Imagination and hysterical pain
Dr. Maurizio Albertini
Medical Psychiatry Manager, Psychiatric Ward, Hospital of Imperia (Italy),
Psychiatry Lecturer, School of Nursing, University of Genoa
This paper describes the healing of psychogenic joint and muscle pain (better defined as a ‘hysterical conversion symptom’ if we use psychiatric terminology), treated with acupuncture and imagination. During the sessions, I noted the images evoked in a state of relaxation induced by acupuncture. This was done until the somatic symptoms for which the patient referred to the doctor were resolved. The clinical case in question shows how behind a (conversion) symptom, which on the surface appears to be trivial, there are many layers of meaning.
The fact that acupuncture facilitates the ability to be imaginative is another aspect I was able to observe in this essential unit of deep energy. This emerges on the surface in two ways, both physical and psychological or in other words, in the body functions and in the various “psychisms” and emotions connected to organs and bowels (ZANG FU), as described in Traditional Chinese Medicine, in our psychosomatic medicine or the symbolism of the body in analytical psychology.
KEY WORDS: analytical psychology, acupuncture, joint pain, muscular pain, psychogenic pain, hysteria, conversion symptoms, dream, transcendent function.
1) Preliminary Remarks
Behind every symptom, there is an invisible world of thoughts and emotions which are rarely taken into consideration, both in terms of the day-to-day experience and knowledge of the patient and the more difficult terms of exploring the unconscious and the realm of one’s imagination. Moreover, therapists themselves have an equally invisible world of thoughts, experiences and emotions which interfere in their relationship with the patient, facilitating or complicating treatment, depending on the case and their own awareness of the world we live in.
Through acupuncture, it is possible to facilitate imagination, thus revealing personal experiences or analysing their symbolic content in the patient’s psyche.
Acupuncture points have a symbolic psychic correspondence and are not merely stimulation points of a given organ or function; the revelation for me was realising that the names of some acupuncture points were the expression not only of bodily and energetic functions, in the Traditional Chinese Medicine sense, but also of psychic ones, which are correlated to one another. I made this discovery through a dream my thirty-four-year-old pregnant friend told me about. Shortly after having this dream, she lost her baby due to miscarriage in the third month.
This was her dream: “I was in a house built on the beach by the water. The atmosphere was cold and hard. The walls of the narrow, square room I was in were cement-grey and felt unwelcoming. I woke up with a horrible sense of anguish and constriction.”
Within this dream it is not difficult to identify the perception of an experience of pregnancy – the house is the woman’s uterus, hard and cold, and the miscarriage is symbolised by the inhospitable nature of that space.
It is possible to read the dream on multiple levels: the patient could identify with the foetus, recognizing it as her own foetus, or could identify with the sensation of rigidity and lack of hospitality, provided by her unconscious as a perception of her internal state, specifically her lack of receptive ability as mother. It could also be a message from the foetus itself.
Even if I recognised the anticipatory signals of the miscarriage and the descriptive analysis of my friend’s personality, which also manifested in her uterus, the dream would not have drawn my attention so much, if at the time I had not been attending an acupuncture course at the ‘So Wen’ school of Traditional Chinese Medicine in Milan on the kidney’s meridian. The teacher described a point of acupuncture (ZHU BIN) and its therapeutic qualities used on patients at risk of miscarriage. I was astounded by the depth of Chinese thought and its traditional medicine. Furthermore, I sensed we were close to finding a meeting point between two worlds or two fields of medical thought.
This juncture could only happen now, at a time when the West has developed the knowledge of analytical psychology and, simultaneously, the notions of Traditional Chinese Medicine has been introduced into our culture.
However, to take one point at a time. The “house by the sea” or the “building on the beach” or the “guest house” is the translation of the Chinese name of point 9 on the kidney’s meridian, Zhu Bin. Clearly the name was not given by chance, but it describes a function which is expressed both on the uterus as an organ and on a symbolic level in the deepest level of the unconscious (conveyed with the same image in my friend’s dream, i.e. the house by the sea). The uterus, if seen as a “house”, is close to the sea; in other words, the place where the foetus (the guest) resides is immersed in amniotic fluid.
There appears to be an energetic level, defined as “psychoid” according to Carl Gustav Jung’s terminology (Jung, 1952), in which “the house by the sea/guest house” is not just the body or the dream, it is both. The two levels (body and spirit, yin – matter and yang – psyche) are connected by the image, which in the dream and in the name of the Zhu Bin point perfectly express the symbol.
The symbol of “house by the sea/guest house” appears to us in its two aspects, the uterus and the dream. However, in reality, in the depths of the unconscious, it is two things at once, the uterus and its dreamlike description, i.e. its psychical side.
For analytical psychology, a “house by the sea/guest house” is a home, an environment, a consciousness, an ego close to the collective unconscious represented by the sea. The house is the vessel which can welcome something from the sea, from the source of infinite life. This infinity stands before the finite and limited nature of the house, the symbol of the person and her physical and psychic boundaries, her skin, her ego. So, on the one hand, there is the creativity potential of infinity and, on the other, there is a real person, a uterus and a consciousness, which correspond to a tiny fraction in this infinite sea of unconscious energy.
According to traditional medicine this sea of energy (QI), courses through the meridians of acupuncture (‘energy channels’) while, according to analytical psychology, this is revealed in one’s dreams (images that transfer the energy of the unconscious making it accessible to the conscious mind).
Through the manipulation of the points and the evocation of psychic images, we can access two different types of expression of the same strength, the same psycho-physical energy which supports body functions both consciously and subconsciously.
The fact that acupuncture facilitates the ability to be imaginative is another aspect I was able to observe in this essential unit of deep energy, which comes to the surface in two ways, both physical and psychical, or in other words, in the body functions and in the various “psychisms” and emotions connected to organs (ZANG) and bowels (FU), as is described in Traditional Chinese Medicine, in our psychosomatic medicine or the symbolism of the body in analytical psychology.
As a matter of fact, there is no body function that does not have an equivalent or imaginary emotional correlation, the same way there is no emotion or psychic movement which does not accompany somatic or physiological changes (for example, blushing when embarrassed or defecating when scared) or pathological reactions (for example, an asthma attack or a heart attack following an intense emotion). The clinical case describes the healing from joint and muscle pain which are psychogenic or, in psychiatric terms, ‘hysterical conversion symptoms’. This term clarifies the correlation between the physical and psychological, as I mentioned above, regarding the name of the Zhu Bin point, which describes the uterus as both a body organ and a psychological image of the unconscious.
Given this preliminary remark, I will describe a clinical case in which acupuncture is also used as a tool to know about one’s mental well-being which, when somatised, leads to the physical symptom. Throughout the course of the 15 acupuncture sessions (the first five happened on a weekly basis for the duration of one month, the remaining sessions took place over the course of three months at weekly intervals), I transcribed a series of images evoked by sensations of relaxation induced by acupuncture until the somatic symptom for which the patient had reach out to a doctor had been solved. In the following notes regarding each session, I also describe in brief my interpretations of these verbal associations to the images evoked by the patient during acupuncture.
The aim is to illustrate how, behind every (conversion) symptom, which may appear to be trivial, there are in fact repressed emotions (especially anger and anguish from abandonment) and many worlds and layers of meaning.
