Due to the pandemic, the Zurich Lecture Series 2020 event in Zurich had to be cancelled. Nancy Furlotti, the speaker, kindly offered to make this video recording of a portion of what would have been one of her lectures. This is a taste of what would have been.
Over the last three weeks, two colleagues have ended their lives. I will not speculate as to why. I can only speak from my own experience. What I pen here I write in hope that someone who is hurting finds a pathway to wholeness.
Several years ago, a psychiatrist looked at me and told me I was depressed. I honestly thought he was joking. My type-A-with-all-capital-letters-driven-self had no idea. I had a storybook life, great family, and fulfilling vocation. Life was good. But I hadn’t been sleeping, shadows of anxiety had started following me, and deep down something was wrong.
Four weeks later, with the help of a little pill, I began to breathe in a manner I had long forgotten possible. It’s amazing how we can forget what it feels like to breathe deeply into our own humanity, vulnerability, and frailness. Just after the diagnosis, I tried to rationalize my depression, figure it out, wondering why no one had ever asked me about me. And then, day by day, month by month, I accepted with the help of my therapist that depression had become my way of life, something that had creeped into my routine over time, slowly becoming a part of me. To discover health, I was going to have to peer into my soul. I was going to have to stop living to please others. I was going to have to simply be me.
The journey to being and honoring myself was painful. Substituting people-pleasing at the expense of authenticity and integrity erodes the soul and cultivates an endless cycle of self-degradation. As a priest, I had wrongly accepted that being the target of others, what we call projection, was just a part of the job. I had also long forgotten how to see my own role in that process and how my lack of clarity created the opportunity for victimization. Unlearning what I thought was normal, I had to go through all the stages of grief, letting go of how I had structured life and vocation to deal with pressure. Blame. Guilt. Shame. Anger. Sadness. Frustration. Every emotion found its way into the journey.
My own therapy was Jungian, largely because I needed to unpack a recurring nightmare since age six. The nightmare’s plot was always the same, bringing screams in the midst of the night and terrors unexplainable. My doctor gave me tools to open dialogue with my childhood nightmare, and after over a year of therapy, I accepted it for what it was: the only way a six-year-old knew to cope with the trauma of a single instance of childhood abuse at the hands of a non-family member. At church. Of all places.
I thought I was cured. Forever back on the golden path. I was wrong. Accepting that I was a survivor unlocked a deeper journey toward the unconscious and the process Jung called individuation. Individuation is the process of recognizing our unconscious selves, of allowing the person we were created to be flourish. As Jungian analyst Anthony Stevens states in Private Myths: “Individuation is the process, simple or complex as the case may be, by which every living organism becomes what it was destined to become from the beginning.”
Individuation is agonizing. To walk this path, we jump into all parts of us, known and unknown, said and unsaid. For me as a survivor, the six-year-old had done all he could. At that age, I did not understand what had happened or why. I knew that it was wrong, and in our shared world, shameful. The six-year-old had never told a soul because he was scared and did not know it was not his fault. My environment, as loving and caring as it was, held no keys to dealing with trauma and dealing with its on-going activity in my life. As a friend recently said, trauma has a way of filling our souls with the unholy. So, the six-year-old boy did all he could to forget, to turn the trauma over to the land of nightmares.
By adulthood, the trauma was so deep within that it invaded all corners of my daily life, but without reference to the event itself. In other words, it was present in every waking moment, yet I had no clue. I could even harness its power, being present with others who were traumatized, but honestly, I was not aware of its presence. It was like a pet demon, haunting every step, but unseen to anyone, and for me, only in nightmares.
Therapy taught me it was not my fault, one of the hardest lessons of my life. Journaling, sketching, and active imagination all in the Jungian tradition opened avenues to acceptance, soul healing bit-by-bit, and eventually, awareness of both my conscious and unconscious being. I slowly discovered that the trauma had forced me to categorize my coping, and because of that fact, I had not fully known it possible to be my own person, to delve into that process of becoming the child I was created to be. My own maturation had been interrupted. Recognizing there was nothing to forgive myself of from that childhood event became a pivot point, an awakening. It was only then that I began to seek my true self, the person God created me to be.
