I am very pleased to announce this Radio Interview: William Everson and the Shaman-Poet Archetype: An Interview with Anne Hill on “Dream Talk Radio,” KOWS 107.3 FM, in Occidental, California, on August 12, 2010.
Anne Hill: I have on the phone with me a good friend, Steven Herrmann, a Jungian psychotherapist in Montclair, Oakland. He teaches internationally. Steven is an author and a poet and author most recently of a book on the poet William Everson: William Everson: The Shaman’s Call. This is a collection of interviews and commentaries on the poet a true pivotal thinker. I am so pleased to have Steven Herrmann on the phone. Welcome Steven to “Dream Talk Radio!”
Steven: Thank you Anne! It is a pleasure to be speaking with you this morning.
Anne: It is interesting: we have been talking—and will be talking today—about Archetype West, which is a term William Everson coined. Well perhaps you can give us a little background about who Bill Everson was and how it is you made his acquaintance, what is that story?
Steven: I will be happy to Anne. William Everson was one of the seminal poets and thinkers of the Far West, of California. He was a Dominican lay-brother, a monk in the Order for 18 years after emerging as the poet of the San Joaquin in his earlier life as William Everson. During his time in the Order, he took the name Brother Antoninus. Then he left the Order in a symbolic gesture of investiture. He disrobed himself of his religious mantle as a Dominican monk and fled the platform, as he says, after a poetry reading at UC Davis to marry his young wife, Susanna. She had a young child at the time, Jude.
Archetype West was written at Stinson Beach between February of 1970 and February of 1971. The reason this book is so important in setting the background for The Shaman’s Call, a book that Everson and I co-authored together, is that Archetype West was written just before the course he would teach at UC Santa Cruz, “Birth of a Poet,” which Bill taught from the fall of 1971 through the fall of 1981. I was Bill’s Teaching Assistant or T. A. during the years 1980-1981. I first made Bill’s acquaintance as a student in his course and then he asked me to be his T. A.
Bill’s idea of the Western archetype is a fascinating notion. Archetype West was not published until 1976 and Everson asks certain questions in it that are illuminating. Basically, he asks: “What does it mean to be a Western writer?” “What is the archetype of the West that is dreaming us?” “Who are its literary exponents here in California?” And finally: “What role has depth-psychology, primarily the psychology of C. G. Jung played in helping to define it?”
These are questions Everson takes up in Archetype West and that we take further in The Shaman’s Call. In Archetype West Bill defines the Pacific Coast as a literary region, using the idea of Jung, namely the archetype. He wrote this book at the same time he wrote two pivotal poems: “Black Hills,” written in May 1971, and “The Scout,” written in June of the same year. This is an important point because this was right before his teaching of “Birth of a Poet,” a course he taught for ten years at UCSC that was structured upon the basic pattern of the vision quest. In this course Bill assumed the mantle or spiritual persona of a latter day shaman. He was essentially a Western literary figure who wore the religious regalia, or garb, as he called it, of a contemporary poet-shaman.
This is the basic archetype we look at together in our book The Shaman’s Call. I trace Bill’s evolution of this poet-shaman concept to dreams, which gets us back to the subject of this radio program, “Dream Talk Radio.” Because, when Bill speaks in The Shaman’s Call he is basically talking out of the Western archetype. In fact, in the poem “Black Hills” he speaks of a dream that he had the very morning he wrote the poem, just after writing Archetype West. So I see this dream and the poem “Black Hills” as pivotal in his discovery of the new spiritual mantle he would wear after divesting himself of his friar’s robe. He was looking for a new religious identity, a new orientation as a Western poet, and I have some intuitions of who the forerunners of this mantle of the American poet-shaman were. I take this up in conversations with Bill in The Shaman’s Call.
In Archetype West Bill mentions Joaquin Miller as being the inception point for the Western archetype. Miller, who is not really that well known as a California writer and poet any longer except perhaps locally, was important in Bill’s idea of who he was as a Western writer, what he represented. Miller had insufficient verses as a poet, and that is why his memory has not lasted in the American literary consciousness, yet his vision was nevertheless quite profound. He spent a lot of time up in the Mount Shasta region in Northern California.
Anne: He was involved in the Modoc Indian wars, right?
Steven: He was involved in the Modoc Indian wars as is stated in his novel Life Amongst the Modocs: The Unwritten History. But actually, he was aligned with the Pit River and Shasta tribes. The book was rewritten in London and some of the content of the narrative changed during the editing. So whether he really represented the Modocs when he helped during the fight against the U. S. Calvary, or the Pit River Indians, or the Shasta’s is an historical question. Nevertheless, the significance of this book for Everson is that Miller had the guts to align himself with a Native American standpoint with regards to the massacres that had been going on for centuries on this continent and still were happening when Miller was discovering his identity as the “Poet of the Sierras,” a title that was given to him, and he did it in the very heart of the Shasta region. Miller’s alignment with the indigenous cause to preserve their rights to the land represents what Bill calls the inception point for the Western archetype.
