Considerations of the Brother / Sister Archetype

This informal talk was given at a seminar in Julian California, organized by fellow Jungian colleague, Neil Voight.

When Neil asked me to be with you this weekend, I found myself with an immediate feeling for the subject.  This greatly surprised me, since I was an only child and I have two daughters, neither of which, I felt qualified me for the topic.  I began to wonder how I could speak with any real knowing about brother/sister!  I considered abandoning my participation on this basis, except that I truly had a feeling for the subject.  I realized this was coming from a few very special relationships with men who felt like brothers to me.  That was my projection onto them.  Often these relationships were accompanied by dream images , sometimes of sexual union. The images were consistently warm, embracing and caring, portraying deeply shared interests, sometimes sharing food or exchanging gifts – the theme always seemed to display a sense of equal energy, power and status – a shoulder to shoulder, companion feeling.  It was as if I had been presented with a very positive, mirrored image of myself of the opposite sex.  I saw similar images with clients, often with their real brother or sister.  In my practice I have observed the real need teen-agers and other young people express for this level of intimacy without the pressure of sexual intimacy.

These dreams were a turning point in my own psychology, moving me from an observed  ambivalent, abandoning, authoritative and often oppressive masculine towards a warm, positive, loving and related masculine in myself. I felt these people walked side by side with me in my soul as an  image and experience of my spiritual opposite and friend, one I could trust and communicate with.

Brother and sister dream images may also include parental images or they may come separately,. I do notice that brother/sister images come more often after parental issues have begun to be dealt with. Perhaps the transfer of the early unconscious incest fantasies with mother and father to sister and brother are an aspect of an evolution–a preparation for the necessary separation of sexual desire and incest, and a continuing preparation for later healthy sexual relationships.  Jung discusses this evolution for the man from the experience ot the mother as his superior to sister as his equal as demonstrated in a dream in Psychology and Alchemy (see Vol 5 #92 and 93)  The sister becomes the carrier of a new life-giving anima-image.

One unique factor of the brother/sister image is the grounded daily element that it invites us to consider. Needless to say, the individual personal experiences that one has actually had with one’s brother or sister will color one’s perception and understanding of the dream images.   If incest has actually occurred, it is usually accompanied by strong guilt feelings and shame, which the adult ego must then be assisted to face and relate to in a new way.  Understanding of and compassion for one’s own inner child will facilitate the movement and open the door towards the possibility of love and spiritual development.  I am reminded of situations where brother hurts sister or vice versa and the mother may say, “Oh, but he really loves you!” These double messages must be opened to review to the honesty of what was really felt. It is the natural role of a brother to be the supporter and protector of his sister and many have had such a warm life experience, even through all the teasing that occurs.  The brother/sister image offers the consideration of an opposite wihin one’s own nature.  This includes a healthy shadow element of awareness of the sister within the lens of his anima.  As one man put it, “I pretty well know all sides of my sister – she’s not always the belle of the ball, you know!” – so, to embrace all aspects of that opposite in oneself is a considerable inner development for anyone.

I’d like to talk briefly now about the essence of inner work that brought new energy, healing and strength to me.  Jung emphasized over and over again that deliberate attempts to be attentive to the unconscious pays it a tribute that more or less brings about its cooperation. Jung states in Psychology and Alchemy, #438, “Although the possibility of life is hinted at by the brother-sister pair, these unconscious opposites must be activated by the intervention of the conscious mind, otherwise they will merely remain dormant.  But this is a dangerous undertaking.”…it is an heroic action….”only in the region of danger (watery abyss, cavert, forest, island, castle, etc.) can one find the ‘treasure hard to attain’ (jewel, virgin, life-potion, victory over death.”

