Coniunctionis.17: The Dangers and Benefits of Enthusiasm (or the Dangers and Benefits of God)

This essay picks up on some of the earlier themes in the Coniunctionis series, which focused on the relation between trauma, art, punk rock and transformation. This column examined the anger and aggression of punk rock (sometimes self-destructive and sometimes critical of society with an implied sense of transformation – things can or should be another way) as well as the nihilism and despair in Joy Division’s music. What interested me back then was how going into the darkness can lead to a positive transformation, in contrast to the belief that one becomes positive by distancing one’s self from the negative. It has been over 10 years since I wrote the earlier Coniunctionis columns. I recently came across some notes I had taken from the books I was reading back then for a piece I was writing on Joy Division entitled: “Something Must Break: The Joy Division to New Order Story.” I will combine these notes and reflections with more recent thoughts and work on the spiritual experiences of Carl Jung and Philip K. Dick, readings on mysticism, poetry and the conception of the sacred in indigenous cultures, specifically the Māori concepts of Tapu and Noa.


We will start with the word “enthusiasm.” The lack of enthusiasm is a significant problem in contemporary life. To be unenthused is to be apathetic, listless, disconnected, isolated, remote and unmotivated. Everyone wants to have enthusiasm in their life. It is what makes life worth living in many ways. To be enthused is to be energized, engaged, connected, full of life, bursting with ideas, the enthused feel that they are in the center of life, they are relevant and their life has purpose. The root of the word enthusiasm comes from Greek words of enthousiasmos and entheos, meaning divine inspiration or even possessed by a god. (I have also seen the word linked to Zeus, the king of the Greek pantheon of gods, such that one could be en-zeused, the words Zeus and theos seem to have some similar roots). The history of the word “enthusiasm” is ambivalent. On the positive side is the aspect of being filled with God, alive and creative. Amongst Christian sects the word was considered suspect or even heretical by mainstream religion. (Dorothee Soelle, in her book The Silent Cry: Mysticism and Resistance, makes a very interesting argument that mysticism, i.e. the direct experience of God, is always a source of resistance or even revolution to structured religion and society). The Wikipedia entry on enthusiasm details a brief history of some of its religious connotations. It also states that the Greek root relates to possession by Apollo or Dionysus, however these are two very different energies and we will turn to Nietzsche for an explication of that difference.


Nietzsche describes the two complementary but opposite effects of the Apollonian and Dionysian spirits in art and music. He states that “art owes its continuous evolution to the Apollonian-Dionysian duality,” (19).  “It is Apollo who tranquilizes the individual by drawing boundary lines, and who, by enjoining again and again the practice of self-knowledge, reminds him of the holy, universal norms…the Dionysiac flood tide periodically destroys all the little circles in which the Apollonian would confine,” (65). Thus we have the creative tension between the Apollonian energy of beauty, harmony, order, systems, regulated relationships and peace; and the Dionysian energy of disruption, change, sudden transformation, transcendence of boundaries and a sense of mystical unity, which Nietzsche would perhaps characterize as unconscious dissolution. Apollo was the god of healing and medicine (Asclepius was his son) as well as the god of music and poetry. He is considered a solar god with all attendant continual light of consciousness (Joseph Campbell’s Masks of God series has in-depth discussions of the differences between the masculine solar gods and the generally feminine lunar goddesses). Dionysus, on the other hand was the god of wine, of ekstasis (ecstasy) and divine madness. The Wikipedia entry states that he was sometimes described as womanly or “manwomanish” which would be consistent with a lunar rather than solar association.

Nietzsche clearly sides with the Dionysian as opposed to the Apollonian. The risk of too much Apollonian energy is stagnation, stultification and too much order. To Nietzsche, who believed that one should philosophize with a hammer, the traditional order was actually destroying true humanity. The risk of too much Dionysian energy is madness and physical destruction (we remember that Nietzsche, himself, became mad with tertiary syphilis and that his writing became more grandiose in his later life). He writes of Dionysiac ritual that “each individual becomes not only reconciled to his fellow but actually at one with him – as though the veil of Maya had been torn apart and there remained only shreds floating before the vision of mystical Oneness,” (23). Nietzsche suggests that humanity is Dionysian at heart and that perhaps the Apollonian is an illusion of order super-imposed. “If we could not imagine an incarnation of dissonance – and what is man if not that? – that dissonance, in order to endure life, would need a marvelous illusion to cover it with a veil of beauty,” (145).