2) A clinical case
This is the description of a therapeutic relationship that lasted about three months between the writer and one of his patients, which took place a few years ago. In this series of acupuncture sessions, active imagination was used together with the use of needles. This was not a phase of a Jungian analytical psychotherapeutic treatment in which acupuncture was also used.
I wanted to apply this method both for the reasons that have been set out in the preliminary notes, but also because after graduating in Medicine I undertook a long Jungian analysis, I specialized in psychiatry and at the same time I learned Traditional Chinese Medicine in Italy and France. In short, I wanted to practise a synthesis of these three methods on some patients on whom I was using acupuncture, but this is the only case described in its entirety, the only one of which I have fully transcribed the sessions.
The patient was treated using needles while she was lying on the doctor’s couch and she spoke during or after the application of the needles, giving free rein to the images and the story of her experiences and emotions, past and present. I listened, answered, analysed what she said, even though, not being analytical psychotherapy, I limited myself to giving her interpretations that she was able to tolerate. I did not make an analysis of the transference and countertransference, although I considered my experiences and hers in the light of my analytical knowledge. I elaborated and passed on to the patient my personal interpretation of the image that was evoked or of the emotions that arose. However, it was the quality of her images that prompted me to write up the case, but I have also observed this flow of imagination in other patients with whom I have used the same method. Most probably the relaxation and ‘abaissement du niveau mental’ induced by the acupuncture are factors facilitating the release of unconscious psychic energy and that of QI (DE QI: Jian Kong et al. 2007). The acupuncture releases endorphins in the body. This is also why it is analgesic.
Here is the clinical history of these sessions.
A 38-year-old woman patient has pain to her right wrist, which has been ongoing for almost a year and has progressively increased. She also has back pain. Nothing significant comes up in the X-rays and anti-inflammatory drugs combined with other treatments prove to be ineffective.
Case history: the patient’s mother died in 1995 due to a stroke and her father died some years before due to pulmonary emphysema. The patient is married and has no children. Her sleeping and diet are quite regular (she doesn’t eat meat, loves cheese and cakes), and has worked as a bank clerk for many years. About three years ago, she suffered a fracture to the 5th lumbar vertebrae. She often experiences cervical and lumbar pains and has pains radiating down her right arm. Light oedemas on the legs.
Images evoked by the patient in the first session: she sees a xylophone, she plays it. She is in her aunts’ house, with the brothers she plays with and play-fights with. Her aunts are two spinsters. One is very possessive. In the imagination she is a child. She would like to leave, but one of the aunts constantly scolds her and forbids her from leaving. Then she sees her parents entering through a door. The vision of her mother is clear and the vision of her father is fuzzier. She bursts into tears.
Notes to the first session
Note the number of images regarding the wind-wood-liver energetic movement in the transcription which emerged from the sessions: xylophone, tree, fife-flute, bright green. The removal of the energetic obstruction is at first predominantly about a psycho-physical movement called Hun in Chinese traditional Medicine, a movement connected to wood-wind-liver. Thus, we move from suffering to courage, weakness to strength, etc. (see later in: The links between Chinese Medicine and Jungian psychology). The wood-wind-liver movement was manifested as rage if inhibited or, if in excess, was blocked by excessive movement connected to the spleen (as a matter of fact, one of the patient’s symptoms was love for cakes and dairy products, sign of energy weakness of the spleen, the organ that symbolizes the mother and is related to food and sweet taste). The earth-spleen-mother yin is connected in this case to obsessive reflection, the mental, “terrestrial” ego (or Yi, the mental side of spleen energetic movement).
If the reflection is obsessive, excessive and chronic, too much earth-spleen yin can block the wood-wind-liver yang. In psycho-physical terms, the liver is connected to the muscular system, sexuality, immune defences, the early onset of male yang in spring, the colour green, etc. Subsequently, during the sixth session, after the wood-wind-liver movement (HUN), there’s the disobstruction of the Heart Movement (SHEN).
Points used in the first sitting: SAN JIAO-4 (YANGCHI), SAN JIAO-5 (WAIGUAN), GB-34 (YANGLINGQUAN), GB-20 (FENGCHI), S.I.-12 (BINGFENG) and ST-36 (ZUSANLI). SAN JIAO (this means in Chinese: Triple-heater) 4 (is a wood-wind point) and SAN JIAO 5 are close to the painful area in the right wrist, which is in an energetic void. They are stimulated by needles.
Images of the second session evoked by the patient: a climber is at the top of a mountain. He finds a nest with eaglets in. He takes one in his hand to stroke it, but the mother eagle arrives and throws him down off the mountain top. He falls, but gets back up. He enters a dark cave with bats.
He goes outside and sees frightened and cautious steinbocks with his binoculars. He points his binocular at a bush nearby to look at it more closely.
He can almost touch the bush. The climber descends between two peaks which become a mountain canyon, then a dark tunnel with cold, hard, rocky walls. At the end of the tunnel, he exits and there is a lot of light.
Notes to the second session
Verbal associations of the patient to the images evoked:
– The City of Aquila, Campo Imperatore, Mussolini’s escape, the fall of the Fascist leader (black-yin), head capitalists.
– The 16th Arcane of the tarot cards, the Tower.
– A refusing mother. A cold, unwelcoming, uterus. A hand that cannot touch her brother (born a year after her).
– The husband wears very thick lenses, he wears glasses because he is very short-sighted, he is almost blind and is missing a crystalline lens. Someone falls and dies, then comes back to life.
My interpretation of the images: there’s an excessive movement of energy towards the top, towards the head and the hands (with consequent pain to the cervical spine, the wrist, the back, all yang strata of the body). The image of the eagle-spirit causes the traumatic spiral. Due to acupuncture treatment, the energy balance and excess start to be compensated by the Spirit, of which the eagle is a symbol. The paranoid, inflated imperial ego (as in Icarus, Lucifer, Prometheus) reaches too high. Paranoia = observe, analyse, fear of being seen – that is the frightened and cautious steinbock which is looking from above, observing from above, waiting, equipped with horns, which is another symbol of excessive yang (in Chinese, yang means ram). The ram, even in Western astrology, is the symbol of impulsive strength, of spring, of nascent fire, of initial activity. In Chinese medicine, upward movement is caused, as we will better see below, by rage (wind/fire in the head).
Points used: the same as the previous session.
Images from the third session: Siamese cat… immobile, licking itself… then walking… with its tail upright… it waits, in a somewhat unfriendly and vaguely threatening manner… it jumps on a cylinder-shaped hat, it destroys the top part of it and enters, then it exits from below, maybe digging a hole. An 8 or 9-year-old child appears: it’s Alice in Wonderland beyond the mirror. She’s wearing puffy, old-fashioned clothes. The cat jumps into her hand, then walks up her arm and rests on her nape… Here, it becomes a small rabbit and she embraces it, she strokes it, the rabbit rubs against her. The rabbit jumps to the ground, goes and hides in the den in the ground which is the perfect size for it, popping only its head out. She approaches it, rubs her face against its nose. The den is in a depression in the ground… the rabbit jumps into her lap, she is flustered and runs away, followed by the rabbit. She climbs a tree, higher and higher up among the branches full of leaves, until she sees the sky. She starts collecting small bright green leaves in her hands. She creates piles, then goes down the tree and feeds the rabbit. She then starts playing the fife.
