Monday, May 31, 2010

Firefox


I spent the first two days of the Memorial Day weekend leading a Story workshop at a local retreat center with a glorious weeping beech and a family of red foxes. I noticed the foxes trotting along a path, in my direct line of sight through the window, as I spoke on Saturday about those shiverish riffs of synchronicity when we feel a Trickster element in play.

During the lunch break that day, I took a walk and was delighted to see the red foxes reappear right in front of me, on the grassy verge of the drive. They were a mother with her two kits. They let me get very close before one of the kits got skittish and vanished. The second kit cocked his head, twitched his nose and then - as I took a few more slow paces forward - vanished too. The mother stood her ground, studying me closely. Then she began to move up the slope of the green hill, very slowly, looking back frequently to check that I was watching her and not going after the kits.

I stepped off the drive to see where the kits had gone, and saw the culvert of a storm drain, a useful bolthole, at least in dry weather. The mother was now frozen in place, watching me from between the trunks of a couple of aspens. When she was sure she had my full attention, she loped up the slope and trotted along the crest of the hill, again looking back to make sure I was watching.

That evening, my youngest daughter, hearing about my recent computer problems, asked if I would like her to have a go at cleaning up my computer. Sure. Half an hour later, when she was done, I was amused to see that (without consulting me) she had installed Mozilla Firefox as my new default browser.

On Sunday morning, the second day of the Story workshop, I invited the group to call up a dream or a story and make a very quick drawing, with crayons or colored pencils, that they could show and speak around. The most colorful drawing was produced by an artist in the group, using oil crayons. It showed a flames leaping up from a firepit, and above it a red fox trotting along a hill. The artist titled her picture "Firefox". She did not know about my daughter installing Firefox on my computer the previous night, which has put the image of a red fox on my screen, right next to the start button.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Killing the demon parrot


As demons go, one of the scariest (because most likely to turn up any day, recognized or not) is one of the most unlikely: the parrot. Why? Well, if you think about what you most associate with parrots, other than bright colors and finger-nipping, you may have the answer. But let's hear a story first, because a story is the shortest way to get to a truth.

The story comes from Persia, and it is about a hero on a quest. The hero's name, some say, is Hatim, and he is a prince. The prince is summoned by his king and given an interesting assignment. He is to search for a mysterious castle known as the Bath Badgerd - the Castle of Nonexistence - and find out what is there. He sets out on a long journey, where he must battle with monsters and face every kind of hardship. Everyone he meets gives him a reason to abandon his mission. People are unanimous on one point: no traveler who reached the castle has ever returned.

The hero is not dismayed. At last he comes to a round, domed building that must be part of the Bath Badgerd. He is greeted by a hairdresser who is carrying a mirror, and invited to wash off the dust of the journey in a beautiful pool. As soon as he enters the water, there is the roar of thunder, and the water level starts to rise. He thrashes about in the pool but can't escape. The water is rushing him up towards the ceiling. He's going to drown. But with his last breath, he cries out for divine help, and grabs for the keystone above him.

This changes everything. There is more rolling thunder, and the hero is transported, quick as thought, to the middle of a hot desert. His ordeals begin again, and it requires much wandering, on dragging, bloody feet, before he comes to a beautiful garden. He is now at the very heart of the Bath Badgerd, and about to face the greatest of his challenges.

In the midst of the garden is a circle of stone statues. They are very lifelike; each figure looks like a person frozen in the midst of a cry or a violent motion of the upper body. At the center of this circle is a parrot in a cage. Under the unfriendly eye of the parrot there is a golden bow, and a golden arrow chained to the cage.

A voice from above explains the scene. "What you are seeking is here, but you won't live to see it. The stone men are those who tried before you, and became petrified. The treasure of this place is a diamond beyond price that was hidden here by Gayomart, the First Man. In order to claim it, you must kill the parrot. The bow and arow are your weapons. You have three chances to shoot the parrot. If you fail, you will be petrified."

How hard can it be to shoot a parrot at close range? The state of the stone men is not encouraging, but the hero takes up the bow and lets fly. The arrow flies wide, the parrot cackles - and the prince is turned into stone, from his feet to his crotch. He takes extra care with his aim, before shooting the second arrow. He misses again and is turned to stone, up to the base of his heart. Now he remembers how he escaped being drowned in the flood, by invoking a higher power. He shuts his eyes, calls on his God, and fires without calculation. The arrow finds its mark. With a boom of thunder, the parrot vanishes. In its place appears the great jewel of the First Man, the diamond of the greater Self, and the petrified men are released from the spell.

