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Posts Tagged ‘jungian psychology’

I’m labouring under a bit of a cloud again – in fact I can’t seem to find any open water at all this year. I’m conscious of the fact of course that once you let the darkness in it colours your emotions, so you can’t look anywhere without feeling unsettled, like you’re waiting for something awful to happen all the time. I don’t like feeling this way. It’s unfamiliar, and usually I can see life from the sunnier side,  but sometimes one’s optimism becomes  weighted down by events and, like an overloaded lifeboat, becomes sluggish, difficult to steer, and in danger of capsizing, in danger of tipping you into the black depths of despair.

The passing of my mother in the spring is an event I’m still adjusting to. It’s a fact of middle aged life – this passing on of our forebears. We all have it to face and deal with, each in our own way. When you’re in the thick of such events though, there are so many practical demands placed upon you, you can’t always digest the emotional issues as well as you’d like. You have to put them on the back burner, deal with them in slower time, and I think that’s what’s been happening progressively this year. The darkness leaked in early on, and I’m still searching for a way back into the light. My eldest son leaving for university has also punched a hole in things, and that’s something else I’ll be a while getting used to.

With this back-story in mind, if I analyse the tormentors foremost in my consciousness at the moment, they boil down to an upcoming overseas business trip, and another aged, much loved, relative in a hospital far away, which makes visiting as much as I’d like very difficult. Oh, and my sense of smell – which had begun to return only a week ago, has disappeared again.

The business trip is a pain in the arse to be frank, and I just can’t see beyond it at the moment. If I told you I was going to Paris, you’d wonder what I was complaining about, with all that ooh la la and the Tour Eiffel and the Moulin Rouge, n’est ce pas? But business trips are business trips; all you see are the internal details of the transport systems that deliver you from one grey concrete and glass building to another, always at the expense of a great deal of fatigue and personal time, your only respite being an hotel room probably next to a dual carriage way, and a pillow you can’t sleep on. Other than that, you could be anywhere in the world.

I’ll feel differently when it’s over, and the weekend will put a different slant on things for sure, but for now it’s a hurdle to be crossed, a trial to be endured and understood. As for my aged relative, well, I’d rather be spending time with her than swanning off for three days on a trip I’m viewing as nothing but a monumental waste of my personal time – but hey, I know I’m lucky to have a day-job, and I’d be as well to just quit whining and get on with it. As for my sense of smell, it’s a short term relapse, and I know I’ll get over it.

But where’s all this going?

Well, I’m conscious of late of having been drifting, philosophically, my personal writings having thus far led me along the well worn path of alchemy and Romanticism, only to run into sterile territory where the intellectual pickings have been slim, yet where there’s also many a beguiling fool similarly run aground and spouting nonsense, and I fear I’m in danger of becoming one of them.

The wordcount is rising with two novels on the go – one of them tritely erotic, the other intellectually pretentious – but I’m making no progress on the inner, psycho-spiritual level at all, which is really the whole point of things for me. The wordcount is neither here nor there, and when I’m done with those novels, squeezed them dry for all they’re worth, I’ll just give them away like all the rest.

At such times as these, times of doubt, you have to let go of course, you have to sit back and subject yourself to the tides of the world while looking for signs, and thinking symbolically. And for me the arbiter of my fates, the dealer of the cards, is always a woman, and the most powerful of these women is never a real one.

Yes, sorry dear reader, but she’s still haunting me. I’m talking about the goddess again.

In male psychology, she comes to us in dreams as an unknown woman. In part, she’s the female half of our bi-sexual nature, the part we swallow down when our physical gender crystallizes in the womb, so we can never really escape her, any more than a man can ever escape himself. I’m not blessed with a mature approach to my goddess. I see her everywhere. I over-literalise her, and I allow her the upper hand too often, so she tips easily from being a truly inspirational creature, to the infamous belle dame sans merci, tormentor-muse of the more tortured of our poets.

As a younger man, she had me falling in love with one stranger after another, a relentlessly rocky trail littered with the wreckage of many an unrequited pining. I’m safely through that phase now, but she manifests in other ways, equally beguiling, and is no less obsessive in her possession of me. What other daemon could make me so reluctant to voyage from hearth and home but the goddess manifesting as an “anima obsession” – or in other words a woeful reluctance to leave the tit and simply go find myself out there?

I was thinking about all of this yesterday while sitting in the beer-garden of my local pub, my good lady and I enjoying the autumn sunshine while sharing a quiet drink, and watching the crowds go by. We live at a time when casual or even grungy fashion is de rigueur – a very relaxed era to be sure, so it’s rare on Sundays to see anyone in their Sunday best – it’s a thing that’s passed into the history books, along with those times when the whole of England would attend church, before sitting down to a roast dinner.

So I spotted her a mile off, this woman in the green dress, flitting in and out of the crowds, teasing my imagination. The dress was tailored and it fit this woman to perfection, accentuating her form and her movement – the turn of her hip, the elegant poise of her body. The world was in its rags and she, the catwalk model, in her finery. I never saw her face, but I recognised her at once, and with a faint grimace, as the goddess teasing me with her impenetrable language, pretty much like she does in dreams, always challenging me to make sense of her.

