Christine Downing Lectures and Workshops


”Of childhoods I have so many, that I would get lost counting them.” - Bachelard

We are not only our outwardly visible histories but also many unlived but intensely imagined possibilities. This exploration of how the project of trying to remember our childhood brings us in touch with the mysterious boundary between imagination and memory was inspired by a journey back to my birthplace in eastern Germany and my discovery of how lives I have never literally lived but easily might have, including the life of a girl sent to a Nazi extermination camp or of one caught up in the enthusiasms and prejudices of her Hitler Youth peers are ”secret sharers” in my life-story.


An exploration of menopause as a women's mystery whose symbolic and sacred dimensions we seek to find ways of honoring. Reflection on the inner meaning of this transition is relevant to women at every stage of life as we try to understand how our past and future live within us all along the way - and to men who must come to terms with similar losses and gains, analogous fears and hopes, without the help of the undeniable bodily changes which force women to confront these transitions consciously.


Greek myths about underworld experience have the power to illumine our own engagements with devastating loss and failure, challenge and change, endings and death. The myths suggest that men and women typically respond to the underworld differently. Male heroes usually enter the underworld deliberately and for the sake of some daylight world project: to rescue someone, to win glory for their daring courage, or to obtain some precious knowledge. Females are more often abducted into the underworld but once there may discover that for a time at least it is their real world.


The power of this almost 3000-year-old tale of mother-daughter separation and return to inspire richly diverse interpretations and retellings among the many contemporary women who see it central to our self-understanding demonstrates this myth still lives as a myth for us. Recent poetry, fiction, historical scholarship, and psychological commentary reveal the myth's relevance to our own experiences of the beauty and power of mother-daughter love, the horrors of incest and rape, the challenges associated with puberty and menopause, the difficult relationships between women and men. The myth and the rituals associated with it may also help us confront our fear of death and our concerns about the earth’s devastation.


Freud's discovery of the living reality of myth marks the beginning of depth psychology. From his early recognition, "I am Oedipus," to the later focus on Eros and Death, Freud continually relied on the language of myth to communicate his most significant insights. He understood that his own theory was itself a myth and that the central aim of therapy is to help us discover the mythos, the plot, inherent in the untidy events of our personal history. Our own understanding of the soul can be enriched, challenged and deepened when we attend to the poetic, metaphorical, and humanistic dimensions of Freud's psychology.


Greek myths about same-sex love among the gods and the goddesses, and among mortal men and women (which derive from a culture where same-sex love was given important educational functions and religious validation) illumine its deeper, archetypal significance. The myths reveal the multi-dimsionality and diversity, the beauty and numinosity of these erotic relationships. They suggest that the pull to such love is part of all of us. They reveal the deep human longings expressed in such love and the pain and suffering that often accompany it.


What delights me about myth is how the same story can be understood in so many different ways, depending on what aspect, what episode, what figure, which version most powerfully compels our attention. I am always amazed when I return to a myth I think I already know well by how much more there is to the story than I had recognized the last time I looked. Fifteen years or so ago when I last wrote about the Orpheus-Eurydice myth I looked at if from a woman's perspective and saw an Orpheus who just didn't seem able to realize that "his" Eurydice was precisely that, HIS Eurydice, an Orpheus caught in a looking back dedicated to the futile hope of returning to an unchanged past. Now I see that this gendered perspective opens up some meanings and blinded me to others; now I would want to celebrate how this myth illuminates our own longings for depth, for connection, for love and how it might teach us about a mode of looking back which discovers a new past.


Love and sexuality enter our lives in a myriad of disturbing and conflicting ways that are often ignored or pathologized. I have come to believe that some of the traditions about the Greek gods and goddesses can deepen our understanding of the erotic (in our own lives and in those of our neighbors) and bring us back in touch with its sacred dimension. These myths may help us discover the integral connections between the joyful and the terrifying or confusing or dismaying aspects of our experience. They communicates the polyvalence of eros; each helps bring into view yet another aspect of how love or sexuality may enter our psyches, our souls, our lives. That for the Greeks passion was seen as god or goddess given communicates a recognition of its intensity - its metamorphic, transformative power. The gods bring fantasy, imagination, into our sexual experience--the illusion of fulfillment and the profound suffering that so often follows the momentary fulfillment. But, as the stories make clear, there is even more suffering when these goddesses or gods, these indestructible energies, are denied. What we can learn from Greek mythology is really something we already know but perhaps need to be reminded of-- that sexuality is transformative, many-faceted, life-giving and life-destroying

For information on fees and available dates please contact:
Christine Downing
11 Discovery Way
Eastsound WA 98245
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249 Lambert Road, Carpinteria, California, 93013 | Telephone: 805.969.3626