‘A psyche the size of Earth.’ I love that image. It’s the title of an essay by James Hillman, the greatest of influences on my own psychological practice, which introduced the collection of articles Theodore Roszak, Allen Kanner and Mary Gomez collated for their book Ecopsychology back in 1995. Hillman, I think, did more than anyone to try to remind people that this world, these lives we live, aren’t all about us. It’s a message I passionately believe in. We think we make them up, the stories, the dreams. Well, maybe they make us up. For sure, they have an existence that’s independent of us. We think psyche is in us, Hillman said – but actually, we’re in psyche. The great, beautiful soul of this glowing, animate world.
Once, I read a book in which an indigenous author I greatly admire wrote about the ways in which the foundational myth of the West – the Adam and Eve story, she said: the story of humanity’s Fall from grace, from the garden of Eden – was responsible for so much of the mess we’re in today. She contrasted it with the myths and stories of her own people, which spoke of how interconnected we are with life on this Earth, not how separate we are. And all of that made me sad, and it also made me a little frustrated. Because that’s not the foundational mythology of the West at all. But the Biblical story has been so successful over the past two thousand years at wiping out everything that came before, that everyone seems to think it is. We’ve forgotten so much. We’ve forgotten that this is actually mythology imported from the Middle East, and it travelled west on a trail of blood and book-burning and witch-burning.
The old myths, stories, and yes – even the ancient philosophies – of the West are rich and complex and beautiful. They offer up a world in which everything is not only alive, but has purpose, intentionality of its own. A world to which each incarnated soul chooses to come, for a reason, and to offer up a gift which can only be expressed through relationship with and participation in that animate world. Carrying the fire, carrying with us the image that we were born with, that we brought with us when we chose to come into this world. And there are Others, who will help and guide us if we know how to find them, know how to listen.
But over the centuries, this old knowledge has been deliberately overwritten. And so we’ve forgotten how to listen to the song the mountain sings. We’ve forgotten how to listen to the voice of the ancestor who comes to show us how to take up the shimmering mythlines of the past, and weave them into the tapestry of the present. We’ve fallen out of myth.
We need to find our way back. Back to who we once were, and who we can become again.
At the heart of my work, out of the decades-long, rich foundations of my training in psychology and mythology, is both a longing and a passion. That longing and passion come together, and are fulfilled, when I can help people to find the way to find their mythic ground again. When I can help them remember how to re-enchant themselves – to fall in love again with the world, to find a genuine sense of deeply embodied belonging to this beautiful, animate Earth. To remember, as Carl Jung said, that humans have always been myth-makers. And to take back that myth-making power from the corrupt forces that govern us, and find the stories we really want to live by. Our own stories, our own voices. The stories we sing from our souls. The stories which sing our souls back home.
So, from next year, that calling is finding its voice in some unique workshop offerings. I’m especially excited about the first of these to be offered, in the beautiful land of New Mexico. New Mexico has a special place in my heart. It was there, in 1999, that I finally achieved my dream to be a licensed pilot. I fled the low storm-clouds of Kentucky, where I was living at the time, and hunkered down in Las Cruces. For two weeks, all I did was fly. Solo cross-countries into small desert airports – Silver City, Truth or Consequences, Demming. Battered by heat, strong afternoon winds and fierce turbulence, I managed somehow, anyway, to overcome the intense fear of flying which had (rather curiously, perhaps) stimulated this mad endeavour in the first place. (Well, hey, I was 38 years old and didn’t know who I was any more. It seemed like as good a strategy as any for testing myself to the limits.) So New Mexico gave me my wings, and I still love it fiercely.
In ‘A Psyche the Size of Earth’ workshops, we’ll learn once again how to fully participate in this beautiful, animate Earth, alongside the others who share it with us. We’ll go out and listen to the land’s dreaming, and in the process, we’ll find ourselves getting dreamt. We’ll deepen our relationship with the soul of this world – the anima mundi – in order to uncover and explore not only our own unique mythopoetic identity, but the unique gift, or ‘calling’ – the hidden treasure – which each one of us brings to this world. Through personal myth, fairy-tale narratives and imagery, journeying, dreamwork and land-based practices, we’ll find our own unique bridge to the imaginal world: the mundus imaginalis of ancient tradition; the richly mythic and archetypal Otherworld of the Gaelic tradition to which I belong.
The work we’ll do is rooted in mythology and archetypal psychology – but above all, it’s rooted in authentic relationship with the Earth, and a deeply grounded participation in the land where our feet are planted.
If you’d like to read more about the first of these workshops, next September, at the beautiful Synergia Ranch in the high desert, 30 minutes from Santa Fe in the direction of Albuquerque, please follow this link. Maybe I’ll meet you there.
Now I know why people worship,
carry around magic emblems,
wake up talking dreams
they teach to their children;
the world speaks.
The world speaks everything to us.
It is our only friend.
WILLIAM STAFFORD, ‘EARTH DWELLER’