Psychotherapy sessions on Skype.

I am  beginning to take some new psychotherapy clients on Skype after several years sabbatical tending a variety of writing and artistic projects. If you have enjoyed  my articles and books, and think you might like to work with me then you can contact me.

My skype address is andywhiteceramicartist@gmail.com .  I charge an hourly rate of between £50 and £120 per hour.

After my degree, I trained with the Psychosynthesis Trust in London where I also did their teacher training qualification in addition to post grad studies with the Richmond Fellowship, BCPC and Regent’s college. I have thirty years experience as a psychotherapist working with a wide range of people from all walks of life.

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The Singing, Ringing Tree..

‘The Singing, Ringing Tree’, a modern rendering of a Grimm’s fairy tale, caught my eye because its 1970’s TV series was described as..

” the scariest kid’s TV show ever.” Mark Pickavance.

Paul Whitehouse allegedly wet his pants, though, to be fair, he was only five at the time.

In this scariest of stories the hero is a heroine who saves the day by means that are worthy of our attention. The scary story has much to say about how scary situations are redeemed.

It all begins with a naive Prince calling upon his Kingly neighbor to ask for his daughter’s hand in marriage. The Princess treats him rudely and throws his gifts on the floor, saying that she will only consider him if he finds the fabled Singing, Ringing Tree, whose whereabouts have long been forgotten.

The Prince goes off, crestfallen, searching here and there. Eventually he gets to the very furthest reaches of the kingdom where he finds a stone bridge to a secret land guarded by an evil Dwarf who captures him. The Prince explains himself and the Dwarf perks up. He has just such a Tree and will give it to the Prince provided that it sing and ring as proof of the Princess’ love by sundown or be made his slave.

‘cool..’

the puffed up Prince replies unwisely, ‘or may I be turned into a Bear…’ which was a rather stupid thing to say to a wizardly Dwarf whose best thing is a magical challenge….

because of course the Princess just dismisses him, despite turning up with the Tree and patiently explaining that all she needs to do is love him for said Tree to ring and sing…

The Prince returns to the Dwarf and is turned into a Bear, a spell that can only be broken by the singing of the Tree which is discovered on the stone bridge by the king, sent out like a lickspittle by his tempestuous daughter who has changed her mind and wants it after all.

Phew.

So, our heroine is not very nice to begin with and why should she be? Her father is weak yet still treats her like chattel and the stupid Prince thinks he can buy her like a cheap whore. And where is her Mother? Maybe the ugly side of the Princess is what you get when the Queen is squeezed out of the story.

The loss of the Mother/Queen in Western culture has given rise to inestimable grief in our time, long forgotten like the traumas of infancy. It spills from the couches of psychotherapists, from guilty lips’ confessional whispers. It slides from the slumped shoulders of the masses, crumples us before the blinking, blinkering screen. The longing then embeds itself in stuff, wants ruts and gathers clutter, mourning that is more a vague feeling of devaluation or of somehow being unwanted.

The Mother/Queen is archetypal permission to be what you are without which stony eyed disapproval for daring to follow one’s own destiny can cut deeper than death itself because it is aliveness itself that is under attack.

‘We will do anything to make sure life is secure, even if it is static, rotten  and dead.’ M. Woodman.

To change this means to become conscious of the fear of being fully alive that precipitated it. Rather than face the lonely truth you suppress yourself, kill off imagination and stub toes where redemption may be found.

‘If we can’t relate to metaphors, we are denied access to the archetypal world whereupon it comes into our lives by warped and toxic routes.’ ibid

 

Buried grief appears outside us, banished from persons to stuff, as though the myriad things were like the weaving threads of a comfort blanket, magically fending off loss for as long as we surround ourselves with and add to it. The radiant must-haves and bucket lists serve a purpose beyond mere diversion or amusement.  They make us feel whole again. We can connect with what we’ve given away of our Deep selves momentarily,  which is why people will work themselves into an early grave to lie in the sun five days a year and slit one anothers’ throats for a pimped ride that still takes the same time to get to there.

The king returns to his castle having promised the Bear that he can have the first thing he sees when he gets home in exchange for the Tree. Of course it is the Princess, though she doesn’t care and goes off to plant the tree in the fountain at the center of the garden, ousting the poor goldfish whose home it was, demanding the tree sing but…

it..

just won’t.

Bear arrives to claim his prize, taking on the king’s entire guard, abducting the Princess and making good an almost magical escape.

When they arrive back in the Dwarf’s secret kingdom the Princess demands her feather bed, her golden cup and silver plate. But they are all left behind;  treasures rudely supplanted by mere berries to eat, lousy spring water to drink and horrible soft moss to sleep on.

because what you see is what you get ..

‘your focus determines your reality.’..Qui Gon Jinn

She then demands Bear give her his secret of making animals like him. He says that the problem is she appears arrogant, heartless and obstinate to them. She sarcastically wishes to appear as others see her but doesn’t realize the evil Dwarf is listening in..

and makes it so.

The now ugly and disheveled Princess flies into a rage but there’s no denying her reflection in a clear pool. She realizes that she can only gain the love of creatures by loving them in the first place. Bear has already learned this by his earlier failed efforts to compel the Princess’s affections. She and Bear have something in common. They begin to co-operate and build a shelter together, much to the Dwarf’s annoyance.

Sad at her lack of love the Princess wanders off to find them something to eat. She finds a dove with a broken wing and tends it, tearing a bandage from her dress. She helps free a giant fish that the dwarf has frozen in ice and a deer caught in a snow drift.

While she is gone the Dwarf wrecks her home and blames it on Bear,  manipulating her to go back to her father with false stories of him being on the verge of death.

When the Princess reaches the castle she realizes she’s been tricked, but more importantly out in the garden the Tree is ringing and singing at last..

the beautiful Tree!

Being willing to be depressed and anxious about the right things awakens love in her and the tree knows it

Now she has to get back to Bear whom she realizes is the Prince, but the Dwarf throws up a great barrier of thorns over which she leaps with the help of the Deer she rescued. Then he sends a flood but the Giant Fish comes to her assistance. Then he drops her in a deep ravine but the Birds, whose friend it was that had a broken wing, arrive to fly her out.

Eventually the desperate Dwarf encircles the tree in flames but the brave Princess calmly walks through them to embrace the Tree. Dwarf is no more and Bear is restored.

thank Frigg….

the Norse goddess who has quietly presided over this whole tale despite her exclusion from the guest list, making the salient point that the jewel in the lotus is Relatedness.

In the earliest shamanic Bear cults throughout all Northern cultures, in evidence as long ago as 80,000 BC.,  the bear is uniformly recognized as the  messenger of the Gods….

‘stemming from a time when humans and bears shared the same caves.’ Iou Ghinoiu.

and so they shared identity, too. The Bear is Grandfather, the Old Man, Old Martin, my kin, included within the circle of compassion such that the conflict of hunting them created the first art forms known, ceremoniously placed skulls and bones which served as ritual requests for forgiveness, found calcified in the limestone caves of Carpathia.

Imagine setting out to kill and eat your Grandfather who also happens to be the messenger of the Gods, oh and did I mention claws? Think Sumo wrestler with steak knives. You love him and revere him and want to eat him. If he doesn’t eat you first.

When opposites like this collide something new happens. Perhaps consciousness itself is born of such conflicts.

”a new content that governs the whole attitude, putting an end to the division and forcing the energy of the opposites into a common channel. ” D Sharp

The Princess is saved because she cares about the fact that she doesn’t care about anybody. She realizes that the Bear-man has good in him, that he’s as bewitched as she by the toxic legacy of the rejecting King and his shadow the evil Dwarf..

The King is weak but more dangerously he is split, between being identified with his daughter in unhealthy symbiosis, momentarily joining the quest as would a romantic suitor, whilst using her in as a bargaining chip in his promise to the Bear, acting out the loss of her in what is really nothing more than a cheap bet,

Being king is a mixed bag and not just because you have to fend off every one who is not, but because divine right is a euphemism for pact-with-the-devil…. causing you to kill what you love.

