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  • A Jungian Reflection on Mardi Gras: Mythic Living through Music

    “A Jungian Reflection on the Heady Dangers and Hedonism of Mardi Gras: Mythic Living through Music" by Eric J. Green As today is what we in Louisiana refer to as “Fat Tuesday” or Mardi Gras, the day the Catholics engage in overt and unrestrained decadence, following by 40 days of Lent leading to the orthodox or most holy high religious event of the Christian calendar: Easter. From an analytical perspective, it conjures images from the collective of the crucification as being the ultimate christological sacrifice made to atone us of our sins, and the polarity of the resurrection- the ascendary of the body, or the transformation from soma to spirit. Mardi Gras, the festival season leading up to it, and the events that follow after are all based on ancient pagan beliefs that the Christians adopted and mythologized for their own psycho-spiritual evolution, as others did for millennia before then. \ The Lenten season, directly following Fat Tuesday, is characterized by intense fasting and vigilant self-sacrifice. As my fellow New Orleans “native” and friend of many years, Brandon Conrad, was reflecting today on the Mardi Gras celebrations when we were young and all living in New Orleans. I found myself feeling a bit nostalgic for home. Also, my sister, Jana, is about to go into labor and birth her third child (my soon to be brand new infant nephew!) . This plus missing Mardi Gras, plus it's been freezing cold here in Dallas, and I wouldn't mind a delicious pot of homemade Fr Paul's seafood gumbo from back home! As I reflected on this festive and archetypal carnival season, I was reminded that it was during these captivating moments, replete with ornate Venetian masks, and eye-popping decorated floats from mythology and fairy tales and folklore of and from and about New Orleans with its unique and rich, but sometimes dark history. So I found myself creating a mandala this afternoon. And I was instantly transported back to the late 90’s and early 2000’s,when we (my group of friends and family and I) integrated the rich French and Cajun culture alongside jazz and soul, and migrated to the more young adult proclivity of house music. This unique amalgamation of beauty with despair is a classic quality of New Orleans’ architecture, neighborhoods, exotic cuisine, and the curious but regular occurrence of hurricanes, which bring about death and dying from natural disasters, that are prevalent along the Gulf Coast. So, I write this brief commentary to honor this rich tradition that I grew up in. And to that end, it has shaped and impacted my psyche and my soul as an adult. I remember a sign in the French Quarter that read, “We are who we are because of what we are. Not because of what they say.” Proud, Defiant. Tolerant. Inclusive. Soulful. Passionate. Exotic. Beautiful. Unique. These are the descript5ive words that come to mind when I think of this special time of year in Louisiana, Mardi Gras. I was fortunate to be part of one of the last great “tribes” to emanate from the circuit in New Orleans before it's demise in the mid 2000’s. We were all part of an archetypal rite of passage where we transitioned from late adolescence into an even more raucous, but simultaneously grounded young adulthood. So through an analysis and exploration of the symbolism involved in Mardi Gras, the images, and the affect remaining from those memories, I am able to see just how closely my own psycho-spiritual development, as well as those of my friends and family, may have been influenced into adulthood. This symbolism correlated with the carnival season, and the affect rendered from being in the tribal experience of the almost surreal event, has certainly opened new avenues and ways of thinking and seeing the world, by connecting us to the mytho-poetic language that ensures we are not alone and that our heroic journeys are indeed universal and finish-able. Probably the single most subjective component of the archetypal experience known as New Orleans during Mardi Gras (which me and my friends engaged in for many, many years during our late adolescence through early adulthood), was and still remains house music. Those magical sonic journeys in New Orleans at OZ and the Parade in the late 90s and early 2000s during Mardi Gras happened were facilitated by (1) DJ Joe Gauthreaux's primordial genius to bring the circuit sound to us each and every Saturday night- those were the days we danced literally until dawn, and haven't since, for the music truly did make us smile (and celebrate!). (2) The resident headlining DJ-Tim Pflueger who spun the anthemic Sunday tea dance sets, filled with happy and trance-y music, as well as feel-good disco tunes that made us shake0 our ‘money makers,’ even through our slight but never legal (hmm) intoxication (** dancing at clubs and venues and outside on the streets to jazz music is viewed in New Orleans by many natives as a way to sober up from the overindulgence of alcohol from the night before). Yes, it’s that much of a party town- the hedonistic id is abreacted for us all if we so choose. But why? Because of the immense suffering of many of its people from the 1800s when civil liberties were not uniform and oppression of culturally diverse minority groups was the reprehensible norm. And (3)The sumptuous Saturday night tribal sets of Lydia Prim at the Parade in the French Quarter. Circuit music at its most elegant, primal, and transformative. Lydia educated us (the subsequent identifiers of the archetypal realities playing out before us, within us, and around us as we gyrated and titrated and clung on to our faith through the wee hours of the circuit journey) in the dance event with a tribal beat and circular pattern of repetition that imbued a dance floor replete with ecstasy. This was the high holy ground for us to work out our psychosocial tensions, as well as we were afforded the opportunity to sublimate our rage and our sexual ‘violence,’ so to speak. And more obviously, the transformative art belied though