The Complex of the Fox

Aesop’s Fables, and other ancient fables, have recently been recognised as addressing the area where subconscious reactions reside, and how they operate in the human person. The Fox and the Grapes is a well-known Aesop fable:

A hungry Fox had been walking for some time looking for food.

It arrives at a vineyard with abundant hanging grapes. It instinctively pushes to solve the existential problem of hunger.

Several curious animals observe the Fox’s actions. The Fox estimates the height of the grapes from the ground and makes a powerful jump – but is unable to reach the grapes! It does not have the bodily strength to succeed in its effort.

Until now its reaction has been quite normal, because no animal or human can always be successful in every effort.

After accepting its failure and explaining its bodily limitations to the observing animals the Fox had two options: (1) try again; or, (2) justify its failure by departing. Both of these reactions are normal.

However, the Fox adopts neither of them. Instead, it entirely rejects these normal reactions by saying to its audience, “the grapes are not ripe!”

The Fox’s rejection of the normal reactions creates an unrealistic picture of the grapes. It also produces in itself an unrealistic subconscious reaction – known as rejection of itself!

You may well ask, “what is rejected?” Having failed in its attempt, the correct response for the Fox would have been to return to its previous psychological state. But this does not happen. The Fox instead returns to a subconscious state where reality is rejected and an unrealistic picture of the object which it failed to conquer is created.

This helps us to understand that whoever transfers or projects their conscious self to the territory of the subconscious, is absent from the area of their consciousness. Thus, their authentic self is rejected, and instead an idol [a false image] of themselves is installed into their conscious.

The result of the irrational and unexpected reaction of the Fox is a suitable setting for the development of a complex in its psychological makeup. Its justification for its failure is the excuse that the grapes are not ripe. Aesop continues, “So some men, unable to attain things they wish, they use as an excuse the circumstances at the time.” Therefore, in the case of the Fox, its explanation is not simply a naive justification, but a downright deception. By telling the animals around that “the grapes are not ripe”, it is saying cunning lies and distorting the truth.

There is a powerful message for all of us regarding the use of justification or excuses for errors we have done, or personal failures. As we try to self-analyse ourselves in preparation for confession we need to be aware that an excuse or justification is not always innocent or true. Rather, in most cases it hides a very cunning Fox. We must be very careful in the use of excuses, which can spring up suddenly, for our actions. These excuses can arise because we are seeking to save ourselves from some trauma to our ego or prestige. However, if we check their identity, we shall mostly discover the jump of the Fox.

St Sophrony of Essex wrote in St Silouan the Athonite that, “Every man for many of his actions, can find an excuse – but if he examines his heart carefully, he will discover that by justifying himself, he cannot avoid some degree of cunning.” When we face such a dilemma, we must turn to Him, who knows our true self, and ask with fear and humility, and as the Psalmist cry out: “Lord, cleanse me from my secrets!”

Source: Lychnos August/September 2019 edition