Matrignosis: A Blog About Inner Wisdom

Think Pyschologically; Live Spiritually

Your Body As Your Partner in Dreamwork February 26, 2011

When you can’t get a dream out of your mind it’s a sign you need to spend time on it. Let’s assume I apply my usual techniques to my early worrisome tree dreams without gaining much understanding. Then one day at the bookstore I pick up a book on symbols and open it to a random page and there is a dream similar to mine with a psychological interpretation that hits me like a lightning bolt. Aha! I get it! I’m not sick. I’m not going to die! I just need a firmer grounding in the unconscious and what can be more helpful than persevering in dreamwork? I’m stunned and relieved and filled with gratitude. This synchronistic experience feels like a message from the Sacred and I don’t ever want to forget it.

So what do I do?  I like to create original rituals for special dreams. I might buy a little bonsai tree and make a private ceremony of putting it on my desk and vowing to feed and water and prune it properly. I could prepare and bless a plot of ground in my yard and plant a new tree there, or replant a sickly one to this new location. I could buy a painting or sculpture of a healthy tree or create one myself. I could take a walk in the woods or park, noting how different trees make me feel and photographing those that touch me in some way. I could wear tree earrings or a tree pin; meditate before my private altar on which I’ve arranged a picture of a tree, a bowl of water, a bowl of earth, sandalwood incense and a lit candle; act out my dream and the emotions it brings up; write a tree poem; sing a tree song; do a tree dance…

You get the idea. Dreams that move you in some vital way are important milestones in your soul’s journey. Involving your whole self in rituals that bring them into the outer world helps you integrate your new insights. Religions use sacraments for the same reason: because the body retains images, smells, sounds, tastes and tactile experiences long after the ego forgets. You could have left your religion 40 years ago and forgotten all about its power to move your spirit and then one day you step into a church and are hit with a wave of smells and music and imagery and all the old emotions and spiritual awareness come flooding right back.

Medieval philosophers (and many moderns) believed the body is the visible manifestation of the soul. If so, this means your body has as much to do with your psycho-spiritual growth as your mind. In her groundbreaking book, Molecules of Emotion, Candace Pert, Ph.D. offers convincing evidence that the body functions as an important part of the mind. Your body is likewise an important aspect of spirit, for as the medieval mystic Mother Julian of Norwich taught, God indwells our souls. If your body is a manifestation of your soul and your soul contains God, then how could your body not be spiritual?

Using body work to honor important dreams partners your ego with your soul in sacred work. Why do I call this work sacred? Consider these words from Thomas Moore: “Spiritual life does not truly advance by being separated either from the soul or from its intimacy with life. God, as well as man, is fulfilled when God humbles himself [sic] to take on human flesh….The ultimate marriage of spirit and soul, animus and anima, is the wedding of heaven and earth.”

May your dreams lead you toward this sacred marriage.

You can find Healing the Sacred Divide at this Amazon link and at Larson Publications, Inc.


Dreams of Trees February 22, 2011

Dreams are essentially about the soul’s journey from ignorance to enlightenment. Issues related to this process include leaving our dependence on the mother’s world; strengthening our ego; developing our individuality in the father’s world; facing our fear of the unconscious; descent into the soul’s dark night; accepting our shadow; honoring the instinctual life in our bodies; trusting and becoming grounded in the unconscious; acquiring self-knowledge and meaning; following our passion; experiencing regeneration and revitalization; uniting our inner opposites; and growing more centered and psychologically androgynous. All these themes are about establishing our ego’s connection with the Self, our central core, God-image and Beloved.

This journey is fundamental to the soul’s growth and dreams serve this growth, often with the imagery of trees. But it’s easy to misinterpret the meaning of this symbol. For example, in an early dream I passed by a tree so loosely rooted that the trunk shifted when I touched it and I was afraid it would fall over. Another dream around the same time featured a flimsy willow tree whose roots were so soggy from the nearby swamp that it, too, was in danger of falling and dying. Unaware of the psycho-spiritual meaning, I feared I was mentally unbalanced or going to die. But these dreams simply said my conscious ego (trunk) had weak connections (roots) to my unconscious (ground); and the water-swamped roots suggested nothing worse than the powerful unconscious emotions which occasionally overwhelmed me.

Years later I had an extraordinary dream in which the tree meant something very different. I offer a summary of it to you in partial explanation of who I am and what this blog is about. For the full text, consult my book Dream Theatres of the Soul.