Anne: So, while Everson was writing Archetype West in early 1970-1971, this is just around the same time as the whole bio-regional consciousness came into being and the idea of place-based mysticism and spirituality of the West. I find it really interesting that he was right in there, kind of with the same stuff, and once he left the Dominican Order he really did return to the earth, to Nature, particularly as he had originally called himself the poet of the San Joaquin Valley. There is in all of these movements a connection with place, with this place-based poetics and aesthetics that just really comes though in all of his writing.
Steven: That’s exactly right, Anne. That was his idea and he did not get it alone. He got it from Santayana and Emerson and Thoreau who had lived it out in their own experiments in America, as had Walt Whitman and Herman Melville and Emily Dickinson on the East Coast. Nevertheless Everson felt that his situation and that of other California writers at the far end of the West was the term of the Westward migration, which “places him at the center, rather than on the periphery, of the American experience” (xiii). And pantheism (which he viewed not only as the basic Californian point of view, but as uniquely American) can, of course, also be seen in Whitman: “pantheism is not only the basic Californian or Western point of view, but is essentially American, is indeed the characteristic religious and aesthetic feeling” (7). He says another thing that is important here too, Anne, and that is that the Western writer is “more in line with the perspectives of the American Indian and hence closer to the roots of the land” (8).
This explains Bill’s adoption of Native American artifacts in his religious clothing, or mantle: his Bear Claw necklace was quite impressive, and the Buck Skin Vest that he wore in “Birth of a Poet” was a beautiful artifact to behold as well. He speaks in The Shaman’s Call about going to a little shop in Mill Valley after finishing Archetype West and finding these artifacts there, and deciding after a dream that he was going to wear them during his teaching at UCSC. This was something that was already in the air, in the collective psyche, and Bill points to Gary Snyder as perhaps the seminal Western writer who most clearly represented a kind of key poetical figure for the time period we are speaking about. In chapter # 18, Everson says that Gary Snyder represented the terminal literary situation of the Western Archetype at the time of the book’s publication in 1976: “Jeffers had looked westward to the vast expanse of water, and Kerouac and Ginsberg responded to the sweep beyond, but more than any other American poet Snyder has followed that craze to its conclusion” (141). In the sixties, Snyder wrote:
As a poet I hold the most archaic values on earth. They go back to the late Paleolithic: the fertility of the soil, the magic of animals, the power-vision in solitude, the terrifying initiation and rebirth, the love and ecstasy of the dance, the common work of the tribe. (145)
This quote from Snyder near the end of Bill’s book beautifully expresses what he embodied at UCSC: the most archaic values on earth, namely shamanism. They go back to the late Paleolithic: the power-vision in solitude! Well there you have it—Snyder names the very values Bill embodies from 1970-1971 onward to his death in 1994, and these earth-based-values are present in “Black Hills.”
Anne: That’s lovely! I find it very interesting that there are all of these overlappings with my own story. I used to live in the Oakland hills. I grew up there and I would drive almost every day to school past Joaquin Miller’s little house on Joaquin Miller road. I remember many times going in there and peeking in and thinking: “This is interesting!” And imagining just how a poet would walk up into the hills or ride a horse up into the hills and just stay up there and write poetry. It was lovely. You were saying that Everson wrote Archetype West at Stinson Beach right before starting this class “Birth of a Poet” at UC Santa Cruz and he stopped teaching in 1981 and I started at UCSC in 1982! (Laughter) I just missed it! (Laughter)
Let’s talk now about the “Birth of a Poet.” When he writes Archetype West he is very hooked into the idea of the animal spirits. He has gone almost completely away from the Christian idea of purity and this lofty spirituality as a monk into wearing animal skins and getting back down into the basic values of the earth. He has gone from the heights of transcendent religion way into earth-religions and then he starts this class “Birth of a Poet,” where he is keyed into dreams. He asks students to write down their dreams and try and find their vocation. This sounds like he is taking on not just the clothing, not just the aesthetics, but actually wearing the mantle of the shaman and is trying to help people find their vocation. Can you speak to that?
Steven: Yeah. That is precisely the point I am making. His poem “Black Hills” is really about his being in a region in South Dakota, which is the sacred ground of the vision quest for the Sioux people. Everson goes there in the poem and tries to resolve his relationship to the land and the Native people there and his being a post-Christian poet stumps him. Basically what he comes up with in Archetype West is that for the great poet of the West to emerge there needed to be a displacement of a personal God in modern consciousness. In order for that to happen there had to be this acceptance of the violence inherent in Nature:
For the great poet of the West could not emerge until the overriding pantheistic sublimity that had displaced a personal God in modern consciousness, and the underriding actuality of the awful violence inherent in the phenomenal world, had shattered the hypnotic materialistic complacency upon which Victorian social assumptions were based. (Archetype West, 48)
Violence is what defines the Western writer, in Everson’s view. In his thinking the Western poet, the greatest poet-shaman of California, Robinson Jeffers, took the pantheistic ideas of John Muir to an ultimate point of transcendence. Through John Muir, it was clear to Everson that the American soul was saying that Nature is Divine. “Nature is Divine, the American soul was saying. And it was Muir who, more than anyone else confirmed the intuition, spelled out the potentiality, brought it to concrete specification… True, it was Emerson and Thoreau who put the vision in Muir’s head, but until the scientist spoke the middle American simply nodded and remained content in the materialistic dream. But to read Muir’s work now, a hundred years after he wrote, is to understand how emphatically he brought the intuitions of Emerson and Thoreau and Whitman to fruition even while those men were still alive” (50).