Marie-Louise von Franz found in this old Persian fairy story a parable of "individuation" - the Jungian term for the process by which an individual advances towards the embodiment of his or her true Self [1]. All of the symbols are rich in meaning: the round building, the barber (or hairdresser), the mirror, the fast-rising waters. But let's stay with the demon. Of all the adversaries and obstacles the hero must overcome on his journey to find the jewel beyond price, the most formidable is a parrot in a cage. We can now answer the question, "Why"? Because we can never get to the greater Self by copying other people or by repeating ourselves. The parrot is famous for doing both: for imitating others and for endless repetition. When we fail to kill the demon of imitation and repetition in our lives, we consign ourselves to the petrified human forest.

[1] Marie-Louise von Franz, “The Process of Individuation” in Carl G. Jung, Man and his Symbols (New York: Doubleday, 1964) and Individuation in Fairy Tales (Boston: Shambhala, 2001).

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Wings of dream healing


Jeff Guidry is a rock guitarist who has volunteered for many years at the Sarvey Wildlife Center in Arlington, Washington. In 1998, he took care of a baby bald eagle who had broken both wings in a fall. The vet said she would never fly again; for two months the question was whether she’d be able to walk. She lay belly-down on shredded newspaper until one day she stood up, craning her head to look at Jeff when he entered the space. He named her Freedom and started taking her around schools, perched on his thick falconer’s glove.

When Freedom was three years old and still entirely brown (the bald spot on bald eagles comes later) Jeff was diagnosed with a life-threatening cancer (stage 3 non-Hodgkins lymphoma) and agree to chemotherapy. After multiple treatments, it wasn’t clear that the chemo was working, and Jeff was close despair every time he looked at his bald head in the mirror. Then, as he writes in a luminous new book, "a pair of merciful talons cut through my prison."

Jeff dreamed that Freedom was flying, on perfect wings. She first appeared as a speck in the distance, then seemed to grow as big as a thunderbird. She swooped down, banking hard, and set to work ripping out his cancer cells with her beak and talons. When he woke, Jeff reports, "I felt on top of the world and I knew I had a secret weapon - my winged friend, Freedom."

This dream intervention was repeated. He made it the focus for conscious visualizations, picturing the eagle tearing out the cancer cells. He felt much stronger, but was bitterly disappointed when told by his doctors that the cancer had not entirely gone away. In treatment of his type of cancer, a maximum of eight courses of chemotherapy are allowed. One the eve of undergoing the eighth series, perhaps his last shot, Jeff envsioned Freedom flying again, full-grown, with the white head, as she had appeared in his dreams. And he told himself, “I can’t die now because Freedom doesn’t yet have her white patch.” After the final chemo treatments, the doctors told him his cancer was gone. Now, when he walks the slopes with Freedom, he holds out his arm to give both of them the sense of flight.

Jeff Guidry’s book An Eagle Named Freedom , dedicated to "Dream Flyer", is now available from Morrow.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Thus Spake Jung II


A personal selection of quotes from Liber Secundus (Book Two) of Jung's Red Book:

FIND YOUR REAL LIMITS

"Your life will not take kindly to being hemmed in by artificial barriers. Life wants to jump over such barriers and you will fall out with yourself...Therefore try to find your real limits. One never knows them in advance, but one sees and understands them only when one reaches them. And that happens to you only if you have balance."

EVEN THE STONES SPEAK TO YOU

“Even the stones speak to you, and magical threads spin from you to things and from things to you.”

SECRET ENTANGLEMENT

“Nothing happens in which you are not entangled in a secret manner, for everything has ordered itself around you and plays your innermost. Nothing in you is hidden to things…The stars whisper your deepest mysteries to you, and the soft valleys of the earth rescue you in a motherly womb.”

MEANING AND CHANGE

“You find manifold meaning only in yourself, not in things, since the manifoldness of meaning is not something that is given at the same time, but is a succession of meanings."

"Things also change, but you do not notice this if you do not change.”

I WANT TO LIVE LIKE THE SUN

“I want to live from my own force like the sun which gives light and does not suck light.”

ALL YOUR REBIRTHS COULD MAKE YOU SICK

“As long as you are not conscious of your self you can live, but when you become conscious of your self you fall from one grave into another. All your rebirths could ultimately make you sick. The Buddha therefore finally gave up on rebirth, for he had had enough of crawling through all human and animal forms.”

THE POWER OF NAMING

“One often gives the sick new names to heal them, for with these names, they come by new essence. Your name is your essence.”

TAKE THE GOD WITH YOU

“If you are clever, take the God with you, then you know where he is.”

YOU CAN LEAVE CHRISTIANITY BUT IT DOES NOT LEAVE YOU

“It is better to be thrown into visible chains than invisible ones. You can certainly leave Christianity but it does not leave you. Your liberation from it is delusion. Christ is the way.”

THE IMITATION OF CHRIST

“If I thus truly imitate Christ, I do not imitate anyone.”

