Book Review: The Otherworld in Myth, Folklore, Cinema, and Brain Science by Jim Kline

Read author and scholar James Hollis’ review of Jim Kline’s unique multidisciplinary text below.

‘Catabasis: the Descent into the Otherworld’

“French surrealist poet Paul Eluard once observed that there is another world, and it is this one.  Scholar Jim Kline invites us to explore this otherworld, to witness the many descents, the catabasis, in his rich survey of The Otherworld in Myth, Folklore, Cinema, and Brain Science.

Kline’s introductory paragraph defines the otherworld as “a living reality that complements waking world reality.   It is structured out of eternal ideas about life, time, and space, inhabited by eternal beings, and powered by an eternal, inexhaustible life force.   It has its own language based on metaphors, symbols, and motifs which, like any human language, can have different modes and forms of expression but still convey and underlying universal meaning.”

Productively viewed through the lens of analytic, archetypal psychology, Kline demonstrates the timeless movement of psyche in all its permutations and speaks of a unifying Weltanschauung in which psyche and physis are not separate, but aspects of the same mysterious, interactive whole.

G. Jung opened the door to a modern exploration of this timeless realm in his 1912 Symbols of Transformation in which he demonstrated the autonomous, formative processes deep within the psychic structure of each of us. We are the symbol-making animal, and this process serves two purposes: first, to bear witness to the interconnectivity of things outer and inner, and second, through the use of symbol and metaphor to allow us to stand in relationship to the mysteries that transcend waking logic and conventional consciousness.

It has been said that myths are the embodied truths of the tribe, and dreams are the personal myths of the individuals.    Nightly, we experience this autonomous, transformative process whether we pay attention or not.   It behoves us to ask why the psyche would labor to produce such phenomena, and how it relates to the conduct of our lives.   That you or I could have more or less the same dream tonight as someone thousands of years ago–and there is ample evidence that this happens, and frequently–raises some question about how separated we are by time, place and culture.   (I recall in my analytic training first seeing the recurrence of dream symbols and motifs in patients quite different in their backgrounds and presenting problems.  And I also found that they were analogues to those embodied in the ancient scriptures and cultural forms).

Kline’s survey of the processes which erupt from below, and link our sundered worlds, provides a rich field of connection which is itself both scholarly and personal, replete with visual images, dreams, archetypal motifs in myth, folklore, and popular culture.   His illustrations, and their amplifications, are worthy of analytic psychology’s best techniques and make the meaning of these various phenomena both understandable and awe-inspiring.

In his survey of the history of this symbol-making species, Kline reveals a rich thesaurus of cultural images, individual experiences, and transformative moments in history.   The learning herein is impressive, and always accessible to the reader.   To read this book is to get an education, but also, perhaps even more importantly, to be reminded of our common psychic inheritance, our common soul’s work, in times of deep outer division and rancor.

The book’s concluding chapter details a personal dream of the author which probably launched him on his mythographic journey many years before he knew to what it summoned him, and before this book was possible.   In working with the symbols of that dream, finding amplificatory materials from sources East and West, ancient and current, Kline demonstrates so powerfully the essential theme of the book, namely, these archetypal processes, these demonic powers, this personal summons to heroic engagement with the invisible world, go on within each of us, and link us to a timeless drama.

It might be said that the task of depth psychology is the effort to move beyond the observation of mere physical forms, outer behaviors, discursive thought, to engage the unconscious world, to track the movement of the invisible through the cerements of the tangible.   This book does that as well.  As Kline defines it: “We are immersed in the Otherworld all of the time.   The collective unconscious, inherent within all humanity, is each individual’s personal link with this other reality.”  It is hard to imagine any reader not walking away from this book with a deeper sense of mystery, a quickened curiosity about it, and a resolve to pay more attention.”

James Hollis, PhD, Jungian analyst and author of Tracking the Gods: the Place of Myth in Modern Life and other books.

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