A New American Vision: Rethinking Our Past and Future Mythology


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Black ElkBlack Elk, a Native American visionary and Lakota Sioux medicine man chronicled by John Neihardt in Black Elk Speaks, believed a coherent vision to be central to a people’s well-being.  Black Elk prophetic message was clear—“Without vision, the people perish.”  A vision encompasses not only the values and goals a people strive to honor but creates a mythology of who we are, what we stand for and how our vision fits into the cosmic order. Out of this mythology comes its symbolism of meaning that functions in maintaining the moral integrity and stability of the community as a whole, while assisting the individuals as part of the whole through the stages of life, supporting them through crises by grounding them in their vision.  Vision permeates what Jung calls the self, “…the organizing principle of the personality”, through the archetypal symbolism we embody tied to the collective unconscious. According to Jung, the self is the archetype of order, organization and most importantly, unification, which harmonizes all other archetypes and their manifestation.  The visionary connected self carries us through crises that occur during the course of our individual lives and the history of a people.

Joseph Campbell, a professor and lecturer on comparative mythology and author of The Hero with a Thousand Faces, found that danger exists when the social order requirements of social institutions such as religion and political interpretations “…press on people mythological structures that no longer match their human experience”.  Furthermore, the symbol or metaphor which expresses the societal mythology must possess a “spiritual aura” signifying a living spiritual core of awakening.  If mythological symbols are “…reduced to the concrete goals of a particular political system of socialization”, they lack the “connotative meaning of metaphoric imagery” that leads to a realization of transcendence.  This type of concrete symbol merely denotes a localized ethnic meaning caught in a static historical context devoid of universal spiritual significance.

The American mythology of the Old West “rugged individual” symbolized by the lone cowboy riding into to town to save the people, is of the ethnic variety of an incompletejohn-wayne hero’s journey that has become brittle with age and no longer gels with our contemporary globalized world nor serves us in a world that for the most part thinks in collectivist terms.  The illusion of the lone cowboy saving the world through individual heroics is a worn-out Messianic construct—an interjection of a non-existent idealized past which in reality is littered with the genocide of our indigenous people, the nightmare of slavery and a whole host of other violent indignities. We forget that these false symbols of American daring are perpetrated on the backs of the impoverished and least powerful among us.  These kitschy boastful expressions dredged up from archaic symbols of our American past merely act as destructive consumerist substitutes for an authentic reality.

bushA pivotal moment in American history, when we could have turned towards a renewed American vision for the new century, occurred at the time of 9/11, now indelibly etched in our minds as witnesses to a greater escalation of fear and terror.  Unfortunately, out of the rubble, an opportunity to create a more collective ideal for peace was lost by invoking the worn-out national mythology of the lone cowboy iconic imagery of western frontier individual heroics.  In response to a reporter’s question regarding the fate of bin Laden, President Bush said, “I want justice. And there’s an old poster out West, I recall, that says, “Wanted: Dead or Alive”.  This hackneyed construct of American mythology failed to connote a deeper sense of spiritual connection to our inner lives.  At this inner level, we transcend the historical concrete “here and now” to what Campbell terms the universal “ah” giving one…”a sense of actual participation in such a realization of transcendence, infinity, and abundance…”.  The function of these metaphorical symbols is to speak to our deepest levels of being whenever they arise in a context of contemporary experience.  The fact that we did not move beyond the pain of loss through the threshold of a deeper level of shared experience to the rebirth of a new worldview continues to burden our country and drives the current political discourse of dissension, contempt and moral self-righteousness.

We have also been reminded constantly that if we work hard we can realize the American dream.  The once idolized “American dream” rings hollow in our current social and political milieu and as Campbell stated, has become a dangerous symbol that no longer aligns with many Americans’ human experience, leaving some to feel cheated conradbootstrapsand demoralized.  Rather than adhering solely to the individualistic “can do, pull oneself up by the bootstraps” mantra coursing through everyday life, a new American mythology would allow us to examine our values, assumptions, and sense of purpose that dominate our worldview and consider alternative interpretations by creating a larger more inclusive and realistic context for defining what it means to be American.  Visionary fiction books, such as The Way of the Peaceful Warrior, The Alchemist and The Celestine Prophecy, have moved many Americans to reconsider the world as they know it along with all the old mythologies and move to a more transcendent vision of themselves and the world as it truly is—interconnected on all levels of existence, infinite and abundant.  From experiencing the wisdom contained in visionary fiction narratives, envisioning an evolved consciousness becomes possible for individuals, as well as, communities and nations.

A broader American vision based on a more diverse collective narrative of transformation, speaks to us on a soul level.  While rooted in the constitutionalAm Flag fundamentals of governance of the people, by the people and for the people, this new vision would shine a critical light on the larger context (beyond paranoid delusions of security) of our political, economic and military actions affecting the world, while still affirming our authentic core values of equality, liberty and rule of law. A radical shift in our nation’s inner psyche, from one embedded in individual unilateral heroics to a more collective consequential focus, would have been a transformative debate profoundly affecting “the state of the union” and the lives of future generations for the better.

Vision is not mere fantasy devoid of pragmatic realism but an expression of our core values linked to universal experiences.  For a nation that used to pride itself on a universal concept of E Pluribus Unum (out of many, one), we have politically divided and compartmentalized ourselves in the “Pluribus”, but have precious little “Unum” to show the world as the American political process continues to grind away defined by fractured relations and contentious posturing.  Our “better angels” have obviously not alighted on this planet to guide our actions to date.

Both sides of the political spectrum confuse the “map with the territory” a concept first proposed by philosopher Alfred Korzybski and expanded upon by anthropologist Gregory Bateson.  In essence, people confuse their own personal maps of the world with the territory the map represents by the conviction that their view is the one and only “truth”.  As a result, we engage in never ending arguments over whose version of theimagesCAW3G2L6 truth is the correct view of reality.  When gazing through a universal lens, multiple realities exist which necessitates a collaborative response for effective governing so that each reality is honored at a given level of consciousness, while moving toward wholeness and understanding. Creating a national vision where multiple realities from diverse perspectives are organized into a coherent unified force to solve our complex domestic and global problems has clearly been lacking in the current political climate.

Furthermore, the capacity of our leaders to reach a high level of comfort with ambivalence—holding opposing extremes of conviction at one time—would result in executive and legislative actions that would begin to reflect the cohesive rendering of E Pluribus Unum from which our nation has evolved.  A more collective rather than purely individualistic stance is not an anomaly in our history. Our founders faced a crisis during the American Revolution which galvanized a search for principles upon which they could build a unified nation culminating in the adoption of the Constitution. Edmund Morgan writes in his book, The Birth of the Republic that prior to SigningConstitutionthe American Revolution, “colonists were reputed to be a quarrelsome, litigious, divisive lot and historical evidence bears out this reputation.”  However, through inspired leadership they were able to come together in common purpose to address injustices inherent within the organization and functioning of the British governing institutions that controlled the colony at the time.  This collective action ultimately resulted in independence and the rule of law sacred to our Constitution.  A transformative American vision of E Pluribus Unum evolved out of this crisis and set a historical precedent that speaks to the American sense of fairness and necessity to act collectively on democratic principles to preserve individual liberties.

Clearly, we need to undergo a national re-imagining of ourselves.  9/11 was the chance to do just that and could have provided us with a bolder more authentic vision of ourselves grounded in our historic strengths and realities yet connected to enduring universal themes of abundance, unity, and infinity in which nothing is static except universal truths expressing spiritual realities.  Ken Burns in his commencement address atburns_stanford-800x430 Stanford University (http://news.stanford.edu/2016/06/12/prepared-text-2016-stanford-commencement-address-ken-burns/) spoke to the need to see history as a non-static source of vision for our nation. “Over those decades of historical documentary filmmaking, I have also come to the realization that history is not a fixed thing, a collection of precise dates, facts, and events that add up to a quantifiable, certain, confidently known truth. History is a mysterious and malleable thing, constantly changing, not just as new information emerges, but as our own interests, emotions and inclinations change. Each generation rediscovers and re-examines that part of its past that gives its present new meaning, new possibility and new power. The question becomes for us now – for you especially – what will we choose as our inspiration? Which distant events and long dead figures will provide us with the greatest help, the most coherent context and the wisdom to go forward?”

The saying goes: when the student is ready, the teacher will appear.  Americans are ready for a renewal of the American vision.  Many Americans are tired and “living rough” in day to day existence with no obvious purpose and meaning in sight. Visionary thinkers and authors are in a unique position to point the way toward transcendence, but it is incumbent upon us to walk this inner journey and share our experience with Campbellothers. In his final years, Joseph Campbell saw the need for a new mythology that was based on a universal rendering of a transcendent hero found in all world mythologies instead of misconstrued localized metaphors “misread prosaically as referring to tangible facts.”  This transcendent hero goes forth on an individual, yet also a collective journey of growth and self-actualization returning to his community to share and embody wisdom gained from experience. This archetype points towards a consensual reality based on shared experience that could be articulated that should be articulated by our leaders in a manner that resonates with a majority of Americans. Indeed, Campbell’s lectures on this very subject enthralled American audiences wherever he spoke.

Perhaps the rediscovery and embodiment of an ancient universal archetype such as the transcendental hero will serve us better —one composed of more depth and clarity of purpose through the embodiment of meaning referenced by people of many diverse backgrounds, and one which acts as a metaphor for a collective journey towards the wisdom and maturation of the American consciousness—rather than the incessant replay of shallow repetitious stereotypes from the past.


Marian at 57Marian A. Lee is a hospice chaplain and holds a BA in Political Science from George Washington University.  She has a Master’s degree in Mental Health Counseling from the University of South Florida and has completed two years towards a doctorate degree in political science.  She is revamping her fictional visionary book, The Lioness of Brumley Hall, to bring in a stronger narrative based on the precepts of magical realism, as well as, a children’s magical adventure series imbued with subtle political irony.  


C. S. Lewis: Fantasy, Fairy Tales and Writing for Children


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Narnia Lion

“I am almost inclined to set it up as a canon that a children’s story which is enjoyed only by children is a bad children’s story.”   C. S. Lewis

Lewis Fairy TalesC.S. Lewis believed that a children’s story is sometimes simply the right form for what a writer wants to convey and that a good story would be re-read and enjoyed at any age. He cites The Wind in the Willows as an example saying, “I never met The Wind in the Willows…books till I was in my late twenties and I do not think I have enjoyed them any the less on that account.”  He cautions against writing sentimentally about children as seen by their elders noting that our childhood was lived differently from what our elders saw.  The reality of childhood creeps out if we are open and allow those characters to speak for themselves.  C. S. Lewis wrote children’s books in the sense that he excluded what he thought they would not like or understand but did not write down to them or below what would attract an adult. “I never wrote down to anyone; and whether the opinion condemns or acquits my own work, it certainly is my opinion that a book worth reading only in childhood is not worth reading even then.”

Lewis dismissed writing what children might like for entertainment or need to hear oncslewis bath lion moral grounds. He views these kinds of writers more as anthropologists observing children as a distinct group producing works that they themselves do not like but what  children are supposed to like or need educationally or morally.  He further cites commercial motives for these types of writers as well.  Lewis remarks that he would lay very long odds against the Ministry of Education writing a good story for children.  “Good writers neither patronize nor idolize children but treat them with respect”.

Lewis with LionLewis advises writers to bring a story into being from the “whole cast of the author’s mind” and write from elements of their own imagination they share with children. He describes his writing process similar to bird watching, initially waiting quietly and watching what pictures arise in the imagination to take form and then joining them up with other similar pictures eventually creating a complete story.  Lewis admits that stories rarely come together whole and complete and usually have gaps that need “deliberate inventing” to complete the story.  However if the writer is lucky, the whole set of pictures join together “without doing anything yourself” other than taking dictation.  The main point of his process is that the story comes up from within the writer’s imagination and is not imposed by outside considerations of marketability or moral necessity.  In addition, some of the best stories, Lewis says, are written extemporaneously by authors such as Kenneth Graham, Lewis Carroll and Tolkien for a particular living child.                                                                                              C.S.-Lewis-Quote on world

The type of story Lewis recounts as “dearest to my own taste” is the fantasy or fairy tale.  He calls these genres a subspecies of children’s stories but we now know them as genres in their own right for both children and adults whether written for children in mind or not.   Tolkien claims that the appeal of fairy story lies in the author’s function as a sub-creator, creating a subordinate world of his own rather than commenting on current life situations directly.

I view my writing as a co-creation with the Muse and the world created as not subordinate to the “real” world but an integral part of it accessed, as Jung would say, in the archetypes of the collective unconscious.  In this way fairy tales, fantasy and visionary fiction can liberate us.  I remembered that I was fascinated with magic and what and how I would use magical powers in real life adventures.  I devoured Half Magic as a child and found it wonderous to live in that world along with my own day to day world.  I also loved A Wrinkle in Time as a twenty-something and of course enjoyed the Harry Potter books as an adult along with my sons.  I didn’t just read these books but lived in them.  C.S. Lewis’s take on writing for and about children and adults in his various essays have confirmed my own beliefs when I began my magical visionary book series (the Urwelt Chronicles) for children and adults.  I am grateful for his generation of fairy tale/fantasy writers that gave us such wonderful classics.  For more information on my book series, visit my website: urweltchronicles.com.


