Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Yesterday, I talked about the numinous image and gave two examples from my own novels.

From time to time I am struck while reading with an image that I imagine took the writer by surprise or at least filled him with warmth when it emerged from his or her unconscious mind.

The work of Charles de Lint is full of these archetypal characters. Another writer that seems connected to the unconscious is C.S. Lewis.

I know he was consciously working within his philosophical and religious perimeter but I think he was unaware that he was creating archetypal characters that were universal in their appeal and that struck a sharp cord outside of his Christian universe, the world he called the ‘sub-Christian world.’ The best example of his unknowing use of images is Lucy in the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, pushing through the fur coats in the wardrobe to be born into the icy world of Narnia, where she meets Tumnus, one of the Silenoi, the offspring of Pan, son of our friend Hermes.

One of my favorites of his children’s books is The Horse and His Boy. Just the conceit of this novel fills me with wonder because as a child I dreamed hour after hour about having a pony.

The story involves a talking horse, Bree, who escapes from his master and allows a boy, Shasta, to accompany him. The horse in the initial stage of the novel is the wiser of the two and teaches the boy on their journey North to Narnia. The talking horse falls easily into the role of the senex to the boy’s puer.

A talking animal is also a staple for fairy tales and myths. Usually, the horse stands as an anima figure or an animus because it is a symbol of force and power. However, in this novel, Lewis turns the screw. He creates four characters that make up the four characters that inhabit any couple. These characters consist of the man and his anima, and the female and her animus. In this case Bree aligns with Aravis and Hwin with Shasta. This is perhaps most poignantly represented when Bree flees the lion and leaves Aravis to be mauled. Before this scene, Bree and Aravis are connected through their pride. They are always bragging and criticizing and looking down on the commoner Shasta. After the incident both are brought down. Marie-Louise von Franz states in the Animus and Anima in Fairy Tales, Inner City Books, 2002 that ”every possession by the animus is a secret inflation, like every possession by the anima in man. The anima and animus are suprapersonal to a great extent; they belong to the divine realm, the collective unconscious . . ..”

In addition to his talking horse Lewis introduces other mythic themes and symbols: a journey, a quest, a double or twin to Shasta, the return of the prodigal, the babe cast off into sea, the orphan noble hidden among the hoi polloi, the return of the king.

It is obvious and well known that he is well versed in fantasy, myth, and folklore; however, there is one moment where I believe he was overwhelmed by his own archetypal image or at least I have a fantasy that he was.

At one point Shasta is separated from Aravis, Bree and Hwin. He is alone, on the edge of the desert, next to tombs of the dead. He meets a cat in the tombs and because he is afraid, he sleeps next to the cat. Sometime in the night, jackals threaten him and the cat protects him. It is at this moment that we realize that Shasta has a protector. When I read the passage, I felt the numinous twinge of the transcendental. For Lewis the cat is a Christian symbol but for me it was an archetype, a symbol of the divine. In primitive stories the animal was always a part of the divine side of life.

When I saw the cat and realized its power as archetype I should have looked away but instead I gazed upon it and “divined” its true nature. Von Franz said that “there are stories which say that one shouldn’t look at the anima or animus-though of course they are not called that-because to look at them is to transcend human boundaries and enter the realm of the divine.”

Lewis would acknowledge that even the pagan could find delight in the divine. He said in the Pilgrim’s Digress “even pagan mythology contained a ‘Divine call.’” For me the archetypal images of the novel are a call to the divine.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Over the weekend, I read the first volume of the James Hillman Uniform Edition, entitled Archetypal Psychology, Spring Publications 2004.

The first volume contains an extensive bibliography of works on archetypal psychology, which in itself makes the book worth the purchase. However, even more important, the first section of the book, entitled Brief Account, written by Hillman, provides an overview of archetypal psychology, its major tenets and themes.

Hillman, referring to himself in the third person, discusses his works and his role as one of the founders of the discipline as well as the sources of archetypal psychology in regard to the archetypal image, soul, spirit, depth, polytheistic psychology and religion, the practice of therapy, eros, and personality theory.

Perhaps, most interesting is his discussion of soul. Hillman writes that the two main “fathers” of the discipline are Carl Jung and Henry Corbin.

Before I became interested in Hillman and Jung I was fascinated by two French writers, Corbin and Bachelard, who, I thought, spoke to the feelings that I had from certain images that appeared to me in dreams and writing. I classified these feelings as numinous. For me these images had a sacred feel to them and were different from most of the images I create.

I later came to believe that they were archetypal and thereby of a different quality.

In fact, if asked I can go directly to passages that came to me suddenly and unbidden. I use this expression because it is a paraphrase from Erasmus that Jung quoted often: vocatus atque non vocatus deus aderit.

Even today when I read these passages I feel something tangible enter me. I believe that these images elicit a feeling of desire for something transcendent or perhaps better said intimate the possibility of transcendence. They seem to have weight and life beyond the page. At times I feel that I can engage these images and they will produce more and that their appearance in my imagination was simply a tease or a trick to lure me to follow them.

The best example of this is the last few pages of Vogel and the White Bull, where Vogel and his girl friend see the old Indian playing his flute in the square in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

They walked across the square and down a narrow alley to Chez Coyote, which was situated on the second floor of an adobe building. Heike, Tracey, and Jonathan were waiting for them, seated at a large round table in the middle of the room. They were all drinking Margaritas. During dinner, Vogel and Elisa caught up with them and the meal was entertaining and Vogel could see that Heike had made progress with Jonathan. They spoke together in low tones with knowing looks. If Tracey suspected she did not show it. At 10:00 p.m., three hours later, they emerged from the restaurant and started back to the hotel. With sunset, the temperature had actually warmed and a cloud cover had descended upon the city from the mountains. Flakes of snow were falling and the night had a magical quality. Vogel held Elisa’s hand as they walked. Because of his shoulder they walked slowly. The other three walked ahead, with Jonathan in the middle and Heike and Tracey pressed against him for warmth.

