Freud & Women

I’ve been reading up on Freud’s ideas and theories about women with what I consider to be rather unpleasantly surprising results.[1]

Stereotypes & Theories

We all have a tendency to stereotype. Yet however much we may wish to believe that, as a scientist, Freud would have done otherwise, there is plenty to suggest that’s exactly what he did.

Although he openly admitted that his understanding of women was ‘shadowy and incomplete’, this did not stop him from putting forth broad-sweeping theories about what it was to be a woman and how women should be viewed by both themselves and by men.

And don’t forget that although he didn’t really ‘know’ women, he definitely ‘knew’ all about men – because, well, he was one, after all – and so all the better to treat their psychological problems with extra care and empathy. 

Oedipus Complex 

Freud’s theories dealt in large part with how the psychological aspects of childhood lead up to adult sexuality. Most of these theories centre around what he coined as the Oedipus complex, wherein little boys wish to murder their fathers because they see them as rivals for sexual congress with their mothers. The boy’s hostile feelings toward father lead to castration anxiety, an irrational fear that in punishment, father will castrate him, or, in other words cut off his penis. If they manage to properly resolve this anxiety, little boys grow up to be just like their fathers.

How this works with women remains always a bit of a mystery because of course, since little girls do not have penises they have no similar cause for concern. There’s the pinch. Women come to appreciate that they are ‘mutilated’ (in the sense they do not have a penis) and thus they and their bodies are deficient. 

This leads to (1) both men and women holding contempt for women’s deformed bodies and (2) men being firmly established as superior to women because women are now defined (both to themselves and to society) not by what they have, but instead by what they lack. 

One of the clear benefits the Oedipus complex is that men now have a convenient excuse to cheat on their wives. Freud ‘discovered’ that men symbolically split their image of ‘woman’ between (1) mother and (2) prostitute. Since it is the duty of a married woman to ensure her marriage is successful by becoming mother to her husband, married men will no longer be erotically aroused by their mother/wives. After all, it was his desire for mother that got him into the Oedipal mess in the first place. Why on earth would he do that again? Where does this leave him? Securely in the arms of the prostitute. 

Clinical Cases

Freud reaches his conclusions about how childhood traumas effect women as the result of numerous clinical cases whereby his adult patients, hysterical women, present with a wide range of pathological (i.e., not normal) symptoms.

Consider the case of Dora, who like mythological Cassandra, has ‘not been heard’ by her family. You may recall that the god Apollo, himself the picture-perfect archetypal man, taught Cassandra the art of prophecy on the promise that she would become his lover. But when she reneged, he took his revenge: although she could still prophesise, no one would believe her.

Like Iphigenia, who in Greek mythology was sacrificed by her father, King Agamemnon, to make up to the goddess Artemis for his own wrong-doing, Dora was also an of barter for her father. What we learn from all this is how it feels to possess denied sexual desire as well as lesbian tendencies (poor Dora could not attach to – and therefore be just like – her unloving mother).

We also learn that Dora is also rejected Freud himself, who refuses to see her as the confused ‘adolescent’ that she is and instead vilifies her as a bad, vengeful woman. 

As rational 21st century persons, we might well-understand why poor Dora, so badly abused by men, might turn hateful. Sadly, turn-of the-last century men like Freud, didn’t see it in quite the same way.

Medusa

Perhaps it was cases like that of poor Dora that led Freud to conclude that essentially, all women are wildly scary, a serious castration threat to all men. 

To demonstrate how this might work, Freud chose the myth of Medusa who, once a beautiful mortal woman managed to offend the goddess Athena by having sex with the god, Poseidon, in Athena’s temple (although it is highly questionable whether or not the sexual act was 100% consensual for Medusa’s part). As punishment, Medusa was turned into a terrifying gorgon, whose once beautiful hair was now a mass of writhing (phallic) snakes and whose once beautiful face, turned men to stone. Clearly it was to the benefit of all mankind that Perseus, a true hero in the Greek tradition, was successful in killing Medusa and then pranced about holding up his prize, Medusa’s decapitated head.

The problem is that thinking about the Medusa (and her dicey sexuality – the bit that got her into trouble with in the first place), men are reminded of their castration anxiety. Who, then, could blame them if as the result, they get an erection from the whole idea which Freud confusedly connects with fetishism (the denial of female sexuality). I mean, after all would an eructation not be the best course of action to ensure it’s still down there in one piece and in good working order?

