Riots: When the Collective Catches Fire

Jun 4, 2020


How can we understand the psychological wild fire of rioting? Jung, who lived through two world wars, understood that mass movements had the power to manifest archetypal energy. The urge to unleash destructive chaos is depicted in mythologies around the world.

Early Norse warriors attained battle-crazed states as “berserkers,” and Cu Chulainn, a mythological Irish warrior, killed both friends and foe. Eris, the Greek goddess of discord and strife, started the Trojan War, and Kali, a Hindu god whose name derives from suffer, hurt, startle and confuse, also incited war. Riots–contagious states of regressive possession–belong to this archetypal realm. Jung said “collective man threatens to stifle the individual man, on whose sense of responsibility everything valuable in mankind ultimately depends…the true leaders of mankind are always those who are capable of self-reflection.”


“I was in a forest next to a fortress wall. A little boy appeared with a cotton hood over his head that covered his face. The child was riding a white pony. I could see his blue eyes through slits in the hood. They looked sideways. I don’t know if the child saw me, but he felt I was there because he clung to me. I hugged him and the pony with great love and tenderness. The child needed my love and protection. At that moment, a man in green clothes and armor approached me. Without being aggressive, he told me that I had to leave the child who was the king’s son and had his own guard. The man kindly invited me to go with him. I was divided in my feelings. I felt great love for the child, but I also felt guilt that I was breaking some high rules I didn’t understand. I followed the man, who was now dressed in a long red robe and looked like a royal nobleman. I was walking about 10 meters after him. We went around the fortress and took the streets of the city. We walked for a long time. He entered a building, I followed him at a distance. When I entered the building, I heard his voice from below, he was walking down the stone stairs. He told me to pass him a big black hook on a chain. I obeyed unquestioningly and handed him the hook. At that moment, for the first time, I doubted the man and his intentions. Horrified, I realized that, guided by my guilt, I was following a torturer who made his prey prepare their own torments. I realized that I had to do something right away and I regretted that I had not felt the threat before, when I could easily escape, because moving away after him, we were often in different places – for example, he had already entered the entrance, and I was still walking down the street. All I had to do was rush back up the stairs before entering his dungeon. I woke up in horror.”



Donald Kalsched. The Inner World of Trauma: Archetypal Defenses of the Personal Spirit. (Amazon)

Clarissa Pinkola Estes. Women Who Run with the Wolves (Amazon).

The Daily Podcast: A weekend of pain and Protest


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1 Comment

  1. Mamie Allegretti

    George Floyd was killed with a knee on his neck. Colin Kaepernick “took a knee” to protest police brutality. I’m wondering if the way Mr. Floyd was killed by Chauvin was a kind of unconscious projection of that. A way of kind of taking the protest gesture of taking a knee and turning it back on the protestor (KaepernicK). Of course, all this is unconscious.


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