Facing the Dragon

Fifteen years ago, my late friend and colleague, Robert Moore, published a little book whose relevance has lost nothing in the intervening years. In his preface to Facing the Dragon: Confronting Personal and Spiritual Grandiosity, Moore (2003, xi) quotes a sobering passage from Jung’s Answer to Job:

Everything now depends on man: immense power of destruction is given into his hand, and the question is whether he can resist the will to use it, and can temper his will with the spirit of love and wisdom. He will hardly be capable of doing so on his own unaided resources. He needs the help of an “advocate” . . . . The only thing that really matters now is whether man can climb up to a higher moral level, to a higher plane of consciousness, in order to be equal to the superhuman powers which the fallen angels have played into his hands. (1)

Moore shows how “pathological narcissism results from archetypal energies that are not contained and channeled through resources such as spiritual disciplines, ritual practice, utilization of the mythic imagination, and Jungian analysis” (2003, xii). We need not look far to find people inflated with super-human, archetypal energies that generate pathological narcissism and the fantasies that their ICBM is bigger than your ICBM. But we really don’t have to look toward Pong Yang or Moscow or Washington at all: when we’re so sure we are right, a glance in the mirror may reveal another person swelling up with spiritual grandiosity.

“Why,” Moore asks, “do I emphasize the dynamics of human evil in my research and teaching in psychology and spirituality?” (2003, 1) He answers that we must avoid two traps when we face the threat of personal and collective destructiveness. First, a “flight into the light” enables denial and requires very little reflection or action. It’s an easy out. Second, we have to master the temptation to blame our plight on a scapegoat: the one percent; the other party in power; the other gender; immigrants; the poor. All [of us] must respond to the challenge of coming to an understanding of evil that is neither naïve nor grounded in scapegoating of the other, but which may account for some of the forces of destructiveness that threaten to destroy us” (2003, 2).

Lest this sounds abstract or esoteric, I will illustrate with two personal examples, one from my teen years and one from present time. Both reveal my vulnerability to destructive power.

As a sixteen-year-old, I got my driver’s license and a .22 caliber rifle. My grandparents lived on a farm three miles out-of-town. My grandfather was still working at a lumber company, and came home for lunch each day. There were many barn cats. My grandmother believed there were too many. She asked me if I could dispose of some of them. One summer day while my grandfather was at work I went to the farm with my gun and killed several cats. When my grandfather came home, he didn’t say anything – he typically didn’t say much – but I’m sure he noticed that there were fewer cats.

I still feel shame as I tell this story, decades later. That experience vividly showed me how easily I could get intoxicated with and swept away by destructive power.

Fast forward to present time. The lure of exercising destructive power still tempts me. I regularly watch the PBS Newshour, hardly a program given to inciting violent emotions, yet some news stories trigger murderous anger in me. “Shoot the bastards!” Fortunately, the “bastards” are far away and I have no firearm. I am aware that my irritability quickly escalates toward violent fantasies. And it’s not only the news that inflames my anger.

In both examples from my life, an energy gets activated in me that claims power over life and death. In Jungian language, we call this condition “inflation.” From the Christian Bible we have the admonition that “Vengeance is mine, sayeth the Lord.” (2) From ancient Greece, we get the term “hubris,” which is Greek for “too big for his britches.”

One example is King Midas who, in his greed for gold, got his wish. Everything he touched turned to gold. At first, he was delighted: roses, apples, etc., turned into gold. But whatever he touched – including what touched his lips – turned to gold. Realizing he was doomed to die of hunger and thirst, Midas begged to be freed from his golden touch.

Moore references spiritual disciplines, ritual practice, utilization of the mythic imagination, and Jungian analysis as approaches to these energies that inflate us beyond our human proportions. A story from Greek mythology illustrates hubris in action. Apollo, the Sun God, fathered a son with a human woman. The boy, Phaeton, wanted proof that Apollo was his father. Apollo promised to grant whatever Phaeton asked for. “I want to drive your sun chariot for a day.” Apollo hadn’t thought ahead. “I can’t let you do that. Even I have a hard time controlling the horses. Even I am afraid some times.” But to no avail. Not able to withdraw his (Apollo’s) promise, Phaeton takes off in the sun chariot.

The boy has already taken possession of the fleet chariot, and stands proudly, and joyfully, takes the light reins in his hands, and thanks his unwilling father. Meanwhile, the sun’s swift horses, Pyroïs, Eoüs, Aethon, and the fourth, Phlegon, fill the air with fiery whinnying and strike the bars with their hooves. When Tethys, ignorant of her grandson’s fate, pushed back the gate, and gave them access to the wide heavens, rushing out, they tore through the mists with their hooves and, lifted by their wings, overtook the East winds rising from the same region. But the weight was lighter than the horses of the Sun could feel, and the yoke was free of its accustomed load. Just as curved-sided boats rock in the waves without their proper ballast, and being too light are unstable at sea, so the chariot, free of its usual burden, leaps in the air and rushes into the heights as though it were empty.

 As soon as they feel this, the team of four run wild and leave the beaten track, no longer running in their pre-ordained course. Phaeton was terrified, unable to handle the reins entrusted to him, not knowing where the track was, nor, if he had known, how to control the team. Then for the first time the chill stars of the Great and Little Bears, grew hot, and tried in vain to douse themselves in forbidden waters. And the Dragon, Draco, that is nearest to the frozen pole, never formidable before and sluggish with the cold, now glowed with heat, and took to seething with new fury. . . . .

 When the unlucky Phaeton looked down from the heights of the sky at the earth far, far below he grew pale and his knees quaked with sudden fear, and his eyes were robbed of shadow by the excess light. Now he would rather he had never touched his father’s horses, and regrets knowing his true parentage and possessing what he asked for.(3)

The chariot rises too high and melts the polar ice; it swoops too low and dries up the rivers. Heaven and earth complain. Phaeton cannot control the power he has unleashed. To put an end to the destruction, Zeus throws a thunder bold, striking Phaeton, who plunges into the sea.(4)

Hubris, spiritual grandiosity, pathological narcissism, characterizes much of the emotional atmosphere of our times, as cartoons, posters, and TV shows attest. I say “atmosphere” because the energy – the emotion – that empowers hubris infects us all just as polluted air does, but rather than smelling it with our noses we sense it working in our feelings and fantasies.

The Bible, Greek mythology, and contemporary cartoons(note: Hubris comics created by Greg Cravens , header) advise us that a greater power exists. What does Jungian psychology offer us?

Jungian psychology does, of course, cite the stories from the past in which overweening pride, archetypal inflation, spiritual grandiosity, and pathological narcissism depict the consequences. Waking fantasies and dreams from the night can and do offer images that may counterbalance the attitudes and preoccupations of the conscious minds. Psyche, through dreams and fantasies, presents a challenge: pay attention, notice! Sometimes psyche sends urgent messages; sometimes the information comes in subtle ways on the fringes of our waking awareness, or as a mild sense of discomfort or dis-ease, a sensation that “something” isn’t quite in order.

When I notice, I need to take the next step by finding where the image or fantasy has similarities with known stories, movies, myths, or passages from spiritual scriptures. That provides me with the human context, situating the image or fantasy from psyche within the body of experience of the ages. Then I ask: What does that mean for me? What am I doing to which the image or fantasy speaks? Finally, I have to evaluate what I am doing and the compensatory message that psyche offers. These four steps constitute part of a feed-back loop that starts with my action or attitude, psyche’s compensatory comment/response (in the form of a dream, an image, a fantasy), and my understanding and evaluating both my situation and the compensatory information. Here, in brief, we have the outline of a psychological discipline that will satisfy what Moore calls for.

The dangers of personal and spiritual grandiosity appear to be part of being human. Thousands of years of human experience attest the danger of succumbing, whether as King Midas or Phaeton or a contemporary man or woman, you or me. We live in a dangerous, infections emotional atmosphere these days. Sniff the air. Pay attention. Find an advocate to help you work at what’s necessary to climb to a higher moral level and plane of consciousness.

(1) Moore, R. L. (2003). Facing the Dragon: Confronting Personal and Spiritual Grandiosity. Wilmette, IL: Chiron Publications, quoting C.G. Jung (1952/1958), Answer to Job, The Collected Works of C.G. Jung, vol. 11, p. 459. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

“Dr. Robert Moore was Distinguished Service Professor of Psychology, Psychoanalysis and Spirituality in the Graduate Center of the Chicago Theological Seminary where he was the Founding Director of the new Institute for Advanced Studies in Spirituality and Wellness. An internationally recognized psychoanalyst and consultant in private practice in Chicago, he served as a Training Analyst at the C.G. Jung Institute of Chicago and was Director of Research for the Institute for Integrative Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy and the Chicago Center for Integrative Psychotherapy. Author and editor of numerous books in psychology and spirituality, he lectured internationally on his formulation of a neo-Jungian psychoanalysis and integrative psychotherapy.  His publications include THE ARCHETYPE OF INITIATION: Sacred Space, Ritual Process and Personal Transformation; THE MAGICIAN AND THE ANALYST: The Archetype of the Magus in Occult Spirituality and Jungian Psychology, and FACING THE DRAGON: Confronting Personal and Spiritual Grandiosity.” (Moore bio by Benjamin Law, blaw@jungchicago,.org). Several MP-3 recordings of Robert Moore’s classes are available from the C.G. Jung Institute (www.jungchicago.org/store).

