Archive for the ‘mythology’ tag
With a shift in temperatures from above freezing to slightly below freezing and with the right amount of moisture or humidity in the air, I woke up to a fairy tale world, one in which fingers of frost had draped trees, bushes and weeds. I am always entranced by hoar frost and almost always stop to take photos of this phenomenon when it occurs.
It is as if old man winter has come out with his white beard to tell me that winter has truly arrived and that it is time for a deep sleep with deep dreams. I am then taken to another image, that of Father Christmas with his beard of white. This fairy tale world invites gods and goddesses to make their appearance. And with their appearance, we find ourselves beholding them with both awe and fear. Father Christmas is older than Christianity’s Saint Nicholas. He finds his roots in the pagan god Woden/Odin.
The frost also brings to my mind a trickster image, that of Jack Frost. As a trickster, he promises the graceful, fragile and delicate world while in truth he is using his arts to cover his darker intent of plunging the earth into a deep freeze of winter darkness. It is as though the hoar frost serves to invite us to enter into a form of death, to descend into the underworld.
The associations continue to build for me as I think of the invitation of an apple that lured Snow White into a deep sleep that could only be awakened by the promise of love, the promise of life. The story of being frozen in time and place again finds its way into our mythology with the story of the Snow Queen. In all of the associations, one thing emerges, that of rebirth, re-emerging into the world of sun, warmth and life.
With all of these stories in mind, I remain fascinated with hoar frost and wonder what winter has in store for me and the rest of the world.
I am in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) after a thirteen hour flight and the associated waiting hours in Shanghai and the arrival time spend at the Toronto airport. All of the baggage made it through safely – and I don’t mean that the baggage was limited to physical bags, but also include the psychological baggage (attempt at humour). It is good to be back in Canada and I can “feel” the difference that comes with being in community rather than in being “un étranger” or “laowai” or “farang” or “gringo.” Here I become more invisible, more anonymous and with that anonymity, freer in a way. It is easier to just “be” rather than to have to hold to a foreigner persona.
As I wrote that last sentence, I realise that even though I am home in Canada, I am un étranger regardless. We all are strangers even within our own families and communities, even if we have never left our home communities. In truth, we are strangers to ourselves. Our families and our communities simply place the mystery of who we are, in context.
The journey of individuation is rather interesting. We begin at a point of time when we think we know who we are, a self that has carved out a place and identity based on career, family, possessions, experiences and relationships. At the moment in time when we wake up to the fact that the sense of identity, the sense of self that we have created is nothing but a fragile mask and costume, the real journey begins, a journey of self-discovery. I think most of us come to this point in our lives, see the dark hole and run screaming back into what we think is a safe place, sitting within the costume and investing all of our energies in maintaining the disguise hoping that no one looks to closely, especially ourselves. Energy is spent holding back that dark hole and in shoring up the personae that have become the public faces of who we are.
But, for some, the darkness is too powerful to hold back and we have no choice but to confront that darkness of disappear into a nothingness in terms of “self.” For me, this journey of awakening to a deeper and fuller sense of self has been understood by myself as an “Odyssey.” Like Odysseus, I wander through all sorts of trials, troubles, storms and temptation in order to find the centre of my own being, a glimpse of who I really am beneath all of the personae I live in the outer world of family and community. In the real world I have been travelling from country to country so much that I almost feel totally out of sync with the world. My body doesn’t have a sense of “time” anymore because of the constant shifting of time zones and the disorientation that comes with jet lag. Reality shifted to something within me, not something outside of me. I came face-to-face with the shadows, the gods and goddesses of this inner world that have haunted my outer world sense of presence.
Like this image of Odysseus, I am engaging in a battle with these gods and goddesses, not a battle that sees one defeated, but rather sees “me” become conscious of who I am because I dared these battles. There are no weapons or any armor that will help me other than what I can find within me and perhaps a talisman to carry in my hand on this journey.
A Chinese magnolia tree in Sunshine Gardens is about to blossom. This flower bud will become a large pink blossom. All the white magnolia blossoms are already on display. Spring in ChangZhou is all about colour and vitality. Yes, the image chosen today is very evocative of the masculine, something that I didn’t notice when I was busy with the camera taking a raft of photos for a posting on my other blog site, the one which chronicles my life in China as a laowai (foreigner) teaching ESL, a posting about the flowers in the gated community in which I live. However, once I went over the photos, the masculine aspect became evident. Using a little editing, the colour and texture made that fact even more obvious.
One of my readers remarked to me once, “What is it with you and erection?” in response to yet another post and photo that highlights the masculine. I guess the question was really more of a “What is your story that notes these images as you pass through life?” Each of us has a story, or more correctly, stories that compose the foundation of our identity, of how we see ourselves and how we understand and decode the world.
