Matrignosis: A Blog About Inner Wisdom

Think Pyschologically; Live Spiritually

A Dialogue with the Self August 2, 2016

serpentine_fire_81Carl Jung said the Self is both our core and our circumference. Some think of it as our soul, the totality of who we are and who we have the potential to become. Jung called it the archetype of wholeness. In later years he referred to it as our god-image and connection to the Mystery some call God. Composed of the twin drives for self-preservation (i.e. masculine logos, represented in alchemy by the King archetype) and species preservation (feminine mythos/eros symbolized by the Queen), the Self shapes our ideas about what is sacred.

As the source of our irresistible compulsion to grow into our true selves and express our unique creativity, the Self is an ongoing, never-ending process.  I see it as the psychological equivalent of the physical exchange of energy and information constantly occurring at the quantum level between the molecules of our bodies and between us and our environments. As I understand Jung, he suspected that the energies of both processes, inner and outer, are united in one intelligent, purposeful, evolving collective unconscious, Force (as George Lucas named it), or Zero Point Field (as some physicists now call it), which promotes increasing order, health, and wholeness.

We associate the Self with six attributes: wholeness, centrality, unity, love, pattern, and the life-giving force. We grow conscious of its guidance by noticing these themes in the symbols and synchronistic events of our dreams and waking life.  Benevolent by nature, the Self calls our egos to their heroic destiny of merging with the indwelling Mystery. Our egos often reject its guidance, but it never gives up on us. The more we notice and respond to it, the more it responds to us.

The following story from one of my earliest blog posts illustrates the loving interaction that can take place between ego and Self:

I’ve just arrived at my soul’s home in the mountains of North Carolina where I will spend the remainder of the summer. I’ve often wondered why I love this place so dearly, why it makes me feel so loved and connected and alive and grateful for my life. My answer came last night and this morning.

spider-web-with-dew11I’m at my desk looking out an east-facing window. The morning sun enters my backyard late because it has to rise above the mountain before its rays filter down through a thick tree canopy. Most of what I see is in shade but a patch of sun has highlighted the brilliant silver threads of a spider web between two branches of a buckeye tree. Grandmother Spider is busily checking connections, tightening threads, and hunting for tasty morsels that got trapped during the night.

Pursuing the threads of last night’s thoughts, this morning I picked up Aion, Volume 9, ii, of Jung’s Collected Works, in search of symbols of the Self. In paragraph #356 he writes:

“The commonest of these images in modern dreams are, in my experience, the elephant, horse, bull, bear, white and black birds, fishes, and snakes. Occasionally one comes across tortoises, snails, spiders, and beetles. The principal plant symbols are the flower and the tree. Of all the inorganic products, the commonest are the mountain and lake.”

Spiders. Mountains. Trees.

When I entered the gravel road last night my arrival was heralded by a cawing black crow who flapped off toward the house. The first thing I did was feed the rainbow trout in our pond. Black birds. Fish. Lake. (Do you think a pond counts?)

Then I walked around the garden to check out the flowers. My treasured peonies are already spent, but the pink New Dawn roses and purple clematis are a-riot on the trellis, the hydrangeas look like giant blue and white powder puffs, the hostas are sending up tall bud-laden spikes, the astilbe have myriad pointed white cotton candy tufts, the golden daylilies are in full bloom, and there’s a  mound of pink petunias by the kitchen door. I don’t garden in Florida. It’s just too hot. But here I can have my flowers. Flowers.

Below Bear Pond and Shadow Brook there’s a small pasture and stable where my horse, Shadow, used to spend his summers. I’ve always had a thing for horses. And Shadow, well, he’s a subject for another post. Horses. By the way, bears are the theme of this mountain home.  They’re all over the house.  But that’s another story too. Bears.

bear-grandfather-mtn-tim-floyd-7796081Speaking of bears, every summer for ten years I’ve come here with my sweet friend, a handsome golden retriever whose name was Bear. He passed on last August, but his ashes are in a white box with a label that says “Bear Raffa:  Forever Faithful” in a cabinet four feet to the right of where I sit. I cried when I entered the house without him last night. But this morning when I was still in that borderland between sleeping and waking, I heard his joyous booming bark. Twice. He’s glad I’m back. I’m glad I’m back.

