Betrayal and Transformation Through Myth

Betrayal and Transformation Through Myth
Benjamin Dennis PhD

Given the events of these last months (and years), it seems appropriate to consider the nature of betrayal and its various implications. Politics, wars, our many hopes for change in our country’s public discourse, and the many social difficulties bring forward a distinctive need for self reflection and an honest assessment of our identity—collectively and as individuals.

Stories of betrayal are all too common. Surprisingly, they are populated with characters that we love with all of our being—characters that, in spite of our trust, thrust us into utter confusion and loss. Measured in the innermost regions of the heart, these moments of betrayal are revealed as “a rupture in the veil of ordinary life,” remaining alive and dynamic in the imagination (Deardorff 2).

When we look to stories, myths, and the experiences of our own life to see if there is some greater force at work, we discover that life’s betrayals are intimate with its triumphs. Success, and the subsequent confirmation of place and identity, is often contradicted by those events we may term as ‘betrayals.’ Those events that are “a violation in which we are in-formed by assault: dis-possession, dis-appointment, dis-ease; every indignity, every wound, every curse, every tragic fall brings us to [a] crossroads” (Deardorff 2). Yet, faced with the need to continue living, we must also confront the chance to understand that betrayal is an agent of transformation, its presence implicit in life. And, while a contradiction in the heart, it is at these crossroads, out of the ashes of betrayal, that the opportunity arises for the soul’s creativity to emerge.

Betrayal’s immanence and inherency becomes an ontological disruption, a “catastrophe of the previously unforeseen,” that seems to challenge our very right to live as vital and creative beings (Zimmer 259). Connected in conflict, dismembering and disrupting the status quo, and driving consciousness into chaos and ambivalence, there is more than a risk of annihilation. However, because betrayal exists on a metaphysical plane, contradictory, substantial, and dynamic, it is rich with dangerous potential, and full of the possibility of resurrection and renewal. This is what the catastrophe of betrayal brings—the potential of enantiodromia, the sudden turning in the progression of one’s life, and with it all manner of creativity that may never have been possible otherwise.

The tensions that reside between betrayal and trust are alive and dynamic in all relationships. James Hillman says it this way: “Trust and the possibility of betrayal come into the world at the same moment…and betrayal, as a continual possibility to be lived with, belongs to trust just as doubt belongs to a living faith” (“Betrayal” 66). Trust and betrayal demonstrate the paradox of connection that embodies the willingness to suffer for a vision of something greater than the self. Conceived together, intimate and alive, in service to life beyond the momentary event or circumstance, trust and betrayal are a contradiction that requires conscious entry into their combined territory.

When we experience betrayal, just as when we experience liminality, we die a little. Through this dying we become the beneficiary of the sacred marriage, a hierophany that “breaks the heart open,” as Daniel Deardorff says, “to disclose a deeper invulnerable shape” (48). “Neither here nor there,” Victor Turner notes, “betwixt and between…likened to death, to being in the womb, to invisibility, to darkness, to bisexuality, to the wilderness, and to an eclipse of the sun or moon” (95). Out of liminality comes a sense of bewilderment that erupts as a howl (if not a directive) for the acceptance of the conditions brought about by betrayal. What follows is poesis, soulful creativity, the exhibition of the transformation and renewal that occurs when the fear of death no longer has its hold, and the liminal realm that bring rich and generative resources—the possibilities immense. However, the ego works astonishing counter-intention in its efforts to resist the fear of death found in liminality and suddenly, no longer is it possible to speak of betrayal as opposed to trust. Rather, it must be seen as outside of structure, within the instinctual body, on the verge of a great chasm, between, and ambiguous to everything that is supposed or known.

In its peculiar way betrayal is a tragedy that “breaks the world progression forward, and the moment the catastrophe has come to pass it appears to be what was intended all the while” (Zimmer 259). Therefore, betrayal’s image can no longer be seen as singular, but as strangely purposeful as it reveals one’s orphan-hood by situating the individual as more than isolated and alone in the world. It rends the literal mind and dislodges expectations by forcing the individual to simultaneously occupy the multivalent regions of the sacred, the mundane, and the profane. Betrayal is the mythopoetic anti-structure that is personified by the soul’s movement into liminality and transformation. In this way, betrayal leads inexorably toward what is archetypal, primal, and chthonic.

