Psychoanalysis and Castration

Castration of male genital has long a history in mythology, religious rites, and as a means of controlling slaves. In contrast, Freud believed castration anxiety was an experience all boys went through. Like most psychoanalytic babel, the so-called universal experiences of infantile sexuality have no scientific basis and when the “evidence” to support them, i.e., mythology and ancient rites, is examined, Freud’s interpretations are illogical. In sum, mythological and religious depictions of castration demonstrate that penis’ are a vulnerability that some men are better off without.

Freud’s castration anxiety theories centres around a mental process he called the Oedipus Complex. In the case of men, Freud asserted that all boys experience sexual desire for their mother but this is repressed and displays itself in adulthood as ‘a sense of guilt for which he can discern no foundation’*. Supposedly the sexual desire in boys is so strong that they want to possess their mothers and irrationally fear that if their father were to find out he would take away what they love most, their penis; hence, all young boys develop castration anxiety.

In girls, the Oedipus complex is considered to be a reversal of a boy’s experience. While a boy wants to do away with their father and have their mother to themselves, a girl wants to be rid of their mother so they can have all of their father’s attention. The situation becomes more complex when a girl realises that she does not have a penis like her father, so she therefore becomes envious and resents her mother for her castrated state. Her only hope for reducing the tension brought about by penis envy is to substitute her desire for a penis with a desire for a baby.

Mythology

Two prominent castration myths stand out and are commonly referred to in psychoanalysis: The Egyptian story of Osiris and the Greek myth of Uranus and Aphrodite’s birth.

The basic outline of the Egyptian story is that a god named Seth was jealous of his brother Osiris being King so he kills him and takes the throne. When the Queen, Isis, finds out her husband is dead she is grieved and sets about finding Osiris’ body. Once located, she begins the process of bringing him back to life, however, she is interrupted. Seth steals Osiris’ body, cuts it up into fourteen pieces, then hurls the pieces throughout Egypt so Isis cannot bring him back to life. Isis transforms into a hawk kite and flies over Egypt collecting all the pieces but she could not find his penis because it was eaten by a fish. Therefore, Isis makes a substitute penis out of gold and uses her magic to become pregnant. Because Osiris is incomplete, he cannot stay alive and he descends to the underworld where he rules over the dead.

In the Greek myth, Uranus (the personification of heaven) is told of an oracle that predicts one of his children will overthrow him. Consequently, whenever his wife, Gaia (the personification of earth) has children he imprisons them. Gaia is not happy. A plan is set and put into action: Gaia’s youngest child, Cronus, castrates Uranus in an opportunistic moment and casts his genitals into the sea. Blood from the severed members become giants and Aphrodite rises out of the water from Uranus’ disembodied parts. Read on a symbolic level, Uranus’ castration gave birth to stupidity (giants are generally depicted as stupid) and the embodiment of beauty and sexual desire (Aphrodite’s characteristics). Alternately, the moral of the story could be interpreted as: “Don’t piss off your wife or she’ll chop your balls off”.

Cultic castration

Some devotees of Osiris cults castrated themselves in reverence for their deity, however, the Cybele cult is probably better known for this practice. The cult of Cybele focused around the Great Mother (Rhea in Greek). Priests of the order were eunuchs and some male followers also castrated themselves. The practice is speculated to be symbolic of a ‘Sacred Marriage’. There are differing accounts of how the festival-based ritual of removing male genitalia was performed. Sometimes the act was performed by the individual and other times it was done with assistance. While being a Roman cult, it has links to Greek mythology in which Cronus was instructed to castrate his father, Uranus (Heaven), by his mother, Gaia (Earth). In some instances Cybele cult clergy only removed their testicles and in others they completely removed all male genitalia.

Early Christianity

The practice of castration as a suitable means of avoiding unlawful sexual intercourse was expressed by many, including Philo of Alexandria (first century Jewish scholar) who said “it is better to make oneself a eunuch than to rage madly for unlawful sexual intercourse”#. Thus, cultural acceptance of castration combined with the following motivational verse from Saint Matthew’s gospel encouraged some early christians to perform the act:

For there are some eunuchs, which were so born from their mother's womb: and there are some eunuchs, which were made eunuchs of men: and there be eunuchs, which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven's sake. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it. 

