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  • Music in the Woods and Vocation December 7, 2012

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Actualite, Contemporary , trackback

    A Jungian psychologist somewhere on the west coast of the US has a patient, an elderly woman who feels dissatisfied with her life, which she believes that she has wasted. After hours of going through her past he comes to what he believes was the key moment. In her childhood she had been out playing and she had heard music in the woods. Coming home her good suburban parents had mocked her and the music was quickly forgotten, suppressed… The Jungian psychologist explains her feeling of a wasted life as a missed opportunity. The woman was a potential shaman, but she was born into a modern industrial society which did not know what to do with her skills. The result was that her vocation was suppressed causing irreversible damage to her sense of self worth.

    Beach may have got some of the details here wrong. This story appears in Bill Moyers, The Power of Myth and my copy is somewhere it shouldn’t be. But the details can go hang… What is clear is that our survival as a species depends upon producing a number of people with different skill sets. However, our adaptability as a species means that we don’t always need all these skill sets. A nice example is the ‘warrior’. Probably about 20% of young men are natural thugs and a tiny minority of these are psycho thugs (‘does the smell of blood excite you?’ etc etc) and yet our armies do not take in 20% of the population and, in any case, our armies ‘enjoy’ relatively little violence: at least compared with, say, nineteenth- or early twentieth-century forces. But vocations will out and so we have football hooligans, clockwork oranges and street gangs…

    These are problems that hunter gatherer clans deal with better. Indeed, it is sometimes said that we are modern men and women eating industrial food, living space age lives all from out of a Palaeolithic body. Many of our modern problems perhaps come down to the fact that we have not evolved temperamentally to keep up with our changing circumstances. If we imagine a hundred babies born in a New England hospital we need a couple of future police officers, a handful of entrepreneurs, people who’ll work quietly in shops and lots of honest tax payers. Instead, those hundred babies will include forty five hunters, forty five gatherers, a few who are good with their hands for craftwork, a couple of mystics, a couple of scapegoats and a natural leader. The categories don’t really overlap. And as to those few who are born as shamans… The lucky ones become reiki healers or screenwriters for HBO. The unlucky ones go and work in dime stores and die inside. Worse fates? drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com


    7 Dec 2012: Aldous Huxley writes in: ‘Moyer and Campbell had an idea of tradition and archetypes that is appealing, but I also think they neglect the other part of the story.  Instead of going into my rant of “why I distrust archetypes” my impression on the series is that Moyer seems taken by the view of the timeless, peaceful, organized society with everything in its place and certainty for all.  However, that certainty can also be seen as being purchased by means of stultifying tradition and habit, societal roles mandated by tradition, and lives led without innovation, all backed by physical and societal sanctions. These societies traditionally were the ones where expressing new thoughts, developing new techniques, or trying to change the view on community beliefs could be met with varying levels of sanction, from hazing to expulsion to even stoning or burning at the stake.  All for the possible danger such innovations could pose to the established mores, norms, and community power structure. Remember that “traditional” societies are the ones where actions not mandated tend to be forbidden: this includes not just the hunter-gatherer tribe on the savannah and the subsistence farming community in a small jungle clearing, it also includes, in a way, the small town – usually heavily agricultural with a religious tradition – where the teens all scream inside that, “everyone is so stupid, there is no future and you can’t do anything here, arrgh.” And they run off to Bogota or Cincinnati or Boise (because it is cosmopolitan) and they lose not only those maddening constraints, but also access to the roles in a smaller community that the constraints were shaping them to fill.  The constraints and the roles are two sides of the same coin, the shaping of human lives to fit into their society. As you point out, just aptitude is not enough.  Shamans, unless they have good endowments or a trust fund, have to earn their supper just the same as any other worker must. This means they not only have to have deep thoughts about what it all means, but they must also show added value, in that the deep thoughts have to help someone. So they have to be couched in terms the community understands. So the deep thoughts tend to be traditional as well, and so they are also hedged in with those societal norms, which are learned and understood deeply, and are….like the ones that the kids move to Des Moines or Montevideo to get away from. My conclusion is that if you decide to reject the socialization that makes you a suitable shaman in your traditional society, you also choose to not be a shaman.  But not everyone can be a shaman in a traditional society, some people get to be ragpickers or swineherds instead, and may find benefit to moving to Jacksonville to become a UPS driver or a forklift operator.  My concern is that Moyer provided a subtext that it would be a good thing to keep shamans “down on the farm” for the good of society and for the good of the shamans themselves, but that also means you are also keeping the swineherds and ragpickers in their station of life for the benefit of society and the shamans as well.  Since I suspect I would make a better swineherd than a shaman, I would be against that plan if only because swineherds don’t have as good a benefit package and for all the music in the woods they have a boring life. A side note at the risk of making an ad hominem attack, Moyer was involved deeply in the creation of the series of legislative acts that became known as LBJ’s Great Society.  This was a sweeping range of legislation to innovate new approaches for America ’s perceived problems of race, poverty, equality; problems that were not felt to be adequately addressed by traditional solutions like mores, norms and social pressure.  Since I found the series so compelling it bothered me to think that Moyers had spent the last part of his varied career extolling what he had worked so diligently in the first part to circumvent.’ Thanks Aldous!

    8 Aug 2016: Sreth writes, ‘You dolt, Beach, you got the wrong book. I quote from The Hero’s Journey (ed) Phil Cousineau, 62:

    ‘There’s an interesting paper, The Shaman from Elko, in the festschrift novel volume for Joseph Henderson, a psychiatrist in San Francisco. It’s an account of a woman in West Virginia, in the coal mining areas there, who in her late sixties, who in her late sixties had the dreadful feeling that she had lost life, that she had never lived life, that there had been a life for her that she had not lived. And in the analysis they found one time when she was a little girl, about thirteen years old, (that’s about the time for the experience), she was walking in the forest and she heard a strange music, a strange song, . But sh didn’t have in her culture the assistance to help her do something with that and so she lost it. And then throughout her life she had the feeling that she hadn’t lived her life. The thing about the shaman crisis is that if the individual does not follow the song he will die, he will really die. This is a strange psychological thing.