Myth characterizes conditions such as betrayal, passion, love, and hate as transformational, changing, and acting with agency. In Memories, Dreams, Reflections, C. G. Jung regards the deities found in the old stories as embodiments of the archetypes themselves. He understands that there are inherent dangers found in searching the “fund of unconscious images,” recognizing that inquiry into the “matrix of a mythopoeic imagination [. . .] appears to be a risky experiment or a questionable adventure” (188). He goes on to warn that the contemplation of mythic images open one’s self to their transformative power, and externally “is considered the path of error, of equivocation and misunderstanding” (Memories, Dreams, Reflections 188). Since betrayal is dynamically poetic and timeless in nature, its momentous ubiquity leads to a lived condition where remembrance is no longer a singular instant in one’s life; rather it is the salt and leaven of memory. David Miller describes it as “here and now, not in the ego” (Three Faces of God 8). Within the experience of betrayal time ceases to have discreet meaning. It deforms the senses, alters the perception of the world, occupies an immutable moment, and implicates the immediate.

The notion of living and re-living an instant is one way of recognizing betrayal as a lived condition—before, now, soon-to-come—and iterating existence as it arrives like the sun from behind a cloud. Betrayal is always there, comfortably obscured by a façade, an occlusion existing within untested innocence. Betrayal is fully revealed in the instant that one ignores its brutal lesson, even when that lesson is no longer needed or remembered. The burden of the intellect, as David Miller offers, “would be to continue to imagine that such senses of self—moods, dreams, illnesses—are under the will’s control or are susceptible to an analysis or explanation by the ego’s intellect and reason” (Three Faces of God 8). To the ego, the experience of betrayal is a transformative subversion of its primacy.

If we maintain that betrayal is an archetypal manifestation, it is appropriate to follow David Miller’s reasoning and aver, “it is precisely at these moments that the ego is unconscious,” and our inner activity is an “amplification rather than reduction, mythos rather than logos, story and poetry rather than logic” (Three Faces of God 8). If we reject betrayal, we become a victim unable or unwilling to risk and rise from the ashes of our experience. If we bring imaginative creativity to the chaos, however, we will become transformed and enter the imaginative field of creativity where the artist is found wandering down the dark and painful lanes of memory remembering what was dismembered and investigating how betrayal reveals what is now hidden or secret. Following Jung’s understanding of the collective unconscious and conscious is crucial in grasping how betrayal, as an archetypal entity, inhabits the liminal regions of the psyche; the territory that the archetypal artist navigates, that which was otherwise not known or in the shadows.

In Suicide and the Soul, Hillman writes, “An objective inquiry in this field somehow betrays the impulse of life itself. The question raised in this inquiry necessarily leads beyond the touch of life” (17). The understanding I am after is this: one must explore the territory of betrayal and go beyond life itself to truly grasp what it means to be alive and to experience authentic transformation. It is crucial to understand that betrayal, its moment and its impetus, directs one toward transformation. Whether one heeds the guidance is another question. In the face of betrayal, one may choose to live in the condition dictated by betrayal, and therefore not live fully. Or, one may choose the extraordinary uncertainty of creative effort, reach beyond the limitations imposed, and fully inhabit life.

The word betrayal implies a great variety of meaning, much of which may often be overlooked. Referring primarily to relationships with others, the word betrayal is concerned with what we think, believe, and hope. But on another level it is also a word that is used when hidden things are brought into view. The verb, betray, refers to an action or behavior such as one person’s act of treachery toward another. The noun betrayal indicates the nature of such action. For the purposes of this dissertation, there is a dual meaning to betrayal. First, “to be disloyal [. . .] by acting in the interests of an enemy,” or more personally, to “disappoint the hopes or expectations.” Second, and perhaps more important, to betray is to “reveal the presence” or “evidence of” something hidden or secret (New Oxford American Dictionary). In both cases, betrayal is about the relationship between one’s self and the perceived world.

