Symbols and Psychiatry


Corn snake, kco051316

Ten years ago this month, I had just retired my medical and DEA licenses, in search of better ways to inspire people regarding the mind and its potential.  A long-time student of symbolism, I write daily in my journal and regularly include references to astrology, mythology, religion, dreams, and other symbolic languages.  These universal concepts fall loosely into Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung’s idea of a “collective unconscious” and of “archetypes.”  As most people probably know, Jung was a protege of Sigmund Freud, father of modern psychiatry, whose The Interpretation of Dreams, published in 1900, rocked the scientific world and initiated the field of psychiatry and psychoanalysis.

The following excerpts from my November, 2007 diary show how I play around with symbolism to help develop a deeper appreciation for everyday life.


Tuesday, November 20, 2007 – I believe if the student fails, the teacher fails more, because the teacher is paid to teach.  The student (ideally), pays to learn.  This is why I’ve never believed in tenure and probably why I don’t believe in marriage or other chains on the future.  As an astrologer, I don’t believe in predictions either, but astrologers as a group would disown me for saying this.  They thrive on making predictions, and people expect them to do it, but no one can say that predictions are consistent with free will.

You have to be a free thinker to understand how limiting predictions are.

This moment, as I sit in my recliner on this beautiful sunny day, overlooking vast expanses of marsh and blue sky, I have access to all time, depending on my focus.  It can come as dream, memory, fantasy, association, feeling, impression, dimly or readily perceived.  A book once read is forever a part of my experience, because I have invested the personal effort to make it so.  A book once written is part of everyone’s experience, whether direct or indirect, as knowledge brought through on the verbal place is “thicker” and more physical than the more ethereal realm of imagination.  How can I know before I read a book how it will change my life?


Thursday, November 22, 2007 – I’m approaching my multiple goals in piecemeal fashion.  When everything seems to be at beginning stages, as now, or beyond my capabilities, I feel frustrated and at odds with myself.  Re-doing things makes me feel like Penelope, Odysseus’ wife in The Odyssey of Homer, who undid her father-in-law’s shroud every evening to avoid having to marry any of the moochers who invaded her home as soon as Odysseus stayed gone too long.

I used to think Penelope was a sap, but undoing is a matter of perception, and if you enjoy the weaving and undoing for its own sake, it is no longer a waste of time.  Here we have the clash of the results-oriented and the process-oriented approach.  Also apparent is the stated vs. actual purpose.  Penelope stated she wanted a shroud.  She actually wanted to stall for time, so the actual purpose was met.

She lived in a time when women were possessions, and we have that subversive belief still, although no one admits it.  Marriage is a testament to the people-ownership concept.  While presumably it’s a mutual ownership, no one expects men to be as faithful as women, although this is a generalization and less true than in the past.  In the great sexual shuffling of today, men and women seem equally unfaithful.

Probably few perceive the ownership attitude as clearly as I, the target of so many who want to own by any means available.  Insurance companies, government, bankers, stockbrokers, businessmen, acquaintances, friends, family, partners–all want an advantage and will look for or create excuses to cross the line of equality, move in and take over.

Am I bitter and cynical?  Yes.  I don’t like feeling this way, knowing it only hurts me to have this attitude.  Like it or not, I am a herald, of sorts, meaning I search restlessly for higher and more comfortable ground, especially mentally.  Those who would control will seek first to control the mind.

I can’t control my own mind, nor do I want to.  I like its free ranging ability and thrive on the little lessons obtained from every facet of my life.

How would I know about undoing if I did not live it, feel the emotions associated, know the practice from mythology and the term from psychiatry?

Unraveling a sweater – which I’ve already done once with this one because I didn’t like the stitch – brings many facets into play.

How would someone else handle it?  Who knows?  Most people would not attempt to knit a sweater at all, I suspect, and this is my contention with “most people.”

Nor will “most people” appreciate the value of the process as a means of showing how to solve problems, because this is my real purpose.  Rather than start over, I can adapt mid-sweater and potentially turn a mistake into a success.


Monday, November 26, 2007 – I’ve retired my medical license to become a New Age Profit . . . er . . . Prophet, for the Spirit of Capitalism.

I cut my fangs on Telluride politics and other stories from the Serpents of the Modern Caduceus.  What if there were two serpents in the Garden of Eden, and they ran the interlopers out, better to rest in peace without getting trampled?  Then they can bask in the sun of the Garden, eating of their favorite fruit, the apples from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.

Now that Adam and Even have departed in search of something better, the wise snakes may rest assured the tree won’t be cut down to build a house, to hold squealing brats who like to torture snakes for fun.  Minimal risk of getting eaten for supper or skinned for belts and purses.  Why, now that God has expelled these demons from Heaven, the snakes are ecstatic.

Unfortunately, the Garden of Eden isn’t quite as lively as when the humans were around.  They provided entertainment, if only by making God mad.  We snakes can make God mad without even trying.  All we had to do was show him how dumb his latest invention was, and he threw them out and has been moping around ever since, feeling guilty about over-reacting.  Now, look at the mess man has made of his lives.

