It’s witching season, the time when women of all ages embrace a mythical image of unfettered feminine power. The witch may cast spells, seek vengeance, or wreak creative havoc—as she pleases. Flying the night skies of psyche, the witch brings primordial realities into culture’s brittle convictions.
Like all aspects of the collective unconscious, the witch lays low when times are fine but rises when times are tense. Her archetypal power then infects humankind, inciting mass hysteria and the horrors of persecutory epidemics. The witch symbolizes our fear and vulnerability to the Great Mother in her dark, heartless aspect–and her power remains.
Jung says, “On a primitive level, people are afraid of witches; on the modern level, we are apprehensively afraid of microbes.” If we can face the witch and acknowledge her power to depose ego and order, we can also face our choices and the freedom to make them.
Here’s the dream we analyze:
“My family has rented a house in an affluent area of my city for a celebration. I borrow my dad’s keys afterward to get something out of the car before planning to return quickly to the house. I’m wearing a yarmulke for the occasion. On my way back, I step onto a concrete block overlooking an SUV with an alarm going off. Despite there being a man in the car, a plainclothes policeman approaches me to say I’m being taken in for questioning because the car was stolen. The police officer refuses to let me call my father to tell him what happened. I am questioned by two officers, now in their uniforms, at the back of a luxurious synagogue. I am outraged and trying to profess my innocence with confidence, but my body and voice are shaking. The other officer lets me call my dad, who speaks in a gentle voice with sadness and almost disappointment. Then I am brought to a university-type study room to be questioned by a group of teen police officers, some of whom I recognize as people I went to high school with. On the way to this room, I see a friend and explain what is happening, but she seems apathetic and keeps walking. In the room, the teen police group is being irreverent and making jokes and creating distractions, looking at their phones, playing games, not listening to my expressions of anger and fear. At the end of the dream, Amy Winehouse appears in the room, and we all sing her song “Love is Blind.” I strain my voice to sing loudly and distinctly.”
Erich Neumann, Fear of the Feminine, https://www.amazon.com/dp/0691034737/ref=cm_sw_em_r_mt_dp_S0QDMDBFG7FN0ECGSZD1
Geoff Shullenberger, “Karen” and the Maenads, Outsider Theory, https://outsidertheory.com/karen-and-the-maenads/
Madeline Miller, Circe. https://www.amazon.com/dp/0316556327/ref=cm_sw_em_r_mt_dp_KVNV5H79CCQ8HDHFVSR0
Learn to Analyze your own Dreams: https://thisjungianlife.com/enroll/
So is the Black Madonna a re-joining of both the dark side of the Great mother (the witch)… and the “pure” white Mary? A sort of modern Kali figure if you will… i remember that in Kibeho in Rwanda her appearance to the girls there presaged the genocide. And that was even recognized by the Vatican as true manifestation ….
Thank you for this episode, and for pointing out the ageism (and, I would argue, the attendant sexism) of the Karen stereotype that’s gone viral online lately. I’m getting fed up of the woke misogyny running rampant on what is largely the American left, and I never connected the archetype of the witch to “the Karen” until now.
Hello Joseph, Lisa and Deb,
I love the witch archetype and have fully embraced my inner witch! I’m with you, Deb! We should embrace that archetype in ourselves and look for the places in our lives where she manifests. And sometimes she needs to manifest. She’s also the triple goddess – maiden, mother and crone. She mediates between the conscious and the unconscious. She’s powerful and magical. She lives in nature and know about the mysteries of life. She is wise and people come to her when they want to know about the world and themselves. She’s uncontrollable – like nature and the unconscious. I often think of the High Priestess tarot card as very witchy. About the tv show Bewitched…Have you ever noticed that Darrin, Samantha’s husband always wanted her NOT to use her witch powers except when it benefited him? But she did what she wanted anyway and tried not to bruise his tender ego. I suspect Samantha would be a different witch today in her marriage. I think it helps to think of the witch in her triple form – maiden, mother and crone and to explore the progression there. She had to go through all those stages to get where she is. The crone aspect brings death into consciousness but also great power and wisdom and there’s a truth in that. Perhaps that’s why she is feared. This also reminds me of the respect that old women garner – especially from younger men. My husband always says that men are affected by the reprimands of older women. He seems to think that a reprimand from an older woman can be corrective whereas if it were coming from a man, it’s more confrontational. A man could strike out at his father but not his mother or grandmother. Just imagine if a bunch of old women went to Congress to fight for health care for example. Would any of those police officers drag them from from the building? They may be less inclined to do so! It also makes me think of the Black Madonnas and how they may be a good image for the merged opposites of dark and light in the feminine spirit and in the world. It could possibly be a feminine image of the uniting of good and evil and thus could reconcile those aspects of Christianity as Jung envisioned. Anyway…just some thoughts! Thanks again and Happy Halloween!