Conclusion

This would seem to leave us with a theory of the feminine that is defined by lack; women are in essence castrated men. As the result, at the slightest whiff that women could have sexual desires, men are reminded of their own fear of castration. Thus in order to keep the threat of (symbolic) castration at bay, men must firmly take control of the women in their lives (i.e., not be ‘pussy-whipped’) because, according to Freud, men are afraid, with good reason, of being weakened by women, ‘infected’ with her femininity (not to mention being damaged by her anger and revenge).

If this all leaves women with a poor self-image, then that’s all the better. Not only is it quite normal – but massively convenient for men –  that all women appreciate that they are second class citizens, mutilated at birth. 


[1] Credit to Nancy J Chodorow and her excellent chapter, ‘Freud on women’, in the Cambridge Companion to Freud, 2008 (Kindle Version).

Man’s Relationship with his Gods

Reading Homer’s Iliad, it is clear that not only did the gods – or immortals – meddle in every aspect of the lives of important men and women – but that those men and women were quick to blame their misfortunes on the gods, often failing to take any personal responsibility for their lives, as we might be expected today.

So what might have might have been going on?

I suggest it’s all to do with man’s perceived relationship with his gods. Further, I suggest that this is nicely explained in Julian Jaynes’s book The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind. In that work, Jayne’s proposed that until about 3000 years ago, human consciousness consisted only of voices that, because the two hemispheres of the brain didn’t communicate, were perceived as coming from the gods.

In essence, these ancient men lacked self-consciousness as we know it today. They could not perceive themselves as separate from – and thus ‘in relationship with’ – the gods. Instead, they had a type of cosmic consciousness which gave them imaginal – almost telepathic – access to the greater cosmos. Everything they saw and heard was to them, objectively real.

Jaynes suggests that in effect these ancients were what we might call ‘signal-bound’, responding constantly in a stimulus -response manner, completely controlled by cues. To get a sense of what this means, we need only to look at artwork from this period. I am most struck by the early Cycladic art, which I suggests demonstrates these people had a symbiotic relationship with their divinity, the Great Goddess and Earth Mother. This was the Age of Taurus, one in which men and women moved with and through the flow of nature, at one with the natural world.

Jaynes suggests this bicameralism began to break down during 2nd millennium BCE  – about the time of that the Trojan War is thought to have occurred. This was the Age of Aries and so during this time, the focus shifts to individualised achievement and conquest. The world was no longer slow moving and rural, but hierarchically organised and maintained by brute force. This required a cold, hard, calculated response. The gods no longer spoke to every individual, so the truths of cosmic consciousness were expressed in the form of the great narrative epics and divine commandments, of which the Old Testament of the Bible and Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey are excellent examples.

After mankind’s ‘fall’ from the garden of Eden, which you might view as a loss of cosmic consciousness, men had to become increasingly devious in order to survive. Again, when we look at the early artwork of the ancient Middle East at the beginning of the period, we see kings standing side by side with their councillor gods effortlessly gaining divine wisdom. But by the end of that age – ‘after the fall’ – the kings were on their knees begging for guidance.

Thus consciousness of ‘I’ – as separate and ‘in relation with’ the gods developed and the rational problem-solving man, with which we are familiar, is born. It’s interesting that our familiarity with our humanity increased as our familiarity with the gods decreased.

Next, the distant imperial divinities were replaced the local gods and great mythic narratives. The old cosmic consciousness had nearly faded from memory, although it was revived from time to time by mystery religions.

Here we find the right brain intuition just starting to interact with the left brain thinking, although even today we can’t be sure of the degree of the quality of such interaction. It’s not surprising that this period produced such a diametrical divinity like Jesus Christ – a mortal man who died – but didn’t really die- and because of that, was worshipped like an immortal God. This was the Age of Pisces.

What might we expect next, in the coming Age of Aquarius? I suggest that man will reposition himself vis a vis God through scientific endeavours.  In essence, man reaches for the stars –  not so much by playing God – but through creating reality. It’s ideas that drive us. We’ve always known this. But until now, we’ve been held back by our mortality.

In the post-human era, characterised by artificial intelligence and uploaded consciousness (or the transfer of the human mind to an artificial substrate), we will eliminate these distinctions, which interestingly were all man made in the first place.[1] .