(2) Romans 12:17-19; Deuteronomy 32:35

(3) Ovid. Metamorphoses, Book II, 150-178, mythological index and illustrations by Hendrik Glotzius. https://www.poetryintranslation.com/PITBR/Latin/Metamorph2.php#anchor_Toc64106105

(4) Ibid, lines 272-328  

(5). http://hubriscomics.com/comic/hubris-they-still-have-paper/. Hubris Comics, created by Greg Cravens, and reproduced here with his permission.


March 2018 Boris Matthews, PhD, LCSW practices Analytical Psychology (a.k.a. Jungian Analysis) at the Ommani Center for Integrative Medicine in Pewaukee, WI. He is a teaching and supervising faculty member of the C. G. Jung Institute of Chicago, IL, and serves as Director of the Analyst Training Program at the Jung Institute. To schedule an appointment with him, contact us at 262.695.5311.


Companions for the Journey IV

From time to time I discover a book that helps orient me in the turbulent times in which we live. Recently, a friend gave me Soul Food: Stories to Nourish the Spirit & the Heart, by Jack Kornfield and Christina Feldman (1). The authors have collected stories from a wide variety of sources: Taoist, Buddhist, Sufi, Christian, Zen, Desert Fathers, Hindu, and the man or woman who never gets quoted anywhere else. I want to share with you some stories.

“I have only three enemies. My favorite enemy, the one most easily influenced for the better, is the British Empire. My second enemy, the Indian People, is far more difficult. But my most formidable opponent is a man named Mohandas K. Gandhi. With him I seem to have very little influence.”(2)

These five short sentences from Gandhi focus on life’s biggest problem – self-acceptance, as Jung pointed out when he wrote, “Perhaps this sounds very simple, but simple things are always the most difficult. In actual life it requires the greatest art to be simple, and so acceptance of oneself is the essence of the moral problem and the acid test of one’s whole outlook on life.” (3)

The second section of the book opens with several accounts of simplicity. Nasrudin, the “wise fool” who appears in many stories from the cultures of the Near East through Central Asia, tells his friends in the tea shop the story of his life:

Nasrudin was now an old man looking back on his life. He sat with his friends in the tea shop telling his story.

“When I was young I was fiery—I wanted to awaken everyone. I prayed to Allah to give me the strength to change the world.

“In mid-life I awoke one day and realized my life was half over and I had changed no one. So I prayed to Allah to give me the strength to change those close around me who so much needed it.

“Alas, now I am old and my prayer is simpler. ‘Allah,’ I ask, ‘please give me the strength to at least change myself.’’ (4)                                                                                                                 

One of the Hassidic stories recounts the travels and fame of two rabbis who were brothers.

“In the course of their long wanderings, the two brothers Rabbi Zusya and Rabbi Elimelekh often came to the city of Ludimir. There they always slept in the house of a poor, devout man. Years later, when their reputation had spread all over the country, they came to Ludimir again, not on foot as before, but in a carriage. The wealthiest man in that little town, who had never wanted to have anything to do with them, came to meet them, the moment he heard they had arrived, and begged them to lodge in his house. But they said: “Nothing has changed in us to make you respect us more than before. What is new is just the horses and the carriage. Take them for your guests, but let us stop with our old host, as usual”(4)

The third section of the book, entitled “Living Our Truth,” opens with another delightful Nasrudin story.

‘One day Mulla Nasrudin got word that he had received a special message from the Sheik of Basra. When he went to pick it up they told him that he must first identify himself. Nasrudin fished in his trousers and took out a brass mirror. Looking into it he exclaimed, “Yup, that’s me all right.”(5)

To live our own truth we first must discover our own truth. Early on in the Red Book Jung admonishes the reader not to imitate him (nor what he writes in the Red Book). “It is no teaching and no instruction that I give you. On what basis should I presume to teach you? I give you news of the way of this man, but not of your own way. My path is not your path, therefore I cannot teach you. The way is within us, but not in Gods, nor in teachings, nor in laws. Within us is the way, the truth, and the life.” Jung’s words remind me of the passage where Jesus is reported to have said “Man, if thou knowest what thou doest, blessed art thou; but if thou knowest not, thou art accursed and a transgressor of the Law.” Consciousness makes all the difference.

“Mindfulness,” rather than “consciousness,” is the word people now often use. The friend who gave me the book told the story of two Zen masters, one visiting the other.

“It was raining as the visiting Zen master made his way to the other master’s house. When he arrived, he set his umbrella down by the door, knocked, and was let in. In the course of conversation the host asked his guest whether he had set his umbrella to the right or to the left of the door. Surprised and confused, the guest master could not remember. Whereupon he relinquished his position as master and returned to ranks of the students.”

The story makes a simple, but profound point: be aware of what you do. Another story (this one from the book) reminds us that mindfulness, that knowing what we are doing, depends on attention and on intention. No autopilot here.

“A young female disciple undertook to develop the meditation on loving-kindness. Sitting in her small room, she would fill her heart with loving-kindness for all beings, yet each day as she went to the bazaar to gather her food, she would find her loving-kindness sorely tested by one shopkeeper who would daily subject her to unwelcome caresses. One day she could stand no more and began to chase the shopkeeper down the road with her upraised umbrella. To her mortification she passed her meditation master standing on the side of the road observing this spectacle. Shame-faced she went to stand before him expecting to be rebuked for her anger. “What you should do,” her master kindly advised her, “is to fill your heart with loving-kindness, and with as much mindfulness as you can muster, hit this unruly fellow over the head with your umbrella.” (8)

So what is it about these stories that make them “soul food”? Why call them “soul” food at all? These and similar stories produce a specific effect on me: They alter my point of view. More precisely, they take me out of my “business-as-usual” mindset. By shattering the expectations of my conditioned mind, they open me to a different way of seeing and being. But why call them “soul food”?

In Psychological Types, Jung defines the soul as “the relation to the unconscious . . . and as a personification of unconscious contents.” A little later on he writes: “The organ of perception, the soul, apprehends the contents of the unconscious, and as the creative function, gives birth to its dynamis in the form of a symbol”.

In other words, “soul” is that capacity in each of us: 1) to become aware of something not in our current consciousness; 2) to be moved by that something, by its dynamis; and 3) to experience that “something” in a form and shape that carries more meaning than we can unpack (i.e., it is a symbol in Jung’s sense).

These stories feed that capacity in each of us that takes us outside of and beyond our current mental state. They enliven and energize our consciousness in unexpected ways. (That’s the dynamis, the energy effect.) In a word, they liberate us from our stuckness in the here-and-now that so often can feel oppressive and stifling. Understood in this way the question in Mark 8:36 begins to make sense: “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” Then we have Scrooge, Midas and the whole lot who, as people used to say, “Know the price of everything, but don’t know the value of anything.”

Soul food stories combat the soul-less-ness of a dog-eat-dog reality and offer us a liberated way to see and understand what’s going on around us.



(1) Kornfield, Jack, and Chrfistina Feldman (1996). Soul Food: Stories to Nouris the Spirit & the Heart. New York” HarperOne.

(2) Kornfield and Feldman (1996:55).

(3) Jung, C.G. (1953). Psychology and Religion, The Collected Works of C.G. Jung. Princeton: Princeton University Press, para. 520.

(4) Kornfield and Feldman (1996:184)

(5) Kornfield and Fledman (1996:269).

(6) Jung, C.G. (2009).  The Red Book: Liber Novus, A Reader’s Edition. Ed. Sonu Shamdasani. New York: W.W Norton, p. 125. (Italics in the original.)

(7) “List of authentic agrapha,” Codex D of Luke 6:4. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/01225c.htm

(8) Kornfield and Feldman (1996:274).

Feb2018 Boris Matthews, PhD, LCSW practices Analytical Psychology (a.k.a. Jungian Analysis) at the Ommani Center for Integrative Medicine in Pewaukee, WI. He is a teaching and supervising faculty member of the C. G. Jung Institute of Chicago, IL, and serves as Director of the Analyst Training Program at the Jung Institute. To schedule an appointment with him, contact us at 262.695.5311

Emotional Responsibility

In his Emotional Intelligence (1995) and Working with Emotional Intelligence (1998), Daniel Goleman focused our attention on the profound role that emotions play in our personal, work, and social lives. His presentation is well grounded in neurology and richly illustrated with vivid examples of emotions running riot; as well as calm and calming responses to infectious emotional situations. In a section on self-control, he writes: “The ultimate act of personal responsibility at work may be in taking control of our own state of mind. (1998, p. 84). Taking control of our own state of mind implies emotional responsibility—not only at work, but in all areas of life. Practicing emotional responsibility frees us to follow the advice of the I Ching about brightening our bright virtue, as I wrote in the December column.

