Splendor Solis–summer alchemy intensive


The first Boulder Association of Jungian Analysts (BAJA) Boulder Jung Seminar Summer Intensive on Alchemy was held at Boulder’s Hyatt Place over the weekend of June 24-26, 2016, on the beautiful and complex 16th century text Splendor Solis with Jungian Analyst Joe McNair.

Joe McNair_1 - 2016-06-26 at 08-42-38
(Shown here are the first and last plates of the full Splendor Solis text.)solis1

Joe’s approach to this well studied text brought the participants slowly and inexorably through one plate at a time, at a pace that gave room to open each image within the psyche, and allow it to work on the group as a whole.  Pensive reflection on the central theme and the intricate web of symbols in each plate (22 in all), coupled with consideration of the bordering motifs, left everyone enriched, satiated, if not a little overstimulated. “I need to go back and look at my notes,” someone said at the end. “There was so much to this seminar.” “It was dynamic–we were steeped in it,” said another participant.

Joe has a truly magical way of entering into the feeling content of each plate, circumambulating them from the perspectives of Jung’s functions, astrology, the alchemical colors, the alchemical substances being transformed (lead, mercury, salt, etc.), the operations and the stages, and more.  The group engaged in rich discussions and explorations. They experienced alchemical solutio, and when coagulatio happened the insights were unmistakable and profound.

For me, alchemy has to be lived and experienced.  We can read all we like, but to “get it,” we have to step into the relationship with the image, experience the alchemical group process as it moves with the images,  and feel what the alchemists were feeling: in other words, one has to experience the alchemical field. Because Joe’s workshops are both oratory and laboratory, one emerges having actively worked yet also acted upon and transformed; one is in the alembic and watching the reactions within.  Joe has a unique way of inducing the layers of the alchemical field so that no matter where you are with alchemy you feel you have been able to stay with the image yet he brings it alive through contemporary psychological conditions, challenges and stories.

For many this was a first experience of Joe’s teaching style, for others it was a repeated experience.  Either ss22way, we can all agree that it removed us from the “Trumped Up” drama of the outside world, and allowed the intensive space for internal work with the unconscious, which is what Jungian work is all about.  Thanks Joe!

Stephen Foster, Jungian Analyst


(Shown here are the first and last plate of the text–Plate 1 and 22–of Splendor Solis)

Creativity and the Wilderness

The Call to Create by Linda Leonard, Jungian Analyst

( Photo taken in the  Aspen area 2015)


“Before I began to write this book, I had the following dream: I was in the wilderness. Suddenly twenty-five wild beasts surrounded me in a circle. I saw that to survive, I had to better learn to feed them and discover how to relate to each one.

When I woke up, I realized that the wild beasts symbolized an abundance of instinctual creative energy. If I did not feed these forces and learn to honor and respect them, they would devour me. I needed to learn how to live in the wilderness. The dream reminded me of the fairy tale “Beauty and the Beast,” in which a simple maiden learns to love a fearsome beast. When she frees the beast from his enchantment by loving him, she discovers that his princely kingdom contains the secrets of creativity.

Every time I approach a new project, I feel just like I do when I trek in the wilderness. Creating is like being in the wilds, surrounded by beasts. The sense of wonder before the magnificence of the wild lands and the awe before exotic animals is beautiful and terrible. Imagine being in the jungle and seeing a Siberian tiger approach. This is the way I experience the creative process. I am thrilled with the spirit of adventure, yet alert and anxious before the danger.

In nature’s wilderness, death is always near—in the sudden strike of lightning, the unexpected freeze, the flash flood, the avalanche, or the chance encounter with a bear. The wild psyche, too, brings us face to face with death every time we transform our lives or create something new. Our inner wilderness is like the great white space of an endless snowscape. There, in solitude, we enter the infinite mystery and meet the ineffable. Even if we are with others, we still make a solitary journey.

In the beginning of transformation—whether in personal life or in creative work—people sometimes feel alone, lost, and disoriented. When we create, we enter into uncharted territory. We may fear that imagination will fail us or that we will not be able to find the trail markers that we need to write, paint, choreograph, or create the net phase in our daily lives. Do we have a compass? Have we lost the map? Do we know how to pitch a tent in a snowstorm? Have we brought the right equipment, and do we have the training to find our way in or out of unknown country? Can we even find the hint of a track?…..

