Matrignosis: A Blog About Inner Wisdom

Think Pyschologically; Live Spiritually

Cult of Personality Vs. Kali: Who Will Win? November 12, 2019

In an early post from 2011 titled Qaddafi Vs. Kali: Who Will Win?, 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 Muammar Qaddafi don’t you think?), fails because of his resistance to the Na’vi and their spiritual leader, Queen Mo’as, and his determination to destroy whatever threatens his power.

Some of you might not remember Muammar Qaddafi, so here are a few excepts from Wikipedia. Qaddafi

“…was a Libyan revolutionary, politician and political theorist.

“Amid the 2011 Arab Spring, protests against widespread corruption and unemployment broke out in eastern Libya. The situation descended into civil war, in which Nato intervened militarily on the side of the anti-Gaddafist National Transitional Council (NTC). The government was overthrown, and Gaddafi retreated to Sirte, only to be captured and killed by by NTC militants.

“A highly divisive figure, Gaddafi dominated Libya’s politics for four decades and was the subject of a pervasive cult of personality….he was posthumously accused of sexual abuse. He was condemned by many as a dictator whose authoritarian administration violated human rights and financed global terrorism.”

Here’s Wikipedia’s definition of cult of personality:

“A cult of personality, or cult of the leaderarises when a country’s regime – or, more rarely, an individual – uses the techniques of mass media, propaganda, the big lie, spectacle, the arts, patriotism, and government-organised demonstrations and rallies to create an idealized, heroic, and worshipful image of a leader, often through unquestioning flattery and praise. A cult of personality is similar to apotheosis, except that it is established by modern social engineering techniques, usually by the state or the party in one-party states and dominant-party states. It is often seen in totalitarian or authoritarian countries.”

Is this what we’re seeing in the U.S. today? If so, why? Here’s a psychological explanation. Quaritch and Qaddafi exemplify the Old King/Warrior ego. It attains power and success with two primary strategies: first, by believing it is the supreme authority of the psyche and the center of 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.

The old ego’s belief in its superiority created, and still supports, patriarchal cultures with their hierarchies of authority. In extreme cases, hierarchies can create a cult of personality surrounding an inflated ego which fought its way to the top believing its powerful position would immunize it from the suffering and failures of those below. To someone like this, losing to the corporals of the world feels like a mortal, humiliating blow administered by a cruel enemy. Likewise, for many people, including the Biblical Job and Jung, an experience of God — the ultimate Other — 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.

In my original post about Qaddaffi, published when he was still alive, I imagined he might be feeling some uncomfortable emotions as he faced growing rebellion in Libya. Perhaps in the secret places of his soul he even questioned  his God. After all, if he who did everything right to gain such a wondrous position of power could be threatened by the loss of control of his country, what had his life been all about? This is how every ego feels when confronted with the 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 an 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, being humbled by a loss of power, money, status, loved ones, or health. So he deludes himself into believing that controlling, banishing 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.”

Fearful, immature egos currently control the U.S. government, hoping to delude, confuse, and attract followers via divisive tactics and a cult of personality. Stalin, Hitler, and Qadaffi did the same and lost. Why? Because humans are wired to grow into wisdom and maturity. To rise above our self-centered egos, to become less fearful and more humble and respectful. To befriend the otherness of our unconscious selves and other people, religions, races, genders, and nations. And if we can’t manage that, Kali — who lives in each of us and in the collective unconscious of our country — will force us to. It’s nature’s way.

The U.S. has been infected by the cult of personality and we are in desperate need of change. Dying to the old patriarchal ego and aiding the birth of a nation with a heroic ego is the great work to which each of us is called. What kinds of leaders will we vote into office next November? Will we, like the brave Corporal Sully, attain our heroic destiny by embracing the otherness in ourselves and others? Or will we bring the wrath of Kali down upon our nation because our egos are too frightened of the darker demands of growing up?