This movement from a personal God to the God in Nature: this is very American in Everson’s view and it has a lot to do with his teaching of “Birth of a Poet,” because the dream content of many of the students had to do with animal symbolism and motifs in Nature. One of the beautiful things he says in Archetype West is about John Muir. Everson uses religious language here:
The full potentiality [of the Western archetype] was not realized, however, till [Muir] hit the Sierra, and the encounter was so decisive that it is not too much to say that a man was invaded by a mountain range, and, transformed thereby, became its voice. Everything Royce noted about the difference in scale between East Coast and Bay Area landscape was magnified in the Sierra a hundredfold, and in Muir’s writing as well. The Sierra became his cathedral, and the long days and months and years he spent in its nave and transept were to foster his soul. It is one of the great marriages of a man and a region, and it was indeed consummated in a literary work (for his The Mountains of California is a classic of its kind). (Archetype West, 50-51)
He then goes on to say that until Muir spoke and fought his fierce battle with Congress about the damming of the Hetch Hetchy the archetype could not achieve its term. This idea of the Divinity in Nature is something that you find in all of Robinson Jeffers’ work and also Everson’s work, where he brings together the idea of the Christ in Nature. He says that Jeffers represents the apotheosis point in Western writing and it was only then that the Godhead could really blaze through. “The negative facet of the American psyche did not achieve apotheosis until Jeffers carried it to the ultimate, and opened up the pantheistic affirmation inherent in its skepticism. Only then could the divinity caged in the nuclear material entity, the numen, show its true face, and the Godhead blaze through. Whitman is the sunrise in the East, but Jeffers is the sunset in the West. It is bloody and violent, but it is the last light given us. We deny it at our peril” (77). So, the way that Bill came to the idea of the vocational archetype was through experiencing the power of the California writer on his own soul-experience and the impact of that on his dreams is impressive. When he picked up a volume of Robinson Jeffers poetry off the shelf at Fresno State, he says he was basically experiencing an internal violation of his soul, something within him cracked and he went home and wrote a poem. He calls it “October Tragedy.” It’s a beautiful poem about a buck: he follows the spoor of a wounded buck over the marsh and deep into the desolate hills. He goes on a vision quest at that point. Thus, right at the beginning of his vocation as a poet, he leaves Fresno State to become a tender of grapes and husbands the land and then he starts writing.
Just as Carl Jung looked to the German poets Goethe, Schiller, and Nietzsche, to provide empirical verification for his idea of the collective unconscious, so too was Everson looking to the American poets of the Eastern Seaboard, Herman Melville, Walt Whitman, and Emily Dickinson; in literature, he says the archetype “is always trying to find its vehicle, its voice” (23). His intuition is that the Western archetype found its first voice in the epic poetry of Melville’s Moby-Dick and Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass (23). In some ways, he says the Western Archetype spoke in Melville and Whitman “more evocatively than it would ever speak again” (25); although he didn’t speak about Emily much.
Anne: There is a certain male-centeredness about his focus.
Steven: Yes. He learned about the vocational archetype by studying it in American poetry and then I picked up that line of interest and extended it in The Shaman’s Call, as well as in a new publication Walt Whitman: Shamanism, Spiritual Democracy, and the World Soul. I am working on a new book about Emily Dickinson as well. She brings in a feminine perspective that is just wonderful! Now, getting back to your question about dreams and the role of Everson in being an evoker of these powerful vocational dreams that students would have; by the time I took his course in 1979 the course was limited to 100 students. At one time there were 400 students in a class.
Anne: Was this at Kresge College?
Steven: Yes, in the Literature Department. That’s right. You would see students coming in somewhat sleepy-eyed and they would sit or lie down on mats around Everson in the center of the room. He was always standing and pacing, sometimes walking around and the students would be assembled in a large circle around him. Often students were in half-dream-states. Sometimes they would fall asleep, but mainly they would be in a relaxed state so that the unconscious would have an opportunity to be stimulated by what he was saying and sometimes, during his reading of poems, you would feel this electrical current, this energy-charge. It was quite extraordinary.
In The Shaman’s Call I speak of Everson as a Lightning Shaman in a couple of places in the book because of what has been said about him and what I experienced first hand: he had this ability to stimulate or activate the vocational archetype in student’s dreams in a way that was electrifying. You could say that he had this ability to lead the active listener, the student, into a state of trance, or active visioning. That is evidenced by a couple of dreams I report of my own, while I was conversing with Everson. In my book, I record a couple of dreams, one of which I will share here. It relates to what you were just speaking about Anne; about driving by Joaquin Miller’s house; the interesting synchronicity of events like that in our lives where archetypal realities may be experienced in very mysterious ways.
