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On Samhain, Archetypes and Psyche’s Experience of the Nurturing Darkness ~ The Red Book Reflections

October 31, 2010
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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.


Bluebeard ~ A Killer to reckon with: How to Survive the Soul’s Predator

September 18, 2010
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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.


On Gratitude and Thanksgiving – A Jungian Perspective

November 24, 2009
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Thanksgiving is a huge holiday in this country. Their favorite one many of my US friends say. It was not a holiday where I grew up and as the meaning of holidays is very much tied to one’s culture and familial traditions, Thanksgiving as I saw it practiced in mainstream America meant very little to me. I love the idea of harvest festivals and of expressing gratitude, but I could not make  sense of a national turkey day and an obese nation stuffing themselves silly followed by a shopping spree on Black Friday.

I wonder if those who consciously experience and express gratitude on Thanksgiving are a miniscule group. Maybe not, but probably not as large a group as they could be. How do we understand gratitude psychologically and how does one get there? Melanie Klein introduced gratitude, together with its opposite, envy, into psychological language. There are always two sides to everything. Just as light and shadow do, gratitude and envy go together. Jung had a profound understanding of the duality of nature. He knew that the opposite is always present, but usually hidden in the invisible world he called the unconscious.

Most people who experience gratitude describe a feeling of fullness and richness that is unrelated to any material possessions. They experience a well of goodness that does not run dry. There is  enough good to go around for all. They feel as if they were plugged into a source that stills a thirst beyond the physical. Gratitude is an expression in response to an experience of being deeply cared for and held by something larger than oneself. This gratitude goes far beyond a thought of gratefulness that one’s lot is a little lighter to carry than one’s neighbor’s. Gratitude is fearless, it fosters compassion for all living beings and the ability to see life even in the so called inanimate matter.

I do not believe one can fully experience gratitude without being aware of its opposite envy. In Jungian thought gratitude and envy are archetypal forces. They exist outside of our individual lives, but we partake of them. In the case of envy, there is no escaping it.  We all are envious to some degree. The problem is that envy lives in the shadows of the unconscious. Whatever is unconscious will be projected out. Our unconscious searches for a suitable object  and we just hang our projection on this object like an old hat. Consciousness will trick us then into believing what what we see is “reality”.  (Reality becomes more slippery the more we think about it.)

We all know some of these people, may even have been one of them at times, who spew nothing but negativity. Everything needs to be criticized, ridiculed, made small or put down. Envy destroys hopes and dreams.  Envy is full of fear. There is never enough of the good. It is anti-life. It poisons the soul.

Envy is even harder to catch when it is directed against oneself. Then it manifests in that, often very rational and “adult” inner voice, that ridicules our desires and will stop us from believing that our dreams are worth pursuing. That you are too young, too old, too fat, lack education, lack money, not healthy enough or it is just plain impossible or unrealistic… I better stop, I made my point, the list could go on forever. Envy constricts and restricts and hardens, it turns the heart into an arid patch.

What to do about envy? Unfortunately there is no miracle cure or pill. But, as with everything else, awareness and acceptance are the first steps. Nothing changes without them.  Envy is archetypal. We did not create it. We are only responsible for how we express it. We need to trace our negativity. Who or what is on the receiving end of our sneer? How can we put an image to that inner  voice, that judge or saboteur that prevents us from living our life with courage and grit. As we take a stance and stand up to the poison of envy, its opposite, gratitude and trust in goodness, can be released. We don’t own goodness either, but we can take our fill from that cup that never runs empty, regardless of where and who we are in our lives. Gratitude – at last.

Happy Thanksgiving.


Consider your heart both good and evil. C.G. Jung – The Red Book Reflections

November 9, 2009
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As reported in the New York Times Magazine, the Jungian analyst Stephen Martin, a nonobservant Jew, once responded to his daughter’s question about his religion with “Oh, honey, I ‘m a Jungian”.  No, Jungian psychology is not a religion and the Jungian world is not a sect, at least not if it’s definition involves a specific dogma under a doctrinal leader. Jung’s comment of “thank God I am not a Jungian” is often quoted in this context. And yet, let me be the devil’s advocate for a moment, Jungian psychology always views the dynamics of human behavior from a perspective that is larger than the ego. In Jungian thought, all phenomena are understood in relation to the archetype of the Self, which some translate as the equivalent to God, although that  is not quite correct. This distinction was very important to Jung. Whatever the outer reality may be, all we have is a psychic image, including a psychic image of God. Whether the image is Christ, Yahweh, Allah, shamanic spirits, Buddha, the Great Goddess, or the “image” of an atheist belief, depends on one’s culture and personal inclination. From a Jungian perspective all these images are rooted in the archetype of the Self, which can be imagined as a vital psychic core that bridges humanity with a larger, transpersonal reality.

