Elemental: One Wet and Windy July in Ireland

monochrome image of trees blowing in strong wind on a widswept hillside

Image citation https://www.flickr.com/photos/euanzkamera/7916292824 Euan Morrison (September 2012), Trees in the Wind II, Lomond Hills

Many ancient traditions, as well as some modern belief systems, view all life and existence as being made up of five elements: earth, air, fire, water and spirit. While each element brings unique qualities to the mix, they all blend together to create the dynamic manifestations of our perceived reality and experiences.

It is, perhaps, in the midst of nature that we humans sense our existence most deeply, feeling connected to the planet while we walk our gardens and even to the wider Universe as we gaze at the night sky. I believe that these sensations happen through direct contact with elemental aspects.

Think of a windswept hillside or rustling trees; a loud downpour of heavy rain or a silent fall of light, fluffy snow; a golden sunrise or crimson sunset; sand sliding through your toes or waves splashing around your ankles; the emotions of relationship and the inspirations of spiritual practice, whatever you perceive that to be. The list of possibilities is endless. I’m captivated still by the Louis MacNeice poem The Sunlight on the Garden, particularly when I look out at the pale streaks or sunrays across our hedge on a winter morning.

Though sun basking is a favourite activity when I get the chance, today I am a little more fixated on wind (air) and water, both very powerful yet both also capable of being soothing and gentle. In the part of Ireland where I live, weather is relentlessly changing and notoriously unstable. Rainfall levels are at the higher end of the spectrum and seem to be living up th their reputation as July progresses; winds bluster and blow from the Atlantic Ocean or North Sea and most winters involve some snow, although we are considered a temperate clime.

Many friends and neighbours complain about the weather and understandably so – I have done my fair share of moaning about it too, especially when it becomes necessary to drive in poor conditions in order to get to work or school. But in recent years I find myself less likely to resist the wearisome weather and more inclined to accept and see the beauty in it all. I find wet, windy days exhilarating now; cold, crisp nights uplifting; frosty mornings enchanting. While I love summer, Autumn gives me some kind of earthy pleasure. It is all so elemental.

Here’s the band Earth, Wind and Fire singing September.

Farewell Maestro #DavidBowie

Album Cover, Hunky Dory, contains song Changes

David Bowie on Hunky Dory album cover

Saddened by the passing of my all time favourite artist David Bowie, I’ve been looking back over my old posts and collections, celebrating his work and asking myself ‘What did David Bowie and his work mean to me?’

A series of images, tunes and words spring to mind. Here are just a few of them.
Youthful yet ageless, renowned yet humble, epitome of fearlessness, imagination, glam rock, the seventies, the eighties, colour, metallic, snazz and pizzazz, style, freedom, inventiveness, creativity, oxygen, emotion, sophistication, underground, challenge, way out, pure artistry. A while back I expressed my love of Bowie’s portrayal of the central character in the film ‘The Man Who Fell To Earth’. To complete my hymn to our departed hero I have included that post as an appendix to this one. With thoughts and meditations towards his grieving family, I add

>>Rest in Peace Maestro and Thank You for the Music<<



Here’s an earlier blog post:

Falling Into Life: David Bowie as Archetypal Energy

Famous for his shapeshifting and experimental, entrancing songs, David Bowie’s role in the film The Man Who Fell To Earth is rarely noted nowadays. For me this is one of his finest pieces of work, alongside the song Changes from the 1971 Hunky Dory album. As a rare example of a movie that closely mirrors the book, Walter Tevis’s novel of the same name published in 1963 tells the story of a Martian who comes to earth to find a way to save his planet, his species and his own family. Bowie captures perfectly the loneliness and at times despair of the alien as he tries to make himself understood by the people he becomes involved with on earth. There is always an archetypal quality to Bowie’s work and in this role, he seems to me to mirror the Jungian process of  individuation, that always requires some kind of descent into the unknown and often alien realms of the  unconscious.

Other symbols of a pending descent into the inner world include dreams of stairways down to a cave or basement, or sliding into a lake or ocean. The classic example is Lewis Carrol’s Alice in Wonderland, whose descent down the rabbit hole and encounters with numerous archetypal characters represent the way in which humans can grow through encounters with the unconscious (see Clifton Snider’s article at http://www.csulb.edu/~csnider/Lewis.Carroll.html ).

Ancient myths also reflect this theme, like Orpheus in the underworld and Persephone’s cyclical return. But the ultimate goal of descent is to touch base in some way before returning to the world a more expanded and integrated person, like the hero returning with the elixir of life or as Jung expounded, the alchemist finding the lapis lazuli.

While not everyone’s cup of tea, The Man Who Fell To Earth gives me a sense of the ultimate creativity of the hero’s journey and takes the sting out of uncertainty and change, for though the hero may not achieve his or her initial plans, they often find connections and meaning in the new world, so that ultimately it is the journey, not the destination that matters.

