This is a very personal take on the opera cycle by Richard Wagner’s “Ring” from a Jungian perspective, how the themes of the Ring, though universal, specifically apply to our lives today.

Kent Nagano

The Munich Opera Festival draws for over 130 years opera fans to Munich, and as one of the oldest international festival continues far beyond the city and national borders. Since fifteen years there is a free eopen air event “Opera for all”. Since the charismatic Conductor Kent Nagano came to Munich Opera, those two events “Opera for all” became even more cult for young folks not used to rattle the jewelry in plush seats. I saw him first time in California (Berkeley) and still appreciate Kent Nagano’s courageous and creative ways to transfer his subtle understanding of classical music to the audience. Already on Saturday – on a beautiful night – he conducted open air with the Bavarian State Orchestra excerpts from Richard of Wagner’s “Ring des Nibelungen”, an arrangement on 16 hours of Wagner’s ring issues put together in one hours without singer. Already raising eyebrows, as a bonus, there he played still another ring – parts of the film music for “Lord of the Rings”.

In any case, not entirely being a Wagner fan..

what’s the “Ring” all about?

Actually, Richard Wagner wanted not only to edit the well-known the German and Scandinavia legend of Siegfried’s death, a saga of gods and people of faith and fraud. Wagner takes the world of the Norse gods to the ring as a template for a critical interpretation of human society, around the failed revolution 1848. The ring and the gold as symbols of power and of the capital, the power versus rebellion and the failure of the hero Siegfried are all universal archetypes still up to date.

The Singers

In the figures we see the relationships of the various races of mortals and immortals: the immortal inhabitants of Valhalla, the Walküren who move between the worlds, the mortal Vaelsungs of the Forest, the Giants of Earth, the Gibichungs who inhabit the Rhine Castle, the Nibelung dwarfs of the shadows, and the Rhinemaidens who inhabit the source of life.

  • Rhinemaidens Woglinde (Sopran), Wellgunde (Mezzosopran), Floßhilde (Alt),
  • Alberich (Bariton), ugly dwarf and counterpart of Wotan
  • Wotan (Bariton), the God
  • Fricka (Mezzosopran), Wife of Wotan
  • Freia (Sopran), Godness of etrnal youth
  • Donner (Bariton), God of Power and Thunder
  • Froh (Tenor), Brother of Freya
  • Loge (Tenor), TrickySemi God
  • Mime (Tenor), brother of Alberichs, created stealth helmet
  • Fasolt and Fafner ( Bass), Giants, Fanfer later turns into a dragon
  • Erda (Alt), Wise women and mother of Walküre Brünnhilde (by Wotan)
  • Siegmund (Tenor) Human and son of Wotans
  • Sieglinde (Sopran), Sibbilibing of Sigmund and later his lover.
  • Hunding (Bass), Sieglinde’s Husband
  • The Birds (Waldvogel)
  • Brünnhilde (Sopran), Walküre, and favorite daugter of Wotan und Erda.
  • Eight other Walküren ((Gerhilde (Sopran), Ortlinde (Sopran), Waltraute (Alt), Schwertleite (Alt), Helmwige (Sopran), Siegrune (Mezzosopran), Grimgerde (Alt), Rossweiße (Mezzosopran))
  • Siegfried (Tenor), Son of Sieglinde und Siegmund kills Fafner, wins the Ring and looses Brünnhilde
  • Dragon Fafner (Bass), guarding the the Ring
  • The Nornen (Sopran, Mezzosopran, Alt), three wise Daugters of Erda
  • Gunther (Bariton), Leader
  • Gutrune (Sopran), his Sister
  • Hagen (Bass), the son Alberichs and half-brother of Gunther.
  • Waltraute (Alt), Sister Walküren of Brünnhilde

The Ring:

The Ring consists of four operas begins with a symbolics Genesis of the world (Water) and with its destruction (Fire).

  • Das Rheingold, Munich, 22 Sep 1869
  • Day1 Die Walküre, first Munich, 26 Jun 1870
  • Day 2 Siegfried, first Bayreuth, 16 Aug 1876
  • Day 3 Goetterdaemmerung, first Bayreuth, 17 Aug 1876

Prelude: The opera: ” Rheingold”

The Rhinemaidens have a magical gold treasures with magical powers. Alberich an ugly dwarf, trys to score on them but they laugh at him. So he robs their treasure with the ring (the key to power and wealth). To do this, he must renounce love. At the same time had the gods (Wotan) built a castle (Valhalla) built by the Giants Fasolt and Fafner. They price is the goddess Freia who guards the secret of eternal youth of the gods. As Wotan learns about Alberich’s theft he manages to remove the treasure and the ring, forged from the Rheingold from Alberich. Alberich curses the ring. The gods pay their castle with that treasure and the ring to the giants. The cursed ring does its effect one of the Giants (Fafner) which kills his brother (Fasolt). At the end of the story, the gods take the Castle Valhalla in possession. Wotan begins his reign based on free coexistence; from but still fears the danger of ring and its curse is not yet banned.

