The Spirit of the Depths and the Service of the Soul

My soul, where are you? Do you hear me? I speak, I call you – are you there? I have returned. I am here again.’
Carl Jung

In his Red Book Carl Jung speaks of refinding his soul and rebuilding his relationship with her after a period of soul loss. He was called to do this by ‘the spirit of the depths’ who is opposed to ‘the spirit of this time’:

‘The spirit of this time would like to hear of use and value… that other spirit forces me nevertheless to speak beyond justification, use, and meaning… He took away my belief in science… my understanding and all my knowledge and placed them at the service of the inexplicable and the paradoxical. He robbed me of speaking and writing for everything that was not in his service.’

Jung records how the spirit of the depths opened his eyes to vision – to his soul, the things of the soul, and the soul world. This spirit forced Jung to stop treating his soul as a ‘scientific object’ and told him to ‘call upon her as a living and self-existing being. I had to become aware that I had lost my soul.’

Once he reached that awareness Jung called out to his soul and encountered her as a person and as a living landscape. She appeared to him in a number of guises (all female) – as Salome, as the spirit of a dead girl (who forced him to eat her liver!), as a serpent, and as a ‘small white bird’. She showed him a variety of visions, some of which predicted the First World War, some beautiful, most Hellish. She appeared to him as a desert, and, it may be argued, as the many places in Hell he explored.

Jung learnt that he is merely the ‘symbol and expression’ of his soul. She taught him that everything he does and says ‘comes from and belongs to me’. Ultimately he entered ‘the service of the soul’.

***

Jung’s words are of interest not only because they contain a great deal of mystical depth and wisdom but because they remind me of my own calling to serve Gwyn ap Nudd, a god of Annwn (‘the Deep’ – the soul world in the Brythonic tradition) and to restore my relationship with my own soul.

Like Jung I was called away from service to ‘the spirit of the times’ by ‘the spirit of the depths’.

From doing something ‘of use and value’ to the ‘inexplicable’ and ‘paradoxical’ – to ‘the service of the soul’. This happened when I decided to write my PhD thesis on ‘Imagination’ in William Blake’s prophetic books rather than trending topics and in my choice to write books based on personal visions that challenge the grounds of already obscure Brythonic/Welsh myths rather than a ‘how to’.

It’s only since I’ve accepted I’m never going to be able to make a living from such work and stopped using social media to publicise it I’ve managed to make space to journey and write more deeply.

Over the past month I’ve begun a quest, like Jung’s, for ‘a myth to live by’, that has been calling me even further away from the myths that others recognise from the medieval Welsh texts. To visions of my gods that are more direct, unfiltered by Christianised narratives, but less recognisable and hence relatable (unless, as I hope, I ultimately succeed on touching, through the personal, on the universal…).

In this space, as a way of repairing my own soul loss, I have been reconsidering my relationship with my soul. This began the day I met Gwyn leading the fairy funeral procession on Fairy Lane in my home town of Penwortham. Unlike in the original legend in which the fairies were tiny black-clad men clad with red caps they were taller than me and dressed in Victorian funeral garments. Gwyn, who I didn’t recognise, was wearing a black hat and leaning on a walking cane, his only recognisable feature being his long, silky white hair. As in the original the ‘fairies’ carried a coffin. And, like the hapless protagonist, I looked into the coffin and saw my own corpse. Only she looked ‘other’. Gwyn told me “a part of your soul is trapped in Annwn” before revealing his identity.

When I started journeying to Annwn with Gwyn I was reunited with this lost part of my soul. She appears as a warrior-huntress (who I am and/or watch) aboard my white winged mare with hounds. She’s everything I’m not – practical, courageous, able to fight, hunt her own food, survive in the forest.

At first I wondered whether this is simply facile wish fulfilment. Shouldn’t I, a suburban muppet, be more like my usual bumbling, clumsy, scatter-brained self? To this Gwyn replied with a resounding “No!” and told me this is the exact form my soul needs to take to get work done in his world.

I wasn’t completely certain she was my soul at first and I’m still not sure she’s the whole of my soul. Yet I haven’t found any other parts yet. I’ve has inklings in intuitions and dreams of past lives as a soldier and a nun but they feel like past selves my soul has inhabited rather than soul parts.

There is also the dark magician who sometimes shows up in my dreams and who I’ve chased through a number of books and who I’ve always kind of wanted to be if only I was good at magic. I spent a while wondering if he is my animus* but have reached the conclusion he has his own enigmatic existence, that dark magicians don’t give away their secrets, and accepted him as a guide of sorts.

In contrast to Jung I’ve found that my soul rarely speaks to me. For the past eight years since I’ve journeyed with/as her she hasn’t said a word and it’s only since reading Jung I’ve tried to speak to her. This resulted in her telling me to ‘be silent’ and ‘to come’ (to see what she had to show me). This demonstrates it’s not that she can’t speak but she’s not very talkative. I’m guessing this may be because I’m so full of words and chatter and her silence compensates like with our other qualities.

I think it’s possible that my white winged mare and perhaps my hounds are also parts of my soul. I believe my mare has been with me since birth and am tentatively referring to her as ‘my soul animal’ or ‘my spirit animal’ (as opposed to ‘a spirit animal’) to avoid terms from other cultures such as power animal’ or ‘totem animal’. This manifested early on in me galloping round and round the playground on my own pretending to be a horse when the other children were playing games. Eventually I started horse riding and spending all my time at a local riding school working for rides, training as a riding instructor, and later returning to a career in horses after finishing my PhD.

