Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Fairy Tales and Mental Health

The madman is not the man who has lost his reason. The madman is the man who has lost everything except his reason. –GK Chesterton

People who see Fairy Tales as a means for escaping “reality” have never read one, or, if they have, didn’t understand what they were being shown. For example, wicked witches, rulers, and invisible forces are encountered in most every chapter, as are their antidotes (ethical behavior), counterparts (brave Knights), and destroyers (Christ figures). In my own experience, I have learned far more about the nature of evil and the power of goodness from such stories than from many of the sermons I have heard over my lifetime. Far from producing in the reader various forms of neurosis or psychosis, the truth is, as Chesterton states: “The fairy-tale is full of mental health.”

Consider the realities of Faith, Hope, and Love, as demonstrated in Fairy Tales.

Faith I have heard countless parents say that they would never permit their children to read Fairy Tales as such stories embed fears that would haunt the child for years to come. Fairy Tales, however, do not introduce the reader to previously unknown horrors. All children are fairly sure there are terrible creatures in their closets and under their beds. What Fairy Tales do for us is impart a belief that there are more powerful forces in the world than evil.

In Tremendous Trifles, GK Chesterton writes, “Exactly what the fairy-tale does is this: it accustoms him by a series of clear pictures to the idea that these limitless terrors have a limit, that these shapeless enemies have enemies, that these infinite enemies of man have enemies in the knights of God, that there is something in the universe more mystical than darkness, and stronger than strong fear.”

Fairy Tales elicit faith in the face of terrible ordeals. This faith, however, is not rooted in this world but in another. Many of the characters we meet here suffer temporal defeats and die, yet they die with faith that evil will not have the final word on Creation or mankind. 

Hope In most all Fairy Tales, there is the miraculous turn of events. Where there had been failure and sorrow there is now victory and joy. In words coined by Tolkien, “dyscatastrophy” becomes “eucatastrophe.”

“The consolation of fairy-stories, the joy of the happy ending: or more correctly of the good catastrophe, the sudden joyous ‘turn’ (for there is no true end to any fairy-tale): this joy, which is one of the things which fairy-stories can produce supremely well, is not essentially 'escapist', nor 'fugitive'. In its fairy-tale—or otherworld—setting, it is a sudden and miraculous grace: never to be counted on to recur. It does not deny the existence of dyscatastrophe, of sorrow and failure: the possibility of these is necessary to the joy of deliverance; it denies (in the face of much evidence, if you will) universal final defeat and in so far is evangelium, giving a fleeting glimpse of Joy, Joy beyond the walls of the world, poignant as grief.” (On Fairy-Stories)

As we read of the hero or heroine’s battles, we experience their fear and dread. And then, just before the Final and Great Catastrophe occurs, “a ‘turn’ comes, a catch of the breath, a lifting of the heart,” (Tolkien) There is always hope, both in this life and in the one to come.

Love Fairy Tales display the reality that true love is transformative. Kiss the frog and he will turn into a handsome Prince. Kiss Snow White and she will cast off the evil Queen’s enchantment and awaken. Lay down your life for love’s sake and the land that had been cursed, whereby it is “always winter but never Christmas,” and Narnia is delivered. Once love does all that love will do … “And they lived happily ever after.”

Copyright, Monte E Wilson, 2014

Monday, August 11, 2014

The Spiritual Nature of True Love

In George MacDonald’s Phantastes *, the central theme of Anodos’ journey is his heart: more specifically, the nature of true love. Throughout his adventure, he encounters women with whom he fancies himself being in love. Some of his attractions are merely physical, some end with discovering the woman is evil, and some are obsessions. In all of these experiences, there lies within Andodos’ heart a self-centeredness that is the antithesis of love. Love is all about him: his feelings, his needs, and his projections upon the beloved.

At one point in his journey Anodos enters a house with a great library where he discovers books that, upon reading, pull him inside the story where he experiences first hand what the protagonist is experiencing. One such story is about a man named Cosmo. In this story, Cosmo finds a mirror; in this mirror he espies a woman with whom he falls in love. Cosmo is mesmerized. Does she see me? How can I get her to pay attention to me? How do I meet her and let her know of my love? He is obsessed with her.

Finally being able to communicate with the lady, he tells her of his love and asks if she might feel the same. As she is bewildered by her predicament, she replies that she cannot know as long as she is under an enchantment.

“Cosmo, if thou lovest me, set me free, even from thyself: break the mirror.”

A fierce struggle raged in his heart. “To break the mirror would be to destroy his very life….Not yet pure in love, he hesitated.”

