Your comments are invited.
“The closest thing I have been able to find to an unadorned image of these beings is not from some modern science-fiction movie, it is rather the age-old, glaring face of Ishtar. Paint her eyes entirely black, remove her hair, and there is my image as it hangs before me now in my mind’s eye, the ancient and terrible one, the bringer of wisdom, the ruthless questioner.: (Strieber, Communion)
Now over to de Maus:
I have found that media images of monstrous bloodthirsty women have preceded every war I have analyzed. Even the most popular movies prior to wars reflect this dangerous woman fantasy. The biggest movie preceding W.W.II was The Wizard ofOz, which is about a wicked witch and how to kill her; the second biggest was The Women, a movie featuring 135 dangerous women. All About Eve just before Korea and Cleopatra before Vietnam had similar dangerous women as leads, and the Persian Gulf War was preceded by a whole string of dangerous women movies, from Fatal Attraction to Thelma and Louise,28 including a popular TV series entitled Dangerous Women.
When war breaks out, all these terrifying women disappear from the media, and the dangerous woman image is projected into the enemy, so that the war is experienced as a battle with a mother-figure. For example, when the United States attacked Libya, the New York Post reported the rumor that American intelligence had discovered that Moammar Khadafy was actually a “transvestite dressed in women’s clothes and high heels,”29 even touching up a photo to show how he “might look…dressed in drag.” Similarly, in the Persian Gulf War, Saddam Hussein was depicted as a dangerous pregnant mommy with a nuclear bomb in his womb. Hallucinating dangerous feminine characteristics in one’s enemies in fact goes all the way back to antiquity, when the earliest battles were imagined to have been fought against female monsters, often the mother of the hero, whatever her name–Tiamat, Ishtar, Inanna, Isis, or Kali.30 Typical is the Aztec mother-goddess Huitzilopochtli, who had “mouths all over her body” that cried out to be fed the blood of soldiers.31 Early Indo-European warriors had to pass through initiatory rituals in order to attain full status in which they dressed up and attacked a monstrous dummy female poisonous serpent, complete with three heads.32 Although early warriors fought against men, not women, they often anally raped and castrated their enemies, turning them into symbolic women; from ancient Norse to ancient Egyptian societies, heaps of enemy penises on the battlefield are commonly portrayed.33
In addition, according to the world’s leading historian of war, “the opportunity to engage in wholesale rape was not just among the rewards of successful war but, from the soldier’s point of view, one of the cardinal objectives for which he fought.”34 In fact, more women have been raped and killed in most wars than enemy soldiers. The hero is therefore symbolically a mother-killer, inflicting our revenge for early traumatic experiences.35 At the same time, by restaging early traumas in wars the magical goal is achieved of merging with the mother in a defensive maneuver to deny her as a dangerous object. Giving one’s life for one’s Motherland means finally joining with her. The soldier who dies in war, says one patriot, “dies peacefully. He who has a Motherland dies in comfort…in her, like a baby falling asleep in its warm and soft cradle…”36
Yet even though we understand that both the Motherland and the enemy in wars are ultimately the early mother, the question remains: what could possibly be the infantile origin of fantasies of the enemy as a poisonous blood-sucking monster? Why did Americans before the Revolutionary War feel “poisoned by Mother England” and fight a war rather than pay a minor tax? Why did Hitler fear “blood-sucking Jews and foreigners” and why did Aztec soldiers go to war to feed blood to a mother-goddess? Closer to today, why did Americans for so long fear their “national life-blood” was being “poisoned” by Communists? Why do so many today feel the government and welfare recipients are “sucking their blood?” Images of blood-sucking, engulfing enemies are ubiquitous throughout history. Surely our blood was never really poisoned or sucked out of us by a maternal monster in our past. Or was it?
