Hamnet and Tutankhamun

Shakespeare’s life is a great mystery but we do know that he had a son, Hamnet, who died at the age 11, possibly from the plague. Four years after his son’s death, Shakespeare wrote Hamlet, maybe his greatest masterpiece. In an extraordinary new novel called Hamnet, Maggie O’Farrell tries to reimagine Hamnet’s death and its aftermath. The beating heart of the novel is neither Shakespeare nor even Hamnet, however, but Shakespeare’s wife called Agnes. She was the one who took care of the family, which stayed behind in Stratford, while Shakespeare spent most of the time in London.

The way O’Farrell writes is so palpable, so arresting that I felt transported back into those times, almost being able to sensually experience that distant historical reality in its full corporeality. By far the most devastating to read was the scene of Hamnet’s death and burial. The coldness and finality of these words were chilling to the bone:

“And there, by the fire, held in the arms of his mother, in the room in which he learnt to crawl, to eat, to walk, to speak, Hamnet takes his last breath.

He draws it in, he lets it out.

Then there is silence, stillness. Nothing more.”

I thought of Hamnet while visiting an exhibition Tutankhamun – His Tomb and His Treasures last month in Zurich. “The Boy Pharaoh” also died at a very young age. He did not produce an heir – both his daughters were stillborn and their tiny mummies were placed in tiny sarcophagi and buried with their father’s. Admiring the exhibition’s sheer grandeur, I was haunted by two images – the face of Hamnet before Agnes covered it with white cloth -“She cannot cover him the first time. She cannot do it the second” – and Tutankhamun’s magnificent gold mask. This “imperishable surrogate face” was fashioned in the likeness of Osiris. From the description at the exhibition:

“The animated eyes are light quartz inlaid with obsidian for the pupils. Set on the forehead of the striped headdress are two divine emblems: the vulture’s head of Upper Egypt and the serpent’s body of Lower Egypt. … The inscription on the back of the mask contains a text which equates the sensory organs with gods…”

Mask of Tutankhamun, via Wikipedia

While Hamnet’s body is wrapped in a white shroud and buried – “The grave is a shock. A deep, dark rip in the earth, as if made by the careless slash of a giant claw.” – no less than four shrines inscribed with sacred writings are nested around the sarcophagus of Tutankhamun. With countless objects ranging from his throne to board games, the pharaoh embarked on a symbolic journey towards the immortal existence as a God. The texts on the walls of the second shrine are partly written in coded or secret hieroglyphs and contain very mysterious depictions from an unknown book of the Netherworld. According to a French scholar, the second shrine depicts how “the souls of
the dead rising up and following the sun are powers which refill and empower the
sun during the night.” Osiris, the god of the dead , and the Sun become one by forming “The Solar Osirian Unity.”

Meanwhile, Agnes picks the flowers for his son’s last journey:

“Agnes selects rue, comfrey, yellow-eyed chamomile. She takes purple lavender and thyme, a handful of rosemary. Not heartsease, because Hamnet disliked the smell. Not angelica, because it is too late for that and it did not help, did not perform its task, did not save him, did not break the fever. Not valerian, for the same reason. Not milk thistle, for the leaves are so spiny and sharp, enough to pierce the skin, to bring forth drops of blood. She tucks the dried plants into the sheet, nestles them next to his body, where they whisper their comfort to him.”

Finally, both the book and the exhibition made me meditate on the difference (or lack thereof) between truth and fiction. O’Farrell’s book is a work of creative fantasy, for we do not have any documents which would support any of the events she describes in her novel. All we know is that Hamnet died prematurely, which is a mere footnote to the biography of the Bard. And yet her book undeniably breathes the truth. The written world becomes palpable, substantial, solid.

On the other hand, the Tutankhamun Exhibition that is currently touring the world does not contain a single object that Howard Carter so famously discovered in 1922, uttering the words that would go down in history – “I see wonderful things“. The truth is that all the wonderful things at the exhibition are meticulously handcrafted replicas. The originals are way too vulnerable to tour the world and are now safe in Cairo.

The way the exhibition recreates the moment of the discovery of the Tomb of Tutankhamun is quite magical. What we the visitors see is what appeared in front of Howard Carter – we are walking through the tomb of the king with its different chambers.

Since the usual glass cases are unnecessary, it is possible to immerse oneself in the experience. The emotional truth and the enthusiasm it generates is quite exhilarating.

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Reading The Red Book (25)

“I know your shadow and mine, that follows and comes with us, and only waits for the hour of twilight when he will strangle you and me with all the daimons of the night.”

“The Red Book,” chapter XII “Hell”

Henry Fuseli, “The Nightmare”

Chapter XII of Liber Secundus entitled “Hell” begins with a terrifying vision:

“I find myself in a gloomy vault, whose floor consists of damp stone slabs. In the middle there is a column from which ropes and axes hang. At the foot of the column there lies an awful serpent-like tangle of human bodies. At first I catch sight of the figure of a young maiden with wonderful red-gold hair-a man of devilish appearance is lying half under her-his head is bent backward-a thin streak of blood runs down his forehead-two similar daimons have thrown themselves over the maiden’s feet and body. Their faces bear an inhuman expression-the living evil-their muscles are taut and hard, and their bodies sleek like serpents. They lie motionless. The maiden holds her hand over one eye of the man lying beneath her, who is the most powerful of the three-her hand firmly clasps a small silver fishing rod that she has driven into the eye of the devil.”

The eye is a complex symbol, whose meaning here is connected with consciousness coming from the underworld and from the the evil. Amidst decomposition and disintegration, the anima wants to rend the demon apart. She knows that “nothing is more valuable to the evil than his eye” (one cannot not think here of the Eye of Sauron). Jung here juxtaposes the emptiness of evil against the “gleaming fullness” and “the shining power” of what is good, bright and beautiful. Jung stresses that “the eternal fullness” cannot exist without the eternal emptiness.

Furthermore, evil has unquestionable power:

“Once evil seizes you without pity, no father, no mother, no right, no wall and tower, no armor and protective power come to your aid.”

Evil came to Jung because he created a radiant God. He says:

“But if you want to escape evil, you will create no God, everything that you do is tepid and gray.”

He who creates divine beauty is followed by a relentless shadow. The same shadow endows the creator with insight, passion and depth. The fishing rod that the anima/soul uses to pluck out the eye of the demon is the instrument of consciousness that tries to “fish in emptiness” for wisdom.

The theme of this chapter centres around evil and its meaning. Firstly, the individuated soul cannot simply remain in “the light of the upperworld.” Rejecting the evil would mean that the soul of such an individual would be stuck in the underworld – “his soul will languish in the dungeons of the daimons.” Beauty would not exist if the evil did not “long” for it and if the evil did not look at it with his multiple eyes. “The evil one is holy,” concludes Jung.

