Matrignosis: A Blog About Inner Wisdom

Think Pyschologically; Live Spiritually

A Dream of Crones March 29, 2011

My grandmothers were not famous or brilliant or unusually talented. They were no different from other small-town, mid-western women of their generation; as teachers, they were perhaps a tad more well-educated than some, a little less sophisticated than others. They were not particularly insightful about themselves or wise in the ways of the world, but despite their learned preferences for masculine values and a masculine God, deep within the rich sub-stratas of their feminine grounds dwelled strong archetypal Queens with impeccable integrity; fiercely nurturing Earth Mothers whose alignment with the rhythms of nature taught them how to care for their families; Wisewomen with wonderful imaginations, understanding hearts, and respect for mystery; and beautiful Beloveds who knew their true worth to their families, friends, and God. Because my grandmothers loved me, they shared their wisdom and passions with me.

The lives of many, if not most of us were touched and shaped in important ways by the elder women in our families or neighborhoods. Yet, as a society, we rarely give credit to the crones or sing their praises in any public way. Indeed, in the West where youth is worshiped, the older a woman gets, the less visible she becomes. Respect for the Goddess archetype in her aspect as Crone may have disappeared from the Western world, but she remains a reality within the psyche. Many people who carefully attend to their inner life report experiencing significant encounters with wise old women, especially in dreams, but also in waking fantasies and visions. Jungians interpret these as important indications of the ego’s willingness to accept the guidance of the unconscious feminine.

The tenth dream I recorded after making the life-changing decision to take my inner life seriously indicated that I was beginning to understand the significance of the feminine unconscious. Here is an important part of that dream:

Dream # 10A: Gifts From the Crones. I am visiting a foreign, forbidden place, like a kibbutz. I feel guilty and afraid and know I will have to sneak out illegally. Dorene [a wise and admired professor friend in waking life who is married to a Jewish man] is working here. I have brought gifts for her. She is accompanied by three or four older women, grandmothers perhaps. They are sitting cross-legged on the floor dressed in flowing, earth-colored, ethnic-looking clothes. Plump and solid, with heads wrapped in turbans fashioned from natural fibers, they seem serene and benevolent. To my delight, they hold out gifts for me — small, loosely woven bags overflowing with sweet-smelling herbs and spices. I say their gifts to me are so much better than mine to them and know it to be true. I look forward to using them in the future. I want to avoid the guards at the check point at the train station, so I leave by sneaking in the back door of a dark theater and crawling through on my hands and knees. I am nervous about this surreptitious avoidance of the authorities, but full of confident, decisive energy.

Although I didn’t understand the full import of the dream at the time, today it seems very clear. Next time I’ll share my associations with it.

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

 

Caryatids and Queens March 26, 2011

Femininity is universally associated with beauty, softness, tenderness, receptivity, relationship, and caring. While some equate these qualities with weakness, Spirit Warriors know they make us stronger than we ever imagined possible. Of the many symbols suggesting this kind of strength, none speaks as strongly to me as the caryatid.

Caryatids are gigantic columns or pillars in the form of beautiful, fully draped females. A very old architectural device, they were originally used to support immense entablatures in sacred public buildings. In ancient times it was said that seven priestesses founded major oracle shrines. These priestesses had different names in various parts of the world. In the Middle East they were known as the Seven Pillars of Wisdom, hence their common usage as columns holding up temple roofs. These same pillars are referred to in Proverbs 9:1: “Wisdom [Sophia] hath builded her house, she hath hewn out her seven pillars.” On the Acropolis at Athens, caryatids are associated with the strong and independent goddess, Artemis Caryatis, from whom they get their name.

My first glimpse of caryatids at the British Museum filled me with awe and wonder. In them I saw feminine beauty, gentleness, independence, spirituality and mystery blended with majestic, connected, immovable strength. I was looking at the Queen archetype.

A defining characteristic of the caryatid’s strength is her queenly way of serving society. She is strong enough to support huge public buildings in which many activities take place every day, but never takes on more than she can handle, never gets crushed under the weight of her responsibilities.

