Posts Tagged ‘archetypes’

man writing - gustave caillebot - 1885

The material life is what it is. We are born into certain circumstances – an ethnicity, a religion, a family, a nationality, a moment in time – and we make of our circumstances what we can. We do this within the limitations of our personality, intelligence, and energy, also the limitations placed on us by history, culture, and by prejudice – our own prejudice directed at others, and theirs directed back at us.

Thus constrained we make way as best we can, always striving for personal happiness. But for all our hopes to the contrary, life is messy, impermanent, beset by tragedy, and there is nothing to suggest what we make of our material lives, whether we find our balance, or we thrive or are utterly crushed, is actually of any importance at all.

For proof we need only observe those among the rich and powerful, people who are the most materially successful and surely want for nothing, yet whose ignorance and cruelty suggests they are operating at a very low level of self awareness, that indeed as human beings, not only have they a long way to travel, that wealth or power or popularity is not the real measure of success at all. But then we all know this, don’t we?

Without a certain level of self awareness, we are like automata, we are as lacking in the essence of life as the material things we crave. Self awareness is standing beneath a starry sky and feeling one’s smallness while also awakening to a deep connection with the mystery of all before us; it is the realisation that without our eyes to see and hearts to feel, there is no beauty, that our exquisitely fragile presence is the only thing that grants the universe meaning. Thus the soul in man awakens.

Many confuse this soul-life with religion, and though it is indeed a spiritual matter, it is not about “getting” religion. Religion is easy. Spiritual matters are more difficult. They develop, not supernaturally, but from the psyche and they grow from enquiry into one’s self. Religions can provide a path to self awareness, but one that is too often subverted by the tendency of all hierarchical structures towards corruption.

As unlikely as it sounds, writing – or indeed any form of art – provides another path. There is in all of us a transcendent function that enquires of life and seeks wholeness, seeks oneness with “something”. We can ignore it, or we can grant it creative expression. It’s not a path for everyone, and really rather depends upon one’s psychological type. But it suits me, so I write.

When we write, we are dealing with the unconscious and its unknown contents. Through writing, we invite these contents to become known through the imagination. Once known, or at least hinted at, they become our life’s work, our life’s story. We work then at a pace in partnership between the forces that support us and our natural ability to assimilate them.

My own story thus far is contained in twelve novels, beginning with the Singing Loch, first penned in my twenties, and ending with my most recent, the Inn at the Edge of Light. It begins with the natural world, with the sublime nature of the hills and mountains of the British Isles, and the realisation that the sublime isn’t “out there” at all, but is actually a thing we project from within, like an archetype, a pattern of psychical energy, that the sublime is an abstract impression of the divine ground of being. We were separated from it at birth and we crave reconnection.

The paradox however is that, once awakened and craving reconnection, we realise the river of unconscious contents emanating from this inner universe we are seeking to re-enter, is flowing against us, striving ever more towards an awareness of itself in the physical world, a world that, to a human life, seems curtailed to the point of frustration and despair. It is as if timelessness seeks the ephemeral, a phenomenon as strange as the thought of a free man seeking imprisonment. This is a hard one to crack, but in writing we state the problem, and we invite the answer.

Sometimes the answers come directly from the unconscious, revealing themselves on the page, often trivial details in themselves but which form, over time, a greater structure of understanding. And sometimes it comes serendipitiously, the unconscious guiding us towards the works of others, works we may have perused many times and seen nothing in them, but through our continuing enquiry we awaken sufficiently to return and take what meaning is meant for us, at the time when we are ready to grasp it.

And finally, with the Inn at the Edge of Light I take my seat at the bar and the landlord pours me out a glass of the water of life and I begin to understand through all this mythologising the role of a man with one foot in the camps of both his conscious and his unconscious life. Either that or I fall victim to my own delusions, and what I have achieved is no more than a voyage of Romantic speculation – take your pick.

But if I can close by paraphrasing Carl Jung,…

To the intellect, mythologising is futile speculation. To the emotions, however, it is a healing and valid activity; it gives existence a certain glamour which we would not like to do without.

Nor is there any reason why we should.

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mazda night journey HDR

When I came across the writings of the Swiss Psychoanalyst Carl Jung, some fifteen years ago, they caused a radical shift in my world-view. Or perhaps my world-view was changing anyway, and his ideas provided a safety net, or a supporting structure that allowed me to explore the irrational byways of the world and the psyche without the normal concerns that I was going insane questioning what I had been conditioned to accept as the true nature of reality. But plenty of others had trod this path, said Jung, many via his consulting room. You’re not losing it, the anxiety you feel is not pathological, it is more a part of the natural process to grow and develop – not physically, but psychologically, and spiritually. You’re just searching for something. You are a pilgrim on the way of the psyche. You are on the night journey of the way of the soul.