The many-eyed Devil from the Tarot of Marseilles by Jean Dodal (via Wikipedia)

Sanford L. Drob emphasizes the role of evil in individuation. He says:

“… one cannot forge a powerful, happy, and lustrous self without also creating an evil and empty one. The forging of such a radiant self will be followed by the imaginative unfolding of a nightmare.” (1)

All the qualities traditionally associated with the evil one such as “lust, avarice and earthly desire” (2) are at the ground of all being and are indispensable to any creative impulse. The image that accompanies this chapter suggests a reconciliation of opposing principles, says Drob.

Notes:

(1) Sanford L. Drob, Reading The Red Book: An Interpretative Guide to C.G. Jung’s Liber Novus, Spring Journal Books 2012p. 124

(2) Ibid., p.124

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Reading The Red Book – part 1

Reading The Red Book – part 2

Reading The Red Book – part 3

Reading The Red Book – part 4

Reading The Red Book – part 5

Reading The Red Book – part 6

Reading The Red Book – part 7

Reading The Red Book – part 8

Reading The Red Book – part 9

Reading The Red Book – part 10

Reading The Red Book – part 11

Reading The Red Book – part 12

Reading The Red Book – part 13

Reading The Red Book – part 14

Reading The Red Book – part 15

Reading The Red Book – part 16

Reading The Red Book – part 17

Reading The Red Book – part 18

Reading The Red Book – part 19

Reading The Red Book – part 20

Reading The Red Book – part 21

Reading The Red Book – part 22

Reading The Red Book – part 23

Reading The Red Book – part 24 

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Reading The Red Book (24)

Chapter XI of Liber Secundus is called The Opening of the Egg. Having sung his incantations, Jung kneels on the rug and carefully opens the egg. Completely healed, Izdubar appears in front of him. The god relates what his experience had been inside of the egg:

“I was ancient and perpetually renewing myself-/ Falling from the heights to the depths,/ and whirled glowing from the depths to the heights-/hovering around myself amidst glowing clouds-/ as raining embers beating down like the foam of the surf, engulfing/ myself in stifling heat-/Embracing and rejecting myself in a boundless game/ Where was I? I was completely sun.”

Camille Pissarro, “Sunrise on the Sea”

Izdubar had become one with the Sun; like the Sun he now sees all and knows all. (1) Like the Sun, he had made a night journey into the depths of the nadir and has ascended towards the zenith, symbolizing his perpetual renewal. (2) Izdubar now emits a radiant light that Jung’s eyes “cannot grasp.” Jung compares himself to the mother, who had given birth to a god:

“I became his nocturnal mother who incubated the egg of the beginning. And he rose up, renewed, reborn to greater splendor.”

Bringing Izdubar back to life as an unblemished, radiant solar deity has deprived Jung of his own life force, however:

All my force was now in him. My soul swam like a fish in his sea of fire. But I lay in the frightful cool of the shadows of the earth and sank down deeper and deeper to the lowest darkness. All light had left me. The God rose in the Eastern lands and I fell into the horror of the underworld. I lay there like a child-bearer cruelly mauled and bleeding her life into the child, uniting life and death in a dying glance, the day’s mother, the night’s prey.”

Gustave Moreau, (detail from) “Suitors” (an unfinished painting showing a scene from The Odyssey – triumphant Athena above the bodies of murdered suitors)

Perhaps what Jung is saying here is that reaching divine perfection comes at a terrible price – the shadow will claim those who dared to look divinity in the eye. Jung is left “powerless and groaning,” with the empty eggshell as the only reminder of his divine encounter.

One of the leitmotifs of Jung’s psychology was the co-existence of light and darkness, good and evil in all beings, including the gods. In this chapter Jung says:

“The God suffers when man does not accept his darkness.”

The radiant god is not separate from “monstrous serpents of eternal emptiness.” This is why “if the God draws near, your essence starts to seethe and the black mud of the depths whirls up.” For Jung, the divine is not just “good;” it comprises wholeness with all its opposites.

Jung proceeds to explain why evil is a necessary part of life. He says:

“So long as you persist with the standpoint of the good, you cannot dissolve your formation, precisely because it is what is good. You cannot dissolve good with good. You can dissolve good only with evil. For your good also leads ultimately to death through its progressive binding of your force by progressively binding your force.”

What Jung seems to be saying here is that rigidity is alien to life. When the ego clings to what it perceives to be good, when we are following a certain rigid pattern, which we consider good and orderly, life becomes mechanical and neurotic. (3) If we do not recognize the transformative force and the importance of evil in our lives, it will overwhelm us, thus creating “terrible suffering.” By rejecting evil we also reject our humanity. Jung warns:

“… we make desperate attempts to follow the God into the higher realm, or we turn preachingly and demandingly to our fellow men to at any rate force others into following the God. Unfortunately there are men who allow themselves to be persuaded into doing this, to their and our detriment.”

This explains the numerous atrocities committed in the name of religion.

The images accompanying the chapter are very striking. The image on page 71 represents three intertwined snakes. The crimson background reminds us of the Red One – the devil, who instilled a new lease of life in Jung in chapter 1 of Liber Secundus. The intertwined snakes seem to symbolize the incarnated soul, which has embraced the life in matter, on the earth, where the inferno of passions is forever writhing like the snakes on Medusa’s head.

The closing image on page 72 has quite a hypnotic impact. Sanford L. Drob muses:

“It is a mosaic composition in which a series of six conical beams of light … point up and down over a largely black field, punctuated by small yellow lights. The viewer may have the sense that it is deep night, that his back is against the wall, and he is on the verge of being caught in one of these searching beams. … the contrasts between the darkness and saturated colours suggests a melding together of oppositions. Indeed, it is such a melding together that results from the journey into hell that Jung is about to undertake.” (4)

Notes:

(1) Juan Eduardo Cirlot, A Dictionary of Symbols, Routledge: London, second edition, p. 317

(2) Ibid., p. 318

(3) Compare these ideas with Krishnamurti’s lecture on rigidity: https://jkrishnamurti.org/content/how-one-bring-about-order-oneself-without-any-conflict

(4) Sanford L. Drob, Reading The Red Book: An Interpretative Guide to C.G. Jung’s Liber Novus, Spring Journal Books 2012p. 121

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Reading The Red Book – part 1

