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REVIEW ESSAY: My Belated Valentine's Day Message

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Duluth, Minnesota (OpEdNews) February 14, 2013: Today is Valentine's Day. So in the spirit of Valentine's Day, I've decided to write a Valentine's Day message for all the readers of OpEdNews. Here we go.

THE ARCHETYPE OF INITIATION (2001) is Jungian theorist Robert Moore's boldest book to date. In it he makes the bold claim that the archetype of initiation in our psyches is involved in mental breakdowns, involved in the psychological process of mourning (both bereavement and mourning nondeath losses), and all other kinds of significant life transitions or passages from a now-old phase of life to a new phase.

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Whew! It sounds like the archetype of initiation is a central archetype in our lives. This is why I say that this is Moore's boldest book to date. And so my Valentine's Day message to all readers of OpEdNews is to tell you about this book as my way of wishing you Happy Valentine's Day!

As Moore explains all the different kinds of life transitions that involve this archetype, he works with Victor Turner's terminology about liminal space and time. Liminal space and time is a kind limbo, a kind of stepping out from ordinary space and time, as frequently happens in bereavement, for example. For an articulate account of the kinds of things that can happen as the result of bereavement, see Joan Didion's book THE YEAR OF MAGICAL THINKING (2005). Turner sees this kind of limbo experience as involving a destructuring of the structure of ordinary space and time.

In bereavement, this kind of destructuring can seem like Humpty-Dumpty falling apart. In bereavement, one's life has fallen apart. Sooner or later, one will have to pull oneself together again and carry on one's life, but with new adaptations in oneself due to the loss of the deceased from one's life.

In connection with the liminality that people experience in bereavement, Moore also refers to chronic liminality. But he does not venture to explore and explain what exactly contributes to chronic liminality. He just notes in passing that this does occur. I wish that he had explored this further.

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But in one important way Moore works with a very different view from Turner's. Turner maintained that modern people do not have access to the destructuring experience of liminal space and time, even though modern people appear to experience liminal space and time in bereavement. For Turner, modernity provides modern people with cultural conditioning that closes down the possibility that they will experience liminal space and time. In any event, Moore takes the position that modern people can also experience liminal space and time not only in bereavement, but also in the context of psychotherapy, at least under the optimal conditions of psychotherapy.

In addition, Moore argues that modern people need to have a social community in which they can work out some of their life transitions with the support and assistance of other people in those communities. Perhaps grief support groups function in this way for people who are experiencing bereavement. Perhaps group therapy can also work in this way at times for some people. Perhaps AA meetings can work in this way at times for some people. But Moore urges men to come together to form such support groups to help one another go through different life transitions. In the kind of support groups that he envisions, the men in the group would take on the role of ritual elders and play this role for one another in the context of the group meetings. Perhaps such groups can work at times for some people as he envisions them working.

In any event, the more relevant point that he is making is that of necessity there has to be a social dimension to any change and adaptation that we try to work out in our psyches. In short, other people in our social lives have to serve as our helpers as we try to work out changes and adaptations in our psyches.

It appears that there are forces in our psyches that want us dead. Perhaps these admittedly destructive forces in our psyches are best understood as neurotic forces.

Now, the archetype of initiation described by Moore is characteristically involved in signaling us that the time has come for us to die to our old way of organizing our ego-consciousness and rise to a new way of organizing our ego consciousness -- a new adaptation. In the final analysis then, the archetype of initiation is the life-force within our psyches that tries to drive us toward new life adaptations within our psyches. In short, it does not want us dead, but it does want us to die to the old so that we can rise to the new adaptation toward life.

In the posthumously published book THE WAY TO LOVE: MEDITATIONS FOR LIFE (reissued Image, 2012), the Jesuit spiritual director Anthony de Mello (1931-1987) from India writes about this life-force within our psyches. But he refers to the life-force within our psyches as the mystical drive to life, which he contrasts to the neurotic drive to self-destruction (page 125).

That's the good news.

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The bad news is that experiencing the mystical drive to life can be terrifying. He likens the terrifying experience to the experience of withdrawal from drug addiction. As a matter of fact, he likens our attachments to all our old maladaptive learning and functioning to addictions -- bad habits as it were. In other words, we are addicted not to just one drug but to a multiplicity of drugs that he refers to as attachments.

So there you have it -- my Valentine's Day message.


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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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