I had plenty of reasons for going off the rails, for descending into mental illness – a strongly introverted type with a track record of social maladjustment, of anxiety, and depression, stretching back to my first days at school, and the fitting of a yoke that chafed badly, and still does. And in later years there were circumstances, both professional and personal, that provided ample excuse for a return to the existential darkness I had known as a youth, and from which this time there might not have been any safe return.

My problem was not one of being unable to fit in with the world. Being passive by nature I have always been very good at that, so long as I am prepared to accept and acquiesce to the world view, and inevitably also to the will of others. But behind the mask I wear, mostly what I see in the world I do not like, or I secretly resent its demands that I change in me those things that are not negotiable. And now, knowing I can do nothing about the way I am, I come to accept myself and seek always to disconnect myself from those things that would mould me into a shape contrary to what my instinct tells me nature has intended.

The rational world holds few answers for people like me, though, like an archaeologist, I have studied its traces through many layers, and in great detail now. Yet all my life it has cold shouldered the more important questions, and it has failed even to see, let alone alleviate my underlying ills.

Around the age of thirty I consulted an overworked village doctor. I was showing clear symptoms of burn-out, of anxiety of, ugh,.. depression, and, after a consultation lasting all of two minutes, came out with a prescription for the wonder-drug of the 90’s: Prozac. But the Prozac made me ill, made me more anxious and irritable to the point of despair. I was not suited to it, clearly, but my telling the doctor so made him cross. This surprised me. I was not for ever pestering him with my ills. I had seen him twice in my life. Perhaps he was on Prozac too?

It was the first and only time I have sought pharmaceutical redress for such things. I did not blame the doctor – doctors are not gods, they are only men, and as prone to weakness as the rest of us. It’s sobering though, the realisation there are few true healers in the world, so it is as well not to rely upon one of them being around when you have need – better to seek ways of healing yourself. It’s only sensible.

Healing came first from Yoga, from which I gleaned sufficient knowledge of meditation to pass my fourth decade in a state of at least superficially high-functioning normality. But there was always something loose about me, something rebellious and suspicious of the cock-sure confidence and the de-facto authority of the rational world. Behind the mask, I still resented its stupidity writ large, ruining lives and tearing up the planet. It might be circumspect to respect authority, but it is also wise never to trust it. Indeed, it seemed to me the rational world was a fragile thing, sick at its roots, and irredeemable. The rational world of course is just an idea. It does not actually exist beyond thought, though we like to believe it does in case all else falls away, and at any rate it’s better than believing in fairies.

The path to Jung was gradual, it involved first perhaps a dangerous erosion of the rational sense, the thing that normally protects one from all manner of strange and harmful ideas; it involved an arrogant tearing at the fabric of the known world, and an equally arrogant probing at the structure of the unknown with the help of a five thousand year old oracular device, bequeathed to me by Jung, called the I Ching.

It was he who introduced the fledgling methods of studying the unconscious traces, Jung who opened a curtain onto the nature of processes hitherto unsuspected, but it was not a pretty picture. He poked about in the midst of a turd-smeared madness, like a witch doctor probing at a chicken’s giblets, for clues to the archetypal forces that underlie the world. No, madness is not a pretty thing; it is not Keira Knightley in comely distress as Jung pursues his “Dangerous Method”. Madness is uncompromising in its daemonic ugliness and its rejection of reality, and it is a thing we seek to escape, to lock away at all costs for fear of it overwhelming us. And if we really must tread that way then we had better tread lightly.

Jung’s was a world in which the dream was to be read with as much seriousness as the events of the day, and in which the events of the day were to be interpreted with the same looseness and symbolic radar as the dream, for what it might teach us of the reality underlying what we think of as reality. It was a world that spoke of the idea that reality was to be read in a non-literal way if we were to properly understand it, that if a woman were to say she lived on the moon, we could not dismiss the idea as absurd, that instead we should accept it might be true, at least in a non-literal sense, that if we accepted the validity of the psyche, as we must, then at the level of the psyche all things become potentially true, and the boundaries between what is accepted as sane and insane blur into a bewildering non-existence.