Reading The Red Book – part 2

Reading The Red Book – part 3

Reading The Red Book – part 4

Reading The Red Book – part 5

Reading The Red Book – part 6

Reading The Red Book – part 7

Reading The Red Book – part 8

Reading The Red Book – part 9

Reading The Red Book – part 10

Reading The Red Book – part 11

Reading The Red Book – part 12

Reading The Red Book – part 13

Reading The Red Book – part 14

Reading The Red Book – part 15

Reading The Red Book – part 16

Reading The Red Book – part 17

Reading The Red Book – part 18

Reading The Red Book – part 19

Reading The Red Book – part 20

Reading The Red Book – part 21

Reading The Red Book – part 22

Reading The Red Book – part 23

Reading The Red Book – part 25

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Lilith

Michelangelo, Lilith, Adam and Eve (from the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel)

On the ceiling of the Sistine chapel we can see an atypical depiction of the serpent of Paradise. Michelangelo chose to portray the snake as a red-headed woman, undoubtedly Lilith. Why did Michelangelo decide to include Lilith in his biblical masterpiece, though she is mentioned only once in the Bible by name? Without a doubt, her fascinating and terrifying presence is palpable also in our times, as it was when Michelangelo engaged with the theme. As Siegmund Hurwitz puts it,

“Of all the motifs in Jewish mythology, none – other than that of the Messiah – remains so vivid to this day as the myth of Lilith.” (1)

Lilith made her first appearance in the Epic of Gilgamesh:

“After heaven and earth had been separated and mankind had been created, …; on this day, a huluppu tree (probably a linden tree), which had been planted on the bank of the Euphrates and nourished by its waters, was uprooted by the south wind and carried away by the Euphrates. A goddess, who was wandering along the banks seized the swaying tree and – (…) – brought it to Inanna’s garden in Uruk. Inanna tended the tree carefully and lovingly; she hoped to have a throne and a bed made for herself from its wood. After ten years, the tree had matured. But in the meantime, she found to her dismay that her hopes could not be fulfilled. Because during that time, a dragon had built its nest at the foot of the tree, the Zu-bird was raising its young in the crown, and the demon Lilith had built her house in the middle. But Gilgamesh, who had heard of Inanna’s plight, came to her rescue. He took his heavy shield, killed the dragon with his gigantic bronze axe, (…). Then the Zu-bird flew into the mountains with its young, while Lilith, petrified with fear, tore down her house and fled into the wilderness.”

Here Inanna covets two symbols of worldly power and comfort – the throne and the bed. The inner wildness and freedom symbolized by the huluppu tree is destroyed with an axe by Gilgamesh at Inanna’s behest. Lilith flies away in a similar manner as she will flee Paradise when Adam refuses to recognize her as his equal.

The name Lilith comes from Sumerian and is connected to storm and wind. Endowed with a pair of wings, Lilith feels most comfortable in the element of air. Some researchers connect her name also with the Hebrew “laila,” the night, but Hurwitz rejects this etymology. Yet already in ancient Sumer Lilith seemed to represent the shadow of the great goddess and thus can be regarded as a hidden aspect of Inanna. The huluppu tree can be interpreted as a symbol of Inanna’s Self, which her ego seeks to suppress. Another Bybylonian goddess Lilith is derived from is Lamashtu. Hurwitz quotes from an ancient text regarding her nature:

“Her abode is on the mountains, or in the reedbeds. Dreadful is her appearance. Her head and her face are those of a fearsome lion, white as clay is her countenance, she has the form of an ass, from her lips pours spittle, she roars like a lion, she howls like a jackal. A whore is she. Fearsome and savage is her nature. Raging, furious, fearsome, terrifying, violent, rapacious, rampaging, evil, malicious, she overthrows and destroys all that she approaches. Terrible are her deeds. Wherever she comes, wherever she appears, she brings evil and destruction. Men, beasts, trees, rivers, roads, buildings, she brings harm to them all. A flesh-eating, bloodsucking monster is she.”

One of the most celebrated images, which possibly depict Lilith, is the so-called Burney Relief. Interestingly, up to this day scholars are debating whether it depicts Ishtar, Ereshkigal or Lilith. For Hurwitz, it is Lilith. He thus describes it:

“The relief shows the erect figure of a naked goddess of exceptional beauty. She has two huge wings and excessively long bird’s feet with the talons of a bird of prey. … She stands on two lions which face in opposite directions and is flanked by two realistic-looking night owls which have exactly the same wings and feet as the goddess herself. … There are no controversies as regards the age and origin of the relief. As has generally been accepted, it is of Sumerian origin and appears to date from the so-called Isin Larsa period, i.e., some time around 1950. For these reasons, we can almost certainly assume – along with Kraeling – that a pictorial representation of a winged Lilith is involved here.”

Fascinatingly, the original relief was painted red, as the approximate colour scheme reveals below. Red has always signified a fallen woman in the Bible; the most prominent example being the scarlet-clad Whore of Babylon from the Apocalypse. Red seems to be the colour frequently associated with Lilith also in the later Kabbalistic tradition.

Burney Relief today (The British Museum) and its probable original colour scheme below
via Wikipedia
Lucas Cranach the Older, “The Whore of Babylon,” a coloured depiction from Luther’s Bible with the harlot wearing a papal tiara

Red is also a colour of seduction. This particular aspect of Lilith’s persona came strongly to light in the Talmud. As Hurwitz comments:

“That she was perceived as such a dangerous and demonic figure in the Talmudic-Rabbinic tradition has both historical and psychological bases. In the first place, it is connected with the patriarchal attitude of Talmudic-Rabbinic Judaism, in which the feminine was always perceived as something threatening. As a result, in Judaeo-Christian, Western cultural development, the feminine was not only devalued but also, in consequence of a marked defensive attitude, virtually demonized.”

One Talmudic text warns that whoever sleeps alone in a house will be attacked by Lilith.

Another important source of information about early Jewish beliefs concerning Lilith are the so called Aramaic magic texts, which were inscribed on the inside of bowls and buried in a magic ritual. The act of burying the vessel was destined to prevent the danger from escaping by containing it underground. This is connected with an important motif of banishment, directly related to Lilith:

“Psychologically speaking, banishing evil out of sight signifies nothing more nor less than a driving out, a wish-not-to-see, which for primitive people meant the same as not existing.”

An incantation bowl featuring Lilith via https://jewishstudies.washington.edu/jewish-history-and-thought/yannai-sotah-poem-piyyut-magic-demonic-women-lilith/

Also Gnostic writing contains stories about Lilith, such as the one in which prophet Elijah cannot ascend into heaven because he had fornicated with Lilith unconsciously at night and as a consequence becomes trapped on the earth. The so called Mandaean Gnosis teaches about a figure called Lilith-Zahriel, who contrary to all other known myths about Lilith, is not a child-stealing demon but helps a pregnant woman and is concerned with the child’s well-being.

