Category Archives: European

Peter Pan

One of the aspects of Peter Pan that has always intrigued me is that of the crocodile that swallowed a clock and that tracks Captain Hook.

Crocodiles have a rich heritage in many folklore stories and myhologies. Below are listed a brief and incomplete examples.

Among many Egyptian references there is Ammut who devours the  hearts of wrongdoers.

In some Native American mythologies the crocodile, or alligator, is a sun-swallower with links to rebirth.

In Arabian folklore it passes judgement on the accused and in West Africa it embodies the soul of someone wronged who seeks vengeance.

In Mediavel Europe it represented hypocrisy and in Jungian psychology it represented torpid ill-temper.

I am sure there is also an Alchemical meaning for the crocodile, but have not been able to confirm this with research so far.

Captain Hook is, certainly, an ill-tempered wrongdoer and there are other aspects of the definitions above that apply but, to my mind, the crocodile in Peter Pan represents something else.

 

Mortality and Aging.

 

Pan is the eternal boy who never grows up. His adversary, Hook, represents all he desires to avoid, namely, his own maturity, old age and death. Hook, in essence, is Peter, grown up or, at least, how Pan may, potentially grow up; into a joyless, hollow and, ultimately, meaningless life. A person who has grown up, or had to grow up in a world that denies magic and wonder. The “real” world of responsibility, work, commitments…

Peter fights against his own inevitable destiny. How many adults are walking around today having lost touch with their inner Pan? Trapped in the cycle of survival and necessity feeling lost, with the ever present sound of a clock ticking and the crocodile of regret snapping at their heels? Perhaps, regretting their lost youth and envious of those who are still young. Trying to recapture it in some form of mid-life crisis.

Peter Pan fights Hook in an attempt to stay ever young Hook wants to kill him, to destroy the magic represented by Peter which he, himself, has lost. Hook is all too aware of the ticktock croc’.

The story represents an internal struggle in each individual human psyche.

If we then start to contemplate Wendy and Tinkerbell, representing the Feminine and magical aspects of our psyche, we may begin to unravel a mythological teaching.

In some respects there are too many Peters in our modern culture; men who want to remain eternal boys, mothered and pampered, taken care of and avoiding personal responsibility. Lost little boys who want to continually act like a lad and never grow up. Being Peter Pan is not a healthy choice. One might also suggest that Peter remaining a boy means never going through adolescence and sexual maturity. He remains unable to “father” the next generation. Fraud would see something in this fear of sexual potency

So too, many grow up and become disillusioned and weary, their spirit broken and out of touch with their inner sun/son. Regretful of a lost youth and living a tick tock life of dissatisfaction and torpid ill temper.

So if both have destructive aspects what is the answer?

We have to grow up, to move from being a child to being an adult but we can still retain a childlike awe and wonder for the world and the things within it. We just need to acknowledge the inner Wendy, the inner Pan and sprinkle a little fairy dust into our lives.

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mythological integrity

The trend of The BBC to take mythological themes and warp them into some strange mix of adventure and soap opera continues with Atlantis on Saturday nights. These types of series’, which include Merlin and Robin Hood seem to take the bare bones of an established mythology and mix them up, throwing in odd historical characters, most of whom had nothing to do with the original mythology and creating new characters and storylines that have little to do with the original stories.

Being too fussy?

Maybe, I am but as T.S Eliot once made comments about the poetical tradition along the lines of; if you write poetry on certain themes or subject matter, it not only adds to the stream of previous poets and their work, it changes it. This is true of mythology too.

Now, I do not want or expect mythological teachings to be a stagnant unchanging entity. Each generation reads, digests and, I suppose, has the right to add to the story, but that comes with the sort of responsibility Eliot comments upon in regard to poetry. Personally, I think the way these mythologies are handled by some contemporary scriptwriters is irresponsible, in respect to the way they treat the original and twist it out of shape. The latest version of Robin Hood was little more han a third rate pantomime, Merlin altered the context and storyline as well as falling into the usual traps with regard to the female characters.