So actual enemies are the least of your worries. Identification with the gods is going to make you paranoid. You need magical protection and plenty of it. Making a deal with an enchanted Bear-man who can take out your entire guard seems.. expedient.

and easily worth a mere daughter.

In the Viking times that spawned such stories, suitably anxious kings,  had as their immediate magical protectors, Bear-men, Berserkers. The word ‘berserker’, comes from the old Norse, ‘ber-sekr’ meaning ‘bear shirt’, which is a literal description of how these howling warriors would go into battle, without mail or armor. The purpose of their battle rage was to ‘hamask’ to change into the Bear itself and tear into the enemy’s ranks like beasts.

And even though they tended to cut down friend and foe alike, which might put a crimp into your victory pint, they were as honored as they were shunned, and  generally had productive social roles other than being really handy in a punch up. They were boat builders and poets too.

”This fury, which was called berserkergang, occurred not only in the heat of battle, but also during laborious work. Men who were thus seized performed things which otherwise seemed impossible for human power. ” D. Howard.

which makes you wonder if the las Vegas shooter wasn’t a frustrated composer, a Beethoven that hung out at the Mall instead, someone whose daimon became a demon because he had nothing to create, like the man who stubs his cigarette out on his girlfriend’s arm to give her something to remember him by.

In our story the Bear-man and the Princess build a house together. It’s the beginning of their redemption because they do so despite brutish bear behavior and the princess’ foul appearance.

The house is a symbol of ‘both-and’, rather than ‘either-or’, inner space you can stretch out in with Wild and Ugly, where meaning can be found in metaphor,

‘The essential feature of transitional phenomenon is a quality in our attitude when we observe them.’  D. Winnicott.’

which is actually a very curious thing to say.

and not just because quantum physics agrees

but because attitude is a choice to make rather than a thing to have.

which means you are free..

if you like.

The Princess’ choice to love has nothing to do with her situation. She cares for whatever crosses her path and does so without thought of return. When push then comes to shove it is precisely these relations forged with her inner world that manage to defeat the regressive forces that prefer her to be dependent on outward powers.

The evil Dwarf surrounds the Tree with flame but she walks straight through it. She has developed a new relationship with suffering and has accepted that it is part of love. She no longer shies away from it and so it cannot really hurt her.

 

The Psychology of Privilege.

My mate Kevin was a privileged white boy. He was so privileged that none of the rules applied to him, like wearing clothes in the street or pissing behind the dumpster if he had to go for a leak and pretty soon he got in trouble with the law. Last time I saw him he’d helped himself to my apartment while I was out and ‘rearranged’ it. It just seemed trashed to me so I threw him out..

oh the ingratitude..

but I was pretty pissed off so I went round to his house at the crack of dawn the next day to find him standing naked in the living room, knee deep in shredded paper, with a can of kerosene in one hand and a box of matches in the other.

Another day in the psychopathology of white privilege.

When I was old enough to look over the steering wheel my father bought me my first car, no MOT, no insurance, no license. Every breach of the rules lost in his bestowing gift.

I abandoned it on the road side within a month. It wasn’t running right so I left it mounted up on the curb, got my stuff out the back and went off to buy a motorbike instead. No license, no experience, no insurance, no helmet. I crossed the first junction on one wheel and very nearly killed a pedestrian on the far side.

I was privileged. I didn’t have to play by the rules. But the almost-accident bought me up short and made me begin to question my entitlement.

Entitlement was what held my parents together, and the racially segregated community of which we were a part. It was their legacy to me and so I soaked it up like you do…

…being all there was on offer.

I began to realize, not only that it was all a con, but that this special-ness and privilege and being exempt from the rules was compensation for lack of love. I was given a pile of ‘Get Out Of Jail Free’ cards in lieu of affection.

It had a lot to do with the intensely patriarchal world in which I was raised. Colonial Rhodesia was an Edwardian garden party of Pimms, boaters and 9mm side arms. It was a man’s world in which women were pegged just a tad above livestock and Nature was just cover for gooks that hadn’t been cleared yet.

No surprise that the Sons of Empire mostly turned out pretty narcissistic, or completely barking like Kevin. Tin pot princelings who’d sell each other out, and their grandmothers, for any extension of rights and status, that would bring on suicidal gestures at the slightest frustration.

The motif at the local monument read, ‘ That Might have Right, and Have it More Abundantly.’

Thing is, such a compensation culture is only pitched a notch or two above what the rest of polite society is still up to. The Feminine is collectively devalued. Nature is there simply for the plundering and conventional religion is an old boy’s club that has been resting on its laurels for so long they’ve mashed it into the upholstery.

What all these Sons of Empire never got was that if the feminine is devalued then so is mothering. Their mothers. Their Ground of Being.

The problem for children in the West is that mother is invariably a dissatisfied woman.   S. de Bouvoir.

If mother is devalued but her face remains the primary mirror for a nascent sense of identity what is the child to experience of itself?

What a baby sees in its mother’s eyes is what baby takes itself to be. If the mirror is broken or distorted then baby is also broken/distorted.

‘The precursor of the mirror is mother’s face. What a child sees there is themselves. What she looks like is what baby takes itself for.’ Whitmont

Going-on-Being is interrupted. Baby cannot move forward. Its not safe enough. There isn’t enough containment. If baby is not in his rightful place, in arms, because Mum is drowning her sorrows, or back at work trying to prove her worth, or off at bingo trying to top up on some girl time, or holding baby but gingerly because she’s had her instincts and self confidence eroded to the point that she’s lost faith in her own abilities, then the need to be in his rightful place, is supplanted by entitlement as though it were the Promised Land…

Moreover, if baby is having to shoulder not only mother’s sense of inferiority,   but also projections of the Self (which mother must export given that society has afforded her no schooling or experience of owning this within her own psyche) then baby is landed with a heady cocktail of not being good enough on the one hand and Mother’s divine image on the other…

which is going to blow his own sense of self out of all proportion.

This ‘privileged child’ is then allowed to behave pretty much as he pleases,  desperate to make up for the very real but denied deprivation – and there you have a recipe for all the petty despotism imagination can conceive. Instead of individuation you have omnipotent fusion, feeling like you’re boss of the world whilst being too afraid to step out of doors, craving adoration whilst refusing intimacy, longing for love whilst not giving a shit about other people.

Its not sustainable and secretly the privileged child knows this. Which means the world feels hostile because something has to give and it sure as hell isn’t going to be himself. He’s managed to project all his shadow onto others but in the process has parted with all his decency and integrity into the bargain. So it seems like the next guy has all the goodies, even if he’s dirt poor.

The unfairness of it all eats him up till he just wants to bring the whole world crashing down in an orgy of envious spoiling. It looks like greed but actually its deeper and more dangerous, hate of anything wholesome, anything that doesn’t need or want his silver spoon, anything that can’t be bought and paid for, love, empathy, tenderness.

So its not just that he wants to be boss. He wants to burn the house down.

Ode to Belonging..

I have just finished reading anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski’s,  ‘Crime and Custom in Savage Society’. Its riveting stuff. He went to live with pacific Trobriand Islanders in 1920 and asks, ‘how does a society without written laws, offices of law, agents of law or courts of law….keep the law?

He labours to dispel misconceptions that this comes about as a result of ‘slavish submission’ or ‘a pervading group sentiment’, though he does share that the Trobrianders believe all death to be the action of supernatural forces and that even the very old must have paid the price for stepping out of line..

which seems bound to motivate social co-operation somewhat..

Death bought on by deviance from Natural law (and sometimes because you kept too many yams for yourself) will really sharpen your mind. Your demise has something to do with you. It’s not that the Afterlife may look a particular way but that this one may not be cut too short, either by spirits you’ve offended or by someone you’ve pissed off enough to employ supernatural leverage to even the score.

