Hello friends. I’m looking forward to a lively discussion around my book this November. First, some business:


If you haven’t got a copy yet, the quickest ways to do so are directly from me (www.madnessatthegates.com) through Paypal, or from Amazon. Even quicker, if you have a tablet, would be to order an electronic copy (Kindle, Ipad, etc.) from Amazon. I also have sample chapters and essays available for free on the website. You might also find my blogs interesting (as well as shorter reads) at http://madnessatthegates.posterous.com/


This November could not be a better time for our conversation. Right now, we are “between the worlds.” The entire Hispanic, Catholic and Pagan worlds are focusing on All Souls Day, Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos), and Samhain, the Celtic/Pagan New Year. The ancestors are among us right now like at no other time. They require our attention, our celebration and our tears. If you live in the Bay Area, there are still spaces available for our Day of the Dead Ritual (http://www.barryandmayaspector.com/Barryandmaya/Day_of_the_Dead.html).


Now for that lively discussion. I suspect that any proponent of Depth and Archetypal Psychology will agree that we need to look at the soul of a society or culture in the same way we look at an individual soul. We ask such questions as: What has this soul banished to the underworld, to become its shadow? What do those repressed parts want from those who inhabit the light? What sickness results from such repression? What myths are in play? What Gods are being disrespected? What would such a soul look like if it honored those gods?


At the same time, there’s little to be gained by preaching to the choir. I want to encourage dissension and healthy argument from those who disagree with some of my insights (or mistakes, if you prefer), especially in regard to the current political scene. What better theme to start with than a mythological perspective on the election that I offered on my most recent blog: Barry's Blog # 40: The Ritual of the Presidential Debates


The Myth of American Innocence requires periodic maintenance. I am suggesting that the Presidential election is a mass ritual that the nation participates in so as to revive and energize the myth and reconstitute our national sense of denial. What do you think?

Alternatively, there are many other themes we could discuss. If anyone is interested in going through the book doing, say, three chapters each week (twelve in all), I'll be happy to oblige.

And again: This is the time to remember our ancestors and both the blessings and the wounds they have bequeathed us. We are all in this together. Every single American carries a huge burden of unacknowledged grief simply by virtue of living in this society.

Or, in psychological/theological terms, as James Hillman said, every American, regardless of their professed spiritual beliefs, is "psychologically Christian." That is, we are all likely to take our myths literally.

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Replies to This Discussion

Britt's comment on Petreaus raises a central issue of my book: male initiation in a demythologized world. When we lack a mythology that connects us to the deep mysteries of life and we lack authentic ritual, we go about getting those initiations anyway, but unconsciously. Mythologically speaking, a "fall" is from the heights of hubris and grandiosity. This is never by accident. In the Bacchae, King Pentheus provokes Dionysus into providing the initiation that Pentheus needs. But when such initiations occur outside of a ritual container, the initiation may well be into literal death, rather than into the symbolic death that the soul secretly desires. In simple psychological terms, Petreaus (sounds a lot like Pentheus!), like any passive-aggressive teenager, was clearly asking to be discovered in his transgression. Such a fall may well prove to be a blessing, but only when the person is willing to descend further into the depths of prolonged grief. True initiation requires that something must die, and this is always very painful. And our society provides an infinite number of ways to distract ourselves from the process of soul-making.

Yes, Terry. We could, from the mythological perspective, practically define America as having banished Eros, along with Dionysus and Aphrodite. The loss of these divine figures is a major contributor to what Campbell described as our modern, "demythologized" world. In such a world, we search desperately if unconsciously for replacements that temporarily assuage our hunger for meaning. The culture of celebrity is one way we do that. To me, it is the mirror opposite of fundamentalism.

Good afternoon Barry, et al in this book club - I do not have the book, however, I am responding to Bonnie's invitation to join late as our December book club is cancelled. I read all your comments and was struck by the attention to the parities, election, and as I am your neighbour (Canadian); I was struck by the bashng that goes on in ads and by Romney - on the eve of voting and noticed how Obama did not stoop that low (take the other guy down to make oneself look good).