Betrayal’s etymological root trādere, meaning “to surrender,” or “to hand down (to posterity),” brings attention to deep psychological nuances. In the condition of betrayal there is an exchange of something known for something unknown, deforming the existing sense of reality, and abruptly forcing the mind to contend with the unknown. Betrayal pushes the structure of perception to its limits. By forcing a redefinition and reevaluation of relationships, identity and reality are reorganized into new psychological structures. When one discovers that a preconceived notion is not true, the subsequent emotional attachment and loss are experienced as a betrayal.


In any discussion of betrayal, it is important to look at trust. The origin of the word trust in Middle English comes from the Old Norse word “traust, from traustr ‘strong’; the verb from Old Norse treysta,” which is then assimilated to the noun (New Oxford American Dictionary). Trust is the belief that the world is as perceived, reliable and genuine. Someone or something is known, clear, understood to be true, honest, and recognizable. It is the “firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of someone or something.” To trust is to be able to “believe in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength” of something or someone. It is also the “acceptance of the truth of a statement without evidence or investigation” (New Oxford American Dictionary). Trust has many implications, but it takes on an ominous character when it is violated or there is disparity from what is known and understood to be real.

The Medea

For there is many a small betrayal in the mind,
a shrug that lets the fragile sequence break
sending with shouts the horrible errors of childhood
storming out to play through the broken dyke.
           (William Stafford, “A Ritual to Read to Each Other”)

Euripides’ The Medea is the archetypal divorce story. Blindness, betrayal, revenge, uncompromising retribution, and destruction are all present. Here the children and the mistress are brutally killed, just as they are so often brutally destroyed emotionally and psychologically in our world today. Euripides elaborates these elements with tragic efficiency, suggesting that this is a timeless and archetypal condition. It seems that Euripides is saying that lives are actually destroyed when we lose sight of our instinctual nature. His elaboration of the older myth of the Argonauts plays on these themes with ferocity and inexorable recognition of what devastation is possible. Where, then, do we go from here? How do we move from the apparently inevitable outcomes of betrayal?

The Medea is a tragedy that challenges the meaning of self as it relates to the sense of place and home. The two main characters are at cross-purposes. Each has a notion of how the world should be, and each is at odds with the normative identity that is imposed by external forces and circumstances. In terms of place and home, it is this inner geography and territorial agenda that is at odds with, as Gabriel Marcel declares, “Being as the place of fidelity” (46). As the intimate terrain and inner landscape are ravaged from all sides by betrayal and disappointment, it is one’s most essential and faithful nature that invites the possibility of betrayal—where the confluence of the external forces of domesticity are at odds with the implicate order of one’s primordial self.

In tragedy, betrayal disrupts the connection with the numinous, that sense of deep spiritual attachment to one’s place, and the grasp with the ordered and apparent world. Betrayal provides the “cracks in the mirror,” and allows the “fundamental mystery and ambiguity its terror and grace, its autonomous nature” to enter the soul where it can either live in mutual sustainability, or descend into tragic loss and annihilation (Miller, The Three Faces of God 5). Jason’s naiveté and Medea’s actions expose the dichotomy between the domesticated and apparent life, and the sacred and numinous life. The choices, as Jung offers, “may be indirectly occasioned by consciousness, but never by conscious choice” (Essays on a Science of Mythology 73). Therefore, the intuitive movements and choices inherent in the intimacy and inhabitance of the numinous are supplanted by a departure into the insensate world they now occupy.

When Medea sends her children to Creon’s house with Pyrrhic gifts, they are sent to deliver a mutual curse, and we know that they are doomed. One need not wonder too much what these two boys see when their mother sends them out as unwitting operatives in her plot. In their short journey we remember our betrayals. It may be the core of this story that the children are sent to suffer the pain of the world. Medea’s betrayal becomes her treachery as she makes her children the unsuspecting victims of her own suffering. “But for my children’s reprieve I would give my very life, and not gold only” (Euripides 967-68). Is she lying? Regardless of the answer, she sends her children to the palace with the infernal dress, making unwitting accomplices of them. “Now there is no hope left for the children’s lives,” the Chorus cries in anticipation of the treacherous deed (Euripides 976). This is the very betrayal we most fear, that which comes unbidden and unwelcome, from those we trust most, and bringing with it certain death.

