Archive for Mythology

The Genius Myth: An Interview with Storyteller and Author, Michael Meade

When Michael Meade was thirteen, his aunt, seemingly by accident, bought him a book of mythology for his birthday. Though he felt profoundly aligned with the book and stayed up all night reading it, it would take another 20 years before it became evident it was his path in life, guiding him to his current calling as a renowned storyteller, author, and scholar in mythology and depth psychology.

“The soul’s way of being is unique to each person,” Meade wrote in his acclaimed book, Why The World Doesn’t End. “It was seeded and sown within each of us from the beginning and it tries to ripen throughout our lives. What exiles us more than anything is the separation from our own instinctive, intuitive way of being. We are most lost and truly in exi
le when we have lost touch with our own soul, with our unique inward style and way of being in this world.”

Child Walking In Woods To Glowing Red DoorIn a recent interview, Meade shared insights with me into his own mythological and depth psychological view of how—though we’re living in a radical time when it seems like the world is falling apart; when “nature is rattling and culture seems to be unraveling”—being in touch with one’s innate genius is “an unerring guide to what a person’s life is supposed to be about.”

Meade’s latest book, The Genius Myth, focuses on how a person navigates a period of such turmoil and uncertainty. Meade’s use of the word “genius” is based on the old sense, he notes, referring to the unique spirit that is in each person’s soul, a concept often obscured in the modern world. One example of how the individual soul is oppressed is in that of transgendered individuals, Meade points out, especially children for whom the issue is active in them for some mysterious reason. The notion of the individuality of each soul makes it more feasible to respect the differences we all live in spite of appearances or backgrounds. One’s “complex” of abilities and gifts is what makes each individual unique and valuable. In a collective society, the uniqueness of life is often overlooked, yet this is the very thing that often provides meaning and purpose in an individual life.

In the face of what Meade terms, the apparent “unraveling of the world,” I wonder how each of us might tap into the genius within. It is important to distinguish the genius myth from the hero’s journey—introduced into the mainstream by the legendary Joseph Campbell, Meade responds. This is what Meade does in his new book, The Genius Myth.

Discussions in Depth Psychology, Click Here to listen to the Interview with Michael Meade

Meade describes the hero as a person making “dramatic moves in the outer world,” emphasizing that in the hero’s journey, the accomplishments are in the outer world. Further, the hero is associated with a masculine way of being from a depth psychological sense, as the “hero” is linked to power and strength. The Genius Myth argues that the genius was already there before we were born, and is not only something we bring to the world, but even something that brings us to the world. It is about discovering the genius within.

Meade, who works extensively with youth suicide situations, has found that many youths who committed suicide in the United States feel empty inside. The culture contributes to this feeling, imposing the belief that one must “make something of themselves.” Meade’s stance is that each of us already is something. We have to make ourselves aware of who we are.

Given the dramatic changes going on in the world—and the rapidity of that change—along with “the rattling and even hollowing out of institutions,” there’s not much in the outside world a person can depend upon for orientation and coherence, Meade declares. We must look inside to find the orientation of our lives and ways to cohere. One idea is that of an inborn genius that encompasses not only the gifts and abilities of a person, but also our purpose and destiny.

Meade refers to the need for “vertical imagination.” In mythology, he notes, there’s an old idea that there’s always two stories going on: one is the ongoing story of the world, and the other is the story of the individual soul in the world. The soul involves the depth of a person, and in depth, a person is naturally connected to nature and the world around them. Our world has become rather flat, Meade suggests: Everybody is connected all the time, but it’s a horizontal connection. The connections don’t go deep enough to contain the growth of soul that is needed for either the individual or world, and we can see that in the consequences of that in increasing polarization and division, exemplified very tragically in the aftermath of the recent mass shooting in Orlando, Florida, as well as in other current events.

People get back into an imaginative creative connection to the world through vertical imagination. Our connection goes deep into the soul on one end, where it connects not only to deep emotions but also the depth of feeling for being—for being present in the world and being connected to the world in depth, Meade believes. The other connection goes upward where one is connected to the great “high ideas” and the great imagination where people used to consider themselves connected to the stars. The human was originally intended to be the channel between the stars of the sky and the core of the earth, he insists. Each human is in that connection if they awaken to it.

The problems we are experiencing, whether in nature or culture, will not be solved without a vertical imagination. Healing needs to happen in our culture—not only in connection with genders— but also between races, in the political arena, and in ecosystems, waterways, and forests, among other things. According to Meade, we are living in a time when everyone’s genius nature is being called upon; perhaps there is even an acceleration of calling and vocation as “both nature and culture need an awakening of the genius in as many people as possible.”

Michael goes on to offer two ways to access our inner genius, not the least of which is to glean what we can from traumatic circumstances or rejection by one’s family or community, both instances where the genius is often awakened most strongly. Jung wrote that genius hides behind the wound, so whenever we harbor a wound, we may believe that our genius was an integral part of our survival. “Something deep in the human soul awakens when things fall apart,” Michael penned in Why the World Doesn’t End.

Meade closes with some thoughts on what he views as the two layers of hope: One is the sort of naïve hope that has to ultimately be deconstructed, and there is also despair, meaning “to be without hope.” It’s generally essential that we, at times, fall into despair because at the root of despair is another level—a second layer—of hope. That layer, in depth psychology, might be called imagination—imagination being the deepest power of the human soul. “When we think that all is lost, we are actually falling closer to the deepest ground of soul, which, you could say, has the power of imagination,” he insists. “Imagination is what we need in order to begin to reimagine and recreate the world.”

Meade recounts an Irish myth that teaches us that when the center can no longer hold—as currently appears to be the case in a current political, economic, and ecological sense—we must go to the margins and find the thread that intrigues us there. Then, upon pulling those threads of genius, the center is remade. “A person doesn’t need to be heroic,” Meade insists. “A person just has pull the the threads of their own life as close to the center as possible and they are contributing to the renewal of the world. If enough people were pulling the threads, we would be participating in the re-weaving of the world.” Further, if this re-weaving strikes a chord with you, it’s probably not a coincidence. “There is an old deep sense that we are being called on—we have always been called on—to be our own selves. That’s the real job of a person.”