What does it mean to be emotionally responsible? To illustrate emotional responsibility I often use the term “emotionally house-broken.” We know what happens if our domestic pets are not house-broken: they let go wherever they happen to be. A person who is not emotionally house-broken “lets go” wherever and whenever, pretty much regardless of the situation or who is present. Such an individual has no sense of responsibility for polluting the environment. Because emotions are contagious, another person’s uncontained, emotional outburst can trigger a corresponding or complementary emotion in us. Whether we wish for that to happen or not.

For example, we feel intimidated or assaulted by the angry person’s uncontained anger. We cringe or want to strike back. The whiner elicits revulsion in us or the impulse to “give him (or her) something to whine about.” In the presence of a depressed person, we may try to cheer him up or try to escape and avoid the deadening pull of depression. In these examples, the angry person, the whiner, and the depressed person let their emotions flood the area, affecting everybody nearby. These people take no responsibility for their emotions.

What tells us that a person is emotionally responsible? We feel emotionally safe in that person’s presence. We can recognize that the other person is experiencing some sort of emotion, yet we don’t feel infected. Taking responsibility for emotions means containing them; but containing does not mean suppressing them, and it does not mean denying them. You can contain an emotion while at the same time tell another person what emotion you are experiencing. You experience the emotion, but the emotion doesn’t do the talking. Another part you your mind that is in charge speaks about your emotion. That is emotional responsibility in action.

The importance of cultivating emotional responsibility extends beyond our private lives. The constant emotional bombardment from advertising, news, and politicians aims at arousing and manipulating our emotions to further their purposes, buy their product, believe this or that side of a dispute, support this or that candidate or policy. In both private and public life, letting emotions have their way with us polarizes and divides us one from another. As difficult as it may be to develop emotional responsibility so that we contain our emotional reactions, we must do just that if we want to find common ground with others and make it possible to live together in the same house, the same city, the same country, and ultimately on the same planet.

What I write here proclaims no new wisdom, yet each one of us has to learn it for ourselves, probably the hard way.

Return of the Light

Several years ago the husband of a friend had a life-saving experience of light. During a psychotic episode due to a severe infection he felt he was in a pitch black space. In the distance he could see a point of light. He knew that he would survive if he could keep the point of light in sight. For him, “the light at the end of the tunnel” was much more than a metaphor.

In a few days, we arrive at the longest night and shortest day of the year: the Winter Solstice. Flicking a switch to turn a light has dulled our appreciation for the natural rhythm of light and dark. Winter Solstice—the return of the light—meant incalculably more to people who lived by firelight and candle light. Consequently we can have light on demand. We can easily get stuck in the literal meaning of light, but we also associate light with consciousness. A return of the light implies a return or an increase in consciousness.

When I started thinking about what needed to be said in this December article, the famous lines from Charles Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities came to mind:

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way . . . .

Dickens’ first edition came out in 1859. The frontispiece has two panels: on the left, a bourgeois garden party; on the right, a poor slob sitting in a cell in beggars’ prison. We could easily update the pictures for 2017.

Then I consulted the ancient Chinese Book of Changes, the I Ching, perhaps the oldest of all books. You can read the I Ching as a wisdom book; you can also approach it as an oracle. I asked the I Ching a simple question: What needs to be said in the December issue of the Ommani Jewel. The I Ching’s answer surprised me: “Progress.” The sun rising over the earth images “Progress” in the I Ching:

The sun rises over the earth:
The image of Progress.
Thus the superior man himself
Brightens his bright virtue.

The rising of the sun over the earth instructs the “superior man” to brighten his “bright virtue.” The “superior man,” the chün tsu in Chinese, represents “the ideal of a person who uses divination to order his/her life in accordance with the Tao rather than willful intention.” TaoRi “literally, The Way, is the flow or stream of creative energy that makes life possible, the way in which everything happens and the way on which everything happens.”

Richard Wilhelm, translator of the I Ching, comments on the image of the sun rising over the earth. He writes that light of the rising sun is by nature clear. The higher it rises, the brighter it shines, “spreading the pristine purity of its rays over an ever-widening area.” So too the “real nature” of the human being is originally good, “but it becomes clouded by contact with earthly things and therefore needs purification before it can shine forth in its native clarity.” What, then, are the earthly things that obscure the natural brightness of the human being?

Our unhealed wounds and the conditioning that has shaped and mis-shaped us, distort our essential nature. Although expressed in various ways, the great spiritual traditions agree that we let progressively more of our innate radiance shine forth as we clear away the accumulated emotional and mental debris. In this way we “brighten” our “bright virtue” and bring about progress, an “ever widening expansion and clarity.”

The sun will continue to rise following the Winter Solstice. We will gradually have more and more daylight. If we want more expansion and clarity, however, the I Ching tells us we must brighten our bright virtue. Simply put: we have to work on ourselves if we want to affect progress. We have to identify and heal our wounds. We have to recognize those aspects of our conditioning that prevent us from expressing the goodness in us.

It’s up to us to change the story of the best of times and the worst of times. Ultimately we must serve something greater than our narrow self-interest.  The Chinese called this the Tao, the path, the way.

I wish you all a time of reflection and the peace and courage to brighten your bright virtue as we celebrate the Return of the Light.


What are we to make of the transgender phenomenon? A Google search for “transgender” brings up 67,600,000 results. GLAAD, an organization that for more than 30 years has been at the forefront of cultural change, accelerating acceptance for the LGBTQ community”1 posts this description on its website:

Transgender is a term used to describe people whose gender identity differs from the sex they were assigned at birth. Gender identity is a person’s internal, personal sense of being a man or a woman (or boy or girl.) For some people, their gender identity does not fit neatly into those two choices. For transgender people, the sex they were assigned at birth and their own internal gender identity do not match.2

The American Psychological Association (APA) website essentially echoes the GLAAD definition, adding that “The ways that transgender people are talked about in popular culture, academia and science are constantly changing, particularly as individuals’ awareness, knowledge and openness about transgender people and their experiences grow.”3

In this month’s column I want to suggest that the transgender phenomenon continues a trend with a long history, and adds a significant new dimension. But I must also point out that some North American native peoples far outpace us in their understanding, acceptance, and honoring of transgender persons.

Various North American native peoples honor Two Spirit individuals in their communities. Tony Enos writes on Indian Country Media Network that

While the term Two Spirit was coined in 1990 in Winnipeg, Canada as a means of unifying various gender identities and expressions of Native American/First Nations/Indigenous individuals, the term is not a specific definition of gender, sexual orientation or other self-determining catch-all phrase, but rather an umbrella term.

Two Spirit people have both a male and female spirit within them and are blessed by their Creator to see life through the eyes of both genders.

The term does not diminish the tribal-specific names, roles and traditions nations have for their own Two Spirit people. Examples of such names are the winkte among the Lakota and the nadleeh among the Navajo people.

These names and roles go back to a time before western religion. Two Spirit is not a “New Age” movement, but rather a reclamation of Two Spirit’s rightful place in Native culture.3

Tony Enos clarifies that Two Spirit and “gay” do not embrace all the same people: “Being a gay native is oftentimes confused with being Two Spirit. While the two may have parallels and intersections, they are not the same. Gay specifically is about attraction to a person of the same sex. Two Spirit is more about the embodiment of two genders residing within one person.”3

Although the term Two Spirit may be used primarily or only in reference to Native American persons, transgender appears to be the non-native culture’s designation for a similar phenomenon. The emergence into public view of transgender represents, in my view, a significant development in recognizing that gender—a person’s inner sense of maleness or femaleness—does not correspond to anatomical sex. Or to put it better: the designation “transgender” proclaims the reality that gender—the sense of being male or female—can be independent of sexual orientation or anatomy.

The longer-term trend that transgender now joins has to do with the growing awareness of the archetypal feminine vis-à-vis the archetypal masculine. These terms—archetypal feminine and archetypal masculine—mean that gender traits are not subject to personal preference. Rather, as “archetypal” they exist prior to learning, personal preference, and socialization. Archetypal “masculine” traits include initiative, assertiveness, decisiveness, confrontation (to name only four). Archetypal “feminine” traits include receptivity, nurturing, soothing, feeding, containing. We all know women who are no less “feminine” when they take initiative or assert themselves. Likewise, we can name men who do very well at nurturing, soothing, and containing. Fundamentally, the ancient Chinese terms, yang and yin, serve us better than “masculine” and “feminine” because these words all too easily lead to “secondary personalization”4 which identifies archetypal potentials (the yang and the yin) with anatomical assignment sex. The “law of secondary personalization,” Eric Neumann writes, “maintains that contents which are primarily transpersonal [i.e., archetypal] and originally appeared as such are, in the course of development, taken to be personal…. If … transpersonal contents are reduced to the data of purely personalistic psychology, the result is not only an appalling impoverishment of individual life—that might remain merely a private concern—but also a congestion of the collective unconscious which has disastrous consequences for humanity at large.”4 We need think only of the excesses of empire, that arch-patriarchal—“real man”—pursuit of domination and exploitation.