and in Mardi Gras throughout the French Quarter in New Orleans was in the beauty of jazz musi. And for us, the circuit tribe, that jazz became “house.” Trance music, vocal anthems, tribal dark beats, uplifting ballads remixed to sentimental club hits—these all were forms of musical art. They transformed the ordinary and profane into the extraordinary and sacred. The tribal ritual, as articulated through the circuit, can be traced back many tens of thousands of years to our ancient ancestors who were hunters and gatherers who respected the power of the tribe and the transcendent ability music and dance and song can bring about within and without a group (see Mickey Weems’ seminal book on the circuit from a sociological and collective perspective that stemmed from his dissertation, “The Fierce Tribe.” The DJ’s and the float designers gave us a glimpse into the divine between the auditory and visual canopy of the paradox of groundedness in flight. The DJ’s were the fairies in Joseph Campbell’s heroic journey that appeared for a brief period of time, and provided some consolation to the hero as he stepped beyond the threshold to answer the call. In this case, the call to move from wreck-less adolescence into a more restrained yet just as lively adulthood. Joseph Campbell once said we are not looking for pleasure or the jewels and trappings of life- he said what we are looking for is the experience and rapture of being fully alive by connecting to the myths and archetypal realities out of which we are living, oftentimes in connection to and contrast with the fellow human souls that surround us and behold us. One of the biggest lessons we learned from Mardi Gras and the affective participation in, and subsequent self-sacrifice following, that was one must appreciate the music, for it is only through music we can appreciate ourselves and who we are at our soulful core. When we were in our young 20’s, and I was going to LSU, I remember my motley group of friends and companions would carefully plan our weekend schedules around musical events during the Mardi Gras season. The DJs’, especially those who played house and circuit music I the French Quarter, never let us forget, in their unique and spirited way, the vital connection we had to maintain to (although we often choose to forget it) our circuit past so that we would not soon forget where we came from in that tribal collective conscious. And where we were going to as multi-cultural, sentient beings with an obscure, but persistent sense of purpose and manifest destiny. While perhaps not viewed by some as a culturally-sanctioned enterprise, we would go as a group onto the dance floor and be moved simultaneously by the hypnotic beats and melodic shadings of grey that only the crowded, sweat-drenched dance floor during Mardi Gras could offer. So in that heroic feat of taking our problems to the archetypal dance floor, we eventually came to understand the mytho-poetic language stirring with us and around us- mainly that we were not doomed to repeat and be victims of the mistakes of our past. As music transcended the physical locale, it also transcended our existence. Not as a temporary, pathogenic escapism from the sometimes harsh reality by retreating to a licentious dance floor with inebriated and clumsy folks all about. But being out on the dance floor, being with the collective group of our friends to support each other during this ritualistic rite of passage, as well as the uplifting melodies inherent within many forms and subgenres of house music today and from yesterday, dazzled our nostalgic hearts and transported our psyches into the space characterized by symbols and and spirituality and self-healing- I clumsily referred to it as the “third space.” The myth and magic of Mardi Gras is both transformative and numinous, if we continue on with the period of self-sacrifice and fasting that is a central part of the complete story. In summary, through decadent, prurient, inappropriate, hot, stinky, and often times dangerous, the splendor of engaging in such a collective experience with others, and then participating in the mystique of a rite of passage, whether that be developmental, archetypal, or psycho-spiritual (Lent), the active engagement in the mythology out of which we are living plays a prodigious part, however indirectly or unwittingly, in forming new and alternate pathways along our great life’s story, or the Campbell-inspired “pathways to bliss.” We’re enriched by the artistry around us. And as Sandra Graves Alcorn taught me recently, “We meet ourselves through our creations.” So in closing, recording artist Kristine W's seminal circuit hit and from the early 90s, "One More Try," is attached to this posting. I remember the first time we heard this woman's soulful voice, combined with the music, the lyrics, and dramatic beats. They all culminated into a magnificent, almost indescribable moment. It was a moment I will not soon forget- a moment in which we felt free.. If you get a chance to listen to this track you'll hear the tender but strident juxtaposition of the profane with the sacred, the religious with the spiritual, and the beauty with the decay. You'll hear distant memories from the circuit party and events in the French Quarter during Mardi Gras at the time of my youth and hong adulthood. This has formed me, shaped me, and molded me, as all of the purest of musical canopies envelope us with rapture, and connect us to archetypal trusths and innter reaities. These truths form the underpinnings for the experience of us being fully alive, as Joseph Campbell once said. To feel tru;y alive, we just join in the rapture of living,  which is being alive in the present moment. We follow our bliss. And perhaps we see the positive postiive future, as Jung once talked about, an intervision beyond our own person and collecstive maladies that afflict us and haunt us. Even with the disquieting rage all about, we manage to see the wonder of it all. That is what Mardi Gras and the Lenten  season following it repressent to me. A  tranformative time of love and light. 

    Happy Mardi Gras!