Nor does she claim godlike perfection and omnipotence for herself: no savior complex for her! She simply receives what she is strong enough to receive; contains what she is large enough to contain; gives what is hers to give. Her strength is not based on compulsions to prove anything or pretend to be something she is not, but on a clear understanding of the nature of her gifts, dimensions of her interior space, and limits of her authority.

Like caryatids, mature Queens have a sense of social responsibility. They are pillars of society who are always there to listen and understand; share in pain or joy; defend the innocent, weak, vulnerable and disenfranchised; and advance culture. They have a quiet, grounded strength that does not belittle, gossip, or betray confidences. They accept without rejecting differing opinions and protect without exploiting weakness. They do not relinquish softness; rather theirs is the softness of the lioness, not the lamb. Although receptive, they are never doormats. They nurture but never smother. Theirs is the warm and life-giving receptivity of the womb, not the cold hardness of the tomb.

Caryatids and Queens stand tall and firm with eyes wide open. With steadfast devotion and resolve they support institutions and endeavors which are in everyone’s best interest. We emulate their strength when we subordinate our ego’s will to the greater good and work for the betterment of all without betraying our personal standpoints. May we all, female and male alike, manifest more of this wise use of feminine strength.

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

 

Kris Kristofferson: Midlife Mentor March 22, 2011

At the age of 35 I had a wonderful family, good health, a comfortable lifestyle, and a master’s degree: everything a woman could want. Right? You’d think so. But I felt painfully unfulfilled. What was wrong with me? Why couldn’t I just be happy? I felt like an ungrateful wretch.

One day as I was listening to Kris Kristofferson’s album, “Jesus Was A Capricorn,” tears started rolling down my cheeks. With some surprise, I realized there must be a reason I was crying. What could it be? Suddenly I was hungry to understand, so over the next few months I listened carefully to these soulful songs. Somehow it seemed as if practically every one was written for me.

“Jesus Was a Capricorn” describes the intolerance people have for what they don’t understand. What struck me was that despite the rejection the writer had faced, he had the strength to be true to himself anyway. Why did that make me cry? Shame. I knew I didn’t have that kind of strength.

“Sugar Man” is about a woman who sells her soul to a pimp so she can buy drugs to escape her pain. Had I been ignoring some secret pain? If so, what was it? And why was I afraid to face it?

“Jesse Younger” is the story of a man who loses the love and support of his family when he makes choices that seem wrong to them even though they are right for him. This brought a huge “Aha!” I had talents and interests I longed to pursue but hadn’t — partly out of a sort of foggy lethargy, and partly because of deeply ingrained stereotypes about women’s roles. To change my habit of always putting my family’s comfort before my own seemed selfish, dangerous, daunting and wrong. I was experiencing a classic conflict between my need to find and fulfill myself and my fear of hurting my loved ones, inviting censure, and leaving a safe and familiar cocoon.

“Help Me” is a cry for help from someone who has given up trying to struggle all alone through the darkness. It is a recognition that repressing, escaping and pretending lead to dead ends, a confession of the ego’s limitations, and a painful plea for consciousness. My tears told me I was tired of living in the prison of conformity and needed help to break out.

“Why Me” expresses repentance for wasted life, gratitude for the gift of another chance, and the desire to help others who undergo the same struggles. I had always believed I had something valuable to give. Had my fears caused me to waste the best parts of myself? Was there still a chance for me? Would it be possible to make some original choices without destroying everything to which I had devoted the first half of my life? These were my thoughts and feelings, and they were so terribly beautiful and dreadfully sad. No wonder I cried.

Midlife can be a dangerous and decisive crossroads. Jung said the ego’s task at this time is to turn within and attend to the compelling reality of the Sacred Self. While some recognize the wake-up call, many misinterpret it. Luckily, the universe sent me a minstrel guide to help me through. Kris Kristofferson’s songs were a lifeline that awakened my ego to the melodies of my own soul and emboldened me to follow them. Choosing this path has made all the difference in my life and I will be forever grateful. Thank you, Kris.

