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Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences


Helen Luke

The Laughter at the Heart of Things by Helen M. Luke (Parabola Books) These essays explore the nature of feminine and masculine psychology and the role of story and myth in human culture, and offer insight into the spiritual meaning within modern and classical literature. Several previously unpublished essays are collected here--including an analysis of two of Shakespeare's greatest plays, The Merchant of Venice and Antony and Cleopatra. The title essay reflects on the vital importance of a sense of humor on the spiritual road to freedom and joy. These essays combine Christian spirituality with Jungian psychology to discuss the importance of openly and consciously facing the suffering that is part of being human.

Such Stuff As Dreams Are Made on: The Autobiography and Journals of Helen M. Luke by Helen M. Luke, edited by Barbara A. Mowat, Introduction by Charles H. Taylor (Parabola Books) Helen M. Luke devoted her life to the exploration of the self -- both her own and that of countless others who came to her for counseling. She was endowed with a deep grasp of archetypal forces and the ability to evoke them with luminous prose.

Such Stuff As Dreams Are Made on consists of a memoir she wrote at the age of seventy but never published and excerpts culled from the fifty-four volumes of journals written in her final years. She weaves together dreams and symbolic images from her inner life with personal and world events, bringing a clear, unsentimental honesty and vibrant insight to all that she recounts. Reflecting on her past as a way of illuminating the present, Luke inspires us to be aware, attend to our personal truths, and "know and accept and live the next thing with devotion." This is Helen Luke's final and magnum opus -- her gift to the world.

Recently in an interview with Charlie Rose Meryl Streep spoke of women needing a dream that portrayed them as powerful, particularly as they age. Helen Luke's autobiography is just such a dream. It is a carefully woven tapestry of her dreams, her thoughts, her readings (the wide range of her reading & interests included Lord Of the Rings by Tolkien, Dante, T.S. Eliot, C.K. Williams, and Larry Dossey's Shamanic books), and the encounters that she had in her life (which included Robert Johnson, Carl Jung, Dr. Meiers, Toni Sussman, Dr. Kunkel). The patterns of this tapestry speak to us of a life that followed the Way of individuation, as she refers to it in the autobiography. What most impressed me was the way in which she lived the path, risks and all, that Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell taught, despite her Christian Scientist upbringing. This straightforward autobiography & her journals model The Way. Her courage to leave her mother behind while she was dying in order to follow her "dreams" was inspirational. Her discussion in her diary entry about C.K.Williams work Descent Into Hell (which she refers to frequently, reminding me of how good a book it was) and it's demonstration that "a 'daughter's gift to an injured mother' through language, even many years after a mother's death, may be valid" fed many beliefs that I have had about how healing can occur and ones role in it. The book read like a road map to a fulfilled life, well marked by the signposts of the numinous, synchronicities, and struggles encountered by a thoughtful individual. It is hard to put down, I read through it almost at once, and will be studying and thinking about the lessons it holds for a long time. I am quite confident that most men and women will not regret studying this book.




In looking back over the dreams of a considerable period a man may sometimes discover in tiny scraps and fragments, even in single images, meanings to which he was utterly blind at the time. They were parts of a pattern that was slowly being woven....

