The Quaternity as Mother of Death

Is psychological balance and fitness primary or is the individuative drive central to our psychology? Obviously, individuation exists as an unconscious impetus, because we must leave childhood naivete behind and become responsible individuals. Also in adult life we want to make headway in order to feel good. But which is the egg and which is the hen?

Arguably, individuation is secondary to psychological harmony. After all, should personality experience stagnation, then the individual would like to break out from the stagnant condition, even if much has been accomplished. What's the point in living in a beautiful castle if one is bored? So the foundational principle is perhaps that life must keep flowing. But this also means that growth will occur.

In Poul Bjerre's (1876-1964) thought, individuation is a function of the continual process of "death and renewal". Any achievement of wholeness will sooner or later turn into a stagnated condition, from which personality must break free. It means that wholeness as a goal also means psychological death. On this view, wholeness is an ambivalent symbol. Although being a goal for personality, its backside is stagnation. It's the important realization that St Augustine made, i.e., that it is not worthwhile to strive after a worldly paradise (v. "City of God").

Bjerre, who was one of the first psychoanalysts, saw destruction as a central theme in individuation. If personality is stuck, a renewal must be invoked. But this means that the old Self is abandoned and what has been achieved is thrown off. Thus, individuation can mean destruction, in the sense of breaking out of an old shell. Yet, it conflicts with the psychoanalytic notion of integration, central to which is to integrate disowned aspects of ourselves. In Jung's thought, individuation consists in collecting psychic content into a 'complexio oppositorum'. The principle of negation is given little weight. Rather, what counts is assimilation. Yet, evidence suggests that negation is very central. A woman recounts her dream:

"I have had recurrent dreams of a woman living in an ivory tower, or other buildings, and being forced to leave. In one dream I was admiring the garden outside the woman's tower. A disembodied voice said: 'This is beautiful, but all this must change.' --In the period following, my life became much more "real" and a lot less beautiful."

The conclusion is that personality isn't imprisoned in childhood, but we are wholly capable of changing our ways. It's just that people are reluctant to abandon old habits of life, including cognitive habits. For various reasons personality remains stuck. It could be due to insecurity or inertia. (I write something about Bjerre's view of individuation, which involves also negation and destruction, here.) From this perspective it is easier to understand this dream from my early twenties:

"I entered a huge library with an enormous cupola, which had a pinkish plastering. In its centre was a round mandala with four black circles in square formation. I was awestruck. On the outside was the blackness of the universe. A voice said: 'These are the holes through which the soul leaves at the moment of death'."

In this dream, the quaternity, which is supposed to mean life's fulfilment, acquires the meaning of death. The dream seems to compensate the ideal of quaternary wholeness by associating it with death. Indeed, to collect all knowledge in a huge library is symbolic of intellectual wholeness. But it is a deadly backwater, too. So the quaternity is like the Mother of Life and Death--it is ambivalent.

The four is regarded a feminine number, contrary to three, which is masculine. Arguably, the quaternary focus of Jungian psychology is misguided, because one shouldn't pledge allegiance to any single archetype. The trinity and the quaternity are opposites, denoting different kinds of wholeness. This complementary dynamic must remain at play.

Mats Winther

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    • Randy, I don't think it serves to make death a more acceptable theme. Rather, it serves to make the dreamer aware of its ominous presence. In traditional religion, it is a common concept that human beings have four souls that separate at death. For instance, according to Dakota indians, one soul stays with the corpse, another stays in the village, a third goes into the air, while the fourth goes to the land of souls (cf. here). Ancient Egyptians had a similar notion (Ka, Ba, Akh, etc.). I believe the dream image is predicated on this archetype. Evidently, the dream represents the quaternity as separation rather than integration.

