I wrote a Guest Blog!

Hello Dear Readers,



I recently had the opportunity to write a guest blog based on the paper I gave at Mythologium 2019. Now, you all know that I write a lot about Outlander and that I’ve been working angles of my theory that Outlander is an epic focused on eros. Here’s another angle! I’d love to know if this resonates with you and what your thoughts about it might be. Click here to read it!

Hope to hear from you soon!


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Eleusis in Scotland? Persephone Rises in Outlander


People disappear all the time. Young girls run away from home. Children stray from their parents and are never seen again… Most are found eventually. Disappearances, after all, have explanations… usually….[i]

It’s fashionable in this contemporary moment of #MeToo to dismiss the myth of Demeter and Persephone. It is, after all, a story with a rape narrative at its center. In the context of current political discourse, it’s easy to see why this myth can feel dark and icky. Taken literally, it sets up a dangerous path for those who identify with symbols of innocence and naiveté. Conventional interpretations of this myth are used to validate violation and subjugation of innocence. But new research offers a different interpretation; one that focuses on rising from the violation patriarchal imbalance has perpetrated on humanity. We need this interpretation now more than ever.

If you don’t know the myth of Eleusis, you can find it here. In short, it’s the story of a young girl plucked away from her mother and married to her uncle, lord of the underworld. It’s also the story of a mother searching for that daughter and of their ultimate reunion. Archeological research shows that the mystery cult worshipped at Eleusis offers rites that honor both Persephone and Demeter fully in their power as sexual, generative beings. It shows us that the transformative power of this myth lives in the way it works through the continued cycles of life and death.

This new interpretation of Persephone’s story is the subject of Carol S. Pearson’s Persephone Rising: Awakening The Heroine Within, which has just been released in paperback. Dr. Pearson’s work focuses on Persephone’s rising from the underworld. From this perspective, she suggests that the alchemical experience of transformation Persephone’s story shows us eventually gives way to deep down in the gut happy-making feelings of joy. As the late, great Marion Woodman wrote, “Birth is the death of the life we have known; death is the birth of the life we have yet to life.”[ii] This perspective aligns much more closely with the version of the myth that lived in the hearts of devotees for hundreds of years. The truth of this myth is eternal. It lives in every part of our lives, and it continues to live in our stories today.

I Am The Woman of Balnain. The Folk Have Stolen Me Over Again….

 Sing me a song of a lass that is gone. Say could that lass be I?

Merry of soul, she sailed on a day

Over the sea to Skye.

These lyrics from a folk song written by the legendary Scottish poet Robert Louis Stevenson about a tragic, if not equally legendary, 18th century Scottish figure known as Bonnie Prince Charlie, rose to global prominence as the theme song of the Starz hit show Outlander, a series that has been hugely popular both for its empowered portrayal of female sexuality and for the way it takes on issues of gender, power, committed romantic partnership, and sexual violation. If you follow my blog at all, you know that I’m completely obsessed with this series. You also know that I’ve written a fair amount about it, most notably a blog about the series as erotic epic.

Outlander is epic both literally and figuratively. Speaking merely of the book series alone, it clocks in at about 6,500 pages. It spans literal time as well as narrative time. The first installment was published in 1991, the most recent in 2014. And that’s just the main tale. There are side stories and spinoffs. This New York Times best selling series has been published in over 27 countries and 24 languages; there’s no denying that the story of the Frasers is a global phenomenon with a fandom to match.

So, yes, Outlander is an epic, and as such multiple archetypal themes are woven throughout. Resonance of Eleusinian myth is all over the series. I could write a book—and I still might—that exhaustively explores the symbolic connections between this myth and Outlander. It’s too much for a short blog. But trust me, it’s in there. Here’s a list of a few of the Eleusinian tropes present in Outlander:

  • Transportation to the underworld—the land of the ancestors—through picking a flower
  • Trauma and sexual violation of innocence
  • Death of a female child
  • A mother’s boundless grief
  • The creation of a (emotional) wasteland due to this death
  • Separation and reunion after an exhaustive search

Perhaps most central to this series is the relationship between Eros (desire, life, or Persephone) and Thanatos (death, transformation, or Hades). Eleusis’ resonance in Outlander is present through a series of descents and ascents in and out of the underworld. Each time Persephone symbolically returns to the land of the living, her rebirth brings a deeper level of intimacy and a stronger presence of joy. For the sake of example, let’s look at two major instances of the underworld trope: Claire’s crossing into the past and Jamie’s rape at the hands of Black Jack Randall.

Descent 1: Claire Disappears Into The Past

Just like Persephone’s story, Outlander begins with abduction. Claire, a World War II army nurse, is on a second honeymoon in Scotland with her husband, Frank. She and Frank have been separated for five years by the war. Their relationship is in an obvious state of dysfunction. They visit a circle of standing stones and witness an ancient Celtic ritual. Later, Claire returns to pick a flower she can’t seem to forget. She NEEDS to know what kind of flower it is. As she picks the flower—a forget-me-not—she hears a noise that sounds as though it is coming from the stone. She touches the stone, and the world transforms around her. She awakens in 1743, disoriented, like Persephone in the underworld, and like Demeter, she immediately seeks a way to return her Persephone to her own time.

Descent 2: Jamie’s Rape and Recovery

One of the most fascinating things Diana Gabaldon is able to do in her series is to unhook archetypal images from gender. The best example is the way she transforms a strapping young highland man into the symbol of raped innocence through his interaction with a redcoat captain known as Black Jack Randall. The television series version does this remarkable well. In episode 106, Jack Randall makes it clear that he has an obsession with the darkest realms of the soul. When he tells Claire, “I dwell in darkness, madam. And darkness is where I belong. I need no sympathy from you and you’ll get none from me,”[iii]he communicates that his intentions are to possess Jamie, to drag him down into the underworld with him.

During each interaction he has with Jamie, Black Jack Randall violates him. He flogs him, he tries to break him through violating his family members, and in the end he leans into Jamie’s protective warrior instincts to force him to give himself up. He threatens Claire, the person who means the most to Jamie, and in return Jamie gives him his body. Jamie’s violent torture and rape at the hands of this manifestation of Hades is another clear indication of the presence of this myth in Outlander. During this traumatic event, Jamie’s soul is thoroughly unraveled, and part of his soul is knitted forever to Randall. Randall possesses Jamie, and Jamie knows it. In order for him to transform this trauma and live with joy, Jamie must ascend and return to the woman who heals every scrape and every bullet hole.

Claire, like Demeter, refuses to give up even when she has no hope. She leverages all the power of the gods to free him from a prison that is regarded (like the Greek underworld) as inescapable. Jamie is healed only through a delicate balance of Claire’s caretaking touch and his erotic desire for Claire. He cries out to her. In the book he even calls out deliriously for his own mother, and Claire heals him, both body and soul. The story continues with its cycles of descent and ascent, including the death of one daughter (aptly named Faith) and birth of another daughter, born 200 years in the future and (named Brianna after Jamie’s father, Brian), but that’s a whole other blog, perhaps a whole other book.

The archetypal energies that drove the ancient mystery cult at Eleusis come together in Outlander like concentric circles, continuing to develop the cycles of abduction, violation, transformation, and rebirth. And what is it that is reborn? It’s the power of erotic desire and eventually of true vulnerable intimacy. This is accomplished through the echoes of the myths rather than a retelling of the myth itself. As Dr. Pearson writes “We discover this deeper part of us by determining whom and what we love—not so much whom or what we want to care for but what lights us up.”[iv] This certainly describes the mythic significance that fans of Outlander find in their experience of the series. The other morning, I saw a post on a Facebook group called “I love Outlander” with a picture of show’s lead actors holding a sign that reads, “How has Outlander positively affected your life?” The post was filled with stories of people leaving jobs, ending unhappy marriages, creating lasting change—i.e., engaging the series as a way of making life.  This tale abducts us, like Persephone, into a world of transformation, as it requires that we stay there for a long time, processing, engaging, consciously and unconsciously.

In doing so, it allows the story to breathe, kaleidoscopically transforming the rugged and dashing Jamie into Persephone, the feisty and independent mother/daughter pair Claire and Brianna into Demeter, and the sadistic, irredeemable Black Jack Randall into Hades. As it evokes these symbols, Outlander turns time itself into Persephone’s journey. It highlights the alchemy of grief and separation,encompassing the vast scope of life with one notable guiding orientation—the absolute necessity of erotic energy. Eros, this series suggests, is Persephone herself. She is life, and existing without her, life isn’t death; it is oblivion.

