A Review of James Bennett’s Underworld & Archetypes by Maria Ede-Weaving…
Mythological journeys to the Underworld exist in many different cultures. Their recurrence suggests their importance and necessity with regard to human experience. Psychotherapist James Bennett explores this subject in his book Underworld & Archetypes.
Having a deep love and fascination for the descent and ascent of Persephone in Greek Mythology, I was delighted to have the opportunity to review this book. I have long-held the belief that these stories of Underworld journeys, although on one level are metaphors for seasonal changes, also speak much about our own moments of crisis. I resonated wholeheartedly with the book’s message that despite the pain and struggle that accompany such dark and difficult psychological descents, there is a deep value in the process with much to be gained.
James’ book is written in three sections. The first deals with Western Culture’s problematic fixation with transcendence; inherent in this obsession is the valuing of heaven above the earthly realms. This troubling polarisation has led to a perception of the material worlds of earth, underworld and body as inferior, flawed and even evil. James explores the psychological impetus that drives this split between spirit and matter, and illustrates how this unhealthy dissociation from the earthly realms severs us from our deepest sources of wisdom and growth. The second section examines the myths of descent and reveals how these can be useful tools in encouraging us to positively engage with our own times of loss, grief and change. The third section entitled ‘The Space Between’, discusses the importance of liminality in human experience; how change and transition are a constant factor in life. James reminds us that these liminal places are fertile with potential; thresholds where the known substance of our being – our understanding of the world and self – can dissolve and reform, triggering profound transformation and growth.
James’ book will resonate with many on the Druid path. Druidry seeks to heal the split between spirit and matter, and the intimate connection Druidry fosters with the earth and its seasonal changes allows us to recognise that death and the descent are crucial to renewal and growth, whether it be in the natural world or within our own psyches.
A psychotherapist of many years’ experience, it is clear that James understands deeply our reticence to trust in this challenging process – there is nothing romantic or fun about pain and suffering – however, this great little book is both a useful signpost and a source of reassurance, suggesting that we are well-equipped for the journey, that the descent is a core part of our humanity and an experience we will all share.
Underworld and Archetypes is short in length but massive in wisdom. James Bennett writes with clarity and insight about a complex and intriguing subject. It is a perfect introduction to anyone unfamiliar with these fascinating myths and how they might serve to guide and enlighten our path. It is also an inspiring read for those veterans of the Underworld amongst us who know the myths and have the lived the journey but might need an encouraging reminder of its gifts. With a fascinating Bibliography and some lovely illustrations, Underworld and Archetypes is an enjoyable read I highly recommend.