Cartography of the Deep Human Psyche (5)


Gustave Dore, Dante at the Gate of Hell

Just as Adam and Eve are cast out from Paradise, so our blissful sojourn in the mother’s womb comes to an end in the first stage of delivery. This moment marks the transition to Basic Perinatal Matrix II. LSD research suggests that contractions always create a situation of threat and emergency for the fetus. The cervix remains closed, the contractions feel like impending doom, which makes the fetus feel trapped with no way out. Grof calls this experience “hell” and “no exit;” it is typically accompanied by an unbearable misery and suffering, deep pessimism, hopelessness, and a negative bias in perceiving reality. All subjects of the research invariably shared these feelings. The first noble truth of Buddhism asserts the existence of suffering, and it seems it stamps its imprint on human existence very early, even before the first breath is drawn.


Gustave Dore, Adam and Eve Driven out of Eden

Those who relive this matrix during an LSD session typically report feelings of empathy and identification with the victimized, downtrodden, and oppressed.

A subject can experience himself as thousands of soldiers who have died on the battlefields of the whole world from the beginning of time, as the tortured victims of the Spanish Inquisition, as prisoners of concentration camps, as patients dying of terminal diseases, as aging individuals who are decrepit and senile, as mothers and children dying during delivery, or as inmates maltreated in chronic wards of insane asylums.

Grof makes a claim that for a person carrying deeply embedded memories of BPM II life seems to be absurd and bereft of meaning. After reading Grof I tried to get some information from my mother about the circumstances of my delivery. Apparently, the BMP II was a long process in my case, which translated into Grof’s psychology might mean I spent a long time experiencing the non-exit situation, feeling trapped with no way out. That made me wonder because I believe I do have an awareness of my inner darkness, although I have never been depressed. When I was a student I went through a prolonged existentialist phase and one of the authors I adored was a Romanian pessimist philosopher, Emil Cioran, author of some books with telling titles, such as On the Heights of Despair or The Trouble with Being Born. Here are a few random quotes from his works, so that you can feel the flavour:

I don’t understand why we must do things in this world, why we must have friends and aspirations, hopes and dreams. Wouldn’t it be better to retreat to a faraway corner of the world, where all its noise and complications would be heard no more? Then we could renounce culture and ambitions; we would lose everything and gain nothing; for what is there to be gained from this world?

Shame on the man who goes to his grave escorted by the miserable hopes that have kept him alive.

We are so lonely in life that we must ask ourselves if the loneliness of dying is not a symbol of our human existence.

I cannot contribute anything to this world because I only have one method: agony.

I can still recommend him although he does talk about suicide much too often, so I would advise caution. Even now I love to return to his books occasionally. I usually do not share a lot of personal details on this blog but I have noticed a certain preference on my part for darker authors. My cherished writers are actually, besides Cioran, Kafka and Dostoevsky. Ever since their prose stung me, which happened very early, I haven’t found any other writers who would affect me more. Also, I used to read enormous amounts of literary texts on concentration camps. And yet I am not depressive by nature: far from it. I just believe strongly that darkness is an inalienable part of the human psyche.


Gustave Dore, The Inferno, Canto 8

What I found really fascinating in the description of BMP II was that death and birth are accompanied by exactly the same feeling in human existence. As Beckett wrote, we give birth astride the grave. The subjects of Grof’s LSD research who were reliving the onset of delivery were actually convinced they were dying. They experienced real agony and terror. We all know that death always precedes rebirth in symbolic thinking. Like in the Tarot, the Death card carries symbolism of rebirth with it.


Death, Mystic Dreamer tarot

The LSD experience of BPM II is accompanied by various symbolic images that the subjects report seeing. These include: hell, Sisyphus’ plight, Ixion fixed to a fiery rolling wheel, Prometheus chained to a rock, screaming Erinyes, the passion of Christ, etc. Ixion especially drew my attention because his myth is extremely interesting to me. He committed a horrible crime (murder of kin) for which he was to be eternally damned. However, Zeus decided to purify him and took him to the Olympus. The ungrateful Ixion planned to seduce Hera, the wife of Zeus. Zeus saw through his plans and fashioned a cloud which Ixion believed to be Hera. Ixion blissfully mated with the cloud, which enraged Zeus, who sentenced him to being chained to a fiery wheel for eternity.



