The late Irish philosopher, poet and shaman John Moriarty was a Jungian figure and although he hardly mentioned the Swiss psychologist in his writings he constantly drew upon archetypes to illustrate his themes.
His autobiography Nostos could be read as a diary of individuation during which the floodgates to his unconsciousness were opened and almost swept him away in a deluge of libido. Jung defines an archetype as an image that exists within the collective consciousness in-potentia. Incarnations of these archetypes keep recurring throughout history that can be seen as a representation of human experience and which are personified in the stories and characters we find in religions, myths, legends and art.
While the archetypes that dominate much of Moriarty's writing, particularly in his two most accessible books Dreamtime and Invoking Ireland are predominantly Celtic, Moriarty also draws copiously on myths, legends and religions from all over the world. His most obscure works are a trilogy -- or probably more accurately a triptych -- with the overarching title Turtle Was a Long Time Gone, derived from a myth found in Siberia and among the Maidu Indians of California. The dense Night Journey to Buddh Gaia takes the Egyptian Book of the Dead as its starting point before.
Again and again he reiterates his central message that humanity has taken a wrong turn somewhere along the way and is not paying attention to what the myths from every continent and the characters who inhabit them are telling us about ourselves.
In Invoking Ireland, Moriarty, who died in 2007, focuses almost entirely on Irish myths to try to illustrate his belief that there has been a schism between what we as humans instinctively are and what we have become and how we choose to live. In it he becomes a character living in a parallel Ireland called Fódhla, lamenting the wrong turn that his fellow countrymen and the rest of the Western world has taken.
For Moriarty the mythological peoples of the Tuatha Dé Dannan and The Fomorians personify the schism. The Tuatha Dé Dannan were a highly enlightened people who "spent their time acquiring visionary insights and foresights and hindsights, acquiring the occult knowledge and the occult art of the wizard, the druid, the witch, these, together with all the magical arts, until, masters in everything concerning them, they had no equals in the world" (Invoking Ireland P25). It was their "particular delight to be of one mind with the wind and rain"... "you could walk through the land and not know they were in it".
By contrast the brutal Fomorians are out to exploit nature, rather than be a part of it. They had features "hanging like seaweed when the tide is out, their tongues the colour and shape of cormorant tongues, the clamour of the ocean their talk". Their arrival in Ireland saw "forests cut down, rivers rerouted, towers everywhere, it was soon clear it must come to a fight" (P28).
But in the epic battles that followed it was ultimately the Fomorians who were victorious and who dominate the psychic and physical makeup of the modern Irish while the Tuatha Dé Dannan became spectral figures "harmonised to all things [they] were of one mind with the wind and rain. Now again, you could walk through the land and not know they are in it". (P28)
Despite the Fomorian domination of modern Ireland, Moriarty in his writing contends that there is still enough of the Dé Dannan in us that we can sometimes hear and see beyond the coarse world of Ireland to the more subtle one of Fódhla and to the parts of us that still inhabit it. "Yet we a rougher people who came later to Ireland, out alone in lonely places we will sometimes hear their [Tuatha Dé Dannan] music".
It is not just the music of the Tuatha Dé Dannan that Moriarty believed we can still catch snatches of, but also their wisdom that lies buried within our collective consciousness.
He quotes WB Yeats: "I know now that the revelation is from the self, but from that age-long memoried self, that shapes the elaborate shell of the mollusc and the child in the womb, that teaches birds to make their nest; and that the genius is a crisis that joins that buried self for certain moments of our trivial daily mind" (Invoking Ireland P92) .
I met Moriarty in 2001 in Killarney, Co Kerry. The town is geared towards tourism with hotels, restaurants, bars and gift shops peddling a 'begorrah' version of Ireland in which mythology is reduced to leprechauns and faeries for the tens of thousands who come to the south west of the country every year to experience the genuinely spectacular mountain and coastal scenery of Cork and Kerry.
But, you never have to go too far to get into the pagan wilderness where Moriarty lived just a few miles outside Killarney on the side of Mangerton Mountain.
With a shock of white hair, ancient lived-in eyes and a mildly eccentric dress sense, he was someone who caused people to do a double take as he passed by. He exuded an easy-going and unselfconscious charm which enthralled the waitresses in the restaurant where we ate and they seemed to squabble over who was going to serve him.