I perceive the call to create to be grounded in nature. Nature is a major source of creative inspiration, healing, and renewal. Since life is creative and a natural process, we need to understand nature and its cycles to flourish creatively. Knowing more about the seasons and their rhythms can help us comprehend the phases of creativity.” This excerpt was taken from the preface in The Call to Create.

Click here for more writing by Linda Schierse Leonard.


Back to the Future: Moving From Hercules to Hermes

By Doug Tyler, Ph.D. Jungian Analyst

Consciously exploring our lives more deeply and meaningfully is an idea all of us who share an interest in Jung value. But our agreement around this idea makes the process no easier. So perhaps we can turn to the ancients and their familiar stories and images to help us address the movement of living and muddling through of our lives – a process we now more elegantly call individuation.  Jung demonstrated his unique path in The Red Book, and the unconscious was at times rather aggressive in its unequivocal treatment of him. He described his encounter with the unconscious as moving from “the spirit of the times” to “the spirit of the depths.”

Following this lead, we also can access an image of what the spirit of our times looks like and another image to help us move into the “spirit of the depths.” A most prominent characterization of our time is the myth of the hero – a vital psychic process needed to establish our place in the world. The hero is a constant companion in conversations, the media, and in our daily lives. It is the primary myth that constellates the first half of life, whereby we grow into adulthood and make decisions regarding work, family, and life. No doubt Jung possessed a strong heroic attitude to confront the unconscious as he did. And this is just the reason to develop a strong standpoint in the world – to then possess the strength to pursue the depths.

One enduring image representing such heroic effort is a familiar one for all of us – that of Heracles (more commonly known to us as the Roman Hercules). Perhaps you have even seen the most recent cinematic iteration of this archetypal image. He is fully powerful, fully strong and focused, and fully heroic. We all carry our version of herculean strength and effort, for it is archetypal in nature – common to all. For us to 543040702_c20146452dsuccessfully participate in the conscious and extroverted world, we must activate this energy beginning at a relatively young age. You might ask what this looks like in yourself. Perhaps it appears as pushing forward and conquering some aspect of life; or perhaps it materializes as defending who you are to yourself and others. Certainly there is no shortage of resources to assist this latent archetypal calling. Parents and family exhort us in our quest (if even to satiate their unfulfilled desires), and our education system challenges us to take in what it deems valuable and draw out what is within us. Society bathes us with images of success and offers the necessary ingredients to accomplish such. Books, movies, sports, games, etc. all implore us to build an ego that can both live in the world and simultaneously withstand the various shadow assaults we encounter. All of this requires herculean energy – exemplified in Hercules’ 12 heroic labors noted in the classical Roman story. Our lives are inundated with herculean imagery, and no doubt this tale is a guide for us in our formative life quests.

But the herculean effort required to develop our participation in the “spirit of the times,” as necessary as this is, can take us only so far. This power is primarily of this upper ego world, not the underworld (although Hercules did enter the underworld in the 12th labor –with help). But into the underworld (unconscious) we must go if individuation is honored. For this we need another image upon which to rely – one requiring “powers” different from but inclusive of the hero. Hermes (or Mercurius, whose invaluable spirit Jung describes in CW 13) is such an image – a divine being for whom the Greeks assigned varied powers. His rational and serious older brother Apollo dubbed him “Prince of Thieves;” he became a messenger of the gods and for humans as well as a guide for souls to the underworld. The author of the classical Hymn to Hermes describes him as, “…the very crafty, super-subtle Hermes: thief, cattle rustler, carrier of dreams, secret agent, prowler…” We know him as a trickster, the god of boundaries and crossroads, and, importantly, he is associated with the night (unlike Apollo, the god of truth and solar consciousness, etc.). So what can we learn from this ancient psychic image?

Even though Hermes was a god to the Greeks and an archetypal image to us, his character suggests less a spirit of heroic accomplishments through power and more a spirit of relationship with the journey, our process – including death. Hermes embodies a peripatetic character – always moving. He seeks no particular end point, only moving toward. As Karl Kerenyi, Jung’s associate, wonderfully points out, Hermes is not akin to the later Christian God of repentance and salvation where one turns for cleansing of their sins; he is the god, the psychic energy, of becoming. For this reason, it is of little surprise that he is known as the patron saint of Analytical Psychology. He symbolizes the individuation process. img_hermesBut we must not complacently imagine Hermes as a conceptual being. He represents a living archetypal process – full of surprises, trickery, crossroads, and thievery.

