Rape of the Well Maiden
 ~ by Dennis Pottenger

I   worked for four years to restore the Hetch Hetchy Valley—a smaller version of its more famous sister, the Yosemite Valley, some 15 miles to the south— flooded in the 1930’s to provide water and hydroelectric power to the San Francisco Bay Area (Simpson, 2005, p. 177). I was clear from the beginning there were two reasons I supported the cause. The first reason related to deep ecology: I believed that the best and proper use of the mountain valley “described by John Muir as a ‘wonderfully exact counterpart of the great Yosemite’ ” was not as a monument to San Francisco’s “economic-based exploitation of nature” but as a rare and precious natural ecosystem (Simpson, 2005, pp. 168, 325). The second reason touched an even deeper place within me: the alchemical idea “of rescuing the hidden, feminine aspect of God from imprisonment in matter . . .” (von Franz, 2000, p. 242). Looking back on this earlier time of my life, I see that my work to restore Hetch Hetchy on the level of outer wilderness was informed by an inner drive to rescue not only a valley and a river drowned under 308 feet of water but to redeem my own unconscious and wounded inner feminine as well.

My passion to restore Hetch Hetchy seemed driven by two images. The first was a photograph taken during a drought year, 1955. In the photograph, the Hetch Hetchy Valley was a graveyard of stumps, the trees having been cut and sold for timber by the City of San Francisco in the years before construction of the O’Shaughnessy Dam was completed in 1923 (Righter, 2005, p. xv). I remember the tears I cried each time I looked at the image of the mutilated trees, and in my imagination heard the rush of the “small but noisy waterfall” that once “marked the entrance of the Tuolumne River into the Hetch Hetchy Valley” (p. 15).

A second image caught my attention. This one came from an old Grail story, “The Tale of the Well-Maidens,” told by ecopsychologist Mary Gomes and clinical psychologist Allen Kanner (1995) in an essay on feminist psychology and the environmental crisis:

Long, long ago, even before the reign of King Arthur, the land was blessed with enchantment and great fertility. Throughout the realm, maidens stood guard over the sacred wells, offering their healing waters in golden cups to any journeyers who might pass. Indeed, some say that these were the very waters of inspiration, offering trans-port between the worlds. The maidens themselves may have been Otherworldly, but the tale does not say. In those days, when the veil between the worlds was thinner, these distinctions were not so sharp.

All was well, with the land bounteous and the people content, until the King conceived a desire to possess one of the well-maidens. He stole her sacred cup, carried her off, and raped her. His men followed his example, raping the other maidens. In response to these unheard-of acts, these violations against nature itself, the maidens withdrew themselves and their magic from the world. The wells dried up, and the re-generative powers of the land were destroyed, leaving it barren and devoid of enchant-ment. By seeking dominion over others, the King and his men had diminished the world. (p. 112)

The son of an alcoholic mother who hit and humiliated me, I knew something about dominion and diminishment. Drawn into the hundred-year war over Hetch Hetchy by familiar, and apparently still unhealed, wounds, and by an unconscious longing for repair and some semblance of inner peace, I fingered the thread connecting the rape of the well-maidens by the king and his men in the story to San Francisco’s desecration of the valley. As I studied the history of Hetch Hetchy’s catalytic role in the birth of modern environmentalism, I saw how the events in the Grimm’s story had played out in American political and economic life between progressive conservationists like John Muir and utilitarian politicians like three-term San Francisco Mayor James Phelan in the early years of the 20th century.

As far as the conservationists were concerned, Phelan’s part in the passion play that took place in the Hetch Hetchy Valley was easy to condemn—the king as rapist run amok, a compulsively heroic masculine ego with a seemingly unappeasable hunger for power, wealth, and prestige. Like the king in the tale of the well-maidens, however, Phelan did not diminish the world on his own. Franklin Lane, San Francisco’s powerful city attorney, was appointed Secretary of the Interior in 1913 shortly before the United States Congress passed what is now called the Raker Act, the federal law which gave San Francisco legal right to the Hetch Hetchy Valley as a source of water and hydroelectric power (Righter, 2005, p. xv). “Every tree is a challenge to us,” Lane once said of his views on the value of nature, “and every pool of water and every foot of soil. The mountains are our enemies. We must pierce them and make them serve. The sinful rivers we must curb” (as cited in Pisani, 2002, p. 115).

