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How medicalization corrupted our mythic relationship with sleep and dreams

Sleep_and_Death_Carrying_Away_Sarpedon

Fascinating reflections from “a psychologist specialising in sleep and dream medicine”:

Nyx and Hypnos were a dynamic duo of sorts — supernatural heroes who romanticised night and sleep. Nyx gave birth to sleep and created an aesthetic of darkness where Hypnos could flourish. And Hypnos loved sleep. Surrounded by fields of wild poppies on the River of Oblivion, his lair was a sanctuary — a cool, magical retreat open to all in celebration of the sensual, even sexy, mysteries of sleep.

Today, mother and son have been largely forgotten. Nyx has been in exile for well over a century as our night sky is eroded by light pollution. And Hypnos is remembered mainly by his namesakes, hypnosis and, surely to his chagrin, hypnotics. Sleep is no longer personal, transcendent and romantic — it is medical, mundane and pragmatic. . . .

The Industrial Revolution radically transformed our perception of sleep from a gracious, transcendent experience to a mechanistic, biomedical process. . . . In more recent decades, the domestication of sleep has given way to its medicalisation. Hypnos has been abducted and is being held captive in research labs, clinics and pharmacies. The field of sleep medicine has encouraged us to think of sleep as a complex biomedical process that lies outside of our awareness — a perspective that impedes our personal relationship with sleep. . . .

We are mired in a pre-Copernican-like, wake-centric era regarding consciousness. We presume waking to be the centre of the universe of consciousness, and we relegate sleeping and dreaming to secondary, subservient positions. . . . Medicalisation obscures sleep’s true nature — its breadth and depth and joy. It conceals the personal, transcendent and romantic dimensions of sleep. We are in dire need of restoring our sense of sleep’s mythic dimensions — of reimagining our personal experience of sleep. I believe this can be best accomplished through poetry, spirituality and, ultimately, personal investigation. . . .

Mythic perspectives suggest that there is something in the deep waters of sleep worth accessing, and invite us to personally investigate it. Metaphorically, they encourage us to practise our descent into the waters of sleep with our third eye open. . . .

Sleep loss, then, is not simply a medical problem; it is also a critical spiritual challenge. Our epic struggles with accessing deep sleep are, fundamentally, struggles with accessing deeper aspects of ourselves. As wakists, we presume that who we are is limited to our waking-world identity. Essential parts of who we are, however, are obscured by the glare of waking life. And these become more visible at night — in the deep waters of sleep and dreams.

FULL ARTICLE: “Falling for Sleep

Image: Sleep and Death Carrying Away Sarpedon of Lycia by Henry Fuseli, 1893 [Public domain ], via Wikimedia Commons

 

“Let mystery have its place in you”: Cultivating the artist’s sense of interior privacy

Virginia_Woolf

Virginia Woolf at age 20

Inspired by a reading of Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, Joshua Rothman, writing for The New Yorker, offers some rather enchanting reflections on a profoundly important meaning of privacy that cuts much deeper than the word’s contemporary framing in purely political terms:

These days, when we use the word “privacy,” it usually has a political meaning. We’re concerned with other people and how they might affect us. We think about how they could use information about us for their own ends, or interfere with decisions that are rightfully ours. We’re mindful of the lines that divide public life from private life. We have what you might call a citizen’s sense of privacy.

That’s an important way to think about privacy, obviously. But there are other ways.

. . . Woolf often conceives of life this way: as a gift that you’ve been given, which you must hold onto and treasure but never open. Opening it would dispel the atmosphere, ruin the radiance — and the radiance of life is what makes it worth living. It’s hard to say just what holding onto life without looking at it might mean; that’s one of the puzzles of her books. But it has something to do with preserving life’s mystery; with leaving certain things undescribed, unspecified, and unknown; with savoring certain emotions, such as curiosity, surprise, desire, and anticipation. It depends on an intensified sense of life’s preciousness and fragility, and on a Heisenberg-like notion that, when it comes to our most abstract and spiritual intuitions, looking too closely changes what we feel. It has to do, in other words, with a kind of inner privacy, by means of which you shield yourself not just from others’ prying eyes, but from your own. Call it an artist’s sense of privacy.

. . .[T]he benefits of remaining “impenetrable” can be profound. Clarissa, famously, buys the flowers herself, and that allows her to enjoy the coolness, stillness, and beauty of the flower shop; the same, Woolf suggests, happens in Clarissa’s inner life, where her heightened feelings are allowed to stay pure, untouched. Even Peter, with time, comes to regard himself in this way: “The compensation of growing old,” he thinks, is that “the passions remain as strong as ever, but one has gained — at last! — the power which adds the supreme flavour to existence, — the power of taking hold of experience, of turning it around, slowly, in the light.” By learning to leave your inner life alone, you learn to cultivate and appreciate it.