For a long time our society tended to assign a person’s gender on the basis of anatomical sex: men are men and women are women, and the gender roles got assigned and societally enforced at birth. Recently I witnessed a testimony from a mother who told the group I attended what her child had told her. Born an anatomical female, she told her mother that she had known “she” was in the wrong body since age three. Society had assigned her the female gender role, which did not correspond with her inner sense of herself.

This rigidity has changed markedly over the last several decades thanks to the various phases of the Women’s Movement and Feminism. In 1976 June Singer, a Jungian analyst practicing in Chicago, published Androgyny: Toward a new theory of sexuality. “Starting as I had from a position in the twentieth century,” she writes, “I found it difficult to comprehend the meaning behind the rapidly shifting views of individuals regarding their own sexuality, and it was still more difficult to interpret the changes in the ways they viewed the sexuality of the opposite sex.” Singer “searched the pages of history and mythology,” and everywhere she “found the androgyne gazing up at [her] with that curious smile which is neither altogether masculine nor altogether feminine.” She makes the point of emphasizing “the harmonious coexistence of masculinity and femininity within a single individual” that the androgyne represents. The sexual revolution of today, she writes, “may appear to be a reaction against the injustices of the past century or two, but I have tried to show that this is a mere surface manifestation of a fundamental principle that has existed for so long that it may be said to be inherent in the nature of the human organism. Not reactive, but intrinsic, is the principle of androgyny.” 5

Although I could not appreciate her insight at the time, I now see that she had brought into focus a trend that now—after the feminist and the LGBYQ revolutions—we witness in the transgender phenomenon: the recognition that archetypal yang and archetypal yin traits exist in every individual, and some persons have a more acute awareness that their anatomical sex and their sense of gender don’t correspond. The trend, as I see it, moves toward more openly honoring the archetypal feminine principle in our patriarchal society, regardless whether it emerges in a man or a woman. But I do have some serious concerns about the men and women who identify as “trans” and take measures to alter their bodies with hormones or surgery.

So far as I know, the Native American Two Spirit individuals find no need for sex-change hormones or surgery. Not so with non-Native Americans. The long-term consequences of sex-change hormones and surgery remain unknown. Early in June 30, 2015, PBS / Frontline story, “When Transgender Kids Transition,” we read that “new medical options are allowing transgender children to start the process of transitioning at younger ages. But doctors tread carefully, navigating medical interventions that carry risks that are both known and unknown.” 6 Walt Heyer published a piece on February 2, 2015, on the website of The Federalist, “What Parents Should Know About Giving Hormones to Trans Kids.”  He writes: “The United States Endocrine Society says that cross-gender hormones should not be used on kids under the age of 16. The standards in the Netherlands, United Kingdom, and Australia agree. The reason is simple: Cross-sex hormones have irreversible effects on fertility. Cross-gender hormone treatments can sterilize kids ….”7 Although these references are neither current nor medically authoritative, as non-technical sources, they say to a general public that their long-term effects remain unknown.

In my view, sex hormone therapy and sex-change surgery look like literalizations and concretizations of an essentially psychological (for want of a better term) issue. Native Americans move on saner ground with their acceptance of and respect for Two Spirit people. June Singer addressed that issue over forty years ago when she wrote, as I quoted above, that the androgyne presents the image of “the harmonious coexistence of masculinity and femininity within a single individual.”

Tony Enos said it well: “Two Spirit people have both a male and female spirit within them and are blessed by their Creator to see life through the eyes of both genders.” Little by little we approach that day when archetypal feminine and archetypal masculine not only coexist in a woman or a man, but can generate a robust synergy.


  1. https://www.glaad.org/about/history (as of 2017-10-24)
  2. https://www.glaad.org/transgender/transfaq (as of 2017-10-24)
  3. https://indiancountrymedianetwork.com/culture/social-issues/8-misconceptions-things-know-two-spirit-people/
  4. Neumann, Eric (1954). The History and Origins of Consciousness. Bollingen Series XLII, Princeton: Princeton University Press, xxiiif.
  5. Singer, J. (1976). Androgyny: Toward a new theory of sexuality. New York: Anchor Press / Doubleday, vii-viii. (Male and female bodies are joined in the figure of the androgyne.)
  6. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/frontline/article/when-transgender-kids-transition-medical-risks-are-both-known-and-unknown/
  7. http://thefederalist.com/2015/02/02/what-parents-should-know-about-giving-hormones-to-trans-kids/


Nov 2017 Boris Matthews, PhD, LCSW practices Analytical Psychology (a.k.a. Jungian Analysis) at the Ommani Center for Integrative Medicine in Pewaukee, WI. He is a teaching and supervising faculty member of the C. G. Jung Institute of Chicago, IL, and serves as Director of the Analyst Training Program at the Jung Institute. To schedule an appointment with him, contact us at 262.695.5311.


Archetypal Weather Report

Many people these days feel deeply unsettled by what they see happening in countries around the world – including here at home. Several international figures embody the current Zeitgeist: Erdoǧan in Turkey, Duterte in the Philippines, Putin in Russia. I could also mention would-be leaders of nations, for example Marine LePen in France and Geert Wilders in the Netherlands, and others, who did not get elected to leadership offices. These people have risen to visibility and prominence in these times just as did a number of people in the past.

Regardless where people situate themselves on a political spectrum from far left to far right, many feel that our world is coming apart. Both political right and political left want strong, clear leadership. Everywhere we see increased grassroots nationalistic fervor, often hostile to “foreigners” and immigrants, coming into focus in autocratic leaders. We also see at the grassroots level democratic and progressive movements reaching across tribal, ethnic, racial, and national boundaries working for inclusiveness, as well as a few leaders who are anything but autocratic.

This turmoil and longing form two faces of the current archetypal weather.

So what’s an “archetypal weather report?” “Archetypal” refers to an energy pattern that can operate at many levels when activated. At a personal level when the self / not-self archetypal pattern rules us, we split the world into people with whom we resonate and those whom we label “enemies,” the “others.” On a global scale, the same archetypal pattern divides peoples into “us” and “them.”

An archetypal weather report describes the mood of the times in which we live; the present emotional “weather,” the “spirit of the times,” the Zeitgeist. First, we describe the current “spirit of the times.” A fundamental idea underlies an archetypal weather report: these kinds of changes of the Zeitgeist in a society manifest regularly about every 84 years.  (At the end of this column I will discuss the astrological component that corroborates the 84 year period. If the astrological piece does not interest you, by all means skip it. The historical examples can stand on their own.) When we look at the history of the last several centuries (focusing on Europe), we find that every 84 years there is a period of a few years during which a new “spirit of the times” swiftly replaces the previous “spirit of the times.” Who were those people in the past? What was going on in the times in which they lived? What were the changes?

If we start with our current year, 2017, and subtract 84, we come to the year 1933. That was a fateful year in Europe and in the U.S. Actually, 1927/28 to 1934/35, mark the six to eight year period from the beginning through the most intense period and then the gradual recovery. But the old order had been dislodged by something different, as we will see in other historical examples.

The Great Depression was deepening. Germany was in deep trouble. Germany had experienced political turmoil since the end of WW I, and hyperinflation reached its peak in November of 1932.  Unemployment was high. In January, 1933, Adolf Hitler was sworn in as Reichskanzler in Germany. Ten years earlier (1923) Hitler had attempted a coup for which he was jailed. “Released [from prison] in 1924, Hitler gained popular support by attacking the Treaty of Versailles and promoting Pan-Germanism, antisemitism, and anti-communism with charismatic oratory and Nazi propaganda. He frequently denounced international capitalism and communism as being part of a Jewish conspiracy. By 1933, the Nazi Party was the largest elected party in the German Reichstag and led to Hitler’s appointment as Chancellor on 30 January 1933. Following fresh elections won by his coalition, the Reichstag passed the Enabling Act, which began the process of transforming the Weimar Republic into Nazi Germany, a one-party dictatorship based on the totalitarian and autocratic ideology of National Socialism.(1)

In March, 1933, Franklin Delano Roosevelt was sworn in as President of the United States. Unemployment in the U.S. stood at 25%. Crop prices had fallen by about 60%; construction was virtually halted; industrial production stalled; mining and logging – the source of raw materials – suffered the most.(2)  For his part, “during his first 100 days in office, Roosevelt spearheaded unprecedented federal legislation and issued a profusion of executive orders that instituted the New Deal — a variety of programs designed to produce relief (government jobs for the unemployed), recovery (economic growth), and reform (through regulation of Wall Street, banks and transportation).”(3)

Similar economic conditions in both Germany and the U.S. brought very different leaders to power. In both instances, the old order was transformed in many ways.