Hence in the post-human era, we will transcend our bodies and become immortal like the gods. Aquarius is all about communication and through it the three aspects of the mind, cautiousness, unconsciousness, and super-consciousness will seek simultaneous expression. If we look carefully at the glyph for Aquarius – two parallel WAVY lines – I suggest that represents our new status with God.[2]

Nor surprisingly, this idea has already been presented by Nietzsche in writings about the Ubermensch or overman, in which he suggested that ‘man is something that must be overcome’ and that the highest truth is being born within man through the self-creating power of the will. To accomplish this, man’s present limited ‘self’ must be destroyed. The truth isn’t to be proved or disproved but instead, to be created. Nietzsche believed that man’s striving toward the future will result in the birth of a new being who would incarnate the meaning of the universe and thus impose redemptive order on the chaos of a meaningless universe without the gods.


[1] At the beginning of the Piscean age, Plato first formatted the distinction between the sensory (the earth plane) and the eternal world (of ideas).

Early Christian theologians renamed this external world Heaven with its guiding principle as God. The Christians further borrowed from Aristotle the notion of God as the Prime Mover of the cosmos and the First Cause of everything that exists. Amazingly, those notions had never been seriously challenged until relatively recent by the modern philosophers. 

Take Descartes. When new scientific discoveries made him wonder ‘what can I know for certain’, he came to the famous conclusion ‘I think, therefore I am’. But his matrix still kept God as the first cause of – and the only link between – a bicameral universe where subjectivity – ‘I think’ –  was isolated from objectivity – ‘the world which I perceive’.

Next comes Hume who claims that the only thing that we can be certain of is the fact that there is an unbroken stream a subjective images and ideas. Under his ‘radical scepticism’, we can’t even be certain that there is something called the mind to contain these ideas because the mind is itself just another idea.

For Kant, one could only know the sensory world and only believe in any realm beyond that. Finally, Nietzsche came along and pronounced the ‘death of God’. This was a turning point where we could no longer legitimately argue that anything lies beyond the earth plane in which we live. This was the ‘dawning of the Age of Aquarius’.

[2] In Descartes’s matrix, which still underlies most modern thinking, the problem is due to the difference in kind between the mind and the body. While the non-spatial mind and the mechanistic body shouldn’t interact, they do so in the human body. In post-humanism, this problem is reworked and the distinction between subject and object is collapsed, with the mind considered to be no more than a material function of the body. Thus we will become both creator and the created.

The Western Esoteric Traditions (Part 7)

My summer reading: The Western Esoteric Traditions: A Historical Introduction by Nicholas Goodrick – Clarke (Oxford University Press – 2008).

In this series of blog posts, I’m tracing the Western Esoteric traditions through history, with special attention paid to the contribution of these traditions to the work of Carl Jung.


Jung’s work in alchemy is key to the development of his psychology and his writings on alchemy filled more than three volume of The Collected Works.[1]

Alchemical texts are notoriously difficult and often filled with lush imagery (Sun and Moon headed human figures, Kings, Queens, copulation, hermaphrodites, Mercuries, wolves, lions, birds and dragons in recurrent shades of green, black, white, and red) which is less than illuminating to newcomers or, perhaps, even downright purposefully misleading. 

Likewise, it is less than clear that all alchemical texts even attempt to interpret this imagery in the same way and for the same reasons. Finally, although spiritual alchemy was the focus of some alchemists, this was not always the case and indeed, there is much evidence that Jung, himself, was not so interested in the spiritual elements of the practice.

In many ways, Jung considered Paracelsus, the founder of depth psychology. But his own work was built on that of several earlier 19th and 20th century psychoanalysts, most notably Herbert Silberer, with whom Jung regularly corresponded. Silberer had worked extensively on ideas relating the symbols and processes of alchemy to the processes of psychoanalysis, and the building of a new ego through alchemical symbolism by freeing it from its old ties.

In Memories Dreams and Reflections, Jung comments that he found ‘the experiences of the alchemists were, in a sense, my experiences and their world was my world’. He added that ‘only after I had familiarised myself with alchemy did I realise that the unconscious is a process’. This led him to the central concept of his psychology, the ‘process of individuation’, which in keeping with the thinking of Paracelsus, was a process during which a person gains a sense of his or her wholeness in opposition to the diversity of his or her instincts.

Also, like Paracelsus, Jung concluded there were four elements in man’s functional design: (2) feeling, (2), thought, (3), intuition, and (4) sensation. These were joined together by sexual drive, or the libido.

