by Mary Jo Spencer, ARAS San Francisco
originally printed in Journal of Analytical Psychology 1984, Vol. 29, Pages 113-123
THE THEME of dance has been a major and continuing motif throughout the analysis of a woman now in her seventies. The image of dance when it turned up often seemed to signal a point at which a major shift in attitude was being prepared for in the psyche itself. When I recognised this I became interested in the image of dance as an archetype since it related closely to material of my own. My patient gradually became interested in the process of amplification and what it added to her understanding as she went more deeply into her own material and began to know more about the process of psychological development. At a certain point she began to use ARAS for herself.
There is no time in human history when dance has not existed, and no place in all the world where human beings have not danced. It is an activity in which psyche and soma are both involved, and to dance is to be immediately and totally present, as well as to be related timelessly to our remotest ancestors who also danced.
I have chosen three of my patient's dreams to illustrate the use of amplification in clinical work. Two are quite early in her work; the third is fairly recent.
1. I am dancing 'on point' before a small and appreciative audience at a social gathering. I am surprised and pleased to find myself doing so. Then I realise there is something behind me. I turn and look to see that a very tall man who is my partner has been carrying me. I have not really been dancing at all. The real credit goes to him. I feel both sad and embarrassed, for the audience knew he was there all along even though I did not.
2. I am dancing in the chorus of a classical ballet. I am excited and pleased but I also wonder if I shall ever be a 'real' dancer, i.e. dance a solo.
3. I see a figure dancing in the midst of a ruined sanctuary, perhaps something like a very early church, domed and small.
It was an arresting figure which danced there. The top portion to the waist was that of a dark-eyed, dark-haired woman dressed all in white, looking rather like the early monumental Greek women of Picasso, while the lower limbs and feet of the figure were hairy goat legs and hooves.
The figure was divided at the waist. It was 'not split' (she explained with care) but rather as if there were something like a membrane between the upper and lower half of the body. The figure was dancing, and my patient said she was moved for days afterward by the rhythmic beat of the capering goat hooves. It was nearly impossible for her to keep from dancing wherever she was when she remembered and heard the sound.
It was a wedding ceremony, the goat woman was the bride. Finally the groom arrived; but he was veiled. No one could see who or what he was.
The qualitative differences in the two early dreams and the later one are obvious. The earlier dreams, while suggesting creativity, have a narcissistic flavour and centre on 'performance', a useful thing in itself, but quite in contrast to the sense of depth, of paradox, and of transcendence in the third dream. Clearly the first images are personal, and the last is symbolic. All have 'meaning'; but the later dream has 'import' in the sense that Prochaska quotes Langer's use of that word.
The history of dance becomes relevant as we view the differences between the earlier and later dreams. A few slides from ARAS, which I shall describe, illustrate this fact.
First there is the Magdalenian image from Les Trois Frères cave of the 'so-called sorcerer; a masked male with round staring eyes, stag ears and antlers, beard falling on chest, hands held close together, fingers outstretched, body leaning forward covered with an animal pelt, human legs and feet in dancing position, erect phallus pointing backward below horse tail' (1Cc.129b).
A Sumerian sound-box for a lyre from 3,000 B.C. In the third register is a dancing bear. The dog, the lion, the ass, the jackal also portrayed suggest 'a continuing inheritance from the masked dancers of Paleolithic votaries who combined the office of dancer and priest' (2Bd.052).
500 B.C. Dionysus and dancing silens, sileni or satyrs-Dionysus is the god of wine and dance. Here he stands in the middle of revelry 'drunken not with wine, but music' (HARRISON 3, quoted in ARAS 3Ja.019).
500 B.C. A silenus and two maenads dancing in ecstasy. In front of their faces is written kalos and kale-the masculine and feminine forms of the Greek word for 'beautiful' (3Ja.021).
890-920 A.D. Illuminated MS from St. Gall showing King David with musicians and dancers and 'above, the enormous gold hand of God emerging from the heavens, extending two fingers in benediction' (5Ck.076).