Let us first consider Hermes as messenger of the gods. In this guise he delivers the will of the gods, images from the Self we would say, through our dreams, fantasies, and active imagination. And those out-of-the-blue slips or “mistakes” in our daily thoughts and interactions – like waking dreams that deftly bypass the ego’s sentries – are Hermes’ doing. I imagine most of us are guilty of taking ourselves too seriously at times, which brings some unintended response to reflect our folly in such high-minded pursuit. Hermes is the culprit, the trickster, delivering our lesson. In our current language Hermes is, in part, the movement of the Self, ferrying images from the unconscious into consciousness as he moves seamlessly between these two worlds. Dreams are brought to us, fantasies surprisingly appear, and we are left with the choice to invite our new “guests” into the ego’s space or rebuff them at the threshold. If we invite them in we then have a guide in Hermes as well. He is the psychopomp, the guide of souls into the underworld; he knows the way. At this point we are holding the opposites of what we know and possess along with discoveries from the unconscious. Mind you, this is no ordinary journey as surprises and bumps in the night lie ahead. But we can now move ahead, albeit most often not as we plan. When Jung speaks of the transcendent function, he is referring to this Hermetic/Mercurial spirit which births a new image, a new discovery out of opposites consciously held. The messenger conveys the message and the guide steers the course. Perhaps you have been in a situation where you suddenly know what is coming next – a comment, an idea, an image, a phone call, etc. Hermes is in your midst – delivering without detection.

To my thinking, this is where we psychologically cross from the Herculean over to the Hermetic realm. We can call this transition the point of initiation – the transformative space wherein we sacrifice the ego’s control of the intended trip and come into relationship with the soul’s journey. For transformation to occur something is sacrificed, and this most typically is our attachment to our ego’s desires. Hermes is the deliverer and guide into discovering who we are beyond whom we have learned to be. Initiation requires a ritual to carry us across a boundary into this new territory (of our being). Analysis is an example of such a ritual – where two souls move into a shared space to discover and assimilate the abiding images of and in the unconscious. Such a ritual space serves as an in-between vessel where we hold and experience both “worlds.”

I wish to not idealize nor romanticize this process. Because we discover meaningfulness in our lives within such sacred space does not mean we easily nor blindly accept what we experience. Jung was quite clear about this as he demonstrated in active imagination the need for the ego to be solidly moored in one’s being. And here we see a value of herculean energy – the strength of a developed self with which to meet the unconscious. However, at this point we must also sacrifice our adoration of this herculean attitude and use it instead to come into relationship with the Otherworld of soul. Much like the archetypal nature of our intimate relationships, this one too is fraught with all kinds of ups and downs. And this now brings us to a rather perplexing quality in Hermes: the “Prince of Thieves” who operates in the darkness.

Thievery among the ancient gods was laughed at and enjoyed. But for us mortals it is quite a serious matter all together because thievery threatens personal and collective order. As we know, Hermes’ power to move swiftly between worlds via his golden winged sandals includes his relationships to humans as well as the gods. He is a divine being (i.e., archetypal reality) and yet a divine thief. The Greek scholar Kerenyi again helps us as he describes this aspect of Hermes’ nature: “through him every find, which in itself belongs to the Gods and not to man, becomes a theft that is put to better use.” So we see here that what is stolen (or brought to us by the Self) is intended for our gain. The theft and delivery is a gift of the gods. This divine theft is beyond the ego’s moral obligation not to steal from one another. In our daily lives we are punished for such behavior. But for our purposes here, being in the realm of the active psyche, we are asked to relate to and assimilate such thievery. The origin of this notion is found in the ancient culture. When one would approach a crossroads, he would find a monument to Hermes (a Herm or Herma) upon which offerings were laid to aid travelers. It would please Hermes when one stole or partook of the offerings to the god, thus caring for oneself and sustaining his journey. In this motif we see the need for an offering to the god – or, for us, the conscious offering of honoring and trusting the psyche for what it holds and then offers back to us. In this manner receiving a “theft” as a gift now creates a pair of opposites (what is known to us and what is given by the Self), which is held in tension in order for us to become (via experiencing our respective journeys).

