Chris Reynolds traces a path of self-healing through Jungian psychology, particularly the work of Eugene Monick, writing, singing, and being swept up in his song of exaltation. Chris’s story is particularly timely as a cautionary tale of how “set” and “setting” unexpectedly activate archetypal potential. As he takes up his story he is already deep in thought. –mg
Phallos and the First Gulf War
Carl Jung wrote that our images of God not only reveal but also protect us from the divine. Jung’s words were certainly true for me when I passed through my time of spiritual awakening in July of 1992. That summer, I attended the Festival of Archetypal Psychology in Honor of James Hillman, at Notre Dame University in South Bend, Indiana. Everyone engaged in working for the soul of the world was there, but most important to me was Eugene Monick. I had met Gene a few years earlier when he offered a workshop for the Cleveland Jung Center. His work on phallos as the image of the sacred masculine called to me and was the psychological medicine I responded to as a wounded Catholic. Through Dr. Monick, I was able to take on the deeper masculine healing work that corresponds to women’s efforts to honor and restore the sacred feminine.
Shiva Lingam Worship
At that time, in 1992, I was a public school French teacher and a songwriter going through a Jungian analysis. I had written a series of iconoclastic songs that challenged the Catholic symbols of my childhood, especially the Saints, the Virgin, and the Crucifixion. Most of all, I challenged their emphasis on death and the beyond. The central message taught through those symbols when I was a child was that embodied life on the Earth was not worth as much as life after death. I called the writing and performing of those songs, God Smashing.
It was my goal to find Gene at the conference and play those songs for him. I felt that what he was doing in writing to restore the sacred masculine, I was doing in music. To my delight, when I played the songs he both liked them and invited me to perform with him the next day at his talk entitled, “Phallos and the Gulf War.” He asked me to play a song called, Ora Pro Nobis, (Pray For Us) at the opening and a second song, Broken God, after his talk.
Dr. Monick was from a political family. His father was in politics. He often referenced national leadership in his talks and writings. In his talk that day, he inquired into the patriarchal hardness of President George H. W. Bush and raised questions about the shadows of phallos, in both the solar institutionalized man and the chthonic (thä-nik) or hidden man.
In 1987, Gene wrote in Phallos: Sacred Image of the Masculine:
To write of archetypal masculinity means to concentrate upon phallos, the erect penis, the emblem and standard of maleness. All images through which masculinity is defined have phallos as their point of reference. Sinew, determination, effectuality, penetration, straightforwardness, hardness, strength – all have phallos giving them effect. Phallos is the fundamental mark of maleness, its stamp, its impression.
To that, I would add, in men’s work, there is a crucial, ongoing task of becoming conscious of shadow as part and parcel of our own psychological wholeness. Shadow, in Jungian psychology, refers to that which we deny, degrade, and repress in ourselves, consciously or unconsciously. The developmental work in Jungian analysis is to allow notions of a naïve, victim-minded purity to give way to mature awareness that includes the troubles that appear around us as possible mirrors to our own unacknowledged unconsciousness.
A misleading teaching that has been in the air in Western cultures over the centuries is expressed through Jacob Epstein’s 1958 statue, St. Michael’s Victory Over the Devil, found at the New Coventry Cathedral in England. The depiction of St. Michael’s victory seems to have a hidden message about masculine sexuality. The archangel features barely any phallic presence, while the Devil’s manhood is ample and in the open. A shadow of Christian teaching has been the male-wounding division between sexuality and spirituality. The sexual shadow, that part that harms others, has been openly a concern over the centuries. However, the spiritual shadow has operated out in the open unaddressed in daylight.
St. Michael’s Victory Over the Devil
The shadow of chthonic phallos is harmful when an individual man violently imposes his instinctual sexual desire upon another. The shadow of solar phallos is harmful when an institution, a collective, a tribe or nation, or men who are operating within an institution violently impose the desire to control others. Over the centuries, this institutional, unconscious, projection of violence has resulted in colonization, enslavement, and the deaths of millions. It is this shared wound in men that is most easily weaponized by those who know how to manipulate it.
Kuwaiti Oil Fields Aflame, 1991 – photo by Adel al Yousifi
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Thoughts like these informed my restive mind as the occasion of the Festival approached. But, to appreciate what happened to me, on the day of Dr. Monick’s talk you have to have some concept of what is called a “spiritual emergency” which is an emergency in both senses, an eruption of emerging spirit, and an unexpected and potentially dangerous situation that calls for immediate action. A spiritual emergence or spiritual emergency is a time of radical soul transformation that corresponds to what occurred in the past in initiation rituals and soul-healing ceremonies. They are rites of passage that end one phase of life and begin another. However, as a rule, in late modern culture they are misunderstood, misdiagnosed and again, as a rule, treated with medication. After Gene’s talk as I sang, Broken God, my spiritual emergence became conscious…
Fortunately, I had read Spiritual Emergency: When Personal Transformation Becomes a Crisis, edited by Stanislav and Christina Grof, before everything unfolded which gave me a mental map of the psychological terrain I would travel. I piloted myself through a lot of it. Because I knew the territory through the work of the Grofs. I knew that I was in a liminal space.
My rite of passage through what Plato called, in his dialog, Timaeus, the divine madness or mania fits the model of a shamanic illness and a return to the center. I knew that like a shaman, I was being asked to heal the affliction within myself because it was what my family and community also suffered. I was being invited to become the medicine. Though the initiation required all my cleverness, courage, physical stamina, love and generosity, it was only through surrendering into grace, into trust in a Higher Power, that I lived and am now writing this account.
