The following is excerpted from Metagenealogy: Self-Discovery Through Psychomagic and the Family Tree by Alejandro Jodorowsky and Marianne Costa, published by Inner Traditions.
The problems of previous generations affect the baby’s gestation from the moment the sperm penetrates the egg. At this key moment not only is the mother’s psyche present, but so is that of the father, grandparents, great-grandparents, and any social upheaval.
In my case, the most significant influence was perhaps the anti-Semitism of emperor Alexander III on Russia from 1881 to 1884, when he made the Jewish people scapegoats to appease the discontent of his subjects, accusing the Jews of slaughtering children to make bread for their black masses with their blood. A wave of pogroms broke out, during one of which my maternal grandmother, Jashe (a Sephardic brunette), was raped by a Cossack. Pregnant, she fled Russia and landed in Argentina, where she brought a daughter with marble skin and big blue eyes into the world: Sara, my mother, the child of an infamous rape. Jashe, in order to justify her daughter’s abnormal beauty, invented a ballet dancer who gave up a promising artistic career to flee with her to South America and who died, unfortunately, while climbing on a barrel of alcohol in order to light a lamp: the lid gave way under his weight. Jashe married the brave man Moises, with whom she had two ugly daughters (brunettes) who despised my mother. They settled in Iquique, Chile, a port whose wealth was due to the precious potassium nitrate cargo. Moises and Jashe got rich in the gold trade. Once Sara became a woman, she made a love faux pas with a non-Jew (a duplication of contact between the Cossack phallus and the Jewish vagina). To avoid scandal, she married Jaime, a poor young man who—in exchange for the family’s established trade—accepted her torn hymen (as Moises did with Jashe).
Regrettably, the day after the wedding night my father’s mother Teresa entered into the nuptial chamber to examine the sheets. Upon not finding any trace of blood, she leaned out of the window to publicly insult Sara the whore. Jaime, to avoid public humiliation, threatened to declare that he had been duped. A new sum of money silenced him. Together, Sara and Jaime, bound by “what people might say,” moved to Tocopilla, far from the gossip of the Jewish community. They lived in this strict town feeling oppressed, hating one another. My humiliated mother refused any attempts my father made to possess her. Each intercourse was turned into a rape. Jashe was raped. Sara was raped. Like my mother, a violent sperm and a victim egg created me.
The terror of male brutality is engraved in the cellular memory of my grandmother, my mother, and then me. Nevertheless, the feeling was theirs, not mine. I was born afraid of my father. Whenever he approached the cradle, I pushed out terrorizing howls. I never ceased fearing him. But I never stopped imitating him either. In my film El Topo I shot a scene in which my character, a brutal bandit, rapes a woman. Later, the bandit shaves his beard and his locks, breaks his revolver, and turns into a saint. Unconsciously, I wanted to prove to my mother that not all men were scoundrels, and so I gave myself the right to leave my childhood and become an adult.
A violent sperm and a victim egg cannot provide for the individual the same vital energy born of a generously opened egg and a sperm filled with love. Everything is written in the cells—suffering—as well as ecstasy. Throughout all of existence the repeating past and the creating future will fight, constantly reproducing the moment at which life nestled itself into the first cell.
Our work consists of becoming conscious, freeing ourselves from emotions, ideas, cravings, and feelings that do not pertain to us. “Family, I give you back your fears, anxieties, failures, violence, intolerance, and dissatisfaction, your mental blinders that prevented you from seeing the suffering, and your belief that happiness resides in this suffering.”
The project of Consciousness—which is to create a perfect, harmonious being, destined to live a long life full of vital joyfulness—can be interrupted in countless ways during the development of the embryo.
Sara managed to convince herself that a legendary dancer had created her to overcome the anguish over being the daughter of a Cossack rapist. Pregnant with me, it wasn’t me she awaited but rather her imaginary father: I was born with skin as white as milk, with an abundance of blond hair that she refused to cut until I was four years of age. One day my father, furious that I looked like a little girl because it reminded him of his younger homosexual brother, secretly brought me to the barber. When I returned home with my peeled skull, Sara screamed and locked herself in the kitchen to cry. Seeing that my hair grew back darker, she lost interest in me. She never hugged or kissed me again. When I was around eight, my mother cut her finger on a bread knife and told me, without giving it much thought, that on the fifth day of her pregnancy she bled a little. Neither she nor I realized (as I now know) that this small hemorrhage was the eviction of another egg: that of my twin brother. This should shine light on this story I loved so much as a child: the half chicken.
