Thursday, January 21, 2010

Soul-making in Pictures

Unconditional Love

Unimaginable Sorrow

Joyous Innocence

Grief, Courage and Compassion
(notice both faces)

Pain of Loss

Loyalty and Respect

Compassionate Warrior


Erotic Love

Humane Care


Be kinder than necessary to everyone you meet, because everyone you meet is fighting some kind of battle. This is the human condition. All emotions make character. Every experience is a soul-making experience.


A Word from Carl Jung

“The sad truth is that man’s real life consists of a complex of inexorable opposites—day and night, birth and death, happiness and misery, good and evil. We are not even sure that one will prevail against the other, that good will overcome evil, or joy defeat pain. Life is a battleground. It always has been, and always will be; and if it were not so, existence would come to an end. It was precisely this conflict within man that led the early Christians to expect and hope for the end of the world, or the Buddhists to reject all earthly desires and aspirations.
“These basic answers would be frankly suicidal if they were not linked up with peculiar mental and moral ideas and practices that constitute the bulk of both religions and that, to a certain extent, modify their radical denial of the world.
“I stress this point because, in our time, there are millions of people who have lost faith in any kind of religion. Such people do not understand their religion any longer. While life runs smoothly without religion, the loss remains as good as unnoticed. But when suffering comes, it is another matter. That is when people begin to seek a way out and to reflect about the meaning of life and its bewildering and painful experiences.”
Carl G. Jung, Man and His Symbols, pp. 85-87

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

June 22nd - December 22nd: My Two Birthdays

I was born on June 22nd, the day after the Summer solstice in the northern hemisphere when the days begin to get shorter as the tilting earth moves away from the sun. The Babylonians and other cultures in the northern hemisphere commemorated this time with a six-day funeral because it marked the decline of daylight hours and the onset of the withering, deadly summer heat. They saw this moment as the death of Tammuz, and his descent into darkness. Our month of June was called Tammuz by the Babylonians.

In Egypt this God was Osiris. In ancient Sumer this dying God was called Dumuzid, and in Greece Adonis. Recent discoveries reconfirm them as annual life-death-rebirth deities. Tablets discovered in 1963 show that Dumuzi was in fact consigned to the Underworld in order to secure Inanna's release, corresponding to the coming life giving crops and animal births.

If June 22nd marked the day after the longest day and the death of the god with gradually decreasing light, then December 22nd was the day after the Winter solstice, marking the shortest day and a pivoting back toward the lengthening of days as the light returned to warm the earth, bringing life from the soil. This time was often celebrated as a period of rejoicing, great hope and the rebirth of the absent God/ess. The Christmas story and birth of Christ was assigned to this well known day and event of the rebirth of light, hope and peaceful weather on earth.

When I was exactly nineteen and one half years of age, on the night of December 22nd, after reading the Passion story of Christ for the first time from the Gospel of Matthew, I was compelled by some inner thought to pray and ‘believe’ in the dying and resurrected Christ. On December 22nd I underwent a remarkable transformation. The psychic shift was shocking and unanticipated, especially since I had no religious training or church attendance prior to that night. My whole life literally changed in an instant in a radical fashion. I lost all desire to drink and party with my friends, I felt a union with all of creation, I knew God was real, I felt a total freedom from fear and worry, my college GPA went from a 1.8 to a 3.8 and astonishing events began to occur in my life. For the first time I felt purpose and confidence.

Like Tammuz (Dimuzi, Adonis), I had been raised from death and darkness. The juxtaposition of June (Tammuz) 22nd and December 22nd was either a colossal coincidence, or some sort of psycho-astrological synchronous event.

Subsequent to the transformative December 22nd experience, I began attending an evangelical church, then a Bible college and eventually two different seminaries where I completed two post graduate degrees in biblical and theological studies. I taught part time in a Presbyterian seminary for a couple of years and became the minister of an Evangelical Free Church for five years. However, during those years of theological education, I was having increasing doubts about what I was being taught, and unsure that my December 22nd spiritual experience was necessarily connected with, or explained by those theological teachings.

Depressed, bereft of faith, doubtful of all that I had been taught in my church, the Christian college and evangelical seminaries, I left it all in 1990. For the next decade I dabbled in many different religious traditions, called myself an agnostic and spent considerable time experimenting with alcohol and the lifestyle that went along with it. I was relieved to be free of the guilt, oppression and often inhumane beliefs I had been taught. I was distraught to be so confused, lost and bereft of a structure for existence, or cosmology.

Within a year of leaving organized evangelicalism, I met a woman in a class I was teaching. She told me that she had a dream. In her dream, she said, God had asked her to share a message with me from the divine. Skeptical, but fascinated, I asked her what the message from the dream was about. She said, “Jesus told me to tell you that ‘Life came out of death.’”