Anyways, I am glad the election is a done deal and I keep hoping that there would have been more news about the survivors of Sarah. The folks in NY have surely been 'hit' by natural and man-made acts of destruction and how this all fits into the myth of American innocence and maddness at the gates, not sure, but I could venture a guess that 'the emeny (terrorists) who bombed NY' penetrated airspace is the quise of innocence (commercial flights), and went after the head of the nations defense (pentagon - gatekeepers), and the headquarters of stocks/commodities (trade centre) and on the eleventh anniversary - another attack occurred and a superstorm hit and here I am thinking to myself...oh my God - how much tragedy does it take for change to occur...and instead of focusing on rescue/resilence efforts post-Sarah; an affair takes centre stage and what would the town-cryers of old have to say about the stories that made headlines today?

Just a few thoughts from a recluse, living in a small hamlet in the wilderness in Canada, holding onto my core sense of innocence (despite the pressure from the city/gates), which I believe are my gift to behold. I wake up every day with reverie and gratitude for my gifts - simple/basic - breath and innocence, treasures of my life's journey and lessons learned, and hold onto faith and hope to connect and contribute and possibly make a difference.

Scepticism and pessimism is rampant in Canada. How is it down south? Regards Linda


Good morning Barry, et al - I noticed I made an error in the name of the megastorm for she was Sandy, not Sarah! My apologies and I also heard on the news that the name Sandy shall not be reused again concerning any future hurricanes occurring in America.  An innocent enough 'Freudian slip' of the name Sarah on my part, and what is the mythological significance of the name error mean, if anything?  Regards Linda 

Linda, you speak of "holding onto my core sense of innocence." This is a good thing if you are holding on to a sense of wonder and a faith in the ultimate goodness of human nature. I think the usual debates about man's innate nature miss the most important point, one that is obvious to indigenous people: we evolved with contrasting natures, having to do with both aggression and cooperation. The critical ingredient is the initiation process, which channels the innate, aggressive tendencies of adolescents into socially useful energies. Men have to be transformed by culture; nature alone won't do it for them.Tribal people take Man (men) from their animal nature towards their deeper nature and the work of the soul. This is precisely what we lack as modern people, precisely why we long so deeply to be transformed and precisely why we get into so much trouble trying unconsciously to create our own initiations.

Thinking further about innocence, here are a few thoughts from Chapter Four ("The Return of the Repressed"): 

"Innocence has two primary definitions. First, it means “not guilty.” Rudolf Hoess, commandant at Auschwitz, protested that he hadn’t personally murdered anyone. “Innocent” often precedes another word: “victim.” Curiously, oppressors often convince themselves that they are the innocent victims. Another Nazi, Hans Fritzsche, claimed, “I became guilty of the death of five million people – innocently.”

Second, to be innocent is to be uninjured, inexperienced or naïve. In American history and in the American character, innocence merges with ignorance. The childlike innocence of old folktale heroes is replaced by the childish quality of people who refuse to grow up, who live a pseudo-innocence, hiding parts of themselves from their own awareness. Repression, however, always comes with a price. Myth tells us that when those repressed parts return – and they always do – they are likely to be angry."

All of my writing stems from this observation. We are who we are as Americans because for four hundred years, our society has struggled desperately to hide both our culpability and our sadness from -- to remain innocent of -- the reality of our history. 

Good evening Barry - yes, my core sense of innocence is full of wonder and faith in ultimate goodness.  My birth was a near-death experience for my mother and me, I was raised within a tribal village until age 12.  I accumulated 5 light, 1 dark - NDE's across my lifespan, and now I know (done my healing work), I walked between the worlds until age 35, in a suspended state of naive innocence, until my rude awakenings which began and were triggered by many things, but mainly moving into a city that was a wife-beating capital of Canada (maddness at those gates), at the same time while I was loosing loved ones (sister, brother).  My alchelemy, getting embodied (healing) process spanned 20 years and the only anger I needed to re-process was the thwarted fight and freeze trauma responses from NDE material.

