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Tossing the Golden Ball,” with mythologist Catherine Svehla, Ph.D.”

Viewing 9 posts - 16 through 24 (of 24 total)
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    Thanks for the poem! Reading it, I am reminded that Campbell called the frog in our story “a little dragon.” Perhaps you had that in mind:).

    I devote the April episodes of my podcast to poetry in celebration of National Poetry month here in the United States. I think I’ll include this one by Rilke!


    Hi James,

    you write eloquently about a very important problem. What do we do when the old models don’t work and further, when we are members of/trapped in societies that don’t offer viable alternatives or support the quest for them? Each of us faces these questions and I agree, being male or female greatly influences the models, pressures, and types of response.

    Reading your words brought three insights from Jung to mind, insights that guide my work and my sense of its necessity.

    One, that “Western” people live in cultures with a one-sided consciousness, specifically an overemphasis on reason, the measurable material, and the literal. You see this in the dominant metaphor of the “machine”– cosmos, world, society as machine and the human being as cog in it.

    Two, that the solution or response to this situation is the symbolic life. Learning to attend to images and metaphors in the world and those that rise up in the self. Dreams. Etc. Imagination/the life with soul. This is the source of our connection to what is larger, “in” us and beyond us. This connection assuages the existential loneliness. It is the source of vitality, purpose, meaning, identity, and inner authority.

    Three, that without the symbolic life and that connection, the individual offers him/herself inadequate answers to the questions of life, and so is unfulfilled, neurotic, and vulnerable to outside pressures. On the collective level, you have people who are bored and empty, who seize on any opportunity for sensation and excitement, no matter how fleeting or how (in the case of war) violent and insane.

    I’m merely adding my primary reference points to yours, I know. I see the problem too. I do wonder if we are at an inflection point. Terrible pain and suffering is often the catalyst for change. As long as there’s enough comfort, in the personal or collective life, we can deny, distract, and hide. When the situation becomes unbearable, we change. I don’t say this to dismiss the suffering!! And yet, as the pain of the one-sidedness spreads and is deeply felt by more and more members of society…

    I believe that those of us who see the problem in this way are called to live a life with soul, to keep exploring what that means, and to share what we learn with others, one person at a time. You never know who you touch, or how.


      Catherine. I wish I could express how deeply meaningful your kind and deeply considered response is appreciated; for it is something I have been struggling to: name, articulate, understand, and express for a long, long time. And you did so with such sensitivity; even though you had to navigate such a large amount of text I had given you out of frustration to describe it; I find it hard to express my appreciation in a way that fully illustrates it.

      When I first came across the idea of one’s: “personal story” as a framework in which to access the process of finding one’s own: “unique personal myth” and living it I first came across it in the older version of CoaHO when moderator Michael Lambert first introduced the concept from his experiences as an English teacher to his students and it was a revelation like no other. (This is why I requested posting your extremely well-articulated composition: “Blisters on the way to Bliss”); as an individual guide one might use to find their own way. And I also think this template keeps reappearing in different forms; (like in the movie: The Freedom Writer’s Diaries”), as just one example. Why do I think this is so critical? Because by the individual using this process of attempting to find and understand their own experiences through realizing how mythic forms are references to what is at work within their own lives, they can begin to understand what is happening within themselves and use this reference as a compass to find their own way.

      Shortly after I posted my entries to you, I went to bed and this morning came across this piece from: “Psychology Today” about some of the problem’s males are now experiencing which I feel provides at least one window into the male psyche and connecting it with the world they must learn to process. (Synchronicity perhaps; I don’t know, but a bell rang that seemed to say that it had some connection.) Although it is an extremely quick read, (maybe 90 seconds or so), in many ways it hits the nail squarely on the head of at least one aspect I was attempting to describe.

      However, I think your description much more fully articulates the much larger and more comprehensive dimensions of why connecting these dots into one framework is so extremely difficult. Joseph Campbell was able to cross these huge divides in such a way that thinking metaphorically could provide clues out of our internal: “house of mirrors” we keep getting trapped in. And by understanding not only what Jung was saying, that we could do it in such a way as to “make it our own” without having to rely on worn-out stereotypes that no longer work in the modern technological wasteland we are forced to navigate. (That treadmill automaton system that says: “you must live a certain way or be ostracized”; and that a life of meaning and purpose on your own terms is not possible.)

