Thursday, October 31, 2013

In Honor of Halloween...Day of the Dead...Dia de los Muertos

Ghosts and spirits have haunted the Western psyche since its beginning. Jung's writings demonstrate that Greek, Roman, Medieval, and Renaissance literature and theology are rich in examples of the ambivalent roles spirits of the dead have played in human experience. The same theme emerges throughout human history: the living struggle to make peace with the dead. In the words of Robert Romanyshyn, Ph.D. (2002), "the dead who haunt our dreams in search of release are like the ghosts who haunt our symptoms in search of their stories."

What is the significance of this realm between the living and the dead and why are the dead so intent upon getting our attention?

David Miller (2004) spoke to this in his book Hells and Holy Ghosts. According to Miller the "Holy Ghost" was systematically mistranslated in the King James Version of the Bible in order to reduce the number of references to ghosts. In the process, translators began to eclipse the realm between the living and the dead in theology and everyday religious experience; the in-between place had previously been inhabited by ghosts, dreams, and the Imaginal (Imaginal as defined by Henry Corbin who posits that there is a realm that exists beyond our ordinary three dimensional experience that is as real as this realm).

The reduction in the use of the Holy Ghost in the Bible, coupled with the emergence of Puritanism in England, Miller argues, led to a theological doctrine of other-wordliness that contained only god and the devil. The intermediate beings, ghosts, ancestral spirits, and the divine, were banished.

Organized Protestant religion exorcised these intermediate beings. No sooner had the ghost of the Holy Ghost been driven from organized Protestant religion, than it began to haunt the secular world in a remarkable proliferation of ghost stories. These intermediary beings refused to be banished and returned to the secular world. While the realm of intermediate beings was downgraded or displaced from Western  theology, it continued to flourish on the margins in folklore, alchemy, and literature, eventually finding its way in the twentieth century into the realm of depth psychology. Those who return speak to the importance of the role of death in depth psychology.

The dead return to awaken us and in this return they invite us to regard everything in life that we have passed by. The dead who return call us home. It is only in death that we are reminded that we have fallen into time from another world, a journey into birth which death reverses into a homecoming. The return of the dead causes us to stop, linger, and take a second look.

Jung believed that the soul of the dead attempts to attain in death the awareness it fails to achieve in life. From this perspective, the dead can be seen as people deeply interested in the final psychological results of a human life. In other words the dead who return may be the figures who seek the living in order to attain knowledge.

As the dead became more distinct to Jung, he began to give voice to the dead and referred to what he heard from them as "the voices of the Unanswered, Unresolved, and Unredeemed" (1969/1989). In this way, he suggests we have a responsibility to the dead. The questions and answers demands that our destiny requires for us to answer do not come only from the outside, but also, from these encounters with the dead.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

The Backward Glance

The Duino Elegies is, perhaps, Rilke's most famous poem. Filled with numinous figures like Angels and animals, lovers and children who die young, acrobats and wanderers, the figure that captures the essence of this poem, I believe, the one that appears at the end of the eighth elegy. It is the image of a man on a hill that overlooks his valley, the final hill that shows him his home for the last time.

Who is this person? It is each of us, the one who obviously has turned around the sake of a final glance. All of us know such moments, and we often live them with some passing sense of sorrow. Rilke's poem, however, burns the image of this moment into the soul. His poem turns this gesture into a poetic act through a simple question that he inserts into this turning.

"Who's turned us round like this, so that we always
 do what we may, retain the attitude
 of someone who is departing?"

To underscore the impact of this image-question, Rilke says that just like this man on the hill "will stop and linger, / we live our lives forever taking leave."

The eighth elegy is a hymn of mourning. There is a very strong feeling tone of lament for something we have lost along the way, not only in our personal lives, but also in our collective lives as human beings. One reads this elegy and hears a continuous sigh for what we have become, "spectators" who look at the world from a distance, who are never nestled within things long enough in order to look out from them. For us as spectators the world is a display, crowded with "empty, indifferent things, pseudo-things, dummy-life," as he says in a letter one year before his death.

In contrast with the spectator we have become, Rilke praises the animal within whom "there lies the weight and care of a great sadness." The curious thing about this phrase is that this sorrow of the animal is for us, as if the animal somehow knows our spectator condition and mirrors for us what we have lost. Thus Rilke says, "For that which often overwhelms us clings / to him as well,--a kind of memory / that what we're pressing after now was once / nearer and truer and attached to us / with infinite tenderness."

