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The soul cannot exist without its other side, which is always found in a "You." -- C. G. Jung

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              The Symbolic Life Archives
 
   Articles from past Newsletters on the Symbolic Life
 
 
Summary of Articles
 
The Most Recent Article can be found on the Newsletter Page (Winter Solstice 2018)
 
Raven Brings the Light (Winter 2017) - See the "Raven Brings the Light" Page
Wonder Woman: The Amazon Archetype (Summer 2017)
Santa Claus: Giving in a Sacred Way (Winter 2016)
The Archetype of the Apocalypse (Summer 2016)
Two Kinds of Thinking (Winter Solstice 2015)
Confronting our Jurassic World (Summer 2015)
Transformation and Renewal (Winter 2014)
Tree Symbolism (Winter 2013)
The Dilemma of Taking Our Imagined Fears as Real (Summer 2013)
Raven Brings the Light (Winter 2012- See the "Raven Brings the Light" Page
The Dark Knight Rises (Summer 2012)
The Sun, the Son, and the Evergreen (Winter 2011)
Myth in Film (Summer 2011)
The Lumen Naturae ((Winter 2010)
The Emperor's New Clothes (Winter 2010)
The Deathly Hallows (Winter 2009)
Virginia's Big Question (Winter 2008)
The Art of Gift Giving (Winter 2007)
Finding Light in Darkness (Winter 2006)
Raven Brings the Light (Winter 2005--See the "Raven Brings the Light" Page)
Nature and the Soul (Winter 2004)
Leelinau and the Sacred Tree (Winter 2003)
Dobby (the House Elf) and Gollum (Summer 2003)
Father Christmas, Gandalf and Dumbledore (Winter 2002)
Harry Potter and Frodo Baggins (Summer 2002)
Myth and National Trauma (Winter 2001)
The Burning Bush (Summer 2001)
The Imaginative World (Winter 2000)
The Exodus Journey (Summer 2000)
 
Note: The most recent articles are found at the top.  Earlier articles can be found by scrolling down toward the bottom of this page.  (There were no Newsletters in the summers of 2004 - 2009, or in the summer of 2014.)

Raven Brings the Light (Winter 2017)

"Raven Brings the Light" is the Native American tale that inspired the creation of our logo.  The publication this year of The Tao of Raven: An Alaskan Native Memoir by Ernestine Hayes seemed like a good sign that it was time to tell it again.  Hayes, a member of the Tlingit Tribe, begins her book with a slightly different version.  Her memoir describes her return to Alaska from the lower forty-eight and her rediscovery of new meaning in the tale.  A review of her book can be found in the October 2, 2017 issue of the High Country News at: http://www.hcn.org/issues/49.17/books-following-the-path-of-the-mythical-raven   See our page Raven Brings the Light for the full story.

 
Wonder Woman: The Amazon Archetype (Summer 2017)

           Many of us are in shock after last Fall's elections and the way the year has gone so far in regard to the attacks of the current administration on such vital enterprises as health care, immigration (most ironic since we are a nation of immigrants), and the protections of our fragile environment to name a few.  In myth this is the time of the rise of the hero, Moses for instance is called forth in the Hebrew Biblical tradition to lead his people against the tyranny of Pharaoh, Christ emerges at a time when the Roman Emperor has identified with being a deity, and centuries later Mohammed emerges as a key figure on the Arabian peninsula to similarly lead his people.

            In our own time the need for such avatars is often expressed in the fantasy worlds of comic books and film.  For instance, this quote comes from a 1920 film adaption from a Johnston McCulley novel.   "Oppression-by its very nature-creates the power that crushed it.  A champion arises-a champion of the oppressed-whether it be a Cromwell or someone unrecorded, he will be there.  He is born."  The champion in this case is Zorro, one featured in novels, film, and television throughout most decades of the 20th Century.

            This summer season we are also reminded that the champion who is born may very well be a "she," in this case that she is Wonder Woman.  (In last summer's newsletter I discussed another such "she," the character Rey in the new Star Wars trilogy.)  Wonder Woman is a figure from the DC Comics (Extended Universe) world who has had a big impact on this summer's mythos, a pleasant surprise to many.  I have wondered if part of the success of the film was the loss in last year's election of Hillary Clinton to a misogynist businessman, one who fed the darker fantasies and fears of people in regard to those like Clinton who sought to live beyond his shallow rhetoric.

            For those who haven't seen the movie, Justin Chang of the Los Angeles Times offers a fine summary (http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/movies/la-et-mn-wonder-woman-review-20170531-story.html).

            Diana is a Amazon warrior, who lives in her own secluded world on the island Themyscira, and then is moved to come forth to help fight what is unjust in our  world.  The Amazons are training to defeat Ares the god of War who has defeated the others gods of the Greek Pantheon.  In psychological terms and the metaphor of another modern myth, Diana seeks to bring balance to the world, because one aspect of it is very much out of control.

            Directed by Patty Jenkins with an excellent cast led by Gal Gadot, the film has stirred deep emotions in many people, and many women in particular, especially at the moment Diana is moved to cross the no-man's land between the World War I battle lines so as to end the suffering of the people living nearby.

            Diana represents an archetype, an energy pattern that each of us can be in contact with that fits our particular personality.  One of Jung's most important collaborators, Toni Wolff, developed a model of four structural forms of the feminine psyche.  They are the hetaira, the woman as a soul mate or lover, the maternal, woman as wife and mother, the amazon, the woman as self-directed and independent achiever, and the medial, the woman as prophetess and psychic seer.  (See Nan Savage Healy's  recently published book, Toni Wolf & C. G. Jung: A Collaboration, p. 88ff.)  The amazon may be the most neglected of the four, and Wolf notes that woman as wife and mother or lover are the forms most prevalent in Western Culture.

            Jungian Analyst Jean Shinoda Bolen has written two books exploring similar archetypal patterns found in  women and men.  Her books Goddesses in Every Woman and Gods in Every Man seek to explore the archetypal energy patterns depicted in various goddesses and gods from Greek myth and how they manifest in the human personality.  Artemis is the Greek goddess most closely aligned with the spirit expressed by Diana.  (The Roman version of Artemis was called Diana.)

            When times in our lives personally and collectively become unsettling, then we turn to find the energy that will help, as represented by Diana/Wonder Woman. Such figures can help us find the life energy in ourselves to move forward.  The challenge is to find the right one.  Diana has to sort this out for herself.  Her strongest characteristic is her undaunted heart, something not only her world needed, but ours as well.

 
Santa Claus: Giving in a Sacred Way (Winter 2016)
           The true story of Santa Claus begins with a man named Nicholas who was born during the third century in a village on the southern coast of Turkey. At the time the area was Greek. His wealthy parents, who raised him to be a devout Christian, died in an epidemic while Nicholas was still young. Obeying Jesus' words to "sell what you own and give the money to the poor," Nicholas used his whole inheritance to assist the needy, the sick, and the suffering. He dedicated his life to serving God and was made Bishopof Myra while still a young man. Bishop Nicholas became known throughout the land for his generosity to those in need, his love for children, and his concern for sailors and ships.

            Widely celebrated in Europe, St. Nicholas' feast day, December 6th, kept alive the stories of his goodness and generosity. December 6th is still the main day for gift giving and merrymaking in much of Europe. (visit: stnicolascenter.org)

            In the 16th Century in northern Europe, after the reformation, the stories and traditions about St. Nicholas became unpopular. But someone had to deliver presents to children at Christmas, so in the UK, particularly in England, he became 'Father Christmas' or 'Old Man Christmas', an old character from stories during the middle ages in the UK and parts of northern Europe. In the earlyUSA his name was 'Kris Kringle'. Later, Dutch settlers in the USA took the old stories of St. Nicholas with them and Kris Kringle became 'Sinterklaas' or as we now say 'Santa Claus'! (visit: whychristmas.com)

            We thus have in our culture a tradition of selfless gift-giving that goes back to the fourth century in Turkey.  Curiously, such a tradition was already alive in North America.  As author/storyteller Joseph Bruchac tells us, "Giving in a sacred way has always been a part of American Indian cultures.  It may be a means of giving thanks, of bringing the people together, of gaining honor, of distributing material goods so that all may survive, of teaching.  It maintains the balance that is needed to hold a nation together and to keep an individual in the right relationship within him or herself and with the community–a community that is not just composed of humans, but also of animals, plants, even the stones,  For all things are alive."

            "One of the very common practices of virtually every American Indian nation is some form of what is called otuhan in Lakota and in English 'a giveaway.' It is a different sort of giving and receiving from that practiced in majority culture, where the giver is often calling attention to his or her generosity, and the gift is often followed by effusive thanks from the receiver.  The strengthening of community is much more important in the American Indian practice, a gift more akin to prayer than self-aggrandizement and acquisition."

            Curiously this Native American tradition sounds very similar to the practice fostered by Nicholas of Myra.  Yet ironically, as Bruchac notes, historically "American Indian giveaway practices have often been viewed as a threat by government officials, both in the United States and Canada. Government policies in the nineteenth and much of the twentieth century were designed to suppress such activities."  For instance, in 1922 the Federal Indian Commissioner wrote to all the superintendents of the U. S. Indian reservations that in order to "foster a competitive individualistic economic mentality and a Christian faith using missionaries as aides in this effort" certain practices needed to be eliminated.  In an accompanying letter addressed "To All Indians," he wrote that "you should not do evil or foolish things or take so much time for these occasions. No good comes from your 'give away' custom at dances and it should be stopped."  One can only wonder what Nicholas would have thought of this or the Pilgrims for that matter, whose survival depended on such Native customs.

            Bruchac's article, "Giving and Receiving," can be found in Parabola, Vol. 36, No. 2, Summer 2011 or by going to:  http://parabola.org/2016/06/20/sacred-giving-sacred-receiving-by-joseph-bruchac/.  The article includes several Native American stories.  The websites listed above also have additional stories.

            As a theme for this Solstice season, and for the new year, we are all invited to participate in a giving as Bruchac suggests that is not calling attention to ourselves but to the spiritual power behind all of life, where both giving and receiving remain sacred in a way that brings people together.

 
The Archetype of the Apocalypse (Summer 2016)

         Beginning in January of 1995 Jungian Analyst Edward Edinger began a lecture series on the Archetype of the Apocalypse at the C. G. Jung Institute of Los Angeles.  Much of the material he reviewed in these lectures came from the images found in the Book of Revelation in the Christian Bible.  Edinger made parallels between the visions of that Apocalyptic Age and our own elucidating much of Jung's later work.  Shortly after he completed these lectures in April of that year the Oklahoma City bombings took place.