And you gain another, strangely spiritual power: the power to regard yourself abstractly. Instead of getting lost in the details of your life, you hold onto the feelings, the patterns, the tones. You learn to treasure those aspects of life without communicating them, and without ruining them, for yourself, by analyzing them too much. Woolf suggests that those treasured feelings might be the source of charisma: when Peter, seeing Clarissa at her party, asks himself, “What is this terror? what is this ecstasy? … What is it that fills me with extraordinary excitement?,” the answer might be that it’s Clarissa’s radiance, never seen directly, but burning through. Clarissa, meanwhile, lets her spiritual intuitions lift her a little above the moment. Wandering through her lamp-lit garden, she sees her party guests: “She didn’t know their names, but friends she knew they were, friends without names, songs without words, always the best.” That’s the power of an artist’s privacy. It preserves the melodies otherwise drowned out by words, stories, information.

MORE: “Virginia Woolf’s Idea of Privacy

One is reminded of Lewis Thomas’s thesis in his classic essay “The Attic of the Brain” about the importance of preserving the mystery of one’s own mind:

It has been one of the great errors of our time that to think that by thinking about thinking, and then talking about it, we could possibly straighten out and tidy up our minds. There is no delusion more damaging than to get the idea in your head that you understand the functioning of your own brain. Once you acquire such a notion, you run the danger of moving in to take charge, guiding your thoughts, shepherding your mind from place to place, controlling it, making lists of regulations. The human mind is not meant to be governed, certainly not by any book of rules yet written; it is supposed to run itself, and we are obliged to follow it along, trying to keep up with it as best we can. It is all very well to be aware of your awareness, even proud of it, but never try to operate it. You are not up to the job. . . . Attempting to operate one’s own mind, powered by such a magical instrument as the human brain, strikes me as rather like using the world’s biggest computer to add columns of figures, or towing a Rolls-Royce with a nylon rope. . . . We might, by this way [i.e., by deliberately hiding a portion of our psyches from ourselves], regain the kind of spontaneity and zest for ideas, things popping into the mind, uncontrollable and ungovernable thoughts, the feeling that this notion is somehow connected unaccountably with that one.”

One is also reminded of Henri-Frédéric Amiel’s words in his Journal Intime about the need to protect the mystery of one’s inner self by avoiding a too-quick and too-keen attitude of psychological self-awareness:

Let mystery have its place in you; do not be always turning up your whole soil with the plowshare of self-examination, but leave a little fallow corner in your heart ready for any seed the winds may bring, and reserve a nook of shadow for the passing bird; keep a place in your heart for the unexpected guests, an altar for the unknown God. Then if a bird sing among your branches, do not be too eager to tame it. If you are conscious of something new — thought or feeling — wakening in the depths of your being — do not be in a hurry to let in light upon it, to look at it; let the springing germ have the protection of being forgotten, hedge it round with quiet, and do not break in upon its darkness; let it take shape and grow, and not a word of your happiness to any one! Sacred work of nature as it is, all conception should be enwrapped by the triple veil of modesty, silence, and night.

And so we’re back to the discipline of living as if you were (because you are) accompanied by and paired with your own peculiar muse, daemon, or genius.

Photo by George Charles Beresford [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Is the unconscious the door through which the divine speaks?

Fury_of_Achilles_1737_by_Charles-Antoine_Coypel

From an engaging discussion of Julian Jaynes’ bicameral mind theory by writer and philosophy commentator Jules Evans, at his website Philosophy for Life:

I’m particularly interested in the link between voice-hearing, dissociation and creativity, and in the incidence of voice-hearing among creative individuals like novelists Marilynne Robinson (who occasionally hears a voice inspiring her novels), comedians Graham Linehan and Jonny Vegas (both of whom hear or have heard voices), and musicians like Lady Gaga and David Bowie (the former says she heard voices and started to act them out as personae, while the latter likewise embodied and acted out radically different personalities and has a history of schizophrenia in his family).

Not to mention the dissociative capacity of gifted actors to become other people (Le Carre called Alec Guinness’ ability to become someone else a ‘complete self-enchantment, a controlled schizophrenia’); or all the many poets and song-writers who say their poems came to them from a voice / presence / spirit / muse.

