The Axial Shamanic Self:
Cross-connecting Spirit and Soul in Shamanism, Art & Life

by "The Dark" Nathair [Maureen B. Roberts, PhD]

Shamanic reality, though holistically inclusive of the boundless possibilities of displaced consciousness and imaginative vision, is seldom singular in its focus and presence; for it is not present to one plane of reality, but to many; nor is it bound to one time or place, to one incarnate form, one line of reasoning, one tangent of exploration, or one angle of perception. Its ultimate context is the eternal and the infinite as that which is implicit in Nature and myth, and which transcends time and space by virtue of its quantal nonlocality and core unity.

Sometimes the shaman's presence is centred along the naked singularity of the vertical axis mundi that passes through all levels of Worldly and Otherworldly planes; sometimes it is fragmented to a billion shards of fire and ice that sear and soar and sail and have their being in a diffuse and maddening lateral scattering of awareness, an empathy that becomes, through the explosion of the singularity of Self, whatever it encounters as its imaginal tendrils permeate the depths and heights, the length and breadth of its all-embracing Sacred Sphere. At such times I feel dangerous, unpredictable, sometimes almost delirious, lethargic but on edge, unable to focus but able to dream and wander and let go, again and again, lured by the spell of the sea, melted by the fire's flame, tossed about like a leaf in peril in the wind, buried and drowned in the cool quiet of the winter earth.

I have experienced my own identity as capable of expanding and contracting to infinity. Like the Mandelbrot Set of fractal maths, it is infinitely complex and detailed (polytheistic), yet remarkably simple (monotheistic), its centre the imploding Singularity of my childhood nightmares and my later sense of sacred Centre, its circumference the boundless confines and limitless diversity of my shamanic Cosmos.

If the shaman can be, quite literally, absent-minded (as I, for one, usually am) it is because, unlike the mere psychotherapist, her feet, or rather her foot, is constantly hopping between two realms, this world and the Otherworlds of her shamanic Cosmos; hence the one-legged dance of the shaman (which James Hillman has discussed in relation to Puer wounds). If her mind along with her foot is absent from this world, it is because it is very much present to the Other(s). She is absent-minded not through negligence or vaguery, but in response to the mediatorial necessities of her vocation. She must leave this world in order to visit other realms and bring back to humanity the timeless yet timely visions they give her. If she merely hops up and down on one spot, she is staked along the vertical axis of spirit, self-enclosed in the Apollonian realm of inward vision, hence of no use to the world. But if her hopping progresses simultaneously along the horizontal axis of soul, she arcs along in disjointed parabolas, semi-circles that as a combination of and compromise between circular wholeness and the lack thereof, both touch the world and transcend it.

The Apollonian-Dionysian Axis

What, then, is the psychological basis of this peculiar shamanic ambivalence, this need to combine axial verticality with horizontally axial soul? As Bruno Borchert has noted, the sixth century BC Greek shamans, who were primarily oracles, purifiers and physicians, linked their ecstasy culture with the worship of Apollo. As a reactionary stance toward Dionysian ecstatics, who drank animal blood, danced madly and generally revelled in the chthonic oneness of instinctive life, the Apollonian shamans stressed detachment from the earthy, essentially feminine vales of sacred seasonality, questing instead after a 'high and heavenly holiness' that was not contaminated with the fertile flesh and its relish for the exuberance of the sensual realm. Rather than seek unity with Nature, they removed themselves from it, deprived themselves of food, wine and sex and travelled in spirit to Apollo's upper realm, while their bodies remained in a deathlike state behind.(1)

However, as has been noted, a great deal of the shaman's power and authority comes, as indeed it did for Jung, through having faced and integrated the shadow side of life, much of which belongs to the fiery Dionysian depths rather than to the cool Apollonian heights. In relation to the need to integrate Dionysian hell and Apollonian heaven, Joseph Campbell notes:

For the shaman's visionary journeys and encounters are in no sense imaginative inventions giving reality to day-to-day wishes and fears. They are experiences of ranges of psychological (i.e. spiritual) reality, altogether beyond knowledge of the everyday mind and imagination. Moreover, it is from those vehement experiences, not the invention of the storytellers of folktales, that knowledge of the gods derives, the torments of hell, transformative passages of purgatories, beatitude in heaven, and whatever is beyond.(2)

This creative tension, unleashed through imagination, between Apollonian and Dionysian was a driving passion of the 19th century Romantic poets, hence the link between their vocation and that of the shaman as poet and visionary. John Keats' philosophy of "Soul- making" has been adopted by the archetypal psychologist James Hillman in his emphasis on soul (as opposed to vertically-oriented 'spirit') as the human essence of the personality which thrives amidst the sometimes harsh vales of life. In Keats' Soul-making letter of 1819 he describes the interaction between "the World," "Mind" or "Intelligence" as the raw material of the unindividuated self, and the "heart" or "soul" - the individual "sense of Identity" - as the goal of transformation. Here are the main relevant ideas (excuse the poet's loose grammar!):

