Mythfire goes dragon-hunting…

Contrary to what was promised in the last post, Mythfire is putting any and all blogs on Harry Potter or other subjects on hold for the time being.  A little thing called a doctoral dissertation beckons to be finished. One might say that Mythfire must descend into the abyss and face his own fire-breathing dragon…or else.

www.jcf.org

For any readers who hunger for more myth and depth psychology, here are a few suggestions:

  • check out any of the older blogs on Mythfire you may have missed
  • go to the Joseph Campbell Foundation (a great myth resource for blogs, discussion lists, and everything related to Campbell). Begin by reading a post by yours truly which was a recent featured blog. Thanks again to JCF for this honor.
  • see if there is a Jung Institute or Society in your area.  Soul-enriching life-transforming resources in the form of books, lectures, friendships, mentors, therapists, et cetera are found in places like these.
  • check back here every now and again. There is a chance something will be posted as time allows. (And let me know if you miss me.) ;)
Thanks for reading and dreaming the myth onward…
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Harry Potter & The Spiritual Dimension of Play (“The Miracle of the Present Moment”)

Poster

“These are dark times, there is no denying. Our world has perhaps faced no greater threat than it does today.”

These ominous and dreary words are the first ones uttered in the film Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part I. If you have not seen the film or read the book, consider that spoilers follow. Spoilers such as the fact that the Minister of Magic who speaks these words then pays Harry a visit about thirty minutes into the film only to have his death announced in the following scene. He is not the first character to die in the film much less the series, but his opening words set a dark and foreboding tone very much in keeping with author J.K. Rowling’s statement that death is “possibly the most important theme” in the entire Harry Potter series. [1]

As in the series, it often feels like we Muggles living today are also surrounded by our own Death Eaters, our own forces of darkness which would overwhelm and destroy us. Accidents, killings, suicides, war dead, natural disasters, financial upheaval, unemployment, et cetera. Death Eaters for us take the form of news of any one of a number of tragedies both at home and abroad. How can we not feel in danger at times of being consumed by this very real and present darkness?

Last week’s post mentioned that most of us prefer to not think about the generally depressing subject of death. We defend against it with our own magic potions comprised of equal parts denial and repression. We launch into new projects, always looking toward the future, or we escape into a rich fantasy life in our minds or on TV and movie screens.

Over the past month Mythfire’s blogs have put forward multiple ideas of how a person might soulfully embrace the darker aspects of life and death – rather than try to escape from or defend against them. [2] The present post continues this soul-making project with the help of J.K. Rowling and Harry Potter. Located between the aforementioned opening pronouncement by the Minister of Magic in Deathly Hallows, Part I, and his death about thirty minutes later, two scenes from the same film set the stage for what follows.

Jenny and Harry

First, amid the clouds of death and darkness, Harry Potter and his girlfriend Jenny Weasley share a tender moment in the kitchen of her home. A banner along one wall bears the names of her brother Bill and Fleur, his bride-to-be. Everyone has converged on the home to join in the wedding celebrations. “Seems silly, doesn’t it, a wedding given everything that’s going on?” Jenny says. Harry replies, “Maybe that’s the best reason to have it—because of everything that’s going on.” Then they kiss.

The second scene is the wedding celebration itself in a tent that has been erected for this special occasion. People are decked out in fancy clothes and jewelry or, as in the case of Ron Weasley, their ragged best. For a moment at least there is a festive atmosphere.

This sequence brings to mind some lines from mythologist Joseph Campbell:

  • “The spirit of the festival, the holiday, the holy day of the religious ceremonial requires that the normal attitude toward the cares of the world should have been temporarily set aside in favor of a particular mood of dressing up. The world is hung with banners.”[3]

Phil Cousineau, a friend and colleague of Campbell’s, adds:

  • “Throughout human history, Campbell emphasizes, the festival’s purpose has been to transfigure the unbearably harsh realities of life into bearable realities, and it has done so by lifting the spirit of the individual and the group through ecstatic rituals and through the trials of competition and contest.”[4]

The wedding festival in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part I, the other dances and/or balls from earlier films and even the often festive atmosphere in Hogwarts’ main dining hall all correspond to the ecstatic ritualistic transfiguration mentioned in this quote. Likewise, “the trials of competition and contest” are also evident in each film – especially those in which the game of quidditch plays a role.

In fact, the striking similarity between the word quidditch and quiddity, (L. quidditas), may add to our understanding of the profound importance of play. Webster’s dictionary defines quiddity as “whatever makes something to be of the type that it is: Essence.” Looked at in this light, quidditch seems like all games to at times be a very serious ordeal fraught with tension, competition, uncertain outcomes and even setbacks. And yet its defining essence, or that which makes it a game, is an experience whereby the present moment transforms into something special.

For both Campbell and Cousineau, this transformative experience is play:

  • “[P]lay is both instinctual and existential. It allows us to seize the moment and celebrate life while defying the gravity of convention by juggling with the balls of reality. Existentially, play brings us home to what Buddhists call ‘the miracle of the present moment.’ Its ecstatic nature reminds us at every moment that we need not be victims of fate [. . .].”[5]

Next week’s blog will take up a scene in Deathly Hallows, Part II, in which Harry puts the golden snitch to his lips and whispers “I am ready to die.” He has learned that by embracing his fate he is not a victim to it. And it is very telling that the snitch, probably the most important part of every quidditch match, is the recipient of Harry’s words. Play enables us to transcend the terrors of the moment by revealing this same moment to also be terribly beautiful and miraculous…ours and no one else’s.

Last but certainly not least, let us along with Harry also remember that love and “the jewel of all games,” i.e. love-play, like other types of spiritual play make bearable and meaningful moments which otherwise appear oppressive, dark, and bleak.  The key, as with Harry and Jenny, is sharing and playing together — “because of everything that’s going on.”

——

Coda: When determining if play is existential as described above or merely escapist, perhaps we would do well to once again listen to Cousineau: “We play on for reasons that transcend escapism. We play on to bring ourselves back to life, to re-create ourselves, to remind ourselves that we have the capacity to be more than ordinary, that we have the courage to be extraordinary, if only for a few moments on the field, in the arena, around the track. We play on to rekindle the fire that is perennially in danger of going out.”  (173)

——

Next Week: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hologlyph



[2] The alluded to ideas from recent posts include: seeing ourselves and others as playing a part in a story or myth that began a long time ago and will end long after we are gone; intentionally accepting and exploring our personal psychology including shortcomings, compulsions, neurotic tendencies, etc. as  attempts on the part of soul to deepen our experience of life now;  realizing the degree to which our understanding of both life and death are reflections of ego fears and desires rather than unconscious/archetypal realities; and paying tribute to or acknowledging the psychological as well as physical aspects of death – even seeing them as the source of personal renaissance in this world. Finally, another attitudinal response to death which need not be a defense or escape from it is of course a belief in an afterlife.

[3] Campbell, Joseph. The Masks of God: Primitive Mythology. Rev. Ed. New York: Penguin, 1969: 25. Italics added.

[4] Cousineau, Phil. The Olympic Odyssey: Rekindling the True Spirit of the Great Games. Wheaton, Ill.: Quest Books, 2003: 79.

