"Loneliness seeks diversion or togetherness in order to forget the uncomfortable fact of individuality. To be an individual means to be a special favored one, and also a lonely one. If loneliness is faced instead of forgotten, it can lead over to the creative acceptance of the fact of aloneness." - Edward F. Edinger
54. Jesus says: "Blessed are the solitary and the elect, for you will find the Kingdom!
65. ...I (Jesus) say this: "When (a person) finds himself solitary, he will be full of light; but when he finds himself divided, he will be full of darkness."
79. Jesus says: "Many stand outside at the door, but it is only the solitaries who will enter the bridal chamber." - from "The Gospel of Thomas"
"Now is the time to say I hated the work of fields,
and I am old. No more to fold the earth.
No more to pull stalks from frost
but to lift this last rock and hurry home."
- Warren Falcon, from "Word of a Dying Father"
I find myself reluctant to write about Saturn. Carl Jung has warned that when writing about an archetype it may most likely be evoked and then there will be whatever hell or harvest to pay (Hell's a kinda harvest, too, right?). And Saturn is the last god I need hanging too much around, or so I once thought. I'll go into that in a moment.
James Hollis, Jungian analyst and writer, sums Saturn's myth this way:
"Saturn was the Roman god of agriculture. On the one hand, as a god of generativity, he helped create early Roman civilization; on the other hand he was associated with a string of dark and bloody stories. His earlier, Greek incarnation, Cronus, was born of the male principle Uranos and the female principle Ge or Gaia. Uranus hated his children for he feared their potential; legend tells us he was "the first to devise shameful actions." His wife Gaia fashioned a sickle and induced Cronus to attack his father. Cronus struck and severed his father's phallus. From the drops of blood that fell on the earth were born fearsome giants. The sperm-flecked, fecundated sea gave birth to Aphrodite, whose name means "born of the foam."
"Cronus-Saturn replaced his father and became a tyrant of equal magnitude. Whenever he and his consort Rhea produced children, he ate them. The only child who evaded this fate was Zeus. In turn, Zeus led a revolt against the father and ten-year war ensued. With Zeus's triumph many civilizing forces emerged, but he, too, fell prey to the power complex and became tyrannical...Thus the Cronus-Saturn story is one of power, jealously, insecurity--violence to the principle of eros, to generativity and to the earth. As Jung once noted, where power is, love is not."
I am now in my second Saturn return, an astrological event where Saturn, the planet and the archetype, returns to where it was at the time of birth in one's astrology chart. It takes this planet thirty years to orbit the sun, thus it's association to time, to slow passage. When Saturn is near one's birth spot by 3 or 4 years his energies start to press. Life can be disrupted, turned upside down, spun around into disorientation. Thus Saturn, the experience of the archetype, has been characterized as "Sat On." And I am, indeed, for quite some time quite sat on, and am just 6 months shy of Saturn's knock on my door (already much around).
Saturn is the archetypal "wise old man." He is the monk, the hermit, the priest, the solitary with his cane and lantern illuminating the next step ahead. He is associated to heavy metal, lead. Typically he is associated to depression and descent. He brings us low down, he presses a crown of thorns into all our brows and nails us in place, in fixity, the endless moment called the "Dark Night of the Soul," the ""via negativa" or "negative way." The little lantern light brightens only the immediate place where one hangs on or drags apace, halt, lame. But this is only the darker side of the archetype.
Saturn is also a god of harvest, of plenty, of full coffers; the famous Saturnalia festival of lore acknowledges that effulgence come from plowing through. Saturn, indeed, requires literal hard work, the back-breaking preparation of soil and field, with hoe and plow, the bloody handed removal of rocks, the sowing of seeds, and the watering (the hauling of it in buckets) or the easier irrigation channels (which one must dig out, reinforce and shape), patiently pulling weeds, stuffing scarecrows, dangling pie tins (my Saturnian father's flashy trick) strung on strings between the rows to frighten crows and other beasts all too ready to harvest the just planted seeds or the fruit born of them, the patient tending, waiting for the fullness of germination determined by weather, light, and human verses critter fights.