 

Joy Harjo: Crazy Brave October 22, 2019

“The story matrix is all energy & music. There is a luminosity that connects all of us – everything. Even the worst of us are luminous beings. We are all stories. No such thing as time. We are each other’s stories.” ~Joy Harjo

“Harjo is a magician and a master of the English language.” ~Jonah Raskin, San Francisco Chronicle 

If you’ve been following Matrignosis you know that at the age of ten I had a Big dream about the Lone Ranger, Tonto, and Silver. Years later when I discovered Jungian psychology, I began to understand Tonto’s role in that dream. Now I believe he symbolized my inner shaman, my  instinctual native intelligence that eventually led me to my passions for writing and dreamwork.

Had I not taken that dream and the intense feelings it aroused in me seriously; had I not respected my inner realities and conducted years of inner work to understand them; had I not eventually overcome my fear of putting myself out there in my writing, I would never have tapped into my creative potential, never made the contribution that only I could make.

Every psyche contains a deep well of native intelligence and creative power. We all contain an archetypal guide — Carl Jung called it the Hierophant — who can lead us there. Hierophant is a Greek word for a wise person who brings people into the presence of wholeness and holiness by interpreting universal principles and sacred mysteries. In your psyche your Hierophant equates to a form of metacognition that taps into the specialties of both hemispheres of your brain — logos and mythos — and weaves them together into a bigger, more complete perspective on life than either side alone can imagine.

To awaken your Hierophant and the destiny to which it can lead you, you have to overcome all manner of enemies and obstacles. Some — like fear, lethargy, self-criticism, self-doubt, ignorance, and pride lie within you. Others — poverty, racism, family dysfunction, social pressure to conform, lack of education, and abuse — are forced on you from without. The way to find the whole and holy place within you that is guarded by your dragons is to acquire the courage to face them all full on. You have to be brave. Crazy Brave.

Joy Harjo is a Crazy Brave Hierophant. On June 19, 2019, this internationally known award-winning poet, storyteller, activist, saxophone player, performer, author, and playwright was appointed the 23rd United States Poet Laureate. She is the first Native American to hold this position. Born into the Mvskoke/Creek Nation in Tulsa, Oklahoma, the final destination of the Trail of Tears, she has captured America’s imagination and respect by following her inner shaman past her personal dragons to her creative well.

Listen with your heart to these words from her inaugural reading as U.S. Poet Laureate:

“…when you go into the place of poetry, as a writer or a reader of poetry, you go into that place beyond time, you go into that place beyond words…and you find things there, you find yourself, you can find ancestors, you find out that those stones out there can speak, and the trees have their own language. Now the scientists are coming out with all kinds of books about this, but this is part of our old knowledge.”

Shaman knowledge. Hierophant knowledge.

Harjo’s genius lies in her ability to weave both sides of her whole and holy Self — her soul’s twins — into one creative tapestry that contains the world without and the world within, past and present, soul and spirit, logos and mythos, literal fact and gut instinct, masculine and feminine, bright side and dark shadow.

As the Judges Citation of the 2019 Jackson Prize from the Poetry Society of America declares,

“Harjo’s work speaks not only to the world we live in, but to the unseen world that moves through us, the thread that has connected us all from the start…. Harjo’s poems embody a rich physicality and movement; they begin in the ear and the eye, they go on to live and hum inside the body…. Throughout her luminous and substantial body of work, there is a sense of timelessness, of ongoingness, of history repeating; these are poems that hold us up to the truth and insist we pay attention.”

This crazy brave woman’s ability to hold both worlds together and manifest them in her work has resulted in nine books of poetry, a memoir, five CD’s of music and poetry, a one-woman show, and several plays and children’s books. You can read about her many honors and awards at the links below.

I met Joy Harjo last Thursday night when she and two other artists — multidisciplinary artist, Sook Jin Jo, and composer/performer/producer, Larry Mitchell (who also plays guitar with Joy’s band) — were introduced to local members of the Atlantic Center for the Arts, where they are currently master artists in residency.