1461 A.D. Early Renaissance. Salome dancing before Herod. Herod is so pleased he offers to give her anything she wishes, even half of his kingdom. She asks for the head of John the Baptist on a platter and he has to keep his promise. John is beheaded and Salome presents the head on a platter to her mother, whom John had angered. There is in this a reminiscence of the frenzied violence around the orgiastic dance of the maenads in Greek myth (5Fa.258).
1773 A.D. Le Bal Paré, a ceremonial ball which had established itself in the reign of Louis XIV, gaining its name because it was governed by preordained rules and led by a master of ceremonies. But the ceremony became purely secular and the priest is now replaced by the master of ceremonies. The sacred meaning is gone and the ceremony celebrates a worldly hierarchy of power and status (5Hu.008).
Lithographs by Toulouse-Lautrec. Some of the vitality of the early slides is here, as if the Dionysian aspect of dance cannot be suppressed and will surface again. The energy of the archetype continues to find its way to the surface (5Jv.060; 5Jv.061).
C. 1875. 'The Dance Foyer at the Opera.' Dance as a form of art. 'Dance in a way parallels Degas' art, which was never accidental, always strictly calculated, in which the miracle springs from constant discipline.' The archetypal aspect of dance is preserved within the art form, but the container is aesthetic and cultural rather than sacred (5Jb.023).
This brief pictorial survey of dance illustrates clearly the differences between the first two dreams of my patient and the last one. Since dance itself is a non-verbal expression of meaning, perhaps the visual imagery found in the ARAS slides is a far better mode of amplification of the metaphor than words could ever be.
What have we seen about dance in the western world in this very limited presentation? We have seen dance as mimetic and magical for early man, representing his kinship with animals and with his own animal nature in which he lived in harmony and comfort. We have seen dance as sacred, whether in its orgiastic form of frenzied possession by the god with the accompanying loss of ego, or in the manifestation of dancing before, or for, or in honour of the god, or God, as in the ecstatic dances and in the musicians and dancers before King David blessed by the golden Hand of God.
Sometime during the Middle Ages the sense of dance as sacred disappeared from our western European culture. Why is it, we may ask ourselves, that both dance and drama-originally sacred activities in our heritage, have become entirely secularised, when dance and drama are still living manifestations of the sacred in many other parts of the world? Perhaps they are not lost forever, but hidden in the maze of labyrinth of the western psyche from whence they venture forth in our dreams. This is supported both by the images and by the sequence of my patient's dream images.
The first dreams belong clearly to the secularised culture of wester Europe in the late nineteenth century. Although they had much meaning for the dreamer, the meaning is personal and relatesto the personal unconscious. The importance of the first dream is the beginning realisation that the ego and the animus are two separateaspects of the psyche and that a growing consciousness will no longer allow the dreamer to be comfortable with her lack of discrimination.
The dream of dancing in the chorus begins to point the way to a deeper level of understanding. To dance in the chorus is less inflated and carries with it more recognition that the ego must work very hard indeed to have the privilege of 'dancing'. Except for those few persons dancing in recognised ballet companies most dancers earn their living in boring and sometimes menial jobs, often living in marginal comfort and security, so they may study ballet at night and perform with small companies.
We contrast this to the sorcerer of Les Trois Frères mentioned above. He is in the posture of the dance and he is wearing many attributes of animal nature, wolf or stag ears, antlers, bear paws, an animal pelt, human legs and feet and a penis placed where a feline's would be. He has round staring eyes, which remind me of marmoset eyes-eyes which can see in the dark; to put it psychologically, eyes which can see into the unconscious. Perhaps by putting on or wearing such attributes he possesses, and therefore, can use them.
Jane Harrison says that primitive man 'is aware of action'. Instead of asking a god to do what he wants done, he does it or tries to do it himself; instead of prayers he utters spells. In a word he practices magic, and above all he is strenuously and frequently engaged in dancing magical dances. ...