[5] Ibid., 56.

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Ralph Waldo Emerson & Other Renaissance Men (“Every Thing is Significant”)

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Robert D. Richardson, Jr. begins his masterful biography of 19th century essayist, lecturer, poet, and Transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson with these lines:

  • “On March 29, 1832, the twenty-eight-year-old Emerson visited the tomb of his young wife, Ellen, who had been buried a year and two months earlier. He was in the habit of walking from Boston out to her grave in Roxbury every day, but on this particular day he did more than commune with the spirit of the departed Ellen: he opened the coffin. Ellen had been young and pretty. She was seventeen when they were engaged, eighteen when married, and barely twenty when she died of advanced tuberculosis.”[1]

Richardson makes clear that Emerson did not open his wife’s coffin in some sort of “grisly gothic gesture” or in a moment of coming “unhinged.” [2] Other contemporaries of Emerson had similarly opened their loved one’s coffins. Emerson in fact would repeat the act later in life when relocating the coffin belonging to his son Waldo who had died at age five. But the question remains: what could such a seemingly morbid action hope to achieve?

A precise answer to this question is not to be found in Emerson’s otherwise copious journals. However, when Richardson returns to this incident later in the biography, he states that the effect the March visit had on Emerson is clear:

  • “[Emerson] was casting off old ties and embracing new ideas and new possibilities. Coming face to face with the dead forced Emerson to choose between the dead and the living. His sermons for April are insistently this-worldly. He talked on successive Sundays about ‘the virtues near at hand,’ ‘the pleasures near at hand,’ ‘the God of the living.’”[3]

To quote first Richardson and then Emerson, after looking in Ellen’s coffin Emerson somehow left the state of ruins in which he had found himself after her death and became “very much open to the world” – a world in which “Every thing is significant.[4]

Perhaps James Hillman’s “psychology of death” — introduced last week — may yield further insight into both Emerson’s decision to look inside his wife’s coffin and his consequent rebirth out of emotional and psychological ruin.  In the pages referenced last week, Hillman writes that most of us have very active defenses against death (imaged mythologically as Hades, god of the Underworld). We prefer to avoid considerations of death and mortality, whenever possible giving pride of place to intimations of immortality instead.

While Hillman (like Jung before him) argues that this last, i.e., the idea of an afterlife, is indeed natural and important to humankind, the point is that so too is an awareness of our emotional and bodily mortality here and now. In this vein, Hillman writes that “Death in the soul is not lived forward in time and put off into an afterlife. It is concurrent with daily life as Hades is side by side with his brother Zeus.”[5] According to Hillman, the problem lies in our “defense against Hades,” or, put differently, our “defensive identities with life.”[6]  So often we do everything in our power to escape (our fear of) death, preferring instead feelings of excitement and invincibility, hope and possibility. We prefer spirit but forget the equally important and deepening present-minded soul.

To a certain degree, the spirited avoidance of death is behind many of the anxieties and addictive or compulsive behaviors which plague us individually and collectively. We are split off from half of our selves, the half which the ancient Greeks imaged as Hades in the Underworld. Hillman argues that one way to reconnect with this half is to do what many Renaissance writers, thinkers, and artists did, or rather what they did not do:  they “never lost touch with disintegration and death,” a fact which enabled them to “let go of all seemingly irreducible objectifications of human personality, whether it be the organic body, the human personality, or subjective awareness [. . .].”[7]

Ellen Tucker Emerson (1811-1831)

In this and the prior blog, Mythfire has focused on Hades and the riches of the Underworld. However, an equally important component to the myth is Hades’ abduction of Persephone while she was out enjoying the riches, i.e. flowery meadows, of the daylight upper world. Seen from the perspective of the ego, this loss of naïve innocence is a tragedy; seen from the perspective of the soul Persephone’s consequent marriage to Hades and life in the Underworld represents a deepening into one’s soul life. Just as happened to Emerson after he lost his Persephone, awareness of death facilitates a humbling letting go of our egoistic assumptions concerning ourselves and our world so that we might more authentically experience the soulful as well as spiritual dimensions of life — here and now. [8]

——

Next Wednesday: Harry Potter and the Spiritual Dimension of Play


[1] Richardson, Robert D., Jr. Emerson: The Mind on Fire. Berkeley, CA: University of CA P, 1995: 3.

[2] Ibid., 3.

[3] Ibid, 121.

[4] Ibid., 122. Italics added.

[5] Hillman, James. Re-Visioning Psychology. New York: HarperPerennial, 1975: 206. Hillman’s Dream and the Underworld is also essential reading for more on the myth of Hades.

[6] Ibid., 208.

[7] Ibid., 209.

[8] It is in this spirit that Hillman writes: “What is human is frail, subject to death. To be human is to be reminded of death and have a perspective informed by death. To be human is to be soul-focused which in turn is death-focused.  Or to put it the other way, to be death-focused is to be soul-focused.” (Re-Visioning, 207). Finally, one cannot help but wonder if Emerson associated Ellen’s death with Persephone’s abduction when he put down these lines in 1833:

“The days pass over me

And I am still the same

The Aroma of my life is gone

Like the flower with which it came.”

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“Tributes to Soul-Making” (“The Hadean Perspective”)

Hades Presents His Cornucopia to Persephone, ca 450 - 400 BC

One of Mythfire’s favorite selections from psychologist James Hillman’s impressive oeuvre is all of five pages in length. Entitled Hades, Persephone, and a Psychology of Death, the passage can be found in “Dehumanizing or Soul-making,” the final chapter in Hillman’s Re-Visioning Psychology. As with Hillman’s three other modes of soul-making, this final mode of de-humanizing or soul-making is an attempt to force the reader outside of his or her usual ways of thinking and being. In no small part this is what Hillman is doing when he compares and contrasts our everyday (a.k.a. heroic) ego with what he calls the “imaginal ego” of the psyche or soul. The most recent Mythfire posts have in fact been appealing to our imaginal ego as it manifests through our inner dreamer, lover, and artist.

Given its name, it comes as no surprise that the imaginal ego uses images to communicate important ideas, energies, and experiences to us. Last week’s post was concerned with the way the soul’s different styles or types of loving were once imaged in the form and faces of Eros. The post prior to that more generally contrasted the image of our soul in an afterlife somewhere else with the image of the soul as a perspective which colors and deepens our experience of life now. (It is important to note that these two soul images do not necessarily contradict or negate each other.) Finally, the first blog on Clarence Clemons discussed how the soul communicates in the form of images which give our life meaning and direction and when seen from a distance even a cohesive narrative, or personal myth.

Since Clemons’ passing, another well-known musician, Amy Winehouse, has also died, and like Clemons, Winehouse has been paid numerous tributes. One of these tributes arguably takes the form of a posthumous surge in sales of her music, a surge which seems to happen with some frequency after artists pass away. This surge is nothing less than the soul’s response to the loss of one of its soul-makers, i.e. the artist.  If this act were purely driven by our usual (rather than imaginal) ego concerns, this investment would be undertaken most likely in connection with some hope or fear rather than with the spontaneous feelings of loss, gratitude, and recognition which accompany these tributes. In other words, monetary value quite literally pays tribute to soul value — as it always has.