The square was lit up, the trees full of white Christmas lights.

Vogel heard flute music. It sounded like the music that he had heard in the Metro in Paris, the music played by the young men from Peru. He looked around the square searching for the source of the haunting sound. Suddenly, he thought of the message written on the wall of the Metro – vous entrez en pays d’émotion – and he re-experienced the emotion Sehnsucht. He pulled Elisa to him and kissed her passionately. “What is it”?” she asked, staring in his eyes. “I felt overwhelmed with an emotion,” he said.

“What emotion?” she asked, laughing at him.

“Not sex.”


She kissed him again. “Where is the music coming from?”

“There,” she said pointing to a bench under a large olive tree.

On the bench, an old man sat, with a large felt hat on his head and an Indian blanket wrapped around his shoulders. Standing next to him was a young woman who was dancing sinuously and slowly.

Heike, Tracey, and Jonathan had walked over, close to the Indian, and they were listening raptly to the music. Vogel started over as well, but Elisa held back.

“What’s wrong?”

“It’s Coyote.”


“Sniff!” She breathed in deeply and she smelled the feral smell of a wild animal. Vogel did likewise and he saw the fox in his mind’s eye and he thought he heard a distant bark.

The old Indian stood and waved them over.

Vogel said, “Let’s get closer. Don’t be afraid.”

She squeezed his hand as they approached the Indian. Suddenly the woman produced a small drum and the Indian’s tune and tempo changed. He began to dance, almost in slow motion, and Elisa and Vogel saw behind the notes to the other side. They understood.

Another scene that I felt was significant is at the end of The Cavern.

At the edge of the marsh, he stopped, taking a few moments to find his bearings. He stomped on the soggy ground testing its firmness. The marsh consisted of tufts of dry grass surrounded by brackish water. A smell of decay permeated the air, as birds flew about in the trees, skippers danced above the water, landing on wild flowers on the dry tufts, and dragonflies buzzed across the marsh. Wisent thought he knew the way to the Madonna’s islet, so, as soon as he was relatively sure, he set forth carefully, looking for dry ground, moving gingerly into the marsh, carrying the canvas bag with Auntie Turtle still hiding inside her shell. After a while, he found the Madonna, worked his way as close to her as possible, and sat down on a dry tuft of ground, keeping his eyes on the sacred statue. He calmed his breathing, waiting for something unknown. He looked down at the dried grass and watched a black beetle crawl carefully over his shoe. He looked up into the sky and watched two hawks circling in the distance, as a honeybee buzzed past his ear and a black fly landed on his shoe. Some fish struck the surface of the water and cicadas played their metallic tunes in the surrounding trees. He lifted Auntie Turtle and placed her on the ground next to him. As he waited, he closed his eyes and imagined the Dark Woman walking carefully through the marsh, wearing a white rough linen dress, her hair undone, hanging freely down her back. She approached him and sat next to him.

“You have changed,” he said.

“As have you,” she answered.

“I am waiting for something.”

“Yes. You are waiting for an answer to your problems. Being torn between two women is hell.”


“I figured out who you are.”

“Yes. And who am I?”

“You are Athena.”

She laughed softly. “Sometimes.”

“What should I do?”

“Wait. You are growing.”

“It hurts. All I want is to love and be loved.”

She put her hand on his shoulder and said, “I have two things for you: another vision and an aphorism.”


“Yes. The vision is thus: A large white bull stamps on a pure white beach, while the tide flows in and out. Suddenly, the sand erupts and foams. Thousands of baby sea turtles emerge from the sand and rush to the sea. Above, the air fills with seagulls ready to eat their fill.”

Wisent remained silent.

“The aphorism is thus: Being in being is.”

With the receipt of the aphorism, his vision disappeared and he opened his eyes to the bright sunlight. Auntie Turtle crawled to the edge of the dry tuft of grass, lifted her leathery head, as if sniffing the air, then, slid into the dark waters, disappearing from his sight.

A honeybee landed on his knee. He watched the worker crawl about the hairs on his leg, as he said in a whisper: “Being in being is.”

Friday, February 24, 2006

Yesterday, I promised a discussion of projection in regard to archetypes.

Projection, although a psychological concept, also has a connection to alchemy. Dr. Ronald Schenk in an article entitled, Psyche and Cinema: Go ask Alice (or Neo); I think they’ll know, Artigos, August 2005, states that “projection, which means literally ‘thrown forward,’ was originally a technical term in medieval alchemy describing the process in which one metal showers another with its effusions.”

The classical definition of projection involves “the process by which one’s own traits, emotions, dispositions, etc., are ascribed to another.” Dictionary of Psychology, Arthur S. Reber, Penguin 1995. Implicit in this definition, I would assume, is that the projection is unconscious.

In my research of Hermes no one can satisfactorily explain how a cairn becomes a god. I believe that participation mystique, a form of projection, provides a clue.

Jung defines participation mystique as “a mystical connection, or identity, between subject and object.”

In our example from yesterday, the travelers project their traits and emotions onto the herm and from these initial projections Hermes is born. The travelers are unaware that they are projecting; instead, they see a god in the pile of rocks. Once it is clear that they see the god, the next step is to imagine what they see in that god. In other words, what is Hermes to them?

Let’s try to put ourselves in the minds of those ancient Greeks traveling down antique roads. We are traveling, let’s say, to Athens and we come to a pile of rocks on the side of the road. We know from others that there is a ritual of adding a stone to that pile as we pass. We also believe that nature contains soul and spirit and as this pile of rocks continues to grow through the continual accretion of more stones, it seems to have spirit. We feel something when we look at the cairn. If we connect with that spirit, our unconscious projection instills the cairn with certain qualities and it comes alive. This aliveness is then transformed first into a spirit and then a god.