      I believe the archetypal presence of Death served the purpose of inciting the young man to adapt to life in a more authentic way. Heidegger says that the presence of Nothingness has this effect. Accordingly, one should remain aware of one's deadly nature and "spend more time in graveyards". This attititude was characteristic of Ancient Egyptians. Their own departure from the world was of momentous importance. If they could afford it, they invested great sums in preparations for their own death. Yet, they remained strongly attached to life. The ancient Egyptian mentality could best be described as Epicurean. /Mats

  • Organization

    An interesting essay....For me the archetype of individuation sponsors the development of  the individual in the first half of life... Only after the individual is born can the archetype of individuality take us home in the neoplatonic sense [my call] in the second half of life... And those who who cannot attain the mature individual status have their personalities rooted in the mother complex. Meaning the birth of the individual amounts to our sequential and ordered development out of matriarchal matrix and into a patriarchal one... of course women have a different relationship to the archetype of individuation and too individuality because it must coexist with the maternal component of their nature... 

    Individuation is a very recent phenomenon in our evolutionary history. Prior to that a species preservative matriarchal man prevailed. One can see echoes of it in the archetypal Apollo whose love for his sister and his mother constitute one of the essential building blocks of his original matriarchal character. Kerenyi deemed Apollo and Artemis matriarchal in nature... were originally matriarchal in nature might encapsulate his concept better as the Greeks developed and added Olympianized or patriarchal attributes to their characters.

    is psychological balance and fitness primary. No we have a dynamic human life cycle that unfolds in the unpredictable realm of materiality.  You pretty well say that as well. Individuation would occur in the context and as part of the matrix of the unfolding life cycle..If life was some edenite/balanced harmony the life cycle would never unfold. 

    Bjerre is wrong ... Individuation as i define it is the systematic and sequenced acquisition of the capacity to survive as an independent psychological entity an independent physiological entity an independent emotional entity and an independent material entity. Individuation builds a the basic character upon which the authoritarian patriarchal character can emerge. This takes place in the context and the matrix of the unfolding human life cycle that transpires in our material environment. Whereas a matriarchal based masculine personality would also complete the human life cycle but in an entirely different dimension. Say would it be possible for the matriarchal and the individuated impetuses to form some kind of alliance within our character/ego... hey lets not get too far off topic. So Bjerre in my humble opinion has omitted to appreciate that the personality or character whether individuated, matriarchal or in its various stages of its development is a growing concern. If there is any destruction embedded in that it is our characters growth  makes some previously elements of that character redundant... And here I would throw in Jung's interminable analogy about the snake shedding its old skin so that a new one can be born. Destroying the old skin is not destroying the character/personality but allowing that personality to evolve a new one.... lets leave that thought an an analogical level or we'll get side tracked.. its only the skin that is destroyed or abandoned because the character/personality/ego continues growing/individuating or whatever..

    Why can people/we get stuck and become dead wood so to speak. I must add in that getting stuck happens at all levels of our unfolding life cycle. What is the purpose of life. Jung talked about a human rhizome existing in the self. What we are seed constantly born and sent through the travails of human existence by the self which has the intention to evolve and get mortal men to evolve as well. Randomly throwing enough human seed into the material matrix and chance and ingenuity must eventially lead to the evolution or destruction of the human species huh? Obviously the self would be trying to evolve itself and us in the bigger scheme of affairs.... this is kind fo a wishy washy conceptualization on my part but is a work in progress... one of those speculative intutions.

    For the rest i maintain childhood is a dry run preparation for the adult phase of our existence. If we become dead wood or successful in the adult phase of our existence it is because we did or did not resolve certain specific issues in the childhood variant of our developmental equation. Can we alter our preconditioned psychological heritage. Not if the damage or blockage is severe... and resting on an instinctual alteration of our psychological equation... but insight and a nurturing input of direction and guidance can do wonders in regard to dealing with the less severe foul ups arising out of our preconstioning in the childhood phase of existence. 

    Its late but the first impression i intuit in regard to your dream is that the material element of the soul passes through the feminine quaternity blank circles and then?

    is the spirit also released as result.. here is a better way to word it.. does the all become one at our dissolution... wouldn't logic say masculine trinity and the feminine quaternity merge into the ONE.... our body and spirit

    last thought the masculine principle is present in your dream. The cupola is the embodiment of the masculine principle ... so masculine and feminine elements are equally represented in your dream?? Something to think about

    an interesting essay as usual mats. After reading many of your essays i can see the ornate beauty of the library in your dream was some kind of premonition of what you were to become intellectually.


