to the C. G. Jung Society of the Triangle (Chapel Hill)
on Friday, June 25, 1999
[Throw ball into the audience. See what happens.]
In her book Jung: His Life and Work, A Biographical Memoir, Barbara Hannah describes how Jung instigated a ball game during the early meetings of the Psychology Club in Zurich, a ball game inspired by various medieval practices which included playing with a ball during the celebration of the Mass in the Roman Catholic Church.
This is what she writes:
“Jung, moreover, invented a special game for such occasions, called the Alleluia game. In it, all the members sat around the room with one member in the center. A knotted cloth (usually a napkin) was thrown from one to the other. It was de rigueur [the custom] to throw it as far across the space in the middle as possible, not just to pass it to your nearest neighbor. The member in the center had to catch it on its way; when he succeeded in doing so, he might sit down, and his place was taken by the member who had thrown the cloth. The game waxed fast and furious and always efficiently banished stiffness and formality. It had an amazingly relating effect bringing the group together in an almost magical way.”1
It was Barbara Hannah’s interpretation that Jung’s use of the knotted napkin was the equivalent of the medieval ball used during the Mass and, psychologically, symbolized the Self. She felt Jung intentionally used this “ball” to unite the Psychology Club members “in the Self” or in their No. 2 personalities, so as to prevent their fellowship from disintegrating into something trivial and solipsistic. Throughout his book Psychology and Alchemy, Jung decries the death of those medieval Dionysian games and festivals observed by the church which honored the instinctual and playful side of humanity. Those games and festivals functioned quite well to strike a balance between what was too often split: mind and body, spirit and instinct.
Now I could say that a ball is a symbol of the Self - that self-regulating center of the psyche and personality - and we could call it a night. No more need be said. But a ball, as a symbol, is as multi-faceted and complex as the Self. How strange that we can call something so rounded and simple, multi-faceted and complex. And yet it is. Can you remember your first experience with a ball? Or your most numinous, striking, or perplexing encounter with a ball? [The milk commercial which captures in slow motion a drop of milk being dropped into a larger glass of milk, and the perfect ball of milk that arises on the rebound. Or ask people to show and share a little bit about the balls they brought.]
[Michael Fordham, a Jungian analyst in the London school, used to give examples of how children would produce mandala images, magical protective circles, at times when the ego is threatened by disruptive forces. He also cited several occasions with children when the drawing of a circle was associated with the word “I” and which subsequently led to some effective action the child had previously been unable to take.]
This evening we are going to examine the symbol of the ball in fairy tale, myth, and dream, as well as, in games and rituals. Our examination will not be entirely psychological or clinical or theoretical. It will also take seriously the manifestation of the ball in outer life and the effect it has there, primarily in the games we play and observe. We will use the insights of ethnology and archeology, the imagery of literature, and the reflections of those whose lives involve interacting with a ball firsthand.
But since the title of this lecture is “The Golden Ball,” we’ll start there first. There are at least two Grimms fairy tales which speak of a Golden Ball. One is found in #104, Iron John and another in the first fairy tale in that collection, The Frog Prince. In Iron John it is a young boy who is playing with a golden ball,
“The king had a son of eight years, who was once playing in the court-yard, and while he was playing, his golden ball fell into the cage [where the wild man was]. The boy ran thither and said, give me my ball out. Not till you have opened the door for me, answered the man. No, said the boy, I will not do that, the king has forbidden it, and ran away. The next day he again went and asked for his ball. The wild man said, open my door, but the boy would not. On the third day the king had ridden out hunting, and the boy went once more and said, I cannot open the door even if I wished, for I have not the key. Then the wild man said, it lies under your mother's pillow, you can get it there. The boy, who wanted to have his ball back, cast all thought to the winds, and brought the key.”
In The Frog Prince it is a young girl:
“In olden times when wishing still helped one, there lived a king whose daughters were all beautiful, but the youngest was so beautiful that the sun itself, which has seen so much, was astonished whenever it shone in her face. Close by the king’s castle lay a great dark forest, and under an old lime-tree in the forest was a well, and when the day was very warm, the king’s child went out into the forest and sat down by the side of the cool fountain, and when she was bored she took a golden ball, and threw it up on high and caught it, and this ball was her favorite plaything. Now it so happened that on one occasion the princess’s golden ball did not fall into the little hand which she was holding up for it, but on to the ground beyond, and rolled straight into the water.”
