Please go and see this movie > adangerousmethod ~ It is a good one. I know I will see this film more than once. There is such a richness to it. It takes us back to when it all began. It takes us back to the old world of Victorian Vienna and Zurich, a period of suffocating moral constraints, yet also a period that brought forth new manifestations of a changing consciousness. It takes us back to a time before Jung was Jung, when Freud was the enfant terrible of Viennese’ medical world and that mysterious, and yes, most dangerous method of what eventually became the talking cure of Freud’s psychoanalysis and Jung’s analytical psychology were still a bloody mess. David Cronenberg, the movie’s director, provides us with a glimpse into the labor pangs of one of the most important cultural events of the 20th century, the birth of the therapeutic, analytic relationship, albeit an endangered species today.
Freud, Spielrein and Jung, portrayed by Viggo Mortensen, Keira Knightley and Michael Fassbender
The film introduces us to these three players of this birthing process. While Freud and Jung are household names in psychological circles, very few are aware of how Sabina Spielrein contributed to the formulation of psychoanalytic theory. After all, she was not only a woman, but also a sick and troubled patient. It is much less known that she eventually became one of the first female psychoanalysts and that as muse for both men, she not only inspired significant ideas in their theories, but may have in fact verbalized important concepts for the first time, without ever being credited for any of them.
I attended a screening of this film. David Cronenberg was present for a Q & A. In one of his comments he remarked on how he was primarily interested in showing that new relational territory Jung had entered with his patient/most likely lover Sabina Spielrein. Cronenberg was not interested in elevating or demonizing any of the players of that curious love triangle. It seemed he rather payed homage to Jung’s and Spielrein’s courage as they stumbled and fell into their desires and fears lurking out of the recesses of their psyches.
They did not yet know what they were getting into as Jung put Freud’s theory into practice. Boundaries were not yet clearly delineated of what was to become the sacred, precocious and highly dangerous space of the analyst/patient relationship. May we withhold all judgment for now, as Cronenberg did so beautifully in his film, and simply honor the courage and tricksterish folly as Jung and Spielrein ventured deeper into new territory of their inner landscape.
A unique relationship develops as patients dare to find words for the images sent forth from their psyches’ secret chambers. The analyst must follow and relate without judgment. The process of following and relating in earnest will take the analyst to unknown, possibly frightening and dangerous places within himself. This is the nature of the work. It is its excitement and its danger.
This openness towards another is erotic in its truest sense. Yet we must remember that Eros is a god, an archetypal force, that can and often does wreak havoc with our minds and personas, especially if they are built on the shaky grounds of collective values.
The psychoanalytic relationship has become much more refined but has also lost much zest and verve since its early inception. We do know now that sexual contact with patients causes tremendous, sometimes irreparable harm to their psyches and is to be resisted at all cost, even if desired and initiated by the patient. (I believe this to be true not only for psychoanalysts, therapists, but for most teachers, mentors, practitioners and “gurus” of all creeds). Yet while the concrete enactment must be denied, the often heart and gut wrenching power of eros, which may or may not manifest in a sexual way, needs to be consciously held, sometimes even suffered in any analysis worth its salt. But without love there is not much chance for transformation. Yet the shadow of authentic eros is power driven predation and the field of psychotherapy has seen its fair share of it, and still does in many ways.
There is much to learn from the courage and mistakes of our analytic ancestors. It takes courage to see and be seen and to relate and accept what is within ourselves and the other. Mistakes will happen in all our relational lives, inside and outside the consultation room. It takes even more courage to acknowledge them as such.
Salute to the bravery of all the seekers, patients and analysts, analysts and patients as they subject themselves to mutual scrutiny.
The film is based on John Kerr‘s scholarly and carefully researched book with (almost) the same title ~ A Most Dangerous Method ~ an excellent book, I highly recommend it.
For those who wish to dive deeper into the history of psychoanalysis I suggest, The Discovery of the Unconscious by Henri Ellenberger.
A few days ago I was in the presence of a master. These occasions do not happen all that often. I was lucky to have had a chance to be present at a dharma talk with Thich Nhat Hanh, the 85 year old Vietnamese Zen master, who was one of the founders of the “Engaged Buddhism” movement. Something happens when one is in the presence of a genuine master. At least if one can show up with some degree of openness and a willingness to receive. This something that happens is a transmission. Transmission can only originate from someone whose knowledge is rooted in lived experience and has become anchored in the tissues and bones of the physical body. We are then in a realm that transcends bookish knowledge gathered in purely academic pursuit. There is a moment when consciousness permeates every cell and lightens up one’s awareness. Consciousness can shine brightly. We are humbled and grateful for we know then, we are in the presence of a master.