The common cognomen of this world among the misguided and superstitious is a 'vale of tears' from which we are to be redeemed by a certain arbitrary interposition from God and taken to Heaven - What a little circumscribed straightened notion! Call the world if you Please "The vale of Soul-making" . . . I say "Soul making" Soul as distinguished from an Intelligence - There may be intelligences or sparks of the divinity in millions - but they are not Souls till they acquire identities, till each one is personally itself. Intelligences are atoms of perception - they know and they see and they are pure, in short they are God - how then are Souls to be made? How then are these sparks which are God to have identity given them - so as ever to possess a bliss peculiar to each ones individual existence?. . . I will put you in the place where I began in this series of thoughts - I mean, I began by seeing how man was formed by circumstances . . . and what was his soul before it came into the world and had These provings and alterations and perfectionings? - An intelligence - without Identity - and how is this Identity to be made? Through the medium of the Heart? And how is the heart to become this Medium but in a world of Circumstances?(3)

The 23-year old Keats had begun at this time to confront the painful truth of human vulnerability in the face of adversity. He writes to his older brother George and sister-in-law in March 1819:

Circumstances are like Clouds continually gathering and bursting, - While we are laughing the seed of some trouble is put into the wide arable land of events - while we are laughing it sprouts and grows and suddenly bears a poison fruit which we must pluck (L 2:79, 19/3).

A month later, shortly before the Soul-making passage, Keats continues to expound in the same epistle his realisation that harsh reality cannot be philosophised away; we are "destined to hardships and disquietude" as well as "Death". Immediately prior to the Soul- making section we find an allegoric allusion to the Dionysian experience of suffering in the midst of intensely felt opposites, the tone of which is reminiscent of Blake's sinister Song of Experience, "The Sick Rose":

For instance suppose a rose to have sensation, it blooms on a beautiful morning it enjoys itself - but there comes a cold wind, a hot sun - it cannot escape it, it cannot destroy its annoyances - they are as native to the world as itself: no more can man be happy in spite, the world[l]y elements will prey upon his nature. . . (L 2:101, 21/4/1819).

World as the Self-Creative Vale Between Soul & Spirit

One way of looking at the connection between shamanism and Keatsian 'Soul-making' is through exploring how the realm of World, as the 'vale of Soul-making', forms a hypothetical mid-ground, or realm of creative interaction between the (largely Dionysian) shamanic Underworld and the (primarily Apollonian) Overworld. From a related perspective, World constrains us to experience the mutual influence of two poles of consciousness in the form of a creative tension between the horizontal axis of the real - the temporal, transforming Self immersed through suffering 'soul' in circumstance - and the vertical axis of the ideal as the transcendent spark of the divinity which resides in the timeless realm of 'spirit'.

Closer examination reveals that this dialogue between horizontal soul and vertical spirit again correlates nicely with the tension between the fraternal archetypes of Apollo and Dionysus. The dialectic between this key duality combines a prospective, unifying drive toward Apollonian divinity and wholeness with an often chaotic, or dissociating process of Dionysian transformation. In terms of the mythic paradigm of "unity lost and regained", Apollo as the archetype of "spirit" and unity, personifies both the predisjunctive oneness of unconsciousness, and the oneness transcendent to the tension of the opposites - the detached consciousness of the centred Self.

It is understandable that Keats, who possessed an instinctively Hellenic temperament, should fervently extol and identify with Apollo, god of both medicine and poetry, the two central passions of the poet's life which grew to remain inseparable. According to the mythologist Karl Kerenyi, Apollo represents order, which unifies through "a complete reduction of the multiplicity of life."(4) As the heavenly or celestial pole of the duality, Apollo is mythically equivalent to the Sun. He is consequently connected with the conquering of darkness, the epiphany of spirit, and with the uniting of duality (Kerenyi 37, 23, 25). Being always detached from the changeful reality of the present, he corresponds to the Self in its timeless state as a perpetually deferred perfection. This deferred wholeness is what Keats' fellow Romantic poet Wordsworth in The Prelude (1850) calls "Our destiny, our being's heart and home" as the Platonic "something evermore about to be" (6.604-8). Accordingly Apollo, through his compensatory roles as the orderer of disorder and the serenely inert ideal, is also the antithesis of Dionysian instinctual energy.

Nietzsche, who explored in great detail the Apollonian-Dionysian polarity, thus refers to Apollo as "the glorious divine image of the principle of individuation" and alluding to Schopenhauer, portrays him as follows:

As upon a tumultuous sea . . . the mariner sits full of confidence in his frail barque, rising and falling amid the raging mountains of waves, so the individual . . . in a world of troubles, sits passive and serene, trusting to the principium individuationis.(5)

Apollo as the Ideal Simplicity of Indivisible Unity

As the personification of an archetype which underlies detachment and calm objectivity, Apollo promotes a serenity and silence that ultimately, as Keats understood, teases us "out of thought", as does eternity. In this sense Apollo is the spiritual carrot before the earth-bound donkey, the unreachable summit and rarified atmosphere of silent peaks which fire the Puer's starry-eyed hankering after elusive ideals. He is the detached love of truth, the beauty of serene form, distant "western halls of gold", the celestial order and harmony of music, medicine and art; and he is unity as simplicity, the indivisible invisibility of the singularity of Self. Only in this mythic sense is he detachment and objectivity; the soul gazes beyond itself to horizons of unreachable perfection, again in the words of Keats, 'soul looks out through renovated eyes' ('Ode to Apollo', 1815). And as the 'great God of Bards', his services cannot be bought, stolen, or enlisted by those who seek to distort, dilute, desiccate or desecrate such commendable detachment by twisting reason into a lifeless parody of its sacred role. For divine reason serves not cold logic, but 'philo-sophia' - the wisdom which is spawned through love of Sophia.

