CONTAGION: Pollution, Protection & Purity

Jan 27, 2022

a red drop enters some pure liquid, illustrating pollution and purity.
Photo Credit: Eric Begin

When the archetype of purity is activated, science and psychology intersect. Fear of contamination has deep instinctual roots, evidenced in universal facial expressions of distress and disgust. Religious rules and rituals of riddance have long been practical and symbolic protections against pollution, whether the threat is pathogenic, environmental, or moral. For Jung, this psychological dynamic “is the dissolution of the ego in the unconscious, a state resembling death. It results from the more or less complete identification of the ego with unconscious factors, or, as we would say, from contamination…we then feel in danger of being swamped or poisoned by the unconscious.” The antidote to contamination is often a form of cleansing. Today’s sanitizers kill germs and also restore a mental state of purity long associated with sacred inviolability. An ego strong enough to straddle the opposites of the physical and archetypal worlds can help us chart a balanced course between external threat and internal anxiety.

Here’s the dream we analyze:

“I am in Mexico traveling with my mom, my dad, and my brother. We are invited to a child’s birthday party. As a gift/decoration, I bring 12 golden retriever puppies. They are all tied together on a long, thin, blue nylon rope. The rope is looped around each puppy’s belly, and there are a couple feet of rope between each puppy. When we arrive at the party, which is in a domestic courtyard, my father hangs the rope of puppies high on a wall in a square spiral shape. I express my concern that the puppies are hanging from their ropes, at which point my dad shows me that he has placed a brass-colored nail into the wall at each puppy node. The nails stick out from the wall a few inches; he explains that the puppies can sit on the nails. I agree with him, though it seems unrealistic to me that a puppy could be comfortable balancing on so small a surface. As I look at them, they are struggling to keep their perches though many of them are still wagging their tails. My father criticizes me for bringing home these 12 puppies and asks me what I am going to do with them. I realize I have nowhere to take them as we are all staying in a hotel room, and the smell of their pee and poop would overwhelm the rest of my family. I realize with some horror that i am going to have to kill them or just release them onto the streets, where they will suffer and slowly die of starvation and neglect. I wrack my brain for the right execution method. Drowning? Put them In plastic bags in the freezer? I am horrified at either prospect. I sit down at a table to discuss this with other party attendees. No one is taking me very seriously, but someone does scornfully point out that I have several other kinds of animals in groups of 12 that I also have to figure out how to dispatch in some way. I can’t remember now what all those animals were except a group of mice which are already shrouded and drowning slowly in a large glass ashtray on the picnic table. There is also a group of four dolphins–they are only toys, and their heads are like finger puppets. When I submerge them in a bucket of water, they seem to come to life. I continue to agonize about my responsibility to “do something” with all of these dozens of little animals and announce to the group that my inclination to kill the puppies is at least merciful and correct because they have been exposed to jet fuel which has permanently damaged their abdominal organs. Someone, an adult man I don’t recognize, points out to me that their abdominal organs are actually being dislocated and harmed because they have fallen off their impossibly small perches and are hanging from the little blue ropes. I take one off of the wall and look at his belly, which is red and distended, especially on one side. I feel sick with guilt and totally overwhelmed with my inability to either take care of or murder these sweet, patient, naive little dogs.”


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