book reviews/autumn 2011-12

Bone: Dying into Life

Marion Woodman     

Jung and the New Age

David Tacey

The Secret World of Drawings: 

A Jungian Approach to Healing through Art

Gregg M. Furth


August, 2001

Bone: Dying into Life

Marion Woodman     

New York: Viking Penguin, 2000. 246 pp.

In Bone, Marion Woodman writes movingly about her struggle with cancer, which began in the early 1990s. Written in a more accessible style than some of her books, this work shows how she was able to draw upon many resources in her struggle with the disease, and was able to maintain a gruelling schedule for much of the period.

    The book is written in journal style, so it is easy to follow. Those familiar with Woodman’s works may find it a pleasant change from some of her heavier works, although the subject matter is far from light. It begins in 1993, when she first discovered she had cancer and would need major surgery, and goes on for about a year and a half, until at least the first stage of the battle appeared to be over. In it we learn a lot about Woodman’s private life, her former career as a teacher, her relationships with husband, family, many friends and colleagues. We learn how she was able to apply insights from her long experience as a Jungian analyst to the fight of her life.

    She drew on sources of feminine wisdom to deal with a disease that targeted her female organs. She used the resources of modern medicine, but also those of the older feminine tradition of healing by means of energy, herbs and nutrients.

    Woodman writes of the death of her brother from cancer. She also details changes she made in her life to accommodate the illness—closing her analytic practice, cutting back on travel, settling into a new home. She writes with great feeling of her experiences as she awaited and recovered from both surgery and radiation therapy and battled certain patriarchal aspects of the medical establishment.

    Woodman discusses openly her confrontation with aging and mortality. She notes that during her illness and treatment she experienced many losses.

    The deepest loss of all was loss of my connection to the sacred union within—matter no longer permeated by spirit. I was no longer galvanized by the inner marriage that kept me alive, in life, consciously trying to articulate and write. With that loss of creativity went my power to heal myself. I could not connect with the life force. No energy could get past the darkness in my pelvis to go down into my legs. No connection to the earth. By the time I began to realize what was happening, even the sexual urge was not strong enough to pull me into life.

    Still, Woodman appears to have a lot of energy at her disposal. Despite the illness and treatment, she keeps her journal, travels, entertains, speaks and keeps in touch with a large number of people. She notes that the cancer diagnosis destroyed the previous sense she had of knowing her own body, but clearly it did not destroy her determination to live her own way. She also writes of the many projections cancer patients are subjected to, those subtle ways in which they often get blamed for having caused their own disease.

    By agreeing to be treated with radiation, Woodman wo-ried that she was betraying the Great Mother, but she did it anyway. She generally experienced lack of comprehension of her soul concerns from medical personnel, but she also recounts incidents of great kindness from doctors, nurses and technicians. In one case, she ended a relationship with a doctor because she found him too pessimistic.

    Toward the end of the book Woodman notes that

… simplifying became my total focus … I believe that failure to simplify would lead me back into cancer because I could lose touch with my life vibration—my tone that sustains my life force … I must stay in touch with whatever keeps me focused on the still point—the place of exact harmony in body and psyche. Simplify life to that point where the dance can happen—the dance between consciousness and the unconscious.

    For anyone who has had an encounter with serious illness, this should be an inspiring story. I was drawn to it because I had experienced a cancer scare that fortunately turned out to be a false alarm at about the same time as she was undergoing her trial by fire. Like Woodman, I found that the experience helped me to develop new approaches to life.

    Woodman shows how cancer can be not just an ending, but also an initiation into a new and more authentic life. Faced with the probability of a fatal disease, she was able to re-orient her priorities and sort out her relationships in order to live more fully. In writing so openly about her disease and her own inner life, she has given a gift to all of us as we struggle to face our own mortality bravely.

                                    —Margaret Piton

October, 2002

Jung and the New Age

David Tacey

Brunner-Routledge, Philadelphia, 2001, 218 pages

It was while on a pilgrimage to the Boston Jung Institute that I first heard of David Tacey. When the librarian heard that I was Australian, she produced an article by Tacey on the Australian psyche. For me, a long-time expatriate and Jungian, it was manna!

    David Tacey is Associate Professor in Arts and Critical Enquiry at La Trobe University and is known to spiritual and religious groups in his native Australia for his writings on culture and spirituality. Internationally, he is known as a Jungian. He teaches at the C. G. Jung Institute in Zurich and his books are cited on American Jungian web sites.

