Bluebeard, the Secret Hell.

The reason that we arrange to be led by folk we know don’t care about us is that there is an X in the equation which swings things away from what you might think was a more desirable outcome.

We acceed to authoritarian management because there is a covert pay-off. No-one has to do the difficult work of self-realisation.

‘It seems good to Us not to burden you with too many requirements.’ Acts 15;28

It’s okay, you don’t have to find your own way or fulfil any driving ambition. Its alright to be curtailed and told what to do…

because the part of us that minds it has a cunning plan…

to take refuge in the strong arm of he who’d beat you and so, in a very real sense, not be at home when he comes calling. The great thing about abdication is that you get to hold the torch when the castle is burned to the ground.

Alice Miller calls it ‘Identification with the Aggressor’, a process by which a child or subjugated person defends against the precarity of their situation by disocciating from it and forming a psychological alliance with the source of their suffering.

It was named ‘Stockholm Syndrome’ after bank raiders in Sweden took hostages that then became their fervent supporters, even writing to the Prime Minister asking to go with their captors. Hieress Patty Hearst became a gang member of the group that kidnapped her. Natascha Kampuch wept at the death of her jailer and rapist Wolfgang Priklopil, moved into his house and ran his car…

Levy-Bruhl called it participation-mystique, a process of  merging with another, initially observed..

‘in so-called primitive cultures where certain objects treated as holy artifacts were seen as filled with the spirit of their owners or worshipers.’ Gifford

 Without such meaningful totemic relationships that allow a person to be in the presence of their own mystery without being contaminated by it, we in the West do the same with pop stars and celebrity, reality TV and the cult of personality, which despite the high of being one with your hero..
‘can influence a person or group of persons into acting against their own best interest’. (ibid)
Identification with the Great Leader makes all kinds of heroic feats possible though you may not survive them. It wipes out all your troubles back home and replaces them with a fizzing riteousness so potent it can transcend the fear of death and calmly walk wave upon wave of unfaltering youth to the grave.
Sometimes the battlefield’s turf is the quietly carpeted drawing rooms
of gentility rather than the crack and thump of conquest at any price, but still….
‘a person caught up in this spell would rather die or injure him or herself than consider new information that might upend their thinking.’ ibid

Most people know the story of Bluebeard. He murdered his wives one after another and kept them in a secret locked room. He forbids his most recent bride from entering the room on pain of … well, a lot of pain, but she is unbearably curious and sneaks in while he is away…

just a peek…

Too late!

The room is a charnel house of former wives. She drops the key to the floor in horror where it becomes stained with blood that will not wash off no matter how she tries…

Bluebeard finds her out, and sets out to do just what he said he would do…  though she is saved in the last moment by her brothers who show up in the nick of time…

an’ cut ‘Ol Bluey down…

The traditional meaning is that of a cautionary tale,

‘Oh curiosity thou mortal bane, spite of my charms thou causest oft pain and sore regret..’ Charles Perrault

followed swiftly by reassurances that men are not so bad..

‘This a story is of time long pass’d; No husbands now such panic terrors cast; Nor weakly, with a vain despotic hand, Imperious, what’s impossible, command:’ (ibid)

More recently its been given socio-political attention with BB in the role of Patriarch enforcing gender roles with violence, or more psychologically with BB in the role of pathological narcissist. Clarrisa Pinkola Estes calls him,

‘the predator of the Psyche, wanting to sever intuition, a malignant force at odds with the instincts of the natural self.”

Von Franz amplifies this theme, BB is the destructive, murderous animus which must be encountered in order to grow..

”If a woman hasn’t gone through the experience of being trapped by a demon animus she only has unconscious thoughts.”

All well and good but there is a curious detail in the story that snags my attention.. Most of the interpretations are based on later versions of the tale in which the youngest of three sisters falls for his charms because she is naive, or she marries him against his will. But in the original by Perrault there’s neither foolishness nor abduction…

Bluebeard goes to one of his neighbours…

‘a lady of quality, whose two daughters were perfect beauties. He desired of her one of them in marriage, leaving to her the choice which of the two she would bestow upon him….

‘I want one of your children, it doesn’t matter which…’

None of this phases anyone. There is no outrage, no injunctions never to darken her door again. Mother colludes and passes of her kid like a mail-order bride who gradually identifies with BB rather than face how she has been betrayed.

