In the Aftermath of Tucson III (“Lack of Earthly Reality”)

The David Brooks quote which opened the first “In the Aftermath of Tucson” post will serve again as a jumping off point for this and the next blog post: “Civility is a tree with deep roots, and without the roots, it can’t last. So what are those roots? They are failure, sin, weakness and ignorance.”[1] The last series of blog posts arguably focused on “failure” and “ignorance,” specifically failure of consciousness and ignorance of the unconscious shadow as it operates in our lives.

The present post turns to look briefly at the other two roots of civility: sin and weakness. Of course, in keeping with Mythfire‘s modus operandi both sin and weakness are discussed in what follows not from a theological but from a psychological vantage point, using furthermore the image of Brooks’ deep-rooted tree and the psychological phenomenon ofdreamsas common threads.

A few statements about alleged Tucson shooter Jared Loughner made by his friend Zane Gutierrez will serve as an entrée into this discussion:

“Mr. Gutierrez said [Loughner] had become obsessed with the meaning of dreams and their importance. . . .And every day, his friend said, Mr. Loughner would get up and write in his dream journal, recording the world he experienced in sleep and its possible meanings. ‘Jared felt nothing existed but his subconscious,’ Mr. Gutierrez said. ‘The dream world was what was real to Jared, not the day-to-day of our lives.’ And that dream world, his friend said, could be downright strange. ‘He would ask me constantly, “Do you see that blue tree over there?” He would admit to seeing the sky as orange and the grass as blue,’ Mr. Gutierrez said. ‘Normal people don’t talk about that stuff.’”[2]

Mythfire recently came across two other cases which correspond in a startling fashion to Loughner’s  “blue tree” vision and dreams. The first example is a legend involving the Biblical figure David:

“One day as David sat in his chamber writing a psalm, Satan came into the room disguised as a bird. Its feathers were of pure gold, its beak of diamonds, and its legs of glowing rubies. David dropped his book and tried to catch the bird which he thought had come from the Garden of Eden. But the bird flew out of the window and settled upon the low branch of a treein a neighboring garden. And under the branch of the tree a young woman was washing her hair. She was Bathsheba and David took her by arranging the death of her husband Uriah.”

In his analysis of this legend analytical psychologist Edward Edinger observes that “This legend, like a dream, underscores the profound evil that David fell into.” Edinger then goes on to note the parallels between the legend and a second case: a recurring dream reportedly experienced by one of the murderers whose crimes were later documented in Truman Capote’s bestseller In Cold Blood. The dream reads as follows:

“I’m in Africa, a jungle. I’m moving through the trees toward a tree standing all alone. Jesus, it smells bad, that tree; it kind of makes me sick, the way it stinks. Only, it’s beautiful to look at – it has blue leaves and diamonds hanging everywhere. Diamonds are like oranges, that’s why I’m there – to pick a bushel of diamonds. But I know the minute I try to, the minute I reach up, a snake is gonna fall on me. A snake that guards the tree. . . . I figure, well, I’ll take my chances. What it comes down to is I want the diamonds more than I’m afraid of the snake. So I go to pick one, I have the diamond in my hand, I’m pulling at it, when the snake lands on top of me . . . . He is crushing me, you can hear my legs cracking. Now comes the part it makes me sweat even to think about. See he starts to swallow me. Feet first. Like going down in quicksand . . . .[But a savior arrived in the form of a great parrot] taller than Jesus, yellow like a sun flower.”

Capote finishes the description of the dream by stating that “Thus, the snake, that custodian of the diamond-bearing tree, never finished devouring him but was itself always devoured. And afterward the blessed ascent! Ascension to a paradise that in one version was merely ‘a feeling,’ a sense of power, of unassailable superiority.”

Edinger follows up this lengthy excerpt with psychological commentary of his own: “This chilling dream has many parallels to [David’s] legend: jewels of seductive beauty, bird, tree and Garden of Eden. Both the legend and the dream describe seduction by Satan, the ultimate evil of possession by the power principle.”[3] Certainly, the Old and New Testaments are rife with examples of characters from Adam and Eve to Jesus being tempted by snake or Satan to sin and thereby gain the “unassailable superiority” of unlimited power — arguably the very opposite of weakness — whether this power takes the form of great wealth, power over others, power over death, or perhaps even a sense of oneself as God.

As a bit of an aside, in his essay “Consciousness of Failure” Jungian Analyst Rafael Lopez-Pedraza discusses a modern example of the power principle which he calls our “misguided fancy that we deserve success.” To the degree that success supersedes all other ideals, puts the individual before the collective and the “I” before “Other” we are in danger of succumbing to a modern variation of this power-filled vision of unassailable superiority. Lopez-Pedraz claims that those of us who yield to such powerful but misguided fancies suffer from a “lack of earthly reality,” a phrase that originated in the study of schizophrenia:

“What I call ‘earthly reality’ comes from a term coined by [Pierre] Janet early in the century – la fonction du réel. It was incorporated by Jung into his psychiatric studies when he observed the lack of this function in psychotic and schizophrenic patients.” [4]

As stated in earlier Mythfire posts, to the degree that individuals such as Jared Loughner or the In Cold Blood killer are psychotic or schizophrenic they are generally unable without assistance, i.e. therapy and medication, to resist their misguided and inflated fantasies of power. Thus, unlike the rest of us who are able to exercise the power of choice, Loughner and others are relatively unable to not commit this sin of grandiosity and specialness much less return to a sense of “earthly reality.” That Loughner put the dream world before the “day-to-day” world is made clear in the above quotes from Loughner’s friend. Although the following notion may be strange and new for some readers, the ideal is actually to develop an ego which is strong and small enough to say “no” to the power principle while humbly and devotedly striving to interrelate the dream and day-to-day worlds; the dream world, and more generally the unconscious from which dreams come, needs to be integrated into and balanced harmoniously with the waking world. To the extent that a person such as Loughner is psychotic or schizophrenic, (the latter being a word that comes from the Greek skhizein + phren meaning “split mind”), it is by definition nearly impossible to hold these two worlds together.

The image accompanying this post is of a luminescent blue tree drawn by psychiatrist C.G. Jung at a time that he was going through a psychotic period of his own. In fact, Jung’s book from which this image was taken – The Red Book – was published for the first time last year and will provide more images for Mythfire’s next post on the power principle, dreams, and the deep-rooted tree of the human psyche.


Next Monday: In the Aftermath of Tucson IV (“The Tree of Life”)



[3] Edinger, Edward. The Bible and the Psyche: Individuation Symbolism in the Old Testament. Toronto: Inner City Books, 1986: 87-8. Edinger takes the legend of David from Joseph Gaer’s The Lore of the Old Testament.

[4] Lopez-Pedraza, Rafael. Cultural Anxiety. Einsiedeln, Switzerland: Daimon Verlag, 1990. The “misguided fancy” quote is from page 81 and the other quotes can be found on page 82.


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