Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



Committee Chair(s)

Lynne S. McNeill


Lynne S. McNeill


Michael Sowder


Christine Cooper-Rompato


This thesis advocates for the use of Carl Jung’s psychoanalytic theory in folkloristics by examining the role of the caduceus and the ouroboros in alchemy as a case study. Although a Jungian lens has not been widely accepted by folklorists, it can and should be applied to folklore, particularly in the context of binary oppositions. Folklorists such as Alan Dundes have been harshly critical of this perspective. However, Dundes also stressed the importance of binaries in folklore. Furthermore, Dundes championed the theory of symbolic equivalences, and in my paper I argue that the caduceus and the ouroboros are examples of this.

I argue that folklorists should study Jung, with a particular focus on their agreement upon motifs and archetypes as well as their similar beliefs regarding the importance of the reconciliation of opposites. The caduceus and ouroboros in alchemy represent a union of opposites, of the above and the below, of the human with the divine, and this view has remained stable over time despite widely varying historical contexts.

In constructing my argument, I examine alchemical texts and art that contain these serpentine and draconic depictions and use Jung’s theories to show how their meaning remains constant. I also draw from the modern Western esoteric tradition, particularly twentieth century tarot cards, to show how the serpent and dragon have remained as signifiers that stress the importance of the union of opposites into the current time. I adopt a psycho-spiritual approach to alchemy as opposed to a purely chemical stance which aids in showing the importance of balancing the opposites within oneself. This research helps us reimagine the role that Jung has in folklore studies as well as reconciling the opposing positions of Jung and Dundes. This work will also help to stress the importance of psychoanalytic theory as a whole in folkloristics. Jung is often denigrated by folklorists because they claim he is too universalizing, but they often make the same moves as he does, and I argue that Jung shouldn’t be thrown away entirely by the field solely based on one aspect of his work.