We, She and He – 3 books by Robert A. Johnson

We: Understanding the Psychology of Romantic Love (New York; Harper One, 1983)

She: Understanding Feminine Psychology, Revised Edition (New York; Harper, 1989)

He: Understanding Masculine Psychology, Revised Edition (New York; Harper, 1989)

Sometimes I wonder why I read Jungian psychology books – they always send me into such a spin! But then, that is exactly why I read them – the desire for transformation. Wrestling with God like Jacob so that by cerebral understanding I might at least have the illusion that I can contain the pains and joys of life.

I read He and She a while ago in order to work on questions of gender. RJ takes the Fisher King/Parsifal/Holy Grail myth in He, and the Psyche-Eros myth in She, and uses them allegorically to draw insights about the essence of male and female psychology. It’s refreshing to read theory done through story telling: it relates to a different part of our brain and so draws out different insights. Personally, I relate to Psyche’s quest quite strongly and I do find it helpful as a tool for self-reflection. I think that this would be true regardless of one’s conclusion about gender as ‘essence’ – am I ‘essentially’ female and can be no other by virtue of my biology, or is gender more determined socially and therefore has only culturally specific articulations.

Here’s a link to an english translation of the original Psyche myth by Apuleius.

And the original Fisher King myth in its English incarnation by Thomas Malory.

The present reason why I’ve just read We is because I am working with the analogy of falling-in-love as a description of ‘conversion.’ That’s been really fun and I has gone into a couple of different projects about love and spirituality: an essay for general readership; a sermon series; and a prelude to my ongoing academic study. In We RJ reflects on the myth of Tristan and Iseult (also known as Iselda) from the middle ages. Tristan is a fine upstanding Knight, loyal to his King, until he accidentally drinks a love potion with the King’s intended bride, Iseult. They fall madly in love and defy all sense of right and common sense in order to be together.

If you want to read the Tristan-Iseult myth go here.

RJ discusses the psychology of love as a cultural phenomena in the West. He describes it as our obsession; our pathology; our replacement for religion in a secular age. As our culture moved away from seeking meaning in religious notions of transcendence, we projected those spiritual needs onto our human relationships. Romance has become our religion. Indeed! A case in point: a saw the new Working Dog movie last week, called Any Questions for Ben? (For overseas readers: these Working Dog are Australian legends!) Poor Ben is going through a quarter life crisis: he feels cut adrift, lost, yearning for something more and for his life to ‘mean something.’ So does he turn to religion, spirituality or even psychotherapy? No, he turns to love! He finds it within himself to commit to one woman and trusts in that relationship to satisfy these inadequacies he feels.

There is a pressing need to address the unrealistic expectations on intimate human relationships of all kinds – parental, romantic, platonic, etc. If we seek ‘god’ in a human person we will always be disappointed. But more subtlety, if we seek the source for our own personal transformation in another person, we too easily fail to integrate any fleeting transcendence within ourselves. It is not that God is absent from human relationships, indeed, frequently we experience the wonderful grace of God in our intimate relationships, but the source of God is not located solely within them as the object of our affection. It is a glimpse of heaven, but we live here and now on earth.

Here’s a little passage:

“In the symbolism of the love potion we are face to face suddenly with the greatest paradox and the deepest mystery in our modern Western lives: What we seek constantly in romantic love is not human love or human relationship alone; we also seek a religious experience, a vision of wholeness. Here is the meaning of the magic, the sorcery, the supernatural in the love potion. There is another world that is outside the vision of our ego-minds: It is the realm of psyche, the realm of unconscious. It is there that our souls and our spirits live, for unknown to our conscious Western minds, our souls and spirits are psychological realities, and they live on in our psyches without our knowledge. And it is there, in the unconscious, that God lives, whoever God may be for us as individuals.” (p. 53)

I still have a barrage of questions (which is probably quite obvious in the obscurity of some of this post) but the fact that archetypal theory has the capacity to articulate the quest for Life in God, is to me, invaluable.