Our conversation was an almost hypnotic experience as Moriarty intoned his sentences in a rich north Kerry accent, repeating key phrases two or three times to milk the full impact of the point he wanted to make, almost as if he was mimicking the chanting shamans who dominated so much of his writing. Occasionally he would drop in a 'cúpla focal" ('a few words of Irish') -- a language that like so many indigenous languages throughout the world is facing extinction as a living means of everyday communication.
He had eight books published during his life, and one posthumously. They all drew liberally upon the legends of Ireland, Europe, classical Greece, American Indians (north and south), Australian Aborigines, Ancient Egypt, Islam, Asia and the Christian Gospels as Moriarty sought to articulate the innermost mysteries of the human psyche.
When I met him it was to talk about Nostos, published in March 2001 -- a huge sprawling volume of autobiography containing nearly 700 pages of tightly crammed text, with no chapter breaks, setting out many of the ideas that he had already rehearsed in his previous books, but in a "biographical context".
He was born in Kerry in 1938, educated at University College Dublin, lectured English Literature in Canada for six years before dropping out of academia and the modern world in the early 1970s to live in Connemara -- another huge tract of, mostly, unspoilt mountains, bogland, indigenous forest and jagged coastline off Ireland's western cost -- where he worked as a gardener.
"I baptised myself out of culture in Connemara and started to remake my mind again with new sensations, sensations the colour of red stragnum and the sound of the stream, the colour of sunset, the calling of a fox, the smell of heather," he told me.
"I went through libraries, I had been to the galleries and been to the concert halls and I was literally glutted with culture, I had to come out and put my head in a stream in a bog in Connemara and let it all wash out and start again and remake my mind."
He moved to Kerry in 1995 and when I met him he lived in a small book-filled house on the slopes of Mangerton Mountain about five miles outside of Killarney. He said he felt like an exile living in modern Ireland and only came down from his retreat to give an occasional lecture or to shop for groceries.
He continued: "An old name for Ireland is Fódhla and I live in a dimension of the land of Ireland called Fódhla and when I am coming down to Killarney I feel like showing a passport sometimes because I'm crossing into Ireland."
Moriarty's first book was called Dreamtime after the Australian Aboriginal myth that their ancestors literally dreamed the Earth, as we know it, into existence. He told me that his writing was an attempt to bring this concept into an Irish and European context.
"I wanted to drop out of official Europe and find out is there an Irish Dreamtime in the way that Australian Aborigines walk their Songlines. I feel that is where I live. I live in Ireland's Dreamtime, I live in Europe's Dreamtime. It is a dropping out of history and your responsibility to history, returning to the Dreamtime that was before history and so it was an attempt to go back and walkabout in Ireland's Dreamtime," he told me.
For Moriarty, myths were a means of articulating the innermost concerns of the human psyche and their retelling was a path to self-knowledge.
"The Minotaur myth to me is an enlightenment about the beast within me. It pictures the beast in me, it pictures who I phylogenetically am rather as opposed to who acidicly I am. They let me see myself in my deepest impulses, my darkest impulses," he told me.
"I open my door to the wisdom of humanity with no customs and excise stuff. If I can touch the pulse of a myth or an Upanishad or of a Sutra from the Buddhist thing, or the Tibetan Book of the Dead then that speaks a truth to me. The truth isn't tribal, there are tribal truths, but my door is open and I listen extra-territorially, I listen outside of my own territory.
"We have not taken what the myths have said to us seriously. Now some of them are stupid and silly but there are quite a few which to me are places of great revelation and enlightenment and they enable me to know me and to inherit me.
"I am taking responsibility for the darkest impulses within me and saying 'John ask this much of yourself but don't ask that much of yourself, don't stir up the beast within yourself. You're not going to like what you find, you can be terrified by what you find'."
" Moriarty had to spend many years battling the "beasts" within himself, an experience that he said could have "blown me away."
He continued: "In the way that there is a physical appendix and that siphons off the poisons which if they burst would flood the body and poison the body, I think there is a karmic appendix and the karma of lifetimes is stored in it and a time comes in one incarnation or another that karmic appendix bursts and your mind is flooded with bad karma and there were nights when I felt that the windows of my bedroom were fogged up with the stuff that was coming out of me -- it was a real witches cauldron.
"There was a time when I saw three doors before me. A door into a monastery, a door into a high security prison -- because it was within me to commit the ultimate crime, the big crime, the kind of impulses that would enable one to commit the ultimate crime were at large in me -- and I saw a door into a mental home."