All we said was “Wise up.”  We didn’t say do it the hard way.  No.  That was Adam’s choice, to do it the hard way.

We snakes wise up the easy way.  When our skins get too small, we shed them and slither on out to greater dimensions of girth and wisdom.

Yes, snakes are hated and feared, because we are so smart.  We see life from the ground up, and we know where our support and strength lie.  Our raw intelligence knows its own turf and doesn’t seek to intrude on that of others.  Snakes don’t go looking for trouble, unless it’s entertaining trouble that enhances our wisdom and gets a potential threat redirected into other dimensions, like hell on earth.

27 thoughts on “Symbols and Psychiatry

  1. navasolanature

    There is great clarity on your reflections and I am fascinated by Jung and the idea of a collective unconscious. I love the way you look at how Penelope and the undoing is just a matter of perception and of course snakes too.

    1. katharineotto Post author

      Thank you for reading and for your comment. I approach these topics tentatively, wondering if my wild imaginings make any sense to anyone else.

      In thinking more about the collective unconscious, I’ve started asking myself what do all cultures share, in terms of symbols. The sun and moon are obvious examples so might fall naturally into the collective unconscious pool.

      1. navasolanature

        Yes, I read somewhere about day and night, light and dark. And we are not adapted to the night so it’s more dangerous for our species. So possibly some of the earliest metaphors.

  2. Rosaliene Bacchus

    Lots of food for thought, Katharine.

    “A book once read is forever a part of my experience, because I have invested the personal effort to make it so.”
    ~ As an avid reader from an early age, I share your experience of the power of books. They helped to shape my vision of the world I live in.

    The institution of marriage within a Christian context remains one of male ownership. The woman has little or no control over her body.

  3. Sha'Tara

    Well now… what do you call 500 institutions at the bottom of the ocean? A good start. I enjoyed reading your twists and turns here. I have another “interpretation” for the role of snakes, or “the snake” in the garden. Maybe I’ll post that thought… Someone said, the unexamined life isn’t worth living. Sadly the world is rife with unexaminers, people who believe they know who they are when it’s all made up of others’ thoughts, direction and expectations. The moment we know who we are I’d say that’s the moment we stop being alive. Life is a quest, and a questioning of everything offered as fact, including what I offer myself, or others, as fact: fact today, bullshit tomorrow. “Grow up!” should be out daily exhortation against unexamination.

    1. katharineotto Post author

      Once again, we are on the same wavelength. You’re affirming my recent revelation that there are no ultimate answers, that all is a process of becoming. We can never completely know ourselves, because each experience changes us in unforeseeable ways. I also agree with “grow up,” and believe immaturity is the biggest problem humanity faces today. Mature adults who have not become ossified are rare, indeed.

  4. juliecroundblog

    How sad to still think of marriage as a form of ownership rather than the best method to bring new life into the world. I can think of no greater joy than to see one’s children reflecting what they have learned and bringing up their own progeny to face the world with kindness and confidence.I know it doesn’t work out like that for many people and some parents fail and some children suffer but our lives must have a purpose and I believe it is to try to make the world a better place. I realise we are failing in many areas but to dismiss marriage, instead of recognising that each of us gives up a little freedom to gain a lot of shared experiences is to negate the fact that most animals, and we are animals, act in the same way.Is it only humans who feel they can exist in isolation? We have created societies because we want to be part of a group.We invented marriage because we wanted a recognised way of bringing up children. I fear for humanity if this structure is destroyed.

    1. katharineotto Post author

      I make a distinction between commitment and marriage. When there is commitment, as monogamous animals show, you don’t need the institution of marriage, supposedly. Why should you seek the permission of church or state to formalize the commitment?

      I realize this is idealistic, and given our social society, it makes practical sense if you want children, to formalize the marital bond. But a process-oriented approach–the belief that you can work things out as they arise–seems more flexible, in theory, than the “Until death do us part” notion that makes some marriages seem more like bondage than mutual love.

  5. ᛋᛠᛉ

    You give a lot to chew on. I generally don’t try and change people’s minds about things with polemics, it’s a sure loser. However on marriage, I will agree with you that in the past there have been abuses. As with any system. And were the tables turned and women ruled the roost, I’d expect we’d see women to turn things to their favour. I think it’s human nature to get the best out of a bargain, even if it hurts someone you’re supposed to love. Maybe it’s the reptilian layer of the brain. That being said: institutes are there for those who want them. I’m a married man, which should make it obvious my wife is a married woman. I don’t know what it’s like to “date” as a woman, but I remember hating with a passion the dating scene. Especially the online one. The system shoehorns us into the little boxes and makes doing things like grandpa would have impossible. No, that’s a lie, inordinately difficult. I try to tell my younger friends that women are tired of the commercial dating scene too, but it’s hard for them to listen. Anyway- point is: I get what you mean about selling yourself. I think it goes both ways, there’s a long list of benefits I as a man am expected to yield (at least by the standard I feel is “natural”) that is made hard by our economy. But I also would never advocate infidelity, in that it’s a break of one’s word. Anyway.