Matthew 19:12 (KJV)

In Christianity castration is mostly associated with religious asceticism. For instance, Origen (c.184 – 253CE) who was born into Christian family in Alexandria was zealously devoted to Christianity and is reported to have self castrated to avoid feelings of lust towards women. Presumably, he wasn’t the only one because when Christian leaders meet in the third century Catholic to discuss and establish standardised codes of conduct (the Council of Nicaea), self castration was one of the hot issues on the agenda. It was decided, moreover, it became cannon law, that self castration was to be prohibited. Prominent figures like Saint Augustine objected to the literal interpretation of Matthew 19:12, albeit, Augustine still popularised the notion that sexual intercourse was connected to sin.

A depiction of Origen’s self-castration
Source: Wikipedia commons

Intermingled with the long history of castration practices is the concept of circumcision, the removal of the foreskin from the penis, which is hypothesised to be a tradition that evolved from expressing religious devotion via castration. Circumcision has been part of Judaism ever since the time of Abraham, who was commanded by God to circumcise all male babies on their eight day as a sign of the covenant between Him and the Jewish people (Genesis 17:10–14). The tradition then extended into Christianity and Islam. The connection between circumcision and castration is complicated by Abrahamic religions supporting circumcision but having no tolerance for castration: ‘No man who has been castrated or whose penis has been cut off may be included among the LORD’s people’ (GNV; Deuteronomy 23:1).

In 530 Emperor Justinian declared orders of celibacy for Christian clergy, however, these were not consistently followed. Priests were not officially forbidden to marry till 1139. Catholic priests today still take vows of celibacy on the grounds of it symbolising a commitment to God, while other Christian denominations (e.g. Lutheran, Protestant, and Anglican) allow priests to marry.

The prohibition of self castration did not eliminate its practice. In Russia, in the eighteenth century, a sect known as “Skoptsy” revived the tradition. The initiation process involved the testis being removed first, or in the case of women, the nipples, then the next stage was complete removal of the phallus or breasts.

Psychoanalysis

In Freudian psychoanalysis, castration anxiety is concerned with so-called instinctual impulses (the id) of an incestual nature, in which a boy must give up his sexual desire for his mother out of fear that an internalised Godly father figure (the superego) will castration him. The wanting to repress sexual desire out of Godly wrath may be viewed as having an alignment with the conscious decision making behind some religious attitudes and practices, (e.g., some Cybele, Osiris and early Christian devotees), however, this is not sufficient evidence to claim all young boys unconsciously experience castration anxiety. If myths, ancient texts, and religious practices are to be used as evidence (as psychoanalysis does) then it could be conjectured that all young boys experience unconscious castration desires because they want to demonstrate devotion to their internalised God figure and be more like their mothers.

In the case of girls, who Freud thought of as castrated beings with a weaker superego, rather than viewing myths as projecting connotations of inferiority, female deities could be viewed as powerful beings who are capable of restoring order when men act foolishly, as can be interpreted in the behaviour of Rhea (Cronus’ wife) and Isis. Subsequently, having a penis can be viewed as a sign of weakness and vulnerability. 

Overall, Freudian theories blur several factors such as mythological representation of castration and historical practices of castration, with young children’s curiosity about their own and other people’s bodies. The combining of these two factors is not conducive to understanding psychology. On one hand an appreciation can be given to the history of castration in mythology and ancient texts that express a broad range of attitudes, beliefs, and associated behaviours that are founded in cultural norms and customs. On the other hand, children, when learning about their bodily functions, require guidance to learn autonomy and social norms. 

After thoughts

From a contemporary perspective, the historical acts of castration as a religious practice may be viewed as having overlaps with lesbian, gay, bisexual, and queer (LGBQ) proponents. However, this consideration can’t be taken too liberally. Actual acts of sexual promiscuity, rape, and other sexual violence that may have occurred within ancient cultures may have been an incentive for castration (religious or other), however, this is challenging to comment on due to the lack of reliable records.

*Quote taken from page 2: Freud, Sigmund, Lecture Twenty-One: development of the libido and sexual organization, https://azkurs.org/from-lecture-twenty-one-development-of-the-libido-and-sexual-o.html (accessed 27 November 2020).

