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dragon

Robert L. Moore (1942-2016) was a Jungian analyst and professor of psychology, psychoanalysis and spirituality, also a champion of Kohutian “self analysis”. Self analysis is a school of psychoanalysis which seeks understanding of the nature of the unconscious “self”. We might think we know our “selves”, but mostly what we think we know is a collection of memories that makes up our life-story. What actually motivates us, whilst shaped in part by that story, is largely unconscious, and the unconscious part of us is so complex, so bewilderingly vast, it’s taken a century of psychoanalysis to even scratch the surface of it. Meanwhile, this lack of understanding of our selves, both individually, and as a species, threatens to overwhelm us as we are assailed by forces entirely of our own making, but which we seem no longer able to control.

The unconscious engages us in dreams and reveries, in a language of emotionally charged images. It shows us something in the imagination, but its meaning is never literal. So we dream of a dragon, but the dragon is a metaphor for something else. Dragons feature large in myths and stories all over the world. A myth is a story that’s been pared down, sometimes over the millennia so it contains only its most potent and reactive essence. We read a mythical story, and even if we do not immediately understand it, we react to it, and it holds our attention like nothing else can.

Myths are a shorthand way our ancestors found of passing on the secrets gleaned from their own times, secrets of how to live properly, how to live in harmony with others who might appear superficially different to our selves. Thus, we avoid the worst in human nature, which has a pathological tendency towards murder. In order to do this, we have to live mythically, while at the same time renewing the myth for the times we are living in, so the story remains relevant for each passing generation.

The problem with our own culture is we have lost our way with myths. We have dismissed them as belonging to a more primitive, pre-literate, pre-technological era. Yet we look around at the world, and we see that it is filled with so many poisons, all of them entirely the result of pathological thinking, and we struggle to begin to analyse it. So we’re not actually as smart as we think we are.

The human race is very old, and in all that time it’s been telling stories, weaving myths, so whatever the situation we are in, there’s a good chance there’s already a myth that defines it, already a story told by someone who has been this way before. But the difficulty is, it’s often impossible to identify the myth we’re in, just as an eye cannot see itself.

In “Facing the Dragon”, Moore boils down the world’s ills into a dragon myth. Dragons have two aspects. One side of them is evil and chaotic. They fly about breathing fire and razing our civilized structures to the ground. It takes only a small metaphorical step then to identify our world, our civilization, now, as besieged by rapacious dragons. But remember, these are not literal dragons. It is us who does the dragon’s work, killing, lying, and razing cities with fire. The other side of the dragon, the positive side is its potent wisdom and its creative energy. So, like with Saint George, there are rewards to be gained from facing the darker aspects of the dragon, and slaying it.

Psychologically speaking, Moore equates the dragon to the human propensity for self-inflation or grandiosity. We think we’re perfect, or we’re the centre of the universe, or if only people would listen to us everything would be all right. Then reality hits, and we feel small, we react badly, we feel jealousy, resentment, hatred, indeed the whole gamut of Evil’s play-book. Moore is very much concerned here with the nature of evil as it works through the collective human experience, and how we can identify it both in ourselves and in world affairs. Spotting the dragon at work is crucial because that’s the thing with dragons: if you deny their existence, they get bigger.

One of the most striking Dragon motifs Moore identifies, and which resonated with me was :

The chief tactic of evil is to present the human individual and community with a false, deceptive representation of reality. In short, it lies.

This is not so much a self-help book as an attempt to encapsulate our collective pathology in a myth that underlies the nature of our times. It is based partly on edited transcripts of lectures Moore gave to, among others, the C.G Jung Institute of Chicago, and the Parliament of the World’s Religions but, although it is intended primarily for the psycho-analytical and the theological community, as an interested layman I found it both accessible and enlightening. First published nearly twenty years ago, the book has proved prescient in many ways, and reveals us as an increasingly benighted people living a dragon myth, yet blinded by the fact we no longer believe in dragons.

No wonder contemporary world events leave us feeling so bewildered.

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duolingoI don’t know why I’m studying French. I’ve only been to France twice in my life – well, to Paris. But they were mad-rush airport-and-hotel business-trips that could have been anywhere. It was hardly the Paris of Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris”. The Provence of Ridley Scott’s “A Good Year” would have been better. I could have settled then into a rural backwater, a crusty ex-pat-gone-native, pigged out on red-wine and cheese.

I’ve been learning French since I was eleven, dropped it at twelve, then picked it up again in my forties. But I always found it difficult to make more than stilted Pidgin conversation with it. Still, it would have been good to sit at a French pavement café and order, in French, without the waiter saying to me, in perfect English: “it would be much easier, mate, if we both spoke English.”