The ancient Greek soul imaged forth the idea of death, value, and riches via the form of Hades, the god of the underworld. Hillman goes to great lengths to show that centuries later Renaissance artists and thinkers also maintained a Hadean perspective on life and death which we sometimes overlook:

  • “I am suggesting that we misapprehend the Renaissance by seeing it as a turbulent tribute to Gods of love, light, life, and nature. I believe the God of the Renaissance and of all psychological renascences to be Hades, archetypal principle of the deepest aspect of the soul.”[1]

Because of the everyday prevalence and presence of death, people living in the Renaissance were very much aware of what Hillman calls “the question of final consequences [. . .], the underworld meaning in things, their deeper obscurities.” [2] In a longer quote quite apropos of Mythfire’s discussion of Clemons and Winehouse, Hillman continues:

  • “It is against this background that we must place also such major Renaissance concerns as reputation (fama); nobility, and dignity. They take on further significance when envisioned  within a psychology that bears death in mind. To consider fama merely as fame in our romantic sense puts Renaissance psychology into the inflated ego of the very important person or pop star. But when death gives the basic perspective, then magnificence, reputation, and nobility are tributes to soul, part of what can be done for it during the ego’s short hour on the stage. Then fame refers to the lasting worth of soul and psychology can afford to treat of the grand themes: perfection of grace, dignity of man, nobility of princes.”[3]

Certainly, any eulogy given at a memorial service pays tribute to the reputation, nobility, and dignity of the one who has left us. We recall humorous and touching stories of the recently departed. We put a photo or photos up front and center for all to see. All of these, stories, memories, photos, and more are images of the soul’s manifestation during “the ego’s short hour on the stage.”

No doubt, some services and tributes are smaller and more reserved while others are more colorful. A final observation from Hillman perhaps brings to mind this contrasting approach to paying tribute to soul at the same time that it suggests that there is more than one way to both understand soul and go about our own soul-making right here and now:

  • “With death in the background – and Hades is equally called Pluto, Riches, or Wealth-Giver – Renaissance magnificence celebrates the richness and marvellousness and exotic otherness of the soul and its far-flung imagination. How difficult for us in our northern tradition to consider soul together with fame and splendor! How maidenly pure, how wood-washed and bare has become our notion of soul!”[4]
——

Coda: Please take a moment and revisit this last quote while listening to the following “lasting treasure.”


——

Note: Some readers might understandably be puzzled over the above use of the word “imaginal” and want to link it with another word, namely “imaginary.” This would be incorrect. Imaginal is a creation of the soul; imaginary one of the ego.  Images which the soul uses to convey importance and significance are imaginal; the threatened ego’s need to defend itself against these same soul-generated images labels them “imaginary,” or made-up.  (Similarly, people who discuss such things are often labeled “imaginative” or something worse, whatever it takes for the dismissive ego to maintain its position of superiority.)

——

Next Tuesday: Ralph Waldo Emerson & Other Renaissance Men


[1] Hillman, James. Re-Visioning Psychology. New York: HarperPerennial, 1975: 206. The section under discussion runs from pgs. 205-210.

[2] Ibid., 205.

[3] Ibid., 205. In a recent interview on the TV show The View, pop star Lady Gaga paid tribute to Clarence Clemons in terms that are very much in keeping with soul-making as described in this and earlier posts: “[Clemons] really changes your life so quickly and it’s very…you don’t know why. You can’t explain it. But he just has this godly spirit about him. You feel like you’re in the presence of something so . . . significant.” This can be found at the 8:30 mark here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cAPkwGIgbsI. (Though also appearing as a note at the end of a prior Mythfire post, this statement from Lady Gaga was first learned of while preparing the present blog.)

[4] Ibid., 205.

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“The Streets of Philadelphia” (“Eros’s Faces of Love”)

Before we leave Clarence Clemons and Bruce Springsteen for next week’s trip to Hades, Mythfire would like to respond to a few comments generated by the last two posts. Readers understandably take offense to the suggestion that the exceptional friendship between Clemons and Springsteen can somehow be reduced to being a product of the mind, i.e. psychology, or fantasy, i.e. mythology. This reaction is not only understandable but appropriate except for one thing: this is not what Mythfire means by psychology or mythology!

Generally speaking, when we say “a product of the mind” or “fantasy” we believe that the product or fantasy referred to is somehow man-made, something we fabricate or make up. However, take a look for a moment at this video of Clemons describing the first time he and Springsteen met. (His description of their meeting begins around the two minute mark.)

Mythfire would like to focus on the following comments from Clemons: “I swear I have never…I will never forget that moment…You know. And right now when I’m on stage with Bruce, I still feel that moment [. . .]. It was a very magical moment. He looked at me and I looked at him and we fell in love and that’s, that’s still there. It’s still there.” Two psychologists often referenced in these posts, C.G. Jung and James Hillman, would look at the words “magical” and “love” and at the sense of timelessness or infinity conveyed in Clemons’ retelling and would call his experience soulful, mythic, and archetypal. It is a shared experience of something larger than us, something meaningful…perhaps even divine.

One of Jung’s most well-known quotes may move us closer to understanding what this “something” is:

  • “The decisive question for man is: Is he related to something infinite or not? That is the telling question of his life [. . .]. If we understand and feel that here in this life we already have a link with the infinite, desires and attitudes change. In the final analysis, we count for something only because of the essential we embody, and if we do not embody that, life is wasted. In our relationships to other men, too, the crucial question is whether an element of boundlessness is expressed in the relationship.[1]

For some time this last sentence has puzzled Mythfire as on the surface it does not seem to fit with the surrounding context. However, at the time of Clemons’ interview, his thirty-eight year relationship with Springsteen seemed by his own account to undeniably have something of the infinite and boundless to it. Again, in his own words, “And right now when I’m on stage with Bruce, I still feel that moment [. . .] It was a very magical moment.”

But if this magical moment or experience of infinite boundlessness is not reducible to purely human causes, what then is its source? Whence comes its magic? Hillman finds the answer in myth:

  • “Love is archetypal, belonging to the Gods and given by them as Eros. Agape and caritas, too, are associated with religion; that is, they too are a grace originating beyond the human.” [2]

And:

  • “. . . [Eros] singles individuals out with his arrows and connects individuals into couples through intimacy, notoriously placing intimacy before community. Eros develops feeling through the faces of love: pothos (longing), himeros (desire), anteros (responding), philia [brotherly affection between two people or groups], agape [goodwill toward humankind], caritas [feelings of charity].” [3]

The Faces of Love

Due in part to Christianity’s suppression and/or assimilation of the energies contained within the figure of Eros — along with the energies of the other Greek gods and goddesses — it is difficult for many of us to differentiate between the many “faces of love” as Hillman does in the above quotes. Another consequence of leaving Greece behind is that we tend today to describe love in purely human egoistic terms.  In the case of the picture of Springsteen and Clemons kissing, we are inclined to either sentimentalize, moralize, or perhaps even sexualize the love displayed. Our very inability to distinguish the different faces of love makes us uncomfortable with them, unable or unwilling to recognize much less practice them. In short, our egos have trouble processing the idea that there could be a greater experience available to us than our minds’ current conceptualization of love.