SIMPLICITY

"When thinking leads to the unthinkable, it is time to return to simple life."

Source: C.G. Jung, The Red Book: Liber Novus edited by Sonu Shamdasani (New York: Norton, 2009).

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Robertson Davies' novel approach to Jung



Questions opened with a Weasel Scot who said: “D’ye really know anything about this Yoong, or did ye juist mug up eneuch o’ his stuff to write that noavel?” I replied winsomely that I had been reading Jung for 30 years , and that The Manticore had been kindly received in Zurich, where they were in a position to judge.[1]



“Do you dream much?” asks Dr. Johanna von Haller, a Jungian analyst, in their first session in Zurich. David Staunton, a wealthy Toronto barrister - and functioning alcoholic - has not been much of a dreamer, but he has one from the previous night. In this dream, he left secure and cozy surroundings to travel down back roads where he met a wild Gypsy woman in colorful rags whose whose speech is strange to him. He hurries away and is soon back on familiar ground, speaking from his brief as a barrister in court. Dr von Haller suggests this was an “anticipatory dream” – that the Gypsy was a preview of her, another foreigner whose language is strange to him and from whom he is inclined to flee. “Dreams do not foretell the future,” she observes. “They reveal states of mind in which the future is implicit.” [2]

With this exchange, we are in the midst of the liveliest account of the process of a Jungian analysis that I know. It's in The Manticore, the central novel in the Deptford Trilogy by the wordmaster Robertson Davies, one of my favorite novelists. Davies never underwent analysis - which he described in a letter as "barnacle-scraping" [3] -or any formal training in psychology. On the other hand, he had read Jung for thirty years, kept a portrait of Jung on the wall of his study and was a founder of the Analytical Psychology Society of Ontario. He was a depth psychologist in the classical sense of the word, a student of soul. Like his protagonist, he became increasingly attuned to his dreams and his inner life. It was a vision from reverie that gave him the image of the manticore and thereby gave the book its title - after he transplanted it into the mind and circumstabces of a fictional character.

Davies had completed part one of The Manticore when, dozing on his screened porch after lunch, he saw before him a gallery with an ancient picture, showing a beautiful woman in a classical robe, leading a strange beast on a golden chain. "It had the body and head of a lion, the clawed feet of a dragon, a tail which was barbed as the tails of scorpions are barbed in ancient art, and it had the anguished face of a man." Davies consulted an encyclopedia of mythology and identified the beast in his vision as a manticore. [4]

In the version of the dream that Davies' character tells his analyst, the manticore has his own face and the woman commanding it is Dr Johanna von Haller. When she tells him the name of the beast, he asks, "How can I dream about something I've mever heard of?" She responds: "People very often dream of things they don't know...It is because great myths are not invented stories but objectivizations of images and situations that lie very deep in the human spirit." [5]

Here we are deep into the Jungian understanding of the archetypes of the collective unconscious, but we have come here effortlessly and fluently, thanks to Robertson Davies' word magic and marvelous ear for dialogue. It must be granted that it is highly unlikely that many therapy sessions - and any patient autobiographies - will manifest the eloquence, wit and lightly-worn erudition of these pages. Here is how Dr. von Haller introduces the concept of archetypes: “You might call them the Comedy Company of the Psyche, but that would be flippant and not to do justice to the cruel blows you have had from some of them. In my profession we call them archetypes, which means that they represent and body forth patterns towards which human behavior seems to be disposed, patterns which repeat themselves endlessly, but never precisely in the same way.” [6]

Later the analyst declares, "Our great task is to see people as people and not clouded by archetypes we carry about with us, looking for a peg to hang them on...You will recover all these projections which you have visited on other people like a magic lantern projecting a slide on a screen" [7]

Davies wrote of this novel: "There have been other books which describe Freudian analyses, but I know of no other that describes a Jungian analysis." He added, "I was deeply afraid that I would put my foot in it, for I have never undergone one of those barnacle-scraping experiences, and knew of it only through reading. So I was greatly pleased when some of my Jungian friends in Zurich liked it very much." [8]



The Zurich crowd were not unanimous, however. When Marie-Louise von Franz, one of the most brilliant of the women around Jung, arrived in Toronto, she was quite frosty to Robertson Davies because she was extremely annoyed by the suggestion that she was the model for Johanna von Haller. Davies had never previously met her, though he had read much of her work and admired her greatly as a classical scholar and interpreter of myth and fairytales, as well an excellent explicator of the Jungian psychology of projection and re-collection. [9]

