Archives For psychology

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than I can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up.

XKCD by Randall Munroe

XKCD by Randall Munroe

  • Considering how many times Wicca has been called the “fastest growing religion in America,” by both supporters and detractors, the latest XKCD comic reminds us to not get too wrapped up with the numbers, because they can be deceptive.
  • At Religion Dispatches John Morehead writes about Burning Man, and the fear it generates of an “alternative Pagan social order.” Quote: “For evangelicals like Matthews, Burning Man embodies deep-seated fears which can also be seen playing out in other aspects of American culture. Many conservatives fear that America is undergoing decay, and this is taking place in the spiritual realm as well. A lingering economic malaise, coupled with our continued cultural fascination with apocalyptic scenarios, provides a context in which Burning Man functions as a Rorschach test.” The whole thing is worth a read.
  • The University of Texas at Austin has published a new psychology study in the June issue of Child Development that shows a “reliance on supernatural explanations for major life events, such as death and illness, often increases rather than declines with age.” Study lead author Cristine Legare noted that “the data, which spans diverse cultural contexts across the lifespan, shows supernatural reasoning is not necessarily replaced with scientific explanations following gains in knowledge, education or technology.” 
  • The Americans United Wall of Separation blog critiques efforts by Focus on the Family (FOF) and the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) to carve out exceptions for religious bullying at public schools. Quote: It attempts to carve out an exemption for protected “religious” bullying. In several states, Religious Right groups have attempted to exempt bullying and verbal harassment based on sincere religious beliefs. In other words, a fundamentalist Christian kid can harass a gay student as much as he wants as along as he sincerely believes what he is saying. Some yardstick there!” You can read the FOF-ADF document, here.
  • A married couple’s strife leads to arson, and hospitalization for both. Both admit on the record to having marital issues, yet the headline, and part of the article, is about how the wife believes in Voodoo due to past instances where she called the police with, quote, “bizarre accusations.” There doesn’t seem to be anything Voodoo related with this incident, so why include in the headline? Seems prejudicial to the wife, and distorts what could be a tragic, and sadly common, case of domestic violence escalated to extreme levels.
  • Rev Dr Peter Mullen must live a small, sad, life. How else can you turn watching the opening of the opening ceremony of the Paralympics into a concern-trolling editorial about how we’re descending into Paganism? Quote: “But then I looked further and thought, at least, that I glimpsed a little of what this confusion says about modern society. We are indeed eclectic. And the old word for this, when applied to widely held beliefs and practical behaviour was “paganism” – the worship of many gods: that mountain of confusion classically represented by the panoply of argumentative deities on Olympus. Only an eclectic contemporary paganism could allow the godless Big Bang to walk hand in hand with the sacred flame.” Seriously. Can someone take this guy out to a movie or something?
  • The Republican National Convention is now over, and I know everyone wants to talk about Clint Eastwood’s interview with Invisible Obama, but I wanted to point out this exploration of Tuesday night’s closing invocation by Samuel Rodriguez, a member of the radical spiritual warriors of the New Apostolic Reformation. Quote: “Blessing the convention was National Hispanic Leadership Conference President Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, who has served as an apostle in C. Peter Wagner’s International Coalition of Apostles and has extensive ties to Wagner’s movement.” I’ve covered this movement quite a bit over the years, and their ascendancy/integration within the Religious Right is troubling for those hoping for a “big tent” religious conservatism, or a more moderate conservative Christianity.
  • Erynn Rowan Laurie, author of “A Circle of Stones” recently completed a pilgrimage to Ireland, and she has posted the first installment of her write-up. Quote: “Our visit to both of the wells was held in a deluge. I think every well we visited while we were in Ireland, with the exception of Brigid’s Well in Mullingar, was rained on. We certainly connected with the watery side of Brigid’s powers during our pilgrimage! Prayers were offered for Brigid’s blessing on our work, offerings were made, and intentions set in the pouring rain. I remembered all my friends and the folks who had donated to my travel funds for the pilgrimage at her well, offering prayers for them, as well.” I look forward to future installments!
Northumberlandia (Banks Mining/PA)

Northumberlandia (Banks Mining/PA)