The fascinating part is that a race of Centaurs was born from Ixion and the cloud. Ixion epitomizes carnal sins, the hot passion, anger and cruelty, which the gods so love to punish. The Centaurs that descended from Ixion were very violent and malicious. It is worth noting that he wise Centaur Chiron was fathered by the Titan Cronos, not Ixion. To the Greeks, Chiron represented the positive combination of human’s animal and spiritual nature, while the Ixion descended Centaurs stood for violent lust, evil, debauchery, cruelty, thoughtlessness and bestiality.

Reading on this perinatal matrix made me ponder a lot on the origins and roots of evil and darkness in the human psyche. I was reminded of a verse from Dante’s Inferno:

I felt for the tormented whirlwinds
Damned for their carnal sins
Committed when they let their passions rule their reason.


Gustave Dore, Exodus 10: The Plague of Darkness

Related posts:

Cartography of the Deep Human Psyche: 1, 2, 3, 4

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46 Responses to Cartography of the Deep Human Psyche (5)

  1. Interesting. Grof’s work, in part, sparked the research into the psychological profiles of people according to their birth process. The evidence suggests overarching archetypal or universal predispositions. Do you know of this work, Monika? In my opinion, it well describes what has become a tragedy in the US regarding the birth process. Babies are not allowed the necessary experience of birthing themselves into the world. Cesaerian sections for convenience sake, saddle blocks, pitocin, and drugged births terribly effect the psyche of the birthing child. That psyche is the one that is lived for the whole life.

    Our divorce from Nature has meant a divorce from natural processes or to somehow view them with disdain. Somehow Nature is unnatural and backward. Yet, the birth of a child is THE formative act of the incarnating soul. Thus your post on Grof’s work.

    • I have not heard of birth profiles but it sounds so interesting. I am also concerned about the tendencies in modern birth process – I think this influences all of us profoundly and not in a good way.

      • Agreed. I’m not sure what you would google to find out more, but a colleague introduced me to the information. I will say that for my birth, the profile fit to a tee. I was born with natural processes, no drugs. However, I was born three weeks early and the doctors (1956) had my mother close her legs so as to slow down the birth. Therefore, I was coming fast and with no problems, but was stopped cold. The profile through my life is that I start things easily and fully, but have difficulty completing. Things not in my control always truncate the process.

        I will say that as the colleague gave the various profiles, it fit everyone in the room that I knew (long term students), even if they did not recognize it for themselves.

      • Mine was a breech birth and what I have managed to find about its symbolic meaning makes sense to me. But I would still like to consult a more in-depth source. There is definitely something along the lines of not fighting or asserting myself, maybe resisting change also. I was unconscious when they pulled me out, which would indicate a certain passivity, just being carried by the currents of life.

      • As you said in your previous comment, it is disturbing what has happened to the birthing process modernly. The birth itself is a vital embodying of the soul. The kundalini-like wiggle of the baby down the birth canal, fostered by the contractions, is necessary to its physiology, the clearing of its lungs, the massaging of its lymph and circulatory systems. The pain that the mother endures and survives is designed to bring a woman to the fullness of her potential as the great sacrifice that being a mother actually is: the profound love and compassion born of selflessness that mothering always has been. It is a complex wholeness that modern convenience medicine has played with, and like the environment, it is a travesty.

      • Donna, what a wise comment! I am very grateful for these words.

  2. I did DMT once and on a slide downwards lined with neon bands of color, I kept seeing images of the “so called devil” I just laughed but it was cool. Once you open your eyes it as if you did nothing at all.

  3. As you are aware, one’s birth circumstances can be seen through the Ascendant. I am glad you have not experienced depression, but some of your literary preferences live on the dark side. I read both Night and Man’s Search for Meaning in school and found the images so horrific and gruesome. Perhaps Scorpio at the IC can translate to feeling at home and secure in the dark.