Who do you have to thank for mentoring you on the journey to your Self?

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

 

The Tao of Popeye March 19, 2011

It seems I’ve always wanted to know who I am and why I am what I am. I smile as I write these words because they remind me of the very first official Popeye the Sailor Man cartoon: “I Yam What I Yam!”

Remember Popeye? He’s a runty, uneducated, playful, squinty-eyed guy with a speech impediment who sails the seven seas, adopted an infant foundling he calls Swee’Pea, and is in love with a tall, skinny drink of water named Olive Oyl. Unfortunately, his nemesis, the musclebound bully Bluto, is also attracted to Olive Oyl and keeps trying to kidnap her. When Popeye comes to her rescue, Bluto beats up on him until he starts feeling weak. Then he eats a can-full of spinach (and occasionally the can itself), which immediately gives him superhuman strength and problem-solving abilities to defeat Bluto. Usually.

I find two characteristics of this flawed little guy of special interest. First, he has found, and regularly uses, a magical panacea which gives him strength. Second, according to Wikipedia, he has a “near-saintly” perseverance to overcome any obstacle to please his sweetheart, Olive Oyl.

Now of course this is just a silly little cartoon meant to entertain and amuse. But like every story ever told by any human anywhere, there’s also an underlying psychological meaning. Why? Because the way the psyche is made influences our every thought, word, and action. So in psychological terms, I could say that Popeye represents the ego which has embraced the vulnerable inner child (Swee’Pea), found a wonderfully helpful way (spinach) to strengthen and stabilize itself enough to overcome adversity (Bluto), and connected with the inner feminine (Olive Oyl).

Why spinach? Well, when I google spinach I discover that its main nutritional element is iron. And when I google iron I find that psychologically it can symbolize inner strength and the will and determination to see things through to the finish. What is it Popeye always says? “I’m strong to the finich. Cause I eats me spinach.”

But Olive Oyl? Surely the name of this goofy, gangly gal can’t mean anything important, can it? Check it out. Apart from its many health benefits, particularly for the heart, olive oil has spiritual meaning. Olives come from the olive tree, which in the Bible is associated with love and charity. And olive oil was used for anointing kings and priests (earthly and spiritual authorities) and for fueling lamps which, of course, bring light, and by association, enlightenment. So psychologically, Popeye’s beloved Olive Oyl symbolizes the healthy inner feminine authority which brings spiritual enlightenment! I love it!

If you’ve read my earlier posts you’ll know why I can relate to Popeye. I’ve adopted an inner orphan.  I strengthen my ego by regularly “digesting” Jungian psychology and dreamwork. I wrestle with an inner bully who’s always trying to steal my feminine authority.  And I persevere in my efforts to connect with the Beloved of my psyche. Like Popeye, I don’t always defeat my bully, but I am getting stronger. And like Popeye’s relationship to Olive Oyl, the partnership between my ego and unconscious is by no means problem free. In fact, my failures are sometimes laughable.

But I, too, am determined to be “strong to the finich. Cause I eats me spinach!” I yam what I yam. And that’s becoming okay with me.

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

 

The King is Dead! Long Live the King! March 15, 2011

Many religious and philosophical traditions have given death a feminine face because the things most feared by the “masculine”dualistic ego are associated with the feminine principle. For example, if the sun and bright light of day are associated with safety, the Father God, life, and consciousness, then the moon and darkness are related to danger, Great Mother, death, and the unconscious.

In Greek mythology death is seen as the daughter of night and sister of sleep. Demeter, the Greek mother goddess of life, also has the power of death. When Hades will not return her abducted daughter Persephone (who symbolizes the death of innocence), she refuses to let anything grow on the earth, thus causing famine and death. Only when she is reunited with Persephone, who is now married to Hades and therefore the goddess of the underworld, does Demeter allow the earth to be fertile again.

