Monday, April 24, 2023

Myths govern our lives...

 Everything we have read and reflected on from Hillman points to an unmistakable and for some of us, irrefutable premise:

Myths govern our lives. They steer a case history from below through the soul history. The irrationality, absurdity, and horror of nature’s experiments, which we try to live, are taken up by the images and motives of myth and in some way made understandable. Some people must live life wrongly and then leave it wrongly. How else can we account for crime, perversity and evil. The fascinating intensity of such lives and deaths shows things at work beyond the human. Myth, which gives full place to every sort of atrocity, offers more objectivity to the study of such lives and deaths than any examination of personal motivation….The rational morality of life itself has always been open to question; is it any different for death?...(T)he soul seems to have elements of premonition and transcendence. For the soul, it is as if death and even the manner and moment of entering it can be irrelevant, as if it did not matter, as if almost there were no death for the soul history at all….(T)he soul needs the death experience. This can come about through various modes. Some of the inner images and emotions of the experience…(include) suicide, depression collapse, trance, isolation, intoxication and exaltation, failure, psychosis,  dissociation, amnesia, denial, pain and torture. These states can be experienced symbolically or concretely. They can be present in case history or soul history. The mode to psychological experience seems not to matter to the soul providing it has the experience. (Hillman, Suicide and the Soul, pps. 65-6-7)

For many, these words will read as black, depressing and therefore highly toxic and justifiably avoidable. However, if we pause for a moment to think and to recall some of those mythic figures, and their stories we read, or had read to us, in childhood, we cannot help but recall ‘the little engine that could’…(a humble an contrite Hercules?), or  the ‘big bad wolf’ (symbol of Ares?), confronting the innocent young girl (Astraea, star-maiden, virgin goddess of innocence, purity?) In was not so unsettling to read, as students in high school, words of Northrop Frye in The Educated Imagination to the effect that anything is possible in literature, in the language of the imagination, different from the language of practical sense. Stories of family, social, cultural, familial and political alienation abound in both literature and in the annals of social and cultural ‘case histories’….whose background soul histories remain hidden, even to the individuals being documented.

Stories from the New Testament, too, exemplify stories of the life of Jesus, from different perspectives, in four gospels: in Mark as the lonely figure abandoned by his followers and abandoned by God; in Matthew as Messiah, King, Lord, new Moses to free his people from bondage; in Luke as the compassionate care-giver for the poor, oppressed and marginalized; in John, as the source of eternal life, and  the more ‘spiritual, ethereal and uplifting’ for many. These various images, were included in Hopewell’s work, Congregation, in which he attempts to identify the ‘God’ image that is more relevant to people sitting in church pews: as King, Teacher, Care-giver, Saviour…and the attitudes, perceptions, and theological leanings of each. Of course, it is not only a single image of Jesus, and God that dances in our imagination, given that God is the ultimately unknowable (absconditus).

Similarly, we have had teachers and supervisors who exhibited a variety of interactions, each of which, if we were given the opportunity to examine them, would reflect/mirror images that have become active in their imaginations. And each behaviour is not and cannot be, like a 1:1 ration, attached to a single god or goddess, in that there are invariably more than a single god/goddess/myth that is engaged in each of our deepest sufferings.

Here is one of the more significant points of nexus, between theology and archetypal psychology: and that is belief….and the different purposes of belief in each case. In the case of theology, we believe as an act of worship. We envisage the various chapters and encounters in the life and death of Jesus, (for Christians) and then attempt to enact their theological significance in our lives in liturgical dates and events, through prayer, through sacraments, through Mass/Eucharist, and through seasonal readings.

In archetypal psychology, on the other hand, the gods and goddesses are not believed in in order to be worshipped. The belief is, rather, attached to the imagination, and to their relative influence, and energy and ambiguity and mystical aura in those moments in our lives when we seem most vulnerable. They are conceptualized, envisaged, imagined and sketched in light pencil marks, or today, perhaps in holograms that dance in our imagination. Like the figures that ‘have us’ in our dreams over which we have no control, these mythical figures continue to accompany us on our journey, most of the time seemingly untouchable, unreachable, innocuous, and irretrievable, given our strong attachment to our senses.

And when we were writing about the differences between a case history and a soul history, we did not mention the fact that skills, while never excluded from a soul history, are not necessary for a soul history. In fact, the acquisition of skills, in and through which we are expected to deliver ‘value’ for some organization, and in and through which we are judged as employable in the first place, offers another of those literal, empirical, and highly comparative and even more highly competitive stages on which we are expected to compete, to establish our value and worth in the ‘eyes’ of the system, the culture and the economy. And it is in regard to the economy, and the political decisions that first envisage the purpose of a public decision-making process in both philosophy and political theory, and then enact in public policy that we are envisaged, indeed incapsulated…as digits in that economy.

Even within our churches we are numbers of bodies, enrollees, attendees, communicants, choir members, Sunday school attendees and of course, numbers of dollars in those proverbial collection plates. And, of course, the “political and psychological” grafting of ideas, images and narratives, that comprise the various theological positions that are articulated from the pulpit, as well as the various theological views extended in Christian education classes, Bible classes, prayer meeting reflections, cannot be underestimated. And one of the more obvious, as well as more counter-intuitive to the whole mission of the faith, is the corporate model of organization that concentrates, indeed, obsesses, over the literal numbers on its balance sheet, to assess, reward, punish, and even evict its leaders.