A day or two after the deceased has been buried he gets dug back up in search for clues as to cause of death and sure enough subtle signs indicate that he was too free with the ladies, forgot his obligations, or failed to give the chief his due amount of fish.

Its not such a strange idea. In western culture we wonder about the symbolism of illness, the poetry of affliction, the significance of ‘untimely’ demise. In fact, no-body is allowed to die of natural causes anymore. Some demon disease is responsible, a demon which we are pitted against and working to excoriate.

Yet at the same time we know that if we aren’t square with ourselves and in good faith more or less then we invite a host of complaints down upon our heads, both internal symptom and circumstantial mischief.

So the Trobriander obeys Natural law out of self interest. Imminent grisly death by witchcraft not withstanding. When this is superceded by codified laws created by god-kings, Conscience slips underground as the Furies, or as avenging Harpies, as autonomous a denizen of the psychoanalytic couch as it is an agent of knowing-how-to-be available to both the Trobriander and to the heartwood of our own ancestral memory.

The difference between us is that though we are both driven along by unconscious forces the Trobriander is doing it out loud and with great meaning whilst we experience exactly the same thing as a neurosis, not because of the content of our beliefs or lack of them but because our allegiance will only stretch as far as code and creed.

It might be replied that the Trobriander maintains the connection with natural law at the price of ego consciousness but as Malinowski points out this is largely down to the prejudice of ethnographers who prefer not to look at the extent that personal prestige and private ambition motivate the law-abiding islanders.

”Far from being a group affair, his rights and his duties remain the concern of the individual who knows perfectly well how to look after his interests and realises he has to redeem his obligations [to do so].” B Malinowski

So, we could learn much from the Trobriander.. and from our own indigenous selves. We believe humanity to be so lacking in knowing-how-to-be, so in need of benevolent instruction that life’s rules all have to be scribbled down and applied by force, forgetting that if you scratch at the surface just a bit what you find is not just a bundle of complexes in a room filled with shadows but natural order so strong that the ‘primitive’ will often administer justice on themselves and have certain suicidal niceties to go with it.

In the West peoplewe kill themselves for similar reasons life, so that shame may seep into the fabric of life no further than than the carpet you’ve haried your kiri on. Or we have accidents subconsciously designed to appease the gods for our hubris. Or we fall sick from those poetic illnesses that attends the unexamined life or the hubris of assuming we’ve already done it..

”Inflation beckons the Raven’s claw.” alchemical saying.

So, we share the fear of sanction but the Trobriander is motivated by more than the fear of a jealous chief. He might have the resources to take you down from the inside but just having too much is an acute embarrassment. Everyone knows that you can’t have more than your fair share without it spoiling your sense of belonging and the protection this affords.

Which is why the successful hunter might not go out today. He’s loathed to deprive his mates of the joy that their meagre hunt will still bring everyone, the pleasure of feeding him for a change, the strengthening of bonds and safety in a precious feast.

The things that belong to us, our triumphs and the prestige they give rise to do not satisfy unless we in turn belong and have commensurate responsibilities. Social scientists have spent much time and effort trying to raise productivity in the modern workplace using all kinds of material incentives, evoking competitiveness, shaming stragglers.. but the most effective strategy has been shown to be one that paradoxically departs most radically from the veiw that  human being are fundamentally power hungry social climbers.

One specific experiment conducted at the Bell telephone company, one that initially sought merely to study patterns of heart disease amongst workers, accidentally discovered the roots of productive motivation..

What they discovered was that it was not the stresses of executive life that created spikes in heart disease rates, nor the grind and poverty of being on the factory floor. The worst stats were amongst college men who never made it past foreman.

They never found their true niche in life, and died of not belonging.

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Wanting to kill Yourself.

If you believed the story about Lemmings throwing themselves from cliffs, as I did, for decades, what else are you so sure of that just ain’t so?

Turns out it was a lie. Lemmings do not throw themselves from clifftops. Apparently the whole thing was invented by Walt Disney who wanted to sex up a documentary he made in 1958 called, ‘White Wilderness.” According to Canadian Wildlife and Fisheries the sets were fake, the Lemmings had to be bussed in from Manitoba where they were herded about and finally thrown, manually, into the sea. All in aid of Walt’s ‘True life adventure’ series…..

”The lemmings supposedly committing mass suicide by leaping into the ocean were actually thrown off a cliff by the Disney filmmakers.” R. Woodford.

Meantime the narrator Winston Hibbler trills,

“A kind of compulsion seizes each tiny rodent and, carried along by an unreasoning hysteria, each falls into step for a march that will take them to a strange destiny.”

The lie is as obsessively strange as the story.

http://www.adfg.alaska.gov/index.cfm?adfg=wildlifenews.view_article&articles_id=56

The fantasy is more curious and interesting than the motive for deception.

Perhaps it says more about Disney and the culture he was helping to mould than he might have wished. It is the Disney generation, after all, that have a taste for marching off cliffs like never before, not the sensible and much maligned Lemming.

Beachy Head is a favourite clifftop for Britons to kill themselves. It even has a beer named after it, ‘Beachy Head’s Christmas Jumper, critisised by families of the deceased as ‘insensitive’. The clifftop is patrolled by chaplains who are about to be de-funded despite awards from the Queen. A gift shop in town sells sombre writing pads of just a few leaves and disposable pens with black ink.

No, that last bits not true, about the shop.

After several tours of combat duty what began to weigh upon me most heavily was not the horror of war, nor what I had done, or seen, or had levelled at me. It was how easy it had been to persuade me to march from the cliff top even without any great desperation to die or madly scribbled goodbyes.

Do we have a ‘death instinct’ as a species, or is there something peculiar about a culture that immolates itself on a steady basis? Recently released statistics of US service suicides show that troops are actually killing themselves at a higher rate than are killed by Isis, though the figures seem to be consistent with a shocking three-fold increase in US civilian suicides since 2000.

What is going on?

You might be tempted, along with Walt’s phoney commentator, to postulate that sudden increases in suicides were about overpopulation or some dire tragedy unfolding so desperate we’d die to avoid it, but the evidence points to the contrary. Countries with the lowest GPU and the toughest lives are also the least at risk from suicide. Psychoanalyst and Auchwitz survivor Bruno Bettleheim made the observation of physical and mental extremis that …

‘Despite the inhuman deprivation in the camps there was scarcely ever a suicide.’ B. Bettleheim.

Others are of the opinion that suicide is an act of revenge.

”It is always consoling to think of suicide. In that way one gets through many a bad night.” F. Nietzsche.

though in all fairness Fredrick, a dose of tertiary syphilis combined with the terminal mercury poisoning used to treat the 19th C pecker would wear down anyone’s will to live.

There is a fantastic movie called, ‘Drowning by Numbers,’ a macabre look at the vast grey area between murdering yourself and murdering others. It puts an astute line into the mouth of Smut, an adolescent boy in a family of killers and sycophants who finally hangs himself with a skipping rope,

”to punish all those who have caused great unhappiness by their selfish actions.” Smut

all of which would seem to bear out the anonymous saying..

‘when you commit suicide you are killing the wrong person.’

‘Retroflected’ rage is rage turned back upon oneself, but with the intent to castigate those left behind. I’ve known several people to be saved from suicide by realising how much they wanted to (justifiably) kill their nearest and dearest.

The wish to kill oneself is what Marion Woodman would call, ‘concretisation’, doing on the outside what needs to happen on the inside, doing in the flesh what needs to happen in the psyche, making a symbolic equation between matter and identity. We mistake the pointing finger for the moon and believe it is ourselves that have to die rather than our situation, our self-construct, or a belief system that no longer serves.

”Without dying to the world of the old order, there is no place for renewal, because it is illusory to hope that growth is but an additive process requiring neither sacrifice nor death. The soul favors the death experience to usher in change. Veiwed this way, the suicidal impulse is a transformative drive..”            James Hillman.

