Amplification: The Spiral

Journal of Analytical Psychology 1984, 29, 125-134
Neil W. Russack, San Francisco
I am particularly interested in the creative healing process which occurs in the psyche of the human being. For three years I had the fortunate opportunity of sitting for an hour a week with a man in whose unconscious the symbols of the spiral appeared and reappeared in such ways as to make me try to understand this wondrous process. Nothing much seemed to happen on the surface, but in the depths it was a different story, and that is the theme of this paper.
Along with the dreams I will describe illustrations of the spiral as it first came up in the different cultures of the Neolithic period. These, I hope, will amplify the meaning of this symbol and help us to understand the patient better. Most of the descriptions have been worked out from slides in the Archive for Research in Archetypal Symbolism (ARAS); for the purpose of this paper all except one have to be given in words.
The patient is a forty-four-year-old white male homosexual teacher who sought therapy because of his increasing problem with writing commitments and an inability to complete his Ph.D. He had had some short-term psychotherapy ten years before, at the time of the death of both parents. Three significant people, all men, one of whom was the patient's Ph.D. adviser, died within a year prior to the patient's seeking help. He made it quite clear that their deaths were extremely upsetting, and said it reminded him of the anxious feelings he had experienced at the time of his parents' deaths.
The patient was born and raised in California. He has an older brother who had five unsuccessful marriages with very emotionally sick women, some of whom were suicidal. The sister, also older, is much healthier and is married with children. The mother had shock treatments for presumed schizophernia; she was the stronger or more dominant of the two parents, at least in the house. The father was a salesman whose feelings were expressed in his work. He had many friends who referred to him by a nickname, but in the house he was addressed with his formal name.
The patient is pleasant looking, casually but well dressed, sensitive, very quiet and softly spoken, well above average intelligence, and highly articulate. I had the sense that he was very protective of his feelings and it would take me a good long time to learn anything worth knowing about him. This is fact turned out to be true. Clinically, he appeared mildly depressed. He reported that he had increasing attacks of anxiety, and sadness which expressed itself mainly in a choking sensation in his neck. He takes five to fifteen milligrams of Valium each day to relieve this symptom. He is a chain-smoker. For the past eight years he has been living with a black professional man and considers this a marriage. In actuality the patient was married for a short time early in his life but this lacked any real substance. I will present his dreams in as complete a form as possible, but will restrict my comments only to the main symbol. This is the initial dream:

I was walking down an old street. To my left there was a garden wall. I could see over the wall what I at first took to be an elephant's head stuck in the crotch of a tree. It was a non-bearing fig tree. I went around to the corner where the wall joined the house and climbed over it. There was a clay finial which was broken in my climbing. I walked across the garden which was mostly paving stones, like a patio, to the tree. I could see when I got close that it was an octopus in the tree, and that the two arms closest to me had been stuffed, taxidermised, and that's why I had mistaken it for a head. The two dead arms were close together and separated from the other arms and I had mistaken them for a trunk. I reached up and touched the treated arms. They had a hard leathery texture and I could see stitching in them. I turned to see if anyone in the house had discovered me in the garden.

This dream was presented in the first hour. I asked him, 'What is a dead, taxidermised octopus doing in a tree?' He did not know and appeared even apologetic that he did not. I said the octopuses that I knew were found in water. The patient's association to the octopus was that it was exposed and unprotected. He said this was how he had felt most of his life.
Dr. H.K. Fierz presented a case in San Francisco several years ago of an institutionalised schizophrenic woman who began drawing pictures on her wall which looked like images of an octopus. The octopus, one of the aquatic symbols, is usually seen as a negative mother symbol because of the tentacles and suckers it uses in squeezing and sucking its prey to death. Because it lacks a shell or container, the octopus is extremely vulnerable; for defence it creates a camouflage by squirting a black ink-like substance at its pursuer. In his case Dr. Fierz demonstrated that this sea creature was clearly a symbol of healing. As this image became both more clear and more conscious, the woman improved dramatically and was able to leave the hospital when she was aged sixty-five.
My patient had one dream of a chiton, several of snails, and two of octopi. I think that a description as well as classification of these sea animals will give us another perspective from which to view them. Storer makes the following classification and states that these sea animals were first in evidence in the Cambrian time (relating to the earliest geologic period of the Paleozoic era), about 500 million years ago:

Phylum Mollusca (Molluscs): Members of the Phylum Mollusca have soft, unsegmented bodies, consisting typically of an interior head, a ventral foot, and a dorsal visceral mass. The body is more or less surrounded by a thin fleshy mantle and is commonly sheltered in an external calcareous shell. The Phylum comprises five classes of diverse appearance and habits: the chitons (Class Amphineura), toothshells (Scaphopoda), sn
ails and slugs (Gastropoda), clams, oysters and other bivalves (Pelecypoda), and the nautili, squids, and octopuses (Cephalopoda) (Storer 8, p.416).

I will now offer three verbal illustrations of ARAS slides depicting octopuses on clay pots found in Greece, dating from the second millennium B.C. They are natural images of the octopus, full of vigour and rendered individually or in patterns decorating jars and jugs. (Hawkes 4, pp. 270 (PI. 42); 269, 104). On the fourth slide there are Mycenean pots. One is the so-called 'owl shaped' vase, which is really a representation of the mother-pot in the form of a conventionalised octopus (Smith 7, p. 140, fig. 40).
From the image of an octopus emerges a mother symbol in the form of a pot or container resembling a uterus, the generative organ for new life. This would correspond psychologically to the idea of analysis as container. Developmentally we see a transition from the image in its natural form to that embodied in a mother symbol.
The patient told me two dreams:

I went down into what was apparently a basement cafeteria in a department store. It was crowded with people and I could find no place to sit down or eat. One the right wall there appeared to be a set of bleachers, and above them, dead bleached branches, such as used by a display department, had been arranged. I climbed up to the top of the bleachers, then I could see that the dead branches were covered with snails. They were alive and moving, leaving their silvery tracks on the pale grey wood.

In the second dream,

I was walking in a very lush tropical garden in Ceylon. It was night, but the moon was shining brightly enough to see. I walked over a wooden arched bridge; it was steeply arched like a Japanese bridge. On the other side there were some shiny deep green plants. The leaves were very large, like elephant's ears. I lifted a top leaf and could see snails on the leaves hidden beneath. I picked the off and threw them on the ground, but each time I lifted a leaf I could see more snails beneath.