“I am happy to have been very instrumental in removing the last priest because he was not spiritual enough, and you’re not either!” are the words of a direct quote from a corporate executive in an urban church. His ‘conception’ of ‘spiritual enough’ was tied directly to his notion that contemporary rock/pop instruments and vocalists performing contemporary religious music would be the necessary magnet to attract and to retain young people to their community. Another quote from another parishioner in a small-town church is part of the suffocation of the corporate-balance-sheet-profit-loss business mentality for and in the church:  “Jesus was history’s best salesman!” And just to add to the ideological and political and cultural enmeshment of the church in the relationship of the ecclesial institution with the political culture, after hearing, in a homily, a direct criticism of a recently elected provincial premier and his right-wing government which had announced serious cuts to the budget of WheelTrans, the public transportation vehicle on which disadvantaged men and women relied for their movements about the city, immediately rushed to the presiding rector with these words: “We can’t have any clergy criticizing from the pulpit the premier we just elected!”

Indeed, the theology of moral perfection, linked with the sexual lives and identities of those who in any way and at any level seek community within the church, as the path of and to discipleship, is itself another of the many self-sabotaging bases of the authenticity and integrity of both the theology and the praxis of the faith. And the exercise of power, from a position of top-down authority, itself, endemic to the military and the corporate organizational theory and practice, is also a reduction of the notion of any authentic faith relationship. The self-righteousness, moral superiority, sanctification and all of the many liturgical and reflective and hymnal rubrics and poetry and genuflections, in themselves, represent a dangerous risk to the pursuit of and relationship with God, for many.

One has to wonder, indeed, if the mythology embodied in the crucifixion itself, and the deeply embedded ‘excommunication’ as well as the formal and informal decisions within the church to ‘exclude’ those it considers apostates, heretics, non-conformists, is not so deeply seeded into the ecclesial tradition, that the notion of engaging in an act of association within a faith community is itself a risk predicated on the crux of that faith community. A Russian professor once told his class in comparative education about the Russian method of solving problems: eliminate them. And when we hear about Alexi Navalny and Vladimir Kara-Murza having been ‘excommunicated’ from the Russian public life, and imprisoned, and poisoned, without adequate advocacy and human rights, without a robust universal (not exclusively within Russia) protest, we are witnessing what happens in the corporate, the political and the ecclesial domains every day.

Self-adopted and declared impunity from errors in judgement, and in all manner of conduct in the exercise of power, for the sake of the institution, as if such conduct would enhance the life and success of that institution, is itself counter-intuitive to the spiritual and ethical and relational lives of those both in power and under that power. Authority vested in a ‘critical parent’ over ‘children’ whose behaviour and beliefs and attitudes are neither sought nor explored, but, in crisis, are only deployed as evidence that those in power and authority have not ‘protected’ the church’s reputation on a high moral ground from which it can only topple. Indeed, the very notion of the celibate clergy, itself, sets up an unsustainable model for clergy attempting to serve. The soul, in a word, is not amenable to dogma, nor is it amenable to institutional, calendar, pecuniary nor even academic regulation.

And all of the many and varied attempts, including both the dogma and the institutional mores and traditions and pomp and circumstances that surround and encompass all of even the tone of the conversations within the sanctuary, are analogous to the reprehensible conversations in hospital rooms when the bed-ridden patient is considered to be in a coma, a ‘reverential’ and ‘respectful’ whisper, as if the patient must not be disturbed, when really it is as much a kind of fear of the visitor about his own proximity to death and mortality.

There are so many stories, actually myths, within each faith community that offer models of both thought and praxis to pathways of deeper relationship with God, without compromising either the integrity nor the authenticity of either the institution or the penitent. Telling the truth, as opposed to running along tracks of obvious, overt and covert hypocrisy, holds far more promise than regulating behaviour, attitudes and beliefs from the top. Power over, in a pyramidal structure, with embedded instructions and protocols of enforcement, infantalizes and colonizes those in the pews, and, also those in the pulpit as well. And the maintenance of power and authority, by officialdom, known by whatever name, is an endemic corrosion of living life to the full, for both those in power and those over whom they discharge their responsibilities.

Is it the presumption of the right to ‘trash’(remove, dismiss, discharge, imprison, excommunicate) another both literally and metaphorically, without a full, deep and intimate search for the soul of that/those persons, that rusts the very liturgical vessels of the eucharist and those engaged in the ceremony. And this presumption, assumption, and normalization of practice is both enhanced and enabled in and through a literal, nominal, empirical, academic, scientific obsession of the culture in which the churches function.

Neither God nor any full expression of theology can be reduced to a rational, literal, empirical, scientific language or image. And, so far the optimum lens for beginning the process of a relationship with a deity, seems to be in and through an active imagination that recognizes and respects and indeed relies on a manner of ‘seeing’ in and through the soul. And, institutionally, the most appropriate locus for such a premise to be practiced is within the ecclesial communities. While each liturgy and tradition will differ somewhat, there is a common unifying thread of perspective that the care of the soul is dominant, and the institution can adjust not only its liturgical and dogmatic words but also its practice and attitudes and perceptions to that end. And the potential ripples from that starting place in psychology are only faintly visible in the mythic mists. 


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