I told her that the one thing I had retained from my religious life was my December 22nd experience of reading the Passion of the Christ story and the subsequent spiritual awakening that came upon me. I said, “The one thing I know is that life comes out of death.”

She then told me that Jesus had asked her to “tell Michael that my real name is Irv.”

My reply was, “Whatever,” and I went away thinking she was a New Age kook. Two weeks later she called and said she had shared the dream with her Jungian therapist who was an ex-Catholic nun. The therapist said, “IRV was sometimes used in Catholic school to refer to in requiem vita, or ‘in death is life.’”

June 22nd and the earthly symbol of descent into darkness and death - December 22nd and ascent into light and life; a time of various seasonal rites of death and rebirth on those dates; a dream message of ‘in requiem vita’ or ‘in death is life.

Since that time I have experienced various depressions and struggles with the meaning, source and ‘way out’ of dark nights. I have lost my faith. I lost a marriage and family. I lost my 25 year old son in Afghanistan in 2008. I have been near death on two occasions.

For the past twenty years I have been obsessed with the themes of Eros (love) and Thanatos (death) as seen in my poetry and blog sites. Necessity compels me to explore the themes of darkness and light, life and death, positive and negative. I have experienced mystical ascents into sublimity and a descent into the hell of alcoholism. Both have gifted me with insights as well as in-sites into a diverse and fascinating soul topography that includes light bathed oases as well as shadowy labyrinths. This is my call. I do not know why, but I finally surrender and open to what it means, and what I must do with it, if anything.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Addiction and Comedy: Both Stem from Incomplete Stories

Addiction and comedy have one thing in common-- they derive from incomplete painful emotional stories.

Some would call them ‘unresolved feelings,’ but that places too much emphasis on just the internal emotion. There is an event that takes place which triggers the emotions I am referring to. The activating event is almost always a loss of some kind; a death, divorce, destroyed reputation, unfulfilled expectation, betrayal and many other kinds of losses, real or imagined. Our emotional reaction is unpleasant. We are sad, angry, hurt, confused, depressed, etc. Rather than move through the emotional story, we find ways to avoid the pain. Substance abuse [including sex, money, religion and fame] and humor are great ways to avoid moving through the experiences.

After we experience any painful event in life, a story begins. The human mind is constructed to create stories. We remember. We review. We replay the images over and over. That reactivates the pain; this is called resentment, which literally means to ‘feel again.’ What we do not realize is that there must also be a middle and an end to the emotional story. Often telling jokes, being sarcastic and getting loaded are ways to postpone "feeling through" the event in order to complete the story. The more adept you are, the easier it is to postpone the process. Usually the more educated and intelligent person can postpone the process the longest. They take great pride in being able to control their emotions and avoid the story.

But the human being is made to get back, eventually, to the story. And if we live long enough, we will. But why? Why do we have these emotions? Why are there tragic events that trigger them? Why so many painful events in life? Why does the mind review and create stories? Is it just an evolutionary fluke? Why do mice and roses have such predictable lives, and we humans lives of so much drama, pain and chaos? There must be a reason for such a process. I think there is, and that it looks something like this:

HHumans are making an invisible self, a 'soul' if you will. Our bodies and the material world in general comprise a kind of embryo or womb for souls. The soul is parasitic in this sense, living off of the experiences of the body and mind as they interact with the various phenomena of the external world. That is why we often feel like an observer in our thoughts, and especially dreams. At moments we can actually watch our selves as detached witnesses. We may even speak to our self, “You are such an idiot!” Or, “Why did you do that?” Etc.

The invisible soul is being made by all of life’s events. Just as the body feeds on physical food, the soul feeds on psychic or emotional food. We must ingest, digest and metabolize the various emotional meals we are served through life. That is why we love stories. They are emotional meals that feed our souls. That is why Jesus said that a human doesn't live by bread alone, but by words or stories, and some stories are more effective than others.

The human body and mind are clearly made to experience pain. We have nerve endings and innate mental categories for anxiety, grief, fear and confusion. We get depressed and disappointed. From a strictly evolutionary point of view, these seem to be useless and debilitating features of the human species. Cattle and trees seem better equipped to deal with the difficulties of earthly existence, largely oblivious to pain and suffering. But, these pains, specifically human emotional pains, make souls. Like a freshly sprouted pumpkin, a human must detach from the life sustaining umbilical cord, be stabbed in the head, opened up at the top by a sharp knife, hollowed out and made ready for a light in order to become a jackolantern. The analogy of the butterfly is often used to exemplify human transformation, and for good reason. The worm uses the material of its existence to form a cocoon, hibernate in the suffocating chamber and transform into a very different creature. The Greek word psyche means night moth or butterfly. The Greeks understood that the psyche, or soul, was being made through the events of life.

Addiction and comedy have one thing in common-- they derive from incomplete painful emotional stories. The story must be completed in order to progress. If the addiction and sarcasm are still enjoyable, by all means have fun! These are part of soul making too. Addictions and chronic humor not only alleviate the pain, they simultaneously aggravate the pain. After each delusional diversionary attempt, another layer of emotional pain is added to the already unresolved pathology. Eventually, a person will go irreparably insane, die or complete his/her story. There is no right way to do this except to resume where the initial activating event took place. Find someone you trust, and tell the middle part of your story, feel the emotions that were set aside. Many find this by going back to or joining a religious organization, some find it in 12 step work, some in therapy, some with a trusted friend. The important thing is to resume and complete the story.

Just a quick word about religion and therapy: Sometimes religion and therapy become a substitute for ones story, or teach a person 'helpful' ways to 'transcend' or control their story. These are really just more forms of avoidance. Both religion and therapy can be of much assistance if they help guide one through his/her own emotional narrative experience, eventually uniting the sublimated raw unconscious psychic material with the conscious soul.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Hymn To Demeter: The Gods of the Underworld in Making Soul

The following paper was written for Dr. Christine Downing's exceptional class, Greek and Roman Mythologies I, at Pacifica Graduate Institutute during the Fall Quarter of 2009.

The Hymn to Demeter: The Roles of the Gods and Events in Soul Making

At 10:30 p.m. on July 13, 2008 I received the news that my 25 year old son had been killed in the Battle of Wanat in Nuristan province, Afghanistan. The emotional floor dropped out from beneath my feet as I plunged into the darkest and most hellish experience of my life.

As I contemplated a topic for this paper, the Hymn to Demeter kept calling to me. I resisted mightily, telling myself that the subject was overdone--I wanted something fresh and original. Yet, like Hades grasp on Persephone, it would not let me go. After many readings I have come to identify with the various characters and events in this story, many analogous to my own nightmarish journey into soul making. I will explore those characters and events.

The stated purpose of the first Homeric Hymn to Demeter was to inform the Greek audience that it was possible to have a visionary experience that allowed one to rise up after going “down into the squalid darkness.”


is that man,

among the men

on earth,

who witnesses

these things.

And whoever

is not initiated

in the rites,


has no part in them,

he does not share

the same fate,

when he dies

and is down in

the squalid darkness. (Boer 160)

The Greek word translated ‘witness’ (horao) is significant as Kittel points out in his Theological Dictionary of the New Testament:

…the Gk. language has for the concept of hearing only akouo and its compounds, whereas for seeing it has a whole series of verbs at its command. This interrelation show us already that seeing was more important for the Gks. than hearing. The individual words for seeing…denote different kinds of seeing. (Kittel V, 316)

Horao and its derivatives often emphasize personal experience—seeing an image in a dream, an apparition, or receiving a dynamic spiritual insight. It implies far more than seeing with the mere physical eye. The stated purpose of this hymn and the subsequent Eleusinian ritual was to facilitate a witnessed [1] experience that would open the psycho-spiritual eyes to images below the level of ordinary everyday consciousness.

In addition ’oraw (horao) is etymologically related to eidon [Eidon] from which the name Aidoneus (Hades) derives. He is the God of ideas or knowledge that cannot be seen or witnessed with the physical eye. Like Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone, we are “entering into another dimension; a dimension not only of sight and sound, but of mind; the middle ground between light and shadow.” This is the imagistic realm of soul.

Lastly, the verb witness [‘oraw (horao)] is in the perfect tense and denotes a past action that produces ongoing results, indicating that the vision at the end of nine day Eleusinian ritual would last a lifetime. This is an event, corroborating historical testimonies, that notably changes one’s life.

At least twice the hymn states that the result of the seeing or witnessing would produce ‘happiness…on the earth’.2 The word ‘happiness’ (olbios) connotes external physical prosperity as well as an internal or psychological state of contentment. In other words it is possible to undergo, or go under, a terrible ordeal and rise up into a condition of well being. The sled ride down to Hades is not the end of the trip.

The main characters of this drama are introduced at the outset: Demeter, her daughter, Aidoneus, Zeus and Earth. Curiously, Persephone is referred to only as ‘her daughter’ and not formally named along with the other deities, perhaps because she is not yet a ‘completed’ or fully grown deity. She must first be taken into the Underworld, rooted and only then ascend to Olympus.[3] The natural cycle of descent and ascent is as necessary for the gods as it is for human psychological progress. In fact from an archetypal perspective it would be more correct to say that natural and human evolution mirror the eternal Gods.[4] This developmental idea is also found in the image of Gaia’s beautiful narcissus, a thematic symbol of movement from root, to stem, to the many buds on the stem and finally the fragrant bloom that causes the sky to smile:

From its root

it pushed up

a hundred heads

and a fragrance

from its top


all the vast sky above

smile. (Boer 111)

This organic process is reminiscent of Jesus’ parable in the New Testament Gospel of Mark,

This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day[5] whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself[6] the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come. (Mark 4:26-29)

The two most popular death and resurrection rites in the ancient world were found in the Eleusinian and Christian myths. Jesus’ emphasis on ‘night and day’ as central to the arrival of the kingdom of God is similar to the HyHHHHmn of Demeter and the descent into the dark before moving into the light of day. This natural process of divine and human expansion conflicts with the later Augustinian and usual orthodox Christian teaching that says suffering, darkness and death are the ‘unnatural’ results of human original sin.[7]

Both the hymn and parable recognize forces that are prior to and foundational to human existence. As Bruno Snell says of the Greek mind, “Every human act betrays the vitality of the ultimate cause behind it” (Snell 25) Loss, grief, desperation and all such enthymic descents and subsequent ascents[8] are not just human but mythical in proportion and somehow connected to a larger cosmology. Humans must experience the depths as well as the heights in order to know ‘happiness’.

The seed metaphor is important for soul making. Putting down roots is as fundamental as rising up. That is part of the significance of Persephone spending one third of the year in Hades ‘growing down,’ and two thirds with her mother on Olympus, or ‘growing up.’ The number three is a universal, archetypal indicator of an accomplished process with a beginning, middle and an end.[9] The number is not to be taken as any kind of literal chronology for emotional development, but rather as a symbol of the inevitable polarities of life and the emotional cycles for psychological completion. From a depth psychological perspective, the psyche is moving toward what Jung referred to as the “homo maximus” (completed human) or the mature Anthropos (Jung, CW XIV, 400).

Examination of the Individual Mythical Characters for Soul Making

If the main purpose of this hymn is to initiate persons into a deeper and broader experience of full human consciousness, including darkness and death as well as light and life, then it is important to see each character and event in the Hymn as aspects of an individual’s soul making. Christine Downing summarizes this point well when she writes,

I have come to understand, also, through my involvement with this myth, the difference between relating to a myth and relating to a mythological figure. It seems vitally important no longer to identify only one character in the myth, Persephone, nor to focus on one episode within the story, Persephone’s forced abduction by Hades…I now see that the myth is the mythos, the plot, the action, not the figure abstracted from it. (Downing, Long Journey 219-220)

In a similar vein James Hillman reminds us, “…if our aim is psychological – that is connecting what happens with soul – then we will search for the most fundamental significance of the events in their archetypal or mythical patterns” (Hillman, Re-Visioning Psychology 176). Hillman writes of ‘events’ and ‘patterns,’ plural. Every character and each event in a myth presents images which are pregnant with potential insights and in-sites into soul making. It is up to the reader to spin the kaleidoscopic tube containing the various shards of the myth and see what new perspectives tumble into the reflective mind.

Demeter’s Role in Soul Making: Matter Matters

Demeter’s despair is instructive. Her grief actually receives more attention than Persephone’s, the one who has been abducted into Hades! Demeter literally means ‘earth mother.’ [10] As Hillman reminds us,

The great mother…is our materialism; the common derivation of both matter and mater (mother) is neither an accident nor a joke. She is that modality of consciousness which connects all psychic events to material ones, placing the images of the soul in the service of physical tangibilities. (Hillman, The Dream 69)

This insight reveals that loss takes place in da mater or in the solid earthly realm. While grief may be experienced as taking place in our shadowy under/inner psyche, practically it is intimately related to what occurs in the material world, in the flesh. Soul-making requires that the visible and the invisible realms work together. In the invisible, interior sphere, symbolized by Persephone in Hades, we experience loss as a feeling of invisibility, of being insubstantial. We are John Lennon’s, “Nowhere man sitting in his nowhere land making all his nowhere plans for nobody.” It feels like Hell.

However, in the visible sphere, symbolized by Demeter, we see the role played by the acquisition and loss of matter. Persephone, the material daughter, is an explicit symbol of familial and relational connections. As the Greeks knew only too well, life involves many personal physical losses and earthly attachments. There could be no better symbol than a child who had been tethered to her mother by an umbilical cord. The evolution of consciousness requires both the material and immaterial experiences of loss.

