About This Page
This page is a commentary on Figure 3 of the Book of Lambspring.
The Figure is prefaced as follows:
Hear Without Terror That In The Forest Are Hidden a Deer and An Unicorn.
The Sages say truly
That two animals are in this forest:
One glorious, beautiful, and swift,
A great and strong deer;
The other an unicorn.
They are concealed in the forest,
But happy shall that man be called
Who shall snare and capture them.
The Masters shew you here clearly
That in all places
These two animals wander about in forests
(But know that the forest is but one).
If we apply the parable to our Art,
We shall call the forest the Body.
That will be rightly and truly said.
The unicorn will be the Spirit at all times.
The deer desires no other name
But that of the Soul; which name no man shall take away from it.
He that knows how to tame and master them by Art,
To couple them together,
And to lead them in and out of the forest,
May justly be called a Master.
For we rightly judge
That he has attained the golden flesh,
And may triumph everywhere;
Nay, he may bear rule over great Augustus.
Now that we’ve experienced some shadow work (see Figure 2) the stage becomes set for another kind of work – that of an investigation into the differences between soul and spirit.
This is an exploration that can take much of a lifetime, but we are given a glimpse in Figure 3 of what this work can look like – in a way analogous to how the flashes from one facet of a diamond can excite us with the possibilities of brilliance from that diamond in its entirety.
Opposites, Grounded in the Body
Soul/spirit, yin/yang, moon/sun: these are examples of opposites that we experience in our lives. Soul/spirit can be a difficult pair to experience, especially in our extraverted and predominantly individualistic culture. So Figure 3 can be read as a delicate and sensitive invitation to an inquiry into the differences between these two, and how, by teasing out the differences, we can “attain the golden flesh”.
It has been said that the three great realms we must deal with in this life are body, soul and spirit (like the three sides of a triangle) and Figure 3 welcomes us into this inquiry. So lets talk about soul and spirit, the “animals that wander about in forests” (the unconscious).
We are shown two animals, the stag (deer) as soul; the unicorn as spirit.
The stag is a real animal; it is of the earth. The stag hides in forests (the unconscious); it is elusive. It has multi-branched antlers, the branches of which take various directions, and they grow and are shed annually. At times they have velvet. The animal has an intimate connection with the natural world.
The unicorn, on the other hand, is other-worldly. Its horn is singular, phallic, unchanging and bold. The unicorn in Figure 2 is in the foreground, further into the dappled light (consciousness) than the deer.
Thomas Moore on Soul and Spirit
Thomas Moore has written much on the soul, and on the soul in the world (anima mundi). Here are some quotes from his book Care of the Soul that tease out the distinctions for him between soul and spirit:
…certain things that the soul needs: a sense of home, deep friendship… attention to night dreams… an intimate relationship to the natural world, acquaintance with animals, memory in the form of storytelling or keeping old buildings and objects that have meaning.
I continue to accent the difference between soul and spirit, another ancient idea but one I learned most clearly from James Hillman. Spirit focuses your attention to the cosmos and the planet, to huge ideas and vast adventures, to prayer and meditation…. Spirit gives you vision and courage, and eventually leaves you with a strong sense of meaning and purpose.
Soul is more intimate, deep, and concrete. You care for your soul by keeping up your house… You live life fully, instead of skirting it with intellectualism or excessive moralistic worries.
Spirit sets goals; soul plods along, going deeper all the way. Spirit prefers detachment, while the soul sinks into its attachments to places, people, and home.
“To Couple Them, Lead Them In and Out of the Forest”
Our writer wants us gently to learn more about these two, about soul and spirit. It wants them to be in dialogue. Notice how spirit raises its left leg (its more yin, more feminine side) as though in greeting to soul; soul raises its right leg (its more yang, more masculine side). As in Figure 2, we are reminded here that each pole (soul and spirit) already contains the seed of the other pole. There is a balance in the way each raises the leg to the other. And they hold strong eye contact with each other.
There is potential for much beauty in this dialogue. And there is challenge as well. To be without such a dialogue, to be one-sided, is a dead end to our development; at worst it is damaging to us.
Spirit without soul is dangerous: we perhaps know of spiritual practices that deny the importance of emotions and ask always for “transcendence” – leading to a joyless hermeticism and/or an outbreak of abuse between master and student.
This tendency has become known as spiritual bypassing, where we (or our spiritual teachers) believe we can bypass the soul on our way to “enlightenment”. We must be mindful that our upward thrusts towards spiritual breakthrough (akin to the unicorn’s single horn) do not cause harm to ourselves, and to others (especially to our families and children).
The Delicacy of Nurturing Both Soul and Spirit
To nurture soul is to accept the seasons of soul – that antlers grow and shed with the season; that the stag fleetingly appears and disappears again into the forest. We need an energy of waiting, of expectancy, of keeping the dream journal open yet being ok that the dream does not come when we want it… To accept that we are “not Masters in our own house” (Jung’s phrase) and to be ok with that; or in Gestalt language (Barry Stevens): Don’t Push the River (It Flows by itself).
Therapy can be a place for exploring spirit, for seeing where present-focussed awareness can take us and what baggage it can relieve us of.
It can also be a place for nurturing soul: exploring the yearnings of soul-in-hiding, while recognising of the dangers of bypassing inherent in some spiritual pursuits.
Without the dialogue so gently and skilfully depicted in Figure 3 we can be subject to a tension, sometimes evident in the contemporary world, where spirit turns to either fundamentalism or narcissism and soul takes flight and is forever lost in the forest. We lose the possibility of the “golden flesh”.