Do I need any further reminders of how loved I am and why I love this place so? Not really, but such is the nature of the Self that I’ll probably continue to get them every day anyway. And night, too. Sweet dreams of the Self, my friends.

 

How Self-Aware Are You? Epoch I: Physical Consciousness May 10, 2016

Lewis Lafontaine's photo.

“So long as the child is in that state of unconscious identity with the mother, he is still one with the animal psyche and is just as unconscious as it.

The development of consciousness inevitably leads not only to separation from the mother, but to separation from the parents and the whole family circle and thus to a relative degree of detachment from the unconscious and the world of instinct.

Yet the longing for this lost world continues and, when difficult adaptations are demanded, is forever tempting one to make evasions and retreats, to regress to the infantile…” ~Carl Jung, CW 5, Para 351

People often find Jung’s theories and writing difficult, and it’s no wonder.  He was introducing humanity to a radically different way of seeing and thinking about ourselves, and he used words and phrases in ways that only someone familiar with his work is liable to understand.

The above quote is a good example. What did Jung mean when he wrote about a child being “in that state of unconscious identity with the mother?”  What does it mean to be “one with the animal psyche?” What was he trying to say in this quote? Essentially he’s referring to a common problem that can obstruct our psychological growth.

Lioness with Cub, national Reserve, Pilaneberg, South Africa

Lioness with Cub, National Reserve, Pilaneberg, South Africa

FreudEriksonPiaget, and Kohlberg have described psychological development as a series of stages in which people exhibit typical behavior patterns and abilities.  Jung and Neumann went a step beyond in focusing on the development of consciousness itself, particularly in terms of our psychological and spiritual self-awareness.

Based on these and other developmental theories, I’ve summarized the development of consciousness in three general “epochs” of self-awareness. In this system, Epoch I is Physical Consciousness,  Epoch II is Ego Consciousness, and Epoch III is Integrated Consciousness. For most of us, the first is of relatively brief duration,  the second is quite long (the whole of life for many people), and the third sometimes does not even begin.

“In the first epoch our awareness is limited to our five senses and the forces of physical instinct:  bodily urges, unchecked emotions, and primitive images.  As infants we are like hungry wolf cubs in a vast and comforting wilderness.  We don’t question our habitat or behavior or wonder if there is any other way to be;  we simply act and react to physical stimuli without plan, reflection or guilt….Unburdened by self-consciousness and self-doubt, we are unthinkingly innocent of any wrongdoing because we have no moral code and feel no need to alter or repress anything about ourselves.”  ~J.B. RaffaHealing the Sacred Divide, pp. 20-21.

This earliest phase of life is “that state of unconscious identity with the mother,” Jung referred to:  a paradise of egoless, guiltless, free-and-easy instinctual behavior. During this magical time we are in heaven.

Disney's Peter Pan with the Lost Boys.

Disney’s Peter Pan with the Lost Boys.

“If we have a concept of time it is that we dwell in eternity.  If we have a concept of God it is this bliss of oneness that connects us to everything and makes us feel buoyantly, vitally alive. Neither good nor bad, right nor wrong, Epoch I is simply everyone’s earliest experience of being a human being.  All our future psychological and spiritual growth plays out against this primal background of immersion in a maternal ocean of innocent, unconscious, infinitely pleasurable physical life.” ~J.B. Raffa, Healing the Sacred Divide, p.22.

