Welcome. In this space, I interrogate questions of existence, examine why we are the way we are, and wonder aloud about what it means to be human, all to encourage answering the question: How do I want to live? Past posts can be read HERE.
“I want to feel everything for myself—great sorrow or great joy—Oh God, I want to really find myself in feeling.” —Christiana Morgan (Translate This Darkness, pg. 57)
Between the ages of 11 and 19, I took so many standardized intelligence and personality tests (see inaugural post) that I remember the somatic experience of each one: the draining hourglass synchronized to the smog that often obscured access to my thoughts; the suggestive, ominous Rorschach inkblots tightening my throat at my absolute conviction that everything I saw in those shapes would signal to the examiner—and to the world—my extreme wrongness; and then that other test with those dark, ambiguous drawings tugging like intuition, alerting me to future danger. Each card pierced something deep within my unconscious mind with its particular and peculiar sadness.
The specific images portrayed people turned away from one another, collapsed on beds, seemingly without expression and yet imbued entirely with an emotional resonance that had lived inside of me always, worrying away the lining of my daily existence.
When I was researching my memoir Little Panic, in 2016, I came across these same images from the tests of my childhood, but I recognized in them another story, one I couldn’t yet tell, but could feel. The images telegraphed something of the person who drew them. As a child, I never would have considered the person who created the test, but as an adult, my body’s first response was: “Oh! That artist is in trouble.”
What I did not know was that I was reading the cards exactly as they were designed to be interpreted. Only the test was supposed to expose MY unconscious motivations, not those of the person who created the cards.
These 31 illustrated cards, called the Thematic Apperception Test (TAT), comprise one of the first true projective measures in personality testing. Still in use today, each image is ambiguous, used as a prompt for the viewer to tell the story of what they see in the picture. The test acts on the subconscious mind, and is designed to reveal the personality dynamics and unconscious motivation of the client.
But it’s the images themselves that have their own not-so-ambiguous story. As I began to research this specific test, I discovered more about the artist: Christiana Morgan, a brilliant, original, and tormented woman who was trying to conquer her demons. Years before she began drawing images for this test, she was taught by the Swiss psychoanalyst Dr. Carl Jung how to drop into the center of her body to examine the demons that lurked in her unconscious, and to draw them out, as visions.
That means that Morgan’s interior pain and, by extension, Jung’s possessiveness and jealousy, and the narcissism of Morgan’s lover, the renowned psychologist Henry Murray, is the foundational centerpiece for these images that make up an iconic personality test. It begs the question: If people, flawed by nature, devise tests to uncover the flaws in others, can any measure truly be uncorrupted?
This is the story of Christiana Morgan—a student of Dr. Carl Jung, and the lover of renowned psychologist Henry Murray—and how she was erased after helping to create one of the most important projective measures of all time: the Thematic Apperception Test (TAT).
It’s 1926 in New York City, and 28-year-old Christiana Morgan, a forward-thinking, sexually restless wife and mother has made a decision that will change, not just the course of her life, but history. She packs the bag she’ll bring to Zurich where she is planning to join Carl Jung’s Introvert/Extrovert club and insist on becoming his patient. Surely, if anyone can help sort out the mess that she’s found herself in, it will be the psychoanalyst.
While it is true that she and the prominent doctor Henry “Harry” Murray have not acted on their accelerating urges, the energy of their connection vibrates with such ferocity it creates a bulwark around them, keeping their respective spouses marooned on the other side of the bridgeless moat to peer down at the hungry alligators. She is in search of answers about her complicated romantic situation, hoping for solutions and insights before they ruin their marriages, as well as their deep respect and admiration for each other’s intellect.
What she can’t possibly know is how her unfettered access to Jung will provide him with limitless opportunity to unearth and devour the boundlessness of her divine unconscious mind, inadvertently serving him (and the history and making of psychological thought), and then Harry Morgan, more than they will ever help her.
Born into great privilege in 1897, Christiana Drummond Councilman was the unlikeliest of debutantes. The means of entry a family like hers could provide meant theirs was a traditional life, hewing to the customs and norms of the day, and there was no question the Councilmans’ three daughters were expected to follow suit. In this fundamental way, Christiana, who was then considered a tomboy for flouting gender norms, found that her external world was incompatible with her internal one. This scrappy and rebellious, demonstrably intellectual little girl, who pushed back against traditions, was often punished for speaking her mind. On her best days, she felt incompatible with the times. On her worst days, she felt despondent.