            Edinger was remarkably prescient in this material as it speaks to our domestic and international terrorism situation in profound ways.  His work was published in 1999, and there he writes, "I think it is evident to perceptive people that the Apocalypse archetype is now highly activated in the collective psyche and is living itself out in human history.  The archetypal dynamic has already started, is already moving among us." (p. 171)  This is so true today that one can now hardly keep up with it all.  A June 26th article in the Los Angeles Times documented an act of terror somewhere in the world every day in the month of April.  We hear of police shootings, and the shooting of police. In Orlando Florida last month we had "the deadliest mass shooting in U. S. history."  As I sat to work on this article the bold headlines in the paper declared: "'Horror' Again Strikes France!"

            Such ongoing occurrences moved me early this year to revisit Edinger's work and his examination of the psychic reality that undergirds these events.  He reminds us that Jung's work calls our attention to  how split the western psyche became over the centuries, a split that has escalated since Jung wrote.  Edinger writes, "The coming 'psychological aeon' is aiming towards the union of what has been split." (p. 122)  "The "Apocalypse" signifies that the archetypal "opposites" which make up the God-image have been activated and have set off the dynamism of the coniunctio or the archetypal problem of "love and war."  The opposites, of any sort, either unite in love or clash in enmity.  When this transpersonal dynamism touches the conscious ego, it engages the human psyche, both individually and collectively." (p. 168)

             Edinger goes on to say, "To do this however, the archetypal dynamic must draft or conscript human beings into its service, Yet this means that human beings will be 'consumed' or 'devoured' by the process which then deprives them of their personal lives.  Archetypal factors make them mere 'actors' in the archetypal drama." (p. 169)  "One way or another, the world is going to be made a single whole entity.  But it will be unified either in mutual mass destruction or by means of mutual human consciousness.  If a sufficient number of individuals can have the experience of the coming of the Self [the archetype of wholeness] as an individual, inner experience, we may just possibly be spared the worst features of its external manifestation." (p. 174)

           While the national and world conflicts can seem overwhelming to each of us, we can be guided by myth and symbol.  A good example captured the imaginations of filmgoers at the end of last year and into this one.  But before I go into a few of its characters, I'd like to refer to the image Edinger felt was the most important one in the Book of Revelation.  This is the image of the sun-moon woman. (pp. 98-99)  She gives birth to a son who is taken up to God's throne, while she escaped into the desert where God had prepared a place for her.  Curiously, the latest Star Wars film, "The Force Awakens," begins in a desert where we discover a woman living as a scavenger, in particular she scavenges the wrecks of starships and vehicles from earlier galactic conflicts.  She awaits the return of those who left her there, but the course of events "awakens" her to go forward in a new way.
           As I wrote in The Journey of Luke Skywalker, my book on the original Star Wars trilogy, the underlying theme in these films was the rescuing and further awakening of the feminine principle, what Jung referred to as the anima, the archetype of life. The most recent film takes this theme further in the central character of Rey, the woman alone in the desert.  She lives in an apocalyptic world much as Edinger describes.  And as with the original trilogy we once more await to see which of these polarities will prevail; if someone, in the language of these films, will be able to bring balance to the Force.  The new First Order, who of course would always put themselves first, seeks to rule by means of mass destructiveness.  Kylo Ren, who comes from a good family, is gripped by the archetype that once gripped his grandfather Darth Vader.  He is seeking to disregard his humanity.  A small group of individuals would find another way, one that respects individuals and their differences.  In addition to Rey, a key counterpoint to Kylo Ren is the character Finn.  Conscripted at birth by the First Order to be a storm trooper, his humanity will not allow him to be a part of such violence.  He helps a resistance pilot escape the First Order, and eventually becomes as devoted to Rey as Luke Skywalker was to the efforts of Princess Leia Organa in the very first movie.  An apocalyptic age keeps challenging us to choose life, humanity, and human relationship over impersonal power and its wanton destructiveness. Understanding our past and present mythology can help us find our way.


Two Kinds of Thinking(Winter Solstice 2015)
          As C. G. Jung developed his own psychology of the unconscious independent of Freud he described two kinds of thinking, directed thinking and dream or fantasy thinking.  Much of his psychology is predicated on the observation that Western culture had become so good at the former, that it had lost the value of the latter.  For the Western soul to stay healthy it would need to find a balance of the two.  Some issues we faced could only be reconciled by the symbolic, not the rational.

            Author and scholar of Western religions Karen Armstrong came to a similar conclusion in her research.  She calls the two kinds of thinking logos and mythos. Her work is extremely helpful in trying to make sense of the conflicts going on in the world like the recent horrific shootings in Paris.  In The Battle for God: A History of Fundamentalism Armstrong points out that the conflict expressed by many Muslim cultures as they encounter Western modernity dominated by logos is an assault on their sense of identity.  While most will try to sustain their mythos values, some lash out in anger and defiance.  Armstrong also points out that the first responses of fundamentalists to modernity came from Christian groups in this country and can be seen not only in Christianity and Islam, but in Judaism as well.  Her studies of these developments in all three religions is quite comprehensive.  She poignantly argues that we need to understand the threat to religious mythos identity in order to understand what those disenfranchised by modernity are reacting so strongly against.

            One dynamic she sees across the religious spectrum is that to defend their mythos fundamentalists attempt to solve the problem equating mythos with logos, trying to force mythic understanding on the concrete reality that logos is so adept at helping us with.  In her words, "Fundamentalists have turned the mythos of their religion into logos, either by insisting that their dogmas are scientifically true, or by transforming their complex mythology into a streamlined ideology.  They have thus conflated two complementary sources and styles of knowledge which the people in the premodern world had usually decided it was wise to keep separate."  "As a result they have neglected the more tolerant, inclusive, and compassionate teachings and have cultivated theologies of rage, resentment, and revenge.  On occasion, this has even led a small minority to pervert religion by using it to sanction murder."  "Fundamentalist fury reminds us that our modern culture imposes extremely difficult demands on human beings.  It has certainly empowered us, opened new worlds, broadened our horizons and enabled many of us  to live happier, healthier lives,  Yet it has often dented our self-esteem." (p. 366)

            This loss of self-esteem, loss of soul, is found within our own society as well as outside.   Violent eruptions also happen within our culture, particularly when young men go "ballistic"—often in educational settings, and many innocent people are killed.  We are clearly not educating the whole person, and thus certain energy builds up that has no proper outlet to express itself.        Armstrong observes, though, that those of us raised in Western modernity have had centuries to adapt to these changes and developments.  Those from other cultures who encounter Western modernity do not have the luxury of centuries to assimilate these developments and still hold on to their core values.

            For those not so inclined to travel through Armstrong's scholarly synthesis, I would recommend her very personal and moving autobiography The Spiral Staircase: My Climb out of Darkness.  Her personal narrative captures the essence of all of her writing, and her journey out of a concrete form of religious expression, into a more secular place, and then to one in which the inherent values within the mythos of religion could be embraced as a path to become more fully human.  "In the past, my own practice of religion had diminished me, whereas true faith, I now believe, should make you more human than before." (p. 271)

            Around the world the solstice season has traditionally been one that most embraces the mythic side of human consciousness.  In the past we have expressed many of these themes in other newsletters.  This year we can easily see the hunger for mythos with our own culture with the anticipation of the newest Star Wars film, The Force Awakens.  While we can't say how the story will touch us, we can say it shows how much we hunger for good mythos, as George Lucas saw many decades before.  Whether it is this story, or Karen Armstrong's, may you find a story that brings you meaning and a sense of soul this year. 
 
Confronting our Jurassic World (Summer 2015)
 

            With our summer films in full swing, it has struck me how the mythos in the most popular film so far, "Jurassic World," symbolically reflects the violent outer events that have been erupting within our own society.  Most recently we have had the horrible shooting of several people, including the pastor, at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina.  We are rocked with senseless primordial violence.  And during this time we have been getting updates on the trial and sentencing of the Boston bomber and the trial of the young man who fired away into the audience of a Colorado movie theatre.  How do we make sense of all this?

            Ironically there is a symbolic connection in "Jurassic World" that reflects the psychology of these senseless acts of violence.  As Greg Braxton wrote in the Los Angeles Times in June concerning "Jurassic World," "Who says dinosaurs don't still rule the Earth?"  The writer was referring to the box office success of the film, and how people were drawn both in our country and abroad to see it. (My two sons both saw it opening weekend, one with friends here in Los Angeles, and the other with his wife in China. I saw it on Father's Day.)

            Curiously the first movie I took my oldest son to see was the animated 1988 film "The Land Before Time" when he was three.  Dinosaurs fascinate the young psyche and as we clearly see with the Jurassic film franchise, the adult psyche as well.  Dinosaurs take us back before the time of our early ancestors, who lived within the real life dilemma of "who eats who."  That is, would our early ancestors be eaten as the food of the various meat eating predators they shared the earth with, or would they be able to hunt and eat animals for their survival?

            On the outer level, for those of us living in modern societies, this is no longer the case. But as Jungian analyst Edward Edinger has written, inwardly and symbolically, this is still very much true.  The question for us today is whether we as individuals and as a culture will be able to assimilate the primordial aspects of our own psyches, or will they take over so that we are eaten up by them?

            In "Jurassic World," some of the characters are indeed eaten, usually they are devoured.  The victims in Charleston, South Carolina, at the Boston Marathon, and in the Colorado movie theatre we also devoured by the primordial energy that gripped the perpetrators of the violence. And paradoxically similar violence has also erupted at schools and college campuses.  We seem better at educating the mind than the human heart, a split in the Western psyche Jung was trying to address.

            In my book The Journey of Luke Skywalker  I discussed some of these issues related to the George Lucas myth.  In each of the original films Luke Skywalker is in danger of being taken over by primitive realities, Sand People, the Wampa, and the Rancor, for example.  In the latter two cases it is clear that the danger is that he would be eaten and devoured.  This symbolism reflects his ongoing emotional development.

            Edinger discusses this theme in his book The Aion Lectures (pp. 95-98).  The challenge is to properly assimilate the primordial psyche, which is done in conjunction with human relationship and community. However, according to Edinger, many people will partake of the psyche "raw" and fall into an identification with it and live it out without any consciousness, and I would add, without any awareness of its affect on others.  They do not take the time to "cook" and assimilate these affects in a slow, careful way.  Part of the South Carolina tragedy is that this assimilation was part of the spiritual work of the congregation.  The perpetrator was gripped by the raw material and couldn't join the community in its work of assimilation.  Film, education, and events like the Boston Marathon are also ways and means to expression and assimilate these primordial energies in creative ways.  So paradoxically and shockingly we are especially appalled when such violence erupts in these social settings.