And with horses there were always yard dogs – labradors, terriers, the crazy cocker spaniel I shared a mobile home with. Unlike with horses I’ve never had my own dog (my parents are cat people) so I’ve never got to know dogs that intimately. Whilst I generally feel at one with my horse I often feel like I’m full of yappy excitable hounds jumping up and down inside me that refuse to calm down. Like the dogs that come and shake all over me or out me when I’m meditating I find them annoying. Whilst I’ve only got one horse** my first hound guide was an old shaggy wolf hound and he was replaced by two young Hounds of Annwn when I decided to make my lifelong dedication to Gwyn.

So my current view contrasts with Jung’s in that my soul appears as many parts at once. Also my soul is both male and female – my huntress is female, my mare is female, and both my hounds are male.

My main challenge in this deepening ‘service of the soul’ is learning to trust my soul. Putting aside my feelings of bitterness and resentment that my soul will never earn me any money and my fears that by following my soul away from known Brythonic mythology I may lose my already small audience.

But what are these fears compared to losing one’s soul?

*Mainly because Jung states that that men have a female anima and women have a male animus – a gendered binary logic that doesn’t ring true to me.
**Ok there’s ‘the dark horse’ but I think he’s a water-horse, a land spirit, rather than a part of my soul.

10 thoughts on “The Spirit of the Depths and the Service of the Soul

  1. Thornsilver says:

    It’s always awesome to hear more about your own journey. I did think of Gwyn as well with the first part you quoted about what the “spirit of the depths” told Jung. Those really sound like things He’d say, for me at least.

    I loved your description of your first meeting with Gwyn. It’s interesting how often the white hair shows up for people, in encounters with Him. That hair was how I (retroactively) knew it was Him, in visions from before I knew His name. In fact I’ve wondered if it was a hint to me about the meaning of His name being “White.”

    I’ve been wanting to explore the concept of animal guides, and guides in general. I seem to have one (a dog), but now I’m considering if she’s a part of my own soul or connected to it in some way. Something to ask Gwyn about.

  2. Bogatyr says:

    Interesting; I’ve never read Jung, though I’ve absorbed a lot from what others have written. Do you follow the “Speaking of Jung” podcast? If not, you might enjoy it.

    I don’t like to give unsolicited advice, but it seems that you’re kind of inviting it when you speak about “bitterness and resentment that my soul will never earn me any money and my fears that by following my soul away from known Brythonic mythology I may lose my already small audience“. Pretty much nobody makes any money from poetry or writing, that’s a sad fact; it’s not a thing to be bitter over. As for an audience, following your authentic creative and spiritual journey is surely better than sticking with something that’s not seeming true to you for the sake of only a few others?

    As for that, I generally prefer prose to poetry, and that’s true of your work as well. There’s a very interesting combination of nature/countryside/history/myth in your writing that reminds me of Jim Perrin: take a look through his posts on the Guardian, and maybe get some of his books through your local library. Since you’ve already had a few pieces published in your local newspaper, other people clearly enjoy your writing as well. Perhaps build your voice in that forum, see if you could get a regular column, and allow that to inform your more personal writing here?

  3. ninamgeorge says:

    Well… I’ve not caught up with your writing for a while and what a joy it is to read this… it is such a rich choice to have a soul life and to give this room… maybe it is also what Martin Shaw talks about in the podcast, that if you talk/write from the prophetic, there’ll be a small audience…? I understand that bitterness, there is a part of you that knows how spectacular your writing is… I think I understand that… I thank you that you take the difficult path… much love

    • lornasmithers says:

      Lovely to hear from you 🙂 Yes I think there has always been only a small number of people who choose to have a soul life and it feels like it’s getting less and less in a world where there are a thousand and one distracting things to do instead. I always imagined I’d folk in religious communities who shared similar callings but it is so very few…

  4. Greg Hill says:

    Jungians have had trouble recently defending the apparently gendered ‘anima’ and ‘animus’ characterisations of the soul. But I think it is important not to take these gender implications too literally and move on from Jung’s language as James Hillman tries to do in his ‘Service of the Soul’ book, though I also find tying the exploration of the soul down too closely to any psychological doctrine is reductive and the language of psychologists, even Hillman, rather … well… soul-less!

    • lornasmithers says:

      Yes I like reading about Jung’s personal experiences but don’t agree with his theories. I gave up psychology A Level as it was reductive. I’m not sure how it developed not to speak the language of the psyche at all, let alone the soul…

  5. M.T. says:

    Speaking as someone in the U.S., whose deities are mostly from around the Mediterranean, seeing how locally grounded your work is interests me very much. Is that kind of work possible here, on land where my ancestors or at least my kind of people dispossessed or killed off the original inhabitants and made no contacts with the local spirits? I can see the goddess Flora in a rogue patch of flowers growing half a block from the planter where someone originally planted them, but what about the spirits of the land beneath the sidewalk? I don’t have answers for that, but I’m seeking hints.

    • lornasmithers says:

      I think I’d be asking those questions too. My intuition is that the spirits would still be there but how they’d feel about what happened there I’m not sure… of course we’ve had conflicts here in Britain too (Romans vs Britons, Anglo-Saxons vs Britons etc.) that have left their mark but nothing on the scale of the Europeans killing off the Native Americans. Christianity and industry have both done a great deal of damage too. All these things combine to make reconnecting with the gods and spirits of the land, some who haven’t been connected with for centuries, complex and difficult.

  6. Nimue Brown says:

    I really appreciate you sharing your journey. For me the tension between creativity and commercial viability has just been a consequence of the state of the industry – I’ve tried doing more commercially viable stuff and nothing turns out to be more commercially viable anyway so i conclude that i may as well make whatever I feel moved to make and hope for the best. Perhaps it is enough to survive and keep dreaming, perhaps at this point, in this state of the world, it is the only sort of win available.

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