Our next example takes us to the middle of the 19th Century, the period from 1843/44 to about 1850/51. These were the years of revolution and reaction in Europe. In the first half of 1848, there were uprisings and attempted revolutions in most of the states of continental Europe (France, Italy, Prussia, Austria), but they were quickly put down and reaction set in. The authorities crushed these popular uprisings. In France, Prince Louis Napoleon Bonaparte was elected as president of the Republic with more than 75% of the vote. Scarcely three years in office, he pulled off a coup in December 1851, and in a plebiscite had himself granted dictatorial powers for ten years. Many people left Europe for America in the late 1840s and the 1850s.

We go back another 84 years to the period from 1759/60 to 1767-68, beginning of the Industrial Revolution. This period is known as “enlightened absolutism.” In Prussia Friedrich the Great rose to prominence in the German-speaking areas. The conclusion of the Seven Years War (1763) altered the balance among the colonial powers in Europe. France lost its New World colonies to Great Brittan. In 1757 the English had already pushed the French out of India. In the New World, the English colonies were demanding a voice in their political fate.

Going back further, another 84 years takes us to the period from 1675/76 to 1683/84. Louis XIV of France, the “Sun King,” might be the outstanding exemplar of the European absolute monarch, although there were absolute monarchies in Denmark-Norway, Prussia, and Russia. “The King of France concentrated in his person legislative, executive, and judicial powers. He was the supreme judicial authority. He could condemn men to death without the right of appeal. It was both his duty to punish offenses and stop them from being committed. His judicial authority provided his power to both make laws and annul them.”(4)

We take one more eighty-four year step back into European history: 1592-93 to 1599/1600. It was during this period that the so-called “divine right of kings” became a dominant model of governance in many countries. According to this doctrine, opposing the king was tantamount to opposing God. This form of religiously-based absolutism spread from France to other countries.

In reverse order we have briefly sketched European historical periods when various forms of autocracy have reached their culmination. The Meriam-Webster on-line dictionary defines autocracy (5) as “government in which one person possesses unlimited power.” These culmination periods appear to follow a cycle: every 84 years the powers of autocracy become dominant again; then countervailing powers (populist and/or democratic) gain strength and the autocrats are nudged out of their ruling position for another few decades, only to cycle back again.

If we briefly review the periods I have mentioned, we have the divine right of kings, followed by absolute monarchy. That gradually yields to enlightened absolutism, accompanied by the Industrial Revolution. The French Revolution briefly ushers a republican form of government, but that soon becomes an empire with a king. In the middle of the 19th Century, economic conditions have become unsustainable for many, thanks to increasing industrialization. The various rebellions and revolutions of the late 1840’s are crushed by what we could now call dictatorial royal governments. Waves of oppressed European peoples immigrate to America.

In the aftermath of WW I, the old European order lay in ruins. Black Friday happens in 1929 when the U.S. stock market crashed and dealt another blow to the old order. In the 1920s and 1930s, Fascism developed in Europe; F.D.R. ushered in the New Deal in America. We are now 84 years from the inauguration of F.D.R. and the naming of Adolf Hitler as Chancellor of Germany.

At the beginning of this column I mentioned several political figures who show traits typical of the autocrat: Erdoǧan in Turkey, Duterte in the Philippines, Putin in Russia. I also mentioned Marine Le Pen in France and Geert Wilders in the Netherlands as would-be autocrats if they came to power. Our country is deeply divided. Will a majority of our compatriots ultimately turn to a “strong man” to save us? How do we survive in these troubled and troubling times when individuals and groups and political parties are bombarding us with their urgent emotional messages and many Americans are at one another’s throats? Understatement: we live in emotional times.

Emotion conveys important information, but not guidelines for action. We need reliable evidence on which to base our decisions and actions. Emotion tells us how we value a piece of evidence, but not what to do about it. Second, we need to see where the various pieces of evidence fit in an existing pattern, or what sort of coherent pattern the evidence suggests. This produces context. (The 84-year cycle offers one context in which to view the present.) Third, it is important for us to envision the implications suggested by the evidence and the pattern in which the evidence finds its place. This holds true as well for possible responses to the evidence, that is, the decisions we could make and the actions we could take. Given this evidence, the relevant context, and these possible lines of action, what are the possible and likely outcomes? And finally we have to evaluate the possible consequences of our choices and actions in human terms: if we do this, how will it affect peoples’ lives? Or if we do that, how will that affect peoples’ lives.

This last step calls for a clarity not clouded by emotion. It’s a difficult step for a human being to take because a surge of emotion can “feel so very right” — at the moment. Earlier I defined “archetypal” as an energy pattern that can operate at many levels when activated. I gave the “us vs. them” as an example. In addition to this “self vs. other” archetypal pattern, we see the emotional call for law and order; the emotional call for fairness and justice; the emotional call to take in immigrants and the opposing emotional call to send them all packing to where they came from; the emotional call to save the earth and ourselves from self-destruction. We need to approach all these hot issues as clear-headedly as we possibly can.

I believe we have to follow the four steps I outlined rather than let ourselves be captive to emotions that would have their way with us, even though we may not have sufficient evidence, even though we may not be sure where the evidence fits in a pattern, even though we cannot foresee all possible outcomes. Nevertheless, acknowledging our limitations, the fundamental question remains: what do our choices and actions mean for human beings?

Keeping all of this in mind – maybe we can better navigate the archetypal weather to which we are exposed.

* * * *

Brief Notes on the Astrology of our Current Archetypal Weather

In past columns, I have written about astrology as a diagnostic and prognostic resource in psychotherapy and analysis. (See the Ommani Jewel, March, 2017.) Beyond the individual in therapy or analysis, astrology has many more applications. When we look at what happens on earth, or to a nation, or a society, we have shifted our focus to the larger collective. This historical approach reveals the orderly changes in mood, the “spirit of the times,” the Zeitgeist that correlates with specific astrological configurations. These correlations reliably predict specific kinds of cyclical shifts in the mood of the times.

As we will saw when I ran the history, the examples of increasing autocracy turned up with regularity about every 84 years. This period of years corresponds to the number of years on Earth (by our time reckoning) that the planet Uranus needs to make one full circuit of the Sun, and return to an angular relationship with the planet Pluto. (An “angular” relationship is one in which the two planets are 180 degrees opposed, or at right angles to each other, or appear to be in the same location, zero degrees apart.) When in an angular relationship, planets tend to stimulate/activate each other. Observation has correlated Uranus with sudden change, surprises, new inventions, and discoveries (to mention only the most prominent traits). Pluto correlates to great power; but when triggered by another planet, Pluto produces fundamental transformation. Put more brutally, activated Pluto corresponds to the destruction of whatever has outlasted its usefulness. We need only two more pieces of information to make sense of the 84 years separating the historical examples.

As planets move into angular relationship, their combined effect gradually increases until they appear to occupy the same location as viewed from Earth. As they move away from the exact angular relationship, their effect gradually wanes. (In astrological language this range is called “orb.”) This means that there is a period of Earth years when these two planets in their angular relationship correspond to the intensification of correlated events on our planet. The orb of the Uranus-Pluto angular relationship accounts for the time span noted in the historical examples, e.g., 1927/28 to 1934/35. It is during these periods of years that the Uranus-Pluto angular relationship waxes to maximum and then gradually wanes.

Here’s our last necessary piece of astrological information: In all the historical examples, the planet Uranus is in angular relationship to Pluto and Uranus is in the astrological sign Aries, the ram. This is important. The Uranus in this configuration functions, so to speak, as the “actor” or “agent.” The astrological sign defines the way in which the planet acts or behaves; the quality of the planet’s action. Aries corresponds to the energy of new growth in Spring. There’s an urgency, a driving force, a relentlessness to Aries. When the surprise and innovation of Uranus as agent of the relentless Aries energy triggers Pluto’s power to do away with all that is worn out and no longer useful we get some momentous changes such as we saw in the historical examples.

By using astrology in this manner we can gain some sense of the repeating patterns in what happens on the planet. Many other cyclical patterns offer useful perspectives, but of concern to us in 2017 is the 84 year Uranus-Pluto cycle because it lets us see what happened at earlier times when Uranus was in Aries and in angular relationship to Pluto. As awareness of the historical cycle gives us insight to assist our navigation of the “weather,” awareness of the Uranus-Pluto cycle can also provide us with a larger, cosmic perspective to support our journey.


  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nazism
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Depression
  3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Franklin_D._Roosevelt  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Absolute_monarchy
  4. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/autocracy

Bibliography for further reading:
Tarnas, R. (1996). Understanding Our Moment in History: An Interview with Richard Tarnas.   http://www.scottlondon.com/insight/index.html

———(2006). Cosmos and Psyche: Intimations of a New World View. New York: Viking.

———(2013). An Introduction to Archetypal Astrological Analysis. https://cosmosandpsyche.files.wordpress.com/2013/05/introductiontoastrology1.pdf

Weiss, C. (2017). Uranus in Widder als Nährboden für Autokraten und Diktatoren. Astrologie Heute, Nr. 186, April-Mai 2017, pp.22ff.