The patient said that the snail had a shell and was more protected that the octopus. If he were attacked he could retreat into his shell; but when he came out then he was vulnerable. The only association to shells the patient recalled was that as a young boy before the age of six, he would walk up and down along the coast picking up all sorts of sea shells.
What I saw in these dreams was that something had suddenly come to life. Instead of a dead octopus in a tree, we had live snails in their natural habitat. I have heard other analysts say that the spiral is one of the most basic, natural and simple symbols of that creative aspect of the unconscious associated with the healing process.
In the next series of 'illustrations' I wanted to show the spiral as it appears in nature. A beautiful example is that of the chambered nautilus, with a cross-section revealing the interior spiral of a dissected shell. Then follows an illustration of belts of cowry shells worn by women in East Africa and Oceania around their pelvic girdle connecting the symbol of the spiral to women and the generative function (Smith 7, p. 140, fig. 20). After that is a depiction of the substitution of Hathor heads in Egypt for cowries of the primitive girdle. So we see a similar transition from the natural shell to the image of Hathor, a mother goddess.
There were a many fertility goddesses in different Middle Eastern cultures who displayed either in their head-dresses or in their garments the image of the spiral. The scholar, Ilse Fuhr, who has made a study of the 'omega symbol' (her term for the double spiral) demonstrates that it appears with frequency over the entire ancient world in association with the mother goddess, for example in Mesopotamia, in association with Ninhursag, and in Egypt as in this example, worn by Hathor or one of her devotees (Fuhr 2).
The next illustration (see Fig. I) depicts a sculpture from the Old Babylonian Period, early second millennium B.C. It shows the goddess Nintu standing, wearing a high head-dress, a long flounced garment, holding an object before her in her left hand, holding another object at shoulder level in her upraised right hand. There are two heads sprouting from the shoulder of the goddess, one appearing to have its mouth against the object in the hand of the goddess, and there are symbols, or insignia, at either side of the goddess, appearing like unlooped cord ending in spiral curls. Beneath the symbol at either side of the goddess there are emaciated figures seated on the ground, elbows resting on drawn up knees, chins resting on hands.
Nintu was a goddess of fecundity, with a temple at Khafaje, whose name means 'queen who gives birth'.
The squatting figures and symbols suggest death, gestation and birth. Parrot describes the figures as acolytes.
Next I should like to describe two more ARAS slides which show a proto-literate period in the Middle East, about 3000 B.C. They depict a 'so-called lion demon' with a horseshoe motif ending in spiral-like curls coming down the back of the head. This motif 'is the sacred symbol of the Lady of Birth who is identified in Mesopotamia as Ninhursag, or Nintu, from the earliest times'. Frankfort has argued that this form is actually a linear rendering of the bicornate uterus of a wild heifer and is, therefore, a reasonable symbol for birth. He further observes that one Mesopotamian list of divinities refers to Ninhursag as 'The Uterus' and that 'her association with cattle is of greatest antiquity' (Frankfort 1, pp. 198-200).
The patient told me the following dream:

I was talking to J.H., my graduate advisor, and he told me he had a job he thought I might like. He took me to a doughnut stand. The doughnuts were oversized. They were stacked on trays on the counter facing me and on the left, on a counter which ran back to the wall and formed the left barrier to the stand. I could see cinnamon rolls shaped like bakery snails lying on their trays. I told H I did not think I wanted to take the job of running the doughnut stand.

Soon after he dreamed a further dream:

I went down into the basement of a department store where I worked. I wandered around. The telephone rang. It was the boss complaining. I was angry. I took the telephone and shouted into it, 'Damn it! Why don't you just say what you want and get it over with?' I went over to a rack of coats. They were all on sale, but as I examined the prices they were still too expensive for me. Behind the rack were three piles of excrement. They were the shape of ice cream that had been squeezed out of a Foster's Freeze machine. In the third pile was a little sales tag on a stick.

Jung said about the spiral:

The spiral in psychology means that when you make a spiral you always come over the same point where you have been before, but never really the same, it is above or below, inside, outside, so it means growth (Jung 5, p. 21).

Here we have two dreams about the digestive process. The patient was now curious how these snails had changed. In the first dream the symbol is in the form of cinnamon rolls shaped like bakery snails, presumably baked by people. We know cooking or baking reveals that people were more civilised as opposed to earlier times when they ate their food raw. In the second dream the excrement is in the shape of the mollusc (when viewed from above). Instead of seen as something edible, it is found already digested. It is as if the symbol has gone completely through the digestive system and emerged from the other end. There is a process at work now.
The spiral as a lunar symbol comes up on pots during the time of the High Neolithic (4,500-3,500 B.C.)-a period in which pottery painted with beautiful geometrical designs emerged. Me next amplificatory description is of a terra-cotta vessel from the west coast of Anatolia, the pre-Hellenic period, 2000 B.C.
It is a ritual vessel with two small vertical handles. The body of the vase is decorated with two identical curvilinear patterns consisting of a central open loop terminating in recurving spirals.
The symbolic form which is discernable on the body of this piece has been interpreted by Frankfort as originally based on the bicornate uterus of a heifer (Frankfort 1). We find this symbol in practically all the ancient cultures of the Mediterranean, and its appearance seems to be related directly to birth and to the goddess who brings forth life from the womb. The discovery of this vessel in level III at Troia (dating approximately 2,000 B.C.) may demonstrate the link by which the birth symbol was transferred from the Near East in the third millennium to the various islands of the Cyclades in the first three centuries after the dawn of the second millennium. This form would be appropriate on a vessel for the image of the container as a feminine symbol (specifically, for the womb), one of the most ancient of all archetypal patterns.
This container is a protector of life. It is where the libido should be protected. This idea of the container that we see in the shell of the snail, in pots, and later in houses, is one of the main themes of analytical psychology.
The patient at this point had several dreams of houses. He was developing his container. He had come a long way from the exposed octopus, first into the protected shell of the mollusc, and now into the house for the human. One of these dreams was as follows:

I went into a courtyard covered in cobblestones and got into my car. I sat on the left. When I looked to the right I could see there were dual controls. I saw two sets of MG gear levers side by side. The housing on the levers were the ordinary ones that looked like ringed beehives.

We now see the spiral in the form of ringed beehives (beehives having that same fundamental spiral shape). They are housing the gear shifts of a car. Psychologically, we would think of a car as being closely related to the ego. Since the symbol houses the gear shift, the psyche might be implying that the patient can now use his own will in directing his life.
What most interested me here was that he used the word 'house' in describing the container for the gear shifts, a 'house' in the shape of ringed beehives. As early as the fourth millennium B.C. there were beehive houses, for example, at Arpachiyah, at Tepe Gawra, and at Orchomenus in Boetia (Giedion 3, fig. 103, pp. 178-9). They also occur in France and in Northern Ireland.
Jung writes:

What is particularly noteworthy here is the consistent development of the central symbol. We can hardly help feeling that the unconscious process moves spiralwise round a centre, gradually getting closer, while the characteristics of the centre grow more and more distinct (Jung 6, p. 207).

Another dream followed:

I walked around a swimming pool towards a large rambling house which had big windows facing the pool. I went into the house and wandered from room to room. I was apprehensive lest the occupants return and find me there. I recognised that I had been in the house before. I touched the paper on the walls. It was grasscloth. There were large beamed cathedral ceiling and dark wainscotting. I know that someone had been in the house before me because an unfooted bud vase was lying on a round table and for some reason I knew it had been moved. It was made of opalescent glass, but it was cracked. I picked it up and examined it; the left hurriedly with the feeling that it was I who had moved it.

The patient all along pointed out to me 'his symbol' as it came up in a dream. I would not have recognised it here. But, as he told me, I could see it: the bud vase, rounded on the bottom (they do not stand by themselves), takes up the form. His association was that these vases were carried in the back of 1935 Packard cars. He was growing up as a boy during the 1930's.
The house represents the world of the mother with its high, beamed cathedral ceilings and dark wainscotting. The patient feels guilty at having moved something that has a fixed attachment to the mother. He then examines it and finds it is cracked. Bit the vase in the dream does have a vertical neck which might (if it were not defective) represent a container for the spiritual as well as the earth principle. This is what I had hoped for; a pushing upward from the earth-oriented houses to the aspirational types seen in ziggurats and pyramid temples.
However, this was not the case. The patient was still living in the world of the mother psychology but was slowly developing a very primitive anima represented by molluscs. In fact, when the university approached his to finish his Ph.D. within a certain time limit, he refused with a great sigh of relief.
Here is the last dream:

I went down the back stairs which were steep into the garden. It was overgrown and full of animals. There were not ordinary animals, but strange. They looked like sheep but were the size of small dogs. I herded them, moving them out through a hedge. I saw a round, egg-shaped chitinous object and picked it up. There was a small hole in the top. It was dangerous. I put a pencil into the hole and serrated edges moved out and gripped the pencil so that I could lift it with the pencil, the grip was so strong. Then I could see that there were tiny holes all over it and slimy pseudopodia oozed out through the holes. It was a monstrous and dangerous thing.