In this dream, I was walking on a ridge in the Oakland Hills with Everson. We were near the California poet Joaquin Miller’s home, which Miller named the “Heights” and we were just below the Park. I had written a poem I handed to Bill. He looked the poem over and wanted to change a few lines here and there, where I had strayed into some kind of abstraction. He wanted me to use more metaphors, verbs, and nouns to describe the setting to bring the poem to life. So, I was carefully watching his skill and technique as a master-craftsman and we had a broad view of Oakland, of the city life below and the poem reflected the activities going on there. In my poem I had written about the city. Bill wrote in the margin about the “hundreds of homes nestled in the big city,” and I knew he was referring to the homes of the people in the Oakland area and I thought of Jung’s statement in the dream that at the very bottom of the unconscious the psyche is simply the world. I thought also about the countless occupations in operation and of the work-people fulfilling their labors or tasks below. And I thought of Walt Whitman and his role in the book as a synthesizer.
Now, the synchronicity of this dream for me is that this happened while I was conversing with Bill. He had called me down to Kingfisher Flat in Davenport where he lived on Big Creek in the Santa Cruz Mountains, off the Pacific Coast, and I had this dream right before the conversations took place. One of the interesting things that emerges in our dialogues is this topic of Whitman in the East and Jeffers in the Far West, how they form a pair of opposites that balance each other: Whitman is the sunrise in the East. Jeffers is the sunset in the West (77).
Everson, who followed the sunset trail of Robinson Jeffers as his great master-teacher had published a beautiful printing of Walt Whitman’s “Preface” to Leaves of Grass in a book called American Bard while I was his teaching assistant. So he had an interest in Whitman, but he was clearly more of a Jeffers scholar, and I was really being pulled by Whitman at the time. So, part of the dialogue that takes place in The Shaman’s Call is centered on the question of what makes the East Coast different than the West Coast, and it leads to some interesting ideas, one of which is this idea of the vocational archetype and its relationship to the psychoid, which has to do with the synchronicity principle. Jung speaks about these acausal connections that we have, correspondences between the inner world of the dream, imaginal reality, and outer concrete events in our lives that are patterned by archetypes; one of which and probably the most powerful of which is the vocational archetype. About this archetype Everson said in “Birth of a Poet” that every vocation is controlled by a symbol and this symbol comes not from the individual but from the collective. He also adds landscape to this and Jung would agree, because he wrote a paper called “Mind and Earth” where he speaks about the impact of the earth on the human psyche. Everson speaks in terms of regionalism. That’s why the Pacific Coast as a literary region was so important to him in helping to shape his ideas in “Birth of a Poet.” He is speaking about the impact of the Pacific region on the poetic psyche. How did the impact of the Carmel region impact the poetry of Robinson Jeffers? How did the San Joaquin, Stinson Beach, and Big Creek impact the poetry of William Everson? How does regionalism influence the writing of some of the listeners of this show, perhaps who are also looking to their dreams for vocational guidance? Anne: One of the things that I found to be very interesting in your conversations with Everson, Steven, is when you ask him about the class he taught at UC Santa Cruz you ask how many people out of 100 students heard their vocational call… The picture you are painting is that everybody is a little bleary eyed, sort of wandering into this big auditorium and Everson is this Lightning Shaman: he is able to transmit this energy, its all about transmission through poetry, or whatever means to ignite some spark, and to sort of tap the bell in the right tone, so that students in the audience actually feel the call of their own vocation, their vocational archetype. At one point in the interviews you ask him how many out of 100 actually did get that summons of their own unique vocation and his answer is: “Oh, maybe two or three out of 100.” (Laughter). But then he goes on to say possibly thirty or forty percent, maybe even fifty percent knew what to listen for. I thought that was so interesting! You may not know it then, but you have the feeling-tone, you have gotten the transmission of what that feels like when your soul calls to you. I thought that was a lovely and scathingly honest assessment of meeting his own goals for that class. Steven: That is really beautifully put Anne. I think that is exactly the spirit and the tenor of Everson. He had that modesty and he did hold an empirical attitude towards the dream journals and the final essays that we would read together from the students and which were sometimes quite eloquent. He looked as a post-Jungian at the dreams from an in-depth angle. Vocational dreams hold a potentiality. Many students may have had vocational dreams but how to bring it (the calling) forth is the big question and this is really what I was pressing Bill about in our conversations. How does one manifest the vocational archetype in one’s life and bring it to birth? “Birth of a Poet” is the name of his course and the confirmation of the call was its aim. Yet, he was very modest about what he was observing. It takes a long period of time and psychological work to manifest it. Everson did most of his deep work himself. He basically was self-analyzed and learned Jungian psychology (he was introduced to it by Father Victor White of the Dominican Order) when he was a lay-brother at the priory in Oakland. Jung corresponded with White quite extensively and Bill really was quite a Jungian in his own regard as a poet, teacher and thinker. He was very intuitive and made an important contribution to Jungian psychology in the West. He did this from the literary field. He was basically a post-Dominican/post-Jungian, who focused on this notion of the vocational archetype he developed primarily. Anne: I have a question—I don’t want to let this moment pass by: you said earlier that he viewed every