WALKING IN THE GARDEN OF THE GODS
The Sculpture Garden as Temenos,
Transitional Space, and Mundus Imaginalis
This paper is a reflection on a visit to a most unusual public sculpture garden during an exquisitely beautiful April weekend on the southeastern coast. The experience was shared by six members of a dream group I facilitate. I will begin by describing the place, followed by comments about the dream group members, adding thoughts about the psychological nature of the event, and concluding with observations from the dream group members themselves.
The site is Brookgreen Gardens, an outdoor museum designated as a National Historic Landmark. As the curator, Robin R. Salmon explains, "Whatever label is bestowed upon it -- historic site, art collection, zoological facility, horticultural display, protected habitat -- Brookgreen Gardens is completely unique among American museums." (Brookgreen Garden, p. 8)
"Brookgreen," in short, as it is referred to by the locals, was created in 1931 by Archer and Anna Huntington. Archer Huntington (1870-1955) was one of the wealthiest men in the US, a businessman, but also a patron of the arts who became a poet, a linguist, and a specialist in Hispanic culture. Anna Hyatt Huntington (1876-1973) was a self-taught sculptor who developed her keen skills of observation at the side of her scientist father, paleontologist and pioneer marine biologist, with ties to Harvard and MIT. Having early on created the sculpture Joan of Arc for New York City in 1910, she received critical acclaim and became world renown with works placed in locations not only throughout this country but also throughout the world.
However, it was her having been diagnosed with tuberculosis in 1930 that prompted the Huntingtons to leave their New England homes and prepare a winter residence on the South Carolina Coast. Discovering the unique qualities of the region in 1931, they sought and were granted status for their newly acquired property as a private, not-for-profit corporation that bore the title, "Brookgreen Gardens, A Society for Southeastern Flora and Fauna."
At the time of establishing the Society, Archer Huntington wrote these eloquent and prophetic words:
Brookgreen Gardens is a quiet joining of hands between science and
art. The original plan involved a tract of land from the Waccamaw River
to the sea in Georgetown County, South Carolina, for the preservation
of the flora and fauna of the Southeast. At first the garden was intended
to contain the sculpture of Anna Hyatt Huntington. This gradually found
extension in an outline collection representative of the history of Amer-
ican sculpture, from the nineteenth century, which finds its natural
setting out of doors. ... Its object is the preservation of the natural life
of a given district as a museum, and as it is a garden, and gardens have
from the earliest time been richly embellished by the art of the sculp-
tor, that principle has found expression in American creative art ...
leaving to this venture, the presenting of the simple forms of nature
and of natural beauty together with such artistic works as may express
the objects sought. ... In all due homage to science, it may be well not
to forget inspiration, the sister of religion, without whose union this
world might yet become a desert.
(Sculpture of Brookgreen Gardens, p. 7)
Given these brief references to Brookgreen and its origin, you may already have concluded that it does not easily answer to descriptions of other museums or outdoor gardens. Its uniqueness is what confronts visitors who first stroll through the "Live Oak Alée," hundreds of years old, with concentric though not defined circles of sculptures which bring to mind Mount Olympus with its pantheon of gods and goddesses, its stable of horses, animals, flora and fauna. But this image does not really capture Brookgreen. One impression is that it is colored by the sensibilities and emotions of Romanticism. And while those qualities do indeed attract your senses, something else looms in the expansive atmosphere.
This "something else" may emanate from the ancient oaks' "gravitas" and also from the spirits of people and animals -- field hands and draft horses -- that still occupy the ethos of this enchanting place and merge with the dreams and visions of so many professionals who have created a sense of the Eternal that holds benevolently its founders, creators, and laborers.
Still, there is something else. Lest one be tempted to fall into the engulfing bosom of sentimentality, signs spread throughout the edges of the gardens call visitors to sharpen their senses for danger. It is not unusual in some sections of Brookgreen to see warnings about the possible threat of alligators and poisonous snakes!
