the hunter-god:
Thou mocking eye that stares at me from the dark!
Thus I lie.
Writhing, twisted, tormented
With all eternal tortures.
By thee, cruel huntsman,
Thou unknown – God!
As he was wandering in a gloomy wood at night, he was terrified by a “blood-curdling shriek from a neighbouring lunatic asylum,” and soon afterwards he came face to face with a huntsman whose “features were wild and uncanny.” Setting his whistle to his lips “in a valley surrounded by wild scrub,” the huntsman “blew such as a shrill blast” that Nietzsche lost consciousness – but woke up again in Pforta. It was a nightmare. [...] No one with ears can misunderstand the shrill whistling of the storm-god in the nocturnal wood.
Wotan disappeared when his oaks fell and appeared again when the Christian God proved too weak to save Christendom from fratricidal slaughter.
We are always convinced that the modern world is a reasonable world, basing our opinion on economic, political, and psychological factors. [...] In fact, I venture the heretical suggestion that the unfathomable depths of Wotan’s character explain more of National Socialism than all three reasonable factors put together. There is no doubt that each of these factors explains an important aspect of what is going on in Germany, but Wotan explains yet more. He is particularly enlightening in regard to a general phenomenon, which is so strange to anybody not a German that it remains incomprehensible, even after the deepest reflection.
Perhaps we may sum up this general phenomenon as Ergriffenheit – a state of being seized or possessed. The term postulates not only an Ergriffener (one who is seized) but, also, an Ergreifer (one who seizes). Wotan is an Ergreifer of men, and, unless one wishes to deify Hitler – which has indeed actually happened – he is really the only explanation. It is true that Wotan shares this quality with his cousin Dionysus, but Dionysus seems to have exercised his influence mainly on women.
A mind that is still childish thinks of the gods as metaphysical entities existing in their own right, or else regards them as playful or superstitious inventions. From either point of view the parallel between Wotan redivivus and the social, political, and psychic storm that is shaking Germany might have at least the value of parable. But since the gods are without doubt personifications of psychic forces, to assert their metaphysical existence is as much an intellectual presumption as the opinion that they could ever be invented. Not that “psychic forces” have anything to do with the conscious mind, fond as we are of playing with the idea that consciousness and psyche are identical. This is only another piece of intellectual presumption. “Psychic forces” have far more to do with the realm of the unconscious. Our mania for rational explanations obviously has its roots in our fear of metaphysics, for the two were always hostile brothers. Hence, anything unexpected that approaches us from the dark realm is regarded either as coming from outside and, therefore, as real, or else as a hallucination and, therefore, not true. The idea that anything could be real or true which does not come from outside has hardly begun to dawn on contemporary man.
The emphasis on the German race – commonly called “Aryan” – the Germanic heritage, blood and soil, the Wagalaweia songs, the ride of the Valkyries, Jesus as a blond and blue-eyed hero, the Greek mother of St. Paul, the devil as an international Alberich in Jewish or Masonic guise, the Nordic aurora borealis as the light of civilization, the inferior Mediterranean races – all this is the indispensable scenery for the drama that is taking place and at the bottom they all mean the same thing: a god has taken possession of the Germans and their house is filled with a “mighty rushing wind.”
It is above all the Germans who have an opportunity, perhaps unique in history, to look into their own hearts and to learn what those perils of the soul were from which Christianity tried to rescue mankind. [...] It is an elemental Dionysus breaking into the Apollonian order. The rouser of this Tempest is named Wotan... . [...] Because the behavior of a race takes on its specific character from its underlying images, we can speak of an archetype “Wotan.” As an autonomous psychic factor, Wotan produces effects in the collective life of a people and thereby reveals his own nature. For Wotan has a peculiar biology of his own, quite apart from the nature of man. It is only from time to time that individuals fall under the irresistible influence of this unconscious factor. When it is quiescent, one is no more aware of the archetype Wotan than of a latent epilepsy.
...Wotan is not only a god of rage and frenzy who embodies the instinctual and emotional aspect of the unconscious. Its intuitive and inspiring side, also, manifests itself in him, for he understands the runes and can interpret fate.
It was not in Wotan’s nature to linger on and show signs of old age. He simply disappeared when the times turned against him, and remained invisible for more than a thousand years, working anonymously and indirectly. Archetypes are like riverbeds which dry up when the water deserts them, but which it can find again at anytime. An archetype is like an old watercourse along which the water of life has flowed for centuries, digging a deep channel for itself. The longer it has flowed in this channel the more likely it is that sooner or later the water will return to its old bed. [...] Political events move from one impasse to the next, like a torrent caught in gullies, creeks and marshes. 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.
Wotan’s reawakening is a stepping back into the past; the stream was dammed up and has broken into its old channel.