Franz Renggli - Bodypsychotherapist - Family-/Babytherapist
  Self destruction out of loneliness

All traditional cultures keep their babies next to their bodies constantly, day and night. All developed societies separate mother and baby - the higher the culture, the more radical the separation. So the screaming of babies and infants is a subject for discussion in all developed societies.

In the Middle Ages more than half of the population died because of the plague. The Black Death raged across Christian Europe from the 14th to the middle of the 17th centuries. I view this epidemic as a crisis - and since so many people died, it has to be understood as the eruption of a mass psychosis. My psycho- or rather socio-somatic model is psycho-neuro-immunology: neither a bacterium nor a virus is the core problem, but rather the people within a society who have been shaken by a crisis. If this crisis lasts too long, is too severe or too traumatic, the immune system of the population is slowly weakened and finally collapses. The people become vulnerable to illnesses and finally to death. This model is valid for any epidemic and can serve as a key for a new understanding of history.
In my book I describe the various levels of the crisis in the Middle Ages. On the one hand the Church becomes embroiled in power struggles with secular leaders, the Kaisers (emperors), and thus loses its trustworthiness and the ability to provide spiritual support for the people. After the High Middle Ages, after a long period of expansion in the 12th and 13th centuries, Europe is shaken by a whole series of social and economic crises in the 14th and 15th centuries. For example, there was famine in the western Occident just before the beginning of the plague period so that population growth ceased. But I mainly show how society of the Middle Ages descends into delusion during the period of the Black Death - through the inquisitions of the church, the witch trials and the widespread belief in the devil. Luther, for example, gave sermons on how he held discussions with the devil every night and insulted him. No-one would have suggested that Luther was mad - this was quite normal for that period. Just as "normal" was the fact that men accused women of being witches. Hundreds of thousands of women were burnt at the stake in the 16th and 17th centuries. Europe lost its sense of reality and sank into mass delusion.

From the point of view of depth psychology the following holds: wherever a psychosis emerges, there must have been a disturbance in the earliest childhood of the person or society affected. What happened in Europe before the outbreak of the plague? For thousands of years, in all higher cultures, mothers have been separated from their babies during the day. But one or two hundred years before the outbreak of the Black Death the priests in the churches began to preach that a mother was no longer allowed to sleep in the same bed as her baby at night. This prohibition was explained with the risk that she could crush her baby. The infants had thus lost their last chance of experiencing an extended period of uninterrupted body contact with their mothers, i.e. during the night. The cradle was invented at this point - it can be seen in all pictures and engravings of that period (14th /15th centuries) in which a family and its small children are portrayed.

Is this all a "grey" theory in the head, or rather the heart of a psychoanalyst? Or are there indications for this hypothesis? When painting was rediscovered in Europe of the 13th and 14th century, the main subject-matter chosen was mother Mary and her baby Jesus - for 400 years. The people living in Europe in the Middle Ages must have been obsessed with the subject of mother and infant - and of course, this subject matter could not be portrayed other than in pictures of Mary and the Baby Jesus. If we examine these pictures of Mary from the point of view of depth psychology then we understand the "madness" of our culture.

Fig 1 In most of the portraits of Madonna and Child, the baby is usually simply sitting on its mother's lap (see fig. 1). However while studying all these pictures I quickly noticed two extremes. On the one extreme there is the baby lying naked on the ground (ground children), screaming wildly or even with a frozen expression of horror.
Fig 1
The mother ignores this state of panic completely and prays peacefully to her child (see fig. 4-14).

Fig 4 Fig 5 Fig 6 Fig 7 Fig 8
Fig 4 Fig 5 Fig 6 Fig 7 Fig 8

Fig 9 Fig 10 Fig 11 Fig 12 Fig 13
Fig 9 Fig 10 Fig 11 Fig 12 Fig 13

Fig 14
Fig 14

At the other extreme there is such an intensive erotic or sensual atmosphere between mother and child that it is almost incomprehensible that we have not noticed this phenomenon up till now (fig. 18-29).