Jason and Medea’s wedding precedes the opening of Euripides’ play. It is the hieros gamos, the sacred marriage between heaven and earth. However, it is also a union that has grown a very large shadow. There is a juxtaposition of the anima, animus, and archetypal shadow images that influence the narrative that unfolds in The Medea. The shadow, exerting a powerful archetypal influence, manifests itself through the characters as they take on alternating characteristics that exemplify contrary positions. Medea operates with agency and ferocity contrasting Jason’s ignorance and powerlessness. Jung observes in his 1948 lectures to the Swiss Society for Practical Psychology:

“The archetypes most clearly characterized from the empirical point of view are those which have the most frequent and the most disturbing influence on the ego. These are the shadow, the anima, and the animus. The most accessible of these, and the easiest to experience, is the shadow, for its nature can in large measure be inferred from the contents of the personal unconscious” (The Portable Jung 145)

The shadow bride and the shadow groom find expression within the marriage by taking on the expected emotional and behavioral features of the other.

Marriage is a bond of trust, sacred, divinely connecting the numinous world with the secular. The archetypal nature of marriage is a union that “inaugurates the universe,” and is clearly a bargain of survival and creativity, and a divinely inspired alliance between the untamed and the domestic (Deardorff 43). “This is indeed the greatest salvation of all—for the wife not to stand apart from the husband” (Euripides 14-15). However, marriage that is intended to establish the sacred occupation of home and place turns into a shadow marriage when only portions of the agreements are honored, bringing in the unimaginable and the darkest nightmares. This is where tragedy is born. “But now there’s hatred everywhere. Love is diseased. For, deserting his own children and my mistress, Jason has taken a royal wife to his bed, the daughter of the ruler of this land, Creon” (Euripides 16-19). The disease disrupts the hieros gamos, and the sacred marriage is lost in tragedy.

Assuming that the sacred is not concerned with our individual happiness or benefit, the tragic has its proper and appropriate place in the cosmos. To reiterate Hillman, “Trust and the possibility of betrayal come into the world at the same moment [. . .] and betrayal, as a continual possibility to be lived with, belongs to trust just as doubt belongs to a living faith” (“Betrayal” 66). Therefore, the assertion can be made that betrayal’s emergence as a sacred event also creates sacred space, inviting sacrality in its varied forms. The implication is that the most severe conditions, as Robert Moore suggests in his book, The Archetypes of Initiation, are inherent to sacred space, that extremes are some of the most powerful sacred spaces (151). The reaction to betrayal is the felt sense of liminality, the numb feeling of simply being neither here nor there. Betrayal, therefore, resides in the liminal realms of sacred space.

As an anima figure associated with the chthonic goddess, Medea is ambivalent. Her gifts turn to curses helping her into poison and betrayal, justified by the perception of victim-hood. Remembering her past, Medea’s evokes Hékaté, naming her as a partner “who dwells in the recesses of my hearth” (Euripides 396). She is the goddess whom Medea calls on to represent the shadow of her rage. Hékaté is goddess of dark places, “an ancient and mysterious chthonian deity of uncertain origin” (Apollonius Rhodius 233). She is also associated with Aphrodite, the terrible goddess of love who provides a framework within which to view Medea’s actions. Recalling her marriage to Jason, “Medea is slighted, and cries aloud on the Vows they made to each other, the right hands clasped in eternal promise” (Euripides 20-22). Aphrodite is known for her uncompromising nature regarding her relationships. Like Aphrodite, Medea operates with complexity and surety of purpose. Betrayed, she has a reason, the promises made to her are broken, and this, like Aphrodite, incurs her wrath.

Although Medea may have been abandoned and betrayed by Jason’s desire for political gain, she remains “unconquered,” cunningly shielding her distasteful cloak of imposed weakness, all the while maintaining the “power of the inferior” (Turner 99). Just as she abandoned her father and homeland for love, she retains the ability to take care of herself in the face of both social restrictions and the masculine oriented world of physicality and brute strength. She retains the capacity to destroy her enemies in both spirit and body through cunning and her knowledge of both human nature and the natural world around her.