My first experience of my Hierophant appeared in the dream of a ten year-old girl who idolized a Hollywood characterization of a fictional Native American tracker named Tonto. But now that I’ve experienced Joy Harjo’s mystical, hauntingly courageous style, in my imaginarium I see her and Tonto, two bold and proud warriors — Mvskoke/Creek and Mohawk — standing together. My personal image of my soul’s twins feels complete.

Enjoy this blessing that opens her book, Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings. I dedicate it to the memory of Cicero Greathouse, my dear crazy brave artist friend who will be deeply missed by all who knew and loved him.

Bless the poets, the workers for justice,

the dancers of ceremony, the singers of heartache

the visionaries, all makers and carriers of fresh

meaning — We will all make it through,

despite politics and wars, despite failures

and misunderstandings. There is only love.

 

Joy Harjo’s website

Joy Harjo named first Native American poet laureate

Joy Harjo Becomes The 1st Native American U.S. Poet Laureate

Joy Harjo Becomes First Native American Writer to Be Named U.S. Poet Laureate 

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. Her new book, The Soul’s Twins, will be launched next year.

 

Your Choice November 5, 2018

It’s the eve of the election. This dream arrived the night before last.

#4984: The Little Boy Doesn’t Want to Learn

I’m in a new place – it feels like a room in a children’s school — with a few other very likable men and women. We are making packets of information for the children. I’m supposed to prepare the covers of the packets. The teacher let them write their names on the covers in magic marker. They must be four- or possibly five-year olds, judging by their writing. I have a packet with the name Mary Ma….. (something…can’t remember her last name). I see Raffa written after her name and it looks like my writing. It doesn’t belong there so I‘m trying to erase it. But I can’t, because it’s in magic marker. Also, the packet has a nubby fabric texture, almost like fleece, which makes it especially difficult to erase. I ask for a new, clean packet for this child to start over with but the teacher tells me there aren’t any more. There’s only one for each child.

A little boy is here now and needs his packet. I tell the others where it’s hanging, over to the left on that wall. Each packet is hung on a peg which also holds a set of keys. Someone goes over, finds his, and brings it to the boy. But he ignores it. It’s got everything he needs in it, even the keys, and all the information and directions for his task, but he won’t even look at it. He doesn’t want to use it. He wants to play without having to apply himself. I feel sorry for him. It could be so easy if he’d just look at the materials right in front of him and learn from them. He’s making it so hard on himself by resisting. It’s such a shame.

This is how I feel about this new book. I’m preparing this “packet” of information. It contains guidelines for the work of self-discovery — a set of keys that can open doors to the unknown world within. But it’s been very difficult…it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever written. I’m having to face some harsh realities about myself and sometimes my inner little boy just doesn’t want to do the hard work. And I know there are a lot of people who won’t read my book for the same reason. And that’s hard too.

But this dream also shows me how I feel about the problems we face in America on the eve of this election. It’s about all those who want a patriarchal God to come down here and fix everything. And if not God, then maybe a big, powerful, important man who makes our fears go away when he says, “It’s bad out there. But don’t worry. I’ll fix it.”

The time has come to take the heroine’s journey. We each have our own packet, our own keys, our own task. We each need to look into the book of our own life, descend to the underworld, and suffer like Inanna, the Queen of Heaven and Earth when all her worldly belongings were stripped from her and she was hung on a meathook.To suffer like Mary, the Queen of Heaven, who watched the political power in her country crucify her son. To suffer like Psyche, beloved of Eros, who had to do all the impossible tasks that Aphrodite, goddess of love, assigned to her to force her to grow up. She knew she couldn’t do them and admitted it. And only when she crumbled in humility and despair did the solutions come. The healing power of nature, of the soul, took over and gave her the assistance she needed.

It’s time to peel away the patriarchal layers of busyness and competition. Of materialism. Of ladder-climbing back-stabbing to acquire the outer trappings of success. Time to stop projecting our fear and hatred onto scapegoats. Time to stop living lives devoid of all soul, all spirit, all meaning. Time to stop pushing away other people, other ideas, new solutions. Time to see what’s right in front of us and learn from it. Time to stop looking to Big Daddy to save us. Time to empower our fuller selves, to accept our individual responsibility to be part of a global solution.