vocational archetype as having a symbol. So part of this class (I am really trying to flesh out this scene for our listeners), students would keep a dream journal and you, as Everson’s teaching assistant and Everson, would read all of these dreams. What did he look for in terms of vocational archetypal symbols in the student’s dreams? And how did he approach that material with them? Did he comment, or do some degree of analysis or interpretation of the dreams? Steven: That is a good question, Anne. We held office hours and sometimes students would come in on their own initiative and speak about their dreams. He really was a vocational counselor, a spiritual counselor, you could say. Let me give an example for the listener’s of a vocational dream from a student’s final essay. Everson speaks about this dream in an unpublished paper. This is a final essay for the course, and it comes from a woman’s journal. She reports how she journeyed back to the region of her childhood. (This movement back to childhood is a very important motif. It is a very common theme in vocational dreams. There is this journey back to childhood because oftentimes the first glimmerings we have of a calling, a vocation, is in childhood). So, she was journeying back to the region of her childhood. She was going to procure for herself a certain ax, which she felt was somehow different than any ordinary ax. Once she recovers it, she proceeds past her elementary school, across the hills to where a bus is to pick her up and take her to school. Just then her boyfriend appears and she looses the ax, as she is getting onto the bus. That night, they sit at home and they go downstairs into some kind of an underground castle. The walls are stone, and they sleep in a large room, in a bed covered by furs. The next day she rides her bicycle—the one she had as a child—to an old Greek ruin. She digs down into the dirt between the pillars, knowing just where to look, and finds the magical ax, but it has somehow been changed, transformed into a broken sword. She draws it forth from the earth and holds it up, shining in the clear morning. In waking, she writes in her final essay: “I knew exactly what the dream meant. I know I will write poetry again.” She felt that the ax was a symbol of her vocation and she had lost this out of excessive love¾the love of a lifetime. (She was in mourning at the time about the loss of her relationship). In closing, she stated very eloquently: “I will search the rubble of the past if need be, but I will find again what I have lost. I will draw it forth from the dark female earth, broken perhaps, surely changed, but still shining, shining.”
Dreams like this testify to the evocative force of vocational clarification through dreams, what Everson calls: “the power of the archetypes to redirect the course of life. They also testify to the movement of the meditations and the presence which pervades them.” So this gives you an example of a vocational dream that really had a large impact on one of the students.
Anne: I think it may be important to clarify the difference between vocation and career, vocation being that which we are called to do, whereas a career not necessarily so, or is it more tied in to what we do to support ourselves throughout our lives? It is such a wonderful age to work with people on this kind of material—College age, late teens, early twenties, young adulthood. And so, how did he perceive a distinction between vocation and career? Or did he speak in these terms?
Steven: Everson distinguished between vocation and career in the following way: he says the vocation is really where your motivation is. It is not where your talents lie. It is where your deepest source of motivation is and it comes from the Self with a capital, big S Self, namely that part of you that really allows you to expand. As Walt Whitman says “I am large, I contain multitudes.” This is our basic question: “Where is the expansion point in the personality, the point of transcendence?” This is really what Bill and I were looking for. When he speaks about the vocational archetype and its impact on the psyche, he’s really speaking about that expansive potential. And he points to two dreams in Jung’s Memories, Dreams, Reflections, which played a very important role in his finding of his vocation. The important distinction between vocation and career is the impact of vocation on the world. Career has to do with one’s relationship to the collectivity and the group consciousness or culture, the nation in which one lives. It is the impact of our work on the outside. Now what you may be referring to is what I have defined as an occupation. An occupation is really what we do for a living. It may not coincide with our vocation. But it may be how we make money. Some good literary examples are Franz Kafka, who worked in a bank, and Wallace Stevens who was an insurance salesman. We have to make a living and it may not coincide with our vocation, really.
Anne: Einstein being a clerk.
Steven: Yes, it is very important in sustaining us. I take this up in my new book on Walt Whitman. He wrote a poem called “A Song for Occupations,” which Everson and I speak about in The Shaman’s Call. We define these terms in the conversations that take place. It’s an important question. Certainly, for the student whose dream I just recorded, she had been in the wrong major at the University. She had strayed into a field that was not in accordance with her deepest sense of motivation, and something about the relationship she had been in, as well as childhood (that is apparent from the dream content) was interfering with her calling. By allowing her psychic energy to regress, back to childhood, she was able to move beyond what Jung called the personal unconscious and connect with an archetypal symbol of her vocation, and that is the symbol of the sword. She finds it in the earth and it is near some ruins of ancient Greece. This points for a woman to the vocation perhaps of Sappho, the great female poetess of ancient Greece: to her discovery of the Logos principle, the animus principle, as Jung calls it, which can really help her cut through the complexes of her personal past and break through to a new experience of her creative destiny. I think that’s what the course allowed her to do, as you can see in her final essay: she is quite eloquent in her writing. This is an example of what we were doing in “Birth of a Poet.”