Dori Koehler, Ph.D. is a cultural mythologist and scholar of American popular culture. She is a professor of Humanities and Popular Culture at Southern New Hampshire UniversityShe also teaches Classical Mythology and Shakespeare to children online through the Gifted Home Schoolers Forum. Her book The Mouse and the Myth: Sacred Art and Secular Ritualis available on amazon. Her latest article on Walt Disney as a manifestation of the trickster archetype will be published in a forthcoming collection of essays through John Libbey Publishing. She lives in Santa Barbara with her husband and their cocker spaniel, Lucy.

[i]For the sake of ease and consistency, I will quote the television show for this blog. Season One of the series aligns itself closely with its original literary source. This particular quote opens Episode 101, Sassenach.

[ii]The Pregnant Virgin, 14.

[iii]Episode 106, The Garrison Commander.

[iv]Persephone Rising: Awakening The Heroine Within, 188.

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On The Memory of Anthony Bourdain

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere

The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

The best lack all conviction, while the worst

Are full of passionate intensity.

—William Butler Yeats[1]


I complete this blog, it’s been a week since I heard the devastating news. My virtual storytelling mentor, the oft-heralded rock star of the culinary world, Anthony Bourdain has made the decision to leave us. Bourdain was one of those people I kind of hoped would live forever. In my childlike fantasy world, a utopian future would feature brand new works by Robin Williams, Alan Rickman, David Bowie, and Anthony Bourdain on loop. But alas, all these greats have left us. And whether they leave us by illness or by choice, the loss of unique voices such as these is alienating and confusing. In our grief, we are left to try to understand the work of great minds, to bring forward the lessons they teach, both in life and in death.

What precisely can we learn from the life and death of Anthony Bourdain? Well, as it turns out, quite a lot. In life, he was a master storyteller with a fresh perspective on the world. He hated pretension. He was known for calmly but insistently making his way into some of the most conflict-torn places in the world, and his work conveyed the universality of life. How many correspondents, for example, could venture into Iran and discuss the political implications of re-entry into the country experienced by Iranian-American expats? During a show on CNN honoring his life and contributions, his colleague Chris Cuomo lauds his ability to help people see beyond the kinds of things that divide us as humans, to weave a web of interconnectedness, and remind us that every story is our story. His genius is present in the way he brings people from all walks of life together to discuss topics that are generally be considered divisive. And in death, he continues to teach us about the chameleon nature of depression, the transience of life, and the fact that we can’t outrun ourselves, no matter how far we travel. There’s so much I could say about him, but I’ll keep it to two major points: in life, he taught us about what we can give each other, and in death, he continues to teach us about what we could have given him, and what we can give others like him.

Bourdain wasn’t shy about sharing the way his experiences shaped his life. He often made reference to the “demons” that followed him around everywhere he went. A close reading of his work reveals many references to self-harm. In an episode of The Layover where he visits Seattle, he references the actual method he used to take his life. He seems poised right at the gateway between this world and the next, between physicality and ecstasy. In many ways, his life follows the path of the traditional shaman – alienation from the tribe (dropping out to work in kitchens), the descent into the underworld (drugs, drugs, and more drugs), the nearly fatal wound (addiction), the journey to the land of the gods (drugs again), and the return with the wisdom to impart to the tribe (his empathy, his writing, and the gifts he offered through his time on television). As a kind of contemporary global shaman, he travels the world offering healing through food, story, and biting sarcasm filled with wisdom. It’s pretty clear from the outpouring of grief and love for him that much of the world agrees. He was a mentor, a friend to many, and an inspiration to those who watched him and were transported by the stories he told. He was loved. He had family, a daughter he adored, friends, and partner in life of whom he was fiercely protective and who was fiercely protective of him. Which leaves me with one central question – what happened?

The Thinness of American Vocation

I can’t and won’t begin to speculate about the reasons for his decision to leave. As another teary-eyed colleague, Anderson Cooper, noted, we can’t begin to know what kind of pain he was experiencing in those final moments. It would be presumptuous and frankly indelicate of me to speculate as though I have any real answer. What I can do is muse on what we might learn to make a better world for the shamanic voices around us. The first thing that comes to my mind is some thoughts on vocation from a keynote address given by Dr. Ed Tick at a Pacifica Graduate Institute Alumni Association Coming Home event in January of 2016. Dr. Tick works with military veterans to promote psychological healing through group connection. He organizes trips back to Vietnam with veterans who seek reconciliation and healing, something I’m sure Bourdain would encourage wholeheartedly. He has had amazing success with his work. These trips change lives.[2]

Tick suggests that being a warrior is a vocation, a calling. He reminds us that the spiritual traditions of many people have understood it that way. They made ritual around it. When warriors of these traditions enters into rites of initiation, they are fundamentally changed. This change forges a new identity for them. When they go to war, they fight bravely; when they return home to peace, they know they have other jobs to do. He argues that this kind of self-assurance of identity, of vocation, is largely missing in our society. He suggests that re-forging the connection to the ancient warrior is vital to the psychological health of a military person, both during their service and after.

This talk moved me deeply, and it returns to my mind now as I ponder the vocation of the contemporary healer. The thin experience of vocation in our contemporary society is a problem, not just for warriors, but in the way we craft (or ignore) vocation across the board. Recent studies suggest that depression might stem from a lack of connection,[3] of deep soulful belonging in the sense that Brené Brown writes about in her book Braving The Wilderness: The Quest For True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone.[4] She suggests that being able to walk the vulnerable path is inextricably linked to the ability to get comfortable with being alone. She also suggests that we come to true belonging not by being surrounded by what is the same, but by engaging with what is different. That certainly sounds like the path walked by Bourdain. But it’s not that simple for those whose path requires that they get in touch with the darkest and ickiest parts of life.

This is particularly challenging for those walking the path of a mystical healer, because let’s be honest, what has a shaman ever been but a delicate combination of artist, storyteller, magician, and psycho-spiritual (sometimes physical) healer? It’s their vocation to sink into the darkness, to allow the wound to take them to the edge. They do it to help us feel. Brown says, “When we hear someone else sing about the jagged edges of heartache or the unspeakable nature of grief, we immediately know we’re not the only ones in pain. The transformative power of art is in this sharing. Without connection or collective engagement, what we hear is simply a caged song of sorrow and despair; we find no liberation in it. It’s the sharing of art that whispers, ‘You’re not alone.’”[5] That was certainly true of the impact Bourdain’s work had on his viewers, but did it ever find its way into his own heart? The ultimate tragedy of the thinness of our cultural structures is that instead of true belonging we get fame, and instead of rootedness, we get wealth.

What happens to the soul of a shaman when they to go through the depths of the darkness of initiation only to be met with no true ritual container on the other side of the experience? Think of what it would mean to have no language with which to hold the transformation, no way of truly understanding who one has become. The sheer terror of the experience itself is enough to break the psyche open and the wound is enough to kill, but when it happens without the benefit of a cultural understanding of the change in one’s identity, the end result is often depression and a retreat into oblivion.

Brown continues, “Right now we are neither recognizing nor celebrating our inextricable connection. We are divided from others in almost every area of our lives. We’re not showing up with one another in a way that acknowledges our connection. Cynicism and distrust have a stranglehold on our hearts…. Addressing this crisis will require a tremendous amount of courage.”[6] Bourdain had that courage in excess. He had these connections in life. He had loved ones who were there, who certainly made him feel loved and valued. We saw this courage in him, but ultimately it wasn’t enough to sustain him. There is no easy solution to this problem, no simple answer that will plump up our vocational roles in society enough to make them whole and hale. As we walk this path in life, we will most certainly lose many more of the brightest souls around us. The best we can offer is a true recognition of the road they are traveling, to make ritual with them, to honor the balance of life, to fluff a pillow for them to land on when they arrive, and to pour them a stiff drink for the road when they are ready to return to the land of myth and legend. RIP, Tony. Peace to you on your return trip back to the stars. And thanks for the memories.

Dori Koehler, Ph.D. is a cultural mythologist and scholar of American popular culture. She is a professor of the Humanities, Interdisciplinary Studies, Popular Culture, World Mythology, and the Fine Arts at Southern New Hampshire UniversityShe also teaches Classical Mythology and Shakespeare to children online through the Gifted Home Schoolers Forum. Her book The Mouse and the Myth: Sacred Art and Secular Ritualis available on amazon. Her latest article on Walt Disney as a manifestation of the trickster archetype will be published in a forthcoming collection of essays through John Libbey Publishing. She lives in Santa Barbara with her husband and their cocker spaniel, Lucy.

[1]The Second Coming.



[4]Page 40.