I wish I could say this process didn’t hurt me or anyone else. It did. It most certainly did. My family and friends endured a process that was messy and ugly at times. Jung himself wrote in The Secret to the Golden Flower: “The way is not without danger. Everything good is costly, and the development of the personality is one of the most costly of all things.”
In the end, or is it the beginning, I began to discover the person God created – to enter into dialogue with my humanity in the fulness of my created self, redeemed here and there through the grace of God, my ego fading ever so slightly each day so that my place among all things might be revealed. I have so much more work to do, not in the sense of checking things off a list or getting it done. No, the ego method failed me. Alone, ego always does. Rather, my enduring work is to mind the gaps, tend the chasms between body, mind, and spirit. My quest is to bridge the conscious and unconscious in hopes that every step of the remaining journey brings me closer and closer to the ground of all being, and ultimately, my soul resting in creation in, through, among, and beyond me.
As a Christian, and as a priest of The Episcopal Church, you’d think I had an idea of grace before the beginning of my sixth decade on earth. I didn’t; grace was just a word, something that went well with Jesus and God, like a good cabernet with a steak. But when I found myself waking up to the ground of my own being, seeing myself clearly among all creation, I was at once aware of grace in my consciousness. Paul Tillich said it better in his bold proclamation, “I am accepted.”
There is so much more to write, to discover, about who I am and this process. For now, I offer this glimpse to be less about me and more about our shared selves, all of us on the path seeking wholeness, rest in God, and falling in love again and again with the Christ who gave self for us. Now I see Jesus not as one who was selfless, but self-full. Fully begotten, Fully integrated. Fully revealed. In Jungian terms, Christ is the one whose individuation became manifest.
Once upon a time, I was defined as person who had it all together. But I was depressed and thought about ending it all. Unawake. Slumbering in the conscious world and so unaware of the unconscious gift in God. Now that I am waking to the world God so loved around me and finding my beloved place in it too, no longer haunted by nightmares and halls of mirrors, I see myself as a child of God. Blessed in my creation. Treasured in my soul.
The whole purpose of this story is to speak directly to those who have doubted their belovedness in God, their own nature as we were all created to be. To say boldly and with gratitude, therapy can work. That weakness and vulnerability can hold the keys to acceptance. That depression is real but need not be our end. And that sharing our true selves, our true nature, is indeed the greatest gift the Spirit gives each and every day.
If you see someone struggling, if you are struggling, dare to reach out. Life may depend upon that one simple act. You, in all your own frailty, might just bear light into darkness, life into death, resurrection into the crosses we all bear. We are all living testimonies that grace abounds. For you. For me. For all the people we were created to be.
The Rev’d Michael Sullivan
Michael is the author of two books and numerous articles. Windows into the Soul and Windows into the Light, both published by Morehouse, a division of Church Publishing, explore the place of art in spirituality. He has served on numerous boards, most recently Regent, University of the South (Sewanee), Board of Flat Rock Playhouse, the state theatre of NC, and the Board of Directors of the Consortium of Endowed Episcopal Parishes.
Academic discourse does not often reference the idea of antichrist, perhaps because it is seen as archaic or as too closely associated with religious fundamentalism. Robert Isaac Skidmore, a depth psychotherapist and an Orthodox priest, argues that antichrist, alongside its theological meaning, designates an aspect of our psychological, social, and political experience that becomes hazardous, especially when ignored or dismissed. Seeing Donald Trump’s cultural and political influence as expressive of an archetypal pattern, Skidmore explores implications of taking the idea of antichrist seriously—in order to lift it toward conscious awareness and responsible use. Christian individuals are asked to reconsider the theological function of the notion of antichrist as a summons to self-scrutiny concerning their fidelity to truth. Readers, religious or not, are invited to awareness of antichrist’s archetypal contours, in order to appreciate its significance for the understanding of psychological and social phenomena and to better understand the implications of its use—including its potential benefits and hazards.