Fig 18 Fig 19 Fig 20 Fig 21 Fig 22
Fig 18 Fig 19 Fig 20 Fig 21 Fig 22

Fig 23 Fig 24 Fig 25 Fig 26 Fig 27
Fig 23 Fig 24 Fig 25 Fig 26 Fig 27

Fig 28 Fig 29
Fig 28 Fig 29

The naked baby is his mother's little lover, his penis is at the centre of our attention (fig. 21, 28 and 29). When the mother is also portrayed naked, then the picture is called Venus and Amor (fig. 24 and 25).

What is the meaning of these pictures? Of course I understand the one extreme, the "ground children", as the pictorial expression of the heightened separation of mother and child occurring at that time: they had to cry and scream a lot without their mothers paying any attention to their distress. And these were not the "wicked" mothers of the period, because they were forced into this separation by their culture.

Such a separation imprints a deep panic in every human being. And this reappears later in life in one form or another, at the latest in each romantic attachment. How did men master their anxieties? They fled into their work - a trend much appreciated by the growing trade-capitalism in the Middle Ages. And how did women solve their problem? They feel abandoned by their husbands and flee to their babies and children, which gives rise to the danger of emotional abuse. The baby thus becomes its mother's little lover, a substitute for the missing husband, as represented in the highly erotic and sexualized pictures of the Madonna and child. The naked baby is then bearing its mother's depressive burden and is thus, naturally, overtaxed (fig. 38-41, 44 and 45).

Fig 38 Fig 39 Fig 40 Fig 41
Fig 38 Fig 39 Fig 40 Fig 41

Fig 44 Fig 45
Fig 44 Fig 45

This is all seen and portrayed through the eyes, or rather the hearts of Italian and Dutch painters - a reflection of the mother-child relationship at that time. Desperation and abandonment on the one hand, and over-stimulation, or excessive eroticism between mother and child on the other hand - and both occur at the same time. This is the root and origin of our society's madness up to the present day.

For there was no end set to this madness. Europe did not emerge out of its mass delusion with the growth of reason which came with the Age of Enlightenment in the 17th century. On the contrary: at the beginning of the witch trials, lonely old ladies, outsiders, were burned as witches. But the longer the trials proceeded, the more the "witches" formed an alliance. They accused young, successful politicians and clergy of being the devil and of having sexually seduced them. More and more, also young men of the ruling class were burnt. It was not sense or discernment which put an end to the witch-burnings but the fact that the men got "cold feet".

And everything which did not fit into the norms of the period was locked up and banished to the large workhouses; criminals, the unemployed, beggars and people with mental disorders. It is the hour of birth of our prisons and the psychiatric clinics which followed them. Europe returned to "normality"and at the same time new and severe forms of mental disorders developed, which were then locked up in the asylums.

However the separation of mother and child remained, indeed it was intensified in the 18th and 19th centuries. The children's room was "invented", first among the upper classes, and then adopted more and more by the rest of the population. The doctors of the 19th century first taught that a baby should only be fed once every four hours. The mother was forbidden to go to him in the time between these feeding times to comfort him. An infant was consequently raised to scream and to panic - as an adaptation to the emerging industrial-capitalism. And in the 20th century the hospital birth was introduced: the baby was separated from its mother for the first five to seven days after birth Exactly during this highly sensitive phase the bonding process, the mutual "falling in love" of mother and newborn starts. It is not just a mother's relationship with her child which is disrupted by this, but an emotional disturbance between her and her child remains as a consequence. And vice versa. This is the endpoint of a human tragedy, the culmination of a process of separation of mother and baby, which began five or six thousand years earlier, with the birth of our civilization in Ancient Mesopotamia (See my book: The Origin of Anxiety).


