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Catherine Svehla

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Viewing 15 posts - 1 through 15 (of 15 total)
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  • Thanks Sunbug!

    Raven is another of my favorites too. He’s the patron energy of mythic mojo, my work with mythology:). I know a version of the shell story that begins with Raven finding the shell on the beach. I’m always looking for variations on all of these stories so appreciate the note about the museum exhibit!

    warmly, Catherine

    Hi Robert,

    I also found the Green Knight interesting, Gawain’s character in particular. The one story about him that I know is the one with Lady Ragnell and the question: “what do women want?”. In that story, Gawain behaves so admirably. Then I looked into the various knights of the Round Table a bit and discovered that he was the lusty one, susceptible to sexual temptations. I appreciated that this was the Gawain created in the movie and thought they made good use of his weakness, but your reflection goes deeper. Thank you!

    Mercurius and alchemy. Reading your comment, I realize that when I think of “trickster,” I think of a figure that embodies a dynamic in the world and in my self, and reflects that dynamic back to me. As you point out, the alchemical Mercurius, who gets his name from the Greek trickster god Hermes/Roman Mercury,  is a “trickster” or trickster-like energy that one  deals with in a conscious process of psychological transformation. Is he a catalyst? I haven’t spent much time with alchemy–might have to remedy that!

    warmly, Catherine

    Hi Sunbug,

    thank you so much for sharing your thoughts, especially the story of those dances. I can feel the trickster energy there— I’d say a blend of the playful, crazy, and potentially disastrous, and all for and in the moment:). Nanobozo!

    I’ll have to look into the female tricksters that you suggest. A female pirate sounds interesting. After I posted to Stephen, I realized that I forgot to answer that part of his question. I agree that there are likely  female tricksters in the legendary stories but the definitions and biases get in the way.

    One thing that I wonder about is the need to attribute gravitas and culture hero status to trickster. Do European derived/outsider scholars feel a need (perhaps unconscious) to “redeem” the trickster by saying, “well, he also did this good thing?”

    In the case of coyote and raven, for example– I’ve only dipped a toe into Native American perspectives but I find emphasis on the foolishness and bad example and humor. More of a “oh well, there he goes again” and shrug your shoulders, attitude.

    I also expect contemporary spinners of the old myth material will reveal female tricksters to us in ways that are both old and new:).

    warmly, Catherine

    Hi Stephen,

    it’s a pleasure to be part of COHO again, and thanks for your question.

    You provide a good catalog of known instances of female tricksters in the mythological canon. There are very few.

    I think patriarchy and male bias impacts our view of the trickster: a lack of willingness to see female figures as tricksters (male and female sexuality and sexual misconduct are treated quite differently, for example), and the history of revising, repressing, and erasing narratives of female power and creativity.

    In addition, the study of tricksters, including the creation of the term “trickster,” is a minefield of cultural bias. It’s reasonable to wonder about the effect of bias (male, European, white, Christian, scientific, etc) on the understanding of different gender constructions and the roles played by men and women in cultures where outsiders found “the trickster.” I don’t know anything definitive but think these are questions to have in mind.

    On that note, the question “where are the female tricksters?” reflects awareness of the unequal and deeply unsatisfying treatment of women in the dominate culture. The question could be meaningless in a culture in which male and female had different and also equally valued roles to play!

    Despite our need to create dualisms and categories, there is something in life that confounds them, and reminds us that life is more than our definitions and perspectives. There is synchronicity. There is good and bad luck. And no matter of view of ourselves and our intentions, we get tripped up, are fooled, play the fool. Cosmos and life are dynamic, and the trickster somehow embodies this. Ultimately, I dropped a “she” into my description of the trickster as a nod to the ambiguity and fluidity inherent in this figure/concept and the dynamism of myth.



    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

    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

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


    warmly, Catherine

    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.

    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!

    Wonderful illustration! The look on the princess’s face is priceless:).

    Hi Stephen,

    good question!