Lewis, C. S. (Ed. Walter Hooper) (1982).  C.S. Lewis on Stories and Other Essays on Literature. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Publishers.

Rice, Constance “In Defense of the Fairy Tale: C.S. Lewis’s Argument for the Value and Importance of the Fairy Tale”  Inklings Forever. 2004. www.taylor.edu/cslewis.


The Rod of Power and the Magical Battle of Britain


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Merlin Sitting Rod

I would like to add the Rod (also called a staff or scepter), which symbolizes the knowledge that directs invisible spiritual forces applied to governance, to the Arthurian symbolism of the sword and scabbard (the Cup or Grail Cup).  The Rod of Power and its use belongs to the Arthurian Magus, Merlin, who wields it by means of a trained mind in esoteric spiritual knowledge.  In short, the Rod of Power represents “…Secret Wisdom employed to guide the affairs of nations” (Fortune, 1993, p. 43).  Dion Fortune writes specifically about its use in her letters (seventeen to twenty-two) to other initiates and adepts during World War II contained in The Magical Battle of Britain (edited by Gareth Knight).   “…and the Cup and the Sword and Sceptre make a wonderful symbol of balanced and functional force” (Fortune, 1993, p. 36).

This triune of symbols, or triple-rayed triangle referred to by Fortune, brings to mind the three-legged stool upon which balance is achieved.  Fortune describes the thought form of the triple-rayed triangle as consisting of three definite rays (red for Sword, blue for Scabbard/Cup and purple for Rod/Sceptre) forming the three angles of a triangle through which the white light of Spirit poured.  This symbol was built up on the Inner Plane and evoked in 1940 during WWII by the members of the Society of Inner Light trained in occult methods of meditation.  The triple-rayed triangle not only represents spiritual forces expressing inner realities but mythical archetypal forces by which national identities are formed, fed and preserved.

Tree of Life

For those of you versed in the Qabalistic correspondences, Fortune assigns the Sword and Red Ray of the destructive dynamic of Mars to the Sephirah Geburah on the Pillar of Severity and the Rod of Power and the Blue Ray of organizing civilizing forces of Jupiter to the Sephirah Chesed on the Pillar of Mercy.  The Scabbard/Cup of the Purple Ray is assigned to the Christ Center of the Tree, the Sephirah Tiphareth, where forces are brought into equilibrium.  The sword is the dynamic force that destroys evil and also the Sword of Chivalry and protection; the Scabbard/Cup is the receptacle of spiritual influences, the container of force and its potentiality; and the Rod of Power rules and directs Invisible Forces from Inner Planes of existence into the material world.  Continue reading

The Sword and the Scabbard: Key Symbols of Arthurian Legend


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Sword StoneI have redesigned my website/blog to suit the nature of interests in mythological symbolism and contemporary politics which is the essence of the nonfiction book I am currently writing on Arthurian legend and Celtic symbolism titled, The Sword and the Scabbard: The Political and Spiritual Ethos of  Arthurian Legend.  This website, Mythic Musings, focuses on mythology, Jungian archetypes and symbolism in political and nonpolitical contexts.  It pays particular attention to the symbols of the sword and the scabbard (stone) found in my nonfiction work in progress.  These symbols also find their way into my fictional children series, the Urweltchronicles (see my other website urweltchronicles.com featuring the first book in the series, The Lioness and the Faery Queen (in revision) and related content (faeries, music, Wales, magic).  