Nowhere, you see, have I explained Apollo; I have, rather, evoked him through the imaginal, for the archetypes belong to the realm of emotion, vision, instinct, myth, symbol, intuition and Nature, hence cannot be captured by the butterfly nets of logical analysis. As free and autonomous powers, they are servants only of that which is greater than they, the Tao of beginnings, whose universal 'wholi- ness' ceaselessly flows into the dance of an infinitude of changing forms.

Nietzsche believed the antagonism between the Apollonian and Dionysian principles to be central to art, and my own contention is that it is similarly integral to a shamanic vocation that embraces the full spectrum of consciousness, vision and life: "The continuous development of art is bound up with the Apollonian and Dionysian duality," Nietzsche writes in The Birth of Tragedy (1871), "involving perpetual strife with only periodically intervening reconciliations."(6) The two tendencies express the oscillating polarity of creative life, since the totality of human experience demands both order and chaos, ideal serenity and the sometimes harsh reality of conflict. Through this dialectic, repose interacts with tension and images of annihilation collide with images of wholeness, with the result that the Dionysian phase, associated with transience and process, is a transitional state in which self-identity is extinguished.(7) This annihilation of the self - the sense of "being in the midst of non-being" - is a facet of enantiodromia that is, as Jung notes in reference to Nietzsche, a "being torn asunder into pairs of opposites, which are the attributes of 'the god'" and hence also of those whose godlikeness derives from overcoming their gods.(8) The latter has great relevance during shamanic initiation, through which the shaman succumbs to the darkness and chaos of death in order to befriend the Janus-faced gods who impose it, and in so doing win the healing power that their more benevolent face reveals.

Indeed, shamans in embracing the opposites are often crucified between them, hence their ritual dismemberment in being torn apart at the hands of the gods. In Jungian terms, this agonized suspension between extremes results from the ego's temporary annihilation, which allows for a full-on confrontation with the polar nature of the archetype, its ambivalent power to manifest both destructive and creative sides through its moral neutrality, that is, its 'preference' for neither pole.

Both Apollonian and Dionysian modes of consciousness feature in shamanic ecstasy and art, the Apollonian allowing the detached distillation of experience into art, poetry and articulated vision, the Dionysian mediating the maenadic madness that thrives on the ego's willingness to relinquish stability and identity for the sake of a shamanic union with lawless life. As Jung points out, Nietzsche likens the psychological states induced through the Apollonian and Dionysian impulses to "dreaming" and "intoxication" respectively. Nietzsche describes dreaming as basically "inward vision" - the "lovely semblance of dream worlds." The insular Apollonian state is "a perception of inner images of beauty", a contemplative orientation to "the dream world of eternal ideas" . Conversely, the Dionysian represents a paradoxical delight in the destruction of individuality. As an expansion of consciousness it is comparable, Jung says, "to intoxication, which dissolves the individual" through "an explosion of the isolated ego through the world".(9) Furthermore, the Dionysian intoxicates the senses like wine such that the sensory and affective aspects of the personality come to the fore.

Dionysus incarnates - through 'disincarnating' - the fragmenting dimension of Soul-making that complements the Self's instinct to unify . If Apollo represents the calm ordering of chaos, hence the shaman's power to be centred, singular and focused, Dionysus is the chthonic energy of instinct which gives rise to the fire of psychic suffering. As the counterpart of the Apollonian tranquil Sun, Dionysian energy represents the ambivalence of creative and destructive fire. Mythically, the Titans' dismembering and boiling of Dionysus parallels the suffering aspect of Christ as the "One divided into Many" through his crucified suspension between the opposites. In a complementary manner, Dionysus' descent and resurrection as a vegetation deity dramatizes, as does shamanic initiation, the paradox of life's emergence from death through a self-annihilation in which the sacred is revealed either in or as ambiguity.

Through his notion of the "camelion Poet" who has no "self" or "nature", Keats espouses, again as does the shaman, an alternative to the self-possessed, or egoic notion of personal identity. The essential quality of this allotropic "poetical Character" is its empathic immersion in external reality through a Dionysian expansion of the self. In a letter of October 1818, Keats writes:

A Poet is the most unpoetical of any thing in existence; because he has no Identity - he is continually informing - and filling some other Body - The Sun, the Moon, the Sea and Men and Women who are creatures of impulse are poetical and have about them an unchangeable attribute - the poet has none; no identity - he is certainly the most unpoetical of God's creatures.