Robert Bly tells us that “the golden ball represents that unity of personality we had as children - a kind of radiance, or wholeness, before we split into male and female, rich and poor, bad and good.” It is like living in paradise, before life suddenly expels us and we find ourselves confronted with the harsh realities of the world. It’s like riding and sleeping in the back seat of the car, before suddenly finding ourselves behind the wheel and assuming responsibility for determining speed and direction. It’s like living in a fairy tale, before the psyche suddenly awakens and we realize that the world is more vast, wonderful and frightening than we ever imagined. The golden ball represents that undifferentiated wholeness that children possess before they lose their innocence.
From the viewpoint of analytical psychology, at birth the human psyche is contained in the Self. That’s all there is. At some point, out of the Self and guided by the Self, the ego begins to emerge, like a tiny island in a vast ocean. It grows, it develops, it strengthens. It makes and finds its own unique way in the world. And then at some point, usually in midlife, the Self reappears and seeks to establish a dialectic relationship with the ego. This is what Jung called the individuation process. The Self is present throughout the whole process, but to different degrees and in various ways.
When we read fairy tales which tell the story of initially playing with a golden ball, then losing that golden ball, and ultimately recovering that golden ball, we are being told the story of the individuation process. Early in life we are, unconsciously, one with the Self, and life is golden. We lose that sense of wholeness as the Self recedes and the ego begins to realize itself - its limitations, its vulnerability, its smallness, its otherness. And then, usually at the Self’s instigation, the ego attempts, often through pain and defeat and suffering, to recover that initial relationship with the Self - the golden ball, if you will - although in a new and more conscious way. Each one of us had a golden ball when we were young, which was suddenly taken from us by fate or design, and here we are, at some stage in the process, whether we are in analysis or not, of trying to get it back. And it is possible. Fairy tales don’t lie. (Yes, it’s possible; but who’s willing to pay the price?)
Balls or spheres are also found in fairy tales representing another quality or function of the Self. The Grimms’ fairy tale The Three Feathers, #49, begins this way:
There was once a king who had three sons. Two were intelligent, but the third did not talk much and was stupid and was called Dummling. The king was old and weak and thought about his death and did not know which of his sons should inherit the kingdom. So he told them to go out into the world and the one who brought him the most beautiful carpet would be king when he died. To prevent quarreling, he went outside the castle, blew three feathers into the air and said: “As they fly, so you must go.” One feather went towards the east, the other to the west, and the third just a little way straight ahead, where it fell to the ground. So one brother went to the right, the other to the left, and they laughed at Dummling who had to stay where the third feather had fallen.
Marie Louise Von Franz tells us that the motif of blowing a feather to indicate the direction the sons should take was a well-known medieval custom in many countries. If someone did not know where to go, if they were lost at a crossroads or had no special plan, a person would take a feather, blow it and walk in whichever direction the wind took it. It was a very common kind of oracle by which you could be guided. But in northern countries and in certain Russian and Italian versions of this fairy tale, instead of feathers and arrows, or rolling apples, there were spheres and balls.
We mentioned that the Self, being the central regulating factor of the unconscious psyche, has an enormous number of different functional aspects. It sets the ego on its unique life path, it preserves the balance within the ego itself, as well as builds an ego-attitude in adulthood that enables the ego to relate to the Self without being overwhelmed by it.
Von Franz writes, “The symbol of the ball would represent more the capacity of the Self to effect movement out of itself. For the primitive mind the ball was obviously that object with an amazing propensity for moving along on its own volition. So the primitive might suppress that little factor that an initial push was needed, since for him the ball becomes that thing which can move without outside impetus, of its own accord; by its own inner life-impulse it moves and keeps moving through all the vicissitudes and frictions and difficulties of the material world.”
The ball stands for this very quality of the unconscious psyche; that being, the capacity for creating movement born out of itself. It is not a quality that simply reacts to already existing factors outside itself, but rather a quality that has the capacity to produce something new, and without a traceable causal impetus.
Von Franz observes, “We can analyze someone for a long time and the dreams seem to discuss certain obvious problems and the person feels all right, but suddenly he will have a dream out of the blue which starts something completely new. A new creative idea which one could not expect or explain causally, has arisen as if the psyche had decided to bring up something new, and these are the great and meaningful healing psychological events. The symbol of the sphere or the ball primarily means this. That is why so often in fairy tales the hero follows a rolling apple or a rolling sphere to some mysterious goal. He just follows this spontaneous self-impulsiveness of his own psyche to the secret goal.”