    • You’re right about both my Asc and the importance of Scorpio IC, Linda. One thing I have never liked are horror stories – I do not understand their gruesome purpose. Holocaust literature can be also very dark but it has a deep moral message and reminds us of what humans are capable of. I also have very weak stomach for images of violence – always close my eyes during movies.

  4. Henry Jekyll says:

    I am always thrilled when I see a post from you in my reader Monika. This is another great piece. I can say with certainty that I come away with a new dimension of consideration after reading your writing.

  5. Yaz says:

    I’ve always thought that the birthing experience is so difficult because arriving here is resisted. This is a difficult world in which we have so much to learn in such hard ways. Your professor’s quote about wanting to hide in some remote corner is how we do feel, though we never do escape. Peace comes when we accept why we are here and just let it all happen with resignation. Sounds gloomy, but there are always happy bits too!

  6. Ah. To say that I liked the post would be an understatement. “Bis. Bis. Bis.” 🙂

  7. Stuff Jeff Reads says:

    Hmm. So here’s something that you might find interesting. Some artwork from the middle ages depict the “fruit of the knowledge of good and evil” which Adam and Eve ate as hallucinogenic mushrooms. Here’s a site that has some images of these frescoes:

    I had first learned about this when I took a class on Hallucinogens and Culture in college. Your post reminded me of it. Cheers!

  8. MartsArts Poetrypictures says:

    Rich post Monika. And as you could aspect i’m of course triggered by your thoughts and reflections about the place of darkness in our lives. I also know very well this emotional color,  and also never have been ill making depressed by it. On the contrary, it gave me early started and ungoging driver for putting things in perspective and deepen them. Of course there is suffering and uselessness and exestential loneliness. But why is it there, where does it come from and how to live your life with it?

    Thinking about it my past I have seen it as a strange and negative force. In fundamental contradiction with the endless producing and reproducing cosmic energy and with evolution. How come that this darker, melancholic and sometimes pessimistic feelings did not die off in our evolution?

    Meanwhile I think it’s exactly reversed. I now think that this darkness in people is a very strong inner driver to creation and knowledge. (Look at yourself 🙂 ). So I think that this darkness asis lightness both are inforced in our human development.

    Than I also don’t think most of these darker feelings come from suffering at birth and should be ‘healed’ by rebirthing therapy ( although I also stuck in my mum, she at least has a trauma of it 🙂 ). On the contrary, I think we should fully accept the dark drivers of ourselves a make something beautiful of it.

    • I agree with everything you said. I also do not think that we need to heal our darkness, rather embrace it and own it. Some of the new age stuff out there is so pink and fluffy… About healing birth traumas, perhaps some of them should be healed but if everyone had the same experience of no exit then it is a norm and not something to be healed.

  9. Don says:

    I really like the way you interpreted the myth of Adam and Eve within the context of what you said, Monika. Expulsion out of the garden of a unified and undifferentiated innocence is imperative if the journey in to differentiation and individuation is to take place. Therefore it is not a fall from life, a persistent interpretation, but one in to life and into that darkness you speak of that is such an essential part of that journey, a journey in to a differentiated and individuated union. Thank you for a post shot through with so much meaning. Really appreciate your posts.

    • Thank you, Don. I guess having been born in an ultra-Catholic country infused my memory with so much content from both the New and Old Testament. I heard them read every week as a child. I went through a period of rebellion, I am not religious any more but I still appreciate the wisdom of the Holy Book. I really appreciate your comment.

  10. Soul Fields says:

    A great post and a most interesting discussion again. I have some core symbols of my birth story, too.

    In general I have noticed some labellings/projections people have about lightness and being deep. Lightness is not always superficial. It can also be a result of a very deep inner journey. (Nor being gloomy is necessarily about being “deep”. ) Not all out there who write about positive thinking, or are in the new age arena, have realized and processed their own blind spots, and they speak, and write and coach via them. That is human and understandable and one good point to remain being our own authorities and when coaching (etc) encouraging others to be so, too. I love a countryman, who as therapist wrote (this was several years ago) about how he had unknowingly advised his clients through his own programmed “blind spots”.