Jung called this process “individuation,” Meade affirms. Individuation is not only the natural calling for the individual, but the world itself is calling on people to come to consciousness and individuate on an individual level. Once enough of us are doing that, the imagination of assisting the world to renew itself becomes possible.

Michael Meade is presenting a weekend workshop, “The World is Churning: The Myth of Genius, The Genius of Myth, July 8-10, 2016, at Pacifica Graduate Institute. “Pacifica is one of the few homes in the entire culture for depth psychology and mythology,” Meade notes. “It’s one of the very few places where those two essential studies are being honored.” At the workshop, Meade plans to discuss creativity, imagination, and the genius in the soul in order to discover how to encourage this in ourselves so we can do meaningful work in the world. “Pacifica is the right place to do that,” Meade proclaims.

Get more details or register for the “The World is Churning: The Myth of Genius, The Genius of Myth” with Michael Meade, July 8-10, 2016, at Pacifica Graduate Institute: http://www.pacifica.edu/current-public/item/the-myth-of-genius-the-genius-of-myth

Mosaic-Multicultural.jpgMichael Meade, D.H.L., is a renowned storyteller, author, and scholar of mythology, anthropology, and psychology. His hypnotic and fiery storytelling, street savvy perceptiveness, and spellbinding interpretations of ancient myths are highly relevant to current culture. He is the author of many books including Fate and Destiny: The Two Agreements of the Souland The World Behind the World. Meade is founder of Mosaic Multicultural Foundation, a Seattle-based nonprofit dedicated to education and cultural healing. For more information, visit www.mosaicvoices.org

 

Note: This blog originally posted at Pacifica Post June 27, 2016

Jung, Individuation, and Film (includes Audio Interview)

Ever since I met Dr. Glen Slater in 2008, I have known him to be a particularly passionate and knowledgeable advocate of film. I often see his film reviews in Jungian and depth publications, and his background in clinical psychology and religious studies—along with his interest in technology and culture—make his commentary especially valuable.

jung_film_blog.jpgIn a recent interview, Glen and I sat down together for an intriguing depth discussion on Jung, individuation, and film.

To begin, Dr. Slater notes, while we can think of individuation as coming to one’s deep self or unique character, it’s also the place where one comes to contribute to the larger human story. The individuation process is both deeply personal but also transpersonal; both universal and archetypal. At any given time in a specific culture, individuation is about finding a deep relationship with those energies that are coming up from the collective psyche. Jung believed that “no one can individuate on a mountaintop,” Glen reminded me. Therefore, at the same time you are growing into your own genius, you are also finding where your own life resonates with what is emerging collectively.

Since we need models and mirrors, films are a key place we go today for myth. Films provide a wonderful arena where we can see characters going through the process of individuation—not only experiencing change and transformation, but also finding a deeper understanding of who they really are. As Joseph Campbell pointed out in The Hero’s Journey, there is often initially a refusal of the call, but eventually archetypal forces align to draw the character in to their deeper destiny, Glen states. While a character may initially be uncertain in the journey to individuation, more often that not, they reach a point where an event occurs that seems to spark the idea that they need to serve.

In our culture, we live in a dualistic state in which we all deeply long for a vision that is unitive; where what happens outside is connected to what’s going on inside our mind, Slater notes. Therefore, film, by nature, is an excellent tool for melding inner and outer, enabling us to recover that sense of presence, unity, enchantment, or magic.

So how does one begin to look at a film from a Jungian lens? The answer is definitely related to this idea that the outer world is reflective of the inner world, Slater insists. You must make the bridge with what is known in Jungian psychology as “symbolic thought,” the idea that what occurs in the story is metaphorical rather than literal. The process of individuation may be regarded as “living the symbolic life,” suggesting we must move from an egocentric place of being, to looking at events with a kind of curiosity that asks what things mean on a deeper level.

It’s not hard to know when a film is resonating with something going on in our inner worlds.  When we walk out of a film, it either stays with us or it doesn’t. It’s a litmus test, Glen claims. Does it stay with you or linger in the way a powerful dream might? Paying attention to the way certain stories or characters stay with us helps us discern the material that is touching the psyche.

So what are the new values and energies that need to come in to drive the process? For one, films can empower us to see what’s on the horizon for our culture. As an example, Glen emphasizes that at a time when many Jungian and depth thinkers are talking about the return of the feminine in our current masculinized culture, certain female “heroes” (like Furiosa, played by Charlize Theron in the recent Mad Max: Fury Road) carry a very different value system than we have customarily seen before.

films.jpgOne especially important point Slater notes is that often a protagonist does not move up and out into the light, but rather down into the underworld. Intelligent filmmakers are able to show us the shadow side of our culture instead of parading the heroic values that are traditionally held up in a culture. In our discussion, Glen cites examples from films like American BeautyMillion Dollar BabyCarol, and Star Wars for various interpretations from Jungian perspectives. Jung’s work provides a great toolbox in terms of articulating the archetypes, he asserts.

When I asked Glen how the word “soul”—so commonly used in Jungian and depth psychologies—applies to film, he had a fascinating perspective. He suggests soul refers to a sense there is something outside the ego, that is directing or shaping our experience so that we are drawn into a feeling that there are other presences at work. He points to Jungian and archetypal psychologist, James Hillman, as someone who thought of soul as “that dimension of experience where the spiritual comes into the world”—into everyday embodied experience. For Hillman, the sense of soul requires something that is substantive, something “felt.” In this way, soul is related to the magic and enchantment.

Slater contends that we can identify the presence of an archetype when the “universal” and the “unique” are together simultaneously. Film must absolutely engage our imaginations. And, while images do engage us, for our imaginations to really be set on fire, archetypal patterns have to be activated, creating resonance, and lingering on well after the lights come up and the theater empties. What’s the last film you saw that really set your imagination alight? If you have to think about it, it may be time to see another film.

