Soul Loss, Soul Retrieval.

When I was an ardent young fascist and subjugating already impoverished people on their own ancestral lands, a Commanding Officer from HQ came to give us macho fighting lads a pep talk in the bush.

In those days and in that part of the world most people smoked but you could only buy two brands of cigarettes. Madison was for your man’s man, ‘strong and full of flavour’, Kingston was for women and Madison smokers trying to give up.

The tobacco company noticed the trend and decided to capitalise on the gender variable so they launched fags-for-girls, Berkeley.

The C.O. arrives, men at attention, eyes front. He invites us to stand easy and to smoke if we wish, producing a pink packet of Berkeley, removing the wrapper with all the curiosity of a novel occasion, oblivious to the faux pas unfolding. He lights one, coughs a bit and then delivers his spiel for as long as it takes the cigarette to burn down to clenched fingers behind his back.

It wasn’t just the social gaff, not just that we Madison guys would rather gouge out our eyes with a rusty spoon than be seen smoking Berkeley. It was his clumsy attempt at manipulation, the pretence of the man trying to be one of the lads which he assumed everyone was too stupid to see. But more than this, way more, what he actually did, despite his intention, was to suck the life and vitality out of the very group he was ostensibly there to enrich.

As he spoke, words slithering, tone masticating, hands ever hidden, I could feel something essential being drained out of me. It seemed that for the duration of this brief and otherwise unmemorable speech, all the soul consuming influences of my young life suddenly condensed about his quietly malevolent person; my deceiptful father, the toxic pedagogues of my hateful schooling, the cold calculation of imperial culture that sends its youth to their deaths for profit. By the time his Berkeley had burned down to nothing, so too, had I.

Whilst the C.O. was not playing the traditional narcissistic gambit of dumping his inferiority on us, something he reserved for the contemptuous enemy, to be in his presence was still an ennervating experience given his need to fill himself up with other people’s energy.

It took me decades to make sense of the experience…

… his covert agenda was to feed from the buoyant mood that already existed amongst the men to quell his own unacknowledged fears and insecurities.

This garnering to oneself of another’s qualities or energies is the flipside of narcissistic ‘gaslighting’. Gaslighting is when a person disowns their own behaviour or motivation by calling any attempt to point to it ‘projection’. It’s not me it’s you. What the C.O. did was the opposite, he filled up the gnawing gaps in himself with our morale.

The fact that we can be intruded on and depleted both by the Unconscious and by one another is what gives rise to the universal use of protective amulets against the ‘evil eye’. We can only understand these apotropaic objects as superstition if we fail to take into consideration the psychic fact that this kind of inter-personal robbery is a real thing.

When C. G. Jung was in Kenya he asked the headman of the village he was visiting if the people there had dreams. ‘No,’ replied the elderly African, ‘the District Commissioner has our dreams for us these days.”

We are uncomfortable with the permeability of the Psyche because it suggests us humans are a great deal less discrete from one another than we’d prefer to imagine. Our feelings of superiority depend on the conviction that consciousness is master of its own house. And yet somehow the collective imagination is still repleat with the mythologems of blood sucking vampires, brain eating zombies and witches that eat children, archetypal containers for the reality of the fact that people can get inside you and gobble you up.

You might experience it as finding it difficult to think clearly in another’s presence,  knowing what to do or how to respond, or simply that you feel drained and exhausted by some apparently innocuous exchange.

The chronic form of this is the ‘negative introject’, an undigested and internalised complex of unacknowledged attitudes from significant others that got inside you as a child and made its home there, like a parasite, but one which also serves as a nucleus of identity to which a person can become attached and with which they identify..

”as though it were something precious.” F. Perls.

…despite the fact that a nasty  introject can spend a life time cutting ego consciousness to pieces and gobbling down its confidence/wellbeing/autonomy from within..

This devouring aspect, can lead to a very real sense of loss of soul, as though one’s very essence had been stolen.

”If you ask a group of people, “How many of you feel you’ve lost part of your soul?” it’s typical that everybody raises their hand.” M. Harner.

To the extent that Narcissism is endemic in our society, so too is there this sense of loss of soul, and the need to go find lost or denied aspects of oneself.

In early development the ‘special’ child can’t realise at first that their elevated status is a trade off, compensation for being robbed of a unique destiny that invariably leads away from family and so..

”never gets a chance to develop his own personality, because he is so busy holding down the foreign bodies he has swallowed whole.” ibid

‘Close’ relations can sometimes be no more than that the child’s own path has simply been hobbled by co-dependant parents whose sense of self includes the attributes and qualities of their children, and thereby smothers the child’s unfolding destiny.

