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The Lindworm Prince


The Lindworm Prince is a well known European story, although stories of women with serpent husbands are not limited only to Europe.

You can hear this story from master storyteller Martin Shaw himself.

There are many tellings of this story just in Youtube. Some of the motifs I will be referring to are not present in Shaw’s rather short version.

The Lindworm Prince traces Animus or Masculine development in the individuation process in both men and women.

The theory

This is a bit but I promise to bring all of this together if you will stay with me.

The model

This is how I am looking at the Animus and Anima typologically.

The Masculine and Feminine are principles here, not genders.

And this diagram does not say that women only sense and intuit, and men only think and feel.

A model is a useful approximation of reality - it is allowed to be presented a-priori and it is not expected to explain everything. Its validity is based on its ability to correspond to and explain (and sometimes predict) observed facts without contradicting other already established facts.

In other words, its value lies in being useful without being too misleading.


Intuition and Feeling are crucial to individuation (becoming a whole person). Although all four functions must be brought online eventually, Feeling is the content of the process of individuation and Intuition is the medium. While thinking and sensation are obviously important (and bedrocks of our civilization - even a model is a thinker’s tool), they are less useful in the process of becoming whole.

In therapy one would meet people who have a very clear intellectual understanding of their problem but are completely powerless to tackle it. And there are addicts who sought completeness through the Sensation medium and did not get anywhere.

Functions and Pathologies

It is a beautiful thing when any or all of these functions work well. But it is the malfunctions that are more noticeable.

Let me go through the relevant functions first before getting into the story.

  • Intuition

Intuition is a function of perception where cognition takes place in the unconscious and resulting thoughts appear directly and fully formed in consciousness. So it can seem like a disembodied second voice in the head. This has been said about the animus too.

The unconscious (and the animus) never lies. Everything it says is true, but truth is not the issue, relevance is.

This perception function would be chugging along all the time, processing and forming conclusions about everything from world affairs to grandma’s cooking, but very little of that might be relevant to the life of the person who is listening to them.

Animus possessed women (and men) are known for being highly opinionated and for making assertions that are truish enough in the general sense to be able to stall a discussion, but not relevant enough to the matter being discussed to let it reach a conclusion. For that one must balance or contextualize intuition with data, i.e. Sensation.

One must also make friends with intuition and learn how to listen. For example, the world is very large and you are very small in it - which is just a fact - and intuition might just be reporting that. But if you don’t listen in context, what you might hear is a voice in your head telling you that you are worthless and will never amount to anything.

The essence of the inferior function is autonomy. It is independent, it attacks, it fascinates, and so spins us about that we are no longer masters of ourselves and can no longer rightly distinguish between ourselves and others. (CW 7, para. 85)

It helps to record intuition because then it becomes easy to recognize this as a voice separate from one’s own because there is no way you could have come up with those insights.

In myth, we have Cassandra with her free-wheeling intuition disconnected from reality. The opposite can also happen - Sensation devoid of Intuition. This can manifest as plain greed or as “being stuck in the present”, i.e. the inability to connect one’s current situation with choices made in the past (“Why is my life like this? It is all their fault”)

  • Feeling

Feeling is the content we must evoke as part of the individuation process.

Differentiated feeling is cold and austere and more ruthless than the thinker’s logic - and can be terrifying to the wielder in its lack of emotion.

There is a story from the sixties about a Vietnamese family that took off in a small airplane to escape the war. They ran out of fuel and were about to crash into the ocean but there was an aircraft carrier nearby. The Americans started pushing million dollar helicopters overboard to make landing space that they didn’t have otherwise.

But if the commander had had to make the opposite decision, that would also have been a demonstration of equally sophisticated feeling.

But this is the only place from which one can begin to have true compassion for one’s fellow beings.

Malfunctioning feeling primarily manifests as an inability to make choices or decisions, and certainly not in a moral non-self serving way. There is conflict and vacillation. This will become important later in the fairytale.

The Conflict

A few difficulties present themselves

Intuition and Sensation are opposing functions. One can’t directly get from one to the other. For that, one must first access feeling and then circle back.