This level of consciousness is usually hard-earned. It is life’s gift after much inner work, focused concentration and often much emotional suffering. It comes like an unexpected embrace by Sophia, the personification of divine wisdom. It is the relief of dew drops calming parched skin. Surely one gets there only on one of the roads less traveled. “Stop thinking”, Thich Nhat Hanh says, “and relax”. Relax down into your bones, because without that deep relaxation one is not able to receive, not what is “out there” nor the images and guidance we all have available from within. ~ Exhale, relax, let go ~ that is a good start for all things.
When asked what religion I follow, I like to answer with, “I am a Jungian”. That allows me to make room for spirituality, for what is larger than human life and ego consciousness, without getting caught in any dogma. The notion of transmission makes sense if we allow for the possibility of an interconnected universe in which nature and psyche are embedded. This was Jung’s vision and with this appreciation the mysterious processes of synchronicity and transmission fall into sync. The necessity for transmission may have been at the root of Jung’s requirement, in which he differed from Freud, that all Jungian analysts-in-training undergo a thorough analysis. He knew that we can accompany the individuals entrusted in our care only as far and deep as we ourselves have dared to venture. Jungian training worth its salt must not err on the side of prioritizing academic achievements, but maintain a vestige in the ancient tradition of mystery schools.
Jungian thought at its core opens up a deeply spiritual realm. But just as Thich Nhat Hanh’s “Engaged Buddhism” is a lived practice aimed at building compassion and easing suffering to make this world a better place for all, Jungian thought, if it is to be worth its salt, also must be a practice, but one with a very different focus. Jung, being a true steward of psyche, stayed away from all moral demands. His vision was a holistic one. His focus was individuation, which means becoming more fully oneself. This is not a form of perfectionism but completeness. It requires finding ways of dealing with all forces, positive and negative, light and dark, within oneself and in the collective, the world at large. This is why Jungian work at its core is always shadow work. And there is always more to come, as the Shadow, being archetypal, can never be fully integrated. Yet, as Jungians we soldier on and journey towards a greater degree of relating to that that we do not wish to be or that that we cannot fathom to also be part of who we are. As Jungians we train our eyes to see into and withstand the darkness. Welcome to another road less traveled.
It is a dangerous road. Nietzsche did well by reminding us of its danger: “Battle not with monsters, lest ye become a monster and if you gaze into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you”. Yet it can be done. Seeing Thich Nhat Hanh I knew it was possible to understand and suffer the darkness without being overtaken. I knew because it was transmitted. The diligent practice of mindfulness, as championed in the Buddhist tradition, develops our capacity for compassion. It strengthens our emotional heart and quite possibly our physical heart as well.
Jungian work is very much the development of a unique art of seeing and perceiving. One eye is directed towards the Shadow in its many manifestations in our personal lives and in the injustices and cruelties of society, yet the other eye must learn to hold the vision of our heart’s deepest values and feelings. The more we individuate, the more we will care and feel for the world around us. Individuation takes us into the world, our communities, dissolves imaginary boundaries of race, gender, nationality and creed. Individuation allows us eventually to relate to all sentient beings and to even expand our awareness into the world of so-called inanimate matter.
It may not be the only way, but Thich Nhat Hanh’s way of generating peace and reconciliation provides tools and techniques to develop the compassion necessary for the daunting path of facing the never ending Shadow without getting lost in it. I for one am deeply grateful that I had a chance to experience in person this humble monk yet great Zen teacher whose writings have provided me with much solace over the years. Grateful.
For more information on Thich Nhat Hanh and his work please visit plumvillage.org
It has been awhile. I could think of numerous reasons why I had not been writing. At least one of them pertains to the subject matter stirring in me. How does one communicate what happens in the sanctum of psychotherapy? By definition we therapists are in the background, from the Freudian notion of the therapist as a “blank screen” to modern day issues of confidentiality, therapists have become accustomed to not talking about their experience, of what they “see” while they sit there, hour after hour, in their consultation rooms, which more often than not turn into battlefields of forces and energies larger than any individual. Welcome to my world.
If alchemy is the art of seeing, then Jungian analysts are the alchemists among the practicing scientists of the soul. The best ones of us “see” energy. It is a kind of imaginal seeing, that can take various forms, depending on typology and personality of the practitioner. Even a subtle physical, bodily sensation can be experienced as a psychic image with meaning. From this perspective, an image can be a thought or a sound, a memory, any kind or perceptive experience, which is felt and entered into with the purpose of extracting its essence in that very moment.
Jungian analysts go through a rigorous training for many years to train their bodies and minds to become finely tuned instruments, which can translate vibrational energy into felt psychic images. And thus the weaving of a new story begins….
Each person is its own universe. We are all fundamentally the same while also entirely unique. Unless pathologically stuck, our personal psyche reflects the movements and dynamics of the larger, cosmic, archetypal psyche. The constellations and dynamics of our inner world, which manifest in our moods, thoughts, perceptions and images reflect the movement of this larger autonomous psyche at any particular moment in time. Wake up ~ for we are indeed participants in a cosmic and divine drama.