With “patience, determination, arrogance, and a special sense of mission [not to mention millions of dollars of taxpayer money], [Phelan, Lane, and other San Francisco leaders] pursued the vision of a great city” (Righter, 2005, p. 35). Playing David to San Francisco’s Goliath was Muir, the bearded wilderness zealot who died in 1914 of pneumonia (and some say with a broken heart) after more than a decade of unsuccessfully trying to defend the integrity of the well-maidens who guarded the waters of inspiration which had once flowed through the Hetch Hetchy Valley (Simpson, 2005, p. 176). Today, the names of the players may have changed—Muir’s Sierra Club has left the Hetch Hetchy fight with the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission and United States Senator Dianne Feinstein to a grassroots group whose world headquarters until recently was a living room in the Northern California gold country—but the pattern of violence inflicted by those who would possess and diminish the world appears to environmentalists to remain much the same.

Depth psychological readings on suicide (Hillman, 1998) and violence to the soul (Geigerich, 2008) freshened my fury at San Francisco’s violation of the Hetch Hetchy Valley. These dialogues also invited me to consider the cultural impact of the “violence-generating complex” I saw at work out in the world—and in my own dreams (Kipnis, 2010a, p. 2). Anger turned to sadness when I considered that, by raping and subjugating psyche through an internalized and introjected cultural hero complex, psyche’s ability to respond to—let alone prevent—the compulsively masculine ego’s relentless pattern of possess-and-destroy is diminished. Vulnerable to violent cultural expressions such as domination/submission, scapegoating, and oppression (to name three), psyche, in its many forms, is therefore forced to submit to a ceaseless and self-regulating cycle of rape and death at the well.

Relating the individual to the collective, it then occurred to me that the king from the story may no longer be (if he ever was) an external tyrant, an attacker out there. Looking around the world today, at the crises in the biosphere—crises which mirror breakdowns in culture and psychological life—I shuddered to consider that the psychological reason monarchy has largely disappeared from Western culture is because this destructive cultural complex has been internalized within each of us through the process British psychoanalyst Melanie Klein called “projective identification” (as cited in Goss, 2011, p. 56). According to Jungian analyst Phil Goss (2011), projective identification is at work when we unconsciously put aspects of ourselves “we want to be rid of into the other, who feels and acts them out for us” (p. 56). In a time when nature is treated as Other—in a contemporary milieu in which the relations of ego to psyche and nature are viewed as opposites with unequal value—we find ourselves terrorized by an annihilating psychological complex we cannot live with or escape from.
“Violence,” clinical psychologist Aaron Kipnis (2010b) said, “is inherent to nature. It is rarely senseless. Violence is energetic. It has flow, direction. It is numinous, archetypal.” A depth psychologist’s words came to life in a dream image which invited me to consider that my desire to restore Hetch Hetchy may have had intimately personal origins. In the dream, which I recorded in my journal on November 15, 2008,

I arrived at my grandfather’s speed-reading clinic for a birthday party—mine. In the outer office several male friends were watching the news on television. On the screen I saw the image of a tank pulverizing the ground, and I heard the recoil of a cannon (or rocket launcher) mounted on the top of the tank. Watching the scene I realized that there was a competing noise—a distortion which sounded like a radio playing in the background. I moved toward a thermostat on one wall. I opened the plastic cover to the thermostat and saw that the adjustment “knob” was a lever in the shape of a small green phallus. I could not figure out how to move the phallus to get the noise to stop. I felt confused, lost. On a deeper level I felt powerless and helpless. Then a young girl appeared in the room. “I can do it,” she said, moving the small green phallus. The sound of the radio stopped, and the party ended.

Next my dream shifted to the road out in front of my late-grandfather’s house, where archetypal motifs of war and lust (phallic-shaped bombs, and a goat-man who chased the phallic projectiles), and several cultural expressions of violence (radio, tank, soldier) continued as the soldier stood next to a second rocket launcher:

The soldier lit a fuse, and in the ensuing explosion a large green projectile in the shape of a phallus was launched—ejaculated—from the cannon. When the phallus landed in my grandfather’s front yard, there was another explosion. Through falling debris I saw a man with green skin and the legs, torso, and horns of a goat race over to retrieve the projectile and return it to the soldier so the destruction of the world could continue.