Our assignment at this point in history is to follow the maidens, mothers, queens, and crones down deep into the underground of our true selves. To find out who we really are and what our souls really need. To admit we can’t escape reality by denying it. Time to find our own vulnerable places and let our carefully constructed walls crumble around us. To tap into the sadness and grief, fear and dread. To let it all out and learn from it in the privacy of our own meditations. To trust in the core of love at our center, and to make the choices our soul wants us to make.

Big Daddy’s not going to save us. My book is not going to save us. Everybody has to write and read their own book, find meaning in their own life, and save themselves. You can save yourself. You can choose. Choose the Third Way. Choose love.

P.S. I’ve met another wise woman. Thank you, Janice, for your inspiration today for this post.

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.

 

Good News, Bad News October 8, 2018

 

“Love is the fundamental energy of evolution….Our challenge today is to trust the power of love at the heart of life, to let ourselves be seized by love, to create and invent ways for love to evolve into a global wholeness of unity, compassion, justice and peacemaking. As a process of evolution, the universe is incomplete, and we humans are incomplete. We can change, grow, and become something new. We have the power to do so, but do we have the will? We need a religious imagination that ignites our energies to move beyond mediocrity and fear, one that anticipates a new future of planet life.” ~Ilia Delio. The Unbearable Wholeness of Being, p. xxv

First the good news: The first draft of my new book is finished. From here on out it’s just a matter of refining it, a process akin to socializing a child so it’s fit to be seen in polite society. It’ll take me a while to do that, then off it goes. Sending it to the publisher is like sending a child to finishing school after basic training. An editor will offer suggestions, I’ll make revisions. A marketing person will review and adjust the promotional plan, make the necessary arrangements, and so on.

Now for the bad news: I’m living in a country whose collective shadow is manifesting in so much nasty, ugly, uncivilized, territorial, competitive, top-dog, mine’s-bigger-than-yours animus masculinity that I’m losing hope. Just so you know, my book is about how psychologically and spiritually, men and women both contain the masculine and feminine principles/drives. So I’m not just talking about men. There are plenty of women around exhibiting that same shadow.

Here’s what I’m on the verge of seriously asking myself: Why am I spending so much of my life energy creating this new child who’s all about love and partnership and creative, unitive consciousness? How can it possibly survive in such an environment, let alone thrive? How can anything soft and vulnerable—like an innocent child or a human soul—bear the toxicity of our time?

I know the answer to the first question is, “Because I have to.” And I know I won’t rest until it’s done. Nevertheless, I really, really, need to hear some good news.

Two Monday mornings ago, I awoke with the usual dark cloud over my head from watching the late night news about the latest political brouhaha. This time it was the Brett Kavanaugh supreme court nominee hearing and Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s upcoming testimony about an alleged abusive encounter with him. I didn’t want to think about it. I couldn’t wait to make my coffee and get to the newspaper so I could solve the sudoku puzzle. I needed a distraction from my gloomy thoughts, a problem I could actually resolve.

Part of my morning ritual is to read my horoscope which shares the same page. Occasionally a comment will resonate and spark some creative thinking. That morning, mine said something like, “Instead of thinking about what you need to change, ask yourself what would improve your life.” The answer came almost immediately. Being with a kind, compassionate, psychologically savvy and spiritually mature woman who has a good balance of masculine and feminine energy would definitely improve my life right now.

So I sent an email to a friend I haven’t seen in several months, and invited her over for tea one afternoon. We agreed to meet a week later, last Monday afternoon. One of the first things she said after we’d settled into comfortable chairs was, “Are you in as much pain as I am from watching Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony last Thursday?” She was already reading my mind. I hadn’t actually watched it that day, but I’d been seeing it on the news ever since. And yes, I was in much pain about it.