I would love to hear an episode on magic. I really love Liz Greene’s book Jung’s Studies in Astrology: Fate, Prophecy and the Qualities of Time where she discusses this in depth. I’ve also heard Damien Echols on Sounds True and he was very good. He has an interesting personal history as well. Thanks!
There is much that is positive, but often obscured or denigrated, in the Witch archetype. Historically, witches were wise women who used their knowledge of physiology, medicinal (and psychoactive) plants, and human nature to treat their neighbors’ ills. Significantly, they also helped women control their fertility. They were often older, widowed or single, and owned property. Who better to target in less enlightened times, ones which more and more begin to resemble our own. For some marvelous fictional explorations of witches read Lolly Willowes by Sylvia Townsend Warner or the Tiffany Aching series by Terry Pratchett. For a Jungian viewpoint, there’s Jean Shinoda Bolen’s work on Hecate, including the book Goddesses in Older Women and a 2019 talk at the Eugene Friends of Jung, “At the Crossroads With Hecate,” available on YouTube.
I was really surprised to hear “Karen” brought up in this conversation. I definitely think theres merit to the idea that collectively, middle aged white women feel unheard and the videos that surface are based in their frustration about that. There was however huge hole in the conversation regarding white supremacy and the power dynamics of white womanhood within it! The archetypal Karen is not just any angered middle aged woman, it tends to be specific to white women’s use of privilege and social power, *especially* in regards to service workers. Among other populations (usually younger people who work some sort of service job, particularly people of color) there is a nearly universal experience of having a white woman absolutely melt down at the expense of a service worker, essentially because she couldn’t boss them around in the way she wanted. Maybe she expected the rules to be more pliable for her, maybe she had a special request that had to be denied, maybe she just misunderstood the service thats offered, but in truth Karen is vilified not for being white or woman but because she has no respect for others and a childlike temper. The line “I need to speak to your manager” is deeply and widely associated with Karen, which comes from the perception that, for no real reason other than that she has the social currency of whiteness, Karen believes she should be catered to at all costs, and that her authority as a white woman supersedes that of workers, young people, and people of color. It seems dangerous to miss this central part of the archetype!
Hello Joseph, Lisa and Deb.
CBS Sunday morning had an interesting segment on nightmares. Here’s some of the conversation:
Psychology professor Jon Abramowitz said, “Really, we don’t put a lot of stock in, like, trying to understand the meaning of nightmares or anything like that. That’s also kind of older Freudian psychology which we don’t – it’s not very scientific.”
Smith asked, “All this dream interpretation that we’ve done – ‘Okay, if my teeth are falling out, what does it mean?’ – you guys don’t really rely on that?”
“We don’t! So, 100 years ago they did, but there’s no scientific evidence to suggest that any of that stuff is valid. So we really don’t worry about that any more.”
I had to laugh….
I loved this episode. Thank you so much for the work you do. I was left wondering about the role of menopause in the depiction of witches as older women. When going through the menopause many women experience emotional and physical symptoms including mood swings, depression, changes in hair and skin texture, hirsutism and hair loss. It’s interesting how witches are depicted with wild and horrible skin and hair, and I can sympathise!
I also wondered about the comparison between witches and wizards. It seems to me that there are fewer wizards depicted in literature than witches, especially of the dark kind. Wizards are often portrayed as servants to kings and so their power is bounded and channelled in service to elites. Witches however seem prolific almost as if every village would have one. And whilst they served their communities in healing and plant medicine, they were beyond the purview of the authorities, hence dangerous and in need of control.
Sometimes it feels as if the archetypes themselves evidence misogyny – where is the ugly, dangerous, spiteful, evil male version of the witch? And where is the old, powerful, good and generative female version of the wizard (Merlin for example)? I know they are there but they seem more hidden. I agree with Debs – we need to reclaim our inner witch – wisdom, service to the community and independence from the controlling elites and culture.
The concept of Karen isn‘t particularly ageist. I first came across the term, as someone who uses her position to express power over others. For example (but not limited to) by weaponizing the police against PoC. Most witches are anti-Karen…
I enjoyed the episode but disliked the omnipresent ”happy” tone when discussing negative
stuf in this show.
