James Hollis and the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
It was twenty years ago now that I began meeting with two good friends for an honest exploration of what it means to be men in the modern world. We chose laughably “manly” settings for our meetings, including one exclusive, oak-panelled club where we’d sip good scotch, play a little pool, and in winter sit by the open fire smoking cigars as we talked. We smirked at the hubris of it all. But we took the talk seriously.
We called ourselves the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. We didn’t feel particularly extraordinary at the time. In fact, with marriages falling apart and questions arising about our vocations as Christian ministers, we often came to our meetings feeling we’d been beaten up. But we did feel like gentlemen, honourable men trying to face up to the work life was giving us to do so that we could act with courage and conviction. And for that we needed a mentor.
The mentor we chose came to us as a writer of books on depth psychology, being the intellectual legacy of Carl Jung. He never attended our meetings. He didn't even know we existed, not until, years later, we corresponded with him through a mutual friend. But we read his books, all his books. He wrote about things that mattered to us.
His erudite wisdom and his uncanny ability to uncover the tricky truths of being human led us deeper into our soulful journeys. Swamplands of the Soul unearthed the baggage we carry in the unconscious places of our lives. The Eden Project warned us of the unrealized ideals we impose on our life partners, as if they should fulfil all our longings on our behalf. Tracking the Gods discovered the archetypal identities formerly sought on Mount Olympus that now live within our own psyches, but as neuroses. Under Saturn’s Shadow taught us about the wounds men blindly inflict upon one another.
Our conversations with these books and with one another provided us with a vocabulary for both the hurts and the longings that marked our lives. From a certain perspective we began to see our lives as epic journeys. We felt like the heroes of our own stories, but not like victors and conquerors, not like Hercules or the Titan gods, destroying everything they tried to fix. It was more that we were becoming actors in our lives, rather than victims. Psyche (the Greek word for Soul) was putting its indelible stamp on each of us.
The writer, of course, is Jungian analyst James Hollis, the League's only “honorary member.” I’ve just interviewed him for the next episode of The Mystic Cave. Now into his eighties, Hollis continues to write and to teach and to inspire countless seekers by unpacking the enormous contributions that Carl Jung has made to our self-understanding. His own vocabulary is daunting, having taught English literature and Humanities before going off to Zurich to be trained as an analyst. But as he’s aged, his writing has become more and more personal, and we’ve been treated to a glimpse of the man behind the words.
My conversation with Hollis was rich and rewarding, as befits members of the League. We spoke of Psyche's invitation to consider its many manifestations in the troubling patterns and complexes of our lives, and also of the resistance we all feel to accepting that invitation. Examining our lives for hints of a greater meaning and purpose can only lead to what Hollis calls a more “interesting” life. That may not sound like much. But to Hollis it’s everything. We weren’t put on this earth to drown in the dullness of our unlived lives. We are far more "interesting" than that.
To listen to my conversation with James Hollis press the Play button below. To learn more about his work and his books just hit the Information button and scroll down the page that appears there.