setting out on a hike of the 38-acre Old Growth Grove, I returned
to the shamanic neuro-symbolism of the Desana Indians who live
Amazon Basin, an area of extensive deforestization. Here the two
cranial hemispheres are separated by a "cosmic anaconda.
Near the head of the serpent is a hexagonal rock crystal, just
outside the brain,"
where "solar energy resides and irradiates the brain."3
find this significant because in the language of neuroscience
areas "fire," or "light
up," while a
shaman speaks of "'threads' that convey luminous impulses
from one kaë (compartment)
to another." To Desana shamans, as
to neuroscientists, the brain is both compartmentalized and
interrelated. But the shaman is also a poet, so each kaë has
a name like "the yellow place," "the place
of rough stones," "the
of clay," "the place of crystal," relating
the mind directly the sensorium as
of "places."3 In
an alternative image, the
Desana see the brain as two connecting spirals, or a serpent
around and through the places of the earth."4
his important book, The Cosmic Serpent, anthropologist
Jeremy Narby discusses a similar Desana image of two intertwined
anaconda and a boa, representing female and male,
and land—"imagined as spiraling rhythmically in
a swaying motion from one side to another."5 In
a survey of Cosmic Serpent symbology, ranging from the Australian
Aborigine Rainbow Serpent to a Mesopotamian seal, "The
Serpent Lord Enthroned," and subsequent mythologies
every era and culture, Narby demonstrates the snake's relationship
to the double helix structure of DNA.
Crick and James Watson,
image of intertwining snakes was already undulating in
their unconscious, eventually manifesting in the laboratory.
Their discovery was not only a major scientific advance,
they also demonstrated the relevance of mythological
studies. Discovery, after all, is re-membering.
me the same cloud out
of the covered bridge6
also mentions Graham Townsley's work among the Yaminahua shamans
of the Peruvian Amazon, and their tsai yoshtoyoshto, "language-twisting-twisting." Townsley
nothing in (the shaman's songs) is referred to by its normal
abstruse metaphorical circumlocutions are used instead. For
example, night becomes 'swift tapirs,' the forest becomes 'cultivated
fish are 'peccaries,' jaguars are 'baskets,' anacondas are
'hammocks' and so forth.7
shaman explains that, "twisted language brings me close
but not too close—with normal words I would crash into
things—with twisted ones I circle around them—I
can see them clearly." Or, rather, "see as," Townsley
elaborates. Here is metaphor in the service of healing-in-depth.
declivities, cambering root systems and rough-hewed steps.
I hung back,
feeling feral here, stayed clear of the rhetoric. As we neared
the partially overgrown road again, our guide stopped to
speak of how natural disturbances
like fires, earthquakes
and abnormally wet winters help with diversity. Not only
store memories in their rings, but "the soil also remembers."
As the Large
Hadron Collider (LHC) is fired up in Switzerland today, I returned to
an article in Scientific American that lists its five major
the Standard Model. This is to “confirm the old,” by
producing familiar particles and study them with “increasing
refinement.” It will also test the apparatus and set
benchmarks, against which new discoveries can be measured.
What Breaks the Electroweak Symmetry. This is the experiment to
find “the Higgs boson (or what stands in its place).” A
playful Stephen Hawkings: “I think it will be much more exciting
if we don’t find the Higgs. That will show something is wrong,
and we need to think again.”9
That the Higgs boson is called the "God Particle," because
it may answer the foundational question, "Why is there something
instead of nothing?," adds a twist to Hawkings' remark.
For New Forces of Nature.“Such forces would indicate
new symmetries of nature and might guide physicists toward
a unified understanding of all the interactions.”
Dark Matter Candidates. "Dark matter is presently
one of cosmology’s greatest puzzles, one that goes to
why the universe is expanding. And to understanding more about
the history of the universe."
All, Explore! Intellectual curiosity is one thing that
sets humans apart from the rest of the biota. “Physicists
will have to be attentive to connections among today’s
great questions and alert to new questions the collider will
For the same
issue, Chris Quigg, a senior scientist at the Fermi National Accelerator
Laboratory, wrote (there's
a picture of him with a backpack broaching his shoulders and a bandana
circling his head) instead
of the brain, it’s the heart that writers are told they must reach
in order to move readers, to stir in them the deepest, most intense
“a property akin to electrical charge, called color. (The
name is metaphorical; it has nothing to do with ordinary colors.)”10
metaphorical impulse is—
a process which is certainly linked to the tradition of French poetry
from Mallarmé to Blanchot, a tradition in which the emotional
impulse constituting the work content is the very same impulse behind
the creation of that content.11
Why the burst
of emotions when the first particles shot around the loop were confirmed
by supercool detectors: CMS, LHCb, Atlas and Alice, the hugs and handshakes,
the cheers? Whatever the physicists discover, the original impulse,
which remains within the mass of their engineering, has as much to do
with poetry as it does with science.