I also wanted to provide more goodies on this site about Jungian archetypes found in contemporary political events, and mythological symbolism and archetypes in general that I imported from my politicalmythos site which I will no longer use as it is too narrow in focus.  Below is an introductory preview and the imported posts with more to come in 2015 and 2016!       Arthur Sword Merlin

The sword and scabbard are at the symbolic core of Arthurian legend.  The symbolism not only dwells in the stories of the coming of Arthur as the great king and uniting force in Great Britain destined for the gifting of the magical sword, Excalibur, by the Lady of the Lake, it also comes down through the ages from the teachings of the Kabbalah and the reworking of archetypal imaging found in other legends of Norse and Greek legacy.  From Greek myths we have the magical sword of Peleus, and from Norse mythology we have the god-given sword driven into the Branstock tree by the great god, Odin, to be at last drawn out by Sigmund, the youngest son of the dynastic House of King Volsung.  But none quite captures the mystical realm of King Arthur and his legendary knights of the round table. Morgan Le FayOther iconic archetypes include Merlin, at once arch druid, sage, magician, magus and Arthur’s closest counselor; Arthur’s faerie bride, Guinevere, from the Summerland and her star-crossed lover, Sir Lancelot; and finally, Morgan le Fay, priestess, enchantress, healer, half-sister and true mystical consort of the sacred king, Arthur.

Books, poems, blogs on each one of the characters comprising Arthurian legend abound, but I will focus on how the many storied aspects of the legend relate to the overarching symbolism of the sword and scabbard set in Celtic mythology, Kabbalistic symbolism, and further realized through Jungian archetypes.

The Sword and the Scabbard: The Political and Spiritual Ethos of Arthurian Legend


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Part III: The Puer Archetype and the Warrior King

The third part of this blog explores the warrior king as the Jungian puer archetype with regard to the Qabalistic understanding of the scabbard and sword and its political application.

King_arthur__KarrMost of us know King Arthur as the courageous “once and future king” destined to unite Great Britain and establish the peaceful kingdom of Camelot by creating the Knights of the Round Table. However by examining his shallow understanding of the scabbard and sword, it is clear that he personifies the Jungian archetype of the Puer, and that this more than anything else shapes his destiny. The Puer is the quintessential “innocent” eternal male-child who acts in the world without thoughtful consideration often possessed of an early realization of deeper spiritual truths which are treated in a casual manner without mature judgment and value. Since Arthur chooses the importance of the sword over the scabbard, he acts like the quintessential Puer, unable to relate to the world with mature self-regulation. The Puer has an overly-developed fantasy life; layers of illusion cover the reality of his situation which is perhaps why he is unable to at first realize Morgan’s trickery in switching Excalibur and its scabbard for those of unequal value. According to Kime, the sword serves the psychological function as the “…main means of communication with the material world”. The end result is the misappropriation of the use of the sword.

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The Sword and the Scabbard: The Political and Spiritual Ethos of Arthurian Legend


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Part II.  The Sacred Warrior King

Apologies for the delay in continuing this series of blogs on Arthurian legend.  Moving and an operation from which I am fully recovered has sidelined me for the last six months.  So onward!  The second part of this blog series further discusses Arthur, the sacred warrior king, as the archetypal hero of British legend and his relationship to the divine feminine and further explores the Celtic narrative in which he is situated.

Very little of this world has the staying power of mythology. Mythological narratives make use of spiritual and psychological archetypes, as well as, material symbolism to work on the subconscious in an attempt to bring realization of spiritual truths to the level of consciousness.  Its archetypal nature is found, as Jung points out, in the collective unconscious of humanity, and is therefore salient to all cultures. Archetypes are primal, such as the great mother/father, warrior, hero, fool, and puer (the eternal male child). Primal archetypes are reinvented and cast in different cultural stories throughout the ages.  In western mythology, none is arguably more powerful and pervasive than the mythology surrounding King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. Perhaps this is due to Arthur’s later twelfth century medieval personification as the resurrected Christ.  Similar to the Christ story, the sacred warrior king and his chivalrous Knights of the Round Table will return when the time is right.

CW159046This sacred warrior king encapsulates the archetypal hero like no other.  And I say “encapsulates” because a wealth of imagery and narrative stories have been built up around him, situated firmly in the elemental/magical forces found in Celtic mythology.  The Arthurian narrative is replete with supernatural beings, magical powers, entrapment, testing of one’s resourcefulness and mettle, and of course, the rapturous love and desire of the troubadour tradition passed on by the oral songs of the bardic poet.

The Arthurian narrative is also found in pre-Christian Celtic mythology in stories of young sacrificial gods such as Oengus, Merlin Emrys, and Segda Saerlabraid. The young gods, who serve in a sacrificial role, follow the story cycle of a mysterious conception, fosterage, and pre-destined fate. The sacred king is neither human nor divine but connected and sanctioned by the elements through his relationship with the Goddess of the Land, also known as Sovereignty. Their sacred union is a key feature of Celtic kingship.  As such, the sacred king has not only a sacred obligation to the land but to magically empowering objects which he must guard and revere. These objects are called the Hallows of the land, given as gifts by the Goddess of Sovereignty to hold in trust for the entire kingdom.