One of the most pivotal works on Lilith is undoubtedly The Alphabet of Ben Sira, one of the earliest and most sophisticated Hebrew stories written in the Middle Ages, which most probably was inspired by an earlier Hellenistic work. Hurwitz quotes the following passage from that work:

“When the Almighty – may His name be praised – created the first, solitary man, He said: It is not good for man to be alone. And He fashioned for man a woman from the earth, like him (Adam), and called her Lilith. Soon, they began to quarrel with each other. She said to him: I will not lie underneath, and he said: I will not lie underneath but above, for you are meant to lie underneath and I to lie above. She said to him: We are both equal, because we are both (created) from the earth. But they didn’t listen to each other. When Lilith saw this, she pronounced God’s avowed name and flew into the air. Adam stood in prayer before his Creator and said: Lord of the World! The woman you have given me has gone away from me. Immediately, the Almighty – may His name be praised – sent three angels after her, to bring her back. The Almighty – may His name be praised – said to him (Adam): If she decides to return, it is good, but if not, then she must take it upon herself to ensure that a hundred of her children die each day. They went to her and found her in the middle of the sea, in the raging waters in which one day the Egyptians would be drowned. And they told her the word of God. But she refused to return. They said to her: We must drown you in the sea. She said to them: Leave me! I was created for no other purpose than to harm children, eight days (after birth) for boys and twenty for girls. When they heard what she said, they pressed her even more. She said: I swear by the name of the living God that I, when I see you or your image on an amulet, will have no power over that particular child. And she took it upon herself to ensure that, every day, a hundred of her children died. That is why we say that, every day, a hundred of her demons die. That is why we write her name on an amulet for small children. And when she (Lilith) sees it, she remembers her promise and the child is saved.”

Also the Kabbalah recognized the importance of Lilith. She is ever present in The Zohar, which is a key Kabbalistic work of Jewish mysticism, written in Spain in the 14th century. Here also, like in The Alphabet of Ben Sira, Lilith appears as the first wife of Adam, who flees from him. The Zohar takes a deeper look at the creation story from the Bible (Genesis, book 1, verse 27):

“So God created man in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”

According to the Zohar, this verse describes the creation of the androgynous primordial man/woman – Adam Kadmon. His female part is Lilith. However, in Genesis 2 God creates Eve from the sleeping Adam’s rib. This subsequent creation of Eve seems to contradict the Genesis 1 story, unless it was Lilith who was the first woman ever created, not Eve.

In The Zohar Lilith is portrayed as a great seductress of men:

“She (Lilith) adorns herself with all kinds of decorations, like an amorous woman. She stands at the entrance to roads and paths, in order to seduce men.… Her adornments for seducing men are her beautifully-dressed hair, red as a rose, … her ears hung with chains from Egypt and her neck hung with all the jewels of the East.”

After she achieves her seductive aims she “kills him … and casts him into the very centre of hell.”

John Collier, “Lilith”

In The Zohar Lilith forms an “unholy pair” with Samael, the leader of the fallen angels. They are regarded as the shadow pair to the divine pair of the two Sefiroth (i.e. ten emanations, or powers, by which God the Creator was said to become manifest) – Tiferet and Malchut. Hurwitz explains:

“The Sefiroth are mostly grouped in opposing pairs: thus there are right and left, male and female, active and passive Sefiroth. Within the Sefirothic system, however, two Sefiroth occupy a quite exceptional position. The very first two emanated Sefiroth, Chochma (Wisdom) and Bina (Understanding), are portrayed as a male and female pair of opposites, in which Chochma is the father and Bina the mother.

However, this symbolism was applied in particular to the sixth Sefirah Tif’eret (Mercy) and the tenth Sefirah, which appears under different names. Sometimes it is referred to as Malchut, i.e., the Kingdom (of God), sometimes as Shekhinah…”

God having a female part – Shekhinah, the divine presence in the world – is a revolutionary idea in Judaism, proposed for the first time in the Kabbalah. Lilith and Samael are believed by some Kabbalists to constitute the “demonic, destructive side of the divine personality.” As such, they are also part of the divine plan.

Kabbalistic Tree of Life, via https://www.atthewellproject.com/blog//counting-the-omer-101-a-deep-dive-into-49-days-of-jewish-wisdom

In the last part of his book Hurwitz embarks on a psychological analysis of the myth of Lilith. He compares her to the dark goddess as well as to the Black Madonna, who epitomizes the nigredo of the alchemical process. As he puts it:

“The black of the prima materia of the alchemists is an expression of their unconsciousness. In addition, it is a dangerous state which must first of all be ‘washed’ in the course of a lengthy transformation process, to bring out the different colors of albedo, citrinitas and rubedo, which signify a stimulation of the unconscious. At the same time, the dangerous nigredo is eliminated.“

The lotus will not grow into the light of consciousness without being rooted in the muddy earth. Further, Lilith also personifies “the expression of unrestrained natural and physical desires.” Yet she is also an expression of the darkest feelings of despair, melancholy and loneliness, which need to be washed away so that “the inner gold may appear.”

Her refusal to be restrained in any way is also linked with the emancipation of women, who are still not treated as autonomous beings in many parts of the world. Hurwitz writes:

“The dominating attitude of patriarchal man towards the feminine is, at bottom, nothing more nor less than an expression of his deep-seated fears and his uncertainty of womankind. At the same time, behind these fears must also lie a certain fascination. … Fear of the alien unknown generally leads to quite specific defensive reactions, which first become apparent in an attempt to devalue it. This leads in turn to a tendency to dominate and repress the alien.”

Lilith flies into the air towards the desert and The Red Sea. These two places are highly significant symbolically. The miracle at the Red Sea, when God parted the waves, letting the Israelites pass while the Egyptians drowned, signifies being saved by divine intervention. The desert is where the Jewish tribes originated; it is their first home. The desert and the sea are both symbols of the unconscious, where the heart opens to the infinite in moments of solitude.

Looking at Michelangelo’s painting I was reminded of a Sabian Symbol visualized as “A Serpent Coiling Near a Man and a Woman.” The astrologer Dane Rudhyar had this to say about its meaning:

“We can understand this ‘triangular’ image — man, woman and the serpent — if we relate it to the preceding one in the series, the unexploded bomb of the anarchist or activist. The urge to blow up some structure which somehow has become in the activist’s mind a symbol of the Establishment — the ruling elite — is usually the protest of an alienated and often immature mind that refuses relationship, because in the relationship he would occupy a subservient position. In this symbol, the serpent represents the acceptance of relationship by the two polarized human beings.”

Dane Rudhyar, “An Astrological Mandala: The Cycle of Transformations and Its 360 Symbolic Phases”

Lilith’s escape may have been immature (I actually do not think so) but sometimes a seemingly hopeless protest sows the seeds for the future, when the time will become ripe for a change to occur.