A little further on he continues:

When I am in a room with People if I am ever free from speculating on creations of my own brain, then not myself goes home to myself: but the identity of every one in the room begins to press upon me that, I am in a very little time anhilated [sic] (L 1:386- 87, 27/10).

Dionysian analogies and metaphors of extinction recur frequently throughout Keats' letters. The association of metaphoric death and descent, sensation, and instinct with self-annihilation is evident in a letter of April 1818, when he writes to Reynolds: "I lay awake last night - listening to the Rain with a sense of being drown'd and rotted like a grain of wheat. . ." (L 1:273, 27/4/1818).

Indeed, the entire development of Keats' poetry is from one perspective an dramatization of the evolution of the creative tension between the Apollonian and Dionysian archetypes.

Psychic Monotheism & Polytheism

In terms of the complementarity of psychic monotheism and polytheism (imaged as the centred multiplicity of the mandala), if Apollo is the "One" of reconciled opposites, Dionysus is the self-divided "Many" suspended between them. And if we have privileged unity over multiplicity, it is because - as James Hillman stresses - we Westerners have preferred light over darkness, ego over shadow, spirit over nature, Apollo over Dionysus, reason over energy, order over chaos, civilization over savagery, sanity over madness, God over Satan, Overworld over Underworld, perfection and wholeness over the necessary pathologies of soul.

If, on the other hand, we are prepared to accept that all life polarities, including woundedness and wholeness, ideally exist in creative tension; and if we loosely correlate health and the balance of life energies with 'ease', then illness as 'dis-ease' or imbalance, is the Wounded Healer's necessary soul- pathology. As Hillman expounds in relation to the Puer's necessary wounding,

we may expect to find images of laming as an advantage or achievement. The one-legged dance of Shaman is such an example of unnatural distortion representing supernatural power . . . The double standpoint of left and right is unified into a single pivot. Movement no longer shuffles along, back and forth, now this side, now that; instead, consciousness has to hop and skip about. The left- right rhythm that steadies one with the mutual self-corrections of thesis and antithesis is off-balance . . . Instead of steadiness, there is the gift of leaping about in discontinuity and then being wholly identified (at one with) wherever one lands. And wherever one has landed, at once becomes the center so that one's motion is no longer locomotion but a self-turning on one's own axis. In this condition consciousness is single, centroverted, and also in precarious balance. . . Perhaps the uniped shows a state of continuous discontinuity, in which the alchemical achievement is less a solid-state stone than a wonky wobble, always teetering, susceptible to falling. Consciousness leaps to the centre of things, is identified with its standpoint, but cannot stand there. Nor can it even observe itself since there is no longer any one foot in and one foot out. We are now into the genius and pathology of fusional states, the single standpoint of identification. Whereas alchemy represents one-footedness as an accomplishment, usually this virtue - if such it is - of being 'singled' out through the foot does not feel like an achievement. . . At best the marked foot represents a condition of being singled out by an abnormal standpoint. Jason's absent sandal meant that he was pledged with one foot (the left) to the Underworld. Mopsos, the prophet whose 'special skill in divination was concerned with birds. He could understand their language', was snake-bitten in the left foot. . . The cost of sight into the divine (divination), and thus foresight into time, is a marking in relation to this world of here and now. To soar one must hobble, too. The marked foot is also a laming, a limiting hindrance, a frustration and a wound. The complex through which we gain our profoundest insight is also our greatest hindrance. One aspect is the native sensitivity through which we receive the Gods; another aspect, however, continually hurts and may kill us.'(10)

Throughout his extremely short but intensely realized medical and poetic career, Keats struggled, as do shamans who are drawn equally to World, Overworld and Underworld, with the challenge to create a dynamic synthesis between Puer idealism and visionary escapism on one hand, and immersion in the agony and ecstasy of life in the World on the other. The first shamanic mode involves the ascent to the visionary realm of celestial spirit, but the second is needed if the shaman is to return with such visions and, through empathising with the crucifixions and paradoxes of earthly life, offer them as a balm to anguished soul.

The Shamanic Puer

The Puer complex, as the limping wound through which Otherworldly vision can flow, is accordingly common among artists and shamans alike. The positive Puer longs to escape in order to wander through cool, uninhabited landscapes of unreachable worlds, not out of a rejection of human strife, noise and limitation, but because in meditative solitude amidst the imaginal grandeur of Nature and Cosmos, one can experience the tranquil face of the sublime. Conversely, it is 'soul' who, sometimes amidst the overwhelming forces of Nature and war, can know the awesome terror of the dark, destructive face of the sublime. And although they may choose at times to journey for their own pleasure, or to replenish their energy reserves, as physicians of the soul, shamans like poets have, as it were, a special dispensation in that they ascend to spirit on behalf of the community which they serve as mediators of healing knowledge. All in all, their lives are not their own, for they are ruled by the daimon who has them, as an 'elect', in its overpowering grip.