After my son was killed in Afghanistan, I had both of these experiences simultaneously. There was a profound sense of his continuing, invisible presence which brought me peace and comfort, yet I wept over his physical and visible absence. I could find comfort in his essential existence in some invisible realm, but overwhelming grief filled me when I recalled holding his solid body in our last hug, running my palm across the stubble of his military haircut and feeling his warm cheek on my face. What has sustained me through this nightmare was the awareness that soul is made by the connection of “all psychic events to material ones.” The external material loss of my son and the subsequent emotional plunge into the internal ‘squalid darkness’ worked together to create a more conscious soul. M. Merleau-Ponty summarizes this point well, “Meaning is invisible, but the invisible is not contradictory of the visible: the visible itself has an invisible inner framework, and the in-visible is the secret counterpart of the visible” (Merleau-Ponty 54).

This important confluence of the physical and non-physical was recognized by the second century Christian theologian Irenaeus in his opus, Against Heresies. His copious arguments against the matter-denigrating heretics, whom modern academics call Gnostics, were philosophically and psychologically motivated. According to Irenaeus the evolution from the ‘likeness of God’ into the ‘image of God’[11] required the interaction of a physical body with an immaterial soul and spirit. This ontological equivalence of the material and immaterial elements for making soul was further developed by the later Nicean and Chalcedonian[12] councils when they affirmed the notion that Christ’s nature was homoousia -- equally matter and non-matter. In other words, matter mattered as much as soul and spirit.

There is what we might call the soul of matter, and there is a part of the human psyche deeply attached to that matter/mater.[13] The objective world is very important to soul making.[14] Demeter’s grief did not arise because of the annihilation of her daughter’s existence, but because of her child’s invisibility through the loss of sight, touch and the sound of a living person.[15] The rite at Eleusis would provide a new kind of sight--in-sight.

A Divine Conspiracy

From a limited perspective, the Hymn of Demeter might seem to be little more than an etiological myth explaining the origins of the earthly seasons, or the horrors of Greek mothers and daughters enduring covertly arranged marriages. But if we consider this hymn psychologically and primarily as an initiation myth designed to help people move through loss and darkness, we can see a larger soul making plot involved.

The text says that ‘Zeus allowed’ the abduction of Persephone, that he ‘had planned it,’ and that he actually ‘gave her (Persephone) to Hades.’ Earth (Gaia) is also complicit in this abduction; she helped to trick Persephone by creating the beguiling narcissus flower ‘as a favor for’ Hades, and after Persephone reached for the flower, the earth ‘opened wide the road’ for Hade’s escaping chariot.[16]

Initially the hymn says that none of the immortals “heard her (Persephone’s) voice…” They played dumb. But later the text states that none of the “gods nor mortal men… wanted to tell her (Demeter) the truth.” Clearly they knew about the abduction, which is especially evident when we read that Persephone’s terrified screams echoed across the mountain peaks and through the depths of the sea. It appears the gods were part of the divine scheme to keep the secret from both Demeter and Persephone.[17]

There is a New Age expression that says, “The Universe is conspiring for your good.” An archetypal perspective would agree, yet remind us that the ‘good conspiracy’ may require some pretty awful moments, if not years or decades. It takes time for a seed to germinate, take root and move from the dark soil into the light of day.

Hecate and Helios: The Roles of Night and Day

Only Hecate, the personification of the moon in her dark sky cave, and the Sun in his dawn dome admitted that they heard Persephone’s cries of terror and were willing to help. Hecate, holding a light in her hands, led Demeter to the Sun. Helios, the son of Hyperion, told her the truth about the abduction.

On the dark night of July 13, 2008, after I was told that Jason had been killed in the early dawn hours in a remote village in Afghanistan, I lapsed into what can only be described as a 2-3 minute walking blackout. I came to, standing outside of my house, a tight fist raised to the heavens, screaming, “Fuck you God!” As I returned to consciousness, the glowing white moon on a stark black sky filled my vision. My very first thought was, “You are the only one here who saw my boy this morning when he disappeared from this earth.” There was a queer moment of comfort and connection with my son in seeing the familiar lunar witness. Hecate was my sole companion at that moment.

The next morning I awoke after a night of indescribable grief and troubling visions, and an imagistic voice whispered, “Michael, you are not the man you were yesterday. You will never be the same. You are being dis-integrated. You will be rebuilt. Be patient.”

I spent the next eight months wandering through a labyrinthine Underworld of mourning, seclusion and outrage. My entire self was being demolished; I was no longer the father of a son. What was I? What would I be? Only from an archetypal perspective combined with faith in a soul making cosmos did I know[18] that something entirely new would emerge from the experience.