Listen to the full audio interview with Dr. Glen Slater here (28:29 mins) 


glenn-slatter.jpg

Glen Slater, Ph.D., has a background in both religious studies and clinical psychology. He teaches Jungian and archetypal psychology at Pacifica Graduate Institute, Santa Barbara, California. He edited and introduced the third volume of James Hillman’s Uniform Edition, Senex and Puer, as well as a volume of essays by Pacifica faculty, Varieties of Mythic Experience, and has contributed a number of articles to Springjournal and other Jungian publications—several in the area of Jung and film.


bonnie_bright.jpgBonnie Bright, Ph.D., graduated from Pacifica’s Depth Psychology program after defending her dissertation in December 2014. She is the founder of Depth Psychology Alliance, a free online community for everyone interested in depth psychologies, and of DepthList.com, a free-to-search database of Jungian and depth psychology-oriented practitioners. She is also the creator and executive editor of Depth Insights, a semi-annual scholarly journal, and regularly produces audio and video interviews on depth psychological topics. Bonnie has completed 2-year certifications in Archetypal Pattern Analysis via the Assisi Institute; in Technologies of the Sacred with West African elder Malidoma Somé, and has been extensively involved in Holotropic Breathwork™ and the Enneagram.

NOTE: This blogpost was originally posted on Pacifica Post, an official blog site for Pacifica Graduate Institute, on February 3, 2016

Making a Masterpiece of Your Life: Summary of a Teleseminar by Thomas Moore

“To the soul, the most minute details and the most ordinary activities, carried out with mindfulness and art, have an effect far beyond their apparent insignificance.”

—Thomas Moore, Care of the Soul: Guide for Cultivating Depth
and Sacredness in Everyday Life

 

Recently I had the chance to tune into a free teleseminar with author, religious scholar, professor and lecturer Thomas Moore of the book, Care of the Soul, fame. The teleseminar focused on how to make a masterpiece of your life. According to Moore, the word “masterpiece” harkens back to Renaissance, which he’s been studying for thirty years or so. It offers up beauty like painting, architecture, and is such a rich source of pleasure and psychological and spiritual insight. Moore points out that the word “masterpiece” can be sometimes be overused to mean perfect or refer to something too sentimental. For him, the first thing that occurs is “making an art of your life.”

Beauty is even more important for the soul and spirit than physical health, Moore insisted. When it comes to soul and spirit, we might not think of health, but rather what it takes to make a beautiful life. How might people look at life and find pleasure in it, rather than being so concerned about being right, correct, or even healthy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Back in the third century, it was Plotinus who said we should “sculpt” our soul and chip away anything that doesn’t quite fit in order to reveal a beautiful life, a beautiful personality. As a therapist, coach, or mentor, Moore suggested, it might be helpful to ask those you’re helping: “What would it take to make your life beautiful?” rather than focusing on any other value.

Moore alluded to the Japanese idea ofwabi-sabi, an art form where imperfection and transiency plays an important role. Truly, we can find beauty in anything, even cracks in the walls. Aphrodite (in Greek mythology) or Venus (in Roman myth) is a goddess of beauty or of the soul. She is a metaphor for living a beautiful life. She restores a sense of value for things that today are not considered so important – like taking a luxurious bath or taking care of our hair. One aspect of our contemporary lives is that we have lost soul, and beauty is an important part of our lives.

A masterpiece originally could have meant a major piece an artist has done, Moore reminded us, but it can also represent work an apprentice has done in order to show the master; it is master work. It is important to align yourself with someone you consider to be a master in order to do your own work. For Moore, archetypal psychologist James Hillman was a great teacher and master as well as a friend for 38 years. A masterpiece is not something you create at working hard at it for a long time. It requires good luck and good timing. It’s not always the quality of work or effort one puts in so much a magic of timing and having good luck come your way. One thing, Moore does is try to bring luck in and make it happen and not just wait for it.

Talking about mastery is talking about “craft.” Moore said as he gets older, more people are asking how they can be a good therapist or a good writer. His suggestion: Learn the basics. Grammar, language, punctuation are critical to good writing. For therapy: it would be helpful to study alchemy, to read the Collected Works of C.G. Jung. For everything, it’s a matter of trying and failing,

We are bombarded right now with information about science and health: but it might be a good idea to tone down expectations in that arena. Health is important, Thomas agreed, but maintained that he allows myself some unhealthy foods and gives time to things he needs in his own life for beauty. Before getting on the call, for example, Moore went to his piano and played some Chopin. He says he’s not a great performer but he still likes to play for the beauty of it. His wife is an artist, so he surrounds himself with her art and others. Someone just sent him an image of St. Francis of Assisi surrounded by animals and nature. It’s wonderful to focus on simple things, and look for aspects of the beautiful. Moore tries to have erotic art around him to invoke the spirit of Eros, the spirit of the beautiful, he said. We have to have it in his environment before we can get it into our hearts, he said.

When asked how we can talk about things that matter and free people from frustration that occurs when things don’t go as planned, Moore responded that when it comes to creating a masterpiece, you can end up focusing on the rosy part of life, but you have to be able to confront the dark as well. Times when we are beating ourselves up are the times to be stronger rather than to keep doing that same kind of thing. We need to shift out of the masochistic role and be stronger and tougher in the world, he insists. In Renaissance times they said your anger could work for you if you can transmute it into firmness and strength, into having the spirit of the warrior. Moore said when finds himself getting down on himself, he reminds himself to be stronger and firmer and to look and see where he’s being too vulnerable, too soft or easy; where he needs to be tougher, maybe event going so far as to say things people are going to dislike. It’s part of beautiful life, he insists. The beauty is there only because the artist is there and allows it to happen. The artist doesn’t let people mess with them. If you do this regularly, it doesn’t build to explosion. We need both: it’s two sides to the coin.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Returning to the idea of wabi-sabi, Moore stated that it’s related to Hillman’s idea of polytheism. You don’t have to settle on one or the other. You can dye your air to cover the grey all the while appreciating the moss growing on the wall. It’s about allowing the natural aspect of things. As you get older and feel older, you can reveal your age. You begin to realize the things you can’t do outnumber the things you can do. In nature, for example, you try to create a house and before long you’ve got moss growing where you don’t want it. After awhile, you get cracks but those cracks can look beautiful. Allow your self with all the light and dark and good and bad and see the beauty in the whole picture. If you repress or hide elements that are imperfect then the perfection you personally try to show won’t be complete; it will look suspicious to yourself and others. Part of wabi-sabi is allowing yourself to be seen.