            While Jurassic World is primarily an entertainment vehicle, because it emerges out of the creative unconscious it touches a chord psychologically.  Our relationship to nature, both inner and outer, should not be taken too lightly.  In this age, more than ever before, to not understand our own nature and the natural world we are exponentially altering, will affect our future more than we realize.

            As Jung wrote concerning our psychic split, "Western man has no need of more superiority over nature, whether outside or inside.  He has both in almost devilish perfection.  What he lacks is conscious recognition of his inferiority to the nature around and within him.  He must learn that he may not do exactly as he wills.  If he does not learn this, his own nature will destroy him." (CW 11, par 870)  Hopefully there will be enough of us to "cook" this primordial energy in transformative ways.

 
Transformation and Renewal (Winter Solstice 2014)
 
           In past years we have usually published a summer newsletter that we send out by email.  In the summer of 2013 I discussed the psychological implications of the shooting of Trayvon Martin, and the dangers of taking fantasies as fact.  What the shooter, George Zimmerman imagined Trayvon to be, did not fit the reality of who he really was.  Such events have continued to happen in our society and the world, dark moments that happen even during the brightest days.

            We had a somewhat different kind of shocking experience—what Jung called an abaissement du niveau mental—at Coldwater Counseling Center in May.  A car somehow veered off Coldwater Canyon Avenue and ran into one of our consulting rooms while a therapy session was in progress.  Fortunately no one was hurt, and ironically the driver, an elderly gentleman, had no recollection of what happened.  The "window" for the car to hit that space at just that moment in time was quite small.  We still await the final repairs on the office, though completion is close. 

            While waiting for the repairs to coalesce I also waited for a story to emerge about events nationally and internationally that were happening during this time, events of which it was also hard to make sense.  One of these was the death of actor/comedian Robin Williams.  Having seen him for so long in films, comedy acts, and talk shows, and struck by the depth and speed of which the spontaneity in his imagination emerged, his loss was a shock.  Yet unfortunately dark elements emerge out of the psyche as well as creative ones, and these challenge us all, both individually and culturally.

            Williams death touched many people and on more than one occasion it came up in my consulting room.  In the ensuing weeks I found myself reviewing several of the films he had been in and the memorable characters he created.  In short, I missed him.

            In articles written after his death, Williams was quoted as saying, " I don't know where the stuff comes from.  Something kicks in.  You're not in control.  That's what scary."  Such reflections would indicate from the perspective of depth psychology how close he lived to the unconscious.  Obviously both a source of his creative gifts and unusual spontaneity, but also of other demons that haunted him more than those who knew him it seems were aware.

            Director Chris Columbus was quoted saying that "His performances were unlike anything any of us had ever seen, they came from some spiritual and other worldly place."

            So for our "story" this solstice season I would like to use one of Robin Williams films, one featuring his role as Peter Banning in Steven Spielberg's Hook (1991).  The story is a "sequel" to that of Peter Pan, in this case "Peter" has become a corporate attorney in America and returns to England where he had been adopted to visit Granny Wendy (Maggie Smith).  He has become too busy for his children so while at a benefit for Wendy, his kids are kidnapped by Captain Hook.  Wendy makes it clear that only he can save them and to do so he must remember who he really is and return to Neverland (certainly an other worldly place) to rescue them. 

            The mythic hero's journey is invoked in a new twist.  Tinkerbell (Julia Roberts) appears to take Peter back to Neverland despite Peter's resistance.  Now a success in our modern corporate world, Peter must return to the land he once knew in childhood, the far more magical one that is known so well by children but sadly often left behind by most people as they move into modern adulthood. Hook (Dustin Hoffman) does not recognize his former "worthy opponent" and would kill Peter and his children. Tinkerbell intervenes and is granted three days to generate the real Pan.  In the meantime the Captain will work to "hook" Peter's son Jack into liking him, since Peter and his son are not on very good terms with each other.  To face Hook and win back his children Peter must remember who he really is.  By reconnecting to the full power of his imagination and his feelings (a common theme in other roles Williams played) he "remembers" who he really is and what is truly important to him.  Peter becomes a more related and spontaneous personality, and reconnects to his children in dramatic fashion.

            The story is very apropos for this time of year as one of renewal and a nice gift from Williams about the hope to transform ourselves, and certainly one to honor his creative legacy.

 
Tree Symbolism (Winter 2013)
 

            In the summer newsletter I spoke about the tragedy of the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman incident, addressing the point that Zimmerman imagined something, took it as real, and acted on his fantasy without reflecting on it.  Zimmerman had not separated his inner fantasy life from outer reality.  He took fantasy as fact, and acted accordingly out of fear.

            Such tragic experiences whether they occur between individuals or between cultures are one of the critical reasons Jung felt it was so important for each of us to cultivate the symbolic life.  Towards the end of his life Jung became more oriented to sharing his ideas with the general public.  He gave numerous interviews and eventually penned the first chapter of a general overview of his approach to the human psyche called Man and His Symbols.  During an interview in 1957 shortly before Christmas of that year, Jung addresses our ignorance about symbolism by telling the story of an India swami who comes to the door of a Swiss villager as part of his study of local religious customs.  The householder protests that they are enlightened villagers and as practicing Protestants are not on the best of terms with religious symbolism.

            Suppose, Jung reports, the swami were to return to this home just before the time of the winter solstice and catch them decorating a Christmas tree.  "But you told me you had no religious customs," he exclaims.  "It's something we've just always done," is the reply.  Jung uses this tale to elaborate on this custom and the symbolism of the tree.  Sometimes our imagination can pull us into a dark destructive path, as happened with George Zimmerman.  But there is another side, one that can led us towards inner wisdom, if we can realize the meaning behind the images that come alive in us.

            After narrating this little vignette about the swami Jung goes on to elucidate some of the meaning of the symbolism of the tree.  Here are some samplings from this interview, some solstice symbolic nuggets:

            “The tree-symbol has a very venerable history: the Finnish scholar Uno Homberg, who investigated the symbolism of the tree of life, called it ‘mankind’s most magnificent legend.’”

            “The tree has a cosmic significance—it is the world tree, the world pillar, the world-axis.  Only think of Yggdrasill, the world-ash of Nordic mythology, a majestic, evergreen tree growing at the center of the world.”

            “These and many similar ideas are not invented, they simply came into men’s [and women’s] heads in bygone times. It is a sort of natural revelation.”

            "Often the tree symbolizes the numen, the psychic fate of the person, his inner personality."

            “The Christmas tree is the world tree.  But as alchemical symbolism clearly shows, it is also a transformation symbol, a symbol of the process of self-realization.”

            “The inner man has to be fed—a fact that moderns, with their frivolous trust in reason, often overlook to their own harm.  The Christmas tree is one of those customs which are food for the soul, nourishment for the inner man.  And the more primordial the material they use, the more promising these customs are for the future.”

 

(Note: The entire article/interview is titled “Jung and the Christmas Tree” and can be found in the book C. G. Jung Speaking: Interviews and Encounters, pp. 353-358.   "The Philosophical Tree" is a more comprehensive treatment of tree symbolism by Jung with 32 illustrations.  It is found in Alchemical Studies, Volume 13 of his Collected Works.)

 
The Dilemma of Taking Our Imagined Fears as Real (Summer 2013)
 

             The cultivation of an inner symbolic life helps bridge the pole between two realities, the world about us and other people in it, and our internal subjective reality, what Jung termed the objective psyche.  As we engage other people we are faced constantly with the question of who do we see, the reality of the other person, or our fantasies about them.  This element of our relationships is captured succinctly in the Bruce Springsteen lyric "Is that you baby, or just a brilliant disguise" (from his song "Brilliant Disguise").

            In a recently published book, The Question of Psychological Types, the correspondence between C. G. Jung and Hans Schmid, these two early pioneers of depth psychology discuss the differences between extraverts and introverts.  They wondered if the extravert, with a disposition to engage with other people was motivated by love (Eros), and the introvert, more inclined towards reflection was motivated more by fear (Phobos) when it came to relating to other people.

            Jung introduces the "subjective" factor of his psychology to the discourse.  He as an introvert finds it helpful that he understand what the other person carries for him, what he projects on to him or her, so that the relationship can be more open and honest.  If we are more candid with ourselves then we can be more sincere with the other person. Schmid as an extravert wonders that if this is the case, whether Jung would be relating to him, Schmid, or just what he fantasizes about Schmid.  Schmid also felt it was important to "feel into" the other person. These are fundamental relationship issues.

            Anyone who goes deeply into Jung's work on typology realizes that it was not just the individual components that concerned him, but the collective ones as well.  We have all been deeply confronted with this with the recent verdict at the George Zimmerman trial.  We saw the problem begin with an individual, but escalate to a collective level.  Depending on one's race, personal experience and preconceptions what happened that night during which Zimmerman confronted Trayvon Martin, the trial that followed, and the verdict that ensued are seen differently by different people.

            Clearly the problem began with what Zimmerman imagined about Trayvon Martin that rainy night in Florida.  What he imagined stirred up fear--certainly not love--and he acted accordingly (against advice).  His fantasy and his fear drove him--personal and collective unconscious elements that had nothing to do with the man he encountered.  What was he afraid of?

            This question is really the question for all of us.  What are we afraid of?  What do we imagine the other to be due to race, gender, sexual preference, social standing?  The subjective factor that Jung elucidates implies that what we imagine, and often fear, has much more to do with us than it does with the other person.  How do we hold ourselves accountable for this?  The horror in such encounters is that fantasy is taken as fact.

            Jung suggests that we can each do our individual work, and this will help.  In fact this is needed since collective solutions can only do so much.  Amidst these recent events I was struck by the theme  of two movies that came out in the past year which related to the deeply seated problem of race relations in this country.  In the film "Lincoln" we see the courageous efforts of probably our greatest president to pass the 13th Amendment to the Constitution and the efforts of many others to bring this to fruition.  I was struck in the film that when it came to the time to vote, Lincoln became involved in a very personal way with key members of congress.

            The law sets a groundwork for society, but, as Jung would suggest, while we abolish slavery, we would also have to evaluate what it is in ourselves that created it in the first place.  The personal subjective question would be: what do we enslave and mistreat in ourselves?  Without this psychological effort the law is not enough.