Alvarez also studied the nature of creativity and its relation to destruction and suicide. He cites Bakunin’s statement that, “The passion for destruction is also a creative passion,” (17). Alvarez recognized the need for an unleashing of primal and chaotic energies in order to create art as well as the need to give this chaotic energy some Apollonian structure. “For the artist…chaos is…felt as an absence far back and a proportionate urgent need to create some new order for himself and from scratch; that is more likely to inspire work than frustrate it,” (257). Art is thus, as Nietzsche described, created from the tension of chaos and order. We can see that chaos appears to be the more primal root of experience in this last quote by Alvarez as well as in the last sections’ quote from Nietzsche. Is this surprising? It should not be given that most creation myths/stories start with: in the beginning there was nothing or chaos and then some creative act formed order out of chaos. It is not that chaos and order are two different things – although they are in opposition they are necessarily in relationship – chaos is the substance that order is created from or imposed upon.

Alvarez noted that while the passion for destruction was necessary in art that the creation of art is not always healing for the artist. For “the artist himself art is not necessarily therapeutic; he is not automatically relieved of his fantasies by expressing them. Instead, by some perverse logic of creation, the act of formal expression may simply make the dredged up material more available to him. The result of handling it in his work may well be that he finds himself living it out,” (54).  This reminds one of Nietzsche’s statement that “Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And when you look long into the abyss, the abyss also looks into you,” (Beyond Good and Evil, aphorism 146).


In 1934 to 1939, Carl Jung ran a seminar discussing Nietzsche and his book Thus Spoke Zarathustra. Jung was interested in Nietzsche and this book for a number of reasons. The book sprang forth from Nietzsche, or through him, within a very short time. The book presents the Persian prophet, Zoroaster, the founder of Zoroastrianism, as a contemporary figure (who is obviously a counter-ego for Nietzsche) who goes beyond good and evil, proclaims the death of God, and seeks to establish a new mode of living in which humans overcome themselves (the infamous übermensch, often translated as “overman” or “superman”). While many see Nietzsche as a nihilist and atheist, he feared that the contemporary belief systems of the late 19th century were symptoms of nihilism. His Zarathustra is thus a prophet who teaches the path of enlightenment. He describes man as an experiment that is in risk of failing and he provides hope for this condition. “Physician, help yourself: thus you help your patient too. Let this be the best help that he may behold with his eyes the man who heals himself…Verily, the earth shall yet become a site of recovery,” ( The Portable Nietzsche, 189). As the last part of this quote shows, the transformation is an earthly one, not an other-worldly one. Nietzsche was suspicious of traditions and hierarchies, thus he wrote, “One repays a teacher badly if one always remains nothing but a pupil,” (190). Further he wrote (and Zarathustra said) “You had not yet sought yourselves: and you found me. Thus do all believers; therefore all faith amounts to little. Now I bid you to lose me and find yourselves: and only when you have all denied me will I return to you,” (190). Rather than followers, he teaches others to become self-actualized, to use a term from humanistic psychology.

Jung was particularly interested in Nietzsche’s Zarathustra as an archetypal vision and attempt to heal or make sense of madness – an eruption from the collective unconscious of creative/destructive chaos in the psyche. He was interested in this because he, himself, had a similar experience which he described and documented in his Red Book, which has just recently been published in the last few years. Personally, I feel that I can even see Nietzsche’s influence at times in the words and manner in which Jung documents his experiences. Jung described to Jaffé, “I stood helpless before an alien world; everything seemed difficult and incomprehensible. I was living in a constant state of tension; often I felt as if gigantic blocks of stone were tumbling down upon me…Others have been shattered by them – Nietzsche, and Hölderlin…But there was a demonic strength in me, and from the beginning there was no doubt in my mind that I must find the meaning of what I was experiencing in these fantasies…I had the unswerving conviction that I was obeying a higher will, and that feeling continued to uphold me until I had mastered the task,” (Memories, Dreams, Reflections, 177).  Here again we see the Dionysian up swelling of creative/destructive chaos which the Apollonian consciousness struggles to create into some form of words, order and understanding. Whereas Nietzsche sided with the Dionysian over the Apollonian “illusion,” Jung’s philosophy was more one of integration in which consciousness needs periodic injections of creative/destructive chaos and then the work began to integrate, translate and transform that energy into something useful, meaningful and understandable. For Jung, it was always about the therapeutic. As he said, “I could not expect of my patients something I did not dare to do myself,” (178). And he reports that thinking of how his experiences could possibly help his patients helped him bear the tension of his experiences.