(the patient suffered a slight headache at the end of the session)
Notes to the third session
Patient associations: “Hussar on the Roof”.
My interpretation of the evoked images: a “Siamese” cat represents the “Chinese” energy. The animal is the symbolic representation of energy linked to the body and of the instinct which travels up the arm as far as the nape, then penetrating. The excessive use of reasoning, obsessive rational control, in Chinese medicine is an excess of the spleen’s yin: here the yang penetrates the yin.
The image is that of the patient’s inner child (Alice with the rabbit or the Mad Hatter) brought to life by the primordial instinctual energy which enters and runs through her veins. Energy circulates, returning the colour of life. Alice goes beyond the mirror, into wonderland.
The cat becomes the rabbit (the symbol of spring, Easter, renewed cycle, sexuality, being prolific, etc.). The rabbit-energy runs and penetrates the body, in the yin (spleen-earth-material). Den in the earth, into the feminine, into a person’s yin. While going through the images, the patient finds the wood-tree energy, which radiates along the spine (the trunk), sees the internal sky, grabs the shiny energy of the Imaginary World, re-energises the hands which were in an energetic void, the hands are once again charged with energy. The energy correctly circulates back down, returning to the ground. Childlike, animal and tender aspects of personality are nurtured (it re-establishes an internal relationship between the adult and rabbit, animal and child).
Playing the fife: it is a musical instrument connected to “wood-wind”; it expresses the presence of Hun-wood energy in a harmonious, musical manner. This energy flows harmoniously and correctly. It enters and exits the body as it should, a body now recalibrated by acupuncture. (According to Taoists, the elixir of a long life is extracted from a rabbit on the moon, a symbolic image of the unconscious. See Chevalier, Gheerbrant, 1974)
Points used: the same as the previous session.
Images of the fourth session evoked by the patient: A man with a beard on a sailboat in a lake. He lifts the anchor, puts it on board near some ropes. He climbs up the mast, then climbs back down. He starts fishing with rods, catches a fish and starts to clean it. First, he throws it inside the boat, then with a knife he opens its belly, removes its insides and tosses them into the sea, then cleans the skin and attaches the fish to a hook. Some seagulls arrive and take the fish. The man gets very angry, He starts the boat and returns to shore. He leaves the ropes in the storage hut. He heads inland and walks across a forest until he reaches a well.
Notes to the fourth session
(no associations from the patient)
My interpretation of the images: The up and down movement on the mast is identical to the previous session. The fishing rods/reeds are connected to the fife. This time, the kidney-water energy movement is in play. Its symbolic energy is a fish, an animal which is more primitive than a cat or rabbit. It is the wind-wood = sailboat which blows upon the water-lake and then becomes the sea. This represents the progression of energy from the pneumatic aspects (yang) to denser aquatic aspects (yin).
The fish represents the most primitive stages of development (foetus and embryo) and the more archaic ones anatomically (the spinal cord).
The well: this represents the source of interior water, psychic energy coming from deep within the unconscious. The well is also the symbolic representation of emerging energy (QI/libido).
Points used: the same as the previous sessions.
Images from the fifth session: There is a man near a rope hammock, which is planted on two poles. There is a white llama, which the man takes some milk from and drinks it. We are in Mexico.
The man walks with the llama and goes and sits under a tree. He begins to sleep. He is awakened by ants crawling up his leg, reaching his head and face. He abruptly gets up, removes his hat and goes to wash in a puddle of water. Annoyed, he starts walking again. He can see a big city over a small hill.
First, he goes into his bare and simple house, which has an old marble sink. Then he goes outside and starts playing with some children he has just met. He meets a man who is more or less his age and accompanies him to the man’s house. This house is also simple, but a little sad. However, it does have a big fireplace and the fire is lit. Smoke goes out through the chimney. Inside the house, there is also a woman sitting in silence, motionless, passive, near the table. Her hair is tied behind her nape. The patient witnesses the encounter of these three people.
Notes to the fifth session
Patient associations: Tortilla Flat, Steinbeck’s book (note how the steinbock from the first session has morphed into Steinbeck), the ability to enjoy life, there can be irony even in poverty, peacefulness far from our civilisation, etc. Observe the representation of relaxation induced by acupuncture and the crumbling of all defences: the aggressive steinbock with horns who becomes the nourishing, maternal llama.
My interpretation: all the images represent energy (QI) which goes up the legs (ants, etc., water splashed in the face, children playing, a fire lit in the fireplace).
Points used: to the right SAN JIAO-4 (YANGCHI), SAN JIAO-3 (ZHONGZHU), SAN JIAO-5 (WAIGUAN), S.I.-5 (YANGGU), L.I.-5 (YANGXI), L.I.-4 (HEGU), GB-34 (YANGLINGQUAN), BL-23 (SHENSU), GB-25 (JINGMEN), DU-14 (DAZHUI), REN-12 (ZHONGWAN), S.I.-11 (TIAN ZHONG). To the left, the same except SAN JIAO-3 (ZHONZHU), and S.I.-5 (YANGGU).
The pain to her hand has almost completely gone. She returns for her backpain, to the 5th thoracic vertebra level, and the neck.
Images from the sixth session: swallows flying in a circle above a waterfall. A ray of light starting below, where the dripping water gathers in a small lake. Water steam.
The ray of light tends to drag the swallows down.
The ray starts in a cave located more or less in the middle of the waterfall, hidden behind the waterfall, in the rock (at the height of the 5th thoracic vertebra if the waterfall is a representation of the spine and its energy flowing down it). In the cave, there is a green dragon. It’s very sad (energetic block = pain).
She is with the dragon. She strokes it. The dragon licks her hand and face, then she strokes it and it moves. Then it curls up.
Notes to the sixth session
(no associations from the patient)
My observations: The energy is blocked in Shendao (a point located at the level of the 5th thoracic vertebra). There are problems connected to the Shen-spirit of the Tao, the psycho-physical movement of the Heart, where feelings deeply reside. (Rossi E., 2002; Rochat de la Vallée E., 1994).
These are not connected to the superficial dynamics of the ego.
The oppression of the Heart-Spirit is manifested as physical pain, the masked expression of depression. Melancholy (energetic void, the curled-up yang dragon, the sad spirit closed in the cave of the heart), drags downwards, bringing down the swallows, the thoughts and the most volatile aspects of psychism and energy down. The curled-up snake in the cave (of treasures) is a stagnant energy symbol (on several levels: psychic, sexual and muscular, etc.). At the level of the spine, see the Kundalini snake for the Indians or the mercurial staff for the Greeks. (Coward, 2005; Jung, 1970)
Points used: local points, then SAN JIAO-5 (WAIGUAN), S.I.-5 (YANG GU), SP-6 (SANYINJIAO), DU-16 (FENGFU).
Pain in the back under the 5th thoracic vertebra continues (in the Shendao point).
Images from the seventh session: a shark chasing her in the water, which is trying to bite her arm. Its snout is covered in blood. Its movements are very agitated. She escapes, but after a while the shark calms down. She jumps on its back and it calms down, like a dolphin, and heads towards warmer waters, where there is more light and sun.
Notes on the seventh session
When I mention “problems of the heart”, the story of romantic desire for a person emerges. He is now married, but they had a relationship lasting for 6 years (from the age of 22 to 28). This was her first love, who she never quite got over and still pines over. She still feels very guilty about this.
