At times relationships can feel like a nightmarish war zone. Whether the bond is romantic or sexual does not matter. Nor is it of any significance whether the partner is of the same or opposite sex. What matters is whether the “other” got under your skin. You know it when you feel it. An attraction, an affinity, a blissful roller coaster which can quickly break down all the coping strategies of a carefully created and nurtured persona. At times it may feel like madness knocking. That is not what we had in mind when we opened ourselves to another! Needs and emotions we never thought we had are gushing out of us. We may then find ourselves at a crossroads, though initially the choice of way is hardly in our control.
One thing that might happen is that all our defenses kick in and we regain what feels like ground under our feet. The inner whirlwind of affect is warded off ~ at the cost of our soul’s longing for a true connection to the inner other. The notion that there is an inner other, imaged and personified as a being of the opposite sex is at the core of Jungian thought. At first the ego knows nothing about this dynamic. But psyche needs to become conscious of herself. This evolutionary push towards consciousness is archetypal, it simply is. If we resist it, we will be dragged along, kicking and screaming and raging at the world. If we accept this archetypal urge towards consciousness, we can learn to breathe through the ride, as bumpy as it may be. Jung expresses this notion of the inner other in the Red Book (RB) as follows: “You, man, should not seek the feminine in women, but seek and recognize it in yourself….you, woman, should not seek the masculine in men but assume the masculine in yourself”.Psyche is bisexual. This is entirely unrelated to our sexual identifications. How do we then learn about the other within us? We unconsciously put (project) our unknown self onto another person. What we experience when these dynamics are enacted is a strong emotional reaction to another person. We might be irritated, repulsed, ticked off, but mostly, for better or worse, we might fall in love.We cannot help it because, as Jung says, “You are a slave of what you need in your soul”.
Let us consider the other direction at our crossroads. No doubt the less comfortable one, as the soul’s way always is. Welcome to our brave soul’s battle in her adventure of connecting to spirit. Because ultimately it is through the contrasexual archetype that the world beyond ego, the transpersonal, spiritual dimension opens up to us. “The part that you take over from the devil – joy -leads you into adventure”. How might one read this statement in the context of relationships? I opt to offer the following: to not resist the pull of your emotions, to make room for your love and hate and all the shades in between them, without allowing the emotional storms to take over. Not to be overtaken is often the hardest part and may require practice and support. Most important, however, is to never lose sight that while our attention is entirely hooked on the other person, we are always exploring and learning about ourselves. We are always reaching for and touching on an aspect of ourselves in the other.
Jung allows us a glimpse into the awkward and raw experience of his soul’s journey towards his feminine side. Writing from a man’s perspective in general and his own very private, subjective one in particular, Jung notes: “It is bitter for the most masculine man to accept his femininity, since it appears ridiculous to him, powerless and tawdry”. A woman’s experience will be different, but in most cases she will also struggle with her acceptance of the masculine within herself. This is when love can turn into hate. Because “he” is so dominant, so controlling, so violent, so insensitive etc. “He” may be all of that but these qualities may lie dormant in the woman’s psyche, unbeknown to her, but usually experienced by others. “The feminine in man is bound up with evil…..the masculine in the woman is bound up with evil”. Not an easy statement to swallow, “Therefore people hate to accept their own other”, Jung continues. The darkness of what we experience as evil feels too much to own and therefore needs to be projected on the one we are close. Remember a time when the one you loved turned into a monstrosity? I do.
“But if you accept it….that when you become the one who is mocked the white bird of your soul comes flying. It was far away but your humiliation attracted it” Jung writes. Only then can we claim to be a complete person. Only then can we venture into relationship. On one hand a relationship into the amoral world of the archetypal cosmic psyche and the other hand into a fully fleshed out relationship with another person. Only then may we be able to see and love the person for who they are.
Oh yes, said Eve to the serpent, lead me into temptation. For I want to know.
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.