Retrieving the Missing Fourth: The Night Sea Journey of a Marion Woodman Intensive by Barbara Eurich-Rascoe
This article provides an account of the author’s “night sea” experience within the container of a Marion Woodman BodySoul workshop and an exploration of it using the writings of C. G. Jung, Marion Woodman, Marie-Louise von Franz, Barbara Hannah, and Edward Edinger.
The psyche and the body are not separate entities, but one and the same life. C. G. Jung (1953, par. 194)
In 2013, when I was 63 years old, I had the experience of a deepening connection to self, and Self, at a BodySoul Woodman Foundation.
Woodman, Ann Skinner, and Mary Hamilton had developed an intensive experiential format for exploration of self and Self that depends deeply on the work of C. G. Jung, through a variety of embodied active imagination exercises that emphasize the mutually enhancing interplay of soma and psyche for integrating shadow qualities into consciousness.
My experience illustrates the way in which Marion Woodman’s work is informed by Jung’s model of the psyche and provides a container for and an expression of active imagination in the body.
I recorded my experience from an afternoon of moving and sounding:
I sit on the floor in silence, knees crossed, head bowed. I feel the urge to resist rising from low and deep within my belly: “I won’t! And you can’t make me!”
It takes shape in my mind as emotion, as well as words.
The voice is young, strong with anger and sadness.
My body begins to curl down—hiding itself, protecting the child within.
I do not know how long I sit like this, but my shoulders and neck ache from the torque of gravity.
I wonder, “What would be the opposite of this turgid resistance?”
As if by magic—shoulders let go bit by bit; the neck begins to stretch, raising head from chest.
A new image forms: a crow’s shining black wings spread until there is nothing but feathers in my mind’s eye.
My lungs begin to fill more deeply and slowly, in rhythm with the flap of wings.
I notice my arms have begun to move—small gestures at first, then sweeping larger and bringing me to standing.
(I had been watching the crows in the trees earlier.)
A desire to move grows, tugging at muscles throughout my body.
I remember observations of the birds, and of myself—my feeling of envy at the apparent simplicity and freedom of their flight.
Soon I am the one “soaring,” feeling the joy of swooping low and high around the room.
The contraction of the “I won’t” is left behind on the floor; the expansion of “flight” is giving me surprising energy.
I experienced “active imagination” in the body. Jung (1953) said can happen:
“One result of the dissolution of the persona is a release of involuntary fantasy, which is apparently nothing less than the specific activity of the collective psyche” (para. 251).
During the Zarathustra seminars, Jung (1934/1988) said:
The idea of individuation…implies the body. You cannot individuate if you are a spirit; moreover, you don’t even know how spirit feels because you are in the body. So if you speak of individuation at all, it necessarily means the individuation of beings who are in the flesh, in the living body.…You must inquire what experiment the Self wants to make….You see, the body is meant to live; it has to be served, and your Self has a very particular purpose with it. (pp. 202–203).
Initially, I was experiencing my rebel complex that gets activated to resist a demanding, condemning animus.
This psychic struggle can keep me from entering life productively, creatively.
It has been a lifelong journey with this thing that constantly criticizes and harangues.
At first I didn’t even know it as a demon possessing me; I thought of it as me-myself—the educated, strong, independent woman who could take care of herself, and “Very well, thank you very much!”
Over time I have come to see this perfectionistic critic is not me.
It has a mind of its own that conspires to cocoon me from life (a psychic process described by von Franz, in Hannah, 2010). Jung (1953) said:
To plunge into this process is unavoidable, whenever the necessity arises of overcoming an apparently insuperable difficulty.…Where this inner adaptation becomes a problem, a strange, irresistible attraction proceed from the unconscious and exerts a powerful influence on the conscious direction of life….Mostly [the plunge is] preceded by desperate efforts to master the difficulty by force of will; then [comes] the collapse, and the once guiding will crumbles completely. The energy thus freed disappears from consciousness and falls into the unconscious. As a matter of fact, it is at these moments that the first signs of unconscious activity appear.…The immediate result is a change of attitude.…I regard the loss of balance as purposive, since it replaces a defective consciousness by the automatic and instinctive activity of the unconscious which is aiming all the time at the creation of a new balance. (para. 252–253)
THE NIGHT SEA JOURNEY TO RECOVER THE MISSING FOURTH
I was earnestly seeking this new balance, braving my own inner night sea journey— a theme that is common in myth, fairytale, and theater (Edinger, 1972; Jung, 1953, 1954).