(Here, we had to bring to light and to the fore the concept of hidden pain… the thoughts of the heart).
Points used: DU-11 (SHENDAO), two close Shu points, L.I.-4 (HEGU), SP-6 (SANYINJIAO), DU-16 (FENGFU), GB-20 (FENGCHI), DU-4 (MING MEN) and other GB points.
The patient is still experiencing pain at the level of the 5th thoracic vertebra, less in the neck. The patient was wearing a red neckerchief embellished with white roses.
Images of the eighth session: She sees on the back of a wooden chair, opposite a large dark wooden desk, a crown of white roses with a bride’s veil.
There is a girl, aged 15 to 17, wearing it. She is dressed as a bride. She is sad, she feels alone and unhappy about the situation. There are many people in a room with wooden panelled walls. There is a table set for a meal.
There are many wooden bowls; they are rather large. Everything looks very rustic. The atmosphere is not lively, but the place is welcoming. It’s dimly lit (maybe it is the study room). The sad girl hides under the table and eats lentils from a wooden bowl. She is using a fork. Before doing so, she has looked in the big mirror, which has a frame that makes it look like a painting.
After eating, she comes out from under the table and appears to be more jovial. Even the others are warmer and merrier. They bring her a birthday cake with lit candles.
Notes to the eighth session
Patient associations: Holy Communion/Marriage, which she longed for with a former lover but which never happened. She still lusts after her lover whom she met the previous week after many years.
Episode of her life: before her Holy Communion and after confessing to having had a stressful night, she had felt very bad because “she wanted to challenge God and inveighed against him”, then she repented. She did, however, manage to inform her father (an authority figure who often scolded her and punished her, preventing her from eating and forcing her to skip lunch or dinner).
Her father forgave her and recommended that she confess again the following day before mass.
My observation: in the internal images, acupuncture is therefore seen by the patient as a sort of communion with the Spirit.
Points used: bilateral BL-15 (XIN SHU), heart shu, adjacent to the Shendao – GV-11 (SHENDAO), BL-23 (SHENSU), L.I.-4 (HEGU), GB-39 (XUANZHONG), GB-34 (YANGLINGQUAN), GB-20 (FENGCHI).
Noticeable improvement to her back pain.
Images from the ninth session: fountain, square, children playing, she walks from a square with a fountain in a town in Liguria. Stone houses. She walks along a narrow street among the houses, which then turns into a trail. On the left, she sees an abandoned house and some uncultivated fields which are separated from the road by a long and strange fence, which reaches as far as the countryside. Then she reaches a tree full of leaves. She plays the flute under the tree.
The same points as the previous session are used.
For two or three days after the final session, her pain ceases completely. Then it returns, but it is more widespread and lower down, at the height of the spine on the 8th-9th thoracic vertebra, the DU-8 (JINSUO)-DU-9 (ZHIYANG) points, at the level of the Shu-liver, circa BL-18 (GANSHU).
Images from the tenth session: a steam train with few or no carriages. She feels the wind or steam on her face. The train enters a tunnel, then exits. It is in Liguria. It is heading South, towards a desert landscape (ochre colour, sand colour), palms, oases (she has traversed the Straits of Gibraltar and has reached Africa). Then the train heads towards the hinterland. The oases become thicker and turn into forest. The sky becomes almost completely invisible due to the amount of green. The train keeps going till it reaches a volcano right in the centre of Africa. The train heads up the smoking volcano. It stops at the top, on the rim of the crater. Below, there is smoking and boiling mud, but the volcano is calm and flat. Passengers get off the train and throw their gold and other objects (“frills”) into the mouth of the volcano. Then the train turns back along the same route.
Notes to the tenth session
Patient Associations: mud, terracotta, clay (“when I was a child, I made a bird of clay” – she played with clay). Desire for maternity.
Central Africa: a dark place where I would not think of going. Northern Africa: warmth, lively people, etc. Need for a change, for a less artificial life, etc. The desire to have a less monotonous job.
My observations: she continues to say that the wind is blowing in her face a lot. When she was in the desert, she also felt that the wind was warm. Important: the images had a strong effect on me. As a matter of fact, I felt a strong sort of “shock”, which surprised me, weakened me and pushed me backwards, when the image of the volcano the patient threw objects into was mentioned. The effect of the unblocked QI comes out like an explosion from the more external energetic layers. This is the hun-wind ire, violently breaking out.
Points used: BL-15 (XINSHU), BL-18 (GANSHU), BL-23 (SHENSU), L.I.-4 (HEGU), GB-34 (YANGLINGQUAN).
The backache continues in the para-vertebral area above the renal cavities. No images are evoked. This is a classic silent acupuncture session without active imagination.
Points: GB-34 (YANGLINGQUAN), GB-39 (XUANZHONG), ST-36 (ZUSANLI), L.I.-4 (HEGU), SAN JIAO-5, (WAIGUAN), REN-6 (QIHAI), DU-9 (ZHIYANG), REN-12 (ZHONGWAN).
Images from the twelfth session: the backpain continues; the images which occurred in the tenth session appear again. Amplification of the image of the volcano:
The objects she throws are a pocket watch, rings and bracelets. Concerning the watch, she says: “This is not mine. My father had one or two like this. A. (my boyfriend) collects them. It reminds me of something from the 19th century, a 19th century man, a 19th-century way of thinking”.
Notes on the twelfth session
Patient Associations: her father, her boyfriend, Chronos, rigid authority, the super ego, control, rational rules, thrown into the volcano.
During the conversation with her, the tales of quarrels with the father emerge. He is a highly-authoritative figure who held grudges and went through months of silence with his children.
The father and the mother also quarrelled due to the father’s character (the mother was cold, detached, obstinate, similar to the patient whose aggressiveness is always very controlled and buried deep).
The same points as the previous session are used.
Patient Associations: It is reminiscent of the conflict with the father, and between the mother and father. The two of us talk about this topic.
Points: the same as the 12th session without GB-34 (YANGLINGQUAN).
Images from the fourteenth session: “…I see a flower, (she subsequently mentions that it is a lotus); it is closed. It is opening up and, inside, there is a skull. A jet of water from inside the flower, from the centre, pushes the skull out; it rolls down a pebbly hill, until it reaches a point where many bones are amassed. I see a snake slithering on the bones and then retreating into a den. The bones start to move and arrange themselves. They become human skeletons, which rise up.”
“It’s the Last Judgement, the Resurrection. The skeletons start to walk. I see a groundhog coming out of its den, then going back in. It looks at the skeletons, then it runs away. It jumps into the water; here, the current of the river becomes a waterfall that falls into the lake. The groundhog swims in the lake and reaches the bank; it heads into a forest. It is no longer a groundhog, it is now a koala, climbing up a tree, then becoming a monkey, a Barbary ape. The Barbary ape looks at the row of skeletons and is scared. It goes to the other monkeys, it plays with them, they dig among the leaves and remove fleas from one another. The skeletons, at the edge of the forest, take form. They become native Indians, warriors. One of these shoots an arrow towards the forest and kills a monkey, who is roasted on a fire and eaten by a group of Indians sitting around the fire. They throw the bones of the monkey into the fire; they then trace triangles on the ground with charred wood. Then, they leave and the monkeys feel they have been freed from the Indian’s invasion of their land. They perform a funerary ritual all night near the fire. They remain seated all night. It starts raining, the fire is extinguished, and it rains all night long. At dawn, the monkeys scatter and regain the land, which had been invaded by the warrior-Indians”.