            In the movie "42," the story of Jackie Robinson, the first black man to play major league baseball, we see once again the personal dilemmas individuals must face, both Jackie and his teammates, to confront racism. The other players ultimately embrace the man, and overcome the still deep seated collective projections, and this at a time some eighty years after the Constitution was amended.  Curiously this event happens because the owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers at that time, Branch Rickey, wished to preserve the integrity of the game of baseball.  We also learn that earlier in his life he had failed to stand up for a black man, and this moral failure has haunted him ever since.  We see that it takes character and integrity to effect change and to overcome fear with compassion.  The effort begins with the ongoing ethical development of each of us as individuals, understanding the difference between our own symbolic reality and the reality of another.  Clearly there is more work for all of us to do.

 
Raven Steals the Light (Winter 2012)  This story is found on the web page of that name.
 
The Dark Knight Rises (Summer 2012)
 

The world today hangs by a thin thread; and that thread is the human psyche.

 

            These frequently quoted words from Jung resonate for us this summer.  As  I was preparing to formulate the newsletter, I decided to wait until "The Dark Knight Rises," the third and final installment of the Batman movie trilogy by director Christopher Nolan came out. Last year I wrote about some of the figures from the 2011 summer movie fantasy/adventure films, Thor, Green Lantern, and the final installment of the Harry Potter films.

            Having seen "The Avengers" and "Spiderman," I caught up on the first two Batman movies by Nolan on DVD in anticipation of seeing his third.  One of my sons went with his girlfriend to one of the first midnight showings, and when I heard of the tragedy  that happened in Colorado, I was horrified, hit by how easily the power of the archetypal unconscious can take us over, and how vulnerable we all are.

            Jung's statement comes from his deep sense of the vulnerability related to our connection to the archetypal psyche, and how easily it can possess an individual or a collective.  Recently French president Francoise Hollande apologized on behalf of his country for its part in the World War II roundup and deportation of than 13,000 Jews from Paris seventy years ago.  (This event is the historical background for the movie "Sarah's Key.")  He acknowledged that this police operation was a "crime committed in France by France."  He added: "But the truth is also that the crime of Vel' d"Hiv was committed against France, against its values, its principles, its ideals."  Hollande made a commitment that this would never happen again.  Individuals and collectives can become overcome by powerful, destructive archetypal forces.   This is one of the painful reality of the depths of the human psyche.

            After seeing "The Dark Knight Rises" it struck me how sad it was, not only for the victims of this terrible psychic eruption, but for the young man who became possessed by the dark, destructive impulses that took him over.  I wished he could have held on to see the end of the trilogy, and the resolution of the trauma caused by the Joker in the second film.  The key characters in the new film, Gotham's best, were working diligently against not being taken over by such dark destructive forces.  The movie picks up where the last one left over, with everyone pushed to the limits that the Joker took them, the trickster archetype in its most destructive manifestation.  He is a "comedian" who has gone way over the line; he doesn't help us laugh at ourselves, but leaves us cringing in terror. How does one hold on to one's humanity in the face of such a mocking, cynical force?  Harvey Dent, the DA Bruce Wayne had supported as the "white knight" that might rid the city of crime, could not.  Those who knew this, Batman and Commissioner Gordon, feared letting the truth that he had murdered several people be known less hope be destroyed.  Batman took the blame and Bruce Wayne had to withdraw into the shadows.

            With so many nuances in the new film, I would like to address one, the symbolism of the Selina Kyle character, aka Catwoman.  She is a clever thief, and thus also a trickster figure, one who gives all appearances of only looking after herself.  As he gets to know her Bruce Wayne/Batman sees something else, even after she has unwittingly betrayed him, and trusts that she won't use the opportunity he gives her with the Batpod, his motorcycle, to save herself.  In a mythic/movie moment much like Han Solo returning at the last moment in the original Star Wars, Episode IV: A New Hope, she does return at a critical juncture.

            The second movie in the trilogy ended with the death of Rachel Dawes, a childhood friend, who Bruce Wayne loves.  Her death symbolizes the lost the anima, the soul figure, in the film: the feeling, relational, feminine principle that has no meaning to the Joker, a character who has no personal history.  (In "The Dark Knight Rises" even the sinister Bane,  has a personal history, one that involved love followed by betrayal.) So at stake in the third movie is whether the "soul" can be returned, to Bruce Wayne, and to Gotham.  (We might say that the French President Francoise Hollande, in his apology, is helping France to continue to regain its soul.)  The transformation of Selina Kyle is in a sense the return of soul in the context of the whole trilogy and the key figure in Bruce Wayne rediscovering himself.  Catwoman becomes a positive, transformative trickster figure.

            The early summer movie fantasy event that gripped the collective imagination was "The Avengers."  Curiously the villain is also a sinister trickster, Loki, the trickster Norse God, adopted brother of Thor (who we discussed last year).  The Avengers each have unique gifts and weaknesses, but the key to fighting the dark galactic race unleashed by Loki, will be that they work together, and not get caught in their own agendas.  New York is being flooded by invaders coming through a portal created by Loki to another, darker realm.  In true heroic fashion, much like Batman at the end of "The Dark Knight Rises," it is the often self absorbed Tony Stark as Iron Man who will make the sacrifice to close the portal.  We can only take so much from the unconscious, and these heroes' cooperative effort helps restore the balance.  The whole of humanity is worth more than selfish ends.  We see this in its most human form as the community of Aurora, Colorado bonds together after this horrific assault on their community psyche.  Like France, or the people of Gotham, they work together to hold onto the integrity of their own souls.

 
The Sun, the Son, and the Evergreen (Winter 2011)
 

           The Winter Solstice season marks the convergence of a plethora of symbolic practices that are quite ancient.  While most people assume that Christmas is a Christian celebration, an exploration of its roots shows that the origins of many of our various traditions pre-date Christianity.  James Frazer’s The Golden Bough is an excellent resource for exploring our ancient symbolic and religious roots.

            Frazer notes, for instance, that the reasons the early Christian leaders moved the celebration of the birth of Christ to December 25th, was because they noticed the adherents of Christianity were drawn to celebrate with their so called “heathen” brethren the birthday of the Sun on that day.  Thus the church fathers decided to celebrate the birth of God’s son, the sun of righteousness, on that date to eliminate what they believed was a conflict of interest.  Clearly the archetypal and symbolic roots for this celebration were the ancient Winter Solstice mysteries.

            Another ancient religious theme, not specifically Christian, that is extraordinarily popular at this time of year, is the custom of the Christmas tree.  Once again in this tradition we are witnessing the continuation of a practice that actually pre-dates Christianity.  In this case one that has crept back into our current holiday traditions over the past few centuries.  People all over the world have had a variety of rituals of bringing a tree into their home to help sanctify it at various times throughout the year.  Our culture has chosen to perform this ancient rite at the time of the sun’s birthday.

            According to Frazer very early people would not even consider cutting a tree, for doing so would kill its soul, since in the earliest levels of religions people believed that plants and animals had souls just as humans did.  As religion moved out of its animistic phase, the practice of cutting certain trees, or parts of the tree, to bring into a home or even decorate the outside became a way of bringing the spiritual benefits of that particular tree into one’s abode.  During this process the spirit of the tree is transferred to a new location, and is thereby brought closer to human life.  Decorating the tree is a celebration and honoring of its spirit; tending to it attends to the needs of the human soul as well.

            So why have we turned to the evergreen tree to perpetuate such practices at Winter Solstice?  Shirley Ann Karas in her book The Solstice Evergreen suggests it is because these trees did not die in winter; they have not lost their foliage as did other trees.  Since they live in winter as they do throughout the rest of the year, they have come to symbolize eternal life.  Like the rebirth of the sun, these trees reflect the hope and promise that life will endure.  The embracing of the evergreen at Winter Solstice reiterates symbolically that as the sun is being reborn, life will go on, and the continuity of life lies ahead, even in the coldest and darkest of days.  Certainly that is something worth celebrating, and bringing close to home as we seek also to renew ourselves during the coming Solstice season.

 
Myth in Film (Summer 2011)
 

          This summer we have been treated to an assortment of fantasy/adventure movies.  Some are fast paced and symbolism is hard to catch, while others offer mythic themes that pop out (this is pop culture after all) and give us a glimpse of important psychological/mythological dynamics.  Such films bring fantasy and myth into our lives in an immediate and accessible way—this may be a new experience for many, unless one has been a comic book aficionado, steeped in science fiction literature, or a reader of Joseph Campbell and C. G. Jung.

            Modern filmmaking’s ability to bring mythic imagery within live action movies makes archetypal symbolism more easily available to the viewing public.  I’d like to touch on three of this summer’s films.  First, we’ll consider Thor, a Norse god who comes to film via Marvel Comics. (Marvel has also brought to the cinema the Hulk, Iron Man (twice), and Captain America.) Thor, the son of the Norse father god Odin, is an engaging figure, who evokes loyalty from his followers, but is also arrogant.  Evil forces are released through his brash actions and his father banishes him to earth.  Psychologically Thor would represent the archetypal energy that needs to be humanized, to be contained, to accept mortality, so that it isn’t out of control.  Banished to earth, Thor becomes more grounded, and can act with clear focus.  Once this has been achieved, the Hammer that has been given to him, but now cast in stone by Odin, once more becomes available for his use.  (Compare King Arthur drawing the sword Excalibur from the stone.)  He is now worthy to wield it, and for the right reasons.

            At the other end of the spectrum is DC Comics’ Green Lantern.  The primary figure is a human, Hal Jordan, who like Thor, has personal issues.  Yet he has been selected by a green lantern, a mystical representative of a greater galactic conglomeration, the Green Lantern Corp.  For some strange reason, this mysterious energy chooses him, the first human to receive the call.  Hal learns that he has qualities that he hasn’t yet realized, and that it is his humanity that makes him the best choice to fight against the dark force that seeks to dominate the universe and comes to threaten earth.  Psychologically Hal Jordan represents a human whose calling by archetypal energy allows him to fulfill his best potential, despite any personal short comings.  His will, his passion for life, can overcome the greatest fear.  Campbell would call it the hero’s journey, Jung the call of the Self for individuation.

            Harry Potter has been with us now for many years in print and in film.  This summer with the release of “The Deathly Hallows, Part 2” we view his cinematic swan song.  Not necessarily the most gifted wizard, it is his humanity that most deeply serves Harry, and thus makes him an extraordinary wizard.  Like Thor’s hammer, and Green Lantern’s ring, wizards have wands which allow them to express their unique powers.  We could say psychologically that the wand allows the wizard to express in reality what he can imagine, both for good and for evil.  Transpersonal archetypal energies are brought to life.  The extraordinary is brought into the ordinary.