In the conversation, the moderator, Katherine mentioned an article she had seen recently about Stradivarius trees. There is a culture of people who look for the perfect trees to make the violins. These trees grow so slow sometimes they stop growing altogether in order to gather their strength. Our culture is so much about “new” and “do,” she said. But the trees that stop growing produce the most beautiful sound.

James Hillman wrote an essay against the idea of growth, saying human beings shouldn’t try to grow, Moore responded. In Moore’s books, he doesn’t promote growth as he believes there are times when there is no growing taking place at all in the soul. It’s a sentimental idea that we should be growing all the time. There are times of setback and when we seem to be going backward. Those times are important too. When we stop growing, people go to a therapist or coach. That’s often why these periods are good for a psyche or soul, because it forces you to stop and wonder why. A deepening happens. It’s not about being better, but deepening more into who you are; it creates more substance to you. If you’re growing all the time you don’t have the substance necessarily.

Moore took questions from listeners at the end of the teleseminar. I took the opportunity to ask him what he thought about something that is frequently on my mind these days: how to cope with the extreme devastation of the planet we see all around us on a daily basis in media and in nature. Moore’s response was to reinforce the idea that can do or hold many things at once. You can be concerned about the devastation AND you can appreciate the beauty. Every year for twelve years, Moore went to Schumacher College in England with his family, he related. Even though he’s not a scientist, he would talk to the people he met there about philosophy and spirituality and the arts. One reason we are treating nature badly is that we personalize it by thinking hierarchically, that humans are the top of the pile. It takes more of an artistic sense for people to appreciate nature. Maybe it would be helpful for us when we are deeply disturbed to paint or photograph nature. Turning something into art gets it into yourself, gets it into us, he said. Turning more to nature as art might help develop that relationship. We need more art and spirituality. Moore mentioned that his new book has a chapter on natural mysticism. To be mystical you don’t have to go off and be in the ethers, he said. Just stopping to contemplate allows you to meditate and it prepares you for what you need to do. Moore said he learned this from Thoreau, for whom these types of activities were a sacrament. Read Walden closely, Moore suggested. Follow it and learn from it.

Walking in nature or watching bees may more important than you think, he insisted. It’s a form of meditation. The things that seem the least significant may be the most important. To go out in nature, feel like you’re wasting time; the sight of nature is a darshan –it transforms. It gives you the courage to go on and do your work.

Find out more about Thomas Moore and his work at www.careofthesoul.net

 

The Myths of Mary Magdalene: An Interview with Kayleen Asbo & Bonnie Bright for Depth Insights™

In this written interview, Depth Insights host Bonnie Bright interviews Kayleen Asbo, cultural historian, musician, writer, and teacher on the topic of “The Myths of Mary Magdalene,” also the title of her upcoming webinar series. The first of that series, “The Many Faces of Mary Magdalene” is free to the public (must register to join) and takes place May 1, 2013, at 7pm PT.

BB: How did you get interested in Mary Magadelene, and where did you begin your research?

KA: My first memory of Mary Magdalene is as a five year old little girl, crying at the song “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” in a movie theatre when I saw Jesus Christ Superstar, The song haunted me and a few years later, when my first piano was delivered, I spent the first few days trying to pick it out by ear. About ten years ago, I had a very powerful dream in which Mary Magdalene appeared and said if I wanted to find the real Christianity, I should follow the trail from France to Wales. I took the dream seriously, and have been researching early Christianity and its manifestations in France and the British Isles every since. I don’t know if it is “real” Christianity, but I have discovered an amazing set of stories and myths and had incredible adventures along the way.

 

BB: That speaks so strongly to the power and influence of the unconscious on our lives—both through music and through dreams. When the dream said “follow the trail from France to Wales,” did you know what that meant? Were you already familiar with manifestations of Mary Magdalene in those places? Are there real-life instances of Mary Magdalene there, and if so, what are some of the specific images or stories you found? Tell us about your discoveries, how you felt, and what they meant to you at the time and even now.

KA:I had no idea what the dream meant at all. Mary Magdalene and France?…That made no sense to me at the time. It was the year before The DaVinci Code came out, and I had no knowledge about the Medieval legends of her there. I drew a picture the following week filled with other symbols which also made no sense to me then—an Egyptian ankh and some symbols that I later discovered were alchemical images. It has been a slow process of putting together the pieces- and it has taken me on a wild adventure, returning almost every year to Europe to follow new clues. I identified primarily (and still do) with a form of spirituality that is based in Benedictine monastic practices. One of the things I discovered in tracing her pathway in Provence is that the site where she ostensibly spent the last 30 years of her life praying and meditating in a cave is the very site that John Cassian also founded a double monastery after he left Egypt—and he was the foundation upon which St Benedict built his Rule, with its emphasis on imaginal connection to scripture and the idea of the prayer of the heart.

I feel like Wales was a bit of a goose chase. I was expecting to find some sort of wonderful spiritual community there that spoke to my deepest longings—and that didn’t happen. What did happen, however, is that I went pony trekking on my birthday (the feast day of Mary Magdalene, July 22) in the wilds of the Black Mountains. We were talking to the proprietor of the tiny B & B and she was telling us stories about her artist father. I got cold goose bumps on my arms and asked his name. It was Eric Gill, the lithographer. My spiritual director, a Dominican nun, had given me a copy of his picture “The Nuptials of God,” which had carried around in my wallet. It is as you see an image of Mary Magdalene and Jesus in an intensely erotic embrace. He had created the image on the very ground I was standing. I’ll be going back to Wales this Fall to facilitate a women’s dreamquest- I hope I can find a few more clues while I am there this time!

 

BB: It’s very exciting to hear stories of synchronicity like the connection you made in Wales to Eric Gill. I believe the best research happens out of paying attention to such synchronicities. What if you hadn’t paid attention to those goosebumps—or even engaged in conversation with the proprietor? Its great you’re going to follow up. On that note, can you say more about the images that exist of Mary Magdalene and Jesus in erotic relationship and how you perceive that aspect of Mary’s life? While its true that the Dan Brown novel brought this idea to the forefront of pop culture, I can’t imagine there are many of those images, or artists who have had the courage to realize them.

