A Report on two recent Irish Analytical Psychology Association Meetings
On Friday March 20, I.A.P.A. were happy to welcome American Jungian, Dr. Deldon Anne McNeely who spoke on the topic. “Women, Evil and the Trickster Gods”. Over fifty people attended the evening talk while the Clinical Seminar for I.A.P.A. members and professional psychotherapists on the Saturday morning, dealing with “The Trickster in Analytical Work“, attracted nine practising therapists for a two hour workshop/discussion.
Positive Aspects of the Trickster Archetype
In her public lecture, Deldon sketched a profile of the qualities associated with the Trickster archetype in Jungian psychology. Tricksters, such as the American Indian trickster Coyote, revel in childish pranks. Paying scant respect to the niceties of social convention, the scatological style of humour can involve fantasies around body parts we normally consider “rude”. Tricksters tend to be seen negatively, as embodying the perpetual child who refuses to grow up or to take life seriously and tend, overall, to be given a bad press.
Deldon pointed out that the Trickster is equally capable of fulfiling a range of positive functions: he can help us to “lighten up”, locate us firmly in our own bodies, and encourage the playful side of our personality, a side that is capable of cutting through logical knots.
Archetypes, Deldon explained, by their nature demand a response from us, and the Trickster can help us to tolerate ambiguity when we feel the lack of clear-cut answers, and to avoid the extremes of cynicism or of apathetic withdrawal from contact when we find ourselves in a tight corner. Through identification with our “trickster” element we gain the ability to stand back from our mistakes, allowing us to take our distance in the face of human arrogance or inflation, while at the same time remaining in empathic contact with our protagonist.
The Trickster and Liminality
In our personal life our greatest vulnerability and openness to change often tends to occur at times when we find ourselves in a state of transition between a former “status quo” and some potentially new situation. The reference points that acted as guidelines in the past are no longer operative, while new boundary markers have yet to emerge. Whether this “in-between” state is a case of changing jobs or of ending a relationship, we suffer from a greater degree of disorientation than usual. Such occasions can often be the prelude to a visit from the Trickster, with his tolerance of ambiguity. (It is for this reason that the Greek ”trickster” God, Hermes, is addressed as the god of limits or boundaries.)
Trickster in Contemporary Society
Present day society finds itself poised between the rigid categories of the past and more fluid contemporary ones. This is clear, for example, in the dissolving of gender stereotypes, or in racial segregation that leads to antagonism between different cultures, as well as in the move away from traditional morality, with its absolute guidelines. Such a transitional, liminal, state of flux opens for the door for Trickster to perform a useful social function. Just as in mythology he enjoys an ambivalent relation with the High God, (at times opposing Him, while at other times acting as His messenger), so today Trickster fulfills his role on the margins of society by feeding off its dominant values while, at the same time, questioning them by holding them up to ridicule, in Deldon’s opinion the Irish have a natural aptitude for this role, for example as exemplified in the mix of comedy and tragedy that is so central a part of Irish Theatre.
A Talk On “The Goddess”
Three weeks previously, on February 28 we had the first I.A.P.A. public meeting to be addressed by one of our own members. Dr. Mairin Ni Nuallain spoke on the subject. “The Goddess as an Element in the Irish Psyche“. An indication of the high level of interest in this topic was the capacity attendance on a Saturday afternoon! Mairin, a psychiatrist and psychotherapist working in Galway, wove together elements of astrology, a reading about Creation from Ella Young’s Celtic Wonder Tales, and commentary on the Tain Bo Cuailnge cycle of myths, to enthrall her listeners by her infectious enthusiasm for her subject.
Taking as her central theme the descent of the feminine energy, whose function in mythology is often to keep open a space for the new, and to act the prelude to a major upheaval. Mairin showed a parallel process at work between the myths of early Mesopotamian civilisation, (where Ishtar’s descent to the nether work is accompanied by the necessary death of the masculine principle), and the later Celtic myths such as that of Queen Medb and Cuchulainn. In the latter, Queen Medb appears in the form of the Celtic Triple Goddess, personifying an ambivalent attitude towards the masculine warrior energy, at one time appearing as the Phantom Queen who excites the warriors into a battle frenzy, and at others as the Morrigan, her carrion crow/death aspect luring warriors to their deaths. Mairin explained that the difference between the two “descents” of the Goddess in these two myths was that while the first led to an act of new physical creation, the second symbolised creation at the level of the Will.
Offering a contemporary parallel, Mairin pointed out the striking similarity of response between the behaviour of Ethniu, the heroine of one of the Celtic tales, who protested against her attempted rape by a De Danaan chief by refusing to eat, and its modern counterpart in cases of anorexia.