by Holly Fincher, Ph.D.
The Soul of Sex
by Thomas Moore
1998, Harper Collins, 307 pages, $25.00 Cloth
Recently, the field of depth psychology took an eye-popping step with the publication of Spring 57's "Archetypal Sex", a journal which left many a reader's gaze fixed on the cover image of a divine sexual encounter involving the god Pan and one of his friends. The written content of this issue was exciting too, as James Hillman took us through the story of Aphrodite's "Pink Madness," while others considered the archetypal nature of sex. Of course there are other publications, many Jungian, involving depth and sex, some concerning alchemical imagery, others the archetypal nature of romantic love, and others the archetype of the lover or perhaps mistress. And when thinking about the foundations of depth psychology, we must not forget Freud's theories which exemplify the way in which sex and sexuality have underpinned the field and had a stronghold on our western culture for what seems like forever. Sex, in perspective, is archetypal, and now we have a fine addition to the field's past and recent explorations with Thomas Moore's The Soul of Sex, a newly published book-length exploration of how sexuality, in its many forms, can guide us into a renewal of soul and fuller meaning in life, when embraced for its imaginal qualities.
Perhaps the beauty of Moore's previous writings lies most in his ability to teach the soulful way to the uninitiated reader while retaining an appeal to those well-versed in the ways of the soul. Following suit, The Soul of Sex is no exception. The title alone stands to stir curiosity in a large audience, while the content offers understanding, insight, and fodder for thought to all levels of readership. Beginning with a short introduction, Moore clarifies his intent with the topic, indicating a desire to bring sensuousness back into a sex-obsessed modern society, thereby restoring the way in which sex belongs to the imaginal realm of the soul, and as such, offers us a vital source of fulfillment in life and culture. Moore tells us "In some ways sex is the facade of the soul, and when we deal with it thoughtfully, the whole interior cosmos comes into the foreground." (p. xii) For this reviewer, such an understanding illuminates the ability of the individual's inner relationship with sex to enhance one's inner journey through providing experience with the contents of psyche.
One quite interesting example of Moore's thoughtful approach to sex and its potential for meaningful and soulful contribution to life is found in the third chapter with his interpretation of Nathaniel Hawthorne's character, Hester Prynne in The Scarlet Letter. Prynne is an example, according to Moore, of a "rich mythic figure of sexualitythe woman caught in adultery," (p. 73). She is presented as a literary character much undervalued by modern society for the lesson in the value of her sufferings attributed to her sexual conduct. Moore explores Prynne's decision to embrace her fate rather than deny it, wearing her sign of sin, the scarlet letter, and living her life honestly by embracing the reality of her actions. Moore looks to the open and virtuous nature of Prynne's passion for her soulful example, stating:
As part of our quest for a blemish-free emotional life, we may look for a complete absolution after having betrayed sexually, but Hawthorne preserves life's complexity by suggesting that there is no way ultimately to remove the scarlet letter, which is a sign not only of literal adultery but also of the eternally soul-shaping soiling of sexuality. Once we have fallen to passion, we have to live our lives keeping that failure in sight. Not just a mental awareness, but a full-hearted owning of the failure ushers us into our humanity. This is a kind of submission to the authority of passion that takes us deep into life, where we can engage, as Hester Prynne did, in humane community service and achieve a moral position that enhances rather than restricts life. (p. 76-77)
Moore illustrates how Prynne's embodiment of opposites, that is, her weak vulnerability to passion and her strength in owning her sin openly and fully, leads her to a fulfilling life ultimately. It is her willingness to embrace rather than run from the pain and suffering brought on by her draw toward passion that leads her to her humanity. Moore offers Prynne as an example of a shaping of soul through the darkness that is sexual betrayal.
Of course, the entirety of The Soul of Sex is not a discussion of betrayal and suffering. Moore covers a wide range of topics related to the sexual including the beauty of the body, the mythical history of the sex organs, sexuality in the religious (including religion's occasional denial of), celibacy, morality, marriage, fantasy, everyday sensuousness, the mythical meaning of the sex of the gods and more. And with all of this, he emphasizes the importance of not taking life and sex too literally as our modern society usually does. Rather, Moore suggests that imagination and emotion are key for bringing sex back to the soul, and soul back to life. Obviously, there is a literal side to sex, but it is the underlying psychological connections sex can illuminate that are truly of concern. "Desire may look carnal " indicates Moore, " but it is more likely connected to the unfolding of the soul." (p. 176)
Overall, this reviewer was pleasantly taken with this recent work by Moore, and suspects you will be too. Read The Soul of Sex for its rich source of stories and mythical details, and for the gentle way Moore will guide you, the reader, through a learning of soul's need for the sexual and the living that comes from a soulful life through sensuousness in the everyday. Sex is not a literal act, but rather a weaving of possibilities through psychological life. Sex belongs to the soul, speaking of which, still needs our care. The more depth psychology continues exploring and taking understanding out into the world, the more soul and the earthiness of sex can return to life. Moore's recent work, The Soul of Sex, is a thoughtful and accomplished step forward.
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