Jung said “The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances; if there is any reaction, both are transformed”. In the course of a day’s work, I may consult with anywhere between four to eight people. That is four to eight unique psychic constellations. It is as if I were taken to a different universe each time a new patient walks into the room. Initially our main task as therapists is to be open and perceptive to the energies entering the space. We observe the images and their feeling tone as they emerge in us triggered by any new person in the room. I remain truthful to classical analytical tradition when I borrow the analogy of the analyst as the vagina, open, receptive and permeable.
But the scene changes with every hour, with every new patient. The analyst is a hitchhiker on a zigzag ride within the great autonomous psyche.
Whenever a new patient walks into the room, it is as if I am invited to step into an imaginal cab, which takes me to a different spot in the vast landscape of psyche. A spot where the personal and the archetypal psyche meet and which reflects a snapshot of the process towards consciousness of this particular person at that very specific point in time. We may think of Rupert Sheldrake’s “morphic field and resonance”, which postulates that there is a mode of transmission of shared informational aka archetypal patterns.What initially begins as an account of a very personal struggle and cause of suffering reveals itself as an aspect of a cosmic drama hidden behind the facade of mundane problems. In this scenario I am invited to observe and participate with the entirety my being in a story that enfolds in the form of images, feelings and bodily sensations. At the end of the day, all we are left with is our own process of making sense of and participating in life. Those of us psychotherapists, Jungian or otherwise, who understand that we are stewards of psyche appreciate the privilege of being allowed into the process of another individual.
Nietzsche noted in “Beyond Good and Evil” that “he who fights with monsters should be careful lest he thereby become a monster.” I think Jung would have agreed. Both, Freud and Jung, were very much aware of the destructive forces in psyche and nature. There is an innate inertia, an inborn pull which wants to prevent consciousness at all cost. This force is the hero’s enemy and sometime nemesis. This is the battle the hero has to fight. We all have to fight this battle, day in and day out. The road towards consciousness is not only full of twists and detours, it is paved with often seemingly insurmountable obstacles. These are the monsters and knife wielding intruders of our dreams. Many of these images represent psychic contents which can be integrated, battles which the ego can win, but there may also be an archetypal treacherous anti-life force which is beyond integration, at least at this stage of our psychic evolution.
Here we can add another descriptor to what the depth-psychologist is ~ a hitchhiker, a steward, but also a warrior. For battle we do, with and for our patients. Not with advice and not with smart (if we are lucky) interpretations, but by joining our patient in the abyss of their experience, by confronting the monstrous mirror-images in our own psyche and by tending to, the sometimes viciously attacking, energies constellated in the field. Winning a battle here usually means not being sucked into its devouring vortex. Heroically staying two steps ahead of a flood that threatens to drown consciousness.
And then the day ends and my last patient is leaving the office. I emerge out of the shared spaces. It takes some time to develop a sense of my own psychic contours again. I reflect on the day and all the places I was taken to in that familiar yet different universe of the other person. And yes, viewed from the outside, I was just sitting there.
I am not a great believer in words..but I guess the more people believe in words the more powerful they can be.. (thank you Mona K). I came across these words in my twitter stream just as I pondered Jung’s imaginal encounter with “the Anchorite” in the Red Book (RB), in which the two of them discuss the meaning of words.
We are shaped by the spoken and, to even a greater degree, by the written word.
The Anchorite (an inner, imaginal figure) speaks to Jung: “Surely you know that one can read a book many times – perhaps you almost know it by heart, and nevertheless it can be that, when you look again at the lines before you, certain things appear new or even new thoughts occur to you that you did not have before”.
What is suggested here is to appreciate the “word” as a symbol and not as a sign with a definitive, unmovable meaning. A symbol is a door into the unknown and language, the word, can be such a portal. We all the know the power of poetry or of a book that transported us into another world. A good piece of writing can take us to very unexpected places, if we allow it to happen. “A succession of words does not have only one meaning. But men strive to assign only a single meaning to the sequence of words, in order to have unambiguous language”, the Anchorite proclaims.
Like a tightrope walker we are asked to perform a delicate balancing act.Words and language allow us to grasp and assimilate the nature of reality. It is hard to detach the word from human consciousness. “What was word, shall become man. The word created the world and came before the world. It lit up like a light in the darkness“, Jung writes. He also says that “this striving is worldly and constricted” and the mysterious addition that this striving “belongs to the deepest layers of the divine creative plan”.
Initially the limited, narrow range of meaning provides security. We need to believe the illusion that we know what is what. Jung writes, “the unbounded makes you anxious since the unbounded is fearful and humanity rebels against it”.
The paradox: We must build walls of meaning in order to emerge as conscious beings out of the chaos, but then these very walls must be broken down, because “words should not become Gods”.
One way of measuring ego-strength and maturity of personality is to assess a person’s capacity to tolerate ambivalence. This capacity is closely related to the ability to feel empathy. It is all about tolerating otherness. Empathy is the genuine ability to see the world through the eyes of another. Another who is truly different, someone who cannot be easily understood. It takes effort (and ego-strength) to make room for another standpoint, another meaning. There are many ways to be right. We have reached maturity when we can give up tour need to be right without losing ourselves and our values.