Oct 2017 Boris Matthews, PhD, LCSW practices Analytical Psychology (a.k.a. Jungian Analysis) at the Ommani Center for Integrative Medicine in Pewaukee, WI. He is a teaching and supervising faculty member of the C. G. Jung Institute of Chicago, IL, and serves as Director of the Analyst Training Program at the Jung Institute. To schedule an appointment with him, contact us at 262.695.5311.

Mirror, Mirror…

“Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the fairest one of all?” Thus the Queen in “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” commands the mirror to tell her the truth, in this instance about beauty. Honest mirrors show us what we look like. As an image, the mirror reflects what it “sees.”

A Google search for “mirror, mirror on the wall” netted (yes, that is a very bad pun, but I did need a verb) “about 106,000,000 results” in 0.68 seconds. Those 106,000,000 hits cover a vast range: “spiritual life1; the story of Snow White2; a Psychology Today piece on longevity3; a 1979 speech by the commissioner of the Church Education System at Brigham Young University4; and then on to really bad taste examples, such as getting drunk5, an ad for local medical care6,  jokes from Comedy Central7 and, of course, more advertisements (for mirrors, paint, interior décor, birthday parties, etc., etc.).

Hence a question: Why our fascination with mirrors? Does the mirror perform some essential and necessary function in our psychic economy? That’s want I want to explore this month. And these questions take us back to the story of Snow White and the Queen.

The Queen needed to know something about herself. More exactly, she needed reassurance of her self-worth which, for her, depended on being seen as “the fairest of all.” It is as if her personhood depended on other people view of her (“fairest,” in her case). The Queen’s need and question take us directly to the importance and function of the mirror, not so much the piece of polished metal or silvered glass, but the other people who reflect what they see when they look at us.

We mirror other people when we tell them how we experience them and what we see in them. Especially in our dealings with children and young people, the way we adults “mirror” them contributes to forming their sense of themselves—for better or worse, affirming essential traits and qualities or imposing our vision of their abilities, acceptability, and worth as individuals.

For our part, we utilize the mirroring from those people who see and experience us to shape our sense of ourselves. In a sense, for better or worse, they tell us who and what we are and can become. When we can take it in, honest and accurate reflection contributes to our developing a grounded sense of self and an inner core of self-acceptance and strength. In a word, honest and accurate feedback that we can embrace gives us to ourselves. But when other people, acting consciously or unconsciously on their agendas, “tell us who we are,” they can also contribute to estranging us from our authentic being and to our creating a “false self.” A “false self” may appear to look good in the eyes of other people, our family, friends, or acquaintances. What it lacks is the solid, inner core of identity and recognition of what interests and enlivens us. That inner core enables us to know what does and does not suit us.  Such inner strength calmly but firmly allows us to follow our personal vision and, when challenged, stand our ground.

I can state the basic idea fairly simply: All infants, children, young people, and no-longer-so-young people need people around them as “honest mirrors.” An honest mirror accurately reflects beauty and ugliness, accomplishment and failure, potential and lack of potential. An honest mirror tells no lies, gives neither false praise nor damning criticism. The honest mirror gives us back to ourselves. Because the honest mirror truly sees us both as we actually are and as we really could be, we get affirmation, vision, and encouragement—we are “seen,” beauty, warts, potential, and all—as well as invaluable feedback about our effect on other people.

Mirroring, as it is called in psychology, helps you (and me) become real: attuned to the surrounding world and attuned to our innate potential, the “inner” world. With honest mirroring (honest mirroring has no hidden agenda) you come to know yourself: what you really are, what you aspire to become, and enjoy the knowledge that you can do it.

In the absence of honest mirroring, an individual’s sense of self lacks cohesion and resilience. Lacking inner cohesion, the individual develops coping strategies and mechanisms in the attempt to shore up the wobbly emotional foundation. Then we see the attitudes and behaviors mentioned below: charm and temper tantrums, seduction and intimidation, boasts of fullness and ravenous hunger.

In psychology, this phenomenon carries the name “pathological narcissism.” As unpleasant as it is to experience in another (or in oneself), pathological narcissism becomes progressively more dangerous as the narcissistic person gains more power and influence. The belief that one can “manage” it in another, or that the level of toxic narcissism will decrease in the course of time prove vain and futile. Confrontation evokes explosion and retaliation. Support and encouragement feed the bottomless hunger without changing the pattern.

Much suffering—often life-long—results when somebody else’s vision has molded and shaped an individual. We can see evidence of this painful condition in other people when they appear

  • Charming, charismatic, confident, persuasive
  • Superior, entitled, manipulative
  • Perpetually hungry for attention, adulation, admiration
  • Unable to tolerate criticism
  • Vicious in attacking those who differ from them.

The list could continue, but these few characteristic behaviors and attitudes suffice to identify the phenomenon.

When dealing with the behaviors I have described, we may experience the temptation to indulge and endure without pushing back, in order to evade the nasty reaction when we challenge. I suspect each of us has chosen this coward’s ploy at one time or another in the hope of preserving whatever passes for peace. Unfortunately, the ravenous narcissistic hunger sometimes drives an individual to high levels of accomplishment and power. Then we are challenged to dethrone the emperor who has no clothes. One of the sobering truths about our human condition states that unless and until a person becomes a problem to himself or herself, nothing will change. The narcissistic person remains a problem to others, and sometimes a danger.

Narcissism has another face that doesn’t look at all grandiose, seductive, hypersensitive, or vindictive. What I have described so far turns toward the “outer” world, an extraverted, and therefore more visible, manifestation. The other face turns inward, creating an invisible civil war in the individual:

  • “I don’t deserve . . .”
  • “I’m not good enough . . .”
  • “Good people get to have this. I don’t get to have this.”
  • “I’m a have-not.”

Viewed from the internal civil war, the individual does see “good people:” They are the ones who are bold, who have ambitions and are making plans, who are potent and going somewhere. These people are perceived by the narcissistic individual as highly deserving. All of which may be said with an engaging smile.

The outside of these folks seldom reveals the civil war within. They may appear polite, competent at what they do, articulate, witty. But they may also hold back from engaging other people, or tasks, or challenges. They frequently have “explanations,” “cover stories” in which they claim not to be interested, to prefer spectating rather than participating. The civil war rages on between visions of greatness and the paralyzing sense of inadequacy. The grandiosity of the introverted narcissist consists in negatives: don’t deserve, not good enough, can’t measure up. Their obvious intelligence gives the lie to their professed deficiency and worthlessness. 

The mirroring they have received has not been honest, or when they may have received a realistic assessment of limitations, they have not been able to metabolize the feedback. Strange as it may sound, they have not failed enough. Most of the time, what we do falls somewhat short of the initial glowing vision of perfection. True, once in a while we do come very close, but usually, our efforts yield something that’s “pretty good” or even “good enough.” Enough failures shift the viewpoint from “being the best and greatest” to “pretty good” and “good enough.”

In both extraverted and introverted narcissism, we find a grandiose core: “It’s all about me!” The one expresses that core toward the outer world, seeking confirmation of greatness. The other conceals the grandiose core, believing that trying to realize it is futile. For the one, keep trying; for the other, why try? Yet both suffer, albeit in opposite ways. The extraverted version is a problem to others people; the introverted version is a problem to self.

All infants, children, young people and no-longer-so-young people need honest mirrors to reflect what is real. When the people around us truly care enough about us, we can trust them to be honest mirrors who give us back to ourselves, reflecting our real abilities, our real accomplishments, our real potential and our real short-comings and failures. An honest mirror could be life changing for the narcissistic individual who can open up to caring, honest mirroring.

In all relationships we have the opportunity to mirror the other person. If we care about the other, do we care enough to be an honest mirror? And when we need to recover a part of ourselves, where do we find the trusted persons who will honestly reflect our virtues as well as our vices?

1 www.cbn.com/spirituallife/Devotions/betzer_mirror.aspx

2 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magic_Mirror_(Snow_White)

3 https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/transitions-through-life/201109/mirror-mirror-the-wall-who-is-the-fairest-them-all

4 https://speeches.byu.edu/talks/jeffrey-r-holland_mirror-mirror-wall-look-me-decade/

5 http://37dawsonstreet.ie/mirror-mirror-on-the-wall-how-many-drinks-will-i-have-before-i-fall-irishigers-gf_ire-thisisdublinthisisireland-photoofthedayinsta_ireland-igersoftheday-instagramhubigworldclub/#.WQTmXjq1uM8

6 www.qualitywatch.org.uk/blog/mirror-mirror-on-wall-whose-local-care-fairest-all

7 http://jokes.cc.com/funny-dirty/xru2m0/man-in-the-mirror

May 2017 Boris Matthews, PhD, LCSW practices Analytical Psychology (a.k.a. Jungian Analysis) at the Ommani Center for Integrative Medicine in Pewaukee, WI. He is a teaching and supervising faculty member of the C. G. Jung Institute of Chicago, IL, and again he will serve as Director of the Analyst Training Program at the Jung Institute, beginning in September, 2017. To schedule an appointment, contact him at 608.217.5184.

