Siegfried: the Archetype

9 Apr

Have you ever met a person who instantly exhibited, without reason, signs of hostility?

That is what happened to Dr. Hans Gunst at the Vienna Nervenheilanstalt in January of 1961, when the psychiatrist appeared there to be interviewed for an opening in the Mikrowellen Department.

The weather was treacherous, snow and ice clogging the streets. Hans traveled from his hotel in an autodroshke that had difficulty moving through the snow-filled, ice-covered cobblestone avenues. The applicant wore a thick Pelzmantel fur coat made of Balkan beaver and a felt homburg hat. His kammgarn worsted suit came from Dalmatia, the Adriatic member of the Danubian Federation.

Hans wore a large, wide red Krawatte meant to impress his two interviewers.

The tall, lithe figure left his Biberpelz with a receptionist who directed him to a room where he was to meet the small committee.

A single individual sat at the middle of a long cedar table. Fat and rotund, he did not rise to greet the potential future colleague.

“You must be Dr. Gunst from Sarajevo,” grumbled the interviewer. “I am Fritz Druese, head of the microwave department. Please, take the end chair. Our Director, Dr. Eimer, should be here soon. I hope that we have not raised your hopes too high. There are a great number of contestants applying for the position.

“How did you get here from Bosnia in such a winter storm?”

The applicant sensed sharp enmity in the other’s hard blue-gray eyes.

“I flew in an autogiro from Sarajevo to Zagreb, then took a Luftschiff from there,” explained Hans Gunst. “There was heavy snowfall all the way. It was amazing that the flight was not cancelled because of bad weather.”

“You are going to be the last, final person interviewed,” said Druese, an obviously intended sneer on his broad face. “Then, we can hopefully make a quick choice on who is to be hired.”

At that moment, the door opened and a huge, stocky man with abundant snow-white hair entered with vigorous steps.

Johann Eimer walked over to Hans, who had leaped to his feet, introduced himself, and offered his large hand. Once Hans had shaken it, the Director swiftly made his way to the head of the table and seated himself.

Once the applicant was also seated, the questions and answers began.

“I see from your records that you finished medical school in Budapest and interned up in Prague,” smiled Eimer. “And for the last ten years you have had a private psychiatric practice in Bosnia. Many parts of our Danubian Federation have contributed to your education and professional experience. You have not been limited to only one location. But tell me this: why are you desirous of this technical post in electrowave therapy?

Hans pondered carefully before giving an answer.

“Although my work has been mainly in analysis of neurosis, I recognize that the most recent progress in psychiatry has been in the area of microwave treatment and diagnosis of the brain. Use of electronic apparati in my personal office has convinced me that it would be a benefit to my skills to work on the frontier of brain wave correction and harmonization. That is where great strides and progress is promised.

“This institution happens to be the best place in the Federation for such training and experience. So, I have offered myself for the vacant position in wave therapy that has been advertised in the psychiatric journals. My ambition is to be able to add something to this exciting new field of work.”

Next, it was the unfriendly Fritz Druese who posed a question.

“Have you any affiliation or interest in the so-called depth psychology of the Zurich school?”

Surprised and taken aback, the one being grilled decided that it was best for him to be candid.

“Perhaps it should be termed a hobby that I keep on the side line. I believe that you are referring to the area of probing the unconscious and theorizing about it. My curiosity has often been drawn to the novel ideas and methods of psychoanalysis. I have found much more value in the writings of Carl Jung than in those of Sigmund Freud, I must confess. But depth psychoanalysis has never affected my personal practice of psychiatric therapy, not by even a trifle. I remain a scientific pragmatist, using whatever appears to have immediate prospects for my patients.”

Gunst smiled pleasantly at his questioner, then turned his dark chestnut eyes on the Director.

Dr. Eimer followed with a number of technical inquiries dealing with the professional habits of the man from Sarajevo.

Druese said not a single word more, permitting the interview to finish in a short time.

The applicant was dismissed so he could return to his hotel.

Since a decision had to be made very soon, Hans decided to stay in Vienna until the weather cleared and he learned where he stood in the contest for the job.

Hans was standing in his hotel room at the one window, looking out at the descending snowflakes, when he heard a knock at the door. Who could it be? he wondered as he stepped vigorously forward and opened it.

What a surprise! It was no one but Johann Eimer, the clinic director.