There once was a half chicken who had one wing, one leg, one eye, and half a tail. He had half a beak, half a body, and half a head. He retained nothing of what he ate so he was always hungry. His half–a-stomach let everything escape. He spread sadness everywhere he went. The half chicken devoured whole plantations of wheat, corn, and rice, as well as salad and vegetables, absolutely everything. Moreover, even if he swallowed a lake, a river, an ocean with all its fish, his thirst never was quenched. After having desperately traveled the whole world, he returned to his village, where he met another half chicken just as hungry and thirsty as he was. They instantly loved one another like brothers. Every day, satisfied, they shared a drop of water and a grain of rice.
I took pleasure in calling myself “half chicken.” Reacting to this nickname, I felt incomplete and looked for a brother. My father’s shop was next to a fire station. The humble security guard of the building had a son my age, Orlando, with whom I established a deep friendship that allowed me to feel whole for the first time in my life. Thanks to him, I explored the abandoned Cerro Don Pancho mine, I climbed up sixty-five feet where the fire hoses hung, I entered through a hole in the wall in the back of the cinema to watch horror films, and finally, I masturbated in a circle of boys whose idol was Orlando. This symbiosis lasted five years. At ten years of age, as my parents suddenly tore me away from Tocopilla to bring me to the capital, Santiago, I felt that which my generator egg had to have experienced in losing his twin—a wave of cold that seemed to freeze me to the marrow of my bones. I ceased feeling incomplete when I met Enrique Lihn when we were both ten years old. I recount my adventures with this friend, brilliant poet, and teacher in my book La Danse de la Réalité. For five years we were inseparable brothers, and then I felt mutilated again and cut my ties with Chile. Today I think what caused my departure, besides my need to explore the world, was Enrique’s sharp drop into alcoholism because he, like so many drinkers, locked himself away on an emotional island with no bridge.
In Paris, I found my twin again: the Canadian sculptor Jean Benoît. An authentic surrealist, he presented to the whole world an homage to the Marquis de Sade. Under André Breton’s horrified but fascinated gaze, he burned a big “SADE” into his chest with a hot iron. For five years, we enjoyed ourselves like brothers. We made liberating scandals at bourgeois parties (Benoît, to the guests’ general indignation, went so far as to sodomize a roasted chicken). Suddenly, driven by an irrational urge, I went to Mexico, once again feeling that well-known coldness in my bones.
As if by miracle, in that great Mexican capital I found a true Zen master, Ejo Takata,* who was also my age. I never could project my father onto him (like all his other disciples did); he was once again the mysterious twin. With the help of this Japanese saint I learned to go beyond my mental limits and to make, as he said, “footsteps in the nothingness.”
*I relate my adventures with Ejo Takata in Mu: Le maître et les magiciennes, later published as The Spiritual Journey of Alejandro Jodorowsky (Rochester, Vt.: Inner Traditions. 2008).
In my usual abruptness, I went to New York. It was only then, in studying cellular memory, that I encountered evidence that my mother had expelled my twin egg. It was this very painful absence that forced me to cut ties with my friends: it wasn’t they who disappeared, but me, the perpetual immigrant. The fear of not being able to handle the loss or death of a friend pushed me to erase myself. My mother, who could not rid her mind of the Cossack rapist, imagined herself as having been inseminated by two men—the bandit and the sublime dancer—at the same time.
In general, little girls want to have a baby with their fathers. My mother had two fathers, so she became pregnant with twins. Her organism chose between the two options: she would give birth to either the reincarnation of the Cossack rapist or the mythical dancer. She chose the second, and eliminated the first. I grew up feeling incomplete, glorifying my artistic activities but suspicious of myself, and distrusting my obscure tendencies toward violence.
Before the birth of Adan, my fourth son, I was an egocentric artist and therefore a “psychological barbarian,” and I had not really been interested in the birth of his older brothers. The first was Brontis. At six in the morning I received a call from the clinic informing me that Bernadette, his mother, was delivering. I went there by car as fast as I could. On my arrival, I was guided toward a window where a nurse, with a mask covering her mouth, lifted my son to the window to show him to me. That was all. The mother was asleep. When later I saw her, due to the anesthesia she had no memory of the experience.
What effect did this monstrosity have on Brontis and me? For forty years, I had to make an effort to reach true intimacy with my son. He built his character to lean toward emotional solitude. A genius actor, humble and pure, he accepts the roles offered to him like the monk of a powerful religion, never pretending to be the main actor.
I cannot speak about my second son Cristobal’s birth because it was in Mexico while I was in Paris for a big Panic Movement performance. My inability to speak of my son’s birth means I was an absent father, which represents a psychological catastrophe. He had to supplement this void by re-creating me in himself, at a distance, in a manner more sublime than what I am.