The Personal Myth in Turbulent Times

Last fall a thoughtful and deeply reflective colleague gave a talk entitled “The Personal Myth in Turbulent Times.” As readers of The Ommani Jewel will recognize, “turbulent times” well characterizes the times in which we are living. In my March column I wrote about this from the viewpoint of mundane astrology.* This month I want to introduce the idea of myth—personal story and tribal story—that my colleague, James Hollis, addressed last October, and give you a link to the YouTube video of his talk.

Who is James Hollis? What is myth?

James Hollis, a Jungian psychoanalyst in Washington, D.C., serves as Director of the Jung Society of Washington (http://jung.org/). Hollis has published many easily accessible books on various aspects of Jungian (a.k.a. analytical) psychology, as well as frequently speaks to groups interested in Jungian psychology. Several of his talks are available on YouTube.

In his October talk (linked here), Hollis discusses the significance of myth and story: the stories we tell ourselves individually and the stories that inform who we are in our family, town, country, or nation. He points out that at the end of World War II, we Americans had stories that told us what it was to be a man or a woman; what it was to be an American.

For example, in a talk in 1974, Ronald Reagan (linked here) voiced one of our national myths when he alluded to the Biblical “City on the Hill.”  “We will be as a city upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us, so that if we deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken and so cause Him to withdraw His present help from us, we shall be made a story and a byword throughout the world.” Barak Obama invoked an American myth with his “Yes We Can!” slogan; and Donald Trump invoked Ronald Reagan’s words with his “Make America Great Again.” These sorts of “stories” are intended to focus us on purpose and meaning as a people and as individual Americans. Myth as story serves these essential functions.

Individually and as a society, Hollis points out, we live more and more “in the time of the disintegration of great myths.” What myth or story gives structure and meaning to your life and to us as a people? After richly illustrating the significance of story and myth, that is the question Hollis addresses late in his talk. His answer calls each of us to listen to our inner voices: they tell the stories that live through us, as individuals and as a diverse people. Our task has become the search for the individual, personal story.

Think about it, what is/are the story(ies) that inform and live through you? What story gives you meaning when you come to the end of each day or the week? This is the greatest challenge facing each of us as individuals and as a diverse people in these troubled times-a challenge well worth considering.

* “Mundane astrology” looks at the astrology of the planet—the world, “mundus”—in the hope of getting some ideal of what is going on, some tenable hypothesis that begins to make sense of the trends and passions we witness around us.

** Matthew 5:14: “You are the light of the world. A city located on a hill cannot be hidden.” (International Standard Version)

April 2017 Boris Matthews, PhD, LCSW practices Analytical Psychology (a.k.a. Jungian Analysis) at the Ommani Center for Integrative Medicine in Pewaukee, WI. He is a teaching and supervising faculty member of the C. G. Jung Institute of Chicago, IL, and again he will serve as Director of the Analyst Training Program at the Jung Institute, beginning in September, 2017. To schedule an appointment, contact him at 608.217.5184.

You, Me, and The Bigger Picture

“May you live in interesting times” is supposed to be an ancient Chinese curse.

Who would argue that at this point in time we lack excitement and drama? What is the “big picture”?  How do we make sense of the times in which we live? To paraphrase Kipling’s poem, “If,” How do we keep our heads when everybody else about us is losing theirs and blaming it on us? This month I want to tackle these questions from the viewpoint of astrology.

Readers of The Ommani Jewel will recall that I have written about the value of astrology for psychotherapy and analysis (January, 2016). Now I want to expand the viewpoint from the individual to a larger perspective. Just as we were born at a certain place and time on planet Earth, our nation has its natal horoscope, its birth chart. Specifically, I will draw on an excellent book about the United States from the viewpoint of astrology

The astrological birth chart of the U.S. offers us the “bigger picture” to which I refer in the title of this month’s column. In Soul-Sick Nation, Jessica Murray (2006) ponders the health and maturity of our country in a period extending from about 1994 to 2024 when the archetypal powers represented by two planets—Pluto and Saturn—are challenging us as a country collectively to some deep introspection and soul-searching in the context of profound change. Her diagnosis is thought-provoking. It’s time for us as individuals and for us as a nation to grow up.

In Soul-Sick Nation she makes a statement and asks a simple question: “America is a country barely out of diapers, historically speaking, that has ended up basically in charge of the fate of the Earth. What does this mean, in the big picture?” She continues, “It is time to acknowledge that the USA is suffering from a profound soul-sickness. I mean this neither as rhetoric nor as mere metaphor: I submit that we must accept that America is gravely and epically ill if we are to begin the only possible treatment: a shift in consciousness” (p. 1).

From 1994 to 2009, Murray writes, we witnessed “the decay within extant systems of belief, education, international relations and travel. . . . During this period . . . Judaism, Christianity and Islam [were] each being held up to mass scrutiny and reacting with extreme and reactionary excess, which is what tends to happen when entities go through moral purging” (p. 19). Then starting in 2008 and continuing through 2024, government, economics and corporations—some of the fundamental structures of the world we currently live in—are being subjected to deep transformation. She devotes the remainder of the book to exploring the implications of her question.

Reading a book published eleven years ago can give us a sense of our history. Two questions: What, then, is the meaning of the times in which we are living through? What does it mean for us as individuals?

Before we can begin to answer these questions, we need some basic orientation to astrology. The first moment of independent life marks the moment of birth, whether of a baby, a business, or a nation. We can erect a birth chart for an individual when we know the hour, minute, day, month, year and (geographic) place of birth, i.e., independent life. Similarly, in establishing the birth chart for the U.S., we know the Declaration of Independence was signed in Philadelphia, PA, on 4 July 1776, at about 5:10 local mean time. (There are other charts based on other clock times, but this one—the time given by Ebenezer Sibly—is most often cited.) These data yield the U.S. birth chart.

At the moment an individual or a nation begins its independent existence (i.e., cutting the umbilical cord or signing a declaration of independence), the planets, including the sun and the moon, are at specific positions in the sky as observed from Earth. Based on geographic location, and year, month, day, hour, and minute, we can calculate a nativity, a “birth chart” / natal horoscope, which is essentially a two-dimensional map of the relationships of the planets as seen from Earth. The birth chart does not change, but the actual planets continue their orbits around the sun. When a planet has made a full orbit of the sun, it has completed its cycle. The various planets take differing lengths of time to orbit the sun, i.e., to complete a cycle. Those planets closer to the sun have shorter cycles than the planets farther away from the sun. As we know, Earth takes 365 ¼ days to make its orbit. We call that “one year.”

What interests us now in the U.S. birth chart is a phenomenon known as a planetary return. Specifically, the planet Pluto will be returning to the same sign and degree as in July, 1776. (Pluto takes about 248 years to complete its course around the sun.) Before discussing the phenomenon of a planetary return, we need to have some idea of what the planet Pluto symbolizes in a chart.

Whether in the natal chart of an individual or of a nation, Pluto references power: Murray writes:“When it is fueling a collective entity, it shows up as institutional forces that have insidious and pervasive impact. Lifestyles, work choices and relationship decisions informed by natal Pluto are possessed of a certain you-can’t-go-home-again finality….Plutonian power is sub-rational, and must be mitigated by the rest of the chart in order to be applied in a healthy way.  All by itself, Pluto is unapologetically amoral . . . Pluto,” she continues, “makes whatever house it’s in a magnet for make-or-break experience” (p. 15).

We have to consider the house where a planet is located in a chart, as well as the sign. Everybody is familiar with the notion of sun signs. A person’s birthday falls within one of the twelve sun signs. Other planets may tenant the sun sign or another of the signs. In the in case of Pluto in the U.S. birth chart, Pluto falls in the second house in Capricorn

In the U.S. birth chart, Pluto is in (“tenants”) the second house in the sign Capricorn. “In a group chart,” Murray writes, “the second house is the indicator of collective values, symbolized by certain resources that are prized above all other” (p. 21). Pluto’s placement in the US chart tells us that issues of wealth arouse the darkest human drives that exist (p. 29). “Americans harbor some rather incongruous beliefs about wealth, entitlement and power” (p. 48). Murray writes that in the national chart, the sign of Capricorn is “the sign of government, economics and corporations” (p. 19). That position also “points to our collective myths” (p. 48), those stories we tell ourselves about ourselves.

We begin to see some dominant aspects of our national character in wider perspective.

Now we can return to considering transits. As any planet makes its orbit around the sun, it passes over the positions where the other planets were at the time of a person’s or a nation’s birth. If, for example, your sun sign (i.e., the astrological sign of your birthday) is Pisces, your sun is somewhere in the sign Pisces. That means that, sooner or later, every planet will pass over the degree of you sun in its particular sign. When one planet passes over the location of another planet in a birth chart, we say that the birth-chart planet has experienced a transit by the moving planet. Your birth day, really, is that day on which the sun transits the position of your natal the sun. (Happy Birthday, all you Piscean readers!) More precisely, the sun isn’t moving; it’s the Earth that orbits the sun, but we reference planetary movements to the Earth so that the other planets appear to circle our home planet.