So, the hero, imaged as herculean energy, initiates and guides the ego’s journey. And by offering sustained attention to one’s individuation process, this energy can transform into Hermetic energy, initiating and guiding the soul’s journey.

Blest be the traveler.



When Things Turn Dark

A Book Review by Stephen Foster, Ph.D., Jungian Analyst

Forget heroin. Just try giving up irony, that deep-down need to mean two things at once, to be in two places at once, not to be there for the catastrophe of a fixed meaning.  Patrick Melrose (the hero of Edward St. Aubyn’s Patrick Melrose Novels)

When things turn dark I like to reach for The Patrick Melrose Novels written by Edward St. Aubyn.[1] I relate to Patrick’s sense of displacement, homelessness and betrayal. His longing to escape into lonely oblivion is balanced by his need for relationship; the tension between these poles is very Jungian. He is caught between worlds and cultures, which makes him an outsider grappling with life and trying to understand why he has been so affected by the actions of others.

If you have not read these novels, I invite you to enjoy this unique view of the English privileged classes. This is not Upstairs, Downstairs or Downton Abbey. We learn about the cruel acts of Patrick’s father: the rape that fathered Patrick and the paternal pedophilic incest that perverts the course of Patrick’s life forever. Patrick’s father is a product of a class system that silently condones such acts, as if they are normal practice or brutal bonding rituals. These violations crush the young boy’s psyche and set up the sense of abandonment and powerlessness that haunts Patrick his entire life.

Like many wounded children, Patrick escapes as best he can and watches his life from the sidelines. The darkness that surrounds him is a reflection of life in this modern age for those of us who are unable to find the right formula to deal with that aging parent, that partner who no longer fulfills our need in relationship or the realization that our so-called friends have been manipulating our world to suit themselves. And yet, Patrick’s affluent upbringing by self-involved parents was not rich enough to provide the tools to deal with all the situations life presents him. After a traumatic day he watches his parents with their friends bantering at dinner from half way down the stairs. He is sobbing quietly, and frozen. This position is symbolic; he hopes to be saved by his wire-monkey mother, but fears being visited by his perpetrating father. The resulting desolation sets him on a path to escape using drugs, and alcohol.

Because I grew up in England during the same time The Patrick Melrose Novels are set, I might relate to Patrick’s exploits more than Americans. Yet, symbolically his story reflects many of the Archetypal patterns I see in America, even today. It’s not that everyone finds themselves in some of the physical situations as Patrick, but they are allegories; he is searching for ways to fix broken aspects of his life. We all have our own tales of searching for the next “fix,” whatever that might be for each of us.

Have you ever found yourself deeply lost in a foreign country, in a neighborhood that is ethnically different or on streets that only the desperate and lost find themselves? For Patrick it was when searching for relief in New York following the death of his father. Lost and in pain, it was a compassionate African American man with kind eyes who tried to help him. But, like Perceval, he did not even realize he had lost his moment—until later. In trying to return to the castle, Patrick returns to the man who thought he was an egg, and experiences the tastes and smells of his past, but he cannot find the Grail. Patrick is lost in a foreign city; he is lost in his own inner world and his relationship with the Self has been severed. Patrick is required to retrieve and carry his dead father’s ashes back to England; a physical act that matches the psychological weight he has been carrying over the years. In trying to escape his father’s friends he is required to confront his father’s shadow, and behind this shadow is where he hides his shame. Discovering his inadequate desperation and impotent rage is Patrick’s “jumping off point.”

It is strange how things sometimes fall apart of their own accord, only to re-form at a higher level. Our egos feel powerless to stop the process. We watch Patrick as we might watch a child playing with a toy; we watch him break it, and in trying to hold all of the broken parts together we see more parts inexplicably fall off. Later in life this dynamic plays out with breaks in relationships with friends, family and colleagues. We somehow know we can never get the parts back together. When we look around for help as children, we often find the same parental void that Patrick finds, and the same lack of modeling that leaves his relationships broken and unfixable. Is this why we come to analysis—to find some inner understanding that might prevent future breaks? Of course! And in the deeper moments, when a dream provides clarity, the unconscious fills the void with meaning or creates a tension that pries apart the veil behind which meaning peers out.

