Friday, November 5, 2010

Mystical Narcissism: The Law of Attraction Meets the Law of Opposites


MANIPULATING REALITY

In the Middle Ages, the Roman Church sold Indulgences or spiritual insurance policies created by the clergy for a profit. People were absolved of Purgatorial punishments by paying money to the Church. The more they gave, the more time off from bad behavior they received. They could even pay to release their deceased relatives writhing in the woes of Purgatory. The bottom line was that one could manipulate God.

The movie, The Secret, reminds me a little of those old Catholic Indulgences. Both teachings ignore or play down co-creative soul-making by placing humans solely or primarily in control. They ignore or forget the realm of Archetypal Intelligences that work on, in and through humans to guide their destinies, create Character and make Soul. Both forget that there is an unseen drama at work beyond human understanding. Both views cross over into spiritual narcissism, a state of mind that really believes the individual creates ALL reality and is at the center. This is normal and fun for small children, but emotional suicide for adults. Mysticism is 'being one' with all, but mystical narcissism is 'being the only one'.

THE THREE LEVELS OF LIFE

Like three dimensional chess, the game of life is played on at least three levels:

1. Solo-making: Working on myself; realizing my potential; all self help and most individual psycho-therapy programs.

2. Social-making: Working on my relationships; realizing union with others; community building, relationships and group therapies.

3. Soul-making: Being worked on by Invisible Guides; character is being built in every circumstance of life and death.

At the first two levels we are the creators, exercising freedom. At level three we are the created objects of a Soul-making Universe. The Secret beautifully addresses level one, Solo-making, and touches on level two, Social-making. But The Secret virtually neglects level three, Soul-making.

THE OTHER SECRET

There is an Invisible Universe called Soul which co-creates, sometimes applying 'Laws' that seem to contradict the Law of Attraction. I understand that the aim of The Secret is to focus on realizing personal potential and success, but to ignore Soul-making can have severe consequences for the person thinking that life occurs only in the first two dimensions - especially those who can't quite seem to apply The Secret and turn their lives around like all of the glowing anecdotal stories in the film.

In my opinion the real forgotten or lost Secret in this culture is that of the Soul-making dimension. At that level, there are many Archetypal Intelligences (plural) that arise from The One Mind. These Presences are making Soul in addition to, or sometimes in spite of, our positive or negative thoughts and intentions. We cannot ultimately manipulate these Energies to give us what we want by thinking or feeling.

SOUL MAKING AND THE LAW OF BALANCE

The Law of Attraction (
I call it the Probability of Attraction) can work to change our external circumstances, to a degree – but it is not the only Law in the Universe. The Universe primarily conspires to make souls, not wealthy and healthy egos. We must not forget the Law of Balance, or Law of Opposites.

To make souls requires both the positive and the negative poles, which means that soul requires going into the dark depths and divine chaos as much as it requires rising into the light and divine order. We see this equilibrating principle at work in the world of physics with electricity and magnetism. There is no power (empowerment) without negative and positive currents; you do not have light (enlightenment) without negative and positive poles. You do not have Soul-making with only the Law of Attraction.

Another example is the Law of Gravity. As an only law, gravity would leave birds and humans grounded. Fortunately, for birds and those of us who benefit from air travel, there are the corresponding Laws of Aerodynamics to expand reality beyond a one dimensional grounded experience. These other laws ultimately do not contradict the law of gravity, but work in conjunction with it.

Similarly in psychology and metaphysics there is a Law of Balance which works with the Law of Attraction. The Law of Balance teaches that the Universe always seeks equilibrium.
Over 2,000 years ago, Plato wrote in the Phaedo, "Everything arises in this way, opposites from their opposites" (section 71a). Prior to Plato, the Greek philosopher Heraclitus said that "cold things warm, warm things cool, wet things dry and parched things get wet" (Fragment 126). He used the analogy of the strings stretched on a bow and lyre when he wrote that many people "do not know that the differing or opposed thing agrees with itself; harmony is comprised of reflexive tension, like the bow and the lyre" (Fragment 51)).

The ancient Chinese Tao Te Ching, Poem 77, states the same idea:

As it acts in the world, the Tao
is like the bending of a bow.
The top is bent downward;
the bottom is bent up.
It adjusts excess and deficiency
so that there is perfect balance.
It takes from what is too much
and give to what isn't enough.

Those who try to control,
who use force to protect their power,
go against the direction of the Tao.
They take from those who don't have enough
and gives to those who have far too much.


In the modern world, Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung called this phenomenon 'enantiodromia,"
the notion that the superabundance of any force inevitably produces its opposite. For Jung, this referred to the tendency of the unconscious mind to introduce material into the psyche which would balance out the conscious mind. These opposites or balancing events often show up externally as well in people and circumstances in ones daily life. The man who is hyper-sensitive continues to meet domineering women, the child who is timid is fascinated by outspoken people, the demure religious woman who loves to read stories about serial killers, etc.

The universal recognition that Nature is in a state of constant homeostasis, balancing one extreme with its opposite, is a critical "Law" to recognize for mental well being. When things go "wrong," these opposites provide the necessary and normal conditions for making a soul or developing a full character.

PSYCHOLOGICAL PREJUDICE

It is also important here to remind the reader that we must be careful to avoid the usual attitude taken by some when they say, "Oh yes, we have to go down in order to grow up, we must have the bad to see the good." This subtle distinction prejudices the scales--making it sound as though growing up is the real aim of all negative experiences.
The danger in this attitude is that we are always waiting for the negative experience to end so we can get to the "real" experience of the beneficial outcome. As much as I do not like to say this, the fact is that sometimes people spend many years or a whole lifetime in circumstances that are less than beneficial. The 10 million people who died in Nazi Concentration Camps did not get to see the "benefits" of their nightmarish ordeal. The millions of young men who died in war did not get to see the "good" in their sacrifice. The soul does not distinguish "good and evil," as our metaphysical and psychological systems so often do. It is true that we often do get to see the "good" or beneficial result, but not always. Even so, all experiences are purposeful.

