Sunday, February 26, 2012

News from the Muse: The Muse of Jungian Memoir

[from the Tarot of the Sephiroth]

When inner work is brought out into the world—a poem, a memoir—it’s as though something has been constructed in the soul. The inexpressible finds expression; the unsayable is said. I’ve been reflecting on this experience, which feels magical to me—transformative. It’s not just the writing down of inner experience, the process of tracking dreams or engaging in active imagination. It is how it feels to go public with it, to present it to a live audience, or to see its transformation into print. An imaginal space is opened up and something is created there—a temple deep in the woods, past the swinging bridge, or perhaps an altar by the banks of the river, a chupah for the sacred wedding, a teepee in the meadow. This is a holy place to which one can return. It is both an expansion of inner space and creation of something substantive. Is this what the alchemists mean by the Lapis? The Kabbalists by the “Work of the Chariot?” The Hindus by Shakti? The Jungians by the Subtle Body?

The Sister from Below, my muse, informed me that I was writing Jungian memoir when I was working on her book. She told me that Jungian memoir illuminates the inner world, follows the Jungian tributaries of dreams, conversations with inner figures, synchronicities. It is the grandchild of Jung’s great memoir, Memories, Dreams, Reflections. Its ancestors include the alchemists and the saints, whose spiritual autobiographies, like the Confessions of St. Augustine, connect us to the Spirit of the Depths, and to the Wisdom Traditions.

Since the publication of the Red Book it’s become clear how Jung’s direct confrontation with inner figures cracked open the walls of rationality and allowed the uncanny, the unfathomable back into western consciousness. Jungian memoir attends to those strange unfathomable experiences that shape our souls.

I was privileged, last April, to participate in a conference put on by the C.G. Jung Institute of San Francisco, called C.G. Jung and the Jewish Connection. This was the swan song of our beloved Baruch Gould, who had been the creative and innovative Director of Public Programs for ten years, and was preparing to end his service. He’d been incubating the idea for the conference for years.

I was among a group of Jungian analysts and scholars approaching the subject from very different vantage points. There were historical papers, papers on Jung and Jewish mysticism, and papers I would call Jungian memoir, telling personal stories from inner lives. Several spoke as Jews struggling with Jung. I spoke as a Jungian struggling with Judaism. The Jungian memoir I wrote for that event has opened an important space in my soul, a deeper and more open connection to myself as a Jew and to Jewish mysticism—a Chupah for the sacred wedding of Tifereth with Malkuth— male and female energies in the Kabbalistic worldview—which Jung saw in a vision of the “Garden of Pomegranates” and described in Memories, Dreams, Reflections.

Now, thanks to the Jung Journal, all the papers given at the conference are available in print (Volume VI, Number 1). I hope you’ll take a look at them.

Here are some excerpts from my paper.

The Rabbi, the Goddess, and Jung

You cannot grasp these things unless you stumble over them.
The Zohar

Spiritual Exile

How does a Jew to whom God never spoke in a synagogue, who has wandered the world and the paths of other religions seeking direct experience of the sacred, stumble upon it in her own tradition? How does a spiritual exile, whose life was transformed by the Goddess, get past her issues with the patriarchal God of the Jews.

With Jung’s help…

This is the story of how Jung, or the Jungian worldview, helped me find my meandering way home to Judaism. As is my fashion I will weave in poetry, dreams, a journey and a conversation with a ghost.

I have always longed for myth, for mystery, for those moments when the world cracks open, when something uncanny, wild, awesome, enters. I have glimpsed it in Hindu temples, in Catholic churches, in Pagan rituals, in poetry, everywhere but in the Jewish world I knew as a child…


The Ten Commandments of My Childhood

It was a proud thing to be a Jew in my family of origin; it was also a difficult thing. We Jews had responsibilities. We had suffered as a people. We needed to be eternally vigilant, on the look out for tyranny, oppression, discrimination— whether against us Jews or others. There were unspoken instructions for how to be a good Jew below the surface of dinner table conversations, and in social gatherings in the very Jewish neighborhood in post war Queens, New York, we lived in during the early 1950s. These are the commandments I heard:

I. Thou shalt vote Democratic.
II. Thou shalt take a stand against injustice and inhumanity.
III. Thou shalt believe in the innocence of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg.
IV. Thou shalt support unions and the ACLU.
V. Thou shalt love Paul Robeson, Roland Hayes, Marian Anderson and the Weavers.
VI. Thou shalt sing folk songs, spirituals, and union songs with gusto.
VII. Thou shalt know all the famous Jews in the culture, and speak of them with pride, from Albert Einstein to Sammy Davis Jr.
VIII. Thou shalt love the state of Israel, but not forgive it its trespasses.
IX. Thou shalt know the stories of the Hebrew Bible, for thy father will tell them to you as “great literature.”
X. Thou shalt never forget “what happened.”

