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Thomas Maples

The Beginning of Life

Fairytales often start by introducing a setting and a group of characters that seem larger than life. Introductions such as “once upon a time there was a king who had a great forest near his palace, full of all kinds of wild animals” (Grimm & Grimm, 1975, p. 612) helps to prompt a reader’s psyche to understand that the story they are about to read is larger than their personal world. The introductions to fairytales often speak to the symbolic content that makes up the collective aspects of the psyche. Larger than life figures, such as kings, queens, princess, princesses, angels, demons, the trickster, the hero, the wild-man, helpless children, stepdaughters, stepsons, the mother and father, the shadow, and other a-priori archetypal symbols help to prime the psyche for the developmental journey it will undertake during its lifespan. The story Siddhartha is no different, (Hesse, 2002) beginning with the following passage:

In the shadow of the house, in the sun on the riverbank by the boats, in the shadow of the sal tree forest, in the shadow of the fig tree, Siddhartha, the beautiful brahmin’s son, the young falcon, grew up, with his friend, the brahmin’s son Govinda. (p. 3)

The introduction to Hesse’s work begins with “the shadow by the house.” If the beginning of a fairy tale suggests the underlying current that drives the plot of a story, Siddhartha must work with the shadow of his unconscious to find a comfortable place of dwelling (a house) within the archetypal Self he has been removed from during that lifetime. The house and the shadow presents a paradox that exists within the psyche of the protagonist, which centers on his inability to find stability in any home until he works his shadow material and finds comfort within himself. Siddhartha’s discontent with himself and the wandering it causes becomes most evident as the plot of the story unfolds; Siddhartha is a wayfarer who is always on the go, unable to find happiness until his soul settles within itself.

Siddhartha’s wayfaring nature is mercurial in nature and suggestive that the archetypal trickster underlies many of the dynamics present in his psyche. During his many travels, he crossed riverbank on a number of occasions, searching for his true nature; yet he was always unable to establish a home and loving relationships. This was no different in his childhood. His wayfaring nature and yearning to discover his true nature caused him to suffer, and these same failures were consistent throughout his adult life. Siddhartha’s family home cast a shadow he needed to resolve, and it was his destiny, as is foretold in the first sentence, to work the shadow his parental home cast upon the riverbank that guided his journey throughout life.

Hesse uses the term shadow in a literary sense to explore the dark, unknown material that is shaded from the sun. However, the term shadow also refers to an archetype that underlies and promotes individuation. In Jungian psychology, the shadow represents an antagonist archetype that prompts individuation to occur. In Hesse’s story, the protagonist has a dark nature underlying his personality that must come to fruition before he can become consciously aware of the daemons that drive his existence. The house Siddhartha grew up in represents an object that impedes the light of the sun from reaching its destination, the river. In this respect, enlightenment is the final goal to be ascertained by working the paradoxical themes the hero must conquer in order to engage his true sense of Self. However, to complete this task, Siddhartha, like all literary protagonists, must pass the tests associated with the hero’s quest (Campbell, 1949). He must sink within the confines of the shadow to find comfort within the home he creates in order realize his Self concept.

Hesse (2002) introduced the archetypal themes of the sun, the river, and the boat in the second part of the sentence. While these archetypal symbols do not hold precedence in the early part of the story, they play a significant role in the journey Siddhartha undertook to individuate. The sun represents the divine presence that Siddhartha aspired towards; the river represents the circularity of life as it flows towards its outcome; the boat informs the reader that Siddhartha must undertake a journey to find an appropriate home in which to house his Self. The sun, shining upon the riverbank, suggests that the archetypal gold Siddhartha seeks exists within the context of the river. It is through these themes, that we as readers are introduced to he undercurrents of plot that foreshadow the way in which Siddhartha’s individuation took place.

In the first few lines of the introduction, the conflict between light and dark is apparent. By amplifying the themes of light and dark, the conscious and unconscious become apparent. Siddhartha sought enlightenment; however, to become enlightened he had to explore his shadow, anima, and the other archetypes present within the collective unconscious in order to make space for his archetypal Self to emerge. The Buddha was an exemplar of the ability consciousness has to achieve an enlightened state. The Buddha achieved Nirvana and was able to transcend the circular journey of reincarnation called Samsara. The journey Siddhartha undertook consisted of realizing Self, which represents the transcendent level of consciousness associated with individuation. Jung (1936/1968) believed that the Self represented a psychical structure that was neither personal nor collective, that linked the polarized themes of the psyche through a process of  symbolic conjoining.