These opposites are not on a horizontal, hierarchical scale of good and evil, but rather on a vertical scale of negative and positive--looking much like a teeter-totter going up and down rather than a thermometer escaping the cold basement. On this teeter-totter, the unifying principle is purposefulness rather than good feelings or happily-ever-after outcomes. It is great to hope, pray, hold mental equivalents and intend the Good outcome, but that is no guarantee that the circumstances will automatically and always change. This realization, at first, will be very depressing for some who live in a child-like fantasy world. But as time goes on and all of the "laws" of existence are realized, there is a kind of peace that transcends good and evil, dark and light. We do not have to enjoy the negative experiences, but we can have faith they are purposeful and containers of profound meaning if we embrace them and open our eyes and ears.

HERESY!

Those of us who appreciate The Secret need to be cautious. We are perilously close to heresy. I am not talking about the heresy of believing in the wrong religious dogma, but the original meaning of the word heresy. Heresy means 'to choose'. Real heresy is choosing one side of a Truth-paradox to the exclusion of the other side – it is choosing up over down, the masculine over the feminine, or particle over wave in the realm of physics. Heresy forgets paradox and denies wholeness. Some see wholeness as perpetual health, happiness, order and success. Soul-making wholeness is embracing the opposites, all aspects of the complicated and fascinating multi-verse we call a Universe, the good, the bad and the ugly.

A GRANDER PLAN

We Westerners sometimes take too much credit for our successes and abundance. That is not to say we have nothing to do with our prosperity, we often do. I enthusiastically teach classes on the amazing Law of Attraction; I use the principles daily. Clearly our mental attitudes affect internal and external circumstances. An optimist is more likely to be happy than a pessimist. We hugely increase our chances of health and wealth by thinking positively.

However, there are poor optimists and wealthy pessimists; there are sick optimists and healthy pessimists. The simplistic one to one correlation of positive thinking to wealth and health cannot be demonstrated. I know lots of 'positive thinkers' and most of them have life experiences that are pretty much the same as 'negative thinkers' – both groups are comprised of folks who are concerned about money, holding their marriages together, raising troubled children and staying healthy. The one difference is that the positive thinkers find meaning and soul in their daily challenges, even if they can't manipulate these problems away with happy thoughts.

Soul-making recognizes that there is a grander plan in the Universe than attracting perpetual success and happiness through some thought manipulation. This formulaic approach can easily degenerate into a kind of New Age legalism, a sort of optimist's version of the Ten Commandments.

HUBRIS

Occasionally we see some of the most optimistic celebrities and greatest advocates of Positive Thinking leveled by horrific disasters. Health and wealth teachers get caught in financial scandals, optimistic celebrities end up in rehab, politicians and televangelists have sexual affairs. This is the Law of Balance at work - the Universe is not being controlled by humans alone. These disasters make Soul as well or maybe even better than all of the successes.

The old Greek gods would not tolerate human hubris – translated arrogance. The brilliant classical scholar Elizabeth Vandiver of the University of Maryland tells us that the oft quoted phrase from ancient Delphi, 'know thyself', was to remind those entering the Greek temple of Apollo that they were not a god. 'Know thyself' was not used the way it is often used today, implying that we ought to do some self introspection in order to discover insights about our interior mental processes. The phrase at the Delphic Temple door was there to remind the entrant seeking a prophecy that he/she knew nothing when compared to the soul making gods.

DID JOB VIOLATE THE LAW OF ATTRACTION?

A similar notion is found in the dramatic Hebrew story of Job. He was a righteous man; dare I say a positive thinker that knew and used The Secret. He did everything right. His consciousness was perfect. He obeyed God's Law, loved his neighbors, cultivated prosperity thoughts, fed the poor, encouraged his children and was an all around optimist and philanthropist. You know the story – he loses it all in one disaster after another. Most of the narrative is spent explaining how he defends himself against his three friends who tell him over and over that he has sinned, or to put it in modern terms, how he had been thinking negative thoughts.

Some Bible interpreters have even dared to blame Job from his own words, "That which I have feared has come upon me." But Job defends his pristine consciousness to the end. Finally, God speaks. The essence of God's message is similar to the slogan at Delphi. God says, "Ultimately Job, you know nothing compared to the Almighty." Prior to that lesson Job thought he had God under control. Job thought he knew 'The Law' and how to use it. He was sure he had reality harnessed and could control exactly how it worked. But the ancient story reveals a Universe that is vastly more complicated. At one point Job considers that he may be undergoing a soul-making experience when he says, "I have been tried and will come forth as gold."

GANDALF GETS THE LAST WORD

In the very last paragraph of Tolkien's book, The Hobbit, Bilbo Baggins is wondering out loud about his crucial role in changing the course of events on Middle Earth. He wonders whether or not there were other invisible Powers and Prophecies at work in some grander plan.
Gandalf the Wizard answers, "Surely you don't disbelieve the prophecies, because you had a hand in bringing them about yourself? You don't really suppose, do you, that all your adventures and escapes were managed by mere luck, just for your sole benefit? You are a very fine person, Mr. Baggins, and I am very fond of you; but you are only quite a little fellow in a wide world after all!"

"Thank goodness!" said Bilbo laughing, and handed him the tobacco-jar.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Role of Humor in Soul-making

Humor always pokes fun at that which is elevated or that which is forbidden--attacking opposite ends of the acceptability poles. Either pompous or important people or ideas are mocked, or base and forbidden people and ideas are mocked. All humor is aimed at what is elevated, or what is vulgar. Why has this always been, and why do we laugh when the mighty are lampooned, or the vulgar exposed?