Imagine ~ making room ~ imagine that the entire universe is within you and every person, every other living creature is a parallel universe ~ no either/or, no right or wrong
“He who breaks the walls of words overthrows Gods and defiles temples”, Jung writes. We need to break down the prison of stale and empty words. We need to dismantle inherited belief systems, which have lost the spark of life. We need to give up the delusion that a word in itself represents truth. It does not matter whether the word is in the Bible or in another writing considered sacred, in your favorite novel, on the internet or in one of our ingrained thought patterns. The word may give us temporary security. That may be necessary for some time. But the evolution of consciousness cannot be stopped, it can only be resisted, which makes it harder. The evolutionary trajectory of life pushes us towards new meaning. Meaning full of juicy freshness and uniquely individual. This is what Jung’s entire life’s work was about. But this encouragement comes with a warning. Jung writes: “But no one should shatter the old words, unless he finds the new word that is a firm rampart against the limitless and grasps more life in it than in the old word”. We find this over and over again in Jung’s work. Jung who parted ways with Freud, because he believed that the unconscious did not only need to be tamed, but was also the source of rejuvenation and great treasures, was also acutely aware that its forces were so powerful that it could sweep us into the chaos of psychosis at any time.
The word is a container and a prison. We need to find the balance on the tightrope. Words, stories, narratives create our lives. As we grow, our stories, memories and narratives can change. Are our narratives, the way we think about ourselves still true? Are they still meaningful in the sense that light and life are pulsating through them? Or do they need to be shed like a serpent leaves its old skin behind?Nothing is forever. We are always becoming.
Every year I lament the end of summer. Until about this time of the year, when I can sense a major shift of energy. Darkness is settling in. There are so many shades of darkness. I will single out one for today. It is the shade that belongs to Samhain, one of the great doorways into the dark.Tradition has it that the veil between the upper and the lower worlds is the thinnest on the night of October 31 to November 1st. It is a night of welcoming and honoring the dead. In the old days it was a time of divination and communication with the spirit world. It is the beginning of the new year, because the Celts appreciated that new life begins in utter darkness. Although originating in the pre-Christian Celtic tradition, Samhain belongs to all people who are open to the cycles and movements of nature.
Let us understand the meaning of Samhain from a Jungian psychological perspective. Maybe because our culture has lost the connection to the natural and nurturing aspect of the dark, we are currently so terribly dominated by the devouring and destructive side of it. The darkness of Samhain is of an introspective, reflective nature. Qualities our dominant culture is not supporting. Imagine, letting go of all the noise, the distractions. Imagine, allowing yourself t be alone ~ with yourself, only your breath leading the way.All fears and resistances belong to the ego, which initially refuses to acknowledge the existence of another realm of reality. The natural world knows no such fears. Imagine, walking into the darkness of not yet knowing ~ and listening, and seeing.
The dead come to visit in this night, it is said. They may come with messages or they simply need us to acknowledge their existence. The knowledge, but also the sins and wounds of our ancestors live within us. This is a psychic fact that C.G. Jung very much understood. Psychic life, the life you and I know and experience, emerges out of and continues to be embedded in an archetypal field. Archetypes are ultimately unknowable but very specific patterns of energy which we experience as images and affects. Our relation to the archetypal world connects us to our ancestral history, including our animal and microbial past. Yes, that far back can psyche reach. An archetype is like an old watercourse along which the water of life has flowed for centuries, digging a deep channel for itself, Jung writes. If we manage to quiet the chatter within us, then the world of the forgotten past within us will be at its most available tonight, according to the tradition of Samhain.
But we do not have to peer that far. In the shadow that we carry are also all the traumas, wounds and unresolved issues of our recently deceased relatives, parents and grandparents. I have learned (thank you Malidoma Some : ) that the departed souls of our relatives need us as much as we need them. There is a unique power of healing that only our waking consciousness can generate. Some of us are plagued with psychological disturbances, which we have psychically inherited from those close to us who have died. Every unresolved trauma or other unresolved psychic issue is passed on from one generation to the next, until the chain is broken. Breaking the chain means bringing the dark into light, making what has been unconscious conscious. That is the job of the living and only we can do that. That is our purpose in life.
Jung writes in the Red Book (RB) “If you live your own life, you do not live the common life, which is always continuing and never ending, the life of history and inalienable and ever-present burdens and products of the human race”. Before we can become who we are meant to be, before we can live our own life, we must descend into the shadow left by those who have gone before us.
If we surrender to the natural movement of the soul, we can and must bring forth pieces of the personal and collective unconscious that need to come into the light. This is growth. This is healing. This is becoming.