[5]Braving The Wilderness, 45.

[6]Braving The Wilderness, 46.

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The Audacity of Love: Lessons I Learned from an Obama Presidency


I’ve never been an especially political person. In fact, I’ve never felt particularly at home in the community around me. My mind is often engaged in the foreign past – Regency era England with Jane Austen, Victorian England with the Bronte sisters, the Modernist period with W.B. Yeats, or in ancient Celtic world with myths and legends from Ireland and Scotland.

I didn’t even vote in elections until 2008. I was convinced that my vote didn’t count anyway and like so many other members of the Baby Bust generation (also known as Gen X), I carried my apathy around like a medal of honor. Then came presidential candidate Barack Obama. He electrified my politics. As I listened to him, I thought more deeply about the choices we make as a nation. I began to care. I began to think about ways that we might do things better. I started believing in the idea of a more inclusive America – a nation that practices the doctrines of freedom and justice we preach.

America often falls short of fulfilling its ideological mandate. Even when we do the right thing, we often do it for selfish reasons. We claim to be a nation of ethical, spiritual people, self-righteous with our high moral code, but when that code is tested, when we are asked to make choices that benefit the most vulnerable among us rather than ourselves, when we are asked to look at the places that our society might still be unjust, we too often choose to protect our corporate bank accounts over helping our neighbors and seeking to be a force for reconcilliation for the world.

Perhaps it’s this basic hypocrisy that has caused me to opt out of American stories in my work, preferring the land of the fairy or the lure of irony to the realities that are so difficult to face. Even in the areas where I do study American story, I gravitate toward Disney, stories that intentionally focus on what is possible, rather than what is real.

Perhaps this also explains my personal adherence to progressive ideals and my love of President Obama. To me, his presidency embodies an optimistic view of nostalgic possibility, rather than an adherence broken stories of the past. The rhetoric of his administration has invoked the only nostalgic images I can connect to from the 20th century; the progressive ideals of Walt Disney, the social justice movements of Dr. King, and the ephemeral optimism of the Kennedys. Nostalgia, after all, is the soothing balm Americans apply to the soul whenever the real becomes too real for us to take, and in that particular case, I am thoroughly American.

But, is that all there is to it? I don’t think so.

Re-Visioning Personality Types

In his book redefining C.G. Jung’s personality typologies, the late, great Walter Odajnyk classifies archetypal dichotomies: Introvert and Extrovert, Power (control) and Eros (connection) and Physis (material world) and Pneuma (spirit) as complementary pairs of personality types. Rather than use the abstract types Jung created “sensing, feeling, thinking, perception,” Walter suggests that we use archetypes to create a framework that offers a kind of magnifying glass meant to lift unconscious aspects of soul to the surface. He hoped to find a more resonant language to helps us understand who we are.

When he sets up Power and Eros in contrast to each other, he means to suggest that individuals have an orientation toward one side of the archetype or the other. He does NOT mean to suggest that we are one thing – all Power or all Eros. In his mind, we are whole beings with a fullness of archetypal possibilities inside us waiting to be explored.

It’s also the case, however, that this archetypal material is in continued flux as we live our lives and engage in what James Hillman called “soulmaking,” the process of bringing consciousness and psycho-spiritual healing. The challenge of psychological healing is to discover where our psychic realities are on that continuum and to develop awareness of those parts that are still unknown to us.

That being said, we do begin somewhere, and our orientation plays out in way that are both positive and negative, ego and shadow. Working to understand the way these personality types move back and forth helps bring those potentialities to the surface. This archetypal orientation is made manifest through our choices, our values, and our rhetoric.

The Eros President

In order to understand Eros oriented personalities, we must return to myth. The term Eros derives from Greek mythology. In the earliest iterations of Greek mystery religion, Eros is one of the generative forces that create the cosmos. In later sources, he is presented as the son of Aphrodite, the goddess of love and beauty. Aphrodite is born naked from the foam of the sea. This implies that true love and beauty are born out of the process of being stripped bare, emotionally, psychologically, spiritually. When in its most positive form then, Eros, is the generative force born of love, beauty, and vulnerability without shame.

Such is the case with President Obama. From the moment when he burst onto the national political stage in 2004, he became known for electrifying audiences with his passion and charisma. That ability to move his audience has only grown over the years. He is also known for his continued effort to speak to the connections that exist between people. He speaks passionately about the difficulties of growing up feeling marginalized, not by his family, but by a culture that automatically marginalizes and objectifies young black men. He speaks the language of empowerment and justice, reminding Americans that change is possible if we remain focused on who we are and what we believe. He unites audiences with the energy behind his words. He speaks for Americans whose voices had long been silenced. And he never once attempted to do this by shutting anyone else out.

When I suggest that President Obama is oriented toward Eros, I mean is that he leads with the psycho-spiritual energy that seeks connection. Eros energy unites us based on what we have in common. It seeks to share authority with others, in contrast to the archetype of Power, which would lead an individual toward singular authority. The term is connected to sexuality because the energy itself makes life new, but it cannot be distilled down to one aspect of desire. Eros specifically represents the connection that occurs through inclusion and deep empathy. Such is the legacy of President Obama.

As a bi-racial self-professed feminist man who was born in Hawaii, brought up abroad, and in the rural Midwest state of Kansas, he should have been our great unifier. He understands the value of a variety of American viewpoints. He suggests that there is room for everyone to connect on terms of equality. As a leader, he has been humble, stable, and gracious, kind to small children and animals, and inclusive even of those who have mocked him.

He has never allowed personal slights against him to interfere with what Americans need from him. Had he been oriented more by Power, he could have spent many of his early years forcing his way in government and retaliating against anyone who disagreed with him. Perhaps that orientation toward Eros instead of Power contributed to his continued frustration as president. He tried so hard to bring people together based on common ground, but one can’t bring people to together when they refuse to work with you.

That liability that President Obama faced, however, is also his greatest strength. Eros types lead with their heart. On Tuesday, January 9, 2017, I watched President Obama give his farewell address to the nation. I promised myself I wouldn’t cry. When he spoke of his belief in all Americans, I teared up. When he spoke of our ability to create the change we wish to see, I felt my heart soar. But when he turned to thank his love Michelle, I finally broke down.

Seeing the person who holds the most powerful office in the world with tears in his eyes expressing his love for his partner and children both broke my heart and healed it. I thought back to all the times I’ve seen him wipe away tears over the years – from his announcement about the tragedy at Sandy Hook to emotional ceremonies with the military, to gifting his friend and self professed brother Joe Biden a Presidential Medal of Freedom, and in an instant, I understood that the most valuable part of the Obama presidency has been this outward expression of emotion. That one small gesture, wiping the tears from his eyes as he thanked his family, physicalizes the guiding ethos of his presidency.

Opening the door to love is the central hallmark of Eros’ presence. Listening to the needs of others, submitting to those needs, and balancing those needs with your own as they respond in kind is the very essence of love. For the last eight years, we’ve had a president motivated by that kind of love, and not the kind of love that is easily thrown around as a term on Valentine’s Day and in church on Sunday. It’s not the kind of love that makes our lives simple or our paths unobstructed. It requires pain and sacrifice as it grapples with the drive toward power. Those who are truly motivated by love are also motivated by a deep empathy and the action that empathy requires.

As he leaves the White House, President Obama’s legacy is becoming a fixed image humanity will continue to unpack. These images that our leaders represent through their decisions are of central importance to humanity, particularly as those images illuminate facets of our cultural myths — the stories that make us who we are.

The legacy of President Obama is complicated, difficult to discuss much less answer definitively. Some say his presidency divided Americans more deeply than ever. Some say that our credibility as Americans across the world was elevated as our leader sought to bring diplomatic solutions to international relations that are still in peril. Some claim he believes deeply in social justice and others claim he didn’t do enough.

One thing is clear: we’ve had a president that was motivated by the convictions of his heart. Speaking to a crowd about the importance of the ACA, he once said, “I don’t mind that they call it Obamacare, because I do care.” It’s obvious that he does care. But beyond caring, the most important part of his legacy is what it teaches us about the joys and challenges of a true commitment to community. I am personally motivated by this example of Eros in action, and I will always be thankful for this example.

So, on this day of all days, Inauguration Day, when our new President has already removed any trace of discussion about Civil Rights, ecological conservation, and equality from the White House website in favor of pushing isolationist politics, fossil fuels, and lauding our ability to destroy our neighbors, I just want to end this blog by saying thank you to the Obama Administration.

