I will speak to a time when suffering was a part of a shared experience and through that sharing held something of the sacred for me. In the early 90’s I was one of two caretakers for my friend who was dying of AIDS, along with his partner. We lived together and were each other’s family when our own would not have us. I loved these two men dearly and deeply, and they loved me as well. It was the first time in my life I’d been loved by another. And, we suffered together the daily difficulties of a prolonged dying process, of the indignities of both the one losing life and the others struggling to make what was left worth living. This intensity of the suffering of love and the joy of love bled together until there were times I couldn’t tell the difference between the two and the suffering was as dear to me as the joy, simply because we were all together. We shared so deeply of ourselves and created a bond that I experienced as spiritual. It was beautiful and horrible at the same time. The day Brian died, I was 8 months pregnant and he placed his hand on my belly as he said his last goodbyes. He whispered something to my daughter I couldn’t hear but I believe her soul did. She was born on the one month anniversary of his death. I saw both faces of love during that time, its cruelty and its redemption and both were worth it to me. His partner and I still miss him, but he’s there with us when we talk to each other, when we share our continuing love for each other and him. I may never believe in anything else, but between the three of us the god of love incarnated. It took its sacrifice, but it also blessed us in equal measure.
This question became the topic of Sunday breakfast conversation between my wife and me. After some discussion, it became clear that we both distinguish the two, seeing them as different aspects with their own recognizable, if not somewhat difficult to universally define, traits. I found myself feeling into each term, using affect as a guide into the sense of each state. Spirit, which Corbett (1996) calls the “underlying design principle” (p.112) of psyche strikes me as having the quality of agency in some way, the lifting up and out and creating or providing direction. It is the essence of Jung’s principle of logos. Soul was defined, by Corbett (1996) as a “sense of fullness, interiority, meaning” (p. 115) and has the feeling of communion in all its permutations. Jung’s eros principle fits for this aspect. While I find his gendering of logos and eros highly troubling and limiting for his theories, I do think these two aspects of psyche, agency and communion, fit with the felt sense of spirit and soul. Agency, like spirit, can be felt as an other-than-I, while communion, like soul, can be felt as a none-other-than-I, or the deepest personal reality.
In our conversation, we played with the idea of introverted and extroverted experiences of spirit and soul. Spirit for some can feel like a leading, or guide, into the action of life and for others a leading into the action of ideas or thought. For soul, we have the terms old-soul and young-soul to give a sense of the potential difference. Perhaps the old-soul feels into the interconnectedness of all things and therefore the relativity of the personal and the young-soul feels into the interconnectedness of all things and the necessity of the personal.
Corbett, L. (1996). The religious function of the psyche. Routledge.
This image is by the Japanese artist Itsuko Azuma (1953 – ) and is Untitled. In it I see a treatment of the alchemical processes calcinatio, solutio, and coagulatio. While the images of solutio are in the forefront, I begin with the vessel itself, patterned after Raffaelle Monti’s sculpture of the veiled Vestal virgin and the first noticeable process of calcinatio. The Vestal virgins tended an eternal fire and in this image we see that she tends to and releases that eternal inner fire of the heart itself. From her heart, liquid (which I am interpreting as the blue blood of the veins) runs down into the vessel, a baptism of blood, which Edinger (1991) says is “equivalent to a baptism by fire” (p. 38). This salty life-water becomes a solutio in the base of the vessel, at the level of the womb and the first solution of life, dissolving the forms and structures there. Here is where I find a poststructuralist nod since we don’t see a human or animal at the center in need of dissolution, but rather what appears to be man-made structures and shows that, as Stanton Marlan (2005) says in the Black Sun, the poststructuralist subject is “primarily an effect of larger collective forces: historic, economic, or linguist” (The philosopher’s stone: self, subject, and soul, para. 2) all aspects of logos. This makes the solutio especially meaningful because it is a return to the realm of affect, or emotion, something primary and preformal. Hillman (2015) says, in Alchemical Psychology, solutio, “affects stone by reducing all its parts into consistent and equalized homogeneity” (p. 259). In this image, the structure of our human centered perspective dissolves to allow for a union with its opposite, nature. The coagulatio is the churning motion of the waters at the base of the structure and from which, I imagine, the new position is formed, the trees which seem to be taking over the man-made structures. I also see aspects of the sublimatio in the leaves that are taking to the wind, but there’s not enough space to give that any treatment in this post.
