Monthly Archives: April 2013

Bah! Humbug…..and Headmind.

A Christmas Carol remains Dickens’ best known Christmas story. By no means his only offering for the Christmas period, the others have receded in popularity. Darker and, perhaps, less accessable tales such as The Chimes are, hardly, known these days. It might be said that they struggle to create as cohesive and structured a story when compared to the well known tale of Scrooge, which is a shame. They are worth reading, if only once. To return to A Christmas Carol, below is an interpretation of facets of that cautionary tale which I first posted on a previous blog some years ago. It is a, purely, personal take on the teachings contained within the development of the main character and I post it here because such literary characters have become part of the milieu of mythological story telling and the lessons inherent within them.

In some respects one can interpret Dickens’ A Christmas Carol as a parable relevant to such treatments as Reverse Therapy and, to an extent, Buddhism.

Both these disciplines would agree that we cannot always, if ever, alter exterior events, but what we can change is our perceptions of and attitudes towards them.

The miserly Scrooge, obsessed about wealth and security, worrying about the loss of money and living from an attitude of Lack, is the voice of Headmind: The grasping, controlling, never satisfied and self-centered voice of doom, the ego, the self-obsessed critic voice  of fear chattering away within.

What changes in The Christmas Carol?

Christmas does not change. Nor do any of the other characters. Scrooge is “visited” by the voice of Bodymind urging him to get back in touch with feeling, with how he responded to Christmas as a boy. The “inner child’s” natural and spontaneous response to the magic of Christmas. The Voice of Christmas Future shows him the destiny that awaits if Headmind remains the strongest aspect of his character: A small life unlived, never loving or giving or trusting, mean and miserly not just to others but to himself.

So what changes in The Christmas Carol?

Scrooge’s attitude and perceptions of himself in relation to Christmas is all that changes. He listens to a different inner voice, that of Bodymind which wants him to embrace his own inner desire for fulfilment and happiness.

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Carry on Robbin’

The legend of Robin Hood is a rich and varied mix of mythology and may well be one I return to on this blog at some point. Having written about the portrayal of the character on screen many years ago, I realise the intricacies of the story. On one level it is a seasonal cycle mythology: Summer/Winter Kings dying and being reborn. On another level, I wonder if there are not one or two jokes running just below the surface. The British have always enjoyed bawdy humour, the “Carry On” of double meaning and postcard innuendo, and it occurs that names such as Will(y) Scarlet and Little John could be humorous references to the penis. In some ways, so to, could be the main character: Robin Hood. Or this could be a reference to parts of the female sexual anatomy. The name Friar Tuck can also be played around with. The most intriguing is Maid Marion. In some ways she pulls this interpretation together. On a shallow level there is the wordplay in “made Marion”..a similar slang etymology to “had Marion”, ie, a boast of having enjoyed thre sexual favours of a particular woman, but a deeper reading is also possible. Beltaine, the Celtic festival from which the modern May Day derives was, in essence a fertility festival, where men and woman would frolic and “marry”, ie, have sex and, possibly, become partners awaiting births, etc. There are aspects associated with “a year and a day” concerning a man and a woman remaining together after their first union at Beltaine. I wonder if the name of Maid Marion is a corruption of May Marry-on, or May Merry-on, a distant memory coming down from pre-calander days but associated with the time of year that become our month of May and a festival full of bawdiness, sexual innuendo and carefree fun and games.

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Jekyll and Hyde: a shaggy dog story?

Firstly, one can draw a parallel with the mythology of the werewolf, which has preceded the Jekyll and Hyde tale for some centuries. Indeed, one might consider Stevenson’s superb story as a post-enlightenment rendering of the werewolf mythology; a Cartesian splitting of the mind and body.

Traditionally, the werewolf motif has been seen as the splitting of the tame and the wild, good and evil, human and bestial, and a host of other dualistic concepts, but we must always remember that these conflicting personalities exist in the one person. It examines the conflict that exists as part of the human condition. Good and evil, human and bestial, these are weighted terms that, immediately, bring negative baggage. We could, instead, term them as intellectual and instinctual, cerebral brain and limbic brain, cerebrum and cerebellum.

There is a splitting of these concepts in post-enlightenment thought and a heavy emphasis placed upon the intellect, the rational and the logical. The instinctual aspect has been subjugated, pushed into the shadows, but it never goes away, for it is an essential part of us.

This has an important message in terms of spiritual development; it is the conflict of these two human aspects that causes much illness and disease. The emphasis placed on one to the detriment of the other is a cause of much imbalance, particularly, in Western society since the Eighteenth century, which has aligned itself to the rational/intellectual, the head. As a result of which, the other aspect of our psyche; the instinctual/intuitive, the body, has been pushed out, seen as less important. It can be seen by the fact that in the Jekyll and Hyde story, the “good” man, the rational man, who resides firmly within social normality changes into the “bad”, the animalistic, the immoral. The concept is never explored the other way round, unless we consider Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein which could be read from the point of view that Dr Frankenstein, the rationalist, modern doctor is, fundamentally, immoral and separated from the moral code of his society and it is the monster that is, in fact, imbued with the desire to express an ethical presence and wants nothing more than to be accepted. As Chantal Bourgault du Coudray points out in her book The Curse of the Werewolf, the romantic/metaphysical poets and Gothic literature expressed a need to counter the dominant enlightenment thinking of the time; it was the Hyde to the rationalists’ Jekyll.