Is it any wonder so many of us, like Peter Pan, continue to long for this lost world and struggle to stay young for as long as we can?  In a child, this is a natural and charming way of being, and there are people who remain in this state of harmless, guileless innocence throughout their lives.  Others grow increasingly dissatisfied with themselves as adults. And some become dysfunctional. In fact, a lack of guilt or sense of responsibility,  self-centeredness, emotional immaturity, antisocial behavior, and low impulse-control are all characteristics of sociopaths.  This is why we need egos, (organs of consciousness), and why our egos need to grow in self-awareness. At this point in history, learning to critique and control our more primitive “inner child” has become crucial to our very survival.

Mary Cassat, Mother and Child

Mary Cassat, Mother and Child

Despite humanity’s evolutionary advances, negative aspects of an Epoch I mentality still pervade contemporary society. Symptoms include:

  • a  large population of unhappy adults who cannot seem to make difficult adaptations into adulthood,

  • the temptation “to make evasions and retreats, to regress to the infantile,”

  • blaming others for our unhappiness and expecting them to make us happy,

  • obsessive glorification and pursuit of youth and physical beauty,

  • addictions to substances or behaviors that provide temporary escape from our problems and responsibilities,

  • a single-minded focus on satisfying our own instinctual needs without caring about the needs of others, and

  • self-centered, irresponsible, antisocial attitudes, words and behaviors without regard for consequences.

“The further development of the individual can be brought about only by means of symbols which represent something far in advance of himself and whose intellectual meanings cannot yet be grasped entirely.” ~Carl Jung, CW 4, Para 680

What did Jung mean by this?  I’ll address this and more as I explore the evolution of consciousness in coming posts.

Image Credits:  Thanks to Lewis Lafontaine for the Jungian quotes and deer child image, Wikipedia for the Disney image of Peter Pan, and Pinterest for the lioness and cub image.

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

 

 

Horse Crazy Part I: How to Build a Wall October 13, 2015

IMG_6068“If you can see your path laid out in front of you step by step, you know it’s not your path. Your own path you make with every step you take. That’s why it’s your path.”― Joseph Campbell

One warm summer evening when I was five years old, my father took me for a walk down a dusty Tallahassee road. At the nearby stable I saw my first horse and fell passionately in love.  From that day on, I went to the stable as often as I could.  It was bliss just to be near these magnificent animals—to see them, smell them, and if I was lucky, to touch them.

From then on, I had one goal in life: someday I would have a horse of my own. Each year as my birthday drew near I fantasized about the horse that would be standing outside my window when I awoke on my special day. I nursed this fantasy when we moved to a big city. It continued throughout elementary school, where everyone knew I was horse crazy.  If I wasn’t drawing pictures of horses or writing stories about them, I was reading Walter Farley’s Black Stallion books from the school library.

The summer before sixth grade I wrote myself a letter to open when I was sixteen. In the envelope I included the best present I could think of to give my future self:  a picture I had drawn titled “A Wild Stallion Sniffing the Air.”  It showed a stallion standing high on a cliff overlooking his herd of mares far below.

My father died that winter and I began to lose my unrealistic dreams (Chink! go the bricks as they are added to my protective wall: “Playtime’s over;  it’s time to grow up!”). I was also losing my utter confidence in myself (Chink! “Face it, kid;  you’re a victim!)  Occasionally, however, I got to be with horses, and the month I spent with my mother’s Michigan relatives who leased a black-and-white pinto for me made for the best summer I ever had.

By high school and college my love for horses took second place to boys.  I married after graduation, got a job as a third grade teacher, and dreamed about having a child of my own.  But the horses were still there, running around in the shadowy summer pastures of my mind, and I still dreamed of owning one someday.  Five years later my dream came true when my husband bought me a white albino gelding with light blue eyes. But my dream was short-lived: I was pregnant within a few months and my cautious doctor warned me against riding.  We sold Bamboo before my daughter was born.

It was the only thing to do. Motherhood is a full-time job. Isn’t it? When we grow up, we need to be reasonable and give up our unrealistic childhood dreams.  Don’t we?  Passion is a foolish and dangerous emotion.  Isn’t it?