“Dr. Skidmore has revived the importance of an ancient Christian idea, showing its relevance for our contemporary situation. His correlation of the Antichrist with the antisocial personality is particularly important in this context, presenting a challenge to Christians of all denominations.”
–Lionel Corbett, Jungian analyst, Professor of depth psychology, Pacifica Graduate Institute
“In this suggestive piece, psychologist and theologian, Robert Skidmore, brings together concepts from Christian scripture and modern depth psychology to elucidate one another and, together, to cast light on a contemporary American political phenomenon. Specifically, he shows how the Biblical notion of ‘antichrist’ can both enhance and be enhanced by the psychological constructs of sociopathy, Freudian conceptions of repression and projection and Jungian ideas of shadow and archetype, and how these may help explain President Trump’s popularity among believers. Identifying deception as the hallmark of ‘fake Christ,’ Skidmore helps to bring to awareness the human temptation to revert to tribal instincts in stressful times. He cautions those who seek to follow Jesus to ‘put not your trust in princes nor the sons of men, in whom there is no salvation’ (Psalm 146:3).”
–Mark Nickolas, Eastern Orthodox Christian and Psychologist
“I knew Rob Skidmore when he was a seminary student; Fr Isaac, to give him his ecclesiastical name; Prof. Skidmore, as I am proud to call him now. He has written a deceptively simple book, whose brevity and unassuming title belie its spiritual depth. Throughout, we are cautioned about the perils of self-deception and reminded of the need for self-awareness if we are to find healing and wholeness. This is a profound book, but also very timely. In our era of Donald Trump, the concept of antichrist as we meet it in the Bible reminds us how easy it is to mistake error for truth, especially when error retains the appearance of truth. As Prof. Skidmore points out, psychology serves a similar function when it alerts us to the deceptive charms of the sociopath, who may show a high level of cognitive empathy but be altogether lacking in emotional or compassionate empathy – the con man who is very good at “reading” other people but lacks any inclination to take meaningful, helpful action. This book is timely for another reason – one that Prof. Skidmore could not have realized when he was writing. The era of Donald Trump has now fused with the era of Covid-19. In recent years we have grown accustomed to the unprecedented. We cease to be shocked when conventional norms for behavior are discarded one after another. But in the era of Covid-19, our anxiety has been raised to a new level. We grasp for anything – even cartloads of toilet paper – that will give us a sense of being in control. Whatever we once thought of as “normal” is exposed as illusion. This may be a good thing. This may alert us to our need for the spiritual sobriety and vigilance that Prof. Skidmore expounds so ably.”
–Rev. John H. Erickson, Peter N. Gramowich Professor Emeritus and Former Dean, St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary
“Until reading the Rev. Dr. Skidmore’s work, I had yet to find a fully layered, accurate, satisfying albeit sobering diagnosis of the mind-scrambling national madness in which we have all been embroiled in the past 5+ years. With wisdom drawn from depth psychology, political philosophy, and Christian theology, Skidmore adeptly wrests the construct of ‘antichrist’ from pop culture and applies it fruitfully to our present moment. In my estimation, the ‘usefulness of the terminology of Antichrist’ will be so if and only if we dare to do two things: 1. to take in its full meaning as Skidmore describes it. And 2. to then use it to do the hard of work of self-analysis, confession and transformation as Skidmore encourages. Only then, in Christ’s merciful true light, will we stand a chance to be freed from our collective intoxicating madness and be returned to our grounded loving right minds. But is that what we want?”
