Category Archives: Archetypes

The dreaming writer at the royal garden party

Lots of creative teachers talk about the importance of taking time out from your normal routines and doing new things, to refresh your creative energy. It’s commonly called ‘going down to the well.’

I was way outside my normal routine last week at the Buckingham Palace garden party – frocks and fascinators are not really my thing! In case you’re wondering, my invitation came through the Society of Authors – I’ve been a member for most of my writing career and taught several creative blockbusting workshops for them.

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The afternoon progressed like a well-oiled machine. The queues moved very quickly through the gates, despite the huge number of guests.

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The National Anthem announced the Queen’s arrival and, while the band played and everyone was upstanding, she came out onto the steps, flanked by Beefeaters.

The Beefeaters accompanied her as she walked among the crowds so, although we couldn’t see her, we knew where she was by the tips of their pikes.

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The cakes were divine! After tea my friend and I had a stroll round the gardens, coming back to find staff moving among the guests with trays of lemon barley water and little tubs of ice cream.

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It was a brilliant opportunity to enjoy that most favourite of writerly pastimes, people-watching. A clutch of Bishops, a pair of robed academics, a scattering of groups in African dress, a gaggle of jovial mayors.

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Even the Ladies’ Lavatories were an experience, set as they were beside the big lake, and attended by a woman who checked each cubicle as it became vacant, presumably to make sure the bowl was clean and there was plenty of toilet paper, before personally ushering the next person in.

Very few people actually got to speak to the Queen yet the surprising thing, for me, was that it felt quite personal. Buckingham Palace didn’t feel like a massive public building, but somebody’s home, and the party was just in their garden.

I realise I may be sounding like a royalist, but I’m not. I’m not a republican either.  I think there are good arguments both for and against having a monarchy.

But as a dreamer, it seems to me that kings and queens, princes and princesses do something quite extraordinary. They are like living archetypes, symbolising for us universal qualities, even though they may not, in their own personal lives, be any less complicated, flawed and human than the ordinary person in the street.

I was first struck by this in the outpouring of grief when Princess Diana died. It was so surprising and disproportionate, I felt we were not grieving the person she was but what she symbolised – a quality of caring kindness that seemed to be slipping away in the post-Thatcher era.

It’s the same with the royal wedding last week. We don’t know what Prince Harry and Meghan are like as individuals, whether they row and bicker behind closed doors – but thousands of people enjoyed their wedding because there they stood before a nation as the representing the romantic Hero in all of us, the perfect Princess and the possibility of lifelong romantic love.

Seeing the Queen standing there on the steps of her home, I was really aware of the strangeness of her existence. Through the doors behind her lay her domestic life, where she is just a person like the rest of us, but as soon as she steps outside she is no longer a woman; she becomes absolutely her role, as Queen.

The dreamer in me, like the writer, found the whole experience intriguing.

 

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Christmas and the blessed baby

I’m not a member of any organised religion but because of where and when I was born, the Christian symbols and stories are the ones I’m most familiar with.

Of all the Christian symbols, the blessed baby speaks to me most strongly. I very frequently dream about babies, and these dreams always carry a wave of positive emotion, along with a sense of magic and mystery.

A baby is a bright bridge to the future, something fresh and new. During politically and socially turbulent times such as these, we might look to the future with fear and apprehension, but the baby is innocence of the open, trusting heart.

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Every Christmas, even though I’m not a Christian, I feel inspired by the archetypal energy of the blessed baby. I take time to contemplate and focus on celebrating every thing and every person that I love.

Family and friends, of course; people I’ve met and people I’ve yet to meet. Writing and teaching. Books, art exhibitions, theatre. The moors and coasts of Cornwall, where I live; the amazing cities I still have to visit.

This robin I can see right now, in the hedge outside my window. This coffee.

Every big and tiny thing we love reflects love back to us, warming and lighting our hearts.

My blog is both a big and tiny thing; it’s big for me, but tiny in the blogosphere. I love that some people come back again and again, until I feel I’ve got to know them, and some drop in from Africa or Hong Kong or Norway, giving me a sense of connection across the globe.

I haven’t had time to blog these last few weeks because I’ve been busy promoting my new book, Free-Range Writing, but I didn’t want to let Christmas go by without saying a warm seasonal thank-you.

Happy Christmas, and may you be touched by the archetypal power of the blessed baby, whether you follow any particular faith or none.

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What does Christmas mean to you?

Christmas can be the most wonderful time, or the most bleak, depending on what’s going on in your life. We associate the festive season with abundance, and as much as it can be an opportunity to celebrate all the good things we have, it can also heighten our awareness of what we lack.

Money, certainly, with so much pressure on us to buy, buy, buy. For some people, a home. Family maybe, or friends. Or a specific family member, now departed, or a specific friend. Like most people, I’ve had some very bleak Christmases in my life, but I’ve never stopped loving Christmas.

Because for me, Christmas is about love. The birth of love in the world, the symbolic baby which, in difficult times, is the gift of hope for a better future.