            One of the deathly hallows is the elder wand, the greatest ever made.  Wizards have fought and died to possess the wand either, as the story of the deathly hallows reveals, to escape death, or in the case of Tom Riddle/Lord Voldemort, to be the most powerful of all wizards.  But wands, like Thor’s hammer, and the green lantern ring, have to be matched with the right person.  As the wand master Ollivander reminds us, the wand chooses the wizard.  So while Voldemort has sought and found the elder wand, it really doesn’t belong to him.  Voldemort has stolen and killed to get it, but it won’t serve him.  We learn that by various twists of fate the wand now belongs to Harry, who actually never went in search of it.  So try as he might Voldemort cannot kill Harry with it.  In fact in his last attempt to annihilate Harry, Voldemort is killed by his own spell, one he directed at Harry, and the elder wand presents itself to Harry.

            So is Harry now the most powerful wizard?  No.  As he says in the first book and film when told that he is a wizard, Harry replies, “No, I’m just Harry.”  And so at the end he remains.  In the film he breaks the elder wand so no one can use it again.  In the book he uses it to repair his original wand, the one that chose him in Ollivander’s shop when the story began, and then returns the elder wand to Dumbledore’s tomb.  Harry rejects power or contact with what doesn’t really fit him.  He stays within the energy that he is meant to have and use.  He, like Thor and Hal Jordan, keeps a proper relationship to that which allows him to express his creative energies in a personal way, and use them to serve others.

 
The Lumen Naturae (Winter Solstice 2010)
 

When I was a boy growing up in New Jersey, each summer my siblings and I had the special pleasure of catching lightning bugs (know in other locales as fire flies).  These flying insects would come out at night and intermittently give off a light as they flew by.  We would catch them and put them in jars with grass, punch holds in the lids of the jars, and hope we could use them as lanterns.  While numinous and fascinating for us, such captivity was not good for the lightning bugs.  They didn’t generally survive the night.  It was only while given their freedom in nature that they produced their light, one that was mysterious and fascinating to watch.

            C. G. Jung’s psychology, especially his study of alchemy, offers a symbolic appreciation for the special enchantment these small, luminous insects carry, for they are living embodiments of the lumen naturae, the mystical light of nature.  For the alchemist, who Jung referred to as natural philosophers, this light of nature illuminates consciousness as it shines forth from the darkness of the unconscious.  For Jung each archetype within the unconscious offers its own unique luminosity.  It can tell us something about the mystery of life.

            The film Avatar (now just released in extended form on Blu-ray and DVD) offers a wonderful depiction of this aspect of nature.  The Navi huntress Neytiri is about to shoot an arrow at the forest intruder Jake Sully, when a luminescent “seed” descends on her bow.  She immediately recognizes this as a sign, and does not shoot.  She later comes to his aid when he falls under the attack of viper wolves. Yet she is still very frustrated with his naiveté and lack of respect for the natural world in which she lives.  For example, to make his way in the dense forest, Jake has fashioned a torch so he can see and ward off animals.  She douses this torch, and just as he begins to complain, we see the natural light of the forest, its luminescence shine forth to light their way.

Neytiri sends Jake off; she does not believe he has a right to be in the forest.  But he follows her and asks for help.  She refuses, but once again these luminescent seeds descend, this time upon Jake.  While he is perplexed as to their meaning and even tries to shoo them away, she recognizes these seeds as a sign from Eywa, their deity.  She will take Jake to her people so her father, the head clansman, and her mother, the clan shaman, can determine his fate and the meaning of this sign.

            Avatar cleverly evokes this mysterious side of the natural world, found throughout alchemical writings, the natural spirit in nature and all living things, a light that shines in the darkness.  The film continues the spirit of many Japanese anime films, such as Princess Mononoke, which often engage the viewer with this mystical side of nature.

While we seem to have generally lost the meaning of such experiences in our urban lives, and the numinosity (sense of mystery) as well as luminosity to be found in nature (though it is often found in our nature writers), we still acknowledge it, on some level, with the lights that we string and hang on our seasonal evergreen trees and from our buildings., and along our walkways during this time of year, the winter solstice.  Such practices suggest that somewhere we still search and long for the living connection to nature represented by such lights and to touch once more the lumen naturae, to have them become a part of our lives.

So we at Coldwater Counseling Center hope that this year, when you gaze at the many lights of this holiday season, that the inner light, the lumen naturae will also shine for you.

 
The Emperor's New Clothes (Summer Solstice 2010)
 

During the summer solstice we celebrate the power and strength of the sun, a symbol for the light of consciousness.  But just as the winter solstice marks the darkest time of the year and celebrates the return of the light, the summer solstice marks the sun’s pinnacle and the beginning of shorter days and eventually more darkness.  Symbolically this time evokes questions as to how darkness creeps into human life.  Myths and fairy tales have attempted to address such issues for centuries.

            One such tale that is worth mentioning in this regard is the Hans Christian Andersen story of “The Emperor’s New Clothes.”  In this fairy tale a situation develops in which a pompous emperor enamored with his wardrobe is duped by two swindlers, posing as weavers, into purchasing an invisible set of new clothes.  Their ruse works because the swindlers convince the emperor that not only are the clothes they weave extraordinarily beautiful, but the cloth they use has the strange quality of being invisible to anyone who is unfit for office or unforgivably stupid.

            Thus the emperor believes that the clothes will not only help him stand out more, but they will help him to determine who is fit to serve him. But of course now the emperor’s most trusted counselors will not tell the emperor that they don’t actually see anything for fear that they will be deemed stupid or lose their office.  Finally the emperor himself falls into the same trap when he dares to see how the weaving is going; he too doesn’t want to appear foolish when he sees nothing.  The swindlers work extremely hard at feigning their work and make a lot of money in the process.  Everyone goes along with this insidious charade until there is a grand procession down the streets of the town praising the wardrobe of the naked emperor.  Only when a young boy cries out: “But he doesn’t have anything on!” are the people present able to see and speak the truth.

            Such a story can have multiple meanings, and I would like to reflect on a few of them.  This story often comes to my mind when I listen to people struggling with the painful fact that those around them don’t see what to them, like the child in the story, is so obvious.  For various reasons people within a family, work situation, or even a religious or psychological organization see only what they are led to believe that they should see.  For to see the truth might mean facing shame or humiliation, that is, that one must be stupid.  Equally disturbing would be losing one’s position within the organization.  In the new summer movie, Robin Hood, the king asks if any man will tell him the truth about their crusade.  When the archer Robin does, the king congratulates him for his honesty, but nonetheless places Robin and those associated with him in the stocks.  Who would want such a reward for honesty? This king does not really want to have his views challenged.

The film Avatar subtly weaves a similar story contrasting those who seek the mineral “unobtanium,” and who do so at all cost, with a native humanoid race whose primary value is their nature based religion on a very distant moon.  In between are the small group of scientists who have come to recognize the extraordinary value of the natural world and the mysterious way the various life forms are linked.  The destructive consequence of a single minded vision that disparages all others is the greatest threat to this mysterious world and those who reside there, and also those who would want to learn to understand it.

            In the fairy tale only the child speaks truly about what everyone sees, the child hasn’t learned to put on airs, to create a persona, as Jung calls the face we present to the world. This “false” self can trap a person into becoming what others may want or believe, but not who one really is.  “Swindlers” are about weaving fantasies that seduce us into false or unobtainable goals that actually hide the truth about ourselves and life and hamper our ability to see clearly the reality that we and others must face, and the dangerous consequences inherent in misguided actions.         

            Yet with all these external temptations we should also remember that the “swindlers” are not just outside, but inside.  Something within can tempt us to seek only one aspect of life, as if it were of the highest value, a special something that is off the mark, and not reflective of our fullest self. A mere piece of our personality wants to be the whole story, rather than a life that offers balance and wholeness, and a more authentic relationship to others and the world about us.

            The late John Wooden, known for so many decades for his quiet wisdom, might have the most succinct advice for the emperor in our story and that part of all of us.  “Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are.”

 
The Deathly Hallows (Winter Solstice 2009)
 

A very compelling example of the symbolic life and especially the importance of stories can be found in the last Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.  As the novel opens the conflict between the Death Eaters of Tom Riddle/Lord Voldemort and the Order of the Phoenix is escalating.  The latter are more in a survival mode since they lost their peerless leader, Albus Dumbledore, at the end of the previous book, Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince (the film version was released this summer).

Curiously Dumbledore has left in his will three seemingly innocuous items, one each to Harry and his two closest friends, Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger.  Hermione receives a copy of The Tales of Beedle the Bard.  Harry and Hermione, who were raised in muggle (non magic families), have absolutely no idea what these stories are.  Ron, however, knew the tales from his childhood in a wizard family including four older brothers and a younger sister.  But Ron is perplexed too about this bequest, as these were supposedly just stories for children with no particular significance other than entertainment.

Yet as the drama unfolds one of the tales passed on by Beedle, “The Tale of the Three Brothers,” becomes crucial in helping the three friends on their quest.  The three key elements of the tale, the Elder Wand, the Resurrection Stone, and the Cloak of Invisibility, are not just the stuff of stories, but are realities that have key significance for the all chief protagonists, Tom Riddle, Dumbledore and Harry.  The Deathly Hallows are real, and must be understood correctly. Appreciating the elements of Beedle the Bard’s story as related to the struggle now going on in the wizard world will be crucial for Harry’s eventually success.

One of the reasons that Harry succeeds is that he comes to understand the meaning of the Deathly Hallows and forming a proper relationship to them.  In The Half Blood Prince Dumbledore showed Harry pieces of Tom Riddle’s past so that Harry could understand how he and Tom were different, how they were the same, and why their lives have become so closely linked.  Harry learns where Tom Riddle is blind and what he can’t see and doesn’t know.  Harry begins to realize that he can make other choices.

In The Deathly Hallows Harry discovers more than he would like to know about Dumbledore and the tragedy in his earlier life that eventually led to his untimely death.  Years earlier the heartbreaking death of Dumbledore’s sister left him vulnerable to not seeing the potential danger in possessing the Resurrection Stone, one of the Deathly Hallows.

Myths, fairy tales and stories like those passed on by Beedle the Bard help us reflect on life, can guide us, and help hold us.  Being in a good story can carry us through difficult times, especially when we find one that speaks to our situation as Harry did.