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King Arthur: The Making of a Celtic Hero-God


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This is the first blog in a series of blogs exploring the symbolic, spiritual and archetypal aspects and meanings of the sacred sword Excalibur and the scabbard in which it rests ready for battle.  How the sword is used either for noble purpose or callous disregard will perhaps give us a greater awareness of our own energetic forces where ever they lie—in the personal, political or spiritual arenas.

drawingswordTwo primary, and from all appearances, competing stories of how Arthur came to possess Excalibur have been passed down though legend.  The first of which we are most familiar is the pulling of the sword from the stone or an anvil set on a stone; the second, less fanciful and more in line with Celtic rather than Classical mythology, is the gifting of the sword to Arthur by the Lady of the Lake.  The disneyfied version shows Arthur achieving his kingship and all the authority that goes with it by simply drawing the sword from the stone.  However, the story of King Arthur and his predestined rise to kingship of legendary status is steeped in more complex and multifaceted Celtic mythology. Although both stories exemplify Celtic tradition to a greater or lesser degree, they must be seen together as contiguous parts of Arthurian legend to gain a better historical and symbolic understanding of the customs, traditions and spirituality underlying Celtic mythology.



King-Arthur-Excalibur            The drawing of the sword out of the stone is traditionally seen as a test for kingship—one of many Celtic tests for ones suitability to be declared king.  Only the rightful heir to this position, which conferred heroic and godlike attributes, could perform this deed.  As the heroic-god king, Arthur’s authority comes not from his legal position per se but from the way he used his position.  He is characterized as excelling above “all other princes in courtesy, prowess, valor and generosity” (Markale, 1994, p 141). Indeed, his sense of nobility and chivalry set the tone of his court, at least before jealousy and betrayal took hold.  However, in reality according to Celtic traditions , kings were also bound by a myriad of so-called geisa, taboos or prohibitions determining how the king must carry out his duties. Transgression of a geisa usually rendered the king impotent, destitute or dead and his kingdom turned to a wasteland.  Kings were often no more than tribal chieftains of a group of related families or king of a province.  Continue reading

Why the Threat of Cancer Makes Me a Better Blogger (And Writer)


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Lung Cancer, in a word, cuts to the chase.  Procrastination feels obscene, an entitlement no longer allowed.  After all, how long will I have the luxury of babbling my inner or outer most thoughts—some inane, others that may on a good day approach profound—into the abyss of the virtual void of the blogosphere?

Cancer is something almost no one wants to discuss, not even doctors.  They dance around the diagnosis with detailed explanations of medical procedures buffered by words linked in phrases of encouragement, for example, prognosis and cure, stages (of which I am “early”) and positive outcome, etc.  They did not tell me, for example, that the “prognosis” for early stage lung cancer survival rates beyond five years is 49%.  That was left to the blogs and various medical research websites to do.

In all fairness, I shouldn’t only paint doctors into this awkward corner.  Most people, beyond the “I’m so sorry to hear that” don’t really want to know how I feel or what array of thoughts (sad, purposeful, hopeless, hopeful, anger, disbelief, incredulous, bizarre, stoic and so on) I have, sometimes in the course of one day.  I understand this at one level.  Humans are hardwired for survival and engaging with the world as part of the living.  It is difficult to engage with someone who may be joining the world of the dying.  It is a rare gift to be present for those that may not or will not be physically present in the near rather than the far future.  This may also be due to the bothersome fact that most of us are hardwired to fix things, even the cycle of life experienced in the birth and death of all living matter.

non smokers

Playing the why game, a morbid game of 20 questions, is one I quickly learned not do as a chaplain.  And,  I no longer desire to entertain myself further by running the 20 odd questions through my head regarding the probable diagnosis of cancer, although I’m open to vile diseases spread by aliens invading from other universes.  Aliens seem as plausible as “non-smokers cancer”.  Is this some perverse payback for staring down smokers who lit up at inappropriate times and places?  Perhaps they should call it, “just breathing during the normal course of life and tough luck” cancer.  Is the environment really that bad?  I even dove into the musty recesses of my mind to figure out if I used chemical paint strippers one too many times on furniture I was refinishing decades ago. Alas, I have asked these questions to no avail.   Continue reading

The Use of Spiritual Archetypal Symbols: The Tools of the Chaplain Trade


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In our bones we have a sense of the sacred, of a relationship to a power greater than ourselves that is archetypal and prehistorical.  Jean S. Bolen, M.D.

