“Loss of soul amounts to a tearing loose of part of one’s nature; it is the disappearance and emancipation of a complex, which thereupon becomes a tyrannical usurper of consciousness, oppressing the whole man. It throws him off course and drives him to actions whose blind one-sidedness inevitably leads to self-destruction.”CG Jung CW6, para 384
As Jung’s anthropological studies expanded and his international travel exposed him to new cultures and ideas, he was taken by the concept of ‘loss of soul.’
A collapse of energy, a strange sudden alteration of personality, or episodes of blinding rage could signify a loss of soul from a shamanic perspective. The soul carries the animating and regulating forces as well as memory. In most traditions, it was expected to fly away upon death, much like the Egyptian Ba, depicted as a bird with a human head. Because the soul had an independent life, it might flee suddenly, leaving a listless body behind. The shaman’s task was to retrieve and escort the wandering soul into the body again.
In Michael Harner’s book The Way of the Shaman, he cataloged various ancient practices and distilled a small set of universal techniques. Soul retrieval involves tying a red string on the patient’s wrist and, with the help of one’s spiritual power animal, traveling to the inner worlds, identifying the lost soul by the red string also on its wrist, bringing it back to the waking world and blow it into the patient’s body. Loss of soul in this contemporary system is often associated with trauma, and the imagery is congruent with modern conceptualizations of dissociation.
Jung linked shamanic descriptions with the work of psychiatrist Janet and called “abaissement du niveau mental.” Jung described this as “a slackening of the tensity of consciousness, which might be compared to a low barometric reading, presaging bad weather. The tonus has given way, and this is felt subjectively as listlessness, moroseness, and depression. One no longer has any wish or courage to face the tasks of the day. One feels like lead because no part of one’s body seems willing to move, and this is due to the fact that one no longer has any disposable energy.”
This process is dramatized in the 1988 film “Dangerous Liaisons” directed by Stephen Frears. Based on an 18th-century novel, a cunning Marquise, played by Glenn Close, conspires with her former lover, Vicomte, played by John Malkovich. They set a wager for Malcovich to seduce the beautiful young Madame de Tourvel, played by Michelle Pfeiffer. Despite her values, she is swept into an affair. Having won his bet, the Vicomte mercilessly abandons Tourvel, repeating repeatedly, “It’s beyond my control.” Traumatized, she deteriorates, takes to bed, and in her final scene, pale, devoid of soul, she whispers, “Enough,” gasps, and dies.
In modern psychiatry, several clinical descriptions might be assigned to such despair and collapse, but those may not capture the psychospiritual depth of ‘loss of soul.’ For Jung, the soul carries creativity and grants meaning; it links us to the divine and represents all we could be if wholeness were possible. Whatever the cause, to be abandoned by one’s soul is devastating, and to be reunited, the greatest gift, as Jung recounts in The Red Book: Liber Novus,
“My soul, where are you? Do you hear me? I speak, I call you – are you there? I have returned, I am here again. I have shaken the dust of all the lands from my feet, and I have come to you, I am with you. After long years of long wandering, I have come to you again. Should I tell you everything I have seen, experienced, and drunk in? Or do you not want to hear about all the noise of life and the world? But one thing you must know: the one thing I have learned is that one must live this life. Do you still know me? How long the separation lasted! Everything has become so different. And how did I find you? How strange my journey was! What words should I use to tell you on what twisted paths a good star has guided me to you? Give me your hand, my almost forgotten soul. How warm the joy at seeing you again, you long disavowed soul. Life has led me back to you. Let us thank the life I have lived for all the happy and all the sad hours, for every joy, for every sadness. My soul, my journey should continue with you. I will wander with you and ascend to my solitude.”
HERE’S THE DREAM WE ANALYZE:
“I was trying to save a younger girl or woman at the start. She was like a little sister. I was working, trying so hard to protect her. I am teaching and nurturing her, defending her. She grew stronger along the way. We were looking for plants for a bouquet, and an evil man viciously and ruthlessly attacked us. I fought back, and I was just as ruthless. I physically threw him out. He lost and was brutally injured. I realized the girl with me was powerful in her way. She had special abilities to sense things others did not. We continued and came upon a theater performance in front of a school. We volunteered for roles, mostly because the roles seemed meant for us. I realized the girl I cared for could give a voice to those who could not speak for themselves. We realized some people in the school were oppressed, and their oppressors had control. We broke something, an entire wall came down, and wild horses ran everywhere. We climbed the school structure that was left to try to get to safety or maybe to try to jump onto a horse from higher ground. I lost the girl in the struggle to climb higher, and a bull with horns started attacking me. He could climb, too, and the higher I got, the closer he got. I started falling, but I wasn’t scared because I knew something was coming to catch me. A creature caught me and started to fly. I intuitively knew this creature was meant for me, and he felt like an old friend. He was scarier, darker than a horse. My dragon. He was black and had spikes everywhere. All of a sudden, I felt less alone. I realized I had been carrying so much; finally, someone was carrying me. I rode this animal as he flew. We bonded, and I got accustomed to him. We took a break for me to get snacks … 1 noticed people staring at me, and they seemed scared or in awe or respect. Someone told me my dragon liked chocolate. So I got some for me and some for him. I got back on his back and fed him the chocolate. He liked it, and as he ate, I noticed his body was huge and strong and his head smaller. I wake up.”
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