Compared to that time and place, a place that Rilke calls our "first home", and which I would call a landscape of the soul, that no-where world now-here, this time and place that is our second home where we are spectators "seems ambiguous and draughty".

In this elegy the backward glance turns us toward this original home, which the animal remembers for us and which we ourselves dimly recall. This other time and place is what beckons us, this calling of the world that once was but never has been, that no-where now-here, that soulscape which is not for the eyes of a spectator, that homeland of the heart.

Rilke's work and life bear continuous witness to the claim that we owe life a death, and that it is only in living life from the side of death that we most truly exist as human beings. For Rilke the awareness of death deepens love. While Rilke is eloquent about the difficulties of love, it remains for him our highest calling. He says "only from the side of it possible to do justice to love."

So who has the heart for this turning? Those who have risked the difficulties of loving in the face of loss. That is who we are with the man on the hill, lovers whose vision looks upon the world with the attitude of departing, lovers whose vision looks upon the real world with an attitude of departing, lovers who see things as if for the last time. If it is the dead who call us home, then it is the lovers who have risked the terrors of loving in the face of death whose hearts are attuned to those voices that solicit the backward glance.

(in rereading this I realized it might sound morbid to some people but its not. there is a life i'm leaving behind but not literally--just as there was a life i left behind when i got sick)

Thursday, October 3, 2013

The Orphan Part II

When the often tormented Mexican painter Frida Kahlo was in Paris, Picasso taught her a song, which she often sang for her lover and two-time husband, the painter  Diego Rivera, or for friends. It's called "El Huerfano" (The Orphan). The song portrays Frida's sense of loneliness, alienation, and despair. Her torment reaches deep into her soul, creating a void which was never healed and never filled. Her vivid yet, tormented paintings are perhaps her creative genius response to this black hole in her soul.

On a stone tablet at Bollingen (that I mentioned in the first post), Jung carved the following quotations from alchemical texts, although he actually writes that he "let the stone itself speak, as it were, in a Latin inscription:

I am an orphan, alone; nevertheless I am found everywhere. I am one, but opposed to myself. I am youth and old man at one and the same time. I have known neither father nor mother, because I have had to be fetched out of the deep like a fish, or fell like a white stone from heaven. In woods and mountains I roam, but I am hidden in the innermost soul of man. I am mortal for everyone, yet I am not touched by the cycles of aeons (p. 277 MDR).
The acquisition of the stone itself is an interesting and curious story. Jung had ordered, with specific measurements, stones from a local quarry to build a wall that was to enclose the garden by the Tower. When the stones arrived, the cornerstone was all wrong-it was a much larger square block than the triangular stone requested-and it was about to be returned but when Jung saw the stone, he knew it belonged to him, and he made a carved monument out of it to express what the Tower meant to him.

Initially the stone was to him the lapis, the Philosopher's Stone (that is, an image of the Self), the substantive symbol that marks paradoxically both the beginning and goal of the work on alchemy, that which is despised and rejected, yet valued above all things by the wise. According to some alchemical traditions (Jung, 1970b), this lapis is called "the orphan" both  on account of its uniqueness-"it was never seen elsewhere"--and because the "orphan" was the name of a precious stone or gem...and sometimes shone in the night, "but nowadays it does not shine (any more) in the darkness".  Perhaps the stone brings distant echoes of Orpheus' creative realm and Dionysus's underworld mysteries, no longer clearly heard.

There is also a reference to the homeless orphan who is slain at the beginning of the work for the purpose of transformation (post on alchemy to come). Other associative images elucidated by Jung are "widow", "son of the widow," and "dropsical or paralyzed woman", images of parting, sorrow, and separation, both literal and symbolic, and a kind of ruthless rootedness to the spot, required for realizing the sources of support when it appears we have none.

We might say that the cornerstone of our uniqueness and our fate is that which tends to be despised and rejected, either by ourselves or our culture. Or, the realization of our being depends on precisely that which we might overlook, the thing that looks all wrong, that doesn't, as it were, measure up, or feel at home, the part that refuses to be domesticated.

The experience of being abandoned, of feeling ourselves lost, bereft, belonging to no one-not even to ourselves, to fall into that place where nothing makes sense, and everything we thought we could depend on has disintegrated or disappeared-be it person or belief system or collective institution, is that necessary landscape that situates our fate and our destiny, not as the son or daughter of particular parents in a particular historical or cultural context, but not as that creature, both human and divine, yet neither mortal nor immortal-the orphan-has chose incarnation here, in this body, in response to the Call, the call being creations's longing to fulfill its own mystery-unknown even perhaps to itself, unknown to myself.