After meeting Swiss frost with Canadian froideur on their first evening, Davies charmed von Franz as he played genial host - as Master of Massey College at the University of Toronto - over the days that followed, and von Franz charmed Davies in turn, with her spin on a dream he recounted to her. In the dream, Davies (whose first career was on the London stage) found himself as an actor in a play. His cue has been given, the audience is waiting, but he does not know his lines and doesn't even know what play he is in. Davies told von Franz that he thought the dream expressed his deep sense of inadequacy. She told him robustly: "I would have said it is an indication to you that you don't go on stage to say what other people have written, but to say what you have to say yourself." [10]

REFERENCES

[1]Robertson Davies to Arnold and Letitia Edinborough February 19, 1980 in For Your Eye Alone: The Letters of Robertson Davies edited by Judith Skelton Grant (New York: Viking, 2001)49.
[2] Robertson Davies, The Deptford Trilogy (New York: Penguin, 1990)276. The Manticore was first published in 1972.
[3]Robertson Davies to Leon Edel, Thanksgiving (Canadian Style) 1981 in For Your Eye Alone 72.
[4] Judith Skelton Grant, Robertson Davies: Man of Myth (New York: Viking, 1994) 498.
[5] Deptford Trilogy 404-405.
[6] Deptford Trilogy 449.
[7] Deptford Trilogy 450-451.
[8] Davies to Leon Edel; For Your Eye Alone 72.
[9] Von Franz's master work on this theme, Spiegelungen der Seele, had not yet been published, however. The German edition appeared in 1978; Projection and Re-collection in Jungian Psyxhology, translated by William H. Kennedy, followed in 1980 (LaSalle and London: Open Court, 1980).
[10] Grant, Robertson Davies: Man of Myth 498.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Tracks of the shaman in St. Petersburg

My friend Louisa reports from St.Petersburg, Russia, on a new exhibition of artifacts of Siberian shamanism at the Ethnography Museum. She found the exhibits intriguing, but only sketchily explained. Some are labeled only as "shaman's ritual object", which Louisa translates as "we don't know what the heck it is".

Here's a sample of the correct attire for a young woman shaman of Siberia, with amulets infused with the energy of her animal spirits:



Here is my personal favorite from Louisa's gallery:



It is the figure of a shaman's bear ally, paws outstretched, ready to assist in healing. It comes from the Nanai people and was collected in the Khabarovsk region in 1927. The "healing hands" of this bear were held to be especially helpful in treating joint problems.

I was grateful to receive this image. Just before it arrived, I found I was having some trouble with my knees, so a healer of joints is a welcome visitor. I know something of what Bear can do in this field. When I suffered a serious knee injury a couple of years ago, Bear appeared to me as a healer in a powerful vision, cracking open the damaged part and fixing what was inside. I managed to avoid surgery - though the MRI showed I had severed a muscle in the quad - and the orthopedists were surprised by how fast I recovered near-normal functioning in that knee. "You're either very odd or very lucky," one of them told me. The other knee is the problem now; I'm open to Bear playing doctor again.



The tiger comes from the Udegei people of eastern Siberia, and dates from the late 19th century. The tiger is an important ally of Siberian shamans. This one was reputedly effective in treating paralysis.



The initiation banner of a young female shaman shows a gathering of animal powers in the Underworld. It belonged to a Nanai shaman around 1900 and was collected in Torgon-on-Amur.




This is a fur-trimmed fertility mat, fashioned by an Evenko shaman around 1900. A woman who had been unable to conceive was directed to sit on this mat and be open to spirit workings.

Given the brutal Soviet effort to suppress indigenous shamanism, well-chronicled in Anna Reid's The Shaman's Coat: A Native History of Siberia, it's good to have this evidence of the past that may give a hint of ways that are now reviving. Anna Reid reminded me that at the time the Nanai artifacts in the St. Petersburg exhibition were collected, the director of the Khabarovsk museum - where some of them were first housed - was a former army officer named Vladimir Arsenyev, who won fame (and the brutal enmity of Stalin's secret police)by writing a sweeping adventure, Deisu Uzala, based on his time among native Siberians. The title character is Nanai. In a key scene - brought to the screen many years later in a 1975 Kurosawa movie - the Cossacks who encounter Deisu in the forest mistake him for a bear and are about to shoot him before he reveals himself as a man.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Angry ghosts of Vietnam



At night, Sam shakes so violently in the bed that his girlfriend is thrown out. He screams in a language not his own, "Give it back, give it back, give it back, motherfucker, or I'll eat your mother's soul." He isn't willing to believe what he becomes in his sleep until his girlfriend tapes one of these screaming nights. He listens to another man's voice coming from his vocal chords. He knows the stranger's language only slightly, but he has a notion what this is about.