All this patience-in-chronicity (we get our word "chronic" from this old tough father Cronus) bears literal harvest, larders full, and the harder rewards of patience. Opines poet Gerard Manly Hopkins: " Patience, hard thing! the hard thing but to pray, But bid for, Patience is! Patience who asks Wants war, wants wounds; weary his times, his tasks; To do without, take tosses, and obey. Rare patience roots in these, and, these away, Nowhere...Patience masks Our ruins of wrecked past purpose." Another name for Saturn, and his fruit, is patience. Our humbled egos survive the hard blows, time and turpitude turned into tolerance and turnips leaving "comfort root room," more Hopkins. Wisdom be that hard thing which Saturn brings. Wisdom be that knowledge derived from suffering/enduring in space and time his dessicated domain hard toiled, sweat oiled, blooded patiently (or not), kenned but skinned alive, licking wounds when pungent Saturn takes you to his tasks, hard ones, in his "Blues School".
I had never heard of a Saturn return until a few years past my first one. I had crashed, burned, and turned my Southern innocence-lost-and-still-mourned 31 year old self toward the North, New York City, to be exacted even more than before, pressed further down, drawn out, fractured past easy fixes of religion, writing, booze and jazz. "Murthered" I was, in my Harlem basement roon beneath West 142nd Street, continuing inner wars in further exile. I read my staples desperately, Blake, Hopkins, Yeats, Eliot, Lorca, Rilke, James Baldwin, the Zen "death poets" and mystics of the Church. I had begun my Jungian analysis two months after my arrival in Manhattan which was my clearest purpose for coming to the city. The other was to write poems the better. And to hear live jazz from the great ones.
"Fear was my father. Father Fear" - The Lost Son & A Cowboy Surprise That Makes Bread
About a year into my Jungian analysis, I was finally working on my "Saturn Return." This is an astronomical/astrological event in which Saturn, the planet and the archetype, returns to where it was in the sky at the time of one's birth, bringing depression and disorientation in order, it is believed, to orient one toward mature adulthood. During this return I anguished over my internalized Saturnine father for whom I am named. A would be writer, I writhed, writing little. When friends back home asked me how my writing was going, I quipped, "Just great. Prolific. I now write checks and suicide notes".
Though a puer (the archetype of the "eternal youth," the "flying boy" who never lands) my father doled out massive portions of Saturnine woes, perhaps intentionally, perhaps not. The devastating effects remain the same. I have noted in my years as a counselor that the "devastation" from puer fathers has definitely Saturnine effects, the crush and grind resulting upon their children leaves them depressed, in the dark, dissociated not in a puer's flight but in a necessary leap upward and away in order to survive the quicksand of incarnate existence. In my late 20s the throes of anger and hurt coagulated, a veritable "tar baby" I was unable to get free of. I struggled to escape the inner affliction of tyrannical contradictions that my father was and that I had, to my horror and despair, become. Or was well on my way to becoming.
My analyst, Betsy Halpern, who trained with Carl Rogers in Chicago then later became a Jungian analyst, patiently endured my deeper descent. I literally lived in a Harlem, New York sub-basement for awhile which often found me questioning whether I should, or even could, go on (Samuel Beckett's "I can't go on. I can't go on. I must go on," from Waiting For Godot, was perhaps my most authentic prayer at that dungeon time) with the horrible business of seeking meaning in the grizzled gleanings from my father's field, physical and psychological. My yield so far was not much. Long serious study and struggle to reconcile myself with that small, authentic mystical circle of Christians, they who had captured my heart and imagination as a world-shy child in the wild woods and hard dirt of my father's hurting soil, insisted that I "grow some corn." Or something. Anything.
Betsy spoke to me of Saturnian things in order to bring father and myself into some meaningful focus, and into a "realer" internal reconciliation. Still reeling, I wrote poems, one titled "Small Favors of Mourning," and I dreamed once of a lone crocus. Betsy appeared relieved by this dream. I had no idea what it meant except that I associated the flower to a poem written by a former lover for a best friend who had committed suicide when the crocus blooms in New England. I was not as relieved as Betsy given my personal association to this spring flower with death by suicide. Meanwhile, I spent my down time—when I was not waiting tables in order to pay the bills, one of which was for my twice weekly analytical sessions—at the weighty, old, cast iron iron Underwood typewriter missing a few tabs (thus literally shedding blood for words until callouses built up) pounding hard away at my craft, such as it then was, poems as wobbly as the three legged chair I had reclaimed from the Harlem street, my writer's perch, my sinner's bench beneath the city sidewalk, a Pentecostal church next door full of Holy Fire where tongues aspired upward to Spirit while I sought in the ruins of my relationship to Christianity one verbal bone in a valley of dry bones from which a Living Body just might miraculously be regrown for actually living on the planet, and for authentic worship.