It can be enlightening to examine the symbols that prevail in our outer lives; sometimes they have an amazing correspondence to our psychological development. My youthful confidence and self-sufficiency were symbolized by my fixation on the black stallion, the epitome of powerful masculine energy, combined with dark, feminine, instinctive passion. Had I lived in another place and time, I might have continued to develop the capabilities of this powerful symbol, but, wildness and darkness were not quite acceptable in my world which preferred reason to passion and masculine to feminine.

As I grew older, my symbol acquired some balance and became a tamer, more reasonable, and less passionate (lighter-colored) black-and-white pinto.  (Chink!) By the time I was a wife, mother and teacher and had accepted the restrictions placed on women, my symbol was a colorless gelding.  Passion and dark femininity were lost and masculine light and reason overshadowed my horse energy, which had become dormant and impotent. (Chink! Chink!)

1649041“We must be willing to let go of the life we planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us.” Joseph Campbell

My choice to be a teacher was guided by my needs for security and societal acceptance, not my real interests or skills. I didn’t even know what these might be. And although becoming a wife and mother were the right choices for me, I was not fulfilled in either capacity. Why? Because I was conforming to ill-fitting, societally transmitted renditions of these roles.

I lived on the surface of my life for several more years. I was a good sport, a good wife and mother, a mediocre tennis player, and an enthusiastic church- and party-goer, looking outside my Self for answers, approval, and temporary relief from my discomfort. Unaware of the wall that covered my true Self, a place where my passion for the black stallion was still alive and well, I assumed I was who and what I appeared to be. What I really was, was a woman following a path laid out for her by her forebears, a woman living her life for others.

Let go of the life I planned?  Out of the question….much too dangerous to even think about, for in the first half of my life I was obsessed with building. Rebelling and tearing down weren’t even on my radar.  Fortunately, the life that was waiting for me wouldn’t be denied.

More about that next time……

Image Credit:  The Black Stallion, Google Images

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

 

Signs at the Crossroads September 8, 2015

I'd love to have a beautiful
I’d love to create a beautiful “hobbit house” like this one that’s on exhibit at The Bascom: A Center for the Visual Arts in Highlands, NC.

“To understand is quick and exciting but to embody is slow and penetrating.”  ~John Tarrant

As I write this post I find myself at a crossroads;  it’s my last week in our Smoky Mountain summer home. By the time you read this I will have left. Part of my heart doesn’t want to leave this sanctuary;  the other part looks forward to returning to my Florida home and family.

Both places hold special charms for me.  Here it’s secluded, cool, mountainous, and forested. Everywhere I go I’m surrounded by nature’s wild beauty. My life is slower, less “mental”, more contemplative and physical—perhaps I should say, “embodied.”  I have lots of solitude, plenty of time to listen to my inner promptings and do whatever appeals, a large granddog companion to accompany me on daily hikes, and occasional house guests to enjoy and entertain…all at an easy, reasonable pace that feeds my soul at a deeply satisfying level.

My life in Florida has a different kind of beauty with its daily and weekly routines: regular workouts, ukulele lessons,  social commitments, holiday celebrations, and fun times with my family, always with enough time left over to write.  The pace is faster and more exciting, given Orlando’s thriving and diverse cultural offerings, but since I prefer a minimum of “fast and exciting,” I usually manage to stay within my comfort level there too.

The meaning of events is the way of salvation that you create. The meaning of events comes from the possibility of life in this world that you create. It is the mastery of this world and the assertion of your soul in this world. ~Carl Jung, The Red Book, Page 239.

The thing that makes dividing my time between these two paths work so well is that I’ve finally learned to listen to how I really want to spend my time and to look for meaning regardless of where I am. In Florida I find meaning in my family and friends, writing, music, and art.  Here in the mountains I mostly find it in nature, a road less traveled in our fast-paced world.

I’d like to show you what I mean.  These are some of the meaningful signs I’ve found in nature during this crossroads week. Each one speaks to how I want to live my life, regardless of where I am.