You will also notice that balls, when they roll, will often take the most direct route to reach its destination, will yieldingly follow the natural gradient of the landscape, the path of least resistance, and because of its perfectly round shape, will roll as true as true can be. These are additional characteristics of the Self at work in the psyche. Jung stated that the Self, the unconscious, does not deceive us. It may use language that is cryptic and symbolic, but its intent is not to disguise its message. It communicates as truthfully as it can using the language and methods it possesses. Its roll is direct and true.
I’m going to leave fairy tales now, with their symbolism of the ball itself and turn to an ancient Mayan myth found in the Popol Vuh which describes a ball game. The Popol Vuh, regarded as being the Mayan Bible, contains many stories - some about the creation of the world, others about the adventures and relationships between the gods and humans. One of the stories is about two twin heroes, Hunahpu and iXbalanque, whose fathers were ball players, seduced by the gods to play a ball game with them in the underworld, and with tragic results. Part of the story goes like this:
“In their net they caught the rat. And they grabbed him and tried to choke him.
‘I will not die by your hand! Gardening is not your job, but there is something that is,’ said the rat.
‘Where is what is ours? Go ahead and name it,’ the boys Hunahpu and iXbalanque told the rat.
‘Very well. It’s something that belonged to your fathers, named One Hunahpu and Seven Hunahpu, who died in iXibalba. What remains is their gaming equipment. They left it up under the roof of the house: their kilts, their arm guards, their rubber ball. But your grandmother doesn’t take these down in front of you, because this is how your fathers died.’
‘You know the truth, don’t you!’ the boys told the rat.
There was great joy in their hearts when they got word of the rubber ball.”
Popol Vuh, Part Three2 [We’ll come back to Hunahpu and iXbalanque in a minute. But first, I want to talk about ball games in general and about the particular ball game that Hunahpu and iXbalanque played.]
Humans beings have been playing ball games before and since the beginning of recorded history and in every corner of the world. Even today, nations, cities and individuals find themselves engaged in playing or watching ball games with a seriousness and enthusiasm bordering on religious possession. What in the human psyche precipitates and sustains this pervasive attraction to ball games? Why do the games themselves as well as the atmosphere that surrounds them so often exhibit a religious quality? In what ways do these ball games contribute to or detract from psychological development and individuation? How is one to understand the appearance of balls or ball games in dreams? And in what way does the objective psyche, the Self, use the images associated with ball games to communicate something meaningful to us?
There is a collective aspect to this process as well, and our attempts to heal our own splits can also impact a society or group which suffers the same. There is a very real religious facet present in ball games which leads me to seriously consider the assertion of these ancient myths and legends that the gods do in fact play ball.
The year is 1000 B.C.E. In the middle of a pristine Central American jungle a group of men, women and children are gathered around a large sunken court excavated in the shape of an elongated “I,” 492 feet long. The walls of the court are slightly slanted and composed of cut stone and mortar with plastered walls and floor. At the center point of the court on both sides, decorated rings of stone are perpendicularly embedded in the wall about eight feet from the ground. In addition, three stone floor markers can be seen, each bearing its own curious markings. Eighteen men, perhaps today composed of captives, nobility, professional players or even priest-kings, descend the stone steps to take their places on the court, 9 on each team. They are curiously dressed with heavy leather belts or (yokes) around their waist, stomach protectors marked by a phallic protrusion at the base, helmet-like headgear, and, either hanging on their belts or held in their hands, thin, flat, hatchet-shaped stones,engraved with very unusual scenes. Some of the carvings on these stones portray a head with footprints on both sides, or a bird pecking at a human skull, or heads wearing jaguar, snake, fish or bird helmets or some other strange anthropomorphic being.