There is an abundance of psychological reflection in the later novels. Patrick’s friend from his using days has trained as a Freudian psychoanalyst and in his conversations with Patrick he helps Patrick reflect on his predicament from the inside of Patrick’s experience. The psychoanalyst found his way through his own addiction using the Jungian tools of holding the tension between his conscious desire for recovery and his unconscious fantasies of escape. This tension has activated his transcendent function to give him the refined skills of self-reflection, clear observation, and the thing I find lacking in so many people these days: reflective compassion for others. He and Patrick are sittings in the garden late in the evening after a party at Patrick’s house. They are talking about the affair Patrick is about to embark on with a family friend who is staying the weekend with Patrick’s family. Without judgment the analyst tenderly opens Patrick to the broader meaning of his actions, and holds the moment psychologically; he imagines the affair like a gem in mid-air, turning it over and over to inspect each facet, and the affect on Patrick and his family. He does not prevent Patrick from forging ahead, wraithlike, onto the path that leads to the slow death of Patrick’s marriage. Psychologically, this shows that failure is a way of life; it is not sad that we fail, it is sad that we fail to see that it presents us with an opportunity to provide the kind eyes of reflective caring compassion to the person who needs it the most.

Patrick’s struggle to “recover” reflects our own striving to understand the reasons for the betrayals in our lives; to find meaning in the mean and cruel acts of others and a release from our attachment to a certain outcome in uncertain times. And in the end, like Patrick we still have to get up in the morning wondering how to pay the bills when the inheritance we felt was ours has been given away to the Shaman, or spent by the second family of our estranged parent. The reality is that these things were actually never ours; they were simply the wishful thinking of a child who has the fantasy that things would be different.

Patrick’s life is complex, and the description of how it unfolds is engrossing. These books are perfect for a rainy day.

[1] For readers who are unfamiliar with this series, there are five novels that make up the body of work: Never Mind, Bad News, Some Hope, Mother’s Milk and At Last. In these books St. Aubyn chronicles Patrick’s life from birth to middle age, with sharp wit and poignant observation. Published in the U.S.A by Picador, New York, NY, a Registered Trademark of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

1Q84: Reflection on a Story about the Search for the Other

 A Book Review by Stephen Foster, Ph.D. Jungian Analyst


Don’t you just hate it when you finish a really good book?  I found myself drawn so deeply in the world of 1Q84, created by Haruki Murakami, that for a short while I was outside of time.  I was so completely immersed in this rich and engrossing novel, that when it was over I was left feeling both elated at having found a book I could be “in” and flattened that it was over. What was wonderful was that it was full of the possibilities for Jungian interpretations; my mind was set spinning.

Let me first admit that I did not actually read the 1160 pages of the book.  Like everyone these days I have so little time to actually read each word on the page.  These days the fantasy of curling up in front of a crackling fire with a good book is sadly just that: a fantasy.  No, I listened to the book in my car, at the gym, and while walking the dog.  For me, this is also a great way to be in the book, and to experience the world of 1Q84.  But—I digress.

In good Jungian fashion, the book starts with the feminine protagonist descending a ladder from the Tokyo freeway down into this new world; the world of 1Q84.  In this world the masculine and feminine characters are searching for each other, and through parallel process, they are unconsciously searching to unite with their own animus or anima; in this book the contrasexual other that holds creative potential.  In trying to find their connection to each other, in this strange new world, they each grapple with their childhood beginnings, their familial norms and their individuation process.

Synchronicities abound, and are so common in 1Q84 that they are taken for granted.  The mysterious and the unusual events that pulled me into this world are not always explained, but one knows exactly what is going on.  Like theater in the round, it is as if the author has somehow incorporated us into the world as a part of the story.  The stories of each character are interwoven, like braided hair.  Yet the novel is simply written.  One gets the impression that there is an unseen hand guiding the actions of the characters in that world of IQ84. For example, the private detective holds the shadow while the couple searches for each other much like anima and animus figures in the unconscious. When we work with the unconscious, these alternative worlds hold powerful symbols and this book is filled with symbolic content that is open for Jungian interpretation.

It seems that Haruki Murakami was drawn to Jung, (he even mentions him in the book) and he was able to work with the tensions of good and evil within the unconscious to conjure up the story of 1Q84.  For me it was the perfect melding of two of my favorite subjects: science fiction and Jung.