Jung argued that alchemy was a kind of collective conscious dream and that the Philosopher Stone was a symbol for the Self (and in its own way, perhaps also a symbol for Jesus Christ, Crucified). Indeed, Jung argued that Christianity (focused on the dichotomy of good vs. evil) was so fundamentally incapable of dealing with psychological processes, that alchemy (the collective dream) had developed to compensate that. It’s important to remember that for Jung, the Self is not the ego (i.e., the conscious mind as it comprises the thoughts, memories, and emotions of which a person is aware), but instead, always lays just outside consciousness. This means the only way to get in touch with Self is tangentially, through dreams that are full of symbolism, which, not surprisingly, can be interpreted with help from alchemy. 

Further, not unlike Paracelsus, Jung concluded that the way to health was through increased inclusiveness, perhaps through ‘true knowledge’, a reflection of unity (to ‘know yourself’ is to ‘know God’ and all of creation). Indeed, Jung did emphasise that some aspects of alchemical practice such as imaginal workings or even praying to God could further the process of individuation. 

Finally, like Paracelsus and Western occultists before him, in helping men to work toward individuation – achieving wholeness in a world fraught with dichotomy, Jung believed that psychology offered man a tool to perfect that which Nature (and by implication, God) had left imperfect, but in this sense for Jung, ‘perfection’ was meant to mean ‘wholeness’.  As Paracelsus and prior esoteric occultists like the Renaissance man, Marsilio Ficino, had concluded, Jung also believed that in essence, health comes as the result of being as celestial as possible (so above, so below). Let us not forget that Jung, himself, was like Ficino, an accomplished astrologer, who used astrology extensively to better know himself.

(to be continued)


[1] For this blog post, many thanks to John Marshall and his paper Jung, Alchemy and History: A Critical Exposition of Jung’s Theory of Alchemy (2002).

Astrological Anxiety (1)

This is the first in a series of blog posts based on the work of a fabulous astrologer, Acyuta-bhava from Nightlight Astrology. I’ve thrown in my two cents here and there as you might expect, but many thanks to Acyuta-bhava for having put this in place in the first place.

Astrological anxiety – what is it? 

It goes something like this – now with the benefit of astrology, I know a little bit what to expect and that somehow makes everything worse. I’m warned in advance that a ‘cosmic weather front’ is coming through. OMG, what do I now do? This knowing puts a good deal of pressure on me to somehow prepare for the storm but as don’t yet really know what will happen, I can’t really do that. Is the resulting tension I feel the same as existential anxiety?

In many important respects, the answer is yes, it is.

As existentialist Heidegger reminds us, ‘time is no longer a reckonable sequence’ but instead, ‘an inexhaustible inescapable presence’. In other words, real time, unlike time displayed on clocks and calendars, is primitive, primordial, spooky; real time, as understood by Heidegger, is all that man has and will ever have. Scandalously, sadly, said real time is also shorn from otherwise comforting pre-Reformation notions of eternity.

Thus, it only makes sense that having called our attention to this existential reality, astrology serves us best not in trying to tell us what will happen but instead to more fully understand our situation so that when that cosmic weather front does hit, we will be in a position to release false expectations and accept what does happen. To accomplish this, we need to give up our attachment to the qualifiers ‘good’ or ‘bad’. This does not mean that ‘good’ and ‘bad’ things alike won’t happen; astrology is not meant to help us to detach from this reality. Instead, astrology is meant to help us to realise there is a divine, cosmic plan – and each of us is part of it even though there are cycles and themes that are beyond us and and our ego-focused view of the world. To develop such a realisation is a mission statement – both for the astrologers but also for clients and students of astrology.

The goal is to develop a mindset that is accepting of both what we have in front of us as well as what is behind of us – a mindset that helps to us to think of our ‘karma’ not solely as gifts and challenges carried over from the past but instead as a divine connection between the past, present, and future.

Astrology helps us here. For example, you might think of the astrological symbolism as an expression of the ‘thought forms’ in the mind of God. When you reflect upon this more deeply, you might see astrological symbolism as something more more transcendental – more meaningful than how much money will “I” have (or not have) tomorrow and/or will ‘I’ get this or that job or marry this or that man/woman. 

One of the significant benefits of this deeper approach is to flip ourselves out of the Ego-based game of ‘ how much more do I need to do – or get- have ‘ (i.e., the Western  ‘rat race’ – also known as ‘who’s on top and who’s on the bottom) and into a more serene, conducive state of true ‘happiness’.

As the Buddhists are happy to remind us, happiness doesn’t mean not having more, but instead means not surrendering one’s entire peace of mind to having it.

(to be continued)

Character & Calling (Part 3)

My winter reading: James Hillman’s classic The Soul’s Code – In Search of Character and Calling (Random House, New York, 1996).