Harold C. Goddard
The Meaning of Shakespeare

                     AS I READ these words I remembered a dream that came to me about fifteen years ago. In this dream I held in my hands a piece of midnight blue material, of heavy silk perhaps, square, about ten inches by ten inches. Fine gold threads were woven into the dark background in what seemed an entirely haphazard way, making no coherent pattern, having, it appeared, no meaning. Yet I knew in my dream that a woman had written here in gold thread the story of her life, if I could but know how to read it. I interrupt the dream to explain that this woman was an old friend of mine in actuality. She was older than myself, and had meant a great deal to me since my youth, had been in fact the one who first opened the doors for me to the wisdom of C. G. Jung. Yet outwardly her life had appeared a complete failure. None of her great artistic gifts had matured, she was crippled by illness, her husband was dead, she had barely enough to live on. A few days before my dream I had had a letter from her expressing her sense of ultimate and irremediable failure. As I read the letter and looked back over the many years of our friendship, I was flooded with a sense of gratitude to this woman, remembering her indomitable courage in the face of every kind of suffering and how my every contact with her as a girl and all through the years had jerked me out of triviality and subservience to collective opinion and reconnected me with a sense of the meaning and dignity of life. In the dream, as I tried to decipher the jumble of threads, I suddenly knew that I was looking at it from the wrong angle and I gave the cloth in my hand a quarter turn clockwise. Immediately I saw a beautiful and coherent golden pattern, and in the center, exquisitely embroidered, was the figure of a woman holding a child, and her robe flowed out from her shoulders like a river of gold. "House of Gold"—the image came to me from the Litany of Loretto. In wonder I questioned in the dream how my friend could possibly have created this lovely, intricate thing, when, as I knew, she had simply been trying to write the story of her failed life, and the result had seemed to her a meaningless jumble. And the answer came to me as clearly as though I had heard it spoken, and with a sense of profound joy. She had done nothing but choose a direction for each line of stitching, with all the consciousness and integrity possible to her, and the pattern had emerged and the picture had been woven, to be seen in all its beauty by those who would learn to make the "quarter turn."

    New "meanings to which [we are] utterly blind at the time...." A new meaning was dawning for me many years after this dream, as I grew old. The pattern of my life too had been "slowly woven" through the years as I tried to choose consciously the "direction" at each stage of the journey, and perhaps now it was time for me to attempt the quarter turn and to endeavor to see from a new angle, and as a whole in the making, the "tiny scraps and fragments" of the past.

    What is the meaning of the quarter turn? This is not the only dream in which that image has appeared. The psyche may be imagined as a circle, and if a line is drawn bisecting it horizontally with the half circle below the line dark and the half circle above it light, one may see in it an image of the collective attitude of most people. Everything unconscious, instinctive, dark, of the earth is lower than the clear light of the conscious mind—devalued, pushed down, and ignored as men go their way, trying to banish all shadows with the light of pure rationality, walking on the bisecting line of the circle without a glance downward. This attitude, persevered in, leads inevitably to the half turn, the circle turned upside down, with the dark uppermost—violence, sensuality, ignorance, and superstition trampling upon and excluding all the order and clarity of consciousness. But if one can make the quarter turn, if one can bring up the dark things and give them equal status with the light, while at the same time the light descends into the dark, then earth is raised to heaven, and heaven descends to earth, and the holy marriage may be consummated not only in the pleroma but here and now. "In my flesh shall I see God." There is a final symbol of that which is beyond the quarter turn—the yin-yang fishes of China. In this we feel the unity of stillness and movement, the eternal dance of dark and light in which, though order and pattern axe never lost, there is a constant fluidity. The seed of the light is seen in the dark, the seed of the dark in the light, and all the "scraps and fragments," so meaningless in isolation, so incoherent in the light of unshadowed reason, are revealed as the significant threads of a great pattern, with which the ego must never identify but of which it is an essential part.

    Earth raised to heaven, heaven descending to earth. Another dream of many years ago returns to me. I dreamed that a child, my son, had had a dream in which he was given a spade and told that his work was to dig the dust of earth and lift it to heaven, and for every shovelful of earth he lifted up he was to dig a shovelful of the dust of heaven and bring it down to earth. So it is in the life of time—every up followed by a down and every down by an up. I remember a woman new to the ritual of the Catholic Mass saying to me, "The thing that struck me most powerfully about it was the constant rhythm of up and down movements." In the life of time the ascent and descent are known as a constant repetition, an alternation of this and that, but beyond time in the totality we shall know them as one. "The above is as the below."

Old Age: Journey into Simplicity by Helen M. Luke, edited by Barbara A. Mowat, Introduction by Charles Moore (Harmony/Bell Tower) In this classic text on aging wisely, the renowned Jungian analyst Helen M. Luke reflects on the final journeys described in Homer's Odyssey, Shakespeare's King Lear and The Tempest, and T. S. Eliot's "Little Gidding," and also on suffering. In examining some of the great masterpieces of literature produced by writers at the end of their lives, she elucidates the difference between growing old and disintegrating and encourages us to grow emotionally and mentally in this culminating stage of our own lives.


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