Through Jungian analysis I had come to know that the negative animus, and the rebel reaction to it, must be faced and transformed. About the night sea journey,
Jung (1953) said:
This piece of mysticism is characteristic of all better men, and…is brought out in myth where it is precisely the best man among the people, the hero, who gives way to the regressive longing and deliberately exposes himself to the danger of being devoured by the monster in the maternal abyss. He is, however, a hero only because in the final reckoning he does not allow himself to be devoured, but conquers the monster, not once but many times. The victory over the collective psyche alone yields the true value. (para. 261)
I knew (sometimes only intellectually) of what Jung said:
“These transpersonal contents are not just inert or dead matter…. Rather they are living entities which exert an attractive force upon the conscious mind” (para. 230).
At the intensive I was eager, frightened, and reluctant, as I settled into the meditative state that could open to active imagination.
I wanted, and didn’t want, to experience the depths.
As part of the analytic process, a temenos (sacred space, asylum, territory for the god) is created.
The Greek word temenos comes from the verb “temno, to cut [and has the sense of] being cut out from the meaningless, profane layer of life—a part cut out and isolated for a special purpose” (von Franz, p. 82, emphasis added).
The intensive format of a BodySoul workshop helps create psychic and practical containers, sacred space, in which to wrestle with the complexes.
This particular workshop was grounded by a focus on the myth of Demeter and Kore (see Hamilton, 1942). This story has its own night sea component:
Kore is abducted, stolen from a doting mother, and forced to live in the underworld by the machinations of the gods.
I was aware of my lifelong struggle against a powerful negative mother complex that wants to smother in a clinging “love.”
I spent many years running it/her and into stereotypic masculine pursuits.
Because of my negative mother complex, I hated the story Runaway Bunny and would not read it to my children.
I often reacted angrily to the part of the myth in which Demeter “trashes the world just because her daughter got her own life!”
I had become aware that my interpretation of this myth was unusual and different from others’, and it has been my experience of the mother.
Jung (1953) said:
“In analysis of the personal unconscious, the first things to be added to consciousness are the personal contents” (para. 243).
I felt on the verge of letting go of an old way of being and thinking.
I thrilled at the expansion of the “wings” in my active imagination; and I felt the vulnerability in my solar plexus, curling my body against engulfment, that activated the “I won’t.”
Verging on more openness to psyche made me afraid. Jung (1953) also said:
A collapse of the conscious attitude is no small matter. It always feels like the end of the world, as though everything had tumbled back into original chaos. One feels…disoriented, like a rudderless ship that is abandoned to the moods of the elements…. In reality, however, one has fallen back upon the collective unconscious, which now takes over the leadership….At the critical moment, a “saving” thought, a vision, an “inner voice,” came with irresistible power of conviction and gave life a new direction…. It is a question…of taking the risk on one’s circumstances or on one’s nature. (para. 254–255).
I held onto the promise of these words and moved into the dark.
Then I found von Franz’s (1996) comments on the “motif of three” helpful:
In fairytales there are often three steps and then a finale….The three are always clear units: 1, 2, 3, with a certain similar repetition…[then] the fourth…is not just another number unit; it is not another thing of the same kind, but something completely different. It is as if one counted, one, two, three—bang! The one, two three lead up to a real denouement, which is generally something static; there is no longer a leading-up, dynamic movement in it, but something comes to rest.…Three is the first masculine odd number and represents the dynamism of the one.…Three is generally connected with the flow of movement and thus time….For movement you need two poles and the exchange of energy between them….A dualism and a connecting third thing…[have] to do with…mostly an inexorable unilateral movement through life. That is why in fairy tales the story, the peripeteia is often divided into three phases, and then comes the fourth as a lysis or catastrophe. The fourth leads into a new dimension (pp. 89–90).
