Monday, March 14, 2011
Feather on the Breath of God~Jung's Bollingen Stone
When you really know someone, you know what they like. And it should be simple to give them what they like, but it’s not. We don’t even allow ourselves to give us what we need. How strange…is it lack of courage or selfishness? But there are times when we do care and we give.
This was one of those times. Peter cared. He knew what I wanted—he knew enough about me to know that if I was in Zurich there was only one thing I wanted—it was to see Carl Jung’s stone tower that he built for himself on the shores of Lake Zurich. Jung started creating his private retreat late in his life and it took him forty years to complete. He painted life size scenes on the curved inside walls of the solitary study, and he’d sculpted inscriptions and images on large stones surrounding the tower. I’d seen photographs of him there in his eighties, pipe and book in hand, simply sitting and looking out over the waters of the Obersee. His sculpting tools and paints were sometimes shown in the background.
Jung’s tower retreat was evocative of medieval times with its turrets, archways and courtyard. He built this “temenos”—this sacred place, as a sanctuary where he could retreat and study alchemy and astrology during his years of banishment from the psychoanalytic community. It was here that he carved Greek, Latin and astrological hieroglyphics into stones and images that were close to his heart and imagination. Here on the shores of the lake, was the large block of “orphan stone,” a rock left behind by other workers, a stone that Jung carved for himself in recognition of his 75th birthday. Peter worked in clay, and I think he understood Jung’s comment: “I need not have written any books—it’s all here on the stone.”
And that was why we found ourselves outside the door in front of Carl Jung’s house one day. The devastating news was that we couldn’t go in. And what I had wanted to see was not actually there—it was over in Bollingen on the shores of the Eastern shore of the Obersee, and not at his family house in Zurich. So Peter took a photograph of me pretending to smile in front of the house we couldn’t go into, and then we retreated in despair.
However—the next day Peter had an idea. And by late afternoon we were kayaking along the gentle shores of Lake Zurich gazing up at Jung’s numinous structure.
“Shall we go ashore?” Peter asked.
I stared at the imposing stone walls and rusticated doors with the barred and shuttered windows. This was not the kind of thing that Peter would usually suggest. He tended to be one who honored rules and regulations, and would never trespass. This idea was so out of character for him; I must have looked at him as if he was a madman.
“Of course,” I said. “A little adventure.” Peter knew me, and he cared. He wanted to do this for me.
And so we kayaked through the weeds along the shoreline till we hit ground. The tower sat right on the lake, and it appeared as if no one was in sight. There was only the sound of the wind through the trees, the rocks jutting through the reeds, and the lapping of the little waves on the shore. It looked deserted, yet alive. Ivy clung tenaciously to the white rock walls and there was a huge tree that looked like it had been struck by lightning. Could this be the same tree that Jung had spent so many hours under? The one that had been struck by lightning the day he died?
We waded through the mud and held our breath as we approached the arched doorway of the tower. I could see the inscription Jung had carved over the doorway “Vocutus Atque nonvocatus deus aderit”. I whispered to Peter: “It says: ‘Called or not called, God is present.’” I was hoping no one else would be present. Peter tried the latch on the door, but it was locked.
“Come here,” he motioned to me. And like a kid, Peter hoisted me up with his strong arms to look in through a window—an arched opening in the wall..and there was Philemon.
“He’s there! Philemon!” I exclaimed. Painted in vibrant colors on the curved walls was the mural Jung had painted of his beloved imaginal muse. Here was the wise old man, his spiritual mentor. He was huge, with outstretched wings that Jung copied from the iridescent wings of the rare bird, the Kingfisher. I had just shown Peter a copy of this painting the day before in the recently released “Red Book.” This Red Book was the journal Jung had kept during those years of transition and trauma when he suffered the “divorce” from his real mentor, Freud. Some say, those were the years of his psychosis. For Jung, those were the years to paint, sculpt and play in the sand by the shores of the lake.
Peter lifted me down from the window. “Maybe we’re pressing our luck…I mean our time.” Peter said, looking at me as if he was hoping I’d had enough. We both knew there had to be some watchmen around here. I couldn’t believe how quiet it was.
Peters face looked flushed. It must have taken him a lot to disobey, to trespass.
We started to carefully make our way back, approaching the rocky shore. I kept staring at the carved stones around me—and then I saw it. It was a bird, large, recently dead, and with the same outstretched wings as Philemon. It lay under a carved image of a serpent in a rock, and it had the same dark iridescent wings. I reached for it, but Peter pulled me away and hurried me towards the boat.
The land began giving way to sand, then mud, and suddenly I lost my balance. I could see one foot had sunk deep between the rocks. I tried to pull myself up and fell into the water.
Aggh….I yelled. “Its twisted!”
I let myself collapse into Peter’s arms as he picked me up and carried me over to the grass only a few feet away from the Kingfisher. He laid me down softly. I could see the burnt tree above my head. “I want it Peter. I want the bird.”
I could feel myself beginning to shiver. It seemed as if the winds had picked up and the sky was being painted colors. Those clouds weren’t there before.
Peter looked down at me. He looked scared. He looked at the bird, then looked at me. The shivering got stronger. I closed my eyes. Was it getting darker and colder or was I having an anxiety attack? For some reason, I didn’t care.
I thought my eyes were closed, but I could see through them… charts and golden mandalas were radiating through some deep darkness. There was Jung’s chart, and mine...and Peter’s chart-- all appearing and disappearing, overlaying each other. There was my chart with my Sun, Neptune and Venus all clumped together, and then Peter’s chart rising up into it like a developing photograph. His Neptune radiated through my Venus: the symbol of idealism in love…had I ever told him that? And then Jung’s chart arouse, and I could see the glyph of his South Node, the astrological point of past life connection, like a bright star conjoining my Neptune/Venus. Why hadn’t I seen this ancient connection before? Why hadn’t I seen this hint of interconnected past lives? Why was my body shaking uncontrollably?
And then I felt him. Peter laid his warm body across mine…completely. The weight and heat from his body permeated mine like a warm comforter on a cold winter’s day. I could feel the moisture from his breath and I breathed it in like an infusion. The images of light and symbols began fading as I opened my eyes to Peter’s soft gaze. To say I had never felt this before was obvious. But to say I had never seen such love in his eyes was true. It brought me back.
And then he got up. I watched him as he walked over to the Kingfisher. He stood staring down at this almost mythological bird for a moment. I wondered if he knew that it carried both good and bad omens…and how rare it was to see it in these parts. I wondered if Jung had ever seen the bird on these same shores before he painted them on Philemon, his other-worldly mentor.
Peter bent over the dead bird but I couldn’t see what he was doing. I closed my eyes and concentrated on breathing rhythmically. I could feel the pain in my ankle but it wasn’t more than I could handle. What I could feel was the pull of the earth underneath me-- like a magnet I had been pulled into orbit and didn’t want to release myself from it. I was rooted here, I couldn’t move. I too, was a dead bird. Or maybe I was home. I didn’t care.
Again I felt Peter. This time he had his hand on my chest, gently rocking me, and calling my name. I opened my eyes. He slowly waved a long feather in front of my eyes. A feather on the breath of God. Then he leaned over and kissed me so softly, like the first time we ever kissed. I opened my eyes. Peter placed the feather in my hand.
“Come. It’s not meant for us to stay here any longer. Come with me, Isabelle…” and then he scooped me up and carried me into the kayak.
In another hour we were back at the hotel, my ankle soaked with ice, my heart so full with love, it disconnected me from everything except Peter and the presence of a small wet black feather. “Called or not called, God had been present.” This was a good omen. It had been well worth the trip.
© Elizabeth Spring