Hinduism’s black goddess Kali, the Mother of Eternal Time, is similar to the Nigerian Yoruba goddess Oya, the Polynesian goddess Pele, and the Aztec snake goddess Tlillan, all of whom represent the creative and destructive breathing of the universe. In her “corpse” aspect Kali is shown with a fleshless rib cage. She is also depicted as a horrible hungry hag who feeds on the entrails of her victims. As a bloodthirsty warrior arrayed in blood and a necklace of human skulls, she dances on the corpse of her husband, Shiva, to celebrate her victory over her enemies and signify the ongoing process of creation. We’re talking serious fear of feminine power here!

While none of this is literally true, of course, it is nevertheless very real to the psyche. The death goddesses and their myths are, in part, metaphors for loss: the loss of youth and innocence, of important roles and relationships, of personal power, of fertility. In dreams as in life, death symbols point to the outworn attitudes and assumptions we need to slough off, like a snake shedding a tight-fitting skin so it can keep growing. They are reminders to take our inner lives seriously and examine beliefs that deny reality; for instance, that our honest feelings and emotions are unworthy and pretending and conforming will bring happiness and fulfillment; or that keeping rules, performing certain spiritual practices and attending worship services regularly will keep us safe and protect us from pain and death.

Resisting the Mistress of the Dead just brings Old King Ego more fear and pain; but surrendering to her brings freedom. Tolerating the tension of our suffering without dulling it with dogma and drugs or escaping through addictions and denial eventually brings the gut-level realization that if we really are going to die someday, we might as well live more honestly and fully in the meantime. To quote Kris Kristofferson, “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.”

The death of the fearful old ego is the supreme liberation and a prerequisite to a psychologically whole and spiritually mature ego. In descending to the Mistress of the Dead, we, like all dying goddesses and gods, acquire greater wisdom and power because kissing the false self goodbye and welcoming the truth connects us with the sacred Mystery. As Cirlot’s A Dictionary of Symbols notes, death “is also the source of life — and not only of spiritual life but of the resurrection of matter as well. One must resign oneself to dying in a dark prison in order to find rebirth in light and clarity.”

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

 

Qaddafi vs. Kali: Who Will Win? March 12, 2011

In an early post I wrote that the film Avatar highlights the differences between the heroic and immature ego. Avatar’s hero, Corporal Jake Sully, succeeds because of his bravery, receptivity to Princess Neytiri and her culture, and willingness to heed his wise and truth-pursuing mentor, Dr. Grace Augustine. His adversary, the obsessive and soulless Colonel Miles Quaritch (there’s an interesting similarity between his name and Colonel Mohamar Qaddafi don’t you think?), fails because of his resistance to the Na’vi and their spiritual leader, Queen Mo’at, and his determination to destroy whatever threatens his power.

Quaritch and Qaddafi exemplify the Old King/Warrior ego. This is the part of us which attains power and success with two primary strategies: first, by believing we are the supreme authority of the psyche and the world around us; and second, by rejecting otherness, which in Jungian psychology is associated with the feminine unconscious. As long as we function in this mode, sharing our power and trusting the wisdom of forces we consider inferior is unthinkable.

This way of thinking gave rise to, and still supports, patriarchal cultures with their hierarchies of authority. The old ego believes that climbing to the top to become a colonel or king will immunize it from the suffering, victimization and failure experienced by all that is below. Thus, being forced to surrender to the corporals of the world feels like a mortal, humiliating blow administered by a cruel enemy. Likewise, for many people including Job and Jung, an experience of God — the ultimate Other above everything — as a force with far more power than our puny ego is, in Jung’s words, an “unvarnished spectacle of divine savagery and ruthlessness” that produces shattering emotion.

