The rainmaker and the dream of droughtStephen Farah
Jung was fond of telling a story of a drought being broken in a village in China by a Taoist rainmaker.
I share the story and some further thoughts on it in the light of the current drought and impending day zero in the Cape.
There was a great drought where [Richard] Wilhelm lived; for months there had not been a drop of rain and the situation became catastrophic. The Catholics made processions, the Protestants made prayers, and the Chinese burned joss-sticks and shot off guns to frighten away the demons of the drought, but with no result.
Finally, the Chinese said, ‘We will fetch the rain-maker.’ And from another province a dried up old man appeared. The only thing he asked for was a quiet little house somewhere, and there he locked himself in for three days.
On the fourth day the clouds gathered and there was a great snow-storm at the time of the year when no snow was expected, an unusual amount, and the town was so full of rumours about the wonderful rain-maker that Wilhelm went to ask the man how he did it.
In true European fashion he said: ‘They call you the rain-maker; will you tell me how you made the snow?’
And the rain-maker said: ‘I did not make the snow; I am not responsible.’
‘But what have you done these three days?’
‘Oh, I can explain that. I come from another country where things are in order. Here they are out of order; they are not as they should be by the ordinance of heaven. Therefore, the whole country is not in Tao, and I also am not in the natural order of things because I am in a disordered country.
So, I had to wait three days until I was back in Tao and then naturally the rain came.’
This story was often used by my late teacher, to illustrate the idea that if one is in the “Tao” then one’s path in the external world is unencumbered, and, inversely, when one encounters a disturbance in the world, it is usually indicative of an inner disturbance. I confess at the outset that accepting such a view – unless one lives in Cape Town where such views proliferate – is a conceptual leap. I resist offering an extended defence of such a view, as it will take us too far afield of the point of this short post. Suffice to say, having devoted myself to the study and teaching of Jungian psychology, I have come to believe it is a perspective that is not without some value.
As someone reading this post, you will either immediately be sympathetic to such a perspective (it will resonate with your inner Capetonian) or you will find it irrational, superstitious and anti-intellectual, in which case, you would of course be quite right. Nevertheless, even if you are a member of this latter camp of anal intelligentsia, put a pin in your overactive critical mind and let us travel down the rabbit hole together. We do this in the hopes of finding something of value, irrespective of how irrational such investigation may be. In my own experience, as mentioned, this symbolic-metaphorical lens can provide an understanding that eludes a more conventional literal and strict-reduction-to-the-physical-conditions perspective.
With the above qualification in place, I set about asking the question, how exactly the Taoist rainmaker might have proceeded with his restoration of the inner and by natural extension the outer Tao. Whilst any answer to the question is naturally speculative, I think the following method would be a good starting point. To consider the drought in Cape Town and the impending day zero, as though it were a dream being presented in analysis. All the content of a dream is seen as symbolic – symbolising repressed aspects of the subject’s unconscious psyche.
Using this method of dream analysis, I asked the question: at a symbolic level, what does the drought in Cape Town mean? What does it symbolise? Why are we (i.e. the Capetonians) having this collective dream at this time? What is the collective unconscious psyche of the Cape trying to communicate to us, the subjects of the dream, with the symbolic-mythological image of the drought?
I posed this question in two classes that I taught in Cape Town this week. There was no shortage of answers! I have tried to weave these along with my own thoughts into something cohesive, although, of course, provisional.
Read as a symbolic communication, four, arguably convergent, themes emerged in relating to the drought and its precipitative water crisis.
The drought symbolises a dryness in the community, an absence of feeling, flow, connectedness and life. In psychoanalytic terms: a lack of relatedness, interpersonal dynamics and a splitting.
It also speaks of hubris, inflation, elitism, privilege, entitlement, solipsism, narrow mindedness and a disconnectedness from the country, continent and larger African community, where scarcity of water supply is commonplace. In psychoanalytic terms: a state of inflated and now pathological narcissism.
