Friday, September 4, 2009
The Spiritual Alchemy of Sports – CREDO LXXXIV
Recently, I invited some men to comment on sports from a Jungian perspective. Only one came up with an answer that revealed the potential solution. In his e-mail he wrote “Sports is the sublimation of combat.” But, he seemed to overlook the fact that sublimation is an alchemical process. I remember reading in Volume I of Parabola (1976) an article by the now late Jungian analyst Edward F. Edinger, and I found that I still have it! In it, he wrote:
Two outstanding and inter-related instruments of civilization were created by the ancient Greeks – the sacred games and the ritual drama. It is indicative of their psychological similarity that we refer to both games and drama by the same word, play. These action-forms give human energies a second world [level] in which to function. We are apt to forget the crucial role that games and athletic contests played in civilizing the aggressive energies of early man. . . . In the beginning, the games were always dedicated to a god, indicating that the athletes’ efforts were being offered up to a transpersonal meaning.
–“The Tragic Hero”
This offered for me the solution to my puzzlement at why in archetypal astrology Sagittarius rules both religion and athletics. The icon of the fire sign Sagittarius is the centaur, which symbolizes the triplicity humankind represents: animal body, human, and the aspiring, uplifted bow and arrow aimed at the heavens. So this sign rules both religion and physical sports. The air sign Gemini, the opposite sign, in contrast, rules mental games: cards, chess, checkers, etc., but also drama, the duality of tragedy and comedy. The glyph is II(!), and the icon represents the twins Castor and Pollux.
The word play is common to all of them, and most Sagittarian games involve a solar shaped ball or puck, perhaps suggesting that the One is safely divided into uniting the Two. The Jungian coincidentia oppositorum? Heraclitus did say that “war [combat] is the great accelerator.” Alas, the negative cannonball and the bullet are the Shadow. The penis (Mars) shoots Life and the pistol (Mars) shoots Death.
So where does the alchemy come in? In the case of all these games, they must be contained (like the duality of Jungian analysis!) in the safety of a vessel where the sublimation takes place. If that glass is broken, the action falls down into everyday reality. Games erupt in riots among spectators, and, yes, mental contests can also have the same result. For this, I can give personal experience. When I was married only two weeks to my first husband in 1946, we were playing backgammon in the hushed drawing room of the Harvard Club in New York, of which my father was a member. It was occupied mostly by men reading papers and smoking pipes. Now, I had an extraordinary gift with dice and I was winning by far. When I threw doubles yet again, he suddenly took the entire board and threw it on the floor, noisily scattering all the pieces, shocking us all! Years later, I played cards with a teenager who, when losing, just threw all the cards in her hand and on the table to the floor.
In the case of the analytic vessel, we all know what happens if analyst and patient act out the intimacy often built up in safety during analysis!
I remember that when I was a child growing up in hotels my mother and grandmother never played Russian Bank, a card game, in the lounge but always upstairs where they could affectionately insult and mock one another. Eventually, I was old enough to play and during the game only was allowed to do the same! This was an unconscious application of alchemy, to be sure, but the action was limited to the safety of that vessel.
This may explain the etiquette that built up in the Middle Ages during tournaments and even tennis, where the handshake formally ended the game. (An interesting historical note: Henry VIII and Francis I of France had their first falling out as teenagers over a game of tennis.) The tradition also lives on in the formal high fives ending some sports to this day. The concept of fair play and being a good sport emerged. Contrast this with killing people with drones or transpersonal bombs.
In the Olympics, the sacred symbolism persists in the solar gold, lunar silver, and bronze medals awarded to the winners.
I can’t resist adding another astrological footnote concerning the opposite signs of Aries, ruled by Mars, the martial god (archetype), and Libra, ruled by Venus, the goddess of beauty (archetype). These two are sword dancing and fencing. Both raise the sharp weapon to a level of serving an art form. My husband engraved wedding (Libra) invitations on copper (Venus) plates with a sharp steel-pointed (Mars)] burin. These were done by hand for Cartier, the jewelry store, in New York. His chart had Mars in Libra! Go figure.
As this is written at the height of the games of another sport season, early September, I hope you can see the symbolic, archetypal, and alchemical value in their performance – they are indeed a peaceful alternative and sublimation of combat badly needed in this time, yet again, of violence and wars. In ancient Greece, all military action was suspended during the time of their Olympic games. Would that we could do the same!
Posted by IonaDove