This is not adding to an existing mythology in an enriching way, it is changing it totally. It is nothing more than taking well known names from tradition and hanging a soap opera on them.

Perhaps, the counter argument is that relationships, soap opera dynamics, lack of regard for the preciousness of mythological story, etc, do, in fact, represent our times and it is these things that we are compelled to add to the tradition. Personally, these tales mean more to me and I feel they should be treated with more respect.

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Reading the Detectives

The genre of detective fiction is a large and complex one and it is not the aim of this post to provide a comprehensive history but, rather, to put forward a few points that may be of interest.

In the decades proceeding the publication of The Moonstone (1868), authors such as Poe and, to some extent, Dickens had established the concept of a detective being an important and, in the case of Poe, the main, character in a novel or short story. There was a growing readership for the “Sensation Novel” and Collins, along with other authors such as Henry Wood and Elizabeth Braddon, were producing works that fitted this description. The sensation novel, itself, could trace a trail back to the Newgate Annals and French detective fiction.

A Touch of Class.

It is with The Moonstone and Sergeant Cuff that I make my first observation. Collins, allegedly, based Cuff on a real policeman, namely, Whicher who had been, notoriously, ostracized for his failure to bring a satisfactory conclusion to Road Hill House Case. Cuff also makes mistakes and does not completely solve the mystery of The Moonstone.

The Victorian class structure regarded policemen of all ranks as “trade” and generally of a lower social order. The fact that these men were often investigating and, most disagreeably, accusing their “betters” was an uncomfortable and threatening issue in regards to the defined social structure. It could be said that this issue was tackled in literature of the period by having the police fail, or to have them appear bungling and ineffective. This led to the emergence of the Amateur Gentleman Detective who, invariably, outwitted not only the criminal but his professional counterparts. Normally, he was of a standing that allowed him accepted access to the higher levels of society while not preventing him donning a disguise and mixing with the common people. He would, also, have colleagues or accomplices from these lower social classes too.

Into the Golden Age.

This literary device can be seen in operation throughout the emergence of the detective story as a specific genre and into thr “Golden Age” of the 1920’s and 1930’s. The main characters of Allingham, Sayers and Christie were of a class above “working”. Poirot also had the advantage of being an outsider due to nationality, so could circumvent the social etiquette to some extent and move freely between the classes without causing offence.
That is not to say there were not exceptions but of the characters that retained their popularity it is, largely, true.

Americans prefer hard boiled.

It was with the emergence of the harder edged American gumshoes that this formula began to break down. They came from a nation that saw itself as classless and it fragmented the strict genre of Golden Age Puzzle in various directions; thriller, spy caper, etc, along with harder and more violent detective stories.

Girl Power.

A second observation and an interesting footnote to this discussion is the emergence of a number of authors now writing books set in Victorian or Post-Great War periods. These often feature female detectives who come from the lower classes but have access to all levels of society. It is a vein that, for the most part, remained untapped by authors writing in those periods and comes from a view of the past constructed firmly by the present, one that presents the modern author with a number of creative opportunities.

Of these modern stories (and there are many) some works of note are Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear, a well written and researched series featuring an intriguing main character with some unique approaches to solving crimes against a backdrop of an haunted past as a VAD nurse in The Great War. There is also the Mary Russell novels by Laurie R. King, who has an older Sherlock Holmes as her companion, having met him keeping bees in Sussex. As an avid reader of Conan Doyle in my younger days, I was wary of this series. Using Holmes as a main character could so easily go wrong. However, these are good reads and the author handles her subject with skill, good characterisation and cracking plots. There are many others, some good, some not so good. Indeed, much like the Victorian period when work ranged from the Penny Bloods, Yellowbacks through the many Quarterly Magazines and Periodicals, the quality of writing covers a large range, written by authors, the majority of whom, have faded into obscurity; in some cases, undeservedly so, but that is a subject for another post.