Day1: The opera “Die Walküren”

Walküren collect heroes from the battlefields and bring them toValhalla. A pair of twins: Siegmund and Sieglinde are separated by fate and now meet again in Hundings house and fall in love. Sieglindes husband, Hunding, challenges Siegmund therefore to fight with him. Wotan gives Brünnhilde (one of the Valkyries) order that should to support Siegmund. The wife of Wotan, Fricka does not accept Siegmunds adultery and incest and Wotan has to reverse e the order. But Brünnhilde decides to help him Siegmund anyway and Wotan influences the fight by himself. Siegmund is powerless against Wotan and dies, his famous sword shattered. Brünnhilde advises Sieglinde, who is pregnant, to move in the forest where Fanfer the dragon the dragon lives. Brünnhilde awaits Wotan’s anger and Wotan banishes her to a mountain, but protects her wit a ring of fire which only strongest hero” can redeem her (Brünnhilde thought this might be Sieglindes son …).

Day2: The opera “Siegfried”

Mime, Alberic’s brother and blacksmith raises Siegfried, Sieglindes son. Mime is hoping the boy would take the ring from Fafner who turned into a dragon . Mime is not able make Siegfried a suitable sword, so he refurbishes himself the sword Nothung of his father and kills the Dragon. A Bird (Waldvogel) whose song Siegfried can understand tells him what happens next: he should take the ring and the cloak of invisibility. Then, he advises him or how he would be able to get “the most beautiful woman” – Brünnhilde – on their fire rocks. Siegfried gladly accepts this advice rushes to Brünnhilde and falls in love with in infinity.

Day3: The opera “Die Götterdämmerung”

It is indeed my favorite Wagner opera. At the beginning, we see the Norns, weaving the rope of destiny. They tell the events of the beginning of conscious action on. As they approach they pull the rope. The Norns flee to Erda – the fate of the world is open.

Brünnhilde and Siegfried had married. At the Court of the Gibichungen Hagen (their sleazy half-brother and Ablrbrichs son) the weak royal brother and sister Gunther and Gutrune pointed out meanwhile that he can’t get Gunther Brünhilde as wife and Gutrune Sigfried as husband. Due to his magical drunk, Siegfried falls in love with Gutrune, and brings (his wife) Brünhilde to Gunter in the persona of Gunter and takes the ring from her.

The double marriage happens. Brünhilde, recognizes the Ring on Siegfried’s hand and outraged of Siegfried’s betrayal, let Hagen kill him. Haunted by nightmares Gutrune wanders through the night. The dead Siegfried is brought. Hagen boasts defiantly with murder and wants the ring. Gunther rejects, but Hagen kills him too and “grabs Siegfried’s hand which lifts up ithreatening”. Brünnhilde appears now. She orders to build a stake on the edge of the Rhine to burn Siegfried and herself. She draws the ring from Siegfried’s finger. As the fire blazes, the Rhine water comes over the shores with the Rhine maidens. who get the treasure back and pull Hagen into the depths. In a bright glow of fire in the sky, you can see the burning Valhalla. As the gods of the flames are completely hidden, the curtain falls.

The most intense drama in the opera “Gotterdämmerung” as well as the ring cycle comes after Siegfried’s death, the central character in Wagner’s opera. Siegfried is dead, and his body is brought back and shown to both Brunnhilde and Getrune,who are taken with attacks of grief at the sight of the corpse of the man whom they both loved. The only real issue for the mischievous Hagen is the ring and to whom it should go to and he rids himself of his own brother to obtain the coveted ring. Siegfried’s dead hand moves in a clear indication that he is not ready to give up the ring. It is also as Siegfried’ body is being carried that we hear one of Wagner’s most powerful pieces which truly captures the moment with all that Siegfried was, the Archetype of the hero from dragon slayer to the one who was able to defeat Wotan but also Brunnhilde’s tender lover. In my opinion Wagner’s music captures the somber mood which is about as this once mighty hero lies dead and to illustrate in its harmonies the glory. Wagner’s music increases to the force of a hurricane as the fire from the pyre rises as high as to consume not only Valhalla but the deities who rule the world. Hagan however tries to prevent the ring from going back to where it came from and in doing so is drowned by the Rhine maidens, who finally have back what was taken from them at start.