What does David Bowie mean to you?

From Belfast to Paris: A Gesture of Empathy and Solidarity

image of guitarist band member onstage wearing a tshirt with PARIS on it and a black armband

Stiff Little Fingers guitarist Ian McCallum performs at the Back of the Mill venue in Paris, as the band opted to continue with the gig as planned following the terrorist attacks on Friday evening. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Tuesday November 17, 2015. The veteran Northern Irish punk band defied safety concerns to perform in trouble-hit Paris, telling the crowd: “The world has their hearts with you.” See PA story POLICE Paris SLF. Photo credit should read: Steve Parsons/PA Wire

Read the full article here:

Belfast Band ‘Stiff Little Fingers’ first to play Paris post-massacre, in a gesture of empathy and solidarity.

[citation: http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/northern-ireland/paris-attacks-belfast-band-stiff-little-fingers-defy-safety-concerns-to-play-paris-gig-34211070.html ]

There were numerous reasons for this Belfast band to defy fear in order to honour their booking in the Paris venue yesterday. Mainly, though, it was through deeply experienced empathy, the band members having grown up during the worst years of the North’s troubles in the 1970s, when few music acts (with the exception of ‘The Clash’ and ‘The Bay City Rollers’) ventured into this neck of the woods.

It was a pity, since like young people everywhere, we were obsessed with music and bands; they are part of a rite of passage. All of which makes the recent Paris tragedy more poignant given the young age of many of the victims. Reaching out and expressing solidarity is perhaps the most admirable of human traits and like all human communication is often manifest in symbolic and archetypal language and action. Music and performance in all its guises provide comfort, empathy, outlets for emotion, opportunities for interaction and identification and can facilitate healing of all kinds of ills, especially grief.

Most people I know are struggling to hold back tears when we hear and read the news reports of the happenings of Friday last. While there are certainly numerous pockets of human suffering across the globe over which we all grieve, Paris has caught us particularly badly because, I feel, of the seeming randomness of it and the exuberant youth who were wiped out or injured at the concert along with all the others relaxing in Paris’s renowned café culture.

We need to believe that peace is possible. ‘You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.’

Blind Rage and Absolute Corruption: Reflections on Macbeth

image of blood red hands and title Macbeth

“Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

Attributed to the nineteenth century historian Lord Acton, this insight was particularly aimed at monarchical systems where the ruler was believed to be there by divine authority and therefore could do no wrong. Like some of the more despotic Roman emperors, Shakespeare’s Scottish Thane Macbeth seems to have become drunk on his own self-image and the power of kingly status. Once in the grip of it, the thirst for more power drove him to ever more bloody and heartless slaughter. And like many corrupt regimes, once the public realised they were under the rule of a tyrant it was too late to depose him. Fear was the order of the day.

Shakespeare was a genius. His understanding of human psychology is timeless, yet forever being re-discovered and Macbeth, the play, is particularly incisive. As the tale intimates, the loss of their young son triggered the slide of Lord and Lady Macbeth into a state of emotional numbness wherein the seeds of a desperate quest for validation and position could take root and fester; almost a state of grief gone awry.

We know that grief can manifest in many forms and that anger is one of them. Yet while anger is a common human emotion built to protect us, no-one would condone a power-crazed killing spree. It is, in my view, the pathological nature of Macbeth’s anger that scares us so much and that creates the dark mood of the play, with all the superstition and ritual that have surrounded it. image of face with black side versus white side Blind rage coupled with the knowledge that he has damned himself seem to drive Macbeth into a state of complete disregard for the humanity around him, perhaps even denial of their suffering. Jung would no doubt say he was in the grip of a sinister, destructive shadow archetype.

But the puzzle remains as to why and how Macbeth’s reign of terror escalated to such a degree. We hear for instance his initial thoughts of ambition and regicide, then his second thoughts pulling back from the awfulness of it – yet the influence of the witches’ predictions and Lady Macbeth’s goading are the focus of some debate. Was he channelled into his dreadful path, to carry out a self-fulfilling prophecy sparked off by the witches’ proclamations, or was the naked ambition there from before? Was he manipulated by Lady Macbeth to re-ignite his notion to murder the king, or did she just fan the flames that were already there?

Here’s an extract from my daughter Dearbhlá’s GCSE coursework of a few years ago, regarding

The Witches and Macbeth

‘The witches seem to predict that Macbeth will do something awful and the world will be thrown into chaos but when we meet Macbeth we see quite quickly that his thoughts have already been dwelling on his own political rank. They tell him he will be king and after they leave he states,

“Stay, you imperfect speakers! Tell me more!”

