Symbols from the Sauna: The Cross
In one of many conversations at the YMCA sauna or steam room, one Donald told me what the Cross means to him. Donald helped explain that there are two distinct symbols of the Cross. As one of the central images of Christianity and thus our country, I was surprised to hear that otherwise widespread symbols, with just one difference, can hold radically different meanings. With Donald’s clear explanation, I understand now the Cross as symbol represents either the living or dead Jesus Christ within each human being.
First, there is the Cross with Jesus Christ shown crucified upon it. If you look at those who wear necklaces and other imagery, some of them will have this Cross. Jesus, representing each and every person in the West, the Divine Child within each human, is seen as dead, in this depiction. Thus, the person has given themselves up to the material world. Donald believes this symbolizes that the person wearing the cross has also died, given in to their Shadow and lost the true message of Jesus. My readings of Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell connect this with refusing to face the Shadow within our psyche and refusing to take the Hero’s Journey, which is integration of the psyche.
In contrast is the empty Cross, with Jesus nowhere to be found. This Cross represents the living Christ, someone who has taken responsibility for their suffering. In other terms it could be refusing to give up personal truth or morals. Jesus represents the Hero within each and every human, transformed to help others by integrating their psyche first, helping themselves first. The living Christ integrates the masculine and feminine. In Christian terms the Holy Spirit, feminine, and the Father, masculine. Jesus lies in the middle of the trinity, the integration of every part within us, the completion of the Hero’s Journey. Thus, rather than the Father or Holy Spirit which is often worshiped, Christianity actually teaches that, if anyone, it is Jesus as the model to live by.
Just as in life, focusing on the masculine or feminine to the detriment of the other results in our destruction, and so Jesus is the model for the West’s Hero; while the Buddha is the model of the East’s Hero. We cannot live with only the masculine and feminine but need both, just as Carl Jung believed in his Anima or Animus concepts and Joseph Campbell in his Hero’s Journey steps Meeting with the Goddess and Atonement with the Father. This is integration.
I am now perplexed by those who wear the dead Christ figure, since they have no idea what they are actually wearing. This is not meant to be a judgement, rather a question of their self-awareness. This is the same lesson of the Ego, the Shadow, since it is often those of us who believe we are the most good, kind, decent, who have most become blind to the darkness we manifest but which cannot see, the true reflection in the mirror. In seeing those with Jesus dead on the cross, curiously inquire as to whether they seem to be living the example of Jesus, living personal truth or materialism’s; actualizing their truth outward through deeds and whether they seem to actually live Christian values or are simply saying hollow words.
This Donald fellow, wise as he is, seemed to imply those with the dying Christ as their Cross have died inside, given in to the material world, lost their truth, avoided their suffering to the enslavement of the destructive side of the Ego. This symbolic idea is not mine, it was given to me by Donald and now I share it here.
The Responsibility of Suffering
In the most succinct sense the Cross represents suffering, which is unique to every human being. We each come into adulthood, perhaps life, with experiences we cannot escape from, a story-line and memories and events we could not control or deal with in the chaos of childhood. Our present lives are a reflection of those decisions, nobody’s fault but our own. Nobody’s, but our own. The Cross symbolizes the choice to bear that suffering, to live regardless of the material world’s distractions, or to surrender to our suffering, and die amidst the many distractions of our world. For much of my adult life and before, I ignored this choice and ran as fast as I could. The Cross teaches me that to bear my personal suffering, rather than crumble under it’s weight, is to face it, take responsibility for it.
However, given the darkness in our world and given the reality that I do not know how long I have to live, the only reasonable choice is to carry my cross, for society as a whole to carry their respective crosses. Given each of us may die tomorrow having skeleton’s in our closets, what else might we do but clean out that closet just in case the specter comes our way on the morrow?
Although I often complain about much ill protruding in our world, I am a hypocrite to do so while also running from my fears, the conditions unique to me which result in suffering. A broken world without reflects a broken world within. Thus, if we each wish to build a better world, those of us not so doing currently are most responsible for starting, within, right now.
This concept of Carrying our Cross is what Viktor Frankl suggested people do in his seminal work Man’s Search for Meaning, and he rationalizes it in terms of the statement “A man who has a why to live can bear with any how.” Carrying my cross, bearing my suffering, involves a quest for seeking not pleasure, but meaning and purpose, with the hard part actually doing something with that purpose. It is further integrating the Shadow to avoid egocentricism, which has been the factor most preventing me from moving forward. It involves living a life in accord with my values, rather than a parent’s or friend’s or the material world’s, or someone or something else which might lead us astray, like the many forms of addiction.