      If we can find the connection points; (which your piece so eloquently describes); it is not only possible but may help to provide clues on how to approach it.

      Again, I sincerely thank you for such a warm and sensitive response to a question that has been haunting me for such a long time. Namaste



      I am trying to find the source or a link to source on that poem…since it was something I memorized long ago…from B&B. I think it is from Letters to a Young Poet (Rilke)

      There are other lovely excerpts of Rilke on that album.

      Maybe I can find the proper source. knock on wood! Considering I might be off on a few lines after all this time. But as kid loved it!



      Okay. I have found a link to Ron Perlman’s recitation. I was off on a few lines. So will re-quote.
      Think Ron Koslow (show creator) and Don Davis (soundtrack composer) are credited along with Ron Perlman for recitation and Rilke for the poem.

      I did learn something interesting as I found another YouTube clip on Perlman’s recitation. One commentator below said this excerpt is from letter 8 of Letters to a young poet (Rilke) And the commentator was of the opinion that it was one of the best translations because the other translations mess up the part about the dragons. All subjective of course (grin). But interesting none the less.

      Here is the poem quoted properly! It adds even more!

      ”Excerpt from Quest/Letters to a Young Poet” Ranier Marie Rilke

      How should we be able to forget those ancient myths that are at the beginnings of all peoples?

      The myths about dragons who at the last moment turn into princesses?

      Perhaps all the dragons of our lives are princesses, who are only waiting to see us once beautiful and brave.

      Perhaps everything terrible is in its deepest being something helpless that wants help from us.

      So you must not be frightened if a sadness rises up before you larger than any you have ever seen.

      If a restiveness like light and cloud shadows passes over your hands and over all you do.

      You must think that something is happening with you.

      That life has not forgotten you.

      That it holds you in its hand.

      It will not let you fall.

      Ron Perlman’s Recitation of  Excerpt from Letters to a young poet


      It’s been a fruitful exchange James. Thank you for meeting me in this space:).


      warmly, Catherine


      Thank you  for the source and elaboration of this beautiful piece from Rilke. I have a copy of Letters to a Young Poet and I located it in that text, Dover publication translated by Reginald Snell. I’m posting it given our mutual interest in translations!

      “How could we forget those old myths which are to be found in the beginnings of every people; the myths of the dragons which are transformed, at the last moment, into princesses; perhaps all the dragons of our life are princesses, who are only waiting to see us once beautiful and brave. Perhaps everything terrifying is at bottom the helplessness that seeks our help.

      So you must not be frightened, dear Herr Kappus, when a sorrow rises up before you, greater than you have ever seen before; when a restlessness like light and cloud shadows passes over your hands and over all your doing. You must think that something is happening upon you, that life has not forgotten you, that it holds you in its hand; it will not let you fall.”

      Personally, I think Perlman states the essence cleanly:).

      warmly, Catherine



      I meant to include a link to Perlman’s recitation. So hopefully can do that here.

      It would be interesting to hear this in the original language, but I only know a finger full of German words (from Dad’s time stationed overseas during Korea)

      Did learn Latin as a kid…so knew a little more of that.

      However, when up in NY for dance… to my delight…the old Strand Bookstore held secrets buried on its shelves…including a small book of Rilke poems with both the German and English translation! The book was almost falling apart but I did not care. Treasure! There were a lot of poems about Angels in that book as I recall…and transformation.

      So here is the link to Ron Perlman’s recitation of Letter 8 Letters to a Young Poet- Ranier Marie Rilke. Ron Perlman’s recitation of Letter 8 Letters to a Young Poet- Ranier Marie Rilke.

      And thank you Catherine for sharing the translation from your papers as well. That is brilliant! Love seeing and reading it!
      And I think you are correct, Perlman does “state the essence cleanly.”

      When I corrected the part from my memory of “perhaps everything terrible is in its deepest sense something helpless…” to “perhaps everything terrible is in its deepest being something helpless that wants help from us.” It felt different and much deeper and more clear. It took it from a surface view to falling down into that well…

      I do love frogs by the way. Just in case have strayed too far from the original focus of your essay.