# Quote taken from page 402: Caner DF. The Practice and Prohibition of Self-Castration in Early Christianity. Vigiliae Christianae 1997; 51: 396–415.

Bibliography

Anwar MS, Munawar F, Anwar Q. Circumcision: a religious obligation or ‘the cruellest of cuts’? Br J Gen Pract 2010; 60: 59–61.

Baber H. Origen, radical biblical scholar. The Guardian, 10 June 2010, http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/belief/2010/jun/10/origen-christianity-philosophy (10 June 2010, accessed 9 January 2021).

Bostock G. Allegory and the interpretation of the Bible in Origen. Literature and Theology 1987; 1: 39–53.

Francis AG. On a Romano-British Castration Clamp used in the Rites of Cybele. Proc R Soc Med 1926; 19: 95–110.

McLeod SA. Psychosexual stages. Simply Psychology, https://www simplypsychology org/psychosexual html (accessed June 19, 2017), https://www.simplypsychology.org/psychosexual.html (2008).

Mordeniz C, Verit A. Is circumcision a modified ritual of castration? Urol Int 2009; 82: 399–403.

Niehoff MR. Circumcision as a Marker of Identity: Philo, Origen and the Rabbis on Gen 17: 1—14. Jewish Studies Quarterly 2003; 10: 89–123.

Owen HL. When did the Catholic Church decide priests should be celibate. History News Network, https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/696 (2001).

Teitelbaum S. Castration. In: Leeming DA, Madden K, Marlan S (eds) Encyclopedia of Psychology and Religion. Boston, MA: Springer US, pp. 126–128.

Wade J. The Castrated Gods and their Castration Cults: Revenge, Punishment, and Spiritual Supremacy, https://digitalcommons.ciis.edu/advance-archive/12/ (2019, accessed 16 December 2020).

Whitaker RJ. From virgin births to purity movements: Christians and their problem with sex. The Conversation, 2019, http://theconversation.com/from-virgin-births-to-purity-movements-christians-and-their-problem-with-sex-118327 (2019, accessed 16 December 2020).

The Big Bang Theory in Egyptian Mythology

According to the NASA website, the Big Bang Theory of how the universe started stipulates that in the beginning there was a very small single point that grew. Below is cut and paste of the process as theorised by Georges Lemaître and Edwin Hubble in 1927 & 1929 respectively.

When the universe began, it was just hot, tiny particles mixed with light and energy. It was nothing like what we see now. As everything expanded and took up more space, it cooled down.

The tiny particles grouped together. They formed atoms. Then those atoms grouped together. Over lots of time, atoms came together to form stars and galaxies.

The first stars created bigger atoms and groups of atoms called molecules. That led to more stars being born. At the same time, galaxies were crashing and grouping together. As new stars were being born and dying, then things like asteroids, comets, planets, and black holes formed!

Now what would you say if I told you that Lemaître’s and Hubble’s ideas were far from original? What would you say if I told you that the Ancient Egyptians said the same thing at least 5000 year ago? Well guess what, they did. Except the Egyptians used different wording.

According to the Egyptians, the void of nothingness at the start of time had four pairs of qualities. The names of these qualities were Naunet and Nu who represented the primeval water; Hauhet and Huh who represented infinity; Kauket and Kek who represented darkness, and; Amaunet and Amun who represented the hidden unknowable nature of the void. In case you didn’t guess it, each of these qualities was personified as a Goddess or God. Moreover, each pair had a female and male component – to use a modern analogy, it was kind of like pairs of female and male electrical circuitry; nothing was literally feminine or masculine, we humans just sometimes use a boorish of way describing things that interlock with each. (Imagine the joy your mobile charger gets when its studly male part makes love to the sexy female socket every night while its charging, and you’ll get the idea that thinking of the Egyptian deities as literally having it on, is humorous.)

The Egyptians expressed their version of the time before the ‘big bang’ wonderfully in their pictorial writing style of hieroglyphics.

Erroneously, some people, e.g., Jordan Peterson, refer to this description of the beginning of time as chaos, moreover, a feminine chaos. There are many reasons why this assumption is wrong, one of which is that it neglects etymology. The original meaning of the word ‘chaos’ was void.

