The pitchfork and the flute

November 23 2013

It was Human Nature that Horace had in mind when he wrote that Nature will always keep on coming back at you, even if you drive her out with a pitchfork; [footnote: “Naturam expellas furcâ, tamen usque recurret.” – Horace, Epistulae I, x, 24.] and, in the Subconscious Psyche’s repertory of “primordial images”, this Nature that is Man’s inseparable and intractable companion is expressively portrayed as a bull. This creature, far stronger physically than Man, which Man has precariously subjugated by the exercise of his Intellect and his Will, is an apt symbol for those subconscious principalities and powers in the Psyche which are so much more difficult for the Intellect and the Will to cope with than any veritably non-human living creature is.

Two antithetical alternative policies for coping with this psychic bull are commended in two significant myths. In the Mithraic myth a hero slays the monster and staggers forward with his victim’s inseparable carcase weighing on his shoulders. In the Zen Mahayanian Buddhist myth a boy-herdsman makes friends with the great ox and comes home riding on the monster’s back to the music of the rider’s flute. The boy’s deft diplomacy is a more effective way of dealing with Man’s problem than the hero’s crude resort to force; for the force which sometimes recoils upon its user, even when Non-Human Nature is its target, is a wholly inappropriate instrument for dealing with the psychic bull.

An Historian’s Approach to Religion, OUP, 1956

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