As for the birth of Teo, it was very different from that of Brontis. Having become a little bit more aware, I was asked to attend the event. At this time I had become a celebrated artist due to my controversial theater direction and the scandal that followed my first film, Fando y Lis. The obstetrician, who was by chance a fan of my work or who wished to do some publicity, consented to my being present on the condition that the clinic film the delivery for its archives. And so it was done this way. They made me wash with antiseptic soap; I donned a tunic, shoes, cap, and surgical mask. I was relegated to the corner so that my presence would not interfere with the doctor, the nurses, and the cameraman. I was unpleasantly impressed by the fact that Valerie’s bountiful pubic hair had been shaved. The nurse, while encouraging Valerie to push, tried to stick a needle into a vein in Valerie’s left hand. The vein in question was so tiny that the nervous nurse began to stick the hand painfully. I also saw, in one stroke of the lancet, the doctor slash from the bottom of the sex to the anus. This gesture suddenly transformed this sacred gift of bringing a child into the world into an act of defecation wherein my baby could be compared to excrement. The mother suffered more from this medical intervention than from the natural contractions. They treated her like she was gravely ill.
Naturally, Teo was born protesting. They drove a tube through his nose and into his mouth to absorb the amniotic fluid he had swallowed. The clinic reeked of disinfectant. The neon lights hurt his eyes. The obstetrician, taking him by the ankles and pushing his head down, dealt a few blows to Teo’s bottom. The child began to cry in rage: a rage that lasted twenty-four years, until the accident (perhaps unconsciously caused) that forced him out of the life that made him so angry.
After Teo’s birth, his mother and I swore that if ever again she were expecting a child, we would offer this child a conscious birth.
The years passed. I was fifty years old and Valerie was thirty-three. We lived in France and time wore down our relationship. To restore the emotional bonds, we decided to conceive another child. After a very painful examination, the gynecologist told Valerie that her fallopian tubes were blocked. We decided to trust the power of the Tarot of Marseille. On our bedroom walls, we posted thirty-five-inch by seventeen-inch reproductions of the Ace of Wands (an active, sexual symbol) and the Ace of Cups (a receptive, emotional symbol). We chose a precise date guided by the Aztec calendar. This date indicated to us in what position we should fulfill the sacred act of intercourse. We lit incense and three candles (black, white, and red, the three colors of alchemical work), and after we had caressed for an hour, we began the ritual. At midnight, concentrating body and soul into this act of love, we heard little sounds from the window overlooking the balcony. Quickly sneaking a look, we saw the silhouettes of Brontis, Cristobal, and Teo, who were spying on us. What to do? We said, “They see us. We are trying to fulfill a sacred and therefore beautiful act. There is nothing to be ashamed of and no reason to feel guilty. We do as if we had not noticed their presence. We continue.” And at that moment, with our three children as witnesses (and one could say, miraculously), we begot Adan.
During the nine months of pregnancy I made sure to always be present, to talk to the fetus, to caress my wife’s belly, and to share with her the experience of the process from the baby’s point of view, allowing him to be the leader of his own birth. We read with great interest the following passage from the book Birth without Violence by Dr. Frederick Leboyer: “From the instant at which the sperm enters the egg, where mitosis occurs, everything is alive and moves and is transforming. Birth is a change. That is why we must stop looking at birth as a medical, biological, physiological problem. We must not look at it with eyes of a doctor, or even as a human being. It is of another language, another dimension; like death.”
Leboyer, an obstetrician, was the first to investigate birth trauma and the insensitivity with which childbirth is practiced in hospitals around the world. At a clinic in Neuilly, we found Dr. Paul Bertrand, a fervent admirer and practitioner of Leboyer’s theories. We adhered to the birthing conditions: delivery will not be forced (no preterm arrangements, no nurse will break the amniotic sac); the baby will decide the moment of arrival in the world; the room will be lit with soft, indirect lights; there will be no use of synthetic anesthesia; the baby will not be hit and made to cry but will be given a soft, loving massage; once out of the mother’s body, the baby will be placed on the mother’s chest and then in a tub with water at the baby’s body temperature; finally, once the baby’s heart rate is normal again, we will cut the umbilical cord.