Indeed, as we explore the path of the psyche, seeking structure in non-structure, we approach a point when we realise there is actually nothing there at all, that the chaotic forces of the psychic collective and the daemonic underworld are a pullulating layer of fledgling cognition spread pitifully thin upon the eternal void, that what we are is a universe moving from that void in search of itself, that the void, being nothing, posits its own existence as a certainty, and its nothingness as an impossibility, though both sides of this equation be, on the surface at least, a self cancelling paradox.

Madness is to languish in the collective of the archetypes, sanity is to pay them homage while rising above them into the sunshine of the material world, at the same time accepting that deep down lies the great stillness that underpins reality. Jung is not for the faint of heart, and most of his writings lose me at the first paragraph because I do not have the latin, nor yet the looseness of mind to slip into the cracks of the underworld where he fears not to go.

Popular reinterpretations of his works are always lacking, while those following him with the same intellectual rigour risk inaccessibility, at least to the interested layman. And at twelve hundred words or so, I know I’ve left most of you behind me now. So I pull over to the side of road and note how the way wends for ever on.

It gives me pause, and I wonder if perhaps I’ve reached my limit too. Even a brief dip into the ideas of Jung is enough to fill several of the lives of lesser minds. But one thing I have noticed is that to explore the unconscious is also to swim against the tide of a universe of ideas all swimming the other way, that our redemption is not to seek escape inside an inner world of our own making when the will of everything that’s inside of us is to make itself conscious, to emerge wide eyed and blinking into the sunshine of a world many of us would reject as too imperfect for the perfect interpretations of our selves.

In truth we are all insane, some of us more highly functioning than others and better able to fit in with the touch-stone patterns we have collectively constructed that pass as the rational world view. But we are all subject to the ideas, the archetypes, the thought forms that seek passage into the world through us, and it is a milestone along the way to be accepting of that. Another milestone perhaps is when we no longer ask of them what they can do for us, but what we can do for them, and in so doing circle back to the beginning of things, but with a good deal less existential angst than before.

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Nonsense rhymes, the truth about women, and fairy folk at large in the modern world.

As I was walking up the stair, I met a man who wasn’t there. He wasn’t there again today, oh how I wish he’d go away.

So run the first lines of William Hugh Mearns’ 1899 poem, later published as “Antigonish”. It’s a charming nonsense rhyme, one that’s been rolling around in my head since childhood. I’m not sure how it’s meant to be taken. A bit of nonsense? A bit of fun to get the imagination rolling? Or is there more to it? At the risk of overanalysing – which isn’t like me – the rhyme can provoke some serious thinking if you let it.

It’s reminiscent of a Zen Koan – one of those inscrutable meditative walnuts you can only crack by disengaging your normal, rational thought processes. So, let’s see: you meet this guy who isn’t there; you meet him again at another time, in the same place, but he’s not there again either, and even though he’s definitely not there, you’re so fed up with him hanging around you wish he’d go away.

It doesn’t make sense of course, unless you can accept the existence of an imaginary man.


Let’s analyse that word for a moment. He’s not really there, not literally. Nor is he a drug, nor a psychotically, induced hallucination. So, you don’t actually see the man with anything other than your inner eye. He’s a mental image, an imaginary man triggered into being by something in your head, but with sufficient force to arouse your emotions. Why else would you want him to go away if his habitual presence wasn’t irritating you? He doesn’t exist but he effects your life, the way you think, and the way you feel.

Now this I understand.

I’ve been seeing my own imaginary person recently. I wasn’t walking up the stair, but across a meadow at dusk. It wasn’t a man either, but a woman, wild haired – a crazy mix of straw and dreadlocks, and bits of ribbon. Her clothing was nineteenth century – country tweeds, but with a ripped and ragged new-age traveller, hippy-chic look about them. All told she was like a tripped-out Beatrix Potter. I wasn’t irritated by her presence – quite the opposite. I was very pleased to see her, and rather than go away, I’m hoping she’ll stick around for a while. I was just surprised, that’s all; I’d begun to think my imagination had fallen asleep.

I’d actually gone out that day to snarl and shake my walking stick at a couple of giant wind turbines that have popped up on my patch in recent weeks. I was lamenting the fact that even the limited potential for romantic enlightenment that my local West Lancashire landscape possesses was now truly blasted with the appearance of these damned whirligigs, sticking like poisoned arrows out of the soft flesh of the earth. The last thing I was expecting in their fickering shadow, with the sound of their grinding gears drowning out even the wind, was a romantic encounter.