    • Klemens, thanks. I believe that "patriarchal personality" as denoting the individuating personality is essentially different from "matriarchal personality". The principle of individuation takes root in early childhood and only in some individuals. So the matriarchal personality does not "evolve" into the patriarchal, because it is a wholly different branch of the human tree. I would characterize many adult men in the Western world as "dorks" or "drones". In my country they have ascended to power in government and institutions. As criminal psychopaths ruled Germany in the thirties, so do the dorks rule much of Western world in the present era. They are like little twigs, little phalluses, on the trunk of the Mother tree. Their personality is like that of a twelve-year-old and they will never really adapt to reality, because they remain mentally in their boyhood room. They are "playing" a boyhood game that the world is a Mama's paradise, where motherliness and multiculturalism prevails.

      So these people are essentially different from the mature Western personality. What Bjerre describes is relevant to the latter. Psychoanalysis has always underestimated the constitutional differences of human beings. The dorks are almost like a different species. They live in a radically different conceptual universe, as if floating around in a bubble. /Mats

      • Organization


        Agreed. The matriarchal personality is subordinated to the mother complex. The mature individual by dint of completing his individuated development roots his character in the paternal/patriarchal complex. Many of the individuated do not become individuals because they cannot complete the process of separating from the mother complex. hence all these early neurotic syndromes contain an element of end the maternal dependency and take responsibility for yourself as in Grow UP!

        I maintain the matriarchal women developed themselves an individuated character and then created the maternal techne to support the development of the individuated masculine personality.. whose completion of the individuated developmental cycle resulted in the birth of the individual and thus the patriarchy.

        I start from the premise that God made us all inadequate so we would need each other. Some amongst us are more presumptuous and brassier than others. But at heart, and here I agree with you, i rather suspect their pretensions to lead us are rooted in their own infantile fantasies of grandeur. Throw in a touch of treachery cleverness opportunism deceit larceny et al and viola you get political pancakes. There are many more  bozos in waiting eagerly lined up behind these clowns. What can you do.

        An individual must establish his place in a civilization and the material matrix... By definition he would be unconscious of much of what lies beyond the range of his conscious capabilities. That brings in the collective nature of our species, participation mystique , weltschaung et al. So inasmuch as one has acquired the capacity to exist as an individual does not automatically qualify one to lead/rule. Well that is as far as I can go... I am not particularly interested in examining the idiocies of our political class... 

      • Mats: They are "playing" a boyhood game that the world is a Mama's paradise, where motherliness and multiculturalism prevails.

        That part deserves a further elaboration, especially because of the "multiculturalism" part. - Angela Merkel - Multiculturalism utterly failed in Germany

        • Aleksandar, I wrote something about the puer aeternus, here, for those who haven't studied M-L von Franz. /Mats

          The Puer Aeternus - underminer of civilization
          The puer aeternus (Peter Pan) is a mythological figure. It also denotes a form of mother complex connected with psychological rootlessness.

    Good afternoon Mats – thanks for sharing this post and I do admit I am deficient in the depth meaning of “quaternity,” there were no results in word search, however, spell check lead me to quaternaty which has to do with the quarters of prehistoric life and the current and most recent of the 3 periods of the Cenzoic Era [geological time scale extending from the end of the Pilocene epoch – 1.8 – 1.6 million years ago].  Wow.

    I am also not well versed on Jungian’s Individuation process, but do believe in the process of human growth/development – maturation, aging to death: hopefully out of dependency ®co-dependency states of existence and ® into interdependence, however, I do not believe in the suggested human potential movement, new age bid for the human being condition of being independent.  I have never met an independent person, yet, so perhaps this fantasy state is an ego myth.

