psychological flooding

[mks_dropcap style=”letter” size=”48″ bg_color=”#ffffff” txt_color=”#000000″]T[/mks_dropcap]his week flash floods struck our area impacting many of our neighbors in the villages that are nestled in these southwestern Catskill Mountains.  The event led me to consider the symbolic importance of such a forceful expression in nature.

I was reminded of flooding that occurred in my hometown of Farmington, Connecticut. In springtime the Farmington River would regularly flood an area known as the Meadows. Historically it was reported that when the Farmington Valley was discovered by settlers in the early 1600’s, they thought they had discovered a vast lake, but instead had arrived at the time of the inundation. The fertile Meadows area led to the settlers to give the settlement the agricultural name of Farmington. As a child I remember riding my bike down to the meadows to view the flooding, as well as the rich black soil the area was well known for.

Mythologically, flooding leads us to Hapi, an Egyptian god, or at times consider a group of gods that embodied the life giving powers of the inundation of the Nile. It is thought that “hep”, the root of Hapi, is probably an ancient name for the Nile. Hapi was portrayed as a man with women’s breasts and protruding belly with either green or blue skin.


Hapi kept the margins of the Nile fertile through the effect of the annual inundation of the mighty river.

“The potentially destructive aspect of the flood could be embodied by the distant solar lioness known as the Distant Goddess. The powers of the flood to irrigate and fertilize the Nile valley were represented by Hapy. For this reason, Hapy has been called a “fecundity figure” rather than a Nile god. Some Egyptologists interpret Hapy as an androgynous deity, whereas others see his peculiar body shape as signifying abundance.” (Pinch, Egyptian Mythology, Pg. 136)

Hapi appeared in two different forms. When representing the northern Nile Hapi was depicted wearing papyrus plants on his head. In this form, he was called “Hap-Meht”. The Nile-god of the south or Upper Egypt was “Hap-Reset” and wore lotus plants on his head. When portrayed as a god of the entire Nile, Hapi holds both lotus and papyrus plants in his hands or two vases.

“Hymns to Hapy point out that every aspect of Egyptian life was dependant on the food that he brought. All creatures are said to rejoice at his arrival; frogs croak, bulls bellow, and crocodiles roar. Hapy is called the Lord of Fishes, the one who “greens the Two Banks,” and the “maker of barley and wheat.” Hapy’s life-giving waters were also credited with the role in reviving the murdered god Osiris, who came back each year with the barley.” (Pinch, Egyptian Mythology, Pg. 137)

In Budge we find the following hymn from the XIX Dynasty:

“Homage to thee, O Hapi, thou appearest in this land, and thou comest in peace to make Egypt to live. Thou art the Hidden One, and the guide of the darkness on the day when it is thy pleasure to lead the same. Thou art the Waterer (or Fructifier) of the fields which Ra hath created, thou givest life to animals, thou makest all the land to drink unceasingly as thou descendest on the way from heaven. Thou are the friend of bread and of Tchabu (the god of drink), thou makest to increase and be strong Nepra (the god of corn), thou makest prosperous every workshop, O Ptah, thou Lord of Fish; when the Inundation risith, the water-fowl do not alight upon the fields that are sown with wheat. Thou are the creator of barley, and thou makest the temples to endure, for millions of years repose of thy fingers hath been an abomination to thee. Thou are the lord of the poor and the needy. If thou were overthrown in the heavens the gods would fall upon their faces, and men would perish.” (Budge, The Gods of the Egyptians, pg.45)

Clinically, I’m struck how much we can fear, and appropriately so, psychological flooding from the unconscious. The Egyptian dependency upon the inundation for survival allows us to consider how to live with and honor overwhelming forces that cannot be controlled. The positive effect of the inundation challenges us to consider the fructifying effects that are forcing themselves in when the unconscious heads toward flooding. If the ego is strong enough to endure the inundation, and I’m reminded of Jung’s comment that each encounter of the Self is a defeat for the ego, the potential for new life can be unexpectedly promising.

It’s a bit counter-intuitive to think that a flood does not wipe away the soil, but instead enriches it with millions of tons of silt that get dispersed across the land as the waters recede. While neurotic fears will resist the inundation, and a psychotic break would be a form of being wiped out by it, the Egyptian reverence of Hapi gives us pause to consider how an appropriately prepared ego might endure the cyclical inundation of the waters that are celebrated for greening both banks. I’m also struck how the analytic frame and process acts like the irrigation ditches which the ancients prepared to channel the waters as they arrived.

Author: Richard Reeve

I'm the Senior Director of Development at Panthera, a global conservation organization committed to stemming the population decline of cats in the wild. I enjoy rural living with my wife Judith and our two children in the Catskill Mountains of New York.