Wearing the Animal: A Transformational Motif in Feminine Psychology

Jacquie Flecknoe-Brown is an experienced Jungian Analyst working in private practice in Melbourne, Australia.                                                                    She is the author of The Dreamer’s Odyssey: A Guide to the Creative Unconscious, a 10 week guide which                                                                    provides the dreamer with a step-by-step guide to help them interpret and work through their own dreams.                                                                                  Here she examines the link between animals and personal transformation and release.

A Jungian Analyst is a dream, symbol and motif interpreter. What happens in dreams, fairy
tales and myths has symbolic importance and can’t be judged using social, religious or
cultural standards.

Anyone who has read Grimm’s fairy tales knows how gruesome and ruthlessly direct they
can be. There is one consistent truth in them – possibly the only consistent truth – that if the
hero or heroine is kind to an animal, they will be repaid with help when they most need it.
This is also the symbolic meaning of wearing the skin or fur of an animal. When a feminine
figure, like the harassed princess Allerleirauh hides herself in furs, it is not just to escape her
lecherous father. The tale goes much further than that.

The symbolic meaning of wearing animal skin remains vital and relevant to human
psychology today. Those societies closer to their indigenous mythic roots have more
knowledge of the way to hunt and kill an animal and prepare its skin, in order to preserve
the animal’s soul: for the soul remains in the skin. The skin is an organ of transformation, as
it transforms itself from birth to death in the life of the individual.


Allerleirauh is using the skins to transform herself, but not just from daughter-victim. She is
placing herself under the cover of her own natural instincts: the skin-souls of the epiphanies
of the mother nature goddess. The girl in the tale (as is true for all figures in myth and fairy
tale) is not a character but an archetypal pattern in humanity. So the use of the animal skins
as a motif is also archetypal. Here, under the skin, is the secret protected transformation of
the archetypal feminine away from the regressive masculine kingdom. She needs to go into
the forest (into her own nature, not what the collective culture thinks she is) to become
herself. The animals have sacrificed for this purpose. She must also sacrifice. She can no
longer be a princess for now, she is a fur-covered kitchen hand serving the prince of a
different kingdom. When all is revealed, by her own and the prince’s wiles, they can marry,
as the transformation and renewal in the feminine and masculine principles is completed.
It may be that much of the protective element for the feminine in wearing the skin is not just
protection from the masculine, but protection from civilised life which separates us all from
nature and its teachings. It takes us back to the paradisiacal times when there was no
separation from spirit and the natural world, when we didn’t have to ponder existence and
become confused – though no doubt depression and anxiety existed in earlier aeons as a
normal response to difficult times. As Jung informs us, depression and anxiety feel
dangerous and can turn quickly into restlessness and addictive patterns.


Having the capacity to sit with depression generally requires a strong ego. But what if the ego                                                                                                isn’t strong, if it is young or damaged? How does a person quieten themselves in order to sit in                                                                                                    this unpleasant and painful state in order to learn and invite transformation? Symbolically, wearing                                                                                              the animal skin invites a handing over, a trust in one’s own nature and assistance from
something outside of oneself. This is also part of the cultural meaning of wearing the veil. It
provides protection from an overbearing or fundamentalist masculine culture which
misunderstands the feminine and wishes to make it a slave. Veiling as a choice can serve
and preserve the feminine in her development, but if it is brutally co-opted and dogmatised
by extremism it demonstrates the restrictive dangers to development and becomes a tragic
regressive danger to the feminine in those one-sided and out of balance societies.
These tales tell of the way in which transformation can occur, under certain circumstances
in the collective culture, and can also be guides for the individual who is suffering under a
complex or problem. The animals are always helpful, and reflect to us our deeper nature.
When their skins are worn, we are allowing the animal wisdom to cover and release us from
our misguided ways: generally the unanalysed thinking traps we fall into. The stories are
collective, they came from an oral tradition retold and developed over time. They tell us that
though our outer circumstances may have developed, our inner truths remain the same.


Image by Jr Kopa on Unsplash

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