“I have some good news,” said the bulky man in a heavy winter Rock. “You shall be the one who is hired. I convinced the entire board of trustees that your are the best of the applicants to take over our Mikrowellen operations. You possess the right knowledge, experience, and curiosity about the new.”

Shaken and dumbfounded, the chosen candidate ushered his new employer in and asked him to take the one sofa chair.

Still overwhelmed, Hans continued standing up as the older man began to speak again.

“I was impressed by your career experience even before we met today. You have studied and worked in several countries of the Danubian Federation. It became apparent to me that your life and character are much like mine. I, too, have practice psychiatry in more than a single land.

“This is what I am getting at: you aspire to combining our electronically advanced technology of the 1960’s with analytic therapy into the depths of the mind. That is precisely my own model of how the future of psychiatry has to develop. There must be a unification of wave treatment of the brain with exploration of the unconscious mind. Yes, we have to attempt to join together modern electronic machines and the so-called “talking cures”. That, for me, is the only road for the advancement of our profession. Both the “hard” and the “soft” aspects must have their place in the mosaic that shall be created in time to come.

“Of course, my assistant Dr. Druese disagrees violently with any such mixed approach. I had to go beyond him and plead personally to the trustees to obtain you for the open post.

“So, be warned. Fritz is an enemy of your approach, and therefore of mine as well. He is a person who deserves to be treated with caution at all times. It is a tragedy that I do not have the authority to dismiss the man. Do you understand what I am telling you?”

Hans nodded that he did.

The Director unexpectedly jumped to his feet with startling energy. “I must be going. Remember, my friend, I shall be depending on you in many ways in the days ahead.”

With that, Eimer made a sudden exit, leaving Hans to ponder the possible outline of his future in Vienna.

At the end of the World War in 1918, both Germany and Austria-Hungary went from monarchy to republican government. The latter empire turned into a federation of autonomous republics: Austria, Hungary, Bohemia, Slovakia, Transylvania, Galicia, Slovenia, Croatia, Dalmatia, and Bosnia. Vienna remained the central great metropolis, serving as capital of the whole federation.

Over forty years of general European peace had allowed enormous strides forward in science to be achieved. This was especially true in human psychology and psychiatry. Vienna held the mantel of world center for technological innovation in electronic treatment of the brain and nervous system. In the forefront of these achievements in healing the mind stood the Anhalt under the leadership of Dr. Johann Eimer.

Moving to Vienna, Hans Gunst became an integral part of this renowned institution. His special area was that of microwave treatment. Through his first months of work, he grew acquainted with the advanced, pioneering apparati being tested and used at the clinic. The spring was a busy and happy one for him.

But then something happened that created problems for him in early June.

Director Johann Eimer called Hans into his office and gave him some startling news.

“Word has come from Zurich that Dr. Carl Jung has just died. Our entire profession is in shock. The question for us is now this: what should the Anhalt do about attendance at the funeral? If I myself made the journey there, it might be interpreted by some as institutional support by us for depth psychology and psychoanalysis. That might have terrible effects on public support for our research in other areas, such as microwave therapy.

“Hans, I am going to ask you to be our informal representative to the gathering of the Jungians in Zurich. In that way, our Anhalt need not be directly involved in any way.

“Are you willing to make the trip for me and our clinic?”

“Of course, sir,” replied the new employee with alacrity. “I would be most happy to do that for you and the Anhalt, sir.”

Early the next morning, Hans took a Flugzeug from Vienna to Zurich.

Through the obsequies and the memorial for the pioneer genius of deep analysis psychology, Hans Gunst was in a kind of profound trance. He listened to the words of the devoted followers of a worldwide movement of Jungians who worked in a multitude of different fields and professions.

The young psychiatrist from Vienna met a number of writers whose works he had read over recent years.

How many things about Carl Jung I never knew! Hans told himself in awe and wonder.

The finale was a wake and reception to honor the memory of the movement’s founder.

Hans could not remember later who it was that asked him a question that resulted in a sudden self-revelation for himself.

The words seemed to strike him from out of the blue. He came to recognize them as a pivotal turning point in the course of his thinking. The question and his unguarded statement took only a brief moment of time.

“So, you work under Johann Eimer. That is most interesting. Since he is one of us Jungians, I presume that you must be that as well.”

“Yes,” was the simple, instantaneous, almost automatic reply from the surprised Hans.