Returning to the Jekyll/Hyde concept: The fact is that both aspects need to be assimilated into the personality, a balance is required for the healthy expression of what it is to be human. Too much weight, on either side, is unhealthy. Both can be seen in our modern world and the results are, destructively, obvious. Reliance on science to cure all ills on one side and on the other a pushing of nature into the background as unimportant. This creates discontent, the inabilty to assimilate leading to criminality, war, sexual imbalance, violence and various inner and outer conflict: All caused, partly, by a repression of parts of the human psyche.

In the traditional rendering of both the original Jekyll and Hyde and most of the werewolf mythology when the “beast” is killed, the human dies too, (in deference to our societies celebration of the intellect/headmind we might note in passing that they usually change back to the “good” aspect at the moment of demise). The point being that they are co-reliant, one needs the other to exist, a point often overlooked.

So, very obvious parallels can be drawn between the mythology of the werewolf and the Jekyll & Hyde story, indeed, it can be interpreted as a modern, post-enlightenment version of Lycanthropy concerned, mainly, with the subjective, inner life, and conflict between different aspects of the psyche. The story can be read as the conflict between the primitive and the civilised, the amoral and the moral; modern mans’ repression of the Freudian Id. That inner shadow that if repressed will find a way to escape, manifest and express itself, destructively, be it outwardly in acts of violence or inwardly as illness, both physical and mental.

As with many strands of the horror genre, werewolf mythology developed during the 20th century to reflect the real fears of the day, so in the U.S made films of the 1930’s, we see reflected the anxieties of an isolationist America fearful of becoming further entangled in European conflicts. The films feature the werewolf curse being brought by Europeans, or from the continent of Europe. In a post-second world war, atomic age the emphasis changed. In the 1950’s films, instead of it being a curse or a bite, it is the “mad scientist” that experiments upon or injects someone, thus causing the werewolf transformation. This echoed contemporary concerns of the advance of science as self-professed cure all of the world’s ills: A belief in and insistence upon scientific progress. The werewolf films at this time explored the effects of science out of control. This concept broadened into the idea of science as establishment, big business, the corporate edifice and the increasing distrust and wish to counter the growing power of these at the expense of the individual.

A deeper explanation of these theories can be found in The Curse of the Werewolf: Fantasy, Horror and the Beast Within by Chantal Bourgault du Coudray.

The Jekyll & Hyde story concerns itself more with the inner personal conflict, the dark, individualised secret that exiles Jekyll from civilised society and acceptable behaviour. It is, primarily, an inner moral dilemma, sparked, it most be noted, by a self created potion (an interesting pre-cursor to the development of the werewolf/scientist themes in 1950’s cinema). While the werewolf genre has developed and adapted through the decades since it first gained popularity, the Jekyll and Hyde story has remained, comparatively, static. Not that it needs to change, the original story still resonates with a genuine and valid exploration of the human condition. There have been a few attempts to re-tell or adapt it with varying degrees of success, such films as Dr Jekyll and Mrs Hyde. One could put forward an argument that it introduced feminist ideas or the inner female in  man but, realistically, it gave the film makers the chance to get a few bare breast shots into the mix, a common addition to a number of horror films of the 1960’s-1970’s.  The only major contribution in recent years is the BBC drama Jekyll written by Steven Moffet and starring James Nesbitt and Gina Bellman.
The Jekyll and Hyde story can be interpreted as a cautionary tale about integration or disintegration of the human psyche. Without one the other dies. In this story the protagonists fight each other for supremacy. An internal (and eternal) struggle in all our psyches. As simple as the dilemma “do we follow our head or our heart?” or how we come to terms with the “bad” that exists within us.

A lot of the time (and over a lot of time, historically) we have been conditioned to ignore it, repress it, pretend it does not exist or we go to experts in their field to cure it or absolve us of our sins one way or the other. The real secret to enlightened living is to acknowledge it as part of us, an integral part without which we are dead, either psychologically/emotionally or really dead. This repression of part of what it means to be human causes many of the ills of the world and the illness in the world.

We see things so dualistically, particularly, through western philosophical frameworks, so we settle for one extreme or another and lurch our way through the years and the centuries. On the wheel and we never break free.

Human nature loves to divide: Good and bad, us and them, heart and head, body and mind. We pummel our bodies into shape, hate the way we look, do ourselves untold physical and psychological harm because of our ego’s insistence on separating things. We do the world harm too. The way to survive and to become enlightened is to assimilate not separate, to honour and integrate all aspects of our psyche. To choose integration and not dis-integration.