As with all emotions and psychological phenomena, there are good reasons for their existence. Just as in the physical world, a sneeze expels some irritant in the nasal passage, or a cough removes a foreign object from the throat, so too laughing serves a great function. What is it?

Humor is a universal psychological device that rearranges the soul's boundaries and dynamic makeup. It is significant that we speak of "poking fun," or "sticking it to him." This imagery suggests that some sort of membrane or boundary is assailed. Let's imagine the personality or individual self as something like a bubble. Each of us is a bubble filled with conscious contents, including a name, education, experiences, identity, etc. We sometimes call this self an ego which really just means "I". One school of thought suggests that the ego or self is always in need of deflation or inflation, in need of being burst asunder, of being pushed ever outward. That is how humor works.

Humor either pushes the tiny self outward, beyond it's comfortable boundaries, or alternately, humor bursts the rind of the inflated, pompous ego that it might deflate in order to re-inflate. Both experiences allow for the infinite contents of the Unconscious to flow in and transmute the self into an increasingly different and enlarged soul.

HUMOR AS DEFLATION

Imagine two fellows: each has a serious attachment to his particular political point of view; one is a republican and the other is a democrat. Each is quite serious and always ready to fight for his party, despising those who disagree. This is actually all too common. It could also be differing religious points of view, including a somber theist and zealous atheist. Now imagine someone telling a joke that mocks the republican's ideological identity. People all around begin to laugh as he fumes quietly or out loud. Or imagine the joke is told against the serious democrat's positions or candidates, and he too feels very upset and angry that his cosmological security has been "poked". The result is deflation of the ego, sometimes called humiliation.

HUMOR AS INFLATION

Imagine another scenario--a nun in a convent. She took vows of chastity at the age of eighteen and is now twenty-five. She has lived each day a virginal bride of Christ. This is her eternal, frozen identity. One night, after her prayers, she turns on her little radio and finds a station playing some of Eddie Murphy's old vulgar stand-up comedy acts from the 1980s. She is appalled and switches stations, but guiltily keeps coming back to the vulgar jokes. She finds herself giggling. She listens a little longer, and is simultaneously disgusted and amused. Her old identity bubble is being poked, being "poked fun at," and as it erodes, psychic rearrangement is taking place. She may remain in the monastery in a life of celibacy, but her psyche will either become more understanding or rigid.

CONCLUSION

In each scenario, humor as deflation and humor as inflation, the old selves are being assailed. The internal anger or glee, as well as the external anger or laughter, are eroding the old self. It is not obvious, after all, it is "just" entertainment. I once heard a public speaker say, "I love to tell funny stories, because when the audience has their mouths wide open in laughter, I shove my point down their throats!" Humor breaks the psyche wide open. Our reactions to humor, as to all emotion, releases the dynamic psychic energy that rearranges the personality. Humor, or Trickster in many mythologies, is the conduit between the conscious self and the Unconscious Source of Soul.

Next time fun is poked at your exalted ideas, or some joke exposes something you consider forbidden and/or socially unacceptable, pay attention to your response. Like it or not, Psyche is rearranging your soul, either deflating your pompously inflated ego, or pushing the boundaries of your puny limited self beyond the correct strictures. The Soul cares little about politics, religions, social conventions or any of those things we make ultimate. Soul uses all of life to keep the dynamic of soul moving. Soul wastes nothing--it recycles everything for its purposes.

Lighten up.

THE GREEN KNIGHT AS TRICKSTER: Soul is Made by Death and Sex

This paper was written for Makita Brottman's class, European Traditions, at Pacifica Graduate Institute, 2010.

_________________________________________________

SYNOPSIS OF THE STORY

(If you know the story, you may skip to the paragraph, A Lens By Which to View the Story)

The story commences in King Arthur's Camelot on New Year's Day. After the ritual of Mass had been sung and presents exchanged, the feast was about to begin. All was in perfect courtly order:

Then they washed and sat at that stately table,

The noblest nearest their lord, and his queen,

Guenevere the gay, seated in their midst...

Arranged around that priceless table...

Gawain the good sat beside Guenevere,

and Agravaine of the hard hands on her other side,

Both Arthur's nephews, faithful knights

And Bishop Bawdune at the king's right

And Urian's son Ywain with him.

This central table sat high in luxury

And around them the lesser knights in rows.

~ Sir Gawain, Raffel 50-52


Suddenly a large Green Knight armed with an axe rode into the hall on a green horse, asking for someone from the round table to strike his exposed neck with his green axe. But there was a condition to this request--that the Green Knight would return the blow to the neck of his challenger one year later if he were able. Sir Gawain, the youngest of Arthur's knights and nephew to the king, accepts the challenge. The Green Knight kneels and Gawain cuts off the giant's head with a single stroke. Everyone thought the bizarre game was over, but then the headless body of the Green Knight rises, retrieves his severed head, reminds Gawain to meet him at the Green Chapel in a year and rides away on his green charger.

Nearly one agonizing year later Gawain sets off on his horse Gringolet to locate the Green Chapel and fulfill his pact with the Green Knight. None of the other knights expect Gawain to return from certain death. His difficult journey takes him deep into the wilderness mountains to the borderlands of northern Wales:

And he rode through England, Sir Gawain, on God's

Behalf, though the ride was hardly a happy one.

He was often alone, at night, in places

Where the path ahead of him could please no one.

Only his horse rode with him, through woods

And hills, and the only voice he heard

Was God's, until he reached the north of Wales.