As he matured poetically, Keats entered the more detached awareness of the "I" in the midst of the "not I" of the wider human situation, of the Self as simultaneously everything and nothing, a state which he readily embraces through the his own instinctive empathy with others. In an early work, "Sleep and Poetry" (1816) Keats anticipates the sobering burden of this increased responsibility toward humanity. Although in his early poetry he is predisposed "on the wing of poesy [to] upsoar" in order to "Fly from all sorrowing far, far away", in "Sleep and Poetry" he confronts his idealism by foreseeing a future need to progress toward "a nobler life" in which he might "find the agonies, the strife/Of human hearts. . ." (122-25). In the accompanying vision of Apollo as the foreseeing "charioteer", the god thus descends, wheeling his chariot earthward in order to counteract the ideal with the real (127-34). However, the vision soon relinquishes its anchorage to reality and reverts to an upward ascent, with the result that the real becomes depreciated to the status of a "muddy stream" which mediates "nothingness" (155-59). The desirability of Apollonian idealism then reasserts itself in a regressive longing for "the high/Imagination" to "freely fly/As she was wont of old", to "Paw up against the light, and do strange deeds/Upon the clouds" (162-67).

Later in the poem the schism between the ideal and the real is amplified through a dichotomy between poetry as a "drainless shower/Of light" and the dark side of life as the "fallen" state of death and suffering, from which poetry is able to "lift" humanity (235-47). Rejecting the necessity of the psychological fall into inner turmoil, the poet yearns for an undisturbed Edenic tranquillity (248-64). In contrast with Satan's courageous resignation to hardship in Paradise Lost, summarised in his defiant statement: "Farewell happy Fields/Where Joy for ever dwells: Hail horrors, hail/Infernal world" (PL 1.249-51), Keats with false optimism proclaims: "All hail delightful hopes!" before boldly stating what is antagonistic to his later Soul-making philosophy: "And they shall be accounted poet kings/Who simply tell the most heart-easing things" (264, 267-68). In principle these "poet kings" are synonymous with the "Fanatics" who with the deceiving "dreams" of escape from suffering "weave/A paradise for a sect" at the opening of Keats' later and more mature poem, The Fall of Hyperion (1819).

A similar psychological challenge is anticipated in the 1817 sonnet "On Seeing the Elgin Marbles", which portrays "an indescribable feud" between the limitations of mortality and the sense of godlike omnipotence which the poet, like the shaman (who is similarly identified with the eagle), in one sense yearns for, yet is also relieved at times to be able to forego. The poem opens from the perspective of mortality with:

My spirit is too weak - mortality
Weighs heavily on me like unwilling sleep,
And each imagined pinnacle and steep
Of godlike hardship tells me I must die
Like a sick eagle looking at the sky.

Within these few lines are themes and symbols which come to feature in Keats' mature poetry: the eagle as the victory of "beauty" - the Gnostic vision of the ascent to unity - over the "dizzy pain" of the "undesirable feud" of opposites; the motif of heaviness representing Gnostic "sleep" as imprisonment in the world, and sickness as the self-division which must be transcended in order to attain the ascent.

Integral to the yearning for Apollonian idealism is the lack of reconciliation to the reality of the present, hence the Puer avoidance of the tension and conflict from which alone growth and maturity can emerge. For it is only in the context of a dialectic between stasis and process, between passivity and transformative energy that the conscious realisation of the divine Self as simultaneously human soul can dawn. Viewed in this light, Apollo and Dionysus personify the anointing and (Keatsian) "disanointing poison", panacea and wounding, wholeness and 'dis-ease' of the paradoxical Self.

In the mature phase of Keats' Soul-making poetic quest, which finds its finest expression in the 1819 Odes and the Hyperion poems, the soulful metaphor of the vale images the senex-dominated state of melancholy from which one ascends to divine selfhood. As a striving toward enlightenment (which in one sense is the alchemical "lightening" of Saturnine lead), the reversion of the Saturnine fallen condition in the vale to reclaimed Apollonian light fulfils, through the attainment of greater personal detachment and empathy with the tragic human condition, the quest for wholeness as a transcending of the anguished closure of the vale of Soul-making. The overall lesson is that suffering cannot be eliminated but can be ameliorated, in a sense overcome through the attainment of a core inner peace and harmony with the wider, amoral unity of the ever- oscillating Cosmos.

For again like the shaman, the Romantic poet breaks free of the moralistic shackles of organized religion and supersedes the need for belief and dogma by privileging, as does the shaman, the immediate experience of imaginative vision. Here the poet's self- knowledge as self-incubation calls for the activation of all the light and dark forces of mind and Nature, and with them all the opposites and paradoxes (such as "pleasant pain") which work out their own salvation through the amoral ethic of Soul-making. Through the poet's faith in latent inner powers of growth, the polarities of life are affirmed as common instincts of imagination and action - a principle common to Western and Chinese alchemy as well as to Gnosticism. The unification of human nature and life involves for Keats, as it does for the Chinese alchemists, a seed- like thinking through which non-being exists in the midst of being by way of the continual extinction of a fixed identity.

