Why is the Soul So Shy?

I have tentatively started – yet once again – to write in a journal, inspired by Virginia Woolfe, Anais Nin and even Kierkegaarde. My earliest inspiration for doing do was The Diary of Anne Frank, which I read  around the same age she was when she wrote that remarkable book – at the ripe old age of 12. I was so moved by her courage in the face of the horror that surrounded her and her family.


Every time I tried writing in a journal in the past, I would face my own inner horror which would say: ‘can I dare to be totally open and true to myself and the page?’ This existential terror would whisper…..’what if someone finds it and reads it? There is no hiding place that is good enough’. On a deep soul level this fear always slammed on the brakes.

 Now I am finally beginning  to see this for what is – the shyness of the soul – and I realize I am not alone. I came across this wonderful quote from Maya Angelou the other day and I realized that what I had been thinking about, she had articulated in another way – but that we were talking about the same thing:

 I am convinced that most people do not grow up. We find parking spaces and honor our credit cards. We marry and dare to have children and call that growing up. I think what we do is mostly grow old. We carry accumulation of years in our bodies and on our faces, but generally our real selves, the children inside, are still innocent and shy as magnolias.

We may act sophisticated and worldly but I believe we feel safest when we go inside ourselves and find home, a place where we belong and maybe the only place we really do.

 Maya Angelou

 As a child I lived much of my life in that presence, but I had no words for it. When I was younger I couldn’t speak about my inner reality or my inner truth, because there was no “I” strong enough to do so. As in the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale of  The Little Mermaid, a story that I adored as a child, I had no voice. It took the long, slow process of growth into maturity to understand that like the little mermaid, I longed for a connection with The Prince. In Jungian terms this is understood as the inner connection to the animus (a woman’s inner connection to the masculine).


 For the complete story from Hans Christian Andersen:


 If we look at the fairytale from the Jungian perspective, the little Mermaid suffers and sacrifices herself in order to connect with her prince in the hopes that it will bring her into a grounded relationship with him. The horrible sadness of it is that she sacrificed her voice in order to get legs, so she could walk by his side and be in the same reality in which he lived. Like the little mermaid, the woman’s connection with the animus is the bridge that brings us into the world, but then the soul has to struggle to find its voice.


In this story, the Prince does not realize that it is the little mermaid who has saved his life when he was on the brink of drowning after a shipwreck. It is a man’s lifework to find and deepen the connection to the inner feminine and to give it voice. It is a woman’s lifework to find and embody the will, the strength and the courage to be and find her rightful work in the world, her true voice, her calling.

 This fairytale is about the longing of the soul for a grounded connection in life, and it also about its essential shyness. Until we are strong and courageous enough to speak from the soul, for the soul – we are silenced by our fear, distracted by our distractions, living a provisional life.

 This is not meant to blame – it takes a lot of time and courage, and perhaps many lifetimes to wake up. We need to be compassionate to ourselves and to others, while not allowing ourselves to be fooled into thinking this is all there is – so that we must rush and grab and step over others to gain a little inch for ourselves.

 When we do begin to wake up to this reality, we can begin to forgive ourselves for our lack of consciousness and our mistakes. Then, and only then,  can we begin to forgive others.  Perhaps they haven’t yet had the strength, courage or enough awareness to listen to their own souls and find their true voices.

 As Christopher Frye says in The Sleep of Prisoners, “It takes so many thousand years to wake, but will you wake, for pity’s sake?”

To listen to Sir George Trevelyan recite this poem go to:


A Sleep of Prisoners

by Christopher Fry

The human heart can go the lengths of God…

Dark and cold we may be, but this

Is no winter now.

The frozen misery

Of centuries breaks, cracks, begins to move;

The thunder is the thunder of the floes,

The thaw, the flood, the upstart Spring.

Thank God our time is now when wrong

Comes up to face us everywhere,

Never to leave us till we take

The longest stride of soul men ever took.

Affairs are now soul size.

The enterprise is exploration into God.

Where are you making for

It takes

So many thousand years to wake…

But will you wake, for pity’s sake?