I believe that the ancient Greeks saw a spirit in those rocks and established an I-Thou relationship. The rocks were no longer an It, an object. Instead there is immediacy in the encounter, a present moment interaction with the rocks.

Sometimes when I am looking at a full moon, I have a numinous feeling, as if the moon were more than what we are told that it is. I see the moon and imagine it or feel it as a power. If I were to dwell on that feeling and imagine the moon at the moment as containing a spirit, I might move from the I-It, to the I-Thou. This does not mean that the moon is a spirit; it simply means that I am attaching some meaning to the numinous feeling that I am having or that I am projecting a portion of my unconscious feeling onto the moon. If I want to expand my conscious understanding of the moon, I might address myths and fairy tales that involve the moon. Suddenly, as I delve into the collective myths and superstitions surrounding the moon in an attempt to understand the power of the moon, I create weight and depth. However, if I approach the moon as a science project in attempt only to amass data, I create only emptiness.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Over the last few days, I have been discussing Paul Celan and Hermes, two projects that seemed to have overlapped.

This morning I want to backtrack and examine the beginning of the Hermes myth.

In that regard, I was reading a little book by Rudolf Steiner, entitled The Goddess, Sophia Books, Rudolf Steiner Press 2001.

In this book Steiner begins with a discussion of nature and says, “what we regard as nature today, or whatever is veiled from us because we cannot apprehend it spiritually, this was once known as Proserpina, and if this myth of Proserpina (for it has survived only as a myth) is renewed within us, then the images invoked by this myth awaken images of still earlier relationships. They are images from the time when human beings knew neither the abstract not the tragic aspects of the goddess Natura, when they saw Proserpina-Persephone herself, in her aspect of radiant beauty and tragic gloom.”

What I take from this passage is that a meditation on the myths renews us and creates a method to reach distant mysteries. This search is soulful and inspiring and also explains certain aspects of our life. For instance, part of the problem with modern man is that he has lost this vision of the “radiant beauty” of myth. Andrew J. Welburn touches on this in his introduction: “Reason evolves out of Mystery-teachings into philosophy in ancient Greece; myth already contains in unconscious form, a greater reality than just the soul’s experience.”

Hermes began not as a god but as a pile of stones. Walter Burkert in Greek Religion, Harvard University Press 2001, states that Hermes’ name points to a “single phenomenon: herma.” (Burket 156). He goes on to point out that herma “is a heap of stones, a monument set up as an elementary form of demarcation. Everyone who passes by adds a stone to the pile and so announces his presence.”(Ibid).

I don’t want to move much further than this in our discussion. Instead, I want to meditate on the pile of stones on the side of the antique roadway. Imagine travelers passing by and adding a stone.

Immediately, there is a sense of space and place. Stones piled in a space, evidencing the passing of other human beings, demonstrates a tangible connection to the shared experience of the journey.

In the eighties I worked in Anchorage Alaska for an airline. Outside of the town on the way to the glacier there was a tiny bar where visitors, traveling through, would stop and have a drink. At some moment in the past someone decided to hang a piece of underwear from the ceiling. After that other people did the same. When I passed through the ceiling was covered with silky items, evidencing all the people that had passed that way. The act created an intimate connection to all the travelers both past and present. That bar contained soul.

The herma also marked the way. It provided assurance that the traveler was on the right track. It guided the traveler through by presence and location.

It also marked a boundary, the edge of the road. Roads themselves act as boundaries and markers.

As I discussed in an earlier post, the herm took on a formalized and sexualized form later. Burkert postulates that the formalized herm appeared in 520 B.C. when Hipparchos, the son of Pisistratus, introduced the sexualized herm to mark “the midway points between the various Attic villages and the Athenian agora. The herm introduced was a square pillar with a membrum virile-usually erect – and a bearded head.” (Burket 156).

The Greeks projected themselves into the cairn, the pile of stones, and made a god in the form of an anthropos, to represent both a guide on the journey and a boundary or a framework for the road.

Human beings tend to project themselves into their gods or God. It is for this reason that our gods seem to be like us. People also project themselves into inanimate objects. For instance, I believe that my car is a person, breaking down at inopportune moments just to exert her power over me.

Projections can be powerful, such as in love or hate. Collective projections can create a god from stone.

Tomorrow, I will define "projection" and discuss the tendency of polytheistic religions to move toward montheism. I believe this explains how Hermes came to resemble both Apollo and Dionysius.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Below is an insert from my third novel, The Cavern. I am enclosing it to show the way in which images and archetypes from the unconscious act upon our conscious mind.

As Wisent turned away from the poster, he noticed copies plastered onto nearly every building, something he hadn’t noticed earlier.

He pushed his bicycle further ahead. In the shadows of a nearby building he saw a short figure running from building to building. He said, amazed, “Ein Zwerg.” The small man was plastering posters onto stonewalls at breakneck speed. Wisent drew closer to watch him work. The man noticed him, turned and bent slowly from the waist, providing Wisent with an honorable and respectful bow, smiled, and then continued his work.

Wisent followed him to the end of the cobblestone street, watching his ingenuity. At the end of street, on the edge of town, a red van with the same poster on its side was parked. This poster announced the arrival of the Circus Broceliande in Avignon in two weeks time.

The small man opened the back of the van and placed his tools in the back. A woman, who had been leaning against the van smoking, dropped her cigarette and opened the passenger door for the small man, who waddled to the front and climbed inside with her assistance. The woman, who Wisent recognized as the woman on the white horse in the poster, walked around to the driver’s side. Suddenly, she re-appeared on the passenger’s side, the side facing Wisent, and performed a one-handed cartwheel. She, too, bowed deeply to Wisent and, once again, walked around to the driver’s side, started the engine, and drove the red van into the darkness.