Hopefully this makes it clear as to why Jung would spend 6 years on a seminar on Zarathustra. We will now turn to the text of these seminars where Jung examines the process of creative/destructive energy erupting into consciousness and the struggle to integrate that. Jung commented that “man does not possess creative powers, he is possessed by them,” (40). One of the dangers of the flow of creative power through a person is that the person will mistake themselves or their ego as the source of this energy. This creates quite a paradoxical situation in which an individual experiences and expresses something through one’s own being, but whose source is not from one’s own being or ego at least. Jung describes misidentification with this energy as “inflation.” “As soon as self-consciousness comes in, there is inflation: you imagine that you are the creator and then you are God, because you feel, of course, like ten thousand dollars if you have time to think of it,” (40). Jung describes the risk that Nietzsche (and he, himself) faced, that “the creative powers steal your time, sap your strength, and what is the result? A book perhaps. But where is your personal life? All gone. Therefore, such people feel so terribly cheated; they mind it, and everybody ought to kneel down before them in order to make up for that which has been stolen by God. The creative forces have taken it out of them, and therefore they would like to personify them, to imagine that they are Shiva, in order to have the delight of being creative. But if you know you are creative and enjoy being creative, you will be crucified afterwards, because anybody identified with God will be dismembered,” (41).

Of note here is that Jung slips from in earlier pages speaking of possession by archetypes and inflation to speaking of possession by God. I think this is something that can be confusing in his writing. I view his term, archetype, as an attempt to develop a psychological understanding of spiritual processes. His concept of archetype has its roots in his book Symbols of Transformation which examines universally occurring mythical and psychological motifs and he argued that this same process of generating myth occurred in a distorted form in mental illness.

How is one to avoid being destroyed or inflated when consorting with the creative/destructive energies and possession by God? Jung states that one can only do this only “by obeying completely without attempting to look at yourself. You must be quite naive,” (40). This seems to imply a level of trust, faith in the process (even without knowing where it leads) as well as an absence of egoism, narcissism and even of intellectual sophistication.

Jung picks up on Nietzsche’s interest in Dionysus and writes that in the “greatness of the completely unconscious state of the Dionysian enthusiasm…In that intoxication, the god enters the mystes [the initiate]. He becomes a god himself. He becomes the great current of nature, the stream itself, and there are no individual worries any longer,” (76).


There is, however, the common experience of mysticism that God is in all things and that God is within the self. However, Jung seems to be saying that the key to human psychological survival of an encounter with God is let God flow through one’s self without over-identifying with the energy. Thus, one has something flowing through one’s self which is not of one’s self. Dorothee Soelle, in her book, The Silent Cry: Mysticism and Resistance, describes that “what the mystics call ‘becoming one’ is never a possession that cannot be lost. What really happens in mystical union is not a new vision of God but a different relationship to the world – one that has borrowed the eyes of God,” (293). Perhaps this statement sheds some light on how one can be one with God and yet still be one’s self, having only “borrowed” the eyes of God, or perhaps not.

One more comment on the dilemma of oneness and a diversity of separate objects and individuals comes from the concept of the chakra system which consists of seven different dimensions: the physical, emotional, intellectual, heart, creative self-expressive, intuitive and spiritual. One way of thinking of these different dimensions is that they alternate between energies of union and individuation. Body, mind and self-expression depend on a sense of boundaried individualness. If we were to return again to the concept of chaos and order, it is interesting to note that the fifth chakra of creative self-expression is actually based on structure and organization, in other words on Apollonian concepts. Whereas, the emotions, heart and intuition are based on principles of flow and union, of breaking down boundaries between people and things. Sometimes it is taught that the 7th, or crown chakra, which is the source of spiritual energy, is both structured as well as flowing, thus containing both a kind of yin (flow) and yang (structure) template that is then balanced toward one of the other of these seeming opposites that work together to create life.