Newton, gravity was
the way she released her hair.
the center of a round table in the Healing Garden, an umbrella's
like a Cosmic Tree. I'm aware of this because the
study not only illustrates the link between body art, such as
and intentional scarring, with cultural identity, but it also suggests
that study of this imagery may help to unravel mysteries about
certain groups traveled in the past, what their values and rituals
were, and how
in front of me is a book by Mircea Eliade, in which he writes that
the road toward the center "is
arduous, fraught with perils, because it is, in fact, a rite of
passage from the profane
to the sacred, from the ephemeral and illusory to reality and eternity,
from death to life, from man to divinity."13
is the height emerging and its base...
These lights may finally attain a pole
In the midmost midnight and find the serpent there14
the spiritual ascent so arduous because we've been conditioned
to carry the burden of one religion's doctrine or another's?
Raised to feel incomplete, inadequate, and alone, we pretend
that someone else's baggage is our own. I'm thinking this as
the the umbrella's shadow spreads over the table.
are examples where the Cosmic Tree reveals itself chiefly as the imago
mundi, and in other examples it presents itself as the axis
mundi, as a pole that supports the Sky, binds together the three
cosmic zones (Heaven, Earth and Hell), and at the same time makes communication
possible between Earth and Heaven.15
reset, the night sky arriving earlier, I am thinking about
constellations. Bradley E. Schaefer, whose field is ancient
astronomy, wrote: "Although
the scarcity of evidence makes it hard to reach a confident conclusion,
the Mesopotamians apparently had formed only a few constellations
before 1300 B.C."
Two centuries later, more than thirty constellations had been envisioned
"from three bands stretching around the sky,"16
to which the Greeks added eighteen "star pictures" of their
own. Heaven was a blackboard on which we drew stories of heroes, animals
and gods, "an imaginal approach (that)
belongs to the hermeneutic tradition even as it transforms it."17
We learn from what we make, and make from what we learn. Thus,
constellations became guides for calendars and navigation.
from the lights of Paris, Van Gogh painted "The Starry
ward off the Infinite he saw above him, and the dark matter he
"I'd rather walk my whole life in darkness, Miró wrote
to Picasso, "provided that at the end I'd find some spark of
pure light, than to walk like all those young people in an artificial
are drawn to urban centers, where one can't see that "the
absence of a sign can
be a sign."19
mysteries everywhere, but especially in a forest. I think this
is because the footprints of our ancestors are limned in the
rills of chlorophyll and cellulose, in oxygen bubbling up from
waterways, in the intelligent eyes and attendant ears of animals,
even in the hungry bites of insects. And everywhere life is
memories are encoded.
Friday evening, the monthly talks at Oregon Friends of C.G.
Jung began with California analyst Katie Sanford lecturing on “The
Serpent and the Cross,” "a modern allegory of a woman's heroic
psychic struggle to save her life through understanding and relating
to some of the darkest elements of the personal and universal unconscious."20
Now in her 90s, she underwent therapy in Zurich
more than fifty years ago, after being told that without it she’d
either “become a religious fanatic or a whore.” Isolated
in a puddle of light on the church's stage, she warned that she is neither
a poet nor a painter, then read rhyming lines she had written that were
honey to the ears but stinging to the art.
a primary feature of the style of old age that it elicits passionate
participation, not dispassionate praise. Otherwise, the writings
of the old remain just that—documents of age, as such, or
gratuitous caps to honored careers. The writings of the old, to
truly attain to a style, must possess an imaginative acuteness that
can stir the imagination of readers of any age.21
described the images in sixty-three projected slides of paintings
she made between twenty and fifty years
ago. (I wanted to
know who she is now. I wanted to see the style of her old age.)
The paintings that flew by, landing only for a minute or two, looked strangely
familiar. Variations of them can be found illustrating the dreams of Jungian
analysands in so many books and journals that they are almost themselves
of Christian symbols appeared; in particular, the cross that
had been cut out of living wood and hammered together as a rack
of torture. Not a
but a sign that stood for its own depravity. If I were a Christian,
late style would reflect
a life of learning, the wisdom that comes from experience, the sadness
comes from wisdom and a mastery of craft that has nothing left to
prove. It might recapitulate a life's themes, reflect on questions
would be in an empty tomb, where "ecstatic plenitude is followed
by a terrifying condition of inner emptiness, for which the mystics
a number of striking terms: 'Dark night of the soul,' 'barrenness,'
'despair,' mystical purgatory,' temporal hell.'"22
In the psyche's night, where all is lost, including one's self,
we begin to see our way.
is a fatal limitation of the imagination when the unconscious
its own culture. So Jung envisioned a comprehensive thesaurus of metaphoric
wealth, reptilian in "the fact that (it) initiates the
process of renewal."23 With
this in mind, he sailed from under his Protestant shadow
America, Asia.... And when it was time for him to die, the book by
his side was Charles Luk's (Lu K'uan Yü) Ch’an
and Zen Teaching.
