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.
C.G. Jung was a radical thinker. He was a man who ventured into unknown psychic territory and wrested a map out of the unconscious, which he thought was able to link the present moment with a remote past. To his surprise Jung found in alchemy a model that he identified as the basis of our modern way of perceiving things. In other words, a model for how we experience reality. Alchemy provides a pattern of transformational processes right under the threshold of consciousness, which all energy follows.
The patterns are there. Seeing them is the challenge.What is this curious practice called alchemy? There is more than one answer. For one it is the art of seeing beyond material surface. It is a way of seeing we have lost since Cartesian thinking removed the enchantment from our world. Common knowledge holds that chemistry evolved out of alchemy. That is true, but it was also the end of the alchemical vision, as chemists believed their experiments took place only on a mundane physical level.
Alchemists had a different vision. Alchemists knew that energy and matter could not be separated. They knew that there was no such thing as inorganic matter and that indeed all matter was infused with an element of consciousness. They knew that you and I are much more connected than mundane science wanted us to believe. They also intuitively knew what quantum physicists confirmed at a later age, namely the alchemical principle of the experimenter’s consciousness influencing the outcome. You and I matter! Our conscious and deliberate intent is much more powerful than the authorities in charge want us to believe.
No wonder that alchemists were discredited, persecuted, burnt at the stake and ridiculed.Jung saw and understood that. There is a heretical and subversive aspect to Jung’s work , at least from the perspective of our cultural dominant, which I cherish.
Alchemy describes a pattern of transformation. All creation and transformation follow the cyclical movements of falling apart and coming together on the spiral of evolution. There is one and it falls apart and becomes two and of that a third (something new) emerges and out of the third comes the oneness again that is the fourth. (This is a paraphrased version of the axiom of Maria Prophetissa, a third century female alchemist).
This is the movement of evolution and it is the movement in the mandala in Jung’s work.
If we transfer this movement into the evolutionary process of human consciousness then the falling apart (the two, the duality) represents a confrontation with a previously unknown content that ultimately belongs to the oneness that we are part of, but not necessarily conscious of. A constant flow between what is conscious and what is unconscious is established, which is best captured in the image of the Klein bottle
As materialism and one-sided rational thinking weaken but still dominate the Western world view and as we have brought ourselves to the brink of our own destruction, we must ask ourselves: Where are we in relation to matter, to earth? Where are we in relation to psychic reality? The South African Jungian Analyst Ian McCallum suggests that we desperately need to develop what he calls “Ecological Intelligence”, an intelligence the alchemists seemed to instinctively possess.
McCallum describes ecological intelligence as a way of understanding and articulating our evolutionary links to all of life, to all living things, as a debt we owe to the earth and as our contribution to the evolution of human consciousness. An ecological intelligence is also an intelligence oriented towards the feminine principle. It is the fourth we have been waiting for. It may be the next step in the evolution of human consciousness. The feminine principle is the principle of relatedness and of completeness. Relatedness and completeness are the opposite of perfectionism that so often drives our inner and outer lives.
Ecological intelligence can be experienced as a deep empathy for the other in the outer world, but also for what feels other within ourselves. The other as it manifests in other races, ethnic groups, but MacCallum particularly sees the other in the natural world, in nature, animals, plants.
It is the beauty of our evolving relatedness.
..for beauty is nothing but the terror, which we are still just able to bear. R. M. Rilke
I highly recommend: McCallum,Ian: Ecological Intelligence. Rediscovering Ourselves in Nature. It is a wonderful book.
Psychosis is the great other in Western civilization. Insanity, craziness, off-the-wallness is what frightens us the most. And for good reason, for one it is terrifying. And if that were not enough, we also run the risk of being immediately (over)medicated, hospitalized and stigmatized with that awful descriptive of having a “mental illness”. To be fair, there are of course psyches that are so fragile that they are hopelessly and helplessly flooded by what Jung refers to in the Red Book (RB) as the spirit of the depth. Much of this individual suffering can be alleviated by proper medication and designated caring environments. The psychiatric wards of most hospitals these days are not “caring environments”, but the problem is a systemic one and generally not the fault of the well intentioned but overworked and misinformed personnel of these wards. But the needs of this relatively small group of the population are not what I am addressing here. I am talking about you and me. The chances are that if you are reading this, you qualify for this much larger segment of the population, the reasonably well functioning average neurotic. What we generally deny is that we also have psychotic pockets in some of the more hidden corners of our psyche. Often a source of great fear and shame, these raw, uncontrollable spots in our inner landscape may also connect us to a divine, transpersonal reality.
A good working definition of psychosis is that the boundaries between inner and outer world have become blurry or non-existent. Remember the last time you completely lost it? Had a melt-down? Were so caught up in a personal complex that outer reality became skewed? This is where the other side begins. No problem as long as you can bounce back. The ability to recuperate from a moment, or days, or weeks, or even years of insanity is the real marker for psychic health and not having no knowledge of madness and therefore seeing (projecting) it only onto others. “It is unquestionable: if you enter into the world of the soul, you are like a madman, and a doctor would consider you to be sick”, Jung writes in the RB.
