Composed of 13 distinctly powerful stories, Marked by Fire: Stories of the Jungian Way is a fascinating read. Each contribution is well-written, well-informed and uniquely insightful. The book does a solid job of placing the personal experiences of Jungian devotees and analysts in a historical context. It educates, but also enlightens the reader as to how these contributors have used Jung to better understand their own lives. The stories in Marked by Fire are at times immensely personal, and it is both fascinating and revealing to see how these writers work and struggle with some of these important ideas.
According to editors Patricia Damery and Naomi Ruth Lowinsky, the writers were guided by two central questions: “How do those of us who dedicate ourselves to Jung’s psychology as analysts, teachers, writers, understand Jung’s imprint on our psyches? If we believe, with Jung, in ‘the reality of the pysche,’ how does that inform our lives?”
This idea of self-analysis within a set framework is, to me, unusually stimulating. With no one right way, the process is so dynamic, fluid and subjective that it is essentially a journey into the unknown. The writers turn inward with little or no outside help to analyze their own experiences and lives. Such can be both an enriching process and a devastating one.
To this, Damery and Lowinsky write:
These [stories] portray direct experiences of the unconscious, not those of a ‘tourist.’ Jungian memoir—writing that includes and illuminates the inner life, the Spirit of the Depths—is an emerging genre that speaks to the questions Soul brings. How do we answer Soul’s demands, knowing that the inner world is more real to her than all our worldly arguments? She wants us to track our dreams and visions, to follow our spiritual yearning, to make meaning of the stuff of our lives. Those dark nights, in which you wrestle with a dangerous angel, those bad days on which you are thrown off your path, are more precious to her than all your outer achievements and titles. She wants your obsessions, your nightmares, your wanderings in the wilderness, your ghosts and demons.
This raises myriad questions: How do you know when you’ve gone far enough? What do you do when you get there? Can you in fact go too far? How do you overcome the “dark nights,” the “nightmares,” the “ghosts and demons?” At a certain point, aren’t you likely to fall back on the maxim “ignorance is bliss”?
Perhaps it takes a certain breed of person to venture this far into their own psyche — someone with such a powerful spiritual or existential aching they are willing to shatter their entire world for a chance of liberation. If they succeed, the prize is glorious. But if not, who knows?
What is known, however, is that the stories contained in Marked by Fire are worthwhile for a host of reasons: they’re well-conceived, wholly conscious, and penetratingly poignant. They reveal to us the capacity that we ourselves have for making such a journey. While we may need more help than do these trained specialists, we are nonetheless able to take that first big leap. The question is, are we willing to?
Marked by Fire can be read in search of education, enlightenment or inspiration. As Damery and Lowinsky write: “These are not abstract essays steeped in rationality, but embodied accounts… They show us that destiny is getting to be who your soul wants you to be.”
Marked by Fire: Stories of the Jungian Way
Edited by Patricia Damery and Naomi Ruth Lowinsky
Fisher King Press: April 15, 2012
Paperback, 196 pages