I think that in the modern world we can sometimes have too narrow an idea of love. We tend only to think of it in terms of other people – children, parents, siblings, wider family and friends. But love is much bigger than that.

We can experience a deep love and sense of connection with our environment, or our work, or our inner world, which is just as transforming as love within relationships.

Carl Jung says the creative mind plays with the objects it loves, and whatever else is going on in my life, I always love the beautiful objects of my imagination, which I meet on the page or in dreams. That love is a force behind all my work, including this blog.

Love of every kind enlarges us, holds and inspires us. When we’re with someone we love, or doing something we love, or in a place we love, we’re not thinking, we’re just being. Time future and past is gone, and we are truly present.

You can call it God, this context in which we lose our small self. You can call it Nature, Great Spirit, Soul, or simply Love. Whatever we love redeems us from the lonely responsibility of feeling we are all that there is.

Love does not depend on money, home, family, friends – it’s a force in the world, and in our human nature. More than ever in these turbulent times, when we can feel helpless and in despair, love is a choice we can always make.

For me, Christmas feels like a reminder of that, in case we forget.

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This Christmas, may you feel blessed. 

 

A dream of darkness

A few days after I last blogged, way back in May, I went to Iceland. I’d always been drawn to the North, so Iceland had been on my must-see list for decades, but what made me actually go this year was a series of dreams I had around the time of my mother’s death last November. They were ‘big dreams’ – dreams that had a momentous quality, a deep sense of mystery and meaning.

They were a call to ancestors, to the place beyond death and, specifically, to Iceland. So like all dreamers, who have learnt how and when to listen, I followed the call of my dreams.

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Being in Iceland felt, to me, like being in a dream. I had completely underestimated the size of the island, and the sparseness of the population; I had not expected the vast tracts of volcanic deserts and inaccessible mountains. I hadn’t noticed that the key on my map had only three kinds of terrain – places where something’s growing, places where not much is growing, and places where basically nothing is growing at all, which was about 40 percent of the land.

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Ice, water – and fire too. In Iceland, the hot water in your shower smells of sulphur, because it’s piped straight out of the volcanic ground, and when you’re walking in some places, you can hear the gurgle of water boiling and bubbling, breathing out wafts of sulphurous steam, and then the earth feels like a living being. You can absolutely understand why Icelandic people believe in earth spirits – you can believe it yourself.

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Land of fire and ice, and of light and darkness too. I visited several art exhibitions which explored the creative sensibility of the peoples of the North, shaped by long dark winters and summer months of continuous light. They made explicit how this environment can drive a psychological rhythm between extremes of celebration and isolation, of joy and depression.

I felt these extremes in myself, the whole time I was there. On the surface, excited and enchanted by everything I saw and everyone I met, but sensing all the time, the darkness moving underneath. A few days in, I had this dream:

The car is packed for the next stage of my journey and I’m having a last cup of tea with my hosts. Looking out over Rekjavik through their big window, I see a sudden darkness coming across the sky – clouds?

I see black clouds rising along the edge of town, pouring up into the air from the ground, and as I watch, a sudden column of sparkling fire shoots up, exploding in a great shower of sparks, orange and red, filling the thick black cloud that’s covering everything.

‘What is that?’ I gasp.

‘The volcano’s erupting.’

Black soot is falling everywhere, covering everything, but it doesn’t matter. This is what I’ve come for. The darkness. Not just fun and distraction. I always knew it.

It was the beginning of what has been, for me, a difficult summer. I went to Iceland following the kind of dreams that will take you deep into your own darkness, as well as bringing you, eventually, to wonder and light.

I had expected to meet the black dog, but black dogs come in different shapes and sizes. This one turned out to be huge and hungry, feral and strong, and he was never going to settle for living in my house like a sad old labrador for just a few weeks or months.

It’s been a long and exhausting trek through his cold darkness but, last week, I woke one morning with a great sense of relief, after my first full night’s sleep for months, and a bright thought filled my mind like a sunrise, ‘It’s over now.’

I’m sorry I was away so long, but very happy to be back. 

 

How to get new ideas for life, work and dreams

I’m a great believer in holidays. When you’re away from home, you can see your normal day-to-day life from outside, and it gives you a different perspective. What are you relieved to be away from? How do you chose to pass your days when the constraints of work and other responsibilities are lifted? The answers to these and other questions can surprise you and offer precious insights into fruitful changes you might choose to make when you get home.

As a dreamer, one of the things I enjoy about holidays is that my dream life also shifts perspective. Holiday dreams usually have a different quality, and bring in new kinds of imagery. It was during a holiday many years ago that I first encountered the faceless ones, and began to engage with the archetypes, those images which Jung called ‘pieces of life itself.’

Holidays are times when you can wake slowly and really savour your dreams. You can carry them around with you during the day, and ponder them in quiet moments. The images you bring home with you will have the same sense of time and place as the physical souvenirs you buy.