Back in 1968, he was a combat G.I. in Vietnam. After a firefight in which he lost an arm, he was flown out of Khe San. As he was carried onto the plane, one of his buddies pressed a souvenir into his remaining hand. It was the blood-spattered ID card of a Vietcong fighter, retrieved after he was gunned down at the perimeter of an American base; the name has been scratched off.

For decades after the war, Sam holds onto this grim memento. through the nightmare years when he is thrown back, night after night, into the hot savagery of the war and is tormented by the searing pain of a phantom limb that - strangely - is not his missing arm but what feels like an extra leg. He takes the Vietcong ID card with him when he returns to Vietnam as a tourist in the mid-1990s, falls in love with a Vietnamese girl and decides to settle in Hanoi with her and work as an electrician. In Hanoi, his nightmares are no longer inside him; they are spilling over into the waking life of his bedmate.

Her culture has prepared her to recognize this kind of problem. Her Texas boyfriend is bi benh ta, "made ill by a ghost." There is a name for this type of ghost in Vietnam. It is called con ma or "angry ghost". There are a lot of them. Five million Vietnamese died in the several phases of war in Indochina, and a further 300,000 are missing. Many of the war dead were never buried, let alone accorded the traditional funeral rites and food and honor at family altars. There are bodies that were literally obliterated by B-52 carpet bombing. The result is many restless, raging souls that envy the living and take out their frustrations in ways that cause illness, depression, crazy behavior and temporary possession.

Where do you go if you are bothered by angry ghosts? Traditionally, in a country where animism is strong, you would go to a diviner or medium to get a correct diagnosis of who is causing your problem, and to a shaman or exorcist to send it away. Though the Communist government has outlawed all forms of spiritual practice, it's still possible to find a medium or a "spirit priest" if you go about it discreetly.

Sam and his girlfriend agree they'll go to a medium whose day job is as a fish vendor in the central market. They travel to her houseboat at night and wait for her all clear signal, a flickering light. In the session, Tuyet covers her face with a white cloth. She uses a scratchy tape of clicks and drums and a weird horn to get herself ready to receive. She starts speaking in a high, eerie voice. "He is Van Nguyen," the voice begins. It describes the death of a 19-year-old Vietcong soldier, killed at the fence of a U.S. base in a welter of blood. Something was taken from his body before it was thrown in a hole and bulldozed over. "Is this him?" Sam holds out the ID card. "Yes, he is very angry." She tells Sam what to do. He must take the card to the boy's mother and make his peace with the family. After Sam does to the mother with the identity card and offerings, his nights are quiet; the ghost no longer needs to scream through his vocal chords.


This is one of the cases recounted, as first-hand testimony and observation, in War and Shadows, a remarkable new book on the war ghosts of Vietnam by Mai Lai Gustafsson. [1] She details no fewer than 190 cases of spirit possession or obsession (a useful old Church term she doesn't actually use). All the others are the experiences of Vietnamese, mostly in Hanoi or the immediate vicinity. She attributes the willingness of so many Vietnamese informants to share their intimate secrets with her to two factors. She is half Vietnamese and (at the time of her fieldwork) she was enormously far (over 300 pounds); she states that the Vietnamese regarded her obesity as a sign that she was a fellow-sufferer from ghost sickness.

“The Vietnam War has had an effect on both this world and the next," writes Gustafsson, memorably. "Long after the peace treaties were signed, the war rages on in both realms: the battlegrounds are living human bodies; its warriors, the enraged ghosts who invade and assault them.” She finds an official high up in the Ministry of Health in Hanoi who is prepared to concede the extent of the problem, contrary to Communist orthodoxy. The war ghosts, he tells her, are "a national health menace." Contrary to its own laws, it seems that the Vietnamese government now employs a select band of psychic mediums to locate missing dead and diagnose and treat egregious cases of ghost sickness.

Gustafsson includes a fascinating table at the end of her book summarizing the symptoms, diagnosis and treatment of her informants. Symptoms include head pains, depression and hearing voices to glossolalia, self-mutilation and violence against others. In most cases, the suffererers sought physical treatment - both traditional herbal remedies and Western medicine (when they could afford it) - before seeking a spiritual cure. The ones who found relief from their symptoms, according to Gustafsson's data, are those who found effective ways to placate the angry ghosts and/or relocate them. Appeasing the restless dead might involve making offerings or changing personal behaviors. Methods of relocating souls might include staging a symbolic burial ceremony or "installing a spirit in a Buddhist temple". My favorite example is of a man whose life was blighted by the presence of a deceased friend until he was finally guided to perform a ritual by which the energy of the dead man was transplanted to a bonsai tree.
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Gustafsson's information about the laying of ghosts in this second sense is limited because she made a point of not visiting the ritual specialists in the Buddhist pagodas or the gatherings of the popular cult of the Mother Goddesses (called Tu phu, the Religion of the Four Palaces) and does not appear to have had contact with anyone who could properly be termed a shaman, capable not only of channeling or dialoguing with the dead but of taking them where they need to go. She had her reasons - including the valid fear of encounters with the police - in not going further along this road, and must be commended for the great amount of fresh material she was able to collect.