Her parents were Boston Brahmins—members of the elite class of White Anglo-Saxon Protestants. Her father, William Councilman, was a physician and an accomplished Harvard professor; her mother, Isabella Councilman, hailed from one of Boston’s most prominent families.
Her mother rejected Christiana for not being the son she desired. The young Christiana felt betrayed by her mother’s dismissal, and eventually hated her for it. Her father’s aloof, withholding nature fell far short of what she yearned for—both parents were colossal disappointments. Though she chafed against traditional gender roles, she longed for attention, specifically male attention. She wouldn’t understand until she was grown that it wasn’t simply male attention she craved, but a claim on space for herself in a world reserved for men. Christiana yearned to carve her own path, to claim the privilege men were given that she felt was equally hers to have.
From the start she was wildly imaginative. She did as she pleased instead of doing what was expected, and in retaliation, her mother would lock her inside a dark closet. The only way she knew to cope with her terror was to create fantasies, multiple ladders of escape, stories she braided together in whose plaits she could inhabit. These tales were mythic, and as she grew, so too did her interest in legends, folklore, and fables. Her homegrown gothic stories represented safety when she felt endangered.
Born with a porous psyche, she felt everything, and wanted to feel everything: Give her the bigness of the world; give her the burdens. Her imagination sprung from a depth, from a core unconscious self that she was unable to release or express; she was trapped in the globed center of her emotions.
Like most exquisitely sensitive beings, she was young—just a teenager—when she realized that inside her lived a nesting doll of actuality. She understood that within her emotional center was where truth lived, and in the heart of truth, the core self waited to be unearthed and harvested. She was ravenous for access to the center of her being, but the means of entry were unknown to her, leaving her alienated from her own self, a dissonance that caused her to fall into the first of a lifetime of clinical depressions.
Teenagers of any era look to the world to tell them who they are, and Christiana was no exception. In her case, she turned to boys. Striking and beautiful, vibrating with a constant thrum of sexual hunger, boys rushed to court her. When they adored her, she grew cold and when they grew cold, she adored them. This early push-pull filled her with a charge unlike any other, and it would be the dominant thread of her life.
It would define her; it would destroy her.
In 1917, when Christiana was 20, she met a gentle, winsome man named William Morgan at a dance—five months later, the two were engaged to marry. Soon after, he left to fight overseas in World War I, and with her parents’ extreme disapproval, Christiana traveled to NYC to train as a nurse. It was there she discovered one part of her true nature, and the words that gave them shape: activist, suffragette, feminist.
Her sexual desire was explosive—she couldn’t wait for William to return from war so they could marry and she could satisfy her intensifying sexual desires. Which she did, with great abandon, but she didn’t anticipate that sex might give her something she never wanted—a child. She despised babies; she considered pregnancy something akin to an alien occurrence. Her growing belly repelled her; she found it gruesome, and the birth itself was violent. She suffered from an acute melancholic distress (what we now know as postpartum depression) and was unable to bond with her newborn son, Peter.*
And now, here she is, a fully grown adult in her late 20s, even more discontented, and discovering, much to her dismay, that it isn’t just motherhood she finds displeasing, it’s marriage. More precisely, her marriage to William Morgan, who is unhappy with his work as a banker and trader. His lack of intensity bores her. In an effort to fill the chasm that is quickly draining her of life, she had, just months earlier, signed up for drawing classes at the Arts Students League and began reading the works of psychoanalyst Carl Jung. These two events changed everything.
Jung is a revelation for her. His thoughts on the underworld, folklore, myth, creativity, and especially libido, resonate with her to such a degree she feels seen and known for the first time in her life. The more she reads, the clearer she can understand her purpose—she wants to devote her life to the pursuit of the unconscious self. His work on heroes, whom she feels represent the world of the unconscious, astounds her. Her discovery of Jung, she feels, is equal to the discovery of herself, and it gives her permission to chase the root of the unconscious inside her, and inside others.**
Until her mid-20s, Christiana’s internal life had been a secret place for her to play out what she perceived as her masculine tendencies, and indulge in libidinous and fantastical thoughts. The world of the erotic always brought her closer to the unconscious world she now wants to study and devour. Her husband is often away, her child is cared for by nurses, but her interest in Jung and the unconscious gives her a type of permission to begin living her life the way she experiences men do—by taking lovers.