Following the Platonic tradition, Hillman makes clear that love is personal and human and yet also more than these. That is, love is archetypal, i.e. “beyond human” and thus divine, infinite, boundless, and multiple. As indicated above, in the days of ancient Greece the multiple faces or styles of love were mythologically laid at the altar of the god Eros. Today we might say that via their unexpected lasting love for each other Clemons and Springsteen had a spiritual or mythological experience in the best and deepest sense of the term. To repeat from earlier posts: Springsteen’s eulogy of Clemons reveals the infinite quality of their love, how it preceded them and will last long after they are gone. There can be no question that they shared a true experience of the archetype of Eros.

Finally, Clemons and Springsteen’s love was also psychological for it affected their very souls (Lat. psyche) – a fact nowhere more evident than in their music and, it would seem, their video interviews.

——

Next Tuesday: Mythfire’s visit to Hades…

——

Note: Last week’s post mentioned Hillman’s four main modes of soul-making. This week’s post could be viewed as an example of the first mode, “personifying,” in which we identify and name the various archetypal figures at work in and through our psyche in any given situation. Ultimately, the purpose of identifying and naming these figures is so that we might learn to relate to and through them more healthily and effectively. One of the archetypal figures Hillman mentions more than once is Eros.

 


[1] The entire quote, taken from page 325 in the Vintage paperback edition of Memories, Dreams, Reflections, is worth quoting in full: “The decisive question for man is: Is he related to something infinite or not? That is the telling question of his life. Only if we know that the thing which truly matters is the infinite can we avoid fixing our interest upon futilities, and upon all kinds of goals which are not of real importance. Thus we demand that the world grant us recognition for qualities which we regard as personal possessions: our talent or our beauty. The more a man lays stress on false possessions, and the less sensitivity he has for what is essential, the less satisfying is his life. He feels limited because he has limited aims, and the result is envy and jealousy. If we understand and feel that here in this life we already have a link with the infinite, desires and attitudes change. In the final analysis, we count for something only because of the essential we embody, and if we do not embody that, life is wasted. In our relationships to other men, too, the crucial question is whether an element of boundlessness is expressed in the relationship. The feeling for the infinite, however, can be attained only if we are bounded to the utmost.” Italics have been added in the post above .

[2] Lectures on Jung’s Typology, 167. Italics added. The notion that Eros or love is archetypal and thus more than human is also expressed in his Re-Visioning Psychology: “The soul and its afflictions, its emotions, feelings, and varieties of love are all certainly essential to the human condition. But they are all archetypally conditioned. We cannot come to terms with them merely as human, merely as personal, without falling into humanistic sentimentalities, moralisms, and egocentricities. Then soul-making becomes making better human connections, while the real issue of feeling – discriminating and connecting to archetypes – is ignored. Humanistic sentimentality softens and deadens our sensitivity to archetypal realities and keeps our perception too shortsighted, focused only on ourselves and neighbor” (Italics added, 189). Hillman goes on to write on the next page: “Feeling that is a merely human function loses its power to reflect psyche beyond the human to the unknowns of the soul.”

[3] Ibid., 175. Clemons also recalled his first meeting with Springsteen in these terms: “Bruce and I looked at each other and didn’t say anything, we just knew. We knew we were the missing links in each other’s lives. He was what I’d been searching for. In one way he was just a scrawny little kid. But he was a visionary. He wanted to follow his dream. So from then on I was part of history.” As in the video interview, several faces of love, in particular pothos (longing), anteros (responding), and philia (brotherly affection), make themselves known in this quote. (http://hopeanddreams.free.fr/public/presse.php?idpresse=79)

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Psych-eulogizing Clarence Clemons (“The Temple of Soul-Making”)

Scooter and the Big Man

One danger in this and the previous entry is that of conveying the impression that an individual’s life may be reduced to a single mythological or psychological interpretation. Indeed, rather than suggesting that E Street Band sax man Clarence Clemons’ life can be simplified in such a manner, Mythfire wishes to instead use his life as described in friend and bandleader Bruce Springsteen’s eulogy to discuss what it more generally means to live a mythological and/or psychological life.  The prior entry introduced the idea that one’s personal mythology – i.e. the meaning (logos) of one’s life story (mythos) – is comprised of eternal energies in the form of basic units and actions. Examples of mythic units include occupations, roles we play when interacting with others, important places or objects, and more.  Mythic actions include creation, destruction, birth, marriage, death, salvation, victory, defeat, and even the elaboration of our personal narrative as we tell it to ourselves and others. (This latter action is called story-telling or “mythologizing.”)

Whatever our personal myth or myths, analytical psychologist Anthony Stevens describes them as “belief systems” that in relation to one’s life circumstances are in the best case effective, adaptive, functional, and appropriate or, in the worst, their opposites.[1]  As belief systems they are how we not only understand but give meaning and order to our lives. (Like meaning, understanding and order are other connotations of clarity associated with the word logos.) Importantly, we understand, order, and even create our personal myth in cooperation with what have been called inner and outer fatalities, i.e. inspiration, dreams, life experiences, accidents and chance occurrences, and our vocation or calling. Did Clarence Clemons choose to be “The Big Man,” sax man, a “shaman,” etc. or was he chosen to become these? Most likely it is a combination, or co-operation of the two.

On a moment-by-moment basis on the human plane, these energies operate through and are mediated by the individual soul. This is the meeting point of mythology and psychology – the latter term referring here to meaning (logos) engendered within and experienced by the human soul (psyche). This is not soul understood theologically as that which remains after our physical deaths but soul as that which gives meaning, depth, and breadth to life in the here-and-now. The theological sense emphasizes a material or ethereal substance; the latter psychological sense is more concerned with a present-oriented perspective that yields an experience of significance and importance.

Hillman's Guide to Soul-Making

James Hillman has perhaps done more than anyone else to develop this idea of soul and the related term soul-making:

  • “First, ‘soul’ refers to the deepening of events into experiences; second, the significance soul makes possible, whether in love or in religious concern, derives from its special relation with death. And third, by ‘soul’ I mean the imaginative possibility in our natures, the experiencing through reflective speculation, dream, image, and fantasy – that mode which recognizes all realities as primarily symbolic or metaphorical.”[2]

As mentioned in a previous post, Hillman borrows the term soul-making from poet John Keats who wrote “Call the world if you please, ‘The vale of Soul-making.’ Then you will find out the use of the world…’” To this Hillman adds: “From this perspective the human adventure is a wandering through the vale of the world for the sake of making soul. Our life is psychological, and the purpose of life is to make psyche of it, to find connections between life and soul.”[3]

While Hillman goes on in his Pulitzer-prize nominated Re-Visioning Psychology to discuss in much greater detail four main modes of soul-making, perhaps the above quotes will suffice for the purpose of the present post. Springsteen’s eulogy reveals that Clemons was a man who most definitely knew how to deepen events into experiences; via soul created “significance” in terms of love and a religious concern for life; and knew firsthand “the imaginative possibility in our natures.” Of course, the eulogy itself derives much of its own soulfulness from its “special relation to death,” i.e. the death of The Big Man himself. [4]