As I described in my Foundations of Psychohistory,37 when I first began collecting the emotional imagery surrounding the outbreak of war I was puzzled by recurring claims by aggressors that they were forced to go to war against their wishes because “a net had suddenly been thrown over their head” or a “ring of iron was closing about us more tightly every moment” or they had been “seized by the throat and strangled.” I piled up hundreds of these images of nations being choked and strangled, “unable to draw a breath,” “smothered, walled-in,” “unable to relieve the inexorable pressure” of a world “pregnant with events,” followed by feelings of being “picked up bodily” in “an inexorable slide” towards war, starting with a “rupture of diplomatic relations” and a “descent into the abyss,” being “unable to see the light at the end of the tunnel” as the nation takes its “final plunge over the brink,” and even that wars were “aborted” if ended too soon. Given the concreteness of all this birth imagery, I concluded that war was a rebirth fantasy of enormous power shared by nations undergoing deep regression to shared fetal traumas.
Now, the notion that war might be a battle against a dangerous mother is difficult enough to believe. That it in addition includes fantasies that you are hacking your way out of the engulfment of your own birth is infinitely harder to accept. But what followed then in my psychohistorical research into imagery prior to wars was a discovery that seemed to be a final step into the unbelievable, revealing a depth of regression prior to wars greater than anything yet contemplated in the psychological literature. Yet it was a discovery that for the first time seemed to explain the true origin of the poison blood imagery.
What I found was that the cartoons, past and present, of the enemy in war were dominated by an image that was even more widespread than that of the dangerous mommy: it was that of a seabeast, often with many heads or arms, a dragon or a hydra or a serpent or an octopus that threatened to poison the lifeblood of the nation. Most early cultures believed in this beast as a dragon that was associated with watery caves or lakes; modern wars show the beast as a blood-sucking, many-headed enemy. This serpentine, poisonous monster I soon began calling the Poisonous Plancenta, since it resembled what the actual placenta must have sometimes felt like to the growing fetus, particularly when the placenta fails in its primary tasks of cleansing the fetal blood of wastes and of replenishing its oxygen supply. When the blood coming to the fetus from the placenta is bright red and full of nutrients and oxygen, the fetus feels it is being fed by a Nurturant Placenta, but when the mother smokes, takes drugs or is hurt or frightened or otherwise stressed, the placenta does not remove the waste from fetal blood, which becomes polluted and depleted of oxygen. Under these stressful conditions, the helpless fetus experiences an asphyxiating Poisonous Placenta, the prototype for all later hate relationships, including the murderous mother, the castration father or the dangerous enemy. It is even likely that the fetus, like Oedipus, feels it is actually battling with the dangerous beast (Sphinx means “strangler” in Greek) in order to restore connections with the Nurturant Placenta.
This battle, what I have termed the fetal drama, is repeated in death-and-rebirth restagings of traumatic battles in all wars and other social violence. The cosmic battle with the Poisonous Placenta, where we repeat the fetal drama of a paradise lost, of being sucked into the whirlpool and crushing pressures of birth, and where we fight the placental dragon, is well depicted in a comic-book character, Conan the Barbarian, although I could just as easily have used pictures and texts from ancient myths of battles with seabeasts such as Tiamat, Rahab, Behemoth, Humbaba, Apophis, Hydra, Gorgon or Typhon.41 In this version, a baby is first shown abandoned, beginning his watery birth passage between headcrushing bones, going down the whirlpool of birth after the amniotic waters break, being choked by the Poisonous Placenta, a black seamonster that tries to asphyxiate it. The hero, an imaginary powerful version of the fetus, battles with the Poisonous Placenta and frees the fetus, who reaches the safety of land. The final panel shows that the goal, however, is not birth, the arrival on land, but the reuniting with the placenta. That it is the Nurturant not the Poisonous Placenta that holds the baby in its embrace is depicted by its being shown as a white sea beast. In most cultures, past and present, the actual placenta is considered very much alive after delivery; it is felt to be so dangerous to the community that unless it is buried somewhere deep the whole tribe will fall sick.
The Poisonous Placenta is even present in most small groups we form. As one group analyst describes his conclusions from a lifetime of studying unconscious group images: One of the most active, or rather paralyzing, unconscious group representations is that of Hydra: the group is felt to be a single body with a dozen arms at the ends of which are heads and mouths, each functioning independently of the others…incessantly searching for prey to be squeezed and suffocated, and ready to devour one another if they are not satisfied.43 Obviously, full understanding of the placental source of “poison blood” and sea-beast imagery and of the fetal origins of war and social violence is going to have to wait until we investigate more fully the psychology of dangerous wombs, Poisonous Placentas and asphyxiating births–which is to say, until we understand more about both the psychology and neurobiology of fetal life.