By ascribing, as do shamans who equally embrace Underworld and Overworld, an equal value to the dark and light aspects of mind and Nature, the Romantic and shamanic Self embraces the purgatorial nature of a lawless affirmation of life through its pervasive ambiguity. The tragedy inherent in this is that of a Keatsian "godlike hardship", which through the burden of direct insight sometimes finds it hard to distinguish legitimate "dark" from genuine "evil". Keats' amorality in this sense is expounded in the epistle "Dear Reynolds" (1816). The poet's conflict emerges as an inability to reconcile reason with the amoral "contraries" of light and dark, which are revealed in Nature as the unavoidable duality of creation and destruction:

to philosophize
I dare not yet! - Oh never will the prize,
High reason, and the lore of good and ill,
Be my award. Things cannot to the will
Be settled, but they tease us out of thought.
Or is it that the imagination brought
Beyond its proper bound, yet still confined, -
Lost in a sort of purgatory blind,
Cannot refer to any standard law
Of either earth or heaven? - It is a flaw
In happiness to see beyond our bourn -
It forces us in summer skies to mourn:
It spoils the singing of the nightingale.
Dear Reynolds, I have a mysterious tale
And cannot speak it. The first page I read
Upon a lamplit rock of green sea weed
Among the breakers. -'Twas a quiet eve;
The rocks were silent - the wide sea did weave
An untumultuous fringe of silver foam
Along the flat brown sand. I was at home,
And should have been most happy - but I saw
Too far into the sea; where every maw
The greater on the less feeds evermore: -
But I saw too distinct into the core
Of an eternal fierce destruction,
And so from happiness I far was gone.

There is an apparent sense of evil in Nature here, which induces the poet's borderline despair, yet the phrase "eternal fierce destruction" is itself morally neutral and implies a simultaneous acceptance of Nature as a self-cycling energy beyond the confines of morality. Indeed, the fire of psychic energy, associated with Hell as the shadow face of the psyche, is positively valued by both Blake and Keats, again as it is by shamans who are at home in Underworld, as morally neutral. Keats' description of the "delightful enjoyments" of his dream of Hell (L2.91, April 1819), inspired by his reading of Dante's Inferno, corresponds remarkably to Blake's vision of "walking among the fires of hell, delighted with the enjoyments of Genius" in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell.

The Shaman as Limping Icarus

In view of the correlation of Apollonian and Dionysian with the archetypal poles of heaven and hell, spirit and sense, dreaming and intoxication, the escape toward either extreme, by avoiding the creative tension between both, can be usefully regarded as "negatively" Apollonian or Dionysian. The avoidance of escape into either idealism or intoxicated oblivion requires a resolving dialogue between the two, or an exploration of their enantiodromian potential. In Apollonian Puer mode, Dionysian energy as ambivalent and transforming psychic fire is absent. Instead of an outward channeling of libido, one harbours "visions" and so is ironically sheltered on the mountain from the Soul-making vale. As an equally ironic corollary, the destruction of motivation through the nihilistic abandonment to Dionysian intoxication leads to creative impotence.

The shaman, like the mature poet, avoids both pitfalls. In embracing a condition of permanent woundedness, the shaman yields to the iconoclastic power of reality to dispel the idyllic Puer dream of escapism. In yielding to the Puer impulse, the shaman scorns the domination of facthood over imagination by journeying to the dream- world of vision.

As an illustration of the shamanic Puer complex, my most recurrent dream of the past twelve years or so (it's running into the hundreds now) has been one in which I'm flying upward in eagle form through the sky, intending to head for the stars, yet when I reach a certain height my path becomes frustratingly blocked by horizontal 'power lines', through which there is never a way. In time I realized that of course these lines were an imposed restraint which was keeping me from soaring too high along the vertical axis, a counterbalancing compensation by the unconscious for my conscious perception of myself as capable of rising, in the form of the shamanic eagle, above all obstacles, hence being in danger not only of becoming inflated with my own sense of power, but also of permanently escaping the horizontal realm of soul and human suffering.

As an oblique instance of an inversion, or displacement of 'ek- stasis' to the physical realm, with attendant disastrous consequences, I'm reminded here of the rock climber's dream, recounted by Jung. The man concerned told Jung of a dream he'd had in which he'd been having a rest on a mountain climb, then woke up and stepped off into thin air. Jung asked him what he'd felt at precisely that moment and the man replied, "ecstasy". Jung intuited that the man secretly longed to die, since in the dream, visionary ek-stasis as a life-enhancing, disincarnation of soul had been replaced by its literalization in defiance of gravity. Jung warned the man never to go climbing again, but he did not heed the advice and about a year later, fell to his death.