KA: There are implications of an intensely erotic relationship between Jesus and Mary Magdalene from the earliest days of Christianity, even in traditional orthodox literature. For example, the very erotic love poem The Song of Solomon (Song of Songs) was assigned as one of the Catholic liturgical readings for her feast day. It is filled with images of powerful yearning and union with lines like “Let him cover me with kisses, for your love is sweeter than wine”,  and “I am sick with longing.” The imagery is of nuptial union and it is very explicit. That theme of yearning is also present in the psalm that was chanted on her feast day as well: Psalm 42, “As the deer longs for the waterbrook, so yearns my soul for you, O God.”

There are a surprising number of artists who have created images long before Dan Brown that bespeak of intimacy—the Rodin sculpture  “Jesus and Mary Magdalene” [at left] in the Legion of Honor museum in San Francisco is one, made all the more potent because Rodin modeled Mary Magdalene after his own doomed mistress, Camille Claudel. The question is—and has always been—do we take these images and poems literally or symbolically? The Song of Solomon was the favorite of Christian mystics and monastics, vowed to lives of celibacy, but individuals who saw in these texts (and sometimes images as well) a beautiful representation of the soul’s yearning for union with the Divine in a spiritual sense.

I meet many people who have a very strong and intense reaction one way or another to the idea of Jesus and Mary in an erotic union or marriage. Some are horrified, others fascinated and compelled. For me personally, it is not one of the central questions. Theirs was an Erotic relationship, in the largest, Platonic sense of the word: full of vitality, life force, intimacy and transformational power. And it could have been physical, but it didn’t have to be. I think at a collective level what we see behind the current fascination around this question of “Did they or didn’t they?” is the hunger in our world to bring together the sexual and the spiritual in a sacramental way of integration. How do we do that ourselves in our own lives? For me that is a much more important and urgent question. Our culture has (for the most part) a radically secular understanding of sexuality and then there is often a radically disembodied spiritual life. For many people, there is church on Sunday and then there is Las Vegas on Friday and Saturday. I think this causes all kinds of shadow issues and psychic disintegration, with suffering at both an individual and collective level. Mary Magdalene invites us to consider how to hold the tension of those seeming opposites together.

One of the things that most intrigues me about Mary Magdalene is how she has been perceived as virtually every possible female archetype. While so many people identify her with the sexual element, with the penitent sinner, adulteress or prostitute, this was really an invention that developed only in the west during the 4th through 6th centuries. Catholic dogma from the time of Pope Gregory taught that once she repented of her sexual sins, she lived the life of a celibate ascetic. It is an interesting case of enantiodromia [an abrupt shift of direction]. This was never part of the doctrine of the Eastern Orthodox Church where she is perceived as the Apostle to the Apostles—always both pious and virginal. Martin Luther and Brigham Young are just two of the figures in history who believed she was married to Jesus, and once again many people are wanting to fit her into that role.

What I love is that she can’t fit into a box because she is so multifaceted. You see this particularly in the history of art. The Virgin Mary always looks about 22, lithe and lovely, and almost always blonde with a face of placid serenity. With Mary Magdalene, there is a radical diversity. She is young and old, voluptuous and emaciated, prim and pornographic, glamorous and haggar; of every race, with every hair color, and with expressions of every emotion from hysteria to meditative contemplation, and desolate grief to ecstatic joy. [See *note at the bottom of this post and image just above by Giovanni Girolamo Savoldo]. The word that the gnostics used to describe her is “anthropos,” a word meaning “fully human.” I think she is a profound mirror (and teacher) of what it might mean to be just that—fully human.

 

BB: It is interesting that we have projected so much onto Mary Magdalene—as you say, she has been perceived as virtually every possible female archetype. In many ways, she seems to be a unifier. In fact, Carl Jung spoke poignantly about the the long-repressed call for a return of the feminine as a Deity and in 1950 when the Catholic church made the announcement of the Assumption of Mary, he called it “the most important religious event since the Reformation.” (in The Essential Jung by Anthony Storr 1983 p. 324), adding that as the Virgin had bodily entered Heaven, it meant that “the heavenly bride was united with the bridegroom,” their union signifying the hieros gamos, or sacred marriage referred to in alchemy. In other words, Jung believed the event fulfilled our archetypal need for a feminine deity on some level, in that the bringing together of these two archetypal forces allowed a release of the tension of opposites. I would argue that while it was indeed helpful for our culture on some level, we still have a long way to go before that archetypal balance will be restored on a broad cultural plane. What role do you think Mary Magdalene has played in helping to establish balance in the collective, and how might each of us engage with her in our own individuation processes?

KA: I think Mary Magdalene really could be the figure for our times who holds the key to alchemical transformation. For us modern seekers, it much easier to relate to the idea of a sacred partnership or hieros gamos between Jesus and the Magdalene than bridal mysticism through Jesus and his mother. She holds fascination for people regardless of their religious background. I’ve met Pagans, Christians, Jews, and Atheists who are all equally drawn to her. Many of the Gnostic texts indicate that she was seen as the embodiment of Sophia or Divine Wisdom—but a kind of embodied wisdom is what we really need now. She holds that better than any other figure I know. She was called “The Woman Who Knew All,” and the arc of her legends encompasses both grace and disgrace, the body and the spirit, grief and joy in equal measure.

Her symbols as well, encompass a profound duality. Magdala means “tower,” but she is also associated with the symbols of the wild forest, returning to nature. While she lived the first part of her life a wealthy city woman in Palestine, according to French legend, her last thirty years were spent in silent meditation in a cave in the remote mountains of Provence. Her color, red, is both a symbol of sin (scarlet woman, woman in red) and spiritual authority (cardinal red, the pope’s red shoes). For a decade now, I have witnessed in my workshop participants a profound transformative spark once they see the range of images that have been created inspired by her or begin to create their own stories, poems, and paintings through active imagination. One of my favorite paintings is by Georges de la Tour [see at right]. In it, there is both deep shadow and a gentle candlelit illumination as Mary Magdalene is deep in reflection, symbolized by the mirror. Mary Magdalene seems very pregnant and on her lap she holds a skull. How much we need that as a symbol in our times! To be able to hold death and suffering in our laps, and still be filled with hope and new life as we reflect upon the light of illumination! That is such a powerful symbol for all us, both as individuals and as a collective—one that has the power to truly transform us if we let it enter us.