Thanks to Barack and Michelle for being the example of a loving marriage that my husband and I continue to strive to emulate. Thank you to Sasha and Malia for sharing your wonderful parents with the American people. And thank you to Joe and Jill Biden for your hard work and sacrifice. Your class and gentility make us all better people.

President Obama — Thank you for teaching me that the leader of the “free world” can also be kind. Thank you for being the example of healthy masculinity I’ve always searched for in a leader. Thank you for being a vessel for a passion for justice I never knew I was missing. Thank you for inspiring my participation in government. And President Obama, in times when you feel like doubting your decision to try to bring people together in government, if you ever feel like you didn’t do enough, remember that you are the one who reminded us that you were only one voice of many. Thank you for leading with your heart.

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Moana: A Call To Adventure. A Call for Healing.


I just got back from seeing Moana. I am so blown away by the power and timeliness of this film that I find it difficult to put into words exactly what what I want to say about it. What can I say: I had tears rolling down my face for much of it. It speaks so deeply to what is crying out to be healed today. Two thumbs way up.

My Disney studies mythie partner in crime, Priscilla Hobbs. has already done a lovely discussion of Joseph Campbell’s theories related to this film. I completely agree with everything she said about it. This is Campbell’s hero’s journey through and through, and with Ron Clements and John Musker at the helm, it’s no surprise. You can read Priscilla’s take on it  — here.


Here’s the story: Moana is the daughter of a chieftain, which technically makes her a princess, kinda, but already sets her up as a different kind of princess, much like Merida. She is in line to become the leader of her people, and again, much like Merida, her family expects her to assume a safe path set out in front of her. At first, she thinks she will take the place her family has set out for her. But she keeps hearing the call of the sea, and the stories of her grandmother beacon her further toward it.

As she assumes the role of leader, a natural disaster begins to develop. The coconut are failing and the fish have disappeared. The island is dying. The people look to their leader, Moana, who looks to her father. In his fear and desire to protect her, he suggests she continue with the conventional ways of doing things. Moana, frustrated, reaches out to her mother. She insists that her father just doesn’t understand her. Her mother replies that he does understand her because he WAS her. She tells Moana about a time when her father went on an adventure of his own and lost a friend in the process. He is afraid that he will lose her too.

Eventually, Moana reaches for an even deeper connection to her family’s woman wisdom. Her grandmother tells her the stories about the ancient chiefs and how they were voyagers. At one time, the people were in harmony with the ocean, and the gods continued to bless them with islands to explore. This all ended when Maui — the shapeshifter, the trickster — stole the heart from Te Fiti. This is a familiar story, much like Prometheus stealing fire to give to the humans in Greek myth. During this process, Maui encounters the lava monster Te Ka. He loses his fish hook, the source of his power and since then, the island of Te Fiti has been cursed.

Moana sets off on a quest to return the heart to Te Fiti, finding and befriending Maui in the process (BRILLIANTLY voiced by the legendary Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson).

The film’s themes are clear, and they are ones that Disney has explored in many and varied ways — ecological concerns have become central to Disney films. From live action movies such as Maleficent and The Jungle Book to Disney’s recent string of nature films, it’s become clear that Disney artists are deeply concerned about the state of our ecology. In fact, I’ve always understood the animal sidekicks of the Disney princesses as a reminder that humanity’s heart beats in time with the animal realm. I love that this film calls it out.


About Maui: The trickster exists in every mythic tradition. Tricksters are complex and basically impossible to define, other than to say that they shape shift. They lie. They destroy things. The reverse human standards. They laugh (mostly at us). They piss us off. They also reveal things that have been buried and then the walk away, often leaving humanity to clean up their mess. Sure, tricksters are jerks, but they are also vital because they break things open that need to be broken and they often aid humanity in our search for knowledge. They insist that the gods share their wisdom with mortals. And they often suffer for it. Without tricksters, the quest for wisdom would never leave the shore.

It’s particularly important to note that Moana doesn’t have a villain in the traditional sense. There is no evil here, simply misunderstanding. Even the trickster isn’t evil, he is just sad, rejected, unloved, and a little misunderstood. And he isn’t just a trickster — he is also a warrior. That warrior part of him is thwarted by his role as a trickster.

Ultimately Moana, another incarnation of Disney’s archetypal maiden, steps forward in bravery, love and acceptance, heals the island, and saves her people. She helps both Maui and the lava monster remember who they are, and in doing so, she becomes a catalyst for healing. She returns balance to the ocean.

This film is a mythic respite of hope in a dark moment when American culture is overrun by the most destructive aspects of both the trickster archetype and the warrior. To me, it feels like a clear calling out of conventional images of masculinity — a come to Jesus moment if you will — as well as a calling out of patriarchal heroism. It reminds us that we can heal, if we want to, but to do that the gentlest among us need to rise up, take the trickster by the ear, and tell him that it’s time to journey across the mighty sea and return the heart he has stolen.

In some ways, Moana is a new kind of Disney heroine, but she is also one that is in line with who Disney heroines have always been — healers who love their families, their people, and especially their fathers. Young women of strength and power who listen to the voice of their elders and do what needs to be done. This film resonates with me a on a deep level. I love it. Thanks Disney!

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Filed under Depth Psychology, Disney/Pixar, Joseph Campbell, Movie Reviews, Walt Disney

On the Archetypal Significance of TV Epics and Ridiculously Embarrassing Celebrity Crushes



I inclined 

To lose my faith in Ballyrush and Gortin

Til Homer’s ghost came whispering to my mind,

He said: I made the Iliad from such

A local row. Gods make their own importance.

-Patrick Kavanagh

Outlander season 2 is complete, and boy has it been a season for the ages. As this new droughtlander begins, I’m left feeling and thinking all the things. Thoughts are swirling like a whirlpool in my mind, buzzing like the stones at Craigh na Dun, making it nearly impossible to compose an articulate review at all, not to mention doing anything other than to continue to re-feel (perhaps to reveal?) everything this series is.

I’ve watched and re-watched the finale several times, re-watched half of season 1, and read countless reviews. I’ve been comforted and amused by some of the thoughts of other viewers about the strengths and the weaknesses of the season, particularly this one by the legendary and hilarious Connie Verzak. I’ve been annoyed by the critics, particularly the misogynistic ones. And, I’ve been in intuitive feeler space – a lot.

There’s much I could say about the choices the team made this year – a lot I could engage with on the topic, but most of it has been said already, and I’m not inclined to do so. It’s splitting hairs at this point anyway, and for me, doing so is not the most interesting way to engage with great art. Instead, I’ll say this to all parties involved: BRAVO! This series originates from some incredibly complex source material. The fact that Ron D. Moore, Maril Davis and crew were able to make something so coherent, so exquisitely compelling translate to screen is a task of Herculean magnitude. I salute this entire group of artists for what they have accomplished.

Outlander fans are legion, and we are passionate because the work simply is that  compelling. If you read regularly, you’ll know that I’ve already written about jumping on the #teamfraser wagon when it comes to my sense of the presence of overwhelming archetypal images in Outlander. I firmly believe that it’s a positive depiction of an aphroditic, erotic bond between these characters, written from a feminist perspective, that fans respond to when it comes to this this series. Frankly, we’ve had dry times in our media when it comes to depictions of love in this way, and I will defend it to the end against anyone who claims it to be “just a bodice ripper,” “mommy porn,” or a “just series for women” for several reasons, not the least of which is that 1). it is a patently unfair assessment, 2). there wasn’t all that much in terms of “bodice ripping” in season 2 anyway, and 3). that this attitude suggests that even if it were such a thing that would somehow make the work less important.

Now that that’s said – whew, I feel better – I need to talk about the archetypal importance of Outlander as an epic. I need to talk about the revival of the epic tradition on television, because epic is vital to our psychological health and like so many other mythic modalities is often diminished by a culture that overwhelms us with imagery while simultaneously offering us little in terms of both emotionally effective and affective content. You see, this is transcendent storytelling folks, and it is, in fact, authentically epic, not just colloquially so.

Epic is, of course, a literary term. It is generally defined as a long poem, most often from the ancient oral traditions, that crosses an extended period of time and space and recounts the legendary deeds of a hero or group of heroes. Epics are meant to be grand, poetic, engaging, and all encompassing. They are meant to swallow you broken and return you whole. Sound familiar? Good. We’ll get to that in a moment.