Let’s not forget we’re talking about an imaginary entity here, not flesh and blood, nor was it an hallucination, nor even a ghost or a spirit – though perhaps those latter two definitions come the closest to describing it. Michael Graeme is also a happily married man, so we’re obviously talking about a different kind of romance here – one that won’t land him in the divorce courts (hopefully). This woman exists only as an imaginary creation, yet she possesses a life-like autonomy. I can summon her image at will, just as any of us can summon up the image of a real person who is known to us but, like a real person, I cannot summon up her presence. Her actual presence – or the very real sense of it – is goverened by more mysterious processes – a mixture of unconscious psychology, and geography. I have to be in the right place, both physically, and mentally before her psychical existence becomes a part of my personal reality.

Her name’s Squirrel, and the last time I saw her she was sitting atop a solar-powered canal boat called the Mattie Rat – another imaginary creation – in my story “the Magician of Monkton Pier“. This was a couple of years ago. I was never really happy with that story, nor the title, to be honest. The magical parts seemed too fantastic, too farcical to be swallowed – even tongue in cheek. I don’t think Squirrel liked it either, and maybe that’s why she’s haunting me now. The story was useful as a vehicle for introducing her into my consciousness which, in the narrative sense, was personified by the owner and navigator of that boat, a guy called Joshua. I haven’t followed it up though, and I think Squirrel’s giving me a gentle reminder that we have unfinished business.

My personal version of Mearns’ ditty might run as follows then:

As I walked through meadows fair, I met a woman who wasn’t there. She wasn’t there again today. If she could speak, what would she say?

That’s it with Squirrel, you see? She doesn’t speak. She’s either mute, or she’s taken a vow of silence in order to preserve her power. She doesn’t tell,… she shows. There’s something magical about her, something shamanic, something of the earth mother, and that’s a little worrying because we’re talking about the old world Roman deity, Diana here, and I’d thought She was a Goddess who only haunted the minds of adepts of certain sapphically inclined Wiccan covens.

In the three ages of womanhood, according to the new version of the “old religion”, Squirrel’s the sunny side of Crone – perhaps just the sort of creature to arouse a man of mature thoughts and middle years who isn’t still hampered by more maidenly projections. I mean we’re not talking a toothless, bent old hag here – just a woman past normal childbearing age. And we’re not talking about running off and making whoopee either. What we’re about is the meaning of life, and that means plotting a course back to the world soul.

My first thoughts were that Squirrel had come to cast her spells upon the whirligigs and have them catch fire, because practical magic is her thing and she pops up whenever the natural balance is disturbed. I don’t think that’s it, though. The landscape of Western Lancashire has been crafted by man for hundreds of years. You can’t look anywhere without seeing straight lines, be it in the run of a hedgerow, a ploughed furrow or a drainage ditch – man’s linear geometry is everywhere. And with the appearance of these wind turbine’s this evidence of man’s hand has gone three dimensional, even effecting the light, making the sun blink during the evening hours. In short there’s nothing left of original nature worth preserving here, so why worry about it?

Talk to me Squirrel. What does all of this mean? Well,… getting back to plotting my course, I’m hoping it means she’s come to show me at least a part of the way.

For a male writer of a romantic bent, all encounters with the muse are significant, and essentially spiritual. Their courtship and their  metaphorical lovemaking advance him a little further along his inner path, and their resulting offspring: the words, the stories, the paintings, the poems,… these can be picked up by others looking for a spark of something universally recognisable in them. And all stories are, after all, the plagarisation of archaic myths, rising from the soul of the world, and all interested readers know a truth when they see it, even if they can’t explain it. The writer’s contribution to this love-match is his openness to inspiration, and his sincerity, also his ability to hold a pencil, or put his fingers over a keyboard. The rest comes from the muse.

Which brings us to the truth about women. A young man, enamoured of his rational faculties, yet also bursting with an inexpressible Romantic desire, might make the understandable mistake of bestowing such divinity on a mortal woman. Then, like John Ruskin on his wedding night, recoiling at the sight of his darling Effie’s all too human anatomy, he realises the awful truth: that women are human beings, and everything we feel about them is a mixture of instinct and projection. We must take care then not to seek the divine in them, or through our love-lives we will for ever run the risk of Byronic self-immolation – the risk being in direct proportion to the strength of our romantic sensibilities. Can a man successfully love more than one woman at the same time? Well, yes he can, and many do, so long as only one of those women is mortal, and the others divine. Anything else is just emotional suicide.

So, these whirligigs appear on the Plain of Western Lancashire, like arrows shot from Diana’s bow. They form giant markers in the mud and I’m drawn to them. And once I’ve done with all my huffing and puffing and my predictable nimby indignation, I realise that actually they’re quite beautiful. The sky no longer seems so vast it dwarfs the land, and makes you feel insignificant. The whirligigs connect heaven and earth and the landscape here, a place I wasn’t born to and one I’ve often felt alien in, becomes at once more intimate and knowable.

