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
This is the preamble to and the poem I wrote for the opening of an exhibition on Drought, at the Artvark Gallery, in Kalk Bay:
Writing a poem is like a hunter tracking an animal, running it down, as it weakens from his poisoned arrow.
Metaphor is like dreaming: the dreamer is the hunter, the arrow, the poison and the weakening animal. And so, the poet.
The poet tracks images, like a hunter finds a piece of hair on a bush, here, a drop of blood, there. Like the hunter running through the bush in the heat of the day, she does not know when she will come on the animal, no longer able to run. She does not know whether her strength will take her there. She does not know when all that is arising will coalesce in one moment – coming upon the animal, or writing the poem.
Writing this poem has been like the hunter being asked by his family to go out and bring back an eland and bring it back in three or so weeks. Well, three weeks is a long time, when people are hungry. This is what I have brought back. I hope it brings nourishment. And thank you for the invitation and opportunity…
Every good gift
Every perfect gift
Is from above
And comes down from the father of lights
With whom is no variableness
Neither shadow of turning
My weather is your weather
My drought yours
In language beyond language
Inside and out
Each every day
What is brought
Be it rain be it drought
Is how we are taught
There is no pulling out
Finally the rains
Finally these words
Heavens opening is not just rain
Mirrors drought inside
It’s the way it’s designed
We’re being asked like Adam was
To name the animals
To find a place
Like a kudu on a rock face
For drought to be known
In our inner totem
Ladder of letters
Streams on and on
Finally the rains
Finally these words
Heavens opening is not just rain
This is the design faithful
Holding up a mirror
Even if it’s awful
What spills from the heart
Like it always does
Drought on the inside
Finds its way out
No words for the child whose father is dying
Nor milk from the mother like nothing is happening
Drought in the womb and of milk and of words
Drought is no words
A bird with my beak
I seek out the snails
I make words about no words
When the rain has come
Finally the rains
Finally these words
Heavens opening is not just rain
Very moving Karen, thank you for sharing this with us.
My pleasure Stephen. Always good to find like minds…
What a beautiful poem speaking to our desiccated hearts… We have been so isolated from our ego minds, trying to control the outside without discovering our inner natures, denying the feminine; messy, …damp with nurturing and expansive and becoming free … to create a new healing Earth … Gratefully… tenderly, Cheryl
Thank you, Stephen, as you suggested i needed to bite my tongue and read through for the gold but it was there and so much of it – am going to quote some of this [with a link] on a blog post i am writing this morning to try encourage Cape Town to see this as an opportunity to get so much better at really seeing and stepping towards each other.
Thank you for sharing.
love brett fish
Thank you my friend. I am not sure if this is me (or those of us thinking this way) but this very dry storm cloud really does seem to hold the possibility of silver lining. I am increasingly sensitive to and aware of of what a unique opportunity and experience this is for us as a a community. Please be so kind as to post the link to your blog in the comments section under this post. I look forward to reading it.
Yes! My sentiments exactly, so good to here this perspective, thank you. Here’s a poem I wrote in October.
In Drought of Consciousness…
Dry the ground beneath
Reflections of a sky
Too long silenced
Yet to cry
And hollow eyed
The silent sky reflects
This, our emptiness
Long dried the springs
And river beds
Life lines tapped
The silent sky reflects
Our collective and cumilative
Slowly turned to desert
Our humanity petrified
In this isolation
Forgetting that its deepest thirst
Shall be quenched
Only through connection
The sky in silence, awaits
– Katherine Therèse Whaling
Thank you so much for sharing this with us Katherine.
Very thought provoking
So so beautiful Katherine Thank You for this gift today, we continue to refocus on truth and love and connectedness through this chaos and upheaval.. your poem is a beautiful mirror
Thank you for this gift today Katherine, your poem is a mirror of Truth,
Well written, much needed perspective. Thanks for writing
Thank you Chuk.
Indeed, what metaphysical drought is really going on … ?