Man cannot walk the rainbow bridge like a god but must go underneath with whatever reflective afterthoughts he may have. The eagle—synonymous with phoenix, vulture, raven—is a well-known alchemical symbol. Even the lapis, the rebis (compounded of two parts and therefore frequently hermaphroditic as an amalgam of Sol and Luna), is often represented with wings… denoting intuition or spiritual (winged) potentiality. In the last resort all these symbols depict the consciousness-transcending fact we call the self. This visual impression is rather like a snapshot of an evolving process as it leads on to the next stage… In alchemy the egg stands for the chaos apprehended by the artifex, the prima materia containing the captive world-soul. Out of the egg… will rise the eagle or phoenix, the liberated soul, which is ultimately identical with Anthropos who was imprisoned in the embrace of Physis (Jung, 1936/1968, p. 202)

The introduction to the story poses the paradoxical theme that exists when a perfect entity splits between its positive and negative nature. In the citation by Jung, Anthropos (man) and Physis (anima) constitute a hermaphroditic construct that, when united with one another allows a person to transcend (take flight) from their consciousness and unite with the monism common to a non-polarized consciousness. It is in the concept that the whole is formed from the union of two opposing, yet similar psychological constructs.

fire and water - yin yang concept - tao symbol

Fire and Water – Yin Yang. The Union of Opposites creates a third entity, Ether, that symbolizes the nature of transcendence.

The theme of transcendence and the archetypal bird continue with the introduction of the falcon in Hesse’s (2002) story. A falcon, like all birds can take flight. However, the falcon is also a keen hunter that has acute vision. Like the falcon, Siddhartha had acute vision and sought his goal with the precision and resolve a bird of prey hunts to assure its survival. The archetypal theme of the bird also occurs in Siddhartha’s adolescent years as a shramana and later in the book when Kamala’s songbird, a psychopomp that represented Siddhartha’s soul, died. While I will focus in another section on the death of Siddhartha’s psychopomp, in the beginning chapters, Siddhartha soul was linked to the falcon and the heron, the later of which stalks its prey at the mouth of riverbanks, the same archetypal motif that the sun’s rays are shadowed from in the introductory sentence. Both animals are psychopomps, capable of taking flight from the unconscious, and associated with Jung’s concept of the phoenix. Siddhartha is a wayfarer that runs throughout his life, but eventually reaches the goal of enlightenment in a haphazard manner consistent with dumb-luck rather than a disciplined life-course.

Burning bird phoenix  in the volcanic landscape

The phoenix is a psychopomp, that arises from the ashes of the past. It is transcendent moving towards its destiny in the air with utmost precision. It is fire, burning passion to realize its aim.

The spirit seeks to enlighten its nature through transcendence. Both the heron and the falcon are capable of flight. Both are hunting birds that seek prey by keen sight. Siddhartha must hunt his goal through the ability he has to see that which hides behind the obvious. Through this initial passage, the plot of the story becomes apparent when amplified from an analytical perspective.

Siddhartha is a wayfarer that is not at home within his ego. His initial home of childhood casts shadows upon that which will help him to become enlightened, and there are polarized concepts that must be bridged by the mercurial nature of the archetype. Siddhartha’s wayfaring nature links him to the god Mercury and the trickster archetype. Siddhartha is both a protagonist and an antagonist in this story. He antagonizes his own process forward to understand his true nature. This represents a paradox within itself, and reminds me of the metaphor, a person that teaches himself has a fool for a teacher. However, Siddhartha was no fool; the mercurial nature of the trickster actually encircled itself in an uroboric fashion that led him to develop a transcendent level of consciousness. Siddhartha had to become conscious of the shadow that formed the foundation of the journey foretold before his birth. This shadow consists of all the archetypal themes present within the collective unconscious. Siddhartha must become conscious; the young falcon of his soul must take flight from the unconscious in order for him to become an enlightened, Self-realized individual. Only he could partake in this journey for himself, and only he knew the means by which it needed to unfold. While Siddhartha was primarily unaware of the journey he took part in during his lifespan, which suggests an unconscious predisposition to the life sequence, he was no fool. Through faith that his calling would eventually lead to Atman, proved to be the guiding light that made his journey a success, rather than a fool hearted journey into the abyss.


Campbell, J. (1949). The hero with a thousand faces. New York: Pantheon Books.

Grimm, J., & Grimm, W. (1975). The complete Grimm’s fairy tales: Introduction by Padraic Colum & commentary by Joseph Campbell. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.

Hesse, H. (2002). Siddhartha: A new translation with an introduction by Paul W. Morris. (C. S. Kohn, Trans.) Boston, MA: Shambhala.

Jung, C. G. (1936/1968). Individual dream symbolism in relation to alchemy In H. Read, M.Fordham, G. Adler, & W. McGuire (Eds.), The Collected Works of C. G. Jung (R. F. Hull, Trans., Vol. 12, pp. 39-224). Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

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