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“Better pass boldly into that other world, in the full glory of some passion, than fade and wither dismally with age.”
Is better to have a short life with heroism and passion or is it better to live a long and comfortable life? To other modern man the question seems a silly one. The vast majority of us want the latter: a long and prosperous life of self-care, without drama or relevance to others. We hope to live to 90 and die without leaving a mark.
This wasn’t always so. There are some who still choose a life of heroism. Often these lives are cut short yet these names live on in history as people who made a difference. Joan of Arc, Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., and Tecumseh come to my mind.
The Jungian archetype of the struggle between contentment and passion is The Achilles Archetype. For those who don’t remember“The Iliad”, Achilles is the son of a mortal man and a goddess. We see the dichotomy of the question in his make-up. He is told he has two paths from which to choose: he can stay home, grow old, and have a happy marriage with children, be prosperous, and then die in obscurity. The other choice: he can have a heroic meaningful life full of honor and glory but die young. He chooses the latter, and he dies in battle. By today’s standards it looks to be a useless and senseless death. Yet his name lives on in our collective consciousness as The Warrior. His story is known throughout time.
The opening quotation is from Joyce’s “The Dead”; it is a reference to a Michael Furey, who died at 17 for the love of a woman. He is in contrast to the woman’s long time nondescript spouse Gabriel Conroy. Their marriage is pleasant and stable but in her heart is the passion for the boy who loved her so.
I am one of many who choose the stay home/be quiet and try to live a long, prosperous, and uneventful life. Every once in a while, when I read the stories of such men as Achilles or Michael Furey, I too feel the pang of lack of passion. Can I have some passion in my life, although it means (but the very definition of the word) some suffering?
In this new chapter of US History the times seem to call for men and women of passion to rise up and not choose creature comforts. Even if it hurts, even if it shakes up our lives, the times call for us to get more in touch with Achilles, come out of our tent and fight even if it means some loss. Am I brave enough to do so? Are you?
The movie “Fantastic beasts and where to find them” seems be all the rage. Urs Truly is quite familiar with such having adored them since he was knee-high to a cockatrice. For my timeless map of Erewhon I’ve been collecting mythical animals all my life. In my teens I played Dungeons & Dragons, which has a veritable encyclopedia of monsters.
Mankind has always had and needed fantastical beasts. This includes a need for gods, goddesses, ghosts, and fairy folk. I have a panache for the nefarious and destructive ones, to wit, the monsters. I thought I would talk about a few of my favorites from a Jungian point of view. Monsters carry our dark sides; we project our Shadow parts out onto made-up entities who carry our crud for us.
This particular bestiary has monster that hold particular archetypal energy; the creatures therein have important elements that resonate with our psyches. I listed them in a somewhat chronological order.
The Vampire. Vampires are ubiquitous in folklore throughout time and cultures. They vary but have in common they are something dead/undead that lives off of blood of the living. They probably originate from our fear of parasites or fears of being prey to something coming at us in the night when we sleep. Most of the time The Vampire has an erotic element to it. Dr. Freud cackles in his grave as Vampires support his Love and Death libido drive hypothesis. Many tales about vampires are vague references to sexual trysts, the phantom lover, who comes in the night (pun intended) and steals our souls in its exploitation. Curious: recent vampires are less ghoulish and more romantic bad-boy anti-hero lover. Every culture gets the vampire it wants, but its essence remains the same.
Centaur/Faun/Satyr. These creatures are half human and half animal. The animal parts have brutish and sexual elements. They capture the ambivalence and paradox of the struggle between our higher functioning and ‘base’ emotions. The upper part – human – has the intellect (and no sexual organs) while the lower part – animal – has the phallus and the prowness of (uninhibited) sexuality and action. Mankind has long been envious of animal energies and fearful of our own. Like The Vampire these archetypes have been altered to suit the needs of each generation. Centaurs have become more ‘scholarly’ but still studly and potentially dangerous. Fauns are seen as more liberating man of self-restraint than causing them to panic (pun intended).
Werewolf. This is another ancient animal archetype playing on our fears we are not so separate from animals. We fear becoming the creatures that used to prey on us. We project our preying on each other onto wolves (or other carnivorous creatures) who stalk us. Were-creatures are often powerless to stop their transformation which is often brought on by night and the moon, the time of fear and darkness.
