America’s Wotan

America’s Wotan

Odin´s throne with Huginn and Munnin, by Wolfgang Sauber


In 1936, C.G. Jung wrote a very important and very timely essay for that particular period of German history, simply called Wotan. At the end of World War I, Germany was left destitute after the Treaty of Versailles. Thousands were left unemployed, inflation was out of control, and people were starving. Germany was forced to pay reparations for the war, as well as hand over territories that contained important economic resources. Jung watched from Switzerland as these conditions brought about, in his estimation, a dark eruption of the German unconscious. The “ancient god of storm and frenzy, the long quiescent Wotan” awoke from his slumber. Jung likened it to the eruption of an extinct volcano that had lay dormant for millennia. There is no need to go into the ensuing dark details. We are well aware, if we have studied twentieth century history at all, what malevolence occurred.

In his essay, Jung calls Wotan

a restless wanderer who creates unrest and stirs up strife, now here, now there, and works magic. He was soon changed by Christianity into the devil, and only lived on in fading local traditions as a ghostly hunter who was seen with his retinue, flickering like a will o’ the wisp through the stormy night.

Wotan is really the Germanic Hermes, but more his darker nature. Hermes is the wanderer, the traveler between worlds, flitting back and forth “through the stormy night,” leading souls from the Upper World to the Underworld. Hermes is a trickster, whether in male or female form. Hermes is a thief and and a cunning liar, even able to fool the great Zeus. We see many skillful deceivers in our culture right now that are just as cunning, and exemplify Hermes’ trickery to a tee.

Jung mentions in his essay that

The Romans identified Wotan with Mercury, but his character does not really correspond to any Roman or Greek god, although there are certain resemblances. He is a wanderer like Mercury, for instance, he rules over the dead like Pluto and Kronos, and is connected with Dionysus by his emotional frenzy, particularly in its mantic aspect.

Mercury, of course, is the Roman Hermes. Jung interprets Wotan/Hermes as an Ergreifer, one who seizes or possesses. Ergriffenheit is “the state of being seized or possessed.” Ergriffenheit was on full display during the Nazi regime. Millions of Germans were seized by the power of Wotan, according to Jung.

Even today, millions have been seized by an unexplained force, where masses follow politicians even though they have unabashedly lied and committed crimes. Is this the same kind of power that mesmerized the Germans in the 1930’s?

Currently, in America, there are phenomena occurring that may indicate that we are experiencing some degree of this state of possession, trickery, and the eruption of a brooding darkness. Can Hermes be making his presence known once again? Immediately, one would think to connect this idea to the danger of Donald Trump, but I see a darker, even more malevolent force stirring within the chaotic maelstrom of American culture. It is possible there is even a concerted effort involved. One thing is certain, there is a volcanic fury that has just begun to erupt that could be devastating, unless it can be channeled in some way for the good of our society.

I have identified Hermes as what I call the World Daimon, and that Hermes and the World Soul are mirror images of one another. This is a macrocosmic notion based on a microcosmic relationship. As above, so below.

According to Henry Corbin, the human soul is individuated not through the union with a physical body (as in Aristotle) but by becoming a perfectly polished mirror of its angel in a strictly one-to-one relationship. We realize our virtual angelicity through a progressive illumination attained on earth; we are called, by right of our origin and if we consent, to an angelomorphosis (Robert Avens, The Subtle Realm: Corbin, Sufism, Swedenborg).

Following this idea, the World Soul and the World Daimon are images of each other. Also, both have their dark aspects, which we are again experiencing right now. Just as a human being can be seized or possessed by a malevolent force, say in the case of a megalomaniacal personality, so too can the World Soul become seized or possessed. This has occurred many times throughout history, most recently during the dark days of the Third Reich.

In my estimation, the Anima Mundi is Aphrodite. I say this because, from the union of Hermes and Aphrodite emerged Hermaphrodite, the mythical androgyne who holds such an important place in ancient mythology, religion, and alchemy. It symbolizes the culmination of the magnum opus in alchemy, the creation of the lapis philosophorum. Jung claimed the crowned hermaphrodite symbolized the Self that has transcended ego-consciousness. It is the perfect symbol for the relationship of the Anima Mundi and the Daemon Mundi

I realize this sounds fantastic, but we are dealing with ancient psychological forces, not metaphysical entities off in some other realm. These forces are very real and dwell within the human psyche. We attempt to think of them imaginatively and mythologically.

As things continue to transpire, we continue to work to overcome ourselves, for these dark forces can manifest through any of us. We must learn self-control, self-realization, and the wisdom these bring. We must make the choice of non-violence. Only in this way can mankind quell the red tide of mass destruction.

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2 thoughts on “America’s Wotan

  1. James Hillman championed the Neoplatonic concept of Aphrodite as the Soul of the World in his book The Thought of Heart and the Soul of the World. I did a comprehensive analysis of the myth of Hermes stealing Apollo’s cattle and posit that myth as a mythic base for ecopsychology in my book Hermes, Ecopsychology, and Complexity Theory, which is vol. 4 of The Dairy Farmer’s Guide to the Universe: Jung, Hermes, and Ecopsychology. Hermes can lead the way or lead astray as god of advertising, diplomates, and psychologists. He is close to the body and the feminine, but is fundamentally about the liminal space between things. Nature has both constructive and destructive forces, and human nature is unique in its ability to so fully manipulate nature for our species’ ends and in our ability to generate mythic concepts that take nature to both angelic and demonic dimensions. Hermes is associated with the myth-making ability of humans.

  2. Thank you very much, Dr. Merritt, for your comments, and for reading my essay.

    I am aware of Hillman’s work on the Anima Mundi. He has greatly influenced my own thinking. What do you think of my thoughts on Hermes, and how he is connected to what we are seeing in the world today? Do you agree with my estimation of Hermes as World Daimon?

    Happy New Year,


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