There’s an old buddhist saying,..

”if you are going to kill yourself be careful not to harm your body.” anon.

The dying has to happen, by itself, from within. This is trixy for anyone with humungous control issues. In fact, you could say that suicide was a way of trying to cheat death itself by taking on the job ahead of time, when what life you have, when death itself, cannot be something to look forward to as meaningful experience. Suicide is a logical choice of any life lived purely for its own ends and for whom there is no mystery.

On page one of a Google search on the subject you will find www.findangel.org/‎ whose banner runs..

‘Do not try to predict the future,’

It’s an insightful warning to those in their legion whose narcissistic control issues are so enfragiled that they have to know what’s happening next all the time, even to the point of orchestrating their own demise.

‘Live as though you had centuries, then you live hopefully.’ C. G.Jung

We all intuit that there is more to this life than meets the eye, some mystery that the mind cannot fathom, some sense of self that lies outside time and space, unconstrained by the clay of mortal frailty. We have a longing to be aquainted with this realm and can be tempted to hurry the process for want of being fed in ‘this’ world,  forgetting that anything existing outside time and space is, by definition, already here….

The longing to escape is the longing to find meaning irrespective of one’s circumstance and station, meaning which the ego realises it cannot provide for itself, in which it is defeated, but of which it can avail itself by turning, finally, to its own deep roots.

You are the tree not the leaf.

There is an apocryphal story of a Rabbi and his group picked out for torture before death in the Nazi camps. They finally had to dig the pit of their own mass grave. They were stripped and thrown in. Soldiers stepped forward cocking automatic Shmeisers.

‘Well’, said the captain, what have you to say now Rabbi?

The Rabbi replied, ‘ We have one another down here, I am in the bossom of my People and already in the arms of Eternal Life. What about you?’

this article is adapted from my book on self-destructiveness, ‘Going Mad to Stay Sane.’ http://andywhiteblog.com/2016/06/11/going-mad-to-stay-sane-2/

Healing the Narcissistic Wound.

Despite the prevelance of Narcissism in our culture, the literature offers little to help us understand how such things have come about.

We have to turn to more ancient, deeper sources of wisdom.

“Myths are a primordial language…  psychic phenomena that reveal the nature of the soul…. healing the conflicts which threaten the child.” CG Jung

So we refer back to myths as a form of public dreaming in order to become reaquainted with our preverbal experience, that within our individuality that likewise seems lost in the mists of time.

”Myths are clues… that have to do with deep inner problems. They carry rich, live, vivifying information [so that] experience will have resonance to our own inmost being and reality.” J Campbell.

A myth that gives us some clues to the problem of Narcissism can be found in the story of Hercules. It describes not only the resolution to psychopathic behaviour but helps us to see how and why it manifests in the first instance.

We will turn to the well known  labours shortly but lets begin with the circumstances of Hercules early life in order to get a sense of the provisional life that besets Narcissism and why it is that creativity and relationships are so problematic.

Hercules’ problems start very young. He is the child of queen Alcmene of Tiryns and the God Zeus. Hera, Zeus’ wife, was none to happy about this. Even though he had been named after her as a gesture of appeasment she vowed revenge….

Alcmene, fearing Hera’s retribution, abandons the child Hercules in a field hoping the gods will take care of him.

The disenfranchisment of the Divine Feminine is sweeping across the known world. Everywhere the goddess is being unseated, cast out and humiliated. A wedge has been driven between women and their sacred counterpart so that mother/infant relations have become unbearably strained.

On the one hand Hercules is ‘special’, the son of Zeus. On the other he is deprived of nurture and care. Alcmene invests all her spiritual longing into her redeemer son. She needs him to fill the gaping hole in her psyche where once her sacred femininity was lodged and with which she is now hopelessly at odds.

Meantime Hercules struggles with being the contradiction of being the future lord of all Greece whilst being left forgotten in the dusty stubble.

By chance, Hera and Athene wander by and see the child. Hera, unaware of his identity, picks him up and suckles him, but he sucks so hard that she  throws him down in anger. Athene, more patiently, takes the child to Tiryns and gives him to Alcmene to be bought up as a foundling. Alcmene, overjoyed, hopes the three drops of milk that Hercules has managed to suck will preserve him from Hera’s ill-will.

Its not to be. Hera finds out what has happened. She’s furious and sends two pythons to kill the baby while he sleeps.

”One suspects that there is often a kernel of truth in paranoid delusion.”       S. Freud

The raging goddess, once the archetypal container of infancy, is now dead set against the child. Her devaluation by Zeus throws her into revolt and overwhelms the maternal instinct to care and protect.

Hercules becomes the proto-type of the deprived child.

As our story indicates, emotional deprivation is not simply the absence of nurture. The emotional vacuum is constued as an aggressive attack the best expression of which is paranoid fantasy. Something, somewhere is trying to get me.

”Maternal failures produce reactions which interrupt going-on-being and [constitute] a threat of annihilation.” D Winnicott.

The snakes symbolise the intrusive, cold-blooded, devouring quality of emotional deprivation lived out on a human scale by the curious detail that Alcmene now raises her son as if he were a foundling. She is a mother playing at being a mother which can only produce a child pretending to be himself.

This pretence is what RD Laing calls ‘elusion’. He quotes an example from Sarte of the waiter in a cafe who is not ‘in’ what he is doing. He is somehow not himself. Not that he is pretending to be someone else, which would be less confusing, but insofar as he is pretending to be himself. He is playing at being a waiter in a cafe and has that touch-me-not quality of Narcissus.

”He is never invested, never completely interested, never “all in”.  From fear and diffidence, he always keeps the essential part of himself out.” K. O’Brian.

I pretend I am not pretending to pretend….

Hera’s snakes are an envious double bind, an attack on both the  burdensome dependence and the dismissive autonomy of the child. Her devalued status makes her cling to him and try to live through the child whose own destiny and unique unfolding gets in the way. Whatever he does he cannot get it right.

In my family this took the form of the contradictory injunctions,

‘If you don’t ask, you don’t want.’

and

”I want doesn’t get.’

There is no way around such a double-bind. Like the twin snakes it can choke the life, or at least the aliveness out of you. Mother, in urgent need to elude ambivalence and pretend not to be pretending reads the ensuing ..

”extraordinary passivity and listlessness as satiation.” G Miller.

It gets worse. The child, faced with mother going through the motions of being herself must follow suit and tie himself up in the knots of pretending to be a small boy. Such pretense must exclude creative possibility since..

”any striving is construed as malign ingratitude..” ibid

I dreamt I was in a jail, like out of a spaghetti western with bars all down one side against which I was smashing a club, screaming to be let out. Behind me, lying down on a bunk with his hat pulled over his eyes is, ‘the-man-with-no-name’. He says,

”door’s open you know”…

I throw down the club and cower in a corner… terrified at the thought that I could leave at any time..

The dream shocked me. I thought I was mature. I thought I was free and creative, despite my substance abuse at the time and the fact that I had no greater aspiration than to turn admiring heads at the traffic lights with my expensive motorcycle….

I thought I was living the bohemian life..

and so long as the life I was living was not my own I could coast along unchallenged..

secure in the knowledge that family and friends would eternally excuse my narcissistic life style and save me from the real world.

The fact was that all this being let off the hook was not the loving indulgence I took it for but rather the active witholding of Life’s Rule Book in order that I continue to accept the constrictions with which I had been raised.

My abberant lifestyle was not ‘rebellion’ at all, but a profound yet hidden conformity that my own destiny was a taboo for which I was both under-resourced and had no permit.

May as well go and pilfer the drug store..

or start a fight.

There’s nothing else to do.