Azuma, I. (2017). Untitled [Digital image]. Retrieved January 22, 2021, from http://en.tis-home.com/Itsuko-Azuma/
Edinger, E. (1991). Anatomy of the psyche: Alchemical symbolism in psychotherapy. Open Court
Hillman, J. (2015). Alchemical psychology. Spring Publications: Thompson.
Marlan, S. (2005). The black sun: the alchemy and art of darkness. Texas A&M University Press: College Station.
In Memories Dreams Reflections, Jung (1989) says, “As far as we can discern the sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light in the darkness of mere being” (p. 382). In the statement there is tacit acknowledgement that we begin in darkness, which is also the alchemical phase of nigredo. What I found interesting in the week’s readings is the way nigredo was considered by Jung (1968/1937) as an “initial state,” “quality of the prima materia,” and/or result of an achemical operation (p. 208). In psychological language, Jung calls it the, “horrible darknesses of our mind” (p. 238) likening it to a soul-affliction.
The alchemical nigredo phase correlates with the departure stage in the hero’s myth. Maceration of the ego stance is the primary necessity and similar symbols are attendant, threshold crossing, darkness, engulfment, et. Joseph Campbell (1973) says the crossing the threshold is akin to “a form of self-annihilation” (p. 91). Just as alchemical processes serve as a passage from the outer world to the inner, the mythic descent and departure is a journey inward.
During the Romantic era, the myth of Satan experienced a revisioning, becoming as Peter Schock (1993) says the, “charismatic fallen angel . . . an ideological vehicle” (p. 443) opposed to tyranny. Using this interpretation, Satan becomes a hero in opposition to a despot and his fall from heaven and into the depths of hell is a nigredo phase. Homer Sprague envisioned Hell, in Milton’s cosmography, as an area within the realm of Chaos and Night (1915, p. 76), the nigredo is then within the prima materia, and vice versa in the romanticized Satanic hero’s myth. Blake (1988) says of the fires of hell, which look like fire and torment from the outside, was instead “the enjoyments of Genius” (p. 38) and from this nigredo, Satan gleaned necessary proverbial wisdoms for his calling.
Blake, W. (1988). The complete poetry and prose of William Blake. Toronto. Anchor Books.
Campbell, J. (1973). The hero with a thousand faces. Princeton. Princeton University Press.
Jung, C. G. (1968). Religious ideas in alchemy (R. F. C. Hull, Trans.). In H. Read et al. (Eds.), The collected works of C. G. Jung: Vol. 12. Psychology and alchemy (2nd ed., pp. 225-472). Princeton University Press. (Original work published 1937) https://doi.org/10.1515/9781400850877.225
Jung, C. (1989). Memories Dreams Reflections. New York. Vintage Books.
Schock, P. A. (1993). The marriage of heaven and hell: Blake’s myth of Satan and its cultural matrix. ELH, 60(2), 441-470.
Warren, W. F. (1915). The universe as pictured in Milton’s paradise lost; an illustrated study for personal and class use. [New York, Cincinnati, The Abingdon press] [Web.] Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://lccn.loc.gov/15026992.
In Eliade’s (1978) hierophany the objects in the natural world exist also as manifestations of the sacred/divine world while always remaining profane. Equally, what is sacred remains divine even when limited by its manifestation in the perceivable realm. He says of Nature, “It is not only ‘alive’, it is also ‘divine’,” going on to add that the divinity is perhaps an aspect or feature (p. 171). This creates a paradox through which human consciousness may endeavor to create union, in the self as well as between the self and nature. Von Franz (2014) gives an example when she discusses the “Egyptian techno-magic” of preparing the dead (p.165). When the priests are handling the god-making materials, the materials hold the sacred which is in turn being held by them. Carl Jung (1970-1955) said of this dialectic, “the alchemistical philosophers made the opposites and their union one of the chief objects of their work” (p. 15) and patterned his theories about individuation around the same move. For Jung the work remains in the inner world primarily. Although, he encourages engagement in the natural and creative realms as catalysts for the inner alchemical transformations.
Hierophany is a kind of precursor to panpsychism/panprotopsychism. In the former, the understanding is that “fundamental entities” are conscious and in the latter that entities have “precursors to consciousness” (Chalmers, 2013, p. 1-2). These protoconscious entities can collectively be conscious as a mass/group. Chalmers (2013) promotes panpsychism as the synthesis of materialism, all consciousness is a result of the physical, and dualism, some things are physical and others are mental and conscious. It is reminiscent of hierophanic thought, things are profane (physical) and things are divine (mental) and each limit the other while existing simultaneously. Panpsychism doesn’t go as far as hierophany but has an alchemical undercurrent I didn’t notice before this week’s readings.