He was frightened by this dream. The rounded form had taken on teeth. The description fits that of one of the molluscs described by Storer: '...mouth with a radula bearing transverse rows of minute chitinous teeth to rasp food' (Storer 8). His association to this dream was with a milk glass egg given to his mother by her mother. At this session he brought in the milk glass vinegar cruet which always sat on the kitchen table and from which he daily sipped some vinegar as a boy. He also brought in the family album and other treasured objects which he had kept over the years.
I would see this dream as a regression. We know that regression is a normal part of development. 'The analytical process, like any creative process in life, moves from progression to regression and back again' (Jung 6, p. 28).
Jung wrote:

The way to the goal seems chaotic and interminable at first, and only gradually do the signs increase that it is leading anywhere. The way is not straight but appears to go round in circles. More accurate knowledge has proved it to go in spirals: the dream-motifs always return after certain intervals to definite forms, whose characteristic it is to define a centre. And as a matter of fact the whole process revolves about a central point or some arrangement round a centre, which may in certain circumstances appear even in the initial dreams. As manifestations of unconscious processes the dreams rotate or circumambulate round the centre, drawing closer to it as the amplifications increase in distinctness and in scope. Owing to the diversity of the symbolical material it is difficult at first to perceive any kind of order at all. Nor should it be taken for granted that dream sequences are subject to any governing principle. But, as I say, the process of development proves on closer inspection to be cyclic or spiral. We might draw a parallel between such spiral courses and the processes of growth in plants; in fact the plant motif (tree, flower, etc.) frequently recurs in these dreams and fantasies and is also spontaneously drawn or painted. In alchemy the tree is the symbol of Hermetic philosophy (Jung 6, pp. 28-9).

The patient continued to have many more dreams with his symbol of the spiral seen in light bulbs, eye glasses and bottles of alcohol. Throughout his series of dreams, we can observe the psyche playing with this symbol from many points of view. One can only marvel at its creativeness. What is presented here gives us some idea of what we might learn by following the development of a single theme.
Clinically, the patient felt better: he had less general anxiety. He was able to work and he felt more secure in his relationship with the man with whom he was living.
In summary, I would say that the original spiral seems to be associates with primordial movement in the unconscious directed towards creating new life. Historically, we followed the development and evolution of the symbol of the spiral as it appeared in different cultures. First, we saw it in its natural form, then in cowry shells that adorned women's girdles, and later integrated into the coiffure and dress of the earth goddess. We were naturally led to the psychological realisation of the regenerative death and rebirth cycle as represented by the earth mother goddess and experienced in the patient by the sense of renewal. Clinically, the emergence of this dream symbol had the effect on the patient of reducing his anxiety and ameliorating his depression.
Using amplification as a means to understand the archetypal material can lead us to a more clear conception of the patient's psychology.
Did I use amplification in the treatment process? No, I did not share any of that knowledge with him. I used it solely for my own edification to help me understand him better and the process that was unfolding in the unconscious. I might have shared it with him if it had come up naturally, for example, if he had had a dream of a fertility goddess or if he had conceptualised the material in that direction. I do not know if other analysts share this kind of amplification, but I expect that, like intellectual knowledge because of the danger of interfering with the analytic process within the patient and do not want to disturb the transference and countertransference.
1. Frankfort, H. (1944). 'A note on the Lady of Birth'. Journal of Near Eastern Studies, III. University of Chicago.
2. Fuhr, I. (1967). Omegaförmigen Symbol. Wiesbaden. O Harrasswitz.
3. Giedion, S. (1964). The Eternal Present: the Beginnings of Architecture. New York. Pantheon Books.
4. Hawkes, J. (1968). Dawn of the Gods. London. Chatto & Windus.
5. Jung, C.G. (1929). Dream Analysis, Parts II & III. (Seminar Notes privately printed). Zürich.
6. -(1944). Psychology & Alchemy. Coll wks. 12.
7. Smith, E. G. (1919). The Evolution of the Dragon. Manchester University Press.
8. Storer, T.I. (1951). General Zoology. New York. McGraw-Hill.