My writing is experiential, reaches back into the 18th century to where my ancestors originated from in order to allow, transform healing of my family tree work - for several souls sakes.  The murderer in our tree was not innocent; he just kept silent until his death-bed vigil, then whispered his secret to a son.  The father/son dyads remained carriers of this man's homicidal secret, that was passed down (across) the generations, until my brother, in his death-bed and vigil experience - that secret got busted. 

It is interesting you reference the 'nazi' and my only reference point to this time frame remains Victor Frankyl, the father of existentialism - the only 'ism' I could relate to during academia.  I have never felt like a victim, have endured injury (man-made), and was inexperienced.  Like him, I too, so believe that 'attitude in any given moment is everything' plus for me there aint' nothing else quite like the power of love. 

I am enjoying my moments and am going to order, read your book.  Regards Linda



Some notes about "The Other" from Chapter Four:

The Other

Innocence defines itself in terms of the “Other.” Splitting off aspects of ourselves inconsistent with our self-image, we know who we are because we are not them. Why? Because they dress, act and speak differently, and very commonly, they engage in violence, while we do not. They exist on the far side of the line that determines who we are, just as the world exists on the other side of the skin that determines who “I” am. In truth, however, writes Daniel Deardorff,

"Every insider carries an infernal Otherness buried deep within, and it is that hidden abyss, denied and handed off, which creates society’s Other Within. Desperately wishing to remain a “real member of the flock” the insider projects this interior darkness onto (and even into) some convenient outsider."

Historian Regina Schwartz traces “othering” to the foundation of our Judeo-Christian tradition. The Old Testament “encodes Western culture’s central myth of collective identity.” Large sections are essentially narratives that forge Hebrew identity by distinguishing them from their neighbors. This is “the most frequent and fundamental act of violence we commit.”

That the Hebrews wrote much of the Bible during the 6th century B.C.E. Babylonian exile suggests another origin of othering. If a people are indigenous to a place, they define themselves by who they are, but if they live on someone else’s land – as Americans do – they define themselves by who they are not. Ironically, the Other threatens our sense of who we are, even though we’ve invented him.

The Other’s characteristics live in our shadows, so he is always lesser. Major categories of otherness are race, class and gender. Boundaries, however, are never permanent. Serious crises or periods of social anxiety can force communities to redefine “us.” Boundaries shift, and so does the image of the Other. As we will see in Chapter Seven, Americans in particular have always defined the Other as those (like Dionysus) who cannot control their impulses.

Otherness inspires fear of pollution, but it also fascinates us. What disgusts us may reveal what we unconsciously desire. Racists and homophobes are deeply, irrationally dependent upon the objects of their prejudice. Their hatred implies its opposite, an inability to rid the mind of obsessions with the Other. It leads to fictions of innocence and more. Intense and detailed fantasies about the Other reveal a soul – or a nation – attempting to know itself.

Power elites deliberately determine who is Other in order to restrict access to privilege and justify the social order and its prejudices. Eventually, “we” come to believe that the Other deserves low status. Oppression produces segregation – women in the household, poor people in ghettoes and prisons, barbarians outside the gates, the insane within the asylums – so “we” can minimize those occasions when the Other might remind us of who we actually are. Segregation merely reinforces the sense of otherness, since there is little opportunity for the close, un-biased contact that might disconfirm our projections.

However, our innate wholeness always threatens to return. Psychologically speaking, what is repressed never dies or goes away; it exists in a timeless realm. The repressed signifies the preserved. Freud wrote of the mental processes of the unconscious:  “…time does not change them in any way and the idea of time cannot be applied to them.” Even in the realm of physics, Einstein wrote that the distinction between past, present and future is only “a stubborn, persistent illusion.” Mythologically speaking, all residents of the underworld await the time when they will return to this world.

Othering takes two primary modes. The first is exclusionary, making the Other as unlike us as possible. The second is incorporative – colonizing and assimilating him, denying his own voice. Together, they create “good” and “bad” opposites like noble savage/barbarian and Madonna/whore.