Notes to the Fourteenth session
Patient Associations: In the days prior to the session, she had experienced vaginal itching and soreness, which disappeared after she managed to get out of an unpleasant task that an acquaintance had forced upon her. Her ability to be appropriately aggressive, less masochistic, re-emerges (the warrior within her).
My observations: the opening of a chakra-lotus releases energy, removes the obstacle, which prevented flow and blocked aggressiveness and anger.
The skull, the macabre dance (of the living and the dead), Death-Ade-Dionisius-Shiva, which destroys the individual, are all symbols of vital cosmos energies (QI) which destroy and transform the ego.
The sacrifice of the monkey, the sacrifice of the inferior man on behalf of the higher self. Death and resurrection of the ego, the initiation transformation through the ritual of acupuncture.
Rebirth, Judgement and Death, which re-emerge. Energy that gushes and circulates in the body once more. From the lotus, the warrior emerges. The patient associates it to a discussion with an overbearing friend, who imposes unpleasant tasks upon her, and her renewed ability to say no, which had always been problematic for her. She feels she has managed to release her aggressiveness in the right way. The rain is a symbol of fertility, a symbol of a return to celestial energy (the yang in the sky that is the deep unconscious).
Through the images of the patient, a classic theme emerges:
“Shiva’s dance which, in turn, can be related to the Western medieval representation of the macabre dances of the living and the dead. This God wears a garland of skulls and has a skull on his crown… [in] this dancing Shiva […] we can sense the Dionysian ambiguity, the threatening smile of the vital forces. Dripping blood, the trophy is horrific, the skin of the violated victim representing a sinister backdrop. However, against that sinister backdrop, the divine young members shine… they move with measured solemness and possess the innocent beauty of the first athletic strength of youth. The dance is life itself. It mixes the terrifying and the augural, it juxtaposes and unifies destruction, death and vital triumph. It is the volcanic burst of life’s lava…”
“It is intended as the expression of the Divine, which in its totality embraces all the good and all the bad, all the beauty and the horror, the joy and the torture of our life” (H. Zimmer, see bibliography).
“The surprising reason behind the dancing God who forces the elephant demon to dance with him until the latter falls dead…is reminiscent of the Western theme of the ‘dance of the living and the dead’. A group of skeletal spectres invite the flourishing youth to dance. It looks like a young girl with rosy red cheeks or an energetic soldier. The subtle and emaciated apparitions continue to dance incessantly until their victim falls, exhausted. The limited and finite individual cannot compare to the eternal strength of destruction. Destruction, Shiva, is only the negative aspect of life without end. (Shiva is the transmuter, not only the destroyer…)” (H. Zimmer, see bibliography).
These images evoke yet another classic theme: Heraclitus, fragment 123
“If it were not Dionysus to whom they march in procession and sing the hymn in honour of the phallus, it would be the most shameful action. But Hades and Dionysus are the same, him for whom they rave in Bacchic frenzy.”
This fragment affirms the identity between Hades and Dionysus, between death, the invisible (Hades) and vital energy (Dionysus). What appears to be death for the finite individual is in fact his assimilation of the vital (sexual) energy which overtakes him and which the ego fears (dreams, hypnosis, trance states or acupuncture), which allow for these energies to re-emerge and the Western ego to exit its rigid identity shell. They allow man to return to an animal or childlike state. Dionysius is the Puer Aeternus (the Eternal Child), the Sempreverde (the Evergreen). Life which flows, the chaotic and unrestrained water, which gushes from the rock. The flow of energy in the meridians deriving from the tao-source, the original energy called source-energy, yuan-QI, symbolised by the water jet in the lotus and the emergence of the skull.
Points: ST-36 (ZUSANLI), L.I.-4 (HEGU), SAN JIAO-5 (WAIGUAN), REN-12 (ZHONGWAN), DU-9, (ZHIYANG), GB-39 (XUANZHONG)
Images of the 15th session.: “…I see a large monkey digging a hole in the ground and trying to stick its head inside. It then lies down and goes into the hole, covering the hole with leaves on top. The ground is full of white worms crawling over its body. It finds it disgusting and jumps out of the hole. It washes its face with earth. It tries to catch the worms and turn them into a mush, a kind of worm “jam”, which it then eats. Then, it climbs up a tree, removes the bark from the first few branches and eats it. The monkey keeps climbing, but the branches higher up keep breaking, so it goes back down to the ground…”
Notes to the 15th session
My observations: these are still images of initiatory death, of aspects of personality which are still undergoing a deep transformation. There are images regarding sexuality (the head of the monkey in the ground), etc. The instinctual nature of the animal, the body immersing itself in the ground to then die and be reborn, despite fear and disgust. Worms are the white, primordial strengths that are the sacred representation of the QI on a bodily level and of the return of the deep neuro-vegetative life to the body. It is clear we can see the oscillation of energy along the cosmic-vertebral column axis. Movement or re-circulation of energy along the meridians. Eating is integrating something into yourself.
Points: ST-36 (ZUSANLI), L.I.-4 (HEGU), SAN JIAO-5 (WAIGUAN), REN-12 (ZHONGWAN), DU-9 (ZHIYANG), GB-39 (XUANZHONG)
Conclusions of the sessions
After the 14th session, the pain, in any part of the body, completely disappeared and did not manifest itself again.
3) Links between Chinese Medicine and Jungian Psychology
Jung’s thoughts on the interaction between mind and body, the hypothesis of reciprocal action and psychophysical parallelism, are discussed at length in volume 8 of his Collected Works (Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche), culminating in his conclusive 1952 essay on the phenomenon of Synchronicity: An Acausal Connecting Principle. Jung points out: “it is not only possible but fairly probable, even, that psyche and matter are two different aspects of one and the same thing”. In saying this, he not only laid the foundation for the notion of the complementary realms of psyche and matter as one reality, but also contributed to putting an end, at least psychologically, to Western dualism.
Again, according to Jung “man lives in a perennial state of conflict between the truth of the external world in which he has been placed and the inner truth of the soul that binds him to the source of life, and the two-part struggle with this, until he recognizes he is bound to both”. (C.G. Jung, Vol. 18, Page 290, Italian edition)
This dissociated state of the body and ego from the inner psychic energy (libido) is also well known in Traditional Chinese Medicine, which however gives the libido the name of QI (energy that circulates in the meridians) and gives it a psychophysical connotation, which includes both the visible aspects of the body (yin) and the immaterial ones (yang), linked to emotions, unconscious psychism, dreams and images. All Chinese medicine is aimed at increasing QI and re-establishing the equilibrium within our being. It is like saying: recovering the libido and harmonizing it within one’s psychic and corporeal metabolism.
For Chinese Medicine there is no such mind-body distinction. QI is beyond opposites, or precedes opposites, comes from the depths and from the One, from the Tao that brings together opposites, from the spirit (SHEN), not from the surface and from the duality of yin and yang separated from the dualistic and discriminating consciousness that lives in ordinary outer space-time. (Rossi E., 2002; Rochat de la Vallée E., 1994).