As the sound of the van receded, Wisent became aware of the cicadas. It was late and he began to worry about his ride back in the dark. The old bicycle’s feeble light sputtered to life as he set off for his grandmother’s house in the hills.

As he rode, Wisent said aloud, “Ich habe ein Zwerg gesehen.”

The night was warm and he saw no one on the road as he pedaled steadily, sweat dripping from his brow and his shirt, now moist, sticking to his back. He felt he had been sleepwalking in Paris. Why hadn’t he come to the country before? He felt alive and somehow in tune with his surroundings. Thinking about the things Ash had said, he tried to put everything within its context. In some ways it was a psychological and metaphysical muddle, but something in that discussion was true. He understood that certain images emerge from the subconscious into the waking mind. These images are symbols of certain concepts and, which he, through his day-to-day actions, projected onto certain people. To say it another way, he had subconsciously orchestrated the meeting and, then, the ultimate adoption of the these individuals to play a role on his psychological stage. These players were in many respects stereotypes of the “good mother,” “the witch,” “the temptress,” or “the princess.” To be conscious of these images was to be awakened, to see the reality of his own role in the play he called his life or what the French so poetically named “mon histoire.” Implicit in the discussion was some theory of “collective image” that emerged from collective human memory, which operated like a genetic pattern.

A small generator on the front wheel powered the light perched on the bicycle’s handlebars. The harder he pedaled, the stronger the light. Wisent, deep in thought, was not paying attention, when, suddenly, he caught a glimpse of a large object in the road ahead of him causing him to stand on his brakes and swerve to avoid the impediment. As he skidded to a stop, the little light died, leaving him in darkness.

He rode ahead until the light kicked in again and turned back to review the blob in the road. It was a turtle. The large reptile slowly crossed the road, its shell greenish-brown with an elaborate design, like a mandala created in sand by the monks in Tibet, its large head pushed ahead in a steady movement. It moved steadily and rhythmically like the peristaltic advance of a glacier, and, like a glacier, its shell cast off a pale green light.

The turtle fascinated Wisent. He jumped off the bike, walked over to it and picked the turtle up with two hands, comparing its relatively lightweight to its size. He held it in front of him, avoiding the strong vise-like hinges of its mouth, remembering stories from his youth of a turtle snapping off a finger. He then walked back to the bicycle and placed the turtle into the wire basket on the front. Climbing back onto the bicycle, he continued his journey up the hill as the turtle remained still. It didn’t struggle. It accepted fate’s intervention in the interruption of its journey across the road.

When Wisent reached the house, his fatigued legs felt like jelly. He rode behind the house and placed the turtle in a great metal bucket, which his grandparents used to bathe the dogs. Knowing the turtle would be unable to escape during the night, Wisent decided to wait until morning to examine it.

He stored the bicycle away in the basement and unlocked the door to the kitchen. Once inside he closed the door and stood still, confronting half a dozen red eyes staring back at him in the darkness. He heard a diminutive squeak and knew his friends, the mice, were back. He clapped his hands and they scurried off.

Wisent turned on the light and discovered each trap held a tiny victim. “There must be a better way,” he thought. “I need Ein Mäusefänger, a mouser, to put this house in order.”

He sadly disposed of the little bodies and reset the traps with the remainder of the cheese. He swept the floor and turned out the light. Upstairs he undressed completely, opened the French windows, and watched the moon rising. He heard a cuckoo somewhere in the distance while a mosquito buzzed past his ear. He ran to the bed seeking refuge under the mosquito netting and lay on top of the sheets; it was too hot to cover himself. In Paris the night had been filled with sounds: taxis, trucks, people, televisions, radios, ambulances. Here there was less noise and yet it was more disconcerting. He hoped he could sleep.

He stared at the netting, listening for the sound of the cuckoo. And before drifting off to sleep, he thought about Hélène and Heike and his life in Paris and how lonely and adrift he felt.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Last week I discussed the meaning of mandorla in Christian iconograpy and explained its use in Paul Celan’s poem Mandorla. Here is my translation of the poem.

Note the various plays on the word Mandel, almond in German. Almond eyes in German is translated as Mandelaugen.

Once I think of eyes in reference to a Celan poem, I think of his most famous poem- Todesfugue: “er greift nach dem Eisen im Gurt er schwingts seine Augen sind Blau,” (he grasps the iron at his belt he swings his eyes are blue) and later “Er ruft spielt suesser den Tod der Tod ist ein meister aus Deutschland" (he shouts play sweetly Death Death is a master from Germany).

I believe the “royal-blue” is an oblique reference to the color of the uniform of both the soldiers of the Austro-Hungarian empire, during Celan's childhood, and Germany soldiers during the occupation of Bukovina.

By Paul Celan

In der Mandel-was steht in der Mandel?
Das Nichts.
Es steht das Nichts in der Mandel.
Da steht es und steht.

Im Nichts-wer steht da? Der Koenig.
Da steht der Koenig, der Koenig.
Da steht er und steht.

Judenlocke, wirst nicht grau.

Und dein Aug-wohin steht dein Auge?
Dein Aug steht der Mandel entgegen.
Dein Aug, dem Nichts stehts entgegen.
Es steht zum Koenig.
So steht es und steht.

Menschenlocke, wirst nicht grau.
Leere Mandel, koenigsblau.

In the almond-what stands in the almond?
It stands the Nothingness in the almond.
It stands there and stands.

In the Nothingness-who stands there? The King.
The King stands there, the King
He stands there and stands.

Jewish locks, you will not turn gray.

And your eye-where does your eye stand?
Your eye stands against the Almond.
Your eye stands against Nothingness.
It stands for the King.
It stands and stands.

Human locks, you will turn not gray.
Empty Almond, royal blue.

Monday, February 20, 2006


Twin nudes on sand
melt into ochre clouds and pelicans
fly north.

Helicopters buzz south,
watching for rafts
of refugees
dreaming of rum.

