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The Man-Eater

Dreamed ca. 1879 by Carl Jung
This was the first dream that Jung recalled. He was three or four years old.


The vicarage stood quite alone near Laufen castle, and there was a big meadow stretching back from the sexton's farm. In the dream I was in this meadow. Suddenly I discovered a dark, rectangular, stone-lined hole in the ground. I had never seen it before. I ran forward curiously and peered down into it. Then I saw a stone stairway leading down. Hesitantly and fearfully, I descended. At the bottom was a doorway with a round arch, closed off by a green curtain. It was a big heavy curtain of worked stuff like brocade, and it looked very sumptuous. Curious to see what might be hidden behind, I pushed it aside. I saw before me in the dim light a rectangular chamber about thirty feet long. The ceiling was arched and of hewn stone. The floor was laid with flagstones, and in the center a red carpet ran from the entrance to a low platform. On this stood a wonderfully rich golden throne. I am not certain, but perhaps a red cushion lay on its seat. It was a magnificent throne, a real king's throne in a fairy tale. Something was standing on it which I thought at first was a tree trunk twelve to fifteen feet high and about one and a half to two feet thick. It was a huge thing, reaching almost to the ceiling. But it was of a curious composition: it was made of skin and naked flesh, and on top there was something like a rounded head with no face and no hair. On the very top of the head was a single eye, gazing motionlessly upward.

It was fairly light in the room, although there were no windows and no apparent source of light. Above the head, however, was an aura of brightness. The thing did not move, yet I had the feeling that it might at any moment crawl off the throne like a worm and creep toward me. I was paralyzed with terror. At that moment I heard from outside and above me my mother's voice. She called out, "Yes, just look at him. That is the man-eater!" That intensified my terror still more, and I awoke sweating and scared to death.


For many nights after, I was afraid to go to sleep, because I feared I might have another dream like that. This dream haunted me for years...

...this dream seems to be a subterranean God "not to be named," and such it remained throughout my youth, reappearing whenever anyone spoke too emphatically about Lord Jesus. Lord Jesus never became quite real for me, never quite acceptable, never quite lovable, for again and again I would think of his underground counterpart, a frightful revelation which had been accorded me without my seeking it.


As an adult, Jung believed the Man-Eater was a ritual phallus. But at age three or four, in conservative rural Switzerland, there was simply nowhere he could have been exposed to architecture like this, let alone a pagan concept like a sacred phallus. The dream thus helped to prompt him much later to postulate a collective unconscious. And (though he doesn't use the term in this passage) the Shadow, too. Jung saw "man-eater!" as echoing the symbolic cannibalism of the Eucharist, and wondered if the dream challenged the bland rote Christianity he was taught--a reminder of the terror of direct revelation. The Man-Eater is the Shadow of Christ: the god that eats you.

Though Jung remained Christian, his God was always darker, scarier, and more mysterious than most Christians could accept. His book Answer to Job offended many--despite the Holocaust proving his point.

LISTS AND LINKS: more Carl Jung - Jungian dreams in general - nightmares - underground dreams - genital symbols in dreams - religious dreams - gods - shamanic dreams - You Are Lunch - precocity and genius - juvenilia - transcendent dreams - Shadow figures in dreams - a different dreamer's different genital altar: Answering Jung - Emily Dickinson has a weirdly similar dream around the same time: The Worm - a modern nightmare of an underground king: Xanthe's Lizard Husband - 424 years earlier, a similar inversion of Christian communion by Leonardo's Bird

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