Last year through the magic of holiday gift giving, four copies of The Tales of Beedle the Bard joined our family library.  The stories from J. K. Rowling, with new translation by Hermione Granger and commentary by Albus Dumbledore are a real treat. Rowling’s little book (proceeds go to a children’s charity) shows how a story might be reflected on to give us meaning.  Many Jungian works on myth and fairytale do the same; Marie Louise von Franz, for instance, has penned many volumes of this nature.

We at Coldwater Counseling Center hope that this season you find a good story that touches and helps carry you through moments when life is dark.  The winter solstice is a time that has, through the ages, produced tales of the light emerging out of the darkness.  In a previous newsletter we offered the tale of Raven Steals the Light, which inspired out logo.  This tale and other solstice reflections can be found on two pages of our website: Raven Steals the Light and Symbolic Life Archives.  Two delightful anthologies of such stories are The Return of the Light: Twelve Tales from Around the World for the Winter Solstice by Carolyn McVickar Edwardsand Fireside Stories Tales for a Winter’s Eve by Caitlín Matthews and Helen Cann.  May you find a good story for this solstice season.

 
Virginia's Big Question (Winter Solstice 2008)
 

            The Solstice Season is the time of year when our culture most deeply responds to the need for the symbolic life and its importance to our psychological and spiritual well being.  How we hold on to this side of reality and its importance in our life is an old question.  For instance in 1897 eight year old Virginia O’Hanlon sent a letter to the New York Sun newspaper with her concerns about the existence of Santa Claus.  “Some of my friends,” she wrote, “say there is no Santa Claus.  Papa says if you see it in THE SUN it’s so.  Please tell me the truth, is there a Santa Claus?”

            The newspaper was put on the spot, as many parents often are, since journalism is expected to report the facts of life and the truth of our daily lives.  Journalist Francis P. Church rose to the occasion, and penned this reply.

Virginia, your friends are wrong.  They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age.  They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds . . . Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.  He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to our life its highest beauty and joy.  Alas! How dreary would the world be if there were no Santa Claus!  It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias.  There would no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence.  We would have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. .  . No Santa Claus!  Thank God he lives and lives forever.  A 1,000 years from now, Virginia, nay 10,000 years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.

With the advent of film in the 20th century, holiday films have often taken up the call of Francis Church to echo his message.  One of the most well known is the movie Miracle on 34th Street written for the screen in 1947 and remade in 1994.  In this story it is a mother and her young daughter who carry the skepticism; a department store Santa, who claims he is the real Kris Kringle, manages to keep the disbelief at bay and the spirit and mystery of Santa alive.  The department store psychologist attempts to have his sanity questioned and he is put on trial.  His young attorney wins the case when thousands of letters pour into the courthouse addressed to Santa Claus.  If so many people are writing to him, then he must be real.

            The film Prancer that arrived in theatres in 1990 is another good example of this form of film drama.  Amidst mysterious coincidences a young girl comes to believe that a wounded reindeer she encounters is the real Prancer, whose replica had fallen from the town’s street display of Santa’s sleigh and reindeer.  Despite the doubt that surrounds her she perseveres in trying to assist Prancer so he can rejoin Santa.  Her belief rekindles the spirit of the town in a poignant way.  The story includes a touching newspaper article written by a local journalist and a moving reading of a version of “Virginia’s Big Question” by Sam Elliott, who plays the girl’s stressed and bereft father.

            In these turbulent economic and political times we’d like to encourage you to take in at least one of these forms of holiday films in which the power of the imagination is rekindled and affirmed.  If holiday fare isn’t your special cup of tea, then we’d recommend this past year’s Lars and the Real Girl as a remarkable example of the healing power of the imagination.

 
The Art of Gift Giving    (Winter Solstice 2007)
 

In his article “The Psychology of the Child Archetype” C. G. Jung wrote: “The most that we can do is to dream the myth onwards and give it a modern dress.”  Perhaps no one in our age has succeeded in doing this more than J. R. R. Tolkien in his novels The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.  These novels are rich in symbolism and reflect numerous critical elements in the psychological journey to wholeness.  The symbolic life awakens the “childhood” of the human psyche, that place in us that resonates with the primordial images through which the human mind first made sense of the world around it.  In his more theoretical works Tolkien wrote: “Indeed only by myth making,, only by becoming a ‘sub creator’ and inventing stories, can man aspire to the state of perfection the he knew before the Fall.” Psychologically the “Fall” would represent leaving behind the wisdom of the human imagination and the symbolic language of the soul.

            Tolkien lived his theoretical beliefs by creating a moving and enduring myth.  Books are still emerging exploring the meaning of Tolkien’s work.  Each year Tolkien offered an imaginative gift to his four children by sending them letters from Father Christmas.  These engaging missives became enduring testaments to Tolkien’s effort to nurture the living imagination of his children.  They have been collected into a coffee table volume titled Letters from Father Christmas.

            The Lord of the Rings contains numerous symbols that are especially relevant to this time of year.  One theme of the season is that of gift giving.  In our culture, while it can reach manic and compulsive proportions, it can still be a uniquely creative endeavor. In the character or the Elf Queen Galadriel we see an example of gift giving in its most relevant and timely form.

            When the Fellowship of the Ring arrives in her home of Lothlorien, she perceives the deepest desires of each member’s heart.  As a symbol of the anima archetype par excellence, she understands what lies in each man’s unconscious.  She leads two of the Hobbit members, Frodo and Sam, to her special “mirror,” whereby she pours water from a stream into a silver basin into which they each can gaze.  As if in a dream, Frodo and Sam can see glimpses of the past, present, and future.  Later Galadriel will give each of them a gift most relevant to what they have seen, though they do not realize it at the time.

            To Frodo, the Ring-bearer, she gives a small crystal phial in which is contained the light of Earendil’s star, a mythic reality of an earlier age.  She tells him that it will shine bright when night is about him.  “May it be a light to you in dark places, when all other lights go out.”  Later the remembrance of this phial by Frodo and his faithful companion Sam is critical to their quest. Indeed, when they use it Sam realizes that they are actually a part of an ongoing myth, the old stories continue to live, and they are carrying them forward

            Part of what Sam saw in the mirror was the destruction of trees in his pastoral home, the Shire.  He desired immediately to return home to make things right, but if he did, Galadriel warned, if he turned from his appointed path, what he saw might come to fruition.  Sam chooses to stay his path with Frodo, but when he returns home, he finds the Shire in the ruined conditions of his vision in Galadriel’s mirror.  But then he remembers her gift to him: a little box with the earth from her orchard, and when he spreads the grains of earth that it contains, the trees and growing things of his beloved Shire are eventually restored.  May we all give and receive such gifts this Yuletide season!

 
Finding Light in Darkness    (Winter Solstice 2006)

         The Winter Solstice Season is one of unique mystery and evokes not only its own special symbolism, but more than any other time of year stirs the need and desire for the human imagination to express the ineffable. The engulfing darkness of the winter has profound affects. Early people feared that the sun would disappear forever and be lost; so much of their activity at the time of the Winter Solstice was devoted to insuring its return. We may laugh at such activity, but we are really not much different. We too express a host of seemingly odd, often unconsciously symbolic behaviors, out of the fear that something or someone of importance to us might become forever lost. The sun represented a god to ancient people, a god who would keep them from being consumed by darkness.
          In our own time most of us are familiar with SAD, or Seasonal Affective Disorder. The loss of light literally affects body chemistry in a way that the body needs more light. This is especially true in geographical areas where the nights are exceptionally long. The human psyche seeks to find light and meaning in such times and expresses this yearning symbolically. Ancient winter solstice rituals prepared for and celebrated the return of the light and the life on earth that came with it.
         People in modern Western civilization often associate this time of year with Christmas, and Christmas with the birth of Christ. Yet it wasn’t until the fourth century that Christians moved Christmas to December in order to compete with the solstice practices of ancient Rome. This act was an important one symbolically as it offered Christians their own profound symbol of new life arriving at a time of darkness, one that spoke eloquently to the soul’s longings at this time of year.
          Centuries later, according to some historians, the Christmas tree was brought into the picture, by of all people, Martin Luther, one of the leaders of the Protestant Reformation. The struggles within the church at this time for reform led the protestant side to reject many of the symbolic aspects of medieval church practice that the rational theological mind was eager to disregard. One Christmas Eve Luther was out in a pine forest and as he gazed at the stars was gripped by a profound sense of awe. The fragrance of the pines and the wind in the air moved him as the smell of incense and the sounds of a congregation had previously. He cut down a small tree and brought it home to his family. He decorated it with candles so he could duplicate his experience for his children.
          Luther was not creating something new, but bringing back a spirit of reverence for nature that had been forgotten. The evergreen tree symbolized eternal life, life that does not wither under the encroaching darkness or that is crushed by winter snow. We long to have what it represents and bring it into our homes to decorate and adorn it. To the symbolic mind, we welcome a “god” or “goddess” into our home, to be touched by its life giving energy. It brings inspiration and a unique sense of wonder and joy.
          So it is with many other solstice traditions. Consider, for instance, the Hebrew menorah. It too stirs a sense of magic, one that brings its users closer to a sense of mystery in the midst of outer and inner darkness. The original seven branch menorah of the Jerusalem temple evoked the mystery of light and was also related to tree symbolism. At Chanukah a nine branch menorah is used to recall a critical time when one day’s supply of oil for the temple menorah lasted for eight days.

Raven Brings the Light    (Winter Solstice 2005)
 
 
See the Raven Brings the Light page for this newsletter article
 
 
 
Nature and the Soul    (Winter Solstice 2004)    

        In an essay written near the end of his life entitled “Symbols and the Interpretation of Dreams,” C. G. Jung wrote: "Through scientific understanding, our world has become dehumanized. Man feels himself isolated in the cosmos. He is no longer involved in nature and has lost his emotional participation in natural events, which hitherto had a symbolic meaning for him. Thunder is no longer the voice of a god, nor is lightning his avenging missile. No river contains a spirit, no tree means a man’s life, no snake is the embodiment of wisdom, and no mountain still harbors a great demon. Neither do things speak to him nor can he speak to things, like stones, spring, plants, and animals. He no longer has a bush-soul identifying him with a wild animal. His immediate communication with nature is gone forever, and the emotional energy it generated has sunk into the unconscious.  This enormous loss is compensated by the symbols in our dreams. They bring up our original nature, its instincts and its peculiar thinking." (The Symbolic Life, Collected Works, Volume 18, par 585-86)
        In our last issue of the Newsletter (Solstice 2003) we told the Native American story of Leelinau, a young Ojibway girl and a special tree that spoke to her at a critical time in her life. In many ways Jung is describing a Native America approach to nature, one commonly found with most indigenous people. In the language of Native American mythology this is the time “when animals could talk.” Jung believed that by learning the symbolic language of our dreams we could once again learn to let nature speak to us and by doing so come to a better understanding of our connection to all living things.
Jungian analyst Neil Russack has written a poignant book, Animal Guides in Life, Myth and Dreams: An Analyst’s Notebook (Inner City Books, 2002), which describes his personal journey from childhood alienation from his natural self, to a more authentic one, largely through the relationship he was able to forge with nature and various animals. "As much as the books, the lectures, the papers, the consultation, and the analysis, my contact with nature was essential to my formation as healer of souls." (p.22)
        Russack describes how the symbolic language we learn to touch through our dreams can also be discovered through a living relationship with the animal world. Animals speak both to psyche and to life: that is, they have their own emotional vitality apart from the reflected image, and yet each enriches our understanding of the other. The animals, by bringing their body to the union of spirit and soul that their image conveys, complete their healing value for us. The reality of the psyche becomes embodied. (p. 185)
        Whether one journeys into the wilderness to be surprised by that unexpected wild creature, real or imagined, or one embraces a cat or dog at home, our souls are enriched.