Until we become traitors to the self that we know, until we are betrayed by all that is familiar, we do not come across this destiny of ours. Transformation brings us to this moment of betrayal. It brings us to this moment of being able to say no to the person we thought we were, to the idea of ourselves rather than who we actually are, to the provisional life we have led, to what we thought we were devoted to. The process of transformation brings us to our origins-not the historical or chronological origins of our most recent incarnational history but to the origins of soul in that dark landscape where the gem of our fate no longer shines in the night, where we know we are not living authentically, where we must let go of the illusion that our past is responsible for who we are, and where we are finally brought to our knees in complete surrender into our destiny...

The presence of the orphan assures us that those landscapes so easily overlooked and lost are the ones most valued by the soul, by the cosmos, by those vibrations that most call to us from the stars. Soul thrives on failure, failure of the ego's illusions about itself. Until we come to wobbly ground, until we are deprived of all the familiar sources of support, we will not find what truly sustains us. There comes a time when we must be willing to meet what we cannot be sure of, by anyone or anything, and still embrace it, wholly, while knowing that at any moment, it might betray us, or we might betray it. We have to be willing to fail, and fail completely, for the sake of soul...

Sunday, September 29, 2013

The Orphan-Part I

The Orphan is a kind of archetypal figure of the melancholic mood, an image for this for the moment is the grieving process which is more than personal, which has a shared, perhaps universal, quality to it. It is a kind of code of the soul by which strangers recognize each other as fellow travelers. It is a pattern of human experience for the deep longing to be home and for the awareness that we are always on the way, that home is as much a destiny which awaits us as it is a heritage which sustains us.

To be an orphan, Saint Augustine says, relates one to God. Carl Jung's psychology of individuation makes a similar claim. For Jung this process of individuation is an ongoing incarnation of God for the sake of divine transformation. In becoming who we are called to be, we bring the Divine into the creation. In this respect, it might be proper to say that the Divine enters the world through the cracks in creation, including, and perhaps especially so, in our moments of breakdown and loss. Perhaps then, the Orphan is our God-face, the face which we wear when loss cracks open our stony hearts into wider fields of love. In these moments, the Orphan is the one who is present to the holy splendor of the ordinary, the one who sees the miracle in the simplest moment, the one who glimpses the numinous quality in the shadows of loss.

In accepting responsibility of our orphanhood, we become faithful sentinels for the passing and the flowering of the world. The Animal perishes but we, and those whom we love, die. In a curious way, then, the Orphan, the most homeless of all, is the one who appreciates the journey towards home, and who understands that this journey is marked by a fierce devotion to each moment as it presents itself.

None of us is ever promised a next moment, none of us even assured of the next breath. The Orphan knows this truth, and knowing it embraces each moment to its fullest.

What do the dead want from us?  I think they ask us to go on celebrating the rhythms of life, but now in a special way. I think they ask us to become better lovers by taking notice of the dying which belongs to all life, and in the midst this raise our voices in songs of praise. This is what the Orphan can do, sing those hyms of praise and joy which flower from lament and loss.

The poet Rilke understood the simplicity of things and the appeal they lay before us:

"These things that live on departure
  understand when you praise them: fleeting, they look for
  rescue through something in us, the most fleeting of all". (Rilke, Duino Elegies, p. 77)

To awaken to the Orphan in our grief is the necessary precondition for hearing the lament of the world, for witnessing its dying, and perhaps, if we are lucky, assisting in its healing. The Orphan who arises in our souls from the ashes of our grief is one step in the transformation.

Earlier I said that to be an orphan relates one to the Divine. In this regard the Orphan is also the figure in our souls who, although most homeless, beckons us towards our spiritual home. Here, I think the Orphan encounters the Angel. Why the Orphan and the Angel dwell together, I don't know. But sometimes I feel they hold between them the tension of home and homelessness, which seems to lie at the root of the soul. Noel Cobb, poet and Jungian analyst says it like this: "Angels above us, around us and below us-/Did you not have to become outcasts/In order to discover your true home?" (Cobb, Hymn to the Star, p. 17)

Angels as outcasts; orphans as angels! Is the Angel a piece of us left behind, the Orphan part of ourselves? Is the Orphan in teh soul a kind of spiritual deposit of our angelic existence, a residue of that part of ourselves left behind to remind us from where we come and where we are going?

It seems to me that the mood of melancholy, which attends the Orphans' presence, could be the aftertaste of our angelic existence, or a foretaste of it, or perhaps a bit of both-a heritage and a destiny.