Daimon often comes to us as we are children with an unexplained fascination or unusual ways of play. I was taken very early with writing short storeys about my friends in my imagined exploits we would solve mysteries like Nancy Drew and her chums. Later I went on to become a lawyer in international tax com of all things. But as retirement loomed, I started writing fiction again with all the enthusiasm I once had as a child. In this, I was lucky. Others are not.

The point Hillman makes is not to squeeze this enthusiasm out of children using the excuse that they need to be socialised in order to perform from an early age as their parents and teachers would want. Just give kids enough room to experiment and grow into that oak tree that their individual acorns had laid out for their lives and not surprisingly, to accomplish this they need to put down some very strong roots in order to support future growth into their potential. 

But as Hillman points out, allowing this is difficult for us in the West, because we cling so strongly to what calls the ascensionist model – in other words – up is good and down is bad. Yet this is not the way of Damon or soul. As the Zohar, the main Kabbalist book, makes clear, zimzum, or the self-emptying aspect of the God, known as Ain Soph, traverses downwards through the darkness in a series of ten concentric circles called Sephiroth, collectively known as The Tree of Life. 

Likewise, Plato and his Myth of Er emphasizes this downward assent. Having arrived from previous lives, all the souls mill about in a mythical world awaiting their new lot, or portion of fate. For example, the soul of a mighty warrior chooses the life of a lion whilst that of a young woman runner, choose a lot of an athlete. When each of the souls have chosen their new lives according to their lots, they are assigned a daimon and without looking back, descend to earth to enact their lot. 

It should come as no surprise that in keeping with the Myth of Er, Hellenistic astrologers devised clever ways to delineate one’s lot using his or her natal chart. Some of these techniques have come down to modern astrologers, notably, the Lot of Fortune (or the Moon) and the Lot of Spirit (or the Sun). The former pertains to the natural flow of events in our lives whilst the latter describes change that occurs because of our intention. So, for example, if the Lot of Fortune describes how much money we are likely to make, the Lot of Spirit describes how we will choose our vocation and answer our calling. 

Hillman reminds us that the decent down into earth for soul is painful and costly and riches and fame never seem to really compensate. He uses Judy Garland as a case to illustrate his point. Judy was born into a showbiz family and at age 2 1/2 years of old, she had her first successful performance singing Jingle Bells. The immediate rapport she garnered from her audience cemented her calling, which she herself said “was inherited”. As Hillman also reminds us, it was the superlatives that betrayed her. According to one and all, during the height of her success, Garland was the best of everything. Even Garland herself said “I’ve done everything to excess.”

Yet as Hillman also points out, Judy Garland may have grown up but she didn’t grow down, as is required for soul. Always, she held on to America’s most treasured drug – the myth of innocence – the psychology of denial. Hillman tells us Garland’s acorn belonged “over the rainbow” and it was little wonder that her real life of drugs and chronic loneliness ended on a toilet the night of 21-22 June, the apogee of the solar year, the brightest light and the shortest night. 

Looking briefly at Garland’s natal chart, we see that her Lot of Fortune is at 21 Capricorn 15, and is thus very strong. Not only is in angular (7th house) but its ruler, Saturn, is very strong (angular, exalted, and in rulership by triplicity and term). Saturn also benefits from the rays (by sign) of three of the four benefics (Sun, Moon, and Jupiter). It is however, out of sect (Saturn is a diurnal planet and is in the nocturnal part of this chart). This suggests that in the natural flow of events, such as making money, Garland would do very, very well – which of course, she did  – but with Saturn being out of sect, this success would also be out-of-balance tending toward harmful excess, which of course was the case. Her Lot of Spirit, at 0 Capricorn is likewise strong also being ruled by Saturn. 

Perhaps it is only when we look at her daimon, which because Cancer is rising is the Moon, that we can understand fully why her life took such a tragic course. At 29 Sagittarius, Garland’s Moon (or daimon) is in an anaretic degree. Planets in the anaretic degree are known as ‘destroying’ planets, often causing difficulties, crisis, overcompensation, and poor choices. Perhaps this is an example of what Hillman has already promised to discuss, a situation where daimon is not good but instead bad?

I wonder why it happens to some and not others – definitely worth investigating further, don’t you think?

(to be continued)

Character & Calling (Part 2)

My winter reading: James Hillman’s classic The Soul’s Code – In Search of Character and Calling (Random House, New York, 1996). 

