Fantasy and SF, the Sequel: Sex and Spirit

David Hartwell wittily tells us that ‘The Golden Age of Science Fiction is Twelve’ (1996), so it shouldn’t surprise us that where we find sf and fantasy, we find sex — adolescence is the onset of the sex drive’s attempts to complete itself, and also of the romantic inner impulses, so hard to fulfill, which seek to link sex with the noble, the beautiful, the good… in fact the spiritual. But sex + spirit can be a weird equation, as we are all only too well aware, and f/sf, in trying to address both, plays a tricky game. Kundalini plays the same game in real life on a more profound level, and does make you look at the cultural stories a little differently!

Sometimes the subconscious mind can hold completely different opinions from the conscious one. Take Ghostbusters (1984) for instance, a film I remember consciously with some fondness. I was surprised to find it coming up in meditation as an “anti-spiritual-sex story”. But when I thought about it I couldn’t argue. The plot involves a woman and a man being possessed by demons, then having sex, which transforms them into green dog-monsters, and opens the portal for an evil deity who plans to destroy the world. It doesn’t get much more sex-negative than that!

I mean come on. Who comes up with this stuff? (Dan Aykroyd? He’s a Spiritualist you know.) Why do we let such crazy ideas in, why do we find them plausible? Why do we reach for procreation and ultimate sin in the same breath, especially when we’re talking the transcendent? Christianity supposedly plays the biggest role… except as far as I can recall, mythically speaking, Eve’s problem involved apples not orgasms. Somehow lazy people writing sex manuals have to include apples on the front, or when doing reasonably serious TV shows about sex education. Even people supposedly writing on “Tantra” end up with this cheap misunderstanding — I can’t imagine a more culturally confused document than this book cover. Nobody seems to question it. Apparently the crime of Adam and Eve is now that they had sex?

Or take Superman II (1980). I don’t recall anyone even mentioning the weirdness of the idea that, in order to consummate his love for Lois Lane, Superman has to renounce all his superpowers! Is it possibly a Catholic thing (Mario Puzo wrote the story I believe)? Either that or it’s a variation on the orgasm-drains-energy idea, which leads you right to tantra and tao. But what is this level of cynicism doing in a kids’ film? I mean what on earth is that about? I was recommended a book called The Poisoned Embrace (1994) which contains an entire history of what it calls ‘sexual pessimism’. I wonder if that would help me understand.

On the other hand, some things came out of my childhood fantasy bucket looking rather better to my subconscious than my conscious recall of them. The entirety of C. S. Lewis’ Narnia series, for example, whatever you think of it, is probably justified by one exceptionally clever metaphor about Eustace Clarence Scrubb, from Voyage of the Dawn Treader (1952). You may recall it: Eustace is the sullen, snobby, unpleasant boy who takes leave of the ‘good children’ to avoid working, and accidentally finds himself watching a dragon die of old age, then discovers its treasure hoard. Thinking ‘greedy, dragonish thoughts’, he falls asleep amidst the piles of coin, only to find on awakening that he has become a dragon himself. He flies back to those he has abandoned, but they can do nothing.

Then one night Aslan, the lion who represents a Christ-flavoured divinity in the stories, wakes Eustace up and offers to ‘undress him’ — which turns out to mean, digging deep into the dragon-skin with his claws, and ripping it off to reveal the tender Eustace beneath. From that point on Eustace starts to change.

I never heard a better metaphor for the process of removing what Glenn Morris used to call the ‘sweaty masks’ of the ego, with particular reference to that aspect of it which Wilhelm Reich termed ‘Body Armour’. Energetic blockage, that is, which is caused by the need to defend, prevents authenticity, and results in skewed posture, illness, and temperamental short circuits etc.; certain Psychosynthesists relate it to ‘Primal Wounding’, a very important concept (see Firman & Gila 2002). Reich had his own methods of treatment by massage, talk therapy, and energy work of various kinds. (Draja Mickaharic gives a Reichian recipe that has worked very well for me — sometimes almost frighteningly so, 1985, p. 38.) The Taoist Water Method of Bruce Frantzis (2001), with its ‘dissolving’ technique, also focuses on the melting of the external, the dying or death-based layers of the body energy, getting through to the living being at the heart. Many — including myself — have developed their own ways. Ilana Rubenfeld (2001) is great.

