A Story Behind The Curse
by John Breeding, PhD


I want to tell you how this anima curse you have just read came to be. I had just completed another draft of this book manuscript, and didn't know what to do next. I have a friend, Katya Walter, who is also a writer, and we liked the idea of lending support to each other, so we got together to share about our respective projects. As we were sharing, Katya offered to give me a consultation about what my next step with the book should be. I had begun to fret about how I would ever get the thing published, and had in mind advice or counsel about that concern. It seems that Katya has devised an oracle of her own creation, a set of "Kairos Cards", loosely described as a combination of Tarot, Rorschach, and Thematic Apperception tests. The cards combine the elements of psychological projection (revealed by what one sees in an undefined image) and oracular revelation (that which is revealed in the particular card one selects, apparently by chance, upon meditation on the question on has posed).

My question was "What should I do now about my book?" The card I drew was a photograph of several men who appeared exhausted, dirty, sleeping lying and sitting, crowded together in a bare concrete room, some on a sparse metal bunk with thin mattresses, some on the floor. My first thought was that it was a concentration camp. Then, I thought that, though obviously exhausted and poor, they were not emaciated -- a refugee camp, perhaps. Cold, stark, destitute, hopeless was how I felt about that card. Katya revealed to me that the picture was of immigrants to the New World, in New York prior to World War II. They were indeed poor and exhausted, but they had hope and were living as cheaply as possible in the face of the awesome challenge of establishing a new life in a new country. The consultation reflected to me some of the feelings I had about this project. I had known my share of exhaustion and hopelessness along the way, and was working through those feelings once again. More importantly, it was revealed to me that, just as the hard, bare conditions in which these men were living had no feminine qualities, so too my dry, intellectual book was lacking a feminine balance. Without the support of a loving inner woman, one easily falls into the destructive machinations of compulsive productivity, as I ironically did in pushing myself to produce an earlier draft of this book on the value and necessity of unproductivity. So my next step was not to put on a masculine surge of energy out into the world of publishing and money, but to somehow bring more of the feminine into this work.

I sighed deeply and shook my head. In the terms of Jungian psychology, one of a man's primary tasks is to establish a positive, supportive union with his inner feminine, known as the anima. I have been intensely reaching, through dreamwork and waking awareness, to heal a great wound in my psyche, discovered outwardly by frustrated relationships with women. I would find myself critical and scornful of women for whom I had at first been so deeply in love. And I would end up feeling victimized and rejected by these same women. In dreamtime, I discovered the anima, or inner woman, and it was not a pretty picture; she was a most dangerous creature. It is July 22, 1998, as I write these words. Chapter 1 reveals the state of my anima relationship in a dream on April 23, 1996, twenty-one months ago, and tells of how it connected with a true and tragic tale of psychiatric coercion. I already knew that a core function of Psychiatric Oppression was to suppress expression, especially emotional discharge. Now it is becoming clearer and clearer, at a level deep within me that the oppression is very much about suppression of the feminine. My own experience of compulsive productivity can, on one level, be seen as a reflection of the same internalized oppression as the practitioners of Psychiatry must suffer. Just as I need to bring the anima into my book and into my life, so does Psychiatry need a woman's touch.

Let me tell you what happened after I consulted the Kairos cards and discovered the need to bring the feminine into this book. I didn't know what to do or how to do it. I didn't feel capable of it. So I groped inside for direction, and I thought that perhaps I could begin to look at some poetry as a way into the feminine. I've enjoyed some poetry in my life, not a whole lot, but at least it was a place to begin. So I pulled an old book off Katya's shelf -- Victorian poetry published in 1930. I browsed around, reading selected short pieces, and then I saw Elizabeth Barrett Browning's powerful poem, A Curse For A Nation. Written in 1860, this poem is directed at the United States in its practice of slavery. It reflects, in Browning's words, the truth that: "A curse from the depths of womanhood Is very salt, and bitter, and good."

My inclination in turning to poetry was to seek and find suitable pieces to insert at various point in my book, and my first thought was to use Browning's curse as she wrote it. As I sat with her poem, however, it dawned on me to write an anima curse pointed more clearly and specifically at Psychiatry, and so I devised an adaptation of her work, greatly altered and re-directed, but retaining much of her original wording. I thought I was done with an earlier draft which laid the curse and followed the meter, but then I realized that I had completely overlooked the rhyming pattern. It seemed very important to remain true to the rhyme as well, so I did. And I believe the potency of the curse is greater as a result. I felt some hesitation about taking her awesome work and shredding it to pieces and making a new work with inferior poetic elegance. But let me tell you something else. My own inimical anima is giving way to one much more beloved. Two weeks ago, I had a dream that my fingers were chapped and bleeding. In the dream, a woman, whose work was to heal such wounded hands, was tenderly holding mine in her own. My friend Katya also happens to be the author of a wonderful book on dreams, called Dream Mail, and a facilitator of classes in dream drama. She told me that bleeding fingers in a dream usually have something to do with the creative urge. In working on this piece these past few days, I have felt a bond with Elizabeth Browning, and I think of her as the woman who held my bleeding hands. I believe that An Anima Curse For A Profession is true to the spirit of A Curse For A Nation, and that its potent charge is largely due to her ancestral energy. I think she'd like it.

I have a few more words to say about this business of anima curses. First off, it is important to understand that when I was failing in marriage or driving myself into exhaustion in compulsive productivity, it was not that I had no relationship with the feminine. On the contrary, I had a terrifyingly powerful relationship -- victim of an anima curse, so to speak. Similarly, the oppression of Psychiatry is far from no relationship; Psychiatric Oppression is forced on you; it's called coercion. This kind of curse is not about "I wish something awful and terrible to befall you." It is an intense amplification of that which already is, like a horrific nightmare by which the psyche calls your attention to something which must not be denied. Actually, it is not so much that Psychiatry needs a woman's touch, as it needs to wake up to the reality that "Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned!" Browning's curse of slavery, and this curse of Psychiatry are angry eruptions that call attention to savage misdirection. I hope its fire provides some light to help us seek a better way.