Upside Down Tree

I was given a gift of a dream. I am shown an image. It is an upside down tree—whose branches touch the earth, whose roots are in the sky. The tree is filled with Hebrew letters. I did not recognize what it was, at the time, though the image stayed with me, tugged at me…[It took me some time to realize that I had] been shown the Tree of Life—the symbolic expression of Jewish mysticism. I [had] stumbled into the esoteric aspect of my own tradition, which I had thought lacked a mystical, contemplative side.…

Black Fire Written on White Fire

It must be She, the Shekina, who is behind what happens next. In September of 2004 I find myself in Girona, Spain. My husband Dan and I have come here because it was a center of Jewish life and Kabbalistic thought before the expulsion of the Jews …


I sit on the tiny balcony of our hotel room, and try to focus…despite the sounds of passing people, cars, motorcycles, water being poured, conversations in Spanish, Catalan, Italian, English, despite the bells of the Cathedral. I imagine the rabbis meditating—making contact with God amidst donkey piss and roosters crowing and children running about and bed pans being emptied.


In my wanderings in the old Jewish section of Girona I happen into the Nahmanides Institute of Jewish Studies. I learn that Moses ben Nahman (nicknamed Ramban by the Jews, called Nahmanides in the Greek fashion of the day) was a leading Kabbalist in the 13th century in Girona. He was of the generation before the Zohar was written down, and one of those who influenced its writer, Moses de Leon.

[from Tarot of the Sephiroth]


I am filled with the presence of this Rabbi. Later, in my readings, I will stumble upon a reference to a Jewish myth in which “the soul of a great sage who has died binds his spirit to one of the living in order…to guide a person through a difficult time of transition.” This spirit is called an ibur, in contrast to the malevolent spirit known as a dybbuk.

I find myself talking to him: Ramban, I walk the Roman walls of your city and your light walks with me. I walk the narrow streets of the Call de Jueu and the light you received from Moses at Sinai walks with me. You speak in my heart. This light, you tell me, is not of memory, not of the history of our people, not the word remembered and written down. This light is now…


I wonder why it is you who have come to guide me, you who are at once a mystic and a learned Rabbi of the tradition. You say it is because I need to learn your teaching, that “Everything that is done in the mundane sphere is magically reflected in the upper region…” You say I listen too much to my fears. I need to open all my senses to the Shekina. You say I need to contemplate the mystery of “black fire written on white fire —the tension between the oral tradition and the radiance, between manifest wisdom and the transcendent. Because you want me to understand that the Goddess is alive in you, that The Sister from Below is your familiar, you tell me a stanza of your mystical hymn about the birth of the soul.

He radiated light to bring her forth,
In hidden well–springs, right and left.
The soul descended the ladder of heaven,
From the primeval pool of Siloam to the garden of the King.

You say our souls stand in eternity, they are forever, we spend our lives finding our way back to them, for we are in exile from our beginnings. You say the light is now, here in this place where we meet.


I wrote a poem for Ramban, who became a beloved familiar in the writing of this paper. Here is the last section:

God’s Singing Tree
In Two Voices

you are old magic with goddess eyes
you are warm fire in the dark of the cave
you gather me back to the breath of that mother
in the long long line of my great grandmothers
who picked up her baby her sack of food
and walked out of Catalonia in 1492

the vessels shattered there was contraction
there was exile you tell me
this is the nature of creation

they who listen will hear
they who open their eyes will see
there is a tree it grows from the feet
of Abraham and Sara its leaves catch the light
on this balcony where I sit with you

remember my daughter
wherever you are the poem is
black fire written on white fire
God’s singing tree

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

News from the Muse: The Muse of Sunset and Sasha

It was my friend Sasha who first put the idea into my head:

Birds do it: butterflies do it; Sasha did if for years. Why don’t we to go Mexico in the winter?

That was twelve years ago. Sasha, sadly, is gone. But her yearly ritual of two weeks in the sun by the sea in the slow grace of Mexico has become Dan and my beloved custom.

Sasha Hunter was an unusual member of our Jungian tribe. Unlike most of us, who tend toward introversion and reverie, she was a flaming extrovert who loved to dance and to boogie board. She could turn an earnest gathering into a party. Although we now visit a different Mexican town than her beloved Puerto Escondido, her spirit lives on in the sensual pleasures of our easy days, full of sun worship and ocean walks and margaritas.

Dan and I come to the little fishing village of San Pancho in Nayarit, have now for many years, and the pace of our lives drops down to that primal rhythm of waves, sun, moon and watching pelicans skim the ocean as they fly past. We partake in the sacred ritual of watching the sunset as people have since before we lived in houses.
So Sasha, this blog posting is for you. Your sunset came much too soon. We miss your extravagant spirit. Here are some sunset musings in your memory.

Sunset with Cuban Music

Where there is music in San Pancho you’ll find Dan. Were Sasha still among us she’d be there too, dancing. The lovely beach restaurant, La Playa, has Cuban music tonight. So even though it’s overcast, and a visible sunset seems unlikely, we’re here, having a drink, watching the scene full of dogs and their people.

A group of beautiful young Mexican women arrive, all dressed up—big hoop earrings, short dresses, lots of eye makeup. One of them is carrying a baby girl, maybe four months old—a pink bundle. Another has her two little girls, three and five, with her. The women chat and laugh and drink and pass the baby around, like a treasure. In San Pancho, it seems, girls night out does not require a baby sitter.