Goblin – I lump goblins, knockers, kobolds, elves, brownies etc. into the common category of little people who cause upset and mischief. They are our collective scapegoat. If something goes wrong, rather than blaming ourselves or attributing mishap to mere bad luck we create a little person who is responsible. In WWII when mechanical things went wrong we invented The Gremlin. Curiously we haven’t updated this archetype to computer errors/glitches and cellphone problems. There is no recent elf of which I am aware. My brothers tend to use Bill Gates or Steve Jobs who serve the purpose but don’t make for satisfactory goblin-types. A more sinister hypothesis: we no longer have to create a mythical problem race but use whatever ethnic group is handy.
The Bogeyman exists in many forms in many cultures but he is always the monster man who snatches away bad children. My nephews revel in stories of Slender Man, which is the millennial version of The Bogeyman. We are coming up to St. Nicholas Day. The traditional St. Nicholas travels with a Bogeyman to balance the psyche of good/benevolent with the bad/malevolent. Go look up Black Tom or the Krampus why don’t you. It’s curious our modern day Santa Claus does not travel with a Shadow consort. I don’t know the reason that was dropped. Probably because we like to deny our Shadow parts (them sorts live elsewhere, in Europe or the Middle East) We had to invent one to fill the archetypal need for a bogey man at Christmas time: The Grinch.
Cthulhu – For thems not aware of this beastie, he is a Lovecraft invention. He is a behemoth with a face like a squid. He is Annihilation incarnate. This nasty beast seems to be rising in popularity as youngsters see the future as bleak and nihilistic. As one youngster remarked, the Cthulhu reminds us the universe is expanding and will become nothing in the end. It is all futile. Grim dark dreadful thoughts are often sugar-coated to make them less depressing and overwhelming. There is a lot of cutesy counterparts to this archetype. You can get lovable stuffed Cthulhu toys and Christmas ornaments for the holidays.
Godzilla – The big G has expanded out of Japan and into the world’s psyche. Why? I have two theories. Godzilla acts on impulse, like an unrestrained child having a tantrum. When he gets upset he breaks things; when he walks it is like a large toddler. Whether it was consciously determined, the original Godzilla was an actor in a rubber suit. This gels with the notion Godzilla is an element of being hum. Godzilla hasless archetypal energy when Godzilla is merely a computer generated object. Godzilla touches on our envy to just “let loose” when we are perturbed. The other explanation for his attraction is more serious: Godzilla carries our collective fear and guilt for having let loose atomic weapons. He is what we deserves for being foolish with nature.
At heart I am a scientist. I advocate reason, scientific observation and data over dogma and superstition. I have many misgivings about this last election, but one of the most upsetting ones is the sense of triumph of religious and emotional clap-trap over facts. Science and knowledge are not cherished in this country. Indeed, they are looked upon as an object of suspicion, something to shout down when Truth threatens conviction.
I also have a panache for fantasy. A world run by Gradgrinds would be a dismal one indeed. As a Jungian I know the Wisdom to periodically put down the calculator and go out roller-skating surmounted by a Viking helmet.
I recently heard an interview with Terry Gilliam, a director who made many marvelous movies, most of them with the leitmotif fantasy versus reality. I remember a scene from “The Adventures of Baron Munchhausen”. For Spo-fans unfamiliar with The Baron Munchhausen, he was a real person who would boast fantastical and outlandish tales he allegedly experienced. His name is now synonymous with outlandish unreality. In Medicine “Munchhausen syndrome” is a mental illness where the patient takes on fake illnesses for medical attention. Not good. But from a Jungian point of view, it is vital to be in touch with The Baron.
In the Mr. Gilliam’s movie there is a scene where the Baron, Fantasy incarnate, lies dejected. A little girl named Polly wants to know is he really The Baron and why he wants to die. It is a marvelous archetypal scene: The Child (innocent and curious) trying to get in touch with The Baron (fantasy and adventure):
The Baron and Polly go on marvelous adventures to defeat the enemy. Fascinating: the Enemy is ultimately not the Turk outside the city walls they are forbidden to cross, but the oppressive government within the walls stifling the people and perpetuating continuous war – ironically set “In the Age of Reason”
We need cucumber trees and three-legged cyclops more than ever. I worry all too soon Kim Jong-Trump and his henchmen will demand us to think in one way only and believe false facts. What may keep us sane is challenging authority via Truth and Fantasy. The Scientist and The Baron, arm in arm, make a formidable team against Ignorance and Authority. Keep learning, stay curious, and plant some cucumber trees.
Withdrawing from the world into the inner recesses of my mind gives opportunity to encounter the demons within. Observant Spo-fans see the motto of my blog is the Ibsen quote:
To live is to battle with trolls in the vaults of heart and brain.