This morning I saw this magnificent display of light in the bathroom. It came from a single sunbeam that found its way through the slats of the window blinds.

Always be mindful of the miracle of life and light.

Stay mindful of the miracle of life and light.

The first thing Izzy has to do on our walks is chase the trout around the pond while I feed them.

If herding trout floats your boat, go for it with gusto!

If trout herding floats your boat, go for it with gusto!

As we stepped onto the trail, the trunk and green necklace circling the base of this beautiful old tulip poplar captured my imagination.

There's beauty in everything: even wrinkles and poison ivy!

Be an objective observer. There’s beauty in everything: even wrinkles and poison ivy!

The next thing to catch my interest was this unusual curved tree trunk.

Straight is not the only way to grow to the light.

There are many ways to grow toward the light. Straight is just one of them.

Izzy loves to run ahead, nose to the ground, while I like to take my time on the trail. But she doesn’t go far, and before long, she always comes back to check in.

Izzy's message to me:

There are few more satisfying or loyal companions than a dog that that has been loved, trusted, and treated with respect. Actually, that’s true of people too.

Yes, she does wait for me, but not always where I would prefer!

When you find a really great mud puddle, stop and take the time to play in it.

When you find a really great mud puddle, take the time to play in it.

She also waits at crossroads to see which way I’ll go.

If you're not sure about which way to go, wait for guidance.

If you’re not sure about your next step, wait for guidance.

I think she prefers the road less traveled too.

When your heart knows the way, step forth boldly!

When your heart knows the right path, face it head-on!

 The other day our friend, Sam, found what we’ve decided is an old moonshine jar almost buried beside the new path. Over the years, Mother Nature has turned it into a terrarium filled with green life. We left it there for Nature to do her thing, and to remind us of the history of these mountains. And to enjoy on our next walk.

Respect local traditions. Respect Nature. Respect change. For as Mother Julian of Norwich said,

Respect local traditions.

Respect Nature.

Respect change.

As Mother Julian of Norwich said, “All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.”

We were being serenaded by crows near the end of our walk today when I found a crow feather.  At the trail’s end I placed it on our Crow Altar.

Respect synchronicities with all living beings, for they are reminders that you are known and loved by something beyond yourself.

Honor synchronistic experiences with your full attention and meaningful rituals. Synchronicities remind you that you are known and loved by a benevolent force beyond yourself.

This last sign came when we returned from town one twilit evening. I heard a loud rustle in the woodpile and saw a hawk fly up to a nearby branch. It peered down at us with interest and patiently waited while I pulled out my cell phone and took pictures.

Try to develop a sharp eye and a cosmic view that observes our precious world with infinite patience and love.

Try to develop a sharp eye and a cosmic view that observes this precious world with infinite patience and love.

A true religion is precisely one that can teach you how to recognize and honor God everywhere, and not just inside your own group symbols. ~Richard Rohr

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

 

Artemis and Demeter’s Legacy August 18, 2015

A perfect moment in the hammock...

A perfect moment in the hammock…

Our children and grandchildren have left now and I’m alone except for Izzy, my son’s golden retriever. She keeps me company when Fred has to be away for a few days. At the moment she’s sleeping contentedly on the bed while I’m writing at my desk.  It gives me enormous pleasure to have her and my family here.

The source of my pleasure goes way back and deep within. I spent my early years as a horse- and woods-loving Artemis, the Greek virgin goddess of the wilderness and the hunt…who was usually accompanied by a dog.  But Artemis stepped aside during my young adulthood to make room for Athena, daughter of patriarchy and Goddess of wisdom, who helped me with my education, teaching, and soul-searching; and for Demeter, goddess of motherhood and fertility, who showed up when I gave birth to my children.

Like all gods and goddesses of myth, these favorites of mine are humanity’s projections of archetypal energies in every psyche. Nobody activates them all, however. We each have our own preferences that may emerge at different times in our lives…or not at all.