Whom or What Do We Serve?


The image of this beautiful cow at the Cow’s Ball in Bohinj, Slovenia has stayed with me since attending this wonderful local annual festival in Bohinj last September. It is an annual ritual in which the local people celebrate and honour the cows as they bring them down from the high mountain pastures to the valleys below each fall. I loved the Slovenian people’s connection and closeness to nature and the way they have kept their old customs. But this is not a travel article. There is a terrible poignancy about looking into the face of an animal and looking into its eyes, especially when you don’t stand on the moral high ground of being a vegetarian (which I am not). But this is not about vegetarianism either.

About a month later I had this dream, which has also stayed with me, and which has brought me back to the age-old question made famous in The Grail Legend. In my dream I was shown a place where many human corpses (supposedly criminals) had been beheaded and hung upside down so the blood would drain away. It was reminiscent of a slaughterhouse. I could see three levels from where I stood – each one the same. Each head was placed neatly beside its corpse.

Horrified but transfixed, I wondered, what were these corpses doing there? What was the purpose? What is our purpose? Whether we end up on a peg or end up in the ground or as burnt ashes, what purpose does our life serve? In The Grail Legend, the question was “Whom does the Grail serve?

On waking, I wondered if the blood was drained away and used in some way, and I was reminded of the blood sacrifices that were an inherent demand of man’s earliest religious experiences. Despite the modern face of our civilization we still make blood sacrifices through our endless warring with each other, although these sacrifices often seem meaningless and devoid of any higher purpose than the lust for power, domination and control.

Emma Jung, a Jungian analyst in her own right, spent her life devoted to the study of the legend of the Holy Grail. Eventually after her death, renowned Jungian analyst, Marie Louise von Franz completed the book entitled The Grail Legend, which Emma had been working on for so long. In this book, they emphasize, “ it is not so much the crucifixion of Christ which is looked upon as the redeeming factor but rather the blood flowing from his side after his death”. As they point out, from time immemorial, blood was seen as embodying the life principle and was considered the seat of the soul. The Holy Grail, was the mythological chalice that was held up to catch his blood, and because of its shape, it symbolizes the feminine principle. It is also often seen as the chalice that was used at the Last Supper.


Perceval is the young man who is returning from his adventures with King Arthur to find his mother, and lands up at the Grail Castle – understood by Emma Jung and von Franz as the motherly realm of the unconscious. Here he finds the wounded Grail King (sometimes known as the Fisher King) whose wound will not heal. He sits in his castle, rich but maimed with this festering sore. His kingdom is sick and stagnating, and nothing can help him. According to the legend, he guards a mysterious, life-preserving and sustenance-dispensing object, the Holy Grail or chalice. The king can only be restored to life if a knight of excellent character finds the castle and at first sight of the Grail asks a certain question. If he does not, everything will remain the same, the castle will vanish and the knight will have to set out once more on his journey. The land will lay in waste. If the knight does succeed in asking the question, the King will be restored to health and the land will begin to grow green, and the hero will become the guardian of the Grail from that time on. At the feast which is served, Perceval sees a beautiful chalice mysteriously paraded by a gorgeous maiden, but he doesn’t understand, and he doesn’t ask anything about it. He is a young soul and does not yet understand life. He is not questing for meaning or truth – he is still in the domain of the ego.

The chalice containing blood is a symbol of the feminine. And so too is the Holy Sepulchre or grave, which  also has “ a maternal meaning, since the mother is not only the place of birth, but also as Mother Earth, that which receives the dead back into herself……Both the food- and drink-imparting, life bestowing aspect and the aspect of death and the grave are exhibited by the Grail. They mystery of coming into being and of ceasing to be is bound up with the image of the mother; this explains why Mysteries with this process as the content of their ritual were connected with the cult of mother goddesses such as Demeter and Isis. (p.127, 128, The Grail Legend).

As I pondered the interconnectivity of all life I was reminded of this poem by Rumi:

For thousands and thousands of years I lived as a mineral

And then I died and became a plant.

And for thousands and thousands of years I lived as a vegetable

And then I died and became an animal.

