Cronus Swallows His Children

Cronus Swallows His Children

Saturn, Jupiter’s father, devours one of his sons, Neptune, by Peter Paul Rubens



Cronus was the youngest of the twelve Titans, the offspring of Gaia and Uranus. Cronus took his own sister, Rhea, also a Titan, as his wife. The union of Cronus and Rhea was a very special one. They produced several of the most powerful gods in the Greek pantheon: Demeter, Hades, Hera, Hestia, Poseidon and Zeus. Hesiod tells us in The Theogony that Cronus was very cunning. He was the most terrible of all the Titans (ll. 116-138). Cronus hated his father, Uranus, because he was cruel to his children. Cronus’ mother, Gaia, pleaded with her sons to punish Uranus for his evil ways. Cronus was the only one willing to do the deed. She fashioned a sickle with jagged teeth, made from grey flint and gave it to Cronus. When Uranus came to lay with Gaia that night, Cronus emasculated him with the adamantine sickle and threw his members into the sea.

Cronus and his wife, Rhea, became the most powerful gods at this time, beginning what is known as The Golden Age in Greek mythology, a primordial era of peace and prosperity. At some point, it was prophesied by Gaia and Uranus that one of Cronus’ children would overthrow him. To prevent this, Cronus swallowed each of his children at the time of their birth. When it was time for Zeus to be born, Rhea devised a plan to deceive Cronus and save her son from being devoured. Rhea gave birth to Zeus on the island of Crete. She gave Cronus a stone wrapped in swaddling clothes, which is known as the Omphalos Stone, and kept Zeus hidden from his father in a cave. Thinking it was his son, Cronus swallowed the stone.

When Zeus was fully grown, his grandmother, Gaia, gave him an emetic that Zeus administered to Cronus, causing all the children he had swallowed to be vomited from him. The Omphalos Stone was also spewed forth. Zeus placed this stone at “Pytho under the glens of Mount Parnassus to be a sign to mortal men” (Wikipedia). Finally, Zeus and his siblings overthrew the Titans and became the supreme gods.

The myth of Cronus swallowing his children speaks to the idea of wholeness, integration, oneness, etc. It is the nature of the psyche to be multifarious, being composed of many forces and powers we call archetypes. Movements toward oneness, such as Jung’s ideas of integration and individuation, are allusions to the myth of Cronus swallowing his children. Jung’s idea of integration seems influenced by Christian monotheism, which also attempts to swallow all others in a quest for the One God. In the psyche, the many powers must cease their individuality and be integrated into a supreme Self in the fully-individuated human being. There is no room for the variegated powers and forces to manifest themselves as themselves.

When Cronus swallowed his children, they were in a dark place, comparable to the unconscious. When monotheistic movements swallow all other gods, they are banished to the darkness of unconsciousness, where, if continually suppressed, they eventually rear their heads as complexes and diseases.

We are creatures imbued with many powers within us. If we ignore them, we fall into great peril. Let us not be like Cronus.

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