First, I am compelled to confess something to you, dear reader. I have been gripped more deeply by this entire series than by anything else I’ve ever encountered (while that might be a no DUH, I still need to say it). And that’s saying a lot. In my years as a student and scholar of mythology, I’ve engaged many stories in myriad ways. Indeed, I have engaged this series and for over a year now. I’ve been living and breathing it. I just can’t seem to put the story down, and I don’t foresee that I will do so any time in the near future. I keep re-reading and re-watching. And every time I do, it takes my breath away. The first time I encountered the penultimate climax chapter in Dragonfly in Amber, from the moment Dougal walks in as Claire and Jamie plot to kill the Stuart Prince to the agonizing moment when Claire hurls herself against the stone, I completely disappeared into the story. It blew my mind, and when I put it down, I realized that I’d not been breathing. It was as though at that moment I too had traveled back through the stones with Claire, back to my life in 21st century Southern California. The reality of it was jarring, disorientating, and frankly, somewhat frightening. That had simply never happened to me before.

The way this series affects me has become downright embarrassing. I recently attended a SAG-AFTRA (Screen Actor’s Guild/American Federation of Television and Radio Artists) event with my husband’s niece. She’s an actress and as a member of SAG-AFTRA, she received a notification email that there was going to be an evening with Caitriona Balfe. She immediately thought of me and got tickets. I was elated. I was compelled. I HAD to go.

This isn’t like me. I love stories and I’ve always been a film and TV buff, but I’m not usually quite THIS much of a fangirl. I live in an industry town. Santa Barbara has been a Hollywood ally/destination for as long Hollywood has existed. In fact, some of the earliest silent films were produced right here. It’s part of our culture in the same way it is in LA. I paraphrase what the late great Robin Williams once said about LA: it’s a place where the guy playing basketball next to you at the gym who looks like George Clooney actually IS George Clooney. Santa Barbarans are used to having celebrities around, and they don’t tend to faze us. I’ve been here for over 20 years and have gotten used to seeing people whose work in the entertainment community I admire. I thought I’d be fine. I believed I was unshakeable. I knew I would be excited, but I thought it would be an event like others I’d been to with celebrities. Super cool. I wanted to hear what she had to say. That’s it.

I decided to head down a day early to spend the night with my BFF, an amazing artist who lives in downtown LA’s The Brewery artist collective, and whom I had been desperately trying to convert to the fandom. She and I decided to make it an Outlander day. We drove to the Paley Center for Media in Beverly Hills to check out the exhibit they had running there and drool over the costumes. We wandered out for some coffee and we waited until it was time for me to meet up with my niece for the event. As we sat and talked, my friend began to recount her own recent experience at a SAG-AFTRA event. She mentioned that at the event she had attended, that several other cast members also showed. I found myself hoping that that wouldn’t be the case. As much as I love Sam Heughan as an actor and respect his work as an altruist, I intuited (correctly, as it turned out) that seeing him in person would be an experience I would not, at this juncture, be able to gracefully navigate.

Speaking of Sam, let’s just pause for a moment to say his name and breathe it in like a mantra.

Inhale Sam…


Exhale Jamie…

Alright. Feel better? Good. Knew you would. Me too. So. Much. Better. 😀

Nope. I was totally fine just seeing Caitriona. Somehow I just KNEW that seeing the two of them together would constellate energy for me would come dangerously close to frying my psychological circuits – i.e. I likely would have fainted.

I could feel the excitement and nervousness welling up inside, an experience that only continued to strengthen as I met with my niece and stood in line for the event. It was the oddest sensation I’ve ever experienced, something between nervous joy and complete panic. The event itself was great. They screened an episode for us (season 2, episode 7, Faith) and then Caitriona came out to talk to us. It is a wonderful interview, mostly things I’ve heard her speak to in the past, but somehow hearing it in a room full of actors made the quality of the craft come alive in a more meaningful way.

And this camera view is pretty much where I was. I sat quietly and listened, engaged and excited, – all the nods – and I remained relatively calm. The interview ended, and she left the room. As we all shuffled out the door, my niece and I decided to head down the hall to use the restroom. We talked about our impressions as we quietly went about our business, washing hands, brushing hair, the usual things one wishes to do before heading on the road home from an event. Then we walked out into the narrow hallway, and I ran face to face with her walking toward me with a group of event coordinators.

You’d think for a super fan such as myself, this would be the moment I would jump into action and tell her how glorious I find her work to be, but it didn’t happen like that at all. I froze. I can’t explain it other than to say that I felt an energetic glow coming off her the moment I saw her. I gasped (audibly) and didn’t move. She walked by and said hello to my niece and me with a smile, as she continued on her way down the hall. I was completely taken back by my reaction, and I also knew that it was both mythic and archetypal.

I was aware, completely and in that moment that my reaction had absolutely nothing to do with her on a physical level. As fabulous as she is, she was simply fulfilling a role that artists have fulfilled across time – that is to offer herself up as a channel and to be a catalyst for that transformational power that has traditionally been known as the mythic gods, what we often call archetypal images/energies in story.

I had, at that moment, experienced what depth psychologist James Hillman calls being arrested by beauty. Not her beauty, per se, though she is truly a lovely woman filled with luminous energy, but arrested by the beauty of the epic her presence evokes and invokes in me. This is why I’d hoped she would be on her own that day, because truly, just experiencing her part of this energy was enough to render me speechless. Having him there might have killed me. 😉

Artists intuit this archetypal power. We know it intimately. It’s why we do what we do. When we do our  best work, we give ourselves over to it so that through our art, others can also experience the power of creativity we channel. That level of engagement can be dangerous. Marilyn Monroe is a classic example. She became so identified with the archetypal energy she channeled that it completely destroyed her. Vivian Leigh is another example of someone who worked so closely with the unconscious that it ultimately destroyed her sanity.  Forest Whitaker has spoken honestly about it, noting that it took several months of purification through meditative practices for him to be able to rid himself of Idi Amin after his Oscar winning role in The Last King of Scotland. Yes, that level engagement can be dangerous, but it can also be the most powerful form of communication we have.

In her work on epic and cosmos, literary critic Louise Cowan writes that “…epic poets have to open their imaginations to an arena of sufficient scope that the gods may enter.”[i] I certainly felt the presence of this kind of mythic energy at SAG-AFTRA that day, and I know I’m not alone. There are many, many readers that have been captivated and transformed by this series of books since the first book was published – about 25 years ago when the two principal stars and me were preteens – too young to be aware that this epic that would prove so significant.


Humanity has had many epics about war, the conquering of the foe, and the hero’s journey back to wholeness. In fact, it is generally believed that the entire reason for the Greek epic tradition was to heal a people and process the trauma of war. And we seem to continue to be in that moment, as the 2016 Emmy award nominations this morning reveal a shocking 23 nominations for the war epic Game of Thrones, but no nominations for the principal actors of Outlander.

Although war is certainly central to Outlander as well, what I’m left with is a firm belief that Outlander’s significance as an epic lives in what it reveals about the archetypal expression of passion, devotion, and creation. Our dominant cultural consciousness, seems to miss that epic has the ability to return all kinds of images to wholeness. In doing so, it call upon the concepts of what Plato calls the forms and the ideals, a mode of philosophical expression that this series does extremely well. It presents us with an ideal form of what is possible when partners invest their whole beings to the creative potentialities of relationship, and it tracks that investment across time and space with consistently powerful, fully formed characters, both masculine and feminine. By returning this story to the 18th century – the genesis of the enlightenment, it re-creates the modern western world for us, or least it offers a possibility for us to do so.

This is the psychological efficacy of epic. It allows our imaginations to breathe as we take an extensive and immersive journey with characters that reflects who we are and where we’ve been as a species. Epics create and order the world in long form. They give that process of creation attention, and they allow us to witness it. Television is uniquely positioned to offer a globalized version of this ancient mythic genre. It is impossible to over state the significance of this medium in creating global cultural identity and in regards to its ability to shape our attitudes about gender and relationship.


It is of vital significance that epics like Outlander, a story about the way two whole, creative beings come together to make a new world, continue to have a central role in the myth making medium of television because this story of creativity is the power of Eros. We must make room in this process for this and other culturally subversive perspectives. Perhaps it is the life giving, feminist aspect of the story that balances it and makes it threatening to its detractors. Cowan writes, “the epic assumes that the sacred marriage of the two equal and complementary powers is possible and that in that wedding the whole world is renewed.”[ii] As far as I’m concerned, this is made clearer in Outlander than in any other offering of our contemporary image based forum for myth.

Ultimately, Outlander shows that sustaining the erotic charge not only creates life; it is life. Maybe we, like Claire and Jamie, are living in the last days of something, in our own 20 years of exile – of patriarchal purgatory before we will be able to reconnect and rebuild our cosmos in a way that truly values “rare women” and “loves them well.” But after this forced exile will come a chance for reconnection, a chance to value, cherish, and satisfy our rare women, heal the wounds and soothe the scars of our men, and in the end as a part of that process transcend gender all together to create something new. That WOULD be epic, would it not?

