The painting below is by my friend Neville Bridgeford. It is in part conscious and in part an unconscious expression of the artist’s experience leading up to his thirty-first birthday. It was created after a spiritual emergency triggered by the painter’s growing awareness of repressed shadow qualities in his psyche. He suffers from post-traumatic stress syndrome principally created by war-time stress serving in the US Army. He was slowly becoming conscious of how previous childhood abusive situations had laid the foundation for his adult victimization. The polarity of the abuser/victim dynamic was expressed in his violent outbursts of self harm, where he became the abuser as well as the victim. When self medication with drugs and alcohol led to hospitalization, he began to face his life’s history. He was becoming more conscious by climbing out of denial. That’s when I met him. He was brimming over with hurt, rage, hate, and self-pity blaming his father, mother, school, culture, and the military for destroying his hope for a happy life.
After a brief and unhappy marriage, failed attempts to learn a trade after serving in Afghanistan, the fate of many servicemen began to emerge in Neville’s life. He couldn’t concentrate. Unusual sounds, especially that of helicopters flying overhead, would distract him and disorient him for almost a whole day. The gnawing pain could be numbed with a trip to the bar where he could have a few drinks and dance, perhaps pick up a one night stand and wake up in his room wondering what he had done the night before. His hearing was damaged by gunfire, so he was accused of not listening to directions at work or called “stupid” by his co-workers who didn’t realize he was reading their lips. He was too proud to admit he didn’t hear the directions and too afraid he would be fired if he did. His disability was piling up until he attempted suicide. Then the Army acknowledged his inability to function. His artistic ability has never been impaired however. His photographic eye is amazing and his chiefly self-taught painting style is provocative. He reads profusely and his reading shows up in the painting.
Neville’s ancestry is English and Cherokee. He had never studied his Native American heritage until I taught him the Cherokee dance of life, and gave him some books by Cherokee elders to read. He then found the Medicine Wheel teachings of the northern tribes. The snake and snow goose are symbols for him (Scorpio) and me (Capricorn) as the “moons” in which we were born. These are conscious depictions of our relatedness and the tipi is our mutual heritage. He is “standing” in front of his new awareness of his Tsalagi heritage, symbolized by the tipi of the plains peoples. He was also reading Seven Arrows at the time, so the two barren “sundance trees” could be viewed as originating in response to that reading. He claims he doesn’t know why he put those trees there. My classical Greek and Latin scholar, whom we call the Raven, felt the symbols came right out of the collective unconscious. They were for Pythagoras symbolic of the main choice in life, the paths of virtuousness or viciousness. They symbolize the duality of male/female, good/bad, light/dark. The abyss in the background has its bleak edges and is overlooked by a moon wearing the infinity symbol as glasses. The tipi is dark inside, unexplored territory perhaps.
When I asked about the spirals on the tipi skin, Neville had no conscious reason for painting them. “It just felt right to put them there,” was all he had to say about it. If it is safe to assume the tipi skin is symbolic of the ancestral protection of our heritage, the individual spirals would be individual lives danced on the connectedness of tradition. This ties in with Carl Jung’s insight about the goal of human development which he called the individuation process. Jung’s student and colleague Marie-Louise von Franz characterized it (1997) as “A process of developing consciousness, which, continually broadening its frame of reference, works toward the conscious realization and active fulfillment of an original fundamental wholeness. This appears already as potential wholeness in early childhood in the form of symbols in dreams and fantasies which manifest again and again in periods of transformation such as puberty, the midlife period, and in times of crisis. . . What we seem to be dealing with here is a goal-seeking process in the psyche that is to a great extent independent of external conditions.” (Archetypal Dimensions of the Psyche, pp. 133 & 134)
Jung characterized the process of individuation as initially unconscious. He said in Psychology and Alchemy “we can hardly escape the feeling that the unconscious process moves spiral-wise round a centre, gradually getting closer, while the characteristics of the centre grow more and more distinct.” He also describes it as something like a magnet in the center which acts “on the disparate materials and processes of the unconscious and gradually captures them as in a crystal lattice. For this reason the centre is (in other cases) often pictured as a spider in its web, especially when the conscious attitude is still dominated by fear of unconscious processes. (p.217)” That’s how I see the spirals on the tipi skin. They are representing individuals spiraling around their destiny.
Jung concludes his chapter on the Symbolism of the Mandala with these words. “All life is bound to individual carriers who realize it, and it is simply inconceivable without them. But every carrier is charged with an individual destiny and destination, and the realization of these alone makes sense of life. (p.222)”