While the soldier and the goat-man continued to detonate the phallic projectiles, the dream sequence ended with a horrific image:

Hundreds of mute women dressed in surgical scrubs filed slowly along the sidewalk near the cannon launcher. A woman at the head of the procession pushed a wheelchair. Seated in the wheelchair was a teenage version of the young girl who knew how to turn the small green phallus thermostat to get the radio to stop playing earlier in the dream. I looked down: the young woman’s legs were missing. I stood and watched the women file silently past me. The line of muted sexless women extended for as far as I could see.

Startled by the violence in these images, I shifted my inquiry from a cultural perspective to the archetypal, where I considered the psychological structure Jungian analyst Adolf Guggenbuhl-Craig (1971) called the “archetypal shadow” (p. 113). “Jung,” Guggenbuhl-Craig wrote,conceived of ‘Evil’ as something independent and not, for example, as a privatio boni, merely the absence of the Good. In his terms it may be understood as ‘the murderer and suicide within us.’ This archetypal shadow is an inherent mode of human behavior—an archetype” (p. 114). With the mutilation of the young woman by the soldier and the goat-man as symbols of the archetypal pattern of the masculine hero who, in his compulsivity, “has maimed femininity” in mind, it was hard to miss the arc of Jung’s meaning: the king and his men live their way into the world not only through those who would rape nature and diminish psyche (Hillman, 2005, p. 137). These sociopathic forces also storm and kill their way into the world in and through me. What, I wondered, was my frightened and finite ego supposed to do with destructive Evil of this kind?

Sitting with my dream image in the context of what I was reading about Archetypal Evil, my sense of horror over the inescapable presence within me of a mutilating and compulsively heroic masculine ego tyrant intensified. In active imagination, Jung’s method of bringing “dissociated material back gradually into a relationship with the conscious ego” (Singer, 1994, p. 288), I tried to contact the aspects of my personality represented by the soldier and the goat-man. In active imagination, these inner figures continued their violent phallic military exercises unabated. When I attempted to dialogue with the young woman who had been mutilated by the war, I encountered an inner figure who not only was missing both of her legs but her mouth as well. Unsettled by these darkly numinous images of masculinity and mutilation, and by the rape-and-kill power dynamics which seemed archetypally-threaded into both psyche and culture, I turned to Hillman’s investigation of the archetypal patterns of Senex and Puer.
Hillman’s editor, depth psychologist Glen Slater (2005), wrote that

The puer personifies the moist spark within any complex or attitude that is the original dynamic seed of spirit. It is the call of a thing to the perfection of itself, the call of a person to the Self. (p. xi)

How, I wondered, might the violence-generating complex of compulsive masculinity manifest the moist spark of the self in my personal work of individuation? How might the images of rape and demolition in my dream life be summoning me to a more conscious experience of integration, meaning, and completeness? The process of completing my master’s degree in psychotherapy at Pacifica Graduate Institute brought up a vicious inner presence I have lived with since I was a boy. A waking image of this introjected psycho-logical complex appeared to me near the completion of Pacifica’s program. The image was of a tornado, a spinning, shifting rope made entirely of knives, scythes, and blades. Surprisingly, I felt relieved by the archetypal power and fury of the image. After more than 40 years of suffering the shame of self-loathing, I felt like I had at last seen what the dark and malevolent father-king-as-rapist within me looked like.