Suddenly the clouds at the horizon lift. The sun has already disappeared, but a band of fuchsia light glows on, becoming more and more intense. The young women and their children get up to dance against that stunning backdrop. A flock of egrets flies into the palm trees; the ocean sings her song; dogs bark; the baby waves and the beautiful young women dance with each other, with their babies, with the waiters. The world is awash in beauty and music and dance. Your spirit, Sasha, is with us.

Sunset from the Roof

We stay at Casa Obelisco, a beautiful B&B in San Pancho, full of hibiscus blossoms, bougainvillea, beautiful tile and arches, wonderful people. Sasha, you’d love it here, it’s always a party. From the roof we get a glorious view of the sea and the sun going down. I am always amazed at how various the sunsets are, and how glorious.

Some years ago Henry the Heron used to show up just after sunset. We’d watch him winging his way along the ocean, make a sharp turn right to our roof. He’d sit on a post and keep us company for five or ten minutes watching the colors intensity and fade and then he’d be on his way. Judi, one of our hosts at Casa Obelisco named him, or maybe it was Dan. He was with us for a couple of seasons, and then he was gone. We miss him.

This evening the sun creates a glowing path across the waters to the dark fronds of the palm trees silhouetted before us. There are a few gray and white brush strokes of cloud, but mostly it’s clear. A long
strand of pelicans flies south. As the sun approaches the sea the waves seem to pick up energy, curling their white manes and galloping into the shore. What makes the light change, go suddenly gold while the sea turns a deeper blue? That divine alchemical painter is stirring things up again—color ricochets off the clouds; gold turns to orange casting light upward and suddenly the sun is gone but fuchsia and gold grow more and more intense in the clouds. The palms are so black and so still, in contrast.

Color fades—grays grow grayer, fuchsia and gold turn to pale pink—the sea sighs, the palms brood. We hear crickets; a gecko clucks. That red orange at the horizon does not want to let us go—it keeps glowing while everything darkens around us. We could be sinking into the center of the earth. Sasha, your spirit is with us.

Sunset with Turtle Hatchlings

It’s Dan’s birthday. We’re at La Playa celebrating sunset and Dan. Sasha, how you’d love these Mango
Margaritas and this scene—the sea is ablaze with light and shimmer; two figures at water’s edge seem to merge into one, then become two once again; sun blazed figures carry surfboards along the shining sea.
A spontaneous party has happened. All our fellow guests from Casa Obelisco are here with us. We’ve heard that there is to be a turtle release on the beach just before sunset. And here’s Lauren, La Playa’s hostess, pointing our way down the beach to where a crowd is gathering.

We run across the sand to water’s edge. Tiny turtle hatchlings, no bigger than a baby’s palm, are toddling toward the ocean. One falls into a human footprint and struggles to get out. There are fifty-nine of them, hatched this morning in the special protected turtle nursery created by Turtle Frank and a group of passionate turtle protecting volunteers. They have raised consciousness in San Pancho of the decline in the turtle population. The problem has been people who believe that turtle eggs enhance male potency. Turtle Frank and his helpers educated the children about the magic of turtles. The children educated their parents. The turtle population is coming back.

Turtle Frank is speaking on the beach. He explains that they release the hatchlings before sundown so it’s not too cold for them, but dark enough so the fish can’t see them. Those who survive will swim eight days without stopping or eating; they need to get beyond the current. Some will make it as far as the Philippines or the Galapagos. Some of those (maybe two percent) will find their way back to the beach where they were hatched to lay eggs of their own. We watch as a wave comes, taking some of the babies. “Go for it!” somebody shouts. “Oh no!” Some of the hatchlings are upside down. Turtle Frank and his helpers turn them right side up, send them on their way.

We’ve forgotten about the sun. There it is behind a bank of clouds—a glimmer of glorious color not yet revealed—a golden globe emerging from the cloud—entering the sea like a great glowing mother turtle, checking up on her babies at sea. Sasha, you would have loved to see this. Your spirit is with us.

Here’s a poem I wrote that one year we were in Mexico together, before any of us knew you were ill:

We’ve Come South

for nothing much
but ocean, rocks and sun
for the squeal of a rusty pulley at dawn
for the bugles and drums of the 54th Batallon de Infanteria announcing sunrise

We’ve come south to see nothing much
but the mermaid riding a turtle over the early morning beach
where fishermen dock their boats
full of red snapper, yellow tail, tuna
We’ve come south to do nothing much but walk barefoot on sand
watch the flight of a frigate with scimitar wings
watch an old man ride his burro across the sand
return to our little hotel to see how far Simplissio
has gotten on his mural—
the village the jaguar the woman with the baby on her back
the skeleton the iguana on a tree the mountains the angels in the sky
We’ve come south to celebrate
the descent of the sun every day
pelicans gather
beer drinking northerners gather
children playing ball on the beach gather
to see how gold rims the edges of clouds
how red plunges deep into dark blue
and she opens her body to him and he
looks at her with the eyes of an old sea bird
he is pelican
she is iguana

stirred into the brimming cup

of nothing much
and we who have been together
life after life
know this in our bodies
We’ve come south to drink
our fill