Very well written. I’m not a Jungian specialist at all, but I do believe that it is a state of unconsciousness. The only issue I take personally, is that once someone has transcended that state of unconsciousness, they are simply in another level of unconsciousness. The rains will fall when they will, and they will fall when they must, regardless of Tao or Ubuntu.
What is most true though, is how we comprehend it, there I agree with you.
The parable underlying principle of the flow of Tao from the inside to the Outside being ‘encumbered’ or blocked is a useful one which opens new ways of seeing and acting. I don’t think any of us seriously believes that praying for rain will miraculously materialise some solution. But we can see the drought as a gift which will provide us with the agency and will to address the issues that your workshopping brought up.
Their is a the problem of perception of the problem. Our dominant narrative frames the drought as an aberration to be ultimately overcome though hope and resilience until the new rains come. But scientists has been telling us for over two decades now that the current condition is the ‘new normal’. By ignoring this and persisting in our old naive and greedy ways we have created a self-inflicted crisis. Yes, it is a ‘real’ drought and a crisis, but the solution materially and psychologically is not to expect good rain to take us back to our old ways.
The drought is a gift in the Toaist sense in that provides an opportunity for communities to work together, to connect, to address inequalities, to improve governance. It is very similar to a war situation, where the urgency of survival tends to bring out the best in people. We are already seeing and hearing amazing stories of service and innovation – like the Elgin farmers donating the water from their private dams to push day zero out by a month.
Our economy and the human interactions that constitute it are ultimately a reflection of our values and what we choose to value. But our economic and political system tends to externalise the costs of resource use to the environment and others. We have to see ourselves as part of the ecosystem and natural processes and actively manage that based on values which are ultimately spiritual, and not just economic efficiency (or greed and selfishness). The drought and finite amount of water forces us to consider these questions.
Very nicely stated too.
Agreed, it is if not “a gift”, certainly is provides a gift: the chance for reflection and hopefully deeper and more lived sense of community in a very fractured society.
Wow, this has struck a chord!
Thank you for writing Stephen. It is a thought-provoking and deeply touching piece.
I am sitting in the stoep of a friend’s house in Somerset West and as I read your very pertinent article I am aware of the clouds gathering overhead- keep up the Tao balancing, do!
I love the image, thank you Jayn. 🙂
Thank you for writing and sharing this – i really appreciate being about to view the world this way – thank you for giving me something valuable to ponder – all the best and keep writing
This ramble could have been longer.
Or perhaps all it really means is that you are running out of water.. Just part of the weather. “You are the sky and everything else is just the weather.” Pema Chodron
Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.
Regardless, our focus as individuals on the path of individuation remains unchanged:…our own evolution…our own maturation.. ensuring our well does not run dry….If we keep our focus on our own evolution the collective conscious will take care of itself .. It may take “600 years” as Jung suggested…but it will change.
And, if Frued’s life’s work meant anything, sometimes it is more than “just a cigar’.
“As above, so below”. The outside a reverse reflection of the inside… In Jungian terms we always need to return to the point where the balance brings the least disturbance. A wonderful story of the healing in psychoanalysis by finding the still point.
Fascinating, and causes me to ponder the cycle of extreme cold we are experiencing in the UK, linked to the political upheaval and feelings of social chaos. These events are minor compared with events in the rest of the world, but we are a very small country. I think I shall take this story into my Dreamwork group this evening. Thankyou.
I think I have a much simpler analysis which gets to the point… to quote myself whilst giving a presentation at the Sorbonne last year on ‘Poverty in Bulgaria’:
‘Bulgarians are really nice people. They’re kind, generous, polite and really friendly. I haven’t met one single Bulgarian who within in 10mins I didn’t think…I want to be YOUR friend. In contrast, say, to South Africans only 1 of whom in 34 years have I met and didn’t almost instantaneously hate’.
‘Why?’ (-fellow student)
‘Because they are incredibly racist and astonishingly arrogant in a way that is extremely unpleasant to be around, and it’s almost all of them, regardless of whether they are black or white. Give it 10 years, wait until you have had to live and work with them. I know you guys are brainwashed into believing in Liberty, Equality, Fraternity but it’s not true, the real world isn’t like that. South Africans are a HORRIBLE people, that’s why their country is such a HORRIBLE mess. The rape and murder statistics in South Africa aren’t measured per year, they’re measured per hour.’