Persephone, the daughter of Zeus and Demeter, went out onto the plain of Enna one sunny morning innocently gathering wildflowers.  Hades, the god of the underworld, who coveted Persephone as his bride, chose this moment of unprotected innocence to rise up through a huge gap in the earth. Riding in his chariot he abducted Persephone back into the murky depths of the underworld.  Demeter, the goddess of fertility and growth withdrew in mourning for the loss of her daughter causing the earth to turn barren and cold.  As famine spread across the land, Zeus sent Hermes, the messenger of the gods, to rescue his daughter.  Hades agreed to let her go but for only part of the year during the seasons of growth and harvest.  During the winter, Persephone must return to the underworld to live.

Unlike Persephone, the Sumerian goddess of the outer world, Inanna, chose to enter into the underworld of her own accord to visit her sister Ereshkigal.   Descending through a series of gateways into the dark unknown, she surrendered pieces of clothing and jewelry at each threshold.  Finally, bowed and naked, she entered the final gates of the underworld alone, frightened and without any of the trappings of her outer world existence.

The underworld motif found in myth and religion is an apt metaphor for the world the patient enters when undergoing treatment for a life-threatening illness or emergency trauma.  Whether snatched like Persephone against her will into the confusing turmoil of the emergency room due to a sudden accidental trauma or, like Inanna, deciding with purpose to descend into the complexities of a treatment program for a serious disease or condition, patients enter the dark underworld often accompanied only by fear and pain.  In myth, the underworld was not only considered a place where mortals entered after they died, but also a place for the living as well, whose souls were doomed to wander in the shadows of a surreal existence outside of the norm.

Like Persephone and Inanna, bewildered and stripped of their outer world personae and attachments, patients descend through the various gateways of medical tests, operations and treatments into the underworld of a trauma one hospital.  Faced with the dark unknown, patients often experience pain, fear and anger at the loss of control that comes with the new frightening and unfamiliar surroundings.  This is usually the point at which the chaplain enters a patient’s life as a presence of compassion but also as a symbol of the sacred journey towards healing and wholeness.  Chaplains are companions of brief duration in this frightening environment offering a willing ear and open heart.  Some patients do not return from this journey but those who do are, like Persephone and Inanna, forever changed by the experience.

As a trauma one hospital chaplain, I saw the gamut of accidents and diseases that brought patients in for emergency care.  During the progression and treatment of a life-threatening illness or sudden life altering accident, a patient’s psychological defenses start to crumble revealing inner truths which have long been ignored.  Sometimes these truths are too painful to fully acknowledge.  A mother who has always put the needs of family members first now feels empty when they fail to respond in like manner.  A successful businessman fights to maintain the mask of control amid bouts of panic and fear.  A cancer patient, experiencing the shock of a terminal diagnosis after recently returning from the cruise vacation of a lifetime where all was right with the world, is numb to any words of consolation.

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The Destroyer: Rebirth or Destruction


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The Destroyer comes unbidden but not without warning to wake us up from our sleepy complacency. The majority of Americans are disconnected, almost anesthetized from our politics preferring to complain rather than actively engage.  This leaves a power vacuum into which the Destroyer seeps and grows over time.  The Destroyer is the wake-up call for an initiation into a new ethos.  The new ethos can be under the Destroyer’s control or we can choose a different path of transformation.  The Destroyer also brings us closer in touch with our own mortality, providing us with the opportunity through awareness to recognize the preciousness of life and to act on what we desire for ourselves in the remaining time left and  what we aspire to leave behind as our legacy.

The Destroyer serves a useful purpose in that it stirs things up creating a temporary chaos, cleansing the old order away so the new can grow in its place.  This is the way of life from the beginning of time; the old dies off and makes way for the new.  However, to evolve and grow without complete self-destruction, we must be careful not to throw the baby out with the bath water so we have a solid foundation upon which to recreate our lives and our society.  Our children build upon the lessons past generations have learned.  They also move forward based on past achievements as well.  No generation wants to start from scratch.  Human growth and development relies on the removal of the dross but also on retaining the gold.

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