What Jaynes fails to address, I’d suggest, is the value of these ‘vestiges of the bicameral mind’. When we seem to feel or hear messages from the beyond, it’s not just a primitive throwback to Homeric times. These messages sometimes tell us something useful, beautiful and wise, something our ordinary consciousness does not know. They are often sources of moral inspiration or consolation. I’d suggest the right hemisphere is still not entirely accessible to our ordinary consciousness, and there is a value in learning how to access it through things like meditation, trance states or techniques of ecstasy (though of course there are risks as well, particularly if you end up with an inflated or Messianic sense of self).

To go a step further into the mystical, if we do receive inspiration through the right hemisphere, does that mean the origin is definitely purely material or neurochemical? Could we not consider William James’ hypothesis that the right hemisphere / unconscious is the door through which the divine speaks to us? Such has been the suggestion of various spiritual critics of Jaynes’ theory, from Owen Barfield to Philip K. Dick.

Still, the voice-hearing network is fascinating, from a theological perspective, because in some ways it suggests a very modern attitude to the gods. We hear their commands, and yet we don’t have to obey unquestioningly. We relate to them less as a child to their all-powerful father, and more like a friend to their equal, rather like Lyra’s friendship with her daemon, Pantalaimon, in Philip Pullman’s Dark Materials. Happiness, then, is eudaimonia: having a friendly daemon to keep one company in life and through death.

Very well, says my daemon, looking over my shoulder as I write. But who made the daemons?

MORE: “Gods, Voice-Hearing, and the Bicameral Mind

Image: “The Fury of Achilles,” 1737, by Charles-Antoine Coypel [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Marilynne Robinson on writing, scientism, and trusting “the peripheral vision of the mind”

Marilynne Robinson in 2012, by Christian Scott Heinen Bell (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

Marilynne Robinson in 2012, by Christian Scott Heinen Bell (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

Here’s Marilynne Robinson being interviewed last June for Vice magazine by a writer who was fresh from having studied under her in the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. As usual, Ms. Robinson’s displays considerable insight and elegance as she talks about the inner life of the writer and the outer life of a surrounding society that is obsessed with defining everyone and everything in scientistic terms:

Thessaly la Force: It struck me when you said we must “trust the peripheral vision of our mind.” It seems like a muscle in your body that you have to develop by training some other part of you.

Marilynne Robinson: One reaches for analogies. I think it’s probably a lot like meditation — which I have never practiced. But from what I understand, it is a capacity that develops itself and that people who practice it successfully have access to aspects of consciousness that they would not otherwise have. They find these large and authoritative experiences. I think that, by the same discipline of introspection, you have access to a much greater part of your awareness than you would otherwise. Things come to mind. Your mind makes selections — this deeper mind — on other terms than your front-office mind. You will remember that once, in some time, in some place, you saw a person standing alone, and their posture suggested to you an enormous narrative around them. And you never spoke to them, you don’t know them, you were never within ten feet of them. But at the same time, you discover that your mind privileges them over something like the Tour d’Eiffel. There’s a very pleasant consequence of that, which is the most ordinary experience can be the most valuable experience. If you’re philosophically attentive you don’t need to seek these things out.

. . . [I]t’s finding access into your life more deeply than you would otherwise. Consider this incredibly brief, incredibly strange experience that we have as this hypersensitive creature on a tiny planet in the middle of somewhere that looks a lot like nowhere. It’s assigning an appropriate value to the uniqueness of our situation and every individual situation.

. . . I think that we have almost taught ourselves to have a cynical view of other people. So much of the scientism that I complain about is this reductionist notion that people are really very small and simple. That their motives, if you were truly aware of them, would not bring them any credit. That’s so ugly. And so inimical to the best of everything we’ve tried to do as a civilization and so consistent with the worst of everything we’ve ever done as a civilization.

MORE: “A Teacher and Her Student

Publication imminent: ‘Daimonic Imagination, Uncanny Intelligence’

Daimonic_Imagination_Uncanny_Intelligence

I’m pleased to report that the publication of the book Daimonic Imagination: Uncanny Intelligence, which will feature my essay/paper “In Search of Higher Intelligence: The Daemonic Muse(s) of Aleister Crowley, Timothy Leary, and Robert Anton Wilson,” is imminent. The book is edited by Angela Voss and William Rowlandson, former co-directors of the Centre for the Study of Myth at the University of Kent. It consists mostly of papers presented at the 2011 conference they convened at the university under the same name as the book title. With my enduring interest in daimonic matters, I was quite disappointed when I heard and read about the conference a couple of years ago and knew that I wouldn’t be able to make the trip across the Atlantic to attend and participate. So it was a pleasure when Angela contacted me afterward with a request to include my paper, which was then going through the peer review process for publication in Paranthropology: Journal of Anthropological Approaches to the Paranormal, in the forthcoming book.

