Projective Inversion

Rock structure on the grounds of St. Anne's Retreat
Rock structure on the grounds of St. Anne's Retreat

A possible level of meaning in the cluster of traditional stories can be seen by using Folklorist Alan Dunde’s term “projective inversion.” Dundes uses the blood libel legend to illustrate this concept. This legend, with origins in ancient times, tells of Jews killing Christian infants and children and using their blood in a ritual to make matzah. He explains that: “The Christian guilt for indulging in symbolic ritual cannibalism is neatly projected onto the Jews through such legends” (Dundes, 110). Dundes continues: “I am persuaded that a more appropriate and revealing approach to the legend lies in the Christian need for a Jewish scapegoat and in the psychological process I have termed 'projective inversion.'” The point is that the blood libel legend is Christian folklore—“and that it is Christians, not Jews, who [tell and] would like to commit the blood libel” (Dundes, 354). Also important to note that it was not the Jews who killed Christ, it was the Romans. “Christians blame Jews for something which the Christians needed to have happen, a thing which the Jews never did… [so] projective inversion refers to a psychological process in which A accused B of carrying out an action which A really wishes to carry out him or herself”(Dundes,352-353).

An example of what makes clear the projective inversion in the blood libel legend is suggested by the following facts: Jews are prohibited from consuming blood; but Christians take part in a ritual of consuming the body of Christ by the symbolic bread and wine (or bread and water) symbolizing the body and blood of Christ. Along these lines of wish fulfilment, it appears that Christians are projecting upon the Jews what they themselves are guilty of—which is killing and consuming the body of Christ.

Some of the themes in the legends of St. Anne’s, parallel to the blood libel legend, appear to be the reverse of reality:

  • The ghostly nuns are described as menacing and aggressive, intruding on the visiting teenagers’ courtship scene; when in fact the teenagers were trespassing.  
  • The nuns are described as sexually active, thus breaking local religious and moral codes, when of course the teenagers are the ones doing the courtship game.

These examples suggest that the very characteristics attributed to the ghostly nuns are actually projections of the young legend-trippers, phrased in such a way as to blame the aberrations on the other.

In spite of great effort to stop pilgrimages to the blood libel legend site the legend is treated as historical fact and thus the local concepts of justice and the power of their folk belief and tradition carry on unchanged. The parallel seen between the St. Anne’s legends and the blood libel legends is clearly that local belief and tradition in both cases justify a long standing custom—one that penetrates basic principles and issues of a local population.