Moriarty moved to England and took refuge in an Oxfordshire monastery, living there for 18 months as a layman, participating fully in the monastic routine.
He said he felt as if he went through "fire and purification" and that in a way the books he wrote later when he returned to Ireland were part of the healing process.
"It was very important to speak it and to name it... I had to learn the language and the vocabulary and a lot of the vocabulary was the old myths and then the mystics the Upanishads and the Sutras of Hinduism and Buddhism and the Christian mystics and the Muslim mystics," he told me.
Moriarty had plans to open what he called "a hedge school" in Kerry based on a monastic discipline. He told me that he wanted it to become a place of learning where people could come to study mythical and mystical texts, "particularly the Hindu Upanishads which reflect on the nature of man and the universe".
The Upanishad may not fall within the canon of texts studied in most traditional western monasteries, but as Moriarty said he wanted to "listen to the wisdom of the world." He continued: "I don't think within the tribe, I haven't walled myself in to the tribal thinking. I listen to the wisdom of humanity."
Moriarty plundered the writings of philosophers, poets and mystics outside his 'tribe'. In Invoking Ireland he quotes Jacob Boehme: "In man is all whatsoever the sun shines upon and heavens contains, also hell and all the deeps."
Moriarty elaborates: "In other words, we aren't only a microcosm, the universe in little. In us also are the trans-cosmic immensities as heaven and hell, and the deeps as well, all of them." On the same page he quotes Gerard Manley Hopkins: "O the mind, mind has mountains, cliffs of fall/Frightful, sheer, no-man fathomed..."
Joseph Conrad: "The mind of man is capable of anything, because everything is in it, all the past as well as the future."
And, as he often did in his other books, repeatedly, from Friedrich Nietzsche: "I have discovered for myself that the old human and animal life, indeed the entire prehistory and past of all sentient beings, works on, loves on, hates on, thinks on in me."
Moriarty's life, as depicted in his books, can be read as a Jungian exercise in integrating the unconscious (Tuatha Dé Dannan) aspects of himself with the coarser conscious (Fomorian). It is a venture fraught with risks and which, as described vividly in Nostos, left Moriarty floundering on the verge of one of Hopkins's precipices and occasionally tipping over into psychosomatic chaos that left him both mentally and physically debilitated.
But while the process is a risky one it is something that Jung argued is a necessary one if we are to reach our full potential. For him consciousness is comprised of the 'ego', that aspect of us that is defined by the world we live in and is a result of experiencing everyday reality, while the unconsciousness is the domain of the 'self'.
In Moriarty's world the ego could perhaps be personified by the Fomorian archetype and the self by the Tuatha Dé Dannan. In his commentary on Jung's work Anthony Storr, quoting the psychologist, writes: "The goal toward which the individuation process is tending is 'Wholeness' or 'Integration': a condition in which all the different elements of the psyche, both conscious and unconscious, are welded together. The person who achieves this goal possesses 'an attitude that is beyond the reach of the emotional entanglements and violent shocks -- a consciousness detached from the world'."
Individuation, in Jung's view, is a spiritual journey; and the person embarking upon it, although he might not subscribe to any recognised creed, was nonetheless pursuing a religious quest. By paying careful attention to the unconscious, as manifested in dream and fantasy, the individual comes to change his attitude from one in which ego and will are paramount to one in which he acknowledges that he is guided by an integrating factor which is not of his own making." (The Essential Jung, P229).
Invoking Ireland can be read as a symbolic journey of Jungian individuation in which Moriarty opened his consciousness to unconsciousness content and cast himself as a man who lives in Fomorian Ireland who is given a glimpse of Fódhla and occasionally even ripped out of everyday reality and relocated into the Ireland of the Dé Dannan.
Quoting Rilke he wrote: "However vast outer space may be, yet with all its sidereal distances, it hardly bears comparison with the dimension, with the depth dimension of our inner being, which does not even need the spaciousness of the universe to be within itself almost unfathomable." (Invoking Ireland P201/202).
John Moriarty wrote up to the end of his life and died on June 1, 2007 from cancer.
His books are all published by Lilliput Press. Dreamtime and Invoking Ireland are probably the best starting points, Nostos and its sequel What the Curlew Said are engaging but heavy going while the Turtle trilogy and Night Journey to Buddh Gaia require serious commitment and perseverance.
I like this interview with Irish comedian Tommy Tiernan which gives a good sense of Moriarty's intense character.