Medea despairs beneath the overwhelming weight of events. She voices the consequence of Jason’s actions, lamenting, “Ah, wretch! Ah, lost in my sufferings, I wish, I wish I might die” (Euripides 96-97). Medea’s voice drives the tension right into the ground with her declaration of utter hopelessness and despair as she collapses into her self. She embodies the descensus ad inferos, “a descent into hell,” that is often associated with love, betrayal, injury, near-death, and trauma (Miller, Hells and Holy Ghosts 14, 16). The essence of these experiences clarifies into sacred manifestations by delivering the immensity of the cosmos, situating her as other than the center. These events initiate her into nonlinear realms where the literal and linear cannot survive. It is in the presence of these expressions that betrayal delivers its terrible gift.

Jason’s Betrayal

That Jason betrays Medea, there is no argument; yet, he also betrays himself. His acquiescence into domesticity and departure from his primal and intuitive nature reveal subtle aspects of his personality. Jason is an opportunist who consistently makes Medea complicit, but unrecognized, in his exploits by letting her do the work while he reaps the benefit. Jason equates material gain and geographical position when he tells her, “You have certainly got from me more than you gave . . . instead of living among barbarians . . . you inhabit a Greek land . . . [and] live by law instead of the sweet will of force” (Euripides 535-38). Medea’s residence with Jason, in his eyes, should be prize enough for her. Jason compounds his neglect of their marriage by taking another wife with the justification that “it was a clever move . . . a wise one, and, finally, that I made it in your best interests and the children’s” (Euripides 548-50). Each has an image of life that is incongruent with the other. Jason is concerned with the images of wealth and political position. Robert Avens says, “Images mirror the psyche just as it is,” disclosing a glaring discrepancy between Jason and Medea’s view of the world. Avens continues, “The ‘place’ of the psyche is identical with the ‘place’ of its imagining” (39). Jason’s place reflects the condition of his psyche, his inner terrain, which has lost the intuitive sensitivity he was initiated with. The result is an irreparable schism that is reflected in his conflict with Medea and ultimately within his own soul

Jason’s relationship to Medea reveals he is capable of discarding his marriage in favor of material gain, abandoning his wife who plied her skills to support and maintain him during the depths of his trials. He is revealed as someone other than the trustworthy hero of many famed accounts. Jason’s betrayal runs much deeper than mere infidelity in marriage; it is a betrayal of character. The Tutor observes, “The old ties give way to new ones. As for Jason, he no longer has a feeling for this house of ours” (Euripides 74-75). Jason’s ability to intuitively navigate his terrain is shifting, and as it does, it leaves Medea behind, disconnected and at risk, psychologically as well as corporeally. His ties to the land, the home, and the family have lost out in favor of political expediency and his lack of intuition reveals that his ties to the intuitive and instinctual are weak. Medea’s Nurse declares the ambiguity of Jason’s place in his home and his connection to his family, “I wish he were dead—but no, he is still my master. Yet certainly he has proved unkind to his dear ones” (Euripides 83-84). Jason’s wandering eye reveals his ignorance and weakness in the face of his home’s shifting terrain.

Desertion, be it friend, family, or wife, has a powerful connotation and makes a salient statement about the individual. It is also a timeless accusation against men, and arguably a common behavior. One man will be accused of abandonment when he leaves a bad marriage, regardless of his actual behavior. Another man, much like Jason, who is not balanced within and in touch with his more authentic self, will abandon his family in search of some gain. And yet another, in search of something important, will leave, as Rilke’s poem, “Sometimes a Man Stands Up During Supper,” so poignantly begins:
Sometimes a man stands up during supper
and walks outdoors, and keeps on walking,
because of a church that stands somewhere in the East. (Rilke)

This does not seem so with Jason. While he is certainly on a quest, the overwhelming emphasis is on material wealth and social status. His actions, although consistent within the context of youthful adventure and a culture of seeking fame, are particularly vainglorious (Apollonius Rhodius 1: 206, 300-305). Other than the desire for revenge over his father’s fate at the hands of Pelias, for which Medea exacted revenge in his stead, Jason is satisfied with his personal aspirations. It represents a familiar behavior that occurs when one decides to act from a monocular perspective. Unfortunately, counter-intention arises, blocking Jason’s progression and eventually derailing one endeavor after the other. His counter-intention is a self-betrayal and is recognized as a departure from his instinctual self. In “The Phenomenology of the Spirit in Fairytales” Jung writes:
“The grand plan on which the unconscious life of the psyche is constructed is so inaccessible to our understanding that we can never know what evil may not be necessary in order to produce good by enantiodromia, and what good may very possibly lead to evil.” (CW 9.1: 397)

Jason is no longer able to navigate with his bare foot. His choice to marry King Creon’s daughter is his one-sided choice, and through it he inherits betrayal and tragedy.