Hillman reminds us that according to Plato and his Myth of Er, the soul of each of us is allocated a daimon, or soul guide, before we are born. This this comes part and parcel with extras: our physical bodies, our parents, and the place and circumstances into which we are born. Although this was our soul’s choice, upon birth we have forgotten it. And so during our lifetimes, we are driven by daimon to reconnect with our choices and reawaken to our calling. This can come to us in any number of ways. Although it may be possible to temporarily defer our calling, or even to only partially live it out, it’s never possible to completely avoid it for if there is one of which we can be certain, daimon can never successfully be ignored.

That’s just the point.

In modern western medical circles, soul – or destiny – or daimon – is ignored.  It doesn’t fit nicely into existing personality and psychological theories. Although Hillman doesn’t say explicitly why this might be the case, he seems to suggest fear plays a large part. Is it not frightening to a civilisation such as our own, a civilisation that has lost touch with its own divinity, to suggest there is something driving us that is beyond our intellectual, physical, and/or scientific grasp? 

Hillman is quick to remind us this doesn’t mean we’ll find the fix to this conundrum by going to church. Instead, we need to go back to Aristotle, Plato, and Plotinus. Least you think that our western civilisation has grown beyond these ancient Hellenistic foundations, take a philosophy course or two and think again. For the reality as presented by these ancients is that we each are here on earth for a reason and until that reason is fulfilled, here on earth is where we will remain. Have you ever had a close call with death – maybe inattentively ready to step off the kerb and be hit by a passing taxi-cab – only to have a complete stranger pop out from nowhere and pull you back from the brink? I have and I now know why. 

This does not mean that demon is always ‘good’. As Hillman points out, there can be an ‘evil’ or less fortunate aspect to daimon. More on this later, but for the time being consider how other societies and cultures have viewed the concept of daimon –  i.e. Guardian Angel (Christian), Lady Luck or Fortuna (ancient Roman), genie or jinn (Middle Eastern), ka or ba (Egypt) and animal and totem spirits (American Indian).

But for the most part, daimon is here to look out for us, to ensure that we are OK. Imagine how much more satisfying would be our lives if we could think of ourselves as fundamentally being cared for like this rather than standing alone up against the cold, harsh world? If we were to accept this point of view, we would necessarily need to jettison one  of our of our most treasured western motifs – that of the self-made hero. What a trade-off, right? Well, according to Hillman, we can still be heroes – albeit of a different type – at least we can be if we listen to daimon. This will be a lot easier if we are both curious about ourselves in our world and unwilling to succumb to being wedged into the statistically convenient psychological slot.

One by one, Hillman debunks a variety of well-known psychological theories demonstrating how much more beneficially daimon would operate instead. He uses a variety of fascinating case studies including that of Eleanor Roosevelt. Well-worth reading but sadly, I’ve got neither time nor space to relate them all to you here and now.

 (to be continued)

Character & Calling (Part 1)

My winter reading: James Hillman’s classic The Soul’s Code – In Search of Character and Calling (Random House, New York, 1996). 

Hillman reminds us that theories don’t do our lives justice. Statistics don’t either. Each of us has a unique calling – something that calls us – a call which we will or will not take.

Do you believe in fate?

Wrong place at the wrong time or the right place at the right time kind of thing?

Is this accident, synchronicity, or something else altogether? That’s what this book is about and yet when you try to use its wisdom going forward in time, it seems to stall. So can we only use it in reverse to make sense of our lives in retrospect? I think maybe – but Hillman says not. This is because he believes our entire lives are about our character and had we not ought to be able to suss that out in advance? Not sure, are you?

Nonetheless Hillman reminds us that we are more than our memories – more than people have told us that we are (or aren’t). So how is it that we can take our own measure and profit by it? Stay tuned and maybe together, we’ll find out!

First step is to forget everything you’ve been told about psychological theories. After all they’re only made up from man-made observations rather than any kind of cosmic road map. We’re looking for a unique personal narrative here – not a standardised genre or traditional 3-Act story plot. Okay, sure – an oak tree does come from an acorn – I mean, how else could it be? But the acorn doesn’t tell how that oak will or will not actually develop or even where it takes root.

Try to think of this less prosaically – more poetically.

Because they have so little, children must rely on imagination rather than experience.   

Eleanor Roosevelt, You Learn by Living

If I hadn’t made a left hand turn – if you hadn’t made a right – if I’d waited just a moment more – if you missed the light…

Dory Previn, Children of Coincidence 

But OK, back to that acorn carrying the genetic code of that oak – in each of our individual acorns, we will find own genetic code in the form of our character which, according to the old stories, was given to us as gift from the gods at our birth.