Anne: So we have been going on a sort of narrative journey through Everson’s life, through the whole idea of archetype West, the idea of the Western poet. We have talked about the vocational archetype and how he was able to draw out that response from his students at UC Santa Cruz in his “Birth of a Poet” class. I think in a lovely way, to me, when you have a dream such as that young woman’s dream where you find the place and you know where exactly to dig between the two pillars, that is striking a lot of chords, that is authentic, archaic/authentic experience, so whatever I dig out of here is going to have a lot of resonance for me. I can see how having that type of a dream during that kind of an experience can feel like a real transformative experience crunched into an actual College class that really helps to stimulate the vocational urge. I really loved what you said about the vocational dream being the inner call and the career is a translation into that of the collective calling somehow, a lovely way to connect those two.
Steven: Yes and you are bringing in the word transformation, which I think is right on the mark, because that’s what these dreams do for us, they help to transform consciousness by electrifying us. Walt Whitman wrote “I Sing the Body Electric” in 1855. Emily Dickinson also writes about being struck by Lightning. This metaphor is not something that was just concocted. It is there in the writings of the East Coast writers as well as in the works of Robinson Jeffers and William Everson. This electricity idea is very basic to psychic energy itself, which now with modern physics, we see that electromagnetic energy is present in the atoms. When Walt Whitman says “And what I assume you shall assume, / For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you” he is really saying that this psychic energy—Body Electric—is available for use. One can access it through writing if one can find a way to tap into it. Everson’s great genius is that he had the intuitive insight to structure his course at UCSC so that he could open up the way into it for students at the early adult career transition phase.
Jung of course is the great exponent of the ideas we are pursuing and Everson and I have helped to develop them along with Ira Progoff, who played a significant role as an American writer who went to interview Jung in Zurich and extended Jung’s ideas about the concept of the psychoid, which we take up in our book, as well as Jung’s ideas about synchronicity. Progoff was quite articulate in extending Jung’s ideas about the psychoid and synchronicity to the field of depth-psychology and then Everson, who read Progoff after he met Victor White in the Order, began to develop his own ideas about this. In my teaching of courses at John F. Kennedy University, or JFKU in Orinda, California, the students in the Career Development Program wanted to know more about vocational dreams and the concept of the vocational archetype, so it was really as a call from the students that I was led down to Davenport to interview Everson and ask him in the first conversation what he thought about the vocational symbol, what his contribution was. Dreams helped me learn how to listen to the call from my own psyche and opened up the possibility of the conversations with Everson. He literally did call me on the phone to come down to his home in Davenport to collaborate with him and that is why the title of the book is The Shaman’s Call. (Laughter) There are really two dimensions going on there simultaneously. (Laughter)
Anne: Right, you were called literally on the phone. (Laughter)
Steven: (Laughter) Right! This was right before his death. He had Parkinson’s disease, so he could no longer write and one of the reasons for his calling me down was because he was still filled with creative ideas and wanting to get out a second edition of “Birth of a Poet.” He saw the interview format as a way to continue what he had been doing down at UC Santa Cruz.
Anne: That’s wonderful. You have this lovely quote about the role of the poet-shaman: “The role of the poet-shaman is to act of a mediator between what is remembered and what is forgotten, what is seen and what is unseen, to open us up to the hidden and unexplored mystery inside each of us.” Lovely writing by the way! It strikes me that we can have this transference onto William Everson: my professor is this shaman-poet and we can encounter that archetype through people, but we can also encounter the poet-shaman in dreams. I am wondering if you have yourself, or if clients, students, have had an encounter with the poet-shaman in a dream? It seems like a very rich metaphor. In dreams, I imagine coming upon the poet-shaman. I imagine it would be like coming upon somebody who I am not so sure if he is crazy or sane. But they might say something that is just filled with wisdom. And it is those words that remain with me. I wake up and think: “Wow! that is completely out of left field, but here is that quality of resonance that makes me feel like it is Truth with a capital T! I need to remember this!”
Steven: Well that’s an interesting question. I think it is important not to project the archetype onto anyone in the outer world. Whitman was a great teacher of this when he said in 1855: “I am the teacher of athletes, / He that by me spreads a wider breast than my own proves the width of my own, / He most honors my style who learns under it to destroy the teacher... If you would understand me go to the heights or water-shore” (LG, 242, 243). He says basically that he teaches us how to destroy the teacher. This is a very Jungian idea. Jung talked about the dangers of inflation that comes from identifying with an archetype, primarily the archetype of the shaman, or medicine man. He spoke of this danger in a talk to candidates at the C. G. Jung Institute in Zurich late in life, in 1957. He warned against the dangers of identifying with the archetype of the medicine man, or the shaman archetype. The important thing is to realize one’s relationship to it within and not get swept up by the energies invested in it. It was Everson’s humility as a post-Christian monk and a poet of the Far West to wear the mantle with an attitude of reverence; not to try and assume something from the land and from the Native American culture that didn’t really belong to the Western psyche and experience; but to wear it with an attitude of modesty and humility.