“Where are we going, where have we come from?”
asks one, sun drunk from
ray banned images floating off the salted
sea as the heat kneads pellets of sweat
into brown backs and legs spread on towels.

Jazz seeps out of a radio.

The older turns,
Her breasts falling to the earth
gazes into her brother’s eyes,
a mirror
a pool of water,
“We come from this.”

A fist full of sand
onto the blanket.

“That’s just sand.”

She springs into the surf,
And returns dripping water.

“That’s just mud.”

“Just mud?” she asks,

and covering it
with her hand.

Copyright © 2004 by Keith William Harvey. All rights reserved.
I am obsessive about certain books and films. Two films that I obsess over are Heimat: Chronicle of Germany and Heimat 2: Chronicle of a Generation, both written and directed by Edgar Reitz.

In the last ten years, I have watched Heimat 2 over ten times and Heimat 1 three times. Needless to say, I love these films.

You might wonder why I use the word “obsessed.” I think it will become clear when you realize that Heimat 1 consists of eleven parts and has a total running time of fifteen hours, forty minutes, and ten seconds. Further, the film is in German, but not Hochdeutsch, but in a dialect peculiar to the Hunsruck region of Germany.

Last Thursday night I decided to indulge my obsession once again with Heimat 1.

It is important when being obsessive to begin at the beginning.

It has been several years since I saw the first part of the series and I was surprised by what I saw in the first fifteen minutes of so of the film. My discussion of alchemy and myth was being played out in the initial images of the film.

I had to ask if I were projecting my literary agenda onto the film or had the film’s themes and images soaked into my mind several years ago and played me.

The film begins with a shot of a large square stone. The stone lies along a road or in a field and I immediately recognized it as a herm, the four sided marker identified with the guide Hermes.

The next scene shows a young man with light hair and pale blue eyes walking determinedly down a long narrow road toward the village of Shabbach in the Hunsruck. His eyes are lichtblau, the color of the sea. He wears a German uniform and a rucksack, common to German hikers in the twenties, the generation of Wandervogeln, precursors of the German youth movement.

There is little or no sound; we hear the sound of his boots on the road, his breathing, and the sheep in the field. He enters Shabbach and walks down almost empty streets. The people are reticent and shy because the French occupy the area.

The young man walks to a blacksmith’s forge. There an old man works on the broken wheel of a wagon. Without a word, the soldier drops his pack and picks up a hammer and joins the older man in his work. They work side by side to repair the wheel. The blacksmith stokes the fire and removes a red hot rod of steel. They pound it and shape it together on the anvil until the old man says, “Thank God.” The director has now let us know that the son has returned and he is a blacksmith like his father.

A woman opens the door of the house across the way and calls her son to come in. He walks toward her, away from his father, pauses and then walks to the compost heap, and urinates. Paul Simon has arrived home.

The entry into the village is poetic and mythic. On one level, Reitz is saying: look at the past, symbolized by the blacksmith, and look at the future, the young soldier returning from a French prisoner of war camp. On another level, he is saying look at the alchemical process of change. The blacksmith is the most primal image of the alchemist. He transforms metals. The old man is the senex and the soldier is the puer, together they will push and pull on each other and change the Hunsruck. The future will bring radios, cars, motorcycles, and National Socialism, but the Hunsruck will struggle to remain the same.

I did not understand the alchemical importance of Paul’s urinating on the compost heap at first but in a strange act of synchronicity, I stumbled onto an illustration from the Codex Latinius, entitled Speculum veritatis, which shows a young boy urinating on the alchemical work of Hermes and a blacksmith. Marie-Louis von Franz states in her Alchemy: An Introduction to the Symbolism and the Psychology, Inner City Books 1980, p.48, that “ the alchemical image of the ‘pissing mannikin’ and the use of ‘the urine of an uncorrupted boy as a solvent, relate to the psychological reality that the unconscious is more responsive to the naïve and spontaneous attitudes associated with childhood.”

Therefore, Paul Simon’s spontaneous and natural act in the presence of his father and mother symbolize his return home and his rejoining the family unit, where he will work shoulder and shoulder with his father and mother. It also foreshadows the change and transformation that will result from Paul’s return home.

The “midden” or the compost heap shows the seething alchemical forces at work on the refuge of the village. As is apparent from archeological digs into ancient middens, they contain animal bone, faeces, shells, rotten food and vermin, broken pottery, and other useful day-to-day artefacts. The midden then becomes a symbol for the enclosure of the village and a temenos, a sacred place where transformation occurs. Paul Simon, by adding his urine, initiates the changes and becomes metaphorically the solvent to the transformation.

Friday, February 17, 2006

The Shadow in "Mandorla" by Paul Celan

In the poem Mandorla, Celan uses the image of the almond to create a sacred space of nothingness, where nothingness stands and the Jewish lock of hair never turns gray.

The image of the almond shell filled with nothingness is associated with the medieval Christian symbol of the mandorla.

Where Celan places nothingness, the medieval Christian artists placed sacred meaning. So what does his use of the image mean? I think nothingness expressed in the poem is sacred space. It is here that the “Judenlocke, wirst nicht grau.” On a literal level, it is in this sacred space of nothingness where his mother, killed by a German bullet to the back of the head in a work camp, resides, frozen in time by her disappearance in the winter of 1942.

Robert A. Johnson in Owning your Own Shadow, Harper San Francisco, 1991, defines a mandorla as “that almond shaped segment that is made when two circles partly overlap.”
In Christian symbolism, the mandorla signifies an overlap of heaven and earth and in Christian iconography Jesus and Mary are often depicted within the mandorla. Mandorla also means almond in Italian.

In discussing the mandorla in reference to the shadow, Johnson states that at an early age the shadow is discarded but later it returns with a vengeance and demands that its components be reconciled.