We have some modern prejudice and misunderstanding to overcome. Dancing is to us a light form of recreation practiced by the quite young from sheer joie de vivre and essentially inappropriate to the mature. But among the Tarahumares of Mexico the word nolàvoa means both 'to work' and 'to dance'. An old man will reproach a young man saying 'Why do you not go and work?' (nolàvoa). He means 'why do you not dance instead of looking on?' It is strange to us to learn that among primitive peoples, as a man passes from childhood to youth, from youth to mature manhood, so the number of his 'dances' increase, and the number of these 'dances' is the measure of his social importance. Finally, in extreme old age he falls out, he ceases to exist, because he cannot dance (Harrison 4, pp.30-31).
The psychological meaning of this is that he becomes himself and related to the world around him by dancing. It is almost as if he recreates himself and nature each time he dances. By this action he is incarnated and becomes real to himself; it is a coming into consciousness of being. I am reminded again that the theme of dancing often occurred for my patient at times of inner transition.
Harrison says that the word meaning rite in Greek is dromenon, that is 'a thing done' (Ibid., p. 35). The word 'drama' comes from this root. In a dromenon as a thing done ritually, we have the soil from both dance and drama grow. This idea seems also to be linked to the Tarahumares' feeling that work and dance are significantly related concepts, and that both work and dance in the sense are also related to worship.
Occasionally, even now, one comes across dance in this deepest oldest sense of 'sacred work'. The Corn Dances of the Pueblo Indians in the south-west are surely examples of such 'sacred work'. Once in Greece in the spring I saw, from a car window, two men in a newly-planted field, arms across each others' shoulders, dancing gravely and rhythmically without any music except the music of spring itself.
Another time in the Ethiopian city of Gondar, in a beautiful small old Coptic church, a priest beat some magnificent drums to let us hear the sound. Suddenly, but quite naturally, one of the guides began to dance, another joined him, and another took up that ancient instrument, the sistrum. It was as if the image in the miniature of King David and the musicians and dancers had come alive. Again there was a timeless moment. But just as suddenly the guides stopped dancing and laughed in an embarrassed fashion, as if their Ethiopian bodies and heritage had betrayed their recent westernisation.
Jung says that feet have a fertility significance, as does the activity of treading on the earth (Jung 5, para. 480). He speaks of the libido put into the earth by 'magic touch', by jumping, by rolling on the ground, by dancing (Jung 6, para. 86). In these ways we demonstrate the oldest and most primitive connection that we know as human beings, that of ourselves to the earth upon which we live. In ancient China a new-born infant was laid and left on the ground for three days in order to know if Earth had accepted its birth. The Greek men in the fields, the Ethiopians, the Pueblo Indians, and my patient too in the third dream, have all known a sacred communication with the earth. Whether it was conscious or not, all have dances in Tarahumare way.
However, every archetype is expressed in polarities, in seeming contradictions and is neither bad nor good, nor beautiful nor ugly, but simply so complex that it manifests itself simultaneously in many different forms. There is an aspect of dance related to frenzy and fury and possession, and perhaps the ahs something to do with its disappearance as a sacred form in western Europe. The frenzy and fury can manifest either in orgiastic forms or in blindly destructive murderous rages. Pan is often associated with the notion of orgiastic excess. There is a hint of this aspect of dance possession in the figure of the woman with goat legs and hooves.
In their mad possessed dances the maenads, following in the train of Dionysus, destroyed whatever man or animal crossed their paths, even sometimes tearing their own children limb from limb. The myth is that Dionysus was refused recognition in certain countries and by certain rulers. In revenge for this he drove the women mad. Psychologically this is a fascinating story because it suggests that the Dionysian aspect of life if not recognised can become horribly destructive and erupt in the most brutal and mindless kind of behaviour.
The image of death itself is seen as a dancer. The most famous depiction of this in our western culture is that of Holbein, but we have another in ARAS, particularly poignant, of Death and a child, a wood engraving originally copied from 1350, contemporaneous with the Black Death of 1348 which swept across Europe.
Death says to the child, 'Creep here, you must now learn to dance. Crying or laughing I hear you with pleasure. Had you a nipple in your mouth it would not help you at this time'. And the child says to his mother, 'Alas, woe, my dear mother. A black man pulls me thither. How do you want to take care of me. Here I have to dance and cannot yet walk!' (5Fv.006).
