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Siegfried Must Die

Dreamed 1913/12/18 by Carl Jung

THE DREAM Jung and a young man shoot the Teutonic hero Siegfried. Sketch of a dream by Carl Jung; click to enlarge.

I was with an unknown, brown-skinned man, a savage, in a lonely, rocky mountain landscape. It was before dawn. The eastern sky was already bright, and the stars fading. Then I heard Siegfried's horn sounding over the mountains and I knew that we had to kill him. We were armed with rifles and lay in wait for him on a narrow path over the rocks.

Then Siegfried appeared high up on the crest of the mountain in the first ray of the rising sun. On a chariot made of the bones of the dead he drove at furious speed down the precipitous slope. When he turned a corner, we shot at him, and he plunged down, struck dead.

Filled with disgust and remorse for having destroyed something so great and beautiful, I turned to flee, impelled by the fear that the murder might be discovered. But a tremendous downfall of rain began, and I knew that it would wipe out all traces of the deed. I had escaped the danger of discovery; life could go on, but an unbearable feeling of guilt remained.


When I awoke from the dream, I turned it over in my mind, but was unable to understand it. I tried therefore to fall asleep again, but a voice within me said, "You must understand the dream, and must do so at once!" The inner urgency mounted until the terrible moment came when the voice said, "If you do not understand the dream, you must shoot yourself!" In the drawer of my night table lay a loaded revolver, and I became frightened.

Then I began pondering once again, and suddenly the meaning of the dream dawned on me. "Why, that is the problem that is being played out in the world." Siegfried, I thought, represents what the Germans want to achieve, heroically to impose their will, have their own way. "Where there is a will there is a way!" I had wanted to do the same. But now that was no longer possible. The dream showed that the attitude embodied by Siegfried, the hero, no longer suited me. Therefore it had to be killed.

After the deed I felt an overpowering compassion, as though I myself had been shot: a sign of my secret identity with Siegfried, as well as of the grief a man feels when he is forced to sacrifice his ideal and his conscious attitudes. This identity and my heroic idealism had to be abandoned, for there are higher things than the ego's will, and to these one must bow.

--Carl Jung; text from Memories, Dreams, Reflections, 1961. Sketch from his Red Book, c.1914, Liber Primus, Ch. VII.


What I find startling here is that Jung interprets the dream symbolically, not as a warning of coming war--the slaughter of millions seduced by heroism in an age of the modern rifle, tank, and poison gas. Yet Jung had already been warned explicitly war was coming--see Jung's Premonitions of World War I. In Siegfried too, the signs are there:

Unlike Jung's other premonitory dreams and visions of World War I, I think Siegfried warns not only of the Great War but looks beyond, warning of the Holocaust to come if Europe isn't forced away from Siegfried's ideal--Aryan domination. "If you do not understand the dream, you must shoot yourself!" Well, Europe did not face the charnel undercarriage of The War To End War; it did its best to go right back to colonial sleep. So Hitler siezed the Siegfried myth and built his reich of bones; Europe shot itself.

--Chris Wayan

LISTS AND LINKS: heritages - Shadow figures - (sorry, no list of archetypal dreams, it'd be infinite!) - violence - guns - hunting and being hunted - Death (personified) - bravery and heroism - willpower - bones - guilt - more Carl Jung - Jungian dreams in general - predictive dreams - long-term predictions - oops! - war - politics - Jane Doe kills a gender-Siegfried, in Don't Shoot the Ibex

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