The sheer beauty of Jung’s writing in the RB shines forth in this quote and elucidates this thought. See it, hear it with your senses open to the ever-present symbolic reality: ” As a drop in the ocean you take part in the current, ebb and flow. You swell slowly on the land and slowly sink back again…you wander vast distances in blurred currents and wash up on strange shores, not knowing how you got there. You mount the billows of huge storms and are swept back again into the depths….You had thought that your movement came from you and that it needed your decisions and efforts….but with every conceivable effort you would never have achieved that movement and reached those areas to which the sea and the great wind of the world brought you..
From endless blue plains you sink into black depths; luminous fish draw you, marvelous branches twine around from above. You slip through columns and twisting, wavering, dark-leaved plants, and the sea takes you up again in bright green water to white, sandy coasts, and a wave foams you ashore and swallows you back again, and a wide smooth swell lifts you softly and leads you again to new regions, to twisting plants, to slowly creeping slimy polyps, and to green water and white sand and breaking surf.”
At Samhain the veil may be the thinnest, but the work of connecting to the ancestors, of acknowledging the archetypal realities is not over when this sacred night has passed. But it could be the beginning of a new attitude.
Samhain has turned into Halloween. We have learned to slip into a disguise, so we are not recognized by the wandering “evil” spirits. But maybe we want to remember some of the old ways and honor the dead. As Jungian warriors we may want to sit quietly and reflect on what has died within us, what traumas have we inherited from our personal and collective ancestors. What is it in our lives that needs to be faced and owned? Who are the hungry ghosts in our soul? How can their energy be released and transform in the light of consciousness?
Sit quietly ~ there is work to be done on your journey of becoming and it begins in the darkness of this night.
A Blessed Samhain to All
For all new life forms in the dark.
If you think the human psyche is home to nothing but goodness and beauty, then please step aside. Because if you continue reading, you might get upset. For we shall dive into a reality that is hard to grasp by nature. It is elusive, slippery, and does not want to be seen. It feels counter-intuitive and anti-life. It is indeed both.
There is an innate predator and killer in psyche. A psychic force that cannot be “rehabilitated”. A psychic force that does not transform. The challenge with all archetypal energies is to learn how to relate to them without being overtaken. For the feminine psyche, which always wants to connect and relate, this anti-life force is probably the most difficult one to come to terms with. It is too much for an individual psyche to digest.
This is the realm of Freud’s Thanatos and Jung’s dark side of the Self. These are the closest psychological images for psyche’s experience of something “evil”. Like all creatures, the human creature must also learn that there are predators, out there and within us.
The mythical imagination has always produced images and stories of this psychic reality.The tale of Bluebeard is one of them.Fairy tales are simple and pure expressions of the collective unconscious and offer a clear understanding of universal patterns in the human psyche. The Bluebeard story in short goes as follows ~ Three sisters were courted by a noble man who had an unusual blue beard. Two of them were frightened of this blue beard, but the third one fell for his charm and married him. She may do whatever she wants in his absence, open every door in his huge castle, except one. But curiosity wins out. Encouraged by her sisters, she opens the forbidden door and sees the blood and dismembered corpses of Bluebeard’s previous wives. She understands what is in store for her. Once Bluebeard found out that she has seen the hidden chamber, he comes after her. “Please, allow me to compose myself and prepare for my death” she pleads and was granted a quarter of an hour. She has no intention of going quietly into her slaughter. She posts her sisters on the castle ramparts and shouts “Sisters, sisters, do you see our brothers coming?” And the brothers do show up, just in the nick of time, and kill Bluebeard “leaving for the buzzards his blood and gristle”.
Just like a dream, a fairytale is not to be taken literally. It depicts the dance and the dynamics between the two grand archetypal forces, the masculine and the feminine, as they manifest in the collective as well as in the individual psyche. Both, dreams and fairy tales can be a kind of roadmap to discern an attitude that will allow, in fairy tale terms, for the princess to get her prince, and in Jungian language, for the union of opposites and the sacred marriage of the masculine and the feminine within ones soul.
Bluebeard is well and alive in the outer manifest world. In his densest form, a person, usually but not always, a male, becomes identified with Bluebeard’s energy and is then encountered, in the serial killer (yes, they do exist), the rapist, the human trafficker. Many of his victims won’t live to tell the story.
Even more prevalent is the sadistic, wife-beating husband. But Bluebeard also manifests through the man who is emotionally abusive. There is a violence that can be inflicted on a woman’s (AND the perpetrator’s) soul, which draws blood not from the physical but from the subtle body. This injury can be even more devastating than its physical counterpart. Sadly, it is ignored or played down by society.
The emotionally abusive man is often a pathological narcissist, unwilling/unable to genuinely feel for anyone (including his own feeling self), although he can be sentimental and whiny when it comes to his own needs. Because he is disconnected from a nourishing center in psyche, he always needs to put himself, his ego, into the center of his own lonely universe. His alienation from the source forces the pathological narcissist to more and more drastic measures. He violently seeks to pierce through to a reality that will finally support him. That often leaves a trail of blood and corpses, sometimes symbolically, sometimes unfortunately literally. Horrifying in both instances.
But our naive heroine, who fell for the deadly charmer, survives and Bluebeard is dismembered and dead. But if a fairy tale is a map, what do we learn about the right kind of attitude to escape Bluebeard? A few things stand out for me. Naive the young woman may be, but not submissive and obedient. She wants to know. Only her disobedience allows her to survive. She becomes a warrioress for life and lies to the lier. Like is cured by like. When she opened the door to the torture chamber, she truly sees. She does not escape into fantasies, as so many women in abusive relationships do, “It won’t happen to me, he really loves me, he will change”… and so on. Nor is she plagued by feelings of paralyzing shame for having been so terribly betrayed, (an irrational, but all-to-common response to abuse). When she sees, she knows, there is no more turning back.
Her willingness and strength to face the truth is activating positive masculine energies in her, which manifest in her ability to sever the ties of Bluebeard’s seductive charm. Bluebeard’s power is fading. His dismemberment has begun. Her own inner masculinity is gaining muscle, which the fairytale depicts in the sudden appearance of brothers who put an end to Bluebeard. As an archetypal force he will not disappear, but in the life of this woman Bluebeard has no more hold over her.
Addendum: The synopsis of the fairytale is based on the version printed in “Women who run with the Wolves” by the ever wonderful curandera, master storyteller and Jungian Analyst Clarissa Pinkola Estes. Her discussion of Bluebeard is illuminating and the entire book is a must read for any woman negotiating her own path.
For those interested in the psychological and mythological meaning of fairy-tales, I would like to point to the work of Marie-Luise von Franz, one of the most brilliant first generation Jungian Analysts who was a close collaborator with C.G.Jung himself. I particularly recommend “The Interpretation of Fairy Tales” and “Shadow and Evil in Fairy Tales”
The French director Catherine Breillart created a film version of “Bluebeard” in 2009, exploring the dark erotic bond characteristic of this particular dynamic, which might be of further interest.
Worlds collapsing on itself, upwards, downwards, forwards, gravity no more. Narratives weave themselves in and out and around the globe. What the hell is going on here? What is reality? Ego wants to know.
I am emerging out of the fluid and often violent scenery of the movie “Inception”. Be warned, if you have not seen the film, not much of what I am saying will make sense. If you have seen the film, you will probably have given up on the need to make sense. If that is the case, congratulation ~ the film has already succeeded. Welcome to the world of process, dreams and to the dream we call life as it presents itself just a few breaths below the threshold of waking consciousness. Memories, dreams, reflections is not only the title of Jung’s so-called autobiography but also the stuff we perceive as reality. Dare we drop the guard, tilt, fall and swim? Will we drown in chaos and random meaninglessness?
Leonardo DiCaprio, in the role of Cobb, a professional invader of the mind and corporate raider is both the heroic action protagonist and the subject of the trajectory of intercepting dream sequences. As in life, outer and inner are seamlessly intertwined. In Jungian terms, the personal and the archetypal overlap, feed each other and it is only our ego that needs to separate these two dimensions of experience.
At the core of the film we are witnessing Cobb’s journey to the roots of his feelings of guilt. He believes he planted (incepted) thoughts into his wife’s mind which led to her demise and suicide. He is aided in his descent by a young woman, Ariadne, recommended by this late wife’s father, who is the architect of the imaginal dream landscape. In Greek mythology, Ariadne helps the hero Theseus escape a deadly labyrinth, only to be betrayed and abandoned by him shortly afterwards. (My previous post, “Ariadne and the Minotaur” might be of interest). In some versions of the myth Ariadne kills herself.
The Ariadne in Cobb’s life (dream) may be another aspect of his inner feminine, just as is Mal, his late wife. Who are the figures that populate our waking dream of life? Where is the intersection of outer reality and our psyche’s projection on her journey home to the center? Psyche expresses herself not only in visual image and affect, but also in sound. Repeatedly we hear Edith Piaf’s voice “Non , je ne regrette rien” ~ “No , I don’t regret anything” as if another aspect of the feminine responded to Cobb’s feelings of guilt. Oh, and of course, whoever saw “La vie en Rose” will remember that Edith Piaf was brought back to life, truly it appeared, by Marion Cotillard, who portrays Mal, Cobb’s wife and source of his guilt. Whose reality are we experiencing? Are you in my dream am I in yours? Layer upon layer ~ circling around a center ~ the mandala of the forever revolving life.
In other versions of Ariadne’s myth, she does not commit suicide, but Hermes interferes and reunites Ariadne with her true husband Dionysus. The great God Hermes, the patron of depth psychology is the bringer of dreams. Like Cobb himself, Hermes is a thief and a messenger from the archetypal realm, a shapeshifter and protector of travelers, the guide of souls into underworld, the protector of boundaries and also the one who blurs them. When inner and inner outer world bleed into each other, it is Hermes who stands at the gate.