Well, I’ve been thinking about how I would answer the question posed to me and realise that I have been answering the question about my stories with each of these posts. The posts are more of a living story telling about my own psyche as if this space was no different from the container of an analyst’s office and that the stories told here are those I could have spoken to an analyst. Each of the images I have brought here illustrate my personal myth. I want to call on the words of James Hollis to somehow explain this idea of a personal myth.
“To ask, what is your story? is to be obliged to ask what are your stories, for we are no single narrative. What is humbling is the acknowledgment through age, repetition and the growth of consciousness that we have less autonomy in the construction of our lives than we had fantasized. In the end, the chief result of a long-term analysis is not a solution to our dilemma, for life is not a problem, but a progressive unfolding of mystery. The joyful discovery is that our lives become more interesting to us as we discern that we are part of a larger mystery. This is a proper relocation of the ego from its imperial fantasy to its unique, personal place. We become amazed witnesses of the great theater wherein we play our part, and are reminded of the progressive incarnation which occurs in even the most modest of moments.” (Hollis, Mythologems, p. 113)
So the answer I have found is that there is nothing “the matter” with me. Rather, I am discovering, uncovering, my self in a way that is transparent and honest. There is nothing to hide, nor any reason to hide that which I discover as bits of shadow enter into consciousness and cease being shadow.
As you can tell, I took some liberties with the photo I took at WuZhen. Using Photoshop, I went in search of what I was seeing in this scene, a mood and perhaps even place that existed as a layer under the scene caught by the camera. It is as though there was an alter universe peeking out at the edges of “reality.”
So what did I see in place of a few tourists on a canal boat in a tourist area celebrating a Mythical China? I saw colour, a coolness that hinted at an approaching darkness touched with sadness, a sense of almost being lost. I looked at the scene before the shutter clicked capturing an image and saw the faces on the boat, faces which evoked a sense of souls being transported across the river Styx en route to Hades, a realm of darkness, chaos and possession and annihilation. Three faces in this photo, the woman sitting in the open doorway with a look of resignation, another face framed in the window staring at me giving the impression of a ghost, and the face of the boatman carrying a determined look – there is no evidence of joy.
Gratia tua illis succurrente
Mereantur evadere judicium
Fac eas de morte transire ad vitam
Et in memoria aeterna erit
Lord, have mercy
By the help of Thy grace
May they be enabled to escape the judgement
Grant them to pass over from death to life
And they shall live in memory everlasting.
Tantus labor non sit cassus
Ne me perdas
(Such travail must not be in vain
Do not let me be lost)
Cor Contritum quasi cinis
Quem patronum rogarturus?
ne me perdas
(My heart is as though ground to ashes
To which protector shall I appeal?
Do not let me be lost)
I found this song by accident while looking for an article referencing the River Styx and immediately saw how it fit here. I was prepared for the accompanying music to be Gregorian in mood and sound and was rudely jolted by a harder sound, one that evoked K.I.S.S. (Knights In Satan’s Service). The words to the song, the image, the music – all pointed me towards something beyond me, beyond what I expected in terms of my personal shadow. I guess that this isn’t surprising when each day I hear more and more of what appears to be the collective unconscious let loose in the outer world. And in watching and listening, I sense my own powerlessness in relation to this collective unconscious.
“Whereas the contents of the personal unconscious are acquired during the individual’s lifetime, the contents of the collective unconscious are invariably archetypes that were present from the beginning.” (Jung, CW 9ii, par. 13)
And so, like the woman in the boat, I wonder where we are headed as a collective. All I can do, is search my own soul and deal with my own personal moral challenges knowing that I am on this boat that will take me to another way of being hoping that I don’t get lost on the way.
This is a scene I have photographed a number of times at different times of year and from different locations. For today’s post, it serves to illustrate or point to what lies beneath the surface. The reflections in the water let one know that there is something there hidden in the dark waters.
“What is this darkness down there, this tenebrous metaphor? It can swallow the ego for sure, and that is whey we fear it so. But the darkness is also the camera obscura from whence new images will arise. The future will be carried by those images, even though at present they remain remote to the ego. (Hollis, Mythologems, p. 70)
No wonder I like reading James Hollis. I would have to say that it was indirectly through him that I began to use photographic images in my own work of self-discovery. The darkness found me on its own long before Hollis wrote any of his books. C.G. Jung had already turned my attention away from other dead-end trails in the wilderness, in the darkness.
I have long been familiar with the darkness. Like many others, darkness became a common acquaintance while I was quite young. In adolescence, the darkness led me to Nietzsche, Spinoza, Kierkegaard, and a handful of existentialists and nihilists. I sought out the darkness for its company. Then, Life pulled me into engagement with the outer world and I denied the darkness for decades. Though I denied the darkness, it sought me out through my music, through my feeble attempts at art and my incessant capturing of images with a camera. Though the faces of the darkness, the world of the unconscious continued to poke through, I worked overtime to banish them and be present to my family and community. But . . .