I have not read any article from Johann in years. Is he still working on his concept of Siegfried as an archetype of personality? There was a lot of promise in his plan to apply Jung’s concept of human consciousness to the mythical German hero. What became of his ambitious project? Is Johann still involved in working it all out?”

What answer was possible for the stunned and overwhelmed Hans Gunst to give?

“I believe that Dr. Eimer must still be busy with the formulations,” smiled the wave therapist. “Any final publication of his ideas will have to come forth in the future.”

His questioner was soon conversing with someone else at the wake, while Hans stood alone, considering the meaning and implications of what he had just learned about the Director of the Anhalt where he worked.

The young psychiatrist returned to Vienna with an invisible flame burning at the center of his mind and thought. As if it were a force from another realm of being, this idea of a character archetype based on the myth of Siegfried firm hold of the focused attention of Hans. He somehow realized that this unexpected revelation held personal meaning for himself.

First of all, he had to find out what Johann Eimer had already accomplished on this enticing, fascinating theme of Siegfried. Why had he not finished or published some work on that subject? Was it fear of how that might affect his personal career and directorship of the clinic? There was a difficult riddle here that Hans longed to solve.

The head of the Anhalt proved to be highly curious about the funeral in Zurich, questioning the returned psychiatrist about what he had witnessed and heard on his trip there.

Sitting with the Director in the latter’s office, Hans decided to bring up the singularly unusual topic that had come to consume his own thought.

“I was told, though I cannot remember by whom, that you have been for years been preparing a study on a new, unexplored personality archetype. It was mentioned by someone there that you have chosen the figure of Siegfried as your model of European modern man. That is a fascinating, intriguing concept, sir.

“I must tell you, that from the time when I first considered applying for my present position here, that hope of working with you in analytic interpretation of general personality types inspired and motivated me.

“Learning of your interest in the image of Siegfried in the Western mind, I have been increasingly eager to make a proposal to you, sir. I ask that you consider me as a sort of associate or co-worker in your Siegfried project.

“Could we, together, put together some theorization on the concept of a Siegfried personality? I have come to believe that such a concept would enjoy wide resonance in our field.”

The Director stared at him a considerable time before addressing the offer from his subordinate.

“My view of Siegfried is original and uniquely my own. I asked myself what motivated the heroic actions of this courageous man. After years of consideration, it became clear to me that the extraordinary power growing from knowledge was the goal that he was seeking in all his many adventures. At every turn of his life story, the secrets hidden in the universe were the goals that he hunted for.

“Yet the most vital and important knowledge of all, that of oneself, he never obtained, though this was the central key to everything else. Therefore, his tale was doomed to be a tragedy ending in defeat.

“What he finally succeeded in possessing was the curse of human, not divine knowledge. So that every time Siegfried won or was granted new knowledge, it turned out to be something like a poison for him.

“What do you think of my analytic interpretation of the hero, Hans? Does it reflect the character of our dominant psychological archetype in modern Europe?”

The listener to all this felt too overwhelmed with new thoughts to make any comment at once. Only after a considerable pause could he express his delight at what he had just heard.

“What ingenious insight!” he gushed, his eyes beaming. “You must allow me to read what you have written.”

Johann Eimer grinned. “All that I have are unorganized notes, scattered about here and there. So far, I have not composed any article with a form to it. But I will lend them to you, so that with your assistance the two of us may succeed in constructing a coherent presentation of these themes and ideas. What do you say to becoming my partner and co-author?”

Acceptance by Hans was immediate and enthusiastic.

That evening, he received the delivery of a large box full of papers at his downtown apartment. There was no rest or sleeping for him that night as he buried himself in the Jungian terms and ideas that they contained.

Hans was astounded at what he found in the folk legends about Siegfried and his exploits. After a day of work, he related his discovery of archetypal patterns to the Director in the latter’s office.

“Each time that Siegfried sought and obtained important knowledge, it turned into a disaster for him. Take the matter of his own father’s murder. Killed before his son was born, vengeance for his father became a mad obsession for Siegfried. His step-father and tutor was the dwarf named Regin, an immoral monster who hid behind a mask of benevolence and pretended to be a giver of knowledge.

“Siegfried killed the murderer with a magic sword provided him by Regin, not seeing or understanding the selfish motives of his supposed protector. Thus a general pattern was set that followed the hero through his entire life. Every victory that was generated by new, expanded knowledge ended in eventual defeat in the long run.