To take this talk of transformation beyond myself, how, I wondered, might my experiences with the violence-generating complex of compulsive masculinity serve to bring about a new integration and wholeness not only to myself but to those I work with in psychotherapy? One female client entered therapy after trying to kill herself. In therapy this woman expressed anger and sadness at the uncle who molested her sexually, and at both parents for failing to stop the abuse. Underneath the anger and sadness, this client and I found layers of shame and self-loathing—hatred of her own unworthiness which had been introjected from a mother who had been raped by her own father and then blamed by both parents for the abuse. Another client, a man in his late 50’s, presented with rage at his father, who had forced his son to perform oral sex and then had humiliated his son by blaming him for the abuse. The size and destructive force of this client’s inner critic made my spinning, cutting, whirlwind of self-loathing look like a child’s toy.
A third client, a single man in his early 30’s, presented with depressed mood. Early in therapy it became clear that the source of this man’s shame and low sense of self-worth was a disapproving father who had effectively raped his son’s soul of its dignity and value. For several months I worked to provide this man with the selfobject mirroring experiences that self psychologist Heinz Kohut believed were as vital to the cohesion of the self as “the body’s demand for oxygen” (Rowe, Jr. & Mac Isaac, 1991, p. 30). In the end, this client’s depression and sense of self-worth lifted to the point where he could successfully interview for a job at a software company in the Silicon Valley. Near the end of his therapy, this client remembered the session where, at a time when he was distraught, depressed, drinking, and sinking into suicidal ideation, I invited him to express what his life felt like in sandplay. Looking back on the inner reality he externalized in the sand, I realized that the world this client rendered mirrored the tale of the well-maidens: the client’s father, the king as rapist and murderer, directed a company of soldiers who were holding hostage a young boy, a symbol for the client, and threatening to shoot him with their guns.

In the end, my client decided, what allowed him to escape the clutches of the king and his men was help from two figures—a kneeling virgin and a white horse—he had placed next to the boy in the sand. These figures, the man said, helped him image and personify unconditional love (the virgin) and a conscious masculine (the white horse), inner qualities he had been afraid his father (the king-as-rapist-and-murderer) had killed.

What does the process of personal transformation have to do with the rape of the well-maidens, compulsive masculinity, and the control of nature? As the battle over the Hetch Hetchy Valley continues—the estimated cost of restoration ranges “between $3 billion and $10 billion,” with another $10 million in additional studies needed before a decision could be made (Pottenger, 2007, p. 37)—thoughts track back in time to December 1913. During the series of Congressional hearings which preceded the passage of the Raker Act, Senator James Reed of Missouri had arisen from his seat to confess that he did not understand what all the fuss was about. How, Reed asked, could the fate of a tiny valley that hardly anyone visited be important enough to provoke the United States Senate “into profound debate” and the entire country “into a condition of hysteria” (as cited in Nash, 2001, p. 180).

Decades later, Roderick Nash (2001) answered the question. “The most significant thing about the controversy over the valley,” the professor of history and environmental studies wrote in his book, Wilderness and the American Mind, was that it occurred at all. One hundred or even fifty years earlier a similar proposal to dam a wilderness river would not have occasioned the slightest ripple of protest. Traditional American assumptions about the use of undeveloped country did not include reserving it in national parks for recreational, aesthetic, and inspirational values. The emphasis was all the other way—on civilizing it in the name of progress and prosperity. Older generations conceived of the thrust of civilization into wilderness as the beneficent working out of divine intentions, but in the twentieth century a handful of preservationists generated widespread resistance against this very process. What had formerly been the subject of national celebration was made to appear a national tragedy.

Previously most Americans had not felt compelled to rationalize the conquest of wild country in this manner. For three centuries they had chosen civilization without any hesitation. By 1913 they were no longer sure. (p. 181)

My hope is that what happened in the wilderness lobby can be repeated in depth psychology. In facing the psychological violence in our lives—the rape and torture of soul, and of psyche, by compulsive masculinity—we can travel, individually and collectively, into the metaphorical and psychological realm where Hillman (2005) said complexed libido becomes freed (p. xi). Decoding the mysterious signals of our afflictions, whether in ourselves, our culture, or the earth, is a depth psychological process through which we find gifts in the recesses of unhealed wounds, and reclaim the potential and potency of what we have conquered, rejected, or abused. In the end I believe, as Stephen Aizenstat (1995), the president and founder of Pacifica Graduate Institute, did, that, as a depth psychologist, I am being called to serve as a naturalist “of the inner and outer psyche, witnessing and responding to our relationship with our environment” (p. 93). “Perhaps,” Aizenstat added,

What is being asked of us now is to create an alignment between natures, between souls in persons and soul in the world, a correspondence necessary for the health of all who live on planet Earth. (pp. 93-94)

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Dennis Pottenger  is a Marriage Family Therapist Intern at The Place Within in Northern California. He earned his Master’s Degree in Counseling Psychology with Emphasis in Depth Psychology at Pacifica Graduate Institute. He plans to train as a Jungian analyst.