“With a wail of sorrow, the lady rose to her feet. ‘Ah! he loves me not; he loves me not even as I love him; and alas! I care more for his love than even for the freedom I ask.’”

Upon investigation, he learns that the lady is a princess who has fallen deathly ill. Lying abed, she is “a form more like marble than a living woman.” What he is seeing in the mirror is an apparition. As he seeks to discover how to free the woman, his love for her is converted from being a self-centered obsession into a love that transcends his self. All he cares for now is her welfare.

Cosmo finally breaks the mirror. The princess opens her eyes and calls out his name, and then runs to find him. Seeing him, she proclaims, “I am free—and thy servant forever.” But Cosmo has been mortally wounded by a shard of glass.

For Anodos, experiencing the story of Cosmo and the lady in the mirror leads to the transformation of his heart so that, at the very end of his journey, before returning to his own world, he has learned the spiritual nature of true love:

“It is by loving, and not by being loved, that one can come nearest the soul of another; yea, that, where two love, it is the loving of each other, and not the being beloved by each other, that originates and perfects and assures their blessedness. I knew now that love gives to him that loveth, power over any soul beloved, even if that soul knew him not, bringing him inwardly close to that spirit; a power that cannot be but for good; for in proportion as selfishness intrudes, the love ceases, and the power which springs there-from dies. Yet all love will, one day, meet with its return. All true love will, one day, behold its own image in the eyes of the beloved, and be humbly glad.”

* George MacDonald, “Phantastes,” Wm Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1964

Copyright, Monte E Wilson, 2014

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Me and My Shadow

Most people think that shadows follow, precede or surround beings or objects. The truth is that they also surround words, desires, deeds, impulses and memories.
-Elie Wiesel

In George MacDonald’s Phantastes *, as we follow Anodos’ journey through the enchanted forest, we see that everything he experiences is an outward manifestation of his inner life. What he perceives (or not) of the world around him is based upon his hopes and fears, his desires and doubts, his belief and unbelief. The story of his shadow finding him is one such manifestation. `

Once Anodos’ shadow begins “attending” him, it alters his perceptions of reality, keeping him from seeing the world and the people around him as they are but, rather, operates as a projector projecting his shadowy image across the landscapes of his outer world. 

“Once, as I passed by a cottage, there came out a lovely fairy child with two wondrous toys, one in each hand….Round the child’s head was an aureole of emanating rays. As I looked in wonder and delight, round crept from behind me something dark, and the child stood in my shadow. Straightway he was a commonplace boy...”

Carl Jung wrote, “It is a frightening thought that man also has a shadow side to him, consisting not just of little weaknesses and foibles, but of a positively demonic dynamism …. Having a dark suspicion of these grim possibilities, man turns a blind eye to the shadow-side of human nature. Blindly he strives against the salutary dogma of original sin, which is yet so prodigiously true. Yes, he even hesitates to admit the conflict of which he is so painfully aware.” ("On the Psychology of the Unconscious.")

The first steps toward enlightenment and salvation require self-awareness. Hesitation must be put aside, if we are ever to experience healing. Anodos learned that his shadow side exists and was laying waste to everything it touched. Jung describes such battles as internecine wars being waged on two fronts: “before him the struggle for existence, in the rear the struggle against his own rebellious instinctual nature.” ("Analytical Psychology and Weltanschauung.").

St Paul said of his own experience, “For I do not do the good I want to do but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep doing.” The struggle against our rebellious nature, the battle to “do right,” opens our eyes to our shadows. The challenge for many serious minded warriors, however, is in seeing that this war is not primarily an ethical one. The shadow lies deeper than the arena of doing right via obeying the Creator’s laws. It is our very being that needs to experience new birth, healing, and transformation. Simply put: we do shadowy stuff because of the darkness in our souls.

For Anodos, the process of being delivered from his shadow and the transformation of his soul began with humbly acknowledging the darkness within. “I learned that it was better, a thousand-fold, for a proud man to fall and be humbled, than to hold up his head in his pride and fancied innocence.” He also knew that this victory was only the first battle in a lifelong war, for our dead shadows often rise again, like a Phoenix from the ashes of its death.

“Doubtless, this self must again die and be buried, and again, from its tomb, spring a winged child…Self will come to life even in the slaying of self; but there is ever something deeper and stronger than it, which will emerge at last from the unknown abyss of the soul; will it be a solemn gloom, burning with eyes? or a clear morning after the rain? or a smiling child that finds himself nowhere and everywhere?”

* George MacDonald, “Phantastes,” Wm Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1964

Copyright, Monte E Wilson, 2014