Mark
Rothko, “Rites of Lilith”

Notes:

(1) Siegmund Hurwitz, Lilith – The First Eve: Historical and Psychological Aspects of the Dark Feminine, Kindle edition (all the subsequent quotes in the post come from this book)

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The Black Madonna of Hergiswald

One of the most stunning Black Madonna chapels in Switzerland is located near Lucerne on a hill with a view of the mountains and Lake Lucerne. It was built in the seventeenth century after a Capuchin Friar Ludwig von Wyl had a dream of Our lady of Loreto, entreating him to build a chapel for her in Hergiswald. The distance of the chapel from the lake is exactly the same as the distance of The Holy House of Loreto to the sea.

The original Italian statue of the Black Madonna of Loreto burnt in the fire in 1921. The current remade statue displayed in Loreto was modelled after its Swiss copy in Hergiswald.

The Swiss chapel is a part of St Jacob’s Way – one of the pilgrimage routes to Santiago de Compostella. It is a lovely Baroque building erected by a clear mountain stream. The gentle sound of the water accompanies the pilgrim entering the chapel. The stream disappears in the forest leading to a hermitage, which was built in the fifteenth century and was the original place of pilgrimage in the area.

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The hermitage

What appears in front of a pilgrim who enters the chapel is simply breathtaking. The whole ceiling is adorned with 324 painted emblems illustrating the symbolic meaning of Mary’s role. The images were partly inspired by the Litany of Loreto and painted by Kaspar Meglinger, who is also famous for his Dance of Death featured on the Spreuer Bridge in Lucerne.

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The idea to cover the ceiling with emblems came from the Capuchin monk Ludwig von Wyl, who was inspired by Baroque artists such as Filippo Picinelli, author of Mondo Simbolico. 

From Mondo Simbolico by Picinelli

The sheer number of images and their depth is quite overwhelming. Below are just a few  with English translations. You can see a few more here.

Geminat Incendia – The Sun Doubles its Glow (the strength of the Sun in Leo)

Unspoiled white

She (here symbolized by the comet) shows the way

Darkness does not eclipse the Star

A distillator – I return what is pure

But the heart of the chapel is the house of the Virgin – a chapel within a chapel. It is a separate structure right in the centre. Inside there are votive offerings, frescoes depicting very down-to-earth activities around the birth of Jesus – a midwife boiling water for the newly born Jesus’s bath or Saint Anna cooking supper. The serene statue of the Black Madonna resides in the background.

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I returned to the village through the forest, descending along the so called Path to Light. This is a Rosary Path with wonderful paintings illustrating the mysteries of the Holy Rosary.

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Water of life

All is Given

 

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Reading The Red Book (23)

Chapter X of Liber Secundus is called Incantations. God (Izdubar) is now enclosed in the maternal egg. Jung  sings “the incantations for his incubation.” If we are the children of Gods, perhaps Gods can also be our children, he says:

“If my father the God should die, a God child should arise from my maternal heart.”

Humans – no matter if male or female – giving birth to Gods in their own souls, warming the egg with tender love and devotion, is a wonderful image, which elevates the feminine to godlike status, denied to her by patriarchal religions.

In this chapter, each incantation is accompanied or embedded within a full-size image.  In the first two incantations Jung’s connection with the wide expanse of the psyche is evident. He chants that he is the mother, the father, the maiden and the holy man from the East, thus incorporating all the traditional elements of the story of the nativity of Christ. Not only that, he is also “the holy animal that stood astonished” and finally:

“I am the egg that surrounds and nurtures the seed of the God in me.”

Image 51 (below) accompanies the second incantation. It shows a figure in deep meditation, contemplating ultimate realities of existence. Sanford L. Drob writes that this image shows “the imaginative temple of the mind.” (1)

The Red Book, image 51

The third incantation elaborates on the all-encompassing attributes of God as “the eternal emptiness and the eternal fullness,” “eternal darkness and eternal brightness,” “eternal below and eternal above.” God is presented here as Unity of Opposites (coincidentia oppositorum). This experience of oneness, non-duality, is common to many mystical traditions. The hypnotic shapes and colours of images 52 and 53 induce an even deeper trance. (2)

According to Jung, two components were indispensable in order to embark on alchemical work: meditatio and imaginatio. The Red Book can be viewed as a full exposition of his spiritual practice which incorporates these two processes.

Image 54 was given a title by Jung – Brahmanaspati, a Vedic deity presiding over prayer and the text of the Veda.  This mythical reference further supports the theme of deep meditation. (3) Brahmanaspati was also identified with Agni, the god of fire and with a deity of vegetation. The image is accompanied by the following incantation:

“Amen, you are the lord of the beginning.
Amen, you are the star of the East.
Amen, you are the flower that blooms over everything.
Amen, you are the deer that breaks out of the forest.
Amen, you are the song that sounds far over the water.
Amen, you are the beginning and the end.”

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The image is one of many illustrations of non-duality in The Red Book. A black snake arises from the fiery depths; his breath transforming into “the cool light of the blue heights.” (4) Analogically, image 55 is Jung’s rendering of the Egyptian solar myth, in which the Sun is threatened every night by the giant serpent Apep. The solar consciousness of what is visible is forever challenged by the underground forces of chaos.

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Image 56 with its Eastern opulence reminded me strongly of the Alhambra. As Drob rightly notices, Izdubar has come from the East and the images are an homage to his culture circle.

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In incantation that accompanies image 57 Jung gently persuades the God to break the shell and “rise up, you gracious fire of the night.” The inscription underneath image 59 says Hiranyagarbha, which can be translated as the Golden Womb or the Golden Egg (5). It is the source, which gave birth to all creation and the god Brahma himself.

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The incantation that accompanies image 60 contains the following verses:

“I have thrown down my sword and dressed in women’s clothing.
I shattered my firm castle and played like a child in the sand.
I saw warriors form into line of battle and I destroyed my suit of armor
with a hammer.
I planted my field and let the fruit decay.
I made small everything that was great and made everything great
that was small.
I exchanged my furthest goal for the nearest, and so I am ready.”

This seems like an ultimate spiritual task: going against one’s nature, one’s ego, one’s conditioning, in order to open to the wider spectrum of the whole psyche. There are sacrifices and blood is spilled on the narrow path to individuation.

In the final incantation to the God the I of The Red Book says something very profound:

“May your light shine
before us, may your fire warm the coldness of our life. We do not need your
power but life.
What does power avail us? We do not want to rule. We want to
live, we want light and warmth, and hence we need yours.”

A small green-clad figure is kneeling down in prayer, worshiping the god of fire. There is  faint solar barque in the background. The gift of life is the ultimate gift from the gods; it far surpasses any desire for power. Jung is ready for the opening of the egg; the eastern god will be healed.