There is much more to say about this paradox of oneness and Jung’s advice to trust God to flow through without over-identifying with it. I suppose we could say that it might be true to say that we are one with God, but we are not the One God, meaning we are part of God and God is fully in us, but we are not fully in God. Quite frankly, this is all beyond me, so let us get back on topic. Maybe a quote from a poet will put it all into perspective:


“Since nothing actually exists except You,

Then why do I keep hearing all this noise?”

(Ghalib, “Questions”)



“We are all mystics,” (9) writes Soelle, and all mysticism includes a rejection and dissatisfaction with the way the current world exists. Oddly it could be considered anti-existence (or possibly anti-Apollonian) while still being in service of a different or transformed existence. Soelle writes that all the many forms of mysticism “lie between withdrawal from the world and the transformation of the world through revolution. But whether it be resistance, rebellion, or revolution, in all of these forms there is a No! to the world as it exists now,” (3). Further, she seeks to unify the internal with the external. “This means that for the sake of what is within, I seek to erase the distinction between a mystical internal and a political external. Everything that is within needs to be externalized so it doesn’t spoil, like the manna in the desert that was hoarded for future consumption. There is no experience of God that can be so privatized that it becomes and remains the property of one owner, the privilege of a person of leisure, the esoteric domain of the initiated,” (3).

“The trivialization of life is perhaps the strongest antimystical force among us,” (13). Here, Soelle seems to be equating life-elevating or life-giving with mysticism. If trivializing, degrading or dehumanizing life is anti-mystical, then the mystical would logically be life-giving. There is thus a process or relationship, perhaps dialectic, between the internal mystical experience and its external manifestation – as above, Soelle seeks to couple the internal and external elements of mysticism. “For mystical consciousness, it is essential that everything internal become external and be made visible,” (13).  In her book, Soelle then examines different domains of mystical experience: language, the journey, ecstasy, nature, eroticism, community, suffering and joy. In quite simple terms, her argument can be summed up as internal transformation through direct experiential relationship with God leads to transformation of external relationships, world and perhaps reality.


Let us remember what we are examining here. We started this discussion about enthusiasm and given the roots of that word, we ended up talking about God, Apollonian order, Dionysian chaos, healing, possession, creativity, destruction, transformation and the relationship between internal and external. Enthusiasm, or being filled with or possessed by God, is a transformative experience. We could argue whether there is a small enthusiasm, which is not of God, and a larger enthusiasm that is of God, but let us just assume that all enthusiasm is the state of being filled with Divine energy. We also have examined a strong thread that enthusiasm is both potentially creative and destructive. There is a possible perspective that sees creation and destruction linked, not as opposites, but as partners. Would this not seem to imply, then that, for argument’s sake, God is the source of both good and evil – of both creation and destruction? You may notice that I have taken a leap from creation and destruction to good and evil, for this paper let us assume that this leap is not unfounded.

If we return back to Jung, he seemed to share this view, the energy of the collective unconscious, the archetypes (aka God) erupt into a person. This leads to an elevated, heightened state, what he often called numinousity, to be filled with a spiritual energy, or God. Jung states that “energy changes its form,” (Symbols of Transformation, 158). If we think of God in terms of energy, or as Jung spoke of “psychic energy” and we consider the relationship of matter and energy in Einstein’s famous theorem, e=mc2 in which matter and energy are in relationship with one another we can arrive at a place where we can see that the energy of God, transduced into the energy of experience, transduced into the energy of thought, transduced into the energy of actions, leads to a change of the structure and organization of the social and physical world.