However, the book is flawed by her failure to discuss the anatomy and variety of Vietnamese spirits. She contrasts the con ma (angry ghost) with the to tien (ancestral spirit) that is traditionally honored and fed at family altars, but this is not explored in detail. In Vietnamese animism - as in Chinese traditions, especially Taoism, which have greatly influenced Vietnam - multiple aspects of soul and spirit are recognized. They are identified with different parts of the body and have different destinies after death. For example, in Chinese vocabulary, the po soul, associated with the liver, is a lower entity that must be safely contained after death or it may trouble the living by joining the ranks of the kuei, the wild and hungry ghosts. By contrast, the shen spirit may ascend to higher realms and can function as a benign family helper.

Such distinctions are vital to our practical understanding of how to heal relations with the departed. You can't negotiate with the lower aspect of the dead; you need to get it off the living by other means and put it in a safe place. You can negotiate with a higher aspect of the dead, and in practice this is what is going on in some of Gustafsson's success stories. Making and working such distinctions is the traditional province of the shaman, and we need to revive the shaman's way of identifying, guiding and relocating the spirits because the problem of war ghosts is not confined to Southeast Asia. I chose the example of Sam, the one American in Gustaffson's book, to suggest that dealing with war ghosts may be central to healing the wounded warriors among our vets in the United States and other Western countries.

I know this to be true from personal experience. Many years ago, a Vietnam vet came to one of my workshops. He had been a combat lieutenant and he lost every man in his platoon in a firefight, He had been haunted ever since by terrible dreams in which the ghost soldiers wanted to kill him, screaming at him that he had abandoned and betrayed them. In order to free him - and them - I had to lead and escort him in shamanic lucid dream journeys in which he dialogued, one by one, with the dead soldiers and made peace with them. He then agreed to perform a ritual of symbolic "second burial" to lay to rest the wild and unreasoning lower aspects of the dead.
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Mai Lan Gustafsson has performed a distinct service in showing us how the ghosts of a collective tragedy can weigh on an entire people. I congratulate Cornell University Press for publishing this important study by an anthropologist who was not afraid to go "bicultural" twice over, in reporting from two worlds, in two senses.
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[1] Mai Lan Gustafsson, War and Shadows: The Haunting of Vietnam (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 2009)

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Jung in the madhouse


He's been through hell. He's conversed with a Red Devil. He's brought down an ancient Bull God with science and shrunk him to the size of an egg, small enough to fit in his pocket, and raised him up again. He's been compelled by a woman who calls herself his soul to eat the liver of a murdered child. He's howled to a dead moon and a dark sea about combining good and evil, but he doesn't trust his own shouting.

Now he's arrived at a library that may be a place of sanctuary and reflection. When the librarian asks him to choose the book that he wants, to their mutual surprise he names The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis, a medieval favorite. Again and again, we notice that this desperate traveler is in his Middle Ages; he turned forty a few months ago. He debates with the librarian what it would mean to imitate Christ today. He decides that since Christ imitated no one, this would mean going his own way, and paying the full price for creating that way that no one before him has mapped or trodden.

He finds himself in a kitchen attached to the library, conversing with a plump, matronly cook. There's a great stir in the air and a host of the restless dead come flying through, yelling about going to Jerusalem. He demands why these dead are not at rest, and their leader tells him that he must explain that to them. He tells the dead that they can't rest because of what they failed to do in their lives. The dead clutch at him, and he shouts, "Let go, daimon, you did not live your animal" - by which he means the instinctive, natural life of the senses.

The noise of this altercation is so loud the police come and carry him away to a madhouse where a little fat professor diagnoses "religious madness" after the briefest of interviews. "You see, my dear, nowadays the imitation of Christ leads to the madhouse."

He is confined in a room between two other patients, one sunk in lethargy, the other with a fast-shrinking brain. He compares himself to Christ crucified between two thieves, one of whom will go up, the other down. His mind turns on the problem of dealing with the dead, which the kitchen scene taught him is vaster than he had known - "the dead who have fluttered through the air and lived like bats under our roofs from time immemorial." This will require "hidden and strange work", but it is not clear how he can do this from his confinement.

He listens to a voice praising madness, a voice he identifies as his soul. "Madness is a special form of the spirit and clings to all teachings and philosophies, but even more to daily life, since life itself is illogical."

In the night, everything heaves in his room in black billows. The walls become terrible waves. He finds himself now in the smoking room of a great ocean liner, where the professor reappears in beautiful clothes and offers him a drink, while telling him he is utterly mad and must be committed. The torpid neighbor from his room reappears and announces he is Nietzsche, and also the Savior.