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Notes:

(1) Sanford L. Drob, Reading The Red Book: An Interpretative Guide to C.G. Jung’s Liber Novus, Spring Journal Books 2012p. 113

(2) Ibid., p. 113

(3) Ibid., p. 113

(4) Ibid., p. 113

(5) Ibid., p. 114

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Reading The Red Book – part 1

Reading The Red Book – part 2

Reading The Red Book – part 3

Reading The Red Book – part 4

Reading The Red Book – part 5

Reading The Red Book – part 6

Reading The Red Book – part 7

Reading The Red Book – part 8

Reading The Red Book – part 9

Reading The Red Book – part 10

Reading The Red Book – part 11

Reading The Red Book – part 12

Reading The Red Book – part 13

Reading The Red Book – part 14

Reading The Red Book – part 15

Reading The Red Book – part 16

Reading The Red Book – part 17

Reading The Red Book – part 18

Reading The Red Book – part 19

Reading The Red Book – part 20

Reading The Red Book – part 21

Reading The Red Book – part 22

Reading The Red Book – part 24 

Reading The Red Book – part 25

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Michelangelo’s Immortality

“Oh, man! admire and model thyself after the whale! Do thou, too, remain warm among ice. Do thou, too, live in this world without being of it. Be cool at the equator; keep thy blood fluid at the Pole. Like the great dome of St. Peter’s, and like the great whale, retain, O man! in all seasons a temperature of thine own.”

Herman Melville, Moby Dick

The soul-stirring dome of Saint Peter’s Basilica, designed by Michelangelo towards the end of his life, was his crowning achievement. He died before it was completed but only after leaving detailed instructions, which were followed to the letter. I have recently read a fascinating biography dedicated to the last years of the artist’s life. You can read an inspiring and more detailed review of the book here.

The book is dedicated to various projects Michelangelo was working on during the last years of his life. Starting with the magnificent Moses, whose “accusatory stare” accompanied the artist in his private quarters. The two virtually lived together. According to a legend, Michelangelo once demanded from the sculpture, “Why don’t you speak?” Why Moses seems like such a irresistible force of nature can be perhaps explained by a quote from the book, which describes how Michelangelo chose the marble for this project:

“As he looked at the scarred mountain face, he was inspired to carve a colossus, using the entire mountain as his raw material.”

Apparently, Sigmund Freud was mesmerized by the statue, which he called “inscrutable.” He quotes an art critic, who muses over the reason why this rendition of Moses has the head of Pan. According to Freud, Moses here restrains himself from leaping to his feet and smashing the tablets of the Ten Commandments on the ground. It has been explained that the horns were probably a result of an incorrect translation of the Exodus, which described Moses as coming down from the Sinai with two “rays” on his forehead. The Jewish words for rays and horns are apparently very similar. Still, what Freud described as “a violent gust of passion” depicted in the sculpture harmonizes well with the horns of a wild pagan deity featured on the prophet’s head. The hand touching the beard is, according to Wallace, “one of those unconscious gestures that one sees repeatedly in Michelangelo’s art, subconscious thought animating unconscious, nervous movement.”

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When Michelangelo was 72, he began working on another magnificent sculpture – the Florentine Pietà. It was never finished; when you look closer you will notice than one of Christ’s legs is missing. Nonetheless, there is so much love and poignancy in the way in which the three figures – Virgin Mary, Mary Magdalene (on the left) and Nicodemus support the body of Christ. The centrality of Mary Magdalene in Christ’s life is visible in the composition, says Wallace:

“The Magdalene kneels on the privileged right hand of her Lord and savior. She helps to sustain his dead body; his right arm and hand fall across her shoulder, and his fingers lightly brush her back.”

The artist wanted the sculpture to adorn his grave and for this very reason he was afraid to finish it. It stayed in his quarters for a larger part of the rest of his life.

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Florentine Pietà

Yet it is St Peter’s Basilica and most importantly its dome which have granted Michelangelo immortality. The detailed description of the structure form one of the best passages of the book. Here are just a few:

“There are sixteen vertical ribs. From any vantage point, just eight ribs are visible. The number eight, symbolically, suggests the Resurrection, and a dome is a metaphor of heaven.”

“Against the sky, the dome attracts the eye like a buoy on a boundless blue sea. Birds are drawn to it: cawing gulls in the morning, silent swifts in the evening. At night the dome is more beacon than buoy—a light in a vast ocean of darkness. It is seen from everywhere in Rome.”

“The dome both contains and concentrates vertical forces. It is a mountain rising above the sacred ground of the Mons Vaticanus.”

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Reading The Red Book (22)

Max Ernst, “The Inner Vision: The Egg”

We have reached chapter IX of Liber Secundus, entitled “Second Day.” God Izdubar (Gilgamesh) is resigned to dying; Jung, however, is determined not to let him perish. A thought occurs to him, as he watches Izdubar’s suffering:

“And this speech began in me: Great Izdubar, you are in a hopeless position-and I no less. What can be done? It is not always necessary to act; sometimes thinking is better.”

What ensues may be looked upon as a foreshadowing of what Jungian psychology has brought to the world; namely, the notion of archetypes and fantasy as a saving grace. As Sanford L. Drob puts it, the remedy for the ailing god lies neither in the East nor in the West but in “thoughtful meditation.” (1) In order to save Izdubar, Jung declares him as “a fantasy:

“… he is a fantasy-and thus considerably more volatile-I think I can see a way forward: I can take him on my back for now.”

Jung perceived fantasy as a royal way to the creation of reality. Crucially, the objects of imagination are not less real than the so-called objective world. (2) In Psychological Types, Jung wrote:

“Each new day reality is created by the psyche. The only expression I can use for this activity is phantasy. … it is the mother of all possibilities, in which too the inner and the outer worlds, like all psychological antitheses, are joined in living union.” (3)

By suppressing fantasy in the age of science, we became greatly impoverished by such unnatural limitations. However, as Jung argues in Psychological Types:

“… we know that every good idea and all creative work is the offspring of the imagination, and has its source in what one is pleased to term infantile phantasy. It is not the artist alone, but every creative individual whatsoever who owes all that is greatest in his life to phantasy. The dynamic principle of phantasy is play which belongs also to the child, and as such it appears to be inconsistent with the principle of serious work. But without this playing with phantasy no creative work has ever yet come to birth. The debt we owe to the play of imagination is incalculable.” (4)

Light as a feather, Izdubar is carried by Jung to the Western land. On the way, they spot Ammonius and the Red One, who are horrified at their sight. Izdubar asks:

“Iz: “Who are these misshapen ones? Are these your comrades?”
I: “These are not men, they are so-called relics of the past which one still often encounters in the Western lands. They used to be very important. They’re now used mostly as shepherds.”