The Vikings are coming!

One cannot end a discussion on contemporary crime fiction without a mention of Scandinavian literature. TV and bookshops have seen the emergence of interest in these stories. Within TV series’ I think many a viewer had grown tired of homegrown and U.S output which is often formulaic and predictable, or refers back to Golden Age style plots and characters, but to fully understand the popularity of Scandinavian Detectives is, indeed, a three pipe problem. I would suggest it is a bit of a fad that will, eventually, diminish; consider the hype surrounding The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo a few years ago and one can see that interest wains swiftly in a fast moving market.

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reference sources:

The Crime and Mystery Book by Ian Ousby. Thames and Hudson, 1997.
The Art of Mystery & Detective Stories by Peter Haining. Treasure Press, 1986.

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The Dragon and the Damsel

We all know the story or are familiar with a variant of the theme. Brave knight fights the dragon to save the damsel in distress. On the surface this could be, merely, read as a bit of a macho man thing, striding in, slaying the beast and saving the defenceless woman. I like to look at it differently.

Stories like this always fascinate me because they deserve a little more attention than we sometimes afford them. Plus, they have always bugged me a little because I could not help feeling the old dragon, not to mention the damsel, got a raw deal.

I was reading a few books recently about the limbic part of our brain. It was referred to as our lizard brain, because it consists of the oldest and most primitive part of the brain.

 
Possibly, the part that generates dreams, it is concerned with basic drives, connected to the nervous system and has an emotional aspect to it. It would take too long to describe its full make up here. The point being that Lizard, Serpent and Dragon really represent the same thing. So we have a starting point with our story: the dragon may represent the lizard part of our brain.

So why do we need to “slay” it.

This caused a few problems for me. I have spent a lot of time seeing the need for us to develop and listen to this very aspect of our minds. As humans we spend too much time in our rational, cerebral mind and suppress a lot of what the cerebellum creates for us. Recently, I realised that, maybe, the Lizard/Limbic and the Cerebellum are not quite identical, or that there two sides to this portion of the brain too. It is the fearful, selfish, spoilt child part of us, the do as I please, want things my way, throw the toys out of the pram aspect in each of us…a shadow side to the cerebellum’s creative, nurturing aspect which is the part that has the potential to give birth to dreams and creativity.

So, perhaps, the dragon represents this shadow aspect. It does not have to be slain but it does have to be tamed. This is done with the rational, organising, logical aspect of our brain; the cerebral, thinking part. Rational thought, logic, etc, are qualities often attributed to the male, or masculine energy. The masculine aspect of the brain, in other words: The brave knight.

So, why does he save the Damsel?

We have already brushed upon it. The emotional and creative aspect of the cerebellum, where ideas and creativity are born and nurtured. These can be seen as feminine attributes. The damsel is a woman and a woman can bring forth new life. The damsel in the story is the positive manifestation of the limbic system that needs to be separated and rescued from the negative aspect (the dragon) by the cerebral aspect of the mind (the knight). Once the cerebellum is protected from the dragon of selfishness, fear, anxiety, stagnation and denial, the damsel of nurturing, creativity and love can be unchained.

This is just an interpretation and one I am not entirely content with from the point of view that it still has the Dragon as a negative, unwanted aspect.

Personally, I think Dragon mythology is a positive theme, particularly when understood in reference to Earth energies but, perhaps, that is a subject for a future post.

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Thoughts on the Grail.

What is the fundamental enigma contained within the Quest for the Holy Grail?

 

A state of Grace, a Golden Age, lost and laid waste through some ungracious act, through a wounding of some kind.

 
A journey beset with trials and obstacles placed in the path of the questing knight who sets out to regain that which was once the natural state of things. To bring about the much needed healing of the Fisher King and his Land. Yet, where does the Grail, the ultimate symbol of healing, regeneration and integration lie? It lies unseen and unheeded by the side of the very king who is in so much need of its gift.

