Saturday, November 15, 2008

The Nixie of the Millpond

Excerpt from Erel Shalit's Enemy, Cripple & Beggar:
Shadows in the Hero's Path

The Nixie of the Millpond

“In the marvelous tale ‘The Nixie of the Pond’,” writes Neumann, the wife “must wait until the moon is full again. Until then she must silently circle about the pond, or she must spin her spindle full. Only when the time is ‘fulfilled’ does knowledge emerge as illumination or enlightenment.”59

The circling about the pond implies a lunar attitude towards the unconscious, just like dreams, “as manifestations of unconscious processes… rotate or circumambulate round the centre.”60 It would be neglectful, I believe, to refrain from retelling this wonderful tale, adapted from the Grimm Brothers:61
Once upon a time there was a miller who lived with his wife in great happiness. They had money and land, and their prosperity increased every year. But ill-luck comes like a thief in the night. As their wealth had increased so did it again decrease, year by year, and at last the miller could hardly call the mill in which he lived his own. He was in great distress, and when he lay down after his day’s work, he found no rest, but tossed about in his bed, full of worry. One morning he rose before daybreak and went out into the open air, thinking that perhaps there his heart might become lighter. As he was stepping over the milldam, the first sunbeam was just breaking forth, and he heard a rippling sound in the pond. He turned round and perceived a beautiful woman, rising slowly out of the water. Her long hair, which she was holding off her shoulders with her soft hands, fell down on both sides, and covered her white body. He soon saw that she was the nixie of the millpond, and in his fright did not know whether he should run away or stay where he was. But the nixie made her sweet voice heard, called him by his name, and asked him why he was so sad? The miller was at first struck dumb, but when he heard her speak so kindly, he took heart, and told her how he had formerly lived in wealth and happiness, but that now he was so poor that he did not know what to do. “Be easy,” answered the nixie, “I will make you richer and happier than you have ever been before, only you must promise to give me the young thing which has just been born in your house.” “What else can that be,” thought the miller, “but a young puppy or kitten?” and he promised her what she desired. The nixie descended into the water again, and he hurried back to his mill, consoled and in good spirits. He had not yet reached it, when the maid-servant came out of the house, and cried to him to rejoice, for his wife had given birth to a little boy. The miller stood as if struck by lightning; he saw very well that the cunning nixie had been aware of it, and had cheated him. Hanging his head, he went up to his wife’s bedside and when she said, “Why do you not rejoice over the fine boy?” he told her what had befallen him, and what kind of a promise he had given to the nixie. “Of what use to me are riches and prosperity?” he added, “if I am to lose my child; but what can I do?” Even the relatives, who had come to wish them joy, did not know what to say. In the meantime prosperity again returned to the miller’s house. All that he undertook succeeded. It was as if presses and coffers filled themselves of their own accord, and as if money multiplied nightly in the cupboards. It was not long before his wealth was greater than it had ever been before. But he could not rejoice over it untroubled, for the bargain which he had made with the nixie tormented his soul. Whenever he passed the millpond, he feared she might ascend and remind him of his debt. He never let the boy himself go near the water. “Beware,” he said to him, “if you do but touch the water, a hand will rise, seize you, and draw you down.” But as year after year went by and the nixie did not show herself again, the miller began to feel at ease. The boy grew up to be a youth and was apprenticed to a huntsman. When he had learnt everything, and had become an excellent huntsman, the lord of the village took him into his service. In the village lived a beautiful and true-hearted maiden, who pleased the huntsman, and when his master perceived that, he gave him a little house, the two were married, lived peacefully and happily, and loved each other with all their hearts.

One day the huntsman was chasing a deer; and when the animal turned aside from the forest into the open country, he pursued it and at last shot it. He did not notice that he was now in the neighborhood of the dangerous millpond, and went, after he had disemboweled the stag, to the water, in order to wash his blood-stained hands. Scarcely, however, had he dipped them in than the nixie ascended, smilingly wound her dripping arms around him, and drew him quickly down under the waves, which closed over him. When it was evening, and the huntsman did not return home, his wife became alarmed. She went out to seek him, and as he had often told her that he had to be on his guard against the snares of the nix, and dared not venture into the neighborhood of the millpond, she already suspected what had happened. She hastened to the water, and when she found his hunting-pouch lying on the shore, she could no longer have any doubt of the misfortune. Lamenting her sorrow, and wringing her hands, she called on her beloved by name, but in vain. She hurried across to the other side of the pond, and called him anew; she reviled the nixie with harsh words, but no answer followed. The surface of the water remained calm, only the crescent moon stared steadily back at her. The poor woman did not leave the pond. With hasty steps, she paced round and round it, without resting a moment, sometimes in silence, sometimes uttering a loud cry, sometimes softly sobbing. At last her strength came to an end, she sank down to the ground and fell into a heavy sleep. Presently a dream took possession of her.

She was anxiously climbing upwards between great masses of rock; thorns and briars caught her feet, the rain beat in her face, and the wind tossed her long hair about. When she had reached the summit, quite a different sight presented itself to her; the sky was blue, the air soft, the ground sloped gently downwards, and on a green meadow, gay with flowers of every color, stood a pretty cottage. She went up to it and opened the door; there sat an old woman with white hair, who beckoned to her kindly. At that very moment, the poor woman awoke, day had already dawned, and she at once resolved to act in accordance with her dream. She laboriously climbed the mountain; everything was exactly as she had seen it in the night. The old woman received her kindly, and pointed out a chair on which she might sit. “You must have met with a misfortune,” she said, “since you have sought out my lonely cottage.” With tears, the woman related what had befallen her. “Be comforted,” said the old woman, “I will help you. Here is a golden comb for you. Tarry till the full moon has risen, then go to the millpond, seat yourself on the shore, and comb your long black hair with this comb. When you have done, lay it down on the bank, and you will see what will happen.” The woman returned home, but the time till the full moon came, passed slowly. At last the shining disc appeared in the heavens, then she went out to the millpond, sat down and combed her long black hair with the golden comb, and when she had finished, she laid it down at the water’s edge. It was not long before there was a movement in the depths, a wave rose, rolled to the shore, and bore the comb away with it. In not more than the time necessary for the comb to sink to the bottom, the surface of the water parted, and the head of the huntsman arose. He did not speak, but looked at his wife with sorrowful glances. At the same instant, a second wave came rushing up, and covered the man’s head. All had vanished, the millpond lay peaceful as before, and nothing but the face of the full moon shone on it.

Full of sorrow, the woman went back, but again the dream showed her the cottage of the old woman. Next morning she again set out and complained of her woes to the wise woman. The old woman gave her a golden flute, and said, “Tarry till the full moon comes again, then take this flute; play a beautiful air on it, and when thou hast finished, lay it on the sand; then you will see what will happen.” The wife did as the old woman told her. No sooner was the flute lying on the sand than there was a stirring in the depths, and a wave rushed up and bore the flute away with it. Immediately afterwards the water parted, and not only the head of the man, but half of his body also arose. He stretched out his arms longingly towards her, but a second wave came up, covered him, and drew him down again. “Alas, what does it help me?” said the unhappy woman, “that I should see my beloved, only to lose him again!” Despair filled her heart anew, but the dream led her a third time to the house of the old woman. She set out, and the wise woman gave her a golden spinning-wheel, consoled her and said, “All is not yet fulfilled, tarry until the time of the full moon, then take the spinning-wheel, seat yourself on the shore, and spin the spool full, and when you have done that, place the spinning-wheel near the water, and you will see what will happen.” The woman obeyed all she said exactly; as soon as the full moon showed itself, she carried the golden spinning-wheel to the shore, and span industriously until the flax came to an end, and the spool was quite filled with the threads. No sooner was the wheel standing on the shore than there was a more violent movement than before in the depths of the pond, and a mighty wave rushed up, and bore the wheel away with it. Immediately the head and the whole body of the man rose into the air, in a waterspout. He quickly sprang to the shore, caught his wife by the hand and fled. But they had scarcely gone a very little distance, when the whole pond rose with a frightful roar, and streamed out over the open country. The fugitives already saw death before their eyes, when the woman in her terror implored the help of the old woman, and in an instant they were transformed, she into a toad, he into a frog. The flood which had overtaken them could not destroy them, but it tore them apart and carried them far away.
When the water had dispersed and they both touched dry land again, they regained their human form, but neither knew where the other was; they found themselves among strange people, who did not know their native land. High mountains and deep valleys lay between them. In order to keep themselves alive, they were both obliged to tend sheep. For many long years they drove their flocks through field and forest and were full of sorrow and longing.

When spring had once more broken forth on the earth, they both went out one day with their flocks, and as chance would have it, they drew near each other. They met in a valley, but did not recognize each other; yet they rejoiced that they were no longer so lonely. Henceforth they each day drove their flocks to the same place; they did not speak much, but they felt comforted. One evening when the full moon was shining in the sky, and the sheep were already at rest, the shepherd pulled the flute out of his pocket, and played on it a beautiful but sorrowful air. When he had finished he saw that the shepherdess was weeping bitterly. “Why are you weeping?” he asked. “Alas,” answered she, “thus shone the full moon when I played this air on the flute for the last time, and the head of my beloved rose out of the water.” He looked at her, and it seemed as if a veil fell from his eyes, and he recognized his dear wife, and when she looked at him, and the moon shone in his face she knew him also. They embraced and kissed each other, and no one need ask if they were happy.

We shall not analyze this tale in depth, which has eloquently been done by Verena Kast in The Mermaid in the Pond, but mention certain aspects related to the lunar aspect of the hero’s journey.

