Saturday, September 15, 2012

The Devil's Music . . . perhaps its Soul?

A Commentary on Mark Winborn’s Deep Blues: Human Soundscapes for the Archetypal Journey by Deborah Bryon

Originally published in Jung Journal: Culture & Psyche, Summer 2012, Vol. 6, Num. 3, pp. 96-97 (

I was surprised and delighted to encounter the colorful and poeticstyle in Mark Winborn’s Deep Blues: Human Soundscapes for the Archetypal Journey. Through his writing, he reminds us that blues music- like visual imagery - can be a rich, metaphoric language with the capacity to hold archetypal experience as a living entity. As a Jungian analyst pulling from his own background as a musician, Winborn creates a compelling space for the deep spiritual expression of blues experience as it surfaces on the pages of this book, giving it a voice of its own.

Winborn starts by tracing blues history back to its original roots, paralleling it with Greek tragedy and the perils of Orpheus and Odysseus. By asking the question, “What is the blues?” Winborn explores the music as both an internal psychological state and an attitude–a philosophy and way of being in the world. Similar to working with a dream, he circumambulates around symbolic themes found in blues material – first, in a historical context using amplification, and then by describing the blues as a vehicle for psychological healing and transformation. Winborn successfully moves back and forth from being in the actual experience of relating to the blues into expressing it through verbal language that is both imaginative and easily accessible to the reader.

Next, Winborn travels into universal themes encrypted in the lyrics of blues songs. The shared emotional state between the performer and the audience, arising from the human experience of daily living, becomes poetically transformed through musical metaphor. The blues is a language of the senses and a language of spirit. The human experience of love and heartbreak, the early mother-child bond, addictions, and sexual frustrations, for example, are remembered, and once again come alive.

In addition to considering the blues within the context of a personal frame of reference, blues is a collective energetic experience. Winborn explores the trance-like nature of the blues that is capable of bringing the listener, as well as the performer, into a field of unitary reality. Through the creative process of being touched by sound we become one with the experience. Besides offering a means for human emotional expression, the sounds of the blues penetrate the body in a way that brings visceral experience of sensual embodiment, and with this redemption and new awareness. Opposites are transcended through the immediacy of being in relationship with life that takes place in ontological time.

Winborn examines the cultural myths of the blues as “devil’s music.” The blues originated as a reaction to the oppression of slavery, manifesting in archetypal shadow figures of the “bad man,” the trickster, and other potentially self-destructive archetypal characters associated with possession by the death instinct. Yet the blues can also be regenerative–bringing the capacity for growth and new life. Jung stated that energy contained in our personal shadow is life force. Blues music is also about the ecstasy of initiation and being in the twilight of the crossroads of liminal spaces, between darkness and light–the places where magic happens and shamans cross bridges between ordinary and non-ordinary reality.

Winborn goes on to suggest that healing which takes place in hearing blues music is a shamanic rather than analytic process. Creating a contagion through the music is the elixir. The constantly changing lyrics provide context and meaning as the singer’s personality, feelings, and state of mind shines through with shifts and fluctuations of subjective experience in any given moment. If a feeling response is evoked by the performer, that brings the listener into the enchantment of the projection created by the music, then the song is effective. The blues narrative is one of the ways we can face and synthesize the unprocessed and repressed aspects of the shadow in our own journey, as well as the collective cultural psyche as a whole. The blues musician functions as a channel with access to the energy of the collective experience of pain by humanizing it and making it more tolerable.

Sparked by reading Deep Blues I found myself drifting into my own reverie, wondering if the powerful archetypal charge constellated in blues symbols is a reflection of the separation that is a bi-product of living in modern culture? Do the blues provide us with the needed cathartic experience that we have lost the ability to generate as easily on our own? Winborn reminds us of the personification and humor in first-person stories conveyed by blues singers, making us remember the feeling of being human, and with this, the capacity for relatedness.

I thoroughly enjoyed Deep Blues, and would highly recommend the book. In his writing, Winborn artfully moves the reader into an archetypal Dionysian experience residing in the body, and prompts us to remember that blues music makes us feel alive. He follows blues experience into the alchemical realm of the prima material – instinct in its most raw and vital form--by using the metaphor of color to describe how blues music can resonate in our psyches. In reading Deep Blues, I wished for an expanded discussion of the alchemical healing that a blues melody has on the psyche. Shadow material can emerge not only in the words but in the energy generated from the relationship between the notes of the blues scales bending on guitar strings. This phenomenon might add additional fodder for exploring archetypal expression–but perhaps this will be a topic Winborn will explore in greater length in a future book.

To quote Winborn, citing Chicago blues disc jockey Purvis Spann, “If you don’t like blues, you’ve got a hole in your soul.” Anyone who has listened to a captivating blues melody knows that these sounds come from the heart and the soul, from deep inside. As Winborn has describes, the listener cannot resist the inward pull of the melody, just as it is impossible to refrain from tapping to the beat. when we are captured in the spell of listening to the blues.

Deborah Bryon, PhD, is an analyst with the Inter-Regional Society of Jungian Analysts and practices in the Denver, Colorado area. She is the author of a book on shamanic experiences, Lessons of the Inca Shamans: Piercing the Veil, released by Pine Winds Press in August 2012 (

Read more reviews of Deep Blues and listen to an audio interview with Dr. Winborn at

Fisher King Press publishes an eclectic mix of worthy books including Jungian Psychological Perspectives, Cutting-Edge Fiction, Poetry, and a growing list of alternative titles. 

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