Betrayal and The Devil’s Sooty Brother

The Soldier at the beginning of the Brother’s Grimm tale, The Devil’s Sooty Brother, is without territory, habitation, or history as he wanders the land. Devastated by his experiences, the Soldier’s aimless wandering and lack of direction indicate that his soul has been severely disturbed, quite literally leaving him with no place to go. His condition is the archetypal experience of soldiers returning from wars of every generation and akin to the circumstance of anyone who has been thoroughly betrayed by events and circumstances.

Betrayal shatters one’s orientation to life, de-structuring the sense of personal place, direction, and destiny, and demands a re-creation of one’s ontological connections. In this state, deep resources are called upon, and the soul relies on the imagination to recover and recreate itself. The journey that betrayal initiates is the challenge for one to change in fundamental ways, to transform the soul, and to inhabit life with ever increasing flexibility and awareness. Dennis Slattery suggests that within epic there are movements to be observed in relation to one’s location and trajectory toward home. He says, “the actual founding or refounding of place creates a bounded area promising building, habitation, a history, and a destiny” (The Narrative Play of Memory in Epic 332). Those who have known profound betrayal will say that that those experiences never truly go away. They are not forgotten, nor are they any less devastating in the memory. However, the journey one makes toward history and destiny is also the path that is taken to rediscover the essence of what was lost and, more importantly, to discover something new.

Lost in the wilderness, the young Soldier is approached by a Dark Man (the Devil in some translations) and offered employment if he will agree to certain conditions. For the Soldier, this defining moment signals significant change. Drawing him in, the Devil confronts the young Soldier on his aimless path and asks him, “What ails you, you seem so very sorrowful?” The young Soldier laments his forlorn state and in a moment of absolute clarity declares, “I am hungry” (Grimm 600). Regardless of the specific reasons for the Soldier’s betrayed condition, a choice must be made to either continue on as before or to open up to a new possibility. The disparity between what was and what will come coalesces into a juxtaposition of divine forces that work to change the status quo into the possibility of profound transformation for the Soldier.

When the Soldier is certain that he is no longer fed by the life he is leading, the dark man confronts him with an opportunity:
If you will hire yourself to me, and be my serving-man, you shall have enough for all your life. You shall serve me for seven years, and after that you shall again be free. But one thing I must tell you, and that is, you must not wash, comb, or trim yourself, or cut your hair or nails, or wipe the water from your eyes.” (Grimm 600)

If the Soldier does not agree to follow the dark man, then life will continue much as it has—not much will change. If, however, the young Soldier agrees to serve the Devil without knowing what his tasks will be, he will descend from the world of unrecognizable despair and step into a generative darkness rich with both risk and potential.

By accepting the dark man’s proposal to spend seven years in hell in his service, the soldier will undergo an unknowable transformation. Because of the horrendous experiences that have shattered his identity, the Soldier’s need to descend into the underworld is greater than his need to maintain his life as it has been. The moment of this agreement is the culmination of the ambiguity between experience and the paradigms by which he has previously lived. The decision to descend is now the only choice—it is time to go down into the unknown darkness. The young Soldier is to descend deep into the earth, tend the hell-fires of three cauldrons, and “if he once [peeps] into the kettles, it [will] go ill with him” (Grimm 600). The Soldier goes to work without complaint, stoking the fires high, shedding tears, and driving the “sweepings behind the doors” (Grimm 600).

The tailings and ashes are important images to the psyche. They are the garbage and worthless detritus that fill the dark corners. Difficult to see as anything other than useless, there is more to these sweepings than mere garbage. Charcoal, in the ancient agricultural traditions, is used to treat the fields, returning much needed nutrients and minerals to the soil. This process, as old as agriculture, mimics nature’s way of clearing out the dead and unnecessary duff on the land. It also creates the conditions for many seeds and seedpods to open and release the new kernel so it can sprout in the freshly burned and re-fertilized ground.