As a writer, I find the same shift in perspective. Ideas I’ve been working on at home seem different from far away. Sometimes more exciting,  sometimes less. They form up in unexpected ways; they show different aspects of themselves to me. I’m sure that’s why so many writers go on writing retreats.

You don’t have to go to exotic places or spend a fortune in order to feel the benefits of going on holiday. In fact, like many other people, I usually go to familiar places I love. The point is simply to be somewhere else, to look at things from a different angle for a while, and come back to normal life feeling renewed.

Thinking creatively in shop-free North Ronaldsay recently - petits fours made from prunes and dark chocolate. Not something I'd ever have eaten at home, but surprisingly good!
Thinking creatively at the bird observatory hostel in shop-free North Ronaldsay recently – petits fours made from prunes and dark chocolate. Not something I’d ever have eaten at home, but surprisingly good!

Have you ever found that being away from home gave you new ideas about life, work or dreams?

Mind-magic for writers – harnessing the power of the circle

The circle is an archetype for wholeness and integration, a universal pattern in nature and the human psyche which is also a template for the stories of life and fiction. You can use the  power of the circle archetype in writing, deliberately placing it in your mind by making mandalas.

The Power of the World always works in circles, and everything tries to be round. The sky is round, and I have heard that the earth is round like a ball, and so are all the stars. The wind, in its greatest power, whirls. Birds make their nests in circles, for theirs is the same religion as ours. Even the seasons form a great circle in their changing, and always come back again to where they were. The life of a man is a circle from childhood to childhood, and so it is in everything where power moves ~ Black Elk

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Ice in a circular hollow

Stories naturally make circles. The protagonist sets off, achieves or learns something in the course of the action, and returns changed. Often the work of redrafting is about refining the beginning and ending to tie everything into a satisfying whole. The crafting of a story is a process of perfecting the circle.

Dorothea Brande (‘Becoming a Writer’) says the unconscious is not only the source of our creativity, but also the home of form. This is why, when you have plot problems, new ways of fitting things together can naturally spring up in your mind as soon as you stop consciously trying to force them.

When I’m planning or redrafting a story I will often draw mandalas while I ponder.

One of my working mandalas
One of my working mandalas

‘Mandala’ comes from the Sanskrit word meaning ‘circle.’ It signifies a geometrical pattern based on a circle, and it’s used in every spiritual tradition as a focus for contemplation, meditation, protection, healing or prayer.

In its most basic form, the mandala is a simple circle, and if you’d like to try making some you can start by drawing circles. I recommend you do this free-hand, although your first attempts may look like lumpy lozenges. Keep working at it until you can do one that looks reasonably round. The process of this will anyway help attune your mind to the archetype.

When you have drawn your circle, you can incorporate other geometrical forms into it and around it. You could put a triangle inside it, crossed by another triangle to make a six-pointed star. You could put your circle inside a square, or squares inside your circle.

Choose any geometrical shapes you like, but try to achieve balance, so that the sides and segments of the circle are the same. Drawing geometric shapes also settles your mind into the beautiful reality of numbers. 

Treat the whole process like doodling, not trying to create art, but simply to play and allow your mind to idle. Keep building mandalas until you get one you really like.

Shading or colouring your mandala is a way of staying with the archetype for longer, and allowing it to work upon you. When you have finished, bring the energy of the circle with you into your writing. Bear it in mind as a template for your story, and see whether it gives you a greater sense of direction and clarity.

 What creative activities do you use as part of your writing process?

Check out these lovely prayer-flag mandalas by Toko-pa Turner http://toko-pa.com/2013/11/29/mandalas/

Christmas archetypes – the dark intruder and the wondrous baby

I think of them as the nameless or faceless one – archetypal images which carry the pure power of a universal human experience. In pantheistic cultures they may be represented by gods and goddesses. In our secular world, we encounter them most directly in dreams.

A few weeks ago, I had a series of nightmares about an intruder in my house. I never saw his face because fear woke me up, but rather than feeling disturbed, I felt attentive, because like the Death card in tarot or the Tower, the dark intruder is a messenger of change.

Major changes are always unsettling and being unsettled is always unwelcome. Even if we’re actively seeking new ways of being and want to move forward into new areas of experience, there will still be resistance because change involves letting go of the familiar, and the outcome is never certain. Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t know.

These dark intruder dreams were swiftly followed by a series of dreams about babies. Like the dark intruder, the archetypal baby provokes a powerful emotional response, but rather than fear and anxiety, it’s an outpouring of love, hope and happiness.

It occurred to me to wonder whether baby dreams often follow dark intruders; they kind of should, because they are both aspects of change, the one full of initial fears and the other moving forward into joyfully anticipation.

Our major Christmas archetypes are Santa Claus, the intruder who brings gifts, and the Christian symbol of the wondrous baby who brings redemption, light after darkness at the turning of the year.

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Happy Christmas everyone, and may all your challenges in 2014 bring blessed new beginnings.