From yet another angle, Marie-Louise von Franz links shamanic above and below, ecstatic vision and soul as follows:

The shaman climbs a cord to heaven and then returns by means of it to earth. Afterward he carries the cord as a sign of his connection with the other world. . . . His work lies among the nerves, not in the underworld, but on the heights, places of as much anguish as the depths, where the elation of elevation is accompanied by the fear of falling into the void of chasms."(11)

Shamanic Ecstasy on a Bull Farm

As a fascinating (Taurus) counterpart to the (Scorpio) eagle dream, while I was writing this chapter, I had an insightful dream concerning bulls. In the dream, I had to cross a large, enclosed paddock in the heart of which was a powerful electricity-generating plant and pylons (again, the power-line motif.) I had to walk and navigate around the plant, as though I were traversing a maze, or labyrinth, and at the same time was 'allowed' to cross at crossings only when 'Walk' signs appeared. I also needed to look out for and dodge dangerous speeding cars, which were not obeying the traffic signals. Significantly, the entire enclosure was named "Ecstasy", yet in retrospect, I intuited that my earthed and confined journeying in the dream again hinted at the ability to transcend limitations, but rather at the need to honour restrictions, stay grounded and not rush; all in all, to persevere in a plodding "Sir Bors" manner. Eventually, in the dream I came to a barbed wire fence which I couldn't get through, since I suspected it was wired with electricity, so I had to back-track across the enclosure. When I reached the opposite side, I came to a bull farm and needed to cross it. I noticed that a new white bull (seductive Zeus) had just been brought in and that a couple of men were trying to handle him. The bull looked rather ferocious, so I decided to sneak around behind a shed to get past him. However, he spotted me and cut off my exit, then rushed toward me, so I sensibly decided to come forward and greet him. I held out my left hand (intuitive side) as a friendly gesture and as he came across to sniff it, he changed into a rather docile and friendly hybrid of sow and bull (both sensual, earthy and sacred animals in the Druid tradition) .

I then decided to stay on at the farm as a researcher. A lot of the research involved exploring farm boundaries, some of which were defined by electric fences. Once I'd finished my research, I decided to leave, not by asking the men who ran the farm to let me out, but by other more stealthy, independent and adventurous means. I climbed up onto a high surrounding wall and simply flew off, soon reaching a very high altitude and so soared over some huge barbed wire fences on the way. Suddenly, my earthed double took over as the perspective changed. At ground level, once more in human form, I was watching my soaring self, who as I could now see was a gracefully flying brown bull, very small because I was so high in the sky.

As a Scorpio, my mythic flying figure is the white opposite, Pegasus, the 'detached' transformation and spiritualization of chthonic instinct, the beheaded Medusa), so here I have become the zodiacal complement - a flying brown bull. Eventually, in the form of the bull again, I flew out over the ocean, which was beginning to whip up into a storm, so I transformed into a sea bird and descended in order to weather it out by paddling on the surface (a sensible compromise between battling the storm head-on and retreating from it).

Taurus, the bull, symbolizes the earthed physical realm in terms of sensation and concrete possessions. The dream, to my understanding, was yet another attempt to integrate groundedness and matter-of-factness, along with senex-bound limitation and necessary restrictions, with an eagle-like shamanic cunning, diplomacy and ecstatic transcendence. In connection with the maze-like quality of the dream enclosure, it's also worth bearing in mind that the Cretan Labyrinth was the home of the Minotaur, the bull-headed man of the Taurean astrological myth, which concerns the fear of the very Underworld in which the opposite Scorpio energy, presided over by Hades and Medusa, is very much at home.

Again in relation to the Labyrinth and the creative tension between moderation and ecstasy, Icarus is a key myth, since it is one which shamans - through their power of ecstatic flight and descent - repeatedly flaunt! When Daedalus, inventor of the Labyrinth, attached the wings he had made to his son Icarus, so that he might escape in flight from the Labyrinth, he advised him to fly the middle way; not too high, or the sun would melt the wax on his wings and he'd fall. If he flew too low, on the other hand, the tides of the sea would ensnare him. Daedalus himself flew the middle way but watched his son become ecstatic and fly too high. The wax by which the wings were attached melted and the boy fell disastrously into the sea, while Daedalus, who sanely and sensibly avoided the extremes, succeeded in getting to the shore.

But the propelling ethic for shamans is more likely to be Blake's Proverb of Hell : "The road of excess leads to the path of wisdom." The shaman, through 'ek-stasis' and divine madness, steps not only outside of herself, but also outside of the normal range of experience, the middle ground of the middle way. If she is unafraid of the soaring heights of Overworld, she is equally welcoming of the Underworld depths and their potential peril, for she is connected along the cord of axis mundi to both. Thus she is the axial shamanic Self, whose centre is simultaneously the central axis that passes through all levels of Otherworldly vision. And as one Hindu text has it: "A dangerous path is this, like the edge of a razor."

Apollo, Dionysus & 'Imaginal Reasoning'

As should be obvious to the reader by now, shamans do not deal in abstractions but relate to archetypal forces as living, mythic powers. Part of the delusion entertained by (what Keats' colleague Shelley derogatively referred to as) 'reasoners and mechanists' is that they can conscript Apollo in support of personal vendettas, but this god cannot be made the slave of limited ego or shadow agendas. When we try to enslave Apollo to a rationalistic dogma or blinker- visioned intellectual scheme, we abuse his powers and provoke his avenging dark side - as the bringer of plague and pestilence. If, on the other hand, we fail to do homage to 'mythic reason' as Apollo, then we abandon the field of calm debate to the cerebral distortions of logicians.