In Jungian thought we are not the creators of our thoughts, ideas and dreams. We are the vessels which receive them. But “someone had to create the dream” Cobb remarks. Hermes may bring us the dreams but who created them?
This questions leads to the most interesting image in the film. The image of the spinning top. A small object in Cobb’s possession which, as long as it is there and spins, serves as a reminder that he is in a dream. It is an anchor to not lose ones footing in the forever shifting shapes of perceptions and projections.The gyroscope comes to mind and the Dreidel in Jewish culture. The gyroscope is a device for measuring and maintaining orientation. Its applications include navigation when magnetic compasses do not work, as in the Hubble Telescope.
The Dreidel is a four-sided spinning top. Each side of the Dreidel is covered with a letter of the Hebrew alphabet which together form the acronym for “a great miracle has happened here”. The word Dreidel itself comes from “dreyen” and means to turn. (info & images of gyroscope & Dreidel are from Wikipedia).
If there is a device to navigate cosmic space, do we have an equivalent for inner space? Jung certainly thought so and this inner dynamic is contained in the image of the Mandala. The mandala is NOT a static image. It depicts a turning, spinning and spiraling motion around a centering pole. It is a correspondence of the cosmic Tree of Life. Many cosmologies viewed this image and dynamic as a reflection of the creator matrix we call God. As above so below.This dynamic is at the center of our psychic life. As long as it spins, the great miracle of life holds us together as we forever dream downward and forward on humanity’s journey back home to the center.
Jung insisted that context is everything. He was right about that. In an inter-connected reality, every “truth” must be understood within its particular set of circumstances. It is only with this appreciation that I dare approach what could be otherwise construed as an inflammatory and outrageous statement.
Jung writes in the Liber Primus of the Red Book (RB) that “it is good if you want this greatest evil with your whole heart” (p.254). When Jung was writing this the horrors of the First World War were raging through Europe. In a footnote a Nietzsche quote from “Thus spoke Zarathustra” sheds some light: “To redeem the past and to transform every ‘It was’ into a ‘I wanted it thus’ – that alone do I call redemption”.
Jung’s point is a call to claim ownership for the events in the world. War may be instigated by a handful of sociopaths, but if their war cries did not find resonance in the collective psyche, war would not happen. “War is over…if you want it”, John Lennon declared a few decades ago. Some may regard this comment as utopian or naive, I see it as congruent with Jung’s point.
A few years ago I lamented the Bush presidency in this country, when a friend pointed out that we the people have the kind of president we deserve. We did, whether we voted for him or not. Oh & on that note, John Lennon also said “If everyone demanded peace instead of another television set, then there ‘d be peace”.
As long as we don’t come to terms with destructive and “evil” tendencies within ourselves, as long as we choose to let these dragons slumber in the underworld of the unconscious, they will remain out of reach of our conscious awareness and therefore will NEED to be projected onto whoever lends himself to act out our rage, greed and will to power. These are archetypal affects, to deny that they are not in you, now that would be truly naive.
But war has not been so much on my mind lately. (It is still raging in various parts of the world, I know). Oil gushing into our ocean has preoccupied me. I cringe imagining the pain and suffering to wildlife. Make no mistake, I loudly demand that those responsible for the mess and mismanagement be held accountable and rightly so, I maintain. But is there not another side? Is not anyone who has ever owned a car or owned some stocks implicated in the rush for the black gold? I know, the notion of interconnectedness may suddenly not feel so cozy anymore. The subtler reality is that we are all responsible. We are participating in the killing of the earth. We are puncturing an artery in our mother’s body (thank you SVE13), her thick, dark life-blood turning into poison.
The alchemists gave oil a unique symbolic role. It is present at the beginning and end of life. Crude oil is an image of the primal chaos which at this time is still spouting uncontrollably forth.
Jung writes: “If you do not succeed in producing the greatest evil….you will never learn the violent deed and learn to overcome fighting what lies outside you…….If blood, fire and the cry of distress fill this world, then you will recognize yourself in your acts….May the frightfulness become so great that it can turn men’s eyes inward, so that their will no longer seeks the self in others but in themselves….You cannot learn this, it can only develop in you. You cannot will (italics mine) this, it takes the will from your hand and wills itself ” (RB, p.254).
The eternal paradox. The psychic demand to let a natural evolutionary development take place, to surrender and self-sacrifice (from the ego’s perspective) and yet to be active and participating citizens of this world. Your way of life is a political statement, John Lennon remarked.
James Hillman echoes similar ideas when he writes :“Today we need heroes of descent, not masters of denial, mentors of maturity who can carry sadness, who give love to aging, who show soul without irony or embarrassment”. All three voices conjured up here, deplore us to not only point fingers but accept our role in a divine drama, that indeed we are the world.