In the beginning of the Demeter and Kore myth there are three female characters that connote aspects of the feminine:
Demeter, the mother; Kore, the maiden; and Hekate, the crone.
Then, this totally feminine world is “raped” by the dark masculine when Hades abducts the maiden to the underworld, his realm of darkness and death.
Thus, Kore is thrown into the night sea journey—unwilling and unprepared.
She becomes willfully withdrawn from all that is around her, and longs to return to the idyllic existence she’d had with her mother on the face of the earth.
Demeter makes a threefold approach to reclaiming her daughter.
On her way out of Hades, Kore eats three pomegranate seeds to become the adult, known as Persephone.
In some interpretations of the myth much is made of the negative character of the masculine; yet, to me it seems important, even necessary, that Hades should appear.
He represents the missing masculine element of the psyche.
He is the means by which the missing fourth of the feminine evolves.
The action of the myth suggests that the presence of the animus is needed to bring about this development.
In this tale, much as in tribal rituals initiating boys into manhood, the maiden has to be stolen from the mother in order to achieve womanhood.
In fact, the adult feminine, Persephone—what Esther Harding (1971) called the “virgin,” the “one-in-herself,” complete and for her own purposes—comes into being after Kore’s incubation in and initiation to the underworld.
Like Kore, I have had to grow into myself in the dark to come a fuller adulthood.
I wanted this, and had been working on the sacrifice of the adolescent-rebel relationship to the negative animus and mother complexes.
My personal analysis was another element of this journey, along with BodySoul intensives, that fostered my evolution toward womanhood (Woodman, 1985, pp. 70ff).
This growth led me to and prepared me for training to be a Jungian analyst by strengthening the ego capacity to relate objectively to the complexes.
I felt I must submit to what Edinger (1972, pp. 182–189) referred to as
“the masculine . . . threefold developmental process”: (1) uncover the unconscious “thesis” (or theses)—the unconscious heuristics that guide and drive one’s reactions;
(2) discover their opposites (“antithesis”) and consciously experience the conflicts between them; so that
(3) the “synthesis” (the new product) of the two can then replace them.
Reflection on the myth underscored the promise that engaging the unconscious more deeply and forthrightly would bring knowledge and experience of the mother archetype in its nurturing, protective, and intimate aspects—without becoming engulfed—in order to relate to the positive animus more creatively, gestating in darkness what blooms in the world.
Woodman (personal communication, 2001–2010) taught, using Jung’s words, that the discoveries and the energies released by active imagination in the body are the “treasure difficult to attain,” the “true value,” the “gold.” Von Franz (1996) said:
“Gold, as a most precious metal, has always…been ascribed to the sun; and is generally associated with incorruptibility and immortality…. It is the eternal, the divine” (p. 82).
I have, and do, long for the gold—changes in my capacity for both relatedness and creative self-expression.
Emma Jung (1957/1972) noted that the
“creative activity of woman flowers most characteristically…in human relationships.…What we women have to overcome in our relation to the animus is…the lack of self-confidence and the resistance of inertia” (pp. 22–23).
This is the “gold” that is continually wanted and needed: to gain self-confidence, to express the creative energies of the psyche.
This is the bringing home of the “missing fourth” from the night sea journey—the Persephone (the adult) aspect of the feminine that has been crowned queen by the dark but kingly animus, Hades.
I have been resistant to this night sea journey repeatedly—avoiding the “smother mother,” running from the harsh condemning animus.
The resistance itself is an impediment to going down—a rejection of the necessary step of mortification of the defiant, self-righteous ego attitude.
Working with the body—with its symptoms and its potentials—deepened the descent.
The bodily active imagination recorded above is one of several that have led to new insights and released creative energy.
