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.
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.