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The Other Within
The Genius of Deformity in Myth, Culture, and Psyche
Table of Contents
About The Book
• Shows how myths contain medicine to restore wholeness amidst trauma, exile, sudden life change, disability, illness, death, or grief
• Synthesizes lessons from shamanic practice, quantum physics, alchemy, soul poetry, wildness, social justice, and the author’s lived experience
• Discloses the blessings of outsiderhood and the gifts and insights gained and contributed to culture by those who are marginalized and outcast
There is an “other” that lives within each of us, an exiled part that carries wisdom needed for ourselves and the culture at large. Having survived disabling polio as an infant, Daniel Deardorff knows the oppressions of exclusion and outsiderhood. He guides readers on an initiatory journey through ancient myth, literature, and personal revelation to discover our own true identity.
These 10,000-year-old stories contain sacred medicine with insights that release imagination and restore wholeness amid trauma, exile, climate chaos, disability, illness, death, and grief. Illustrating how archetypal figures of the Other--the Trickster, Daimon, Not-I, etc.--hold paradox, Deardorff teaches us to reframe disparities of self/other, civilization/ wilderness, form/deformity and transform the experience of being outcast. Synthesizing lessons from shamanic practice, quantum physics, alchemy, social justice, and his own lived experience, Deardorff affirms the disruptive and transgressive forces that break through dogma, conventionality, and prejudice. He discloses blessings of outsiderhood and gifts to culture by those who are marginalized. Through mythmaking (mythopoesis), the experience of Otherness--cultural, racial, religious, sexual, physiognomic--becomes one of empowerment, a catalyst for human liberation.
Standing like the appellant god at the crossroads-gate, the initiand now surveys a puzzle with no solution—an aporia: one road for the good citizen, and another for the scum of the earth, the dirty-lowdown-dog. In his Myths of the Dog-Man David Gordon White situates the dog as an ubiquitous mythological image for the undesirable, exotic, and inferior races. The image presents its loathsome apex in the miscegenic, cynocephalic—dog-headed—man. The complexity of just why the dog is given this slanderous distinction will be explored shortly; in the meantime, it is enough to know that the dog-men were originally thought to inhabit the wastelands at the edge or threshold of the world. On civilization’s terms this situation is “just fine”: so long as the monsters do not transgress the boundary. However, as imperialism expands toward the outlands, and with the occasional invasion of “cynocephalic hordes,” protective measures must be taken to ensure the continuous purity of social structure.
Keeping the dog-man separate from civil society is synonymous with keeping one’s personal “defects” walled off from consciousness—and especially walled off from the visible public persona. A Great Wall, then, is erected to be the first and last line of defense against all that is “outcast and vagabond.” This ideological wall has its most potent precedent in the legendary Iron Gate, built by Alexander, to hold back the barbarian tides:
“This image, of a hero plugging the sole gap* between the civilized and savage races and worlds, was undoubtedly a very powerful one given the perenniality of this account across a wide array of legends and over several centuries. . . . [T]his episode of the Alexander Romance . . . [appears] in a fourteenth-century Persian miniature entitled Iskandar Builds the Iron Rampart. In this miniature, it is the break between civilization and savagery that is most evident. On the near side of the wall are men in brightly colored clothes manning forges, machines, and other tools used in the wall’s construction. On the far side of the wall are grey desert mountains with ragged underbrush in which crouching, hairy semi-human creatures may be made out, their bodies quite difficult to distinguish from their natural surroundings.”1
Of course the world has changed since the time when this portrayal was taken as fact: instead of the finite flat-earth, we now have a round globe with no apparent edge; boundaries shift daily; the great exoteric walls are demolished. Civilization—Alexander’s side of the Gate—has now overrun the entire surface of the earth.
The term “civilization” or “mass-civilization” as used throughout this work, includes not only all varieties of state and pontifical rule, but also, and more particularly, the tyranny of “civil society.” In its devotion to the one-sidedness of structural status and public persona, civil society must be seen as the tool of oppression and exploitation, a tool bent on upholding the ideal of an individuality with no actual association to the depths of the implicate shape. Consider the buoyant contemporary argument: that civil society is “a social sphere of freedom, voluntary association, and plurality of human relationships, identities, differences, and values” and, more grandiosely, “Civil society [is] upheld as the key notion required to conceptualize the potential for freedom and liberation which this arena contains.”2 These assertions are, to be moderate, absurd; yes, in civil society we are granted many options— freedoms and liberties—to choose from a thousand kinds of breakfast cereal; unwittingly the good-citizen is kept busy, as Michael Meade says, with “choices that don’t count.”3 The half-heartedness of civil society is clearly a contrived seduction to the superficial life of the public persona, the imposition of “structural superiority” as the measure of human value, and, at bottom, an anesthetic to interiority and a conquest of “what the soul really sees.”