When functions are not differentiated and contaminate each other, it is difficult to access Feeling because other functions get in the way.

And one can’t directly access the opposite Animus function as mentioned earlier. This will lead to a significant amount of “thrashing” (ambivalence and equivocation), iteration and negotiation. Although fraught with failures, this is meaningful suffering.

But when this is done - when feeling is sorted out and intuition is a friend - in a quiet place beyond all emotion or naivete, one will be able to completely trust another person with the entirety of one’s being just like when we were very young. And that will be one day that you have lived on this earth.

This is the movement that The Lindworm Prince tracks.

The Fairytale

First there is a kingdom but the King and Queen are childless.

It is important to remember that everything that happens in a fairytale - people, places, events and things - are taking place in a single person’s psyche. They are not retellings of happenings in the real world and they don’t obey our laws of physics or causality. If we forget this, we could end up with concrete interpretations that might satisfy or vindicate a pre-existing ego position, but do not lend themselves to symbolic understanding.

So, in the kingdom (psyche), generativity and creativity are missing. Progression of life has come to a standstill and nothing new is taking place - this happens when intuition and feeling are missing. Life is too concrete.

But then there is an encounter with a witch. This is an early encounter with the Self - maybe a dream, insight or experience that promises that Life is and can be more. Let us also not forget that there has already been a lot of suffering and soul searching in their childlessness - even the first encounter does not come easily. And it is only natural that She seems to be a witch since the encounter is so alien at first. The witch tells them about the red and white flowers. Red is the color of intuition. White, according to Theodore Abt, is the color of the life-giving basis of the unconscious, of the transition into something new. Red will produce a daughter, white a son. Many tellings call this a plothole - the witch promised a daughter but the Lindworm is male. But we know from the previous diagram that intuition is an agent of both the Masculine and Feminine in different ways.

The conflicts

There is also a vein of conflict that begins here and runs throughout the story (the thrashing I mentioned earlier). The couple can’t decide - a son will go off to war, a daughter will eventually leave them. So the queen eats both. This is the first conflict.

A Lindworm and another son are born. The Lindworm is thrown away due to its horrific aspect. Intuition is not valued enough, but it is the medium through which insight and wisdom eventually arrive - the bridge between the conscious and unconscious. What Prometheus brought to the human race from Olympus was Fire, not water, not earth, not air. But in this case, it was rejected. This is the second conflict.

Later when the prince sets out to find a bride, the Lindworm blocks his path (fittingly at a crossroads). “A bride for me, before a bride for you”. Sensation must connect with Intuition first. One must make friends with the voice of the animus before he will let you Live. This is the third conflict.

But sensation cannot connect directly with Intuition since they are opposites. Many attempts are made, many brides eaten by the Lindworm dragon. Until the story arrives upon an unsophisticated humble peasant girl. One must develop humility before one can meet with the witch again and get her help - one-sided world views must crumble and ego positions must be surrendered. And yes, this is a slow iterative process of negotiation. This is the fourth conflict.

The resolution

With the last girl who is finally able to reconcile with the Lindworm, there are ten white shifts (as a cloth that covers the chest, it represents the heart), and you must stand your ground (face the dragon consciously) and surrender a part of yourself only after the dragon is ready to shed one of his scales (become less remote, more contextual and closer to reality).

And then there is scrubbing and whipping involved as the conflict is brought more into focus.

But there is one more step yet. You must use the milk.

In Robert Bly’s telling of the Lindworm Prince, he speaks of another storyteller called Connie Martin (30:45 in the video). She told him that “in the sixties, we women used plenty of whips and lye (a reference to the feminists of the time), but we didn’t use any of the milk”. One must let in Feeling, or the process will stall here, and one will remain consciously aware of the conflict but bitter and resentful and righteously indignant but there will be no resolution. You must use the milk.

At this point, the Lindworm is a pale slimy mass on the floor. The physical and mental exhaustion will be total.

You see, that Lindworm will be all that will be left of you.

But if you are able to still embrace it, the Lindworm will turn into a prince by the next morning.

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