Today she sent a note to contributors letting us know that the book’s publication is right around the corner, perhaps as early as this month. Here are its description and contents. It looks like a rich feast indeed, and I’m proud to be aboard (and am raring to read the whole thing).

DESCRIPTION:

From the artistic genius to the tarot reader, a sense of communication with another order of reality is commonly attested; this “other” may be termed god, angel, spirit, muse, daimon or alien, or it may be seen as an aspect of the human imagination or the “unconscious” in a psychological sense. This volume of essays celebrates the daimonic presence in a diversity of manifestations, presenting new insights into inspired creativity and human beings’ relationship with mysterious and numinous dimensions of reality. In art and literature, many visual and poetic forms have been given to the daimonic intelligence, and in the realm of new age practices, encounters with spirit beings are facilitated through an increasing variety of methods including shamanism, hypnotherapy, mediumship and psychedelics. The contributors to this book are not concerned with “proving” or “disproving” the existence of such beings. Rather, they paint a broad canvas with many colours, evoking the daimon through the perspectives of history, literature, encounter and performance, and showing how it informs, and has always informed, human experience.

CONTENTS:

Preface (Geoffrey Cornelius)

Introduction (Angela Voss and William Rowlandson)

Part I: Daimonic History

1. When Spirit Possession is Sexual Encounter: The Case for a Cult of Divine Birth in Ancient Greece (Marguerite Rigoglioso)

2. Encounters at the Tomb: Visualizing the Invisible in Attic Vase Painting (Diana Rodríguez Pérez)

3. Parodying the Divine: Exploring the Iconography of the Cult of the Kabeiroi in the Ancient Greek World (Kirsten M. Bedigan)

4. Of Cosmocrators and Cosmic Gods: The Place of the Archons in De mysteriis (Christopher A. Plaisance)

5. “Showeth Herself all Naked”: Madimi in John Dee’s Conversations with Spirits (Stephanie Spoto)

6.  Burke’s Aesthetics of the Spirit (Simon Wilson)

7.  Uncanny Intelligence in Psychoanalysis and Divination (Maggie Hyde)

8.  The Scientific Approach of F. W. H. Myers to the Study of Mystical Experiences, Divination and Psi, and its Value to Psychology (Terence J. Palmer )

Part II: Daimonic Literature

9. Definitive Demons: Frankenstein and Dracula as Ultimate Representations of the “Monstrous Other” (Vered Weiss)

10. Sceptical Scepticism: Reason and Uncanny Experience in Scottish Fiction (Kenneth Keir )

11. The Daimonic in W. B. Yeats (Chiara Reghellin)

12. But Who is That on the Other Side of You? The Daimonic Sources of Consciousness in Literature and Dreams (Wojciech Owczarski )

13. “Necessary Monsters”: Borges’ Book of Imaginary Beings and the Ontology of the Daimonic (William Rowlandson)

14. Privileging the “Other”: Illicit Forms of Knowledge in the Detective Fiction of Reginald Hill (Hilary A. Goldsmith)

Part III: Daimonic Encounter

15. Fireflies and Shooting Stars: Visual Narratives of Daimonic Intelligence (Angela Voss )

16. In Search of Higher Intelligence: The Daimonic Muse(s) of Aleister Crowley, Timothy Leary, and Robert Anton Wilson (Matt Cardin)

17. So long as you’ve got your Elf: Death, DMT and Discarnate Entities (David Luke)

18. C. G. Jung, Tibetan Tantra and the Great Goddess: An Exploration of Sacred Entities and Archetypes (Judson Davis)

19. Cultural Variation of the Feminine in Psychedelic Personification (Cameron Adams)

20. Daimonic Ecologies: An Inquiry into the Relationships between the Human and Nonphysical Species (Alex Rachel )

Part IV: Daimonic Performance

21. Seeing Voices: Elucidating the Unconscious via Tarot Hermeneutic with Jung and Deleuze (Inna Semetsky )

22. Imaginal Inquiry: Meetings with the Imaginative Intelligence (Marie Angelo)

23. Imaginal Doorway: Seeking a Daimonic Theatre using Dramatherapy (Toby Chown)

24. Numinous Conversations: Performance and Manifestation of Spirits in Spirit Possession Practices (Jack Hunter)

25. The Call of the Spirit: The Training and Practice of Sangomas in Relation to an Astrologer’s Vocation (Darby Costello)

26. Spirit and Shaman: Altered Consciousness and the Development of Creativity (Zoë Brân)

 