Mass-civilization is not community. A mature community valorizes and confirms the initiatory passages/deaths of each individual’s personal/ cosmic identity by its whole-hearted participation in both structure and anti-structure; whereas, civilization renders the implicate individual alienated, devalued, and anonymous. Civilization is structure decreed for structure’s sake; as the words of anthropologist Stanley Diamond make so profoundly clear: “Civilization originates in conquest abroad and oppression at home.”4
Something from the Other-side of Alexander’s Gate—something of primitive consciousness—has been lost; yet there can be no rallying cry here to idealize primitive or tribal society—obviously the tendency to ostracize abnormality is as old as life itself. Nevertheless, it would be naïve in the extreme to overlook the fact that this inherent predisposition to exclusion has reached its pinnacle with the advent of mass-civilization.
Most good citizens have long since decided to let Others carry their strangeness, and so to live half-hearted, to keep the world-gate safely locked and bolted. Upon this it may be inquired: “Well what’s so bad about that? Why not live and let live?” But Alexander’s side of the Gate has overrun the whole earth and the soul-laden dog-man has nowhere left to go. This fact—that there is no longer any “edge of the world” to which deviants may be exiled—has brought about the everincreasing implementation of institutional wastelands, “structures of exclusion” for incarceration of the dog-man in prison, asylum, or zoo. Thus, for the structurally inferior, the paths of exclusion are laid out and seemingly unavoidable. Seduced down into the bowels, they often simply disappear.
If life is understood to be a seamless progress from one structural status to another, then whatever structure we are living in—whether Pentagon or penitentiary—will be the only reality; and what departs from that reality presents the abysmal death-threat of anti-structure. Now the Evil Empire is personified as the Other Within: the exotic dog-man among us.
Built for posterity, the monument of the Iron Gate still stands strong. Between the known and the unknown—the locus of Alexander’s wall is precisely where it has always been: in the center of the human heart. The cosmic split, “the break between civilization and savagery,” between the village and the forest, denotes the ontological gap; a gap that by now the reader will easily recognize as the crossroads of identity: “the seat of the soul.” Standing thus divided by the ancient wall, there are amputated parts of us scattered on both sides. The aporia faced by the out-sider stranded on the in-side of Alexander’s Gate adds another dimension to the plight of the Other Within. One yearns to “leave the herd” and escape structural inferiority by returning through the “sole gap” to some forgotten homeland—however savage and bizarre. And at the same time one wishes for “membership”; yet the Gate confronts incessantly: barring each bright avenue to inclusion the galling sign reads “no admittance.” The double-bind of this circumstance throws the wanderer betwixt the clashing rocks of no-entry-into and no-escape-from. Consequently, the Other Within will need both resistance and resilience, to face the conundrum of Alexander’s Iron Gate; for the spell of its damnation will fall when least expected and where most vulnerable. As Clyde W. Ford—a mythologist who is also an African American—recounts:
“With a deepened interest in mythology and especially in the hero’s journey, I was excited to turn to the contributions Africa has made to world mythology. But what a surprise it was to consult The Hero with a Thousand Faces by the late Joseph Campbell, perhaps the most famous modern text on mythology, and read this opening phrase:
“’Whether we listen with aloof amusement to the dreamlike mumbo jumbo of some red-eyed witch doctor of the Congo, or read with cultivated rapture thin translations from the sonnets of the mystic Lao-tse.’
“These words were my Symplegades—the ominous clashing rocks through which the Greek hero Jason had to pass before reaching the Sea of Wonders en route to recapturing the Golden Fleece. I closed the book with a heavy heart.”5
To his profound credit Dr. Ford persevered and made passage between the “clashing rocks” of this betrayal going on to give us The Hero with an African Face.
Dismissive “aloof amusement” is just one civil trick, among many, in the massman’s unconscious defense against the terror of Otherness. As already indicated, maintaining structural purity by keeping the dogpeople separate from “civil society” is synonymous with keeping one’s personal defects walled off from the inner-sanctum of ordered consciousness—and especially walled off from the pure and bright public persona.