For example, after serving Demeter and Athena faithfully during my young adulthood and middle years, I invited Artemis back. Her desire to expose our children (and, we hoped, grandchildren) to nature motivated our decision in the early 80’s to buy this land in the Smoky Mountains from Fred’s parents and build a cabin on it. Years later she inspired me to buy a horse and add a small pasture and stable where Shadow could live in the summers.

A main feature of the original cabin was an open loft with a bedroom on either side of a bathroom for our teen-aged daughter and son.  To our great joy, grandchildren eventually came along.  Now our son’s bedroom contains 3 twin beds plus a bunk for the five grandchildren, while our daughter’s old room is an enclosed guest room which her teen-aged daughter recently claimed.

The cabin and land continually evolve with new projects almost every year, always with the family in mind. For a while we entertained the idea of building a tree house for the kids in a stand of giant hemlocks at the top of the mountain.  That idea was squashed when the hemlocks were infested with the wooly adelgid parasite. As the dead trees fell we found other uses for them.  Most of the wood was chopped into firewood to warm our and our neighbors’ cabins in winter.

Our hemlock table with bird lights above

Our hemlock table with bird lights above

Then a few years ago Algie, our friend, neighbor and a gifted builder, used the most promising fallen wood to make a table that would seat the eleven of us. He’d never built furniture from hemlock before. No one around here does because the wood tends to be too soft and twisty and it cracks and warps easily.

But after some experimentation he crafted a beauty.  As you can see, despite year-round exposure to the changeable weather, it’s holding up well on the screened porch beside the creek. So are the lights we bought in Mexico to hang over it:  eleven rusted metal birds, each with its own Edison bulb…for the light in each of us.

When my family’s here, Demeter’s a proud mother hen keeping an eye on her chicks (and grandchicks) as they enjoy the property and local attractions. The best time is when we return to the nest each evening for a family dinner that everyone contributes to and shares around our special, hand-made table.

Last winter’s project was a new foot trail that branches off the main one into the remote parts of the property. A few places are piled high with dead hemlocks. The rest is dense with poplars, oaks, maples, and tangled masses of wild rhododendron. Until our yard man got hold of it, it was largely unexplored. Now, after a winter of clearing, digging, fortifying and general magic-making, it’s done, and hiking it with Izzy and the grandchildren has become a major pleasure.

On this summer’s visit our nine-year old granddaughter and seven-year old grandson decided to build a playhouse on a levelish space above the waterfall. Initially, it was their secret. Our granddaughter made a detailed design complete with elevations and measurements, (she may have inherited her father’s architect genes…or maybe it’s her mother’s interior designer genes), and they cleared a trail and leveled the space. It wasn’t long before the older three demanded to know what was going on and started helping.  Soon, the fathers and Grandpa/Boppy were involved too.

By the end of the week they had constructed an 8 X 10 wood plank floor supported by four 4 X 4 posts.  Our son and his sons stayed up late Saturday night to finish the floor, and Fred drove in the last nails Sunday morning after they left. It was the archetypal childhood “build a tree-house with Dad” experience with the added twist of being a waterfall house that is satisfyingly hidden by tree branches all around. They plan to finish it on subsequent visits.

Our cabin in the early days

Our cabin in the early days

At bedtime the night before they left, our seven-year old grandson wistfully told his mother, “I wish my arms were long enough to wrap all the way around the cabin.” My Artemis and Demeter are still doing a happy dance! Seeds have been sown, and I can rest easy knowing my love for family, nature, and wilderness is a legacy my grandchildren will carry on.

For more on the goddess archetypes, check out Dr. Jean Shinoda Bolen’s wonderful books, especially Goddesses in Everywoman.  I just finished and enjoyed her latest:  Artemis: The Indomitable Spirit in Everywoman.

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

 

Reflections on Refuge July 7, 2015

porch1In his magical book, The Poetics of Space, Gaston Bachelard writes,

“…in the world of inanimate objects, extraordinary significance is attached to nests.  We want them to be perfect, to bear the mark of a very sure instinct.  We ourselves marvel at this instinct, and a nest is generally considered to be one of the marvels of animal life.”