Murray succinctly characterizes the effect of a planet’s transit, that is, the planet coming into angular relationship with another planet, or—in the case of a birth chart—returning to the same degree as in the birth chart. “A transit,” she writes, “operates like a spotlight cast on the natal chart: the moving planet lights up a certain spot of the entity’s unmoving potential [i.e., sign, house, and planet]” (p. 106).

In terms of the big picture and what it means for us individually and collectively in the U.S., understanding something about the transit of Pluto will help us make sense of what we witness happening all around us.

The most profound meanings of transiting Pluto are endings and beginnings. Transiting Pluto is the archetype of death and resurrection: it breaks down old and outworn entities into their component parts, and then reassembles them into new being. Pluto will soon return to the zodiacal position it was in when the country was born. This is a Pluto return.

Pluto’s circuit around the sun takes about 248 years. The U.S. has never experienced a Pluto return, so we are in for a new experience. (It’s those “interesting times” I mentioned earlier.) “This Return will subject the country’s deepest wounds to a kind of cosmic surgery; the most drastic but the most thorough kind of remedy for systemic problems” (p. 158).  Murray points out that “The United States will be brought home to the place in its psyche where it harbors irrational fears and manipulative impulses about physical survival. Pluto hitting its own natal position in the second house is a signal that America’s territorial drives will have to be transformed and its use of resources completely re-thought. We know this simply from living with our eyes open in today’s world, and astrology confirms it” (p. 158).

This brings us to me and you and what do we do?

Of course, we could despair. Cynicism offers another out. We could attempt to shore up and reinforce worn-out habits and institutions hollowed out by incompetence, self-interest, and sold to the highest bidder—no, we’ve seen plenty of that, not only here but in other parts of the world.

We can, however, use Pluto to transform, first ourselves. We can start with the personal work: looking at the house and sign Pluto inhabits our birth chart. That is the place where we hide our most shameful secrets and personal taboos. This is “inner work” on one-self. When we honestly name and examine all of our shadow traits and habits, we can begin to own and gradually transform them. If we don’t do this, we see them primarily in other people whom we vilify. (See my piece on the shadow in the November, 2016, Ommani Jewel.) As we work on our individual shadow, the energy field/aura we generate influences other people in positive ways. One-by-one we build a renewal.

Our shadow work makes us more tolerant of ourselves and of other people. As we work on ourselves, we can and will reach out to others, and not only those with whom we agree, but also people with whom we do not see eye-to-eye. They have legitimate concerns: hopes and fears, dreams and nightmares, joys and sorrows. When we connect at that fundamental level, we realize we are not so different. Our differences and conflicts usually arise when we start by seeking remedies and solutions to what troubles us, especially if we believe it’s the other guy’s fault that we have problems in the first place.

Another wise astrologer, Liz Greene (2005), has written words both sobering and hopeful. I will close with her thoughts on the United States’ Pluto return: 

Pluto, as it completes its transit through Capricorn, will also return to its own natal place: in other words, the United States is experiencing its Pluto return. This suggests the completion of a great cycle, and a cementing of the fundamental values on which the Constitution is built. There may also be a serious reappraisal of issues concerned with the environment, as Capricorn is an earthy sign, and the use or abuse of natural resources may become a cause for not only profound concern but also profound change and a more enlightened attitude. The enormous resources available to the United States are reflected by Pluto in the 2nd house of the national chart, and it is possible that these will be approached with greater respect and care than ever before.

Whether or not you favour these changes personally, it would seem that a time has arrived when there is a great new opportunity to affirm the values and ideals of the original founding of the nation, applicable not only to government and to foreign relations, but also to the land itself and the resources inherent in it. (Greene 2005)

Murry tells us in Soul-Sick Nation, “If ever there was a time to reconsider how America uses its [Pluto] power, it is now” (p. 38).

March 2017 Boris Matthews, PhD, LCSW practices Analytical Psychology (a.k.a. Jungian Analysis) at the Ommani Center for Integrative Medicine in Pewaukee, WI. He is a teaching and supervising faculty member of the C. G. Jung Institute of Chicago, IL, and again will serve as Director of the Analyst Training Program at the Jung Institute, beginning in September, 2017.    To schedule an appointment, contact him at 608.217.5184.


Kipling, R. “If.” http://www.kiplingsociety.co.uk/poems_if.htm. Kipling published “If” in 1910.

Greene, L. (2005). http://www.astro.com/nat/natus2_e.htm

Murray, J. (2006). Soul-Sick Nation: An Astrologer’s View of America. Bloomington, IN: Author-House.

Murray, J. (2012). At the Crossroads: An Astrologer Looks at these Turbulent Times. San Francisco: MotherSky Press.

On Jessica Murray’s website blog you can find subsequent commentary on our times: http://www.mothersky.com/ .

The Individual Life-Line

In one of his early essays, C.G. Jung uses the term “the individual life-line” (1916 / 1970, para. 497ff). He writes that ‘The construction of “life-lines” reveals to consciousness the ever-changing direction of the currents of libido’ (para. 500). “Libido” is Jung’s term for psychic energy. Unlike the Freudian term libido (which is related to sexual energy); Jung describes “libido” as psychic energy that motivates a range of behaviors that include spiritual, intellectual, and creative energy, as well as an individual’s motivational source for seeking pleasure and reducing conflict.

Jung’s notion of the life-line has fascinated me since I first encountered it when I was an analyst-in-training in the 1970s. For a long time I had no idea what my individual life-line looked or felt like. So far as I knew at the time, I had essentially two options: one was to try to detect the direction and flow of my energy; the other was to “get on with” the tasks of the day. Very often these two possible choices had nothing to do with each other. Failing to be able to recognize what my libido – my psychic and physical energy – “wanted” to do, I defaulted to the items on my to-do list. Needless to say, that did not provide much satisfaction.

Failing to detect the direction of my individual energy-flow, I would typically resort to doing what I believed I “should” do, and what seemed “reasonable.”  Collective consciousness usually sets the terms and limits of “should” and “reasonable.” Since all of us must find some way to adapt to the world around us – that is, to the expectations of collective consciousness – “should” and “reasonable” do have a legitimate place in our thinking. However, as I have written before, we must adapt to the world around us and adapt to our innate nature. Attending only to one and excluding the other guarantees our unhappiness and over-all mal-adaptation. (See the January, 2016, Ommani Jewel for my discussion of adaptation.)

For most people in our society, and for me as well for a long time, adaptation to the physical, familial, societal “external” world appeared to be the only valid choice. Adaptation to an “inner” world appealed to me, but I did not see much support for that option around me. To say it differently, so far as I could tell, you adapted to the “outer” world, and if you didn’t, you crashed and burned. End of story.

“What is it,” Jung asks, “at this moment and for this individual,  that represents the natural urge of life? That is the question” (1916 / 1970, para. 488). Jung continues:

That question neither science, nor worldly wisdom, nor religion, nor the best of advice can resolve . . . .  The resolution can come solely from absolutely impartial observation of those psychological germs of life which are born of the natural collaboration of the conscious and the unconscious on the one hand and of the individual and the collective on the other. One man seeks them in the conscious, another in the unconscious. But the conscious is only one side, and the unconscious is only its reverse.

(para. 489)

Resolving Jung’s question demands that we adapt to the world around us – through “the collaboration . . . of the individual and the collective” – and to the world within us – through “the . . . collaboration of the conscious and the unconscious.”

The “psychological germs of life” may appear in dreams and waking fantasies. They may appear in unexpected waking encounters and exchanges and opportunities. But regardless the source, we have to find a satisfactory relationship to both the “outer” and the “inner” realms. To the extent we fail to do justice to both worlds, we lose connection to our life-line. (See the March, 2016, Ommani Jewel for a discussion of dreams.)

My clients and I face the challenge of recognizing the “psychological germs of life,” wherever they may appear, and understanding the messages they contain. As we do this, we get progressively clearer sense of the client’s current life-line: the direction of the client’s psychic, vital energy. What we accomplish in therapeutic work must become a skill the client can utilize on her or his own. Jung emphasizes

that the true end of analysis [or therapeutic work] is reached when the patient has gained an adequate knowledge of the methods by which he can maintain contact with the unconscious, and has acquired a psychological understanding sufficient for him to discern the direction of his life-line at the moment.

“Without this,” Jung concludes, “his conscious mind will not be able to follow the currents of libido and consciously sustain the individuality he has achieved” (para. 501).

In a nutshell, Jung challenges us to identify and then track our individual life-line to help understand the movement of our vital energy and use it to balance both the inner and outer aspects of our life.  For without it, we cannot develop true individuality or satisfaction in life.

C.G. Jung (1916 / 1970). “The Structure of the Unconscious,” in The Collected Works of C.G. Jung, vol. 7. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Feb 2017 Boris Matthews, PhD, LCSW practices Analytical Psychology (a.k.a. Jungian Analysis) at the Ommani Center for Integrative Medicine in Pewaukee, WI. He is a teaching and supervising faculty member of the C. G. Jung Institute of Chicago, IL. To schedule an appointment, contact him at 608.217.5184.