What was choking the psyche with unneeded weight is burned away in the cave of depression and hopelessness where desperate tears are shed, matted hair lays heavy on the face, and untrimmed nails tend the inner fires of hell. In this descended heat the soul deepens into the work of sweeping, cleaning, and gathering strength. Along with the heat, the darkness in its still ferocity is like winter in the mountains. When the snow gathers and the land becomes frozen the plants do not stop growing. Rather, in this apparent time of cold, roots grow deep into the heat of the earth, drawing ancient minerals, and finding strong purchase in the dark and unknown depths.. With his eyes obscured with tears, and attending to the daily drudgery of feeding the flames, sweeping the shavings, and gathering the raw materials of unrealized strength and purpose, the Soldier does seven years of cave work.

Driven by deep emotions and one’s unconscious nature, comprised of all that is unknown, psychologically unseen, and understood to be primarily instinct, intuition, or weakness, archetypal betrayal arrives with its own agenda. Operating on a “lower level with its uncontrolled or scarcely controlled emotions,” as Jung writes, “one behaves more or less like a primitive, who is not only the passive victim of his affects but also singularly incapable of moral judgment” (The Portable Jung 145-46). These limitations require something, some goal or task, which reaches beyond those shadowy inclinations and focuses the psyche toward a purpose that has enough simplicity and depth in it to hold the attention of the unconscious while the psyche regains consciousness through the imagination.

The Soldier must confront his instructions and break the rules otherwise he risks remaining in the primitive emotional condition, unable to ever leave the dark cave of despair. The appropriate disregard of an order or command is crucial to many stories in myth and folk tale. The conventions of the world from which the young Soldier comes demand that he follow the imposed rules as a condition of his life in the military. There is a moment where the transitory, yet archetypal and primordial nature is revealed by betrayal as it speaks to the authenticity of the circumstance by bringing the imagination into relationship with the manifest world. Roberts Avens notes that typically “images express only those unconscious contents which are momentarily constellated,” suggesting that image is intimately tied to the imagination’s capacity to abstract (Imagination is Reality 35).

The Soldier’s curiosity gets the better of him and he tips the lid off of the first cauldron. In the first he discovers his corporal from the war boiling away in the hellish brew. “Aha, old bird,” says he, “do I meet you here? You once had me in your power, now I have you” (The Devil’s Sooty Brother). He closes the lid and stokes the fires higher. The Soldier repeats this with the next two, discovering in each a superior that at one time had progressively greater power over his life. His response is to stoke each fire higher and higher, and increase the heat. Through the fire, he tends his own changing story. The limitations he was at one time subject to as a young man awaken his soul’s intuition as he becomes engaged in this risky and inspired activity. The Soldier is no longer a victim of his circumstances. Rather, his imagination has now taken hold and he is fast becoming an agent of his own destiny.

When the Devil returns to see how he has fared, he confronts the Soldier with the disregard of his instructions. “Well Hans, what have you done?” The devil clearly knows. “But you have peeped into the kettles as well, it is lucky for you that you added fresh logs to them, or else you life would have been forfeited” (The Devil’s Sooty Brother). Without the Soldier’s disregard for those particular instructions and his imaginally vital response to heat the fires even more, his term underground would have been for naught. What he needed was the proper mistake, to correctly disregard the devil’s instructions, and ultimately to operate with cunning to break the bonds that held him in the liminal condition when the dark man first approached him. For the first time the Soldier has a name—Hans. Up to this point in the story, identity has been general, associated with his past, and dependent upon his outward vocation.

With a newly established identity, the devil tells him to fill his pockets with the sweepings from behind the door, to remain unwashed, untrimmed, and not wash the tears from his eyes. He is then told that when anyone asks who he is to respond in this way, I am “the devil’s sooty brother, and I am my king as well” (The Devil’s Sooty Brother). Along with his name, the devil gives Hans the roots of his identity, a new appellation, and now lives connected to both his descended and ascending nature. He is to go into the world apparently unchanged and with no outward indication that he has accomplished anything of importance. The only thing he has are what fills his pockets—the sweepings of his efforts—and his name. When Hans returns to the surface and begins his travels anew, he reaches into his pockets to rid himself of the ash only to discover the ash has become gold.