There is a very simple reason South Africa is in the state that its in: its the worst of white 18th Century Europe and Contemporary Black Africa mixed together, and that’s why it will only get worse, not better. Why on earth should anyone else on Earth care if Cape Town runs out of water? Maybe it’s a form of judgement for a country whose political process sees party leaders who are elected wear t-shirts and dance to the podium at party conferences? Or a culture where infant rape and corrective lesbian rape is a national past time? Or an hour without violent murder is an anomaly? Or white South Africans are universally perceived as the most rude, obnoxious arrogant people on earth? Maybe, just maybe, the mess in Cape Town and South Africa generally is a wonderful example of reaping what you sow? And therefore, to quote Proverbs 1 from the Bible:
“How long will you who are simple love your simple ways?
How long will mockers delight in mockery
and fools hate knowledge?
23 Repent at my rebuke!
Then I will pour out my thoughts to you,
I will make known to you my teachings.
24 But since you refuse to listen when I call
and no one pays attention when I stretch out my hand,
25 since you disregard all my advice
and do not accept my rebuke,
26 I in turn will laugh when disaster strikes you;
I will mock when calamity overtakes you—
27 when calamity overtakes you like a storm,
when disaster sweeps over you like a whirlwind,
when distress and trouble overwhelm you.
28 “Then they will call to me but I will not answer;
they will look for me but will not find me,
29 since they hated knowledge
and did not choose to fear the Lord.
30 Since they would not accept my advice
and spurned my rebuke,
31 they will eat the fruit of their ways
and be filled with the fruit of their schemes.
32 For the waywardness of the simple will kill them,
and the complacency of fools will destroy them;
33 but whoever listens to me will live in safety
and be at ease, without fear of harm.”
And, you are what, nice? A God fearing man, morally immaculate?
To be clear, following your logic, there is poverty in Bulgaria because they are “really nice”? That is your thesis is it not, we all get what we deserve, all suffering is morally legitimate?
Dear Stephen, what a shame you took the time to respond to Mr. Gordon. The issue of the drought. Is well worth attention with empathy for each individual who is part of the collective. Pointing a finger is of no use since by doing so we just repeat past and well ingrained patterns which might be exactly the reason the voice of the collective is no longer speaking gently bit banging on the door. A lesson not learnt easily will return three folds. Not because universe God or the collective process is hating us quite the contrary the only way to rise is when each individual owns the circumstances which are merely a product of cause and effect etc etc etc. I can’t help but think about the story of Joseph the archetypal dreamer in the old testament. It might be interesting to compare to the two situations taking under consideration be the lead up to the drought. I feel that this is almost a subject for a paper and there for I won’t elaborate as much as I would love to.
I just happen to return from Cape Town ten days ago (with a fractured foot …, ouch). My experience was so rich on so many levels. Yet I came to realize that what is missing is a bridge between. People I’ve met covered the full spectrum of humans response to undeniable oppression on both sides. The oppressor and the opressie. Constantly changing between the white and the a black to the point where you don’t know any more who is who just the color threatens to delude. What holds and unites them is a third and unexpected???? force and this you can’t fight be but be humble and unite. There will be a heavy be priced paid in a form of diseases as a consequence of no water…Those who can will escape to the north protecting themselves but more will stay behind in a ghost town. When Israel offered help with their expertise the government refused due to the hatred of the Israelis and support of the Palestinians. Can you see how ridiculous the situation is?
I feel that what is missing is a form of a unifying force that will bring RAIN and not SNOW ( which is another subject to discuss. I absolutely loved my third visit in this beautiful part of the world and will be looking eagerly for the rain woman / man to rise
Lovingly to all that are there.
“And, you are what, nice? A God fearing man, morally immaculate?”