It is this juxtaposition of such opposites as the temporal and the eternal, the whimsical and the dangerous, the beautiful and the grotesque, the natural and the mythical that creates a suspension of ordinary perception. Zeus, Artemis, and Dionysus appear "just so;" they stir the imagination, but the experience is not imaginary. It is the summons of archetypal images in a reality that transcends the ordinary. Perception is inverted and focused somewhere between the conscious and the unconscious.
The dream group members were not told that they might experience this inverted perception on their visit to Brookgreen. They were looking to sharpen their focus of mythology and became quite interested in the gardens when I suggested that Brookgreen might be a stimulating education for them in a natural setting. As the weekend "retreat" evolved, they focused around two principle objectives -- in addition to having fun, which they always seemed to make possible regardless of the venue. Their objectives were (1) to deepen their study of mythology, and (2) to practice their active imagination in encounters with whatever nudgings from the unconscious might be stirred while "walking in the garden of the gods," as the experience came to be named.
With their permission, I will tell you something about these six professional people but will use fictitious names:
Aden is a local sales and marketing executive;
B.J. is a manger of a national sales team;
Brett is a bank executive;
Destiny is a stay-at-home mom who also leads dream groups;
Leah is another bank executive;
Mason is a journalist and writer.
These six have been together in the dream group for more than five years. They have read widely and deeply, particularly in Jungian studies, are well-acquainted with the nature of psychological complexes, and maintain a practice of dreamwork and active imagination.
These six people are very different in terms of their backgrounds and life experiences with ages ranging from mid-40's to mid-60's. In terms of psychological types, they are different except for the function of intuition that is present in each of their typologies. None of the group members participate actively in established religion and most would see the dream group as their "spiritual community." They move intentionally in their individuation process with attention to their own shadow as well as with respect for the shadow of others. Working weekly for two hours each session, they have come to hold a deep regard for the vicissitudes of life and their impact upon the individuation of oneself and others.
With that brief sketch of the individuals, I turn now to thoughts about the psychological nature of the Brookgreen event. It is helpful to know at least a little about the group members as a way of introducing the psychological frame for their experiences. They came to the gardens expecting to gain information about mythology and also to deepen awareness of their psychological and spiritual life.
On Friday afternoon we walked through the grounds to gain an overview so that all day Saturday could be used for immersion in the sections of Brookgreen that "called" to them. Saturday evening and Sunday morning would provide times for deeper reflection and sharing. Each person was to work separately with journal, camera, easel, sketch pad, etc., as each felt inclined.
Before sharing comments by the group members, I offer my own reflections, beginning with a statement from Jung having to do with the nature of "seeing:
It is ... needful to teach people the art of seeing. For it is obvious that
far too many people are incapable of establishing a connection between
the sacred figures and their own psyche: they cannot see to what extent
the equivalent images are lying dormant in their own unconscious. In
order to facilitate this inner vision we must first clear the way for the
faculty of seeing. (CW, Vol 12, para. 14)
To this, I follow up with Henry Corbin's lament about the place of images in our present culture.
We are no longer participants in a traditional culture; we live in a
scientific civilization which is said to have gained mastery even over
images. It is quite commonplace to refer to our present day civiliza-
tion as the "civilization of the image" (to wit our magazines, motion
pictures, and television). But one wonders whether -- like all common-
places -- this one does not also harbor a radical misunderstanding, a
complete misapprehension. For, instead of the image being raised to
the level of the world to which it belongs, instead of being invested
with a symbolic function that would lead to inner meanings, the image
tends to be reduced simply to the level of sensible perception and
thus to be definitely degraded. Might one not have to say then that
the greater the success of this reduction, the more people lose their
sense of the imaginal and the more they are condemned to producing
nothing but fiction? (p. 88)
This degradation of the image in the service of sensory perception for the benefit of profiteering in the marketplace betrays the "art of seeing" urged by Jung. The images go no further than the billboards along our highways and the commercials flashing across our computer screens. A universe enlivened by symbols recedes over the horizons of perceptions leaving us a bereft world of signs, shiny plastic surfaces upon which we project our surface longings, having never learned the art of seeing beneath the surface of things through the symbolic realm where we make "connection between the sacred figures and our own psyche."
