by Karey Pohn, AHBI Board Member
Edited and posted by Alysson Troffer, The Inner Door Editor, InnerDoor (at) ahbi.org
[Editor's Note: This interview of Stan Grof was originally published in the May 2010 issue of The Inner Door. For background information about Swiss surrealist H.R. Giger and his style of art, see Stan Grof’s article.]
Stan: What amazed me as I was getting to know Giger better is that he’s a sweet, very shy person. He has among his admirers a lot of Gothic people because they believe that he’s this dark, black magician, sort of Satanist, which couldn’t be further from the truth. What Giger told me was that he doesn’t paint these things because he indulges in them, or because he likes them, but because he’s so scared of them and that he has a sense of getting some kind of a hold on them when he is able to put them on canvas. This is exactly what Francisco Goya said when he had horrifying visions that he portrayed in his art: “This is the time when I am able to come to terms with what’s happening to me.”
(See H.R. Giger's "Li II" at right.)
Karey: What you are describing reminds me of what Rollo May refers to as daimonic energies. (Steven Diamond discusses these energies in his book Anger, Madness and the Daimonic, and James Hillman also discusses them as a core idea in The Soul’s Code.) The Greeks had an idea that everyone has a daimon, a kind of tutelary deity that accompanies us in our life. Giger’s and Goya’s work illustrates a positive way of working with those energies (see my article, The Daimon Made Me Do It). I think your book will be even more powerful given the context in which you’re showing Giger’s work. People might actually be able to see his work and your own in a different light.
Stan: I emphasize the fact that Giger is a visionary, that he’s accurately portraying certain aspects of the human psyche that contemporary psychiatrists and psychologists have not really discovered, or haven’t recognized and acknowledged. As I have previously mentioned, the leading model is still limited to postnatal biography. Birth [is viewed] as a potential source of organic brain damage, but it has not been recognized as a psychotrauma. The existence of the birth memory has not been acknowledged by mainstream psychiatrists and psychologists.
Karey: That seems so odd to me. From all the work you’ve done and exposed me to, it seems self-evident and makes perfect sense that birth is such a huge trauma, especially since prior to the beginning of the birth process, the child hasn’t known anything else in this lifetime that brings such an abrupt change. And the birth process, with its intense forces and pressures, essentially comes out of nowhere and is even more terrifying because of the dramatic state change. For me, Giger’s work really helps me get in touch with the complex nature of the perinatal level at a visceral level.
Stan: Giger’s art is very disturbing to people who are repressing this material, which is most of the culture. It is similar to the Victorian repression of sexuality, which upset people so much during the last century. Unless people are in a war situation, or they have endured some kind of satanic abuse, there’s nothing in the Freudian model that comes close to birth trauma. The primal scene [witnessing sexual relations between the parents] or problems of toilet training almost seem ridiculous compared to the trauma of birth, the intense pressure, not being able to breath for hours, etc.
It’s amazing that we have high-powered intellectuals who think it’s possible to endure hours of life-challenging situations at birth and not notice that this strange thing is happening and that it wouldn’t be recorded anywhere. Yet, you emerge into the world, and you’re extremely sensitive to the circumstances of nursing. If you didn’t notice that something weird was happening when you were being born, it will take a long time to recognize the nuances of nursing.
Karey: Would you like to say anything about your creative process or the creative process in general?
Stan: I love the book that Willis Harman wrote called Higher Creativity. He shows that great pieces of art don’t come from everyday psychological sources; they actually arise from situations where the artist essentially acts as a channel to the transpersonal. Harman gives a large number of examples of artistic inspiration, such as Mozart, who said that whole symphonies appeared in his head in a finished form, and Wagner, who hallucinated his music. Puccini said that he didn’t write Madame Butterfly; he was just holding the pen, and it was created by God.
Einstein got inspiration through kinesthetic channels. Harman mentions an Indian who had visions of a village goddess who taught him mathematics; he then came to Oxford and solved problems that the Oxford mathematicians couldn’t solve. When Rilke wrote The Sonnets to Orpheus, about 40 stanzas were “downloaded” to him, and he didn’t have to change anything; there was not a single correction; they just came down in a finished form.
Karey: Jung wrote Answer to Job (1) like that, too, while having a very high fever at the time. He later said that it was the only thing that he ever wrote that he did not want to change.
Stan: Jung is a prime example. He said that much of his psychology came from Philemen, a spirit guide who appeared in these non-ordinary states. Jung could ask questions and get answers; Jung is certainly an example of what a highly intelligent person can do with a spiritual emergency: create a psychology.
Similarly, I had a chance to speak with Robert Assagioli shortly before he died. He told me something that he never publicly acknowledged. He said that much of psychosynthesis was channeled by him and that the entity who came through, who called himself The Tibetan, was also channeled by Alice Bailey, who presented this material in a metaphysical form, whereas to Assagioli it came in a form of psychology.
Certainly, I wouldn’t have figured out the cartography of the psyche without experiencing it. I don’t think I would have been able to put it together with having only traditional psychiatric training and then getting reports from other people. I would have tried to reduce the cartography to something much more mundane. I certainly wouldn’t have recognized the authenticity of the transpersonal level or the power of the perinatal matrices without having been there.
1. C. G. Jung wrote Answer to Job in 1952. According to J. Marvin Spiegelman, it is “one of the most important spiritual texts of the twentieth century. That book was nothing less than a psychological study of the history of God over the last twenty-five hundred years. Less spectacularly considered, Jung attempted to understand how the Self, the image of God in the Western psyche, had undergone change and development over that time.” (Journal of Jungian Theory and Practice, Vol. 8, No. 1, 2006)
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