My writing and teaching look at cultural and political events from the perspectives of mythology, archetypal psychology and indigenous wisdom traditions. I offer big, provocative ideas written in plain English. My intention is to inspire you to think beyond conventional political, economic, historical, religious and even psychological analysis. I want you to think mythologically.
What does this mean? It means to constantly interrogate our assumptions about self and society by looking at the narratives — the mythologies — that we take for granted. Sometimes we find that those narratives point us toward deeper, archetypal themes that we need to pursue in order to know ourselves. Other times we will discover that the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves — or about others — no longer serve us and simply reinforce our sense of innocence.
I want to invite readers to get comfortable inhabiting the space between the polar opposites. One is the possibility of who we might become as we tell the new stories struggling to be born. The other is who we are now as a culture, and how are leaders embody our old, toxic stories. But only by dropping our default mode of naiveté, idealization and innocence and unblinkingly acknowledging the depths of the darkness can we open ourselves to the possibilities of real transformation.
Winner of the 2011 PEN/Oakland Josephine Miles Literary Award
Conventional political, economic, sociological,
religious and psychological explanations
can no longer make sense of the madness
we encounter on a daily basis.
We need a new — or very old — way of thinking.
We need a broader perspective that mythology offers us.
You can order the book for $22.00 plus $3.00/shipping from Amazon or through Paypal.
When political, economic and religious leaders no longer offer any solutions to the massive crises that confront us, it’s time to re-imagine who we are as individuals and as a nation. Madness at the Gates of the City: The Myth of American Innocence shows how America regularly re-enacts old patterns that cause us to subvert our goals, miss the deeper meaning in events and, perhaps, fail to prevent our headlong slide into cultural collapse. But by looking at our history, politics and popular culture through the lenses of Greek mythology, indigenous wisdom and archetypal psychology, Barry Spector discovers new hope in very old ways of thinking.
To the Greeks, Dionysus was the god of paradox and extremes, of passion and masks, of ecstatic joy and vengeance, of tragic drama and of madness. But that was long ago. Or was it? After two millennia of Christianity and five hundred years of scientific rationalism, Dionysus and his modern substitutes persist in our imagination as images of “the Other.” He is everything that America has cast into the shadows: woman, race, nature and the body.
European settlers brought a legacy of puritanical intolerance to the New World. They developed literature, theology and political rhetoric that gradually coalesced into a mythology of divinely inspired new beginnings, heroic destiny and good intentions – the myth of American innocence. However, these stories covered over a legacy of racism and violent imperialism. Fear of the dark, Dionysian strangers at our doors – first Indians, then witches, then slaves and their descendants, then communists – both stimulated our anxieties and held them in check. Nearly four hundred years later, these mythic narratives have not lost their hold upon us. Now the fear of terrorism helps to define us as “not them.”
The Other provides a unique window into American history, and especially our current political madness. This irrepressible aspect of both soul and society may re-emerge at any moment, bringing either mass chaos or longed-for healing. The choice is up to us, because Dionysus is part of us.
Madness at the Gates of the City should appeal to anyone interested in myth, Classics, history, progressive politics or psychology. It will provide much new insight for people searching for new ways to understand how we behave in the world and what we might become.
-- Robert A. Johnson, author of He, She, We, Ecstasy, Transformation, Owning Your Own Shadow and Inner Work
Howard Zinn, author of A People’s History of the United States
author of A Path With Heart
Jean Houston, author of A Mythic Life, The Possible Human and The Hero and the Goddess
Barry Spector has opened a sealed door to a hidden world in the dungeons of Americana, where the god Dionysus dwells. But Dionysus doesn’t wait below patiently: he escapes every day, in music, in dance, in drama, frenzy and myth, sawing through cold brick and the fevered forefront of consciousness. Madness at the Gates of the City explores that underworld of national repression and exhumes ancient gods of the Western psyche that were once thought dead and gone to promote the healing balms of balance against the dystopian present of militarism, consumerism, racism and empire. Spector imagines a New America, one at peace with itself, its real self, not its imagined self.
Mumia Abu-Jamal, author of Jailhouse Lawyers and Live from Death Row
Madness at the Gates of the City is at once an indictment of America’s obsession with innocence and a treatise on tragedy and myth. Provocative and challenging, it echoes with penetrating ideas and mythic nuances.
Michael Meade, author of The World Behind the World; The Water of Life: Initiation and the Tempering of the Soul; and Fate and Destiny
Barry Spector’s Madness At The Gates Of The City explores how Euripides’ Bacchae, written to warn his late 5th century Athenian compatriots of the internal destructive forces threatening their beloved city, might help us look more honestly at the false innocence that sustains our illusions about the American dream and prevents our acknowledging its dark underside. Yet, the book ends with a beautifully voiced “story that could be true”: we could lift these repressive blinders, we could learn to hear and heed an archetypal cry for initiation into a way of being in the world that honors the life-giving energies the Greeks called by the name Dionysos.
Christine Downing, past president of the American Academy of Religion, author of The Goddess: Mythological Images of the Feminine