Hans wanders until he comes to an inn. The innkeeper asks him who he is and Hans answers, “The devil’s sooty brother, and my king as well” (The Devil’s Sooty Brother). Hans is no longer the lost soldier he once was. The incalculable time tending the fires has changed him. However, those changes are untested, hence his instructions to remain disheveled in appearance.

In an effort to obtain a meal and a place to sleep, Hans shows the innkeeper the gold in his pockets. He is fed and given a comfortable place to sleep. In the morning he discovers that his gold is gone, stolen by the innkeeper, and he no longer has the means to continue his journey. Hans faces his reality and immediately returns to hell to lament his situation. The devil himself washes his face, trims his nails, and tells Hans to refill his pockets with sweepings. Finally, a miraculous transformation has occurred. Now that his work in hell has been tested in the world, Hans is ready to be seen for who he truly is.

The devil instructs Hans, “Tell the landlord that he must return you your money, if you do not return it, you shall go down to hell in my place, and will look as horrible as I” (The Devil’s Sooty Brother). Hans does so and his money is returned, leaving him wealthier than when he first appeared. He continues his journey wearing modest clothing and making music. These choices lead Hans to the door of a king who so loves his music, he offers him his youngest daughter in marriage. In time the king dies and leaves Hans and his wife the kingdom for their own.

The capacity of myth and story to elaborate upon a myriad of multifaceted relations, events, and trends provides a context for the imagination to begin to reformulate and reorient one’s self after betrayal has wreaked its devastation. Betrayal operates in conjunction with other psychological phenomenon and manifestations to find some bit of solid ground upon which the psyche can stand. When the soldier leaves the underworld and discovers the sweepings-turned-to-gold, he is aware enough to follow the Devil’s instructions and outwardly leave himself in his beggarly condition. He is no longer a foolish or lost young man, but someone who has abandoned unrealistic and grand expectations and made a movement inward and downward toward the subtle miracle that is not hoped for, expected, or even noticed.

When the Innkeeper steels his money, he does not return for revenge. Rather, Hans confronts the situation with a very different understanding of life. He forgives his past and he alters those events to transforms them into the prima materia of genuine creativity and beauty. By offering the innkeeper the promise of his own fate, Hans accepts the reality of his past and the profound and important transformation within.

Betrayal can come from any quarter. When Ginette Paris writes in Pagan Grace, “Apollo teaches us distance, while Dionysus teaches us proximity, contact, intimacy with ourselves, nature, and others,” we can deduce that trust and betrayal come from each, in its own way (23). The gods are personifications of the archetypal and inhuman forces of the cosmos, and they remind us of the immensity of our lives. Betrayal “teaches us distance,” revealing the weave of the web behind the mystery and complexity of life. However, betrayal also teaches us that intimacy and proximity are not free of the risk either. A question remains at the forefront of all human experience. What does it mean to be intimate with the soul and live in the world in the face of a tragic life? For the answer one must contemplate the depths of suffering, as well as the gifts of life.

When we forgive, truly, there remains no uncollected debt. An uncollected, or uncollectible, debt is the raw material for resentment; it  is the first step toward a new series of offenses, mistakes, and betrayals. The only way to truly forgive requires a supreme effort by the imagination to see through to a different picture, image, or vision of the world. This is what Jung calls “moral achievement” (CW 9.2: 16). A red ledger balance is an either/or question posed—paid/not paid. If one answers the question directly, the debt is left on the books as an offense, regardless of the outcome. However, if one imagines something else, and that page in the book is removed and replaced with something else of beauty—whatever that might look like—then there is poesis (creativity). Authentic forgiveness is a transformation that requires the imagination to transact an agreement with the psyche to re-make the offense into gold. It is a long and arduous journey, and one that will be, if attended to with diligence, fruitful. The music that Hans learns to make while in the darkness is the process of genuine creativity that becomes the manifestation of authentic forgiveness at work.

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Benjamin Dennis PhD
PO Box 617
Indianola, WA 98342 USA

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Mythologist, Fire Fighter
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