Psychology is the science of the soul. It does not set out to prove or disprove that metaphysical entities exist. In Jung’s self-experiment, he recognized that his entire life was the expression of his soul. “I am as I am in this visible world a symbol of my soul” he writes in the Red Book,(RB)p.234. In this search for his inner truth he discovered that even, or especially, the people we love the most are ultimately symbols of that search for soul. I do not think that Jung wanted to diminish the reality or intensity of human love, but rather add another dimension to it. One, I’d like to think, true lovers always sensed. The search for soul does not lift you into ethereal heights. It leads right into fleshed out life. To know your soul,  you have to live your life to the fullest. Consider the following quote from Jung: “ To know the human soul one has to hang up exact science and put away the scholar’s gown, say farewell to his study and wander with human heart through the world, through the horror of prisons, mad houses and hospitals, through drab suburban pubs, in brothels and gambling dens, through the salons of elegant society, the stock exchanges, the socialist meetings, the churches, the revivals and ecstacies of the sects, to experience love, hate and passion in every form in one’s body” (CW 7, para 409).

Go out and live your life, Jung seems to say.  Do not deny your darker impulses. They are part of your soul’s life. I do not believe Jung meant that we literally all have to end up in prisons and “madhouses”, although it may happen, but that we need to find the compassion, the “Mitgefuehl”, which means “feeling with the other”, of what it is like to be there. To connect to another in compassion is an expression of soul, which weaves a net between us all. Soul partakes of all experiences humanly possible.

In other instances, internalized collective judgments and values may prevent us form pursuing our heart’s desire. What part of myself do I not dare to live? Do I need all the prisoners in society so I can feel morally superior? “Consider that your heart is both good and evil, Jung wrote in the RB, p.234. It takes courage to acknowledge evil in the first place, it takes even more to see it within oneself.


On Soul and Darkness and Imagination: The Red Book Reflections

November 6, 2009
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In the Red Book (RB) Jung documents his process of confronting a series of gruesome visions and fantasies filled with blood, destruction and cruelty. As I am writing this, images of the tragic news today of the massacre at Fort Hood flash through my mind. Jung’s recorded visions date from 1913 to 1914 and he considered them to be precognitive, foreshadowing the flood of destruction that would soon sweep through Europe. I am thinking of our culture’s current fascination  with horror, violence and destruction, which, so we are told, will culminate in the cataclysmic events of “2012”. End days? The final hurray before the ultimate apocalypse? Maybe. Jung was deeply effected by the darkness that enveloped Europe during the First and Second World War. The horrors were unimaginable and it was indeed the end, the death for millions. Yet life continued. But the danger still looms. The archetype of the apocalypse (the violent pattern of disintegration of the world as we know it) continues to be the dominant force. Hindu mythology tells us that the dark age of Kali Yuga began 3000 BC and will last for another while (another 400 000 or more years). Are we depressed yet? Ready to stick the head in the sand or bury the nose in a bottle? I would not blame you.

But that is not what Jung did. One way of looking at the RB is, I suggest,  as a “How To” book of some sort.  How to gaze into the darkness and survive it. How to gaze into the darkness and bring forth meaning. How to gaze into the darkness and, Deo Concedente, find a shimmer of light in it. Not a job for the faint hearted, but then the Jung I know never was. One thing I am certain is that the RB will do away with for good with the notion that Jung is a fluffy, new agey psychologist whose path of individuation is filled with love and light and flowery archetypal imagery.

If we stay with the idea of looking at the RB as a  “how to” (deal with these times) book a little longer, then Jung suggests the absolute necessity of “refinding the soul”( p.231). Not the idea of soul as it has been co-opted by religious institutions, but the very private soul (or psyche if you prefer). Our core that is capable of the most terrible suffering and the most ecstatic bliss. It is the expression of our shared humanity, which  connects us to the larger world soul, the anima mundi. The soul in us feels, connects, longs for, desires. It finds and creates beauty. Cynicism, political games and unbalanced ambition are lethal to soul.

Jung writes:” He could find his soul in desire itself, but not in the objects (italics mine) of desire. If he possessed his desire, and his desire did not possess him, he would lay a hand on his soul, since his desire is the image and the expression of the soul. If we possess the image of a thing, we possess half the thing. The image of the world is half the world” (p.232). Jung develops here what is to become a hallmark of his work: an appreciation for the power of the imagination, the true alchemical imagination that creates and transforms worlds.

Looking back out into our blood stained, violent and cynical world as we spin (out of control?) towards 2012, it is our courage and willingness to follow the soul’s imagination that could change the trajectory of our current path of destruction, for nothing is ever written in stone.


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