Review by John Cross at Amazon.com on Tuesday March 30th, 2010. I quoted content from this book in references chapter of my Ph.D. Dissertation at the University of Metaphysics titled "Shadow at the Gate: Encounters with an Artificial Archetypal Elemental on the Threshold of Psychic Integration" in 1997.
Rather than just review this book in a normal fashion I have chosen to concentrate on writing some thoughts and feelings that have come to me during the time I’ve read this book.
Briefly, my overall feelings on the book are that it is possibly the most influential book I have yet to read relating to personal transformation and the processes of therapy. With essays from a wide range of authors it shows that there is an undercurrent to the dominant medical view of mental disorder/illness, which has a firm basis in reality rather than trying to force a medical model onto conditions with an “unknown cause” – that is a cause that may not have an apparent logical, rational, or objective basis.
I feel a sense of hope reading this book, seeing that others (some with qualifications in psychology or psychiatry from prestigious Universities) share some common beliefs about the spiritual basis of transforming crises.
What follows are some thoughts and occasionally questions I will ponder on for some time before they become clear:
There is a theme of “non-standard” states of consciousness being suppressed.
In ancient times: imprisonment, torture, death, and isolation
In modern times: medication to suppress
Transformative psychological events often parallel shamanic experiences.
Question: Increase in “mental illness” stemming from evolutionary change in consciousness? This is being suppressed at present by psychiatry. Is consciousness trying to change and evolve into higher forms on a larger scale, rather than more isolated shamanic initiations?
The importance of the subjective experience, e.g. Past Life Regression. The objective or factual explanations are not necessary or relevant to the transformative process. Only the subjective is necessary in the scope of Self Growth or therapy. It is irrelevant whether one actually had that Past Life, or whether the Past Life memories are a fictional way of experiencing a set of beliefs and issues within one’s psyche.
Recurring (personal) conflict between super-normal experiences and consensus reality. This is the basis of psychosis (for diagnosis), that a person’s thinking is non-rational, and departs from what is considered normal or representative of what is normal. For me personally, I have had to adjust from being highly sceptical of anything which was non-rational, non-logical, to being able to thinking and understand in transpersonal, spiritual and magical terms. This probably places me within the definition of psychotic, although I have also kept a reasonable grip on consensus reality also, not departed from it. So, while “magical thinking” is one of the symptoms of psychosis, the ability to “think magically” and also function within society seems to allow one to functional fully. Possibly medicating people with tranquillising medicines stops people being able to work through a psychotic departure from reality and retain the ability to “think magically” but also to function within society or the physical world.
Question: Is Possession akin to Multiple Personality Disorder Syndrome? And rooted in sub-personalities. It certainly seems likely to me the MPDS stems from a severe trauma resulting in a subpersonality or conglomerate of subpersonalities taking over to ensure the survival of the individual Self, in some form. Possession also is a departure, usually temporary, from the Self being in control and a dominant and regressive subpersonality being in control, or perhaps even an external “entity”. Perhaps that would lead to two types of possession, one by an external agent the other being sub-personality possession?
With new “mental states” one needs to adjust to living with new views of reality and still retain the ability to function in mundane society. This carries on from the above comments on “magical thinking” and psychosis. It may be productive for a time for a severe departure from reality, but preferable to have an experienced guide (therapist / shaman) to assist one’s journey and even more preferable (but generally unobtainable in present society) a retreat where one can go to and work through changes in the view of reality. It seems that it is possible to keep a grip on rationality and also experience non-rationality intermittently or at the same time, and with some effort functional to some degree within society (ie. Hold down a job, and maybe even a relationship!), and grow and expand one’s consciousness into new realms, and formulate new views of reality.
Death and World Destruction themes. The birth – life – death – rebirth (renewal) are common themes in paganism and alchemical process. In Alchemy (spiritual and laboratory) there are phases of putrefaction, negredo (blackening) and other “unpleasant” stages through which things are transformed.
Dysfunctional families. This is another strong theme in the book, and basically the topic for my one-hour talk! It is families that are seen as the root of psychosis in many instances. The term schizogenic is used by one author, although I’ve not looked into exactly what he means yet.
In dealing with people in Spiritual Emergency personal qualities are more important than professional qualifications. Non-labelling is also important, and something we talk about in Psychosynthesis, about not putting “things” and “people” into little boxes, but letting them be how they are.
According to John Perry, the renewal process requires an emotional framework (a partner). This is curious and relates back to what I’ve been taught, thought about, and experienced with the Inner Mate process, and various interactions of the anima and animus. It may also relate heavily to “Self in relationship to Other” which is the theme of second year, and the various functions of a guide (shaman or therapist).