[i] The Epic Cosmos, 11.

[ii] IBID, 22.


Filed under Depth Psychology, Myth, Outlander, TV series

The Heart of the Underworld: Heroes, Villains, or Both?

Here’s a Guest Blog I got to write for Carol Pearson’s site. 


In a blog I posted on my own site, “Fairy Tales and Disney: Do We Still Believe?,” I discussed ABC’s hit show Once Upon A Time, examining whether or not fairy tales remain relevant in our culture, and specifically pointing out how Once Upon A Time is relevant because it navigates questions of belief and what it means to be a believer, as well as what it means to have a true, honest “heart.”

This show is the creation of Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz, the creators of another hit show for ABC, Lost. Once Upon A Time is nonlinear, circular storytelling that often uses parallel narrative and immersive techniques to convey story without the expected kind of structure. Central to the show from its earliest origin in 2011 is the question of what love can do to change our stories and heal the traumas of our past. Questions of belief and heart are fundamental to Disney’s myths, and since ABC’s parent company is Disney, it makes sense that ABC’s fairy tale mash-up would examine these questions. The concept of “heart” has been central to Disney’s myth from the beginning.

From Walt Disney’s famous quip “It’s gotta have heart,” which became a mantra for the studio, to the line “If your heart is in your dream, no request is too extreme,”[1] the image of the heart has been ever-present in Disney’s stories. Optimism of all types, and particularly about the way love has the power to change us is an essential part of Disney’s ethos, but Disney’s stories also have always argued that the connectedness that love brings is a fundamental meaning of life, and that true love/true connection is the most powerful magic of all.

In Once Upon a Time, this belief in the heart as true love’s ultimate magic is tested again and again. When Prince Charming dies, Snow White literally breaks her heart in two and places half of it in his chest. From the unlikely romance between Regina (Snow White’s evil stepmother) and Robin Hood, to the redemption of Captain Hook through his love for “Emma Swan the savior” (the daughter of Snow White and Charming, i.e., the product of true love), the heart’s ability to lay the traumas of the past down and learn to offer forgiveness and trust love proves to be the show’s prescription for transformation from villain to hero. This prescription to give and receive love is not limited to romance. Heart’s love and trust are also shown to be the ingredients necessary for the healing of all relationships in this mythic landscape, which through parallel narrative and back story seems to offer a deeper, more holistic interpretation.

Not that all the characters choose to become heroes. One of the things I’ve always loved about Once Upon A Time is its insistence on telling the stories through fractured, pastiche-like piecing together of the traditional tales. Season five delves more deeply into the shadow of the heart image than any of the previous ones, continuing to press the boundaries of how far a character can go and still be redeemed. It spends much of the season with what it calls “the dark ones”, and then, just when it seems as though this show has covered the bases of all the Disney villains, it throws us the ultimate in challenging mythic locales—the Underworld and Hades, Greek myth’s archetypal image of death or transformation.

A tragic death spurs Emma, her family, and her friends to journey to the Underworld to attempt retrieve the soul of her beloved Captain Hook. This version of the Underworld is a parallel, albeit sepia toned and broken, version of Storybrooke, Maine, the town where the storybook characters have lived for the whole of the show[2]. We see Hades soon after the characters arrive in the underworld, and as expected he is prickly, unwelcoming, and clearly a trickster and not the devil, but still a complex character who holds the souls of the dead in the Underworld hostage, manipulating them so that they cannot find out what their “unfinished business” is and move on to a “better place or a worse one” as befits the penultimate choices they decide to make.

In this case, it is a kaleidoscopic version of Hades and Persephone’s love affair. This Hades is cursed by Zeus to rule the Underworld. The reason Zeus has cursed him remains unclear. In Disney’s 1997 animated film Hercules, Hercules banishes Hades to the river of souls for leading a rebellion against Zeus. In that version of the myth, Hades hates his brother, seeing him as a tyrant. This is a re-visioning of the myth, and certainly harkens to Christian images of Lucifer challenging God and being banished to “hell.” Although the reason for him being banished to the underworld isn’t spelled out in this version, the cursing is present. This Hades has been cursed to have his heart stopped. Consequently, he cannot feel joy or experience anything but a desire for revenge.

In an episode titled “Our Decay,” Once Upon A Time gives its fractured version of Hades falling in love with Persephone. This time, Hades finds his “lost daughter” love in the form of Zelena, the wicked witch of the west. In this version of the story, Zelena is the child of the miller’s daughter from Rumpelstiltskin and the sister of Snow White’s evil stepmother. She was banished to Oz by her mother as a child, and it’s clear that her wickedness stems from the abandonment she feels from that. In this way, she clearly is a shadow version of Persephone—the Persephone that would be if Demeter abandoned her to the Underworld instead of challenging Zeus in order to find her.

In a past version of Oz, as Zelena struggles with her plans to destroy Dorothy, she encounters Hades in the woods. Hades confides in Zelena that he has been cursed and that if he found someone to love, his heart would begin to beat again and the curse would be broken. The two spend time together and begin to develop romantic feelings for each other, but Zelena, unable to trust anyone, betrays Hades, winning her battle against Dorothy but sending Hades back to the Underworld in the process.

The series then flashes forward to “where we are now.” In the town of Storybrooke, Zelena fights Belle and The Blue Fairy to try to gain access to the daughter she had with Robin Hood. In an interesting twist, this version casts Zelena as Demeter at this moment, refusing to give up on her daughter and literally going anywhere to be with her. Hades opens a portal between worlds and Zelena grabs her daughter and goes into the Underworld with the child. Belle follows after her, steals the child back, and returns her to Robin Hood and Regina, who at this point has made the choice to trust, love, and become a hero herself.

Hades tells Zelena that he has made the Underworld look like Storybrooke just for her and her child. He wants to create a home for them, to make them feel comfortable. For a couple of episodes he tries to convince her that his intentions toward her are honest. At first, she doesn’t believe him, but then something happens that changes everything. Zelena encounters her mother Cora and her sister Regina together. Their mother is dead, but Zelena and Regina are not. After spending so much time in the Underworld, Cora has come to peace with her past mistakes. She wants to make peace with her daughters so that she can move on to a “better place,” so she returns a memory to them that she had removed by magic when they were children. She reminds them of a time when they were friends and trusted each other. This seemingly small action seems to erase all of the hatred between the women, and suddenly Zelena becomes convinced that she can “redeem” Hades. But can she and will she?

Hades is faced with a choice of whether to tear up a contract he holds in revenge against other characters or to choose Zelena. He chooses her, and when he does so, his heart begins to beat again. His “seemingly” selfless actions have broken the curse that has kept him bound to the Underworld. This is not the end of the story, however. Because Hades is a trickster, it is not clear whether his intentions are honest. His choices have led Zelena to trust him, and it is clear that they do love each other, but how far will that love take them?

Shortly after Hades’ curse is broken, he opens another portal between worlds. They head back to Storybrooke, but trailers for the finale suggest that all will not end easily or happily there. In this version of the myth, Hades and Persephone, while unified, still carry their darkness with them, and like an addiction, this darkness will always be present, something to access if they want to be villains, or choose to change if they want to be heroes.

Once Upon A Time’s heroes are selfless. They choose to love without personal gain and without fear of loss. This is the paradox of this rendering of Hades and Persephone. Will they change from villain to hero? Once Upon A Time suggests that facing our shadow is not irrevocable. It shows us that, as Jung suggests, individuation—coming to consciousness of our own shadows—is the process of a lifetime. While we are alive, while our hearts still beat, our choices are too complex to be categorized simply, but with our connection to our hearts come the freedom to choose.

[1] Written for Pinocchio (1940) by Leigh Harline and Ned Washington.

[2] This version of Underworld is reminiscent of the video game Epic Mickey that was created for Nintendo’s WII in partnership with Disney, where Mickey fights his way through Underland, a dystopian version of Disneyland. The buildings are in ruins, and nothing is quite what it appears.

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The Goddess of Spring and the Origin of the Disney Maiden


Between 1929 and 1939, the Walt Disney Animation Studio rode high on the success of its animated short cartoons. While many animation studios suffered a downturn due to the Great Depression, Walt Disney enjoyed his very own Midas touch. Of particular significance during this period are the Silly Symphonies cartoons. These shorts, which include such classics as The Skeleton Dance (1929) and Flowers and Trees (1932), are visionary achievements specifically intended to give Walt’s animators the time and space necessary to push the industry forward. Over their ten-year run, the Silly Symphonies won seven Academy Awards for the studio and spawned several imitators, most notably Warner Bros.’ Merrie Melodies series. One might argue, however, that none of these imitators have the visionary quality and mythic grit that Disney’s Silly Symphonies possess.