Imagine the shadow and the ego as two separate circles. Now see the two circles touching. Then visualize the two spheres overlapping, forming a rudimentary mandorla.
Inside that almond shaped space light and dark aspects collide. Through the collision, elements of the shadow are made conscious and reconciled.

Sometimes language forms a mandorla. For instance, Dr. Ronald Schenk in his book Dark Light: The Appearance of Death in Everyday Life (State University of New York Press, 2000) creates a linguistic mandorla through his juxtaposition of two opposing concepts in the same word “darklight.”

The German language, more than English, combines words to express new meanings. The language abounds with neologisms and Paul Celan is known for his unique word combinations. For instance, as we discussed previously, the title of Celan’s last collection of poems Lichtzwang is an example of this unusual but meaningful combination of words. Some translators translate the title as light/duress while others choose light/constraint. “Der Zwang” means constraint, pressure, compulsion or force. “Das Licht” means daylight or simply light. Pierre Joris chose to entitle his translation of the work as Lightduress, while Michael Hamburger chose Lightconstraint. The French edition of the work is entitled Contraint de Lumiere, which in some ways is more pedestrian and less numinous but it allows us to translate it as compulsion of light or light compulsion. No matter the meaning, these compound words create a mandorla, a special place, a temenos, where two concepts interact to form new meaning.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

During my meditation on Hermes, Paul Celan slipped into my conscious mind. In an attempt to understand why he is here, I have left the trail and followed his image into the woods. I have asked myself, why has Celan appeared when I am looking for Hermes? The response I feel belongs to a constellation of shadow, symbol, and language.

Celan is the master of darkness and language. Hermes was not only the guide of the soul but he was also the inventor of language. Hermes is associated with the herm, the four-sided stone that marked the way to the agora in Athens. The word herma, the mute stone, is connected with hermeneia, the word “explanation.” Hermes then, according to Karl Kerényi, is the hermeneus-the “interpreter.”

Celan was a translator of poetry. He used images of stone throughout his work. He was a language creator, known for his creation of new words. His use of neologisms was so unique that he was called a hermetic poet, an epithet he detested.

Somewhere, along the line, he became interested in alchemy and he used alchemical expressions to show change and transformation.

His use of darkness juxtaposed against light hints at the interaction of the shadow with the ego. Sometimes, his poems seem a discussion between the Ich and the du, the “I” and the “you,” the other, the shadow.

There is a poem in Lichtzwang that seems to express this split between the “I” and the other. Once again the translation is mine.


By Paul Celan

schon tief in der Macchia, als du
endlich herankrochst
Doch konnten wir nicht
hinüberdunkeln zu dir:
Es herrschte

We lay
already deep in the shrubs, when you
finally crawled along
but we could not
darken over to you:
it ruled

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Yesterday, I talked about the poetry of Paul Celan and I surmised that he was undergoing a psychological fight with darkness and the shadow during the period that he was writing the poems that came to be the collection, entitled Lichtzwang.

In thinking about my statements, it dawned on me that some people might ask how he could kill himself at the very moment that psychological change was occurring.

The answer is that transformation is not easy; it is painful, and the first step-the nigredo-is perhaps the worst. James Hillman stated that the nigredo “speaks with the voice of the raven, foretelling dire happenings.” (“The Seduction of Black.” In Fire in the Stone: the Alchemy of Desire, ed. and introduction by Stanton Marlan, 42-43, Wilmette, Il.: Chiron, 1997.)

The nigredo stage is often described metaphorically as a descent into the underworld and the alchemists coined a code word to explain this step-vitriol.

Vitriol is a shiny crystalline substance such as copper sulphate, but it is also an acrostic: Visita Interiora Terrae Rectificando Invenies Occultem Lapidem, which means visit the interior of the earth and by rectifying find the hidden Stone.

Readers of the Harry Potter books know that the Stone is the philosopher’s stone or in psychological terms-the Self. To reach the Self or find the Philosopher’s Stone means visiting the interior of the earth, undergoing and surviving the heat there, rectifying the information you obtain, and then finding the Stone. This journey is similar to the hero’s journey.

On the night of April 19, 1970, Paul Celan threw himself into the Seine from the Pont Mirabeau.

Bertrand Badiou and Eric Celan, the poet’s son, in their commentary to the letters of Paul Celan and Gisèle Celan-Lestrange (Correspondance, Seuil 2001) point out that the last poem in the collection Die Niemandsrose, entitled Und mit dem Buch aus Tarussa, written in 1962, contains the following lines:

Von der Brücken-
quader, von der
er ins Leben hinuber-
prallte, floegge
von Wunden, -vom
Pont Mirabeau.

From the bridge’s
paving stone, from it
he rebounded into Life
flying from his wounds- from
Pont Mirabeau.

Martine Broda stated in Dans la Main Personne. Essai sur Paul Celan, Les Editions du Cerf, 1986, pp. 92-94 that the poem was an instance of “auto-divination.”

Poetically speaking, if the heat of the nigredo is burning the physical man, causing such heat that he can no longer stand the pain, would he not seek water to extinguish the burning?

As an aside, when the authorities examined Celan’s billfold they found two tickets for Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot that he had planned to attend with his son at the theater Récamier. On April 16, 1970, three days before his suicide, he met with his son for the last time and cancelled their trip to the theater.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

In this meditation on Hermes, I continually find myself returning to the concept of the shadow. By definition, the shadow is aligned with the dark and all those attendant associations that spring to mind when we use the word-dark.

In alchemical terms, dark and black relate to the nigredo, “the initial, black stage of the opus alchymicum in which the body of the impure metal, the matter of the Stone, or the old outmoded state of being is killed, putrefied and dissolved into the original substance of creation, the prima material, in order that it may be renovated and reborn in a new form."(Lyndy Abraham, A Dictionary of Alchemical Imagery, Cambridge 2005). Interaction with the shadow is a form of or interaction with darkness and the unconscious.