Betsy taught me how to do active imagination, a Jungian technique where one re-enters a dream or product of the Imagination and, while awake, engage dreams and dream figures, dialoguing and interacting with them in order to integrate what is hinted therefrom toward personal wholeness. Not at all enamored of Saturn (often referred to in astrological circles as "Sat On" because Saturn, heavy, leaden, sits long upon one's soul and presses/oppresses one down), the myth or the god, I was stuck like the old Chevy truck mired forever in father's upper front field above the garden where crab grass rooted beneath and around the rusting chassis. One day in (justified) exasperation and impatience with my perpetual victim-hood, Betsy suggested that I do an active imagination with Saturn, "the god himself." I reluctantly agreed to try when I got home. I sulked and skulked my subway ride home, Herr Sluggo, Warren of the Wasteland. Oy.
Later, lighting a candle in the sub-basement gloom, I settled down beside the hot plate for some heat and went inside to that inner place where dreams and poems had always arrived. I soon found myself in Alaskan wilderness walking carefully down a steep hill covered with tall weeds brown with Autumn. Rounding a knob, I could see a magnificent blue body of water with glaciers in and around it. This was my destination and so I continued on. As I pushed through the trail overgrown in places I suddenly saw not too far ahead of me a man, his back turned toward me, standing still. I stopped to take him in and to determine if he was safe or not. He was dressed in denim shirt and pants like a cowboy, dirty cowboy boots, a well worn cowboy hat tilted to one side on his head. A short compact build, muscular from the trail and, I assumed, cowboy work, he remained gazing at the broad blue body of water. I decided to walk toward him making enough noise in the shuffle to alert him of my approach. Despite the racket I made he did not turn around. I walked on until I was at his side. He then turned to me and brightly smiled, a long brown stalk of wheat with a grain or two on the end of it between his teeth. "You?!!" I shouted, stunned. "Why the hell not?" he laughed. None other than the Trappist monk and best selling writer, Thomas Merton, blue eyes clear and impish, turned fully upon me.
I was not at all prepared for monk Merton in cowboy garb, wheat shaft in teeth, to be my personal image of Saturn. Yet it made sense somehow given the Saturnine severity of the Trappist order. But therein Merton was wild, playful, a man of Promethean vision and humor. Gifted. And for me and many, a gift, with the experienced knowledge that individuation can occur in the oddest of places, from Kentucky monasteries, austere and stringent, to forbidding, exquisite Alaska "serenely deigning to destroy" one and all unprepared creatures, to a sub-basement tenement cave packed with poetry and mystical books, a stained and dented tiny espresso pot the nearest administration of "grace"—o bitter bitter—I could grasp. Merton companioned me in this "Dark Night of the Soul" where I holed up with Gustav Mahler Symphonies and Van Morrison's mellifluous, dark, mellow "Veedon Fleece" album, such lyrics as, "And as we walked through the streets of Arklow, oh the colours of the day warm, and our heads were filled with poetry, in the morning coming onto dawn..." soothed my cold bones with pastoral tones and hopes of inner peace.
I had discovered Merton when I was 14 years old. I wound up "by accident" at the very small Catholic book section of a South Carolina bookstore and had just haplessly reached onto the shelf and selected a small paperback, The New Man. I read a few pages into it about "Primal Adam as Prometheus" and though I did not understand much of what I read, I bought the book on blind intuition (though I knew nothing of that) and read it through cover to cover. Years later, while I was having my nervous breakdown, or spiritual emergency/emerging, out of the Calvinist Christian college and denomination I had been a member of since I was a kid, a friend and fellow pilgrim showed up at my door with gifts for me, "for no good reason," a box record set of of Gregorian Chants, three vinyl albums inside, and a red-covered paperback of flames, A Thomas Merton Reader. Bill, my friend, did not know of my early Merton find and feast nor that I had not read him at all after reading his book I'd purchased. He said without much emotion, "I saw these and something told me you'd like the chants and this Merton guy, some monk/mystic/poet or other."
I did like.