 
The Grail Seeker, at first, neglects to ask questions, to speak up, to speak out, to be heard, to exercise curiousity and it is only after the realisation of his mistake and after much tribulation, lessons and the sobering experiences of life that he, at last, rediscovers the Grail Castle and sees the object of his quest: The Holy Grail sitting where it has always sat. With him. By his side. By the side of the wounded king and by the side of the questing knight. For they are one and the same person in truth. You, me, and everyone who has awoken to the realisation that part or parts of them bleed. That not all is as it should be. Awoken to a sense of deep dissatisfaction. Finally, the simple question WHY? is asked and a Golden Age, a state of Grace, an awareness, a beingness, is finally awakened to manifest within us.

 
What does this state of Grace mean or represent?

 

We must delve into the psychology of Self, Of I, of me. Of ego. Self-conciousness or self-awareness. That aspect of our personality that defines itself as a seperate entity and in so doing detaches itself, alienates itself from everything and everyone else. The part of our psyche that divides, interprets, seperates, and in so doing cleaves us from the collective non-dualistic, holistic being that is our real truth. This seperation occurs sometime after birth, young babies have no concept of self, do not recognise their reflection in a mirror, but gradually, steadily and surely, we begin to learn to discriminate, to seperate and so begins the creation of a dualistic right/wrong, good/evil universe. This our fall from Grace, the drawbridge at the Grail Castle gate is pulled up and we tumble over the moat and land face first in the grassy bank on the other side.

 
Buddhist teaching instructs us to join mind with the universe, intrinsically knowing that mind and universe are one and the same thing; not seperate, not different, but manifestations of the same spirit, the same light, the same energy. Within and without, as above so below, as the Alchemical and Western Esoteric traditions also teach. Buddhism also instructs us to look within to understand that which is without. This same teaching and the same meaning can be seen in the Grail story, the concept of the Grail being ever present, even when it can not be seen.

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The Quest.

The mythology that fascinates me the most is that of the Quest for the Grail. Even as a young child, that word Quest held some enchantment, even before I knew what it meant. It is a body of mythology that I imagine I shall return to in future posts, but for now I will begin with this:

One aspect of the Grail is that it is said to be everywhere. Indeed, it is right next to the seeker but he does not see it…until he is ready to see it or has asked the right question.
The potential existence of some form of energy everywhere is an interesting development within quantum theory. The work of Einstien, and later, the quantum and particle physicists have explored this area of zero-point field, dark matter, the internal workings of the atom, etc.

An exploration into the concept of an underlying force within everything. It has long been accepted that energy and mass are manifestations of the same basic essence. They just resonate at different frequencies. The electro-magnetic force which binds particles, essentially, being stronger in things with more mass, acting as the “glue” which holds that mass together and which we perceive as solid.The author Danah Zohar has some interesting points regarding this in her book The Quantum Self with reference to Bose-Einstein condensates and more recent literature concerning how the brain functions with regard to emotions also points to a field of energy that exists within and without.

The fascinating aspect for me is the similarity of these scientific findings with the teachings of such spiritual traditions as Hinduism, Buddhism and Taoism.

Chi, Ki, Prana, the Tao.

This underlying source of all things has been a significant part within these teachings, used on a practical/spiritual level with things such as Feng Shui, Acupunture, and Yoga and also including practices such as meditation, divination and harmonious living.

Living in the Tao is living in harmony with the universal energy.

Balancing Chakra energy is living in harmony with the universal energy.

Attaining the Grail is….you guessed it!

I firmly believe that the original grail mythology was the Northern European version of these teachings. There is only one universal truth, we just find different ways to express it. As the author Derek Bryce said in his book The Mystical Way and the Arthurian Quest; We all climb the same mountain to reach the summit, we just see different slopes up to it depending on the direction from which we come. We reach the top with different stories, different experiences, different views, but we have all climbed the same mountain. Once we are at the summit, we should share those views with mutual regard, honour and respect because only when we do share our experiences can we know the whole mountain.

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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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