Friday, January 16, 2009

Enemy, Cripple, Beggar: Politics of the Soul

an in-depth review by Joey Madia

Written by Erel Shalit, a noted and extensively published Jungian psychoanalyst practicing in Ra’anana, Israel, Enemy, Cripple & Beggar is a treasure for our times. Vital and applicable to both lay people and experts, the book flows seamlessly and spirally from scholarship, to textual interpretation, to case studies, and the analysis of dreams. Shalit draws on an impressive breadth of scholarship and myths/fairy tales, looking at both history (e.g., the Crusades or Masada) and story.

The book first discusses the key aspects of the Hero, considering Byron, the work of Robert Graves and Robert Bosnak, the Bible, and Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces, among many other sources.

I take as my starting point the condition of mythlessness in the modern world, as expressed by Jung and reinforced by Campbell and how it is limiting our vision and ability to cure an ailing world rife with war and economic/environmental woes.

If ever we needed to consider the role of the Hero, it is now.

Consider the mistaken mythologizing of the death and wounding, respectively, of Pat Tillman and Jessica Lynch. While both are certainly heroes, the government’s and media’s manipulation of their circumstances (used to try and justify an unjustifiable war) bring to mind David Mamet’s Wag the Dog, the 1997 film adaptation of Larry Beinhart's novel, American Hero.

The people love their heroes and their construction for societal consumption by the government and the media has become no less than a High Art.

Shalit says, on p. 24: “In society, the hero may be the messenger of hope who lights the torch of democracy. Sometimes it is amazing how, at the right moment in history, the heroism of a nation, spurting forth through layers of oppression, creates dramatic changes and overthrows worn-out regimes.”

Might this apply to U.S. president-elect Barak Obama? Many people think so, and many more find themselves hoping so. Then again, there are many who see him as the shadow, using the term antichrist, and finding similarities between he and Nicolae Carpathia in the Left Behind series.

If ever we needed to consider the role of the Hero, it is now.

Consider the current fascination with Superheroes in the age of CGI and comic book cinema. Just last night I watched Christopher Nolan’s record-shattering The Dark Knight, which takes as its thesis the complicated interrelationship of the hero and the shadow. Given the death of Heath Ledger, who played the Joker, the notions of the Hero are expanded to the realm of the Artist and his or her relationship with Pain.

When Shalit writes, on p. 95, “…life thrives in the shadow; in our detested weaknesses, complex inferiorities and repressed instincts there is more life and inspiration than in the well-adjusted compliance of the persona,” I think that his words bring Ledger’s death into sharp relief. As an acting teacher who works almost exclusively with teens, many of which see Ledger’s “dying for his art” as a form of heroism (an interpretation with which I disagree; it discounts the necessity of craft in preventing such tragedies), I think it is more important than ever to examine carefully the Hero’s role and relationship to the shadow.

The shadow is Jung’s term for the unconscious, the “thing a person has no wish to be” (p. ix). His early experience of his own shadow is, to me, some of the most compelling and useful text in his Memories, Dreams, and Reflections.

The hero must go into the shadow (the forest, the depth of the sea, the desert, the cave­—Plato’s or the Celtic Bard’s) to retrieve his soul. The shadow is a place of misery, calling to mind Schopenhauer’s ideas about life being mostly pain and sorrow and Campbell’s advice to “follow your bliss” [sat chit ananda].

Much of what Shalit centers on as aspects of the Hero are present in the shaman, who also has “one foot in divinity, one in the world of mortals” (p. 33). The journey into the netherworld (often to retrieve or heal the soul), the returning with precious gifts of knowledge, the responsibility of re-integration into the community (see Mircea Eliade’s comprehensive works on shamanism), all parallel the hero’s journey. The modes of the vision quest and the alchemical transformation are, further, symbolically manifested in the landscape of the fairy tale.

Pursuing this idea, Shalit, in the tradition of Robert Bly’s Iron John or Bruno Bettelheim’s Uses of Enchantment, ably presents and dissects a number of fairy tales, myths, and Biblical stories in the course of the book.

“Nixie of the Millpond” is presented without commentary. The myth of Perseus, however, is told with commentary from a wide variety of sources mixed in. It would be valuable to watch Clash of the Titans (1981) after reading this section, as it brings Shalit’s analysis visually to life. Page 47 lists eight traits of the hero myth to guide the interpretation. I would add a ninth—the use of magical items (such as Athena’s shield, Hermes’ sword, and the three gifts of the Stygian nymphs, all of which are given to Perseus to defeat the Medusa).