“The struggle that the hero had with Fafuir, the dragon, is a clear example of this same pattern of knowledge leading to failure. I believe that I located the key to what that legend means. Siegfried was never informed by his stepfather that Fafuir was, in reality, the brother of his teacher and guardian, Regin. Had Siegfried known more than a fragment of the truth, his fate could have been different.

“Siegfried never learned that the brothers of Regin were metamorphs able to change their form and shape at will. This ignorance proved to be a ruinous factor in the downfall of the hero. Fafuir and his brother, Otr, could turn into animals, then back again.

“One day while out hunting, the divine trickster, Loki, killed Otr, taking him for the wild beast called the otter ever after. The father of the victim demanded blood money for this slaying by accident. Loki satisfied him by filling the animal’s skin with pure gold. The trickster god Loki took the golden treasure for this from a small and weak dwarf. In anger, the little creature took vengeance by placing a curse on a precious ring of gold that was then stolen by Loki, dooming whoever comes into possession of it.

“This curse led to the death of the father of the two dwarves. Fafeur killed his own father in order to take possession of the golden ring. In order to preserve his hold on it, Fafeur metamorphed himself into a fiery dragon.

“Greedy for all this gold, Regin convinced Siegfried that he must kill this rich dragon, and taught him how to accomplish it. The hero received the secret knowledge of how to kill the dragon, but was not told of the connection between Regin and Fafeur, or the true reason for this action he was to carry out. The hidden plan of his stepfather was to kill Siegfried once he had served his purpose as an instrument for winning the treasure.

“The success of this strategy of Regin depended upon keeping Siegfried ignorant of the most important aspect of what he was involved in.

“So, Siegfried’s combination of ignorance and knowledge reflects a general human archetype present in human beings everywhere, at all times, but particularly active in our Western civilization here in Europe.

“Following the directions of Regin, Siegfried hid in a hole that he dug on a path. When the dragon passed on it, the hero jumped out and stabbed it in the heart. Following instructions given him by Regin, he cuts out and roasts this magical organ. By chance he burned his fingers and put them into his mouth because of the pain. This taste of the dragon’s blood enabled Siegfried to interpret and understand what the birds flying above him were saying. These birds gave him a fateful warning that Regin intended to kill him very soon.

“This then gave Siegfried a motive to behead the perfidious Regin. After the hero drank the blood of his guardian teacher, he took away the treasure of Fafuir, including the golden ring that contained the unknown, invisible curse.

Siegfried now possessed the magical ring due to what he had discovered about the treacherous nature of Regin, but he remained ignorant of the full meaning of what he had done and experienced. The partial increase in his knowledge had not brought him complete salvation, because he lacked the final piece of the puzzle.”

Hans stopped and stared at Johann Eimer. “That seems to me to be a universal human archetype.”

The Director made no verbal response, but merely gave a nod.

Hans stayed awake all night reading and rereading over and over the beginning of an article on the Siegfried archetype that he planned to submit to several journals.

He arrive at the Anhalt before dawn, hoping to see Johann Eimer before the day’s ordinary business began.

On his approaching the office of the Director, he was surprised to see Fritz Druese walking out with a bulging notebook under his arm.

“Gunst,” said the Assistant Director without any greeting. “Do you know anything about his condition?”

“What do you mean?” asked the surprised psychiatrist.

“It appears, then, that you are ignorant of the situation. I might as well be the one to inform you of the Schlagfluss he suffered in the early hours of today, long before dawn. I was present with him in this office when the stroke hit him. I administered first aid, but we had to summon a Krankenwagen and have him transported to the Herz Center for monitoring. He has been sedated, I was just informed by telefon. His stroke was serious and massive, they told me.”

Hans felt wave after wave of shock pass through him. “Do you know what his present condition and prognosis is?” he asked in a trembling voice.

“As far as I know, our chief remains quiet and unconscious. He has been placed in the extraordinary care section. I am remaining in the Director’s office in order to receive any calls from the hospital and take care of administrative matters that are apt to come up today. That is my duty assignment in case of emergency. We are all to go about our daily tasks and routines until further notice. That is all I can tell you for now.”

With that, Druese went back into the Director’s office, closing the door behind him.

What now? wondered the young man who had had no sleep that night.

After a moment of worried thought, he returned to the Mikrowellen Sektion to begin his day’s work.