Saturday, September 28, 2013


Initiation means the beginning of the revelation of one's true self (Eliade, 1958). It includes the opening up of the inner life of the spirit and releasing the potentials and possibilities within the person.

The distinctions between the ways we view change and death become more important at the end of eras, at funerals, and at births. The attitudes of mourners have a crucial effect on a funeral, and the manner of the people at birth can help or harm the new life. Mid-wives once assisted the newborn into this world and helped the newly dead on to the 'other world'.

Willing or not we are all attendants at the funeral of the last era and the birth of the next. We are all mid wives placing the shroud on a body soon to disappear and anointing the next birth with our prayers, fears, denials, and hopes.

The radical dismantling of institutions, boundaries, beliefs, and ecosystems that characterizes the end of an era is an extended funeral that we can consciously attend or try to deny.

At some level we each know that huge shifts in nature and culture are affecting us daily. But, without some spiritual vision and ritual structure we lose the capacity to handle death and embrace life fully. Instead, we build walls of denial to hold off terror and confusion and try to cover our helplessness with displays of force and greed. Denial arises as a primary symptom because of the scope of changes already happening and as a defense agains the flood of losses and endings.

And the momentum of loss increases because a death unmourned becomes a lingering ghost that haunts the living until it receives its share of attention and tears.

Mircea Eliade speaks of initiation as a universal rite, an archetypal form that surfaces and influences life wherever events have the spirit of beginnings or the weight of an end.

As an elemental pattern or archetype, initiation is a 'whole'way' of seeing into the world, one that sees death as part of the fabric of life. On the ground of initiation, death is the opposite of birth, not the opposite of life. Life includes both, and the spirit of life regenerates in the land of death. Archaic rites of initiation show the basic pattern for genuine change. For any transformation to be meaningful it must be thorough, and to be thorough requires both the ache of loss and a spirit of restoration.

It is only in initiation that death is give a positive value. More than an empty tomb, death becomes also the womb of change. In dreams and dramas of inititation, death represents change for the entire psyche and life of a person. It means change inside and out, not a simple adaptation or switch in lifestyle.

Initiation includes death and rebirth, a radical altering of a person's mode of being; a shattering and shaking all the way to the ground of the soul.

T.S. Eliot's poem The Wasteland was a poem about initiation.

Saturday, May 25, 2013


"The Soul, the anima, establishes the relationship to the unconscious. In a certain sense this is also a relationship to the collectivity of the dead: for the unconscious corresponds to the mythic land of the dead, the land of the ancestors". (Jung: Memories, Dreams, and Reflections, p. 191)

"From that time on the dead have become ever more distinct for me as the voices of the Unanswered, Unresolved, and Unredeemed; for since the questions and demands which my destiny required me to answer did not come from the inner world. These conversations with the dead formed a kind of prelude to what I had to communicate to the world about the unconscious, a kind of pattern of order and interpretation of its general contents...

...It was then that I dedicated myself to the service of the psyche. I loved it and hated it but it was my greatest wealth. My delivering myself over to it, as it were, was the only way I could endure my existence and live as fully as possible"  (Jung: Memories, Dreams, and Reflections, p. 191)

Friday, July 22, 2011

"Hospitality Towards the Gods..."

I'm aware that doing this blog presents certain challenges because of my cognitive limitations. Even though I've spent years studying Jung it has been hard for me to access the material since getting sick four years ago. So it is with some self-consciousness and some fear that I won't be able to articulate or organize the information in a readable way that I begin.

Studying Jung was one of my favorite things to do. Having this blog will allow me to delve back into that place of poetic soulfulness that I use to enjoy so much.

I want to start with the classical story of Philemon and Baucis.

The story as told by Ovid goes like this: the world has become ungodly. The two divine strangers, Jupiter and Mercury, wandering the earth, do not find any hospitable place of rest until Philemon and Baucis, living under very modest conditions, accept the two guests into their home and serve them hospitably, not withholding from them anything that their scanty household can offer. Baucis is even willing to offer them their only goose, saved for a special occasion as a sacrifice to the Gods. Then it happens that the Gods reveal themselves, that the simple hut is changed into a temple, and that the two old people are made the priests of this sanctuary forever, whereas at the same time a flood consumes the ungodly human race.

The story tells of a metamorphosis. In the beginning there are two wanderers, likely dirty and dressed in rags, and not in the least bit divine. And a simple hut with two modest old people. In the end we have two Gods, a magnificent temple, and two dignified priests.