"This is the night in which all the dams broke...where the stones turned into serpents, and everything living froze." Back in his locked room at the madhouse, he struggles with entangling webs of words and ideas. He has said to himself, "Do not turn anything you do into a law, since that is the hubris of power." Yet he finds himself pronouncing one law of life after another, in the mode of Nietzsche, the identity claimed by the madman on his left side.

He cannot tell whether it is day or night when he hears a roaring wind and then sees a great wall of darkness advancing on him, "A gray worm of twilight crawls along it. It has a round face and laughs." He opens his eyes and looks up into the jolly round face of the cook. "You're a sound sleeper," she tells him. "You've slept for more than an hour."

Unlike those clichéd stories where the impossible is explained and the action resolved when a sleeper wakens from a dream, this is just one awakening within a vast, rushing, inescapable dream that seems to be partly driven by the blood-red tide of the coming Great War, streaming from the future. The traveler, of course, is Jung. When he wakes in the kitchen and the cook gives him a glass of water he is still very far from his home in Küsnacht and the comfort of cuckoo clocks. My account of Jung's journey in and out of the madhouse is based on his Red Book, and is less strange and lurid than some parts of his own account, which is adapted from his journals from January 14-19, 1914. Once again, we see the price Jung paid for his knowledge of the depths.

He commented in his Epilogue to the Red Book, nearly half a century later, that he would certainly have gone mad "had I not been able to absorb the overpowering force of the original experiences." Some of the processes he developed in that cause are ones that are suitable for all of us. He wrote his way through, by journaling and then writing up his journals. He sought and created images of balance and integration, which became a fascinating series of mandalas. And he developed the approach he called active imagination, by which - instead of rejecting the characters and contents of dream and fantasy - we work with them, carrying the drama forward towards healing and resolution.

This account is based on Liber Secundus of Jung's Red Book, especially chapters 14-16. The image, often called The Shadow, appears on page 115 of the folio and has this legend in Jung's gothic calligraphy: "This is the golden fabric in which the shadow of God lives."

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Thus Spake Jung I


I thought it might be helpful to offer a sampling of short quotes from Jung's Red Book. His style was strongly influenced by Nietzsche's Thus Spake Zarathustra, hence my whimsical title. Another strong influence was Augustine's Confessions; Jung addresses his soul in the style in which Augustine speaks to his God. We'll start with some selections from the first part of the Red Book, Liber Primus.

THE SPIRIT OF THE DEPTHS

"The spirit of the depths from time immemorial and for all the future possesses a greater power than the spirit of this time, who changes with the generations...He took away my belief in science, he robbed me of the joy of explaining things...He forced me down to the last and simplest things." [ch 1 "The Way of What is to Come"]

"The spirit of the depths forced me to speak to my soul. to call upon her as a living and self existing being. I had to become aware that I had lost my soul." [ch 2 "Refinding the Soul"]

DIALOGUES WITH THE SOUL

"The wealth of the soul exists in images." [ch 2]

"My friends, it is wise to nourish the soul, otherwise you will breed dragons and devils in your heart." [ch 2]

"I am weary, my soul...Now I have gone through events and find you behind all of them...You announced yourself to me in advance in dreams. They burned in my heart and drove me to all the boldest acts of daring and forced me to rise above myself. You let me see truths of which I had no previous inkling." [ch 3 "Soul and God"]

DREAMS PAVE THE WAY FOR LIFE

"The spirit of the depths even taught me to consider my action and my decision as dependent on dreams. Dreams pave the way for life, and they determine you without you understanding their language." [ch 3]

"Who can teach and learn [the language of dreams]? Scholarliness alone is not enough; there is a knowledge of the heart that gives deeper insight. The knowledge of the heart is in no book...but grows out of you like the green seed from the dark earth." [ch 3]

"Dreams are the guiding words of the soul." [ch 3]
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"Because I carried the war in me, I foresaw it." [ch 6 "Splitting the Spirit" - on his prophetic visions in 1913 of the coming Great War]

"We also live in our dreams, we not only live by day. Sometimes we accomplish our greatest deeds in dreams." [ch 7 "Murder of the Hero"]

BE YOUR OWN TASK

"If you give up your self, you live it in others." [ch 10 "Instruction"]

"To live oneself means to be one's own task." [ch 10]

"If you go to thinking, take your heart with you. If you go to love, take your head with you." [ch 11 "Resolution"]
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Source: C.G. Jung, The Red Book: Liber Novus edited by Sonu Shamdasani (New York: Norton, 2009). The more time I spend with this book, the more greatly I admire it as a splendid publishing venture and a portal to the secret springs of Jung's greatest work.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Dream interpretation by mating birds