    I hope it is Ok for me to share, comment in here with you?  I do have personal and professional experience and knowledge concerning “death” – Thalantopics, and personally, you’re pairing of words “mother of death” captured my attention.  All I know is recently, early June, in a daydream state, one word “precipitous” came to me just before I participated in the Jung, Alchemy + Tree of Life seminars with Eva + Bonnie where the topic of facing death mother – Medusa, the God of sea [Athena – war; Perseus – shield, mirror image] was brought forth.  Also new to me and I remain mythological dumb. 

    Not sure in the natural nature/nurture controversy if individuation is an organic primal drive, but do believe it is a psyche [wise soul] spiritual dimension construct.  I also struggle with the analogy of ascribing material world/word “beauty” in contrast to discordant human stasis states.  Perhaps I am too simple for appreciating the gift of beauty in ordinary things – period.  I have met homeless people who live in a tent and never bored.

    Unfamiliar with Bjerre’s work, but I do believe the dying unto the self [old self into new self] is an ancient and again, biblical spiritual psyche/soul construct and yes, I do believe all saints learned not to strive for an earthly utopia.

    Just a few thoughts, in my work with survivors of trauma, destruction of one’s pre-traumatic core sense of naïve innocent self is alive and well - not destroyed.  This suspended and sustained sense of self in the spiritual dimension of being is not of this earth and nurtured by sacred, heartfelt love.  Trauma survivors strive to heal, grieve, integrate or say good-bye to their shattered, fragmented - wounded aspect/parts of self.  How much negation is related to shock, trauma response, trauma amnesia and dissociation to survive natural or man-made disasters [surreal, real, imagined] is a matter of the circumstances, available internal/external resources or not, but most important being or having know a caring primary and secondary pair bonds.

    A native elder once told me all one needs is compassion from just one person and typically that person is not bloodline related.  Ah yes, I can relate to being disembodied the first phase of my lifespan, mid-way working on recovery/healing to get embodied, hence in my last to final phase [on earth]; I do feel like a golden oldie.  I too can relate to the colour pink with a sense of being within a universal black hole.  I am unable to word pair mother with death at all.  I can identify with sharing a NDE experience with her during my traumatic footling breech delivery.

    I have avoided learning anything about numerology; however, I tried to introduce the need for us to move into and beyond the number 6 [sixth sense].  Yes, I am keen on sensory-perceptual hyper and synesthesia phenomena noteworthy in survivors of trauma.

    I also currently upset with our almost total regression/saturation of many forms of the performing arts into a secondary [fantasy] framework with dismissal of human being - primary reality.  We also have a real need to get with the digital times and include virtual [non-locality social] framework in keeping with the technological advance of our times.  Wow - we all come from such different places and circumstance, however, death is inevitable and perhaps it is death, in the end, that brings us closer together - un-complicate the universal truths regardless of all our different learnings + tongues.  I’ll put my money on the needed, expanded and advanced future library of 7th [depth diving] sense perception – emotions and feeling states.  Peace + Love Linda

    • ". . . we all come from such different places and circumstance, however, death is inevitable and perhaps it is death, in the end, that brings us closer together - un-complicate the universal truths regardless of all our different learnings + tongues.  I’ll put my money on the needed, expanded and advanced future library of 7th [depth diving] sense perception – emotions and feeling states.  Peace + Love Linda"

      "7th [depth  diving ] sense  perception"

      Today, I've been skimming this particular article and its responses in relation to the " recent deaths" that have been experienced in family and friends for the past few months.  The idea/concept of "DEATH MOTHER" is a powerful one for me!  In the sense that there seems to be a kind of "mothering" or nurturing or mid-wifing into the unknown passage that is called "DEATH" --- or should it be called "dying into life"?