The first of these lovers is Cecil Dunmore Murray, known as Mike. A native New Yorker from a well-off, connected family, he is charming, funny, empathetic, and smart. Like Christiana, he is also married. Not long after taking up with Mike, she meets the Zionist Chaim Weizmann—later the first president of Israel—who becomes as infatuated with her beauty as she is enthralled by his power. Like Christiana, his moods swing wildly; their intense libidinous needs are well matched. She idolizes him, and he soon becomes the barometer against which she measures all other men—including her husband.
But it is Mike Murray’s older, more brilliant brother Harry, a doctor and psychologist, to whom she will devote the rest of her life—despite having met him twice before and finding him forgettable. Harry, however, remembered both meetings, and like most men, had been instantly beguiled, not only by Christiana’s particular and striking beauty, but by her passion for intellectual conversation and posing deep questions. When Harry finally makes an impression, it is profound and indelible. What they want from life seems to exist inside the other, and their infatuation is fast and intense until they become haunted by one another. First in the best possible ways, and later, the worst. Harry will become her joy, her burden, her ecstasy, her torment, her entire life, and ultimately, her tragic and ambiguous death.
Like Christiana, Harry is taken in by 19th-century thought and depth psychology—in particular, Jung’s hero archetype, and its opposite, the shadow, the part of ourselves our ego rejects. They speak the same feeling language, and are desperate to be transported to the erotic, perverse and imaginative depths of the unconscious soul. Perhaps they are too young to understand that what they are drawn to in the other is the unknown damaged part of themselves—the abused childhood self, or perhaps they do know, and that’s why they continue to run deeper and faster toward the darkness inside the other.
Their entanglement is intense and unhealthy. Their mutual penchant for darkness brings out the destructive nature inside one another; it feels familiar. Perhaps they both mistake that sense of familiarity for destiny, because even when they let go of one another, they always return.
Like Christiana and Mike, Harry Murray is married. Where Christiana is wounded and damaged, his wife, Jo Murray, is light and buoyant. Harry wants both the light and the dark, and so in 1925, a year before Christiana decides to become Jung’s patient, Murray flies to Zurich to consult directly with him.
How, he asks Jung, can he keep his wife and remain entangled with Christiana? Jung is encouraging. He points to Toni Wolff, his former patient and lover, and then to his wife, Emma Jung, as an example of how Harry’s life can look. It’s possible, Jung tells him. He thinks an affair will resolve the sexual tension as well as “unlock their subconscious.” He urges Harry to speak to Jo and Christiana together, to propose a relationship whereby Harry can have both women, asking them never to complain, just as Jung had done so successfully himself.
Harry doesn’t have the same luck, but he will continue his electrifying dance around Christiana until it turns physical, and both Jo Murray and Christiana have to live with the reality of the other.
And now it’s 1926, and 28-year-old Christiana, having spent over a year enmeshed in an escalating and dangerous dance with Harry, travels to Zurich, her husband in tow, to become Carl Jung’s patient.
Jung teaches Christiana how to go into a trance state, and it doesn’t take long for her to access the subterranean region of her psyche. He encourages her to draw what she sees, and from the images she shows him, it becomes clear to Jung that Christiana will not simply become one of his star students—but his teacher. The visions that live inside of her strike him as a primal archetypal world. The archetypes she resurrects from her unconscious mind are not male, but female, and this is beyond the scope of anything yet seen. The images portray a modern femininity, of a woman unafraid of her own libidinous nature, of her innate power.
That these prototypes originate from the center of one person is remarkable—does the entire unconscious world live inside of Christiana Morgan?
Jung considers her the perfect embodiment of the feminine and believes her role is to act as a muse for important men. The trances that Jung brings her into drops her deep into the earth of her body, and from that space she drags up images for the archetypal feminine. He finds them to be a true document of the deep unconscious.
Her visions are so frequent and realistic, they bleed into her daily reality—they are from her and they are of her. She is every feminine archetype that she imagines. Where she begins and the images end is a blurring that becomes her life. In a span of just nine months Christiana records hundreds of visions, text, and paintings from her divinations. They take up three volumes, totaling 1,000 pages. She calls them her “Analytical diaries.”
But Christiana isn’t the only one recording her visions. Jung is also …
Stay tuned for Part 2 next Wednesday, where we learn what Jung did with the recording of Christiana’s visions and what Henry Murray does with her drawings ...
(And you thought Reality TV was saucy!)
Let me know in the comments if you've ever heard of Christiana Morgan, and what, if anything, you know about her!
Until next week I am…
*Some sources say his name was Thomas, but the source I’m trusting is Translate This Darkness, which says his name was Peter. (pg.98)
**Translate This darkness (pg. 104).