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.