A feeling of excitement and anticipation moves through the crowd comprised of both dignitaries and common people. A priest appears to ritually bless the 12 inch, 8 pound solid rubber ball. Then the game and the shouts of the crowd begin. The ball is knocked to and fro at a constant and sometimes frantic pace by the 18 men, who use only their torsos, hips, elbows and knees. The first point is scored as an opponent fails to keep the ball from hitting the ground. The players are fresh, so the movement of the heavy ball is quick and its impact brutal. Some are already showing signs of injury caused by the ball’s high velocity and their own entranced determination to strike the ball as hard as possible. Another point is awarded as the ball enters an opponents’ end-zone. The crowd cheers its side’s good fortune, but is soon quieted as the ball claims one of their players as its first fatality. A player is struck in the head by the ball and collapses immediately. He is removed and the game continues. Another point is scored as the ball touches one of the three engraved floor markers, another lost as a player inadvertently touches the ball with his hand. Or was it his foot? Everyone wonders whether today will be the day they will have the opportunity to witness the rarest of occurrences - the passing of the ball through one of the two small rings in the wall. It is said that if a player can accomplish this feat, his reward is all the clothes and jewelry the spectators are wearing. The game goes on and on amid the shouting, cries and betting taking place in the crowd above. Even the best conditioned of players begin to feel their bodies grow tired, their breath coming in gasps, their stamina all but depleted. Finally, the game ends. Bets are paid off as a closing ceremony is prepared by the priests. The people now gather to witness the solemn sacrifice of the vanquished. The victims are tied up in the form of a ball and rolled down the stairs of the court. The crowd then gathers to witness their beheading. Their severed heads will then be added to the cache of skulls near the court, already whitened by the sun. Afterwards, each returns to his home, perhaps richer or poorer than when he arrived.
This brief re-creation of the ancient Mesoamerican ceremonial ball game known to the Mayans as pok-ta-pok is based on hieroglyphs and engraved stones found at the archeological sites of numerous ball courts, accounts of the ball game portrayed in the Popol Vuh, and first-hand descriptions detailed by early European writers and explorers. It seems evident that the game performed different functions for those who played, watched or sanctified it. To children it may have been no more than a game, though a violent and bloody one; to the casual spectator it was a day to be vicariously caught up in the excitement and efforts of the players; to the gambler it was a way to possibly increase his fortune; to the priests it was a religious ceremony marked by its own symbolism, whether understood or veiled in mystery; to the players it was an opportunity to acquire fame and fortune, although there are suggestions that it was the victors who were sacrificed, rather than the losers.
But what was the meaning behind this game? What is so captivating about this ball game that it would continue to be played in some form throughout that region, even to the present day? It must speak to or express some desire or need deeply rooted within the human psyche. What might this desire or need be? And is it possible that there was some central archetypal field that colored and flavored all the functions and meanings surrounding the game? Some clues might be found from the several engraved stones depicting the game and its equipment, or in the very structure of the game itself.
Some of the early accounts reveal how important the gambling was that took place in conjunction with the game. Among the aristocracy, bets for gold, jade, emeralds, women, children, fields of maize, captives for sacrifice, land and even entire kingdoms were not uncommon. Even the peasants engaged in wagering for high stakes which included agricultural products, wives, children and even their own freedom. Heavy betting seemed to be an almost universal feature of the game. But even more precious than the objects wagered were the subjective stakes of honor, esteem and status associated with the wagering itself.
This emphasis on wagering is reminiscent of what Clifford Geertz calls “deep play.” Geertz describes deep play as “play in which the stakes are so high that it is irrational for the players to engage in it at all.”3 This can be seen in the Mesoamerican practice of wagering entire kingdoms, one’s freedom or even one’s life on the outcome of a single bet. Inherent in betting is the presence of chance. That which lies beyond one’s individual control, lies in the hands of the gods. When one makes a wager, especially at such high stakes, one invites the gods to sit in one’s presence, to participate in determining your future and well-being. Naturally, a sense of excitement and intoxication, as well as fear and trembling, arises when the gods appear. It is a numinous experience, a mixed experience that is pleasantly unsettling, addictive, because one never knows what will happen when the gods or the archetypal patterns we all carry are called forth.
Another function of the game has a more social aspect. The concepts of liminality, communitas and rites of passage, as put forth by Victor Turner and Arnold van Gennep, are all useful in understanding the ball game as a social ritual. Rites of passage are equated with those rituals or ceremonies in life which mark the passing of a person or group from one stage of life to the next. Birth, puberty, marriage, mid-life, divorce, retirement, and death are universally seen as life crises. In the Mesoamerican ball game there is a hint that a rite of passage is present for the young players who are seeking an initiation into manhood either through mastering and surviving the game for its own sake or as a test and preparation for becoming a warrior in the community. It has also been suggested that the game was treated as one of the ordeals visitors had to undergo in order to prove their worthiness in the eyes of their host. Furthermore, according to the mythology and early accounts, the game was also played by young, unmarried men of nobility, perhaps as a way to prove their ability to take their place among the ruling elite or to win a bride. For the spectators, especially the old among them, the game could have been a reminder or preparation for death.