This is good stuff, Plato, The Myth of Er – daimons and soul guides and no, Hillman wasn’t some kind of new age nutter – he was a Jungian analyst and a scholar and he taught at Yale, Syracuse University, as well as the University of Chicago and the University of Dallas.

 (to be continued)

The Year Ahead

It’s the first day of the brand new year and many are turning their thoughts to what it might bring. Basically, two planetary players set the stage – Uranus and Saturn with a couple of guest appearances from Jupiter, which may provide a much-needed ‘get out of jail’ card as well as fanning the flames of authoritarian anarchy.

The star lore relating to the zodiac signs of Aquarius and Taurus put together pretty much tells the story:

Aquarius

According to the Greek astronomer, Aratus (270 BC), Fomalhaut is at the Pourer’s (Aquarius) feet where it forms part of the fixed cross of the four Royal Stars of Persia – the ‘watchers’ or guardians of the sky (angelic powers). Bernadette Brady (Brady’s Book of Fixed Stars) considers Fomalhaut to be rather like the legendary Persian warrior, Zal, who although seriously out of step with society (a white-haired man who’d been raised in a bird’s nest), managed (through his usually considerate behaviour) to win the heart of the beautiful princess, Redabeh. Even though the odds were against the couple, Zal persisted and, eventually, they were allowed to marry. A lovely story complete with high ideals and lofty visions. None-the-less, a serious clash with mainstream thought and authority (tradition) was needed to achieve their ideals (progress). Let’s not forget that Aquarius is ruled by two very opposing energies – (1) Saturn (authority) and (2) Uranus (rebellion) and both are in play together this year.

Taurus

The brightest star in Taurus, is Aldebaran, which ancient astrologers considered to be of the nature of Mars, the warrior. As such it is especially poignant in respect to military men who achieve great things whilst at the same time, making dangerous enemies. Brady gives the example of Niccolò Machiavelli, the 15th century statesman who wrote The Prince, the classic treatise on gaining and holding political power. Brady points out that Machiavelli’s initial rise to power and prestige was followed by a stark reversal of fortune marked by accusations of conspiracy and treason. History tells us that these accusations were false and that Machiavelli was an upright and honest citizen of highest integrity. Brady suggests this implies that sometime in his life, he had succumbed to temptation to behave with less that utmost integrity. Equally, however, I suggest that it could be that a more classic scenario was at the base – when one rises to power, he/she will make enemies if for no other reason than hubris, pride and jealousy.

Summary

It’s time to break down the barriers – do things radically different – and like it or not, that’s what will happen – expect militant clashes with authority, rebellion against the establishment, the absolute refusal to toe the party line and/or maintain the status quo. The ideals driving all this may sound lofty and at some level that may be the case. But don’t forget that not far behind will be a clash of egos – acts of hubris – and good old fashioned lust and greed – of a degree that could well make your head spin. And oh, by the way, if you find yourself presented with the perfect ‘get rich quick scheme’, do yourself a favour and turn away. Maintaining integrity is the key to getting through 2021 in one piece.

Somewhere, I have the biography of Niccolò Machiavelli. Sounds like it may be time to read it!

Beliefs and Propositions

Last night on my weekly Master Your Mindset ZOOM call with Jo Naughton and her excellent Tribe, I articulated the following belief that I felt served me well – ‘I am a clever and ambitious writer’.

But then something prompted me to add – ‘but no one notices or cares’. 

There are many reasons why I might have added that negative qualifier and although I believe that negative qualifier must also serve me well, the reason why must be less than obvious. On the surface, it would seem that such limiting belief can only hold me back from achieving my writerly goals. 

Jo suggested that such qualifying beliefs unconsciously protect us from something which we fear – and that something we fear is more powerful than that which we desire. If that isn’t insidious enough, get this!  The more evidence we gather to bolster such qualifying beliefs, the more they increase their stranglehold. 

This brings us solidly to the interesting question of differentiating a ‘belief’ from a ‘fact’ because if we are being honest with ourselves, only ‘facts’ can produce that evidence. Yet as Jo rightly points out, both ‘facts’ and ‘beliefs’ are mental constructs and so when we say this is a ‘fact’, we are only saying ‘this is what I believe’. 

Jo didn’t go into details, but I ‘believe’ that I get what she means, having recently taken a philosophy course called ‘What is Truth’ at the University of Oxford.