I am revisiting Jung's practice of monitoring synchronicity on the way to giving a lecture to the Jung Foundation in New York City next month, and I came upon a choice example of how he used coincidence to get a second opinion on dreams - and sometimes to get a point across to a dreamer who seemed to be missing the point.
-A patient whose dreams seemed to Jung to be full of strong sexual imagery declined to look at this aspect of her dream life, drifting off into associations that seemed to Jung to be far removed from what the dreams contained. His efforts to get her to look at the possible sexual content did not prosper until, on the day of the woman's next appointment, a pair of sparrows fluttered to the ground at her feet ans "performed the act" right in front of her.
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This incident, recorded in the notebooks of Jungian analyst Esther Harding, recalls the famous epiphany of the scarab that Jung recorded in his own memoirs. He felt stuck in his analysis of another female patient until the session in which she recounted a dream of a scarab, vitally important to the Egyptians as a symbol of rebirth. At theat instant, Jung heard something scraping at the window of his consulting room. He opened the window and caught in his hands a flying beetle known as a rose-chafer, the closest thing to the Egyptian scarab that was likely to be found in Switzerland. He presented the golden-green beetle to the woman, saying, "Here is your scarab" , and noted this as the breakthrough point in her analysis.
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These episodes are fine examples of how (to borrow from Richard Tarnas in Cosmos and Psyche) "spontaneous archetypal resonance" can act as "a healing solvent on the hardened polarities - between self and world, subject and object conscious and unconscious - of the person experiencing the synchronicity."

Monday, May 3, 2010

Green light from Vermont


Boulder, Colorado
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Oracles can be vague and mysterious. That's how they stay in business long-term. The adjective "Delphic", derived from the famous oracle at Delphi, is a synonym for "ambiguous." But sometimes oracles speak with amazing clarity.
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In my weekend workshop in Boulder, we played an oracle game I invented. This involves getting people to write something that is on their minds on one side of a small index card, then gathering the cards into a deck. The next step is to ask everyone who is playing to come up with a clear theme on which they would like guidance. The players then take turns to draw a card at random from the deck, and they are primed to receive whatever they find written on it as a message from the oracle of the universe.
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In the Boulder circle, a woman named Sarah wanted guidance on whether she should move to Vermont. She smiled over the message on the card she pulled, which ended with the statement, "Follow your joy."
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Looking over her shoulder, I noticed that this message was not only written in an unusually fine calligraphic hand; it was penned in green ink. "Vermont means Green Mountain in French," I observed. "And the state is famous for its Green Mountains. If it were my card, I'd take the fact that it is written in green ink as a pretty strong sign from the green state." I turned to the group. "Who wrote that card?"
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A woman named Maureen identified herself as the author. "I'm from Vermont," she told us with a grin, reinforcing the signal.
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For full directions for playing the Coincidence Card Game, please see The Three "Only" Things: Tapping the Power of Dreams, Coincidence and Imagination.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Coyote alert: literal dream, symbolic event


Denver, Colorado
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I spoke last night at another fine independent bookstore, the Tattered Cover on Colfax in Denver, in a once-raunchy neighborhood that is turning artsy. A mountain woman had an urgent question.
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"I dreamed about a young woman who was hiking alone and made friends with some coyotes. Then the coyotes turned on her and killed her. Months later, I saw the story on the news. A young Toronto musician was killed by two coyotes while hiking in a park in Nova Scotia. When I saw the TV report, I was certain I had dreamed this ahead of time. But why would I have dreamed this?"
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"If it were my dream," I suggested, "I might think that in my dream I had previewed the news report. Why that particular news report? Maybe because it would touch me deeply if I lived in coyote country and had a special feeling for animals and nature. Would that apply to you?"
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The mountain woman nodded. She added that, like the young woman who was killed, she played the guitar.
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"I'd want to think about further symbolism in the event," I continued. "If I felt that the young woman was killed by coyotes after she had befriended them, I might ask myself where in my life I might be incurring a risk by trusting people who are tricky and unreliable - people's whose coyote nature makes them unpredictable and possibly mischievous. After all, Coyote has quite a reputation as a trickster. If there were two coyotes involved in the Canadian tragedy, I might look around in my life for two people with coyote qualities I might want to watch carefully."
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The dreamer immediately thought of two people who fitted this description and readily agreed to monitor her relations with them.
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This exchange reminds us that a precognitive dream may be quite literal, in that it provides an accurate preview of an event in ordinary reality that later replicates the dream. At the same time, there may be deep symbolism involved. However, the symbolism is revealed by the physical event more than by the dream that anticipated it. Once again, we need to regard dreams more literally and waking events more symbolically.