For some men, the challenge is simply to wake up to the fact of this woman’s inner presence, then she’ll reward them with a greater sense of peace than they’ve ever known. But it’s a difficult transition for a testosterone-pumped, macho kind of guy, and it generally only comes with age and the waning of one’s hormones, if it comes at all. But if you’re not that kind of guy to begin with, if like me, you’re not macho, if indeed you’re a girly kind of guy, she can take over your life and make you believe there’s nothing, psychically, beyond her at all that’s worth a damn. She will hold you snug to her bosom, hold you tightly there and in perfect rapture as a willing captive from the world, instead of setting you free, so you can live like a man.

All enquiring men (and women) are ultimately searching for the wisdom of the ages. In male psychology, this manifests itself, symbolically, in dreams, as the wise old man, the Gandalf, or the Merlin of literature. Yet, beyond an elusive awareness of this archetype, I feel I have no connection with it, either in my dreams, my imaginal ramblings, or my writings. But this is the guy I should be seeking out; he’s the Daoist hermit holed up in the caves on Wudang Mountain; my Lao Tzu; my inscrutable Kung Fu master; or – in real life – even a wise, living father figure. It’s the role of the goddess to introduce me to him, to subordinate herself to his greater influence, but in my case either she’s a bossy britches, or I’m just not ready yet.

Meanwhile the woman in the green dress flits through the dappled sunlight of imagination, teasing me with promises of the spiritual delights of union, if only I could catch up with her – while making me dread the wrench of parting from hearth and home, that I should be robbed of her warmth and certainty even for a moment.

But I’m also reminded the spiritual path is not a straight line, more a spiral centred upon the core of the Self. If we are tenacious in our quest, we orbit slowly, seemingly making the same mistakes, rediscovering the same old ground time and time again, as if by the turning of the same seasons, but each time with a little more clarity, a little more genuine understanding.

Come to think of it, I did meet him once, that wise old man. It was in the gate-house to a fine old city he was quitting in despair. He gave me a copy of the Book of Changes, before riding off into the sunset on the back of a mighty water-buffalo, in the company of a dancing girl.

I turn to the Book of Changes now, blow the dust off it, and ask what this upcoming trip might mean for me – not so much what might literally be in store, because that’s anyone’s guess – more psychically – how I should align myself, how I should be thinking in order to make the best of it and meet the future in the most advantageous and optimistic way.

And it says:

Hexagram 57, otherwise known as Gradual Influences, or Adapting to One’s Environment. Rather a predictable response to be honest. The keywords here are adapting, fitting in, going with the the flow, or subjecting oneself to the experience, all with a view to the longer term. The message is to go with an open mind, and an open heart, and just fit in as best I can, all of which makes perfect sense to me. But that’s it with The Book of Changes – eventually it creeps inside of you, and you no longer need to consult it as slavishly as you once did, because you already know what it’s going to say.

So, Paris here I come.

A bien tot.

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To the ancient (male) poets, poetry was the resulting progeny of a part unconscious, part inspirational, part devotional intercourse with a mythical yet hauntingly ever-present creature called the Muse. Anything else was doggerel and not worth the papyrus scroll it was written on. Beautiful, merciless, demanding of unwavering dedication, yet disproportionately frugal with her favours, the Muse has many guises, but all of them essentially female.

If a poet was respectful of his muse, in sufficient awe of her, and sufficiently in thrall to the muse’s more corporeal and multifarious projections onto mortal women, then his poetry would be profound and recognised at once as the purest utterings of the Divine One herself, unsullied by the poet’s rather more imperfect, and all too human excretions.

In other words, a man does not make poetry up, or for that matter fiction, or music, or paintings, or indeed any other form of art. He seeks inspiration, and by some mysterious contract, all too often signed in the poet’s own blood, the muse delivers the art to him. He merely transcribes it, therefore a wise poet never takes credit for his best work, lest he should court her wrath. Conversely, he must always be ready to accept the crap as his own.

But what happens if the poet, the artist or whatever, is a woman?

Male Muse-Goddess psychology is amply explained in the theories of Carl Jung, who would have termed her “Anima”, the divine feminine. It’s from Anima a man derives his wisdom, his inspiration, and his more intuitive faculties. When it comes to women though, I find Jung is less clear – her soul image being defined instead by an amorphous harem of male figures – which doesn’t sound very mystical and muse-like. But to stick with Jung for a moment, it’s through him the concept of the Muse, the Goddess, or even a belief in fairies is rendered accessible and relatively harmless to otherwise rational minds by a process of de-literalising and internalising.

Rather than devaluing such concepts however, Jungian psychology achieves the opposite, promoting the unconscious imaginal realms these daemonic creatures inhabit to a real, if hidden, collective dimension – or what in classical mythology might be called the Underworld. Jung thereby granted the Goddess a supernatural reality she’d not enjoyed since the banishing of the pagan gods by a stern, male-centric, Christianity.