the various serpents that appeared in her paintings, Sanford
said, ”In our present age it is no longer possible to kill
our dragons.” However,
held up his staff before the assembly and said, "This staff has
changed into a dragon and swallowed the entire universe. Mountains,
rivers, and the great earth are nowhere to be found!"25
Christian terms, killing one's dragon would be that damned snake
Eve in the Garden of Eden to eat from the Tree of Knowledge, and
thus differentiate herself. From a military
view, "A newly hatched dragon would fly away immediately after
being fed, if not restrained; only if the creature might be persuaded
the restraint willingly would he ever be controllable, or useful
In a Zen reading, however, the staff, the Buddha's Tree of
Knowledge, planted in everyone's mind, transforms into a dragon,
the total release from illusions. It is not a matter of killing the
dragon, a metaphor for suppression, for sublimination. It is a matter
literature, mythology, psychology, theology, technology, science,
all in range of the dragon's instinctual fire. Not comfortably framed,
it symbolizes "the
undivided One of pre-creation."13
The moment time began the Infinite shattered, creating the universe
we're beginning to re-imagine.
Barenti, M. "The Swallowing Monster on Pictograph Island."
Isle: Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment. Summer
2- Weishaus, J. "Marks in Place: Contemporary Responses to Rock Art."
3- Reichel-Dolmatoff, G. "Brain and Mind in Desana Shamanism."
Journal of Latin American Lore. 7:1 (1981).
4- Rowland, S. Email, 5 Sept 08.
5- Narby, J. The Cosmic Serpent: DNA and the Origins of Knowledge.
New York, NY, 1998.
6- Tripi, V. "Terebess Asia (Tao)" Modern American Haiku Poets.
7- Townsley, G., "'Twisted Language': A Technique for Knowing."
In J. Narby and F. Huxley, Editors, Shamans Through Time. New
York, NY, 2001.
8- Scientific American. February 2008. (Box, p.53).
9- Hawkings, S. Quoted in M. Nizza, "Hawking Anticipates Collider's
Start." The Lede (blog) 9 Sept 08. Link from The New York Times.
instead of the brain: B. Marcus, “Why Experimental Fiction Threatens
to Destroy Publishing, Jonathan Franzen, and Life As We Know It: A Correction.”
Harper’s. October 2005.
10- Quigg, C. "The Coming Revolutions in Particle Physics."
Scientific American. February 2008
11- Lévinas, E. "Transcending Words: Concerning Word-Erasing"
Yale French Studies #81 (1992)
12- Steiner, G. “Cairns.” In, T. Frick, Editor, The Sacred
Theory of the Earth. Berkeley, CA, 1986.
the study not only illustrates: J. Viegas, "Early Aussie Tattoos
Match Rock Art." Discovery News. http://dsc.discovery.com/news/2008/07/03/australia-tattoos-art.html
13- Eliade, M. The Myth of the Eternal Return or, Cosmos and History.
Princeton, NJ, 1971.
14- Stevens, W. From, "The Auroras of Autumn."
15- Eliade, M. "The Cosmic Tree." In, W.C. Beane and W.G. Doty,
Editors, Myths, Rites, Symbols: A Mircea Eliade Reader. Vol.
2. New York, NY, 1975.
16- Schaefer, B.E. "The Origin of the Greek Constellations."
Scientific American. November 2006.
17- Romanyshyn, R.D. The Wounded Researcher. New Orleans, LA,
18- Miró, J. February 1925. Les archives de Picasso. Paris,
19- Merleau-Ponty, M. Signs. Evanston, IL., 1964
20- Mayer, M.J. http://www.jungsandiego.com/news_sandford.html
21- Rasula, J. "The Style of Old Age." Sulfur 12. (1985)
late style would reflect a life: E. Rothstein, “Twilight of his
Idols.” Review of E.W. Said's, On Late Style: Music and Literature
Against the Grain. The New York Times, July 16, 2006.
22- Heiler, F. "Contemplation in Christian Mysticism." In, J.
Campbell, Editor, Spiritual Disciplines: Papers from the Eranos Yearbooks.
Princeton, NJ, 1985.
23- Jung, C.G. Mysterium Coniunctionis. Collected Works Vol.14.
Princeton, NJ, 1976.
24- Lu, K'uan Yü, Ch'an and Zen Teaching. London, England,
1961. (Three volumes.)
25- The Blue Cliff Records (Hekiganroku) Case #60.
26- Novik, N, Temeraire. London, England, 2007.
27- Schafer, E.H. The Divine Woman: Dragon Ladies and Rain Maidens.
San Francisco, CA, 1980. Case #60.
28- Willis, P. "Dinosaurs and Birds."