    Tacey describes his main interest as the recovery of meaning in the contemporary world. He is a creative thinker and an observer—“tracking the sacred in secular society.” His most recently published book, Jung and the New Age, is a natural progression in his thought from his previous books, Edge of the Sacred; Remaking Men: Jung, Spirituality and Social Change; and ReEnchantment: the New Australian Spirituality. In these works, he calls upon Australians to awaken from their spiritual torpor, to reconnect body and spirit via soul, to awaken to an identity that incorporates concern for community and respect for the environment and aboriginal culture. Little notice has been taken of these books in the popular press, probably proving Tacey’s observation that non-aboriginal Australians are embarrassed by spirituality and in general defend themselves from the unconscious by clinging to the tangible, just as they cling to the coastal fringes of this continent, leaving its vast internal areas unexplored. Thus aboriginal Australians, who are part of that vast Centre, fall into the collective shadow of non-aboriginal Australians.

    In ReEnchantment, Tacey explains what he means by spirituality: it is a desire for connectedness, an entirely natural mode of being in the world if only we would open ourselves to it, a feeling of being connected to a greater or larger whole, relating our lives to the greater mystery in meaningful and transformative ways. He sees spirituality as being increasingly separated from religion and regarded as a reality in its own right.

    Tacey’s reflections have inevitably led him to brush up against the phenomenon of the New Age. In Jung and the New Age, we follow him as he wrestles with the state of consciousness of New Age culture and its place in a paradigm of spirituality. The New Age, says Tacey, cannot be ignored because “although its expressions may be crude and untutored, it is able to tell us much about the spirit of the time, about what is being left out of Western consciousness.” In a materialist society, the New Age compensates for the repression of “powerful longings of the human spirit,” as well as for those elements ignored or repressed by established religion—“the sacred feminine …the body, nature, instincts, ecstasy and mysticism.”

    However, says Tacey, although the New Age was born in response to these lacks, it is only a parody of the authentic spiritual life. It simply turns it into a commodity, creating spiritual consumerism, offering only fast food that cannot truly nourish.

    C. G. Jung has been called the father of the New Age and Tacey points out that much of what the general public knows about Jung has come via simplistic and distorted New Age representations of him. Those, like Richard Noll, who wish to belittle and ridicule Jung, do so by identifying him with what the New Age has made of him. Tacey says that it is time this conspiracy was brought to light and his aim in this book is to redeem Jung.

    The book is a richly woven exploration of the place of religion and spirituality in our society in relation to the ideas of Jung. Tacey sees Jung’s psychology as being a psychology of religious experience, and Jung’s spiritual intention as “not to bolster the status of mortal man but to challenge man to acquire a deeper and more abiding humility.” While Jung believed that the human ego must serve and attend a larger religious mystery, the New Age promotes the belief that the spiritual mystery must serve and attend the needs of the ego.

    Tacey is not afraid to be controversial, giving no quarter when attacking what he terms the appalling state of archetypal theory (he is highly critical of post-Jungian archetypal psychology), Jungian fundamentalism, and the dangerous return to the masculine myth (Bly, Corneau) when we have hardly begun to open ourselves to the feminine. While exposing the phenomenon of best-selling books that exploit Jung’s insights for the inflationary purposes of advancing power and commercial success, he names a number of well-known Jungian analysts whom he believes have distorted Jung’s subtlety and complexity by attempting to popularize him, including the later works of his own analyst James Hillman.

    Although Tacey’s criticism of the New Age is rigorous, he by no means dismisses it. He ends the book with a reflection on the archetype of the child. While the child sees religious products as objects for its own pleasure, to be sucked and spat out, the child also has importance for its prophetic role—what it will become. The New Age is prophetic, Tacey offers, of an authentic new age, which is a guiding myth and symbol of hope for human transcendence. It is the religious impulse learning again how to walk.

Jung societies everywhere make an important and serious contribution to the cultural life of their communities.             

    Tacey’s message is of tremendous interest in suggesting how we, as members of our respective Jung societies, could carry out our mission of making Jung’s ideas known and understood by the general public, presenting his work authentically, without treating it as a spiritual or psychological commodity, disentangling it from the “false Jungian.” Tacey casts his light to show us the quicksands and the snares. It is up to us to find the path through them.