….. War leaders know the Killer Motherland group-fantasy that moves men to war, and repeat it endlessly before and during wars. Hitler spoke of German devotion to their Mutterland thousands of times in his speeches, saying “I promise you the sacrifice of 10 million German youth” to Germania.
Jung—like most psychoanalysts since Melanie Klein—blames Terrible Mother fears on the child, who must “throw the burden upon her” since everyone knows most mothers are not in fact abusive (a recent poll of British doctors concluded that child abuse in England was less than one percent, while actual statistics for the U.K. and U.S. find over half the children are still being battered and used sexually.51) Childhood in early civilizations was far worse than today. Census figures from antiquity show boy/girl ratios as high as 400/100, meaning most girls and perhaps half of the boys were infanticided (Poseidippos admitted that “even a rich man always exposes a daughter.”52) No early society ever punished infanticide; everyone knew places where exposed children were dumped by their mothers to be eaten by beasts.53 “Killing wet-nurses” were given newborn and expected to do away with them promptly. Children were widely sacrificed in antiquity: decapitated infant sacrifices to the Goddess were found at Jericho, in Carthage, in the stone circles of Britain, in India, in Aztec cities.54
The constant imagery of sacrifices and wars being conducted under the leadership of Killer Goddesses were repetitions of familiar everyday sights to children growing up in early societies, not to mention routine pederasty of young boys, widespread rape of girls, and universal beatings, burnings and mutilations. It is not a coincidence that there were female witches but no sorcerers in Greek folklore, that statues of Fear were always of a Mother, and that in the heart of battle it is a War Goddess, Ishtar, who boasts “I stand in the midst of the battle, I am the heart of the battle, the arm of the warriors.”55 Fused with the powerful Mother Goddess, the warrior becomes a Hero who saves his own brutal mother from his projected rage against her so she can finally be imagined to love him as her Savior. ..
Wars were the personal province of Mother Goddesses, as personal violence was the province of female witches, both representations of the Devouring Mother of infancy who “existed not to be loved but to be placated.”56 These goddesses were termed “mistresses of battle,” and her own soldiers killed in battle were also sacrifices to her bloodthirsty appetite: “She drinks the blood of the victims who were formerly her children.”57 Actual war leaders are usually male, of course (Queen Boadicea, Joan of Arc, Queen Elizabeth and Margaret Thatcher being macho exceptions), but the war leaders worshipped the Killer Mother: “As a goddess of war, Venus appeared in Caesar’s dreams inspiring him to conquer Gaul…on the eve of battle, Caesar offered sacrifices to Mars and to his grandmother….The next morning he led his troops into the fray with shouts of ‘Venus Victrix!’”58
…Why men feel they must fuse with their Killer Motherland and go to war against their Bad Selves. FUSION WITH THE “KILLER MOTHER” ALTER AND SPLITTING OFF THE “BAD SELF” ALTER
Children who cannot depend upon their caretaker to work through their daily fears have to “swallow down whole” their deadly abusers and store their abusive personalities in their brains, in a dissociated part of the right hemisphere’s amygdalan network, a persecutory personality termed an alter.64 Its purpose is to hold the early terrors of abuse and abandonment in a split-off form that allows the child to not have to express his pain and humiliation to the parent (usually the mother) for fear of completely losing her and being killed. The alter allows the child to blame himself for the abuse, then splitting himself as victim into two additional internal alters: the Hero Self, who clings to his Killer Mother Alter and protects her, and the Bad Self, whom he must punish to avoid having the mother completely abandon and kill him.65
The dissociated alters being in the right hemisphere explains why “left-handed males [right hemisphere dominant] are disproportionately represented in delinquent and criminal groups.”66 Alters are the time bombs embedded in the right brain during childhood that are the sources of all later violence. Because they are dissociated modules, the adult can seem to be any personality mode, even passive or withdrawn, but when they act out the earlier hurts and fears and rages against a Bad Self victim they can become a murderer or terrorist or soldier massacring thousands without guilt. It is the dissociated aspect of social violence and war that allows so many psychologists to conclude that men like Goering or Auschwitz guards or bin Laden are “perfectly normal,” since their left-brain personalities are well organized, not “psychotic,” while their right-brain dissociated alter modules periodically take over and commit their violence.68