Artists, especially poets, seem to be attuned to the alchemical process. Perhaps, they do not know about the nigredo or Sol Niger but they do know about the poetic qualities of the word “night.”

One of my favorite poets is Paul Celan and I suspect, although I do not know, he was familiar with alchemical imagery. He wrote a poem entitled Alchemical in which he used alchemical imagery to describe events of the Holocaust and his poetry is filled with terms from metallurgy and geography, the building blocks of alchemy.

Mircea Eliade in The Forge and the Crucible: The Origins and Structures of Alchemy, The University of Chicago Press, 1962, points out that “the alchemist, like the smith, and like the potter before him, is a master of fire.” (Eliade, p.79). The purpose of the fire is to transform the metal and magically discover the tool or weapon within the stone or clay.

Paul Celan killed himself in 1970. Before that, in 1967, he stabbed himself, damaged his lungs, and received treatment at Saint-Anne psychiatrist hospital in Paris. Upon his release, he and his wife separated and he composed the poems that ultimately made up the collection that became Lichtzwang, translated as Lightduress.

There are poems in this work, which I believe indicate that Celan was undergoing a psychological transformation, similar to the alchemical nigredo. Many examples illustrate his use of the images of darkness to show a force of change and transformation. I will provide only one. The translation is mine.

Ihn ritt die Nacht

By Paul Celan

Ihr ritt die Nacht, er war zu sich gekommen,
der Waisenkittel war die Fahn,

kein Irrlauf mehr,
es ritt ihn grad

Es ist, es ist, als stünden in Liguster die Orangen,
als hätt der so Gerittene nichts an
als seine
muttermalige, ge

The night rode him, he came to himself,
the orphan’s overall was the flag,

no more detours
it rode him straight-

It is, it is, as if the oranges hung in the hedge,
as if, so ridden, he wore nothing
but his

Monday, February 13, 2006

The source of sending letters and cards on St. Valentine’s Day is from a medieval belief that birds mate on or around February 14, a propitious day to send a missive to your love.

Chaucer in Parliament of Foules writes that “For this was sent on Seynt Valentyne’s day/ When every foul cometh ther to choose his mate.”

On Valentine’s Day most Americans clog the stores, spending money on cards, candy, flowers, lingerie, food and drink, all in the name of love. At first glance, the holiday seems shallow and commercial but I think that something soulful is occurring and that both Eros and Hermes are present.

When we discuss real things through the lens of myth, we are really attempting to explore a portion of the world that is invisible or more precisely, unconscious. By exploring the things we do without thought, we create weight and depth or metaphorically we create or build soul.

To illustrate this method of mythical analysis, I quote below a passage from my third novel, The Cavern. In this scene, Karl Wisent’s Jungian psychotherapist gives him a homework assignment after he describes certain troubling behavior of his girl friend.

He knew the moment he asked this question Dr. Gondolini would not answer. It was up to him to answer, to find his way to his own realization.

As he lay on the couch, he also thought of the clochard who appeared and saved the man. He was, in effect, a deus ex machina. and for a second Wisent wished someone would now spring to his side and save him.

“Somehow I think she, too, is trying to force movement. She, too, must be feeling the contingent nature of the relationship as a burden.”

“To be split is never comfortable. Most people don’t realize the split.”

“So she’s throwing the decision to chance?”

“She’s throwing something to the wind: caution or good judgment.”

“It’s very primal isn’t it?”

“It could simply be the force of Eros, which is made up of many complex components.”

“What do you mean?”

“It’s time to stop. Why don’t you read the myth of Eros?”

Wisent’s girl friend’s actions are really ways of shifting and defining her relationship with Wisent. Dr. Gondolini wants Wisent to contemplate how the god, Eros, acts on and through his life. The implication is that love is never static; instead, love is in constant flux, waxing and waning. The reason perhaps is that, according to Plato in his work on love, Symposium (The Collected Dialogues, edited by Edith Hamilton & Huntington Cairns, Bollingen Series LXXI, New York 1961), Eros is the son of Resource (Poros) and Need (Penia). Socrates tells his listeners “as the son of Resource and Need, it has been his fate to be always needy.” Neediness is one of Wisent’s most undesirable characteristics and the one he is most ashamed of. But Eros has two parts-need and resource. As Socrates states: “he brings his father’s resourcefulness to his designs upon the beautiful and good, for he is gallant, impetuous, and energetic, a mighty hunter, and a master of device and artifice-at once desirous and full of wisdom, a lifelong seeker after truth, an adept in sorcery, enchantment, and seduction.”

Socrates probably created the mythologem cited by Plato. It shows the tension between need and resource, parts of love, but I see Eros as a more complex god and his characteristics, as described by Socrates, are more similar to Hermes than to Poros.

Cicero postulates the answer in De natura deorum and brings Hermes to the equation. He states that Eros is the son of Hermes, the guide, and Artemis, the huntress. Both are tricksters and both force and encourage change. Both are dangerous and seductive. With these parents Eros’ genealogy becomes darker and more complex and we can understand that its complexity and its sometimes-crass materialism, originate from the god and his parents.

If we meditate on the complexity of Eros, then the significance of the holiday works on us rather than the merchants’ advertisements.

If we see the characteristics of Eros, Artemis and Hermes in our lovers and our relationships during this holiday we deepen our understanding and the holiday becomes suffused with soul and meaning.

Friday, February 10, 2006

This morning, while drinking coffee at my local Starbucks, I thought about the two Hermes.

The oldest and, for me, the richest image is of an older man, with a dark beard, wearing a long cloak and carrying a golden wand and a seven string lyre made from a turtle’s shell. The newer more modern image is that of a bright, sleek, handsome, clean-shaven man.

In my imagination, I align the older image with the archetype of the senex and the younger with the archetype of the puer.