“Similarly, the darkness can reach up, if we stretch the metaphor, and seize the ego and occupy it, as sometimes occurs when the most somber of moods takes us hostage. The darkness down there is also the darkness of the womb, from which springs new lie as well as the darkness of the tomb. Our fear of such nether places is projected onto spider, serpents, mice, bats and other denizens of the dark. Yet all life begins in darkness, the warm, wet, frangible fertility of little things which become big things in time. In the suck and muck of slime the future will be formed and flung forth. (Hollis, Mythologems, pp 70-71)
Yes, this is me. On December 23rd I was performing on stage for the Christmas Gala put on by the university where I now teach in my retirement. I am a “laowai” or foreigner in a foreign country. I guess you could say I am in an “in between” place. During a visit to my place several weeks ago, the people at the foreign affairs office saw my guitar standing in a corner. Soon after the visit I was asked if I would perform at the Christmas Gala. I agreed as I thought that it would encourage me to play more on this new guitar. What to play was the issue that I faced and soon found myself dithering between John Lennon’s “Happy Christmas – War is Over,” and Alan Jackson’s “The Angels Cried.” In the end, “Angels” won out. I thought that it was much easier to do in terms of sound since Lennon’s song would be best with a choral group adding their voices to the main vocals. Maybe next year . . .
The Angels Cried – Alan Jackson & Alison Krauss
They came from near,they came from far
Following a distance star to where He lay
Not being sure of what it mean, but
Knowing it was heaven sent,
they made their way
And the creatures gathered ’round
And didn’t make a sound
And the angels cried
The angels knew what was to come
The reason God had sent His son
From up above
It filled their hearts with joy to see and
Knowing of His destiny
Came tears of love
And the creatures gathered ’round
And didn’t make a sound
And the angels cried
I’ve often thought about that night
And wondered if they realized
That star so bright
Was sent to tell all the land
The Son of God would soon become
The Son of Man
And the creatures gathered ’round
And didn’t make a sound
And the angels cried
And the Angels Cried
And the Angels Cried
The song is supposed to be about Christmas, but for me it is more than about Christmas in a Christian sense. For me it is about being in a place between myths, being in a place of darkness where one sees a light that beckons one to move out of the darkness. I lost the myth of Christmas when I lost a belief in Christianity and in all religion. The journey toward light has to take place if one is to be reborn, if one is to transform. And that light becomes the new myth. The journey is about building a new myth. James Hollis explains it much better than I can, so I will let his words speak for me here.
“A person caught between myths, or a culture between myths, is in peril, but that is the only place to be when nature, divinity or the soul commands. One person said to me, while going through abandonment and disorientation, “I could never understand the idea of resurrection before this. Now I understand that I had to die in order to become myself. I was so identified with my marriage, with my parenting role and comfortable life that I didn’t know I had not yet come to be myself.”
Such a person does not choose to die. Her old myth was dying on her. That mortal transit is chosen by the gods, by fate or by the Self, yet such a person receives a blessing from the experience by coming to a new sense of self, a new mythology.” (Hollis, Mythologems, p. 64)
The tears in the darkness thus become, tears of joy and of hope. This was my message as I introduced and sang to all of those present at the performance. Yes, a new child is being born, and that child is you, it is me. What we lose on the journey, that which we mourn, is the sacrifice for what we are given as a gift – a Christmas gift of hope and a new myth.
This is another one of my recent shots of canals in Changzhou. I have to admit that there is almost a spell over me when it comes to water, canals and light. I found the scene above to be particularly compelling because of the figure on the boat. Though the person’s back is to me, I can tell that it is a woman on the boat. Here in China, there doesn’t seem to be many jobs that are for “men” as compared to other places I have been. I guess a couple of revolutions along the way has paved the way for more equality in the workplace in terms of gender defined roles. That said, there still is no confusion between the social roles and value between men and women. China is very paternalistic in attitude. Now, back to the photo.
I like this photo because it hints strongly of the presence of sun, the presence of “Father.” With the sun’s reflection on the water and the walls, there is a sense of connection with this larger aspect of father.
“When one has had the gift of Father’s blessing, or Father’s example, or Father’s sacrifice, one is privileged to feel worthy, empowered in the tasks of life, and part of a circle of connective affect. When one has not experienced these gifts as mediated through a personal father or surrogate, then one feels disempowered, and may spend one’s life in search of ersatz authority, overcompensation through the power complex, or a life of unconscious disablement of own’s own powers.” (Hollis, Mythologems, p. 46)
As I read these words, so much raced through my head, perhaps too much to do justice in this small space. First, I thought of a French-Canadian tradition I experienced as a youth, a tradition of paternal blessing called “la bénédiction paternelle,” a blessing given on New Year’s Day. This tradition stopped with my grandfather. It is one that I wish had been maintained. Perhaps it still is in rural Québec. The second idea that raced through my head was that of the father’s sacrifice in terms of the sun’s sacrifice as it yields to the night thus allowing us to feel whole with room for our own darkness. First Nations’ traditions and beliefs, as with other old cultures, value sacrifice, not only the sacrifice of others including animals, but of personal sacrifice.