I devoured the book, a compilation from some of Merton's poetry, essays, and journals. I soon owned as many of his books as I could order from the none-too-Catholic-friendly bookstores I haunted in downtown Chattanooga, a protestant wasteland if ever there was one, its only redeeming grace, or one of a few—I'll be kind—is Bessie Smith who was born there on 3rd Street, a street I lived on well into my breakdown/emergence. Merton's mysticism met my mangled, confused, "sat on" soul rigor mortised in a Calvinistic steel grace-brace, his becoming an orienting ground and beacon for my despair and nostalgia for some mythic kingdom where I might be most truly myself, a poet, a mystic, a lover, and a brother to what and whomever divinity might embrace me "just as I am, without one plea." I had not yet realized that I, too, needed to actively embrace both 'braceable' and unembraceable parts of myself and of life and, yes, that which theology and her crowd rejected, left out, or ignored. I dwelt most in the latter three. The dwelling there has set me free to be utterly me, human all too human.
Thus began my active imaginations with Merton, an irreverent mystic, seriously "sat on" himself yet eternally boyish in his humor and ability to be authentically himself, a rebel-monk, hermit-artist, writer, poet, mystic, charmer and, yes, a lady's man, having had a relationship with a woman (kept well-hidden) during the last few years of his life where, inflamed with erotic love which deepened his love for God and his vocation, he was accidentally electrocuted by a faulty fan in a humid Bangkok room at a conference for mystics of all faiths. Perhaps this fact of burning explained the paperback bookcover of his selected works; he wrote years before dying that he worshiped "the Christ of the burnt men," one human child born of a flaming bright star in the midst of barn animals, instincts which burn, too, to keep life going, no matter the dampening and dangerous flue the official Church had become. The "dumb brute" of the Child, mildly in a stone feeding trough, lost his divinity for flesh and still we ponder and wonder at that Life that remains powerful in spite of negative, let's assume positively intentioned, Saturnine preservers of stalwart "truths," a noble venture for finite creatures who remain, after all, asses in the barnyard where Presence is born.
During one of my later sessions with Merton-Saturn he said to me, "It's about time you plant this; tend it well, and go make bread." He proffered me the wheat stalk with its one or two attached grains. I tearfully took the gift though I did not comprehend what it meant. I have spent the rest of my days since tending to the grains planted, my little psyche-field yielding some more stalks and grains, and plenty of stones and weeds. I have yet to resolve the mysteries of leaven, but the hermit/monk in me patiently kneads and kneels alone. And in time my own father has come more into focus, a broken human after all, and not a god at all. To my glad surprise, I found love for him who had hurt me most.
Still, I am not a good farmer. I poorly, unlike Auden, Yeats and Merton's real gems, have "farmed a verse" in order to "make a vineyard of the curse." I have healed-enough my Saturn wound, and that of my father to whom I offer this little loaf, he the life giver to me after all, with gratitude for his attuning my boy-vision upon the earth horizon and not the sky, my childhood-Christmas telescope focused on a flashing, red, radio tower beacon in a far field beyond the front field and near woods which were my father's kingdom. This red light, its steady pulse, has served me well as I wind down the hill toward that glacial lake with Tom Merton and Carl Jung, fathers, too, to thank:
Repose of Needles
Repose of Needles
If you need to stand or lie
in the shade for awhile then
do so as farmers do, as does
my father who farms his despair
in hot sun then lays beneath
pines in cooler shade to rest,
to dream that activity between
dirt and sky means some lasting
thing in its doing even though
his ruined life cannot make
it right between clouds and
his obsession with weeds.
Between the garden and the
untilled woods he rests,
repose of needles and bark,
mid-day sun insisting its
question slowly. Night dawning
he at last in darkness stands
returned from day, a practical
vision of green shoots to come
from blistered hands.
Up hill to the colder house,
he wills himself to life-enough,
speaks some words to wife,
arcs widely around silent wary
children and lives to be old.
His loss of memory leaves it
for others to forgive, to live on
in the rich rot of that ongoing
question which nurtures his
memory haltingly, gracefully, on.
Astonished, I have arrived at
love for him who hurt me most,
have learned to obey the odor
of decaying things compelling
hands to dirt. Within the dream
of staying, the tendril and the heart,
my aging body takes on my
father's form. I, too, like him,
am a farmer when I note how
it moves in its winding reach,
rooting, rising, giving horizon.
**"Fear was my father. Father Fear." - from "The Lost Son" by Theodore Roethke