Through our mythologies we see how many a powerful Goddess once influenced the world stage, and one might be forgiven for thinking both contemporary religion and rational secularism have banished her to such an abject obscurity only poets and other unreliable types still talk of her. But we should be careful, for it is through our own selves the old deities have always lived, and through our own irrational and so often inexplicable behaviour they still wield their mysterious influence in the world.

Thus it was in the middle of the twentieth century, the Goddess found herself reborn among a resurgent neo-pagan faithful, who have been quietly redefining the nature of mystical spiritualism under such banners as Wicca and Modern Witchcraft. And it is from among their ranks, some might argue, and some might even hope, she is earnestly plotting the rescue of both the Great Mother (earth), and humankind from ten thousand years of blood letting at the behest of the formerly all-powerful (and male) Sun God, and his equally misogynic demi-gods of War, Rape and Avarice.

The poet Robert Graves (1895-1985) was a vociferous champion of the Goddess, and in his book “The White Goddess” (1948) he claimed to have uncovered, by a process of linguistic analysis of ancient European and Greek myths, persuasive evidence for a Goddess-centric civilisation predating the classical period and stretching back into Neolithic times. The book was largely ignored by scholars who paused only briefly to point out it’s shortcomings and Graves’ embarrassing lack of authority on the subject. However, later work by archeologist and leading feminist Dr. Marija Gimbutas (1921-1994), found persuasive evidence in support of Graves’ hypothesis.

It seems there are indeed enigmatic traces of a lost European culture – matriarchal, sophisticated in its industry, and possessed of some of the earliest known writing on the planet – dating to 4000 BC – possibly the equal of the Chinese in its documented antiquity. This old European civilisation, according to Gimbutas, also distinguished itself by having left no trace among its artifacts of any history of warfare, or weapons, suggesting a political philosophy of admirably passive coexistence, resulting in a society that was breathtaking for its multi-millenial longevity.

It has to be said, not withstanding the physical evidence, Gimbutas’ unashamedly feminist interpretation does not go uncontested. However, her thesis, presented in her book The Goddess and Gods of Old Europe (1974) along with Graves’ The White Goddess became essential reading for the feminist and Neo Pagan movements.

But whatever the evidence for her possible role as a Neolithic deity, what we can say for sure is that the Goddess-Muse constitutes an abiding pattern of psychic energy, one whose presence has always been a powerful force in creation. But to come back to my earlier question, given her voracious and vampire like appetite for men, what about women?

If the muse is possessed of such sexually desirable feminine attributes, how can a woman show sufficient devotion as befits art, without distorting her own sexuality? Do women poets, for example, have male muses instead? Can the muse even be conceived of in masculine terms? As a man myself I’m outraged at the very thought, so devoted and protective am I of the Muse-Goddess. Therefore, are only men and moon-struck Lesbians capable of writing decent love letters? And are not all love letters incantations to the Muse, rather than to the poor young lady in question, and on whose shoulder the Muse just happens to be sitting at the time?

These are provocative questions, and clearly I’ll need to tread carefully. Or perhaps not, for since women are every bit as capable as men of sublime artistic expression, the Muse, or the Goddess, is clearly working through them anyway, and we can define it however we like. Just because a woman is an artist it does not make her Saphically inclined, so what is the nature of her relationship with the Muse? And similarly if she aspires to the ranks of neo-pagan neophytes, how does she relate, spiritually, to the Goddess, given that the female psyche is wired so differently to the male? Ah,… I think there might be a clue here.

Graves addresses this enigma in The White Goddess, and I also see answers to it in the WordPress musings of neo-pagan adepts, a great many of whom of course are women. And of those women, a great many I note are also very young. This is interesting, for they are exposed to the same youth-targeted, and overwhelmingly consumerist distractions as others of their age, yet they draw something from the archetype of the Goddess they find uniquely empowering, uniquely capable of granting them the gift of transcendence. By this I mean that through the Goddess concept, they are capable of communing with the spirit, where so many of the godless, and even the nominally religious see nothing of the spirit at all, but instead a bland consumerist edifice where is written the somewhat cynical mantra of our times: “I consume, therefore I am”.

Graves, although a severe and curmudgeonly critic of faddish and pretentious poets, did not admonish women who dallied with the perils of poetic genius. Rather he urged women to recognise their essential femininity, and to write as women, and not to try to write like men whose vision and whose relationship with the muse, by dint of male psychology, is always going to be different.

So after all of that I think the answer slowly reveals itself. A man’s relationship with the Goddess-Muse is one of subservience. She is the dominatrix, sometimes cruel, but just sweet enough, and often enough, to hold the man in thrall. Sometimes dismissed by non-artists as the result of infantile male sexual fantasy, this is none the less how the Muse engages men and goes about her business. For the woman though it’s different. For the woman, the aim is never to court the Goddess, but rather to avail herself and, if favoured, then to be the Goddess. And therin lies the innate power of any woman, be it through her art or in the potential of her relationships with men.

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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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