I imagine Colonel Qaddafi might be feeling some uncomfortable emotions himself about now as he faces growing rebellion in Libya. Perhaps in the secret places of his soul he’s even questioning his God-image. After all, if he who did everything right (from the perspective of his ego) can be threatened by the loss of control of his country, what has his life been all about? This is exactly how every ego feels when confronted with the divine power of repressed otherness. Losing control feels like a violation. Like utter unfairness. Like death, the ultimate feminine mystery.

In Hinduism this mystery is symbolized by the aspect of the Great Mother known as Kali, the Mistress of the Dead who reminds us that when new healing is required, the old ways must change or die. Her natural cycles of birth/death/rebirth terrify the Old King/Warrior/Ego who wants to escape the darker demands of growing up: things like aging, becoming vulnerable in relationships, and losing power, money, status, loved ones, health. So he deludes himself into believing that controlling or destroying otherness proves his omnipotence and protects him from the Great Mother’s power. It doesn’t. The Old King/Ego aided the survival of our species. But the rules have changed. Now he is a dinosaur whose dominator mind-set is rapidly becoming extinct.

Einstein said: “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” Dying to the old ways and birthing a stronger and wiser ego is the great work to which each of us is called today. Will we, like Corporal Sully, attain our heroic destiny by embracing otherness in ourselves and the world, or will we, like Colonel Quaritch and Colonel Qaddafi, ultimately fail?

 

The Re-Union of Mind and Matter March 8, 2011

The concept of the Kundalini serpent’s transforming evolutionary energy is based on the experiences of countless Spirit Warriors from many religious traditions including Taoism, Hinduism, Sufism, Tibetan Buddhism, and Hermeticism. Although its existence has not been confirmed to the satisfaction of mainstream Western science, (nor has the existence of God, for that matter), it is nonetheless a useful explanation for many otherwise unexplainable and seemingly unrelated phenomena: for example, the effectiveness of acupuncture, the unusual experiences and abilities of some spirit persons, and even the “missing link” that separates primitive hominids from today’s Homo Sapiens.

The intuitive understanding is that evolution in consciousness and spirituality is not solely the result of mental striving, but of cooperative interactions between mental and physical energies. The Kundalini life force, a combination of both, moves through seven chakras (the number varies in different traditions) or invisible focal points in the body which are connected by channels. The invisibility of these entities does not disprove their existence: think of electromagnetic radiation such as radio waves, microwaves, X-rays and gamma rays.

Each chakra represents the confluence of a specific mode of physical and psychological energy. The three lower ones — Earth, Sexual, and Power — govern the basic needs for survival, procreation and will. The upper four — Heart, Communication, Intuition, and Crown — influence more advanced psychological and spiritual activity. The Crown is our connection to sacred Unified Consciousness, and the Heart is the centerpoint, or bridge, which connects and integrates the upper and lower chakras by means of empathy, understanding and compassion.

I’m no expert in these matters but I’ve read that in the majority of people the lower chakras are activated first and the Crown and Heart Chakras are usually the last to be completed. However, in extremely cerebral and spiritually oriented people, it is possible for the upper chakras to be awakened before the lower ones. In either case, no one gets from zero to one hundred in an instant! Evolutionary growth is a slow process, not a quick-fix product.

Thus, someone with a partial Kundalini awakening can acquire great compassion and intuition and still experience difficulty with intimate relationships because of unhealed issues concerning family of origin, sexuality, or power. Another could be a brilliant communicator but out of touch with physical realities like nurturing the body or monitoring what energizes the body and what depletes it.

The point is not literal belief in Kundalini energy and the chakras, but whether or not these symbols give spiritual meaning to personal experience and promote soul-making. Although this is what religions are supposed to do, there came a time when my religion no longer did this for me. But experiencing the reality that “masculine” mind and spirit have no priority over “feminine” physical sensation and emotion was a major breakthrough that got me growing again.

By reuniting our minds and bodies, Serpent Mother returns us to the magical childhood mystery of living in the here and now, but with an important difference.  This time we know the place for the first time and experience appreciation and gratitude for what Jungian analyst Marion Woodman calls “the eroticization of all of life.”

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

 

 
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