Back to the language of enthusiasm, a state of enthusiasm can change and transform things, not just in the enthused person, but also in those around them. The sense of enthusiasm can be thought of as a state of surplus energy flowing through a person. Energy does work, it changes things, it alters things. The problem with downloaded God energy is that it has to go somewhere if the recipient cannot use it to transform the self. Enthusiasm is contagious, it spills over and connects – thus we have spiritual leaders and followers as well as cult leaders and even Hitler who was definitely enthused and channeled this energy into destruction of the “inferior” and the transformation of the elected. Is it reasonable to speak of the enthusiasm of Christ and his followers with the enthusiasm of Hitler and the Nazis? Generally one is considered an example of good and the other of evil. However, if we are looking at enthusiasm and where the source of this energy comes from it is logical to say that enthusiasm can be employed or manifested in such a way that it can be either creative or destructive, or as mentioned earlier as either good or evil. Both Jesus and Hitler were enthused and exhibited a style of transformative leadership. Is this saying that good and evil are both from God? I do not think it is possible to say that or to imply that God is or contains both good and evil (I am often reluctant to even use the word “God” because I am not sure I or other people understand what I mean when I use the word). We can say, however, that the enthusiasm of individuals creates a choice, often when one has limited rational capacities because of the possession of the enthusiasm. This choice is what people will do with themselves and this surge of power (which as Jung says comes through the person, but is not of the person). In this sense, we can say that the power that powers good and evil have one source – God. In other words, God is ambivalent, or ambi-valent, meaning containing two energies. While this idea might be shocking, even heretical to people with certain backgrounds, such as Christianity, it is not all that uncommon in the world.

Jung considered individuals to be ambi-valent as well; that every person had a soul that was of the opposite gender. Thus he called women’s souls the animus (masculine) and men’s souls the anima (feminine). The anima and animus were types of archetypes that one could integrate, become possessed by, or project on to members of the opposite sex. A common conception of the soul is that it is one’s connection to God. For Jung, a relationship with the soul contributed to the process of individuation or wholeness, in which one moved from the small self of the ego to the larger Self which was trans-personal. If one does not have a strong connection to the soul, one seeks “soul food” in the opposite sex. Enthusiasm further complicates this as God/sacred energy flows through the object of projection. Relationship is sacred, inherently, and as relationship builds, enthusiasm follows. What one seeks in the differentness of the other is what one feels one is missing in one’s self. It is possible to find differentness in one’s self, and that in fact is the soul – the most intimate “other” within the Self. If we return to the Soelle’s statement that for “mystical consciousness, it is essential that everything internal become external and be made visible,” it could be argued that what the soul wants is to find an external counter-part as a reminder and image of the true essence of the internal soul and connection to God. Post-Jungian, James Hillman details the circumambulations of the soul in The Soul’s Code: In Search of Character and Calling. Hillman, instead of psychodynamics in which love is reduced to a form of pathology or projection describes his concept of “psychodaimonics imagines this call more phenomenologically, using the language that love itself uses – myth, poetry, story, and song – and that places the call beyond the “self,” as if it comes from a divine or demonic being,” (144). In summary, it can probably be safely said there is both internal and external considerations of the enthusiasm of love, God, soul and other people.


Girard’s book, Violence and the Sacred examines the relationship between these two elements: “in Africa, as in many other parts of the world, there is only a single term to denote the two faces of the sacred – the interplay of order and disorder…all forbidden as well as permitted sexual practices, all forms of violence and brutality, unclean things, decaying matter, monstrosities…In addition the same term embraces the creative impulse and the urge for order, for peace, calm and stability…under the aegis of royalty,” (257). Similarly, he refers to the Greek word, pharmakon, which is the word for medicine, that it is “both poison and the antidote for poison,” (95).

Girard’s book examines the many different rites and rituals around violence and sacred worship. He writes that “sacred is ‘bad’ when it is inside the community, it is ‘good’ when it returns to the exterior,” (258). When violence occurs within the community it must somehow be grounded and neutralized, or in his terms shifted from “reciprocal violence” to “transcendental violence,” (124-125). When violence is properly handled and managed, a “human being dies, and the solidarity of the survivors is enhanced by his death…the surrogate victim dies so that the entire community, threatened by the same fate, can be reborn in a new or renewed cultural order,” (255). However, for “order to be reborn, disorder must first triumph, for myths to achieve their complete integration, they must first suffer total disintegration,” (79).


