The movie “Fantastic beasts and where to find them” seems be all the rage. Urs Truly is quite familiar with such having adored them since he was knee-high to a cockatrice. For my timeless map of Erewhon I’ve been collecting mythical animals all my life. In my teens I played Dungeons & Dragons, which has a veritable encyclopedia of monsters.
Mankind has always had and needed fantastical beasts. This includes a need for gods, goddesses, ghosts, and fairy folk. I have a panache for the nefarious and destructive ones, to wit, the monsters. I thought I would talk about a few of my favorites from a Jungian point of view. Monsters carry our dark sides; we project our Shadow parts out onto made-up entities who carry our crud for us.
This particular bestiary has monster that hold particular archetypal energy; the creatures therein have important elements that resonate with our psyches. I listed them in a somewhat chronological order.
The Vampire. Vampires are ubiquitous in folklore throughout time and cultures. They vary but have in common they are something dead/undead that lives off of blood of the living. They probably originate from our fear of parasites or fears of being prey to something coming at us in the night when we sleep. Most of the time The Vampire has an erotic element to it. Dr. Freud cackles in his grave as Vampires support his Love and Death libido drive hypothesis. Many tales about vampires are vague references to sexual trysts, the phantom lover, who comes in the night (pun intended) and steals our souls in its exploitation. Curious: recent vampires are less ghoulish and more romantic bad-boy anti-hero lover. Every culture gets the vampire it wants, but its essence remains the same.
Centaur/Faun/Satyr. These creatures are half human and half animal. The animal parts have brutish and sexual elements. They capture the ambivalence and paradox of the struggle between our higher functioning and ‘base’ emotions. The upper part – human – has the intellect (and no sexual organs) while the lower part – animal – has the phallus and the prowness of (uninhibited) sexuality and action. Mankind has long been envious of animal energies and fearful of our own. Like The Vampire these archetypes have been altered to suit the needs of each generation. Centaurs have become more ‘scholarly’ but still studly and potentially dangerous. Fauns are seen as more liberating man of self-restraint than causing them to panic (pun intended).
Werewolf. This is another ancient animal archetype playing on our fears we are not so separate from animals. We fear becoming the creatures that used to prey on us. We project our preying on each other onto wolves (or other carnivorous creatures) who stalk us. Were-creatures are often powerless to stop their transformation which is often brought on by night and the moon, the time of fear and darkness.
Goblin – I lump goblins, knockers, kobolds, elves, brownies etc. into the common category of little people who cause upset and mischief. They are our collective scapegoat. If something goes wrong, rather than blaming ourselves or attributing mishap to mere bad luck we create a little person who is responsible. In WWII when mechanical things went wrong we invented The Gremlin. Curiously we haven’t updated this archetype to computer errors/glitches and cellphone problems. There is no recent elf of which I am aware. My brothers tend to use Bill Gates or Steve Jobs who serve the purpose but don’t make for satisfactory goblin-types. A more sinister hypothesis: we no longer have to create a mythical problem race but use whatever ethnic group is handy.
The Bogeyman exists in many forms in many cultures but he is always the monster man who snatches away bad children. My nephews revel in stories of Slender Man, which is the millennial version of The Bogeyman. We are coming up to St. Nicholas Day. The traditional St. Nicholas travels with a Bogeyman to balance the psyche of good/benevolent with the bad/malevolent. Go look up Black Tom or the Krampus why don’t you. It’s curious our modern day Santa Claus does not travel with a Shadow consort. I don’t know the reason that was dropped. Probably because we like to deny our Shadow parts (them sorts live elsewhere, in Europe or the Middle East) We had to invent one to fill the archetypal need for a bogey man at Christmas time: The Grinch.
Cthulhu – For thems not aware of this beastie, he is a Lovecraft invention. He is a behemoth with a face like a squid. He is Annihilation incarnate. This nasty beast seems to be rising in popularity as youngsters see the future as bleak and nihilistic. As one youngster remarked, the Cthulhu reminds us the universe is expanding and will become nothing in the end. It is all futile. Grim dark dreadful thoughts are often sugar-coated to make them less depressing and overwhelming. There is a lot of cutesy counterparts to this archetype. You can get lovable stuffed Cthulhu toys and Christmas ornaments for the holidays.
Godzilla – The big G has expanded out of Japan and into the world’s psyche. Why? I have two theories. Godzilla acts on impulse, like an unrestrained child having a tantrum. When he gets upset he breaks things; when he walks it is like a large toddler. Whether it was consciously determined, the original Godzilla was an actor in a rubber suit. This gels with the notion Godzilla is an element of being hum. Godzilla hasless archetypal energy when Godzilla is merely a computer generated object. Godzilla touches on our envy to just “let loose” when we are perturbed. The other explanation for his attraction is more serious: Godzilla carries our collective fear and guilt for having let loose atomic weapons. He is what we deserves for being foolish with nature.