Let’s begin with the projections. Projection is the putting out of one’s own subjective contents onto someone else, including over-evaluation or under-evaluation. Whichever it is, it is not the real person, but rather what is in oneself that is seen in another.. These can be positive qualities or traits that one denies in oneself or elements one would rather avoid seeing in oneself – either way, they need to be acknowledged as belonging to oneself. Jung speaks of this difficult work of pulling off projections from others as the King’s cry for help from the depths of the unconscious.  Such a cry for help from the depths of oneself will require some deep introspection, incubation and a clear, supported investigation of oneself. One might begin by asking, who is he or she really to me?  What strikes me about him? What do I like about him? What do I relate to easily? What pleases me? What can’t I stand? Who does he remind me of? What feelings come up in me when I think about him or when I’m with him? Where am I like that? Do I need to stop that?  Do I need more of that? What is his name – could itself could bring meaning? In other words, I’m talking about conscious exploratory, inner work with oneself. Furthermore, such work with  our  unconscious opposites can only come alive through the intervention of a willing ego.  It will mean trusting that the dream images offer spiritual opportunity, along with the opportunity for a more developed consciousness. This choice and action can begin to free one of less dependence and bring a clearer, better relationship with that outer person – fortunate you are if that person also struggles with his or her own inner opposites!

What I am saying may sound fairly easy, but I am actually talking about trusting something that is taboo – i.e. trusting incest – not easy to do, for, mostly, it is only the pathological side of incest that is known. Few are aware of the symbolic, archetypal, spiritual implications  here or of the psychic task of union that is offered as a consideration to one in such a dream image.

Anthropologist, John Layard, regards incest tendency as a genuine instinct, which when denied in the flesh, can then realize itself in spirit.  In other words, such a dream image is to be considered and trusted as correct, instinctive functioning toward wholeness.  He talks about the fact that in ancient times, the outer reality of incest served life and made culture possible – for example, incest was the basic marriage relationship in royal families – it was a mark of aristocracy – the mystic prerogative of Kings.  In Hawaii the most sacred of all persons was the child of such union – so the historical reality (which affects the spiritual reality) is that a hero or divine person was born of the brother/sister union.  It will be very important for you to keep this in mind symbolically and archetyhpally as we move forward into the psychological ramifications.  The evolution of the incest taboo also served culture by its insistence that new blood must be brought into the tribe.  This view of the original image through the historical lens better enables one to understand the inner task, namely, to work with what is presented in the brother/sister image through an archetypal perspective and to begin to ask where you might be with it in that way,  what it requires of you, how to live it, how to honor it and how to understand it.  As Layard puts it, “What is one’s duty to avoid in the flesh is our soul’s health to seek in spirit.”

There is a particular tension at this point that I have found to be true that I’d like to talk about – that is the fact that it is through the vehicle of the projection (as brought to one through the dream image and to one through the work on understanding who that person is for you) that the spiritual invitation comes.  At the same time, the very working through and pulling off of the projection seems to or may bring with it a kind of spiritual sterility for awhile – it is a painful paradox to consider and trust. Jung comments about the risks, however, of not dealing with the projection in this way. He states that as long as the projection of unconscious contents exists and are not integrated with consciousness, there is neither development or redemption. In Volume II, he addresses this more strongly, “remember the existence of your unconscious and put an end to stagnation.”

It seems to me that the reward is not only an end to stagnation but offersa then a new, more solid connection with oneself.  The wounds of one’s life experience that were beyond one’s choices can begin to heal. There is a pushing through that personal reality to the depths of the collective unconscious, to archetypal understanding, as a new source and provider of nourishment. One person’s dream series of brother/sister images ended with a dream depicting a very warm, related family in their home.  The people were all unknown to the dreamer. (Thus do we have a considferation of the family as archetype).  There were two children, a brother and sister. The sister had just arrived home from school in a freshly painted red van and the brother was in the home in his wheelchair. His physical handicap was not spelled out in the dream, but what was really clear was that he was functioning fully to the level of his handicap. The most predominant theme in the dream was the strong Eros within the family. One could say perhaps, that what the person did not have in the outer was now formed and available to them as an inner reality that  could  be viewed in a new way, felt and honored energetically.