Like many I have to somehow manage my anger, hurt, and bitternness without succumbing to them. I can not become a replicate of those I presently want to label monstrous and inhuman. Synchronicity is at work: I was recently listening to some history on Martin Luther. Martin Luther often came to the conclusion those with different opinions other than his own were ‘anti-Christ”. This is convenient; when someone or something is Anti-Christ you don’t have to bother with reasoning with them or seeing them right about some things and wrong about others or merely agreeing to disagree – you expunge them as 100% wicked with no redeeming qualities whatsoever. You do not try to work with or reform the Anti-Christ; you eliminate him. Tempting as this is I must not do likewise.
One of Dr. Jung’s greatest contributions to human psychology is the concept of The Shadow, on which I have written. It is not a question ‘Do I have a shadow?” but “Where is my shadow now?” Unlike the Archetype of Anti-Christ you do not eliminate Shadow; you come to terms with it – and make sure it does not unconsciously run the show.*
Another event of Synchronicity occurred last night: I suddenly remembered the story of St. Gallus and the bear. It is story worth repeating.
Centuries ago St. Gallus went to the mountains of Switzerland to preach to the pagans and convert them to Christianity. No one would house him; he had no shelter. In time he found a cave. He moved in and felt fortunate to finally have shelter from the storms. Then he discovered living in the back of the cave was a horrible large truculent black bear. The two came to loggerheads. The bear would not leave and St. Gallus could not fight the beast. So St. Gallus sat down with the bear and they struck a bargain: the bear would allow him to stay in the cave and in return Gallus would provide their food and fire. A few other stipulations: the bear would gather the firewood and Gallus would protect the bear from the locals who had long wanted to kill it.
This story illustrates our psyches. We must come to terms with our inner-bear rather than trying to drive it away or slay him. What strife or fights lie ahead is anybody’s guess. One thing’s for certain: inner-bear Shadow energy is not the key to vanquish The Collective Shadow.
*Alas, the USA is now running in full-forward in Shadow mode.
This evening I saw The National Theatre Co. production of “Frankenstein”. The iconic images of Dr. Frankenstein and his Creature have worked into our Psyches as modern archetypes. They capture the archetype of The Nemesis or Soul-mate.
Sometimes people say the have found their Soul-mate in their mate or lover. This saccharin version of the archetype makes Urs Truly gag. The story of Frankenstein captures the true archetype of The Soul-mate. Think of the person you can’t stand, intertwined with your life (to your great regret), who gets up your nose like no other, who makes you highly uncomfortable. That my dears is your true Soul-mate. They capture your Shadow side.
Like Drs. Frankenstein and Jekyll, you may try to run or eradicate your Soul-mate. You wish him gone, erased, or snuffed out. Alas this is not possible; The Soul-mate is part of you. At the end of tonight’s play, the director had Frankenstein and his Creature going off together, alone to the world but each other. It illustrated their intertwined psyches. They even ended up looking alike more than at the beginning of the play.
Sometimes a person destroys himself to destroy the Soul-mate, such as Dr. J and his Shadow Soul-mate Mr. Hyde.
If you need a more modern example, think of Batman trying to destroy The Joker, who mocks him they are one and not much apart.
In the tongue in cheek “Das Barbecu” Wotan and Alberich sing “If not fer you there’d be no Me at all!”
The tragedy of Frankenstein and of denying your Shadow Self is to do so brings destruction. A few times in the play I wanted to shout out to Doctor F to embrace his creation and accept him as himself.
In life be conscious of The Soul-mate or mates in your life. What are they telling you about yourself? What do they teach you about himself? Are you brave enough to look at your Shadow and say yes, you are part of me? It is deucedly uncomfortable to do so but vital to your sanity if not your survival.
A Spo-fan recently e-mailed me a question. Now that he’s reached ‘a certain age’ he is seen and pursued by younger lads as a ‘daddy’ figure.* He wonders – and worries – if these younger men lusting for ‘daddy’ is a sign of neurosis or – worse – some sort of sexually acting out of having been sexually abused. He turns to me for my sagacity on the subject. Is this a realistic concern or this merely a proclivity like an apricity for feet or suits or doing it to disco music?