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, emotions which are either excessive or deficient alter the state of the QI and also therefore of the body organs, with a precise correspondence that we can define as psychosomatic. This also applies to excess thinking, rumination, obsession, which for example damage the spleen. It applies to anger that damages the liver or melancholy that damages the lungs and kidneys. The discourse is vast and involves all Chinese medicine with all its thousands of fluxes of energy that pass through the body and which can have a cosmic origin (cold, heat, humidity, sun, etc.), ancestral (hereditary genetic defects, parental behaviour towards the person, strength inherited from them, etc.), terrestrial (the food we eat, the water we drink, the interpersonal relationships that help or intoxicate us), spiritual (the strength of the Shen, the harmony with the course of Nature, the Tao, the celestial will).
“It is said in the eighth chapter of the Lingshu: ‘All methods of acupuncture are based on SHEN’. And SHEN means Spirit”. (Rossi E., 2002). The SHEN in turn is divided into the celestial-innate SHEN, which is outside and above the laws governing human life, and the acquired-human Shen (BEN SHEN) from which all the energetic movements within the meridians (QI) come. The celestial SHEN informs and nourishes the human one, which in turn is distributed in the various organs, characterizing them with various psychisms and energy movements. For example, the Heart meridian (celestial Shen) and the Master of the heart-pericardium (acquired Shen) manifest joy and emotion, which is the Fire energetic movement. The Spleen meridian manifests Obsession/reflection (Yi), this is the Earth energetic movement; the Lung manifests sadness/discipline/neurovegetative control (Po), which is the Metal energetic movement; the Kidneys manifest fear/will, which is the Water energetic movement (Zhi), in the Liver anger/courage/strength, which is the Wood-Wind energetic movement (Hun).
“The couple Hun-Po relates to other couples as Yi-Zhi, Jing-Shen, QI-Xue. Hun-Po represents two opposite poles: Hun moves in a field closer to mind, to the activity of images and dreams, while Po is more involved in the organization of body life, in the functions of movement and sensitivity.” (Rossi E. et al., 1996)
“According to our text, not only the divinities but also the Animus and the Anima belong to the representations of the unconscious. Wilhelm translates the term Hun with Animus, and indeed the term ‘Animus’ fits perfectly with Hun, the ideogram of which is made up of the sign indicating ‘clouds’ and the sign indicating ‘demon’. Hun therefore means cloud demon, a higher pneumatic soul, which belongs to the yang principle and is thus masculine. After death Hun ascends to become Shen, the expanding and manifesting spirit or god. The Soul, called Po and written with the signs of ‘white’ and ‘demon’, therefore the ‘white ghost’, is the lower corporeal soul, chthonic, belonging to the yin principle and therefore feminine. ” (Jung, Wilhelm, 1981)
Depending on whether the person is in disharmony or harmony, there will be the positive or negative aspect of energy movement. The celestial SHEN is analogous to the Archetype of the Self according to Jung’s terminology. (Jung, Wilhelm, 1981) Just as when the archetype of the Self is activated, the level of action of the QI is called psychoid (again according to Jung’s terminology), that is, a level that precedes the distinction between psyche and matter (yang and yin) and which occurs spontaneously when synchronicities occur. The psychoid level is a manifestation of the unity between the ego and Self, matter and spirit: “The operating powers (numinous) of the unconscious are the archetypes […] The archetype itself represents an impalpable factor, a psychoid factor, of the collective unconscious” (Jung, 1952).
The unconscious psychoid level, the energy of the archetype and QI, is brought to the surface and made manifest through the needles or the transcendent function, thus activating consciousness and the body. We thus pass from the One (Shen / Self) to the two (ego/body, psyche/matter) through the mediation of the needles and transcendent function.
They are the three traditional levels of Taoism: Heaven-Man-Earth (for Jung: Self-Soul-Ego). These become SHEN-QI-JING for Traditional Chinese medicine. Man is the mediator between Heaven and Earth, that is, between the unconscious and consciousness, between the essential side and the existential side of the personality (Guénon, 1980; Rossi, 2002).
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the rebalancing of dissociation occurs through acupuncture which harmonizes the QI. It makes it go down towards the feet if it is in the head, returns it to the centre of the body if it is too peripheral, recalls it if it is deficient (excess of yin) that is, if there is an energetic vacuum, it disperses it if it is full of energy (excess of yang). In depth psychology the function exercised by needles, that is the ability to reactivate the libido (QI) and to harmonize it, is represented by the analytical relationship between therapist and patient, by the analysis of dreams, by active imagination, by drawing, by artistic creation, all of which facilitate the emergence of the unconscious, and the analysis of transference and countertransference. “Active imagination is one of the ways to activate the transcendent function” (Jung, 1957/58).
In Jungian psychology “the transcendent function is the process through which the re-emergence of the libido from the unconscious takes place: the collaboration between conscious judgement and the data of the unconscious. This function progressively unites opposites (consciousness and unconscious). Psychotherapy uses it to treat neurotic dissociations. It is also a natural and spontaneous phenomenon and a component of the individuation process”. (C.G. Jung, Vol 18, page 378, Italian edition).
In both disciplines it is a question of returning energy to consciousness and transforming the ego and the body by recovering the libido-QI coming from the soul/SHEN.
This is why the names of the acupuncture points have both a physical and a psychic connotation, e.g. the house by the sea/the house for the guest, to name just one. This is why active imagination and acupuncture can be associated. They have the same function, one from the outer side, the skin, the other from the inner side, the psychic skin, the inner boundary of the ego with respect to the energy of the unconscious. In reality, the skin is a psychophysical unit, and we perceive it from the outside as the epidermis, from the inside as a feeling, sensation and emotional contact. This is very evident in infants who have not learnt to speak yet, whose communication occurs above all at this level, or when two people touch, touch and exchange the energy they have within themselves.
It would take too long to list the functions of acupuncture points with particular characteristics related to psychism. To return to our initial example, Zhu bin is a point of the group of points XI (which means cleft), among the functions of this point there is also the treatment of mental disorders: “Zhu bin KIDNEY-9 is the xi-cleft point of the Yin Linking vessel and is traditionally indicated for acute and severe mental disorders such as madness, mania, mania depression disorder, raving, fury and cursing, vomiting of foamy (i.e. watery) saliva and tongue thrusting” (Deadman, 2007). “Furthermore, almost all of the points of the Pericardium channel, seven out of nine, have a psychic value” (Deadman, 2007).
4) Discussion: the needle, the skin and the images.
Piercing the skin with a needle without evoking internal images but using points with names that evoke encoded images is a technique that is thousands of years old and is called acupuncture. The association between needle, skin and image is as old as man and is called a tattoo. The tattoo is simply a way to bring out an image on the skin with a needle. The association between needle, skin and perforation is also very ancient and is called body piercing (originally the earlobes were usually pierced, today also other parts of the body are).
What do all these practices that use needles on the skin have in common? What is the difference between them?
With tattoos and body piercings acupuncture points are often pierced unaware. In the earlobe there is a point that improves visual acuity, which is probably why it was used so widely among sailors, and, for example, among women who were expected to use advanced embroidery and sewing skills. These are all jobs that require great visual acuity.