Even though all of these propositions seemed just, I discussed them and others of his teacher’s statements with Dr. Bertrand. At the time I thought all this was based not on scientific certainty, but rather on beliefs. In effect, Leboyer said, “Most of the anxiety experienced by the woman during pregnancy is that of the man, which the woman absorbs unconsciously. This anxiety is much greater in men because pregnancy for him is intolerable, inaccessible, and an absolute mystery. Then suddenly an intruder appears in the couple. He feels betrayed and abandoned. The man, because he doesn’t have any other option, should be wise enough to let the woman go with this perfect, absolute lover in her womb. The man tries to relive what comes naturally for a woman. Men can only do this by returning to their own birth, as they are incapable of giving birth. All initiatory paths are a return to the womb to relive this state of total fusion.”
I objected. “Leboyer does not value the father. He recognizes the quality of the inseminator only as a helpless and often jealous witness. In spite of his good intentions, just like all the other doctors, he usurps the father’s position and assigns him a role comparable to the high priest. But no one can deny that the tree’s power is in the seed. So why deny that the child is fully incarnate from the moment the sperm and the egg unite? Those who separate the soul from the body can argue that during his first weeks of life the fetus is only matter, and then the being descends from a spiritual dimension into this mass of quivering flesh. The sperm, exploding in the egg, does not disappear but gives birth to the male cells that unite with the female cells created by the egg. Fetal growth is the product of continuous intercourse between masculine and feminine cells.”
Psychologically, the father is “pregnant” with the baby along with the mother. His spiritual food is as necessary as that provided by the mother. If the father is absent during the pregnancy, denying his wife or himself, the new Being will develop through anxiety. In that case, Dr. Leboyer was right to declare, “Birth is like crossing a storm. For the child, the fact of birth is insomuch intolerable that he refuses in every way to see the light. He refuses with his body, closing his eyes, clenching his fists. He is not there. Symbolically, he continues to be a fetus. How to overcome this fear of the world?”
This question finds its response as soon as we value the father’s contribution during pregnancy. If the father participates with all of his soul during the nine months of pregnancy, and during the delivery, the child will not cross any storm during birth and will not feel any fear. If the child comes into the world in a state similar to orgasm, he will deeply wish to be born into a world that seems like Eden. Upon emerging from the vagina, the baby ceases to be a fetus and no longer wants to return to the womb, like a butterfly not wanting to remain in the chrysalis where it developed. However, if the father was absent during the pregnancy and the delivery, then the mother, accompanied by the doctor, becomes invasive and is made owner over the child. This baby will remain a child for all of his life and will indeed crave a return to his mother’s womb, not because he considers it a place of happiness, but to find what he needs: the paternal contribution that will allow him to be more than a perpetual fetus.
My beliefs, although they were not supported by scientific study, had enough merit to persuade Dr. Bertrand to allow me to attend my wife’s delivery in the company of my three sons. Brontis was fifteen, Cristobal was twelve, and Teo was eight.
No one made us dress us like surgeons; instead we dressed in everyday clothing. Instead of using antiseptics, we simply took showers. Then we were able to be near Valerie, the boys at her side and me facing her legs. Although the clinic imposed a metal table on Valerie, the doctor and midwife remained discreetly behind us, ready to intervene in case of complications.
Valerie, surrounded by her family, anxiety-free, experiencing a pain that mingled with sexual pleasure, pushed intensely four times. I saw my son’s head appear, looking toward the earth. He began immediately to harmoniously turn around. He let his right arm out, then the left. Thus, arms outstretched, face turned upward, he seemed to be waiting for me to take him in my hands to finish pulling him out, and that’s what I did.
We decided to accept the child that the universe gave us. So as to serve any child regardless of the sex, the clothes we had prepared were pale purple, not pink or sky blue. Seeing his testicles, which seemed enormous to all of us, I exclaimed, “Adan!” without having thought about it before. Later, I realized Adam (Adan in Spanish) was the first man to be born with such ease in Valerie’s genealogy tree and in mine.
I put this smiling little Adan on his smiling mother’s chest, with Brontis, Cristobal, Teo, and I each with the same smile. After having bathed him in the little tub of warm water, where he pretended to swim, it was time to cut the umbilical cord. I was handed a pair of scissors. I started to cut the tube, solidly. But I stopped myself, feeling it the mother’s place, not mine, to complete this important act. In the animal kingdom, the females chew through the umbilical cord with their teeth. Adan’s mother, assuming this cut, recognized that the child was no longer one of her organs or viscera but a complete individual who, thanks to her care, mine, and that of his brothers, would achieve independence and become an adult, responsible for his own destiny, not enclosed in a family’s fate but opened to the world.
Today, Adan still remembers his birth with pleasant emotions. He tells me, “Birth is not the painful loss of an intrauterine paradise. It is the same pleasure a flower experiences upon opening.”
Teaser image by Luz Adriana Villa, courtesy of Creative Commons license.
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