Etymology

Etymology is the study of the history of words. Language is constantly evolving which means the meanings of words is not static – like all of the universe, meanings are constantly expanding. Sometimes the meanings of a word get so big that they break into pieces and new words and new meanings are formed.

Common examples of words that have changed include ‘awesome’ and ‘awful’ which used to be synonyms that referred to fearful respect, i.e. ‘awe’ for God. Each word has slowly developed over the past few hundred years to point in which awesome means something wonderful and awful means something terrible.

Colloquially, ‘totally sick’ means something is great, but historically, a person would only use the term if someone was extremely ill.

Not so long ago, ‘gay’ meant happy or joyful, now it means homosexual. Imagine reading an Enid Blyton book and thinking the children were homosexual because you didn’t know the old meaning of the word. That is exactly the same situation we have with ‘chaos’.

Up until the 1600’s chaos had nothing to do with confusion or disarray. Hence, associating that meaning with the primeval waters of life is equally ridiculous. To use modern language, the primeval waters were a void.

Now, as the tiny particles, i.e. Naunet, Nu, Hauhet, Huh, Kauket, Kek, Amaunet, and Amun, got the jiggy on, excitement began to build. Georges Lemaître and Edwin Hubble phrase that this part of the process as leading to the creation of a big BANG. Personally, I think the Egyptian’s had a bit more class, they called it RA!

BANG or RA, or whatever you want to call it, it was BIG! And a great light appeared!

The Egyptians poetically describe this beautiful new light as blooming on a lotus flower. He sat there, ever so quietly, with His finger posed lightly upon His lips, in silence. Alas, the energy of this light was so powerful that it began to expand, and as it did Ra got excited; so excited in fact that He masterbated! Holy moly, the great God miraculously produced two offspring called Shu and Tefnut. Ra was new to this parenting thing; moreover, He was a single dad and wasn’t sure what He should be doing (I’m tempted to say Ra was a little bit Chaotic and struggled to find Order but I don’t want to get ahead of myself). So anyway, we’ll forgive Ra for not watching what the children were doing (some versions of the story say He lost an eye, so we’ll give the the poor man some empathy). While Ra was trying to get a hang on this parenting thing (if only He had some sex education before He masterbated!), there must have been a few moments where He wasn’t watching what the kids were doing because, lo and behold, the next thing you know, Shu and Tefnut are having kids with each other! Their offspring were called Nut and Geb. Please don’t judge Shu and Tefnut too harshly, they may have been siblings but their children were made with love, nonetheless. Besides, its not their fault Ra was an absent father figure who did not give any moral guidance (actually, I don’t think morals had been created yet – they came latter when the Goddess Maat arrived on the scene – bloody typical, the universe was immoral till a woman took on that leadership role). Family trauma set in quick. Nut and Geb had to be separated to stop the shenanigans. Nut was placed in the sky and Geb on the earth. The story goes on a bit with siblings having kids with each other (awkward, I know), and this keeps on going until Isis abstracts some of Ra’s power and begins the process of sorting out this family mayhem. Fortunately, after Isis has a child with her brother Osiris the incest theme dies down a bit. (The story of Isis is really cool, so I’m going to save the details for another time.)

Now I realise this Egyptian narrative is a bit raunchy and may not be appropriate for young children, so we’ll say the same thing in Lemaître’s and Hubble’s stiff upper-lipped scientific tone: Everything expanded and took up more space and then it cooled down. The tiny particles grouped together (that’s the incest part of the Egyptian story). They formed atoms (grand-kiddies were born!) Then those atoms grouped together (family tree was growing!) Over lots of time, atoms came together to form stars and galaxies.

I’m sorry, is it just me, or is the Egyptian version way more exciting? I know which drama enactment I’d buy tickets to see … I love learning but if the lesson is too boring then my attention is gone … just saying.

So there you have it. The Egyptian Big Bang theory. Presented to you in Renaissance Wellbeing’s style.