Chalmers, D. (2013). Panpsychism and panprotopsychism. Paper presented at the Amherst Lecture in Philosophy, Amherst, MA. 1-32. Retrieved from http://consc.net/papers/panpsychism.pdf
Eliade, M. (1978). The forge and the crucible. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Jung, C. G. (1970). The collected works of C. G. Jung: Vol. 14. Mysterium coniunctionis (R. F. C. Hull, Trans.) (H. Read et al., Eds.). Princeton University Press. (Original work published 1955-56) https://doi.org/10.1515/9781400850853
von Franz, M. L. (2014). Psyche and matter. Boston: Shambala Publications, Inc.
Recently, my imagination was captured by Kerenyi’s (2016/1951) Nemesis, relentlessly pursued then raped by Zeus after which she lay an egg and immediately deserted it in the woods. Her aspects unfolded for me. Nemesis is the goddess of righteous anger when nature’s order is violated (including the nature of the psyche). She’s also the retribution for hubris, or arrogance against the gods (Atsma, 2017). Zeus, in his egoic pursuit of his individual desires, commits hubris against the goddess herself with fearsome consequences. The goddess becomes pregnant from her violation and lays an egg, which she leaves the egg to rot. From the egg which is rescued by Leda, a monstrous beauty, epically destructive and expansive, is born, Helen of Troy.
In life, we are sometimes forced into something we aren’t yet ready for, are incapable of mothering, or which should not be given life through our labors. There are also cases of giving birth to things the soul does not want or can’t handle. In more than one counseling session, I’ve had clients want to move directly to “fixing the problem” before getting to know their symptoms, emotions, relationship to it, etc.
As I was processing these thoughts this week, I found an interview by Daniela Sieff (2009) with Marion Woodman about the death mother and how she kills the imagination, among other aspects. This too applies to Nemesis. When an egg is fertilized, it will not begin to develop unless kept warm under its mother. It ceases to even begin to imagine itself and the necessary change it often brings.
The reluctant/death mother can serve a life-affirming purpose by not always giving the ego what it wants, and staving off future disaster, but also a life-denying purpose by stifling the imaginative powers of psyche as it fertilizes the fundament in preparation for necessary change.
Atsma, A. J. (2017). Nemesis. Retrieved from https://www.theoi.com/Daimon/Nemesis.html
Kerenyi, K. (2016). Gods of the Greeks (Kindle ed.). Aukland: Pickle Partners Publishing. (Original manuscript published 1951)
Sieff, D. (2009). Confronting death mother: And interveiw with Marion Woodman. Spring, 81, 177-199.
A hallmark of Eden is that it doesn’t change. When Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, it wasn’t Eden that changed, but them. Innocence is not an eternal condition and time brings innocence into direct conflict with the realities of life. This is the real inescapable foe, time and the psychological changes it brings with it.
In the hundred-acre wood, Winne the Pooh and his friends and neighbors live in a timeless sort of Eden. It is the memory of childhood as an idyllic community outside of the passage of time. It’s this aspect of Edenic literature, which Milne captures so well. Yet, it’s the leaving of Eden that creates its immortality in our hearts, the break from the innocence creates the longing, and in Pooh this leaving is handled in an idyllic manner where the relationship between Christopher Robin and Pooh remains valued without diminishing the necessity of the parting.
Without the parting, Eden becomes a trap or a prison. Milne became trapped by the Eden he created, typecast as a children’s author, as did his son who the public refused to allow to grow up in the way the fictional Robin did (McGavran, 1998, p. 190). So too does the desire to recreate an Edenic place in the world, to deny the loss of innocence, create the conditions for imprisonment of the psyche and an unwillingness to grow.
McGavran, J. H. (Ed.). (1998). Literature and the child: Romantic continuations, postmodern contestations. Retrieved from https://ebookcentral.proquest.com
Our culture is bound by a complex of narcissism which has become, as Shalit (2002) described in the story of Odysseus, “a raging complex that has settled in the “ego-state” (p. 67) or as Jacobi (1959) states the complex is so swollen with energy it has “become the ruler in the house of the conscious ego” (p. 15). Just as Prometheus is bound and suffering but unable to free himself, we too need a hero that “represents the psychological capacity to respond to a call to go forth from the conventions of the ego and redeem a treasure that lies dormant” (Shalit, 2002, p. 46).