And for thousands and thousands of years I lived as an animal

And then I died and became a human.

Tell me. What have I ever lost by dying?

translated by Coleman Barks

What feeds on us I wondered. And whom do we serve?

Referring to the Grail King, and quoting Jung, they say, “Psychologically he represents a symbol of the Self become visible in a human being, to which the entire social and psychic organization of his people is adjusted.” (Jung, Mysterium Coniunctionis) He is a symbol of man in his fallen, stricken state and seems unable to cure himself or his land.

I cannot do justice to the book or their research in this small essay, so I will have to limit myself to a few of the most salient points for me. As Emma Jung and von Franz examine myths of the Grail from various cultures and time, they talk about a common motif…..that there was a violation of the fairy kingdom and of nature, and the theft of the bowl (chalice).

“Thus a wrong against a feminine being and a plundering of nature was perpetrated. It is interesting and remarkable that the origin of the trouble was looked upon as an offence committed against the fairy world, i.e., actually against nature. The motif of the plundering of the fairy world appears in numerous legends and fairy-tales, such as the legends of the Swan maidens and the Rheingold. It is always a question of something either unlawful won from, or done to, nature which results in a curse……The fairies and the maidens in the hills do not so much personify evil in feminine form as they do a purely natural aspect of the anima, They are, as it were, the soul of the spring or tree or place and equally, what man feels psychically in such places. The growth of masculine consciousness and of the patriarchal logos principle of the Christian outlook are concerned in no small measure with this development. They have certainly made possible the emancipation of the human which has given man mastery over nature. That which has been stolen from nature must, at the same time, however, be understood as something ‘torn from the unconscious’…………….a deadening and violation of nature, which imply a tremendous los of soul, have gradually resulted from the achievement of consciousness effected by Christianity.” (Pp.204, 205 The Grail Legend)


As I reflected on my dream image I wondered about the meaningless of a life which has severed itself from the pursuit of consciousness. If we do not devote our lives to the pursuit of consciousness, wisdom and truth in some way, then we are just fodder for a higher cycle of life. If we do not serve consciousness with a respect for the feminine ideals – kindness, relatedness, compassion, then Kali in all her bloodthirstiness will mow us down. Kali is the goddess who understands the wisdom of destroying the old before new growth can begin. In my dream it doesn’t seem to matter that all these corpses are strung up like so much meat in a slaughterhouse. It is a horrifying sight, but there is a matter-of-factness about it my dream.

We will all die in the end, one way or another, and it is good to keep that in mind. When we look back at our lives, we won’t say, I wish I had made more money and spent less time with my family. We won’t say, I wish I hadn’t been as kind or as compassionate or that I had spent less time helping others.

The cow – a sacred image of the feminine in India, here symbolizes nature, in all her beauty, and she sacrifices herself for us over and over. But we should ask ourselves, whom or what do we serve?

Here is the nectar of the great teacher, Coleman Barks reciting Rumi – Connection – The Natural Ecstasy

All quotes are from The Grail Legend by Emma Jung and Marie Louise von Franz

Lament of the Dead: Psychology after Jung’s Red Book – A Discussion, Part 1


A very important book, which sheds valuable light on Jung’s Red Book, has recently been published. Sonu Shamdasani, the editor who worked for years on The Red Book, entered into conversation with the late James Hillman, Jungian analyst and author of Archetypal Psychology and Re-Visioning Psychology among many others.  Their documented conversation about The Red Book and its significance to psychology is called Lament of the Dead: Psychology After Jung’s Red Book.

At the beginning of their conversation, Hillman addresses Jung’s understanding of dreams. “ Jung says that we think the figures we uncover in our dreams or in active imagination are the result of us, but he says we are the result of them. We just think of it wrong. We think whatever comes to us as something leftover from, as Freud says, the Tagesrest, the residues of the day, images that are composite stuff, garbage from our day. But Jung is saying these figures (that) come to us in our dreams and even our thoughts derive from these figures, which seems to be what The Red Book does.”