The lack of blessing, the lack of sacrifice hurts the soul. Having experienced these lacks in my own personal father, I am left with a great sadness for his loss of soul, his lack of connectedness. Thankfully, I was able to have other models in sight so that I could bridge the gap in order to be a better father. But that story is one for my children to tell, as I will never really know.
While taking a walk through another part of the city, I found another area in which row after row of old tenement building are being taken down to make way for high rise apartments and more green spaces. In one area which had been reduced to rubble, there was this one building which still was standing and it will stay standing until the resident of this one apartment reaches an agreement with the city government. One apartment still in use while the rest of the building has been vacated and stripped. Electric power, water and gas have been turned off, but still the owner of the apartment refuses to leave.
I wonder what what is going on in the mind of the owner as he clings so desperately to what was a home. It makes me think of a dream in which one is found in a desolate wasteland but refuses to leave, protesting that the barrenness doesn’t really exist. Though this is lived in the outer life, the real drama is occurring within the psyche and deep within the unconscious.
“Myths are original revelations of the preconscious psyche, involuntary statements about unconscious psychic happenings, and anything but allegories of physical processes.” (Jung, CW 9i, par. 261)
Living in the outer world as if trapped within an inner world is living in a myth. One wanders in this world as a victim, setting up barricades to protect and protest. Reason has no room to play its own part. The photo shows an overt example of this, but I feel that many of us get caught up in our own myths in smaller ways. When we feel the victim, when we feel a loss of control as we do our best to shore up our ego with anger or fear or both; that is when we are in the grips of unconscious psychic contents. We become victims of the gods, of the authorities, of others – when in truth, we are feeling the power of the archetypes within.
When do we finally learn to look within to find what needs to be addressed, to make our way out of the wasteland back into life?
This is the Red-Crowned Crane which is a rare bird that makes its home nearby in the Yancheng area. I took the photo in the Yancheng area not knowing that the bird is on the protected species list as the second rarest crane in the world. I took the photo because the Red-Crowned Crane is featured in the mythology of China in a significant manner. In Chinese, the bird is called Xian He, or fairy crane.
In trying to do a search for the myths that surround this large bird, I kept coming up short with only a few lines that were repeated and repeated endlessly about how this bird was “a symbol of longevity and immortality” and of “nobility.” The myths themselves eluded my search. Perhaps they are yet to be translated into English and so I am left with all the images that are abundant here in China, images that feature the crane.
“While the world as it is is infinitely more complex than we can imagine, we are provided with the helpful tools of metaphor and symbol to move from the knowable world to the unknowable. If the poet compares the beloved to a flower, or analogizes the human life cycle with the seasons, we know full well what is intended. From this capacity for metaphor, symbol, analogy, we have the possibility through imagination of creating a partnership with mystery.” (Hollis,Mythologems, p. 31)
I am learning something here. I wonder about how there are things that are knowable – known – to some, such as the myths surrounding this crane, and those things that are a mystery to all. We sense/intuit something numinous but we can’t move from the fuzzy edges of contact into conscious awareness. What comes after death is the best analogy that I can think of – do we become immortal? The crane suggests that we do, a noble immortality that demands a transcendence from a corporal form. There is not “truths” to be had here, just the fuzzy edges of mystery.
This is obviously a photo that is about China – a China that is now mythical, a place that is represented symbolically through architecture, colour and words. All work together to create an image that points to something that is bigger than China’s past, bigger than it’s future. Rather, the image is more about soul and psyche.
Living in China and spending a lot of time with the young adults who will be the future of the country, I can see how the images become more about myths and poetry than about history. The songs being sung, the movies being watched, the serial television shows that feature heroes and villains of the past show a story that is anything but the messiness of real life. All of the modern images of the past paint a story that is bigger and fuller than the prosaic stuff of everyday living, especially the simpleness of that living in times when living was a basic affair that often was focused simply on surviving and not great colourful epics. Like in this photo, what is taken forward is a mythopoetic story that lies beneath the surface of today’s Chinese people, a story that isn’t really about the past at all, but about today with a hint about what is to come tomorrow.
“. . . the mythopoetic imagination has never gone away; it is no further from us than tonight’s dream, tomorrow’s projection of symbolic material onto another person, or the affective energy of the next day’s headlines in our local newspaper.” (Hollis, Mythologems, p. 25)