    If we follow the action of the story, the golden ball becomes/is replaced by the frog. At the outset, the princess is tossing her golden ball. Later, she is throwing a frog at the wall!  Which makes you wonder about the nature of the golden ball.

    In Jungian terms, the golden ball symbolizes the archetypal Self. Experienced in a moment, the Self appears as some “thing,” an image of realized wholeness. And yet the Self is an active dynamic in the psyche, a catalyst for change in the conscious personality. The Self is the call, the vehicle, and the outcome.

    In the story, the golden ball falls into the well “one day.”(the call) The frog appears and the attention/energy of the princess shifts from the ball to the frog. (vehicle) She destroys the frog (old image/conscious form of the ball). The frog is transformed into a prince whom she marries, ie the conscious personality is transformed through the emergence of capacities/aspects of self that were previously unknown.

    My articulation of this is clumsy but hopefully you sense my meaning. And it may shed some light on the experience that you describe, of  the difference between what initially motivates us and the adventure that unfolds.

    As I understand it, the Self is a great mystery, a complex in the unconscious that is known by degrees as it presents itself to conscious awareness. When we respond to it, we do so from the perspective of what can be known by us at the time. There is a promise or challenge that compels us, that hints at something larger, and we follow it. But we don’t know the real purpose. And we can’t.

    I think it was Jung who said, “I” happen to myself. That is, the Self makes us, and we trace the outline of the process in retrospect.

    Thanks again for such a great question!

    Hi James,

    I’m not clear on what you’re asking or want me to specifically address? You seem to have a good grasp on the ideas that you’ve shared. What is it about the current struggle that “men” are facing, that you’d like me to consider?

    warmly, Catherine

    Hi Merrikate,


    what I mean– and I was trying to put this a bit poetically!– is that the splat that transformed the frog into a prince, also transformed the princess. Before the splat, she was a princess who did what her dad told her to do and she ran away from the frog. After the splat, she was a princess who decided her course of action for herself, and acted wholeheartedly.

    Sometimes we act in a way that reveals a capacity in us, that we didn’t know was there. This is a transformative experience. One example is the “ordinary” person who spontaneously rushes into a burning building or dives into the water to save someone. Typically, such a person had no idea that he/she could respond in this way and the revelation is very powerful.

    Hope this helps! Thanks for asking.

    Hi James,

    Lots of wonderful questions and ideas here. I haven’t had a chance to digest your addendum:)  but will respond to your initial post now. Some thoughts beginning with the significance of metaphor….

    Metaphors are more than figures of speech. They are a cornerstone of thought and a vocabulary of meaning. As Jung observed, people think and learn through analogy, that is, we understand one thing by comparing it to something else. A metaphor is a type of analogy but in this case, the comparison goes beyond similarities and into new webs of association. This is the poetic quality of metaphor and its power as a holder of evolving, multiple meanings. A metaphor can bridge the knowable and the unknown, “God” being one example.

    Metaphors catalyze imagination. Imagination is a form of thought.

    As a symbolic language, myths are comprised of metaphors. You can locate yourself in a story even if the literal details don’t apply (the story is about a princess and I am not a princess) by seeing through the metaphor (if I am the princess, how am I like the princess, have I ever acted like the princess, could I be the princess, how am I not the princess, etc. and what does this mean?).

    Approaching myths this way is useful because they open what is otherwise factual, literal, to a wider web of meaning and to the conscious imagination. This change in context alone can alter the experience and lend it value. It can generate questions that lead to insight. It can also deepen your understanding of what is at work and provide options, and as Joseph Campbell says, you realize that you’re not alone. The existence of a story in which you can locate your experience tells you that others have gone through something similar before.

    When you see events in your life metaphorically, you discover their mythic dimension. The mythic is always present although few of us consistently look for it. I understand personal myth as a process of discovery. You find out what is at work. How you respond to what you find is a creative process, but I don’t think deciding to craft a personal myth for yourself is fruitful unless you are willing to be guided by what is already present, even if it leads to places that you don’t want to go.