~ Sir Gawain, Raffel 70

After the long journey Gawain enters a beautiful castle where he is heartily welcomed by Bertilak, the lord of the castle, and his beautiful wife. Gawain tells them he cannot stay long due to his New Year's appointment at the Green Chapel. Bertilak explains that the Green Chapel is less than two miles away and proposes that Gawain remain in the luxury of their castle for Christmas festivities. Bertilak then suggests a holiday game to Gawain: Bertilak would go hunting over the next three days, giving Gawain whatever he bagged on the condition that Gawain give him whatever he might acquire during his restful days at the castle. Gawain accepts. Early the next morning, after Bertilak left for his first hunt, the gorgeous Lady Bertilak visits Gawain's bedroom to seduce him. Despite her best efforts, Gawain surrenders nothing but one little kiss. When Bertilak returns he gives Gawain the deer he had killed and the still chaste knight responds by returning the lady's kiss to Bertilak. On the second day the lady comes to Gawain's bedroom again, but he resists once more, giving her two innocent kisses. On his return from the second hunt Bertilak exchanges a lifeless wild boar for the two kisses. The seductive lady arrives again on the third morning, but this time Gawain accepts a green silk girdle which the lady promises will keep him from all physical harm. They exchange three kisses. That evening, Bertilak returns with a fox which he trades for the three kisses--but Gawain secretly keeps the green girdle which he believes will protect him from death.

Finally Gawain leaves for the Green Chapel wearing the girdle and finds the Green Knight sharpening his axe. As agreed, Gawain kneels to receive his death blow. On the first halted swing, Gawain flinches and the Green Knight belittles him for his weakness before death. The Green Knight swings again, but intentionally misses--Gawain does not flinch. He swings a third time, leaving a harmless nick and scar on Gawain's neck. The Green Knight then reveals himself to be the gracious host, Bertilak, lord of the castle, explaining that the entire adventure was a game arranged through the magical manipulations of Morgan le Fay, Arthur's malicious sister. Gawain is ashamed of secretly taking the girdle and of flinching like a coward. But the Green Knight commends his bravery and Gawain returns to Camelot wearing the girdle in shame as a token of his failure to fully follow the rules of the game. It is decreed that the Knights of the Round Table wear the green sash of human imperfection in recognition of Gawain's adventure.

A LENS BY WHICH TO VIEW THE STORY

In his 1975 Terry Lectures, the founder of Archetypal Psychology, James Hillman, spoke of "psychologizing" as a way of "seeing through" the literalness of any image portrayed to the mind:

"Psychologizing goes on whenever reflection takes place in terms other than those presented. It suspects an interior, not evident intention; it searches for a hidden clockwork, a ghost in the machine, an etymological root, something more than meets the eye; or it sees with another eye.[i] It goes on whenever we move to a deeper level...We see through the logical by means of the imaginal...look at conscious events and intentions from the unconscious, from below. Look at the daylight world from the night side, from fantasy and it's archai." (Re-Visioning 135, 139)

Hillman suggests that we do not focus on explaining a story by asking what it means, but rather focus on exploring the original patterning images behind the story by asking, "Who [which Archetype] are you and what do you want me to know?" (Re-Visioning 138-139; Healing Fiction 93). In order for the images to enter into psychic life, or for the word to be made flesh, we must realize that "...the Who refers to a living archetypal figure within the complex, the dream, the symptom...(Re-Visioning 139)", and I would add, or within the story. This means that the mythical tale of the Green Knight, to be of value to an individual psyche, must be seen through. In other words, the literal narrative armor must be pierced with the lance of insightful investigation. "With slow suspicion or sudden insight we move through the apparent to the less apparent. We use metaphors of light--a little flicker, a slow dawning, a lightning flash--as things become clarified (Re-Visioning 140)."

After much reflection and patient consultation with the committee of archetypal personas in this Arthurian story, I found the Trickster image[ii] calling to me over and over. I now turn to that reflective exploration process.

TRICKSTERS ROLE: TO DISSOLVE AND REARRANGE PERSONAL AND SOCIAL ORDER

As many Arthurian scholars have recognized, Camelot and the Round Table symbolize order and wholeness. Joseph Campbell writes, "The Round Table stands...for the social order of the period..." (Creative Mythology 454).[iii] We see this organizing motif in Raffel's translation as he describes the hierarchical court gathering for the New Year's celebration:

Arranged around that priceless table...

Gawain...The good sat beside Guenevere,

and Agravaine of the hard hands on her other side,

Both Arthur's nephews, faithful knights

And Bishop Bawdune at the king's right

And Urian's son Ywain with him.

This central table sat high in luxury

And around them the lesser knights in rows.

~ Sir Gawain, Raffel 50-52

The old year had passed and the new year was arriving. Each character had his or her assigned place at the round table. Psychologically, this may refer to the neatly ordered self or society. Most humans assume that the new year will continue much in the same fashion as the old year. Life does not work that way.

One of the central roles of all tricksters in the world's mythologies is to disturb the social and personal order with a view to expanding the shape of existence itself. The Green Knight plays[iv] just such a character in this story. Robert Pelton writes about the symbolic role of tricksters in myths from many cultures, using the West African Yoruban example of Eshu:

"Eshu is agile: he is moving always to challenge, break open and enlarge every possible structure and relationship... the world comes into being and life achieves wholeness through conflict, disorder, and even death, as well as through obedience, harmony, and birth… life itself is a continuous threshold through which man ceaselessly passes from dissolution to order…" (The Trickster 161, 205).

Some versions of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight suggest that Arthur's court had become complacent, sated, fat and static.[v] There was a need for something or someone unusual to enter the static circle, shattering it that it might open out beyond its sluggish complacency. What better symbol than decapitation, of losing one's head, losing one's mind or changing one's mind, to portray a socio-personal transformation?[vi]

TRICKSTERS: TRANSFORMATION THROUGH DEATH AND DESIRE

All ancient trickster myths and folktales center on creating mayhem that aims at transformation toward a new social or personal order. Sexual desire and death[vii] are often the most frequent and effective means the trickster uses to produce the various destabilizations that precede the new orders.