By 1934, Walt Disney and his team were beginning to dream the possibility of a feature length animated film into being. Walt knew that he wanted his forthcoming feature film’s narrative to be drawn from the well of classical European myth and fairy tale—stories he expected to be largely in the public domain. These were the stories he was raised on and with which he knew his audience would be most familiar. Two of his favorite choices were the Brothers Grimm’s Snow White and the myth of Persephone’s abduction by Hades. For reasons unknown to those of us outside the archives, Walt chose to use the Persephone myth as the practice project for his animators. Disney’s version of the myth, titled The Goddess of Spring, was released on November 3, 1934.

The cartoon itself is charming. Like most cartoons of its time, it caricaturizes live action film, utilizing motifs that were common during the 1930s. Persephone, who is never called by name, resembles a young Mary Pickford—no surprise, since in the 1930s Mary Pickford was known as America’s Sweetheart. Pickford and Disney were friendly acquaintances, working together through the production company United Artists, of which Pickford was a partner and Walt Disney Productions a client.

Also in the Disney short, Hades is presented as the name of the underworld itself, rather than the name of Persephone’s paramour. Disney’s version of Hades borrows its imagery from medieval conceptions of Hell, and the god in charge, called by the Hellenized name Pluto, is presented as a cross between the Satan of medieval/renaissance European Christianity and Bella Lugosi’s Dracula. Like all the Silly Symphonies, it uses music as the narrative conduit for the story, is melodramatic and theatrical, and comes across very much as a piece created in the heritage of silent film.

For me, the two most notable details about this short are that Walt Disney intended it to be a forum through which his animators could work on the human form and that for this experimental work on the human form he chose this particular myth. This might suggest an understanding of the vitality of the Eleusinian Mysteries, but Walt Disney likely had no personal knowledge of them. What he did understand, however intuitively, is the mythic potency of Persephone’s journey.

Below is a link to the cartoon available on youtube.com.

Even at this early point in Disney history, the journey of the archetypal maiden was not new to the studio. Some of Walt’s earliest short cartoons, known as the Alice Comedies, feature a live action girl drawn into a cartoon world where she encounters all manner of cartoon craziness. Girlish inquisitive young women have been central characters in the Disney mythos since the beginning. The Goddess of Spring, however, paves the way for Disney’s version of one of humanity’s central archetypal experiences: the maiden coming into a mature knowledge of self through trials, trauma, tenacity, and resurrection.

I find it incredibly significant that as the Disney artists begin to explore a naturalistic style of the human figure, they choose to do so through a myth that speaks so profoundly to the natural cycles of death and resurrection, perhaps the most universal of all human experiences. One might even argue that this universality is what makes life cycles so difficult to access with vulnerability. We fear them, but we cannot escape them. And in choosing Persephone to be the first animated heroic humanoid maiden, Disney opens the audience’s imagination to what Jungians might call the anima complex, but what I would call a profound heart-based experience of the feminine divine.

Walt Disney often quipped that “It’s gotta have heart.” He always challenged the depth to which a cartoon could make his audience feel. And Disney’s genius is that in opening an avenue to emotion, he also offers safe passage for the trip—a sense that like Persephone the audience will always rise. Disney’s Princesses continue this lineage, living Persephone’s story as aspects of the ever-evolving face of the feminine divine.

Unfortunately, the Disney Princesses have been largely controversial in the last thirty years or so. They are often seen as anti-feminist, passive, weak, and over-interested in beauty and romance. I would submit that while some of these criticisms are valid and should be critiques of society at large, we often underappreciate that the strength of these characters comes from their kindness and goodness. They evolve into strong women through their unique stories of abduction into unexpected circumstances. And they rise, assisted by both their own strength of will and the transformative power of love. These mythic elements are fundamental to the Disney tradition.

So the next time you see a Disney Princess, perhaps you also will see an echo of Persephone’s story and remember that, in the animated world, at least, she is the first Disney Princess—the archetypal maiden, the lost daughter, the bringer of spring, the one who conquers mighty Hades, and its queen.

Thoughts? What about this surprises you? Do you have a particular reaction to any of Disney’s Maidens? Which of the Disney Princesses do you think have been the most popular with little girls? Why do you think they attract the audience they have? We’d love to hear about it. Comment below and Tweet to us @carolspearson/@mythscholar with #IAmPersephone.

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The Alchemy of Claire and Jamie: The Sacred Marriage in Outlander’s “The Reckoning”


Approximately ten years ago now, Bruce and I were sitting at dinner with our friends/neighbors and their friends from Australia. Our neighbors are way too much fun. Though they have lived in Santa Barbara for at least forty years, Kathleen was born in Australia and Eric was born in Scotland, which means that Bruce connects with them on the side of Celtic culture, and I am simply amused at being with them. On this particular occasion, I was gushing to our friend Kay about how obsessed I am with all things Scottish, Irish, and really just all things generally Gaelic. She looked at me with eyes wide and said: “Have you read Outlander?” “Outlander,” I replied, “I haven’t even heard of it. What is it?” She looked at me and said, “I’ll write it down for you. You just need to read it.” Thennnnnnnn, I went to grad school. I did a PhD. And I read nothing except Jung, Campbell, and Hillman for almost a decade. Imagine my joy when I heard that Starz had given the green light to a series! Finally, I would find an entrance into the lovely world of Diana Gabaldon’s mythic imagination.

Now, I am aware that I am beyond late jumping on this bandwagon, but I have recently become completely obsessed with this series. I’ve seen all the episodes at least 3 times, and I am currently in the middle of reading Drums of Autumn (book 4). There are so many rich things that I could explore about it, but one particular insight came to me as I was watching episode 9 (The Reckoning) a few days ago. I realized that Outlander gets done in about five minutes on the show and two chapters in the book what it took the 50 Shades series three books and a whole film to attempt to (largely unsuccessfully) address–that is the relationship between sexuality, ego destruction, psychological healing, and recreation. Being visually inclined as I am, I would like to examine the show. Let’s look at Jamie and Claire as archetypal energies themselves, and then we can examine the episode itself.

Jamie and Claire: The Warrior and The Healer

These characters are far too rich to boil down to one archetypal image each. The power of mythic images is that they resonate on a high vibration, offering kaleidoscopic facets that speak to each participant in the language and image that addresses what the participant needs to engage at that moment. This is certainly the case with Jamie and Claire. Their power as images lies in the archetypal wholeness they represent. And there are many different avenues that might be traversed in discussion about them. By way of introducing who they are, however, I’d like to look some conscious aspects of them, which happen to be the aspects of them that resonate personally with me.

Without a doubt, Jamie is an archetypal image of the warrior. Tall, broad, and strong–he symbolizes the best there is to offer in the image of the mythic protector. Furthermore, he represents a particularly American fantasy of the Scottish highlander, an image that has been fused in popular culture with what is often called the “Scottish” or “Celtic Warrior Poet,” that is the kind of warrior who fights because he feels and loves so much, an archetype that I am well acquainted with, being married to a man who deeply identifies with this image, and who has an uncle that embodies this energy in the family structure as well. Jamie embodies the kind of warrior that fights to protect that which they are passionate about. Whether he is fighting off English soldiers or receiving a whipping for a young woman just to help her avoid humiliation, Jamie embodies honor, duty, unbending strength, and the brave Scottish heart.  If you are curious what this archetypal image might look like in contemporary popular culture, check this out the iconic ending scene of Braveheart.

Claire is an archetypal healer, a nurse, a nurturer with the soul of a mother bear. Soft and loving though she often is, she is every bit as fierce as Jamie. She is as fiery, passionate, and brilliant as she is stubborn, a personality that makes her the perfect partner to our American fantasy of the Scottish highlander. Claire embodies a potentiality for a motherly kind of nurturing, but foremost, she represents the power of female sexuality In contrast to a great many stories presented in our time, Claire makes no apologies for her desires, be they sexual or any other, nor for her abilities, and her opinions. Images of this kind of female character are present all over popular culture currently, from Claire Beauchamp Randall Fraser to Virginia Johnson of Masters of Sex.