Dream #843: “Two Snakes in the Tree of Life.” Someone narrates a story as I watch it unfold. A little green snake begins his life on one side of a tree, unaware of a huge old brown female snake higher up on the other side. After a long journey through the dark tree he pops out directly into the mouth of the big snake who munches down on his head. Another onlooker thinks this is the end of the little green snake, but a giant rainbow streaks across the sky from right to left and beneath it, on a stage in a vast cosmic theater, the little green snake reappears as a virile young cowboy who slaps two coins onto a saloon bar and says, “Set ‘em up, Joe.” He did not die but was transformed into a human. I think this is the best possible ending to the story.

I believe this story represented the spiritual initiation of my masculine ego and its reunion with the archetypal Great Mother. The part of the dream in which she bit down on the head of the male was especially perplexing until I read Barbara Walker’s The Woman’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets. Walker writes that stories from ancient religions often featured a male snake deity who was the consort of the Great Goddess: “[This male snake]…gave himself up to be devoured by the Goddess. The image of the male deity enclosed or devoured by the female gave rise to a superstitious notion…that the male snake fertilizes the female snake by putting his head in her mouth and letting her eat him.”

This strange drama in the Tree of Life was an archetypal symbol of transformation and renewal whose message filled me with joy.  My spiritual practice of dreamwork was paying off and my soul was being regrounded in the Mother as a stronger, more conscious individual.

You can find Healing the Sacred Divide at this Amazon link and at Larson Publications, Inc.


Twilight of the Psyche’s Immaturity February 19, 2011

Last June I published a post about how a mother bear raises her cubs. The first and most difficult lesson she teaches her baby is to stay hidden and quiet high up in a tree while she searches the forest for food. Soon the baby learns to stay in the tree until mother comes home and they are joyously reunited. This goes on for about two years and then one day the mother bear trees her cub as usual. She goes out into the woods as usual. And she never comes back.

It may seem cruel, but the good mother’s job not only is to protect but also to liberate. If she does not leave her cub when the time is right, and if the cub does not disobey the good mother and climb down from the tree, it will never mature into a responsible mother herself. As a species, humanity is like that cub. The dark night is upon us and if we cannot awaken from our dreamy dependance on outer authorities and develop our own authority and individuality, we will be unable to contribute to the evolving consciousness which alone can birth a hopeful new dawn.  It’s time we left the tree and became good mothers to ourselves, each other and the planet. 



There was a time when time stood still as death.

I shinnied up the mast of an oak tree,

breezes ruffling my leafy sail; there I

floated dreamily through life. One branch was

a mustang. We raced through the Western plains

herding cows, chasing rustlers in black hats.

A three-pronged fork was an eagle’s aerie

where I snuggled to savor a new book…

as I awaited my mother’s return.

There was a time when time stood still as death:

when I outlined log cabins on the ground

with fallen twigs that trapped mother inside

arid walls. We cooked supper together

from crushed acorns and mud, swept dirt-hard floors,

made beds with sheets crisp from sun-warmed breezes,

slumbered beneath quilts fashioned by her hands…

as I awaited my mother’s return.

Once, time moved as slowly as a glacier

and waiting and pretending were enough.

Now time surges like a raging river;

my gut growls and I am hungry, restless

to leave this tree despite the father bears

who crave me and my heresies for lunch.

But, oh, the bliss of frozen fantasy…

as I await my mother’s return!



The Symbolic Meaning of Trees February 15, 2011

Recently I wrote about how a book on personality types I read at the age of 18 used the central metaphor of a tree to describe my “type.” In those days I had no idea a symbol could have important meaning for me. But what I have learned since convinces me that whether the author’s choice to use this symbol was random or deliberate, it was perfect for one whose driving force is the search for meaning and purpose.

The tree has meant many things to many people throughout history, but the theme that runs through them all is humanity’s psycho-spiritual journey from ignorance to consciousness. With roots that reach deep into the earth, arms that reach up to heaven, and trunks that connect the space in between, trees mediate between heaven and earth, thus symbolizing the soul’s journey through the manifest world in both its sacred and mundane aspects.

A major theme related to this is centrality. The Tree of Life and Tree of Knowledge grow in Paradise. The Tree of Life is at the center and signifies regeneration, the return to the primordial state of perfection. The Tree of Knowledge is dualistic and associated with humanity’s fall from the innocent paradisal state. Conversely, it represents our potential for a Great Awakening into an enlightened Wisdom in which all dualities are overcome, as in Buddha’s Bo Tree which represents his essence as a Sacred Center. Similarly, the Kabbala’s Sephirotic Tree has a right and left-hand column representing duality and a middle column that balances the others and restores unity. And the Islamic Tree of Blessing which is neither East nor West and therefore central represents blessing and illumination.