"If he [trickster]...causes pain and death to enter the world, spoiling primordial bliss, his quarrel is not with the divine order as such, but with a false human image of the sacred, one that cannot encompass suffering, disorder, and the ultimate mess of death...Thus it is that so often the trickster's actions make death part of human life...In this metaphysics the trickster is...an exemplar of wit in action, the most practical joke of all as he pulls the chair out from under the system to keep it moving...In the trickster's myths this energy appears as a passion for intercourse that likes like lust...Freud knew what this force was and how it alone could wrest life out of death's grasp, and his word, Eros, describes well the trickster's seizure of life." (The Trickster 282-83).

Gnostic and Jungian scholar Stephen Hoeller believes that the Green Knight represents "the greenish[viii] color of the corpse after death" (Arthurian Legendry, lecture 301104). Green is also known to have signified witchcraft, devilry and evil for its association with the faeries and spirits of early English folklore. In the Celtic tradition green clothing was avoided because of its superstitious association with misfortune and death.[ix] Alice Buchanan contends that the color green is incorrectly attributed to the Green Knight as a mistranslation of the Irish word 'glas' which could mean either gray or green. She believes gray is a better translation, signifying the pallid color of death.[x]

The color green was also traditionally used to symbolize nature, fertility and rebirth.[xi] Emma Jung and Marie-Louise von-Franz write that green is the "colour of vegetation and, in a wider sense, of life" (The Grail Legend 165).

I don't believe we have to choose between life and death--the Green Knight can symbolize both. The trickster archetype cannot be collapsed into a single category since his/her intention is often to create dualities in order to synthesize a new union of opposites.[xii] The Green Knight may represent death and resurrection, beheading and "re-heading".

In addition, given the 14th century Celtic context where this story was composed, it is very possible that it is an amalgam of traditional Christian theology and old British Paganism, unapologetically weaving together death, resurrection and fertility themes.[xiii] However, death is not the only tactic used by the trickster to foment social and personal dissolution. Sexual desire was also a common ploy.

Erdoes and Ortiz write about the Native American Tricksters sexual deviance:

"Of all the characters in myths and legends told around the world through the centuries...it's the trickster who provides the real spark in the action...always ready to lure someone else's wife into bed, always trying to get something for nothing, shifting shapes and even sex, getting caught in the act, ever scheming, never remorseful." (American Indian 12)

Robert Pelton also writes about the provocative sexuality of the African trickster, Legba:

Legba can roam as he chooses...to bring men to their destiny...never ceasing to widen their path for them...He is always ready for intercourse...the master of sexuality...and his penis, symbolizing...a life-giving transformation, that life itself is a continuous threshold through which man ceaselessly passes from dissolution to order..." (Trickster 119, 124) [xiv]

These images are reminiscent of the Greek Hermes with his phallic pointer swaying like a dancing compass needle at transformative thresholds and intersections. There is also the deconstructive-reconstructive erect lingam of Lord Shiva.[xv] Schopenhauer and Freud make it clear that the sexual drives wreak havoc on an otherwise orderly, sane existence.[xvi]

It would be a mistake to take these sexual images too literally, seeing them only as revealing Gawain's failure and weakness. By "psychologizing," or seeing through the literalness of sex, lust and desire, we find that these images can also signify the energies of introspection concerning ones convictions about Ultimate Concerns. In Plato's Symposium, Eros or Desire is seen by Socrates and Diotima as the basic energy of longing for union with Eternal Beauty Itself.[xvii] All shadowy objects of lust and desire reveal a personal value system, the character-to-date of the soul in a state of unsolicited craving.[xviii] These revelations are important as they shine a light on the true state of the soul.

The seductions of Bertilak's alluring wife reveal to Gawain his earthiness, allowing an opportunity to explore his own high psycho-spiritual theories and convictions. By accepting the Queen's intimate green girdle,[xix] Gawain realizes that his spiritual quest and manly courage were not as strong as he had originally assumed.

In all of the various trickster stories, including the Green Knight, there is the idea of personal and social boundaries forming, dissolving and reforming. Edinger writes, "Many myths depict the original state of man as a state of roundness, wholeness, perfection, or paradise" (Ego and Archetype 8). The original roundedness must break open in order that new creative ideas and materials may enter in. Sometimes, the circular image of a great spiral[xx] is utilized--symbolizing the dynamic movement inward, then outward, ever expanding beyond the former circle in a vital cosmos. Just because something begins in wholeness does not mean that it will remain in that condition.

DESIRE, DEATH AND THE LIMINAL MARKS

After his encounter with the Lady Bertilak and the Knight, there were two enduring effects on Gawain's body--the green sash and his scarred neck. These may be imagined as liminal wounds demarking Gawain's newly discovered psychic residences between desire and self control, and between death and life. Prior to this he may have thought himself beyond such contradictory poles. The permanent neck wound was etched between his head and his body, a common symbol for the above and below, the spiritual and the material. [xxi] Gawain would live the rest of his life reminded that he was always just a few inches from death at any given moment.

The green belt around his waist was a voluntary liminal reminder of always residing at the crossroads of lust, desire and avaricious greed waiting to take him off of his purposeful spiritual course. Prior to his three days in bed, being caressed and romanced by the gorgeous Lady Bertilak, he would have likely thought himself invincible to lust. Now the sexy sash reminded him daily that the distance between his head and penis was not so great. He was just one choice away from abandoning his knightly code and call. This was such an impressive and important educational reminder that his fellow knights also wore the sash after Gawain's return to Camelot.