What all these practices have in common is the stimulation of precise points on the skin, consciously or not, thus refocusing the personality dissociated from the body. This also happens with the self-harm of borderline personality that uses cutting, injuring or piercing to remove the feeling of depersonalization and feeling disassociated from the body, to re-enter the body and physical reality. Piercing the skin therefore restores harmony, in a positive sense. Tattoo, body piercing and acupuncture in this sense strengthen the individual, give him or her back a more stable and stronger identity.
However, there is also a negative aspect of piercing the skin and tattooing, an aspect that is the opposite to the therapeutic use of acupuncture. The tattoo can impose a collective image on the skin, as a kind of possession by the images of the unconscious or the collective consciousness, images that come to light on the skin instead of in dreams or fantasies (and this can be seen in the current epidemic of tattoos in the Western world, very dissociated from its imaginal roots). It can also impose on others a sadistic, destructive and deadly will, as in the case of the tattoos of the Nazis on the victims of the camps. The number tattooed on the forearm represented an annulment of personality and life, a total enslavement of a person. One became a number and was stripped of identity, of inner life, before being deprived of the biological one.
The active imagination associated with acupuncture is therefore the exact opposite of the Nazi tattoo. In the first case the deep self and libido re-emerge from the unconscious, in the other an image-brand is imposed with violence to take away life, identity, will. The first transforms and heals the consciousness of the ego through the life-giving contact with the QI and the energy carrying psychic images, the other kills.
The profound meaning of any practice that uses a needle on a human being, however, is hidden in the world of symbolic images, be they creative or destructive. This use of the needle on the body forces the individual to transform himself, his body, his identity, his state of mind and mood through a sharp and penetrating object that may or may not inject substances and convey images. In this sense, the prick of the needle has an initiatory meaning, it is a sacrament, a true pagan religious ritual, whose priests are acupuncturists and tattoo artists (the tattoo is the privileged artistic vehicle on the skin, which is used as a living screen or canvas: a real projection of images).
The needle symbolically represents the snake’s tooth, the sword of the spirit that introduces the Logos into the individual. The acupuncturist, the tattoo artist or the person who places piercings in the body appear as shamans, medicine men, initiators to the mysteries of death and rebirth and are then identified with these tools, as the surgeon is identified through his scalpel, his sword.
Through the introduction of a needle symbolically the snake injects the poison and causes death. A barrier is penetrated, the skin, the external envelope that also represents that of our consciousness. Together with the emotions that represent its humoral aspect, the waters of the unconscious, its symbolic fish, light up on the body (as well as in dreams) and change the Ego attached to and closed in itself, stabilizing it, making it more permeable. Consciousness and the unconscious talk to each other and use the needle and the man who handles it as intermediaries, pontiffs between the diurnal world of consciousness and the world of profound, psychic images.
The behaviour aimed at the “piercing” (in all its manifestations, as for example also in drug addiction using injections) expresses the desire to cancel the old consciousness, the old identity of an individual through the encounter with the Other, the Serpent which transforms consciousness, a metaphor for the Spirit: “As we have already seen, there is extensive documentation regarding the function of the snake as a sacrificial instrument… The snake is the knife that kills, but it is also the phallus, symbol of the regenerative power of the grain of wheat which, buried in the earth as a corpse, is at the same time a seed that fertilizes the earth itself. The snake symbolizes the numen of the act of transmutation… The importance of the snake as an instrument of regeneration is beyond doubt. ” (Jung, 1970).
This behaviour can be traced back to the need for the consciousness of the ego to periodically undergo a transformation in the sense of death and rebirth through the introduction of a needle, a point-like agent of metamorphosis. Connected to the symbolic image of the needle there are many other tools that have the function of subtle penetration: “some man-made objects are the arrow, the sword, the spear, the harpoon, the trident, while in the animal and vegetable kingdom this function is represented by the snake’s tooth, the sting of insects, the spider’s bite, the thorns of various sacred plants (rose, agave, acacia, etc.).” (Chevalier, Gheerbrant, 1974)
The symbol that associates the sword as a penetrating object with the Word is typical of Western culture (Christ comes to carry the sword). The sword is associated with language, with the word; the tongue and words pierce exactly as the sword does (in slang drug addicts call the needle of the syringe, the sword).
In acupuncture (as in tattooing) the introduction of the needle is a ritual operation that aims to unhinge the old way of being and behaving of the individual to stimulate a new, more harmonious and more orderly state of consciousness (the rebalancing of the QI, in traditional Chinese medicine; the transcendent function in Jungian analytical psychology). The placebo effect of injections without drugs or active substances underlies this psychic dynamic through the power of the suggestive effect of the doctor’s personality (transference and countertransference effect).
The same transformation is part of initiation rites, ceremonies by means of which a new phase of life is reached through a rite where the initiate is confronted with the image of death. In the myth of Asclepius, the Serpent God heals through his bite, sting and subsequent inoculation of the poison. The snake bites and stings to kill, but it is through this symbolic death that healing takes place. The phase of healing and the momentary loss of consciousness is essential to metamorphosis, the transformation takes place through the sting that human kind fears despite being fascinated by it. Not only the syringe, the scalpel (classic instruments of the doctor-surgeon), but also the needle and the electric machine of the tattooist-shaman, are some tangible manifestations descending from this archaic image of the snake healer. In traditional Chinese medicine it has become the needle of acupuncture.
The myth of the healing snake also appears in the classic image of mortal transformation through the prick of a spindle as for example in the fairy tale Sleeping Beauty. Death and rebirth of consciousness caused by a sting that numbs or kills is archetypical. The dark side, personified by the fairy (Fairy is Fata in Italian: in Latin Fatum means destiny, Fata are the ancient goddesses of destiny, the goddesses of the spindle, the Fates) provokes the initiation of the new phase of life of the sixteen-year-old Beauty, via a sting.
“Each of us enacts Persephone in soul, a maiden in a field of narcissi or poppies, lulled drowsy with innocence and pretty comforts until we are dragged off and pulled down by Hades, our intact natural consciousness violated and opened to the perspective of death. Once this has happened—through a suicidal despair, through a sudden fall from a smooth-rising career, through an invisible depression in whose grip we struggle vainly—then Persephone reigns in the soul and we see life through her darker eye. It is as if we must go through a death experience in order to let go of our clutch on life and on the viewpoints of the human world and its Aristotelian psychology. It is as if we do not recognize the full reality of anima until attacked by Hades, until invisible forces of the unconscious underworld overpower and make captive our normalcy. Only then, it seems, are we able to discriminate psyche from human, experiencing in the belly of our intimate being that the psyche has connections far removed from human concerns. Then we see human concerns differently, psychologically. The rape of Persephone does not happen just once in a life. Because this anima experience, this radical change in soul is a mythical occurrence, it is always going on as a basic pattern of psychodynamics. Because this particular myth is central to the main Greek mystery cult of psychological transformation, that of Eleusis, Hades’ rape of the innocent soul, is a central necessity for psychic change. We experience its shock and its joy whenever an event is taken suddenly out of human life and its natural state and into a deeper and more imaginal ‘unreal’ reality.” (Hillman, Re-visioning Psychology, page 208, 1975).