The final image of the dance of Death in Bergman's film 'The Seventh Seal' is in contrast to this. Death has appeared throughout the film as a relentless, brooding, unavoidable presence. But in the last scene the simple visionary little pedlar sees on the distant morning hills, outlined against the sky, Death dancing with pipes leading in dance all those he took with him from the castle the night before.
In the Etruscan tombs too, there are many scenes of dancing. The energy and vitality of the figures is striking. The image is not at all a negative one (3Md.029) (Fig. 2).
By the time of the third dream my patient had lived through the deaths of her mother and father and that of several close friends and had also begun to relate seriously to that fact, more apparent after the age of fifty, the sense of her own mortality. Therefore some of these images of death as dance and dancer became very meaningful for her. Their importance is hinted at in her own dream in the image of 'a ruined sanctuary, perhaps something like a very early church, domes and small'. In this sacred setting the dance goes on with its vivid image of a woman both deeply connected to her instinctual nature and wholly civilised as well. The setting of the ruined sanctuary implies the impermanence of temporal structures and the passage of temporal life, but the dance goes on, and even more, this is a wedding dance and the figure waits for the veiled bridegroom.
In early Christian times dancing was apparently a natural part of sacred life. From the Gnostic tradition we have a description of a round dance performed the night before the crucifixion with Jesus at the centre surrounded by his disciples. Jung says, 'This close relationship is represented by the circle and the central point: the two parts are indispensable to each other and equivalent. ...
At all events, the aim and effect of the solemn round dance is to impress upon the mind the image of the circle and the centre and the relation of each point along the periphery to that centre. Psychologically this arrangement is equivalent to a mandala and is thus a symbol of the self, the point of reference not only of the individual ego but of all those who are of like mind or who are bound together by fate (Jung 8, para. 419).
Dances in the churches survived into the Middle Ages. They were originally in a three-step rhythm and were dances sometimes in the coir and sometimes along the maze, which in itself is an abstraction of a dance pattern, a movement to the centre or heart of an image and the return to the periphery again. A dance goes 'into' and comes 'out of'. But by the twelfth century these dances had degenerated into something like the Roman saturnalia and were dismissed first from the church to the churchyard, and finally by the thirteenth century in England were forbidden in the churchyard.
Dance became not only secular but totally desacralised. It was associated with the dark underside of religion, with witches and the devil, who was remarkably like Pan with his human torso, his cloven hooves, goat beard and horns and animal eyes. It was lost to us as a sacred form, and perhaps it is this loss that was restored to my patient in the image of the dark eyed woman dancing so joyously on the delicate cloven hooves separated only by the permeable living membrane.
Several years ago members of the Sufi order known as the Mevlevis, or Whirling Dervishes, came to the San Francisco Bay area and dances. My patient went and wrote the following description:
It was more or less described as an evening of dance entertainment. I was looking forward to it. But when the lights in the hall dropped, the muezzin's voice came out of the darkness chantingCome, come whoever you are, An unbeliever, a fire-worshipper, come. Our covenant is not of desperation. Even if you have broken you vows a hundred times, Come, come again.
I was without even wishing or willing it in that space where dance is the manifestation of creation, where time and space are ordered by dance and the music of the dance.
The founder of the order was the mystic and poet Mevlana (our master) Jalālu'ddīn Rūmī, who lived from 1207 to 1273. The Persian word darwish means literally: the sill of the door, and in Arabic and Turkish as 'dervish' means the Sufi at the door of enlightenment (Friedlander 2). Here again is the image of dance as related to a point of transition from one level to another.
There are two figures who direct and contain the whirling dance. One is the sheikh, who represents the sun, while the dervishes themselves are the planets who dance around him. The second is the dance master, who controls the pace of the whole ceremony by his movements and position. They stand opposite each other. Each dervish passes between them, kisses the hand of the sheikh and is given permission to dance. It is an earned privilege and not a right. Then he turns to the dance master for silent instruction. The dance master indicates by a movement of his foot beneath his long brown robe where the dervish will begin his sema, his Turn. The dervish moves away and seems to unfold into the dance. His white skirt opens out like the flower of an hibiscus, or Morning Glory, and his arms extend.