I can assure him and any Spo-fans interested in this topic there is no good evidence being attracted to an older person is correlated to a history of sexual abuse. Somewhere Freud is cackling as I write this for sexual longing for an older parent is the basis of his Oedipal complex. Younger to older sexual attraction has the spice of the ultimate taboo: having sex with your parent (or counterpart). At one point (goes the theory) we all long to possess the older parent. This desire later gets sublimated into ‘normal’ sexual attraction and activity.
The Jungian theory is more cosmic and less sexual: the erotic element is merely part of the desire to unite with Wisdom as demonstrated by an older person. My an archetypal point of view, Age is Wisdom is Power – all attractive.
A more prosaic interpretation: older men generally have money than younger ones.In the West we equivocate money with sexual potency. You can be as ugly as a hedgehog but if you have money you and others see you as sexy.
Apart from all the psychobabble there are biological and evolutionary components for younger folks attracted to oldsters. Girls achieve sexual and mental maturity earlier than their male counterparts; pubescent girls want sexually compatible partners. This means going for men 5-10 years older than they. In eons past, an older cave-man was more ‘successful’ at staying alive to reproduce, shaping the gene pool for youngsters to want someone older for protection etc.
Having had twenty five year experience at head-shrinking (and some personal research in the field) many lads tell me its just jolly good fun to be with an older man who has more experience who can take charge, be confident, and has his act together. Men generally admire men who have strength, which is often not yet present in youngsters.
The dirty secret of human sexual psychology is no one really knows why people like what they like. “There is no accounting for taste’ one of my teachers said. Bottom line (pun intended): many young gay man love the company and pleasure of an older man for nurturance and guidance – and to get a good tumble.
The idea this desire is based on aberrations from childhood derives from the old prejudice any sexual activity that isn’t same-age-monogamous-heterosexual is a perversion.
In conclusion, the Spo-fan’s question made me recall a scene from the “Cabaret”. In the film a woman asks Liza Minelli (with her history of “many screwings”) if her longing for a man is love or mere infatuation of the body. Liza replies:
“Does it really matter as long as you’re having fun?”
*Being called ‘daddy” is sometimes a turnoff; it is the older gay men’s equivalence to women being called ma’am.
This morning I woke from a dream I can actually remember. This is a rare event. When it happens I sit up and pay attention. In the dream I was in a very rundown untenable house – I sense it was the only house I have ever owned, which was on the north side of Chicago. Massive amounts of work needed doing. The feel of the dream was it was the start of a very long job. Like a good shrink, I analyzed the various elements that possibly contributed to the dream and I expanded on its meaning through active imagination.*
The take-home message from this numinous night dream is the need to transform. I am getting into a state of unconscious complacency. Each day I wake and do the same thing. I may use different crayons but the stencil does not alter. Outside of work my past times are predictable as symphony this Friday and opera this Saturday. The food I eat and the clothes I wear do not vary. This may sound ‘Zen’ but I sense Life as an adventureless tale. The dream says to tear up the rot and renovate.
So there it is. I received the calling and I have the desire. What I don’t have yet is direction. How far should this go? Will something prosaic like buying a new car or finally fixing the grill suffice? Last week Synchronicity delivered onto us a ponderous tax return; it is no surprise last night’s dream has action and spending. But dreams are not about actual money but psychological money viz. libido. Self is demanding more from me than a mere paintjob and some new clothes. How far of a shake up am I supposed have? Is it time to quit Medicine, move to the Northwest, and learn to play the flute? I do not know. Yet.
I want to sit down soon with Someone and process goals, dreams, and bucket lists. We are not good at this; we do the day-in and day-out routine without seeing any long term goals.
The sleeper has awakened and can’t go back to sleep. I seem to be starting a Journey knowing not what I want nor where I am going. Psyche requires a metanoia; complacency is not allowed.
*This is the Jungian approach. In contrast the Freudian approach narrows dreams down to unfulfilled desires. All roads lead to sex and death.
Once in a while Someone and I give each other ‘love-gifts’. These are small unimportant items obtained by chance and of no real value; they amuse and elicit a smile. Tonight he came home and said “Here’s a love-gift” and gave me a red rubber nose. I couldn’t have enjoyed it more. Truth be told I have always longed to have one. Nothing gets one more quickly in touch with the Clown Archetype than donning a red rubber nose.
I grew up in a household with a lot of Clown energy. Father was excellent with it; he always made people laugh in public gatherings. We kids were bewildered how this quiet man could suddenly transform into the life of the party. At first we thought him some sort of hypocrite; later on we emulated him. All my brothers are now notorious at being clowns, making jokes, and generally poking fun at gravitas.