Murderous ambition is already present in his mind so the witches cannot be seen to have caused it, though they help to bring it to the surface. Even Macbeth himself starts to talk like the witches in another aside:

“This supernatural soliciting;

Cannot be ill, cannot be good.”….

….“My thought, whose murder yet is but fantastical,

Shakes so my single state of man

That function is smothered in surmise,

And nothing is but what it is not.”

Macbeth is “rapt” according to Banquo, and mesmerised by what the witches have said but this could be because it has opened up ideas and plans already in his head. So again the witches are part of the backdrop but not the entire cause of all the chaos and horror in the play. If the witches do have a bigger plan to destroy Scotland, Macbeth is a willing pawn in their game. Even more sinister is his wife Lady Macbeth who as we will also see later encourages and even browbeats him into actually murdering King Duncan.

While the witches have created the atmosphere and kick-started the core themes of the play, it is the main characters of Macbeth and his wife who think the ambitious thoughts and do the evil deeds….

There is a sense that the witches’ predictions are coming true. It could just be that this was bound to happen and they are commentators, dramatising the events with an enchanted presence. But Macbeth may not have actually committed the murders without the witches’ confirmation that he would become king. They do, therefore, influence the development of the chaotic, terrifying plot, alongside Macbeth and his wife.’  [Dearbhlá McDonnell 2012]

As many literature students will attest, the theme of the play is terror; fear of what the next moment will bring. The witches and Lady Macbeth serve to intensify the emotion of the play and act as vehicles for the darkness erupting from the main character, Macbeth. So, on to the reason for my choice of subject today – I went to see the film yesterday evening with my daughter Caitríona at Queen’s Film Theatre, Belfast.

We both felt it was brilliant, if horrifying. There are many difficult scenes of violence and carnage which do, however, create the frightening historical, social and personal context perfectly. Every aspect of the film, from cast to colour palette, does justice to The Bard’s most risky and perhaps most perceptive work. Humans are strong but also weak; have the potential for good and for evil; create and destroy. Given a conglomeration of random events and developmental circumstances, anyone’s life can turn into a perfect storm of chaos. This is the lesson we must take from Macbeth.

Without checks and balances, human nature is corruptible.

“Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely.”


Citations for images:



The Galway Study: Creative Mental Health

A summary and some interesting extracts. Do let me know if you have any questions or comments. Thanks, Roberta🙂

Let’s Hear it for The Beats

When I read Jack Kerouac’s On The Road the voice in my head insisted on reciting it in an American drawl with a jazz rhythm and haunted tone. Quite why this occurred is a mystery to me but I admit that it certainly added to the enjoyment of the book. Yet on hearing the author himself read the extract above I was blown away. So what made the work of The Beat Generation and Jack Kerouac in particular so enthralling?

For me it’s the depth; the scary extremes; the delving into and compassion for human experience that underpins their expressions. A fascination with the era of the early sixties further fuels my current obsession with The Beats, all of which are brilliantly portrayed in the regularly repeated documentary on Sky Arts 1 which charts the life and work of Jack Kerouac and includes interviews with a number of his contemporaries. With the programme due to be repeated on Sky Arts 1 next Tuesday 31st March 2015, I’ve the timer set and it’s in my diary. If you’d like to join me please feel free to comment on here as well. Happy reading, viewing, whatever floats your boat, until next time🙂

Archetypes and Elixirs: A Jungian Perspective on Life as We Know It.

Image of flaming red liquid in a cocktail glass

Returning with the Elixir of Knowledge and Wisdom

One of the key themes in Jungian psychology is that of individuation, which is an expansive process involving realisation and manifestation of the archetypes within. Archetypal aspects refer to many different facets of the self’s potential, such as the Shadow, the Animus or Anima, the Wise Elder or the Trickster / Magician. Many of these inner selves are unconscious or undeveloped and only emerge when we are able to unearth their existence through various channels such as encounters, dreams and active imagination.

All cultures have notions of human personality and self, made up of multiple aspects, many of which are oppositional or paradoxical and often these various traits are personified into panthea of gods and goddesses or other equally varied groups of characters. Take, for instance, the ways in which each of the Graeco-Roman deities encapsulates a set of particular human strengths and weaknesses. For instance Athena is wise and just but also warlike and ruthless in certain circumstances. Apollo likewise brings illness but also healing in the form of the arts and muses.


Individuation – Incorporating the Archetypes

At the start of every human life there is a diffusion of experience, expression and personality. That complex cloud of embodied sensations in the world gradually becomes organised into patterns of thought, feeling and memory and infused into a sense of the individual self. While all these phenomena are shaped and informed by the physical and social environments around us, variously named and operationalised through culture, certain broad categories of experience and expression can be identified across humanity and according to Jungian thought, these constitute the archetypes. Archetypes are universal potentials for broad human drives, yet as potentials for patterning, they are manifest in ways unique to individuals and cultures, rather like the ways in which each snowflake is structured through certain rules of construction, yet no two snowflakes are the same.