Only after his work was finished late that afternoon was Hans free to go to the Heart Center.

He was surprised to find that the patient was now fully conscious and resting in an ordinary private room. When he entered, Johann looked up at him with a strange smile on his face.

“Come over and talk with me,” muttered the Director. “There are certain matters you should know about.”

The visitor was soon seated beside the hospital bed.

“How are you feeling?” began Hans.

“Surprisingly, better,” answered the other. “Advanced medications have had a marvelous effect in restoring my heart to normal functioning. I blame myself for what happened last night: I should not have let myself grow so exited.”

“Excited?” said Gunst with surprise.

The older man gave him a focused, penetrating look. “I was having a heated discussion with the Assistant Director. We had reached the point of a sharp quarrel when the event occurred. I had reached a condition where this became all but inevitable, I now understand. Could it have been prevented through foresight? I do not know for sure. It is impossible to say.”

“What were you discussing so vehemently, may I ask?”

Eimer made a grimace. “He has a plan to convert the Anhalt into a profit-based and oriented enterprise. Fritz proposes to have the trustees surrender our charter as a non-profit charity for one that makes us an ordinary, common business operating like an ordinary corporation. I, of course, totally oppose that concept and blueprint for our future. But he has the board of trustees discussing and considering such a change. Fritz has displayed amazing ambition to carry out his scheme.”

“The two of you must have been some vehement disagreement here last night.”

The Director seemed to be biting his lower lip.

“No,” declared Hans. “It is the Assistant Director who is to blame for causing you to suffer what you did.”

The two looked at each other in silence for a time, as if reading each other’s thoughts.

Gunst soon excused himself and left, his mind boiling over with anger at the one whom he blamed for causing what had happened to his mentor and friend.

No sleep came to Hans till a few hours before morning.

He awoke with his mind made up on what his responsibility was. A showdown, that was inevitable now. As soon as he reached the Anstalt, his destination became the Director’s office, now occupied by the usurper.

Fritz Druese sat behind the executive desk, like an emperor of all he surveyed. But before the intruding psychiatrist could say a word, a critical piece of news emerged from the lips of his opponent.

“He is gone,” he murmured. “The director died early today, an hour before dawn. It was a surprise to everyone.”

Hans had a sense of a thick fog lifting. Not only was he astounded and dumbfounded, but a feeling of instant enlightenment seemed to occur for him.

All at once, he knew what had to be and what his course must become. Everything was clear with the bright light from a higher plane.

“Was it another Schlag?” asked Hans.

The other, still sitting, nodded yes.

“I intend to submit my immediate resignation,” announced Hans Gunst.

Now it was the turn of Fritz Druese to look surprised. But he instantly re-established control.

“That is a wise move on your part, Dr. Gunst. I have to inform you that there will be no place for someone of your temperament here in the future. We are going to have only “hard” scientists, not intellectual dreamers. Sad to say, Johann Eimer represented the obsolete past of our discipline. And I believe that he made you his favorite because of a similar strain he uncovered in you.” The new autocratic head of the Anstalt sneered. “You will find it happier elsewhere, I trust.”

“I shall return and rebuild my private practice in Sarajevo,” said the other, surprising himself. “There are many possibilities there that I never explored, but are visible to me now.”

With that, Hans turned about and made an abrupt exit.

Hans read the typed summary he had written for his first article on the archetype he had worked out with Johann Eimer.

“The ignorance, incognizance, and nescience of Siegfried was the cause of his death brought about by the Valkyrie named Brunhilde. He had a long time before promised to marry her. But the mad anger of Odin imprisoned her in a ring of fire from Siegfried succeeded in freeing her. In his blindness, the rescuer gave her to his friend Gunther to be his bride. What was left for the angry Brunhilde to do but have her betrayer, Siegfried, killed?

“Vengeance was taken by her for the sake of a love imperceptible and unknown to the hero himself.”

Hans looked up as the Luftschiff descended between the peaks overlooking the capital of Bosnia.

With a deep, philosophical sigh, Hans Gunst realized how even the best knowledge is always inadequate and insufficient. Yet what was a human to do but apply the meager amount that he possessed.

The psychiatrist vowed to stay away from Vienna as much as he could. He would try to map out the Siegfried Archetype here in old Sarajevo.

Hans was hopeful that he would move the boundary between knowledge and darkness away from the latter and toward the former.

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