Another theme is life. In Scandinavian mythology the Yggdrasil or ash is the Tree of Life. In Greek mythology Athena’s olive tree symbolized the intellectual life of mental strength and wisdom. The Shamanistic birch is the Tree of Life with seven branches representing the seven planets and heavens. And of course, Jesus, like all Dying Gods, loses his life on a tree.

The Herder Symbol Dictionary says, “Psychoanalysis sees in the tree a symbolic reference to the mother, to spiritual and intellectual development, or to death and rebirth.” It also notes that the fruit, shade, and protective nature of trees have caused them to be seen as feminine or maternal symbols; yet, at the same time, the erect trunk is a phallic symbol. Perhaps this is why, for Carl Jung, the tree symbolized the Self, androgyny (integration and equality between the masculine and feminine principles), and individuation.

The psycho-spiritual journey begins and ends in a tree. As a symbol of the maternal matrix in which we spend our early years the tree represents our unconscious conformity to conventional thinking. Later, as we meet the challenge to become integrated and authentic it becomes a symbol of spiritual development, rebirth, individuation and androgyny.

I had two epiphanies in late adolescence, the traditional time of mother-leaving, and both featured trees. Perhaps this is mere coincidence, but from then on my internal compass was set on the search for meaning, purpose and enlightenment.  I haven’t “arrived” anywhere and don’t expect to, but my travels have brought me closer to my sacred center and enriched my life beyond measure. Taking the symbols that show up in my waking and dreaming life seriously has been central to that search. Next time I’ll share how the tree symbolizes the struggle to leave our early innocence and dependence behind. What symbols have directed your life’s journey?

Paperback and Ebook versions of Jean Raffa’s The Bridge to Wholeness and Dream Theatres of the Soul are at Amazon, KoboBarnes And Noble and Smashwords. Healing the Sacred Divide can be found at Amazon and Larson Publications, Inc.


The Day Fear Was Defeated February 12, 2011

As I watched the extraordinary freedom celebration in Cairo’s Tahrir (translation: “Liberation”) Square on television Friday afternoon, 2/11/11, hope rose in my heart like the flags waving over the jubilant crowds. An autocrat has been ousted in a peaceful revolution and the noblest qualities of the human heart have prevailed.

The amazing change in Egypt’s government has happened because of a massive evolutionary change in our collective awareness. The young, the subjugated, the impoverished, the disenfranchised everywhere are discovering that each of us has a voice that deserves to be heard, and that when we speak our truths with passion, courage and love we can improve the quality of our lives without violence.

I’m thinking of the people before us whose examples of courage and selfless sacrifice contributed to this day. I think of the Apache shaman Lozen whose bravery and clairvoyant ability protected her people as they fled the Anglo and Mexican armies…and who died of tuberculosis in prison for it. I think of Nelson Mandela, the first member of his family to attend school, who spoke out against apartheid in South Africa in 1962…and spent the next 27 years in jail. I think of countless women in early 20th century America who were beaten and imprisoned for demanding the right to vote. I think of Rosa Parks. Lech Walesa. Harvey Milk. Kent State.

But the masses of Egyptians who gathered together to demand Mubarak’s resignation got what they wanted without firing a shot or being shot at. Moreover, the military which is the new governing authority appears to be as desirous of creating a democracy as the people! In fact, we hear they see themselves as part of the people too.  The mind boggles. Of course, this is no guarantee of a peaceful transition to democracy. There are far more examples of bad being replaced by worse than better. And don’t forget that the American Revolution was followed by a Civil War.

But the facts are undeniable. Autocracies and dictatorships are crumbling and democracy is on the rise worldwide. The qualities of caring and equality, peace and partnership, freedom, wisdom and understanding are no longer reserved for the brilliant, the gifted, the heroic or saintly while the rest of us wallow in ignorance, hatred and violence. They are becoming the common currency of the human spirit. If you don’t believe me, check out the statistics about the decline of violent crimes in America. We are growing up as a species; we are learning to respect and embody the values of Mother Sophia. And because of that, the dominator mode of governance that has prevailed throughout recorded history is a done deal.

It may not happen tomorrow or next year, but it will happen. And it begins now, at this very moment in history. As the terrorism of 9/11/01 ushered in a new era of fear, 2/11/11 will long be known as the day fear was defeated. Congratulations, Egypt, for showing us the best in ourselves! You are an inspiration to the world . 


Entering the Mystery of Myself February 8, 2011

I’ve been trying to understand myself for most of my adult life. I first became aware of this idiosyncracy in college. One day I was in the library browsing through the psychology section and came upon a book about personality types. I was as thrilled as if I had discovered a treasure map. Or the key to the weathered door of a mysterious hidden garden. Or the holy grail!

I found an empty table and sat down to read, glancing around self-consciously like an adolescent devouring a book about sex. I’d spent my teens masking my insecurity and self-doubt with a persona of poise and confidence and didn’t want to blow my cover.

