Here’s an article I wrote for the spring edition of Aontacht Magazine. AONTACHT (unity in Gaelic) is a free, full-length magazine dedicated to the diversity of experience and opinions found in the Druidic and Celtic Spiritual communities. It is a wonderful resource for druids the world over. The link is at the foot of the article.
In retrospect, it is fair to say that June 1961 was a portentous month. Perhaps they all are. Like its Twin Ruler, Gemini, this star-crossed month cast mercurial spells to and fro, brimming with clues and riddles. Whilst a naive and nervous JFK headed east to meet sly, old Khrushchev, the world’s most famous dancer, Rudolf Nureyev, defected to the west. If it was unseasonably warm, the world was about to get a lot colder. Russia’s other 60’s icon, Yuri Gagarin, was also out and about, laying the foundation stone for the cosmonauts’ museum. As he did, a Lincoln Continental convertible slid into the White House.
It was also the month the Berlin Wall was first mentioned, forty-five Freedom Riders were arrested for protesting against segregation, Kuwait declared independence from Great Britain, Malcolm X addressed a Chicago rally, Ernest Hemingway was discharged from hospital after treatment for depression only to kill himself days later, the Antarctic Treaty came into effect, Nelson Mandela issued his manifesto, the 100th Archbishop of Canterbury was enthroned, and Holocaust organiser Adolf Eichmann took the witness stand.
The sinister events and unbound joys of June 1961 have reverberated throughout my life. JFK was assassinated in that Lincoln thirty months after its delivery, eleven days before my own delivery. And I have seen the hell that is Auschwitz, visiting in memory of an uncle who died in the camps. Yet I have also seen the beauty that was Nureyev. Art has always matched nature in healing my soul. I was lucky enough to see Nureyev perform Swan Lake, a superlative performance that dances forever within. My sister, Rosaleen, went one better. A former ballet dancer (not to mention poet and Aontacht contributor), she attended a masterclass he held and was the only one present with the chutzpah to kiss him. I have a tale of Gagarin too. On a lecturing tour in Russia, I met Tom Margerison, founder of New Scientist. He died last year, aged ninety. While obituaries reported that he had spurned both MI5 and the KGB, he revealed to me that MI5 had indeed recruited him whilst a student in my hometown of Sheffield. He had turned and turned again, a triple agent tricking the KGB. How much was disinformation or hokum I cannot say for the vodka and salt flowed freely. What was true was that he had acted as interpreter to the first man in space when Gagarin was invited to meet the Queen just weeks after laying that stone. Tom’s partner, Marjorie Wallace lectured with me. Psychologist and founder of the mental health charity SANE, she had met Tom after separating from the psychoanalyst Count Andrzej Skarbek. While Gagarin had been so enchanted by royalty that he had touched the Queen to see if she were real, Marjorie, like Rose, went one better and indulged in an affair with Lord Snowdon, former husband of Princess Margaret.
If you are wondering what all this has to do with druidism and healing, the secret lies in the births and deaths notices. June 1961 was a notable month for births. Not only was time-bending Peter Pan, Michael J Fox born, so too comedian Ricky Gervais, and 80’s popsters Alison Moyet, Jimmy Somerville and Boy George. The latter is of course an O’Dowd and his parents from Tipperary. Another Anglo-Irish boy was born too, my greatest link to that crazy month: my brother, Joseph. More pertinently, a new character made his first appearance in a Marvel Comic. After studying the ancient powers of the druids, psychiatrist Anthony Ludgate developed superhero powers and was reborn as (drum roll) Doctor Druid! Rather than reflecting on his powers and using them to cure the neuroses of mankind, in true Marvel fashion he went gadding about righting wrongs and being a jolly good egg. He even became an Avenger. Perhaps his lack of foresight contributed to his demise. In a twist on the wounded healer, he sank into alcoholism. In a drunken attempt at salvation, he incurred the wrath of Hellstorm, son of Satan, hardly the type to annoy when you’re drunk. Hellstorm had Nekra (an albino vampire priestess) seduce and kill Doctor Druid. Chewing up the scenery and emphasising what a badass he was, Hellstorm then set fire to his remains and dumped him in the garbage. Game over.