Othering is inconsistent. Europeans projected opposing images upon Jews: “id” figures who would sexually pollute Christian blood, and stingy, “superego” bankers, unwilling to assimilate. Bigots see black people as both lazy and threatening. Richard Nixon warned of both  “the forces of totalitarianism and anarchy…” During the 1991 Supreme Court confirmation hearings for Judge Clarence Thomas, right-wing senators alternatively accused Anita Hill as being either a spurned woman – or a lesbian. Such discourse doesn’t care whether the terms of othering are logical or not.  Any demonizing narrative will do.

We unconsciously split the Other into inner and outer. The more we define self or community by impermeable boundaries, the more we are obsessed with the Other, both without and within the walls. We fear barbarism without, and decadence within. Having invented “outer Others” to define what they were not, the Hebrews also found evil within: military defeats, claimed the prophets, were due to God’s wrath at corruption. Indeed, raising fear of the “outer Other” (now, terrorists) inevitably evokes the “inner Other” (illegal immigrants).

Both the paranoid and the predatory imaginations depend upon othering, as fear of infection or as desire to manipulate. Either we locate Paradise within, to be protected from the Other; or else it is elsewhere, an empty space (like the female body or the American wilderness) ripe for exploitation. By contrast, the polytheistic or creative imagination sees xenos as guest. It knows that it needs the Other for completion, understood as a dynamic balance of good and evil, rather than as the victory of good over evil. Its constant flow of imagery produces an overflowing of boundaries as trade, cooperation and ecological interrelatedness.

Sexuality and aggression aren’t the only characteristics we project upon others. Those who cannot manifest their own creativity or nobility are likely to perceive those features in public personalities. We personify a grand, transcendent cause – the cosmos itself – as the King. This is the basis of hero worship and the cult of celebrity.

Romantic love, a more benign form of othering, spread through Europe in the same centuries – the late Middle Ages – that religion began to unravel. In the overwhelming experience of erotic love we reach religious states of awe and transcendence. As Ernest Becker wrote, when modern man lost his God he fixed his urge for the divine “onto another person in the form of a love object.”

But in fact this is a great opportunity. Both our longing and our prejudices represent unconscious searching for the Other who is our own deepest nature. Modernity pays grudging attention to this truth with terms like diversity and tolerance. Pagan thinking, however, understands the Other as separate only because of our inability to perceive our oneness with him/her. This realization can potentially crack our innocence and recover our wholeness – but only by passing through the painful realms of grief.

Old languages often gave high priority to hospitality. Xenophobia stems from xenos: “stranger” or “guest,” while “love of the guest” is philos-xenos. Similarly, since indigenous myths are bound up with specific landscapes, tribal people are unconcerned if their neighbors’ myths differ from their own; such myths were obviously meant to make sense of a different experience.

Perhaps there is no more fundamental divide between modern and tribal culture than in this approach to the Other. Consider that Americans use the same word for strangers – aliens – as we do for non-human extra-terrestrials. Many indigenous people called themselves “the people,” seemingly implying that others weren’t “people.” Then why were they often so hospitable (xenia is Greek for hospitality)? Where identity is conferred by culture rather than by race or politics, where trade binds people into forms of mutual obligation, they perceive strangers not as non-human, but as lacking social status. They attempt to incorporate them into a recognized status system so they can relate to them. Genuine communities – even if they rarely exist in the world anymore – would perceive the Other not as a threat, but as one who may have something to contribute. Hence the friendly, if naïve, receptions reported by most colonialists.

Whites, however, have commonly described tribal rituals as “grotesque” and “savage.” The essence of the Western, male mind, writes Barbara Ehrenreich, has been its ability to “…resist the contagious rhythm of the drums, to wall itself up in a fortress of ego and rationality against the seductive wildness of the world.”

Othering is most pronounced in monotheistic thinking, which, like any value taken to its extreme, turns into its opposite. In the second century, Clement of Alexandria declared that the gods of all other religions were demons. In 2003, Gen. William G. Boykin said, “…my God was bigger than his. I knew that my God was a real God and his was an idol.” With such boasts, fundamentalists reveal a curious sort of polytheism. To make Allah into the Other, they must acknowledge Allah’s existence as separate from Jehovah’s. When Jehovah is “bigger” than another god, he is no longer the only god.