Prometheus is freed by a human, Heracles, who is not entirely human since he’s also the son of Zeus. Herein lies the balm for the traumatized soul of our culture. When we lose sight of our own divine nature, forget that there is more to us than blood and bones, we become fearful, terrified of death and life’s meaninglessness. The ego, to protect itself, swells its own importance to gigantic proportions giving permission for all manner of sins in the acquisition of what it thinks will provide meaning. Kalsched (1996) says, “if the patient’s traumatized ego is to be coaxed out of its inner sanctum and inspired to trust the world again, a middle way will have to be found between compassion and confrontation” (p. 40). There seems to be plenty of confrontation on social media, in the news, but this alone is not healing the lonely and fearful element of our culture. Bringing the compassion of Hercules for Prometheus, to the rock on which we are bound, the part that is laboring toward his own divinity, may help offset the confrontational aspect already in play, politically and socially. Nonetheless, until we again find the meaning of our own divine natures, the fear of our own loneliness and insignificance will continue.
Jacobi, J. S., & Manheim, R. (1959). Complex: Archetype : symbol in the psichology of C.G. Jung. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Kalsched, D. (1996). The inner world of trauma: Archetypal defences of the personal spirit. London: Routledge.
Shalit, E. (2002). The complex: Path of transformation from archetype to ego. Toronto: Inner City Books.
I was going to write something else, until I read the news this morning and saw the President considering firing Dr. Fauci, and the eagerness for it by his supporters. Our self-annointed King, and his followers, seek to strike at the bearer of our most educated and careful guidance in the face of a goddess-like aspect of nature of dis-ease. Erisichthon was also known by the name Aethon, which means burning or blazing. To burn so hot with your own supremacy, a kind of narcissism that suffers deeply from its equally weak ego, leaves a person, a leader, a country in its grips never satisfied with a thing well or soberly done. This sense of self first pervades our culture. Convincing us to stay home to protect others from the virus was met with many protestations that the economy comes before the old and infirm.
At the core of this complex, is the titan Prometheus, who stole from the Gods what didn’t belong to humans by right. Glen Slater (1998), when speaking of the Promethean nature says, “We forget that Promethean abandon can lead to an incarnation of gigantism, which then calls forth a corresponding binding” (p. 112). Our most current and pressing attitude of Titanism is that of man’s superiority over nature, Demeter herself and the longer we assert our rights above those of the goddess, the longer we are bound in our homes. Jung (1969/1936) says, “Western man has no need of more superiority over nature, whether outside or inside. He has both in almost devilish perfection. What he lacks is conscious recognition of his inferiority to the nature around and within him. He must learn that he may not do exactly as he wills. If he does not learn this, his own nature will destroy him” (CW11, p. 535).
Jung, C. G. (1969). Yoga and the West (R. F. C. Hull, Trans.). In H. Read et al. (Eds.), The collected works of C. G. Jung (Vol. 11, 2nd ed.). Retrieved from http://www.proquest.com (Original work published 1936)
Slater, G. (1998). Re-sink the Titanic. Spring, 62, pp. 104-120.
The loss of meaning is the loss of relationship, with ourselves, with others, with the world at large. In the early twentieth century, Martin Buber wrote about the ways in which humans interact with their existence. The I-and-It inclination treats everything as an object, including our own person, which can be used in some manner and/or is a sensory experience. The I-and-Thou mindset sees the interconnection of all things because there are no divisions of consequence. This was called to mind while I pondered this question. To have a symbolic perspective is to be in relationship with the thou and to lose it is to be cut off from that relationship, to be deprived of relationship with the self and in turn with everything around the self. Detached from this and we become unmoored from meaning and the experience of life is more difficult to bear.
Our age is one which lists, catalogs, and describes things, even the processes of our inner worlds, as separate and distinct and treat symbols as the excess material dumped into daydreams and nightdreams to clear the way for consciousness. This attitude leads us culturally to regard the earth not as a mother who nurtures and sustains us, and to which we are duty-bound to love and protect, but as an object over which we have dominion and can utilize until all its resources are stripped. The results of this unfortunate loss of symbolic perspective created an increasingly toxic environment. The loss of meaning via the loss of the symbol is evinced in an actual loss of habitability. In the end, an I-and-Thou relationship with nature, summoned by a return to the soul of nature, will reconnect us to our indivisibility from it and back, again, to ourselves.