The feeling of the longing in one’s soul for this connection is beautifully portrayed in a dialogue from a woman’s vision – discussed and shared by Jung in “The Miller Fantasies,” Vol. 5,  Symbols and Transformation:

“From the tip of the backbone of these continent (probably an allusion to the Andes and the Rocky Mountains), from the farthest lowlands, I have wandered for a hundred moons since quitting my father’s palace, forever pursued by my mad desire to find ‘her who will understand.’  With jewels I tempted many beautiful women; with kisses tried I to draw out the secrets of their hearts, with deeds of daring I won their admiration. (He reviews one after another the women he has known.) Chi-ta, the princess of my own race – she was a fool, vain as a peacock, without a thought in her head except trinkets and perfumes.  Ta-nan, the peasant girl—bah! a perfect sow, nothing but a bust and a belly, thinking of nothing but pleasure.  And then Ki-ma, the priestess, a mere parrot, repeating the empty phrases learnt from the priests, all for show, without real understanding or sincerity, mistrustful, affected hypocritical…!Alas! Not one who understands me, not one who resembles me or has a soul that is sister to mine. There is not one among them all who has known my soul, not one who could read my thoughts – far from it: not one capable of seeking the shining summits with me or of spelling out with me the superhuman word Love!”

I think the man in this vision speaks clearly to the task for us all – namely, that the connection leading to love seeks to ultimately come forth and is available from deep within oneself.

I want to turn now to two mythological images that I hope will amplify and enrich our work this morning – the first is the brother/sister pair, Freyr and Freya from Nordic mythology and the second is the Greek story of Erichthonius from the attempted union of Hrphaestusd with his sister, Athena.  I have had to put some limits on my imagination and exploration here in honor of our time this morning, but I hope you won’t put limits on yours– listen deeply to what comes up in you as we work with the material.

The Freyr/Freya union does not bring forth a child per se, but we will be working on what the fruits of that union actually were. The Athena/Hephaestus union will challenge us to understand what the birth of Erichthonius offered to her development in her choice to care for him when he was abandoned and rejected by Gaia

The richest description of Freyr and Freya comes directly from the Prose Edda in the 13thcentury. 

Njord and his sister-wife Nerthus  live in heaven at a place called Noatun (enclosure of ships). Njord controls the path of the wind, stills sea and fire, and is to be invoked for seafaring and fishing. He is so wealthy and prosperous that he is able to bestow abundance of land and property on those who call on him for this.  Njord and Nerthus had two children, a son called Freyr and a daughter, Freya.  They were beautiful to look at and powerful. Freyr is an exceedingly famous god; he decides when the sun shall shine or the rain come down, and along with that, the fruitfulness of the earth and he is good to invoke for peace and plenty.  He also brings about the prosperity of men. But Freya is the most renowned.  Beauteous and mighty, she owns that homestead in heaven known as Folkvanger (Fields of the People) and whenever she rides to the strife she has half of the slain and Odin has half.  She is most readily invoked and is good to call upon for help in love affairs.

As god and goddess of the peasant farmer, Freyr and Freya were bringers of the rain and sunshine, harvest and fertility, gods of love and procreation.  The word “procreate” comes from the Latin word, “creare,” which means, “to cause to grow.” So they are, in a sense, bringers of the power of natural increase. They were also considered tutelary gods, closely attached and available to family or a clan.  They could be called upon, not only for abundant harvest, but also for peace, safe childbirth, luck in marriage, oath-swearing rituals and the delights of sensual pleasure.  The word, “tutelary” is an important one to consider here.  It comes from the Indo-European root “teu” meaning “to pay attention to” and the words “tutor” and “intuition” stem from this same root. With that understanding, we could infer that Freyr and Freya were gods who literally paid attention to man and were closely available to the individual who would invoke them.  My sense is such energy is still available to us archetypally and in our deepest intuitions.  (Note—Elizabeth Nelson later referred to these as Archetypal Allies.)