Hercules does not have to play by the rules. Its his compensation for having his soul hi-jacked. And because no-one will discipline him or be sufficiently involved to teach him the ropes he is effectively caged and feral despite being given ‘every advantage’. One day kills his music teacher Linus for daring to correct his playing and instead of having to face the consequences his family spirit him off to the countryside where he can continue to be symbiotically attached to mother by whom he is..

”worshipped like a god and denigrated like a demon.” D Mathers

Hercules is not allowed to grow up. His psychopathic behaviour increases. He goes mad and kills his children in a fit brought on by the hidden hand of Hera, determined that he should not have his own life or live in his own world.

Fortunately, Hercules now has to pay his dues. He becomes depressed and accepts being sent into the service of Eurystheus, his cousin, who makes him perform many labours, a metaphor for the hard work of the psychotherapeutic process.

He has to become aquainted with all his split off aggression symbolised by the Nemean lion, the Cretan bull, the Styphalian birds, his bullshit symbolised by the filthy stables of Augeus, the Hydra that hides in the swamps of his unlived potential.

He has also to realise his own spiritual gifts, all those aspects of his own soulfullness he’s had to put on one side in order to be a vessel for others. These are represented by his task to fetch the Golden Apples of the Hesperides whose whereabouts are hidden deep in the Unconscious that require a night sea journey in a great cauldron for a boat. The metaphor is one of being slowly cooked, being transformed and being able to be taken in.

But Hercules doesn’t quite make it. Despite his successful labours he is tricked by the centaur Nessus who gives his second wife Deianira a poison tunic to give him should his affections wane, which you could pretty much count on given his habitual lack of relatedness.

The tunic consumes him….

and he throws himself on a pyre begging for death.

Then, as now,  your clothes are statements of identity, embodiments of personae. The poison tunic is an identity not one’s own, that stifles soul and gives rise to self destruction.

”Unlived life does not sit idly on the shelf. It will turn around and bite you” ML von Franz.

The great tragedy for the narcissist is not just the poverty of his early years but that it renders him so hogtied when faced with the enormity of his own potential. The first words I ever said as a client in therapy were, ‘I have more energy than I know what to do with.”

”The possibility that a once great capacity for positive living and other potentialities may have played some part in the development of psychopathy.. is worthy of careful consideration…. in reverse they might deserve the estimate of genius.” H Cleckley.

So the narcissist is doubly burdened, firstly by all the split off rage, confusion and pain at being un-mothered and secondly by the creative tension in him that demands expression.

The bonus is that all the material he has to integrate is already his own authentic Self. The difficulty is that he is at one and the same time much smaller than his puffed up image of himself, yet much bigger inside than he could imagine.

If we can accept that our own labours are noble and redeeming, worth doing for their own sake, that our creativity will both unhinge and restore us, that there is meaning and aliveness in suffering, we might fare better than Hercules who at the very least gave us a template for our own experience.

The Soulful Sacrifice. 4.

One of my most impressive childhood memories is of the Vervet monkey cage at Mundawanga Park just south of Lusaka in Zambia. I was ten and we were having a family day out. The Vervets were all I can recall of that day. They had the biggest nobs you ever saw. And played with them constantly. As well as pinching my brother’s fruit pastilles. Straight from his pocket. Hermes would have been proud.

What were they up to? It clearly wasn’t proper monkey behaviour and come to think of it they all looked suitably embarrased whilst carrying on as though smitten with terminal viagra. After a while, about thirty years, I realised that they were chronically overcrowded and had resorted to an unusual stratagem to alleviate their situation.

Everyone knows that masturbation is a private thing not to be intruded upon or interrupted and so each Vervet had managed to augment his greatly diminished territory  with the psychological space derived from being deeply erotically involved with himself. No-one would be rude enough to broach such a sacred institution. Psychological space held them where physical territory had failed.

Without psychological space the Vervets would not have faired so well. They look comical and foolish maybe but they had also ensured a degree of going-on-being that worked more or less.

Such a neurotic solution is a kind of trade off, a kind of three steps forward and two steps back dance number in which all parties get to make it through to the end of the song without being stabbed in the neck.

which is always useful.

even if you look ridiculous.

Projecting our inner nobility out into the world, burdening some poor shmuck who can never live up to archetypal expectations, is a neurotic solution not unlike the Vervets. It alleviates the crush of personal responsibility and the trials of Individuation but everyone gets to behave strangely in the process.

”If we stop looking for persons to put in power, there will be no more jealousies among the people.” Lao Tzu

The gift of the inner king once we’ve stopped looking for persons to put in power, is psychological space, internal elbow room, the square foot house in the square inch field, a capacity to reflect and pay attention that is not tied to circumstance or the governance of outer kings.

So its a big mistake to go unseating them in a big show of gore and torch bearing because that is just more of the same enacted story, ”the king must die..

long live the king!”

What’s actually required is the kind of exchange we find in Greek mythology between Hermes and Apollo after Zeus has laughed off Hermes’ theft of Apollo’s cattle. Once Apollo understands that it is in Hermes’ nature to rob people of their collectivity, their herd-like nature, he stops being angry. Having endured and understood the significance of his loss there is a kind of flowering in the space between them,

”The cause of the blooming of all things, with your resonant lyre you command the axis of the heavens, Placing all in harmony, Tempering all the poles.”  Orphic hymn to Apollo

In turn, Apollo gives Hermes the golden Cadeuces, symbol of healing and of being  Zeus’ messenger.

This exchange of symbolic treasures between the two constitutes what I find  useful to think of as a ‘transitional gesture’. Life is never the same again. Something has opened up.

A man dreams that he is the impoverished heir of an old family castle. Reduced in circumstances, he now acts as a guide to the Crumbling Pile, his life a treadmill of repetition. Finally, he is seeing off the last coach trip of the day. He leans back, exhausted, against a wall which suddenly and shockingly collapses, to reveal a great hall within… indeed, upon which his castle has been built, a great hall full of golden beings who burst into song as he tumbles through, inconceivable harmonies, unimaginable symphony..

Hermes, ever one to prank the complacent, has tapped the wall with his Cadeuces and creates some perspective for our bored hero, inviting him across a threshold that brings with it a new interior that wants its own song to be sung.

”There is what I want to think and there is what wants to be thought.” Hiedeggar.

To be able to entertain the song that wants to be sung is to return to the peace, protection and confidence of natural law.. one that is renewed by the transitional gesture of sacrifice, the making of sacred gifts..

”Give me my mouth, I want to talk. My two hands cling like ancestors. My lips are red as ox blood. Give me raisin cakes and beer. Bless me with ancient dreams. Give me songs green as earth.” Giving a mouth to Osiris, Egyptian book of the Dead

The Gods hunger for symbolic gestures for the want of which they will settle for your children. The raisin cakes, or what have you, made with proptious intent, offered in quiet dignity, will do more than open up inner space. It will innoculate you against the compulsion to make unconscious sacrifices.

When blind Oedipus arrives at the sacred grove of Colonus he makes a ritual gesture to the Furies and says, ‘done the right way, an offering may save ten thousand.’ How is that possible? Because ritual life cuts across the collective knee jerk impulse to send its Youth to war for the sake of preserving god-kings beyond their tenure.

How laughable that our culture thinks of itself as so evolved whilst enduring continuous war. Its like Spartans boasting the equality of the sexes, whilst lording a brutal, deadly grip over slave populations ten times their number.

You could call it hypocricy but it’s actually a split, the intensification of Us-and-Them in place of I-and-Thou proliferates like plague once someone can be conned into being king for a day. The gods must be appeased for the priviledge and for want of raisin cakes and ox blood, paint their lips with sap from the Nation’s finest and gouge great holes in the land.

Sometimes transitional gestures happen by themselves. When they do, all that’s really required is to jump up and down about it. I was in a very remote region of Africa, in a crowded smoky hut with a dozen or so locals who hadn’t seen white folks before and to ease the tension someone produced homebrew which I clumsily spilt as soon as it was passed to me. The place erupted and for a moment I thought I was in serious trouble but it turned out that such a great offering to the ancestors meant many of them were present to sanction the occasion and so everyone was immediately friends despite the absence of shared language or culture..

or beer.

