Tuesday, 31 May 2016

The Boyne river, Carl Jung and the reconciliation of the masculine and feminine elements of life

I've been reading a book about the life and influence of Carl Jung. One of the things that has struck me since I recently began to earnestly probe the life and work of this hugely influential individual - only within the six or seven months - is how I have managed to live this long without encountering his writing, and the tremendous influence he has had, not least upon our understanding of mythology, but of the collective unconscious and the archetypes that emerge from some sincere yet imponderable depth within us.

A most exciting book
Marie-Louise Franz's biography, 'C.G. Jung - His Myth in Our Time', was one of the most exciting things I've ever read, and now I am following up with Laurens van der Post's 1976 biography, 'Jung and the Story of our Time', which I have to admit I find equally enthralling. I have read a limited amount of Jung's own writing, but in not untypical fashion I sometimes find that an account of a person of such greatness by a third party - in both these cases people who were lucky enough to know Jung while he was alive - provides a fuller insight into not just their work, but their whole being.

In a similar vein, my prejudice towards the biographer, if it hadn't been immediately obvious, was manifested in the case of Nietzsche when I found myself underlining and highlighting many more passages in a Janko Lavrin biography of him than I did in Nietzsche's own work, 'Beyond Good and Evil'.

In many respects, I had already met Carl Gustav Jung, through the work of someone who has often been described as a Jungian disciple, Joseph Campbell. Campbell's work crossed into fields of common interest with my own researches into the myths of the Boyne Valley and Ireland, and indeed became firmly focused in my crosshairs when his discussion of a myth about Venus shining into Newgrange once in eight years set the hairs on the back of my neck all tingling in one of many great and exciting revelations that occurred while I was researching for 'Island of the Setting Sun'.

Campbell was, I now realise, a stepping stone on the crossing of a great river, towards an even more fertile land, inhabited by the thoughts and works of a person of such great standing in the human story that it can be suggested, even though subjectively, that he deserved to stand alone from the human race, deified perhaps by those of us who can only tread gently in his shadow, so great and yet gentle is his presence in the great work of understanding the sacred, and the symbol, and the myths of mankind, and indeed his participation in the great mystery of his own existence.

And so I followed by bliss, and my bliss led me to Newgrange, and thereafter to the works of C.G. Jung.

Van der Post's biography of Jung.
In his biography, van der Post discusses Jung's association with the Rhine, and how Jung believed that no-one could truly live without being in the presence of water, whether lake or river. The biographer believes it was a portentous event that Jung, born on the shore of Lake Constance, should four years later move close to Basle, where he spent 21 years in the presence of the great Rhine, "so that ... the presence of this great river ... was in and around his senses". But here, van der Post makes a stark observation:

"The Rhine is one of the great mythological rivers of the world, not yielding place to the other immense mythological rivers representing the searching and inquiring spirits of men and their cultures, such as the Ganges, the Nile, the Yellow River of China and so on. But unlike those rivers which appear as rivers of light, resolution and are full of a natural, maternal solitude for life, the Rhine is a dark, angry and outraged masculine stream ... It was as if the Rhine had its source in the heart of the darkness of European history."

How can one say that a river, a restless body of water flowing ceaselessly from source to sea, has gender? I thought immediately of the Boyne, which has never been too far from me, either physically or consciously, and its very feminine name, Bóinn, she who is the illuminated bovine goddess of some antiquity. The following words from van der Post made me somewhat glad that my local river, the river of my youth and that is ever-present in my story upon this earth, should have such a stark feminine association:

"Like Heine, I could not understand why it should make me feel sad when the tops of the hills above the Rhine sparkled in a long evening sunlight of summer. I wondered why the story of Lorelei should trouble me? ... Perhaps it was because the imagery evoked by Heine of the feminine being of irresistible beauty and siren song, combing out her hair of gold with a comb of gold, represented all the feminine values which European man, particularly German man, had rejected. German culture, embedded as it was in a civilisation almost entirely man-made, was deliberately and wilfully masculine." In fact, van der Post wrote, "the infinitely renewing and renewable moon that swings the sea of change and symbolises all that is eternally feminine in the spirit of man, by some ominous perversity ... was rendered into a fixed and immutable masculinity."

And I thought, upon reading all the above, that no-one who had lived by the shores of the Boyne river, having heard her gentle lappings or the incessant babbling of her salmon weirs, could ever go to war against another man, or tribe, or nation. Naively, perhaps, I thought that a feminine name and a feminine myth were enough to ensure that those of us who lived within hearing distance of the bright cow river had within our grasp some sense of the feminine aspect of ourselves, allowing it some balance with the masculine in order that some good human decency would prevail that would impel us not towards conflict with our brethern in the greater world, but towards some greater accord. The moon, I felt, was itself a bright wandering cow, and in my own work I had been satisfied that Bóinn represented more than just the river which has her name - she was river, but also moon and Milky Way.

The Boyne ... a river with a feminine identity and feminine mythology.

Ireland did not have a "father" identity (like Germany or Japan), rather being named Éire, after one of a triune of goddesses. We did not make war, but rather we suffered it, and often were the unnecessary victims or players in someone else's conflict, or someone else's incursions upon Éire's sovereignty. This is written indelibly into our mytho-historical story, exemplified in the Lebor Gabála, the Book of Invasions, which has been imprinted upon the very essence of our spirit as a people.

I thought of the poet Francis Ledwidge, who was born near Slane, high above the Boyne on its northern bank, and who died in the Great War at the age of 29. He wrote:

Francis Ledwidge
"All the dead kings came to me
At Rosnaree, where I was dreaming ...
And every dead king had a story
Of ancient glory, sweetly told...
I listened to the sorrows three
Of that Eire passed into song...
And one said: 'Since the poets perished
And all they cherished in the way,
Their thoughts unsung, like petal showers
Inflame the hours of blue and gray."


And when I stood by Bóinn's shore, beneath looming Rosnaree, the wood of the king, I watched in flame the grafted embers of that twilight vision, of cherished things that were no more than barely formed thoughts, flowing down in a stream from hills beyond sight. And there, glistening in a pool of Bóinn's tender making, the relinquished dreams of that Éire passed into song would be gloriously resuscitated by the ancient poet, a Ledwidge in the guise of Finegas the Wise, singing merrily by the shore in an Ireland that is more famous for song than sword.

And we could not make kings of Jung nor Ledwidge nor Finegas, for even as a king at Rosnaree, I was, in the words of Shirley, sceptered and crowned, yet I tumbled down, and in the dust I was equal made with the poor crooked scythe and spade.

Often have I stood by Bóinn's brooding waters in the blue hour of evening, after the sun's departure, and listened there for the sounds of those stories of ancient glory, sweetly told. I never realised how that unfathomable something within my deeper self could be so brilliantly exemplified in the symbolism and sound of water until I had spent many a lonely hour in her presence. 

And maybe from now on, lingering at Bóinn's border as I ponder incessantly at the edge of the unfathomable, I will tip my hat to the great C.G. Jung, whose whole work, in the words of van der Post, "was the rediscovery of the great feminine objective within the objective psyche of man, as to make possible as never before a reconciliation of the masculine and feminine elements in life."

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