Fish

Detail of an illustration of a solar barge on page 55 of Carl Jung’s The Red Book. Translated, the complete text on the page reads:

One word that was never spoken.
One light that was never lit up.
An unparalleled confusion.
And a road without end.

According to translator Sonu Shamdasani, the solar barge “was seen as the typical means of movement of the sun” in ancient Egypt. “The Sun God protected the barge against the monster Aphophis, who attempted to swallow the solar barge as it traveled across the heavens.”

From Twentyfourbit:
In a news post on the official Smashing Pumpkins site, JillySP describes Corgan’s turn with the book: Dr. Morgan Stebbins, psychoanalyst, handed him the book and Corgan opened it to this painting. “Corgan began to free-associate his reaction to the painting: to the Egyptian boat, on the river of mortality, shadowed by a giant fish with teeth (‘I am a Pisces,’ he laughed), to the myth of Orpheus. Not even two minutes into the discussion, Corgan joked, ‘Do I need to be committed?’” (More)


Paul Klee Sinbad the Sailor 1923

Paul Klee     The Goldfish     1925

Paul Klee and Carl Jung with both Swiss; Klee was born in 1879 (four years later than Jung).   I can find no information on whether they new knew each other or ever met.    Both clearly had Fish on their mind at about the same time.

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An anecdote of Jung and his interest in fish symbolism can be found in this blog by dream expert Robet Moss:

When Jung was immersed in his study of the symbolism of the fish in Christianity, alchemy and world mythology, the theme started leaping at him in everyday life.

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I asked Michelle Frantom to comment on this painting of hers:


The fish appeared during the painting of one of my cave images. It was an irrational but compelling impulse which, as is usual in my art practice, I followed.

I went in search of source material. There was a specific type of fish I had seen in my mind and I discovered that it was a primordial specimen. Many years and much research later I have realised that this fish is my initial visualisation of a the ‘terrible mother’ archetype I have been working with, specifically during my research and only recently identified as such.

During my research I also discovered that one of the negative faces of the mother archetype is represented by the ‘entwining animal….a large fish’. (Jung, 1990: 82) Interestingly the cave itself is the non-anthropomorphic symbol of the mother archetype because it represents the ‘womb’. And there is also the association of the ‘mother’ archetype with the uroborous. So in effect, this is my first significant brush with this archetype, manifested in one of its most primitive forms.

People who view this painting are disturbed by the fish illogically swimming in mid-air towards the cave entrance, myself included. Perhaps because it defies gravity or maybe because it is so very primitive and violently uncaring. This fish represents the darkness of an unconscious realm that humanity fears. The painting shows the chaotic and destructive aspect of the feminine being released from its own generative source in the cave of the womb. It unleashes the archetype of the terrible mother into the light of consciousness where it can no longer hide in the dark and be denied.


A Cave by The Sea; Michelle Frantom

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2 Responses to Fish

  1. The symbolism, or the archetype, of the ‘big fish’ is well documented, in Judeo-Christian myth as Jonah and the whale, in Celto-Christian culture in the Voyage of St Brendan, in the Pacific cultures, in ‘Moby Dick’……I would be safe in assuming every culture on the planet somewhere, just like every other archetype. So why are people still surprised that these images have an effect on our psyches? I will share my own image of the ‘big fish’ with you if you want to see it…..

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