Leelinau and the Sacred Tree   (Winter Solstice 2003)  

        When Leelinau, from the Native American Ojibway tribe, was a young girl she loved to spend her time roaming quiet areas or sitting peacefully upon some high outcropping of rock overlooking a lake. Her favorite spot was a forest of pines called Manitowok or the Spirit Grove. This place on the open shore was not often visited by her people because it was said to be inhabited by mischievous fairy-like turtle-spirits. When people needed to pass through the wood or seek shelter within it, they always left an offering of tobacco for these keepers of the grove.
        When Leelinau grew to marriageable age, her parents disapproved of her being away from home so much. One night they told her they had found a suitable man for her to marry. The young woman burst into tears. “I do not want to be married!” she sobbed.
        That night she crept out of her parents’ home and went to the Spirit Grove. She sat down against a young pine to decide what to do. She spent most of the evening, alternately crying and meditating, when finally she heard a voice come for the tree.
“Leelinau, I will be you lover,” the pine tree said. “You may stay with me forever and find peace in my love and happiness in my protection. In my bark canoe, you will float over the waters of the sky-blue lake.”
        Leelinau’s heart was flooded with relief and joy at these words. She returned home smiling and allowed her parents to continue with the wedding preparations. On the day she was to wed, she rose early and dressed in her wedding garments. She told her parents she wished to meet her lover at the Spirit Grove and they gave her consent. So Leelinau went into the forest and never came back.
        Many moons later a group of fisherman spearing fish near the grove thought they saw Leelinau standing by the shore. They silently paddled toward land, but the young woman saw them and fled into the forest. She was never seen again.

        At this time of year most of us have some sort of love affair with a tree or trees, just like Leelinau had with her pine tree. We bring them into our homes and lavish them with decorations. Our trees help us celebrate life. Of course we might also be moved as she was to journey into the forest to visit them.
        Ironically many people associate the Christmas tree with Christianity, but its history and roots predate Christianity. An old and deep symbolism is connected with them that permeates the world’s religions, folklore and myth. A sampling can be found in the book through which we share Leelinau’s story, The Solstice Evergreen: The History, Folklore and Origins of the Christmas Tree by Sheryl Ann Karas.
        From the magical tree of the shaman, to Christ on the cross, from the Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden to the Sefirotic Tree of the Kabbala, from the great tree Yggdrasil in Norse mythology, to that of Odysseus and Penelope in the Odyssey, the tree carries a quintessential element of the life of the soul.


Dobby and Gollum     (Summer Solstice 2003)  

        Dobby and Gollum, two figures from this winter’s biggest film successes, "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets" and "The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers," stand out as remarkable representatives of an intriguing aspect of the Self, one that seeks to protect the personality from harm, but in doing so may thwart the fulfillment of its most important goal, individuation. As the Video and DVD versions of "The Chamber of Secrets" arrive in stores and those for "The Two Towers" turn up later this year, these characters are worth greater scrutiny.
         As Harry eagerly anticipates going “home” to the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and away from the wretched Dursleys, he finds himself confronted with Dobby, a house elf, who insists he is there to keep Harry from going to Hogwarts where he would be in imminent danger. While dangers do exist at Hogwarts--as they do anywhere--it is here in this magical and mysterious school that Harry learns about who he really is and takes steps towards reaching his fullest potential. While at the Dursleys Harry is treated with contempt, repeatedly shamed, and often confined to limited space and social contact.
        Dobby, in trying to “save” Harry, risks isolating him and keeping him from discovering further who he really is and where he truly belongs. He represents an aspect of the Self that analyst Donald Kalsched calls the “self-care system.” Essentially it seeks self-preservation and survival over self-fulfillment, self-realization and individuation. In particular to “protect” Harry, Dobby has cut off all contact with Harry’s friends from Hogwarts by intercepting all his mail. Dobby hopes that Harry will think he has been forgotten and that his friends are no longer interested in him. This is the negative side of the self-care system at work: cutting a person off from those that one most needs to thrive, with the intention of protecting the person from harm.
        Dobby represents a particular kind of psychological complex that has to be resolved for the personality to grow. Part of the overarching theme of "The Chamber of Secrets" is Harry’s coming to terms with Dobby. He does so by eventually discovering what Dobby is up to, and eventually freeing Dobby from the wizard family that holds him in slavery.
        Gollum, too, is an ambivalent Self figure along similar lines. Gollum is actually the “self-care” aspect of Smeagol, a figure not unlike the Hobbits, who has become a shadow of his former self due to his long exposure to the one Ring. The Hobbit Frodo Baggins, having struggled mightily with the burden of the Ring himself as the ring bearer for the Fellowship of the Ring, senses that inside the rough Gollum there is the more sensitive Smeagol, both exist within the same personality. After Frodo befriends Smeagol, despite his companion Sam’s great misgivings, Smeagol agrees to serve as their guide into Mordor where they plan to return the Ring so it can be destroyed.
        The film version of "The Two Towers" offers an extraordinary scene in which the two aspects of the Smeagol/Gollum character wrestle with each other to see which will predominate. Befriended by Frodo and trusting him, Smeagol wins the day in a moving dialogue and drives Gollum’s influence away. But later we see how fragile the dismissal of such a complex, one that helps the personality survive, can be. When the men of Gondor have positioned themselves to shoot Smeagol with their arrows, Frodo intercedes and goes down to rescue him. When he calls him and Smeagol is captured, Smeagol feels betrayed. He doesn’t realize that Frodo has saved his life, and so Gollum comes back to the forefront and plots revenge and betrayal of the shaky bond that has been formed. In this situation, because of the external circumstances, the self-care system isn’t “freed” as in the case of Dobby. But as Gandalf foresaw, it will still play a role in the larger drama.
 

Father Christmas, Gandalf, and Dumbledore  (Winter Solstice 2002)

 

When his oldest child was three years old, J. R. R. Tolkien, the author of The Lord of the Rings, began to send his children letters—complete with pictures—from Father Christmas at the North Pole.  (Beautifully illustrated in Letters from Father Christmas, New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1999.)  These letters, eventually sent to all four of his children, continued over a period of twenty years.  Penned by Father Christmas himself, they often contained added notes from Polar Bear, his chief assistant, who also had a knack for getting into mischief.

Tolkien’s imagination carried the legends of Christmas further and enlivened those of his children.  In his later work, The Lord of the Rings, one can recognize aspects of Father Christmas in the wizard Gandalf, especially when one considers the mythological roots of Father Christmas or Santa Claus.  From the Christian perspective Santa Claus is often seen as tied in with the legend of St. Nicholas, an early bishop, who was the patron saint of giving in secret.  His feast day was celebrated on December 5th.

However, Santa Claus is also symbolically connected with ancient Northern European mythology dating back to the time of the shamans.  As we approach the winter solstice season that culminates in the New Year, we will have another opportunity to experience amplifications of Father Christmas in films that brought us some of the mystery of this figure last year at this time as well.  While the new movie The Santa Claus 2 will present us another lighthearted depiction of this figure, Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings will once more bring to this season more deeply mythological motifs.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets will once again introduce us to the elderly wizard, Albus Dumbledore, and his role in helping to mediate the emergence of the special “gifts” of the maturing Harry Potter.  Each Harry Potter story takes place during one school year, and the nadir is often the winter solstice time when Harry chooses to stay at Hogwarts rather than return to the Dursleys.  Dumbledore is the figure who most facilitates each of Harry’s years of transition, usually by indirect involvement.

The same is true in the Lord of the Rings and the role played by Gandalf.  While occasionally Gandalf does act in important ways, his larger role is shepherding the unfolding of the other key figures, especially the various Hobbits and Aragorn.  Yet each of these figures, like Harry Potter, must make their own choices.  Gandalf and Dumbledore function more like shamanic intermediaries in worlds that must overcome darkness, much as Father Christmas mediates the passage through the darkness of the winter solstice and brings us forward again into a new year and a renewed light.

Father Christmas flies through the air with the assistance of his reindeer and descends into our homes through our chimneys.  His journey of mediation is quite well known and accepted.   In Harry Potter we see similar flights in the air, whether it is on broomsticks in the wizard game of Quidditch, with the aid of some mythic beasts, or through the magic by which Harry arrives by car at Hogwart’s for his second year of study.  Through the unusual enchanting power of floo powder, we also see the special passage through chimney’s that carry any wizard from one place to another.

Chimneys allow the smoke and residue of fires to pass into the air so that the fire is contained and it can serve human needs.  In the Lord of the Rings the one ring must be returned to the fire that forged it, and the greatest facilitator of this task is Gandalf.  The wizard is a master of the mysteries of fire, whether it’s through the delightful fireworks he brings to the celebrations of the Hobbits, or facing the evil Balrog in the depths of the mines of Moria.  Through his wisdom in matters of fire Gandalf effects transformation within Middle Earth, including his own.

The images that unfold from these stories bear witness to the power of the archetypes that lay behind them and the need in our world for transformation of it’s darker and more threatening energies.

 

Harry Potter and Frodo Baggins       (Summer Solstice 2002)

 

In times of stress and amidst life’s struggles we can often look within to our dreams for a unique or illuminating perspective on our situation.  On a collective level the myths of a people help put their experiences of life into perspective.  Stories can help illuminate circumstances or at least offer a fresh outlook on them.  Thus following the enormous tragedy of September, in a meaningful and timely way, two mythological/fantasy films came to theatres in November and December as if to help speak symbolically to the events that had assaulted us at summer’s end.          