Finally, another danger to go along with the one mentioned at the start of this post is the possibility of over-romanticizing or glorifying Clemons.  Springsteen goes out of his way to give a full portrait of his friend, revealing him to be not a saint but a “Dark Soul.” In a similar vein, Hillman also takes great effort to enumerate the ways in which our manias or pathologies comprise one of the four primary modes of soul-making.  The process which Hillman calls “pathologizing” understands that our afflictions, neuroses, complexes, fears, compulsive behaviors – in other words, our woundedness – reveal our deepest soul needs and wants. Furthermore, this pathologizing process reveals not only our connection to humanity but also divinity:

  • “. . . [T]hus pathologizing is a way of moving from transcendental theology to immanent psychology. For immanence is only a doctrine until I am knocked back through symptoms by these dominant powers, and I recognize that in my disturbances there really are forces I cannot control and yet which want something from me and intend something with me.”[5]

Born Soul-Makers

Readers of Springsteen’s eulogy get a real sense of this “intention” which preceded Clemons, operated through him, and will last long after he’s gone. On the one hand, his Temple of Soul will continue its soul-making magic every time he is remembered, his music played, and his story told. On the other hand, his impact will be even greater if we are motivated by his example to contemplate our own Temple of Soul and soul-making.

——

Note: In a recent interview on the TV show The View, pop star Lady Gaga paid tribute to Clarence Clemons in terms that are very much in keeping with soul-making as described above: “[Clemons] really changes your life so quickly and it’s very…you don’t know why. You can’t explain it. But he just has this godly spirit about him. You feel like you’re in the presence of something so . . . significant.” This can be found at the 8:30 mark here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cAPkwGIgbsI.

——

Next Tuesday: “The Streets of Philadelphia”



[1] Stevens, Anthony. Private Myths: Dreams and Dreaming. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1995: 202. Pages 202-3 cover a section entitled “The Personal Myth.”

[2] Hillman, James. Re-Visioning Psychology. New York: HarperPerennial, 1975: xvi. Italics in the original.

[3] Ibid., xvi.

[5] Re-Visioning, 105.

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“Myth-eulogizing” Clarence Clemons (“Scooter and the Big Man”)

——

“Together, we told an older, richer story about the possibilities of friendship that transcended those I’d written in my songs and in my music.  Clarence carried it in his heart.  It was a story where the Scooter and the Big Man not only busted the city in half, but we kicked ass and remade the city, shaping it into the kind of place where our friendship would not be such an anomaly.”

——

Last month’s passing of saxman Clarence Clemons has inspired numerous reflections and reminiscences, none more revealing and evocative than that from his longtime friend and bandleader Bruce Springsteen. Mythfire was struck upon reading this eulogy that Clemons, a.k.a. “The Big Man,” exemplified in his larger than life persona both healthy and unhealthy aspects of what it means to live mythically and psychologically. The present post looks at the mythological dimension of the man; perhaps next week’s post will address the psychological. Springsteen’s eulogy is recommended reading alongside these posts.[1]

One way in which mythology can be distinguished from psychology is to look at their root words.  While the “psyche” in psychology stems from Latin and Greek words meaning mind, soul, or spirit, myth and mythology come from the Latin mythos and Greek muthos, both of which mean word, speech, or story. Myth, you might say, is the story we tell ourselves and others about our innermost individual and collective soul lives.

Taken from Springsteen’s eulogy, the quote at the head of this post reveals not only what Clemons’ personal story or myth was but also that Clemons, Springsteen, and the rest of the E Street Band are themselves mythologists, i.e. storytellers. They see themselves and the world mythically, knowing that all the world’s a stage and as artists they are but to contribute the proverbial verse. (Springsteen’s initial statement following Clemons’ passing also made note of the “story” they lived and told together.)[2]

In terms of Clemons’ personal myth – the story which gave meaning and purpose to his life – the busting and remaking of the city remarked on in the above quote brings to mind a book mentioned last week: Lewis Hyde’s Trickster Makes This World: Mischief, Myth, and Art. With nicknames like Scooter and the Big Man, can there be any doubt that both Springsteen and Clemons express (and expressed) trickster energies in all three areas: mischief, myth, and art? Springsteen’s descriptions of his almost four decades of friendship with Clemons suggest there is only one correct answer to that question.

As something of an aside, for students and teachers of mythology it can be irritating that in general parlance the term myth is most often used to mean lie, untruth, or misconception. As this post (and entire Mythfire blog site) attempt to show, there is a frequently unappreciated depth and breadth to myth. We do not fully appreciate the ways in which we have lived and continue to live as characters in the narratives we call our lives.

The Big Man

In the way Clemons and Springsteen have told it (beginning with their very first magical meeting four decades ago) the narrative of Clemons’ life is mythical in the sense of being created anew each time it is told or embellished.  Clemons’ myth consists of basic units, or mythologems, such as his Temple of Soul, and his personae as trickster, shaman, exotic “towering fairy tale figure,” “dreadlocked giant” and “Dark Soul.” These units or mythologems are then put together in actions, thus forming mythemes.  The shaman working nightly magic in his Temple of Soul; the Big Man laying down a riff on his sax (while circular breathing his way through seemingly endless phrases) or, again, blowing a front door (to the establishment where he would first meet Springsteen) completely off its hinges and then parting the crowd on his way to the stage.  The Big Man making a big entrance is one big mytheme.

That these mythemes resonate with us, are believed in and have even been witnessed by us, speaks to their mythic stature and power. Finally, this stature and power – this “Bigness” – leads us to mythologize, a process “by means of which the details of a life are composed into a story, receive a vision, and thereby a mythical person becomes the personification of a fate which issues into the therapeutic process.”[3] Readers of Springsteen’s mythologizing eulogy, or “myth-eulogy,” certainly get a sense of Clarence Clemons as a flawed yet fated soulman whose therapy for himself and for others was the mythical (and mythic) story he fully personified both on and off the stage.

As hinted above, at the same time that Springsteen promises to continue the mythologizing of Clemons he also states that these creatively mythic energies both preceded and will long outlast their present incarnations in Scooter and The Big Man. Indeed, his promise is very reminiscent of C.G. Jung’s comment that “The most we can do is to dream the myth onwards and give it a modern dress.”[4] Clearly, both men have given a modern dress to the myth that they lived and are living – or rather the myth which has lived and continues to live through them. Check out these concluding words from Springsteen:

  • “But [Clemons’] love and his story, the story that he gave me, that he whispered in my ear, that he allowed me to tell… and that he gave to you… is gonna carry on.  I’m no mystic, but the undertow, the mystery and power of Clarence and my friendship leads me to believe we must have stood together in other, older times, along other rivers, in other cities, in other fields, doing our modest version of god’s work… work that’s still unfinished.  So I won’t say goodbye to my brother, I’ll simply say, see you in the next life, further on up the road, where we will once again pick up that work, and get it done.”

——

Coda: In Archetypal Psychology, James Hillman writes that myth, understood psychologically, allows us to “see our ordinary lives embedded in and ennobled by the dramatic and world-creative life of mythical figures . . . The study of mythology allows events to be recognized against their mythical background. More important, however, is that the study of mythology enables one to perceive and experience the life of the soul mythically” (31). The present post has attempted to show that Clemons’ life facilitates just such a mythic perception and experience of “the life of the soul.” Finally, in the above 1978 video performance of “Jungleland,” Clemons’ two-and-a-half minute sax solo begins at the four minute mark. Mythfire believes the video more than makes up in raw atmospheric power what it lacks in image quality.