      And I agree completely with you about Campbell emphasizing human consciousness…when so much has been and is being learned about consciousness in animals as well. I’m a little prejudiced from my own experience with loved cats and a 24 year old Quaker parrot…and dogs too…plus I am fascinated by ravens and other Corvids. The Ornithologist and Naturalist Bernd Heinrich in Maine/Vermont has done studies and believes ravens do have consciousness by the way they must deliberate and even “imagine,” to work out problems.
      And recently have seen videos where various animals both rescued and wild have responded to people playing music. There is always more to know and how fascinating it would be to see hoe Joe Campbell would navigate that today! Change mind or stay with original themes *grin*

      The only reason I went off on this tangent was as soon as you mentioned Rilke…it just took me somewhere else! At least still with some reference to transformation!
      I also agree with the paragraph where you mention your work with individuals and the pressure to have a clear direction and make “right” choices. I was lucky to have parents who were educators (Astronomy, Earth Science, Math) but who also encouraged and supported my dreams (dance/poetry/music) and encouraged me to dream. I am very humbly thankful for that!

      So what you say rings true about the “essential connection of the soul…” and “not paying attention to what rises up inside.”
      Sadly sometimes I think this is a “guilt thing” that happens in society today…where “going in” is deemed a “selfish thing”  rather than an “opening or awakening thing.”

      Or listening to that “inner voice,” or “deeper inner nature.” Maybe it’s just me, but it also feels like that pressure to make right choices is held up as the only path to compassion and right action. When sometimes if one goes deep enough or quiets the mind chatter…the compassion is already there? Waiting to be noticed?
      So now you have me thinking about the big ol splat of Mr. Frog against the wall and now it feels like an even bigger metaphor…

      Both Princess and Frog are trapped. But the splat sets them free…from all the illusions  that were holding them down. Maybe its the illusions going splat even more than Mr. Frog.

      And the princess took that initiative when she was pushed.

      Of course it does not seem compassionate…or as gentle as the “kiss transformation”

      (maybe there is a place for each?)

      Maybe the frog knew he might go splat but did not care?

      Or is it possible the frog even represented the princesses inner nature?

      And she had not been listening to her inner nature because she had to do all the proper princess things? Keeping up appearances. (Yes in some tales she seems spoiled…but maybe she is not happy either?)

      So the frog forces the issue…and in the splat version the frog by being annoying to her forces her hand….and in so doing sets her free. In the splat tale even though not as gentle as the kiss tale…I still notice that the frog convinces her to do everything he says until she can’t take it…and voila! Maybe that was the point? Illusions finally broken? Freedom gained.

      But with the surface perception of this tale with emphasis of a spoiled princess or brat princess…it would be easy to see how the opposite would be read alas! Too much freedom selfish girl frog is only one who forces her to do as told and she gets married. 

      I guess that depends on the reading? Whether the intent of the tale is warning about too much freedom (willful girl with big ego) Or whether one is only seeing the surface and there is something deeper down in that well than just the frog?
      That both girl and frog are trapped in spite of all the illusions of her being a selfish princess? And maybe both are unhappy.

      Okay you just started me thinking about that splat again. Hehheh.

      signing off. ;-)🐸




      thank you for the link! Which I will click:). And for your reflections on the consciousness of animals and birds. We are on the same wavelength.

      I appreciate your reflections on the princess, the frog, and the splat. Thank you for sharing. I like the frame- that the splat sets them both free, free from illusions. A rich way to describe their transformation! I imagine the frog as an aspect of the princess that is a catalyst (I mentioned this in response to Stephen’s question about the disappearance of the golden ball in the story) and your musings make this less abstract.

      Echoes your observation about the pressure to make right choices and compassion, and the perceived selfish of turning inside. In my experience, which granted has limits, the callous don’t make such a turn or ask questions about selfishness. The posing of the questions, the appearance of the dilemma, is often a sign that it’s time to give more energy, attention, and love to one’s life, self, soul.

      warmly, Catherine

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