In self-defense, the egocentric identity, quite rightly, recognizes that the crisis of rapport with Otherness will mean its certain death (it is hard to abandon even the thinnest illusion that we are normal). Still, if one hopes to survive as the Other Within, it will be vital to accept and exercise the poetic-power in the deep ambivalence evoked by “the symbol of the dog . . . at one and the same time a guardian and benign spirit and the object of God’s curse [contraries which] make it the preeminent example of the ‘fallen angel.’”6 After all, is it not the “fallen angel” within us and amongst us, whom we most fear?
“The ‘Hounds of Herne the Hunter,’ or the ‘Dogs of Annwm,’ which hunt souls across the sky are, in British folklore, also called ‘Gabriel ratches’ or ‘Gabriel hounds’ . . . Gabriel, whose day was Monday, ran errands for Sheol (the Hebrew Hecate) and was sent to summon souls to Judgement. . . . This was Hermes’s task, and Herne, a British oak-god whose memory survived in Windsor Forest until the eighteenth century, is generally identified with Hermes. Gabriel and Herne are equated in the early thirteenth-century carvings around the church door at Stoke Gabriel in South Devon. The angel Gabriel looks down from above, but on the right as one enters are carved the wild hunter, his teeth bared in a grin and a wisp of hair over his face, and a brace of his hounds close by. But Hermes in Egypt . . . was the dog-headed god Anubis.”7
The dog-man, then, is a Devil inspiring both awe and dread. Herne the Wild Hunter of souls, as Graves shows, is another face of Hermes, the angel Gabriel, and the dog-headed god Anubis. Thus, a visitation from this cynocephalic deity confronts the human soul at the cusp of life and death. Just so, the dog-man threatens the structure-bound with the looming corruption of Hell:
“Guardians of the gates of hell, hellhounds, and the souls of the dead themselves are often depicted as canine. In fact, it is not so much that the dog’s role extends beyond the world of the living into that of the dead, but rather that the dog’s place lies between one world and another. . . . the place of the dog in nearly all that it does in its relationship to man is liminal.”8
“Guardians of the gates of hell” summoning souls to judgment and damnation! No wonder the structure-bound are so anxious.
Even if “the divine energies are isolated in the archetypal world” association with such evocative images must still be handled with caution. Over-identification with the mythic-personage, or archetypalpresence, of Death would be a huge inflation, potentially displacing one’s implicate identity. Nevertheless these mytho-logical explanations for the massman’s irrational reactions—of awe and dread—instill a sense to the senseless and meaningless suffering of imposed inferiority. In spite of the insult one may understand that there is an archetypal “presence” or resonance in the imposition, and hence a potential influx of divine energies. Here again, put in different terms, is that same difficult coincidentia oppositorum: where comprehension and acceptance of the efficacy and burden of the archetypal-imposition—the mask of the dog-man—provides a refuge and a theater for the implicate life.
- Publisher: Inner Traditions (November 8, 2022)
- Length: 288 pages
- ISBN13: 9781644115688
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Raves and Reviews
“One of the most astonishing, thought-provoking, and strategically subversive books I’ve ever read. The Other Within weaves mythology, depth psychology, and profound musings on disability and art, dancing at the edge of the unsayable to unmake the social structures that oppress us all.”
– Steve Silberman, author of NeuroTribes
“A book to savor . . . a love song to the Outsider, a paeon to the transformative potential of myth, a profound and generous guidebook for living wholeheartedly in dangerous times.”
– Sharon Blackie, Ph.D., author of If Women Rose Rooted and The Enchanted Life
“The ‘other within’ is uncertain terrain for many, and we need someone to guide us through this labyrinth of the unfamiliar. Daniel Deardorff is that expert guide. Essential reading.”
– Clyde W. Ford, author of Of Blood and Sweat and The Hero with an African Face
“This book is a well, a portal, a very carefully tended path into the mysteries of myth. It is also a map, a worthwhile one for learning how to transcend the complexities and challenges faced by individuals on entering this Earth. It is a must-read for those wanting to understand boldness of heart in the face of adversity.”
– Miguel Rivera, musician, mentor, translator, and teacher
“The Other Within is liberating. Deardorff frees us from the oppressive weight of the ideal, the perfect, and draws our gaze toward the borderlands where we catch glimpses of what has been outcast. The trail that Deardorff invites us to follow through the brambles of the psyche is not easy or comforting. His is a work of descent, an invitation into the depths of soul. It is here that we discover the medicine needed by our struggling world. We enter the hive of vulnerability, sorrow, uncertainty, and shame and recover our shared humanity. This book is a blessing to anyone who ever felt estranged from the shimmering world.”
