In addition to Goatsong, Patricia Damery is the author of Farming Soul: A Tale of Initiation and Snakes. Her articles and poetry have been published in the San Francisco Library Journal, Jung Journal: Culture and Psyche, Psychological Perspectives, and Biodynamics: Working for Social Change Through Agriculture. With her husband Donald, she has farmed biodynamically for twelve years in the Napa Valley of California.
So begins the confrontation with her life. When Angela’s mother cuts her visit short when Angela’s brother Jimmy calls, saying that the family farm must be sold, Angela withdraws, weaving fervently as she tries to hold all of the pieces together. Then, to her shock, she discovers that Jake is having an affair. It is only when the men she has trusted all her life fail her through death and betrayal, that she begins to discern the pattern of her own life.
Through flashbacks, Angela contrasts her childhood on a small Midwestern farm, with her current life. Angela was the middle child with her older brother and a younger sister, Dorothy. Her childhood was safe, predictable, and, she thinks, happy, as she would have described her marriage. She met Jake in California when they were both graduate students in marine biology. After an accident on a student research trip to study sea snakes, she decided not to continue in marine biology, learned to weave, and married Jake.
When Angela walks in on Jake embracing a student, she has to face that her marriage is not the ideal relationship she had thought. She asks Jake to move out. Her mother sickens with the flu and then pneumonia, and Angela returns to the Midwest to care for her, becoming profoundly aware of the impact of moving away so many years before. She also realizes that what she always experienced as betrayal by her father was, in fact, two way, a necessary act of separation, and, following a mythological snake story theme throughout the book, of creation.
Angela returns to California understanding that she must reenter the garden she has avoided after seeing snakes mating in it years before. Only now is Angela able to consciously accept the cycles of life, sloughing off what is old so that life may continue. She decides to plant the garden. Angela and Jake discuss where they go from here. As Angela completes planting the garden, she sits alone, finishing the weaving she has been working on over the last months. For the first time, she is able to let go of the weaving. Angela’s father, so omnipresent in her life, takes his rightful place as one of the ancestors. In being able to relinquish the past, she is able at last to feel the Spirit of Place of that earth upon which she lives, often depicted by a serpent, and to arrive.
The title of the book, Snakes, reflects real life stories and the mythologies underlying them. The novel is studded with these stories, which also provide a frame for the larger story. Each chapter begins with a quote, usually from a snake manual, often presenting the reader with facts which are the fertile ground from which mythologies grew. The snake as life force prevails in the end as Angela’s relationship to the serpent moves from terror to acceptance of the energy of the Great Primordial Boa.
One of the author’s first teachers in the non-ordinary world view is Don, an analyst who also studied with a Navaho medicine man. On a ten-day trip to the Southwest with Don and other analyst candidates, she experiences disincarnate forces and beings. Her sense of reality expands. She joins a group studying the overlap of shamanism and analytical psychology, and continues to have experiences that demand another kind of attention.
To make sense of it all, the author consults with her personal analyst and then with a spiritual teacher/psychic. Her analyst sees everything in personal and psychological terms, while her consultant Don has the shaman’s sense of a larger reality. Even he, however, is only human, as she learns when his wisdom fails her in the face of a shocking event. During a sweat lodge ceremony, the author sees a skeleton sitting next to a man who is murdered the following day. She grapples with a sense of responsibility for not telling anyone of her vision; Don, in pain himself over this loss, is unable to help her. He also fails to support her when she confronts a “higher up” in the Jungian community about his behavior toward a student in the study group. The author realizes that as important as her analyst and Don have been, she needs a spiritual teacher to guide her.
Conventional matters become ever more troublesome. Her crisis culminates when, after a long drive through a rainstorm, she fails a crucial step of the certification process. The construction of the foundation of their new home is also halted by the massive rains. A tornado touches down on the property, doing little physical damage but disrupting the energy of the ranch on various levels. Does this mean another path is demanding her attention, one not embraced by such institutions? Within months Don dies of a sudden heart attack. Finally Damery consults the spiritual teacher Norma T. for a nine month intensive, unconventional training.
Meanwhile, seasons on the ranch come and go. When a vineyard on a second property shows signs of distress, the winemaker threatens to refuse the fruit as it appears to be failing to ripen. The author and her husband adopt an unusual approach to solving the problem. Through the ministrations of yet another spiritual adept, this one very much grounded in the earth, the crop is saved and the author is initiated into the ways Rudolph Steiner’s Biodynamics. A new era of farming begins, one based on spiritual stewardship of the land. A new worker arrives, Natalio, who tends the plants and the ranch, bringing Mexican folk wisdom and lore.
Other crises are afoot, however. The author and her husband accept an offer on the second ranch upon which the original grapes were not ripening and a grape contract dispute ensues. The timing of this difficulty corresponds with the author’s second appearance before the certifying board. Using her new skill of balancing the worlds of matter and spirit, she navigates these challenges successfully. During the same week she is officially certified, a settlement is reached with the winemaker. The author’s insight and intuition develop and integrate as another year on the ranch begins. The land and all the beings who inhabit it are thriving.
Marked by Fire: Stories of the Jungian Way is a collection that includes and illuminates the inner life. When Soul appeared to C.G. Jung and demanded he change his life, he opened himself to the powerful forces of the unconscious. He recorded his inner journey, his conversations with figures that appeared to him in vision and in dream in The Red Book. Although it would be years before The Red Book was published, much of what we now know as Jungian psychology began in those pages, when Jung allowed the irrational to assault him. That was a century ago. How do those of us who dedicate ourselves to Jung's psychology as analysts, teachers, writers respond to Soul's demands in our own lives? If we believe, with Jung, in "the reality of the psyche," how does that shape us? The articles in Marked By Fire portray direct experiences of the unconscious; they tell life stories about the fiery process of becoming ourselves. Contributors to this edition of the Fisher King Review include: Jerome Bernstein, Claire Douglas, Gilda Frantz, Jacqueline Gerson, Jean Kirsch, Chie Lee, Karlyn Ward, Henry Abramovitch, Sharon Heath, Dennis Patrick Slatterly, Robert Romanyshyn, Patricia Damery, and Naomi Ruth Lowinsky.