Out of the experience of the curling, uncurling, and soaring in the physical active imagination, I wrote the following poem:
In this poem one can see a threefold development: the assigned role of savior; the despair at not being able to save my mother from her own fate; the claiming of my own true life with the energy that releases.
The symbols that came from the active imagination in movement are apparent in the poem: “curling” (collapsing) under the weight of the impossible “savior” task; the “magic” of the release into “compassion”; the new capacity to “fly” as well as the new ability to “roost”—without having to return to impossibilities that would “curl” me back into a “slug.”
These two active imagination exercises, the movement and the poem, were critical elements of my work with the unconscious—as the very act of doing them is breaking a familial taboo.
My mother and father believed that the body and physical work were “bad,” “less than,” and “nothing but,” when compared to the educated, intellectual life that they did not obtain.
They also conveyed their belief that if someone had to do work with the body, that one should be a man or boy.
Poetry and art were deemed frivolous, worthless pursuits because they did not make money; instead they encouraged the development of technical skills that would translate into steady, well-paid, nonmenial, and non-physical work.
Further, my mother disapproved of dancing (which my father and I loved) because of its association with sexual (again, bodily) expression—it was, in a word “DIRTY.”
I was actively discouraged from pursuing my own medial, poetic, and embodied nature.
Thus, by moving expressively and writing poetry, I have engaged in an encouraging process of reclaiming of myself, becoming, as Jung (1953) said, “a more complete fulfillment of the collective qualities of the human being [by] fulfilling the peculiarity of [her] nature” (para. 267).
I experienced what Jung and Jarrett (1934/1989, p. 203) described:
“If you speak of individuation at all, it necessarily means the individuation of beings who are in the flesh, in the living body.…You see, the body is meant to live; it has to be served, and your Self has a very particular purpose with it.”
I know the night sea journey must take place many times over to retain the gold.
I want and need to do it again and again, “since it replaces a defective consciousness by the automatic and instinctive activity of the unconscious which is aiming all the time at the creation of a new balance” (Jung, 1953, par. 253). ~Barbara Eurich-Rascoe (2020) Retrieving the Missing Fourth: The Night
Sea Journey of a Marion Woodman Intensive, Psychological Perspectives, 63:1, 59-66, DOI:
Barbara (“Sophie”) Eurich-Rascoe, Ph.D., is a Jungian analyst in private practice in Pasadena, CA. She was formerly a public health microbiologist, and is a retired Presbyterian minister.
She is the coauthor, with Hendrika Van de Kemp, of Femininity and Shame: Women and Men Giving Voice to the Feminine (1997), which was informed by the work on the feminine and masculine by C. G. Jung and Marion Woodman.
- The workshop was taught by Meg Wilbur and Tina Stromsted, both Jungian analysts, and Dorothy Anderson, an artist, who were trained by Marion Woodman, Ann Skinner, and Mary Hamilton.
Edinger, E. (1972). Ego and archetype. New York, NY: Penguin Books.
Hamilton, E. (1942). Mythology. New York, NY: New American Library.
Hannah, B. (2010). The animus problem in modern women. In The animus (Vol. 1). Wilmette, IL: Chiron.
Harding, E. (1971). Women’s mysteries. New York, NY: Harper Collins.
Jung, C. G. The collected works of C. G. Jung (R. F. C. Hull, Trans., H. Read, M. Fordham, G. Adler, & W. McGuire, Eds.). Bollingen Series XX. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
(1953). Vol. 7. Two essays in analytical psychology.
(1954). Vol. 8. The structure and dynamics of the psyche.
Jung, C. G., & Jarrett, J. L. (1989). Nietzsche’s Zarathustra: Notes of the seminar given in 1934–1939 by C. G. Jung (Vol. 1). London, UK: Routledge. (Original work published 1934).
Jung, E. (1972). Animus and anima. New York, NY: Spring Publications. (Original work published 1957) von Franz, M.-L. (1996). The interpretation of fairytales. Boston, MA: Shambhala.
Woodman, M. (1985). The pregnant virgin: A process of psychological transformation. Toronto, ON: Inner City Books.