  • We carved and shaped a giant goddess image into the earth, but please don’t think it’s Pagan, says a spokesperson. ”Northumberlandia is just a lady, she doesn’t represent anything, but I think it’s understandable that people have their own interpretations.” Chas Clifton retorts: “Check back at one of the quarter or cross-quarter days.”
  • For those inspired by Aristophanes classic play Lysistrata, you might wonder, do sex strikes really work? Slate.com says “yes,” but mostly as way to draw attention to an issue. Quote: “The Togolese group cites as its inspiration a strike organized in 2003 by a women’s peace group to encourage the end of the Second Liberian Civil War. (The effort was chronicled in the 2008 documentary Pray the Devil Back to Hell.) Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace did force an end to the war, but their tactics were more complicated than a simple sex strike: They also staged sit-ins and mass demonstrations, which were arguably far more effective than the sex strike. Leymah Gbowee, the leader of the peace group, wrote in her memoir that the months-long sex strike had little or no practical effect, but it was extremely valuable in getting us media attention. Until today, nearly 10 years later, whenever I talk about the Mass Action, “What about the sex strike?” is the first question everyone asks.”

That’s it for now! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of these I may expand into longer posts as needed.

Jules Evans, a journalist and writer with a deep interest in ancient Greek and Roman philosophy, writes a piece for Wired Magazine on the tendency of religious or out-of-the-ordinary experiences to be “shifted to the margins of our secular, scientific, post-animist culture and defined as pathological symptoms of a physical or emotional disease.” Evans cites a new study in the British Journal of Clinical Psychology that compares “psychotic-like phenomena in clinical and non-clinical populations” and finds that context is vital in determining how that experience is treated and integrated into someone’s life.

The Dream of Solomon by Giordano.

The Dream of Solomon by Giordano.

“It is not the OOE [‘out-of-the-ordinary’ experience] itself that determines the development of a clinical condition, but rather the wider personal and interpersonal contexts that influence how this experience is subsequently integrated. Theoretical implications for the refinement of psychosis models are outlined, and clinical implications for the validation and normalization of psychotic-like phenomena are proposed.”

This leads Evans to call for a more pragmatic approach from health care professionals when confronted with a patient’s experience of an ‘out-of-the-ordinary’ experience. Positively noting support organizations like the Hearing Voices Network that help people integrate and find support for what they are going through.

“Perhaps we need to find a more pragmatic attitude to revelatory experiences, an attitude closer to that of William James, the pioneering American psychologist and pragmatic philosopher. James studied many different religious experiences, asking not “Are they true?” but rather “What do they lead to? Do they help you or cause you distress? Do they inspire you to valuable work or make you curl up into a ball?” We can evaluate the worth of a revelatory experience without trying to find out if the experience “really” came from God or not.”

I think these developments are important, because revelatory, shamanic, magical, and liminal experiences are often a vital part of modern Pagan religious practice, though we are hesitant to share or describe these experiences with outsiders, particularly with health care professionals, for fear that we might, as Evans puts it, “receive a diagnosis of schizophrenia and be prescribed debilitating anti-psychotic drugs.” This could lead to situations where someone who is truly in distress might avoid a mental health professional, resulting in bad outcomes for the patient, and for that patient’s community.

Ecstasy of Saint Teresa by Gian Lorenzo Bernini

Ecstasy of Saint Teresa by Gian Lorenzo Bernini

To be sure, Pagans often find the contextualizing and integrative help they need solely from their immediate community. Using unexplainable experiences as a positive and productive driver in their lives, framed within the context of religions that honor mystical experiences. As Evans points out, many productive and influential people have acknowledged having an extra-ordinary experience that placed them on their life path, but such a destiny could be destroyed if recounting an unusual experience to the wrong person leads to institutionalization. Evans explicitly ties this phenomenon to the witch-hunts.

“By automatically pathologising and hospitalising such people, we are sacrificing them to our own secular belief system, not unlike the Church burning witches.”