The older image is connected to darkness and is more consistent with Hermes’ role as a guide of the soul. The darkness that surrounds him and that is illustrated through his beard and hair shows his connection to the chthonic forces of the underworld. The underworld, as James Hillman has shown in Dream and the Underworld (Harper 1979), is a world rich with meaning and soul.

The younger image is more accustomed to the marketplace, to the agora of ancient Athens, than to the underworld. Perhaps, this is the reason that florists (FTD), scarf manufacturers (Hermes), car manufacturers (Mercury), and comic book companies (the Flash) have appropriated the more youthful image.

The older image is also more conducive to the Hermes that appears in alchemical images and processes.

Alchemy can be traced back to the ancient Chinese; however, it emerges first in Western culture in Alexandra and Hellenistic Egypt around 300 B.C., when Greek science flourished. After the Arabs took Alexandria from the Byzantines, alchemy grew and matured in the Islamic world. In the 12th century, the Arabs took alchemy to Europe through Spain and southern Italy.

I like to think that it was Hermes or, as the Romans called him, Mercurius, that was guiding the process and growth of alchemy across Asia, Africa and Europe. As Lyndy Abraham writes, Mercurius is “the central image in alchemy, also known by the equivalent Greek name Hermes, symbolizing the universal agent of transmutation. (A Dictionary of Alchemical Imagery, Cambridge University Press 2005)

As I wrote yesterday, meeting the shadow is essential in creating soul. The darkness of the shadow is also connected with the symbolic underworld of alchemical change. One of the first steps in psychological alchemy is a metaphorical journey to the underworld or in Jungian terms a meeting with the shadow. (see Alchemical Psychology: Old Recipes for Living in a New World by Thom F. Cavalli, Putnam 2002) The darkness of the underworld and interaction with the shadow are connected. In that Hermes is seen as a guide and an impetus, I nominate the darker image of Hermes as the more interesting archetype. As Karl Kerényi states in Hermes: Guide of Souls (Spring Publications, Inc.2003), Hermes “is most likely the same dark depth of being from which we all originate.”

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Everyday, while writing and reading, I have certain thoughts that I think, at that moment, would make an interesting article or poem or story. Sometimes I record them in a notebook but usually they disappear like unrecorded dreams.

The ones that I do record remain hidden in a notebook that, when filled, is locked away in a cabinet along with my dream notebooks. However, although I do not usually return to the notebooks, most of the characters, themes, and images in my novels and stories appeared first in those notebooks.

In Vogel and the White Bull (Britton 2002), there is a sequence, where Vogel recounts a dream of his descent into an underworld. This dream was taken almost verbatim from one of my dream notebooks from the late nineties. It was only later that I realized the dream was similar in tone and content to archetypal journeys recounted in alchemical parables.

In The Cavern, Karl Wisent meets an aged British spy in a German language bookstore in Paris. The character came to me in a psychological exercise called active imagination. In the exercise, I was called upon to speak to the image of an aged man that appeared to me. In that I am very shy and skeptical of such exercises, I hesitantly followed the rules and asked the figure that appeared in my conscious mind his name. I received his Christian name and his hometown, which I later discovered was a city in Wales. It was through this strange encounter that this character appeared in The Cavern, The Blond Beast, and in my novel in progress. I have figured out that this character is an archetypal image, known as the senex.

It is these types of encounters and insights that I wish to discuss here along with what I am reading and thinking.

In that regard, I just finished Charles de Lint’s novel Spirit in the Wires (Tor Books 2004) and Norman O. Brown’s Hermes the Thief: The Evolution of a Myth (Lindisfarne Books 1990).

I am quite taken by the writing of Mr. de Lint and I number his novels Trader (Orb Books 2005) and Someplace to be Flying (Orb Books 2005) as two of my favorite novels. I particularly like his use of myth and folklore in an urban setting. I also believe that he has plugged into the collective unconscious and he is able to recreate and describe the numinous experience of dealing with the collective as well as the personal images that emerge from the unconscious mind.

With this said, I do have a bone to pick with him in his description and definition of Jung’s concept of the shadow. This argument should not take away from the pleasure of reading the book.

The shadow is not a separate entity that is cast off. Instead the shadow follows us and interacts with us. It is the meeting with the shadow that introduces us to our interior and unconscious life.
Some writers compare the psychological shadow to the alchemical concept of of lead as the base metal. In alchemy, the first stage toward transformation begins with the base metal in the nigredo, the black first stage. In order for growth and progression, there must be an interaction and understanding with the shadow.

I also disagree that the shadow could be a different sex than the subject. In de Lint’s novel Christy’s shadow is a female, his shadow that he casts off at age seven.

First, we never cast our shadow off. As Maria-Louise von Franz states in Shadow and Evil in Fairy Tales (Spring Publications 1974), “so in the first stage of approach to the unconscious the shadow is simply a ‘mythological’ name for all within me of which I cannot directly know.” (von Franz, p.5). She goes on to say that the shadow is “a personification of the unconscious, of the same sex as the dreamer.” (Ibid).

Norman O. Brown’s book is also about myth and archetypes. I turned to it because I was looking for the god that embodied or expressed certain actions that I was taking in both my personal and professional life.

Before the reader becomes confused I need to explain that I find archetypal psychology helpful in exploring my life. When I am acting in a certain way, I try to see the “god” or the myth or the archetype in my actions. In my professional life I found that my actions resembled Hermes, the god of thieves, commerce, profit, and messengers.

When I discern this archetype I try to find out as much about the “god” as possible. In the next few months I will be talking a lot about Hermes because I have set off in search of him, his meaning, and his uses in my life. This search is literary and psychological. It is not religious.

Finally, it is interesting to note that Hermes is the only god that could communicate with all the gods and the only god that could travel between heaven, earth, and hell. That is why he is one of the main characters of my current novel in progress, The Dragon Hunters.