And Lewis’ kids’ tale gives a perfect illustration, for this particular phase of civilization, of how that works, just as a kid would need to get it. Lying on all that treasure, thinking, now I can be powerful, now I can be safe, now I don’t need to be authentic any more… you build up the tension of falsehood that only Aslan, the superconscious Light, can penetrate. And when he digs in his claws to the proper depth, it hurts.

I also found my subconscious very appreciative of the cleverness of Larry Niven’s “Pak Protector” idea (1973), a purely hard-sf concept which I hadn’t consciously remembered with any particular fondness. It attempts to explain the weariness of human old age. The story goes that our race is actually descended from an alien species known as the Pak, which (on its homeworld) gorges itself on a plant called the ‘Tree of Life root’ when it has reached middle age, and thus transforms itself into its next life-stage — in which it has incredible strength and toughness, far greater intelligence, and no genitalia.

The greatness of the idea is that we on Earth, without the Tree of Life root, simply waste away in our 40s and 50s with the sense that we are incomplete, unable to fulfil our destinies. When I first began to experience the energy ecstasy of kundalini, my subconscious realized the beauty of these notions… the revivification, the strength, the intelligence, and the mastery over sexual energy, are no fiction. (That’s why martial arts lineages know about kundalini.) Niven’s artistic subconscious had filled in the blanks perfectly. As Glenn said, meditation is the key to becoming a whole person.

Other disappointments-in-retrospect… Cooper’s The Dark is Rising series (1965-1977), which to my adult mind appears so completely Manichean in its Light-vs.-Dark-ness that I wonder how I could ever have felt it to be authentically ‘Celtic’; and that execrable film of Conan the Barbarian (1982) which seems to spend its entire length arguing against enlightenment, kundalini, eastern spirituality, and indeed anything else interesting — the evil butchering Atlantean sorcerer-villain’s symbol is a snake (into which he can transform at will, and that could be tremendously auspicious in Ancient Greece, Egypt or China, but here and now…), actually two snakes which recall the Caduceus, and his line of evil turns out to be kidnapping the daughters of chieftains and putting them in his ashram where they have to learn ‘emptiness’ and submit their wills to his. (Come to think of it, if that’s a portrait of many unpleasant modern gurus, that’s pretty good! But the solution suggested appears to be lunkheaded ferocity laced with narcissism.)

On the other hand I reserve great praise for all the He-Man stuff and She-Ra in particular. The transformations into greatness are depicted with excellent chi-imagery, and the organic-wooded-rebel-vs.-mechanized-rulers storyline has some considerable resonance with the world of today. Very magic-friendly, not often morally incorrect, and sex-positive as they come. The Crystal Castle episode is a fine one, involving moon magic, race relations, time distortion and other fine things it’s as well to let the kiddies in on.

A note: Comments received re last post have been interesting — it’s up to readers whether they want to make further ones private or post them here, I welcome either. “Not enough about Kundalini”, “not enough about sex”, and “not enough about psychology” are three observations I’ve received more generally (roughly speaking! — no-one was that rude) which I’ll do my best to remedy over the weeks ahead. In fact I’ll address a bit of transpersonal psychology next time.

I should respond briefly now, though, to a point made about the Dark Crystal movie I went on about last post — the eventual merger of the Mystics and Skeksis is actually a re-joining of the two races, which had split apart when they fractured the crystal, 1000 years before the movie begins. So what does that do to the metaphor? The answer, to me, is that it puts in a bit of Judeo-Christian acculturation. We’re back in the Garden of Eden, and the shattering of the crystal is an ‘original sin’. Hence all the prophecies — the fulfilment of prophecy is a big feature of the Judeo-Christian complex; on a spiritual-history level things almost have to be foretold in order to be true. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis both used that device.

That’s at least a decent Jungian update of Genesis — it’s not sex, but knowledge of good and evil that is imparted by the shattering of the crystal, which seems somewhere close to the original intent. As for any Freudian who thinks ‘Skeksi’ sounds a bit too much like ‘sexy’ for comfort… please consider getting some sun. :)

Next time a bit of Ken Wilber. See you then!

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