Monick’s talk, Phallos and the Gulf War, at Notre Dame was in a lecture hall, but it was staged as both a lecture and performance art. Gene, who was also an Episcopal priest, wore a long black cassock that he told the crowd he would leave unbuttoned, below the belt on account of the theme of the talk. We handed out the lyrics to the songs saying that these were to be our songbook. My song, Ora Pro Nobis, was an appropriation of the Catholic litany of the saints sung on the holy days when I was growing up. However, instead of Catholic saints, I sang a litany of the divine feminine and women condemned by the Church; Saint Jezebel, sweet Saint Eve, Saint Lilith, we believe… If you listen to the recording of the talk, you’ll hear the sound system breaking down and crackling. We started off with some very high emotional voltage, the women especially were singing and swaying together: Ora Pro Nobis, Pray now for us, Ora Pro Nobis, Have mercy on us…
Before the talk, Gene had commented on the violence of the war that was hidden from the American public. What was so impactful to me was how he was speaking in a way that I could feel physically with my heart. My heart was stirred in my chest. The event most strongly in my mind as his talk came to a close was what is now called, the “bulldozer assault” where Iraqis were buried in their own trenches by our armored earth-movers. The unreported number of civilian deaths was also on my conscience when Gene finished his presentation. He invited me back to the stage, moved the microphone from the podium to where I could sing into it and sat down quietly to the side.
Capo on third fret, opening finger-picking with my guitar pick palmed, I said, “Sing along, if you can,” Settling into the emotion in my torso, I began to sing… I built my temple in the streets, in muddy holes, I made the seats… Looking to guitar neck, feeling guitar in hands, against chest, checking fingering, looking out to silent audience, I sang… a ruined child, I transfixed upon my crucifix… My solar plexus was starting to increase in heat, taking a deeper breath, my left arm was trembling. I sang… I took the blood of a poisoned whore and smeared it up across the door… I looked over to Gene, he had his eyes closed in a meditative pose, then back to guitar neck, I un-palmed the guitar pick to bring it to the strings, gaining volume, I sang …all the filth, I raised up, into a communion cup… My neck was warming, I felt like I was shedding a weight from my back. I sang …god of pollution, oh god of waste, o god of suicidal grace… I felt a layering of the emotions moving through my body, some of them were mine, some belonged to the collective, some belonged to the ancestors, some belonged to the Earth, and some to the sacred masculine…It was a discernible flow of grief. I sang …god of chaos, Oh god of loss, o broken god upon the cross…Stepping away from the microphone, standing tall and singing out a lamentation…, I howled. As I emptied myself, emptied all I am, I unexpectedly connected to the grief that was the pain of our enemies. I felt the sorrow of the wives, mothers, sisters and daughters who lost loved ones because of American violence.
At that moment, I came to know the truth of Jung’s statement about how our God-images protect us from the divine, for through the scattered surfaces of the icons I had just publicly smashed came rushing forth a gnosis—I came to know the divine through direct embodied experience. As I sang my lamentation, I felt a shattering in my throat, a shock wave pulsed through me into the room, through the people to the walls, passing into and through the walls into the culture, into the relationships beyond my family, tribe and community out into other communities, states, nationally like a ripple. Suddenly, from above me and dropping into me, She arrived and I was Her! I felt my body as a grieving Iraqi grandmother, all in black. I looked out to the people, weeping Her tears, my tears, our tears. I continued to wail and I felt my head wag from side to side, I felt helpless and broken open. She was helpless and broken I was not myself anymore, tears on my face, I sang …god of chaos, oh god of loss, oh broken god upon the cross, oh broken god upon the cross…
I looked out from the stage and there was a moment of silence, then a burst of applause. I looked to Gene, he was smiling sadly too, tears on his face. I nearly collapsed as I stepped down from the stage. There was my friend, Victor, who hugged me when I got to him. He was surprised by the depth of the grief that shook me. I wept for a long time there. Gene came over to me and walked me out of the room and outside to a picnic table where we began to speak, beginning to wrap our heads around what had just occurred. Who I was before Phallos and the Gulf War was now passing away and a new, expanded form of myself was being born.
Gene: Are you okay?
Chris: Yes, I think so.
Gene: What happened in there?
Chris: I felt it all (beginning to weep again)
Gene: All of what?
Chris: All of the pain we have caused with this war.
Gene: The sound system kept crackling.
Chris: It did?
Gene: I think you were over-riding the system.
Chris: It felt bigger than me.
Gene: Are you going to be okay?
Chris: Yes, I think so. I’m going to take a nap, I think.
With that, I started back to my room, but the world was broken open now, expanded. It was as if I had come out from behind glass and was moving through and feeling the world for the first time. In particular, my experience of nature, the trees, birds, winds, sky above and the Earth was both more vital and now, noetic, intellectually clear and message-bearing. When I got back to my room, I did sleep for awhile. When I woke up, I didn’t want to go to any more lectures. I didn’t want to talk to anyone. I was keenly aware of the steady flow of deep information, all in layers, moving through me and all around me. So began my initiation into direct experience of the beauty and wisdom that sustain, inform and embody the world. It was a time both privileged and perilous.
Coming home, I was helped by my wife, my friends, and my therapist, I spent six days where my sense of self, went through deaths and re-births. That is a whole other story, which I don’t need to share here. I met with Gene later and then began a more direct search for native American practices as well as community with other mystic god-afflicted folks like myself. On my own, I would have died or gone on permanently impaired in my perception of the world. In the end, whether I was healed or not, was completely because of surrendering to Spirit.
Mt. Shivlinga, India – photo by Atudu
Books by Eugene Monick
Phallos: Sacred Image of the Masculine, 1987
Castration and Male Rage: The Phallic Wound, 1991,
Potency: Masculine Aggression as a Path to the Soul, 2006
Obituary: Eugene Monick, 1929-2007
Eugene Monick Appreciation
When the Oil Fields Burned