The Spirit of the Depths forced me to speak to my soul, to call upon her as a living and self-existing being.
C.G. Jung in The Red Book
The Sister to Read at Books Inc
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I will be reading from The Sister from Below as well as from my book of poems, Adagio & Lamentation at Books Inc. in San Francisco’s Opera Plaza, 601 Van Ness Ave, on Thursday March 29th at 7 pm.
I am grateful to Phyllis Stowell who will be reading with me, for organizing this event. Phyllis is a fine poet, and Professor Emerita of St. Mary’s College.
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It has been almost twenty years since The Sister From Below first had her way with me. She came to me as I was sitting down to write a paper on a Jungian theme. Suddenly I heard an inner voice saying: “It’s time for me. I’ve been waiting long enough. You need to go back to the poetry you used to write.”
Now, understand, I had recently been certified as a Jungian analyst. I wanted to give a profound paper at a Jungian conference and impress my colleagues. The Sister informed me that she was the source of true profundity, for she is my muse, my soul. She and I had it out until we found a middle way: her voice would be heard in my work, so would the poems she gives me, but I could present our conflict in a paper for the Jungians.
In my Jungian training I had read about Jung’s technique of active imagination, in which one speaks to dream figures or to inner figures that just show up, like the Sister did. But until she insisted her way into my consciousness, I did not really understand that an inner figure is autonomous—a “living and self-existing being” as Jung puts it. Letting her into my life created a rift in consciousness—opened an inner space called the underworld by the ancient Greeks, the imaginal by archetypal Jungians, meditatio by the alchemists, transitional space by psychologists, make-believe by children. This is a magical transformative realm, the wellspring of my poetry and a place to heal and recuperate from life’s storms. When the Sister appeared she ushered me into this place, and forever changed my life.
When the Spirit of the Depths came to Jung, he discovered a whole world within himself, and recorded his experiences in The Red Book. Later in his life he studied the work of the alchemists, and found that they knew all about this magical place. They wrote of meditatio and imaginatio. In Psychology and Alchemy Jung quotes Ruland’s Lexicon Alchemiae which defines meditatio as follows: “The word meditatio is used when [one] has an inner dialogue with [oneself], or with [one’s] good angel.” He writes:
The imaginatio, as the alchemists understand it, is in truth a key that opens the door to the secret of the opus…It was a question of representing and realizing those ‘greater” things which the soul…imagines…Here’s a poem from Adagio & Lamentation about Iris, the goddess of the rainbow and of writing.
blue eyes are hers dark almost violet like the fierce
painter’s eyes of my mother’s mother and she slips off
her rainbow bridge making sense of the vision I had
as a girl of a being of light crossing over the water
she says she was there at my birth she
and her sea sister Thetis it was dawn
on a summer Wednesday far from the transit camp
Lag Westerbork where my father’s mother gave up
the ghost and Iris a small recently discovered
planet rose on the eastern horizon she the forgotten
goddess who carries a box of writing implements draws color
out of the glistening air is good at delicate negotiations between
those who belong to forever and those who are just
passing through gathered blessings for me from the sea
full of secrets full of wandering fish from the dead
who gave me sea horses to ride goat song
and shimmer my baby body was touched by the purple
of ghosts their blues their deep maroons and I was gifted
with every pleasure of voice of tongue of kicking feet full
of my mother’s sweet milk all joy to her who had longed for a child
and my mother’s mother painted my sea shell sleep and the red begonia
which glowed on the dining room table it was California and the yellow
hills stirred their big lion bodies and my hands reached out to touch
the light ah! I can see her face who is lilac and rose whose nipples
are apple blossoms who flings her green breasts at the dreaming sky
even now sixty years later as I sit on a wooden porch I can see
how she draws violet and orange out of trees words with their long
roots out of the seas and at the horizon she gathers me gold and silver
out of the summer air