Jung’s descent into what he later termed as the collective unconscious was his encounter with those particular figures that had special and unique significance for him and for the culture and society of that time. As Sonu Shamdasani points out, when Jung referred to his encounters with the dead in The Red Book, he meant the actual dead. More significantly, although Jung’s descent into this level of the collective unconscious was of very personal significance to him at that time, nowhere in The Red Book does he refer to his parents, his childhood, his colleagues, his work, or his family or wife. What then does it mean?

Through Jung’s pioneering work with this deep level of consciousness, he demonstrated by example what it meant to get in touch with the deep influences or beings that were animating his being, his life.  He began his journey into his own psyche with the poignant awareness that though he had conceptualized soul, and written about soul, he in fact knew that he had lost his soul. The Red Book opens with a very moving cry to his own soul – realizing that she was lost, in part, because of his own hubris at trying to explain her away.

Sonu Shamdasani points out that the dead Jung is referring to in The Red Book are all the dead of human history, along with the tremendous psychic weight that comes with that. We live now in a world where the dead outnumber the living. The dead do not just disappear because they have lost their outer bodily form. Most of us have had the experience of feeling someone’s presence long after they have died. Energy, as any physicist will tell you, can change form, but you cannot kill it. So although this is part of many people’s experience ,we have somehow, until The Red Book and Jung’s work, been unable to conceptualize an adequate psychology that takes this fully into account.

Bert Hellinger, in his work with Family Constellations, does give the dead their due accord in terms of healing family dynamics and the personal unconscious. His work is indeed remarkable and revolutionary. However Jung’s work with the collective unconscious goes beyond the personal work of the family constellation and explores those deeper beings in our psyches that require something of us.

In the past I have often referred to the inner, personal, psychic landscape. The exciting insight for me when reading The Red Book and this additional commentary by Sonu Shamdasani and James Hillman, was to really see at a deeper level how Jung felt this landscape was peopled with beings that wanted, even required something of us. I was reminded of the poem In Flanders Fields, written by Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae in 1915 about World War I. I have always felt a deep resonance with this poem:

In Flanders Fields

In Flanders fields the poppies blow

Between the crosses, row on row

That mark our place; and in the sky

The larks, still bravely singing, fly

Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago

We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,

Loved and were loved, and now we lie

In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe;

To you from failing hands we throw

The torch; be yours to hold it high.

If ye break faith with us who die

We shall not sleep, though poppies grow

In Flanders fields.

In this poem John McCrae speaks to us using the voices of the Dead. He says “Take up our quarrel with the foe”. What does this mean? Of course in a very literal sense it could mean the enemies on the other side of the line. However in the context of Jung’s understanding of the collective psyche of that time as expressed in The Red Book (see my blog Introduction to The Red Book) we could imagine the foe as all that lies unacknowledged and unrecognized in the deepest layer of the collective psyche. The dead who have sacrificed their lives for little purpose.  He says in his final line “If ye break faith with us who die, we shall not sleep, though poppies blow in Flanders Fields.”

Is McCrae trying to express the same thing as Jung but in a different form? What do the dead want of us? What would it mean if we were to break faith with the dead and not honour them? Certainly McCrae does not treat the dead as nonexistent or of no consequence. Instead there is a deep recognition that we must understand and honour what they want of us at the deepest level, and not just remember them.

In Lament of The Dead, Sonu Shamdasani and James Hillman explore Jung’s understanding of the heavy weight of our history as it is carried in our collective unconscious. To not be in right relationship with this deep layer of our collective being is a travesty, deeply foolhardy and a disservice to the soul. We need to understand the history of mankind and give it its due respect while understanding on a personal level  how these deep elements or archetypes play through our individual psyches. We are not just 3-dimensional beings. This blog only serves as a very basic introduction to these books. I strongly encourage you to read them both.

Listen to Carl Jung talk about Death:

Listen to Sonu Shamdasani introducing The Red Book:


Listen to James Hillman talking about Archetypal Psychology and the Soulless Society:

Listen to this beautiful reading of In Flanders Fields:


And for a little taste of the angelic Bert Hellinger: