Catalysts that Initiate Embodied Knowing; Reflections on Individuation, Synchronicity and Ritual

Catalysts That Initiate Embodied Knowing:
A Commentary on Claire Polansky’s The Archetypal Cauldron. Published in Paranthropology, Vol. 8 No.1, Monday, March 27, 2017.

Tanya Hurst

Claire Polansky in “The Archetypal Cauldron: A Clinical Application of the Ecosophical Anti-Hero in Art Therapy and the Hebraic Lore of the Golem,” presents the art therapist as modern-day Shaman or Witchdoctor, performing an important service by guiding clients into the underworld where they might undergo a personal transformation akin to the alchemical transmutation of turning base metal into gold. She compares the creation of a clay figure in art therapy and that of the Golem in Jewish mystical tradition. She compares the work of the Rabbi and the Witch’s summoning of entities to that of the work of the therapist. Finally, she alludes to a connection between the dichotomy of the hero and anti-hero, and the dualist separation of man from nature; suggesting the potential of transpersonal psychology and quantum theories to provide unification.

To extract Polansky’s timely message, I concerned myself with the symbols she presented using depth perspectives developed by C.G. Jung. Those who embark on individuation can attest that this endeavor opens a dialogue with Psyche, whereby we can discern deeper meaning. This led to an overarching metaphor, later confirmed, and its meaning deepened by a dream. The best example of individuation as change agent for a new paradigm (which in my opinion is the central message of Polansky’s article), is to present depth perspective in action. There is not enough space available to address the subtle differences of various approaches that are compared, (some being religious, while others do not concern themselves with religion) but in agreement with Mark A. Schroll concerning the naturalness of what has been called supernatural (Schroll 2012, 2016, p. 130), Jung has said, “There is nothing mysterious or metaphysical about the term ‘transcendent function’…the psychological transcendent function arises from the union of the conscious and unconscious…” (Hull 1968, p. 273), and “magical practices are the projections of psychic events which…exert a counter influence on the soul and act like a kind of enchantment of one’s own personality. That is to say, by means of these concrete performances the attention…is brought back to an inner sacred domain which is the source and goal of the soul. This inner domain contains the unity of life and consciousness which, though once possessed, has been lost and must now be found again” (Miller 1977). In this respect, the individuation process is contained within all cultures and traditions. [Editor’s Note: I have moved Polansky’s discussion of supernatural from her article, and it is now a separate commentary titled “Reflections on the Supernatural and its Relationship to Spiritual Emergency/Emergence” (2017, this volume, pp. XX). Regarding individuation, related aspects of personality development are explored in Schroll’s “Envisioning a Cosmic Archetypal Model of Personality: The Meaning of the Cover Design” (2017, this volume, pp. XX)].


What metaphor is found in Polansky’s Archetypal Cauldron? I suggest the metaphor of the Golem is “conscious embodiment,” and links the client’s transformation to modern Ecosophical concerns. In opposition to positivism guided by objectivity and deductive logic, sociologists Peter Berger and Thomas Luckman, “credited with developing the social constructivist perspective, postulate that truth, or human meaning, is a varying, socially constructed and ever-changing notion” (Blackstone 2007, p. 3). In light of Bohm’s presentation of holoflux (Schroll 2013, p. 2), individuation serves as a change agent in healing the dichotomy of psyche and Physis, as in our modern social constructs. (Physis, better known as Protogeneia, is used here according to its social use since the 3rd century, to indicate nature in absence of soul. The term formerly carried a more holistic meaning.) Bohm’s correlation in physics offers hope for a bridge between mind and matter. Psyche confirms this correlation as does Jung, who said, “the individuation process…created new structures from old ones” (Schwartz-Salant 1995, p. 14). Turning our attention to symbols, we can trace the creation of “new” structures and how this might inform our future.

Exploration of Symbol

The Rabbi forms clay into an image of man and imbues it with divine spark (fire) by the addition of the tetragrammaton (four Hebraic letters for truth). Four is a symbol for wholeness, the man complete. Polansky noted this is reminiscent of the first man, Adam, formed from earth, spirit breathed into his nostrils by God, “embodying” the prima materia with the spirit of life. In alchemy, it is fire that creates transmutation from base metal to gold, and I am reminded of the “two” baptisms, first by water, then by fire, which I will return to later.

The client’s daily uniform of hiking gear and wilderness survival, with his zodiac assignment to twelve friends offers another symbol. This image reminds me of Moses forty years wandering in the desert and the twelve spies he sent, who returned with reports of alarm. Further connection to Moses is the client’s self-professed “rebel” nature, recalling Moses’ disobedience that prevented him from entering the promised land. These symbols allude to the client’s Judaic roots, but psyche communicates with symbols meaningful to the individual. The number twelve also brought to mind the disciples of Jesus, another Savior figure. The client said he had the ability to save mankind in some post-apocalyptic future. The savior motif alerted me to a possible complex as well as the client’s potential for transformation, the image of Christ representing the “God in man,” or “embodied divinity.” The Jungian concept of the archetypal “hero” is the image of Savior, but archetypes carry the potential for both positive and negative energy, and the potential for creation or destruction. With complexes, parts of the whole are repressed from consciousness, leaving the individual living one-sidedly, often to his own detriment. Jung said this “one-sidedness is intended by the individual and is fostered by all the means in his power, whereas the complex is felt to be injurious and disturbing” (Jung, par. 255).

The client’s complex is revealed by his identification with such symbols as the magician, court jester, vampirish nature and the Joker from D.C. Comics, Batman, or what can be called the archetypal “trickster.” Trickster is the savior in negative aspect, embracing chaos and disobeying the normal rules of convention by using trickery and deceit to progress through life. Trickster appears on the scene when current paradigms become outmoded and no longer work to the benefit of the individual or the collective. Trickster’s role is to wreak havoc on constructs that have been accepted blindly, pointing out cracks in the system that cannot be ignored. While the trickster archetype is a-priori, magnification has increased in our modern era in such creative works as the television series, Vikings, and the rise of interest in Viking lore. Loki is a Trickster figure from the old Norse mythology in the Poetic Edda by Snorri Sturluson. (Loptson) This magnification of Trickster in collective creative pursuits signals and affirms we have entered a time of reckoning. Even comicbook lore has seen the magnification of Trickster, or the anti-hero, as explored in Bridging Transpersonal Ecosophical Concerns with the Hero’s Journey and Superheroes through Comicbook Lore: Implications for Personal and Cultural Transformation:
Asking why there is this counter-cultural and cross-cultural fascination with superhero stories is a good question. Could it be because hopelessness, angst, and anomie are a planet-wide crisis as the 21st century continues to unfold? This is a question that deserves its own in-depth inquiry in future research projects, whereas the current article has a more preliminary focus which is an inquiry into the archetypal significance of comicbook heroes and their demonstrations of transpersonal ecosophical themes. (Schroll and Polansky, p.X, this volume).


A conversation with analyst Russ A. Lockhart referenced the “zodiac symbols to the passing of the ages, as we currently leave the age of Pisces and move into the age of Aquarius, the first zodiac sign to resemble ‘man,’ a transitional time of chaos that coincides with the 6th Great Extinction” (Lockhart personal communication, January 8, 2017). This highlights an experience of “synchronicity,” a term Jung used to connote an acausal connecting principle, where two seemingly unrelated events occur having personal significance to the observer. This communication had personal significance as I explored the number twelve as symbol and the assignment of zodiac signs.

I experienced a dream where David Bowie appeared before me, larger than life, and communicated to me via thought in the form of symbols that may have been ancient Hebrew. The symbols imparted the idea of “embodied divinity,” though much deeper and esoteric. I searched online for “David Bowie” and “Embodied Divinity,” which pulled two hits, the first a YouTube recording of Bowie’s song, “Heaven’s in Here.” The second a reference to Bowie’s esoteric study with a photo of him drawing the Kabbalist “Tree of Life.” Having no formal study of Kabbalah, I researched the symbol which revealed the Tree of Life as “Keter to Malkuth describes the descent from Godhead to the physical realm,” further expressed as “Keter to Malkuth and back again, Spirit to Matter through the stations on the tree.” My psyche made a connection between Bowie and Kabbalism during my exploration of this article that I would not have made in waking life, thus confirming the overarching metaphor of “conscious embodiment,” or “spirit in matter.”
The Tree of Life prompted exploration of Bohm’s implicate and explicate order and re-enfoldment (Schroll 2013). This idea is similar to what Jung was imparting when he developed the idea of archetypes as a-priori forms, existing in the unconscious. On archetypes, Jolande Jacobi said “archetypes are not inherited…[they] are a structural condition of psyche, which in a certain constellation (of an inward or outward nature) can bring forth ‘patterns’…inherited possibilities. He further explained, “we presume them to be hidden organizers…the ‘primordial patterns’ underlying the invisible order of the unconscious psyche; down through the millennia their irresistible power has shaped and reshaped the eternal meaning of the contents that have fallen into the unconscious, and so kept them alive. They possess no material existence…[but] must first be endowed with solidity and clarity, clothed as it were by the conscious mind, before they can appear as ‘material reality,’ as an ‘image,’ and in a manner of speaking, ‘be born’” (Jacobi 1974 p. 51-52).

Ritual Space for Active Embodiment

Through active imagination, clay and other art forms, sand play, poetry, automatic writing, chant, prayer and meditation, and dream work, we enter a dialogue with unconscious images thereby accessing the transcendent function. When the therapist gives a guided direction to form an image of anti-compassion, she invites this dialogue. The ritual brings contents into physical reality through symbolic art that allows one to “take action” to bring about physical change to the invisible reality of the unconscious. As long as an image remains unconscious, it has no material form and cannot be acted upon. Ritual creates a container for unconscious elements to be acted upon in the material world for psychological transformation.

The earth-based mystical traditions appear to have a vital role in holding sacred space for aspects of psyche attempting to be constellated in conscious awareness. Nature traditions have long provided a container that acknowledges the oneness of spirit and matter, and the balanced masculine and feminine aspects of divinity. Circle Sanctuary, a nature spirituality church founded by Selena Fox in 1974, says of the pagan worldview, “the theme of interconnectedness represents a fundamental component of the Pagan worldview,” and “pagans view all of Nature as alive and imbued with spiritual energy,” further explaining “the Wiccan religion is animistic in that every human, tree, animal, stream, rock, and other forms of Nature are seen to have a Divine Spirit within” (Carpenter 2017, p. 3). In the 1950’s Jung remarked, “Alchemy is an old science, but also a new science that is only now beginning to unfold. It reflects upon the mystery of relations between things, and upon one’s relationship to the cosmos. It has only been a relatively short time since this kind of awareness has re-emerged. Up to the last few decades there were few voices of concern for the health of our planet, and the state of the environment” (Schwartz-Salant 1995, p, 17).

The Use of Fire in Ritual

Returning to elemental fire and its relevance, and the importance of having traversed the initiatory rite in order to act as guide, I will briefly discuss the use of fire in magical practice. During a shamanic ritual led by clinical psychologist Bridget Wolfe and Shaman John Curtis Crawford, I had opportunity to participate in a blindfold excursion into the wilderness to the beat of the drum to enter the chthonic underworld. The journey culminated in creating a clay image while blindfolded and having felt my way into the earth. The ritual used elements of water and earth in shaping the clay, and air in the form of a whispered name. I was given instructions for completing the work on return home by setting fire to the clay in an earthen kiln created by digging a hole in the ground. This final act of putting the image through fire was heavily stressed.

My experience of various pagan rituals including Wicca, Witchcraft, Druidic Arts and Shamanic Journeying, witness all four elements engaged in ritual. An elemental reading with Oriental Medicine Practitioner and founder of Cherry Hill Seminary, Kirk White, who holds an MA in Counseling Psychology also included four elements corresponding to organs and bodily functions in relation to “chi” or life expectancy.

My purpose in discussing fire concerns the closing symbol in the article. The therapy included elements of water and earth in the clay, the element of air by giving voice to the client’s struggle, but did not include fire. This omission may account for the ambivalence in closing the work in relation to future prospects concerning fire, whether it be used for creative or destructive tendencies. This is revealed in the client’s remark, “Don’t mistake Prometheus for Icarus.” When the therapist places the image in the secret shelf, I am concerned whether the archetype has been illuminated but not fully constellated. In magical practice, the four elements form the “circle,” or whole. As I continued to have concern about the absence of fire in the ritual, I reached out to Russ Lockhart to share my synchronistic experience and discuss the element of fire. This interaction was very helpful to me in understanding my angst. In the client’s work, Dr. Lockhart noted, “the fire is the course of permanent manifestation of the object, as in firing it in the kiln. Course equals Source.” (Lockhart Personal Communication, January 13, 2017) Will he keep the pending date? Is he cured of suicidal ideation and self-harm? Will he move into more compassionate relation with the world and his fellows?

Archetypal Birth in Symbolic Form

Exploring the dismembered man in the box tray, I affirm the box as coffin, but also “bier,” reminiscent of baby Moses being “delivered” in a basket on the river Nile. The client has “sacrificed” his lower self/ego, “vampirish god” because it is not life-sustaining. The addition of Venus to the tray, an image that supports the male figure, is an incorporation of his anima (feminine), or inferior aspect, thus unifying the opposing masculine and feminine in his character. The anima aspect in man brings with it the capacity for love and relation, compassion and nurturance, affecting his relationships with other women. The ritual performance allows the client to “act upon” his unconscious contents giving material form to the archetype attempting to be constellated. We witness the “burial” of the old self, but also see hope that when the new god is delivered, it will be a more whole, life-sustaining form. We witness in the therapy process the “shadows mysterious purpose in dissolving old structures so that new ones can be created” (Schwartz-Salant 1995, p. 15). Jung further references the relevance of unification of anima and animus, “when we see these two lights in their alchemical guise as symbols of Luna and Sol and their many interacting transformations, then anima and animus take on a far richer, less culture-specific form” (Schwartz-Salant 1995, p. 15). Jung echoes this again when discussing the gap between religious worldviews of the father god that do not acknowledge the primordial matriarchal world which was overthrown (Schwartz-Salant 1995, p. 25).

Individuation and the Holoflux

Bohm’s description of the holoflux is an opportunity for healing the dichotomy of psyche and Physis, or the mind/body problem (see Schroll 2013). If quantum physics acknowledges a connection between spirit and matter, we could be on the cusp of an entirely new era concerning our natural world and place within the cosmos. The implications for religious tradition, our understanding of mental emergency, the way we perform scientific inquiry, and our responsibility to environment, other species and fellows is quite staggering. Bohm proposes an invisible, implicate order acts upon the material world. He further proposes that as man increases conscious awareness, this awareness re-enfolds from the explicate (material) order and acts upon the invisible implicate order, thereby changing the implicate order by our very consciousness, a mutually developing relationship. This proposition was mirrored by an additional synchronistic encounter and reading of “The Transformation of God” (2016) by Rev Yakov Leib Hakohain, a Rabbi of Neo-Sabbatian Kabbalah of Donmeh West, and the belief that God not only affects a change in man, but that man through conscious awareness, affects the nature of God or “redeems” God, indicated in the western world by the shift of God from punitive to loving.


Polansky has illustrated the important role the art therapist plays in the mysterious dance to wholeness by using timeless tools for creating dialogue with psyche, as well as the individuation process as change agent toward a life-sustaining future. By exploring the symbols from a depth perspective lens, we see psyche sending us not only a “report of alarm” as the spies sent out by Moses once did, but also a path toward ensuring the birth of a life-sustaining future society. We ignore the message at our own peril, recalling “one can be gripped by the positive numinosum and have mystical experience, or dragged into dregs of demonic compulsion, acting out destructive impulses” (Schwartz-Salant 1995, p. 29). Concerning our present social climate and the imminent environmental and humanitarian threat, we witness the resulting collective chaos with the magnification of Trickster. As we enter a new age, will we heal our collective psyche/physis dichotomy to give birth to something new? As my synchronistic dialogue with the senior Jungian analyst revealed, “What comes next is a mystery and for this, Jung noted, we look to the imagination to give us clues” (Lockhart personal communication, January 9, 2017). We have seen the way in which guided ritual can provide a container for individual transformation, and we see in recent “Water is Life” protests to the North Dakota Access Pipeline, the use of collective ritual in the form of drumming, dancing and prayer by the Standing Rock Nation indigenous coalition and their supporters. Magical practitioners consider “liminal space,” to be the high time for performing rituals of change. Liminal space in the magical use of the term constitutes a transitional state such as the stroke of midnight, noon, break of day, nightfall, standing between an area that is half sunlight and half shadow, doorways, arches, and periods between endings and beginnings. (Liminal Space Workshop by Kirk White, MA, Hallowed Homecoming 2016) I witnessed energy workers travelling to the United States Capitol on the eve of the inauguration of our current president to perform ritual during that liminal time. As we traverse through the age of Pisces into the age of Aquarius, we find ourselves standing in a cosmic liminal space, and an opportune time to make use of ritual engagement for collective change on a grand scale for a new paradigm of Transpersonal Ecosophy (Schroll and Polansky). My hope is we open a public dialogue and begin the process of imagining a more sustainable future to explore the possibility of a unification of psyche and physis or, as Native American traditions might say, “Father Sky and Mother Earth.”


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Tanya Hurst is pursuing graduate study in Counseling Psychology with emphasis in Marriage and Family Therapy, Professional Clinical Counseling and Depth Psychology. She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Sociology from James Madison University, Virginia, with concentrations in Environment, Technology & Innovation, Political & Global Analysis, and Social Inequality & Public Policy. Her research interests include consciousness studies from a depth psychological perspective and its applications for personal and social transformation toward a more holistic approach in our relationships with one another and our natural world, the positive effects of early childhood trauma, and accessing anomalous knowing for guidance. She has led workshops on Synchronicity and the Ancient Art of I Ching and is currently working on her first book, Tales from a Bone Woman, One Woman’s Journey to Her Self, that chronicles the experiences of early childhood trauma and the development of anomalous ways of knowing. She enjoys collecting personal histories through face-to-face encounters in community, developing historic town tours, chasing meteor showers and hiking the Blue Ridge Mountains of the Shenandoah Valley.


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