The idea of transitional objects is more familiar, typically the magical comforts of early childhood used to create both a separation and a bond, things that somehow constitutes both me and not-me, by which we condense I and thou from fusion with mother. The child’s bear, the special blanket, a twist of cloth imbued with protective significance create an experience of belonging-with and yet distinct-from, the uncannyness of a strange familiar that opens up ‘transitional space’,

”that space of experiencing between the inner and outer worlds, and contributed to by both, in which primary creativity exists and can develop.” D Winnicott 1951

the in-between that includes the sum of the parts.

”In this space, one finds the most authentic and creative aspects of our personal and communal existence, including artistic, scientific, and religious expression.” Laura Praglin

Transitional gesture, something that happens or is done to clear a sacred space, invites new possibility, evoking a response from the Unconscious.

”Look how the charm rests in the hands of Men. I must look at it. Its silence fills me up. It gives power to my hands, light to my feet. It fills my head with heat.” Giving charms to Osiris, Egyptian book of the Dead.

The usefullness of the transitional gesture in containing collective violence is demonstrated by the tradition of ‘counting coup’ among Plains Indians  in North America. This practice was a way of waging war on your neighbour without anyone getting killed, with the intention of gaining honour and prestige rather than horses…

though the horses were also good..

Each warrior carried a coup stick shaped much like a shepherds crook. If you could touch an enemy with it and get away unscathed your entire worldveiw and status would change forever. People would look at you different. You could wear an eagle’s feather in your hair and stories of your exploits would be told round the fire, the unfurling of sacralised space,

”leading to the whole area of mass inheritance and the accumulated culture of the last five to ten thousand years.” D. Winnicott.

You belong.

For as long as we have our kings on the outside and imbue them with the soul’s authority then transitional gestures will be concretised in the form of punitive executive orders and compulsive warfare that consumes its sacrificial victims no less than the obsidian knife.

Sacrifices have to be made in life. Both Hermes and Apollo part with their precious things, not least of all the notion of what constitutes justice.. If we do not make our own sacrifices in the form of relinquishing the fantasy that the ego runs anything in the Psyche larger than a stapler, or the insistence that life should be fair, then sacrifices will find their way into our lives by alternative means.

What cannot come in by the door must come in through the window.

The Soulful Sacrifice. 3.

In the Gnostic tradition there is a parable that the simple man goes home wondering what is for tea. The complicated man goes home wondering about the contradictions of life and the vastness of the cosmos. The wise man goes home, like the simple man, wondering what is for tea.

The three men represent distinctly different ways of being. The simple man thinks that the world is what he knows of it. To him self-fulfilment is about acheiving his own ends and filling his belly.

The complicated man has lost his appetite because he is plagued by all kinds of things that never bothered him before. He has the sneaky feeling that he is not the master of his own house. In fact he experiences sudden yawning depths in himself he had no inking of when he got up that morning and is all perplexed and turned about. The wise man has let go of trying to figure it all out but only by virtue of racking his brains to the point of exhaustion and allowing in the prospect of mystery..

”not as a cloak for ignorance but as an admission of his inability to translate what he knows into the speech of intellect.” C G Jung

It is the first two men and the transition from one to the other that concerns us. What happens when cosy self sufficiency is suddenly ripped open?  What inner storms must rage when the dustbin you took for the Unconscious contains a sentient beast that not only looks back but meets your gaze and gestures something? What happens when your fear of looking within because of what you will find there becomes the fear of what you will become as a result?

Not all change and growth is by steady increment, though that is difficult enough. There are also the paradigm shifts that change the very way you see things let alone what it is that’s on veiw.

Mostly what we conceive of as ‘resistance’ has to do with facing unpleasant things from the past that won’t stay there, stuff that’s not quite done with us.

 

But then there is the encounter with That which has never been conscious.

I once spoke to a man who had fallen into crisis out of the blue. He was successful and had a stable life but now felt unaccountably panicky, agoraphobic, anxious…

but also angry with himself for feeling so lost, ”Its ridiculous,” he said, ”I feel like I’m lost on a village pond in a row boat”. I could help him directly by pointing out that he’d mistaken the body of water concerned since he was in fact very much at sea and couldn’t help but be lost. Much cheered he begin to learn some navigation and piloting skills.

Realising you are not master of your own house presupposes one who is. One who is also identified with the Gods, the experience of which is a kind of death..

or at least the adrenalin of forty foot waves.

”The merely natural man must die in part during his own lifetime. He will infallibly run into his Unconscious, a fatality he has no inkling of until it overtakes him.” C. G. Jung

This brush with the Self, if it were confined to an event repleat with marquee and canapes, might be tolerable enough. We could give it a name and have a fancy ceremony to try and contain its impact upon us. But it has a way of happening by itself in all kinds of unforseen circumstances that cannot be prepared for.

Ritual, humanity’s response to the Gods, may go some way to contain the de-integrating effects of Zeus’ messenger but it is in the nature of the Self to bust in on consciousness under its own steam leaving the ego deflated and deposed in a way that can feel like eviseration.

Marie-Louise von Franz describes the experience of waking from a dream in which the sense of Inner Other was undeniable,’ I pulled my knees up under my chin and stayed in bed all day.”

She also spoke about her first encounter with Jung at a party aged nineteen. She straightway told him a dream that she had gone to the moon adding, ‘wouldn’t it be wonderful to go to the moon?’ ‘But you have been’, he replied, ‘did you experience it or not?”

She walked away in some shock thinking, ‘either he is mad, or it will take me twenty years to understand what he just said.”

I was at a party once. Someone had prepped a very heavily made up young woman that I was a psychotherapist. She made a bee-line for me and, without qualification, launched in…

”I met a baby dragon in the woods. I took it home and looked after it. When it was grown I released it into the woods again but the villagers came up and beat it to death!’

By now she was crying loudly, the mascara streaming down her cheeks. Everybody staring.

‘What does a dragon mean?’

Do you see,’ I asked, ‘how you just beat it to death?”

Nominal acknowledgment of the Unconscious is a form of suppression because it stays at the level of it being interesting garbage. She didn’t want to know the dragon. She wanted to know about the dragon. She wanted to turn it over in her hand, for it to be an object of consciousness. I knew another woman who ‘had’ a dragon. She hugged it, she said. ‘And paid the price,’ I replied, indicating the livid rash covering her throat and chest, the motivation for her referral. She knew it was psychosomatic but hadn’t quite grasped how.

Dragon burn.

Poor woman. Letting that in is a kind of Copernican revolution of the Soul. The church fathers locked Galileo up for years after they had accepted the maths involved. They just couldn’t accept that they were not the centre of the Universe and that God might be involved elsewhere. Their worlds were turned upside down.

”The personality becomes so vastly enlarged that the normal ego personality is almost extinguished.” C. G. Jung.

Mythologically speaking this dawning awareness is like the sudden descent of Hermes into everyday life. He’s a very disruptive chap. Kicks up a lot of dust, all winged helmet and sandals in your goods. And he steals things. So hang on to your stuff.

It won’t do any good. Bit by bit he will nick whatever you have, your preconceptions and comfy prejudices, your smug delusions, fancy self constructs and pet vanities, your belt and trousers…

So skilled a purloiner of valuables is Hermes that he even managed to steal Apollo’s cattle when he was a mere baby. Eventually Apollo found him out and dragged him of to their father Zeus for punishment. Zeus lets the boy go providing he return the herd. Stealing and trixiness are Hermes’ game.

There’s something inevitable about crossing life’s thresholds that is going to feel like being robbed. Apollo is peeved but forgets that, as messenger of the Gods, Hermes is the executive arm of Zeus himself who has given him the job of messing with his brother to remind Apollo, whose name means ‘assembly within the limits of the square’, of Hermes’ divine perogative to disrupt  boundaries and to turn assemblies on their head.