Several months after his death, in March of 2009, I awoke one memorable morning. Sun was streaming through my bedroom window, and I heard a by-now familiar voice which whispered into my semi-conscious waking mind, “Dad, the sun is back, get up; the time in Hades is over, for now.” I am neither exaggerating this quotation nor adding the word ‘Hades’ for dramatic effect-- the voice let me know that the period of groping through the oppressive abyss had come to an end. Since then I have had moments of deep grief, but nothing like those eight months.

Demeter’s moon and sun images have become my own, bringing to mind a swirling together of the Yin/Yang energies--of night and day, above and below, masculine and feminine working together in that twilight or middle ground where new ideas emerge, and souls are made.[19] James Hillman reminds us, “The word eidolon relates with Hades himself (aidoneus) and with eidos, ideational forms and shapes, the ideas that form and shape life.”[20] There are images and perspectives to be gained while in Hades[21] that cannot be gained in the light.[22] This is nuanced beautifully by Christine Downing:

But time spent in Hades that is not spent trying desperately to get out also leads to discovery of the power and beauty of the dark moments in our life, the real confusions and desolations. Fear is so different when one does not have to fear fear but can simply fear; incompleteness and hurt are also different when one sees them not as something to get beyond but as something to live. (Downing, Long Journey 231)

The Role of Zeus in Soul Making

As mentioned earlier, Zeus permitted the abduction of Persephone “far away from Demeter.” Without consulting either Persephone or Demeter, the cloud-wrapped ruler of Olympus gave his chthonic brother permission to seize and ravish this young and vibrant girl. Even the great Sun defended the wisdom of Zeus’s action to the inconsolable Demeter by saying, “He (Hades) is not an unworthy son-in-law among the gods…” The sun seemed to know something Demeter did not. But Demeter would have none of it. After her conversation with Helios we read, “Yet sharper pain, more savage even, struck her heart…outraged with Zeus…” (Boer 119)

This part of the story suggests an occasional psychological disconnect between the heavenly Father and the earthly Mater. It seems that there are those wonderful times in our emotional lives when the above and below are mysteriously conjoined, but then there are those moments when the heavens seem to mercilessly assail the earth and her inhabitants, reminiscent of the Hebrew Book of Job, resulting in material and emotional disaster.[23] The Gods seem to clobber us from above. Few volunteer to go down into the depths. Hades’ chariot lunges at us with a phone call, a medical diagnosis, divorce papers served or some other horrific onslaught--quite often when we are picking flowers at sunrise in a serene field with friends.

I must confess that the Zeus character is the most difficult to face, yet there is a part of me who wants “to go deeper” no matter what the cost might be. Several months ago I was contemplating John Donne’s fourteenth Holy Sonnet.[24] His poem reminds me of Zeus because it is a prayer that asks to be ‘ravished by God’:

Batter my heart, three-person'd God ; for you
As yet but knock; breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
That I may rise, and stand, o'erthrow me, and bend
Your force, to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
I, like an usurp'd town, to another due,
Labour to admit you, but O, to no end.
Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,
But is captived, and proves weak or untrue.
Yet dearly I love you, and would be loved fain,
But am betroth'd unto your enemy ;
Divorce me, untie, or break that knot again,
Take me to you, imprison me, for I,
Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me. (Donne XIV)

The word ‘ravish’ in the last line comes from the Latin word rapere and gave rise to our English words ‘rapid’ and ‘rape.’ It means to abduct, seize, carry off by force and was originally used to describe the work of pirates and raiding armies. Only later did it develop the sexual connotation we most often associate with it today. Here is a bold prayer, a petition to be assailed, conquered and raped by the deity.

Curiously, after the despairing Demeter takes on the human form of Doso, she recounts her own ‘abduction by pirates,’ indicating that she too felt ravished by the heavenly plot against Persephone. There are actually two acts of piracy[25] or rape occurring here.

There are seasons in life when it feels like we are being taken against our will, times of being conspired against by the gods as life-events drag us into the depths.[26] Donne’s prayer recognizes that there can come a point in the evolution of consciousness when a person realizes that the fortresses of ego must be assailed. We may actually ask, or at least not be shocked when ravished by the gods. It is part of the natural life cycle. It is the storm before the calm.


The loss of my son has taken me beyond a theoretical approach to a myth like this. I have experienced the physical and psychological devastation that comes with being stripped naked and emotionally raped. I think one is never entirely ready for such tragedies. I cannot say that I have experienced ‘happiness’ subsequent to the loss of my son, but I can say that I see a new creation rising from the crushed and disintegrating seed buried in the soil of soul.