And just as others helped Jesus carry his cross–when others help us with our suffering–for brief spurts, as this painting shows, the burden ultimately lies solely on our backs in the end, at death, as crucifixion.
The Living and Dead
Those wearing the living Christ, the empty cross, would seem to be those who are actual Christians, living Christians. I find that many Christians with the empty Cross tend to hide this symbol if they do wear it, yet the connection makes sense, consistent with depth-psychoanalysis such as found Carl Jung or Donald Kalsched, and Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey as journey to integrate the disconnected human psyche. The choice of life or death on the Cross comes at first in childhood and then throughout life, and manifests as the choice between Hero and Monster, personal truth or buckling to materialistic pleasure.
This particular Church’s photo conceptualizes the Cross as empty.
Since it seems an unconscious identification with either figure, I imagine those running from their suffering through distractions and addiction will have the dead Christ on the Cross, while those Christians who face it will have the living Christ on the Cross. Consider why one person says “Jesus Christ died for our sins,” not realizing that Jesus is not responsible for their sins: we each are, individually. Notice the Catholic Church idolizes the dead Christ on the Cross, for they are a corrupt institution. The Church which published this photo seems to hold the same view.
The same could be said of the many who are not Christians, since avoiding suffering or facing it is our primary choice of being alive on this Earth regardless of how you identify spiritually, or don’t.
In my life I have too often chosen the monster, giving in to addiction and material distractions. To many extents I still do. The opposite is to actualize our individual gifts into the world, by engaging with others and writing in my case, to not give in to addictions. For me this could also involve volunteering more, engaging in other creative pursuits, and listening to others tell their stories rather than obsessively trying to tell mine. It also personally involves writing about topics not as exciting to others as the travelling pilgrim’s life might have been. Actualizing our gift for ourselves is itself therapeutic, restorative, regardless if we get the validation we endlessly seek; for true validation, true love, only comes from within, never from without.
Perhaps I may one day walk again, but the rich world of symbols are for me an outlet as is every myth as well as the Hero’s Journey, since they explain the common patterns underlying the human psyche shared by everyone. This is part of my Hero’s Journey should I choose to actualize myself externally and not run; the boon, gift Campbell talks about is, for me, writing and listening to others’ stories, to whatever minute avail that results.
Psilocybin and the Cross
A particularly significant experience with psilocybin two months ago held powerful imagery for me that rang of biblical overtones. For some reason during the experience I sought to repeatedly face personal suffering, through trials such as my Trial by Briar of climbing through the blackberries, Leaping from the Bridge, shedding my clothes and becoming naked, and other various challenges created by myself; not by the Shaman, who led me onwards but simply sat and watched. In other words I found that the mushroom teaches those who ingest it to face their darkness, their Shadow, their Ego. Science and even now some historians suggest psilocybin or other psychedelics play an integral part in facing this side of ourselves we do not wish to see, playing a role in past spiritual traditions, too.
I did not open the Bible until this year, the 31st of my life. Yet, in reading the Bible and talking to others, I find the associations between psilocybin and the Cross to be inseparable. Perhaps this is because I was raised in a culture in which Christian symbols reign, regardless of the fact that I never paid attention to them or understood them for most of my life. In reading the Bible and other books, my conclusion is that psilocybin is a means through which to face our suffering, which is the Christian form of diminishing destructive egocentrism. Although I spontaneously took the cross position of surrender under psilocybin’s influence, particularly when I was in the nude up in Sequim, I did not know why. I know now that the mushroom is a teacher of bearing our personal suffering, unique to each of us.
John M. Allegro’s rich historical work suggests this is because psilocybin and the Cross are inseparable symbols in The Sacred Mushroom and The Cross. Other relevant books are The Psychedelic Gospels: The Secret History of Hallucinogens in Christianity and Food of the Gods: The Search for the Original Tree of Knowledge, A Radical History of Plants, Drugs, and Human Evolution. All of these books in their respective ways promote the importance of psychedelics and psilocybin specifically as endemic to teaching humanity about their dark sides, their Ego. This as an idea is intricately connected with early Christianity and the Cross symbol as teaching about our personal suffering, and the means to overcome it. For those who have been unwilling to face their Ego, psychedelic mushrooms, early Christians possibly found, is a way to show us.
Allegro, J.M. (2009). The Sacred Mushroom and The Cross. Gnostic Media Research & Publishing.
Campbell, J. (2008). The hero with a thousand faces. Novato, CA: New World Publications.
Frankl, V. (1978). Man’s search for meaning. Beacon Press.
Jung, C. G. (2008). Modern man in search of his soul. Dell, W.S., trans. Harcourt Brace.