But sometimes its not historical. You just meet someone who has this practiced ability to drain the life out of you, your new best friend with a knack for ferreting out and spoonfeeding your deepest needs whilst plundering your inner grain store.

What to do?

There’s any amount of advice out there. My suggestion is that what’s required is a primal response, something ‘primitive’.The intellect is useless in this territory. The lost part of Soul has to be grabbed back in active imagination, acknowledged through ritual, tended in symbolic ways such that the malaise which draws our attention to that missing core, to its value, also mobilises our quest for Wholeness.

For years after I had bought myself out of the military I had a repeating dream  of truncated men, men with limbs missing, ripped torsos, agonizingly incomplete. Throughout these scenes the recurring image of a deep, dark, menacing pool. No amount of interpretation seemed to hit the mark.

I decided on a radicle course of action. I knew of such a pool in a dark wood, so I went there one winter’s evening with the intention of spending the night, to see what happened. It was freezing. I walked around the pond endlessly trying to keep warm. A spontaneous phantasy arose in my mind that my ‘treasure’ lay at the bottom and that it was guarded by a troll like the one from the story of Billy Goat Gruff. It felt important and I paid attention to it. He had a lot to say for himself and so had I. We argued back and forth most of the night. Eventually he said, ‘well, if you want it back you have to come and get it.’

Dawn. There were patchy sheets of ice on the pond. I stripped off and waded in.

On the way back home, having ran the four miles back to the train station to get warm, I realised I had slept fitfully at some point in the night, curled up in the roots of a great Oak to take shelter from the wind. While I slept I had dreamt.

”Paying the Unconscious tribute more or less guarentees its co-operation.” C. G. Jung

I was visiting a ‘half-way house’ for damaged and handicapped men. There was a great party going on. Their wits had returned and they had all grown dense and luxurious beards. Then they gathered around the pond and pulled out a wealth of fish. A grand old man appeared on a white horse and magically drained away the dark water. I went over to him, seeming to recognise him. I shouted in delight, ‘I am your grandson!’ He looked at me with infinitely compassionate and twinkling blue eyes, reached down his hand to me and said,’ Of course you are.’




Narcissism, Compulsion and the Soul.

There were once two psychiatrists. The one invites the other for dinner. The guest arrives, asks to use the bathroom and disappears for an hour. Eventually he emerges with a knowing look.

”You have a serious obsessive compulsion,’ he says to his collegue, ”there are 542 bars of soap in your bathroom. I know, I counted every last one.”

Of course psychological conditions are bound to overlap but Narcissism and OCD seem to have a special relationship.


I was watching a Ted Talk, Elizabeth Gilbert, author of ‘ Eat, Pray, Love’. She made the point that people who became very successful had a tendency to go mad and top themselves because they confuse themselves with the ‘Genius Loci’ who served as their muse.

The solution, she said, is to remember that ‘genius’, is its own thing. Not-me.

Very Interesting, but what is your point?

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. ~Carl Jung.

Narcissism notoriously lives out only one corner of (an idealised) life. Both the dark Brother, the less than salubrious aspects of himself, and the unlived potential, The Self, have to be projected…

and then come banging at the castle gates again and again.

And because the contents projected are always the same…

the banging is also the same…

and so interpersonal scenarios are endlessly repeated..

as are ritualised patterns of behaviour behind closed doors.

We live in a time of relative spiritual malaise. We also live in a time of marked obsessiveness and compulsive behaviour.

Could there be a connection?

Its curious that the definition and symptoms listed by DSM5 for a diagnosis of OCD (which includes praying!) sound distinctly like the ritual contents of religious ceremony. These include,

”repetitive behaviours, according to rules that must be rigidly applied.”DSM5

like a church service….

Precisely. Sacramental acts are also, ‘aimed at preventing or reducing distress or preventing some dread event.’

What’s the connection with Narcissism?

Waaal, Narcissism is particularily prone to OCD not just because the dark brother is eternally projected, but because the ego is identified with the Self. This means that there is no real spiritual life.

I don’t get it.

Spiritual life necessitates a relationship with God..


but if you are identified with God then there is no relationship. Instead of having a religion, the religion has you…

By the scruff…

And marches its children off to war….

or down to the supermarket for a dozen bottles of bleach and a pack of toothbrushes so you can purify the pelmets of your appartment at 4 in the morning…

or out in the rain to buy cigarretes while every bone in your body is screaming, ‘DON’T DO IT!!’.

or muttering shameful babble to appease the fates whilst not realising that the person next to you on the bus is lookin’ at you strangely…

or washing endlessly in lieu of a genuine cleansing.