“I am seized by fear, but I know I must go in” he says, “the spirit of the depths opened my eyes and I caught a glimpse of the inner things, the world of my soul, the many-formed and changing”. The descent into the depths can be maddening and dangerous, but what is remarkable is that Jung also sees a form of madness looming when a person never leaves the surface. In other words, when a person is entirely identified with waking life and ego consciousness. In Jung’s words, “the spirit of this time is ungodly, the spirit of the depths is ungodly, balance is godly”. There is great wisdom in these three words, “balance is godly”. There is a time to be lost and there is a time to find oneself again. We fall apart and we are put together again. We breathe in and we breathe out. To accept the good and the bad. Life and death. Each cycle leaving us slightly changed. The secret of transformation lies in moving to this rhythm, consciously. “Depth and surface should mix so that new life can develop”, Jung writes.
Consciousness is related to awareness, but also to meaning. Without finding meaning in events, especially in our mad episodes, whether they take the form of a suicidal depression, a panic attack or an outburst worth a wrathful god, no light, no consciousness can be wrested out of it. “The meaning of events is the way of salvation that you create”, Jung writes.
The editor of the RB, Sonu Shamdasani, remarks in a footnote that what Jung is developing here in the Liber Primus is the connection between individual and collective psychology. What that means is that if we, as Jung did, look inward, give credence to our dreams, visions, fantasies and moods, when we dive into them versus running away, we will unavoidably come in contact with the forces of the collective unconscious and that can be terrifying and overwhelming. “My knowledge has a thousand voices, an army roaring like a lion, the air trembles when they speak, and I am their defenseless sacrifice”, Jung writes.
What is being sacrificed here? Jung suggests that it is our own head that needs to fall. Growth and new life are subjectively experienced as something most dreadful and even evil, like our own execution. “You thought you knew the abyss? Oh you clever people! It is another thing to experience it”, Jung writes. Our head is also sacrificed, when we let go of our judgment, when we accept experiences for what they are: expressions of the soul’s life regardless of how psychotic they might be. I know this is easier said than done, but Jung for one has walked the talk before us. The Red Book is proof, it can be done.
The Rubin Museum of Art in NYC is currently offering a fascinating event series, the Red Book Dialogues. Today’s program was a dialogue between Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey and my colleague, Jungian analyst Doug Tompkins. It was an inspiring evening in a serene, beautiful setting. Both Jack and Doug were logged on to Twitter and so was the audience who could send questions and comments via their mobile devices, which were then projected onto a big screen. Twitter and Jung? Do they have anything in common? Doug rightly commented that most Jungians were somewhat technologically challenged. But Twitter is not about technology. It is all about communication. Fast communication, with a lot of people and entities. Doug introduced the very fitting archetypal image behind Twitter. It is the winged god Hermes, the messenger from the underworld, who rules all aspects of communication and commerce. He is flighty and fast, I can almost glimpse him in the 140 character tweets that swoosh past me on the screen. He is often depicted as a youth with winged sandals and it was not lost on the audience that he lives right there in Twitter’s logo of the little bird. The moderator remarked that the German word for Twitter is “zwitschern” but that he could not find that word anywhere in the Red Book. That may be so, but let’s not forget that the Red Book was left unfinished because Jung became fascinated with alchemy, which he translated into the dynamics of psyche. Alchemists communicated in an oblique writing style that became known as, guess what, the “language of the birds”.
But Hermes is also a trickster and thief who can cross our path just when we think we have it all figured out and under control. I bet he was to blame when my iphone just all of a sudden refused to function and would not connect until after the event! Go figure! It is said of Hermes that he lives in the in-between places and that he bridges boundaries. Hermes also trespasses. He will not be confined in neatly ordered places. Maybe Hermes’ inspiration could help to bridge the seemingly different worlds of Twitter and Jung’s Red Book.
People send their “What are you doing” tweets into cyberspace in the hope to find or connect with others. In the process an interconnected web is being woven that brings the immediate experience of its participants to the forefront. As just one example I am thinking of the transparency the tweeting community brought to the recent elections in Iran. An anonymous mass of people were suddenly individual voices, which were heard. Now to Jung’s self-experiment as documented in the Red Book. I wonder if the cyberspace of the tweeting community is not the equivalent to Jung’s collective unconscious out of which he wrestled images and meaning and thereby created a structure and road map that allowed him to negotiate a world much larger than himself.
By far the most interesting question came from an audience member who inquired about Twitter’s shadow. The question kept lingering in the room. Nobody had a clear answer. I don’t have an answer. Twitter is such a new tool, it might be too soon to tell. The shadow by definition does not want to be seen. But from a Jungian perspective, we also understand that everything has a shadow. As a start, I suggest that we might want to look at what we project onto Twitter. If I see it as a means to connect with great speed to others and allow others to make contact with me, “follow” me, with little discrimination of who they are, then I am at risk of being flooded, overwhelmed and losing my bearings. Could one shadow aspect of Twitter be the disintegration of boundaries and the loss of a container for private, sacred space? When Jung traveled into the depths of the unconscious he was aware of the dangers. He sensed the treasures the invisible world held, but he knew that if one got lost in it the price was disintegration and psychosis. In lieu of clear answers I may have to live with the questions a little longer. Hermes is a trickster god, but he is also the only guide we have when we enter new territory.