——

Next Tuesday: The Temple of Soul-Making?



[1] http://www.rollingstone.com/music/news/bruce-springsteens-eulogy-for-clarence-clemons-20110629. Unless noted otherwise, all above quotes come from this eulogy.

[2] “He was my great friend, my partner and with Clarence at my side, my band and I were able to tell a story far deeper than those simply contained in our music. His life, his memory, and his love will live on in that story and in our band.” (http://www.rollingstone.com/music/news/bruce-springsteen-on-clarence-clemons-his-loss-is-immeasurable-20110618)

[3] Hillman, James. Re-Visioning Psychology. New York: HarperPerennial, 1975:155.

[4] CW 9i: 271.

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Lez Get “Real” (“Psychologizing or Seeing-through‘”)

“The latest incarnation of Oedipus, the continued romance of Beauty and the Beast, stands this afternoon on the corner of Forty-second Street and Fifth Avenue, waiting for the traffic light to change.”[1]

The Power of Myth

The above quote from mythologist Joseph Campbell’s The Power of Myth could easily be applied to “the latest incarnations” of any number of gods, goddesses, heroes, and heroines walking passed us on today’s city streets. Aphrodite poses for her latest Facebook photos; Ares heads off to war in the workplace, his uniform a suit, his weapon a smartphone. Dionysus rocks his or her family room while playing Guitar Hero. And so on.

Certainly, the notion that in our lives we embody (or should embody) the archetypal energies of only one god or goddess is just as unhealthy and one-dimensional as it is to say that we embody none of them. The latter case in particular is indicative of a desire to hold on to a firmly and even sometimes rigidly created identity which declares “I am Chris Miller, son of so-and-so, youngest of four children, a Pennsylvanian, a teacher.”  I am my up-bringing and training and thus nothing but the sum of my life experiences.

One could argue that psychologist James Hillman (particularly in his Pulitzer Prize-nominated Re-Visioning Psychology) has waged an Ares-like war of his own on this type of one-sided ego-centric literalism:

  • “An ego’s specific characteristic, and its specific function, is to represent the literal view: it takes itself and its view for real. Literalism is an ego’s viewpoint; it means being locked into an ego. Ego psychology results from being trapped by the ego into its perspective: the other characters on the stage are merely characteristics, projections of mine. Only I am literally real. Our symptoms, however, can save us from this literalism…” [2]

The point here is not that our egos are unimportant but that they are only one of the characters on our soul’s stage. Our unwillingness to get to know the other “less important” characters means that they are not cultivated but repressed or as Hillman notes just as frequently expressed unconsciously in the form of symptoms such as neuroses and obsessive compulsive disorders, addictions, rage, anorexia, obesity, and more. In other words, our stubborn refusal to budge from what is “real” and “true,” aka “the literal,” hurts not only our egos, but our chance at a full and soulful experience of life.

One of several tools in Hillman’s arsenal for combating literalism is what he calls “the activity of psychologizing or ‘seeing-through’ events into their myths.” [3] Take for instance the recent very public “events” concerning the blog “Gay Girl in Damascus” and the lesbian online news website LezGetReal.com. In quick succession both blog and website were revealed to be run by men posing as gay women. That these two men, posing as women, occasionally worked with and perhaps even flirted with each other without knowing the other’s “real” identity probably has only been one-upped by Shakespeare — a fact already noted by others.[4]

"Paula Brooks" & "Amina Arraf"

However, side allusions to literature are perhaps no more insightful here than the claim that these men were engaging in their respective charades merely for the thrill of it. If we take these men at their word, something deeper and even mythic may very well have been working through them – in addition to whatever thrills they did experience. Here is what LezGetReal.com co-founder Julie Phineas had to say after learning that “Paula Brooks,” the other co-founder, is actually a man named Bill Graber:

  • “Thinking back on all we accomplished together, and how driven ‘Paula’ was to make a change in lesbian rights, I wondered if perhaps the hoax was a hoax!…You see ‘Paula’ was all about getting traffic to the site with breaking news and was a real piece of work once you got to know her…When I began to work with her I had a reverence for how well she collected news and I learned a lot of what I know now about web development from ‘Paula Brooks.’” [5]

And this is what the “Gay Girl in Damascus,” or Tom MacMaster, had to say for “herself”:

  • “It started innocently enough without any intention whatsoever of creating a massive hoax or duping the world. Ever since I was a child, I’ve wanted to write fiction but, when my first attempts met with universal rejection, I took a more serious look at my own work and I realized that I could not write conversation in a natural way nor could I convincingly write characters who weren’t me.”

He continues:

  • “So, I invented her. First, she was just a name. Amina Arraf. She commented on blogs and talkbacks on news-sites. Eventually, I set up an email for her. She joined the same lists I was already on and posted responses in her name. And, almost immediately, friendly and solicitous comments on mine appeared. It was intriguing . . . Amina came alive. I could hear her ‘voice’ and that voice and personality were clear and strong . . . Amina was clever and fun and had a story and a voice and I started writing it, almost as though she were dictating to me. Some of her details were mine, some were those of a dozen other friends borrowed liberally, others were purely ‘her’ from the get go.”[6]

Multiple words as well as ideas in these and other related articles are quite telling. Words like “hoax,” “dupe,” “duplicity,” “innocently,” “clever,” and “borrowed liberally”; ideas such as the creation of a fiction and the usage of the same to communicate or “traffic” important news.[7] Finally, combined with the more general motifs of gender reversal or confusion and the disguising of one’s identity so as to accomplish something one might otherwise not be able to, we return to the above Campbell and Hillman quotes with the following conclusion: once these recent events are psychologized or “seen through,” we discover their underlying myth is the “latest incarnation” of that mischief-making world-transformer extraordinaire, the Greek god Hermes.

Trickster Makes This World

In fact, one of the best resources for learning more on other recent incarnations of Hermes is Lewis Hyde’s Trickster Makes This World: Mischief, Myth, and Art. Hyde does an incomparable job of conveying how Hermes and other trickster figures embody an energy vital not only to our survival but to our growth as individuals and as a collective. Referencing another classic trickster figure, the West African trickster Legba, Hyde writes that the trickster has been described as “a ‘mediator’ who works ‘by means of a lie that is really a truth, a deception that is in fact a revelation.’”[8] The aforementioned quotes about Bill Graber and from Tom MacMaster suggest that they too to a large degree were attempting to use their hermetic disguises in a mediating role.

Another of the many examples noted by Hyde which links these two men with Hermes is that they both wore “a cloak of shamelessness”:

  • “The hooks of shame can find no purchase on this lad with the trick shoes. He refuses absolutely the picture of the world implied by his elders’ morality, and refuses also the hierarchy that goes with it. Where others might sit quietly, he improvises a new song, ‘the way teenagers sing out insults at a fair.’”[9]

Mythfire is not alone in suggesting that Graber and MacMaster’s “insults” (much less their other comments and observations) most likely would not have been heard so widely or effectively had they not donned their feminine alter egos. [10]

Finally, tricksters by definition cross boundaries and break rules. From time to time they need to be reminded why the boundaries and rules are there; just as frequently they reveal the boundaries and rules to be fluid and malleable if not completely contrived or outdated. Toward this end, the damage inflicted by these two present cases of trickery is under debate.[11] Perhaps we will find that we do not have to bridle with Apollonian indignation at having been duped; instead, we can choose to laugh along with Zeus at Hermes’ earnest and incorrigible impudence as well as his unparalleled creativity.

More importantly, if we learn to “see through” these events to their mythic underpinnings, we may just discover that with his crafty shenanigans Hermes has not only made us feel but via feeling has educated us regarding that which is really “real,” in this case equality among men and women regardless of sexual orientation. LezGetReal.com’s Bill Graber has declared that “Paula the Surf Mom is officially dead. Let’s just say she had a surfing accident and died.”[12] Clearly, if we become wiser for having been in her presence, then “Paula” most certainly will not have died in vain.

Or perhaps we might just get lucky at some future date: like another modern day trickster, i.e., Bart Simpson with his skateboard, “Paula” will somehow resurrect herself, dust off her surfboard, and ride those breaks again.

——

Next Tuesday: “Scooter and the Big Man”


[1] Campbell, Joseph with Bill Moyers. The Power of Myth. Ed. Betty Sue Flowers. New York: Doubleday, 1988: xiii.

[2] Hillman, James. Re-Visioning Psychology. New York: HarperPerennial, 1975:48.

[3] Ibid., 24.

[6] http://damascusgaygirl.blogspot.com/. Entry dated June 13, 2011.

[7] This careful creation of fictions (most obviously that of “Gay Girl in Damascus”) adds new meaning to the verb “damask,” which is defined as “to weave or adorn with elaborate design, as damask cloth” and itself originated as “cloth from Damascus.”

[8] Hyde, Lewis. Trickster Makes This World: Mischief, Myth, and Art. New York: North Point Press, 1998: 72. Compare this quote with Hillman: “As truths are the fictions of the rational soul, fictions are the truths of the imaginal” (Re-Visioning 152). Also, another edition of Hyde’s Trickster bears the suggestive subtitle: How the Disruptive Imagination Creates Culture.

[9] Ibid., 213.

[10] In his Slate commentary, Jack Shafer writes: “Both MacMaster and Graber defend their impersonations on the grounds that, had they voiced the same opinions as men, readers wouldn’t have taken them seriously. As much as I hate to agree with frauds, they’re likely right. MacMaster’s observations on Syria’s mayhem would have been ignored if readers had known he was an American guy in Scotland. And what lesbian among us would have heeded Graber’s “Gay Girl’s View on the World,” the site’s motto, if informed that the gay girl doing the viewing was a he?” (http://www.slate.com/id/2296930/).

[11] At the same time that she complains about having been “duped,” another contributor to LezGetReal.com writes that “There’s debate over the extent of damage the deceptions crafted by McMasters and Graber have caused.” (http://www.pghlesbian.com/blog/_archives/2011/6/18/4840868.html)

[12] http://juliephineas.com/?p=2599. Also, apropos of the present topic, Hillman in Healing Fiction and Rafael Lopez-Pedraza in Hermes and His Children identify the equality of men and women as a key characteristic of what they term “hermaphroditic consciousness.”

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The Enigma of Numbers (“From Three to Four – Part 2”)

The Enigma of Numbers

Through these weekly blogs Mythfire generally aspires to do one of two things. Not infrequently, both aims can be found in a single blog post. The first is to introduce an idea from the field of analytical psychology and/or mythological studies which is perhaps new to readers and hopefully pertinent to their lives. The second is to feature a book (or books) which may be turned to for more information on the subject.

This week’s book, for instance, is Lance Storm’s The Enigma of Numbers. First published in 2008, Storm’s tome sheds significant light on the subject of last week’s post: the connection between numbers and the evolutionary stages of consciousness as experienced by both individuals and collectives. This connection includes the specific progression or evolution of consciousness discussed last week, i.e. the move from the masculine perfection-oriented doing and realizing associated with the number three to the more inclusive and whole, feminine being-orientation of the number four.

After reading last week’s post, one of Mythfire’s readers asked the following question: “Why start at three? Why stop at four? This is really Greek to me (no disrespect to Socrates).” Contrary to the impression that last week’s post may have given, Storm effectively demonstrates in his 527 page Enigma that our conscious identification with (or projection of psychological energies onto) numbers does not begin with the number three or end with four. This just happens to have been the particular dynamic, i.e. the transition from three to four, under the Mythfire microscope in the previous blog.

Tetractys I

Storm begins his book by showing that this qualitative rather than purely quantitative understanding of numbers in fact goes back to the pre-Socratic philosopher Pythagoras who, among other things, is remembered for his tetractys, a religious or metaphysical triangular symbol the four rows of which add up to the number ten. In this spirit, Storm has written individual chapters on the numbers from zero to ten. Some of the chapter subheadings are quite suggestive of the psychodynamics that have been associated with these numbers at least since Pythagoras’ time around two-and-a-half millennia ago:

  • Zero (The Void): Something from Nothing; Zero as Negative Existence
  • One (The Monad): Unity Equals Totality; Consciousness as One and Many
  • Two (The Dyad): The Birth of  Consciousness; The Principle of Duality; The Spirit/Matter Dichotomy; The Mind/Brain Problem; The Relativity of Opposites
  • Three (The Triad): Uniting the Opposites
  • Four (The Tetrad): Number Four from the Infinitesimal to the Infinite; The Symbol Quaternio
  • Five (The Pentad): Number Five in Nature; From the Quaternity to the Quintessence
  • Six (The Hexad): Number Six as a Symbol of Harmony
  • Seven (The Heptad): Seven – A Solution to the Problem of Three and Four; Number Seven in the Bible – A Symbol of Completion
  • Eight (The Ogdoad): The ‘Timeless’ and the ‘Time-bound’ in the Ogdoad; Number Eight as a Double Quaternity
  • Nine (The Ennead): Number Nine – A Complete Number, but not Perfect
  • Ten (The Decad): Number Ten as Perfection; Pythagoras and the Tetractys

In an attempt to send home the main point of the present post, Mythfire would like to quote from Storm’s chapter devoted to the theme of last week’s post, “From Three to Four”:

  • “[Jung] went to considerable effort in his attempt to put forward the message that numbers give a certain kind of order to processes in and of the psyche. Underlying this process was the number archetype – an inherited mode of apprehension in our species that dictates the way we construct the world by ‘enumerating’ its contents. Archetypes generally refer to patterns of behavior where the instincts, for example, are given to follow certain predisposed forms of expression predetermined by these archetypes. The number archetype, therefore, forms (with the other archetypes) a ground plan or blueprint of the psychic structure.”[1]

In other words, there is absolutely nothing arbitrary in the association of particular stages of consciousness with specific numbers.  Nothing arbitrary and everything archetypal. In his other chapters, Storm demonstrates how this numerical “ground plan or blue print of the psychic structure” is evident not only in philosophy and psychology but also in music, synchronicity, numerology, astrology, the I Ching, chaos theory, physics, chemistry, and more.

No matter how enigmatic this thought might appear to some, then, numbers function not only quantitatively but qualitatively, and it is in their qualitative aspects that our “psychic structure” reveals itself time and again.

——

Next Tuesday: Lez Get “Real”


[1]Storm, Lance. The Enigma of Numbers. Italy: Pari Pub., 2008: 177. Also, in addition to the sources quoted in last week’s post, Marie-Louise von Franz’s Number and Time: A Unification of Depth Psychology and Physics is an important though at times dense book on the archetypal qualitative aspects of numbers, including the move from three to four. Finally, in his chapter “From Three to Four,” Storm argues that, generally speaking, the move from three to four signifies the addition of a previously excluded irrational or non-rational element to the earlier dominant rational and linear trinitarian way of being and doing. As applied more specifically to psychology and religion, this fourth element corresponds to eros which manifests individually as “an emotional, meaningful experience of relatedness” and culturally as an “aesthetic attitude” that stresses “the unity of beauty and truth” and is “content with naming human qualities or attributes without any attempt to pass judgment or win approval.”

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To Our Health! (“Historic Steps from Three to Four”)


“One, two, three; but where, my dear Timaeus, is the fourth…?”
[1]

MyPlate - 2011

Amid much fanfare earlier this month the United States Department of Agriculture, (USDA) unveiled a new food guide icon with the help of first lady Michelle Obama. Replacing the last two pyramid-shaped images, the new icon – a dinner plate – visually conveys the desired portion sizes of the different components of an ideal meal.  One registered dietitian claimed that this new icon is an improvement over the last two because “it allows people to quickly and visually rate their plate and try to get it to look like the icon without measuring or counting.” She continued: “It may not be the magic bullet to get everyone eating right, but it is a step in the right direction — a simple and clear tool to promote balance, portions, variety and wholesome food at mealtime.” [2]

MyPyramid - 2005

The move from the prior pyramid image with its potentially confusing steps to be taken, i.e. measuring and counting, to the more balanced and “wholesome” iconic round plate might aid not only our physical health but also – at least symbolically – our understanding of a psychological concept discussed at some length by C.G. Jung and later psychologists: the progression of collective Western stages of consciousness as symbolized in the move from the number three to the number four.[3] (To casual readers, the triangular pyramid no doubt readily lends itself to associations with the number three; although Jung wrote extensively on correlations between the number four, or quaternities, and the figure of the circle, the less obvious connection of these two concepts will have to be assumed by the reader for purposes of brevity.) [4]

On the move from three to four, Mythfire would like to quote from Jungian analyst Robert Johnson’s He: Understanding Masculine Psychology, published in 1989:

  • “In 1948 and 1949, [Jung] was jubilant at the new dogma of the Catholic church which placed the Virgin Mary with the Trinity, all masculine figures, in Heaven. He felt that this completed an earlier, incomplete stage of development that had brought so much unrest and conflict to the western world. The symbol precedes the fact by many years, which indicates that the possibility is now open to us; but the work is not yet done.” [5]

Johnson continues:

  • “Dr. Jung felt that the work of a truly modern person was to make the expansion of consciousness represented by the evolution from three to four – from the consciousness devoted to doing, working, accomplishing, progressing to that characterized by peace, tranquility, existential being. The heart of the matter is that four can contain three, but three can not contain four.”[6]

He then concludes:

  • Food Pyramid - 1992

    “We are apparently in an age where the consciousness of man is advancing from a trinitarian to a quaternarian view. This is one possible and profound way of appraising the extreme chaos our world is now in . . . . This suggests we are going through an evolution of consciousness from the nice orderly all-masculine concept of reality, the Trinitarian view of God, toward a quaternarian view that includes the feminine as well as other elements that are difficult to include if one insists on the old values.”[7]

If one keeps in mind Johnson’s line that the “symbol precedes the fact by many years,” then we might see how “the extreme chaos our world is now in” continues today to be the struggle to realize the development in consciousness symbolized by the dogma of the Assumption of Mary (which Pope Pius XII actually established as church doctrine in 1950). The riots and revolutions of the Arab Spring, an “historic step” forward by the U.N. in recognition of gay rights, the ongoing New York and California gay marriage legislative and court cases, and debates over “green” energy sources versus fossil fuels  – all ripped from last week’s headlines – give ample testimony of new “elements” and “values” that are being insisted upon as part of this more rounded, balanced, and inclusive stage of consciousness we are collectively struggling to enter. [8]

Johnson captures Mythfire’s idea of the pyramid-to-plate analogy when he later states how “[i]t seems that it is the purpose of evolution now to replace an image of perfection with the concept of completeness or wholeness.” [9] In sum, that which has been rejected, oppressed, missing, or in some way neglected must be recognized and integrated as valuable in its own “portion” because of its diversity or “variety” if a harmonious “balance” and “wholeness” are ever to be realized, i.e. to be made real. This is what it means to make the move from the three of the pyramid to the four of the circle.

What are additional examples of this epochal shift toward new elements or values of wholeness and completion? See footnote #10 for some of Mythfire’s thoughts.[10]

——

Addendum: Like Johnson, analytical psychologist Edward Edinger stresses that we can experience “the developmental, temporal process of realization,” i.e. the steps of the three without necessarily ever achieving the “structural wholeness” and “completion” of the four, but we cannot achieve or maintain the four without the steps of the three: “Fourness, or psychic totality, must be actualized by submitting it to the threefold process of realization in time. One must submit oneself to the painful dialectic of the developmental process.” So, even if a round dinner plate symbolically serves as the goal of our physical or psychological well-being, we may very well still find that this well-being is only realizable via the measured and not infrequently painful steps indicated in the earlier icons. See chapter 7 in Edinger’s magnum opus Ego & Archetype for more on the move from three to four.

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Next Monday: The Enigma of Numbers (“From Three to  Four – Part 2″)


[1] Socrates’ opening line to Plato’s Timaeus. Jung references this opening line multiple times when discussing the move from three to four. For a succinct psychological explication of this Socratic opener, see p. 191 in The Enigma of Numbers — a book which is the focus of the following (June 27th) Mythfire post.

[3] The move from three to four also figures into the stages of consciousness of an individual as well as the collective, perhaps most evidently in terms of a person’s typological development. Typologically, the missing fourth is the person’s inferior function which needs to be developed in harmony with the other three functions.

[4] For Jung’s references linking the #4 and the figure of the circle, multiple entries can be found in the Index to the Collected Works under “quaternity,” sub-heading “and circle.”

[5] Johnson, Robert A. He: Understanding Masculine Psychology. Rev. Ed.  New York: Harper & Row, 1989: 63.

[6] Ibid., 63-4. See also above “Addendum.”

[7] Ibid., 64.

[9] Ibid., 64.

[10] The recent worldwide popularity of Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code speaks to a deep-seated feeling that the feminine as a powerful energic and emotional dynamic has long been neglected and needs to be recognized and integrated. The increased presence of women as well as gays and other minorities in positions of power – in church, business, government, and military – reflects a similar recognition. Finally, Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth resonates in no small part because it too speaks a truth – in this case an ecological one – which has been but can no longer be denied, avoided, wished, or rationalized away.

 

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