When I wrote down my thoughts about „So many secrets in the woods“, I remembered also the stories of people who disappeared under mysterious circumstances in the woods. There are many cases of people who voluntarily went into the woods and were never seen again or doing strange things there in the night and when asked why they couldn’t really explain the driving force behind their actions. Modern rationalists relate such cases usually to psychological illness, drug abuse or suspect some criminal background. However there are other explanations why people behave in a way we don’t understand. As I said in “Do you remember your first call” it seems that sometimes we receive some sort of wake-up call or some signal, which is so overwhelming, that it changes the entire course of our life. We remember the stories of successful businessmen who suddenly gave up their business and lived like a monk or become backpackers travelling the whole world. “Into the wild” by Jon Krakauer tells the true story of Christopher Johnson McCandless, a young guy who gave up his normal life and went into the wilderness. He died because of starvation.
These calls, whereever they might come from, are not always igniting positive human development. Sometimes people indeed seem to fall under a spell. Recently a remarkable and price-winning independent movie, “Take Shelter” presented an interesting take on the subject. The movie opens with the main character Curtis LaForche watching a supercell-thunderstorm and experiences strange sensations further on. He is becoming more and more paranoid and feels a strong impulse to build a better storm shelter. When he nearly ruins his family because he looses his job due to his actions, he becomes desperate and gets convinced that he is suffering from paranoid schizophrenia like his mother who lives in an institution. However this turns out to be a wrong lead in the end. It is never explained what exactly happened to Curtis but we feel there is a strong sense of truth in what happens to the main character who behaves more and more like a prophet of doom. I believe we know that pattern from somewhere: Somebody taking strange actions and we can’t really explain why he is doing this but in the same way we can’t say that he is simply going crazy. Think of the character Roy Neary played by Richard Dreyfuss in “Close Encounters”, an ordinary electrician, who feels a strong pull he can’t resist to build the model of Devil’s mountain in his living room.
With Curtis, It’s more like he received a dangerous call leading him on a path of self-destruction (this is an interpretation. I don’t really know about the filmmaker’s intention). What’s important here is the lesson that we shouldn’t be to quick with our common psychological explanation. There is even a danger in psychology because it makes us blindsided for the tremendous forces and entities which are coming from outside. The idea of demons possessing us might sound old-fashioned. But don’t we feel there is some truth in the idea of the “inner demon” which is sometimes taking over and driving our actions? I don’t refer to simply possession it’s more like what Patrick Harbour said in his excellent book “Daimonic Realty”: “What the daimons in dreams seek is our ability, through reflection and pondering, through all our making and doing, to give shape to their dynamic shape-shifting; to order and discriminate their chaos, to body forth their ethereal volatility, to express their, not the ego’s perspectives”.
You don’t need to believe in a red-eyed demon with horns but the ancient concept of daimons, which put men under their spell is at least in a metaphorical sense not so bad. The daimons of the ancient world are not purely bad or benign. Their nature is more ambivalent but nevertheless their influence can be dangerous.
There are interesting questions considering such a concept: first, how and why does such a call happen and are you forced to follow the call which might articulate itself as some sort of inner voice or a strong need to do a certain thing? I haven’t found really convincing answers yet but it’s interesting that for example close encounters with the forces of nature seems to have a strong effect on some people like Curtis in Take Shelter. There is again a very interesting idea in ancient philosophy that there is someone behind all phenomena and that the divine is in all things. Indeed a thunderstorm might be more as just a weather-pattern. Some people think that the world as we see it is more like the surface of a computer-screen with nature and even other planets as icons which are mere representations of something we can’t know and understand.
We know about stories of people gone missing in the woods for some time and later claimed that they were enchanted by a deer. Encounters with magic animals in a dense wood are good candidates for igniting a profound change in the life of a person. Medieval stories tell a lot about these encounters. Sometimes they can be a masquerade. Fairies might take the form of a certain animal. “The owls are not what they seem”, says the loglady in Twin Peaks.
Of course, visits at certain places might also have a tremendous effect on the psyche. Distinct mountains have a reputation that they can be like a strong drug. The events at Witch Mountain in the Forest Dark movie project will resemble some real events.
Another disturbing aspect is that dreams could have effects, which we don’t know much about. What if something or somebody or something could intrude in our dreams and starting to “remote control” our minds like a PC connected to the web and being captured by a botnet? Curtis in “Take Shelter” has disturbing dreams driving him into madness.
Of course, we need to distinct between “inspiration” and “projection”. It is again Harpour who makes us aware that we need to understand the difference between shamanic initiation and a quest. He speaks of the “quester” as somebody “active, single-minded, even obsessive” like Odysseus. “Paranoia is always around the corner”, since “the Otherworld is to close to him, threatening to overwhelm and possess him”. Sometimes it’s the rational minded explorer who is lured by the song of the Sirens.
However we might still ask what is the driving force behind our quests. Harpour thinks the quest might be a kind of reversed initiation. Curtis dark journey in “Take Shelter” felt to me like a shamanic initiation gone wrong. Another interesting model for interpretation comes from Jungian scholar Richard Edinger particularly if it comes to apocalyptic visions. He describes the “Archetype Of Apocalypse” as a driving force in his book about the archetype of apocalypse. He explains how this archetype works and finds dramatic examples how this archetype is activated today. It’s fascinating but its always terribly difficult to explain or to define what exactly an archetype is. The most disturbing speculation about archetypes is that they are not part of the human psyche but autonomous agencies and therefore very close to the idea of the daimons of the ancient world.
We need to trust our feelings when we get the call to adventure. We can’t know who or what is behind the call from the otherworld. We can’t resist and we don’t have much choice but maybe we can feel if it is the light side of the force or the dark side, which is always at work.