It speaks of a lack of honesty, a failure to deal with contextualised reality, misinformation, a lack of: foresight, leadership, integrity and authenticity. In psychological terms: a state of unconsciousness.
An unwillingness to take personal responsibility and a blaming of others for the crisis. The community blaming the government: local and national. The government shifting responsibility onto the community and blaming them. The local government blaming the national government for lack of support and resources, the national government blaming the local government for lack of planning.
And, possibly the most telling, the finger pointing going on in the community itself. Let’s face it, at this point your garden is still green or, heaven forbid, your swimming pool still has water in it, you’re a suspect. In psychoanalytic terms: this is projection – a displacing of one’s own denied sin onto others. Reading some of the sanctimonious anally-retentive morally-superior bullshit a few Capetonians have written about their neighbours: private and public, one can but infer that locally this type of projection has become a cultivated art form.
It would be good to hear some thoughts on this from other Capetonians.
One redemptive idea is that day zero offers a rare opportunity for a different experience of community. A moment where the default inflation of the Cape Town’s privileged may be humbled by standing in a queue along with other members of the community, irrespective of “class” or social status. Whilst this is probably not strictly speaking true – because the privileged will no doubt find alternate and more privileged solutions than queuing up for their water – it does represent an opportunity, both symbolic and literal, for a renewed sense of community, even, dare I say it – for an experience of ubuntu.
The above said, a community is a collective fiction held in the consciousness of the real people that populate and give rise to it. Nothing can live in the community that does not supervene on the individuals that collectively identify themselves as part of that community.
This brings us into the proper ambit of psychology, the level of the subject, i.e. you. The best takeaway from any dream, is to enquire as to what question is asks of you, the dreamer.
If you were in the position of the rainmaker, which, if you are resident in Cape Town or surrounds, you are, and if this was your dream, which it is, the question to ask is,
“Where am I unrelated to the other (members of my community/reality/the environment), split, inflated, dishonest or unconscious?”
Or, to cast the net a little wider, anyone resident in any community disturbed by natural or social disaster, might usefully ask herself the question, “How am I disturbed?”
Now, let’s be upfront about this. The Chinese rainmaker’s capacity to restore the Tao and break the drought may exceed our own. The story is told because it is remarkable, not commonplace. Like every other privileged Capetonian, I have my 5Lt bottle of water, bought from Woolworths, at my side and am ready to face day zero. All the while, keeping an eye on the flight prices to Jo’burg around mid-April, should my 5-litre water supply run out before they switch the taps back on.
No one would be more surprised than me that upon the publication of this post, or the days that follow – he wrote, wondering how long after its publication he could claim credit for having saved the community and broken the drought – the heavens were to open and bless our parched earth with the much-needed rain.
Such a fairy-tale conclusion seems improbable in the midst of this much-more-nightmarish-than-fairy-tale-like dream of the drought. However, I suggest, that irrespective of how long it takes for the rains to return to the Cape, we, as a community, would be well served by breaking the drought that currently plagues the soul of this community.
The drought of feeling.
The drought of relatedness.
The drought of honesty.
The drought of responsibility.
The drought that is evident every time you drive on our roads, open the newspaper (or whatever the contemporary digital equivalent is properly called), read another finger pointing post on social media or try and engage those “woke-folk” beyond the shadow cast by the mountain.
Like you, I pray for rain.
 Told to him in turn by sinologist Richard Wilhelm
 p. 419-20 Mysterium Coniunctionis: an Inquiry into the Separation and Synthesis of Psychic Opposites in Alchemy, vol 14 Bollingen Series XX: The Collected Works of C. G. Jung, 2d edition, trans by R.F.C. Hull, Princeton University Press 1976
 In a recent speech from de Lille (Cape Town’s premier) she does just this! http://ewn.co.za/2018/01/18/almost-60-capetonians-ignoring-water-limits-thrust-city-closer-to-day-zero