– Francis Weller, MFT, author of The Wild Edge of Sorrow
“Deardorff’s masterpiece weaves a tempestuous spell that tosses us into shadowy depths where we might encounter that strange and strangely familiar one within who is, blessedly, an outcast from the life-destroying, conformist-consumer culture precisely because they understand their destined role in shaping the mysterious new world calling to us in the night. The Other Within is one of the few books I recommend to those learning to guide others on the descent to soul.”
– Bill Plotkin, Ph.D., author of Soulcraft and Wild Mind
“I read the first sentence and was stopped in my tracks: ‘Denial is contagious and facts are an addictive substitute for truth.’ I told Daniel that I could spend my whole life on just this sentence. When Deardorff writes about walking among the ashes, it reminds us that there is a cost to thewisdom journey; there is a cost to freedom. This true and crooked path has gifts for us no matter the wound. With Trickster Wisdom through myths, he shows us the way deeper into ourselves and, by doing so, connects us more to each other.”
– Quanita Roberson, coauthor of The InnerGround Railroad
“Daniel Deardorff searches through our mythic inheritance for the radical otherness that allows the human soul to find and handle the contradictions and oppositions inherent in all of life. With insight and wit, he finds the beauty within disfigurement, the worthiness of crooked things, and the essential genius hidden in the outcast. He offers an imagination of the transgressive, an inventive trickster intelligence that revalues the necessary otherness found both in the margins of culture and in the depths of the individual soul.”
– Michael Meade, author of Awakening the Soul
“As I said to fellow wordsmith Michael Ventura just before I went on stage to play drums with Danny, ‘maybe Deardorff should be Jim Morrison’s replacement. He won’t be wearing leather pants, but his depth of soul is a match.’”
– John Densmore, author of The Seekers, The Doors: Unhinged, and Riders on the Storm
“The storyteller casts spells. The spells that Daniel Deardorff wove spell out the dark myths of othering that rule the world we have created and that warps our relationship to one another and to the Earth. It is most often from the margin or from exile, from the othered, the deviant (physical, racial, ethnic, religious, sexual) that enlightenment and the prophet comes. Never have we more needed to hear the voices of our healer storytellers such as Danny tell and elucidate for us the healing myths.”
– Rafael Jesús González, poet laureate of Berkeley, California
“The boundlessness of Daniel Deardorff’s soul, the ferocity and tenderness of his heart rang like a struck bell within each person who came upon his path. In him the divine was constantly working on itself, puzzling its favorite koan: In what sort of body, in what kind of creature, can I most exuberantly dance? This lucid book masquerades as a work of scholarship. Watch it waltz you over the cliff.”
– David Abram, author of The Spell of the Sensuous and Becoming Animal
“Because the important figure of the Trickster has eluded many in our modern culture, I urge you to read Daniel Deardorff on the subject. In this amazing study of the real and imagined ‘other,’ he has given a valuable roadmap to the profound regions of Story.”
– Gioia Timpanelli, author of Sometimes the Soul
“At any moment when it seems like we have squandered the spiritual journey and feel like an outcast, we might just stumble into unexpected illumination. Deardorff’s The Other Within is a unique contribution to our understanding of the inner quest. It shows us how to see the extraordinary beauty in our brokenness.”
– Jonathan Young, Ph.D., psychologist, founding curator of the Joseph Campbell Archives
“The Other Within challenges our understanding to grasp not only the conundrum of our mutually destructive impulses but the very roots of the human imagination. Deardorff’s book will reward the seeker with its kaleidoscopic range of knowledge to explain that the fearsome stranger approaching is our own visage in the mirror.”
– Paul Kleyman, national coordinator of the Journalists Network on Generations
“Unflinching, sometimes uncomfortable, always brave and provocative, this is a book like no other.”
– Ellen Dissanayake, author of Homo Aestheticus
“Daniel’s polio made him crooked; his heart made him true. We all can be true if we listen to Daniel, not only with our ears but also with our hearts.”
– Dr. Richard L. Bruno, director of the International Centre for Polio Education
“The telling of myths is medicine for the soul. Danny is, thanks to his brilliant work in The Other Within, just an amazing medicine man the likes of whom will never be seen in this world again. If you had the opportunity to see and hear him, you know how blessed of a man he was and how he blessed all of us who had the privilege and honor to be in his presence. What a remarkable story weaver.”
– John Lee, author of Odd One Out and The Flying Boy
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