A movie called The Dangerous Method was released in 2011, portraying a semi-biographical story about the relationship between Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud, two major pioneers in 20th century psychoanalysis. Freud is commonly known for his theories of Id Ego and Superego, along with his tendencies to reduce dreams and hallucinations to simple biological drives. Jung incorporated Freud’s methodology and expanded upon it, introducing key mystical concepts like the collective unconscious and synchronicity. Despite the power and status attributed to these two men, their work would have been impossible without the contributions of numerous others. Jung especially may never have reached his great imaginative heights without the contributions of a woman named Marie-Louis von Franz.
For almost thirty years, von Franz worked in close collaboration with Jung and helped him to develop psychological interpretations of alchemical manuscripts and fairy tales. Alongside the authoring and publication of more than 20 books, she is believed to have analyzed more than 65,000 dreams in her life. Before the world of “lucid dreaming” went pop, Jung and Von Franz were exploring a procedure that they called active imagination, or conscious dreaming, through which the consciousness of a person seeks to engage and enter into relationship with the contents of their subconscious mind.
As a musician and psychonaut, Jung’s ideas have been a source of ongoing inspiration. When Marie-Louis von Franz first appeared on my radar, it became clear that she was going to provide a missing piece of the puzzle. Her exploration of fairy tales proved especially rewarding, demonstrating how events and characters found in European folk stories bear a striking resemblance to those encountered in dreams. Many fairy tales are short and sweet, communicating an archetypal narrative with the minimal amount of embellishment. Brevity makes it easier to extract the key elements of a story and understand the underlying psychological processes taking place.
How to Practice Active Imagination
To illustrate how you can personally make active imagination work for you, I will share three short fairy tales of my own. Each one came to me during a waking meditation, as if being visited by a dream. These “fairy tales” combine real world facts with free-associative connections. You do not need to draw upon any factual information from the real world. Just relax, breathe, and let images and ideas come to you. Slowly they will form a short story. Imagine that these stories are being told to you by a very intelligent presence that exists within you. You can ask questions along the way.
Active imagination will generally produce stories that reflect your own interests. Once the story comes through, take a moment to write it down and reflect upon its meaning. Perhaps you will discover something new about yourself or the world. In my experience, working with active imagination requires time and patience. If you stick with it, the practice will prove to be very rewarding and therapeutic.
Without further ado, here are three meditations upon music that were created through the technique of active imagination.
Melodic Shapes: The Serpent Scales of Justice
American-Italian Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia passed away a few days ago, on February 13, 2016. I see his last name Scalia re-arranged as “I Scala”. The Italian scala means to climb, as in the expression scala a pioli, to climb a ladder. The English cognate scale invokes the image of the scales of justice that balance all sides of an argument. One’s trial at court relates to karma and the ancient Indian game of snakes and ladders, known in the United States as chutes and ladders. Scalia was a Christian man and it just so happens that his death coincided with a massive earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand the following day, registering 5.7 on the Richter Scale.
I hear the sounds of a snake charmer playing his carefully measured musical scales as the serpent rises from a basket. I see the image of a musical scale climbing up through many octaves in the form of a coiled spiral. Viewed from above, the twelve points of the chromatic musical scale appear as dashes on a clock face and I think of the Greek god Chronos, Lord of Time, who presides over the courtroom.
Songcraft: The Jingleheimer Schmidt
This irritating children’s song comes to mind, going “John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt, his name is my name too.” The surname Schmidt is a German variation on the English name Smith, which derives from the tradition of naming one’s family after the tradework that sustains them. However, this word also correlates to smite, as in striking something with a hammer. During the late 1850’s, the American song Jingle Bells became an internationally popular Christmas tune. I imagine a young German child whose father was a metalsmith, always banging upon anvils with his hammer. Pythagoras claimed that he discovered the science of musical intervals in this very way, watching metalworkers work.
The child decides that he will grow up to be a songsmith and takes on the nickname Jingleheimer Schmidt, the word heimer being a German mispronunciation of the English word hammer. Jingle-Hammer Smith as a person who bangs out jingles, or catchy songs, for a living.
Wax Vinyl Labyrinth
We have the story of Theseus going into the Crete labyrinth to slay the minotaur. Daedelus tells a woman to give Theseus a ball of thread that he might tie it to the front of the labyrinth, slay the monster, and find his way back out. When Theseus succeeds, the king of Minos finds out that Daedelus tipped him off and the old man is locked inside the labyrinth as a punishment. However, Daedelus fashions wings from wax and bird feathers and with this he escapes. Where did Daedelus get the wax? No version of the story gives up the answer, but I suspect it may have come from candles that were lining the inner walls of the labyrinth.
Unlike a maze, which is full of traps and dead ends, a labyrinth is built from one continuous circuit that eventually reaches a center. The most simple labyrinth would be a pure spiral. Merging the image of a labyrinth with the wax material, I think of a vinyl record with its continuous movement towards the center.
Interesting that the components of a record player are called the arm, the needle, and the spindle. These three words all invoke sewing with thread. It is as if the needle pulling thread represents Theseus moving toward the center of the record, where the minotaur dwells. Our journey through the album’s music mirrors Joseph Campbell’s idea of the Hero’s Journey. We must endure. Upon arriving at the center, the needle lifts and takes flights, returns to its resting point. Perhaps this represents the flight of Daedelus and Icarus out of the labyrinth of Crete.
Furthermore, the traditional Cretan labyrinth was depicted as having seven circuits. Scholars have speculated that this was intended to represent the combined total of seven retrograde and direct paths of Mercury in the sky each year.
Mercury has an orbit of 88 days around the sun; the same number of keys are found on a grand piano. Furthermore, there are 88 modern constellations identified within our celestial sphere. This brings forward the idea of a vinyl record as a symbol not only of Mercury, but of our entire galaxy, with the aperture at the center representing Galactic Center, which is a black hole.
Our galaxy is one of many, and like stars, galaxies are known to join together in clusters. It follows that each galactic cluster could be viewed as a record collection of the gods. This lines up with the Ancient Greek idea of the Harmony of the Spheres, which taught that every celestial body has its own unique frequency of light and sound. If only our ears were large enough, we could listen to this cosmic music.