I sit in my rocker grooming Izzy.  She’s unnaturally still. I follow her intense gaze.  A Carolina wren sits on the porch railing, a worm dangling from its beak. It looks left and right, up and down, hops closer.  A flower box is attached halfway up the wall to my left. When we arrived for the summer I was delighted to discover it contained a nest. How did the birds know how to build it? Now the eggs have hatched.

Izzy and I are only a few feet away. I sit very still, willing the parent to reach the nest before we scare it off. Izzy whips her body around hoping the brush in my hand will scratch the itchy space where her tail and back meet. Startled, the wren flies away. I release my breath slowly, regret having alarmed it, feel like an intruder on my own porch, wish the birds weren’t afraid of us. Izzy noses my hand. I brush her obligingly.

Can you see the wren sitting on the chair?

Can you see the wren on the closest chair?

The Smokeys are filled with sources of fresh emotions that remind me of my own instincts. This morning when Fred went out to the porch to enjoy his coffee, a squirrel jumped off the chaise lounge. The yellow wool throw at the end of it was churned into a lumpy mass. Apparently the squirrel had used my cozy wrap for a nest.

It’s been cool and rainy for the past two weeks. When misty drizzles swell into weightier drops the birds desert our feeders. I feel sorry for them, worry about how they’re keeping dry.

Luckily, the wrens’ nest is high and dry under a covered porch. I’m comforted by this when I watch the rain from my rocking chair. Yet, there’s a down side to this location. How were Mama and Papa Wren to know their refuge in this mountain valley is also our nest, and that it would soon be invaded by a four-legged, waggy-tailed, creature as well as some giant two-leggeds?

porch2As living near man-made habitats can be problematic for birds and other wild creatures, so Nature’s sanctuaries can have down sides for humans. On our first walk last summer, Izzy and I were in a narrow space bordered by dense undergrowth when she raced ahead of me past a lethal timber rattler less than 3 feet away. I was both frightened and fascinated, and have avoided that spot ever since. The next day our neighbor came over with his rifle and stalked it. But we never saw it again. Perhaps its instinct for survival compelled it to find a safer haven in a deeper, darker part of the forest. The same instinct makes me wary of such places!

Bachelard writes,

“It is striking that even in our homes, where there is light, our consciousness of well-being should call for comparison with animals in their shelters. An example may be found in the following lines by the painter, Vlaminck, who, when he wrote them, was living quietly in the country:  ‘The well-being I feel, seated in front of my fire, while bad weather rages out-of-doors, is entirely animal.  A rat in its hole, a rabbit in its burrow, cows in the stable, must all feel the same contentment that I feel.’ Thus, well-being takes us back to the primitiveness of the refuge. Physically, the creature endowed with a sense of refuge, huddles up to itself, takes to cover, hides away, lies snug, concealed.”

Refuge at last!

Refuge at last!

When we first arrived, Izzy slept as close to our bed as she could when it stormed outside.  Sometimes her need for concealment was so strong that she’d push herself too far under and get stuck. Meanwhile, I’d be listening to the rain snuggled in a nest of soft pillows and a thick, bunched-up comforter. Our need for refuge was the same. We just expressed it differently.

Our relationships with our instincts are as paradoxical as our relationships with wilderness creatures. We love and indulge them when we’re secure in our safety and comfort. We cage and kill them when we’re not. What animal in us seeks refuge from life’s storms and feels such well-being in our nests? What cringing creature experiences terror when otherness intrudes? What inner observer sees our fear and challenges us to overcome it?

Thank you to my poet friend, Brian Carlin, for recommending Bachelard’s wonderful book.  I can see why you love it.

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

 

An Easter Visitation From Serpent Mother April 7, 2015

A blood moon rising over Lake Virginia.

