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Gate of Death

Mythical Journeys to the Otherworld

Evans Lansing Smith


Three-Part Series: Sundays, January 28, February 25, March 25, 2018


 Ladera Lane Campus: Classroom G


$65 – Pacifica Students

$75 – Alumni, Seniors, Full-Time Students

$99 – General Rate

 A series of three Sunday evening sessions focusing on the mythologies of the nekyia—a Greek word for the journey to the underworld—in film, art history, literature, music, psychology, and graphic media. The nekyia was C.G. Jung’s “Myth of Analysis” throughout the course of his career, and it is an inexhaustible source of images, songs, and stories. The series explores those stories and the archetypal imagery associated with the myth in a broad range of ancient and contemporary manifestations. It will be of special interest to creative professionals—such as filmmakers, writers, artists, photographers, dancers, and musicians—as well as anyone interested in the role of myth and dream in the individuation process. Each session will be from 5:00 to 9:00 on Sunday evening, and will include a presentation followed by a film.

Session 1: The Descent to the Underworld, Past and Present

Presentation: “Mythologies of the Underworld”

Film: Ingmar Bergman’s Wild Strawberries

A review of the archetypal imagery and foundational mythologies of the nekyia in stories about couples in quest: Inanna and Dumuzi, Isis and Osiris, Hades and Persephone, Odysseus and Circe, Eros and Psyche, and Dionysus and Ariadne (as depicted in the Villa of the Mysteries in Pompeii). It then follows the development of the myth in the paintings of the Medieval, Romantic, and Modernist periods, and concludes with its psychological significance in C.G. Jung’s Red Book and the treatment of mental illness and PTSD among military veterans.

Session 2: The Domain of the Faerie Queene

Presentation: “The Nekyia in Folktales and Ballads”

Film: Jean Cocteau’s Belle et Béte

A journey to the otherworld in folktales, such as the Grimms Brothers’ “The Devil and the Three Golden Hairs,” the Russian stories of “Ivan the Cow’s Son” and “Vasilisa the Beautiful,” and folksongs, such “The Erl King,” “Thomas the Rhymer,” and “Tam Lin,” and contemporary versions of songs by Pentangle, Anais Mitchell, and the Grateful Dead.

Session 3: The Romance of the Grail

Presentation: “Journeys to the Otherworld in the Romances of the Grail”

Film: “Monty Python’s Holy Grail”

The presentation begins with a memoir of a trip to France with Joseph Campbell. It then explores the marvelous stories of such Arthurian Knights as Yvain, Lancelot, Gawain, and Parzival in poetry, illuminated manuscripts, Pre-Raphaelite painting, and selected sequences from such films as John Boorman’s Excalibur, Hans Jürgen Syberberg’s Parsifal, and Eric Rohmer’s Perceval. We will also consider Postmodernism’s radical re-figurations of the Quests in paintings of Anselm Kiefer; the novels of Leonora Carrington, Umberto Eco, and Thomas Pynchon; in the songs of The Grateful Dead; and in the Graphic Novel Series, Camelot 2000.


Evans Lansing Smith, PhD, is Chair and Core Faculty of the Mythological Studies Program at the Pacifica Graduate Institute, in Santa Barbara, CA. In the 1970s, he traveled with Joseph Campbell on tours of Northern France, Egypt, and Kenya. He has taught at colleges and institutes in Switzerland, Italy, France, Maryland, Texas, and California, and is the recipient of awards for distinguished teaching from Midwestern State University in Texas, and the Pacifica Graduate Institute in California. His Ph.D. is from The Claremont Graduate School, and he has an M.A. in Creative Writing from Antioch International (London and Dublin), and a B.A. from Williams College. He is the author of ten books (including a recent volume of poems) and numerous articles on comparative literature and mythology. He has given presentations for the C.G. Jung Institutes in Küsnacht and New York City, the Seattle Friends of Jung, the Modern Language Association, the American Association for the Study of Popular Culture, the Study of Myth Conference at Pacifica Graduate Institute, the Ojai Writer’s Conference, and the Casa dei Pesci at Circeo San Felice, in Italy. His edited volume of Joseph Campbell’s writings and lectures on the Grail Romances was published in 2015, and his edition of the Selected Correspondence of Joseph Campbell is forthcoming.