Nearly one year after Jason’s death, his face and hands appeared to me in a meditation. He extracted a large, glowing red heart from his chest and held it in both palms.[27] From my own chest emerged a discolored, shriveled heart. His bright organ, which reminded me of the paintings of the Sacred Heart of Christ, was slowly extended toward my tarnished heart, gradually surrounding it and finally absorbing it completely. In the trance I communicated to Jason that I could not accept his heart. He smiled and conveyed, “Dad, the work you are going to do will require more compassion than you currently have; this is one reason I gave my life.”

When I emerged from that moment, I felt I had my son back in a way I never had. We were together again in a manner I would never have imagined—in a way impossible to tell, or even fully understand except through myth. The realization that material bereavement facilitates soulful expansion will not necessarily make our losses any less painful, but it can make them purposeful. Only persons initiated into such an awareness are likely to emerge from the ‘the squalid darkness’ with some sort of happiness or psychological well-being. Obviously we do not literally get our dead loved ones back in this life, but Psyche,[28] symbolized by Persephone’s eventual ascent, blooms and creates a new life as she returns from the dark soul-soil of the Underworld.

I will end simply, with my paraphrase of the hymn’s concluding lines:

But come Demeter and Persephone,

be kind, and in exchange

for the loss of my son,

give me the kind of life and character

that will fulfill my soul’s calling.

[1] ‘Witness’ denotes more than mere education. This is a personal experience that becomes a transformative vision. The Nag Hammadi Gospel of Philip says, “But you saw some things…and you became those things. You saw the Spirit, you became spirit. You saw Christ, you became Christ. You saw the Father, you shall become Father…what you behold you shall become.” Saying 67. The New Testament, First Epistle to John, emphasizes that the Christ was not only ‘seen,’ but ‘touched,’ as if to go one better. I John 1:1; cf. Gospel of John 1:1-18.

[2] Liddell and Scott, ‘of persons, happy, blest, esp. with reference to worldly goods.’

[3] Persephone has this process of testing and eventual ascension to Olympus in common with Psyche in the Eros and Psyche story.

[4] See the Adam Kadmon theme at, and the ideas of Process theology at

[5] The mention of ‘night and day’ suggests that it takes both light and darkness to bring the kingdom of God into existence.

[6] The phrase “all by itself” in Koine Greek is ‘automate' or automatic. The implication is that spiritual development, like a growing seed, does not rely on human power or intervention, and includes the depths as well as the heights. The human may scatter the seed, but God(s) make it grow.

[7]The fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil may form the backdrop for Jesus’ teaching. Most ancient ‘gnostic’ Christians viewed the ‘fall’ from Eden as a kind of prelude to awakening. The human seed had to ‘fall into the ground’ of being before it could rise to completion.

[8] The idea of enthymesis was developed by Valentinus in his so called ‘gnostic’ myth of Sophia’s fall from the divine Pleroma into the abyss, resulting in the birth of fear, grief and confusion. The Gospel of Truth.

[9] In the Bible, three is a number of fullness or completion--often related to painful and difficult experiences. This is most obviously seen in Jesus’ three days in the tomb before his resurrection. Pharoah’s dream of three branches symbolized the three days before the cupbearer would be released from prison (Genesis 40). Jonah spent three days and nights in the belly of the whale. Isaiah preached naked and barefoot for three years. Peter denied Jesus three times. Paul asked God three times to remove the thorn in the flesh. This pattern is mentioned in 2 Samuel 24:12-14 as a pattern of completed punishment, "Go and tell David, 'This is what the LORD says: I am giving you three options. Choose one of them for me to carry out against you.' So Gad went to David and said to him, ‘Shall there come upon you three years of famine in your land? Or three months of fleeing from your enemies while they pursue you? Or three days of plague in your land? Now then, think it over and decide how I should answer the one who sent me.’" Ezekiel 21:14, "So then, son of man, prophesy and strike your hands together. Let the sword strike twice, even three times. It is a sword for slaughter— a sword for great slaughter, closing in on them from every side.” Often the point is to help suffering people see that faith and other soulful qualities are not inherent virtues, but a developing individuality that develops. This faith, like soul, begins as the size of a mustard seed. This trust or faith does not tell us HOW or WHEN tragic circumstances will end, but that there is a Power greater than ourselves somehow purposefully superintending the circumstances. Three symbolizes completion beyond the biblical allusions. We speak of three dimensions, parts of time, acts in a play, the beginning, middle and end of a story, three Bears, Little Pigs, Billy Goats Gruff, Musketeers, Stooges, three parts of the Jewish canons of Scripture, the Buddhist Tripitika, the tripod, various mythological Trinities, the three tests of Jesus, Buddha, Psyche, etc.