The story begins with a turn of the wheel of fortune. The times of prosperity are gone. The miller has lost his happiness and wealth; the sustenance of life is emptying out. The mill of his energy no longer grinds for him; he is depressed and in anxiety. However, as the crisis reaches deep into his night’s insomnia, he searches for a new way. The ray of sun breaks through and he discovers the beautiful woman rising out of the water. He manages to touch and be touched by a “longing to come alive… to integrate the realm of passion into everyday life,”62 i.e., by the libidinal, life-enhancing forces of the unconscious. However, the duality of life’s creative forces is immediately evident; to restore wealth and happiness, she demands the miller sacrifice his newborn son. With her nymphic energies she releases him from depression, but devours hope and intentions for the future, replacing them with anxiety.

The stance vis-à-vis the energies of the unconscious constitutes a constant dilemma for the journeyer through life. The dialogue with the Self and the unconscious, with soul, heart and passion often leads to a conflict between being carried away and a return to old ways. The one may destroy any sense of stability, the other a sense of life; the miller regains his wealth but his soul is tormented.

The son grows up in an illusion of peacefulness and harmony, yet, his huntsman-instinct has not been quenched, and chasing the deer brings him into the danger of life’s energies. Leaving the defenses of his father’s command behind, no longer guarded against the nixie’s snares, his chase comes to an end as he is fully drawn into her embrace.

The tale turns, and the evening calls for the huntsman’s wife to hasten to the pond. The crescent moon stares at her as she is overtaken by the pain of sorrow and the shivers of worry—feelings that make life undeniably present. Without resting, she paces round the pond. The approach to the unconscious now becomes lunar, reflective and circumambulatory.

Circumambulation, according to Jung, is the “exclusive concentration on the centre, the place of creative change,” while “anyone who does not join in the dance, who does not make the circumambulation of the centre .., is smitten with blindness and sees nothing.”63 The huntsman’s wife, the miller’s daughter-in-law, has set out to challenge pre-destined fate. The child-of-future, whom the miller sacrificed in order to regain his wealth, to reestablish his mode of convention, has been drawn into the depths of nature’s danger. The creative change required can be engineered by circling the center. The circumambulation wakes up the inner psychic depths, reached only when away from conscious wakefulness.

Thus, after circling the pond, our heroine is possessed by a dream, leading her to the Wise Old Woman, signifying a more spiritual aspect of the Self’s life-energy than the nixie. The old woman guides her adept on a thorny route through the golden, archetypal stages of the comb, the flute and the spinning wheel. That is, with the comb she conjures up the erotic energies of the nixie, with the flute the feelings of sadness and beauty, and then the sense of meaningful fate.64

The second half of the story takes place in the moonlit night. The erotic, emotional and meaningful energies of life are reconnected with by a feminine, lunar attitude.

While it is the sun-hero’s task to establish and renew an ego distinct from the unconscious, the moon-hero is concerned, rather, with a reflective ego that maintains a living, breathing ego-Self relationship. While the solar aspect of the hero always has to return to consciousness, the lunar hero never fully returns, but will always to some extent remain outside the boundaries of consciousness. The one is characterized by bravery and clarity of mind, linearity of consciousness, the other by reverie and imagination, by the cyclic bending back of reflection, i.e., soul. As Neumann says:
Transformative processes, which is what growth processes are, are subject to the Self and are mirrored in matriarchal consciousness that supports and accompanies them in its particular way. Formative processes, however, in which the initiative and activity rest with the ego, belong to the domain of the masculine, patriarchal spirit.65
There are myths in which both these aspects are echoed, but the cradle of western civilization is based on the dividing characteristic of masculine, solar consciousness, light forcing dark into exile, the Apollonian sun-hero coming to know himself by overcoming the powers of the Great Mother. ‘Know Thyself’ says the insignia at the entrance to Apollo’s temple at Delphi. But the oracle in Delphi originally belonged to Gaia, the Earth. Forcefully, Apollo took hold of the oracle from Gaia’s daughter, Themis, by killing the female dragon-like serpent Python, the guardian of the oracle and the earth-shrine. That is, the oracular powers residing in the generative womb of the Great Mother are captured by the hero who brings them to the constructive use of human ego-identity. In this process of acculturation, however, traces of beheaded serpents are inevitably left behind, bleeding along the roadside, and unheroic traits of character, such as shame, guilt, fear and weakness, are left truncated in the dark. However, as much as knowing is of the ego, there can be no ‘Know Thyself’ without a shadow.

Erel Shalit's
Enemy, Cripple, & Beggar: Shadows in the Hero's Path and his previously published book The Complex: Path of Transformation from Archetype to Ego can be purchased at or by phoning Fisher King Press directly at 1-831-238-7799

59 The Fear of the Feminine, p. 94.
60 CW 12, par. 34.
61 Grimm Brothers, The Complete Grimm’s Fairy Tales, pp. 736-742.
62 The Mermaid in the Pond, p. 45.
63 CW 12, par. 186; CW 11, par. 425.
64 Cf. The Mermaid in the Pond, p. 91ff.
65 The Fear of the Feminine, p. 102f.

Copyright © 2008 Erel Shalit - For permission to reprint see Fisher King Press

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