Lovecraft: Invading the ego with shadows from the id

Recently published at the online Trebuchet Magazine, which “champions contemporary art, activist politics, and ecstatic music” and strives to be “A creative magazine minus the lifestyle upsell,” this brief and astute analysis of Lovecraft cuts right to the heart of his deep and enduring appeal as a visionary supernatural horror writer whose works resonate with an apparently inexhaustible power:

[T]he very titles of his tales announce a delirium spell:

NYARLATHOTEP
BEYOND THE WALLS OF SLEEP
THE COLOUR OUT OF SPACE
DAGON
THE WHISPERER IN THE DARKNESS
THE HORROR AT RED HOOK
DREAMS IN THE WITCH HOUSE

The content consists of an almost whimsical effort to disturb the rational mind by overloading it with hyper-spatial concepts, mundane technical detail and curiously familiar atavisms which linger long after the final page. There are no traces of human eroticism but the work is positively id pornographic — loaded with lustrous glowing colours and the faint sting of intra-dimensional penetration.

Although his works are daring and imaginative, I defy anyone to stay completely focused on the narrative while reading Lovecraft. Try it as an exercise, and see if you can remember who exactly did what to whom, the precise location shifts, or even the exact order of events. A great effort is required by the reader to prevent the conscious mind from drifting down the many strange pathways which are sprung open by suggestive images embedded in the text. I suspect that it is these fecund pathways which attract and stimulate artists of a certain mindset.

. . . [T]hat is the startling point of Lovecraft’s fiction: to encourage a wilful interpenetration of the single-faceted ego by the sprawling id. Like the protagonist of The Innsmouth Horror* who discovers, at the last, and to his sublime relief, that he is one with the alien race who have pursued him relentlessly throughout the tale, it is we, the readers, who have been lured into an exotic and disturbing dream space not only for our pleasure, but for the sheer pleasure of the dream itself.

More: “Why Is Lovecraft So Sexy?

* One wonders if the writer is actually thinking of Lovecraft’s story “The Shadow Over Innsmouth” but has gestalted the wrong title in there. The Innsmouth Horror is an expansion pack for the Arkham Horror board game.

 

Deep Shadows and Numinous Horror: Introducing “Echoes from Hades”

The question of whether I found Horror or Horror found me is a longstanding one, and despite much contemplation, I’m no closer to a definitive answer.  Perhaps there isn’t one to be had.  Either way, Horror unquestionably crept into my world early, and with indelible power.

My name is Richard Gavin. I am a Canadian author of supernatural Horror fiction, and although this has been my vocation for the better part of two decades, my relationship with Horror stretches further still, reaching back to my formative years. Given my novice status here at The Teeming Brain, I thought it best to use this initial installment of Echoes from Hades as a form of introduction to this background and my outlook on such things.

One of my initial memories of movies was seeing Tod Browning’s 1931 version of Dracula on afternoon television.  The film’s impact on me was immediate and dramatic.  Monsters and the macabre swiftly became a constant in my life.  And unlike so many passions that erupt in one’s childhood, Horror never lost its lustre for me.

I do not believe I’m being dishonest when I say that my young mind intuited, albeit vaguely, that there was something grand about Horror, something important.  The whole field felt akin to an iceberg: its true significance was submerged, seething somewhere beneath its latex make-ups and Gothic prose. Read the rest of this entry

Recommended Reading 22

This week’s recommended reading includes: a report on the real-world rise of nightmarish SF-type threats from widely deployed nanobots; a satirical exposure of the essence of bipolar political demonization; a story from National Geographic on the way ancient Rome’s obsession with borders and wall-building was directly implicated in the empire’s fall; information about a new book exploring advertising’s insidious impact on our unconscious selves; a rather riveting examination of Alcoholics Anonymous and its still-unexplained effectiveness at treating addictions; and some sage words from Dr. Rupert Sheldrake about the dogmas that currently have a semi-stranglehold on science.

Read the rest of this entry

Recommended Reading 20

This week’s recommendations cover the history of Wall Street’s addiction to inhumanly fast and economically abstracted trading practices; the history of “dark money” in American politics, culminating in the current game-changing dominance of hidden funding; the rise of real-life “cyborgs” via the burgeoning body-hacking movement; a couple of considerations of what it means for human social and personal existence to be wired into a digital social network of ad hoc spying and self-promotion; a look at the rise and definition of “knowledge art” in an age dominated by objectified scientific understandings of life and reality; a look at the meaning of art in light of evolutionary biology; an opinion piece from The New York Times lambasting the “positive thinking” movement as exemplified by Tony Robbins; and links to podcasts on “recovering environmentalists,” Jung and synchronicity, and findings from the new scientific study of the biological unconscious with neuroimagining technology.

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