Of course, as a practicing psychotherapist, I do not identify with being a shaman and it is important to make this distinction. I learned this from my former analyst and teacher, Donald Sandner, who played a pivotal part in the conversations by encouraging me to go down and interview Everson and providing some questions. He taught me early on in my analysis that Jungian psychotherapists are not shamans and we need to be careful not to identify with that archetype, but one can nevertheless through one’s relationship to the archetypal symbol be influenced by it.
To provide an answer to your question about the poet-shaman appearing in one’s dreams, I give an example of one of my own dreams on page 81 of our book about a dream that came to me on the morning of my conversation with Bill in chapter 4 “Vocation and the Vision Quest.” This is significant because of what I said earlier about the importance of Bill’s dream and his poem “Black Hills” on the shaping of his course “Birth of a Poet,” which was patterned as I said on the Native American vision quest. In my dream you can see how the same archetype was influencing me after being called down to collaborate with him on the writing of our book.
Interestingly, the morning before I went down to begin interviewing Bill, I had a dream of an old Crow Indian medicine man in a teepee who was initiating me with some older Crow men. While in the teepee I was struck in the throat with lightning and the old shaman was fanning my neck with an eagle feather. So the idea in this dream is that it is not Everson but the old Crow Indian, the medicine man, a shaman from the Plains area, who initiates me along with the other men in the teepee. It is an example of what Joseph Henderson calls the archetype of initiation. I think this is Jung’s basic idea that one needs to form an inner relationship to the archetype and not project it onto an outside authority. Not assume it in one’s identity, but relate to it internally. Now Everson could do that because of who he was. He could wear the mantle of the poet-shaman. Nevertheless, psychotherapists do not typically identify with that role. Initiation takes place internally.
Anne: It does seem that Everson was able to do that at times, but his modesty and humility was such that he was able to take off the mantle, I think. It sounds like he was deliberately taking on that form to allow students to have their own experience of the vocational archetype and its awakening in that way. It also sounds like it was a tactic that wasn’t his identity, which is very important to see in a teacher.
Steven: That’s a good way to put it: it was a persona that he wore, a poetic costume he wore with a kind of religious attitude towards his destiny. He did it because he felt it was his way of embodying the Western archetype. He says the Western poet is closer to the indigenous contribution than the East Coast poet, and while Whitman was a great poet-shaman, he maintained his persona as a colonial poet, yet, he was also autochthonous, Everson points out. Joaquin Miller on the other hand actually married the daughter of the Shasta tribe. His daughter lived here in Oakland. So in Everson’s view he was close to the Native American experience. This is what makes the California writer unique in Everson’s view.
Anne: Fascinating! I wish we had another hour. Steven thank you so much for being with us today and maybe we will have you back to speak about your book on Walt Whitman.
In February of 1970 William Everson (formerly Brother Antoninus of the Dominican Order) was invited by John Gordon Burke, associate editor of American Libraries to write an original essay, Archetype West: the West Coast as a Literary Region (Everson, 1976, ix). Although he modestly claimed to be unread on the subject of the Western American novel, he immediately welcomed this publishing venture as a personal opportunity for him to recover “taproot.” While living on the edge of the Pacific Basin the root energies of his vocation as a Western poet were unleashed out of his instinctive foundation, and what followed is some of the best writing America has yet produced. Written at Stinson Beach California from February 1970 to February 1971 the essay claims to be nothing more than a tentative probe into the underlying ethos of the Western locale after two centuries of national experience on this continent. Yet, the book proves to be much more than this. I view Archetype West, now long out of print, as one of the most important literary documents in American literature; it defines the central characteristics of the Pacific Coast like no other book of its kind. In Everson’s attempts to define what is unique about the Far West as a literary locale, he chose the most powerful centering device available to him at that time, namely the “symbolic configuration of archetypal force” (1976, x) or what C. G. Jung called the archetype (xi).
Archetype West was Everson’s first significant book of prose signaling his emergence as a post-Dominican/post-Jungian writer. Everson was introduced to Jung’s writings in the Dominican Order while he was studying under the tutelage of Father Victor White as a lay brother in the priory in the late 50’s. This was a time of momentous change in American poetry, as Allan Ginsberg had already published his masterpiece “Howl” in 1955, during the centennial year marking the publication of Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. The beat generation was just about to emerge onto the San Francisco literary scene.