On a serious note, I have used some gender-stereotypes in my storytelling which are not necessarily part of the ancient Egyptian versions. Further, my stereotypes are not fair to real women or men. I mean no offence by my satirically expression. The point I’m making is that mythologies are an amalgamation of sociocultural influences and key concepts that have been personified. This is one of the reasons why there are so many different versions of the same myths. (FYI there are many variations of the Egyptian creation myth – what I’ve written here is a harmonisation of themes from serval versions.) Storytellers of different times and places imprinted upon narratives social codes and conventions that correlate to the cultures in which they are presented. Same thing happens in contemporary mediums of storytelling like novel writing and Hollywood movie scripts.

Overall, interpreting any ancient mythology needs to be approached with care and consideration of its themes and context. Creativity also needs to be duly acknowledged. For these reasons, myths cannot be completely generalised to have universal meanings, however, there is the caveat that common themes, like world beginning with a void, and theological beliefs, like the four elements, that can appear across a number of cultures. The reason for this is that there was a lot of sharing of stories, especially at ancient libraries. For example, Philo (20BCE – c. 50CE) was a Hellenistic Jewish philosopher who harmonised Greek and Jewish themes into his writing. Likewise, Ovid (43BC – c.18CE) was Roman scholar who harmonised Greek and Roman mythology. And Iamblichus (245 – c.325CE) brought together Egyptian, Chaldean, and Assyrian beliefs. The extent that storytelling was shared between groups of people prior to written records is unclear. Although, there is evidence cross-cultural influences did occur, for example Egyptian artefacts have been found in Crete that date back to at least 1500BCE.

When mythology is viewed in appropriate sociocultural contexts, psychoanalytical theory that proposes myths have universal symbols looses validity. Psychoanalysis interpretations of mythology do not present genuine understandings of ancient stories nor do they reveal any unconscious truths about so-called archetypes. Freud’s invention of psychoanalysis is nothing more than surface level interpretations of mythological themes that reflect Victorian era values. They are not applicable to antiquity and they are not applicable to today’s societies. Moreover, the psychological effect of believing myths are literal truths about gender and behaviour can harmful to mental wellbeing. As individuals we are not doing ourselves justice if we compare ourselves to personifications of concepts. There are no ultimate masculine or feminine traits that anyone needs to affiliate with based purely on whether they are women or men. We are all human. We are all in a state of expansion, development, and creation, just like the universe.

To end, I’d like to thank Kathy for inspiring me to write this blog based on a social media comment that she made:

I wouldn't want to get lost in the idea that chaos is feminine when it is both. Much in nurturing is calming and bringing order. Nurturing has been stereotyped as a feminine role. So, that in itself is a contradiction to chaos as feminine.

Bibliography

chaos | Origin and meaning of chaos by Online Etymology Dictionary. (n.d.). http://Www.Etymonline.com. Retrieved November 14, 2020, from https://www.etymonline.com/word/chaos

NASA. (n.d.). What Is the Big Bang? | NASA Space Place – NASA Science for Kids. Spaceplace.Nasa.Gov. https://spaceplace.nasa.gov/big-bang/en/#:~:text=The%20Short%20Answer%3A

The Art of Perception: sight and mental health

The process of seeing involves light entering our eyes and influencing the physiological mechanisms for sight in our brains. At the back of our eyes is our “retina” which is largely composed of “cones” and “rods” that interpret visual information. The cones and rods send communication signals via nerve impulses to our visual cortex and other parts of the brain. Interpretations of what is seen is a combination of direct information provided by our sensory organs (the eyes) and internal processes that apply meaning to what we see. In other words, what we see is based upon what is in front of us and our memories, prior knowledge, associated feelings, cognitive interpretations, and so forth. 

Our cones are predominantly responsible enabling us to see colour and deciphering spatial qualities. We have three types of cones and each one has different sensitivity levels to light wavelengths. If someone is colour blind then that basically means they have more cones that allow them to see certain colours (red/green colour blindness is most common) and fewer cones that allow them to see other colours. Ultimately, we are all different and therefore, sight can vary from person to person – if you’ve ever had an argument over the colour of a dress, now you know why! Rods, on the other hand, are photoreceptors that enable us to see things in low light and do not distinguish colours. 

Cones do most of their work during the day then “switch off” at night time when rods become more active. Observing this sensory change can be done with a simple experiment of observing the sun set. Provided there is no interference from artificial light sources, the switching of vision functioning is quite amazing and profound. 

