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Petchkovsky, L. (1982). Images of Madness in Australian Aborigines. J. Anal. Psychol., 27(1):21-39.

(1982). Journal of Analytical Psychology, 27(1):21-39

Images of Madness in Australian Aborigines

Leon Petchkovsky, M.B, B.S., D.P.M., M.R.C.


The Concept of the archetype, it seems to me, loses much of its value if the archetype is not universal. Kingship is patently not universal; Aboriginal societies have thrived without it for 40,000 years. On the other hand, John Perry's accounts of kingship imagery sequences in the acute psychotic process are very compelling, and my filing cabinets contain many case notes of young Australian psychotics of European stock who display very similar image sequences.

How universal then is kingship imagery in psychosis?

1.   Do these configurations appear in Aboriginal psychotic persons?

2.   If not, then what are the typical image patterns?

3.   Are there Aboriginal myths and rituals which have a similar relationship to Aboriginal psychosis that Egyptian/Hebrew/Mesopotamian kingship rituals have to Western psychosis?

4.   More generally still, is there a relationship between psychotic imagery and socio-political forms? I.e., if a psychotic Westerner can experience himself as a kingdom in revolution, or a global conflict between communism and democracy, is there an Aboriginal psychotic experience that corresponds to Aboriginal social forms?

In an attempt to answer some of these questions, I made a field trip to the Northern Territory in May 1980 and I then looked at accounts of myths and rituals of those regions. Professor John Cawte of the Department of Psychiatry, University of New South Wales, also made available to me case-material of his own. In the course of these investigations, it became apparent that there was another issue inextricably woven with the preceding ones. There was a relationship between the breakdown of the Aboriginal culture and psychotic illnesses among individual Aborigines.

Since this study is a cross-cultural comparison between Western and Aboriginal psychotics, against a frame of reference developed by John Perry, it is important to spell out the details of this matrix in order for this exercise in comparisons to make any sense.


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