There was nothing then to be seen but parties of pleasure, hunting, fishing, dancing, mirth and feasting. Every thing succeeded so well, that the youngest daughter began to think the master of the house not to have a beard so very blue, and that he was a mighty civil gentleman…

A six year old child, having been persuaded onto her parent’s lap rather than explore the nearby swings and play area, is trying to extricate herself in an ungainly way whilst mother chides her softly like Nursy from Blackadder..

‘Oh you.. banana-brain…’

child’s inaudible muttering…

What are you?… a banana-brain.

more muttering..

‘banana-brain, that’s what you are.’

And you could say its just harmless fun and the mother is ‘joking’ in an extroverted and jovial way. ‘Its just people being what they are,’ you say, but actually its the worst kind of cruelty.. making a child feel stupid for wanting a go on the swings, feeling like a banana-brain in adult life for wanting to explore, embittered and muttering in old age for the life that’s been denied her.

Such throw away lines are how lives are poisoned. Often repeated they become the kernel around which identity is built because our survival compells us to adapt to expectation. So even when she’s free she stumbles, can’t get co-ordinated, making a hash of her liberty, just like… a banana-brain.

Her inner life is destroyed, not by showdowns, punishments or overt rejection but by one thing parodying  another, by the wicked cleverness that can say you are stupid and I hate you with a smile. What’s the matter, can’t you take a joke?

Life is what you make it but more importantly its what you believe it to be. Life will faithfully offer us up our expectations of it, rising to manifest and mirror back to us all our prejudices, secret fears and covert assumptions.

‘We do not see the world as it is, we see it as we are.” Torah

That which we cannot face on the inside comes at us from the outside. Having had her inner life attacked by her social-climbing mother, our heroine learns to attack herself, killing off her sponteneity, deadening her sexuality, stringing up her feelings and hobbling the discriminating function that feelings are there to serve.

When she intrudes upon BB’s inner chamber she is bound to find there some expression of this violation. She is going to find her worst nightmares in the little room because she has entered into this arrangement in terrible bad faith, having sold out her integrity and the possibility of true love for the sake of a life of easy luxury.

BB is certainly a villain, but never pretending to be more or less than he is. There is no deception. ‘I want one of your daughters, I don’t care which.” The poor bride masks over the awful injury this constitutes by following suit, pretending that people and privacy don’t matter, but has to kill off her aliveness and subjugate herself to the tyranny of life’s baubles which will extract their pound of flesh from her one way or another. Her inner world will be attacked on a regular basis.

Life presents us with the face we show it and mirrors back to us inner states normally occluded from veiw.

I once comforted a woman whose husband had just had a heart attack and was at death’s door in hospital… but I withdrew my hand from her shoulder as if bitten by a snake when she wailed, ‘who will help me now?” Her thoughts were not of him, nor her tears about him, but about the burden of her middle-class chores.

Through her tears she then told me a dream that wild dogs had gotten into her lovely white Mercedes convertible and torn all the upholstery to pieces. Her inner life had been ripped out by her paltry material concerns and the utter failure to transcend her own petty troubles.

”We thought it was the outer event that had happened to us, but now see that it is we who have happened to ourselves.’ F. Wickes.

Its curious how much sympathy the heroine evokes, how villainous BB seems to be, polarised utterly with the Soldiers of Light, the brothers who finally do him in. Yahweh fairs much better in the popularity stakes when he puts Eve to the same test. Her curiosity gets her eternal damnation wheras Mrs BB just inherits everything and comes up smelling of roses.

There is no transformation. The dead wives are as much a part of her world as BB himself and killing him off still leaves her with the problem of life denied and the damage done to her personal destiny by the spell which compells her to identify with toxic values rather than her own gut feeling…

which says that people come before stuff.



Medusa and the Stone Child.

One of the most striking stories from ancient times is that of Medusa. Her name comes from the Egyptian, ‘Maat’, meaning ‘Truth’, and is the source of words like ‘medicine’ and ‘mathematics’. She is one of the most archaic mythical figures,

”perhaps, an echo of the demon Humbaba, decapitated by Gilgamesh.”Camille Dumoulie.

Like the story of Humbaba (, Medusa is not really a monster at all, or if she is, she did not deserve her reputation. Medusa was a priestess of Athena who was raped in the temple by Poseidon.

Athena then turned her long locks into protective snakes and gave her a look which had the power to turn men, and their unwanted advances, into stone.

She is given the power to protect and destroy.

