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Cooper, P.C. (2004). The Abyss Becoming Well: Psychoanalysis and Reversals in Perspective. Psychoanal. Rev., 91:157-177.

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(2004). Psychoanalytic Review, 91(2):157-177

The Abyss Becoming Well: Psychoanalysis and Reversals in Perspective

Paul C. Cooper, M.S., NCPsYAS

“Therefore, you will joyously draw water from the springs of salvation.”

-Isaiah 12:3

“It is like water turned to ice; all the ice is water, but it cannot be used to quench thirst.

This is mortal illness, before which ordinary physicians are helpless.”

-Pai- chang (In T. Cleary, 1997, p. 9)

The water well embodies a multifaceted and powerful mythology. This discussion touches on a few variations from world spiritual traditions as they interact with conceptualizations derived from psychoanalytic experience. In ancient China whole cities would be relocated, reoriented, rebuilt, or redesigned, but, wells remained immovable and unchanged in design, form, and location. They came to represent a symbol of constancy and life. The Taoist I-ching, or Book of Changes, asserts: “The well from which water is drawn conveys the further idea of an inexhaustible dispensing of nourishment” (Baynes, 1992, p. 185).

In Christian traditions the water from the baptismal font both cleanses away the stain of original sin and unlocks the gateway to spiritual life. The well forms the center of a concentric circle and functions as a place of meeting, a place where life happens and things change. Deals are made, marriages arranged, and gossip exchanged at the well. Taverns function as contemporary wells, “watering holes” that intoxicate.


Iam indebted to Eric Rhode for his original intellectual peregrinations and for his encouragement, both of which served as a wellspring of inspiration for the ideas present in this article.

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