– OK, no I am not nice all the time, who is? But nothing in my response suggested that. I am, however, polite, courteous, patient and kind as much as I can be. Yet this is a deflection of the issue. I did not choose to deliberately exult myself, yet you choose to immediately comparatively denigrate me and pull me down. Guess what? That’s a standard South African mode of interaction with the rest of the global community. But please, don’t take my word for it:
– A God fearing man? Yes I am. I am (honestly) going to train to become a priest in later life. Perhaps if more SA’s feared Hell they wouldn’t be gang raping children (often to cure AIDS ?!) / murdering by the hour. I mean, for the love of God, what other society on Earth behaves like this?! ‘The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom…’ – yet for all the mess we see it would seem not much wisdom is being applied. Hence, my quote from Proverbs.
– I made no claims to be morally immaculate. Again, see point 1. But what I do not do is contribute to a civilization within which the most abhorrent and detestable aspects of human behaviour have become so common they are normalised. I choose, as best I can, to live my life in a way which (a) doesn’t include these sorts of behaviours (b) opposes, exposes and uproots them. When people from outside of SA think of SA, it is scenes like this which immediately spring to mind:
And hence, there is virtually zero sympathy outside SA for problems inside SA.
“To be clear, following your logic, there is poverty in Bulgaria because they are “really nice”? That is your thesis is it not, we all get what we deserve, all suffering is morally legitimate?”
– Well no, there is actually no clarity there whatsoever because I made no logical assertions to that conclusion which is clearly evident from what I typed. Again, you have deployed the SA logic of misinterpretation as a means of degradation to avoid dealing with the reality of the problem (i.e. like Apartheid). The presentation was on the topic of poverty in Bulgaria. I mentioned that in spite of collapse of Communism (viciously imposed on them externally and which consequentially impoverished them) they are still really nice people. I wrote NOTHING making a connection between Bulgarian’s civility, generosity and morality (they were, incidentally, the only nation to save every single Jew within their borders despite being fully occupied and being threatened with annihilation – they simply refused as a matter of honour, to the Nazi’s faces, to hand them over even on pain of death) and their current comparative poverty within a European context. From that erroneous assertion you then move on to asserting that that constitutes my thesis that we ‘ALL’ get what we deserve, that ‘ALL’ suffering is morally legitimate. Seriously? Honestly? Did you actually read what I wrote? Did you read the quote from Proverbs? You have not only deliberately misrepresented WHAT I wrote, but in a diametrically OPPOSITE sense to what I ACTUALLY said and suggested. I made a connection between volitional amoral behaviour predicated upon arrogant refusal of wisdom and lack of humility and the concomitant societal breakdown which is therefore taking SA to the brink of socio-economic collapse. And then I noted that (a) suffering arising FROM this is very hard to have any concern or empathy for and (b) God (rightly) laughs at it and gets a kick out of watching it.
I’m sorry to say this, but your reply only proved what I had actually written was largely correct.
In my humble opinion there is no reason to mystify the issue, never mind dragging in Tao or God (not that they would be bemused, of course). Since recorded history, which in the greater scheme of things was only an eye-blink ago, “drought” in Cape Town is nothing new. But day zero is – a mere foetus of overpopulation, however rotten or pure each individual soul that make up her wholeness may be.
I agree there is no need to mystify the issue, it already is a mystery. But it does provide an opportunity for communal reflection and introspection. Whether these in any way change the Tao, as the rain-maker suggests, I don’t know. But what it can possibly do more modestly, is alleviate the drought of relatedness, community and personal responsibility that is evident in the region.
Globally there is a spiritual thirst to be quenched – that will make the cup of kindness, empathy and compassion for all other living beings overflow. Love the piece, nice writing Sir.
As a fellow Capetonion – I believe the drought is a little bit of everything thrown in the pot of life .. our inner reflect the outer, your words hit upon truths.
Thank you so so much Stephen
This myth and your post falls here in a perfect creative window of Kairos.
As a gift, there is my ebook: Necessary Chances: Synchronicity in the encouters that transform us inspired by my encounter with David Peat …
Take care and see you soon
Interesting that in the first Chapter of the Red Book Jung realizes that his soul is wandering alone in a desert.