Māori psychiatrist, Mason Durie, describes the concepts of tapu and noa as serving functions of “regulation and control” and as guidelines to domains of safety. He points out that there is both a sacred as well as a practical health perspective on these terms. While he leans toward the practical health interpretation, we will use his definitions of tapu and noa and then see how these might relate to our current topic of discussion, enthusiasm, or being filled with God. Durie gives the definition that “tapu situations were off limits…that contact with a particular object or activity could be unsafe, either in physical or spiritual terms…transgressions of tapu earned rebuke, ridicule, or intense mental suffering,” (Whaiora: Maori Health Development, 8). “Parts of the body were tapu – the head, genitalia, the heart – and people at different times and in different circumstances were tapu. Women in the post-partum period, the mourning of relatives of a deceased person, soldiers prior to battle, and priests engaged in ritual activity were all regarded as tapu. A state of tapu resulted in a period of forced separateness from the group at a time when vigilance and focused attention were necessary,” (8-9). Tapu is not necessarily a permanent state attached to an object, place, or situation. “Sometimes it was a more or less permanent state; at others, an interim measure imposed to restore equilibrium after an unsettling incident or to give permission when a crisis was anticipated,” (8).

Given our previous discussion, the concept of tapu is quite interesting. Girard’s comment that many cultures only have one word for “the two faces of the sacred” seems particularly relevant here. Tapu denotes that something is potentially dangerous, is to be avoided, and is to be handled with a certain degree of care and guideline. As we have been looking at enthusiasm and being filled or possessed by God as an ambivalent state of transformation that can result in either creation or destruction, it would make sense that a culture would develop guidelines for managing anything and anyone who had the potential to suddenly and powerfully transform relationships and community in either creative or destructive forms.

According to Durie, the corresponding term, noa, represents “a state of relaxed access, requiring no particular protective mechanisms or restrictions,” (9). We could think of this as a “normal” state and tapu as an abnormal state. The abnormal state of tapu could have the potential for either creative or destructive transformation. Given the ambivalent nature of enthusiasm, we could imagine that such a state could be considered tapu for other community members. For instance, Durie listed priests engaged in ritual as well as soldiers preparing for battle as both being tapu. With the danger of over-stretching Maori concepts to fit them into a Western perspective, we could consider Eliade’s description of the sacred and the profane. Tapu would designate the sacred, in the broad sense of something filled with transformative power that could be creative or destructive. Noa would designate the profane, the normal. Tapu, once it is normalized, then becomes noa – grounded, de-sacralized or neutralized.

I introduce Durie’s discussion of tapu and noa not to necessarily lead into a detailed historical and cultural explanation of the significance of these terms for Māori, but rather to lend weight to the argument that the sacred or the enthused are potentially dangerous and can lead to rapid personal, relationship, and social transformation that could be either positive or negative. There is the common term these days of “change agent” and in this discussion we could consider such a person to be tapu.


Also of interest is the ambivalence with which artists and creative people are held, particularly in many cultures. For instance wealthy people pay money to walk through art galleries or even buy art that years before would have been considered rubbish. Also, the bourgeois would never have wanted to personally associate socially with many artists. Kay Redfield Jamison, in her book Touched With Fire, cites research that, of creative people, poets had the highest rates of psychopathology, whereas engineers had the lowest rates. Poets are often considered to be divinely inspired and emotional and relational instability seems to be part of the poetic personality. We generally do not speak of divinely inspired or enthusiastic engineers. In a general colloquial sense, we could say that poets are the most mad or crazy artists. While artists and poets are often portrayed as bohemians who do not always follow the traditional ways, we do not often, in contemporary society, think of artists as channels of God. Particularly if we link enthusiasm with being filled with or possessed by God, then artists all of a sudden make sense. There is the concept of divine madness that traces back to Ancient Greece. In this kind of madness there is possession by a god. Similarly, the Greek pantheon included the Muses who were often considered to inspire artists. And our old friend Apollo was the god of poetry and music. We might think, well what about Dionysus, is not poetry somewhat Dionysian? That very well could be, but remember the distinction between Apollonian consciousness and Dionysian unconsciousness (and drunkenness). Dionysian celebrations in Ancient Greece did have music and dance and perhaps poetry, but we could think of Dionysus as the force of chaos that is then shaped by Apollonian energy into some order and form of poetry.