Most simply stated, if Corbin is correct that our civilization degrades the image, and if Jung prescribes a remedy of reviewing the "art of seeing," then sites like Brookgreen may be "seen" as crucial remedies for our soul-less society. I amplify this notion of such a remedy by associations to "temenos," "transitional space," and "mundus imaginalis."
Brookgreen Gardens falls within the definition that depth psychology gives to each of those terms. For Jung, the temenos is a place set apart as "holy and inviolable," "protected," where one "might be able to meet the unconscious," "endowed with meaning." (CW 12, par. 63) For Winnicott, the British psychoanalyst, the "transitional space" is neither inside nor outside but an "intermediate" or "third area," "... where fantasy and reality overlap," making possible that creativity which is the basis for "adult cultural life." (1971) Finally, for Corbin, the mundus imaginalis is described at various times as an "intermediate kingdom" that is the "center of the sensory and intelligible worlds," between "pure matter and pure spirit," and translated possibly also as the world of the archetypes, the "mundus archetypus." (1972)
While there are differences, as well as similarities, in a person's psychological experience of temenos, transitional space, and mundus imaginalis, my personal experience of Brookgreen on that April weekend was that the gardens existed for me as a temenos where I entered a transitional space and encountered the archetypal world with imaginal inspiration. As for the six members of the dream group, I will draw from their many pages of description to offer you a salient comment or summary from each:
Aden: "Pegasus." "The rider and the horse seem like one. The connection between the two is significant for me because it represents the connection I felt as a child to animals. The love of my horses and dogs and them for me were what buoyed me through times when my mom was struggling with mental illness and my father had no clue of what I needed from him."
B.J.: "Live Oak Alée," "Dionysus," the pool of water, the design of the garden. "This perception of wholeness was very striking and worked on me. As background, I have been wanting a more personal 'real' experience of the divine and wanting it to make sense to me as well as contain more awesomeness or potency which the framework I have grown up in lacked. In more than one way the time in the garden Friday and Saturday sort of filled in the gaps and pointed toward things words cannot express."
Brett: With reference to many sculptures, "Final thoughts: At the end of my day at Brookgreen, I wrote in my journal, 'I trusted the process today and it took me to wonderful places I never expected to go.' "
Destiny: Referencing the mandala she created with her photographs, "The live oak I sketched in the middle of the mandala begins to look figurative to me. The trunk becomes a body and the limbs become arms reaching up and out to contact others. The large wound in the trunk where a limb has been severed becomes the heart, broken but open. This mandala expresses for me connection and separation."
Leah: "I found myself deeply disturbed by the jarring juxtaposition of the extraordinary landscape and the surrounding wasteland that is Myrtle Beach. ... I left the Brookgreen retreat with the sense that I had missed something significant, failing to achieve the level of insight that the other dream group members related as we shared our mandalas on Sunday."
Mason: "The garden, for all its natural beauty, is awash with conflicting images of men and women, peace and conflict, birth and death, emotional reflection and physical struggle, nature that loves us, nature that devours. And all of them seemed to be a part of me... . After all, I'm nothing if not conflicted."
One final thought before I take leave of that April weekend at Brookgreen Gardens. I find more haunting now the words of Archer Huntington in 1931, declaring why he was creating the gardens: " ... it may be well not to forget inspiration, the sister of religion, without whose vision this world might yet become a desert." I think Jung would nod approval at that statement and note the speaker as one whose love and devotion to images may awaken us to "the art of seeing."
Corbin, G. (1972). Mundus Imaginalis: On the Imaginary and the Imaginal. In Working
with Images. B. Sells (Ed.), pp. 70-89. Woodstock, Connecticut: Spring
Jung, C.G. (1953). "Psychology and Alchemy." Collected Works (Vol. 12). Princeton:
Princeton University Press.
Salmon, R. (2006). Images of America: Brookgreen Gardens. Charleston, SC: Arcadia
_________. (2006). Images of America: Sculptures of Brookgreen Gardens. Charleston,
SC: Arcadia Publishing.
Winnicott, D. (1971). Playing and Reality. London: Tavistock.