No word, concept, notion or experience among the innumerable moments in each The subject of love has undoubtedly evoked more turbulence, emotional unrest, verbal cataracts, religious zeal and artistic/poetic/imaginative expressions that any other single subject.of our lives, is more embedded in our thoughts, our culture, our identities, and our beliefs than love. And, from the beginning, its magnetism as well as it torture have both uplifted and brought down men and women. Our literature, including our theatre, movies, poetry and even our religions have been and continue to be focused on the notion of both self-love and love of another. In all cultures, although it manifests in different acts, images, and rituals, it remains as a magnet for, explanations of, and reasons for relationships, both joining and ending, between individuals, irrespective of their gender identity. As a subject of popular cultural music, movies, television dramas, it comes loaded with highly provocative positive and negative moments, that, themselves, engender highly volatile emotions, including the potential for life-changing changes.
Idealized and taught in such religious phrases as, “God is Love” and then evidenced in the sacrifice of the Cross, the ultimate act of sacrificial love, in a culture that aspires to exemplify a Christian theology, many are left perceiving themselves as unlikely to ‘live up to such a role model’. The Cross, as sacrifice invoking forgiveness for personal sin, among fundamentalist Christians, marries the notions of love and sin, in an exceptionally radioactive cocktail, that renders the ‘church’ the moral arbiter of sexual relations. Once sex and sin (outside the boundaries established by the church) are enjoined, and mixed with the ideal aspiration of mutual love, and the many other faces/voices/images of love, Western culture, for centuries, has struggled under a yoke of potential, and too often inevitable shame, for not ‘obeying’ the strictures of church/religious/spiritual/theological morality.
Highly motivated and even more highly rewarded ‘stories’ of illegitimate love/sex, haunt the culture, seeded by tabloid journalism that levitates on ‘sex’ stories especially of the ‘royal’ variety. And scurrilous journalism is the vehicle not only to express but also to enhance the schadenfreud that triumphs in pubs and cathedrals and generates monumental sales and profits. Indeed, the tittering delight in gossip that runs amok especially among the ‘religious’ is one, if not the most, heinous of the hypocrisies that infest all churches. The stories of both Princess Diana and then Prince Charles are only among the better known of such tragedies. And the ‘spill-offs’ continue decades after the lethal and unconscionable exposure.
WE (including this scribe and the general public) neither know nor seek to know how much pain each individual (irrespective of status, rank, education, or role) has experienced in his/her life, that has bruised and potentially even permanently wounded, the sense of self-respect, that one brings into each venture an of intimate relationship. Those stories comprise the private diaries, and the intimate conversations among and between trusted companions, if and when one reaches a stage in which trust has been established. Novels, plays, movies and even funerals are just some of the archival repositories of love stories, lauded and exposed, in libraries everywhere.
This ‘dark’ depiction of what are considered illicit relationships, along with the millions of attempted relationships that end in separation, divorce, and other more reckless deaths, is not intended to obviate the higher, lighter, even more compelling experiences of those whose “love” relationships not only endure for lifetimes, but significantly enhance the lives of the partners. Indeed, it seems no exaggeration to suggest, humbly and tentatively, that all of us, in some manner, at various times, seek a “love-partner” as an expression of and fulfilment of one’s most profound dreams and aspirations. Loners, isolates, outcasts, the homeless, many of the disadvantaged poor (in so many iterations of that state) too, perhaps even more earnestly than others, seek to be cherished, loved, honoured and respected.
Such honour, respect, dignity, are not available through laws, nor through government programs, nor through academic achievements. And the premise that “God offers that love” to the most despised, is hardly enacted in our conduct of our personal lives, excepting those, like Mary Jo Leddy, and others, whose lives are committed to refugees and the most needy among us, who seek new lives. Hollow words (God is Love), for the most part, in a culture that seeks fortune, fame, adulation and stardom, as hollow surrogates for love. Of course, there is a semblance of honour, dignity and respect offered to and for ‘stars’; yet, such elevation is no substitute for authentic, reciprocal/mutual, and committed one-to-one human love.
In our search for ‘connection’ and loving relationship, we come to an awareness that somehow our perception of our person is enhanced, ennobled, and even perhaps expanded, in and through the welcome of another human being, outside our parents and sibling, cousins and aunts/uncles. Validation, and the picture of learning about ‘the other’ as a mirror to/for/of ourselves, is innate, although it takes many shapes, forms and faces.
Models for our path of search for a companion, might include our parents’ examples, relatives, and potential role models (both positive and negative) that emerge from movies, plays, novels, and public life. Learning to navigate the intersection of our ‘personal’ preferences beginning in adolescence and continuing through early adulthood, is one of the more challenging adventures of our lives. And the potential for sustaining these early relationships rises and falls on the perceptions, attitudes and beliefs and expectations of each partner.
Much of this is so banal, as to be almost redundant for most readers. However, what has been useful, instructive and even eye-opening for this scribe is to encounter James Hillman’s writing about the excessive, and over-whelming pressure our (North American) culture places on something we call the ‘ego’. The weight of the responsibilities, duties, expectations, and the failures and the shame and the guilt that come with that ‘burden’ is, as Hillman sees it, unsustainable.