Wager and psychoanalytic models

Lets allign the key concepts of Wager to psychoanalytic models. Both the Freudian and Jungian models of the psyche rely on the balance of forces among the elements of the psyche. A major difference between the two is in the chosen center-point or balance point. Freud’s model is primarily centered around the healthy functioning of the Ego in the society and (sexual) relationship; his model focusses on consciousness and the outer world – the unconsciousness is almost treated like a malfunction. By contrast, Jung’s model is Self-centered. That is, the whole self, conscious and alike. Jung uses the term Self both for the personal (experienced) god, and for the whole human psyche. Whereas Freud considered religion to derive from illusion, Jung considered religion as a way to the whole self, seeking to integrate the roalm of the spiritual with our lives in the outer world.

The Freudian view

Siegmund falls in love with his long lost sister Sieglinde. And, make no mistake, they know they are brother and sister and still engage in lust and plan on marriage even Sieglinde is already married. Their father is the god Wotan. Wotan had many affairs and Siegmund and Sieglinde are the product of one of those. Those characters would indicate Freud’s approach, that all thrive comes from sexuality. Fricka, Wotans wife wants Siegmund killed in a fight despised by such immorality. As the Goddess of marriage you’d expect her to say that, she represents the repressive factor. Very simplistic.

Adler’s view

Another superhuman being, Alberich, has given up love to more fully pursue power. Alberich’s giving up all love to gain power teaches Adler’s main force the lust for power may have different values but are playing to win. Wotan’s realization teaches us that power cannot be taken for granted and it cannot be sustained by constant uncontrolled,irresponsible and inconsiderate lust. Again too simplistic.

The Jungian view

Micha Brumlik interprets the depth psychology as romantic theory of the unconscious and uncovers their archetypical references to Richard Wagner’s magnificent operas, The Ring, provides an intense and amazing example. In high drama we get answers to the Authoritarian breakdown. Incest is one of this. There is some significance in Jung’s belief — or his occasional claim — that he was a descendant of Goethe. He was completely out of sympathy with the narrow materialism of nineteenth-century science. In an essay on Wagner, Thomas Mann quoted a dignitary of Seville cathedral, who is supposed to have said to the architect: ‘Build me a cathedral so enormous that people of the future will say: the chapter must have been mad to build anything so huge … ‘ Mann pointed out that the nineteenth century was full of this spirit of Balzac’s Human Comedy, Hegel’s System, Zola’s Rougon Macquart cycle, Wagner’s Ring, Tolstoy’s War and Peace. Jung’s sympathy was all with transcendence and myths. His psychology is built of the same mythological material as Wagner’s Ring.


Though there are many symbols in the story, four symbols of personal power are central to our theme:

  • Wotan’s spear, his symbol of conscious (Ego) power is carved from the world ash tree of life.
  • The Chain of possession starts with the Rhinemaidens and ends with Flosshilde, a Rhinemaiden. The chain turns upon itself to form a ring.
  • The tarnhelm, or helmet, confers the power to change but it also entails the power to deceive. Wotan used it to get the ring from Alberich; Siegfried used it to regain the ring from Bruennhilde;
  • The sword, the weapon for the heroic struggle, was given by the father (grandfather Wotan), but it was broken; Siegfried had to reforged his own weapon for the struggle;

The Self

The ring itself represents for us the lure of gold, or or lust of power, from the Rhine, a them which has been reused by the lords of the ring. Possession of the ring confers power over the world. We set out to relate the life-cycle of the ring to the life-cycle of the psyche. The figure suggests how this might be done. The story begins in the realm of the Self, which has its origin in the value of life.

The Shadow

Alberich and his son Hagen inhabit the realm of Shadow, where reside rejection, frustration, anger, hate, evil.

In these storms of life are all the human ills — theft, deceit, betrayal, murder, incest, and all such. This is the considerable shadow energy of the psyche, seen in Alberich’s evil reaction to rejection, in Wotan’s awful betrayal of Youth and Beauty (Freia) to build his castle; in his stripping Bruennhilde of her immortality and his imprisoning her in the ring of fire in order to regain the ring of power.

Shadow energy is also seen in the struggle between Siegfried and Mime, his evil stepfather — the orphaned Siegfried is raised by his shadow, Alberich’s brother! That same shadow energy also provides resistance to the reintegration of the psyche. Siegfried had to slay a dragon, but he also had to struggle with the Gibichungs. They defend the castle which guards access to the Rhine. This reasoning teaches us that the underpinnings of morality rest on the ability to distinguish good from bad, the sacred from the profane.

The Ego

Wotan and his castle building express the realm of Ego inflation in which he and we deal with the giants of earth.The return of the ring into the deep currents of the flow of life completes this life cycle. The self is made whole. The cognitive conscious world of Ego is reconciled with its spiritual origin; the Self is reconciled.