It was everything I’d hoped for. The first part was a lengthy questionnaire.  I savored each question the way an oenophile relishes each sip of wine, rolling it this way and that to consider every nuance of flavor. Like a writer of wine labels I suffered the delicious agony of indecision over which subtlety had priority. Like a reluctant suitor I hesitated to commit myself. Rarely had I enjoyed myself so much.

When I was finished I tallied my answers and arrived at a number which took me to the description of my particular type. My key was in the door and I was standing on the threshold. With a mixture of excitement and apprehension I prepared to enter the mystery of myself.

But what I read disappointed and puzzled me. To this day I do not know the title of the book because I was afraid to write it down in case someone should go through my papers and see it, so I can only paraphrase the essence of what I recall. It said something like this “We are not sure who you are. You are like a tree with many branches reaching into the sky. A flock of birds flies to the tree and perches on the branches. Then without warning they scatter and fly away in all directions.” I imagined the tree barren of leaves, silhouetted against a gray winter sky. The birds were black. Crows, perhaps. Or ravens. There was no garden.

At one level this seemed a terribly romantic image, but as I read through the other descriptions I grew increasingly uncomfortable.  Mine was the only one with no clear answers. What did this mean? Was it a good thing or bad? Did it mean my personality was gloriously flexible and open to whatever life might bring, or did it mean I was so flighty and unformed that I was vulnerable to whichever way the wind blew? Was I some sort of mysterious nature child, part grounded in the physical world and part free to follow the truths of my soul, or did I simply have no more substance than a ghost or puff of smoke? Did I have an old soul or an extremely young one?

I see now that this was one of the defining experiences of my life.  For the first time it occurred to me that I had absolutely no idea who I was. That’s when the hunger settled in, and I’ve been trying to satisfy it ever since.

If you recognize this hunger in yourself, do yourself a favor and check out this site about the Myers-Briggs Personality Type Indicator. Based on Jungian psychology, it was responsible for my first major breakthrough into the mystery of myself and has provided an enormously useful framework for my inner work ever since.

You can find Healing the Sacred Divide through this Amazon link and at Larson Publications, Inc.


Leaving the Kingdom of Eggdom February 5, 2011

Becoming conscious of the factors which prevent us from living with balance, loving with abandon, and being sovereigns over our own authentic lives is our soul’s true destiny and the goal of inner work. But it takes a long time to understand this, and even longer to accomplish it.

Around the age of three children become aware of themselves as individuals. This marks the awakening of ego-consciousness. This stage is marked by growing self-awareness, but not Self-awareness, for, unfortunately, as the child leaves the comforting womb of the mother’s world it forgets about the intimate sense of connectedness to the All it experienced before then. Moreover, it hasn’t a clue how to return to it.

Think of a child’s psyche as a freshly laid chicken egg. Imagine the egg white as the ego which is closer to the shell (or persona: the social personality an ego creates to adapt to its flock), and the yolk as the Self, our unconscious spiritual core. In the natural life of a fertilized egg the white and yolk merge to create new life. When they are fully integrated and the chick is ready, it pecks at its constraining shell until it falls away. Only by becoming conscious of the wider world and daring to explore it can the baby chick attain its destiny of mature chickenhood.

The same process of integration is meant to happen in our psyche. But, unfortunately, most human eggs remain unfertilized, the ego stays separated from the Self, and the persona remains intact. In this stage of ego-consciousness we are living in the Kingdom of Eggdom. We believe ourselves to be fully conscious but are actually only conscious of what our egos think and want and feel. Everything we know and believe in the Kingdom of Eggdom is shaped by living in this egg in this nest in this coop with these chickens in this tiny barnyard.

Until our ego begins to integrate with the larger world of our psyche and we begin to individuate — by which Jung meant knowing the difference between our individual soul and our group’s soul and honoring our uniqueness with original choices — our life will be as constricted as an unborn chick trapped in a fragile egg and we will not achieve our potential or fulfill our destinies.

The fertilizer that kicks off our integration and individuation is the life crises without and within which make us uncomfortable enough to want to leave the Kingdom of Eggdom. Life might even administer a few cracks to our shells. But no one can make us step out of them. Only we, our ego selves, can choose to enter the wider Realm of Individuated and Integrated Chickenhood and become sovereign over our own lives.

Hmmm… do you suppose that’s why the chicken crossed the road?

For a delightfully humorous take on why the chicken crossed the road from the perspective of philosophers through the ages, click on the link below. I guarantee a laugh or two:

You can find Healing the Sacred Divide at this Amazon link and at Larson Publications, Inc.


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