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To register for the free webinar on May 1, “The Many Faces of Mary Magdalene” which explores Mary Magdalene through myths over the centuries, from faithful disciple to penitent prostitute, embodiment of Wisdom and possible bride of Christ to contemporary guide to fulfillment and wholeness—or the entire upcoming series, “The Myths of Mary Magdalene,” with Kayleen Asbo, M.A., click here or visit Kayleen’s web sites at www.kayleenasbo.com and www.mythsofmarymagdalene.com

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*Note for second image above: The wise, knowing half smile on this Magdalene’s face and the silvery sheen of her cloak have made many viewers assume that this is the work of a very modern painter. Surprise! This image of Magdalene—one which embodies such an air of mystery-was painted in the year 1540. While it depicts Mary coming to the tomb (you can see the annointing jar to the far left), the focus here is not on outward action, but inner insight in the moment before she sees the world in a transfigured way. This is the perfect image to accompany the timeless sense of Mary Magdalene which has been reclaimed in our era: a woman of profound wisdom whose spiritual teachings focus on inner contemplation and awareness.

**All images provided by Kayleen Asbo and retain their original copyrights by the original owners.

 

Kayleen Asbo is a cultural historian, musician, writer and teacher who weaves together myth, history, and the arts with experiential learning. Kayleen is on the faculty of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, Sonoma State University in the Psychology department and the Osher Life Long Learning Institutes at UC Berkeley and Dominican University. Her classes on a wide array of topics ranging from Dante to Contemporary Music have been hailed as “inspirational”, “fascinating and compelling” , “transformational”  and “truly life changing”.

Kayleen holds three master’s degrees in music, mythology and psychology. She is currently a doctoral candidate in Mythological Studies with an emphasis in Depth Psychology at the Pacifica Graduate Institute. Kayleen has been a guest presenter and lecturer on the intersection of history, psychology and the arts at Oxford University in England, the Assisi Institute of Depth Psychology Conference in Italy, Chartres Cathedral in France, Grace Cathedral, the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, the Institute for Transpersonal Psychology, and other colleges throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. Kayleen is one of four Master Teachers worldwide for the Veriditas Labyrinth Organization, and facilitates workshops at Chartres Cathedral in France every year.

 

Depth Insights™ provides media, content, and education for the greater depth psychology community, including written and audio interviews and the semi-annual peer reviewed publication, Depth Insights scholarly eZine.

Depth Psychology Alliance™, the world’s first online academic community for those who are active and interested in the fields of Depth and Jungian Psychologies in 2010–a dynamic organization that surpassed 2,000 members in January 2013. The Alliance is a hub for finding depth psych-related events, blogs, videos, articles and for discussion, learning and connecting with likeminded others.

Depth Psychology List™ is a premier destination to find or list depth psychology oriented therapists and practitioners by location or type of services offered.

 

Engendering Innovation in Business, Organizations, and Individual LIfe: A Depth Psychological Approach

 

Everyone who’s interested in depth psychology knows that personal growth—what C.G. Jung called “individuation”—is a keystone of our existence in life. Learning to identify our shortcomings and places where we get “stuck” in patterns and processes that are not generative is a critical aspect.

 I switched career tracks when I “discovered” depth psychology several years ago, but I spent nearly 15 years of my life in the corporate world, observing how organizations can also “individuate” under the right leadership, especially when there is reflection on the archetypal (universal) patterns at play and understanding how to work with them. 

I continue to use all those lessons I learned to organize and promote depth psychology-oriented education and services, so when I recently had the opportunity to hear a teleseminar entitled “Patterns for Successful Corporate Transformation” with Jungian analyst Michael Conforti, I couldn’t resist. My own experience so profoundly points to the ever-present need for soul in business, so I always gravitate to what others in the field of depth psychology manifest when they apply their interest and experience to the business world.

In the teleseminar, Dr. Conforti used aspects of systems theory and archetypal thinking to paint a picture of how innovation emerges. Every system has enhancers and inhibitors and what to watch for is a “bifurcation point”—a choice point where the forward path diverges into two (or more) options (like on a tree trunk that splits into two branches). This bifurcation always entails a change in the organization or system because something new is being introduced; a new path can be taken.

Conforti also explained how attractors contribute to change. An “attractor” is the scientific term meaning non temporal, non spatial phenomena that drives the trajectory of a system—or the energy centers that structure and fuel the system and also act as boundaries. When a new attractor develops, a new epicenter for the structure or system at hand emerges and attracts a new series of initiatives stemming from there.

Regularities in any system will occur, and these can be predicted, Conforti suggested. If you own a small coffee shop, for example, with a handful of employees, you and your employees will be far more likely to create and maintain a friendly family feel, one in which customers and employees know and recognize each other and you as the owner can afford to spend time chatting with customers and connecting on a regular and personal basis when they come in. However, if your business hits a growth spurt and you suddenly have 20 people working for you, it will be virtually impossible to maintain a “Ma & Pop” business where you and your employees know everyone who comes in, let alone being able to greet them personally.

Each bifurcation (or choice point) carries it’s own initiatives and patterns that are integral to it. Like a blueprint, or like the oak tree embedded in the acorn before it ever grows, knowing the patterns at play in various (archetypal) situations allows you to predict outcomes and make choices based on what you want to occur. You can see it in the example playing cards, Conforti says. You can choose to “hold” in Blackjack because you have a good idea of how certain situations will play out based on the moment at hand. Likewise, in business, you can choose to grow, but if you observe the archetypal pattern of growth, you can predict it will change the feel of the company (like in the example of the coffee shop–from a Ma & Pop feel to more of an impersonal but more efficient feel).