Her terrifying, petrifying glance, is some attempt to rectify the balance of unavenged desecration.

Poseidon’s rape of the sacred feminine is an allegory of what had actually just occured in the nascent moments of Western Civilisation. The Goddess was violated in her own temple and demonised. Perseus, in later stories, kills her. But her powers are not diminished even by death. She continues to petrify and is finally mounted on the shield of Athena herself where she serves the Goddess as her most deadly weapon.

How are we to understand the symbolism of all this? Is there some sense in which Medusa’s frightful glance is relevant to modernity?

The desecration of the sacred feminine was the precursor to a scurge of Single Systems that had a very limited and therefor inherantly intolerant perspective on life, meaning and purpose. This gives the adherants of Single System systems,  a great sense of certainty, cast-iron beliefs and unassailable self-constructs.

These serve to create a tremendous sense of self-justification but there is a price to pay.

The overly determined self-construct turns us to stone.

Of course we need some kind of self construct, we couldn’t do without it, but sometimes our adaptability is sacrificed in favour of unreflected pride, the  vulnerable tips of life’s budding supplanted by the concrete of  absorbed conviction.

Ernesto Spinelli, called it ‘sedimentation‘, a term borrowed from geology which gives the idea that something fluid and alive has been packed down so hard it becomes like rock.

”Life becomes fixed and calcified, laid down in a rigid and inflexible way that obscures experience.” M Cooper.

In other words we lose the capacity for reflection. We switch to automatic pilot. I can no longer talk to me. Nothing can be learned. Growth stops. And for all the fun of being right as an a priori fact of existence…

”The sure path can only lead to death.”CG Jung

The reason for this is that sedimentation, for all its conviction, becomes an unyielding bedrock, immovable, unadaptable, beyond discussion or influence. This stunts the possibility that new things and fresh encounters might inform, re-animate or enrich life.

”What is hard is a companion of death, what is soft and weak is a companion of life.” Tao Te Ching.

In order to lead a creative life we have to be receptive to the Unknown. We have to be willing to be led by circumstances, sometimes even against our better judgement. There must be some chink in our armour that lets in the Other so that the imagination can flower.

Without some vulnerability to the Other there is no interaction with the world or with our own depths. Nothing comes in or goes out. Conversation grinds to a halt.

”The petrifying stare is synonymous with the inability to accomodate or change.” Camille Dumoulie.

Sedimentation happens when our beliefs and attitudes are packed down to stone, when nothing can be questioned, when everything is pre-judged, where there is no longer any seeking for the truth. Of course, there is anxiety in admitting you don’t know, can’t be sure, or have no absolute conviction, and yet to have one’s inner world carved in stone is quite terrifying by comparison.

”As soon as by one’s own propaganda even a glimpse of right on the other side is admitted, the cause for doubting one’s own right is laid.” Adolf Hitler

Compare that to the following statement from the most prolific writer in psychology of our time..

There is nothing I am quite sure about. I have no definite 
convictions - not about anything, really. I know only that I was born and exist, and it seems to me that I have 
been carried along. I exist on the foundation or something I do not know." — C.G. Jung

By contrast the rigid character structure of the Single System system already knows. His one perspective is certain but because his sole point of veiw cannot help him to find where he is on the map, any more than can a single compass bearing, his anxiety grows. He clings all the more to what he knows beyond doubt.


“If you would be a real seeker after truth, it is necessary that at least once in your life you doubt, as far as possible, all things.” Descartes.

No Single System system can achieve this. Reinventing yourself, breaking the hard mould, means to doubt what you strove for, to be genuinely confused at your own internal contradictions, to admit you don’t know.

Without this softening, the rigid character is doubly endangered.

Firstly, his own potential must be sabotaged. Learning about something is experienced as a narcissistic admission of defeat. I have seen many addictions and ‘getting stoned’ rooted in the resulting disruption and frustration of  potential. Unlived life doesn’t go away. It can haunt our dreams like an aggrieved wraith,



and despite the efforts of the various rattling skeletons above, we get to feel that we’ve arrived and know what’s what.

Instead of being petrified or awed by our own depths, its strange Otherness will be attributed to the world beyond Single System’s borders, that which terrifies, some other mono, and make war on it, condense it into terrorists.

Bodies stone cold.

The alternative is by way of the Inuit story of ‘The Stone Child’ marvellously told and interpreted by Clarrissa Pinkola Estes….