    Teachers. That’s another thing that gets me. It’s a noble thing , maybe. But teachers are hard on themselves. They forget that their pupils must have a desire to learn. If they don’t consent to, there’s little the teacher can do. Now, I think of that from the perspective of “State” education. In College, Trade and other post-graduate school I believe consent is implied. Unlike kindergarten through high school.

    But really, I came here for the snakes. Which shouldn’t be a surprise. You have a very interesting take. I’d never considered the idea of there being more than one. But why not? Some traditions seem to have more than one Woman – Lilith being Eve’s rebellious antecedent and all. Was there another Adam? Did Lilith eat him for being a dink? Who knows? I don’t. I do have my own peculiar beliefs regarding Eve that are too autistic to get into in full, and you seem like a nice lady so I won’t ruin your comment field, but if you’re ever interested they’re in my archives. The long and short is I believe that Eve was an avatar of Sophia realising Her origin through initiation at having eaten the apple. I swear I won’t spam you with infinite links, but I will leave this – it’s to a poem.

    Poem: Ode to the Perennial Sophia

    1. katharineotto Post author

      I appreciate any perspective, because it enlarges my own, even if it leaves me confused for a time.

      It would have been nice to have found a soul mate, but I since I don’t believe in infidelity or divorce, it was unlikely that I would meet anyone I could dance with for life. Maybe I’m just asexual, or too freedom-loving to promise forever.

      I enjoy reading your blogs and comments. Your recent blog about names has inspired me to follow up on that subject, once I’ve taken mental space and time to ponder.

      1. ᛋᛠᛉ

        I’m sorry things didn’t go your way. My wife and I handfasted, although we made the lifetime promise, the traditional mode is a yearly ceremony to renew vows for as long as the marriage produces good fruit. I guess that’s what the Celts did leading up to Christianity.

        Thanks, let me know what you think when you’ve taken your time.

  6. ᛋᛠᛉ

    P.S.: are you my Austrian traffic? I don’t mean anything by asking, it’s simply that I find folk from your area are given to embracing long thought-trains, whereas in my area we are typically not. I have offended and/or amused many with mine, but have often found that the Germans/Austrians/Swiss (from menial experience) are often very detailed thinkers.

    1. katharineotto Post author

      No. I live in Savannah, Georgia, but I’ve been to Austria and liked its pristine mountainous atmosphere. At the moment, in 90 degree weather, high humidity, and a thriving entomological population, I miss the mountains of Austria, Colorado, and even North Carolina, where I have also lived.

      I worked in Maine for three months in 1995, during the autumn, in Ft. Fairfield, with my apartment in Presque Isle. I liked Maine, too, and the New England attitude of self-sufficiency.

      1. ᛋᛠᛉ

        My apologies! I should have remembered. New England is a pretty cool place – but I am of course, quite biased. I strongly suspect I would dislike that weather in Georgia. We have 70 and humid and I was over it, Friday.

      2. katharineotto Post author

        No apologies necessary. I like to think ofyself as a cosmopolitan person, but I am rooted, like a tree, to the family homestead. I keep coming home, but have spent many years in various other places.

      3. ᛋᛠᛉ

        Ah trees. There are places I’d like to see, but my resources are better spent at home, keeping the wife fat and happy and my son growing upright and learning proper. It’s an easy choice to make, but someday I’d love to get a beat up RV and take the family on a tour of America/Canada. Drive By Education. (My crackpot Homeschool dream, if home was an RV for a few weeks or months.)

      4. katharineotto Post author

        I loved RV living. I was living in NYC, met my longest-term boyfriend, then we left our jobs and travelled in my parents’ self-contained mini-bus westward. We lived in the RV for the summer, mostly around Telluride, Colorado, did a lot of hiking and backpacking. Romey liked fishing.

        After the summer was over, we returned the RV to Savannah and moved to Telluride and lived together for three years.

        The itinerant life was great, especially for that time of our lives (25-35, more or less). I miss it and daydream of being a perpetual wanderer, with no possessions except a toothbrush and a rice bowl, like a Buddhist monk, I imagine. Maybe a cape for covering and protection from elements.

      5. ᛋᛠᛉ

        Ah. That sounds like a good life. I won’t lie. There are days where I want to throw the family in a van and keep driving. I’d miss my gym, my books and trees but I can’t deny that the sense of adventure, freedom from care and lack of strangling roots could be something. I like to think of the RV as today’s sexed up covered wagon.

      6. katharineotto Post author

        Good analogy to covered wagons, but those were usually one-way trips. There are advantages to rootlessness and to roots, but life is usually long enough to try both ways.

    2. katharineotto Post author

      P.S. I like long thought trains, and have always been a voracious reader and reflecter on what I read, but reading requires time to relax from more pressing concerns.


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