When I was living in Dallas from 1976 to 1985, I was in contact with some of the most profound people I have ever met. James Hillman, Robert Sardello, Patricia Berry and Ivan Illich affected me most and we were friends. Gail Thomas had the magic to bring us together productively. One of our most important visitors was Rafael Lopez-Pedraza, a mythologist and psychologist in the best meaning of the words. Rafael taught me many things with mere gestures and a few words that I’ve never forgotten. His few books are extraordinary, each worth a lifetime of study, maybe none more than Hermes and His Children. If you read this book and understand it, you will be well on your way to appreciating the essence of archetypal psychology and the idea of soul. It isn’t an easy book, but it’s worth reading again and again, as I have done. Rafael died just last January, and I feel a deep gap where his presence in Caracas always assured me that our work would go deeper.
Let me tell just one story, one that I’ve often retold. I had just begun my life as a psychotherapist and felt fairly secure with my work, except that I didn’t feel that I handled shadow issues and matters of aggression well. One day James and Pat and I were walking down a street with Rafael and his wife Valerie. I happened to be next to Valerie for a while and I told her my problem. She went and told Rafael, and he came back and shoved me into a small alley. He looked at me ferociously and said in his Cuban and South American manner: “SADA.” I didn’t know what the word meant and so I ran ahead—we were all still on a walk—and asked Valerie. “He’s telling you read the Marquis de Sade,” she said. So I went out and bought all the thick volumes of Sade’s fiction I could find, thousands of pages, and then went to Austin, where they hold many of Sade’s unpublished works in French and read some of his essays. I became convinced that Sade was a forerunner of archetypal psychology and had a fundamental insight that was essential. True, his life and his writing are vile. They would turn your stomach. But Rafael taught me a lesson I always try to pass on to students of psychotherapy: You have to have a huge capacity for the light and the dark to do this work. You also have to know how to see the poetic nature of very dark images, whether in dreams, literature or psychology.
I went on to write about Sade rather briefly in one of my early books, Dark Eros. James Hillman had the insight and guts to publish it, and his friend Adolf Guggenbühl-Craig had the vision to write a foreword for it in its later edition. A major New York publisher rejected the book, telling me that it was in bad taste to put theological ideas and Sade in the same manuscript. Incidentally, the book was recognized as one of the ten best books of 1994 by Screw Magazine and got an excellent review there, one of the most intelligent I have ever had.
Rafael had a genius for working with mythology and art without treating them as templates, matching a myth with a psychological syndrome. He was infinitely more subtle than that. His treatment of the Titans of myth was especially useful, and you can find that in his book Cultural Anxiety. His powerful essay on Duende is also in that book.
I would like to look closely at a single idea in Hermes and His Children, but as I scour the book I see so much and realize how subtle it all is and how one thing connects to another. It isn’t easy to highlight one idea. Still, let me try. Rafael suggests that the image of the Hermaphrodite is part of Hermes fantasy and is essential and important in psychotherapy. He stresses one point: the Hermaphrodite suggests weakness. “Psychotherapy tends to demand a realization in life mostly in opposition to weakness. Even in Jungian psychology the battle is for strength, coping, making decisions, responsibility, tough creative work, etc.” Nevertheless, he goes on to say, the achievement of the Hermes/Hermaphrodite transference is weakening. The achievement is to be weakened.
Rafael moves then to a related idea, that the important fantasy of the Hermaphrodite, which I might interpret as meaning freedom from gender thinking or any thinking that separates what should be joined, moves toward a new sensibility. Rafael says: “This is not simply a curing therapeutic transference, but more the living of a lifetime in terms of transferential movement. Our memory, our relationships to others, our vision of the world , and of ourselves, metamorphosize in life. Explicitly, living life is more important than the illusion of a concrete achievement gain through psychotherapy.” Think about this last line: the illusion of a concrete achievement through psychotherapy.” It’s more important to allow and watch these changes take place in life. In other words, therapy is not the place for change.
In my own therapeutic work I usually try to embody the learning I’ve taken from Rafael. I try not to be gender-bound or to get lured into oppositions. I know that I am in need of therapy at least as much as my clients are. I try not to be a man always, but some other kind of being, a borderline person, neither this nor that. I realize that insights come accompanied by further ignorance, light with more shadow, a sense of health with an even deeper sense that something is wrong. The weakening of psychotherapy is as important as any strength accomplished. I, myself, will be weakened by it as much as I’m strengthened.
These are not easy lessons. They take a lot of very personal meditation. They ask us to let go of many sentimental ideas that look good only on the surface. Rafael is a challenge. I encourage you to read him.