But with one thing and another I never did make it to France for pleasure. And then this Covid thing has put the Kybosh on it for goodness knows how long. So there’s no point labouring the language learning, is there? Except I’ve discovered this language App on my phone. It’s called Duolingo and I’m addicted to it – been brushing up my French like Billy-O.

I don’t know what use I’ll put it to. And I admit it does seem rather a small life’s ambition to order un croque-monsieur without le serveur smirking. Or is that “une croque-monsieur“? The gender thing throws me. I mean like how in France a glass is masculine, yet a cup – not that much different in functional terms – is feminine. To a native English speaker this seems an unnecessary complication. Or are we missing something? Do languages with gendered nouns reveal something philosophically profound about that nation’s culture? I don’t know. Maybe I’m thinking too much about things. But then I like doing that, so no harm.

I mean: Esque il y a un raison ces choses est intéressant de moi? Well is there? A reason these things are interesting to me?

So, there I am sitting at my table and the waiter comes over and I order my stuff in French. But I do it with a strong Lancashire accent that sometimes confuses even Englishmen. Could it be he’s thinking it would be cool to be English, as much as I’m thinking it would be cool to be French? Because, you know, that’s it with us humans. We’re always exploring the possibilities. Always une touche de glamour sur l’inconnu. A certain glamour about the unknown.

Except of course, in times of chaos, fear has us shutting out the unknown. This can be anything beyond our normal boundaries – boundaries of state, of trust, or even just our day to day experience. Thus, we can be abused in certain parts of England for speaking Arabic, or having a black skin, or for wearing a face-mask.

Depuis quand sommes-nous devenus si peur de tout? When did we become so afraid of everything?

I could read some French poets perhaps. But then I’m barely familiar with the full range of the British. So there’s no mileage in that, beyond the satisfaction of discovery of course. Or I could read Proust’s seven volume tome, A la recherche du temps perdu, in French? That might take some time, especially considering I got no further than the first chapter in English. Yes, we thrive on challenge, but we should also pick our battles.

I suppose that’s it though: challenge. Chaos is what we face on a daily basis. It is our lot in life, but there are times when chaos wins out. It becomes a fire-breathing dragon, devouring the foundational structure of our societies. It burns away the certainties, devours our courage, and we seal ourselves off from fresh experience. We lose our fight against the dragon, and become much less than we can be.

It’s a small thing then, persevering with a foreign language one is unlikely to use. It’s just one of the many things that pique my interest, but each of them wins back a little order from the chaos. It lays a foundation to my affairs. And in seeking to make sense of things, anything that piques our interest, we slay the dragon, restore balance to our bit of the world, perhaps even improve things a little. And if enough of us do that,… well,…

Je pense que ç’est la raison nous dois la faisons.

I think that’s why we’ve got to do it. Just be interested,… in stuff.

It beats the hell out of chanting slogans, and leaving abusive comments on social media anyway.

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George and the Dragon  - Rosa Corder D G RossettiWe have seen how the material path in a man’s life is ultimately self defeating, and its rewards potentially poisonous to the quest for contentment and meaning. The other path, the quest of a man in search of his soul, is no less exhausting, but those men bound upon it can at least sit down for a minute in order to gather their nerves and catch their breath, without fear of being swept away by Ego’s ever pressing timetable.

The quest for Soul is something open to all men but it is a lifetime’s journey, no matter what stage of life a man embarks upon it. And we must be careful of our expectations too, for Soul is not another thing to be acquired and ticked off on the list of life’s little necessities. Indeed a man cannot “acquire” a soul at all, because he already possesses one. It is more the degree to which he is intimate with it that is the important thing, or failing that it is the degree to which he even knows it’s there. The soul is a man’s secret and most perfect lover. Pay her sufficient devotion and she will transform you; indeed she will at times blow your mind. Neglect her though, and she’ll make you wish you were dead.

For every man, images of Soul are projected out into the world in many forms, but the most recognisable is in the shape of the human female. It can come as a shock to many men that women are not as perfect and divine as our early infatuations with them would have us believe. I’m sorry girls but you can be as stupid, vapid, shallow, mean and vain as any man. You also snore and make the same bathroom noises. Women are, in short, human, but a man’s attraction to them, once piqued, can take on the proportions of a holy devotion. For a fervent seeker of Soul, in the guise of womankind, this can turn out to be,… disappointing.