    Dreams and major epiphanies are important and yet, the mythic shows up in everywhere. For example, in the mythic pattern readings that I offer, a person’s word choice and mode of thought expresses as much as the factual content of the autobiography. Seeing through or thinking with a story, like the little exercise of “The Frog King” in my essay, can be very revealing. What strikes you about a story, especially the questions that arise, can lead you into the mythic dimension if you pursue them.

    I’m so glad that you found “Blisters on the way to Bliss” useful. Thank you for telling me. I’m posting the link to download the pdf here in case others are inspired to check it out.
    warmly, Catherine

    Hello Stephen, COHO and Mythblast readers! I’m excited to be part of this conversation.

    I came to myth through art and activism. Studying and making art taught me that myth is a dynamic conversation between the individual, society, and psyche, not merely a collection of old stories. The connection between my first career as a community organizer and mythology took a bit longer to reveal itself. But once I was in graduate school and thinking about unconscious or unrecognized myths in culture, the pieces fell into place.

    When I was in art school, I had an important conversation with one of my teachers. I was older than most of the other students and lamenting that I had come to my art practice too late. She said that some people choose a clear straight path very early and some take the winding mountain road. The winding mountain road leads to surprising discoveries and offers the best views, doesn’t it, she asked? I realized that my approach to life is exploratory, fueled by my curiosity about the world and my own nature. I’m kind of a bricoleur of experience, always shifting things around to see what can be made. This is how I approach myth, as my work and a personal practice.

    In my work with individuals over the years, I often sense the pressure to have a clear direction and make the “right” choices, and see how a person can get boxed in and lose the sense of adventure. The essential connection between soul and the aspiring ego is lost. You don’t pay attention to what rises up in you, as the poet Rilke says, because it doesn’t fit the plan. You miss your bliss.

    Having shared this bit of context… several weeks before my 40th birthday, I was inexplicably seized with the desire to go to graduate school “in some Jungian thing.” A friend told me about Pacifica. I was living in southern California at the time. I got a catalog. The first program listed was a masters in counseling. That sounded good. Practical. Useful. I kept reading. The last program in the catalog was Mythological Studies with an Emphasis in Depth Psychology. My whole body lit up. At the top of the page I wrote, “I have no idea what I will do with this, and so I will do it.” I earned my PhD and became a mythologist.

    It hasn’t been easy. It’s been experimentation and bricolage all the way. I discovered my talent for storytelling when I started a JCF Mythological Roundtable Group in Joshua Tree, CA. I didn’t have a plan, only a strong desire to have conversations about myth. The roundtable was a beautiful collaboration, one that created lasting community, shaped the cultural landscape, and launched me into the type of storytelling that I do today. Thank you JCF, and thank you high desert myth-lovers!

    You ask about my connection to Campbell’s work. I frequently turn to his books for commentary about a particular topic. The breadth of his scholarship continues to amaze me. He is also an important conversation partner, someone I can think with, and argue with. Campbell often frustrates me, his treatment of women in the hero’s journey, for example. And I find a hierarchy of being, the human species imagined as the pinnacle of intelligence and consciousness, a viewpoint to which I don’t subscribe. I wonder what Campbell would say in response to newer scientific discoveries about birds, elephants, trees, fungi, and many others on our planet who are more than metaphors.

    And, yet this frustration is so useful! Campbell reflects the viewpoint of a specific demographic at a certain point in time, and I think it’s important to remember this. Dream–and think– the myth forward. He did, and I think Campbell will continue to be an important touchstone. His work provides so many opportunities for engagement and argument, and his life is an inspiring example of a life lived within a mythic context. I read A Fire in the Mind, the Campbell biography by Stephen and Robin Larsen, before I started the roundtable. His story motivated me to take the leap, to grapple with myth in my life and share this process with others. His marvelous passion for living myth feeds my own.

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