Communitas, as defined by Victor Turner, describes the power of an event to bring together different, and perhaps antagonistic, elements of a community. The event is able to transport people out of the divisiveness of their ordinary life and to bond them together in a realm that transcends their differences. This can be seen in the Mesoamerican ball game itself, which was usually comprised of players from different levels of society, and in the crowd watching the contest, likewise comprised of both nobility and peasants. It was the transcendent state provoked by the game which allowed this coniunctio to take place. [Bar scene at the end of the movie Major League.]
Closely related to both rites of passage and communitas is the concept of liminality. This process, capable of being experienced by either an individual or group, begins when one leaves or is separated from the experience of ordinary life and passes over into a state where one is “betwixt and between”. The connection to the previous way of life has disappeared and the coming of a new way of life is not yet begun. One has entered a state of being suspended between the past and the future. Van Gennep describes this state as “marginal,” Turner as “liminal,” and Eliade as “sacred.” It is the world of the gods where orientation to time and place are lost or at least substantially blurred. Strange, otherworldly things can happen and no one leaves unaffected.
The Mesoamerican ball game was played and witnessed in a state of liminality. The very structure of the court itself and its placement between the central pyramids of the city invited the players and spectators to enter this sacred space. The fact that the game was played at specific and special times of the year added to the effect. The symbolically engraved equipment worn by the players, the rubber ball as the center of the fierce action, the brutal contest between the two teams, and the high-stakes gambling among the crowd, all served to separate one from ordinary life and to draw one into another time and place. And finally, the ritual beheading or sometimes the removal of the victim’s still beating heart by the religious representatives would remind all present that this experience was not of this world. How could anyone return to their “ordinary” life unaffected?
Another possible connection to this process of liminality might lie in the ornamental carvings found on stone representations of the yokes worn during the contests. These yokes are portrayed with drawings of the Marine Toad (Bufo Marinus). Although this species of toad is inedible, its does secrete a fluid through its skin which is hallucinogenic and was probably used in religious rituals which sought to produce an altered state of consciousness. It is therefore thought that perhaps the appearance of this toad on the equipment of the ball players connected the game to the religious system which sought a momentary descent into the Other World. This connection might lie in the other-worldly, trance-like state the ball players would assume while playing, which separated them from ordinary time and thrust them into sacred time.
It should be obvious that these ball games were more than recreational or ritual diversions. An event which evoked such a life and death struggle among its players and actually ended with a human sacrifice, must have carried great religious significance. The playing field itself was seen to represent a sacred precinct, a kind of temple. All the courts were consecrated to one of the Mesoamerican gods associated with that particular area. The architecture of the court mirrored the inherent duality seen in so much of the Mesoamerican religious thought and practices.
As mentioned earlier, the game was associated with various gods. Each court might have an image of the god of the game, a god of the ball (which was always blessed by a priest before the game), as well as the god of the court itself. Some of the gods represented at different ball courts were the god of dancing, gambling and sport, or the god of fire, or the god of plants, or the various gods of copulation and fertility. If these different gods of the ball game are seen as representations of various archetypal patterns from the collective strata of the unconscious, then we can better understand their numinous and dualistic nature, as well as the serious religious attention they commanded. And at the center of them all would be the sacred ball itself, as a symbol of the central archetype, the Self.
As would be expected, the Mesoamerican mythology continues the religious theme of the ball game. The Popol Vuh, the holy scripture of the Quiche Mayans written about 550 C.E., gives several accounts of ball games played between the gods themselves and between the gods and humans, with varying success. The third book of the Popol Vuh tells what we might term a story of individuation involving twin heroes who discover their true calling as ball players and then descend into the underworld to play the gods of death and disease to redeem their fathers, who were themselves ball players seduced by the gods. Through trickery, the twin heroes are at first able to keep the gods of death at bay. But eventually, realizing death’s inevitability, the twins willingly sacrifice themselves in order to attain, again through trickery, an even greater reward, to become the Sun and the Moon.
The Popol Vuh conveys in words and images what the game conveys in sight and action - a central theme which permeates the entire phenomenon. That theme is the human confrontation with the Unknown, whether it takes the form of courting chance and fate, the loss of life or property, a sacrifice to the gods of the underworld, or the experience of death itself. This is why the game possesses such a religious and numinous quality. The situation of the ball courts between the religious temples of the Sun and Moon sets the tone. The court itself with its slanted walls suggests the underworld opening its maws to devour anyone who would dare to play the game. This suggestion is echoed by the Popol Vuh which states that the ball game was played so close to the dwelling place of the gods of death that they could hear the ball game being played above.