By the same token, if we lose ourselves to Dionysian revelry, Nature-worship and irrationality, we fall prey to the kind of woolly-mindedness and lack of critical awareness that, sadly, pervades much New Age 'thinking'. Many New Agers, in a largely reactionary move have, through rejecting the thinking-dominated patriarchy, tossed out the baby (or rather, senex Old Man) with the bathwater by falling back on the opposing feeling function. This move, well-intentioned as it might be, has in turn spawned the equivalent of a new faith religion, flawed by sentimentalism and all too often devoid of sound scholarship and critical ability; one now need only have faith and believe in the power of positive thinking, or in airy-fairy notions of 'spirituality', or Gaea, or Cosmic Energy and channelled messages from 'ascended masters' or our 'space brothers'. Enantiodromias such as this, however, are not the key to wholeness but are instead yet another means of staving it off.

If our only solution is reactionary, then we are simply inviting one god to depose another. But since the deposer is inevitably no more powerful than the deposed, we end up in the longrun with a boxing-match, or tug-of-war between two equally potent deities. The alternative, as Jung has soberly prophesied, is that it is only those who can sustain the tension of the opposites - through being consciously centred in the paradoxical Self rather than in the ego - who will birth the new consciousness.

Hence Apollo's unity, as serene form and invisible Point, is not a conformity, but rather an implied Dionysian ambivalence, symbolized as the medical Caduceus he wields, the Mercurial union of opposites as the twin counterspiralling serpents. Thus when I write of Dionysian shamanic experience, I do so in a moment of recollecting tranquillity, which mediates the imaginal focusing of Dionysus - through the eyes of Apollo - as what I would call 'imaginal reasoning'. Conversely, if spirit is to be earthed, it is earthed through the bodily mediation of soul as incarnate vision. For this to occur in poetry, art, prophecy, and shamanic vision, soul must be en-visioned, reflected on with Apollonian distance and detachment. For one does not, in my experience, write while immersed in the diffuse throes of Dionysian mode; hence Dionysus would not, I imagine, bother reasoning with logicians, but would in all likelihood entwine them in a maenadic dance of wild vines, then trample on or tear apart their rational treatises in a frenzy of mad glee.

My vision, then, is this: once both of these two gods have regained, along with male and female, matter and spirit, reason and intuition, an equally important place in consciousness, they will no longer need to manifest as perverted distortions of themselves - Dionysus patronized, Apollo patronizing; one driven insane, the other reduced to cold logic - but will instead be free to interact as fraternal archetypes circling about a common centre in creative tension, rather than at war. The common centre is, of course, the Self as the barycentric point of gravity around which this archetypal binary star dances, and as the 'strange attractor' which orders their chaos and ensures that in life as a whole - as well as in the art and shamanic vision which focus life through fire - neither order nor chaos, reason nor madness, prevails.

From: Soul Retrieval & Soul-making: Creative Bridges Between Shamanism & Depth Psychotherapy c.1998 Maureen B. Roberts. [Not to be reproduced whole or in part without permission.]


(1) Bruno Borchert, Mysticism: Its History and Challenge, Samuel Weiser, Yorke Beach ME, 1994, 120-121.

(2) Joseph Campbell, Historical Atlas of World Mythology, Vol. II: The Way of the Seeded Earth. Part 2: Mythologies of the Primitive Planters: The Northern Americas, New York, Harper & Row, 1989, 212.

(3) John Keats, The Letters of John Keats 1814-1821, ed. Hyder Edward Rollins, 2 vols, London: Cambridge UP, 1958, 2:101-104 (21,30/4/1819). Further references to the Letters, abbreviated as L, will appear in the text.

(4) Karl Kerenyi, Apollo: The Wind, the Spirit, and the God, trans. Jon Solomon, Dallas: Spring Publications, 1983, 61, 58.

(5) Friedrich Nietzsche, quoted in C. G. Jung, The Collected Works, ed. Sir H. Read et al., trans. R. F. C. Hull, Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 1953-77, vol. 6, Psychological Types 506- 07.

(6) Nietzsche, quoted in Russell S. King, "Mussett: The Poet of Dionysus," Studies in Romanticism 13 (1974): 328.

(7) C. Savitz, "The Burning Cauldron: Transference as Paradox," Journal of Analytical Psychology 35 (1990):.48.

(8) Jung, CW 7, Two Essays on Analytical Psychology, 1953, 72.

(9) Jung, CW 6, Psychological Types 138, 144.

(10) James Hillman, "Puer Wounds and Ulysses' Scar" (1977), in Puer Papers, Dallas: Spring Publications, 1979, 102-3. Hillman is superlative here; he uses Apollonian reasoning to defend and support the Dionysian, and at the same time evokes the labyrinthine wanderings of the Dionysian as the imaginal context of his reasoning.

(11) Marie-Louise von Franz, The Feminine in Fairy Tales, Shambhala, Boston, 1993. 123-4, 109.

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