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring both drew blockbuster audiences by displaying imaginative dramas that originally came to us in written form.  At the core of both stories we find the heroic struggle and encounter with an essentially unimaginable evil that would take over the world, and that many people would prefer to deny and avoid. These stories offer mythic images portraying the power of such demonic energies to possess, the enormous human effort required not to be overcome by them, and the search for ways to diminish their power and influence.

What we see in these stories is that the truest hero is also an unlikely one--unassuming, and even innocent.  Harry Potter has no clue as to his truest identity or self, and not until his eleventh birthday does he begin to enter a world completely different from the one he has known, but one in which he is far more at home.  Nor is he at all aware that within this magical and imaginative world he is already famous, for at age one he survived a direct attack of the dark wizard who had just killed his parents.  Harry thus can be seen as the ultimate “survivor,” and his story that of a youth growing through the turbulence of adolescence into maturity.

Like Harry, Frodo Baggins of the Shire in Middle Earth is naïve and innocent.  Unlike Harry who suffered at the hands of the Dursley’s during his early years following the deaths of his parents, Frodo’s life in the pastoral setting of the Shire was peaceful and serene.  Only later does he come to feel the enormous burden of being the “ring bearer,” a responsibility inadvertently passed onto him through the early adventures of a beloved uncle.  Frodo’s destiny has a more far-reaching significance for the fate of Middle Earth than anyone could have imagined, even the most intuitive members of this world.  When Frodo comes to lament the burden he carries and wishes the ring had never come to him, the wizard Gandalf offers words that speak to him, to Harry Potter, and to all of us: “So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide.  All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

Both Harry and Frodo are destined to learn to attain the right relationship to an object—the Sorcerer’s Stone and the one Ring—which in the wrong hands can be used for power and destruction.  In both stories such an object is best destroyed rather than possessed.  The most unique quality of each of these characters is that they are both far less likely to try to possess this mysterious and powerful object than most others.  It is a responsibility best given to them than even the wise, for it seems they are most likely to be who they truly are; not more, but not less.  They answer the call to individuation and their own uniqueness, and are not thrown off by the forces of darkness.

 

Myth and National Trauma         (Winter Solstice 2001)

 

Amidst the tremendous tragedy of the airplane assaults on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon most of us are still in a daze as we seek to move forward with our lives amidst the conflict in Afghanistan and fears of terrorism locally.  Symbolically we have experienced a national trauma of mythic proportions.  The dark side of our collective psychic life has erupted in a powerful and disturbing way.

            Most of us experience such events through the sensibilities of our deepest personal traumas.  As we listen to ourselves and others speak, it often seems like are worst fears and most painful experiences are being relived all over again.  Part of the challenge of dealing with this magnitude of collective trauma is working further on the personal ones that we each might be reliving.

            Beyond this we face the challenge of understanding the magnitude of the events of September 11th and their powerful archetypal nature.  What was enacted has ironically been alive in the collective imagination prior to this date.  News programs have show a flight simulator produced by Microsoft that allowed one to visualize oneself piloting a plane into the World Trade Center.  Similarly a rap album was to be released with a cover depicting explosions emanating from about the same place in the World Trade Center where the two planes actually hit.  This cover illustration was meant to portray the group’s anti-capitalism stance. Obviously this image was in many people’s minds before the event.  Now it is in all of our minds, and the flight simulator and the album cover have been taken off the market.

            Such movements within the collective psyche demonstrate how easily we can be affected by the impulses and images that emerge out of the unconscious, and they confront us with the big question: How do we deal with them?  On some level we can all be gripped by an impulse to lash out, erupt in anger, fall into the grip of a temper tantrum.  For instance, we frequently witness road rage incidents around us on almost a daily basis.  We do not, though, usually see such things of the magnitude that we did on September 11th.

            Ironically and fortuitously, our modern mythmakers have already been grappling with some of the “scenes” that we have witnessed in this tragedy.  For example, in the first Star Wars film George Lucas portrayed power driven figures who would destroy a whole planet to achieve their purposes.  What drives such people?  How do the rest of us hold on to other values and live our lives?  These are some of the questions posed by such stories and by the events that have so deeply affected us.

            The current sequence of films Lucas is working on essentially revolves around the theme of how a basically sweet, good kid turns to evil.  Young, unselfish Anakin Skywalker becomes Darth Vader.  Post-September 11th we are left to wonder how upper and middle class, well educated men could turn to such horrendous acts and a deep-seated belief in their justification.  These are questions of mythic proportions and will take along time for us to comprehend.

            As we approach the Solstice season, which celebrates a time of seasonal darkness and the birth of new life out of the dark void, we might want to consider the story told in Matthew’s gospel concerning the birth of Christ. Sinister forces, as represented by Herod, sought to destroy all male newborns so as to destroy the newborn king.  But the boy’s father, Joseph, was warned in his dreams as to how to protect his child and see to his survival and growth.  This story would suggest that we can look to the depths of the human psyche itself in order to best understand how to deal with the eruption of its darkest aspects.

            This holiday season be sure to talk openly with those you know about what you might be feeling as the drama in the world around us continues to play itself out.  May the Force be with us All.

The Burning Bush       (Summer Solstice 2001)

            One of the best examples of the relevance of the symbolic language of the psyche to our psychological development comes to us from the story of the Exodus.  After a time of exile from Egypt and a new, more grounded life as a shepherd, Moses discovers the burning bush.  This experience comes to him quite unexpectedly.  Sensing this encounter as one of great importance, he honors it reverentially, and soon hears the voice of God.

This incident sets Moses forth toward his destiny as the leader of the people of Israel out of Egypt, to Mount Sinai, and on to the Promised Land.  In the language of Jungian psychology, at the burning bush Moses encounters the call to individuation, his unique destiny and purpose.

The burning bush is a fitting symbol of this call for Moses.  When last in Egypt he had become possessed with rage while watching an Egyptian overseer beating a fellow Hebrew.  Out of this rage Moses killed the Egyptian, and was forced to flea into the surrounding wilderness in order to save his own life.  Here Moses settles into a life more rooted to the earth, its plants and animals, including starting his own family.  In the burning bush, Moses discovers a fire that burns, but does not consume, indicative of his now transformed anger.  This fiery energy is not a threat to the organic life represented by the living bush.  In this symbol they coexist.  Now Moses is ready to go forward into life in a new way, not consumed by primitive affect, but able to channel his energies into the service of the greater purposes of life.

Spring has traditionally been a time to consider such transformative experiences.  The miraculous events of Passover and Easter are celebrated during this season.  Persephone returns from the underworld, and the vegetative earth governed by her mother Demeter is renewed and regenerated.

This spring we at Coldwater Counseling Center wish you a meaningful encounter with the symbolic world of the burning bush, either through renewed contact with the traditions of old, or in some new transformative way.  Maybe your dog will talk, your moose will fly, or that which you most fear, rather than consume you, might bring you warmth and comfort.

 

The Imaginative World             (Winter Solstice 2000)     

 

          As we discussed in the last newsletter the most direct access to the symbolic life we all share is our nightly dreams.  Each night as we sleep the psyche imparts it’s own unique--though usually perplexing--form or wisdom.

            However, there is also a cultural component to this experience, a time of year in which various cultures believe that we are closest to the “spiritual realm.”  While this may vary in some societies, it is primarily the fall and winter that most people experience this affinity to the mysterious side of life.  We have just passed one such juncture in Western culture with the celebration of Halloween, which now is the second busiest commercial holiday (after Christmas) in our society.  Here the dark elements are imagined and “incarnated” through the various decorations and costumes.  Aspects of life that lie in the further reaches of the imagination are manifest much more directly. Similarly the spirits of the dead are assumed to be closer to us than at other times.  Psychologically, all these various components bring us closer to parts of ourselves that require more attention.

            Similarly, as we get closer to the winter Solstice, Christmas, and New Years we encounter another time when our imaginations are pulled to consider the transformative elements of the human soul that can come into play to enrich us.  It is a magical time of year when myths of the imagination are on display more than any other.

            We are Coldwater Counseling Center hope that even as you may touch the dark points of your soul’s struggles as the days shorten, that you will find ways to ignite the spirit that brings light and hope to those places that may need it most.

          

The Exodus Journey            (Summer Solstice 2000)  

 

One way to understand the roots of Jungian psychology is through its connection to the symbolic language of the human psyche as particularly manifested in our dreams.  Each night as we sleep the psyche imparts its own unique, though usually perplexing form of wisdom.  Often it takes time and careful attention to mind its gold.

The world’s myths, fairy tales, and legends are another source of our knowledge of the depths of the human soul and the dramas played out there.  Knowledge of these stories can help us perceive the psychological struggles of modern individuals. They are our collective “dreams,” and are usually quite applicable to broad categories of people and to many of the struggles within the human personality.

A good example is the story of the Exodus, which depicts a group of people who must leave a place that has become familiar to them.  They must move on to another setting that offers more promise since it is more deeply connected to who these people really are.  This story is most often retold in the spring, as it represents an important depiction of the renewal of the human spirit.  Often this Biblical narrative can be most helpful in illuminating the struggles of individuals in therapy, putting a uniquely painful and unintelligible situation into a broader context that offers meaning.

The people of Israel had to go to Egypt in order to avoid a drought; this was their best alternative at the time and life saving.  Many people today find themselves in similar situations; an adaptation is made that is absolutely critical for their survival at a certain point in their life. But eventually at some later time in their existence, living within the parameters of previous choices keeps them from fulfillment of their fullest potential.  However, it is not easy to give up the old routine, even if it now proves to be painful and unsatisfactory. Even as the strongest aspect of the Self—represented by Moses—pushes to move forward, fear of the unknown and comfort with the familiar, prove a heavy burden. What is worse, many people have an internal tyrannical part, represented by Pharaoh in this story, that rages at any change, and will do all that it can to keep things from getting better, chiefly because the “Pharaoh” part would no longer be in control.

It is amazing to see in clinical work how many people today struggle internally with a situation very similar to the one in this story.  Connecting one’s personal life journey to such an important tale offers a unique kind of spiritual comfort and companionship; one is not quite so alone.  Knowing one’s life journey has archetypal roots offers some sense that others might have experienced the same struggle on some level and had to work through similar feelings.  (Scroll up to the Summer Solstice 2001 Symbolic Life for a discussion of the symbolism of the Burning Bush.)

 
Written by Steve Galipeau, President and Executive Director