Jung clearly shows that he is spiritually more invested in ancient pagan gods rather than the official Christian dogma represented by the hermit Ammonius and the Red One, or the devil. Now his whole love is directed towards the dying God of the East, whom he brought to the West to heal:

“Izdubar and I come to a quiet dark garden and a secluded house. I hide Izdubar under the drooping branches of a tree, go up to the door of the house, and knock. I ponder the door: it is much too small. I will never be able to get Izdubar through it. Yet-a fantasy takes up no space! Why did this excellent thought not occur to me earlier? I return to the garden and with no difficulty squeeze Izdubar into the size of an egg and put him in my pocket. Then I walk into the welcoming house where Izdubar should find healing.”

Izdubar is transformed by Jung’s quiet and thoughtful meditation and by his utter devotion into an egg, which can be regarded as a sort of an amulet – a source of life and a living essence of divinity brought down to the human scale.  By turning God into a phantasy or a symbol Jung did not reduce him but rather he bridged the gap between the divine and the mortal world. It is the human soul which is the most perfect receptacle for the divine. Jung thus speaks of his soul being filled with God:

“But I loved my God, and took him to the house of men, since I was convinced that he also really lived as a fantasy, and should therefore not be left behind, wounded and sick. And hence I experienced the miracle of my body losing its heaviness when I burdened myself with the God.”

If our God is outside of us, argues Jung, then he becomes our yoke and burden like a stale, outdated ritual, which does not nourish the soul. “The God within us” infuses lightness into our being. Jung compares the inner divinity of the soul to “God’s armour, [which] will make you invulnerable and invisible to the worst fools.” He also admonishes those who have found God in their souls not to reveal the divinity to the world but to conceal it. The reason is because the fellow humans react with aggression if they sense an approaching God. Jung shares these words of advice:

“Thus do not speak and do not show the God, but sit in a solitary place and sing incantations in the ancient manner:
Set the egg before you, the God in his beginning.
And behold it.
And incubate it with the magical warmth of your gaze.”

It is apparent why Jung hesitated to publish The Red Book in his lifetime. Ultimately, divinity blossoms in a quiet solitude of the individual soul. That seems to be the real meaning of the Delphic maxim “Know thyself” and the essence of Jungian psychology.

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Constantin Brancusi, “Sculpture for the Blind: Beginning of the World”

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Notes:

(1) Sanford L. Drob, Reading The Red Book: An Interpretative Guide to C.G. Jung’s Liber Novus, Spring Journal Books 2012p. 109

(2) Ibid, p. 110

(3) C. G. Jung, Psychological Types or the Psychology of Individuation, translated by H. Godwin Baynes, Pantheon Books, New York, p. 69

(4) Ibid, p. 82

Reading The Red Book – part 1

Reading The Red Book – part 2

Reading The Red Book – part 3

Reading The Red Book – part 4

Reading The Red Book – part 5

Reading The Red Book – part 6

Reading The Red Book – part 7

Reading The Red Book – part 8

Reading The Red Book – part 9

Reading The Red Book – part 10

Reading The Red Book – part 11

Reading The Red Book – part 12

Reading The Red Book – part 13

Reading The Red Book – part 14

Reading The Red Book – part 15

Reading The Red Book – part 16

Reading The Red Book – part 17

Reading The Red Book – part 18

Reading The Red Book – part 19

Reading The Red Book – part 20

Reading The Red Book – part 21

Reading The Red Book – part 23

Reading The Red Book – part 24 

Reading The Red Book – part 25

Posted in The Red Book by C.G. Jung, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Symbolism of the Wetlands

“I enter a swamp as a sacred place, a sanctum sanctorum. … My temple is the swamp.”

***

“Hope and the future for me are not in lawns and cultivated fields, not in towns and cities, but in the impervious and quaking swamps.”

Henry David Thoreau, “Walking”

Wilhelm Kotarbinski, “Evening Star”

Ancient Egyptians pictured the afterlife as a field of reeds, a fertile marsh with islands emerging from a sea of rushes similar to the ones in the Nile Delta. It is not hard to see why the Egyptians appreciated the primeval and eternal atmosphere of the marshes, “untouched by human history or labour.” (1) Swamps are ideal places of contemplation as well as mindfulness: on the one hand a lower level of oxygen creates a feeling of dizziness, on the other one wrong step could have fatal repercussions, not to mention the need to look out for various primeval monsters that are believed to be lurking in marshes.

Vincent van Gogh, “Marsh with Water Lillies”

Every summer the marshes of the Nile Delta were flooded thus returning the valley to the “form of primordial waters.” (2) In autumn a fertile field was revealed as a sign of a new beginning which was, however, fraught with “predatory forces of annihilation” such as alligators on the hunt. (3) The new beginnings are always vulnerable and slippery, for all their vitality and emergence. (4)

Marshes continue to play a vital purifying role for our environment, acting as a bulwark against flooding and being able to absorb more carbon dioxide than forests. And yet their destruction continues, as more land is required for agriculture and human settlements, including numerous cities.

As Rod Giblett puts it,

“Wetlands are maternal as they give birth to new life and nourish it. They are environmental waters of nourishing milk, their living waters are the breast of the great mother, the earth, and they are the moist womb that gives birth to new life. Wetlands are also maternal as they are the tomb for decaying and dying matter that gives rebirth to new life. Wetlands as womb are the source of life and wetlands as living waters are the first source of nourishment, the first object of love and the first object to be lost in modernization, colonization, drainage, and ‘progress.’ (5)

Great cities such as London, New York, Paris, Berlin, Chicago, Venice, Mexico City, New Orleans and St. Petersburg emerged from the wetlands and their “womb of watery chaos, fecund and fertile.” (6)

Map of Tenochtitlan – the Aztec wetland city on the grounds of which Mexico City was built, printed 1524 in Nuremberg, German; via Wikipedia

But the mother of all swamp cities, argues Giblett, is Paris. Its original name – Lutetia – goes back to the Celtic word “lutum” – mud. The coat of arms of the city of Paris contains the Latin motto, “Fluctuat nec mergitur,” i.e. “it floats but does not sink.” The goddess Lutetia personifies Paris as “the Great Goddess swamp mother.” The city is celebrated for its “interior labyrinths, dangerous depths, and fascinating passages.” (7)

Coat of arms of the city of Paris

As more and more land was torn from the hands of the Great Mother of Swamps, the divine marsh of the goddess was reinterpreted as a slimy marsh and a dirty sewer. Unlike Ancient Egypt, modern cities wish to forget their marshy beginnings, relegating the swamp to the underworld.