His proposed lens, the human soul, for coming to the many issues included in the psychology of each of us, emerges from the imagination, which Hillman ‘seeds’ with the voices, the patterns and the archetypes of already extant gods and goddesses, from human history. These mythical voices, the gods and goddesses, are neither diagnostic of syndromes, nor allegories of disease. This is the diagnostic perspective rather than the mythical, and we are looking not for a new way to classify psychopathology but for a new way of experiencing it. Here the Homeric and classical Greeks themselves provide a clue: their medical diagnoses were not in literal terms of myths and Gods, even though their thinking and feeling about affliction and madness was permeated with myths and Gods. So we must take care, remembering that mythical thinking is not direct, practical thinking. Mythical metaphors are not etiologies, causal explanations, or name tags. They are perspectives toward events which shift the experience of events; but they are not themselves events. They are likenesses to happenings, making them intelligible, but they do not themselves happen. They give an account of the archetypal story in the case history, the myth in the mess. (Hillman, Revisioning Psychology, p. 101)
Continuing his tutorial on the entry into myth, Hillman cautions:
Th(e) first entry in to myth needs an important correction. It commits the ego fallacy by taking each archetypal theme into the ego. We fall into an identity with one of the figures in the tale: I become Zeus deceiving my wife, or Saturn devouring my children, or Hermes thieving from my brother. But this neglects that the whole myth is pertinent and all its mythical figures relevant: by deceiving I am also being deceived, and being devoured, and stolen from, as well as all the other complications in each of these tales. It is egoistic to recognize oneself in only one portion of a tale, cast in only one role. Far more important than oversimplified and blatant self-recognitions by means of myths is the experiencing of their working intrapsychically within our fantasies, and then through them into our ideas, systems of ideas, feeling-values, moralities and basic styles of consciousness. There they are least apparent, for they characterize the notion of consciousness itself according to archetypal perspectives; it is virtually impossible to see the instrument by which we are seeing. Yet our notion of consciousness may derive from the light and form of Apollo, the will and intention of Hercules, the ordering unity of the senex, the communal flow of Dionysius. When any one of these is assumed by the ego as its identity and declared to be the defining characteristic of consciousness, then the other archetypal styles tend to be called psychopathological. (Op. Cit. p. 103)
The shift from what has become the norm, the conventional
manner of both seeing and speaking/writing of myth, in our culture, as the ‘ego’s
identity, or the ‘cause’ of the illness, or the glib ‘name-tag’ for something
commonly known as a “complex” to the perspective detailed above, is and will
be, not only monumental and revolutionary. The shift in perspective requires a
degree of detachment, and imaginative ‘letting
For Hillman, the myth of Eros and Psyche, is the ‘primary myth of psychoanalysis’ (according to Thomas Moore, writing in A Blue Fire, (p. 266). Eros in relation with Psyche, a myth which has been depicted in carvings and painting and tales for more than two thousand years, offers a background to the divine torture of erotic neurosis—the pathological phenomena of a soul in need of love, and of love in search of psychic understanding. (Hillman, Revisioning Psychology, p,. 102)
(Eros) is the wild son of Aphrodite, easy to love and difficult to abide with. He brings the psyche promises of pleasure and many occasions for suffering. He pleases without measure, and he tortures without any apparent misgiving. Rather than present a program of painless love, the aim of many psychologies, Hillman explores the betrayals and impossibilities of love as valuable initiatory moments of the soul. Initiation is a rite of soul-making. Innocence may have to be punctured. Idealized notions of self, other, and love may have to earn their ripening shadows. A third element may have to appear to keep the two in love from closing their world in on themselves. Primal, Eden-like trust may have to mature so that one doesn’t go about life with an innocence frequently shocked and undone by disappointment and betrayal. (Thomas Moore, op. cit. p 266)
Writing on mythblast.com, Sunday May 15, 2023, in a piece entitled, Among You: The Mystery of Love, Scott Neumeister, writes, (parsing the Wedding Song, There is Love, by Paul Stooken of Peter, Paul and Mary):
‘He is now to be among you’: I find it interesting that Stookey’s first word is “He”. The song celebrates two people uniting in marriage, but this other—this third—occupies the prime stop, not ‘you’ or ‘you both’. (Stookey later clarified, ‘In matters of theology, it’s wise that we remember, in Christ there is no East or West, in God there is no gender,’) …In conversation with Bill Moyers, (Joseph) Campbell contends, ‘By marrying the right person, we reconstruct the image of the incarnate God, and that’s what marriage is. This incarnation of the third relates to Jung’s concept of the transcendent function, a living third thing..,.a living birth that leads to a new level of being.’…’At the calling of your hearts’: When Moyers presses Campbell on how one chooses this ‘right person,’ Campbell replies, “Your heart tells you.”
How ubiquitous and pervasive is/are the idealized notion(s) of oneself, another, especially one for whom the emotional ‘interest’ is aroused, and of love itself, in our culture. Indeed, idealization, romanticizing, and hypothesizing/envisaging/dreaming of this ‘new relationship’ so often evokes visions, illusory images of more than any of us might feasibly incarnate. There is a gravitas and a perspective of removing the blinders from the eyes of all lovers, in Hillman’s notion of initiation in and through the tortures that can and will only emerge from relationships entered into as “love” relationships.
Who among us has not been enveloped in the images of idealized, innocent and undoubtedly ‘immature’ love relationships? And who among us, if we had encountered a psychological perspective, stripped of moralisms and parental fears, might have been more conscious of our selves, others, and the many colours of love? And yet, who of us is not, on looking backward, able to testify to the many initiations that painfully greeted us, in our long path to where and who we are today?