In the tale, Sleeping Beauty is awakened by the kiss of the Prince. The arrival of the personification of the spirit, of the prince, of the Word of God that comes from the Principle, from the origins and deep sources of the personality, is preceded by the mortal needle. In reality the Prince himself caused all this movement and manifested himself first through the stinging spindle (death) and subsequently through the awakening of the virgin consciousness hibernated with a kiss (rebirth). The introduction of the needle is the introduction of the masculine principle (the serpent of the depths, Hades-Dionysus) into the feminine one (the virgin consciousness, Core-Persephone). The sting or poison introduced by piercing the skin are like drugs, at the same time deadly, dangerous and life-saving. Their potency can be deflected in the direction of mortification, the regressive loss of consciousness, or they can proceed towards complete transformation and healing.
The lack of awareness of this process can lead, as in the case of drug addiction or other experiences that can degenerate into sadomasochism, to perceive the urge towards transformation through the needle, to desire rebirth and the exit from depressive and destructive anger, without being able to complete it. The process then stops halfway, its nirvanic aspect of loss of consciousness and regression remains. The change, however, remains blocked due to the absence of a ritual that reveals its meaning. Some people can be possessed by the desire to be stung or to prick themselves (as if to get a tattoo) without changing their personality, which is possible only through the conscious encounter with the snake of the depths and with reflection on one’s psychic dynamics.
The fact that substances (drugs, inks, metals, poisons, infections, vaccines) are introduced through the needles is not important for the purpose of our discussion. The thrust of the snake, archetype of the spirit that demands the death and rebirth of the individual, shows itself with the punctiform penetration, with the introduction of a subtle and immaterial, transformative and vital factor.
The introduction of a disease, a wound into the organism that was previously virgin and therefore fragile, defenceless, infantile, makes it adult, makes it grow, matures it through symbolic death, gives it an identity different from the previous one. In everyday Italian it is said that a person is “adult and vaccinated” to demonstrate they have reached maturity of judgment. The open and then healed wound (defloration, circumcision, vaccination, etc.) and the inoculation of the poison transform the individual. Vaccinations seem necessary before any critical social and maturational event, such as early childhood, the beginning of the individual entering and living in a social group, the beginning of school, military service, employment, pandemic. These appear as a modern initiation rite, a rite of introduction to the world of adults, the awareness of its spiritual value is now lost. The adult is vaccinated, defended from the dangers of contamination by others because he or she has already been introduced to disease and death.
One is initiated through a needle penetration and inoculation of the deadly disease in small doses. A few rare anaphylactic allergic reactions to vaccines still remind us of the risk of death from practicing them. The refusal of transfusions or inoculation by certain groups of people or religious sects serves to preserve their purity, to isolate them from the group in which they live. Virginal rejection thus provides an identity by contrast to the dominant group.
The substratum that unites the various practices of piercing the body is also essentially to be linked to the practice of sacrifice. In many cases the piercing is a concrete act and signals the pressure of the dark side of the personality on the diurnal consciousness (the virgin points of the pin, the wound from which the blood that dirties the dress comes out: psychic defloration, the introduction of the Spirit) Sometimes it is an acting out, an action in place of symbolic reflection under the pressure of a large unconscious drive, a drive that becomes manifest in the tattooed image. The psychic image presses on consciousness, which defends itself and unloads on the body the strong libidinal charge (experienced as aggressive) of the instances of the unconscious psychic. The more the ego is rigid or fragile, that is, it does not elastically absorb the impact of the unconscious, of the other from itself, of the Shadow, the more it can react specularly with equal aggressiveness: self-aggression in piercing, hetero-aggression in piercing another person or annoyance for the tattoo or tattooed, perforated person, who shows the other his unconscious desire for aggressive sacrifice, death etc.
The obsessive, phobic or paranoid ego, which hates dirt or is afraid of it, will strongly defend itself from acupuncture, tattooing and other perforation practices. It is a rigid, restricted, hyper-masculine Ego, which rejects the feminine, does not welcome the unconscious, the Shadow, the Yin, that is it does not make itself penetrable (due to the presence of strong passive homosexual anxieties, of unconscious masochistic anxieties, of instances of sadistic superego projection etc.). The borderline ego, the ego with little capacity for symbolization, is overwhelmed by these instances, is unable to contain them and turns them on itself or on others (self or hetero-injury). It becomes the victim of these sadistic instances. It is pulled into this.
The Christian culture that forbade the tattoo, that is the perforation of the skin with the resulting bleeding and pain, pushed consciousness towards the sense of the symbolization of the sacrificial act, rather than towards its concrete action (even if there are examples imitative of flagellations and self-harming practices in Catholicism). The figure of Christ Crucified is that of a man pierced with nails, a crown of thorns and a spear, who suffers, bleeds and is sacrificed in death.
Between the somatic pole (Matter) and the psychic pole (Psyche) there is a liminal space where the apexes touch and do not touch; Jung described it as a zero-point. (Jung, The Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche), “This connecting space is the home of metaphor, the world of soul and the ‘subtle body’. At this psychophysical threshold both symbol and symptoms become ‘embodied metaphors’, as, for example, the expressions to have a broken heart, cold feet, or guts represent unconscious motivations translated into picture-language. It’s the metaphorical body we’re building. It’s that place between spirit and matter” (Stromsted, 2005).
Through images and associations made by the patient to those images, the removed emotion of grief, first subconscious them somatised, is unblocked. The needle releases the flow of psycho-physical energy (QI) and makes it recirculate on a somatic level (it decreases pain) and also allows the concealed, removed and censored images to emerge. The release of energy from the depths through needles and active imagination is analogous to the eruption of a volcano.
Beyond the manifestation of symbolic images, beyond their origin and principle that escapes our perception, in our opinion, lies the secret of any practice that uses a needle on a human being. As if it were the simulacrum of a sword, symbol and transforming agent of the individual consciousness, vehicle of powerful, deep, spiritual energies, the archetype of the healing snake acts. The introduction of an infinitesimal spiritual element (a ‘seed’, a ‘point’…) would cause an irreversible cascade modification in a system up to its total transformation, even at a macroscopic level. A man, a needle, an image are “mustard grains” for their global reference systems. A man can modify humanity (understood as the totality of human beings). An acupuncture needle can modify the psychophysical and neurological energy network (through the meridians/channels and induced modifications of consciousness), an image (external, internal, dreamlike) can modify the individual psyche. The fear and fascination of stings are also aroused by this possibility of total transformation, which is symbolic death for the consciousness of the self.
The association between acupuncture and active imagination therefore represents an amplifier of the transcendent function, a new, more solid bridge between consciousness and the unconscious, that is, between the symbolic West and East. But West and East are a couple of opposite polarities to be reconciled, they are two faces of the world and two aspects of being, two different ways of thinking about and approaching reality. One more analytical and defined and the other more synchronistic and global. They are the death (West) and the birth (East) of the Sun, that is, of consciousness, united in the depths of the unconscious in the Self, in the Tao, which brings together opposites in conflict. The mediator, the one who builds the bridge between the two separate worlds of day and night, can use the acupuncture needle as the axis that connects them, the word that gives voice to the images of the soul, or both at the same time.
“With my comment I tried to build a bridge of intimate spiritual understanding between East and West. The basis of any real understanding is man, and for this I had to talk about human things. This will excuse me for having dealt only with general aspects, without having gone into technical details.” (beginning of Jung’s European commentary in: Jung, Wilhelm, The Secret of the Golden Flower, 1981).
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