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The Way for Men Today to Experience Profound Psycho-Spiritual Rebirth (REVIEW ESSAY)

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In his book THE JUNGIANS: A COMPARATIVE AND HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE (2000), Thomas B. Kirsch says that M. Esther Harding, M.D. (1888-1971), "was truly the first important Jungian in America" (page 61).

But Dr. Harding was born, raised, and educated in England. As a young physician, she "went to Zurich for analysis with Jung" (page 61). While she was there, she met two young American physicians who were also there for analysis with Jung: Dr. Eleanor Bertine and Dr. Kristine Mann, who had trained as physicians at CornellMedicalSchool with Dr. Beatrice Hinkle, "a physician who made the first English translation of [Jung's book] WANDLUNGEN UND SYMBOLE DER LIBIDO as PSYCHOLOGY OF THE UNCONSCIOUS in 1916" (page 60). In 1924 Dr. Harding relocated to New York City. She was not married and had no children. The same was true of Dr. Bertine and Dr. Mann. These thee women physicians worked to promote and advance Jungian thought in the eastern part of the United States and in Canada.

Harding first published the books THE WAY OF ALL WOMEN in 1933 (rev. ed. 1971) and WOMAN'S MYSTERIES in 1935 (rev. ed. 1955). That's right -- in the midst of the Great Depression, when Franklin D. Roosevelt was the president of the United States.

In the present essay, my thesis is that men in the second half of their lives should study Harding's book WOMAN'S MYSTERIES carefully if they want to experience psycho-spiritual rebirth. (In the present essay, I am not writing about women.)

In WOMAN'S MYSTERIES, Harding dutifully refers to works by C. G. Jung, M.D. (1875-1961). But she uses his work primarily as the framework in which she exercises her own creative spirit by drawing on scholarly works that Jung had not drawn on -- most notably by drawing on Robert Briffault's monumental three-volume study titled THE MOTHERS (1927). But make no mistake about it, there is a keen and original mind at work in WOMAN'S MYSTERIES.

Like Jung himself, and later his wife Emma Jung and Marie-Louise von Franz in their scholarly book THE GRAIL LEGEND, translated by Andrea Dykes (1970; German orig. 1960), Harding discusses the medieval Grail legends. "[I]n the Grail legends," she points out, "the sickness of the Fisher King is reflected in his country which has become the Wasteland" (page 214).

Of course T. S. Eliot made this medieval imagery famous in his lengthy poem "The Waste Land" (1922). After World War I, Western culture seemed to Eliot and many other people to be a cultural waste land. In the Great Depression in the United States, when Harding published WOMAN'S MYSTERIES, American culture seemed like a waste land.

In my estimate, Harding herself draws the all-important lesson to be learned from the Grail legends: "One must ask with the Knight of the Grail legends, 'What does it mean?'" (page 236). This is the all-important question one must always ask about one's archetypal dreams and/or archetypal visions in the trance-like technique that Jung refers to as active imagination. But Parsifal and Gawain each failed to ask this key question when the opportunity to ask it presented itself (page 211). So far as we know, Parsifal and Gawain were not under the influence of the intoxicating soma drink that Harding discusses at length (pages 230-241). But Parsifal and Gawain are portrayed as dumb-struck men. I can relate to being dumb-struck at times -- I understand what's that's like.

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Even though Harding perceptively discusses Dante's DIVINE COMEDY in her book PSYCHIC ENERGY: ITS SOURCE AND GOAL (1947, esp. page 455), she does not discuss it in WOMAN'S MYSTERIES. But I would suggest that "the three worlds of the moon mother" that she discusses on page 212 can be likened to the three parts of Dante's DIVINE COMEDY: (1) the "Inferno"; (2) the "Purgatorio"; and (3) the "Paradisio."

From this observation and from Harding's own observation in PSYCHIC ENERGY about the celestial rose imagery in Dante's DIVINE COMEDY, I would say that Harding in WOMAN'S MYSTERIES is discussing the feminine journey toward transformation that men in Western culture today have to experience in the second half of their lives, as Dante did.

Even though I admire Harding's scholarship in WOMAN'S MYSTERIES, I wish that she had discussed the idea of deification in patristic and medieval Christian thought. See Norman Russell's book THE DOCTRINE OF DEIFICATION IN THE GREEK PATRISTIC TRADITION (2004) and A. N. Williams' book THE GROUND OF UNION: DEIFICATION IN AQUINAS AND PALAMAS (1999).

But Harding brilliantly discusses the birth of the Holy Child, which represents the rebirth of a man in the feminine part of his psyche. She says, correctly, "The child born of the initiation to the Moon Goddess is naturally not to be confused with the human child of the flesh" (page 238). Of course not.

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Of course numerous Christian artists over the centuries have created works of art portraying the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Holy Child Jesus. In 1950, Pope Pius XII formally declared the dogma about the bodily assumption of the mythic Blessed Virgin Mary into heaven -- to the consternation of many Protestants. But Jung thought that this was a very positive development of the feminine symbolically. For a recent book about Mary, see Charlene Spretnak's MISSING MARY: THE QUEEN OF HEAVEN AND HER RE-EMERGENCE IN THE MODERN CHURCH (2004).

Now, I was in the Jesuit religious order in the Roman Catholic Church for about eight years. The Jesuit order was founded by St. Ignatius Loyola (1491-1556). Pope Francis is the first Jesuit ever to be elected pope.

Before his famous conversion experience, St. Ignatius Loyola was a womanizer and soldier. At Pamplona, he gave a stupid order for a charge. In the charge he was seriously wounded. The wounded Ignatius was then transported a considerable distance to the Loyola family manor, his brother's home. His brother's wife cared for the wounded Ignatius. He was as helpless as a baby. Interesting enough, a portrait of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Holy Child Jesus figured significantly in his famous conversion experience. Harding's WOMAN'S MYSTERIES enables us to understand the archetypal dynamics at work in his famous conversion.

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Thomas James Farrell is professor emeritus of writing studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD). He started teaching at UMD in Fall 1987, and he retired from UMD at the end of May 2009. He was born in 1944. He holds three degrees from Saint Louis University (SLU): B.A. in English, 1966; M.A.(T) in English 1968; higher education, 1974. On May 16, 1969, the editors of the SLU student newspaper named him Man of the Year, an honor customarily conferred on an administrator or a faculty member, not on a graduate student -- nor on a woman up to that time. He is the proud author of the book (more...)

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