Jung stressed that this individuation was not a materialistic ‘individualism’ but a spiritual quest, a journey, and one which required a certain amount of courage and determination to overcome fear and resistance within the self. It also involves the withdrawal of projections, in other words the taking of responsibility for our own lives and recognising the fact that our own growth is in our own hands. To incorporate the archetypes successively through the sequence of Shadow first, then Anima/Animus and beyond, entails as well a kind of accumulated knowledge or insight – the elixir of life, the wisdom of the ages. And that wisdom and insight is most beneficially directed at ourselves, as The Oracle reminded Neo in the very archetypal movie ‘The Matrix’.

We have helpers along the way, though, such as family, friends, inspirational leaders and authors, as well as examples to follow in the guise of totems, god-like and saintly figures and characters from myth and legend. We also have negative influences, sometimes within the established society and canons of accepted ideas and practices around us, sometimes within our circle of relationships, and sometimes within ourselves as internalised negative attitudes and inner critical voices.

The Hero’s Journey

Archetypes and Elixirs form the raw material of the hero’s journey, our journey. Our internal responses to events, characters and relationships in the world around us shape the person we become. Whether that is contracted, frozen and bitter or expanded, empathic and wise, is largely up to us.  The Archetypes are always there, waiting for us to awaken them, the Elixirs are ever-present and calling to be consumed. Taking the plunge can be the most difficult first move but also the most exhilarating. Starting with some dream delving is one way in, creative journaling another. Both of these techniques helped to jump-start my own journey, informed and motivated by reading the works of Dr Carl Jung and inspirational blogs such as Jean Raffa’s here on wordpress. Individuation is an act of self-creation and the creative potential is inherent in all humans. Any creative activity can get your individuating juices flowing, indeed creativity has been identified as a significant booster of mental health promotion and recovery.


Thanks for dropping by,

Enjoy the Journey🙂


Flaming Elixir Image source Guest of a Guest website, New York  http://guestofaguest.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/11/red-snapper-210×300.jpg

Along the Way with Author Roberta McDonnell, PhD

So enjoyed my conversation with Sandra Harriette whose blog A Life Inspired is itself truly inspiring and full of beautiful uplifts and motivational resources. Thanks Sandra, a pleasure to chat with you.

A Life Inspired

There are a good number of people who obtained schooling and professional training in a field. What never ceases to motivate me is the fact that some of them are willing to share what they know and do it so creatively. Roberta McDonnell is that kind of person. Having started in the mental health nursing field, then onto full time education to study psychology and social anthropology on a doctoral level, Roberta decided to begin a blog on the experiences she had and the people she encountered throughout her careers. Several of her publications can be found there. She remarks: “These experiences have shaped my interests and inspirations today and I draw continually from those resources in current writings as well as in ideas for future projects.” Roberta is led by the conviction that literature in all formats is a priceless human gift and her utmost contributions in her field are…

View original post 1,852 more words

Magical MacNeice

BBC Northern Ireland recently ran a lovely series of tributes to the life and work of Irish poet Louis MacNeice. Fortunately I was able to attend three of the events and to hear tributes and readings from MacNeice afficionados such as Poet Michael Longley and Professor Edna Longley. As a confirmed MacNeice fan already, these happenings were a tremendous treat. My love for this poet’s work was triggered by the poem ‘The Sunlight on the Garden’, written in 1937.  Although referring to the tension in Europe during the build up to war, the symbolism and sentiment of the poem is just as relevant today. The poem talks about the transience of pleasure and happiness, of life in fact. Yet it also celebrates togetherness, weathering the storm and at least having some ‘sunlight on the garden’. There is a zen-like feeling in the line ‘we cannot cage the minute’ but we can be IN it. I find the poem moving and ultimately uplifting. I hope you find something in it too.

The Sunlight on the Garden by

Louis MacNeiceimage of hedgerow with gossamer lit up by early morning winter sun

The sunlight on the garden
Hardens and grows cold,
We cannot cage the minute
Within its nets of gold,
When all is told
We cannot beg for pardon.

Our freedom as free lances
Advances towards its end;
The earth compels, upon it
Sonnets and birds descend;
And soon, my friend,
We shall have no time for dances.image of sunlight on gossamer and leaf

The sky was good for flying
Defying the church bells
And every evil iron
Siren and what it tells:
The earth compels,
We are dying, Egypt, dying.

And not expecting pardon,
Hardened in heart anew,
But glad to have sat under
Thunder and rain with you,
And grateful too
For sunlight on the garden.


Louis MacNeice, Selected Poems, edited by Michael Longley, 2nd edition (2007: 38)

publisher: faber and faber

Original Images by Roberta McDonnell

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