Through his study of the works of California’s seminal poet Robinson Jeffers he arrived at some important insights into the emergence of the Western archetype in Jeffers’ poetry. “I thought: My God! How pre-Christian his mentality is!” (Everson, 1968, 27). Everson hypothesized that the Western archetype can be experienced best by way of its emotional resonance, energy, radiance, or soul-power (xiii). Grasping the root forces of this realization, he began to speak forcefully out of what he calls the “mystery of place” (xiii). California writers feel their situation, Everson writes, at the far end of the West as the “term of the westward migration.” In Fragments of an Older Fury Everson speaks of the way he took to his mentor Robinson Jeffers as a type of spiritual osmosis that came over him in 1962, as “something like the Oriental relationship of the sybarite to the guru”:
What I sought was a presence, a spiritual and psychological substance. The force from his pages hit me as something almost physical… When I encountered Jeffers it was essentially a religious conversion, my first one. Not only so, it was the intellectual awakening. For the first time I grasped the corruptness of man and the reality of an Absolute against which that corruptness must be measured. For the first time I knew there is a God, and I knew where I was going to find Him—before my very eyes, as He is bodied forth in prime Nature. And I knew that place no longer had to be the Lake Country, or Nantucket, or fish-shaped Paumanok, or the Mississippi. The place was California, the coast. I saw that he was intensely, incredibly alive in my own region. (4)
Although Archetype West positions Whitman and Jeffers to appear as if they were a pair of irreconcilable opposites, Everson nevertheless reconciles their apparent contradictions by stating: “Both in cosmic outlook and in originality of style they stand shoulder to shoulder, or rather back to back, since they look in opposite directions” (Fragments, 37). Actually, this is not entirely correct, as we may see, for instance, in Whitman’s post-Civil War poem “Rise O Days from You Fathomless Deeps,” where Whitman ascends the towering rocks along the Pacific and sails out to sea to behold elate the “lightning” flashing all about him and all the “menacing might of the globe” rising up around him (LG, 427).
Everson sees Jeffers’ apotheosis as the secret quest and inner impulse of democracy itself (15). Yet Whitman appears to have been the first to have arrived at it in “Rise O Days,” when he says “Thunder on! Stride on, Democracy! strike with vengeful stroke!” (LG, 428) Thus, we needn’t draw an artificial distinction between Whitman and Jeffers, as Everson does. In literature, he says nevertheless that the archetype “is always trying to find its vehicle, its voice” (23). Bill’s intuition is that it found its first voice in the epic poetry of Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick and Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass (23). In some way, he says the Western archetype spoke in Melville and Whitman “more evocatively than it would ever speak again” (25). I would agree with this assessment. Our American poets have much to tell us about Spiritual Democracy. Its inner impulse can be traced to Whitman.
Everson’s thesis is that while the pantheistic base of America’s religious attitude had largely been delineated by Emerson and Thoreau and Whitman, it was “Muir fighting for the preservation of the Hetch Hetchy that elevated the implicit recognition of the divinity of nature to the most explicit testimonial.” “Dam Hetch Hetchy?” Muir asked in a widely quoted document that struck a keynote in the spiritual conscience of the nation, “As well dam for watertanks the people’s cathedrals and churches, for no holier temple ever existed in the heart of man” (53). This is the historical moment according to Everson that marks the “main turning point in the spiritual life of the nation, perhaps the chief turning point, as far as the future was concerned” (53). For this battle enabled Jeffers to take Muir’s intuitions about the Divinity of Nature further. In Everson’s words: “he [Jeffers] assails all the American assumptions with the massive right of his invective consciousness—American optimism, American service, American wealth, American power” (69). Thus, Everson sees in Robinson Jeffers a further evolution of the impulse towards Spiritual Democracy than what we find in Whitman and in Archetype West he makes some very important points that are worth noting.
Everson, W. (1968). Robinson Jeffers: Fragments of an Older Fury. Berkeley: Oyez
Everson, W. (1976). Archetype West: The West Coast as a Literary Region.
Jung, C. G. Collected Works of C. G. Jung. In 20 Volumes, ed. William McGuire. Princeton: Bollingen.
Herrmann, S. (2010b). Walt Whitman: Shamanism, Spiritual Democracy, and the World Soul. Durham: Eloquent Books.
Herrmann, S. (2009). William Everson The Shaman's Call. New York: Eloquent Books.Herrmann, S. (2007a). “Emergence of the Bipolar Cultural Complex in Walt Whitman,” The Journal of Analytical Psychology, Vol.52, No. 4, pp. 463-478.Herrmann, S. (2007b). “Walt Whitman and the Homoerotic Imagination,” Jung Journal:
Culture and Psyche, Vol. 1, No. 2, pp. 16-47.
Herrmann, S. (2005). “A Conversation with William Everson: Shamanism, American
Poetry, and the Vision Quest,” The San Francisco Jung Institute Library Journal, Vol. 24, No. 4.
Herrmann, S. (2004). “The Cultural Complex in Walt Whitman,” The San Francisco Jung Institute Library Journal, Vol. 23, No. 4.
Herrmann, S. (2003b). “Whitman, Dickinson and Melville—American Poet-Shamans:
Forerunners of Poetry Therapy,” Journal of Poetry Therapy, Vol. 16, No. 1.
Whitman, W. (1961-1977). The Correspondence. Ed. Edwin Haviland Miller. 6 vols. New York: New York UP.
Whitman, W. (1981). American Bard: The Original Preface to Leaves of Grass Arranged in Verse by William Everson. New York: Viking.
Whitman, W. (1984). Notebooks and Unpublished Prose Manuscripts, in 6 Volumes.
Ed. Edward F. Grier. New York: NYU Press.
Whitman, W. (1992). Leaves of Grass. New York: Library of America/Vintage.
Causes Steven Herrmann Supports
American Rights at Work