In my daily work I often use laughter, which remains the best medicine indeed. Having a red rubber stiletto heel doorstop at work is no accident, nor is the plastic triceratops that lurks around the base of my work-screen.
I think men are at more liberty to be in touch with The Clown than are women, alas. I think the primal reason for this is men are afraid of female clowns for they can make blatant fun of men – and men have no formidable weapon against that type of assault. 🙂
I don’t remember who said “The devil can’t abide being mocked’ but the statement is spot-on. Arguing or fighting do not bring down tyrants as does not taking them seriously. I think if the sane and reasonable are to defeat Trump and the right-wingnuts is not through reason or argument: it will be by channeling The Clown.
At an early age I realized people were laughing at me, so I decided what the heck I might as well try to be funny. In Jungian psychology this is “The Persona”, the mask or ‘front’ we put up when we interact with others. The Persona is neither good or bad, in fact it is both. We have many of them. At work I am in the Persona of Psychiatrist. On-line I am in the Persona of ersatz writer.
Sometimes I feel like a chimera viz. there is no Urs Truly but an amalgam of characters from my life I have cut and pasted into a clown collage that make up who I am. What is Ego vs. Persona and what is ‘me’ vs. channeling somebody else gets confusing. In a lesson in self-analysis (and to amuse Spo-fans) I thought I would drag on stage some of the clowns from the drama personae that I have incorporated into my psyche. Here are four of them:
My father. This persona often comes out when I interact with others in restaurants and hardware stores. His mannerisms, statements, and jocular banter are precisely duplicated. It is rather shocking how accurate it is. The primal scream of children everywhere is the dread of becoming their parents. Someone has remarked he doesn’t have to imagine what I will be like as an old man; he knows my father.
Dale is a friend who works as a therapist. I have never seen him angry; Dale is always patient. He has a whimsical friendly interaction and he frequently using puns. Whenever I need to keep calm with a patient I imagine what would Dale do? When I encounter a person in public from whom I want to gain something, I channel his friendly demeanor. Dale-energy works well at getting tables and processing over-the-phone problems. I leave out the puns.
Tom of Chicago The late Tom of Chicago had a wit. He would make me laugh and he found humor in anything. Imagine the love-child of Charles Nelson Reilly and Oscar Wilde and you get Tom. Tom’s spirit comes out when I am in conversation and I suddenly connect the dots to make a clever or bawdy remark. These tend to come out in blurts – Tom likes to interpolate himself into things.
Noel Coward I do this one consciously. I’ve memorized many of his songs and plays. If I want a witty or sophisticated persona he’s the one I like to channel. Unlike the others, people know Noel Coward, especially the gay ones. At times I get called out on these quips. A busted Persona is not a pretty sight.
A patient told me he could not remember the address for his appointment so he googled my name only to be linked to one of those ‘rate your doctor’ review sites. I have never read my on-line reviews. I know sites like these usually lean towards the negative. Human nature what it is, we are content we tend not to go on line and blab about it. But, if we are disappointed, hurt, or angry we go on line and tell the world how awful was that restaurant, service, plumber etc.
Doctor reviews are no exception. Patients who write derogatory or libelous reviews can’t be rebuked by their physicians due to confidentiality laws. One can’t go on line reply to “X” by writing “X” is crazy as a bedbug or was a prescription abuser pissed as I wouldn’t give him Valium. I have no lack of people wanting to see me, so these don’t seem effect my business. So I never read the reviews.
Anyway, this patient told me the first review he read gave me a rotten rating. It said “Dr. Spo is distant, arrogant, and he has a god-complex”. Damn. It’s the horned helmet that gives it away. I made myself a mental note to stop bringing the ravens to work.
Although trained in Jungian psychology I was stumped what exactly is a god-complex. I bypassed my Swiss textbooks I went to Wikipedia:
“A god complex is an unshakable belief characterized by consistently inflated feelings of personal ability, privilege, or infallibility. “
I asked Someone what did he think. He said he worships me as a god. He admitted I can be a bossy-boots but I am hardly distant, so that was some comfort.
The nasty review is there for all the internet to see but I shan’t go read it myself. I can’t please everyone, especially those who want xanax in mass quantities without question. Meanwhile I will continue to channel archetypal god energies because dammit as a Jungian it is in the job description. I think I will switch to Dionysus for awhile as he’s less likely to be deemed distant but I must be careful: I’ve seen The Bacchae; I know what happens. I don’t need a report saying there is a new review on line that says I drive patients into delirious frenzies.