THE KING AND THE GREEN KNIGHT: I AM AND I AM NOT

There has been a lot of discussion about the role of the Green Knight as both the benevolent king Bertilak and the agent of terror and death. In these "contradictory" images, I see the paradoxical nature of reality itself, what Pelton calls an attribute of the trickster's "doubleness of reality at every level" (The Trickster 209).[xxii] This character seems to be both good and evil, sacred and mundane. Emma Jung and Marie-Louise von-Franz comment, "In ecclesiastical symbolism green is a color of the Holy Ghost...and in the language of the mystics it is the universal color of divinity" (The Grail Legend 165). The Green Knight/Bertilak is both the trickster-devil and comforting God. It would appear that we see not only the combinative ideas of Paganism and Christianity in this story, but also of good and evil working together for a greater purpose. Perhaps this had something to do with the historical situation of an outbreak of the Black Death, the Peasants' Revolt, and internecine wars. [xxiii] Maybe the author was trying to reassure the readers of Nietzsche's oft quoted maxim, "That which does not kill us makes us stronger."

STAGES OF DEVELOPMENT SEEN IN THE STORY

Whether intended or not, the order of the deer, the boar and the fox are perfect symbols for the idea of psycho-spiritual stages and processes--the regal deer being a symbol of the orderly Arthurian court, the wild boar signifying Gawain's disintegrative trek through the wilderness, and the fox as a common representative of tricksters[xxiv] portraying the pathologizing[xxv] and reorganizing affects of desire and death under Bertilak and his wife. These images seem to intimate the four stages of spiritual growth suggested by Erick Erickson,[xxvi] M. Scott Peck,[xxvii] Robert Pelton[xxviii] and my own work on stages of consciousness.[xxix]

PERSONAL SIGNIFICANCE OF THIS STORY

In 2003, my son Jason was sent to Iraq with the Stryker Brigade's 181st Infantry based at Fort Lewis, Washington. My most vivid memory of that time was a daily sense of angst at the prospect of my young son's death on the battlefield. It was as though the Green Knight had charged into my otherwise ordered, round-table life and challenged me to a game of decapitation. I was allowed the first blow. I took the green axe of time and waited. Eighteen months later my son came home alive and well. Jason returned for a second deployment, and returned unharmed. I had beheaded Death, yet Death always rose again and kept making appointments with me.

In 2007 Jason was on his third deployment--this time to Afghanistan. At 10:30 P.M. on July 13, 2008, an Army chaplain knocked on my door to inform me that my precious twenty-five year old boy had been killed at the Battle of Wanat. This controversial battle is still in the news.[xxx] Part of the storm surrounding this particular skirmish was the fact that the young men who died there knew they were facing almost certain slaughter. A few days before the tragedy, many of them made telephone calls, sent emails or wrote letters telling family and friends that they were entering into a suicide mission. Here is a part of the last letter my son wrote a few days before he was killed:

TO MY FAMILY

I feel my days are numbered, so I want to say all this while I still can. I pray to God no-one will ever have to read this, but as death is all around me, if it falls upon me, you will understand my recent feelings on this madness we call life...Never have I felt as strong as I do about what I am doing here in Afghanistan as the right thing for me to be doing, and as understood and accepted by God. As a result of that, death is easier to accept....Know that you all are the reason I am here to give my life, for that is nothing to me. My love for every-one of you is what drives me and brings me comfort under stressful situations. Carise and Jesse [Jason's sister and husband], let your child know of me, and that even though I was never able to see him grow up, I love him more than he could imagine.

My son was dead. Death invited me to its green chapel. For the next several months I rode off toward the borderland of Death, into the mountainous wilderness. I know Gawain's experience:

And he rode through England...

though the ride was hardly a happy one.

He was often alone, at night, in places

Where the path ahead of him could please no one.

Only his horse rode with him, through woods

And hills, and the only voice he heard

Was God's, until he reached the north of Wales.

~ Sir Gawain, Raffel 70

This was the wilderness experienced by Jesus, Dante, Bilbo Baggins and all other mythological adventurers who face self-dissolution mediated by trickster-as-death. For such appointments, one has to "ride through England," "through the valley of the shadow of death" (Psalm 23)--there is no "going around" for soul-making, it must be gone through. Like Gawain, "often alone at night, in places and on paths that could please no one," I too heard only the voice of "God," and sometimes that voice was not present. It was a descent into Hell, into the Underworld, into the depths. It was a prolonged encounter with Death, and Desire.

Desire came to me in the seductive guise of escapism, whispering, "Go unconscious, come to bed with me; you are depressed and need pharmaceuticals, diversions, anything to avoid the unhappy places and lonely nights. Go comfortably numb." You see, I have been in recovery for ten years and this was my particular seductress. I repeatedly said to Desire, "No," but then I would indulge in a few innocent kisses in the form of over-the-counter sleep aids. On one occasion, I gave her two kisses, doubling up on the "innocent" non-prescription sleep aids for about one month. There was a short period where I tripled the doses, wrapping myself in her green girdle to deliver me from Death. It was a partial failure, but I stopped and willingly went to Death's green chapel on the border lands of my soul. It was Death's turn to take a swing at my vulnerable neck. This took place in dreams, visions, reflections, memories--too numerous to recount here.

In Sophocles' play, Oedipus at Colonus, the Chorus calls the chapel-grove of the Ocean-Lord Poseidon," the green depths." It was in that green ocean chapel where Theseus was sacrificing an oxen at Poseidon's altar (Sophocles 373). The Greek tragedians often call Poseidon's numinous depths, "green". This image gave meaning to my own entrance into the Green Chapel of Death--a submersion into the overshadowing and re-vivifying deep waters of the unconscious. After her life threatening brain injury, Ginette Paris observed:

"Dangerous voyages...seem to open to us a treasure chest of endless surprises: the unconscious...When the unconscious opens, it disturbs every routine and life takes on a surprising quality. Madam Death insists that surrender be absolute." (Wisdom xii)

I heard Death sharpening his axe, a symbol of separation and decapitation--the loss of not only some "one" or some "thing," but of the former ego-self. Early that first morning after I learned of my son's death, a voice spoke to me through my intermittent sleep, "You will never be the same man you were yesterday." The old round table was broken, the old ego-self was wounded, making room for some new order. Death did not take my physical life, but it excised a part of my soul. My neck was nicked, and the old life bled out of me. For the past two years I have had innumerable experiences which have expanded my heart, deepened my psyche and changed my life. Like Jacob wrestling with the Angel of the Lord, I received many hard won blessings, but I walk with a limp. I bear the educational scars of Death, "For a man may hide an injury to his soul/But he'll never be rid of it, it's fastened forever" (Sir Gawain, Raffel 124).