Freyr and Freya were also described as patrons of fecundity, and fructification.  Both words mean, “to produce fruit”,“ to be capable of.” Fructify is from the root “dhe” meaning “to set, put together, establish, do.” In other words, their presence would firmly support and protect one in the establishing, the putting together and activity of one’s creative powers.  Jung speaks of such fructification in Volume 14, #193—“If attention is directed to the unconscious, it will yield up its contenst and fructify the conscious like a fountain of living water.”

Freyr’s name comes from two Norse words, “frio” meaning “free” and “fro” meaning “seed.”  Free here would be in the sense of mobile,able to go at large, an important condition of the procreative element.

Freya’s name comes from the word “frijon” meaning “to love,” imparting gladness, joy and beauty.  Here we have a union of freedom and love.


I found a description of this issue of freedom and love in a poem from So HereThen Are Dreamsby Olive Schreinern:

“I saw a woman sleeping. In her sleep she dreamt Life stood before her, and held in each hand a gift – in the one, Love, and in the other, Freedom.  And Life said to the woman, “Choose!”  And the woman waited long; and she said, “Freedom!”  And Life said, “Thou has well chosen.  If thou hadst said, “Love” I would have given thee that thou didst ask for, and I would have gone from thee and returned to thee no more. Now the day will come when I shall return.  In that day, I shall bear both gifts in one hand.” I heard the woman laugh in her sleep.” 

The poem speaks to a certain capacity for life and says that life will give love if freedom is chosen, that with freedom, both love and life itself are possible.  In my work to understand and experience this message, I was drawn to look up the root meaning of “free” which turned out to be “pri” meaning “to love!” They are inextricably linked, part of a whole.  It would seem that the union of Freyr and Freya in one’s soul could offer one a new trust of one’s own personal growth process – that with the interaction of freedom and love in oneself there is abundance, a new level of peace and a new capacity for life  and creativity and trust of one’s own experience.  Perhaps, most of all, this union offers the possibility of paying attention to one’s own inner tutors, including the sound of the gentle winds and rains in one’s own head and heart and in caring for the tender new shoots of one’s own creativity struggling to break through the cement of one’s life.

Freud reminds us that “Dreams are the Royal Road to the unconscious.” And Jung that, “The dream is a little hidden door in the innermost and most secret recesses of the psyche.” Such depth exploration is the invitation to our understanding here.

In his Vision Seminars Jung remarks  that it is only as one can be detached from emotion, yet also be emotional, that only as one can be in the collective, yet be an individual, and only as one struggles through the personal complexes to the solidity of one’s own choices and can live them boldly with some immunity to arbitrary authority, be it inner or outer, that one is both free and able to love.

Let’s turn now to the story of Hephaestus and Athena and the birth of Erichthonius. Let your imagination go as you listen to the story.  Hephaestus was the son of Zeus and Hera – the blacksmith of the gods, graceless in his exterior due to lameness in both legs. He wasa carrier of a subtle and inventive spirit.  His beneficent fires permitted men to work metal and fostered civilization.

One day Zeus was tortured by an intolerable headache.  Hephaestus was called to relieve it with an axe and out came Athena, full-grown and fully armed with a triumphant cry of victory.  Thus did Hephaestus facilitate the birth of his sister, Athena.

In the course of the Trojan War, Athena, not wishing to borrow arms from Zeus, who had declared himself neutral, went to her brother Hephaestus to ask him to make her a set of arms of her own.  Hephaestus said, “Yes,” but refused payment coyly stating he would undertake the work for love.  Missing the implications of Hephaestus’s reply, Athena entered to watch him work. Suddenly, Hephaestus hastened after her to make love to her.  Some say he had been told by Poseidon that Athena came with Zeus’s consent for this very purpose. But as she tore herself away, Hephaestus ejaculated against her thigh.  She wiped the seed off with a piece of wool. It fell upon Mother Earth, Gaia, and, shortly afterwards, Gaia gave birth to a son.  Gaia refused responsibility for his upbringing, so Athena herself took charge of the infant and called him Erichthonius, unbeknownst to the other gods.  She put the infant in a sacred basket and gave him to the daughters of the King of Cecrops to care for, forbidding them to open the basket.  Only one daughter was able to obey Athena – the other two could not control their curiosity and took a peek.  On seeing that the child had a serpent’s tail for legs, they were struck with madness and flung themselves off the top of the Acropolis. Following this tragedy, Athena herself raised him in a sacred grove.

