What is the “Iris of Time”?

[For a more thorough explanation of the Iris of Time, see Story Alchemy, Chapter 8. You may have to read Chapters 1-8 to fully understand.]

When practicing Active Imagination, Murray Stein in his DVD (AJC Seminar #4) says to clear your mind and provide an empty space for the activity to take place. I’ve taken his words quite literally. I call my space where I practice Active Imagination the Iris of Time. It isn’t a place in the real world, but a liminal, psychic space where I perform this specific activity, Active Imagination. It is liminal in that I envision it to be the threshold before my Unconscious, and as such, it is the very symbol of liminality itself.

Entry into the Iris of Time denotes the loss of or ambiguity with time. It becomes primordial. It is the “world” of myth. It is a world of both the shadow of the Personal Unconscious and also that of the Collective Unconscious, which includes archetypes. It would included both heroes and gods as interpreted by this paragraph from the “Introduction to C. Kerenyi’s The Heroes of the Greeks.

If Greek mythology were confined to the gods and at any rate to myths of the origin of the human race, the heroes would have to remain on the verge of it. But the gods demand the heroes, and these still belong to mythology. Thence they spread to the time which deals no longer with ‘stories’ but with ‘history’. An essential difference between the legends of heroes and mythology proper, between the myths of the gods and those of the heroes, which are often entwined with them or at least border upon them, consists in this: that the latter prove to be, whether more or less, interwoven with history, with the events, not of a primaeval time which lies outside of time, but with historical time, and bordering on it as closely as if they were already history proper and not mythology. We cannot on principle deny factual existence, historicity, to the heroes. They appear before us as if they had in fact existed and only exceptionally achieved the status of gods, on Olympos in the case of Heracles, otherwise in the underworld. But even if they were once historical persons, they exist in their ‘legends’ in a manner which takes them out of ‘history’. We cease to be quite fair to them when we prove their ‘historicity’. They forfeit thereby their mythological aspect, which connects them with the gods and by virtue of which they, like the gods, act as Prototypes. Their existence is a special kind of quasi-existence, which is both less and more than the ordinary existence of human beings–more, because it includes also their posthumous life in cult. [page 1]

Such is the state of existence I envision as residing within the Iris of Time, through which I attempt to attain access. Confused? Well, so am I, but it seems to work in spite of myself. I access this psychic space for inspiration to write fiction.

Update 30 May 2012:

Through the course of two years of using the Iris of Time, I’ve come to realize that it has a connection with mandalas. Perhaps it is a mandala. (See also.) I originally encountered the Iris in a dream I had when I first began Active Imagination. At the time, I didn’t associate it with an iris, but later on, I came to realize that using the key obtained from a woman in that first dream, I could enter the mechanism and that in doing so I entered my Unconscious, and thus it became the Iris of Time. Thoughts of it being a mandala came even later. I have also come to associate it with a pentagonal figure I came up with to connect the Plot Points of a novel and express in a continuous arc the novel’s complete storyline. Thus it both represents processes going on within me and the novel I’m creating at the time. A novelsmith cannot create a work of art without being changed by the process, and that change manifests as the work itself. This is quite similar, or perhaps even identical, to the alchemical process during which the practitioner in his effort to produce the Elixir of Life or the Philosopher’s Stone undergoes a spiritual process of purification analogous to that of the material upon which he works.

Of mandalas, Jung says, “As psychological phenomena they appear spontaneously in dreams.” (Jung, Mandala Symbolism, page 3.) Continuing (page 4), Jung says, “This is evidently an attempt at self-healing on the part of Nature, which does not spring from conscious reflection but from an instinctive impulse.” This attempt at self-healing for the author is what drives him to write in the first place. As for the novel, at its core is a central conflict (the basis of the pentagonal diagram) that is generally locked at the beginning and resolved at the end, so that it has also been “healed.” Or as Jung put it (page 5), “The fact that images of this kind [mandalas] have under certain circumstances a considerable therapeutic effect on their authors [of the mandalas] is empirically proved and also readily understandable, in that they often represent very bold attempts to see and put together apparently irreconcilable opposites and bridge over apparently hopeless splits.” The spontaneous creation of the mandala heals the artist just as does the creation of a novel, although in the later case it may well be generated more consciously. The contents are still obtained from the Unconscious.

One more association with Jungian theory. The purpose of Active Imagination is to create a “transcendent function” that bridges the Conscious and the Unconscious and leads to Individuation. The Iris of Time would then be that bridge, that portal from Consciousness into the Unconscious. The Iris seems to be populated with two women. The first is the woman I met in that first dream who had the key to the Iris. She operates the Iris and will undoubtedly have other functions that I’ve yet to discover. The second woman I call Manto. She is my guide and/or facilitator within the Land beyond the Iris, the Unconscious.

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A Personal Excursion into Jung's Active Imagination.