Flooding, riverbeds and Archetypes By Stephen Foster, Jungian Analyst


Archetypes are like riverbeds which dry up when the water deserts them, but which it can find again at any time. An archetype is like an old watercourse along which the water of life has flowed for centuries, digging a deep channel for itself. The longer it has flowed in this channel the more likely it is that sooner or later the water will return to its old bed.

CW 10: Civilization in Transition. P. 395

One month after the event, it is impossible to have lived in Boulder, or the small mountain communities near us, and not have been emotionally and, in some devastating cases, physically moved by the flooding that occurred on September 12 through 14, 2103.  We have been touched personally, we know those who have been touched, and in some cases know those who have been “wiped out” by the water and the mud that flooded out of the hills, after we received one year’s worth of rain (18.5 inches) in a few days.

It quickly became apparent, that we had experienced an event with traumatic consequences.  When one hears, “we were lucky, we only had three feet of mud in our basement, and we didn’t loose our house,” it actually says more about the friends who were left homeless.  For those affected there are so many “hard parts” to the destruction.  It is not just the lost material property (house, car, furniture), although these losses are hard enough, there is the loss of stored precious memories, stored photographs (births, weddings, anniversaries), yearbooks, and more.  And the smell of antediluvian basement mold in one’s beloved treasures is unforgettable.

Emotional flooding during and after powerful events parallels Jung’s observation on Archetypes; our own emotional riverbeds fill in ways we have not known, yet they somehow feel familiar to us.  Our emotions flow in rivers; tears fill our eyes welling up like groundwater from beneath the surface.  When it is too much for us, they flow over the banks of our fragile containing ego consciousness, and we dissolve. When the energy is too much for the ego it is overwhelmed and lost in the flood. Yet, Archetypes have no value, except that assigned by the ego, and there is another side to flooding.  When psychic energy flows through psychic channels, we can also feel the energy enliven those unseen aspects of our world.

The Archetype of flooding is as old as civilization itself. In Egypt it was the source of renewal, and sustained life in the desert.  The god of the event was Hapi, and one image of Hapi is two figures holding a common strand of wheat, representing the uniting of Upper and Lower Egypt.  For those of us who are not required to rebuild our lives, the experience has challenged us to reexamine what has value, what is important in our lives, and to reconsider our relationship with the small mountain towns and people who were grievously impacted.  In the midst of material losses there is an opportunity for reorientation and renewal.  By eliminating the unimportant we may all return to one of the deepest and most important Archetypes of human existence that unites upper and lower, and that can heal so much: relationship.