The first thing a pattern analyst can do is to identify the bifurcation point: to see where the choice point occurs. The next step is to predict the outcome of that bifurcation point by indentifying what patterns are in play and what virtually “always” happens next as that particular pattern unfolds.

Reading archetypal patterns is based on patterns in nature, Conforti suggests. We can literally see how patterns play out. Jung’s colleague, Marie Louise von Franz, talks about patterns in the life cycle of every living organism; times when an individual can’t get out of their own way; times when it seems one is on a roll and can do no wrong, like having a magic touch

So, how do we look at the innate patterns in businesses? How do we know which individuals are living out the archetypal patterns of leaders? How can we identify innovation at work? How can we as leaders or members of any organization identify which conditions to cultivate and which ones to get rid of? The archetypal processes that go on in systems are predictable and can be encouraged, tended, and nourished or rooted out early in the game if one has the presence and play of archetypal patterns on their radar.

Conforti related the story of a film called “Kinky Boots” about a British shoe company that came up with an amazing innovative solution when it appeared the company would go under. The pattern at play involved the archetypal story of the King who dies and his son, the Prince, must take over the kingdom. In this case, the son happened synchronistically onto a potential solution and chose to present it employeesundefinedsome of who resisted and some of whom got on board. By recognizing the bifurcation point and choosing to take action in a certain direction, the story had a happy ending.

The question is, though, when you make a choice that leads into the unknown, when something is so alien that you (and others) simply can’t relate, how do you help prepare a system for adaptation or acceptance?

What happens when your product or service no longer serves the culture? In the history of industry, many corporations have hit that bifurcation point where they needed something new to survive. The nature of the perturbation (change) that comes the established organization or system into it has everything to do with it.

Understanding patterns at work in our personal lives can also empower us to pursue the path that will best serve us in our own process of growth and individuation. Many authors in the depth psychology space have advocated the idea of “personal mythology” including Stanley Krippner and David Feinstein who wrote a book of the same name, and Craig Chalquist whose book, Storied Lives illustrates how personal mythic patterns can play out in people’s lives from cradle to grave. If you can identify and relate to a known archetypal story–a myth or fairy tale that has collective themes and a universal storyline–you can begin to identify what patterns are at play in your own life and how the story might unfold if you continue in the direction you’re going. When you reach a bifurcation point in your own life, then, you can choose to go a different direction if you can see how it will play out one way or another.

Some of the pioneers of depth psychology like archetypal psychologist James Hillman, mythologist Joseph Campbell and of course, C.G. Jung himself also pointed to how archetypal patterns are work in both the personal and the collective. (Click here for an informative post on these individuals’ contributions and ways to identify and work with personal myth from AngelFire.com —or read an article from Daniel Goleman that appeared in the New York Times (1988) called “Personal Myths Bring Cohesion to the Chaos of Each Life”)

Regardless of whether you area looking at the patterns at work in the corporate, collective, or individual space, by looking at the underlying processes at work, transformation can occur in the best way possible, allowing innovative, abundant, and healing solutions to take shape. 

Note: If you’re interested in listening to the archived recording of the teleseminar, “Patterns for Successful Corporate Transformation” with Dr. Michael Conforti, the replay is available here. The 4-week teleseminar series runs through March 11, 2013.

Watching without Seeing: A Pathological Cultural Disorder?

Most of us have had the experience of feeling stopped, stuck, or paralyzed in our lives, unable to progress, to access creativity, meet deadlines, sometimes even to manage basic obligations. Being immobilized is hardly pleasant, but it is absolutely a hallmark of impending change, and it behooves us to understand both the problem and the power of paralysis.

Years ago, I did some meaningful research into the myth of Medusa, the legendary Gorgon who turned people to stone when they looked at her. What I ultimately realized is that the irony of regarding Medusa is that being turned to stone makes one an object of disregard. Disregard may be defined as a turning away from something one doesn’t want to see; an avoiding or a dismissal. It implies a choice, conscious or not, to devalue, deny, or relegate something to total insignificance. In western civilization we have trained ourselves to disregard people, nature, and events as a mechanism to protect ourselves. Being the object of someone’s disregard is often completely disempowering.

In their groundbreaking work, Toward Psychologies of Liberation, Mary Watkins and Helene Shulman (2008) suggest it is impossible to be connected to a world we continually fail to see. This separation or loss of connection manifests in dissociation, the distancing or splitting off of affect, a sort of psychic numbing, and in objectification, establishing ourselves at the top of a hierarchical structure where we become the doers and all else around us, the objects of our manipulations and our doing. Both dissociation and objectification serve to effectively turn us to stone, either by self-inflicted paralysis or by the immobilizing of others

Dissociating enables us to feel safe by becoming numb. It cuts off emotion so we can tolerate certain behaviors, acts, or mandates without being overly affected, and it makes us capable of inflicting judgment or pain without suffering evident consequences. Watkins and Shulman reiterate that this kind of psychological disenfranchisement extorts a heavy toll as passive bystandingwatching without seeing, and observing without engagement, is a sort of self-mutilation, an amputation of our own sense of sight, a “severing of the self” (p. 66). This tendency has been called percepticide by trauma scholar Diana Taylor (in Shulman-Lorenz & Watkins, 2002), an act of self-blinding because to see andacknowledge the atrocities that exist would endanger ourselves.

Archetypal psychologist James Hillman (Re-Visioning Psychology) suggests, “The eye and wound are the same” (1975, p. 107): in other words, the thing we refuse to see and the denial of that thing by the eye that does not see are both violent acts which result in trauma to the psyche–ours and others. In other words, sometimes, by watching without seeing we perpetuate almost as much trauma as the original wounding does.