”It is not a matter of indifference if one calls something a ‘mania’ or a ‘god’. To serve a mania is detestable and undignified. But to serve a god is full of meaning and promise.” CG Jung

Narcissism won’t share, has no story, nothing to be a part off…

because there is no relatedness or participation in that which transcends it.

And for the want of partness in the greater whole we have compulsive patterning instead.

Like a stuck gramaphone record doing the same thing over and over. Round and round. Instead of meaningful sacrament we have chaotic excrement.

Instead of being drawn we are driven.

The fantasy that we are the captains of our own ships beckons the raven’s claw.

”Whoever sets himself up as judge of truth and knowledge is shipwrecked by the laughter of the Gods.” A Einstein.

For want of having a story to belong in we are caught eternally on the same page.

And more than that, for want of the Principle of Relatedness that gifts us with both belonging and the internal flexibility of a conversation between I and me, we are robbed not just of meaningful context but of our own humanity..

which is perhaps why the DSM5 definition of OCD uses the language of automation, describing the phenomenon as ‘the brain’s junk mail.” Though it significantly acknowledges that OCD is responsible for, ”communication errors among different parts of the brain.” Ie. there’s a problem with internal dialogue.


That without the capacity for self-reflection we are driven along like leaves in the wind.

The legacy of Western Civilisation is effectively the deification of consciousness. Having cast out the divine feminine, the principle that mediates between Logos and ego, the two are bound to get confused…

like when you don’t have a soap dish and so you leave the soap in the bath and it gets all mushy and your mum yells at you?

Exactly, ego gets ‘god-almighty’, which is all very well for a bit…

until the mush begins..

and soon starts behaving as though there were no limits and as if nothing mattered save itself.

The psyche responds with a big fat neurosis to bring about some sense of proportion in lieu of actual awareness. Instead of the cleansing renewal he was hoping for the bath room hero finds himself compulsively feeling about the teensy yet glorified space into which he’s soaped himself.

…pretty sure he’s in there somewhere.

On Being Enviously Attacked.

I dreamt I was fighting my brother. Back and forth we went. Evetually I pushed him back and said, ‘Dave, do you know why we’re fighting?’

He shook his head.

‘It’s because of all the cool stuff you have,” and I indicated the lavishly furnished place. Wood panelled walls, expensive carpets, fine art…

He looked puzzled. ‘I thought it was yours…’

We both thought the other got the goodies but actually they just weren’t there to begin with. We thought, oh, the other must have it, to keep alive the hope that the goody could actually be a real thing…

but it wasn’t…

which might come our way one day…

but it didn’t.

When mothering is diminished in value and in availability, siblings fight.

This is a rule.

We would rather kill each other rather than admit that what we were fighting over wasn’t available.

Which is all very well  except that it means being eternally consumed with envy.

You have to keep refloating the hope that one day the goody may become yours, perhaps by some mighty effort. Or at least, let you fuel the easier angry fantasy that some rival predatory suckling is secretly hoarding it all for himself.

We think of our inner world’s as being quite discrete and yet the context for my dream echoes back through the myth and legends of Western Culture. Romulus and Remus, Esau and Jacob, Cain and Abel, Gilgamesh and Enkidu.  All these stories have as their context the Divine Feminine being killed off by Her consort.

When a divine aspect of the whole is missing, every generation is bound to re-enect the consequences of it’s loss one way and another.

”What you cannot remember is condemned to be repeated….” Santayana

Kill the dark brother! For centuries the children of Single System systems have dealt with the divine split between Yahweh and Sophia/Wisdom by splitting themselves into good and bad just as we do when our personal parents become irreconcilable.

Its so deep in us that psychological theories are developed suggesting that such splitting is innate and that the resulting paranoia is just part of growing up.

”The ‘paranoid-schizoid position’ refers to a constellation of anxieties, defences and internal and external object relations that are characteristic of the earliest months of an infant’s life.” M Klien.

So we blame baby so as not to call culture into question..

But if there’s no divine faminine (typo left) to preside over the sanctification of birth and motherhood how can baby be anything but paranoid and split…?.

trying to make the best of it….

Where’s my promised land?

This is not what it said on the broshure..

The feeling that there is something awry, something that makes it all just a little bit too scary to go off and do my own thing means, maybe, I’ll just settle for being special instead…

…whilst being secretly consumed with envy for everything we now imagine to be in the sole possession of some greedy, predatory other; imbued with gnawing hunger and riteous indignation.

Good breast/bad breast are redacted from good Jeruselm/bad Babylon, a split in Humanity 5,000 years old, engendered by God’s need for a subordinate partner…

…and not simply because we are that way inkliened.

The Sacred Marriage.