The takeaway point here is that ‘truth values’ (i.e. something either is true – yes or no – there is no in-between) naturally attach to beliefs and propositions; a sentence expresses a belief that XYZ is ‘true or not’ – such as when someone says, ‘it will rain this afternoon’. The only truth involved here is  ‘that’ someone believes the proposition ‘that’ it will rain. Interestingly, whatever comes after ‘that’ doesn’t matter – i.e. rain or not. If you are tempted to argue this isn’t true (or doesn’t make sense) consider further that ‘rain’ is also a belief – I may believe  that the word ‘rain’ includes an icy drizzle but someone else may believe that ‘rain’ requires more, like a heavy downpour. 

The plot thickens when we consider negative statements such as there are no eggs in the refrigerator. How can something be true if it has no truth value (yes or no)? In other words, there are no eggs here to talk about. To make matters worse, a ‘truth’ or ‘fact’ can change over time. For example, when my mother went to high school in the 1930’s, it was a ‘fact’ or ‘truth’ that the atom could not be split, end point. However by the middle of the next decade, that ‘fact’ had not only been negated, but its negation had created nearly a quarter of a million casualties when the United States dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. 

I could go on but I won’t – the takeaway point is that if something is objectively true, it must be mind-independent – and unable to change over time – and oh, by the way, that ‘truth’ or ‘fact’ must also be 100% independent of societal views and norms – the suggestion being that as Jo rightly points out, very (very) little of what we choose to believe is ‘fact’ is actually nothing other than a ‘belief’.

If I wish to get rid of my qualifying belief (i.e.  although I am a clever and ambitious writer, no one notices or cares), I need to re-programme my mind to allow for change in my thoughts and belief. Unfortunately, given that I’m not yet certain what that qualifying belief is protecting me from, I’ll need to do this in stages, and I’m guessing that I could use some help with that. 

I’ll report back when I figure this out.

A Study in Existentialist Philosophy (Part 12)

My summer ( morphed into winter)  reading: Willem Barrett’s 1959 classic, Irrational Man, A Study in Existential Philosophy.

In his final chapter, The Place of the Furies, Barrett suggests that before we start talking politics we ought to have first undertaken some serious philosophical contemplation about the true nature of man. 

Although Barrett was writing in the middle of the 20th century, the concerns he’s expressing are still valid today. Barrett points out that as children of the Enlightenment, we in the Western world are accustomed to looking at man ‘almost exclusively as an epistemological subject’, an ‘intellect that registers sense data, makes propositions, reasons, and seeks certainty’. 

As children of the Enlightenment, we are also more or less programmed to look to the past and the future to discern what went wrong and plot and plan how we can make it all ‘better’. With such focus, we skip over the realities of today – not the warm, fuzzy ‘today’ for which we are told we ought to express gratitude, but the cold, hard ‘today’, which we are encouraged to at best overlook or at worst fix and fast. But as the Existentialists have tried to point out, both sides of this equation are the necessary lot of the embodied man.

Naturally it does no more good to focus solely on what’s wrong than it does to focus solely on what’s right. Likewise it does little good to put in Herculean effort to fix that which can’t be fixed. But it would do us a world of good to accept that the ‘idol of progress’ (see both Marx an Nietzsche) is just that – a utopian ideal that we may worship but never achieve.

You see, reminds Barrett, the human condition is one of (1) birth, (2) life (a period punctuated by both intense joy and sorrow), and (3) death. The glue holding that all together is anxiety, guilt, and fear. But as Barrett also reminds us, we in the West have become accustomed to label realists like the Existentialists as naysayers and psychotics, for whom a daily dose of the latest happiness drug is a necessary fix. But it won’t fix anything.

That’s just the point.

The ‘whole man’ or ‘well-rounded individual’ is, according to Barrett and the Existentialists, not one who takes endless courses for self-improvement but one who comes to accept that the power of man is nothing in comparison to that of the gods. This is a lesson that both the ancient Greeks (i.e. the great Oresteia  trilogy of Aeschylus) and modern psychologists have gone to great effort to point out.

The gods have become diseases; Zeus no longer rules Olympus but rather the solar plexus and produces curious specimens for the doctor’s consulting room.

Carl Jung

To find the gods in psychology we ought to look first at the genres of our case-history writing. Our reflection needs to turn to psychoanalytic literature as literature. I am suggesting that literary reflection is a primary mode of grasping where one is ignorant, unconscious, blind in regard to the case because one has not differentiated the subjective factor, the gods in one’s work.

James Hillman

Take away:

We ignore the gods (an integral part of our embodied reality) at our peril and not everything can be fixed.