Finally, it is almost as if, through dissociation, we turn ourselves to stone in order not to see. Shulman and Watkins suggest that when the practice of percepticide pervades a culture, “watching-without-seeing becomes ‘the most dehumanizing of acts’” (p. 5). I experienced one aspect of this recently when a serious car accident occurred just about 30 feet away from me as one car trying to cross a busy intersection without a traffic light misjudged and plowed into a crossing car. After the horrendous screech and ensuing crash, I took in the scene. Both cars were driven by young women. About 40 or 50 people were standing on sidewalks and nearby parking lots. As I surveyed the scene, not one of them I could see was on a cell phone to call 911. More than that, nobody in the ten minutes from the time the accident occurred to when first responders arrived, approached either of the drivers (both luckily coherent, though clearly stunned and shocked) to ask if they were OK, to let them know 911 had been called, or to put an arm around them and comfort them in the throes of their terrible ordeal. Instead, many of us (myself included) stood around wondering about the incident and probably feeling glad it wasn’t any us.

This incident left me deeply disturbed, wondering about our culture and our hesitation to connect with one another even in times of tragedy. I think perhaps recent tragic events like the Sandy Hook CT school shooting along with other mass shootings among others are not only a symptom of something huge in our cultural unconscious overflowing the established banks but indeed are a turningpoint for all of us, a wakeup call to truly begin to connect and engage instead of just turning away from our televisions with a murmur of regret and then going back to our everyday lives. Are we increasingly relating to the often horrible and shocking events we “witness” in life as spectators, watching without seeing because it offers a kind of entertainment or shock value because we are unable to authentically feel the emotional impact and the implications of what it might mean?

I speak for myself when I suggest that in modern times, it seems many of us have become Medusas of myth; as surely as she turned mortals to stone, we have adopted a method that is equally dehumanizing, of not looking at all, or of looking without really seeing, resulting in a culture of unengaged, immobilized bystanders, going about our lives incapable of witnessing or deeply responding to a call. Not only that, but when we do “look,” our tendency is to turn other people and things to stone because of our increasing and fortified capacity to objectify–to gain the upper hand by making others into objects of lesser value so that we can feel empowered.

It is my hope that each of us will begin to remember our long history of connectedness; to understand that if we were to make eye contact, say hello, reach out to a stranger, or just stop hiding out or holding back when so much is being asked of us to step forward and be part of what’s going on in the world–perhaps there will be less wounding and more healing. If you need help in this process, please be sure to reach out to one of the depth oriented therapists or service providers listed here. You don’t have to do it alone: no one should, and in fact, it contributes to the challenge. Let’s remember together…

Carl Jung’s Process of Individuation and the Archetype of Renewal

In describing the process of individuation as an alchemical process, Jung maintained that the point of individuation was not to become perfect or attempt to overcome or master our personal psychology, but to become familiar with it, thereby coming into relationship with the parts of ourselves that have become repressed, numbed, split off, or disowned (Sharp, 1991). A lack of relationship between the individual and the Self can lead to pathology when the Self is not realized (in the body), often erupting in symptoms (Edinger, 1995). Likewise, contemporary psychologist, John Weir Perry (1976) attributes the psychotic break of schizophrenic patients to a visionary state in which an archetypal renewal process is attempting to manifest. Jung argued that before renewal can occur, we must reconnect our individual lives with our historical rootsundefinedthe deep symbolic and archetypal images of the past (Edinger, 1995). The mytho-historical culture of ancient Egypt provides a powerful opportunity to relate the historical with the personal in a way that can put us in touch with greater wholeness.

Egyptian theology perceived the structure of a man to include far more than his mortal shell, but rather a complex interaction of his physical body with his spiritual body, as well as with his divine intelligence and his heart, the seat of wisdom, knowledge, and understanding (Ellis, 2000). Thus, the worldview of ancient Egypt provides a corollary link between body and spirit, the antithesis to the current western tendency to separate spirit and matter, psyche and body, a theme Jung addressed in many of his writings, saying, “The body is merely the visibility of the soul, the psyche; and the soul is the psychological experience of the body” (in Ryan, 2002, p. 27). Indeed, Jung believed that if one goes deep enough into the rhizome–the root of things, psyche and matter are one (Ryan, 2002). For the ancient Egyptians, the physical and spiritual realms were transparent to each other, and “through the symbolic image and the power of the imaginative perception, the spiritual order was made accessible in and through the physical” (Naydler, 1996, p. 23).

Jung believed the archetype is a unifying factor between the psyche and the material realm (Ryan, 2002). Death as a precursor to rebirth was a common archetypal motif found in ancient Egypt (Perry, 1976). Von Franz pointed out that, though all cultures hold the hope of life after death, ancient Egypt is the only culture that made it so concrete through mummification (Harris, 2001). The elaborate funerary process was tantamount to ensuring eternal life. Pharaohs spent most of their kingship planning for the preservation of their physical body and constructing elaborate tombs replete with all the belongings they would require for an ongoing eternal existence. If the body was not properly preserved from decay, or if the soul was unable to find, recognize, and reunite with the mummified body, it could not continue into the afterlife (Cox & Davies, 2007).

Organs removed during mummification were preserved in four specialized canopic jars topped with heads representing the four sons of Horus and waited in the tomb for the soul’s return (David, 2002). Thus, the boundaries between matter and spirit blurred as mummies were viewed as objects imbued with meaning, a sort of “sacred self” for most Egyptians, endowed with energy and a waiting future (Meskell, 2004). Ultimately, the sacred embalming process of the Egyptians constituted a rebirth into immortality through alchemy, transforming the body into something glorified and indestructible, an eternal fruit (Edinger, 1995).

In the tomb itself, detailed drawings painstakingly etched on the walls provided explicit directions on how to navigate the underworld and to guide the soul back to its waiting body (David, 2002). Edinger (1995) reminds us that the tomb is a symbol of the unconscious as well as an alchemical vessel in which transformation occurred, and that Jung related it to the womb, suggesting the tomb is a place of the past that connects us with our deceased ancestors, a place from which the psyche is born, a connector to our psychic background. The tomb also represents the completion of circle as a place where we will ultimately rejoin the ancestors once more.

Symbolism has long been an archetypal container for understanding human life. The limitations of life—instigated by “death”—can be taken literally or figuratively in the quest to understand all things as temporary but capable of transformation. Regardless of where you find yourself in the ongoing spiral of life, chances are you’ll recognize a pattern in your process and be willing to open to new and different ways of dealing with life’s challenges as you confront similar challenges over an over again.