The incessant betting taking place among the spectators and at such incredibly high stakes as loss of one’s property, family or freedom is not just an invoking of the gods of Fate, but a tempting of them as well. There is a numinous quality, a feeling of holy terror that accompanies surrendering oneself to the Unknown, opening up oneself to the gods of Fate, putting oneself into their power.
But what higher stakes were being played for on the court itself? There, the players literally risked life and limb. The fact that men voluntarily threw themselves with abandon into the path of a twelve inch, eight pound ball of solid rubber in an attempt to keep it airborne and moving toward some goal bespeaks the seriousness of the game. The players risked exhaustion, permanent disability, loss of esteem and death to play this ball game. Perhaps it was the liminality of the game itself that allowed them to do so, so caught up were they in the game’s intoxicating effect. Whatever the case, they played the game in such a state of possession that it may not have been difficult for the spectators to feel the presence of the gods themselves on the court below. The court itself already gave the appearance of being halfway between the everyday world and the underworld. Given the possessed state of the crowd, it could very well have seemed as though the gods of death had come up from their domain to join the players in the game.
And at the conclusion of the game, the ritual of beheading would have certainly impressed upon all involved that there are serious ramifications to playing with the gods. If those beheaded were the losers, then there were consequences and penalties. If those beheaded were the victors, then there were responsibilities and sacrifices. On some of the carved stones depicting the ritual of beheading there appear plumes of snakes issuing forth from the decapitated body. Perhaps this is suggesting the belief that even in death there are regenerative aspects, aspects long associated with the serpent. A sacrifice by the few can bring life to the many. The gods demand their due. But regardless of who was sacrificed, it remains that those who play the game with the gods of the underworld cannot escape unaffected.
Everything about the Mesoamerican ball game points to an encounter with the unknown and mysterious forces of the universe, especially the basic forces of life and death. For the Mesoamericans, the ball game was an attempt to play with or against these mysterious forces of the universe (or the psyche), these gods of life and death, and hopefully to learn or to win something from them in the end. Looking back, we might conclude that this was simply a brutal, and sometimes deadly, game. But to both the players and the spectators it was more than a game. They were calling forth and engaging the archetypes, in perhaps their most pristine forms. They were summoning, entertaining, and playing the gods. And at the very center of the game was the rubber ball, that symbol of the Self, which holds everything together and around which everything revolves.
Now, let’s look at some dreams. The first one comes from Bernard Malamud’s novel The Natural, which was later made into a movie starring Robert Redford. And by the way, the novel is much darker than the movie. It doesn’t have a Hollywood ending. The novel itself is a story of individuation. A young ball player makes the big leagues, and then, as a result of both innocence and inflation, is shot by a femme fatale, and only in midlife does he return to the game of baseball to recover what he lost. Does the tale sound familiar? As an older Roy Hobbs is riding the train to begin playing ball again, he has this dream.
“Roy shut his eyes to the sight because if it wasn’t real it was a way he sometimes had of observing himself, just as in this dream he could never shake off - that had hours ago waked him out of a sound sleep - of him standing at night in a strange field with a golden baseball in his palm that all the time grew heavier as he sweated to settle whether to hold on or fling it away. But when he had made his decision it was too heavy to lift or let fall (who wanted a hole that deep?) so he changed his mind to keep it and the thing grew fluffy light, a white rose breaking out of its hide, and all but soared off by itself, but he had already sworn to hold on forever.”
There is no attempt to interpret this dream in the novel. We are left with our own associations. What strikes you about the dream? What do you make of it?
Takes place at night. On a strange field. Golden baseball in his palm. Faced with a decision. He makes a decision to let go, but it’s too late. The ball becomes too heavy. When he decides to accept its heaviness, it becomes light. A white rose breaks out of its cover and it attempts to fly away. It cannot. Because he refuses to let go of it.
We’re going to look at a few dreams of a middle-aged man, or as many as time allows. And they are dreams in which the unconscious, the Self uses the image of baseball to communicate its message. But before we get to these dreams, I’d like to say a few words about how Jung understood the meaning and function of dreams.