Erichthonius became the first King of Athens and his temple was considered holier than the Parthenon. He instituted the worship of Athena and the Pan-Hellenic festivals; he taught the use of silver and introduced the 4-horse chariot. He was called “the procreative wind from the heather-clad mountains,” and, by others, “the fertilizing North Wind.”

Let’s take a look at what such care of an archetypal Ericihthonius within might mean psychologically.  AHe became a king—a good king has a sense of the entire city – I think of such a development as an increased capacity, a wider consciousness, more highly differentiated, more complex, more detached, more complete but not without its humble, earthy capacity imaged here by his serpent feet.

Here also is a temple consciousness – a masculine capacity–one that is spiritually oriented and specifically honoring of Athena—of the archetypal feminine. Zabriskie in his brilliant essay, “Goddesses in our Midst,”states that in woman or man, Athena lends courage, a kind of sensible toughness and practical wisdom, shrewd intuitiveness, craft and artistry and a great urge to kick things and people into motion.

The use of silver craftsmanship and the 4-horse chariot for me are images of beauty and tangible practicality in everyday life.  The horses, as a symbol for libido, perhaps also speak of space for all 4 functions to operate in the daily round of life.

The wind is an image of disseminating, fertilizing, carrying power of a spiritual nature lifting one beyond the material reality of one’s world.

In mythology the North Wind is usually the most important and powerful of the 4 winds – “To be born of the spirit is to be created by the fertilizing breath of the wind.”  (Briner)

An old Irish poem laments its absence:

Whenever the wind does not blow

over the grass of plain or mountain heather

Whosoever is then born

Whether boy or girl, a fool shall be.

The presence of Erichthonius as the King and as the North Wind is the activating, penetrating, impregnated life of the creative soul in humankind, bringing forth the new living spirit within the inner city.

My hope for you would be that you might begin to consider brother/sister dream images of sexual union as an invitation to soul-making, to new inner reality and new spiritual capacity.

I also hope the mythological images have served to enrich and amplify for you the deep potential within the call of  such inner work.





Bayley, Harold, The Lost Language of symbolism Vol 11, p. 21

Briner, Mary: The North and its Symbolism, April, 1954, Kristine Mann Library, New York

Donington, Robert, Wagner’s ‘Ring’ and its Symbols, p.36, 108, 133, 255,

Eranos 4, Spiritual Disciplines, Bollingen Series xxx, p.6

Funk & Wagnall, Folklore Dictionary, p. 165

Johr, Eranos, 1959,, “On Psychic Consciousness.” P. 277-344

Jung, C.G. Collected Works

       Vol 9.1. #59, #120, #449

       Vol .11.#24-26

        Vol 5. $751, #761, , # 765,

        Vol 12. #24 ,#92, #93, #151, #193, n.69 #336, #404, #436, #438, #496,

        Vol 13. #435

        Vol. 14. #86, #107, #154,#172,#188, #190, #192,#193,# 669, #672, #674, #735

       Vol 16, #410, #419, #438

Jung, C.G. The Vision Seminars, Book One, p.157

Graves, Robert, The Greek Myths

Layard, John, A Celtic Quest. P.47, 225, 229, 233-23235, 103.

Nelson, Elizabeth, Psyche’s Knife, 2012

Neuman,Erich, The Origins and History of Consciousness. P.201-202

Schreiner, Olive, So Here ThenAre Dreams,Bound and Autographed by Elbert Hubbard,Number 12, p.35

Von Franz, Marie Louise von Franz, Shadow and Evil in Fairytales, p.32