Now some people might be wondering how are the mechanisms of sight related to mental health? Basically, what we see can affect how we think and feel and what we are thinking and feeling can influence what we see and/or how we interpret what we’re seeing. Exploring this connection in a non-threatening activity is a great way to develop self awareness. 

A few weeks ago I performed the sun set experiment myself. The following is a write up of my experience. If any readers decide to the experiment, please write a comment on this blog. I would love to hear others’ experiences! 

Were the eye not of the sun, 

How could we behold the light? 

If God’s might and ours were not as one, 

How could His work enchant our sight?

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, 1810

The notion that human beings have two organs for vision – outer physical eyes that behold light and inner “spiritual eyes” that enchant sight – can be traced back to antiquity. In the above verse, Goethe poetically references this phenomenon with curious questioning of how the functions of these two organs interrelate. A few evenings ago, I conducted a heuristic investigation of my inner and outer vision faculties as “the world” – my world – changed as the light changed at sunset. 

My session commenced at 7:30 pm, under a murky, overcast sky. Seated on a suburban back verandah with paper, pen, and chalk pastels I recorded my experience in visual and written form. In the quietness of the night, I began by looking inward. I was full of angst due to having received some unsettling news in the afternoon. As my restless mind struggled to focus on the task, I wondered how my inner world was influencing my outer vision and vice versa? Focusing my awareness outwards towards an enclosed yard, I noted how unorderly the overground grass appeared and I acknowledge a sensation of entrapment created by the fences and buildings; did my yard always look and feel like this? 

I started sketching to assist the process of focusing on what I could see before me (Fig. 1). Initially, I consciously ignored the brilliance of the colours that were illuminated by the sunlight. What a marvellous instrument the brain is to be able to direct nerves impulses received from the eye to different functions within cortex simply with thoughts! I worked quickly and haphazardly to capture the lines and shapes of the trees, fences, and other objects. Under different circumstances I was quite certain that I would have been more careful and precise with my rendering. As I made marks, I observed being aware of the “reality” of what was before me and the “imaginative” elements from my mind’s eye that I felt an urge to indicate on my paper. For example, I could see elegant tree limbs gently bowing back and forth in a subtle breeze; however, the inner turmoil of my thoughts and emotions encouraged exaggerates gestures and abrupt lines. 

As easily as I had willed my focus to dim colour, I was able to will it back. There were so many shades of green! I felt disappointed by my mediocre collection of pastels; there was no way I could give justice to the spectrum of analogous emerald-toned photons entering my retina. With my attention absorbed by the colours of my outer world, my inner world focus shifted from my woeful thoughts to awe of my visual sensations. 

I looked around hoping to spot a natural prism but this was not my fortune. Then, as I turned my attention to the shadows, I reflected upon Goethe’s adamance that Newton’s colour theory was wrong. I withheld personal judgment and simply appreciated that contemplating the theories of philosophers enriched my current subjective experience. 

I reached for my purple pastel to darken some areas, then paused – was it really purple that I saw in the shadows? Or was I seeing what my mind’s eye expected to see? For a moment I thought it was purple but then I was sure it was black. Black resonated with my emotional tone far better than purple; however, it was also possible that the light had reduced and my cone-mediated vision was switching to rods. I looked more intently in the shadows and for a fleeting moment I saw both purple and black, then another moment later it was definitely black. To solve the puzzle of what was real or imaginary in my vision, I looked to the grass and noticed that I could no longer identify an array of greens: twilight was settling in. I put down my picture, unfinished. 

It wasn’t complete darkness, I could identify shades of grey in between high contrasting dark and light highlights. Much to my surprise, I noticed a bright red flower in my neighbours yard projecting out of the dimness. I could not identify a light source to explain the phenomena. I looked around to see if any greens, blues, or yellows were as strikingly visible as the red. Alas, there was none. Hence, I wandered about the nature of my photon receptors. Perhaps there is something special about red receptors? Or was it just the wiring of my vision? 