Ignominious as his ending was, Doctor Druid is the closest psychiatry has come to complementing spirituality. Since its inception, psychiatry has had a fraught relationship with spirituality. Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, considered it a ‘universal obsessional neurosis’, and that was enough for most in the field. Ironic pity then that field has become cultish. Thankfully, that other eminent psychiatrist, the schismatic Carl Gustav Jung, differed.
Freud and Jung had started out as great friends, corresponding extensively for seven years; in fact Freud regarded his young protégé as the heir to psychoanalysis. But Freud’s focus on sex and his belief that the unconscious was solely a cauldron of negativity and repression angered Jung, who believed that the unconscious was also the source of great creativity. It was a very public split. While Freud became one of the most influential figures of the twentieth century, Jung remained firmly in his shadow. Pathos indeed, for Jung’s theory of universal archetypes (images and thoughts with universal meanings) describes the shadow as one of the four basic symbols, together with the persona, self and anima/animus. Other highly developed figures of the ‘collective unconscious’ he introduced include the innocent, the orphan, the hero, the magician, the witch and the trickster. That we are all, to a greater or lesser degree, affected by such figures can be exemplified by the death of Princess Diana. The collective outpouring of grief the world witnessed was not for Diana per se, but for the death of the symbol—the princess—she represented. I have layered Jung’s mythological archetypes within my fantasy series, Sebastian and the Hibernauts, in part to toy with them. How wonderful that the characters have resisted me; they will not be pushed around so easily. Or is it my subconscious?
While Freud held the limelight, Jung was happy to plough an increasingly esoteric furrow exploring the relationship between dreams, art, mythology, astrology, religion and philosophy. More than anyone, he had the potential to merge psychiatry and spirituality, and it is greatly to our detriment that he failed to convey his beliefs in an accessible way. If he is largely ignored by psychiatry, he remains extremely influential in the field of psychology. Aspects of his work were built upon after his death, in part by Count Skarbek, more importantly by Hans Eysenck, whose grandson, as it happens, I delivered into the world.
So what is the state of play in the twenty-first century? As religion has lost its foothold, communities have fragmented. This lack of connectedness and social cohesion has led to an increase in depression and anxiety. This, in turn, has increased the need for balanced, comprehensive care, yet psychiatrists continue to eschew the spiritual world when addressing the needs of their patients. This appears to be based on old-fashioned notions about older fashioned notions, that and an unwillingness to broach such a sensitive issue for fear of insulting patient sensibilities. And there is nothing so boring as the therapist eager to indoctrinate patients with their own religious beliefs.
I believe that psychiatry needs to rethink its approach to humanity. The introduction of the biopsychosocial model was a welcome step promoting holistic treatment within a simple framework. Surely it would not take much to extend it to the spiritual. I practise a bio-psycho-social-spiritual model, tailoring elements to the patient as required. I advocate measures to soothe the soul as often as I do medication, therapy or lifestyle factors and find the approach invariably welcomed. Doctor Druid would be proud.
I want to close, as life does, with death. June 1961 was the final month of some notable people. There was Jeff Chandler, one of the heroes of my childhood, always playing the American Indians I so adored. Perpetually silver-haired, he died at the callow age of 42. Huw Menai, the Welsh language poet also drifted off in the month that recorded the first Garabandal apparition, the miracle closest to my father’s soul, who lost his own battle last year. Not only are a birth and death in my family linked to that month, so too psychiatry and spirituality. As mentioned, Doctor Druid was born that month. Perhaps the baton was fated to be handed to an archetype, it was certainly fitting. And what of the man who passed the baton on? He had outlived his mentor by twenty-two years—Freud died within weeks of the outbreak of war in 1939—but in June 1961, ten days after completing Man and His Symbols, Carl Gustav Jung passed away.
Here’s the link to the magazine (the article is on pp 42-45): http://www.druidicdawn.org/files/Aontacht%20-%20Volume%208%20Issue%202.pdf