Jung and Assagioli spent an afternoon at Bollingen arguing about the nature of the Self. It got quite heated because they were in some disagreement, Jung arguing for a totality of the Psyche, Assagioli arguing for Contentless-ness and No-thing-ness.

You could say these very different perspectives were like yin and yang but that doesn’t quite cut it. You could invoke the story of the four blind mullahs all trying to describe an elephant from its trunk, foot, ear and tail respectively. Of course, they say different things, though its all the same creature.

But that isn’t right either. What Jung and Assagioli were doing was wrestling with the cut and shut legacy of Single System systems to our collective spirituality which mangled together spirit and soul such that we tend to use the terms interchangeably despite their great difference.

If the early church was to have the unity required to fend off persecution, it needed to pitch salvation as something that could only be attained through Itself. To this end people could not be having their own experience or finding anything ‘within’. So a great many of the spontaneous metaphors which sprang up to express ‘spirit’, the divine spark which transcends mediation by cultural organs, like those contained in gnostic texts at the time, were denounced as heretical.

‘The Divine Spark is not subject to the Law’, said second century Gnostic Valentinus.

Emperor Constantine was outraged. He not only outlawed Valentinian ideas. He made it a mandatory and summary death sentance to own his writings. And yet Valentinus was very nearly made bishop of Rome within a mere hundred years of Christ’s death so his interpretation of those events must at least have been popular.

And so they were, except the idea that Wisdom /Sophia had slipped a divine seed into Humanity via her gardener, Yahweh, without him noticing, through which Eternity-as-Ground could be glimpsed, and more, this side of death and contrition…. all this was bound to undermine allegiances to The Corporation.

At its inception, the Church conflated these two very different aspects of spiritual life, so that people would stop inquiring once they had arrived at Fearing-the-Lord and dutifully pay their tithes on time. ‘Spirit’ was allocated only to God and ‘soul’ became something you could only save in the fullness of time via the appointed means of culturally defined convention..

or die.

In the main we plebs have heartily embraced the sensible option and not just because we don’t like branding irons or having our nails pulled out. The prospect of keeping your nose clean for a future place in Paradise is an easier ride than finding your own way through thorny undergrowth which has a ‘de-integrating’ effect on the personality, a kind of stripping away or stripping apart that may be tougher than whatever the Inquisition has in its bag of tricks.

German born buddhist master, Anagarika Govinder describes his first encounter with Nothing-ness..

”I felt like a meteor drawn onto the orbit of a bigger celestial body _ until it dawned upon me that once I allowed myself to ‘fall’ without reserve, the impact would be my inevitable end. Suddenly a terror siezed me, the terror that this body and this mind would not be mine anymore, the terror of losing my identity for good: the indescribable, inexpressible fear of emptiness…. to fall into the nameless Void!” Lama Govinder

Govinder recalls that he ‘struggled tenaciously’ against this experience by getting up and frantically drawing a self portrait,..

”in order to assure myself of my own reality..” ibid

So we cast a blind eye to the churches embargo on our experience of spirit because of its de-integrating effect and go along with the mish mash of treating spirit and soul as though they were the same thing.

Unfortunately this conflation has had the effect of arresting our collective spiritual development because it discourages the spontaneous joy in spirit which is already redeemed, already One, something here and now, something not subject to God as-we-know-him.

What this means is that the experience of spirit or pneuma as Valentinus called it has to be had outside the auspices of church. With the God above god, Sophia.

which annoyed the church to the point of banishing him forever-and-ever-and- ever.


and killing his mates.

So the Hierosgamos, the Sacred Marriage, had to go underground. The symbolism that represents the relationship between Spirit and Psyche could not be explored without treading on ecclesiastical toes and so it was cast on the dung heap as mere..

” conjugal productions of their fancied aeons” Bishop Iranaeus.

Valentinus described three different types of human experience. The first, and most numerous, were ‘Hylic’, the kind of person that just lets themselves live, that feels the psyche is whatever they know of it, who live in their appetites and fears.

The second he called, Psychic, people who become aware of the Unconscious as an objective fact that has to be reckoned with, that can give meaning and purpose beyond the satisfaction of personal desires.

What nearly got him martyred was his assertion that there was yet another stage after this, the ‘Pneumatic’, variously called Emptiness, Sunyata, the Void, which, with the greatest irony, was then left to the East to elucidate after the church had finally wiped out everyone who could attest to what was in fact the essence of Christ’s message.

And so the Hierosgamos got downgraded to being wedded to the Architect, rather than the coniunctio of Spirit and Soul that it was meant to be, with the ego sitting a couple of rows back from the main show quietly trying to keep from being overwhelmed by events.