–Deborah B. Edgar, PhD, LMFT, Private Practice, Pasadena, CA, www.theunselfishjourney.com
Mildred Harris Program 2020 Naming the Gods: Cy Twombly’s Passionate Poiesis
with Gary D. Astrachan (Lecture)Friday, October 9, 2020; 7 to 9 pm FREE for Members and Non-Members (Workshop)Saturday, October 10, 2020; 10 am to 2 pm
Members $30 | Non-Members $40
Both events will be held online via Zoom
The gods have fled. They have disappeared and left us alone, without directions or guides. What is it to attempt to name the gods back into existence, into our lives and into the world? How do we, through the efforts of poiesis, ‘making’, ‘doing’, and ‘pro-ducing’, create a place and space for the gods to return? How do we actively engage the transformative processes of art, alchemy and analysis, to orient and deepen our selves within and without? How do we fully embrace the necessity of attending to the current crisis and catastrophe of a disturbed world order while simultaneously furthering the journey of individuation into deeper realms of soul? Following the thread of Dionysos Lysios, the ‘Loosener’, we shall grapple together with responding to these queries.
In this workshop we will focus on the contemporary artwork of Cy Twombly as seen against the deep background of classical Greek mythology. In particular, the two entwined figures of Orpheus, lyre player, lover and journeyer to the underworld, and Dionysos/Bacchus, god of wine, ecstasy and madness, will be taken up as the two principal thematic leitmotifs which animate and overarchingly inform Twombly’s entire artistic oeuvre across all the mediums in which he worked, both literally and symbolically, from the early 1950’s until the last series of brilliantly colored paintings he made just before his death in 2011. His corpus of work embodies and performs radically innovative and vitally important modes of practice for our own necessity in establishing spaces for reciprocal and intimate relationships with psyche and matter, and with both the inner and the outer worlds, of ‘otherness’, nature, wilderness, and the wild.
Gary D. Astrachan, PhD, IAAP, is a clinical psychologist and Jungian psychoanalyst in private practice in Portland, Maine. He is a faculty member and supervising and training analyst at the C. G. Jung Institutes in Boston and in Switzerland and lectures and teaches widely throughout North America, Latin America and Europe. He is a founding member of the Maine Jung Center, and is also an independent curator of contemporary art installations and exhibitions. He is the author of numerous scholarly articles in professional journals and books and writes particularly on the relationship between analytical psychology and Greek mythology, poetry, painting, film, post-modernism, and critical theory. His new book, Naming the Gods: Cy Twombly’s Passionate Poiesis, was released by Chiron Publications in 2019.
Chiron Publications is honored to publish the Collected Writings of Murray Stein.
This volume of the Collected Writings consists of psychological reflections on classical mythology for insight into archetypal structures and dynamics that play out in contemporary life. Mythology is an important resource for depth psychology, and the works included in this volume are a contribution to the archetypal perspective on psyche inspired by the works of C.G. Jung, James Hillman, and Raphael Lopez-Pedraza.
TA B L E O F CO N T E N T S
The Devouring Father: A Myth of Repression
A Portrait of the Father-Devoured Personality
The Devouring Father in Greek Mythology
Hephaistos: A Mythic Image for the Instinct of Creativity
The Mythic Image of Hephaistos
The Underground Forge of Creativity
Hephaistian Art and the Feminine
The Hephaistian Character
Hephaistos and His Brother
The Loves of Hephaistos
Narcissus: A Mythic Image for the Instinct of Reflection
The Story and Its Interpreters
Narcissus and Death
Narcissus and Vanitas
Narcissus and Reflection
Narcissus and Projection
Narcissus and Narcissism
Narcissus and Neoplatonism
Hera: A Mythic Image for the Instinct of Mating in Matrimony
Hera as Archetypal Image of the Mating Instinct
The Phases and Rhythms of Hera
The Paradox of Jealousy
Jealousy: Hera’s Offspring
The Conflict between Hera and Aphrodite
The Wanderings of Hera
A Child of Jealousy: Harmonia
Chapter 1: Hermes, Guide of Souls Through Liminality
Chapter 2: Burying the Dead: The Entry into the Midlife Transition
Chapter 3: Liminality and the Soul
Chapter 4: The Return of the Repressed During Midlife Liminality
Chapter 5: The Lure to Soul-Mating in Midlife Liminality
Chapter 6: Through the Region of Hades: A Steep Descent in Midlife’s Liminality