[10] Gk. Damater, lit. "Earth-Mother," from da, Doric form of Gk. ge "earth" + mater. The word ‘Matter,’ according to one theory, represents dmateria, from PIE root dem-/dom- (cf. L. domus "house," Eng. timber). I think this is part of the significance of the Bhagavad Gita’s Kurukshetra; life lessons, dharma, take place on the field of earthly existence.

[11] John Hick’s work, Eternal Life, develops the Soul-making view of Irenaeus, Book X, based on the two phrases found in Genesis 1, ‘image of God’ and ‘likeness of God’. Irenaeus pointed to the two different Hebrew words, ‘demooth’ (image) suggesting potential and ‘tselem’ (likeness) suggesting something solid or actual. He saw the whole biblical story as one of evolving humanity into the completed Anthropos, Adam Kadmoni or Christ. What a different kind of religion Christianity might have become had this been the foundational myth rather than Augustine’s story of Original Sin.

[12] The Council of Chalcedon repudiated the idea that Jesus had only one nature, a heresy now known as monophysitism, and stated that Christ has two natures in one person. The Chalcedonian Creed describes the "full humanity and full divinity" of Jesus, the second person of the Holy Trinity. Perhaps if Jung’s ministerial father had brought this into their discussion on the Trinity, Jung might have had more interest in theology.

[14]Even Valentinus’ Gospel of Truth recognized the role of matter as coagulated fear, grief and confusion ruled over by the evil demiurge from which and through which the soul had to experience metanoia, or return to the Pleroma.

[15] Perhaps Demeter’s (a.k.a. Doso) attempt to turn the child Demophoon into an immortal boy was a desperate effort to save the royal family from losing their child l, or to secure a new and permanent male child for Demeter. Christine Downing says it like this, “I am struck, too, by how Demeter in the course of her disconsolate wandering ended up mothering again after all, serving as nurse to another woman’s child – intent, this time, on raising a child who would escape death and the fates.” The Long Journey Home, p. 223 Elizabeth Vandiver suggests that Demeter may have been creating an immortal male child for herself, one that could not be taken away by marriage or death. Classical Greek Mythology, The Teaching Company, audio dvd.

[16] Later, Demeter punishes Earth by removing the power which allowed seeds to grow and disallowing any fruit to grow until ‘she saw with her eyes her daughter’s beautiful face.’ Charles Boer, Homeric Hymns, pp. 142, 145.

[17] Interestingly, Demeter was the only deity at the table to eat the human stew cooked up by Tantalus. Her faux paus was blamed on grief, but it makes me wonder why she wasn’t warned by one of the other Gods.

[18] This was not intellectual knowing, but a kind of gnosis or innate acquaintance.

[19] I am not advocating some sort of simplistic New Age dogma. This is more like the application of Complexity Theory to archetypal psychology and mythology in general. Briefly, this theory says that, “Human societies (and probably human brains) are complex systems in which neither the components nor the couplings are simple. Nevertheless, they exhibit many of the hallmarks of complex systems.” (

[20] The Dream and the Underworld, James Hillman, p.51

[21] Most people are simultaneously fascinated and horrified by the Underworld. We see this today in the resurgence of vampirism through the recently released movie, New Moon, the sequel to Twilight, surpassing even the attendance records of the 2005 Star Wars, Revenge of the Sith. Death and Hell demand our attention. No wonder the Hollywood Zombies stumble toward the live audience, chanting, ‘Brains!’ They require our mental and emotional consideration, and if we flee, they like Hades swoop down on us with brain crushing force.

[22] Interestingly, at the moment of abduction, Persephone cried out to Zeus, her ‘supreme and powerful’ heavenly Father for assistance. This is reminiscent of Christ who cried out to his father in vain for deliverance from his own garden of innocence. The Christian tendency is to diminish the role of dark Hades by focusing on the resurrection, or the coming of the sun; the only reason crucifixion Friday was Good was because resurrection Sunday was coming. The Greeks made it clear that the descent into dark Hades, putting down roots, was as critical as the ascent and blooming into the light. However, it must be noted that even the Christian myth eventually developed the idea that there was a purpose to Jesus’ three days in Hades, three being a number of completion. He proclaimed deliverance to deceased.[22] In other words, there was something to accomplish by being there. We might even conjecture that this is a metaphor for redeeming or reclaiming aspects of the psyche that have been relegated to the repressed and forsaken depths.

[23] Disaster is a good word here, meaning the collision of the stars.

[24] For more of my commentary and significances go to:

[27] I found out after the meditation that he had died of a gunshot wound to the heart.

[28] In the Eros and Psyche myth, Psyche descends into Hades and retrieves Beauty from Queen Persephone.