One of the main concerns of people who come to me for therapy and analysis involve events about the past have shaped their life, their concerns for the present, and their vision for the future. Of course, it is important to reflect therapeutically on how events from earlier life stages have shaped their present concerns, and how one is to proceed from here. As we examine these questions, we will often encounter a dream, or images, that come to mind, or patterns that repeat throughout a life. In the language of depth psychology, we call such patterns archetypes. They appear perennially, generation after generation, belong to all of human kind, and are reflected in the great stories, the ones that begin with “Once upon a time.”
I just finished my Summer Fairy Tale Seminar, Penelope. This year we asked the question, “What myths or fairy tales live at the core of my soul? What stories, what messages, guide and shape my reality, my life?” We though how some people might challenge, or scoff at, this idea. “Oh, really? You mean to tell me that a fairy tale might guide a person’s destiny, her or his path?” Emboldened, we respond, “Indeed, that is what we are saying, for stories that carry the archetypes can shape a life”, or change a life. They may even save a life.” It is important, therefore, to dig in and find what those stories are. And so we did—dig in! And with extraordinary results! As I reflect on our five seminar meetings, I am deeply moved by how we were able to touch into those stories that have shaped our lives, and brought hope at times where there was little, or no, hope. I wish you all could have been with us.
For the lead-in, and our prompt, I presented my favorite literary heroine, Homer’s Penelope. Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey are our culture’s origin stories, and Penelope of Ithaka is the first heroine in all of Western literature. Her story permeates the feminine psyche more than we know. In fact, many years ago, Penelope dropped into my consciousness, and saved my life. Here is where this part of my story, my mid-life adventure, began. In the Odyssey, Penelope’s tour de force, her display of strength, courage and ingenuity, is this statement, “I weave my own wiles.” She came to me in an hour of need, at a point in my life when I was struggling with many challenges. One night, as I was at my desk, she entered my field of consciousness—dropped into my mind. And then she spoke to me. She said, “Study me, watch me, and learn what to do.” The underlying message was, “Remember, you weave your own wiles—you are at the center of your own journey, so act accordingly!” This encounter with the archetype saved my life. When I shared my story, which I did, others could more easily understand what I mean when I say that stories—myths, fairy tales, and legends—can shape a life, change a life, or even save a life.
We, then, followed Penelope’s story, as told by Homer and other ancient sources, to help each person find her or his story, the backstory, and the larger archetypal story that lies beneath the surface of life. We began with Penelope, and moved out from there. In addition to story telling, each person used artwork, journaling, dream work, and her or his own images, to find and express those core stories that have meaning for her or him. When we came to the end of our last meeting, people were saying, “I can’t wait to continue our explorations!”
Now, it is time for me to think about what this means, and how to continue our explorations. As I think ahead to next year’s summer fairy tale, I am tempted to explore the inner meaning of the hero, Odysseus, his near-death adventures into the netherworld of the Great Goddess, and what meaning this part of Homer’s story for men and women into today’s war-torn world.
Meanwhile, I am putting pen to paper, so to say, to develop the designs for the fall. Each year, from October to May, I convene three seminars. They are the Women’s Myth Studies Seminar, the Men’s Myth Studies Seminar, and Readings in Jung. In both myth studies seminars, we are working inside the Grail Legend, and in Readings in Jung, we are currently exploring the return of the Goddess as Jung predicts it in Answer to Job. I can see I have my work cut out for me! Please let contact me if you would like information about my seminars. I am delighted to discuss them with you.
Happy summer to you all, with fond regards,