On the face of it, what happened is very simple and ordinary. Two strangers visit a home and are entertained. The hosts and guests get along well, and so the goose, saved for a special occasion is remembered and served. Philemon and Baucis realizing that in this very moment the special occasion has already arrived. That is all. It's simply a human encounter, eating food, having good conversation,, all this, however, within an atmosphere of true hospitality.

The revelation of the Gods completes this natural movement of hospitality. The Gods here embody the the essence of presence. Jupiter is Zeus Xenios, the God of hospitality. In other words Jupiter is the God of the present moment. And the presence of Mercury, the God of commerce and interpretation of exchange and communication, indicates that this evening must have led to a true meeting of souls between the hosts and guests. Jupiter and Mercury present the divine face of this ordinary situation.

Philemon and Baucis, with a total devotion to the shape of the moment, willingly spent or even wasated the little they had, without reserve, in response to its uniqueness of the moment. Because they lovingly surrendered to the present and allowed what they had to be consumed, the present could be consumated in return and reveal its own immanent archetypal or divine face. The moment of hospitality began to shine.

The name Philemon means the loving or hospitable one. Similarly, the name Baucis is the tender or affectionate one. And the goose that Baucis offers to the Gods is Aphrodite's bird. Love made it possible for the hosts to surrender and splurge. By letting go and freely sacrificing the goose to their guests, Philemon and Baucis fed the moment with love and with the rich fat and round wholeness of the bird.

Feeding the here and now with love or 'the goose' releases the image of the present moment, which would otherwise remain hidden. Any moment to which we abandon ourselves with this loving devotion will find its fulfillment.

Why hospitality? The story wants to show that it is hospitality to whatever present moment may knock at our door that allows this moment to reveal its Divine radiance.

In 1923 Jung built his Bollingen Tower. Acting as an axis mundi (cosmic axis, world axis, center of world; expresses a connection between heaven and earth where the four directions meet) the Tower connected Jung concretely with the three realms of earth, heaven, and the underworld, that is, with his total self.

He carved over the entrance gate the following inscription: 'Philemonis sacrum, Faustis poenitentia' meaning Philemon's sanctuary, Faust's atonement (Geigerich, 1984). An inscription over the threshold of one's home is like a motto under which one's entire life and thought are placed. By placing  his spiritual existence under a motto taken from the world of Goethe's Faust, Jung declares that what occurs there was personally significant for him.

Jung felt it was necessary to create a sanctuary for Philemon and a place of atonement for Faust. Bollingen could be this sanctuary, for it was the place whose specific purpose it was to give room to visitations. Jung writes: "At Bollingen I am in the midst of my true life. I am most deeply myself. Here I am, as it were, the "age old son of the mother". That is how alchemy puts it, very wisely, for the "old man," the "ancient," whom I had already experienced as a child, is personality number 2, who has always been and always will be....In my fantasies he took the form of Philemon, and he comes to life again at is a space for the spaceless kingdom of the world's and psyche's hinterland." (Jung, Memories, Dreams, and Reflections, p. 214)

Bollingen was his place of silent solitude where he could receive the images, thoughts, and reveries, the waves of the lake, "the animals that come and go" and where he could house the ancestor spirits in hearth and cooking pot. Here pumping his own water, chopping wood, lighting the old fashioned lamps, cooking his own meals, Jung lived in the modesty and simplicity reminiscent of the old couple Philemon and Baucis.

During Jung's period of active imagination (define) in the years of 1913 and thereafter, there appeared to Jung a figure that Jung called Philemon. It's easy to see why Jung named this figure Philemon as it was Philemon who taught Jung that there are things in the soul that he does not make but that make themselves and have a life of their own, just like animals in the woods or people in a room or birds in the air. It was Philemon that taught Jung psychological objectivity, the 'reality of the psyche.' In other words it was Philemon that taught Jung that psyche and soul were real entities.

In this light, not only Bollingen provided sanctuary for Philemon in Jung's world but also his psychology. By naming the persons of the soul-such as, Anima, Old Wise Man, Great Mother, Philemon, Elias (Elijah), Salome-and by developing his archetypal theory and the idea of the reality of the psyche, Jung provided just this ontological (the philosophical study of the nature of being/existence) recognition of the objectivity of the diamones (spirits).

So it is in this spirit of hospitality toward the Gods that I begin this blog by being present to the moment and feeding it so that it will reveal the God(s) within and all that is hidden that wishes to be born into consciousness.

This blog is devoted to the birthing of the Soul. A symptom is a grave marker for the Soul to tell its story....more to be revealed...