In psychological terms, though he may not be aware of it, a man projects the soul he already possesses onto the form of another human being. He looks at the woman, but does not see the actual person before him. What he sees is an image of his own soul. If he’s lucky the woman will do the same with him and there is created the potential for a happy-ever-after story, provided the process of actually getting to know one another doesn’t upset the fantasy. But it doesn’t end there. Just because a man pairs up with a life mate, does not mean he is now intimate enough with his own soul to have finished with the quest. No. The quest is just beginning.

A man can be happily married, then discover to his surprise a deep attraction for another woman, or perhaps several other women. It’s important at this point he realises his soul is still at work, shape-shifting, drawing his attention to other aspects of himself, and to which he has yet to awaken. But these aspects are not to be explored by literally engaging with the object of his projection, more by withdrawing those projections and releasing the energy back inside of himself.

To be sure, this is a dangerous stage for a man. It can bring him down, ruin him on a string of affairs, or he can rise above it, withdraw his projections from the material world and give strength to the soul growing within him. Make no mistake, let loose into the material world, a man’s soul might easily destroy him, but recognised instead as a valued psychical partner, along with a man’s ego, she can transform him. In the alchemy of medieval Europe, this marriage of the King and Queen (Ego and Soul) gives birth to queer offspring and much else that is mysterious, even terrifying, but no one said this quest was going to be easy.

Withdrawing one’s projections from the world is a tricky business, and requires first of all the taming of one’s ego. Ego is an analytical genius, and will act on the evidence of its findings. Once it realises women are simply human, it can play ahead to the end scenario of divorce and acrimony, and hopefully step back from the brink before blood is spilt. Age helps too, also the realisation that there are certain things in life worth more than yet another failed relationship: a comfy sofa, a glass of red wine, a good book, a fine cigar. Yes, material things are sometimes to be appreciated, but a wise ego treats them also with circumspection.

Mythical quests in storybooks often involve the hero doing battle with a fearsome creature, say a dragon, in order to rescue a beautiful, flaxen haired, gym honed, damsel in distress. (George and the dragon nfor example) For dragon think Ego, for damsel think Soul. But a slayed ego is neither use nor ornament to a man, for in dealing with a freed soul a man needs his wits about him. In the alchemy of the East, if the female yin is allowed to dominate, the result will be a disaster. More properly the female receives the male yang, softens him, applies her wisdom and directs him in useful ways, but she is careful never to dominate the dance, or the direction of the whole will be subverted to an unfortunate end. An ego dancing entirely to Soul’s tune is not a pretty sight; it takes a man out of the world, makes him doubtful of his place in it, and narrows his horizons to no further than the rim of his spectacles.

Returning again to the Eastern alchemists of the Dao, man is seen as inhabiting a universe that is as much inside of him as out. He is seen as straddling the worlds of Heaven and Earth. Each informs the other, and a wise man pays heed to the dynamics of both. Too much of the material world and a man loses himself in the forms of the earth, finds himself trapped without a starship to blast him back home when the time is right. Too much soul and She reaches up from the dark lake to drown him in his own thoughts, overwhelm him with his own tortured imaginings. He dies to the world, before it has taught him all it can – for such, say the Daoist sages, is the only merit in living a long life.

A safer place for abstractions of Soul is away from women-folk altogether. Wise men have found it in the retreat afforded by the natural world, in the beauty of nature, the quiet of the forest, in the shapely mountain peak. All these things bear the likeness of Soul and she will call to any man who is sensitive to her presence. She will make him yearn for a thing he knows he does not yet possess, yet infuriatingly it is a thing he cannot see or touch or even adequately define. When I was younger I responded to such things with an eye for conquest, but conquest, like all ego-driven acts, leaves one hungry for more. Nowadays I see it more in stillness, and can rest more easily in the knowledge it is not a thing to be grasped by the intellect, nor through physical effort. It is an opening, both in and to nature. And through it, through this guidance of Soul, we realise the glimmerings we see in the mind’s eye are glimmerings of our own deeper identity, that the infinite beauty of nature is a reflection of our own God-given nature, one of infinite complexity, depth, and potential.

In choosing our way through life no matter which path a man takes, life is going to kill him in the end. But one path brings with it the essential knowledge of his immortality, while the other denies it entirely. The mythical quest is a journey whose outcome is far from certain, and most of us who attempt it keep getting eaten by the dragon. But to fail in one’s search for Soul, is not really to fail – indeed, it is to be expected, for how else are we to learn and grow? To fail on this path, is more to stumble by the wayside, but we find a faith in Soul is sufficient armour for the Dragon’s worst excesses, and no man who has at least once chosen Soul over gold, is going to be down on his knees for long.

She simply won’t allow it.

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