I have since returned to "Camelot," my world. Through the brokenness, I have changed and those around me have noticed it. Some people have actually donned their own "green sash" as I have shared my meeting with Desire and Death. I have met with the Green Trickster in his chapel, he has taken several swings at my neck and broken "open and enlarged every possible structure and relationship... through conflict, disorder, and even death..." as I passed through "dissolution to order" (The Trickster 161, 205). HONY SOYT QUI MAL PENCE [Shame to him who finds evil here] (Sir Gawain, Raffel 125).

End



FOOTNOTES:

[i] The Greek word for "idea," (eidon), refers not only to the object but a way of seeing. In other words, an idea is not just comething to be observed or considered, but is a means by which we observe things. Re-Visioning Psychology, p. 141.

[ii] Robert Pelton rightly warns about reducing the tricksters many meanings to only one, "...be it Prometheanism, protognosticism, psychic growth, or symbolic exhaustion." (The Trickster in West Africa, p. 12).

[iii] Emma Jung and Marie-Louise von Franz write, "As a 'round thing' the Round Table expresses totality. The circle is indeed described as the most complete of all forms." The Grail Legend, p. 386.

[iv] The word "play" is used here intentionally since the word "game" is used over and over in this story. The trickster plays games, hence the name trickster.

[v] This is the attitude portrayed in the movie, Sword of the Valiant: The Legend of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, starring Sean Connery as the Green Knight.

[vi] Some Christian interpreters "...see it as a story of the apocalyptic fall of a civilisation, in Gawain's case, Camelot. In this interpretation, Sir Gawain is like Noah, separated from his society and warned by the Green Knight (who is seen as God's representative) of the coming doom of Camelot." from Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. "In his depiction of Camelot, the poet reveals a concern for his society, whose inevitable fall will bring about the ultimate destruction intended by God. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sir_Gawain_and_the_Green_Knight#Gawain_as_medieval_romance)

[vii] In the ancient Gnostic literature, Death and Desire were seen as two Archons or personified obstacles that blocked the psyche's ascent to the Pleroma or Fullness of God. We find this in the 2nd century A.D. Gospel of Mary:10) And Desire said to the ascending soul, “I did not see you coming down from the Higher Realm, but now I see you ascending. You were never ‘up there’. Your true nature is material. Why do you lie since you belong to me?” 11) The soul answered and said, “Well, I saw you and now know that you are not my true nature. I wouldn’t expect you to see me or recognize my True Heavenly Nature. I served you as a garment and you did not know me.” 12) When it said this, it (the soul) went away rejoicing greatly. 18) When the soul had overcome...it went upwards and saw the fourth Obstacle, which had seven voices. 19) The first form is Darkness, the second Desire, the third Ignorance, the fourth is the Terror of Death, the fifth is the Kingdom of the Flesh, the sixth is the foolish Wisdom of Flesh, the seventh is the Wrathful Wisdom. These are the seven powers of wrath. (Gospel of Mary 10-19)

[viii] "Physically the Green Lion was usually a name for vitriol, or the sulphuric acid created by distilling the green crystals of iron sulphate in a flask. Iron sulphate was formed when iron ores rich in sulphides were left to oxidise in the air, so was readily available to medieval alchemists. The sharp penetrating sulphuric acid could create major chemical changes in many materials even to the extent of dissolving metals like iron, and copper. The Green Lion could also be the nitric acid formed from heating saltpeter or nitre and iron sulphate. Nitric acid when mixed with the acid derived from common salt, hydrochloric acid, produced aqua regia, a greenish tinged liquid that could dissolve even the noble metal gold. The Green Lion devouring the sun is a famous image in alchemy being depicted in many manuscripts and engravings, and can be thought of as aqua regia dissolving the solar gold and forming a solution which could readily tinge metals with gold" http://www.nachtkabarett.com/babalon/topic/1426---Spit-Vitriol-Not-Swallow-Green-Lion

[ix] Actor Bela Lugosi wore green-hued makeup for the role of Dracula in the 1927–28 Broadway stage production, and Boris Karloff's Frankenstein corpse was lime green. A green tinge in the skin is sometimes associated with nausea and sickness. A physically ill person is said to look green around the gills. The color, when combined with gold, is seen as representing the fading of youth. Green is thought to be an unlucky color in British and British-derived cultures,[42] where green cars, wedding dresses, and theater costumes are all the objects of superstition.[43] Spider-Man villains were often colored green to represent a contrast to the hero's red.[44] In some Far East cultures the color green is often used as a symbol of sickness and/or nausea;[45]

[x] In the Death of Curoi, Curoi stands in for Bertilak, and is often called "the man of the gray mantle". Though the words usually used for gray in the Death of Curoi are 'lachtna' or 'odar', roughly meaning milk-colored and shadowy respectively, in later works featuring a green knight, the word 'glas' is used and may have been the basis of misunderstanding. Buchanan, Alice (June, 1932). "The Irish Framework of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight". PLMA 47 (No. 2): 315–338. In the 15th-century Saint Wolfgang and the Devil by Michael Pacher, the Devil is green. Poetic contemporaries such as Chaucer also drew connections between the color green and the devil, leading scholars to draw similar connections in readings of the Green Knight. (Robertson, D.W. Jr. "Why the Devil Wears Green". Modern Language Notes. (November 1954) 69.7 pp. 470–472.) See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sir_Gawain_and_the_Green_Knight#cite_note-38

[xii] This is the image mandorla, which is the Latin word for "almond," signifying the almond shaped center of two overlapping circles.