All violent groups are formed by the fusion of the Heroic Self alter with the Killer Mother alter, just as all suicidal behavior has been found to contain a “oneness fantasy” where “the individual believes that part of the self will survive [death] in a fusional relationship with an idealized mother.”74 The power of this fusion fantasy can be seen in a simple experiment that has been repeated over and over again by Silverman and his group. They showed subliminal messages to hundreds of people, and found that only one—”MOMMY AND I ARE ONE”—had an enormous emotional effect, reducing their anxieties and pathologies and their smoking and drinking addictions measurably.75 “Daddy and I are one” had no effect. The power of this fantasy from earliest childhood on can be seen from the fact that the majority of three-year-old boys said when they grew up they wanted to be mothers.76 It is a fear of revealing this basic need to be fused with the mother that is responsible for boys playing separately from girls from the age of four and for their fears that they might “change into a girl” and so must dominate girls (and women and enemy nations) to avoid becoming a “sissy,” a “wimp.”77
Yet the fusion with the Killer Mother fantasy continues, since, as Masterson puts it: “The patient’s feelings of infantile deprivation are so fundamental, so deep, and the feelings of abandonment so painful that he is willing in therapy, as he was as a child, to sacrifice anything to fulfill the fantasy of reunion.”78 Furthermore, as the Masterson group is nearly alone in emphasizing, it is during actual “experiences of psychosocial growth, including moves toward separation-individuation” that the fear of being abandoned by the mother are most powerfully re-experienced, producing a renewed “wish for reunion that relieves the feelings of abandonment.”79 It is, observes Masterson, when patients make good progress in therapy and in their lives that they suddenly find themselves “engulfed in a feeling of freedom” and then panic. Patients say: “Going beyond what my mother wanted me to be makes me feel like I’m falling apart, disintegrating, and sets off a minefield of attack, destruction, and killing.”80
They are experiencing what I have termed “growth panic”—fears of success and independence and new freedoms and challenges. Growth panic is experienced periodically in historical periods of progress and new political freedoms, leading to renewed needs for fusion with their Killer Motherland and a creation of Bad Self enemies, and finally then wars against any out-group that is willing to fight and die for their Killer Motherland.81
Traumatized children often108 access their terrifying alters by “depersonalizing, going numb, day dreaming, and staring off into space with a glazed look.” Because alters are not modified by later experience, “it is not unusual for a childhood dream symbol to continue intermittently for years or even decades.”109 They often appear as imaginary companions during self-induced “hypnoid” trance states, even as fully conscious alternate personalities.110 I myself as a child used to split off from myself and float to the ceiling when my father beat me with his razor strap. I was so certain I could really fly I told a friend to watch me jump from a second story window and fly down (I of course broke my ankle doing so.) The majority of children even today have invisible companions or selves that are actually alters.111 Alters are “activated by strong emotional experiences, whether intensely pleasurable or intensely painful.”112 …
Violent criminals, according to Richard Rhodes, “consult ‘phantom communities’ [alters] in their heads who approve of their violent acts as revenges for past humiliations.”118 According to James Gilligan, a prison psychiatrist who has spent his life talking to violent criminals in prisons, reveals that they all were horribly abused as children: As children, these men were shot, axed, scalded, beaten, strangled, tortured, drugged, starved, suffocated, set on fire, thrown out of windows, raped, or prostituted by mothers who were their ‘pimps.’ . . . Some people think armed robbers commit their crimes in order to get money. But when you sit down and talk with people who repeatedly commit such crimes, what you hear is, ‘I never got so much respect before in my life as I did when I first pointed a gun at somebody.’”119