Staring into my bleak, monochromatic yard, I noticed the lines of my verandah fence, the branches on the tree, and other lines within my vision were more prominent. The shapes of the leaves on the tree seemed sharper too. If I were able to do a drawing in the dark then it would have been one of lines and shapes. While my inner world knew the colours were still there and I could imagine them with my inner sight, my outer sight organs were defiantly reliant upon an external source of illumination. 

As my vision faded, so did my energy. The rhythm of the day, as dictated by the light, instigated a desire for sleep. In the final moments of my experiment, I reflected once more on the interrelationship between my inner and outer sight. When my awareness of perception was focussed outwards, this influenced my thoughts and feelings in a distracting manner, and when my awareness of my inner thoughts and feelings was focussed inwards, this influenced interpretative perceptions of my sight sensations. 

Satisfied that the experiment was complete, I went inside at 9:30 pm, turned on a light and looked at what I had drawn. It was a terrible drawing, yet oddly “realistic” of the blended experience of what I perceived outwardly and inwardly felt during that particular sunset: it had been a terrible day. I will repeat the experiment another day when I am in a better mood and compare how my sight and perception of my yard differs. 

Figure 1. Drawing conducted during sunset experience 

Bibliography

Tantillo, A. O. (2002). The will to create : Goethe’s philosophy of nature. University Of Pittsburgh Press.

Crone, R. A. (2000). A history of color : the evolution of theories of lights and color. Kluwer Academic.

Keller E.F., Grontkowski C.R. (1983) The Mind’S Eye. In: Harding S., Hintikka M.B. (eds) Discovering Reality. Synthese Library, vol 161. Springer, Dordrecht

Margo, C. E., & Harman, L. E. (2019). Helmholtz’s critique of Goethe’s Theory of Color: more than meets the eye. Survey of Ophthalmology, 64(2), 241–247. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.survophthal.2018.10.004

Meyertholen, A. (2019). “Zum ersten Mal sah ich ein Bild”: Goethe’s Cognitive Viewing Subject as Scientist and Artist. Seminar: A Journal of Germanic Studies, 55(3), 203–228. https://muse.jhu.edu/article/732087/pdf

Moore, E. K., & Simpson, P. A. (2007). The enlightened eye : Goethe and visual culture. Rodopi.

Serov, N. V. (2019). Conceptualizing the Predicates of the Goethe–Newton Controversy about Color. Automatic Documentation and Mathematical Linguistics, 53(4), 203–215. https://doi.org/10.3103/s0005105519040083

How to Zentangle: Art therapy style

When people first try art therapy there is often some level of self-consciousness. Thoughts and comments along the lines of  “will my drawing be ‘good’ enough?” or “I haven’t been creative since I was a kid!” or “I can’t even draw a straight line!” often come up. Such things often arise as a result of what Julia Cameron terms “art wounds”. That is situations from our past in which our attempts at being artistic were laughed at or somehow made to feel they did not measure up to what our society deems to be “good” or “real” art. Zentangling is a great way to overcome these “art wounds”. It is my firm belief – based on personal observations and research – that EVERYONE has the capacity to be creative and artistic. Giving oneself the permission to do so, without judging oneself against others, is the first step towards this.

Zentangling is basically a form of doodling that has a wonderful structure to it and the story of how it begun is also quiet special.

HOW ZENTANGLING BEGUN

Zentangling is a relatively new art form created by a couple called Maria and Rick; she was a graphic designer and he was an experienced mediator. One day when Maria was working on a detailed drawing Rick came into her studio and tried to get her attention. “Maria” he called gently at first, however, she was so absorbed with what she was doing that she did not respond. “Maria!” Rick called out a little more louder and assertively. He repeated this again and again until he had Maria’s attention. When Maria’s concentration was broken and she looked up and realised that Rick had been calling to her for several minutes it promoted some self reflection. Together, Rick and Maria established an understanding that what had happened was identifiable as Maria being in a “flow” state while she was drawing. In positive psychology, this is a state in which a person is fully living in the moment, concentrating, absorbed, yet relaxed and at peace. It also resembles the state in which many meditators try to achieve with their practice. So it was that Maria and Rick then went on to formulate a way in which they could share this practice with others.