[xiii] For an exceptionally researched presentation on the common vernacular of an English Christian-Pagan combination, see Catherine Albanese, A Republic of Mind and Spirit, especially chapter 1 titled, "European Legacies". She examines the art, architecture and literature of the day to demonstrate what she calls Christian-Hermetic spirituality that predeeded and seed the American phenomenon of metaphysical and New Age religions.

[xiv] "The trickster speaks--and embodies--a vivid subtle religious language, through which he links animality and ritual transformation, shapes culture by means of sex and laughter, ties cosmic process to personal history, empowers divination to change boundaries into horizons, and reveals the passages to the sacred embedded in daily life." The Trickster in West Africa, Robert Pelton, p. 4.

[xv] In one Hindu myth, a group of bickering gods fill the heavens with their noise. Lord Shiva, disturbed from his peaceful Himalayan meditation session, shoots his cosmic erection through the atmosphere, scattering the gods like marbles.

[xvi] Introduction to Philosophy

[xvii] Von Franz discusses the alchemical symbols of sizzling Sulphur and other "drive" or "craving" images in the bottom of the heated alembic, signifying the role of libidinal energies which are necessary for the process of transmutation. Alchemy, An Introduction, pp. 126-131.

[xviii] Both the Rig Vedas, Book 10, 129, and Genesis 1-3, make it clear that Desire is the germ or seed of all creative development. The Vedas say, " Thereafter rose Desire in the beginning, Desire, the primal seed and germ of Spirit.” Genesis 3 says, "The woman saw that the tree was beautiful and its fruit looked delicious, and she desired the wisdom it would give her.” In the so called Gnostic Gospel of Mary, Mary preaches a sermon to a group of distraught disciples, teaching them that Desire must be moved through before the soul can return to the Pleroma or Fullness of God.

[xix] The green sash worn around Gawain's waist may reveal the ubiquitous amalgam of Pagan nature religion with its divinations and magical cures with traditional English Christianity. Catherine Albanese cites the "combinativeness" of the two systems:

Despite official church censure...."it is possible that some of the country clergy more than tolerated them [benevolent witches or cunning healers]; they may have even been seen as godly parishioners." In one instance...George Clifford [a Medieval writer said], "The Communion cup was stolen: the Churchwardens rode to a wise man, he gave them direction...and certainly they had it again." In fact, one churchwarden was himself a cunning man, and another visited a cunning man to gain some information regarding his landlord's lost horse. (A Republic of Mind 62).

[xx] In Dogon the Dogon cosmogenesis, the High God Amma "sets in motion the spiral of life and ensures its final establishment" by utilizing the disordering and dissolving influences of the trickster Ogo-Yuruga. Pelton, The Trickster in West Africa, p. 215. The poet W.B. Yeats used the interlocking spiral as a symbol of existence which simultaneously moves in and out, up and down, side to side in order to describe his images in the poem, The Seond Coming.. http://www.yeatsvision.com/Geometry.html

[xxi] See Santeria, Murphy, head (ori) over body. p. 10 Christ and church. Kephalos.

[xxii] In Hebrew mythology, it is often overlooked that King JHWH and the adversarial Shatan are aspects of the same Godhead. (see many references). A simpler way to see this is by remembering that the name JHWH comes from the verb Hayah which means "I am," or "to be". It is the affirmation, or "yes" to life. However, the word Shatan means "to oppose". It is not too far off base to say that Shatan is the counterpart, meaning "I am not," to JHWH's "I am".[xxii] When we can move away from theology and literalism, and hearken back to the phenomenological origins of these mythical characters, we see that the Hebrews were just trying to deal with the daily reality of life as a kind of psycho-spiritual isometrics. Life is always a series of oppositional encounters, and it is from these resistances that emotional and soulful muscle is built.

[xxiii] See Clark, S. L., and Julian N. Wasserman. "The Passing of the Seasons and the Apocalyptic in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight". South Central Review. (1986) 3.1 pp. 5–22

[xxiv] Ogo of the Dogon people is portrayed as a fox. Pelton, The Trickster in West Africa, pp. 207, 221

[xxv] James Hillman re-visions pathology as "...the psyches autonomous ability to create illness, morbidity, disorder, abnormality and suffering in any aspect of its behavior and to experience and imagine life through this deformed and afflicted perspective." Re-Visioning Psychology, p. 56.

[xxvi] Childhood and Society, pp. 65-72, 269-74.

[xxvii] Scot Peck's book, The Different Drum

[xxviii] Pelton, The Trickster of West Africa, pp. 168, 171.

[xxix] Paper for Approaches to Mythology class, Eros and Psyche, The Bible and Stages of Consciousness.

[xxx] On June 27, 2010, Dateline NBC did an hour long story on this battle, including my son's role in it (http://www.clicker.com/tv/dateline-nbc/A-Father-s-Mission-967259/). One June 23, 2010, I and several family members of the nine deceased soldiers attended a briefing in Atlanta, Georgia to hear the results of an eight month independent investigation by Marine three star Lt. General Natonski. He concluded that three Commanders involved in sending the Platoon, "Chosen Company" of the 173rd Airborne, on that particular mission were guilty of dereliction of duty. Retired four star Army General Campbell exonerated the three Commanders, shocking the families and General Natonsky. As a result, Virginia Senator Webb and Senator Patty Murray of Washington State are pressing for a senate hearing.