—Anne Di Lauro

April, 2002

The Secret World of Drawings: 

A Jungian Approach to Healing through Art

2nd edition

Gregg M. Furth

Inner City Books, 2002, Toronto, 153 pp.

Gregg Furth wrote his doctoral thesis under the supervision of Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross on the drawings of terminally-ill children, and went on to use drawings extensively in his practice as a Jungian analyst. His work on drawings as a doorway to the psyche is considered one of the linchpins of the art therapy profession.

    In this small volume he illustrates how Jung’s ideas on the symbols of the unconscious may be used to help patients in need of psychological healing. By getting the patients to draw pictures, the therapist can gain an uncensored insight into the patient’s mind and help him bring problems to light. For the trained observer, drawings can also sometimes indicate physical problems and in the case of people near death, often give indications of the time the patient has left to live.

    According to Furth,

… dreams and pictures … both touch the same level of the unconscious. Consequently, one can say that working with complexes can bring about growth and development of an individual psyche and that this work can be accomplished with art therapy.

Furth believes that pictures from the unconscious, as opposed to formal art produced by a trained artist, “represent primitive, raw material taken directly from the unconscious, undeveloped, yet filled with the unconscious content closely connected to the individual’s complexes.” Such pictures

bear a tremendous amount of psychic information. The idea is not to decipher with accuracy what is within the picture—in order to predict the person’s future—as much as it is to ask concise questions as to what the picture may be communicating.…If we want to follow the unconscious, we need to consider its suggestions and enlightenments, and so bring the individual into a greater state of consciousness.

   According to Furth, there are three propositions we must accept in order to understand the language of drawings. The first is that there is an unconscious, and that drawings come from the same level of the unconscious as dreams. The second is that the picture must be accepted as a valid means of communicating with the unconscious and conveying its meaning reliably. In other words, the criterion of reliability means it should apply to virtually all people virtually all of the time. The third proposition is that body and mind are inextricably linked, and communicate with one another all the time.

    Based on the acceptance of these somewhat dubious propositions, art therapists have developed a number of drawing techniques designed to elicit information on the state of the patient’s psyche. One of the most popular is the Kinetic Family Drawing, which is supposed to provide information about primary disturbances within the patient’s family. The Regressed Family Drawing is designed to provide information on the patient’s original family and thus give clues to hidden complexes. The House Tree Person drawing method is supposed to help in obtaining information about the patient’s sensitivity, maturity, degree of personality integration and interaction with the environment.

    Furth is big on threes. He also has three rules for interpreting drawings—the first is to notice one’s initial impression of a picture, to note what feeling it evokes in you as the observer. Second, the analyst must act as a researcher, observing the materials used in the drawing, the relative size of the picture compared with the paper, and the focal point of the drawing. Thirdly, (and this, according to Furth, is the most difficult part) an analyst must synthesize the information from the picture into a whole.

    The most interesting part of the book is the series of coloured drawings which follow the enunciation of these rules, and which Furth interprets according to various criteria. Many of the drawings are quite beautiful, but despite this fact Furth manages to find signs of pathology in most of them.

    Art therapy is a challenging field for the non-professional, and this book helps to illuminate some of its important elements. Unfortunately, the writing style is turgid and repetitive, and the propositions Furth says must be accepted in order to benefit from art therapy require a substantial leap of faith.

    However, it is hard to argue with the fact that Furth genuinely cares about his patients and finds art a way to access hidden areas of their psyches. He is also mindful of the need to go carefully, not to jump to conclusions that the patient may not be able to accept.

    In allowing a patient to travel his “path,” the most common sign the therapist may encounter is the stop sign. The therapist must be aware that when he interrupts the patient, he is essentially stopping the patient from “travelling.”         

    This does need to be done occasionally, but students interrupt patients because the students are not getting answers to their questions. Perhaps an answer is the avoidance of answering. The avoidance serves a purpose and should not be ignored.

    Furth notes that an error beginning therapists often make is trying to rid patients of all defence mechanisms. He advocates instead that defence mechanisms should be observed and befriended, not destroyed. It is easy to understand why patients would need defence mechanisms in dealing with therapists who interpret innocent and often lovely drawings as signs of pathology.

    I read this short book twice, and had substantially different impressions with each reading. On the surface the book is interesting with attractive illustrations. However, a more careful reading raises a substantial number of questions about the validity of some of the concepts of art therapy. On the whole, I would say it is a book better suited to professional psychologists than to the general reader.

—Margaret Piton