To conclude, plainly in the material discussed the character traits are drawn to their extremes: physical changes, etc; in each one of us the conflict is more subtle, but the real message on a metaphysical level is our individual and collective need to recognise, honour and incorporate the two aspects of our psychology: The intellectual/rational with the instinctual/intuitive. Head with heart. Too much weight to either side causes disruption and imbalance, disease and ill health both psychological and physical, as both are inter-dependant and need the other to experience a full and balanced life.

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Gawain and The Green Knight.

Gawain and the Green Knight is a fascinating tale, full of esoteric lessons. A similar story is found in Irish mythology: This pre-dates the Gawain version and is, probably, the source from which Gawain and the Green Knight derives.
Apart from the Green Knight version, other variants exist ; notably, Sir Gawain and the Carl of Carlisle and Turk and Gawain.

 
It is also interesting to note that the original “Grail” story, from the Mabinogion, has a severed head on the platter as the main object in the procession. The importance of the head in Celtic mythology is to extant to venture into here, but mention of Bran (a Fisher King aspect) and his links to Arthur are worth mentioning.

 
Gawain’s importance among the Knights of the Round Table can not be ignored, he is the most significant despite efforts of later writers to denegrate him. Forget Galahad and Lancelot, for a moment, for these are to some extent late additions in the form that we receive them, and they gloss over the true importance of Gawain who is described by some later writers as a womaniser in some Christian variants of the Arthurian cycle. He is in fact a significant aspect of the feminine principle in spirituality, or more specifically the feminine principle within the male psyche. He also represents nature and I believe he represents the “natural state” of man, which is why he is of such importance.
In some respects I see The characters of Gawain and the Green Knight as aspects of the one psyche. They too, like Gawain and Arthur, can be seen in terms of Summer/Winter Kings and it is, obviously, a mythology concerned with the natural cycle of the yearly round, but what does the beheading aspect wish to relay to us?
I believe any beheading symbolism is teaching us the dangers of living “too much in the head” and neglecting the need to stay in touch with our body. Gawain is a representation of the Green Man (as is the Green Knight). As such, he is very much in touch with his natural state, his bodymind.

 
The challange issued by the Green Knight is – “Who is courageous enough to lose his reliance on his head/logical/rational/intellectual self and take note of his body/instinctual/natural self. It should be of no surprise that it is Gawain, alone, who steps forward.

 
For three days and three nights Gawain undergoes a test. Three days has a lunar significance;  interesting when we think of Gawain as a solar hero. The moon is dark and unseen for three nights and is in its “hag” aspect.
Gawain is tempted and three times resists (well, almost!) – A reminder that we should not get too carried away and rely, solely, on instinct/bodymind either. We need to realise that we should listen to it, pay it our close attention, and integrate our headmind aspect to help it. Ultimately, it is about the balance between these two aspects of our conciousness. Those that succeed get to “keep their heads”

 
This is my interpretation and I guess each generation, each culture, maybe each individual reads and derives their own interpretation from tales such as these, but isn’t that the purpose and eternal gift of a true mythological teaching; that it does answer us when we ask the question? And it was Gawain who first asked that question.

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Diana/Artemis and Actaeon

In brief:
Actaeon, while out hunting, sees the virgin huntress goddess Diana/Artemis bathing naked. As punishment she changes him into a stag and he is ripped to pieces by his own hounds.
variants:
1-The goddess throws a deer skin over him with the same outcome.
2-he brags about seeing the goddess naked and is punished for doing so.
Interpretation
A person filled with lust, desire or misdirected/mishandled sexual energy (stag) is torn apart from within.
Taking this a stage further, we could say that any desire, or lust, for something unattainable or unavailable causes us to tear ourselves apart psychologically. An unfulfilled longing, lust or desire that can not be resolved or satisfied will, eventually, destroy us. We internalise that which we “hunt” (stag) and are torn apart as a result of not being able to satisfy the desire (hounds).

be careful lest, like Actaeon, thou too perish miserably, torn to pieces by
                                                the ban-hounds of thine own passions.

from “She” by H. Rider Haggard.

Read in this way the mythological story  contains an almost Buddhist concept of desire being the cause of suffering.

A deeper, more Jungian interpretation would be to read it as the male psyche being made aware of, and confronting, the inner feminine aspect of his nature, unclothed and as nature intended. If psychologically or spiritually unprepared for this bare revelation the male risks having his male identity (stag) torn apart by his own conflicting thoughts, feelings or self-perception; by his own beliefs (hounds) concerning his self-identity. Perhaps, ultimately, it is an initiation all men must go through. This confrontation and acknowledgement of the inner feminine aspect of his nature: to risk being torn apart and reformed into something new and, thereby, gaining a more integrated and balanced inner persona. In our society, a modern Actaeon is conditioned to, either, hide his eyes and turn away in shame, or leer lewdly at the goddess and only perceive her nakedness in an overtly sexual way. Too timid to gaze directly upon the revealed nature of what the goddess really represents, lest he be ripped asunder. In being unable to approach the naked goddess correctly he never receives the wisdom and growth that exists within the opportunity presented to him.

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