How strange!

Is that what you were trying to tell me, Squirrel? Oh,.. never mind. Just take my arm and walk with me a while.

I’m sure it will come to me eventually.

This woman, who still was not there, runs her fingers through her hair. Gently then, she takes my arm. My bosom swells, my heart is warm.

Who says there’s no such thing as fairies? It’s just a question of knowing how to see them.

Graeme out.

Regarding Diana’s Arrows – my own name for them, and not official in any way. There are two at present on Mawdesley Moss, I believe another one is planned, making three in total. My romantic sensibilities might be shattered if the three were to become twenty three.

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Cultivating your dreams can be a deeply therapeutic process. Mostly I’ve found the effects to be subtle, your outlook changing gradually over time as more of your unconscious knots are straightened out and the threads drawn up into consciousness, but every now and then a single dream can usher in a dramtic change of outlook.

For about a year now I’ve found myself in the apparent midst of a storm of anxieties that’s had my mood plummeting in a seemingly irrecoverable nose-dive. It’s been a combination of things – a series of terrible world events, the slow motion train wreck of the western economy, and the erasing of any sense of a secure financial future for myself and those I love. It seems relentless, with the media gleefully swinging one meaty cosh after the other at us, as if to reinforce on a daily basis how truly awful things are.

Am I being overly pessimistic? Of course I am, but that’s it when the dark clouds settle in; they amplify the slightest thing to apocalyptic proportions and you suddenly find yourself embattled, taking cover and bracing yourself against things that might never happen.

The darkness seemed to deepen over a long, bitter winter and steadfastly defied the loveliest of springs, even as the blossom came out and the first mow released the heady perfume of fresh-cut grass. There seemed to be no escape, but then at the beginning of April I made a trip to the Lake District and while I was there I spent a meditative hour by a waterfall. I think this single act granted me a bit of a breathing space and ushered in a subtle change of direction.

 On my return from the Lakes, I began idly leafing through my dream journals from 2002 and 2003. I had no particular aim in mind – at least none I was consciously aware of. What struck me though was the richness, the detail and the frequency with which I had once dreamed. By contrast, in more recent years, I’ve fallen out of the habit, recording only a few dreams over the course of a year, when once I’d dreamed most nights and applied myself dilligently to the Jungian interpretation of the symbols that arose.

I don’t know why I stopped cultivating my dreams like this. I suppose it came down to necessity and I’d apparently felt more of a need in those days, while recent years have been marked, I’d perhaps pompously assumed, by a philosophical resilience, and an outlook that had seemed to require little by way of bolstering from the denizens of my inner world. And if you don’t court your dreams, they vanish on waking.

Inspired anew by these old dreams, I began cultivating them again recently. Cultivating one’s dreams is no more complicated than lying down of a night and simply asking yourself to try to remember them. Things didn’t happen straight away – I think it took a few nights before I was permitted leave to recall my nocturnal wanderings again, and it was yet a few more nights after that before I was rewarded with a series of dreams that were highly detailed, visually startling and emotionally charged.

The last of these dreams occurred on the night of April 18th, the night of the full moon, which in imagination at least I’ve always associated with a peak in imaginative energy. In the dream I encountered an unknown woman – the classic symbol of the soul, or in drier, Jungian terminology, the Anima archetype. She was once a familiar visitor, chosing a different disguise each time – sometime evasive, sometimes challenging, sometimes downright lascivious. But whoever or whatever she was, on this occasion she restored in me a sense of the most profoundly transcendent love. In the dream she seduced me into thinking the love I felt was for her, but on waking the feel of that love remained like a warm glow in my guts, and I recognised it as a connection with something old and fundamental.

I rose into a world unchanged in any tangible way. The news from Libya was dire, and the fiscal pundits on the radio were bleating as usual about our financial ruin, while the politicians traded insults, and the media sought with tiresome pedantry to find the cracks between them as if it mattered or we actually cared any more. But it was a world that no longer assailed me. I was a man in love with something, or rather I was a man who had been reminded he was in love, that he had somehow forgotten – but it was all right, his lover was constant and patient, and she had apparently forgiven him.

I drove to work, past the petrol station whose regularly ratcheting fuel prices have become a curious indicator of my rising anxieties – and though the price had jumped overnight to a record high, I was unable to muster much of a reaction.

Indeed it seemed trivial. I had regained a more balanced perspective and was able to let it go.

I only hope it lasts.

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