Denying the Other, we deny ourselves. Othering is at the core of alienation, prejudice and violence. The way out of this trap, however, is not to avoid our suffering through either addiction or spiritual austerities, but to go further into it, toward mythic images such as Dionysus. We risk madness and dismemberment, but there is much to be gained.

Hi Barry!

If this is all as obviously true as it feels, is it then possible to 'hate' something in a healthy way? Like hating the degradation of the global environment, and the systematic elimination of all other species. Can I confess my own culpability, and still fight agains the 'other'? Can my own fundamentalism in wanting to protect nature be the 'right' fundamentalism? or am I just as deluded as it seems we collectivley are in our projections.

I would appreciate a bit more help in understanding how we go into our own grief in this regard.



Britt raises some interesting questions, and I encourage others to chime in to this discussion. As for me, I'm no spiritual teacher, but here are some thoughts. We can only engage in "othering" within a dualistic world view of twos, of "us" vs "not us." I argue in the book that (white) Americans have long defined themselves in this manner.

But in the indigenous world, where people spoke in metaphorical terms, the poetic imagery of their thought and speech created a third space, the mystery that allowed people to understand that the "other" was the "other me," or as the Mayan Indians still say when greeting each other, En-Lakesh.

The people I respect the most have taught that we can hate what our political adversaries do while not hating them personally.

I don't think that wanting to protect nature is a form of fundamentalism, which, to me is an aspect of our de-mythologized world and a desperate but literalized search for mythic meaning.

Ultimately, this work of the soul and of the soul of the world requires us to look constantly within to identify our tendencies to literaliize our myths. Bertolt Brecht wrote about this in his poem "To Posterity:"

You, who shall emerge from the flood
In which we are sinking,
Think --
When you speak of our weaknesses,
Also of the dark time
That brought them forth.

For we went,changing our country more often than our shoes.
In the class war, despairing
When there was only injustice and no resistance.

For we knew only too well:
Even the hatred of squalor
Makes the brow grow stern.
Even anger against injustice
Makes the voice grow harsh. Alas, we
Who wished to lay the foundations of kindness
Could not ourselves be kind.

But you, when at last it comes to pass
That man can help his fellow man,
Do no judge us
Too harshly.


Hi Barry - a lot to absorb, ponder as a novel archetype student, however, here goes...the I/Thou, We/Us or the I/Me and the Other beside/repressed in Me - caring relations based on positive regard is all about how much we have discovered during transgression. falls, viewed as a blessing (from grace; from naive innocence), and embrass the descent into the depths of prolonged grief... for it is said that in true initiations....something must die...is always very painful and important in soul-making. 

Your comment 'the other is cast into the shadows: women, race, nature and the body' and encouraged us to avoid the trap or avoidance of suffering concerning  the pleasure seeking side of primal libido, gratification of Dionysus and go deeper into the destructive side the maddness and dismemberment [cut-off from parts of oneself plus the other in me]. The old saying, 'sanity is a fine line.'

In the above poem, sounds like the bottom-line for laying the foundations of city living kindness requires acts of 'lovingkindness' for the I/Me and the Other in Me - We so that we can help each other.

Soul caring and bearing to birth the new?  Regards Linda 


Well said, Linda. Meanwhile, I'm taking another look at historical and current events from the mythological perspective, a new blog: 

Barry's Blog # 42: The Myth of Israeli Innocence


Hi Barry - I went into and read your Blog #42 - so well done and wanted to leave you a comment, however, had to join posterous and still unable to leave you a comment for the medium is Facebook / Twitter ?? and I do neither, so I will simply state here that I now get more of what you mean about the maddness at the gates and the myth of american innocence.

How do we folks in this continent stop recycling these ancient projection upon the other - could this be a pure (is there such a thing) blood-line fall? 

Regards Linda  


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