No mentioning or emphasis whatsoever about what it means and the consequences of
“shaking hands” with the witch. Especially if you meet it in less than ideal situations,
when you’re barely hanging for example. Only the positive side is mentioned — that one could
harness the power / anger of the witch… The negative side is left aside — Jung would say
you turned his stuff into Christianism…
I came to write a similar comment to some of the others here. I too was surprised to hear “Karen” mentioned alongside this conversation, and while I hear the points being made and in part believe there is a cry to be heard and understood, I feel it was irresponsible to not mention white supremacy, racism, or privilege alongside this part of the conversation.
Why do “Karens” feel able to unleash their suppressed emotions on predominantly Black people, and people of color? Why is this where they choose to direct their rage? White supremacy and racism are also present in many of these moments and it was really frustrating to listen to discussions about Karens without acknowledging that reality, or worse yet, an undertone of validating the outbursts and even encouraging them. I’d encourage you to address this on a future episode.
Dear TJL and Oliver,
I have to say that I agree with Oliver – I live in Europe and have not heard much about Karen’s. But what I did hear had to do exclusively with racism, white supremacy and racial abuse by white women.
I read your link to Outsider Theory’s take on the “Karen” of Central Park and others. I found the argument interesting, and the identity of the person criticising the “Karen” does seem to play a role.
Are these Karen’s so furious because they have been criticised unjustly and rage out of injustice (cf the Furies)? Or are they shocked by being criticised by an African American?
If the latter is the case, one could imagine a similar “witch-y” splitting and projection from the Karen onto an African American: “I am not wrong, I never do anything wrong, how dare you criticise and correct me – it’s actually you as an African American who is wrong!” (and then evil and/or dangerous and whatever other negatives the white woman splits and projects onto the African American).
The latter becomes so overloaded with this negative Archetype that that white woman Karen must call the police, almost to prove that she is innocent and that the African American who criticised her is not only wrong but dangerous and thus warranting immediate police intervention!
Ditto for salespeople who would belong to a lower income class.
I find it really hard to compare the Furies with the Central Park “Karen” – the guy just asked her to put her dog on a leash, which is the rule of the park…. That’s not threatening, nor anything like what the Furies experienced.
Isn’t the problem that the Karen’s themselves think that they ARE the Archetype: they embody the Good Mother / Virgin, ie perfect, always right and above any criticism? I don’t think that Karen’s are being perceived as embodying the Archetype of the Bad Mother / Witch. Joseph very wisely pointed out the dangers of embodying an Archetype AND projecting an Archetype onto others…
Here’s a way outsider theoretical aside… Since I didn’t know much about Karen’s when I listened to the podcast, your descriptions made me think of….. Larry David on Curb Your Enthusiasm. Talk about Fury! Hell hath no fury like Larry David! “What am I bad guy?!?! I am a good guy!!!” He really follows rules, and he is shocked when other people don’t – and even more shocked when he is criticised.
Another aside: Klaus Theweleit’s two-volume book “Male Fantasies” (1987 for the English translation from German) is a truly remarkable, detailed study of the demonisation of German women in Germany leading up to WWII and the Shoah.
#1: There seem to be some straw men in the comments above when people defend the society’s use of the word “Karen”: the term is used to deride any middle-aged woman who appears white (we don’t know what race someone is just by looking at them, FYI – I’m a woman of color and I get mistaken for white sometimes) and who is often heavy-set or a bit fat. A lot of times, the label of Karen is thrown on a woman and it has nothing to do with her views of race, or with her behavior around racial minorities. She is often called a Karen for simply being middle-aged, female, white-appearing, and perhaps too demanding. This is the stereotype of the Karen (a very common stereotype) that the podcast hosts are responding to. They are not saying that racism at the hands of white women is okay.
#2: The man at central park that asked the woman to leash her dog proceeded to stalk her and take photos of her after she refused to leash her dog. If you’re going to argue that a racial power dynamic was at play when she called the police afterward, you could just as well argue that a sexual power dynamic took place first: imagine being a woman and a strange man is literally following you around a park and taking pictures of you when you ask him to stop? And no behavior from a woman would excuse that kind of invasive and disrespectful behavior on the part of an adult male. I think it was a terrible move for the woman to call the police on the Black man. However, I think ruining her entire life and her losing her job is very extreme.
We expect women to act super nice and docile and respectful all the time. We expect them to never make demands that are unseemly, or to be “shrill.” Wrapping those expectations in layers of “anti-racism” doesn’t disguise the underlying sexism of this framework, in my opinion.
I love the way Deb called the ‘crones’ to come together. In Australia, we are seeing groups of older women coming together to help the under-privileged, or to make a difference on climate change issues. In my 50’s, I feel a primal energy and wisdom that needs to be harnessed and caressed to take positive actions, to create a groundswell of spirit and witch-like magic, to counter all the negatives.