The right palm is raised toward the sky, and the left is turned downward to the earth. Thus he becomes the pole through which the heavens and the earth are united. He is the human being between; he is in fact the one who can be the connection between heaven and earth.
But the sheikh, the sun, dances among them only at the end. He turns in their midst more slowly, it seems, and holds the opening of his brown robe with his right hand, while his left is held close to his body and turned upward. He is the sun, the centre, the source of life and consciousness, and he is contained within himself.
The dervish knows exactly where he is at all times. His left foot never leaves the ground. He does not lose himself in ecstasy; he becomes ecstasy. In the words of T.S. Eliot, he is there where the dance is 'at the still point of the turning world'. Surely this is another instance of what Jane Harrison means by the dromenon or 'the thing done'. He is in the eternal moment of creation.
In India Shiva Natarāja is the god of dance. He dances in Chidambaram-that is the centre of the universe which is also the centre of the heart. His dance brings matter into being, and he dances within the circle of the fire of human passions and feelings, by which we are both drawn to experience and know ourselves and 'burned'-that is either purified or destroyed by our incarnation with its human desires and passions.
Both images define sacred space and sacred time. When we dance, whether we are conscious of it or not, these are the archetypal images which are evoked in the deepest layers of the psyche. Shiva represents the birth of the timeless into time and space. The whirling dance of the dervishes represents the ability to be in ordinary reality but simultaneously through dance to be in sacred time and space. They are seemingly opposite images of the same paradoxical truth that man is at once merely and ordinarily human and simultaneously 'significant man' surging with an invincible like force despite his frailty and mortality. At the core of the round dance, the whirling dance of the dervishes and in the dance of Shiva the central image is that of the self as dance.
The third dream of my patient had this quality for her, both of the essential significance of her life as was as of its brevity. The identity of the veiled bridegroom is still unknown. Clearly the image of the dancer represents two opposites within the psyche of the woman, two aspects which on the surface seem unrelated and yet are able to function as a totality.
Jung says that 'Kore, the maiden, appears in a woman as the unknown young girl-frequently as "the dancer" (Jung 9, para. 311). The maiden also appears as "corybant, maenad or nymph; an occasional variant is the nixie or water sprite who betrays her superhuman nature by her fishtail'. In our example her superhuman nature is betrayed by her goat feet. She belongs both to herself and to spirit in nature.
Also in Jung's Commentary on the Golden Flower he says 'Among my patients I have come across cases of women who did not draw mandalas but danced them instead. In India there is a special name for this; mandala mrythia, the mandala dance. The dance figures express the same meanings as the drawings. My patients can say very little about the meaning of the symbols but are fascinated by them and find they somehow express and have an effect on their subjective psychic state' (Jung 7).
In the fresco of the Villa of Mysteries in Pompeii is the figure of a nude woman with a flowing scarf turning in a contained but ecstatic dance, much like the description of the dervishes: she does not dance in ecstasy; she is the dance (3Pa.026a; 3Pa.026b). Katherine Bradway in her monograph on the Villa of Mysteries writes that 'She has to find her own god and goddess inside herself. She has to discover and know her inner selfness.'
'And this is the transformation.
'The initiate dancing is generally seen as a deification. This is the end of the initiation and the initiate is dancing the dance of the arisen spirit.
'She has no need of music outside of herself. She makes her own music with the clashing of her cymbals. The scarf, the symbol of the feminine, is flowing out around her, and the staff, or thyrsus such as Dionysus carries, is being held for her by the priestess who is acting as her attendant. It is as though the feminine and masculine are available for her as she needs them. She has fully experienced the power of each, but she is in the power of neither. She is free' (Bradway 1).
Perhaps most important of all is that my patient did in fact begin to dance herself, thereby performing her own dromenon, in her own way, mediating the archetypal aspect of dance in all its meaning through her own body and spirit. And only those who knew her inmost life would have recognised her sacred secret.