James Abbot McNeill Whistler, “Nocturne in Grey and Gold – Piccadilly”

Similarly to Paris, the name London derives from the Gaelic “lunnd” (marsh). The darkness of London, its “black heart,” is a well-known symbolic trope. In most cities, the fringes of respectable society are referred to as slums, the demi-monde, while these rejected, “liquid and horizontal” elements contrast with the “solid and vertical” crystal city. (8) Yet a seventh of the world population continues to dwell in this “urban nether world” amidst our “cities of light soaring toward heaven.” (9)

London’s Crystal Palace, symbol of the Industrial Revolution, was destroyed by fire in 1936

Venice is perhaps the most famous wetland city, mainly because its origins are still visible whereas the marshy cradle of Paris or London has been suppressed and is largely invisible. In Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice, a protagonist imagines a marshland landscape just before the city of Venice was founded as “a landscape, a tropical marshland, beneath a reeking sky, steaming, monstrous, rank— a kind of primeval wilderness- world of island, morasses and alluvial channels.” (10) There is symbolic ambivalence surrounding Venice, which has been described both as the holiest, the most sublime of cities on the one hand and the most sinful, hellish city on the other. This is because La Serenissima emerged from the marshes, which symbolize the unconscious with its dual nature of light and darkness, good and evil. The supernatural, the unconscious is palpable all over the place in this shimmering city built on water.

Gustave Moreau, “Venice”

The chaos of the primordial mother goddess of the swamps was overcome by the “mathematized space” of New York with its skyscrapers and the precise grid plan. Yet urban legend has it that the sewers of New York are inhabited by crocodiles. (11) Symbolically, the crocodile, like the swamp, links the energies of renewal and dissolution. (12) It is a liminal creature, as it inhabits the intermediate realm between earth and water. It is symbolic of viciousness and destructiveness and also of fecundity by virtue of its association with mud and water.

A deceased woman prostrates herself before the deity Geb in the form of a crocodile, image found in “The Book of Symbols,” p. 201

New Orleans is another fascinating American city built on marshlands. Unlike New York, it does not appear to be mathematized but rather it continues to exhibit its “amorphous boundaries” between land and water. It was born out of the womb of the great American mother of all rivers – the Mississippi. New Orleans is a city where the boundaries between the dead and the living are very fluid. The chaos inherent in the liminal space between land and water erupted when the hurricane Katrina wreaked havoc in the area. (13) Similarly, the periodic flooding of Venice is a reminder that mother goddess is forever ready to reclaim what is hers.

Because they may seem inhospitable and dangerous, the marshes and swamplands are a well-known symbol of the unconscious. The Jungian analyst James Hollis wrote:

“…it is the swamplands of the soul, the savannas of suffering, that provide the context for the stimulation and the attainment of meaning.” (5)

The ego with its obsession of control desperately tries to “flee the swamplands.” (6) Yet serving the external authority figures, by being worker ants in our adult lives, we have no more energy left to serve the soul, which thus falls into swamplike “desuetude,” Hollis argues. (7) Successful lives are so often built on the horrors of doubt, disillusionment and terrors lurking in the swamplands of the soul. Compulsion replaces life.

Throughout our lives, argues Hollis, we are repeatedly pulled into psychological swamplands. No one is exempt, no matter how much psychotherapy he or she has undergone. It is not possible to permanently inhabit a castle somewhere on the moral high ground:

“The great rhythms of nature, of time and tide, of fate and destiny, and of our own psyche, move their powerful ways quite outside our will.” (8)

This melancholic underpinning, the swamp of our soul, creates its own music, full of suffering and dismay. In a myth, the nymph Syrinx was pursued by Pan and managed to flee him by being transformed into marsh reeds. When Pan sighed with dismay upon the reeds, they produces a plaintive sound, which gave him the idea of constructing the first panpipes. Thus music rose out of the marshlands.

Joseph Noel Paton, “Pan Piping”

Notes:

(1)The Book of Symbols, Reflections on Archetypal Images, ARAS, edited by Ami Ronnberg p. 120

(2) Ibid.

(3) Ibid.

(4) Ibid.

(5) Rod Giblett, Cities and Wetlands: The Return of the Repressed in Nature and Culture, Bloomsbury Academic 2016, p. 13

(6) Ibid., p. 16

(7) Ibid., p. 38-47

(8) Ibid., p. 59-72

(9) Ibid., p. 77

(10) Ibid., p. 84

(11) Ibid., p. 155-156

(12) The Book of Symbols, Reflections on Archetypal Images, ARAS, edited by Ami Ronnberg p. 200

(13) Rod Giblett, Cities and Wetlands: The Return of the Repressed in Nature and Culture, Bloomsbury Academic 2016, p. 184-193

(14) James Hollis, Swamplands of Soul: New Life in Dismal Places, Inner City Books 1996, p. 8

(15) Ibid., p. 15

(16) Ibid., p. 76

(17) Ibid., p. 124

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On Removing Racially Charged Images

The white domination – this tectonic plate that underlies the Western culture – is shifting radically, steering for a massive earthquake. I do not feel I possess the right to express my opinion on the subject; I would rather quote Wittgenstein’s famous words from his Tractatus, “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.” I will only appeal to you to please watch Dave Chappelle’s monologue if you have not already:

 

Here in Switzerland we are following very closely what is going on across the ocean. We have also had a few Black Lives Matter marches as well as a raging national debate regarding a certain sweet treat. I realize this does sound trivial but I felt gratitude when Migros, Switzerland’s largest supermarket chain, removed the “Mohrenkopf” (“black man’s head” or “blackamoor’s head”) sweets from its shelves. The company had persistently refused to change the controversial name. But what’s in a name? Apparently quite a lot.

Words that we so casually use often have a complex and violent history that cannot be simply brushed aside. What lurks behind the name “Mohrenkopf” is not nice. In German “Mohren” was the term used to describe black people (later replaced by another ugly word – Neger, which is out of use now), while “Mauren” were the equivalent of the Moors, who conquered the Iberian Peninsula. Still, “Mohren” und “Mauren” stem from the same linguistic root, which is why the image of Saint James the Apostle cutting off the heads of Spanish Moors is embroiled in the bloody story of the word “Mohrenkopf.”

Santiago Matamoros, Saint James the Moor-slayer, Patron Saint of Spain

Also some historic guilds featuring black people in their logos have been under fire in Switzerland. The Moor is a symbol of a Bern city guild and was the source of its name. The statue of the Moor (featured below) has now been covered with cloth.

Removing statues, changing names, banning sweet treats may be described as superficial solutions by some, but from my perspective the symbols of racial violence committed by our ancestors in not so distant past deserve to be removed. The unconscious feeds off the surrounding images, thus perpetuating the cycle of suffering. “Everything we know and feel and every statement we make … derive from psychic images,” wrote James Hillman in Alchemical Psychology. We are called to transform the symbolic dimension of the public space so that a new consciousness may emerge.

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