I have used these same basic elements of the hero myth for the past decade in my theatre workshops with youth and in my books on using drama in the classroom.

If our youth are to break the limiting conventions of societal and governmental structures that have put the planet and its inhabitants in a place of crisis, they—and those who guide and educate them—must understand the Hero and Shadow both.

On p. 65 Shalit writes, “Collective consciousness constitutes a threat by its demand on compliance with rules, roles and regulations.” The mythological fighting of dragons and monsters by the Hero is most clearly articulated to me by Joseph Campbell, when, in various books and interviews, he talked about Nietzsche describing the cycle of life as beginning as a camel loaded down with the requirements of parents and society. The camel then goes into the desert (one of the hero landscapes I mentioned earlier) to become the lion, who must slay the dragon whose scales all say "Thou Shalt." This dragonslaying, certainly a noble and necessary undertaking, situates the Hero as the classic warrior, akin to Michael the Archangel and St. George, but when the fighting is done, the warrior must put down the sword. Whether we speak of the Vulcans comprising the Bush administration (as author James Mann terms them) or an abused child who grows up to wage ongoing battles even on a landscape of peace in a more stable family situation, this is a notion well worth focusing on. I think of the Roman general Cincinnatus, who moved back and forth between sword and plow and the dwarves of the novels of Dan Parkinson, who switch the hammer from one hand to the other as necessary in times of peace and war.

The hero struggling with the shadow often projects onto a demonized Other because, as Shalit reminds us, “Since shadows easily lend themselves to projection [see pgs. 97–101 for the three types identified by Jung], they are discovered so much more easily in the other than oneself” (p. 84). This is, of course, the source of most of the ugliness in the history of Humankind.

The Biblical explorations/interpretations presented are a high point of the book (see, for example, p. 63 on the Virgin Mary) and begin in earnest with the section on the shadow. The etymology of both biblical and mythological names given throughout add much to the discussion.

Shalit uses Oscar Wilde’s “doppelganger novel,” Picture of Dorian Gray, to explore the notion of shadow in terms of our duality, as Dorian is projecting his shadow onto the canvas. Duality—war/peace, animus/anima, masculine/feminine, dark/light—is prevalent throughout the book.

The second half of the book deals with the Enemy, Cripple, and Beggar of the title. The Enemy (the projection onto the Other that is really the shadow in oneself) is explored through such Biblical figures as Amalek, Samson, Jacob, and the key figures in the trial of Jesus. The section on the Fathers and the Collective Consciousness, dealing with Caiaphas, the Sanhedrin, Barabbas, and Judas, is fascinating reading. The connection of the father and the son resounds on many levels, including the relationship of Jesus/Judas as being nearly inseparable.

The Cripple (one’s weaknesses and inner wounds) is explored through mythological/fictional figures such as Hephaestus, Ptah, Oedipus, Quasimodo, and the child in Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Cripple.” There are case studies here that serve many of the same functions as the analyses of the myths and fairy tales, and will appeal to those interested in the dynamics of Jungian analysis. Certain aspects of the second case study reminded me of Don Juan DeMarco (1995), the film starring Marlon Brando and Johnny Depp, especially considering that love (Eros) is the means to heal the Cripple, as articulated so well in this book.

The final section deals with the Beggar (the “door that leads to the passageway of the Self,” p. 225), which is the Inner Voice or Daemon. Shalit deals here with the notions of alchemy that so fascinated Jung. I was intrigued by the story of King Solomon as the wandering beggar and Shalit’s exploration of the life of the prophet Elijah.

In closing, I want to mention the cover art, a painting titled “Emerging” by Susan Bostrom-Wong, an artist and Jungian analyst. Shalit asks the reader to examine the images embedded in the human figure. It is well worth the time to do so. Like the book itself, the longer you look, the more you will see.

I urge educators, artists, and those in search of new paths toward a life well-lived to buy this book. I know that one of my own heroes, Joseph Campbell, certainly would.

Erel Shalit's Enemy, Cripple, & Beggar: Shadows in the Hero's Path and his previously published book The Complex: Path of Transformation from Archetype to Ego can be purchased at or by phoning Fisher King Press directly at 1-831-238-7799. Also available from and from a host of other on-line booksellers.

This review of Erel Shalit’s Enemy, Cripple & Beggar: Shadows in the Hero’s Path was wriiten by Joey Madia of New Mystics. New Mystics is an online Arts community founded in 2002 by Joey Madia, playwright, poet, novelist, actor, director, artist, musician, and teacher who promotes the work of a group of cutting edge writers and artists. To learn more about New Mystics, Joey Madia, and his most recent publication Jester-Knight visit