The stone child is mothereless and clings to a cold stone that gradually sucks out his life.

But the stone child recognises its unmotheredness and allows its anguish and grief expression . This cracks open the stone that sucks out warmth and life.

Its not that we suffered any one particular thing that wounds us eternally but that we have not felt it to the full.



The Intrusion of Absence.

When i was about thirteen my father called me to one side and announced that it had been remiss of him not to tell me the story of my grandfather and would i like to hear it..


So we went into his study which was more special and he sat me on his special footstool…

squealing delight..

yearning for the legend to unfold of the brave lancaster gunner who was killed over Turin in ’42

and so told me the special story.

‘When I was seven I was swinging on the garden gate and my father came along and swung me off…’ And he made a swooping gesture.

You can go now.

Its what I call a medusa moment. Its when there is a rider on an event, an ‘aubertext’, and what’s really being communicated is more like transmission, the passing on of some family wreckage rather than an enriching story. The moment turns to stone..

Falling like a stone…..

.and the place where  the nurture of ancestral tales..

So much smoke and, but…two engines still going, Ginger come in…GINGER! Oh God we’re going down, oh fuck, oh God..

.feeds the soul…..

If he had fallen like a stone, from say 1500m, physics says it would take a full 8 1/2 seconds to hit the ground, but then you’re built to float and are doing 200mph and Ginger’s still slumped over the throttle with those two engines still coughing…

.is lost…..

Even more intrusive by its absence was my father’s relationship with his mother. We had a rare, the only…ever.. family gathering one year.  My father announces for everyone to gather round for a video of the event to be taken for Nanny who couldn’t be there.

Hang on a minute….

Didn’t she, twenty years ago?

But no, look, she has arisen in New Zealand.. where she went after her second husband gassed himself in the kitchen oven… many fumes…can’t greath, choking now…sooo cold.

And what that stoney look does is worse than any beating. When moments are petrified by a parent’s need to pass on their own deadness it really does numb the child to its own life and teaches/compells the child to disown its potential.

About a year later we were playing chess one evening. I was on holiday from boarding school. We played quite a lot, or at least he regularly trounced me. Then, one delicious evening I won. For the first time. In history.

He studied the board in silence for a loooong time then scraped his chair back and left without a word. We never played again. And what i learned was not that i was a clever lad but that to shine is to be abandoned and so i went forward faithfully sabotaging myself at every opportunity and turning myself to stone.

Getting stoned….

thinking that was rebellion…

but in fact, unconsciously fulfilling one more silent expectation.

But all is not lost!

In fact, you now have a ticket to ride.

Because when the medusa moment has you up against the wall and whatever you do or say next will be wrong then you might as well fulfil your own destiny and find what you need out in the world

or deep inside

to reflect your truth..

to have I and me stay in the same vessel.

In the story of the golden fleece, Jason uses the reflection of his shield to defeat Medusa. So long as he is able to reflect he will be safe from being petrified.

So long as I can talk to me.

So that you know that being sent away is wrong..

And the swinging on the gate story is compensatory bullshit..

And the chess was all about beating me rather than playing..

..then the intuition and imagination of the stone child can come alive.

And where is your mother in all this..?

Veiled. Predominantly through the crack of the door to her room where she lay in valiumed haze behind tresses of shrouded  netting.

Thou shalt not be creative…

She was a brilliant artist, but didn’t have permission to be brilliant so she got migranes and valium instead.

Unlived life does not sit idly on the shelf. It will turn around and bite you. M.L.Von Franz.

Its amazing how mutual deadness can act as such glue in a marriage. The offspring involved are faced with a stark choice. Do the same thing as them or go on a veeeery long journey to find the fruit in the experience.

It’s in there somewhere, rippening in your adversity.

I had a friend who grew apples. One tree bore the most incredible fruit. They were sooo fantastic. Only it was bent double having grown in the shade of a massive firtree. To improve it’s lot she had the firtree cut down… but the apples never tasted the same after that. They just tasted like regular apples.

And so, for all those who’ve grown in  the shade of something seemingly deadening, don’t wish to be rid of it so easily. Would you be fruiting without it?

”Most of the people who are the greatest healers living on the face of this earth are unmothered children.”   Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes

having had a rough start is kind of necessary to the individuation process. An old Gnostic saying captures this well,

‘ There is good and there is bad and that is good.’

When times are tough you grow. When they are easy, you rest.