      A few days before my brother died on July 19th, as I contemplated at early morning around 6:00 a.m. the quiet waters of the Hood Canal,  unexpectedly a tiny face formed itself in my line of vision:  it seemed to be a sea otter!  Surprised, I gazed quietly at the grey-whiteness of its face, whiskers and all.  It looked back at me, our eyes connecting somehow, a close-distance!  It felt as if each of us recognized that one was gazing on the other, or into the other's deepest soul-self!  At the time, these thoughts were not present at all;  only the experience of "gazing and recognizing" . . .  As sudden as a flash, the little smiling creature dived into the sea-water, disappearing and leaving a moment of "space" as the pause between movements of a symphony!  A moment of silence between breaths!  I simply stood there, absorbing the seeming uncanniness of it all!  Today, is the first time I write about the experience . . .  it's over a month ago; and it seems to me that this moment is etched into my soul forever.  And, I ask,  "what is this 7th sense or as you call it, "depth diving" sense perception"  that I experienced that early morn before my brother's death?  What is the message received at heart-depth to be explored deeper?  Was it I being "mothered  into death" or was it "my brother, through my presence there, or some other deeper mothering needed at the present time . . . ?" 

      I am not scratching for an answer to this existential question, only the possibility offered to me to dive deeper into the UNKNOWN depths of this sea?  into my outer or inner soul?

      This article and its varied responses are for me insights into this experience of "The Quaternity as  Mother of Death?  I'm simply scratching the surface, hoping to take the risk of diving deeper as per my encounter with "Otter"!

      Thank you both, Mats for the Article, and Linda for the phrase that led me to take a leap or deeper dive into this great unknown that we call "Death"!

      • AUG 22, 2015 – Depth Diving [7th Sense Perception}:

        Good morning Sister Helen [what an awesome last name]– I was away on vacation this past week and delighted to return and read your contribution to the "Quaternity as Mother of Death" discussion. 

        I continue to struggle with the formation, contrary union of the two words “Mother of Death” used within this “Quaternity” construct due to my personal, primary and secondary bonding, attachment experiences, NDE  and depth diving sense perception experiences.  In all my years of study, my anomalous moments remain nonuser friendly to any particular mental [mind] operative ideal, concept or context, presented that is void of first hand [for me and in my opinion], supernatural or “spiritual” experience.  There are two other great words that the psychoanalytical field has contaminated badly [disturbing and not helpful in soul healing, in my own personal opinion] - innocence and complex. 

        The only psychological theorem I have been able to personally relate, align myself with is the "existential" which you also acknowledge. 

        Thank you for taking time and sharing from your own personal depth diving “Otter” experience – “this moment etched into your soul forever.”  All I can say back to you is once you behold these kinds of depth diving experiences [phenomena] and by the way…I really like your words – “etchings in the soul” which I historically referred to as Megamomentaries experiences for I believed [felt 7th sense] I was in communion with God, in the ethers - blended in profound mystery and forever changed…

        There are many great writers who have written about, touched upon the topic of 6th [intuition] + 7th [mystery] sense perception commonly referred to as “the dark night of the soul,” however, there is a whole host of white days, grey matters within the spectrum of soul matters and not all are dark.  Your “etchings of soul” makes so much more sense and is totally user friendly to me…

        However, writing about phenomenal, anomalous, numinous experiences and being suspended, held within these depth diving states is another matter entirely.   I remember in my early PhD learning hearing about the 7 levels of energetic [vibrational medicine healing [highest to lowest frequencies]: prayer, flowers, homeopathic, herbs, chemicals, surgery + death.  

        Since my 1st rude awakening [1983], I have been lead, returned to more depth diving sense perception [contemplative] states than I can keep track of…and currently I simply am trying to return [go back] to my beginning [birth NDE] and simply noticing that the last mentioned level [hope in death] for deep soul healing releases…was my first level encounter.  I am currently on a hermitage [seeking mystic women experiences] trying to prepare for some more depth diving…more into or out of our own personal groves…May we both find the faith, strength, courage and support to continue…with our recordings [soul songs]…

        Peace + Love Linda


        The Dark night of the Soul
        • Dear Linda,

          Thank you for the e-mail that you sent me; as well as for the above response which has deeply touched me.  I've been away; but, will soon respond to your e-mail.  You mention that you are currently on Hermitage,  etc.  Last week I was away at "hermitage" also . . .  Much to be gained by solitude, silence and stillness  ...

          Blessings, Sister Helen

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