Since the beginning of the 20th century we have the technological capability to destroy our world with our nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and we are destroying it in reality because of our hunger for energy and consumer goods. Because of our obsession with mobility. But in the United States some women, since the 1950's, have started to breastfeed their babies again, and as a natural consequence, these women also carry their babies around with them. Since the 1970's this has developed into an alternative movement in the whole industrialized world. These children once again have more body contact and in very progressive families they are even allowed to sleep with their parents at night. Fathers are returning to their families on an emotional level and feel a sense of responsibility to their babies and children. Conflicts in such families are no longer avoided. This alternative way of treating children has developed so much that it even influences the birthing methods in our clinics, where mothers and their new-born babies are being separated less and less. This is all an unlimited chance for healing in our culture, a change in the trend of the thousand year old process of separating a mother and her baby.


Of course, the Middle Ages are only a mirror, to show that we are now hovering on a threshold similar to then. However Aids is not the beginning of a new, plague-like epidemic. Aids can at most be compared with the famine in the Middle Ages because of which the growth curve in the population was interrupted. A real new world-wide epidemic like the Black Death would cause people's deaths within weeks or even a few days. And high-tech-medicine would be as helpless as the doctors in the Middle Ages who tried to protect themselves with beak masks. Perfume, which was supposed to protect them from the Black Death, was sprayed in the beak - a self-caricature.

In "Self destruction out of loneliness" the aim is to show the origins of our madness, our suffering and all our longings within our society. A society which wishes to soothe all its injured emotions, mainly with some form of addiction. An addiction, however, can never bring back the warmth and security which we needed so badly as babies. The source of this madness is therefore not the relationship with "bad" mothers or absent fathers. Nor is it to be sought in the "wicked" grandparents". They are all fighting with their own anxieties. At the core of all our suffering is rather a process of separation between a mother and her baby- a separation forced in all developed societies. In the Middle Ages - as during all more drastic changes and developments in a culture - this process of separation was simply intensified, with all the associated consequences. And another, ecological source of our present crisis lies in our earth's limited potential for growth. With our blind addiction - born of a lack of security - we have reached the limits of our growth possibilities, or possibly even gone beyond them.


The solution to our current problems is not, for example, that women blame men for being responsible for this crisis. Laying blame also brings no solutions in a relationship. We all have to find a way out of this crisis together. We are all in the same boat - together with our children and all future generations. One solution may be that men relinquish their authority- as a defense against anxiety and powerlessness - and discover the preciousness of their tears. Women, in that they no longer hide in the shadow of "great men" but are prepared to take on responsibility in public life. Another solution, finally, is that we as parents no longer "raise" our children but recognize that they are, on the contrary, our best teachers.

We have been in a growing crisis now for about half a century. This crisis started unnoticed and very slowly. It will become more and more apparent in the near future. People will be shaken by fear and panic reactions as a result. On the other hand I see a fundamental upheaval occurring in this time of crisis. A new form of closeness and binding with our partners and children is developing. Combined with this alternative movement is a marked humanity and sense of responsibility for the whole of creation. It is almost a miracle that this upheaval is occurring, not just in individual people, but that it has grown into a mass movement within our sick society. A healing process of immeasurable depth, a healing process that will change the face of humanity. It is more than just a shimmer of hope on the horizon for our children and our future.

Fig 1, Fig 41 Giotto
Fig 4 - Fig 7 Hugo van der Goes
Fig 8 - Fig 9 Robert Campin
Fig 10 - Fig 11 Hans Holbein d.J.
Fig 12 - Fig 13 Filippo Lippi
Fig 14 Sandro Botticelli
Fig 18 Andrea Mantegna
Fig 19 Andrea della Robbia
Fig 20 Jan Gossaert
Fig 21 Jan van Hemessen
Fig 22 Quentin Massys
Fig 23 Meister von Hohenfurth
Fig 24, Fig 27 Tizian
Fig 25 Angolo Bronzino
Fig 26 Giorgione
Fig 28 Correggio
Fig 29 Girolamo Parmigianio
Fig 38 Petronilla Meister
Fig 39 Piero die Cosimo
Fig 40 Bömischer Meister
Fig 44 Gerard David
Fig 45 Schule Sandro Botticelli

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