    • Yes, I hope I did not sound disparagingly. I agree with you that lightness or light does not preclude depth. Thank you for pointing that out.

      • Soul Fields says:

        No, it did not. There is a point to what you said. For example, someone with deep issues, who is told that just smile and it´s done, is one point where “positivity” can become a sort of tool for often unconscious competition and negative comparing. Some of us have just chosen steeper paths and many layers to “open”. I just continued your thought, for that (in my comment) is something I´m often observing.

        How to be non-dual in commenting with a dual language is one thing to me.:) Like, I for example have both gloomy and light parts in me in different dynamic intensities. I´m speaking about sub personalities and different levels of distress. And so on. I often have it challenging to crystallize things, because there are so many layers and view points to everything. That´s one reason I often rather stay silent than comment to anyone. .D )

      • I sense we are very similar in our dualism and ambivalence. It takes a long time for me to form an opinion and stick to it, I just like to look at both sides of the fence. I am both light and dark. And with crystallization, I have similar issues, which is probably visible in my writing.

      • Soul Fields says:

        I haven´t noticed that in your writing. Quite the contrary I admire your talent to say so much in a blog post.

      • Thank you, you’re always so kind.

  11. shreejacob says:

    This is so interesting!! I wonder though if any experiments or thoughts on those who were born via C-section…and emergency versus elective? I was born via emergency C-section. My mother didn’t have any labour pains but from what my mom told me, when they did the operation, I had already passed meconium!!


    • I think everything is very significant but I have not heard about any experiments or research connected to C-section. I am working on the last part of the perinatal series. Once I have described all the four matrices, you will see what you probably missed out on…

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  13. ptero9 says:

    Taking a little time out from visiting with family to catch up on some reading here. It amazes me how similar the many paths are, LSD, meditation, sense deprivation, and even the dayworld experience of birth and death.
    “And yet I am not depressive by nature: far from it. I just believe strongly that darkness is an inalienable part of the human psyche.”
    Darkness can sometimes get a bad rap. I too want to be able to “travel in the dark,” and it may well be that old fears are being exorcised. As well, I have had difficulty with what I perceived as fluffy new-age stuff, but am listening now for a way to enter into the language that comes more from the perspective of the light.
    Recently, I have come to wonder if loneliness is what we experience when we don’t sense or feel the unity that underlies our existence. I don’t feel lonely the way I used to, I think of others and know that they’re there/here and that deep down we all share some essence that is just so difficult to put into words.
    I love this series Monika! Thank you for doing so much great work and sharing it with us.

    • Thank you, Debra, I adore your comments here! I am also making my way towards light. In the sixth part I deliberately omitted a lot of morbid and gruesome material that Grof wrote about in painstaking detail. I think my esthetic sense suffered. That was much too dark.

      • ptero9 says:

        It really has been a great read Monika. Your descriptions of the stages remind me how parallel are the different paths of transformation found in mythology, alchemy and religious beliefs.
        I was thinking last night that of course, light and dark are part of the spectrum that include all shadings in between, so understanding the distinctions between them is part of the journey.

      • Thank you, Debra. You know, I tried to lighten up my text because Grof has a very heavy style. I appreciate your insights.

  14. One thing I’ve been told is I didn’t want to come out. I was born late, as far as being born past my due date by around a week or so I think. Also, they eventually pulled me out with forceps! Or so I’ve been told. My head even has a somewhat odd shape, which could be attributed to me being pulled out with forceps! I am getting the sense this is a significant event in the context of Stanislav Grof . . .

    • That is interesting. I was one month premature, so I must have been eager. But then I probably fainted and came out with my buttocks first, I mean I was pulled out, looking like a dead and peaceful angel, as my mother reports. My family always joke my birth showed my attitude to the world – it is a standing joke. Thanks for sharing your story, Gray.

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