It seems obvious a balance must be struck. People who are experiencing harmful, or debilitating, out-of-the-ordinary experiences need proper treatment, while those who are simply confused on how to contextualize and integrate an unusual occurrence into their existing lives might only need some support, either from a therapist, or a sympathetic community. Current diagnosis guidelines in the United States under the DSM-IV seem pretty clear that intervention hinges on whether the experiences “significantly hinder a person’s ability to function” not on the nature of the visions or experiences themselves. This necessitates that a doctor (or therapist) visit becomes a safe space where the patient relaying OOEs knows that intervention would only happen if their quality of life started to suffer. An equilibrium needs to be established so that those of us who do invite or honor out-of-the-ordinary experiences can trust that there’s a safe place to turn should we feel that such experiences are no longer beneficial, and are instead symptoms of a disorder that needs outside intervention.

In 1913 Carl Jung, the founder of analytical psychology, experienced a prolonged “confrontation with the unconscious” where he daily wrestled with visions, heard inner voices, and explored his own vast dream-scape for six years. Beginning just before World War I, and ending shortly after its close, his inner turmoil echoed the chaos erupting all around him. During this time Jung didn’t merely experience these events, he rose to meet and catalog them, and created a legendary never-printed (and never-finished) chronicle of his underworld journey called “Liber Novus” (“New Book”) in the process. “Liber Novus”, or “The Red Book” as its become known due to the work being done in a large red notebook, became legendary amongst Jungians, described alternately as holding “infinite wisdom” and being “psychotic” by the few who ever got a glimpse of it. Now, after many years, the heirs of Carl Jung have agreed to allow this lost text to see print for the first time.

“Anytime someone did ask to see the Red Book, family members said, without hesitation and sometimes without decorum, no. The book was private, they asserted, an intensely personal work. In 1989, an American analyst named Stephen Martin, who was then the editor of a Jungian journal and now directs a Jungian nonprofit foundation, visited Jung’s son (his other four children were daughters) and inquired about the Red Book. The question was met with a vehemence that surprised him. “Franz Jung, an otherwise genial and gracious man, reacted sharply, nearly with anger,” Martin later wrote in his foundation’s newsletter, saying “in no uncertain terms” that Martin could not “see the Red Book, nor could he ever imagine that it would be published.” And yet, Carl Jung’s secret Red Book — scanned, translated and footnoted — will be in stores early next month, published by W. W. Norton and billed as the “most influential unpublished work in the history of psychology.” Surely it is a victory for someone, but it is too early yet to say for whom.”

This October (when the veils between the worlds are thin) you can purchase a deluxe scanned, translated, and footnoted copy of “The Red Book” by Jung for 195.00 dollars (or 105.00 dollars through Amazon.com). What can the reader expect after they shell out for this tome? Well, in a mythological and archetypal sense, a little bit of everything.


One of the many illustrations by Jung in “The Red Book”.

“The footnotes map both [Jungian Sonu] Shamdasani’s journey and Jung’s. They include references to Faust, Keats, Ovid, the Norse gods Odin and Thor, the Egyptian deities Isis and Osiris, the Greek goddess Hecate, ancient Gnostic texts, Greek Hyperboreans, King Herod, the Old Testament, the New Testament, Nietzsche’s Zarathustra, astrology, the artist Giacometti and the alchemical formulation of gold. And that’s just naming a few. The central premise of the book, Shamdasani told me, was that Jung had become disillusioned with scientific rationalism — what he called “the spirit of the times” — and over the course of many quixotic encounters with his own soul and with other inner figures, he comes to know and appreciate “the spirit of the depths,” a field that makes room for magic, coincidence and the mythological metaphors delivered by dreams.”

To say that Jung’s work is important to the later development of modern Paganism as we now know it would be something of an understatement. So much of the language and ideas we use in processing our own inner workings and journeys are touched by the terms and ideas pioneered by him. Now the world will see what is perhaps Jung’s most personal work, a psychological grimoire that has acquired such an air of mystery and wonder that it seems almost unreal that it is being mass-produced now. This could be the most important “esoteric” work to be published in decades, and while it most likely won’t shift the way things work in the world of analytical/Jungian psychology, it could end up having deep reverberations throughout the “occult” world. Makes me wish I was the kind of guy who had 100 dollars to randomly spend on a single book. Maybe I’ll put it on my Yule list.