The poet, Ghalib, who wrote in Urdu and Persian in the early 1800s, reportedly felt that writers had to break rules in order to be poets. He is quoted as having criticized the writing of a pious Sheikh: “How can Sahbai be a poet? He has never tasted wine, nor has he ever gambled; he has not been beaten with slippers by lovers, nor has he ever seen the inside of a jail,” (Wikipedia).

Let us look briefly at another poet, Mirabai, a Hindu poet from the early 1500s. Robert Bly has included her in a collection of translations called The Winged Energy of Delight. The title is from a poem by Rilke called “Just as the Winged Energy of Delight,” which ends with the following lines:


Take your well-disciplined strengths

and stretch them between two

opposing poles. Because inside human beings

is where God learns.

(Rilke, in Bly, 177)


Bly describes Mirabai as having “pushed her way out of her family, out of many social demands, and ignored many commands given to her as a woman of her time. Her religious passion carried her into intensities that make most people turn pale,” (Bly, 21). She is a good example of a poet and mystic who’s life and work exemplified resistance and critique of society. Bly writes that her poetry brings three illuminations. “First we get the feeling of what it’s like to rebel against entrenched patriarchal interests and a deeply rooted social order. Also we can sense through her poetry the power of the Krishna movement. Krishna was said to free Indian women from long-standing bonds…Also, we can feel how much Mirabai’s poems were like a moving fire – not so friendly to people of wealth, it is a fire from another world,” (Bly 21).

What effect did Mira’s poetry have on her place in the social order? She is said to have resisted control by her in-laws after her father died. She also was considered to have had death threats and even an attempted poisoning. For pursuing her love and devotion to Krishna, she wrote that, “What I paid was my social body, my own body, my family body, and all my inherited jewels,” (31). Like the poet who suffers or gives everything for their art, Mira gives everything in order to pursue her enthusiastic embrace with God. While a poem entitled, “All I Was Doing Was Breathing,” asserts her innocence before those who would condemn her, she responds:


Approve me or disapprove me: I praise the Mountain Energy night

and day.

I take the path that ecstatic human beings have taken for centuries.

I don’t steal money, I don’t hit anyone. What will you charge me


I have felt the swaying of the elephant’s shoulders; and now you want

me to climb on a jackass? Try to be serious,

(Mirabai, “Why Mira Can’t Come Back to Her Old House,” 36).


While Mirabai is an inspirational feminist, poet and mystic, who is willing to pay the price for this kind of enthusiasm? Not everyone can break social norms for the love of God and live without a family and a home. Her words echo the live fast, die young rock and roll motto: “live fast and die young.”


I would like my own body to turn into a heap of incense and sandalwood

and you set a torch to it.

When I’ve fallen down to gray ashes, smear me on your shoulders and


(Mirabai, “Don’t Go, Don’t Go)



Linking back to earlier themes in the Coniunctionis column, we can formulate a statement that the enthusiasm of poets, musicians and artists can be viewed as the same energy of enthusiasm of the mystics. Enthusiasm is an energy of transformation – transformation for good or evil; for positive or negative, for the good of the individual or for the destruction of the individual; and for the growth or destruction of social bonds and relationships. What is even more complicating is that sometimes transformative growth requires transformative destruction and sometimes individuals and societies get trapped in transformative destruction.

To become enthused is to have God flowing through one’s self – even if one does not over-identify (become inflated) and become possessed by God/archetype, others can be influenced by this energy in the individual. This influence could be attraction or repulsion – regardless, it causes transformation and disruption of the status quo. Jung cautions that the individual’s attitude toward the flow of divine enthusiasm influences whether the transformation will be positive or negative. This is pertinent for any charged relationship, such as healing relationships in medicine, the concepts of transference and counter-transference in psychotherapy, learning and growth in students, as well as the transformative power of love. In each of these relationships, there is the potential for transformation that is either positive or negative and thus there is significant regulation and ritual around these relationships. Even self-knowledge could be said to be a consequence of divine enthusiasm rather than an accomplishment of the individual.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s