A blood moon rising over Lake Virginia

What an exquisite time of year it is in Orlando. Easter weekend was especially lovely. Saturday night we went to the home of good friends, where, in the most gorgeous weather imaginable, we celebrated her 60th birthday with dinner in the backyard while watching the glorious rise of the astonishing red-orange “blood moon” over Lake Virginia. Afterwards, with the doors open to the cool breezes, we danced barefooted in the living room to his exquisite play list of the best dance music ever!! It was like The Big Chill—one of my favorite movies ever—all over again, except this time the music wasn’t Motown, it was “O” town!

Sunday was equally balmy and breezy.  So between the traditional indoor Easter Egg hunt for our grandchildren (we’re still missing a purple egg containing a $5.00 bill; maybe they’ll find it next year), and our version of Easter dinner (featuring Grandma Raffa’s Italian spaghetti and meatballs), we relaxed on the deck.

Our house is on a small secluded island on the edge of a large lake.  Most of the island lies within in the city limits of our suburb, but our end of the road is governed by the county.  So the neighbors across the street, whose home straddles the dividing line, have chickens on the county side of their backyard.  On our side of the street, a canal edged with a cypress swamp runs behind the few houses and merges with the lake at either end. Our tiny enclave is so isolated by the water and trees that it’s easy to forget we’re surrounded by large neighborhoods near the big city.

It’s paradise to the critters with whom we share this space. Nearly every day I see pairs of wood ducks flying in to make a splash landing near their nests.  Or hear a kingfisher screeching as he races through the treeless air space over the canal like a noisy space ship trying to shake off an enemy from Star Wars. Or listen to the piercing whistles of the ospreys who surf the air currents over the swamp and lake searching for fish.  We have 8-hooter owls, great blue herons, green herons, wood storks, coots, anhingas and bitterns. Ginormous turtles have been known to lay their eggs in our backyard, raccoons try to dig them up, bass swim in the canal, and alligators rule.

So I wasn’t very surprised Easter afternoon when I heard a shout from the big kids who were playing volleyball in the side yard.  “Snake! Snake!” As we rushed over Alex was hopping through the grass like a dancer over hot coals. Sure enough, passing beneath the center of the volleyball net, a 6-foot long snake was making a slithery bee-line for the canal.

My son-in-law recognized it right away and told us it was a non-poisonous rat or corn snake.  We watched, mesmerized, as she slid over the sea wall, slipped into the water, sashayed swiftly across the canal and disappeared in the undergrowth.

Serpent Mother

Serpent Mother

Judging by the direction from which she had come, my guess is she was returning from a visit to the henhouse across the street. Do they like eggs? I asked him.  Oh yes. Aha! So Serpent Mother likes to celebrate Spring with Easter egg hunts too!

Why do I call this serpent “her?” Can I tell the gender of a snake at a glance?  No, I’m not speaking literally. Everything has symbolic meaning that reflects the inner life of spirit and psyche, and snakes are especially rich with associations.  Aside from being a common dream symbol of transcendence, life-giving energy, healing, and the Sacred Self, the snake has always and everywhere been associated with the archetypal feminine and the ancient goddesses who represented the Great Mother of all life.

The moon is likewise associated with the cool light of the feminine, as compared to the masculine sun.  And a full moon, pregnant with life-giving blood, rising over Lake Virginia on Easter eve, a day when my psychologically aware and spiritually mature friend celebrated her 60th birthday, has very special meaning for me.

Plus, the element of water is the feminine counterpart to masculine fire. The name Virginia (from the OFr. virgine, and Lat. virgo), means virgin, a chaste maiden or unmarried woman who has taken religious vows of chastity. And Serpent Mother’s synchronistic visitation on Easter Sunday reminds me of the virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus, a Spirit Person who transcended the physical limitations of earthly life, thus symbolizing our hope for new spiritual life.

I hope your Easter was blessed with reverence for the Mystery of new life, and I wish you an especially meaningful Spring.

Corn snake image credit:  Wikipedia

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

 

 
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