The Tempest in My Mind

Seeing Red and the Elephant's Soul

Posted Jun 08, 2011

World, I'm not the same.
I can't remember my name half the time.
I took a walk - I thought I'd get some air -
but was really not aware of what I said or what I did.
I never see the dark of night or the light of day.
I took a walk into the park and never saw the children play.
Everything I see is a crazy kind of mystery to me.
I'm flirting, I'm flirting with uncertainty.
Oh, bring back my mind.
Please release my soul.
Give me back control of my mind.
Only you can save me

- It's Madness, Marvin Gaye [2]

Today, according to reports from India, several Asian elephants entered a suburb of the city of Mysore where they went on a "three-hour rampage." This ensued when the elephants were "separated from their herd after villagers chased them away from their fields nearby." [3] One man was crushed to death. Schools were closed and residents were told to stay indoors and refrain from throwing stones at the elephants. Eventually, the young elephants were stopped. Photos show them dazed and bound being led away with heavy ropes. Alongside, a mahout astride a captive elephant helps drive the miscreants away. [4]

Officials openly admit to the cause, "yet another case of elephants being forced to venture into human habitation because their natural habitat is being eroded," [4] as well as a constant threat of violence by guns, poison, electrocution, and other lethal methods of control.[5] The Mysore incident does not stand alone. According the India's Elephant Task Force, the problem is systemic and solutions require "administrative overhaul" and "new institutions and mechanisms" if the elephant is to be saved.[6]

A disturbing video accompanying news reports shows the young "tusker" (male elephant) battering and crushing a 55-year-old security guard. In a second scene, a cow, tied and helpless, is repeatedly rammed and tossed into the air. One elephant "barged into a women's college compound and stalked the grounds, while the other wreaked havoc in a residential area."

Carol Buckley, founder and president of Elephant Aid International has worked nearly forty years with elephants. As someone who is currently engaged in elephant welfare issues in India and other parts of Asia, she states

This is tragic. Elephants would rather avoid conflict then enter into it, but when their very survival is threatened they will act in ways that protect their lives and family. That young male was acting out of fear. He was captive, could not find his way out. He struck out at everything that moved and did not move because of his fear. All of the screaming and pursuit by the crowd served to keep his adrenalin rushing. He was reacting not thinking. He tried to climb out to get away. He got stuck in the city, without his family- he was petrified. Elephants, especially young ones, never do well alone.

A case of elephant breakdown, elephant madness—or our own madness reflecting back?

The concept of madness is, of course, core to psychology and psychiatry, but nonetheless, its definition continues to be a matter of debate. For some, insanity is an illness much like a physical ailment. Others associate madness with the genius that drives Nietzsche, Van Gogh, and others to create artistic masterpieces (not to mention political leaders who are able to convince millions to fight wars in places they have never heard of and for uncertain reasons). Michel Foucault views methods and institutions for the insane as socio-political tools designed to control the undesirable.[6] Prisons, zoos, and insane asylums help "disappear" the shadows that humanity seeks to deny.

Whatever the definition, most agree that madness reflects the soul in pain. C.G. Jung provides perhaps one of the most sterling accounts of such angst. [8] Somewhat ironically, Jung's descent into madness and that of elephants are both recorded in red. The elephants' plight is listed in the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species, [9] whereas Jung's is recounted in the pages of his Red Book. This volume, also referred to as Liber Novus, chronicles the Swiss psychiatrist's exploration of a world he feared was indicative of psychosis or schizophrenia.

In 1913, soon after his break with mentor Sigmund Freud, Jung encountered a terrible "confrontation with the unconscious," the ordeal which he put to pen in a leather-bound volume. Jung was able to navigate these chaotic and uncharted psychological waters only through the exercise of an alchemical process that was to become his model of psychotherapy.

The work is gripping. It is impossible to remain detached from Jung's psycho-spiritual maelstrom. As we follow elegant prose along the edge of reason and irrationality, the dark, timeless abyss of the unconscious in Jung's journey swallows us. Primordial images simultaneously assault the senses. At times, the tissue-thin veil between reader and writer, past and present, real and surreal, completely vanishes. In the chapter entitled Descent into Hell in the Future, we fear for our own soul as Jung becomes a terrifying prophet from the world within:

You all have a share in the murder. In you the reborn one will come to be and the sun of the depths will rise, and a thousand serpents will develop from the dead matter and fall on the sun to choke it. Your blood will stream forth. The people demonstrate this at the present time in unforgettable acts that will be written with blood in unforgettable books for eternal memory.

But I ask you, when do men fall on their brothers with might weapons and bloody acts? They do such if they do not know that their brother is themselves. They themselves are sacrificers, but they mutually do the service of sacrifice. They must all sacrifice each other, since the time has not yet come when man puts the bloody knife into himself in order to sacrifice the one he kills in his brother. But whom do people kill? They kill the noble, the brave, the heroes. [8]

They kill elephants.


Literature Cited

[1] The title of this essay is taken from Shakespeare's King Lear. Act III, Scene IV.

[2] Gaye, M. (1985). It's Madness.

[3] Sharma, M. (2011).Wild elephants on rampage in Mysore city, one killed.NDTV, Retrieved June 8, 2011 from

 [4] Gayle, S. (2011). The killers who came in from the forest: Two wild elephants invade Indian city and gore security guard to death in three-hour rampage. Mail Online, Retrieved June 8, 2011 from

[5] Bradshaw, GA (2009). Elephants on the edge: What animals teach us about humanity. New Haven: Yale University Press.

[6] Rangarajan, M., Desai, A., Sukumar, R., Easa, PS, Menon, V., Vincent,S., Ganguly, S.,Talukdar, BK, Singh, B., Mudappa,D., Chowdhary, S., Prasad, AS. (2010). Gajah: Securing the future for Elephants In India forests. The report of the Elephant Task Force, Ministry of Environment and Forests. Retrieved June 8, 2011 from

[7] Bracken, P. and Thomas, P. (2010). From Szasz to Foucault: On the role of critical psychiatry. Philosophy, Psychiatry, & Psychology, 17(3), 219-228.

[8] Jung, C.G. (2009). The Red Book: Liber Novus. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, p. 238

[9] IUCN (2010). IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2010.4.


Photo credits: S. Ganguly



About the Author

G.A. Bradshaw, Ph.D., is the author of Elephants on the Edge: What Animals Teach Us About Humanity.

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