Hermes shows up when we get to the edge of ourselves, when the way forward is unknown and Other. Whilst He,

”is the creator of new spaces, secret spaces of subtle interiority.” M Stein
so is he also a trickster of betwixt and between that redraws the map and your place upon it.
”the boundary line is a space itself, which can open into a new space and which is permeable to the other spaces.” ibid
handy if you are a seventh level mage armed with magical crystals, wounding and potentially lethal to your carefully laid plans if not.

So, the inner king also slays, but from within. He flays identity in a process the alchemists describe as the mortificatio, attended by what is cheerfully described as ,’the torments’.

‘cutting up the limbs, dividing them into smaller and smaller pieces,  mortifying the parts and changing them into the nature that is the stone.’ quoting Hermes from the Rosarium.

When Innana descends to her dark and queenly sister Erishkigal she is deprived of a layer of clothing at every gate and has to arrive naked and bowed where she is killed and hung up on a meat hook. You wouldn’t wish it upon your worst enemy let alone undergo something similar yourself.

The Gnostics use the metaphor of a hyle of wheat that dies to itself when placed in the ground and the dormant mojo that follows.

and of course something does follow. Life, Jim, but not as we know it. And only after Hermes has had his way with you.

Then, new life does come

”A death blow is a life blow to some, who till they died did not alive become, who had they lived did most surely die…. but when they died, vitality began.” Emily Dickinson.

The story of Hermes and Apollo ends well. Hermes gives Apollo his sacred tortoise shell lyre and Apollo replies by gifting his young brother with the golden Cadeuces. symbol of the messenger that traverses between. And so what starts out as disorienting mindless prank pans out as creative exchange and renewed trust.

What concerns us here, however, is not that they all lived happily ever after but that there is a link to be made between enduring the loss of one’s inner bearings and the fruitfullness of life.

Likewise, between the depradation of outer kings and the Elysian fields of dull normalcy and docile self satisfaction we are then permitted to graze, free of concerns and responsibilities, without thought of your unadventure or anything so discomfiting as being deposed from within.

Inventing a system of leaders who are obliged to be tyrants, looks like a really poor choice of evolutionary development. After all, survival of the fittest also means being able to make it until tommorow.

On the other hand, who needs an encounter with Hermes? He’ll take all your stuff. He messes with your identity and can make you feel like a worm..

or like God

or both.

At least with outer kings what you see is what you get. Let them deal with Hermes. Lets watch and laugh as he fills the Jackass with inflated godliness. Then lets commiserate and console one another when vengeful hooves come flailing down on sacrificial substitutes, united in grievance, riteous in contempt.

”The psychological rule says that when an inner situation is not made conscious, it happens outside, as fate. That is to say, when the individual remains undivided and does not become conscious of his inner opposite, the world must perforce act out the conflict and be torn into opposing halves”. C G Jung

Its also fair to say that before you can truly integrate something it has to be projected so that you can find a way of both dealing with it whilst denying it, a kind of neurotic solution to a situation you can only glimpse at out of the corner of one eye if it is not to rip you to pieces.

The Soulful Sacrifice. 2

Aztec kings found a way of silencing calls for their entrails to be removed once their alloted time was up by finding an handsome substitute and dressing him up like the god Tezcatlipoca. They made it an annual event. His skin would be painted black. He would wear a flower crown, a seashell breastplate, and lots of jewelry.

He was given four beautiful wives. His only duties were to walk through the town playing a flute and smelling flowers so that the people could honor him.

When 12 months had passed, he would walk up the stairs of a great pyramid, breaking his flutes as he went. As an adoring crowd watched, a priest would help him lie down on a long altar made of stone. Then they’d rip his heart out.

Afterward, they would pick a new Tezcatlipoca and start all over again.

King Aun of Sweden (C6th B.C.)  decided he didn’t fancy ritual dismemberment and prayed to Odin for a way out. Odin replied that he could live for as long as he sacrificed a son every twelve years. This he did, sending nine sons to their deaths. The Swedes prevented him from killing the last and tenth, so Aum died and was buried at Upsala.

On the other side of the World from Upsala the kings of Cambodia and Jambi would ritually sacrifice sons in their place, neatly buying time and eliminating the competition in the same breath, for who better qualified to serve as a substitute than one endowed with the very same qualities of potential kinglyness that make him a deadly threat?

Rather than repair his relationship with Artemis whose deer he killed, Agamemnon sacrifices his daughter Iphigenia in order to secure a different agenda than the goddess intended…

and went to war.

Violence is going to erupt in any society where the instinctive rules governing whether killing is murder have been eroded by the king’s inflation to the point where everyone is alien and excluded from the circle of compassion.  When citizens are unprotected by natural law, when they can be disposed of with impunity, they soon begin to harbour the wish to become a god/king themselves., domestic tyrants, small time bullies, lunch money bandidos.

And of course the Christian tradition is also built on the sacrifice of the son so that others may live….and should have a mention since it promises to make immortal kings of us all..

It may well be true that

‘war is about rich old men protecting their property by sending middle and lower class men off to die.” G Carlin

but the politics of war get an extra twist when you take into account less conscious considerations, the consolidation of power by delegating to sacrificial substitutes the priviledge of dying for their country.

All of which raises more questions than answers. Particularly, how on earth can it be an evolutionary advantage to have a system governed by leaders that have a vested interest in the demise of their people?

Queen Ranavalona ‘the Cruel’ (b 1778) of Madagascar managed to bump off tens of thousands of her beloved people using a ‘trial’ of poisoned chicken to determine worthy subjects from those designated as offerings to the gods.

If you didn’t cough up the chicken, you died. If not by poison then by a knife kept handy for the occasion.

Many loyal subjects took the poison trial of their own free will to demonstrate the purity of their hearts or to be taken up as the gods willed it. During her reign Ranavalona managed to kill such great numbers of her subjects that early travellers foolish enough to stay for longer than the time it took to take on supplies commented on the empty streets.

Her afforts were successful and she died of natural causes at a ripe old age.

Elsewhere in the world, sacrificial victims designated to lengthen the days of the king and bring fertility to the land also seemed to be okay with the arrangement.

Amongst the Aztecs, the sacrificial victim..

”had such a quantity of prescribed duties that it is difficult to imagine how the accompanying festival would have progressed without some degree of compliance on their part. For instance, victims were expected to bless children, greet and cheer passers-by, hear people’s petitions to the gods, visit people in their homes, give discourses and lead sacred songs, processions and dances.” Carrasco.

The conquistadors Cortés and Alvarado found that some of the sacrificial victims they freed “indignantly rejected [the] offer of release and demanded to be sacrificed.”

In fact the Aztecs went to war amongst themselves in a ritualised form of combat specifically designed to capture men for sacrifice. They were euphemistically called the ‘Flower wars’ and all combatants knew the rules and consequences of getting nabbed…

”The public spectacle of sacrificing warriors from conquered states was a major display of political power, supporting the claim of the ruling classes to divine authority.” ibid

Stalin took it a step further and sacrificed two million or more of his own troops taken German prisoner by refusing to repatriate them and killing off those who tried to return under their own steam in the gulags..

or by firing squad. All men captured were officially made an enemy of the state by Stalin’s infamous article 270. They were the Other, Zeks, unprotected by natural law, unwitting sacrifices to the maw of Uncle Joe, killed in their millions.

How much of Hitler’s crushing of the Jews and other minorities was about his own need to sacrifice to and appease unspecified Gods? After all, when he invaded Austria the only thing he wanted from Vienna was the spear head of Longinus, fabled totem that pierced the body of Christ, magically conferring kingly power upon whomever possessed it..

Now owned by the Pope..

Closer to home we have Mr Trump whose spiritual advisor Paula White says about him, ”When you are fighting against the plan of God, you are fighting against the hand of God.”

