Episode 72 – Puer & Puella: Trapped in the Inner Child

Aug 15, 2019


If the passage into fullsome adulthood is avoided, a person can be trapped in the world of childhood. This protected realm is a nexus of potential, defined by avoiding the rigors of the real for the pleasures of possibility. Peter Pan, who chose to remain in never-never-land, is a well-known image for the flighty ingenuousness of the puer or puella. What stops libido from becoming more grounded in order to engage in more purposeful, ego-strengthening commitments? Charles Dickens’ Bleak House portrays a protagonist who felt that dedication and discipline were intolerably confining. Rapunzel, however, broke out of her elevated tower when a prince kindled her desire to bond in a more earthly way. If an initiatory experience does not activate libido, and the protected world of childhood is not sacrificed, entrapment in a marginal life may ensue.


“I was in a dark forest at night with my youngest son (he’s 10). We were standing at the top of an exterior staircase attached to a house, which was situated at the edge of a large clearing in the forest. The house had bright spotlights shining onto the clearing, and I could see small animals all wandering through it. I felt like I wanted to go into the forest, but had to wait for something. I saw movement out of the corner of my eye. A mountain lion had appeared on the edge of the clearing. As soon as it stepped into the clearing, it changed into a very large snake. It began slowly making it’s way through the clearing, killing the small animals. It was killing them, but not eating them. I saw it begin to “devour” a smaller poisonous snake. The large snake had it’s head tipped back in such a way that I could see it had a hole in the underside of it’s throat. So it was clamping the smaller snake with its teeth, swallowing, and pulling it through its mouth, but the smaller snake was falling out through the hole in it’s neck back onto the ground. My son and I began to run down the stairs and skirt around the edges of the clearing. I needed to get into the forest at a certain location and it was on the far side from the house. I stopped briefly when I noticed a dead kitten right at the edge of the forest. It had been ripped in half by the snake. Another kitten was there. It was so young it’s eyes were not open. It was trying to crawl into the forest for safety. I felt…like I was rooting for it. Hoping for it to survive. But I had no urge to pick it up and help it. The large snake noticed us running. It changed back into the mountain lion and began after us before we could get to the far end of the clearing. I noticed a hunter’s tree stand just inside the forest at the side of the clearing we had made it to. We ran for it. I kept checking to make sure my son was still with me. I began running up the stairs to the tree stand, and when I reached the top, noticed he was no longer with me. I panicked, began looking around. I noticed a black panther was now in the trees below the stand, jumping from branch to branch. The mountain lion was staying back because of it. The panther jumped up into the tree stand beside me, and changed into my son. “I keep forgetting I do not need to be afraid for you” I said to him. And then I woke.”

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  1. James Webster

    To the wild woodland creatures: enjoyed your analysis
    Of the Puer-Puella, from Bleak House to the
    Snake with the hole in it’s mouth to the “pant-her.”

    Your group keeps my Jungian training and world alive.
    I am a veteran of this world, 77 now, in my marginal
    house with the carnival lights on all night—oh, I so
    Enjoy and benefit from This Jungian Life!

  2. Simcha

    I landed here after listening to a Kalsched lecture on Rapunzel as an archetypal defense system (yet another reason the puer / puella might not step outside the tower and individuate).

    It’s essentially a recap of his chapter on Rapunzel in “The Inner World of Trauma,” but, since it’s Kalsched, there are great new insights in the lecture.

    For future travellers down this path…




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