“But fundamentally you are terrified of yourself, and therefore you prefer to run to all others rather than to yourself”, Jung writes. The Hopi elders were quite right when they urged us: “You are the ones you were waiting for “.
We are the ones who need to claim the beauty and the terror. We are the beauty and the terror.
Sometimes I feel like Theseus. A Greek warrior hero who, according to the Greek myth, slew Ariadne’s half-brother. Ariadne was the daughter of King Minos on Crete, but her lineage points to Zeus as her grandfather and in effect Ariadne, the Mistress of the Labyrinth may have been a personification of the great Minoan Snake Goddess. Ariadne’s half-brother, the Minotaur, was a fabulous monster with the body of a man and the head of a bull who was shunned and confined in the labyrinth. Who or what is this Minotaur?
The bull in mythology is a companion of the Goddess in matriarchal societies. In Ariadne’s myth the minotaur was conceived by her mother’s mating with Poseidon’s sacred white bull. Historically the myth depicts a time when the power of the Goddess was waning as patriarchal forces began to dominate and shape culture and beliefs. Mythological creatures like the minotaur were outside the conventional bounds of norm and reason, so highly valued by the newly emerging masculine paradigm.
Psychologically the devaluation of the feminine equals the denigration of the irrational and the imaginal, forces that belong, in modern language, to the unconscious. Like the minotaur, neither human, nor animal nor god, the imaginal is locked away, waiting to be killed off by a heroic rational stance, personified in the myth by Theseus.
Sometimes I feel like Theseus. When I disregard what really matters, when I evade what seems ugly, vulnerable, too much to bear within myself and others. We all are Theseus when we get dangerously close to an enormous rage at the center for having been torn out of the matrix of Oneness, when the trauma of life makes us brittle on one hand, yet awfully “heroic” in our determination to slay the dragons & minotaurs that plague us.
Freud thought that all of life was about mourning our losses, culminating with the loss of our closest friend, our body, at the moment of physical death. No doubt there are happy & blissful moments even periods in our lives, but the losses outweigh them for most of us. If we allow the feeling to come up. If we allow ourselves not to slay the ugly minotaur. Just think of the loss of youth, of health, of hopes and dreams, the loss of people you loved, the loss of country and home in times of war and natural catastrophes…the list goes on.
Life is traumatic, even without the most blatant traumatizing events such as rape or torture. That “God is a trauma” is an often quoted notion in Jungian thought. Jung says “To this day “God” is the name by which I designate all things which cross my path violently and recklessly, all things which upset my subjective views, plans and intentions, and change the course of my life for better or worse”. And let us be clear, when Jung writes about God he describes immediate experiences and never some being in the sky or some entity. “The force of of God is frightful” Jung writes in the Red Book, and this force is within us and we have to come to terms with it.
A deep seated trauma most of us share is abandonment. Being betrayed right from the start. Being born into a world that is not welcoming. Being born with a soul that remembers wholeness, but cannot find it in lived life. A soul that is subjected to terrible suffering if she does not remember her way back to the source of her belonging.
Sometimes I feel like Ariadne. Ariadne fell deeply in love with Theseus. Without her help he could not have slain the minotaur. It was she who provided Theseus with a sword to kill and a thread to find his way back out of the labyrinth.An interesting scenario, the (humanized) goddess is willingly assisting in the killing of her half-brother, an image of an instinctual aspect of herself. We can wonder together, if this self-betrayal is in the service of evolution or a terrible error out of misguided love.
Theseus and Ariadne elope together after the murder of the minotaur. But shortly after Ariadne is abandoned by Theseus who “had no joy of her” as Homer tells us. He left her alone on the island of Naxos and set sail without her. It has been speculated that at the moment Theseus raised his sword to kill, he recognized his shadow self in the minotaur and became aware of the magnitude of his deed.
Ariadne was left behind, betrayed, abandoned, devastated. All the psychological experiences of trauma. She had betrayed herself first and then was betrayed by the one she loved. A classical woman’s story in a patriarchal world. But the tide is turning again in the dance between masculine and feminine. Women must stand firm and remember their soul’s truth and men must soften and listen. For “Man and woman become devils to each other if they do not separate their spiritual ways, for the essence of creation is differentiation”, Jung writes in the Red Book. Only this differentiation will make a genuine union possible.
Granted there are many versions of how the myth of Ariadne continues, but in most versions the god Dionysus came to the rescue. Dionysus, the god of madness and ecstasy, ruler of the irrational, always close to the feminine came to take her as a bride and they joined the gods on Mount Olympus.
What is the myth telling us here? Why is Ariadne rescued by Dionysus? Betrayed she may have, but she stayed true to her love and passion, something Dionysus will always honor. We may suffer and be left alone and feel like fools, but at the end of the day, when we look in the mirror, the question will always be, “How much did we love?” And at the end of our lives, when we look in the cosmic mirror, the question will always be, “How strong was our love? How much courage did we have to live our love?” May we be prepared to answer these questions one day.