The unconscious is amazing in its unlimited resourcefulness. It can use any person, object, place or activity to communicate its message to the ego. The unconscious often makes its appearance when there is an abaissement du niveau mental, although sometimes it will forcefully break through in spite of consciousness. It usually speaks to us, however, when we are asleep in the spontaneous, independent and often cryptic imagery we call dreams. As Jung explains, “Dreams are neither deliberate nor arbitrary fabrications; they are natural phenomena which are nothing other than what they pretend to be. They do not deceive, they do not lie, they do not distort or disguise. ... They are invariably seeking to express something that the ego does not know and does not understand.”4
As for the purpose of dreams, Jung suggested three possibilities. “If the conscious attitude to the life situation is in large degree one-sided, then the dream takes the opposite side. If the conscious attitude has a position fairly near the ‘middle’, the dream is satisfied with variations. If the conscious attitude is ‘correct’ (adequate), then the dream coincides with and emphasizes this tendency, though without forfeiting its peculiar autonomy.”5 The more immediate purpose of dreams, therefore, is to help in the natural, self-regulating process of the human psyche in order to maintain a certain degree of homeostasis or mental health. In addition to this self-regulation, dreams also assist in the process of individuation, where a person endeavors to become his unique self. It involves establishing a relationship with the unconscious, with the Self without surrendering to it completely. It involves relating to the collective, but not identifying with it. It involves trying to live one’s life with personal integrity and meaning, rather than as a caricature of cultural expectations.
One last view of Jung on the nature of dreams will be quite helpful here. This is Jung’s understanding of how dreams present an inner drama. “The whole dream-work is essentially subjective, and a dream is a theatre in which the dreamer is himself the scene, the player, the prompter, the producer, the author, the public and the critic.”6 The unconscious’ unlimited resourcefulness allows it to use any person, object, place or activity to communicate its message and to assist the process of individuation. And this includes the various games of playing ball. Following Jung’s idea of the dream as an inner drama, it should be possible to substitute for the image of the theatre that of the game of baseball. One could therefore say that the dream is a game, where the dreamer is the baseball, the bat, the glove, the field, the players, the umpires, the spectators and the very nature of the game itself.
Ray is a 40 year old man. He was a Catholic priest, who then began studying to become a psychotherapist. It was during this time that he also began a Jungian analysis and left the priesthood to marry. Ray was quite familiar with baseball, having played it since childhood, but he had not actually played the game during the last twelve years.
Ray had had a few seemingly insignificant dreams about baseball four years ago, the last one ending on October of that year. They were noted, but not given much attention. Then almost exactly a year later, again in October, Ray began having dreams about baseball that appeared at monthly intervals through January of the following year. The dreams tapered off until late September/early October of that year, when they suddenly reappeared again at weekly intervals. At the same time, Ray began to experience a very strong desire to begin playing the game once more, despite his age. Something was happening in Ray’s psyche that was being manifested on both a subjective and an objective level. Ray did in fact begin playing baseball again, even though he was the oldest player on the team. We might call this the “Roy Hobbs syndrome.”
What might have been the purpose or the effect of playing baseball again? One way to see this is as a reenactment technique of the symbolic dream imagery. Edward Whitmont speaks of this in his book The Symbolic Quest. “Awareness of the projections and symbolic meanings involved enables us to enact rather than blindly act out, that is, to give conscious expression to compelling urges within the scope of the possible, the constructive or at least the mutually acceptable.”7 James Hall echoes the sentiment when he speaks of enacting the unconscious material, even in physical forms.
“Fantasy is play,” he writes. “but it can also be harnessed to carry the contents of the mind and allow them to develop symbolically, to seek their existence in the outer world as symbols rather than as compulsions, neuroses, fears and fearful forms. ... The particular medium in which the symbol is embodied is not crucial. What does matter is that the dreamer puts something of himself into the creation or selection of the form, just as Jung made model canals in the mud on the lake shore. The largest resistance that must be overcome is the fear of thinking oneself foolish or being seen as silly, a persona anxiety.”8 In a sense, Ray chose to enact the dream imagery. He said he had thought the dreams would subside as a result of playing, as sometimes happens, but just the opposite occurred. The objective psyche continued to use the varied imagery of baseball to communicate and comment on Ray’s life situations.
I want to share with you a couple of Ray’s dreams. He brought in a total of 81, but I will concentrate specifically on those which were particularly meaningful to him: those which addressed his struggle with his own masculine development, his relationship to the church and his work as a psychotherapist.