Fans of this series love the connection between Jamie and Claire. In their interaction with each other, these characters create and inhabit the energetic space that the Greeks understood as the love affair between Ares and Aphrodite; war and beauty. In their most positive form, these archetypes inspire humanity to amazing feats of sacrifice for the protection of their beloved passion. Ares and Aphrodite are generally depicted as an entwined pair of lovers incapable of keeping their gaze and touch from one another. That kind of connection exists between Claire and Jamie. From the moment that they meet to their first kiss at their wedding, a heat begins to build between them that represents the passion between love, beauty, and the warrior. That heat becomes the centerpiece for the entire series (both in the books and the television series). An exploration of this passion continues for the next episode, an exercise in the way love evolves over time. It’s quite sweet, but if these characters did not delve into the realm of shadow, they would not offer a sense of wholeness to the mythic patron, and this is what Outlander does so well in contrast to other current stories that traverse similar territory…*cough, cough* 50 ShadesGame of Thrones

–As an aside, the actors on this show do a brilliant job of constellating this energy. Through the brilliance of Caitriona Balfe and Sam Heughan, Claire and Jamie’s passionate encounters dance across the television screen in a tender, yet simultaneously raw and un-sanitized depiction. It’s beautifully acted, shot, and adapted, really. The entire cast and crew should be commended, and if they don’t receive tons of Emmy nominations next year, there is no justice.–

As I see it, the alchemical relationship between Claire and Jamie as developed through The Reckoning begins to uncover the aspects of shadow necessary to truly unite Claire and Jamie. In depth psychological circles, much has been discussed of hermeneutical possibilities of this ancient science of alchemy through a metaphorical lens. This fusion of energies that are traditionally understood to be masculine and feminine create an alchemical process often known by Jungians as the coniunctio or the sacred marriage–an alchemical process of turning lead into gold, of fusing masculine and feminine…or metaphorically melding elements together to create something new, something golden and precious is present in this episode of Outlander. If, as I’ve previously suggested, Claire and Jamie represent archetypal interpretations of beauty, love, passion, and protection, a true connection between them must mingle these archetypal energies, which means that aspects of both of these archetypes already exist within them. In other words, as much as she is an image of love and beauty, Claire is also an image of the passionate and powerful warrior, and as much as Jamie fights like a lion, he also constellates the golden beauty of Aphrodite.

In The Reckoning, this becomes quite clear. During the fight they have after Jamie rescues Claire from their archnemesis Jack Randall the two viciously and fiercely scream at each other, all the while laying out their hurt and vulnerability to each other. After a scene of violent name calling, Jamie opens to Claire, telling her of his terror at the prospect of returning to Fort William, where Jack Randall nearly flogged him to death. He sinks to the ground with tears in his eyes telling her that she’s “tearing his guts out.” It is clear that feared not for his own life, but also for Claire, who (his actions prove) he loves more than his own life. In return, she offers him compassion as they both ask forgiveness of one another. A voice over from Jamie notes that he had already forgiven anything she had done or ever could do and that that was falling in love.

This scene turns directly into another where Jamie whips Claire with his belt, giving her “justice” for what her disobedience nearly costs the men. Jamie wants to resolve the situation. He kindly tells her that “if it was only me that you hurt, I wouldna say more about it” and then he pulls out his belt and approaches her. Of course, she considers this punishment to be injustice. She kicks him in the face and calls him a sadist, begging him to listen to reason and not follow through with the sentence he believes she deserves, but she fails and he whips her. The scene is portrayed as comical as it is serious. Jamie doesn’t really want to punish her, it is important to remember that he is a man of the 18th century and in that time a husband is responsible to his community to deal with respond to the actions of his wife. In the context of Highlander culture, this is the punishment she deserves. On the other hand, it is clear that some part of this complex hero enjoys releasing the frustration his fear has created, as he appreciates that she is a woman who will fight back against him when she believes him wrong.

This “punishment” creates a rift in the relationship between the two. Jamie begins to realize that he will need to find a new way forward with his wife. After helping to solve some clan politics, he comes to understand that true relationship is not forged through imposition of will. As he is the one who has done wrong, it is up to him to approach her for forgiveness. He must re-open the connection between them that was closed when he insisted on rigidly maintaining the old roles between husband and wife. Returning to their chamber, he tells Claire that he has watched his uncle begin to bend, that it was more important to him at that moment that he restore peace than to be correct, and that made him “mindful.” He then proceeds say that perhaps things need to be different between them. He kneels before her, offering fealty, and vows to take his own blade into his chest if he ever again raises a hand “in rebellion” against her. Asking if that is not enough, he looks at her entreatingly, asking if she wants to live apart, if she no longer wants him. She tells him that she should want to leave him, but she doesn’t.

This simple action re-opens the energetic connection between them–Jamie tells her how much he wants her, asks if she will have him. When she acquiesces, they have the kind of mad, passionate, encounter that rips open the boundaries between two people, during which Claire takes a dagger and holds it to his throat telling him that if he ever raises a hand to her again, she will “cut out his heart and have it for breakfast.” Again Cait and Sam play this so well together, because through their talent and interpersonal connection, the viewer can actually witness the archetypal energies between them melding into each other as they volley domination and submission passion and love back and forth at each other.

Claire becomes the image of archetypal, seductive devouring feminine, and Jamie becomes an image of the archetypal masculine in ecstasy at this experience of being consumed. And immediately after, Jamie takes command over Claire, covers her, and tells her that he “means to make her call him master.” Afterward, Jamie kisses Claire sweetly and recites one of the most iconic lines from the book: “I am your master, and you are mine. It seems I canna possess your soul without losing my own.” At that moment, what this entire scene has been building up to is obvious. They have truly become one.  They have faced their own darkness, each other’s darkness, and they have brought the aspects into consciousness necessary to bond. They are aware that they have the power to destroy each other, a destructive impulse that Dr. Sabina Spielrein, a notable elder of psychoanalysis, observes is a necessary part of sexuality as it precipitates the destruction of the ego and the recreation of a new identity. Through the process, they have consumed each other, and through this consumption, they have been made whole. They have taken the lead of these archetypes and turned then into gold. And in the landscape of Diana Gabaldon’s imagination, for Claire and Jamie, this bond is irrevocable.


Filed under Myth, Outlander, TV series

The Beginning in the End. The End in the Beginning: Mad Men Drops Out and Sells Out. Spoilers Ahead!!!

Readers: I just realized I never finished this blog….so here it is. Please forgive the lateness of the hour in posting this.


Last night was Mad Men‘s series finale. It was a bittersweet ending to a show that revived the 1960s for viewers, many of whom didn’t live through it the first time around (myself included). Though admittedly I didn’t watch the first few years, last summer I got hooked on the drama and binged watched my way through the whole series in less than a month.

Full disclosure: As a Gen Xer who was born in the year of the Star Wars IV (seven years after the show ends), I don’t have actual experience of this era. I am fully aware that from this position of hindsight any analysis I do of Mad Men is colored the fact that I can not look at this era without also linking the 20 year period that would come after. In other words, I can’t talk about the 60s without thinking about the 70s and 80s.

From my little mythie/depth psychological perspective, I’ve always understood Mad Men as a metaphor rather than simple history. The fact that it taps into the metaphorical realm of archetypes accounts for its great popularity. As with all other great epics, it speaks both to the story itself and its larger contemporary culture. Mad Men provides us with one of the great American “everyman” anti-heros, Don Draper, who I’ve previously written about as a metaphor for American ambition.

Through his relentless search for meaning, Don becomes an metaphor for what Jungians call the ego–ego being the psychological structure that forms one’s identity. The ego is what allows the psyche to have a sense of self. It holds the identity together, and interestingly enough, it is often both fragile and unshakably strong.

So what happens to Don’s ego to ambition and utopianism in end of Mad Men? Though earnest in his search for enlightenment, the enlightenment itself becomes a commodity. What happens to Don at the end of one of America’s most poignant, world-shaking, and prolific decades? He goes on pilgrimage to Esalen Institute. He breaks open. He sees his truth through another’s. He cries. He practices transcendental meditation.  And then he has a epiphany. The series leaves us with an image of him meditating as it then crosses over into a Coca Cola commercial, perhaps THE most iconic one ever.


“It’s the real thing. What the world wants today. It’s the real thing…”

Many have questioned whether the creators of the show mean to suggest that Don created this iconic advertisement after returning from his time at Esalen. In the end, however, it really doesn’t matter whether they suggest that or not. What they are getting at is that there is the paradox that lies inextricably within American mythology; within the American experience/experiment. It’s the paradox inherent in the metaphor–that just as the American ego achieves a small moment of epiphany, an enlightenment, it channels that moment into selling something. In this case, that something  happens to be a carcinogenic, sugary addictive substance.

I’m just gonna leave that thought there for you all to drink in. Until next time readers!

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