High Priest Pastor Jeffries praised Trump’s aggression as a function of Divine Will, ‘The Bible is clear, God has given Trump authority to take out Kim Jong-Un”

Which Bible verse is he refering to?

”There is no authority except that which God has established”..Romans 13 1-4.

In other words, just by virtue of being in office, he has the right to rule by divine fiat and with an iron fist. As we have seen, this exacerbates the experience of strangeness within borders that were once the very definition of amity for those they contained. Sacrificial subgroups are made less than citizen and war drums beat for the cleansing blood of the Nation’s sons.

Which brings back the question, how come we arranged this for ourselves?

What animal society would accept such circumstances whereby everyone’s safety is eternally compromised, where belonging is eroded, creativity degraded, opportunity diminished?

There just has to be a pay off. But what?

It’s not good enough to say that people are simply subjected to tyrants and have to endure them mindlessly for centuries at a time. , or at least from 9 to 5.

“And how we burned in the camps later thinking, what would things have been like, if people had  understood…that they had nothing left to lose and had boldly set up in the downstairs hall an ambush of half a dozen people with axes, hammers, pokers or whatever else was at hand? …We didn’t love freedom enough [and so] purely and simply deserved everything that happened afterward.” Solzhenitsyn.

If its true that we get the leaders we deserve then we might well look about us and ask along with Les Hayman..

”How many mirrors did we have to break, black cats did we have to pass, and ladders did we have to walk under to deserve this?”

Much as the depradations of modern kings catch our attention sufficient to evoke responses quite in keeping with the tradition of doing them in once in a while,  our insistence on having them in the first place must surely grab our attention.

Do we just want to be led at any price? Is our capacity to identify with powerful others so great that its worth being crushed by them? Are we inherently sado-masochistic?

In the course of puzzling over such conundrums we would do well to remember that the evolution of a species doesn’t care to much for the fate of its individual members, neither the king nor those sacrificed on his divine behalf.

The Soulful Sacrifice. 1.

When milk bottles were first introduced, Blue-tits learned how to take the tops off pretty quickly. But the truly impressive aspect of their door step robberies was that they managed to communicate the secret to one another faster than Blue-tits can fly.

How did they do it?

Whatever the answer, Blue-tits are not the only species to have this knack of manifesting collective change without crib notes or peeking over one another’s shoulder.

Give or take a few centuries, humans all over the world changed the structures of their societies without confering nicely or resorting to the pointy end of something more persuasive.

We invented kings and queens.

The characteristics of this new type of leader differed markedly from those that preceeded them. They may look like chiefs with their rides pimped but there are important differences that have an impact on culture and consciousness difficult to get your head around.

”This was not simply a quantative extension of a ranking system, it was a truly qualitative change by which society had entered a new realm.” P V Kirch

These new leaders emerged simultaneously in cultures that had no bearing or influence upon one another which suggests that something greater was at work than big hairy blokes with extra pointy beards wanting a crown.

But what?

Whether you take the Egyptian Pharaohs, or the ancient kingdoms of West Africa, early European lineages or the far-flung Aztec and Chinese emperors from whom they were entirely isolated, there are aspects of this new fangled system of resplendent dudes in metal hats so common to all that you’d think they’d copied each other’s homework.

All agreed, there was to be a fundamental change in how humans got on together with ramifications for Collective Consciousness we can scarcely suspect.

or is that scaredly?

or sacredly?

Superficially, kings meant centralised power, more rigid hierarchies, increased divisions of labour and more highly organised economies. But the most important difference, the most impactful on their subjects, was a shift in the value of human life and the rules about who you can kill without calling it murder…

so you’ll be pleased to know that Kings are only recent inventions.

”The way of life we now take for granted and on the foundations of which we have built civilizations, occupies but one percent of the time of the big-brain’s preoccupation.” R. Ardrey.

We tend to think of kings as something that belongs to history and by which we are no longer affected. In fact it’s the other way around. The institution is very recent and pervades the very viscera of modern life.

Far from being ousted by revolutions or the democratic aspirations of suitably frightened subjects, kings adapted as only the very youthful can. They went underground, as our serf like devotions to the rich and famous, as the farce of rule by deep state oligarchs, as the proliferation of corruption and being above the law whose daily tabloid shenanigins, violent exploits and eternal wars are just the kind of court intrigue you’d expect from period drama.

There are a number of important differences between chiefs and kings, with consequences for those grovelling nearest, but there is one that stands alone in its impact upon us because it affects our perception of what it means to be human.

Not only is the king a political ruler, he is also the high priest and most significant for those within reach, an incarnation of State-Your-Prefered-Deity-Here. Again, you might imagine this to be some amusing footnote of history, a witty anecdote from The Golden Bough and yet its widely accepted by considerable swathes of people in our time that might has right. The powerful are ordained by and represent God. In everyday life this trickles down and manifests in the wider populace as the feeling that, by virtue of your allegiance, you too are special and/or entitled to be exempt and above the law.

‘I like to be offensive”, said a Charlottesville supremacist. After all, what is the point of being above the law if you don’t demonstrate it once in a while? In fact what other way is there to make the point?

The archives of Ethography are rich in examples of how animals of all kinds obey a natural law which distinguishes between neighbour and stranger. This is so that the aggression necessary for survival within a species does not spill over into communal violence. Snakes won’t use their fangs when they fight. The anxiety of the young male baboon to join a new troop is not just for acceptance but for protection. Herring gulls will erupt into a frenzy of squawking and tear up great lumps of grass when anger boils over, without ever resorting to their rapier sharp beaks.

People are the same..

”All known societies make a distinction between murder, the killing of member’s of one’s own group – and the killing of outsiders.” G. Gorer.

In other words the Principle of Relatedness is more fundamental in its distinction of friend from foe than the inevitablity of violent outcome.

”It is the effect of natural arangments, not the inoffensiveness of natural disposition that minimizes violent behaviour in a natural world.” Ardrey

Latent violence is there, but it’s subject to the natural law that distinguishes friend from foe. In a society run by leaders who are not ordained by the gods, nor  believed to be so special that they may not touch the ground, everyone in the community is protected from each other by this natural law. Contact with those who fall outside this protection can be made safer by rituals of politeness, exchange, intermarriage and stylised etiquette..

We shake hands, give gifts, let you have the seat furthest from the lavvy…

For folk who have been chosen by God and doing His Will, this natural law works against the majority because the king is removed from the community by a host of taboos which means that everybody, subjects and strangers alike, are now Other, unprotected by the rule which says that even an angry wolf will instinctively muzzle his bite if a pup merely shows him its belly.

No-one is safe.

In 19th C Buganda, not saying thankyou properly, with just the right amount of dust poured on your head, could get you killed. Oh, and also if you were vaguely related, or caused his Maj’ to touch the ground..or if you were unlucky enough to see him eating…. or caught his eye…

and so life is suddenly very precarious…

security and belonging eroded..

defences kicking in.

The rats start to turn on each other.

The advent of King-ship spills contained aggression into explosive violence. Not just between the king and anybody that looks at him funny but between the subjects themselves who are now also objects just a shade higher in worth than a non-believer and scrabbling to secure their positions.

If just deserts are your thing it doesn’t end well for the king. He is inflated and so must die. Tradition has it that he comes to a very bad end.  In Dahomey, if he’s lucky, he just gets murdered for the crown. If he’s not so lucky he has to be chopped up in bits, sometimes having to do the job himself, while he can, before being ritually consumed by the next incumbent.

Sometimes the king’s violent demise is ritualised at the end of fixed terms. Scandanavian kings ruled for twelve years after which they were put to death or a substitute found to die in their place, for just the right kind of sacrifice might appease the gods… sacrifices in their ones and twos all decked out in costumed finery, but then… maybe it would cover all the angles if they were also made in their uniformed millions.

Parts 2, 3, and 4 to follow.