Personally, I have always struggled with meditation and mindfulness activities; Zentangling, on the other hand, comes easily. Like Maria, I often find that when I am absorbed in the creative process I feel at peace, other worries in my life subside, and I’m able to feel a sense of perspective that I don’t ordinarily have. Through research, I have discovered that such an experience is linked to nervous system regulation. In short, by engaging in activities that encourage relaxation, like Zentangling, our minds and bodies have the opportunity to reset, so to speak. Simply deciding to be creative and make art work in order to achieve this stage when one is stress is not, however, always easy. It is for this reason I feel extremely grateful and indebted to Maria and Rick for putting together such a wonderful system like Zentangling which enables this to occur with ease.

I have used this approach as a therapeutic intervention with beginners who are nervous of their art abilities, right through experienced artists – every time it produces amazing results – both on paper and in client’s minds. I’ve seen clients who have an extensive art back grounds loosen up and gain new insights and bursts of creativity. I’ve also witnessed clients who swore they could not draw a thing be delighted in what they produced – so much so that their future attitudes and involvements with art therapy changed dramatically for the better.

While the aim of art therapy is not to make something beautiful, it is part of human nature to appreciate such, and in this regard, Zentangles have the added advantage of achieving this every time!

Maria and Rick claim the main benefits of Zentangling as being:

  • Relaxing
  • Incressing focus abilities
  • Expand your imagination
  • Learning to trust your creativity
  • Increasing awareness
  • Learning to respond confidently to the unexpected
  • Discover the fun and healing in creative expression
  • Feel gratitude and appreciation for this beautiful world and all that you can do.
  • And perhaps most importantly . . . Have fun!

Personally, I would add to this list an appreciation of the beauty of imperfection. Zentangling does not require rulers or definite rules. Rather, marks made with free hand guestures add uniqueness and beauty to the work.

So now that we know how great Zentangling is, let’s get started!

YOU WILL NEED

  • A small piece of paper – 10x10cm is fine. Or a sketchbook – I’m using my trusty A5 travel pad for this example.
  • A pencil, fineliner or pen. The traditional zentangle is done in black, however, as with most rules in art, these can be broken! Using a white pen on black paper creates some pretty groovy results!
  • Optional – reference pictures of patterns to get you started. Many can be found on Pinterest, such as these.
STEP 1: You need paper (sketch book as I have) and a pencil or pen. Traditionally, Zentangling is done in black and white, however, as with all art rules, these can be broken!

STEP 2: Make 4 marks on your page that roughly indicate a square, like above (this is rule that you can break later once you are more familiar with the process)

STEP 3a: Draw lines connecting these dots – these can be straight, curved, or whatever!
If you prefer, these step can be done with lead pencil so as there are no sharp edges when you finish

STEP 3b: Completed enclosed shape.

STEP 4a: Draw a few lines to divide the space. No limit or definite rules for this; just do it.
As above, this step can be done in lead pencil as well.

STEP 4b: Divided sections completed.

STEP 5: Fill in each section with a different pattern. This is where you may wish to use the reference pictures you found on the internet. I find that I often start with these as prompts then go off on my own creativity. It’s amazing what you can do with basic lines and shapes such as circles, squares, and triangles!

STEP 6a: Once you’ve completed one section with pattern, go on and fill in the other sections! It is that simple!

STEP 6b: It can be tempting to finish your Zentangle with line patterns, however, I’d encourage you to colour in some sections so as there is a definite contrast between light, dark, and other sections. To complete this one, I added a pole to make it look like the Zentangle is a flag – turning your Zentangle into a recognisable object is completely optional!


How did you go? I’d love to hear people’s experience and if possible it would be great if you could post a photo of your work down below so as we could build up a little Zentangle gallery. If you’re interested in doing so, fill out this form and up load a photo of your Zentangle/s. I can’t wait to see them!

If you’d like more guidance on zentangling you can book an individual session or you can sign up for a Mediation A group that incorporates some zentangling into the session.

Thanks for stopping by and I hope you enjoyed zentangling. For more tips on how art can support mental health click on the follow link at the bottom of the page.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

CAMERON, J. (2002). The artist’s way: a spiritual path to higher creativity. New York, J.P. Tarcher/Putnam.

Maria, & Rick. Zentangle. Retrieved March 20, 2019, from https://zentangle.com/