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Father Spell

Copyright © 1995 by Paul Levy

This article appeared in the Summer 1995 issue of Mentor logoMentor Magazine

I am an abuse survivor. More specifically, I received a deep wounding from my father who was unconsciously acting out the abuse of which he was undoubtedly a victim. This created enormous problems for me and forced me to go deep within myself. I am realizing that the horrific abuse I received at the hands of my father was in some way not only a blessing, but also a powerful initiation into a deeper mystery that I never would have discovered without it.

Like many parents, my father, who never became successful in his career as a salesman, became unconsciously identified with me and began living his life through me. I was an only child and was very good at school, and my being successful was going to somehow magically make him feel good about himself.

As soon as I began to grow into my own unique self, which invariably meant expressing my separation from my father, he would take it personally, reacting as if I was really hurting him. At times he would literally start raging, as if he had become possessed by some sort of demon, filled with murderous rage. His "mantra" would be: "You're killing me!" A couple of times he would even have what appeared to be a heart attack, where he would start shaking uncontrollably, becoming totally white and incoherent.

You can imagine the message this gave me. I quickly learned to shut off my emerging True Self, which was clearly "causing" this reaction. Unbeknownst to me, I was being placed in a double-bind, getting the messages from my father that he loved me and wanted me to become independent and separate from him, but if I did this, I would literally be killing him.

It was as if I had become a mirror (a word whose original meaning is "shadow holder") to my father, reflecting back to him all of his own self-hatred. In psychological language, my father was projecting his shadow (both personal and archetypal) onto me, which I experienced, as Jung brings out in his work on fairy tales, exactly as if I was having a curse, or a spell, placed on me.

After these experiences, I realized to my horror that I had introjected, or internalized, my father. I had split off, or disowned, this raging, dying part of my father, which now lived and breathed inside me as a split-off part of myself.

It has become clear that I am taking part in a deep mythological, archetypal, and cosmic drama of death and rebirth. The part of me that is dying, which is in the superficial guise of my internal father, is the part of me that is fearful, rigid, holding on with all its might, and disconnected from its true source (all characteristics of my father).

Jung discovered that the ancient science of alchemy mirrored all the stages of the individuation process. My inner experience was clearly the "mortificatio" (great death) stage of the alchemical process. This is part of an archetypal death/rebirth experience whose other side is the birth and revelation of the Higher Self.

The part of me that is in the form of my father is what is called the "prima materia" in alchemy (the rejected part of our psyche), which is the unconscious, unevolved part of us that is in need of transformation. It is often symbolized as either a dragon, a king who has lost touch with his feeling side, or interestingly, as an old man. One of the key insights in alchemy is that without the prima materia you can never make the alchemical gold.

After all these years of feeling "if only this hadn't happened to me, if only I didn't have this abuse from my father I'd be enlightened," it was beginning to dawn on me that without this "abuse" from my father I would have no way of becoming enlightened!

In the alchemical process the old man or king must be killed in order to arise again in glory. He is buried in the house of Saturn, which signifies both the tomb where the old decays, and the seed which prepares the new birth.

I was beginning to realize that I was living out the myth of Cronus-Saturn, the negative father, which gets constellated in the psyche as the devouring father at the moment in which there is an urge towards separation, towards individuation. Cronus experiences the son's urge towards transformation as a threat, to which he reacts by swallowing his offspring. To quote the Jungian author Vitrale:

Hermetically, Cronus-Saturn is the highest tester, the trial to be overcome, the governor of the prison in whose hands is liberation and confinement.

It is clear that this situation with my father is either going to drive me crazy or wake me up. At times, it is very much as if I am going through a dark night of the soul. Of interest, St. John of the Cross, author of "The Dark Night of the Soul" says:

The divine touches the soul to renew it and ripen it, in order to make it divine, to detach it from the HABITUAL AFFECTIONS AND QUALITIES OF THE OLD MAN, to which it clings and conforms itself.

This dying old man inside of me is clearly the "senex" of mythology, the king who has lost touch with eros and has become ossified, thereby no longer being of service. This senex was in need of death which leads to transformation, so that a more vibrant, virile and creative power could take his place. To quote an ancient alchemical text:

I am an infirm and weak old man, surnamed the dragon; therefore, am I shut up in a cave, that I may be ransomed by the kingly crown...a fiery sword inflicts great torments upon me; death makes weak my flesh and bones...that I may see again the light of day, and the hero of peace whom the whole world shall behold may arise from me.

Symbolically, my personal father has become the conduit for the deeply powerful forces of the transpersonal father, in this case, in the form of the negative father. The world of the "fathers" has to do with "shoulds," law and order, and collective values. In The Origins and History of Consciousness, Neumann points out that it is precisely the persecutions laid upon us by the father that set in motion the creative energies and activate the hero archetype in the son. To quote Rank, "the heroism lies in overcoming the father, who instigated the hero's exposure and set him the tasks."

It is clear that this relationship with my father is no accident, as it is an archetypal situation that connects me to a deeper, cosmic drama. More and more I recognize that it is an experience that can't be reduced to a merely personal problem between "me and dad," but that we are both playing roles in a deeper, mythological drama. This realization is very healing, as it makes available to me the deep transpersonal forces that I never would have had access to. From this point of view, the abuse I received from my father has, in fact, been an initiation, as well as a source of genuine blessings.

I would like to end with some words from Christ:

It is not peace I have come to bring, but a sword. For I have come to set father against son and son against father. They will stand solitary.

This amazing passage makes clear the purpose of inciting discord. It is to achieve the solitary condition, which is to be an autonomous individual. This can be achieved only by a separation from unconscious identification with others. This is a basic requirement of individuation, of becoming whole.

Paul Levy has developed a vehicle for waking up called "The Dreaming Process: A Path to Awakening," which he teaches throughout the West Coast. It is based on the realization that the same dreaming mind that dreams at night is dreaming our life. He is in private practice. He can be reached at (503) 226-2807.

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