The Archetypal Hero – Animus and Anima

Siegried reprents the archetypal hero. But re-establishing balance in the psyche requires an heroic struggle. Siegfried’s slaying of the dragon represents the start of re-establishing balance. His love of Bruennhilde represents the necessary union between the conscious realm and the realm of his Anima. In Siegfried’s death we see the individuation becoming, and in Bruennhilde’s immolation, similar burning away her self taken human mortality.

The Persona

As is morality, Wagner is very personal and philosophical. Wotan is a God. Watching his son die will not be easy. But as his son has transgressed the basic rules of decency in society Wotan understands the necessity of killing him. He tells his daughter, Brunnhilde the Valkyrie, but emotions cause her to disobey the cold moral.Like all great art, Wagner’s The Valkyrie teaches fundamental cultural lessons about society.

Rainy Sunday

On Sunday Nagano’s new production “Götterdämmerung” of National Theatre completely sold out for a long time, came on a big screen. The weather did not want to play along on that day, and so the Open-Air visitors were hit repeatedly by – some long-lasting – showers. But with the right equipment, some fans including me held out over six hours on the Max-Joseph-Platz before the National Theater and eagerly pursued the Opera broadcast on the big screen. The singers of this show and Conductor Kent Nagano came out after the end of the opera to say thank you for this dedication.

Like the psyche, Wagner’s work has had influence for both good and evil. Nietzsche and Hitler both much admired Wagner’s work, and that nihilistic chain of influence was to give in the 20th century full expression to destruction and evil until today. Yet the same work also had a considerable influence on may others, notable King Ludwig the II. As we look back, it often seems as if the necrophiliac shadow aspects of our collective psyche have had the upper hand. In Goetterdaemmerung, one of the three Fates sings that the rope of the world’s destiny has been severely frayed by evil. As she sings that, the rope breaks completely.

We now are in Europe in the midst of a turbulent transition from democracy to some new type of world-order at the threshold of another economic war – the “Third Geldkrieg”. The twilight of the gods will not be the twilight before the dawn, but before a new darkness. The lust for power and greed will represent the extinguishing of Psyche’s gods.

In that respect, Wagner is pointing to the current economic system, whose manipulator think they are gods. Our society would be better grounded if it spent more time with great art; pieces like Wagner’s Ring are entertaining, they create a shared vocabulary within our culture just like C.G. Jung’s Archetypes.

Richard Wagner’s ‘Ring des Nibelungen’ und seine Symbole: Musik und Mythos aus d. Engl. Robert Donington (Wagner seen mainly throug C.G. Jungs eyes)

Index to “Richard Wagner”in the Collected Works of Carl G. Jung (mainly he was concerned with Wotan)

Volume 5: Symbols of Transformation

par. 421 (p.275) — fig. 28: Wotan on eight-legged horse Sleipnir; Wotan as Drosselbart half-man, half-horse

par. 422 (p.278) — horse wind; Wotan galloping in storm chasing the wind- bride

par. 555 (p.358) — Siegfried’s hero’s entry; Siegfried’s feelings for Bruenhilde; brother-sister incest;

Sieglinde as “human mother”, Br. as “spirit mother”; Br. banished by Wotan for complicity (approval) of incest; Siegfried Horus; Sieglinde’s “night-sea journey to the east”;

par. 556 (p.358) — broken sword dismemberment

par. 559 (p.359) — Wotan persecution motif

par. 560 (p.360) — Bruenhilde “split off” from Wotan, a feminine emmisary for a martial god “somewhat remarkable”

par. 563 (p.360) — Bruenhilde. as anima attached to masculine deity, a dissociation; Wotan unconscious of his own femininity

par. 564 (p.361) — Wotan’s lament for Bruenhilde

par. 565 (p.361) — Br. support of Siegmund; the incest a projection: Wotan’s entering “into his own daughter to rejuvenate himself

par. 566 (p.361) — Sieglinde’s death; Mime of “a race who has abjured love”

par. 567 (p.362) — Br. asleep in ring of fire; Mime a masculine representative of the Terrible Mother; Siegfried drawn away by longing for Mother-imago

par. 568 (p.363) — the song of the Forest Bird mother Jung Index: “Richard Wagner” 10:18:36

par. 569 (p.363) — gold “treasure hard to attain” the “mother” unconscious; “magic cap” (tarnhelm) changes Alberich into serpent motif of rejuvenation; dragon’s blood understanding nature.

par. 598-600 (385-6) — Wotan (Wanderer) and Erda “fatal charm of the mother”

par. 602-11 (p.387-391) — Siegfried’s encounter with Bruenhilde, evokes mother; Br. mother-sister wife anima archetype; Siegfried as archetypal hero