After we talked for a while about how much Ford’s testimony had moved us she said, “But you know, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for Kavanaugh and his wife too. Did you see her face? There was so much devotion and concern for him in her eyes.”

And that’s exactly what I needed to hear. Her compassion for both Ford and Kavanaugh—her ability to put herself in their shoes and imagine the impact this ordeal was having on both their families—was the voice crying in the wilderness I’d been longing to hear. We spent the next two hours having one of the most pleasant, light-hearted, and affirming conversations I can remember ever having. We laughed a lot. And I teared up a few times. I’ve felt much better ever since.

If there’s a moral to this story, it’s that if the current political situation is dragging you down, find yourself a gentle, compassionate, feminine voice with “a religious imagination that ignites [y]our energies to move beyond mediocrity and fear, one that anticipates a new future of planet life.”

Thank you, Ilia Delio. Thank you, Pat. I’ll be doing more of that from now on.

Image credits: Ford, Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty. Kavanaugh, Unknown, Vox.com.

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.

 

Because the Earth Has a Lot to Tell us July 31, 2018

Jerusalem in 1933

Last time I told you about the documentary I was interviewed for while in San Francisco. A few days ago Jeff Williams, the producer, sent out this newsletter. He’s also a geologist, and the subject of the documentary. He’s been on a hero’s journey for 20 years, following his passion as a result of a synchronicity that changed the direction of his life.

His goal is to see if he can find evidence of the earthquake around 30 AD which the Bible links to the crucifixion of Jesus on the weekend of what Christians now call Easter. He’s not doing this for religious reasons, but because he and Marco, the director, are fascinated about what the symbolic meaning of this would be from a scientific and mythical perspective. As you’ll see from his letter, the tentative title of the documentary is “Crucifixion Quake.” He’s got some exciting news to report. Enjoy!

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.

Image credit:  Jerusalem in 1933. Wikimedia Commons

 

Because the Earth has a Lot to Tell Us 

July 2018

Greetings Fellow Earthlings,

The first set of radiocarbon tests are now complete – thanks to Queen’s University in Belfast, Northern Ireland and Dr. Maarten Blaauw. I am  working on interpreting the results – creating something known as an age-depth profile. This will help me be certain that we are sampling the top of the ~30 AD Jerusalem Quake seismite. With this seismite conclusively identified, we can initiate our pollen study to determine whether this earthquake struck in the Spring. The radiocarbon testing cost a little over $5000.00 USD and was funded by Kickstarter and GoFundMe campaigns. I want to thank everybody who contributed ! I also want to thank Maarten Blaauw who is giving me a sizable academic discount and is collaborating on developing the age-depth profile. Maarten is one of the best scientists in the world on this topic and I am lucky to have him as a collaborator. The additional dates from this round of tests resolved a problem I had in correctly identifying the Jerusalem Quake seismite. I needed more data points and your contributions made that happen. I can’t thank you enough.

In other news, documentary filmmaker Marco Bazzi is more than halfway through the editing process for his documentary on the Jerusalem Quake. The film is tentatively titled “Crucifixion Quake”. The piece looks very good so far – compelling, epic, and poetic. It will be feature length and was shot to standards to allow for a theatrical release. Marco will be showing the film at film festivals starting this fall and he and I both will be talking to distributors. Once Marco has a teaser, I will send a link in a future newsletter. If the film is successful, we hope to follow-up with a documentary on the Geomythology of Exodus.

Warm Regards to everyone,    Jefferson Williams

http://www.deadseaquake.info/

 

When Women Tell The Truth: #MeToo March 26, 2018

Note:  My friends, in looking through some past posts I ran across this one from April 27,  2012 which seems especially appropriate today. Six years ago we were talking about the War on Women.  Since then, we’ve made progress, especially with the #MeToo movement, but much remains to be done. After thousands of years of conditioning by male-dominated societies, we carry the roots of misogyny in the depths of our psyches. Some people, even very well-meaning ones, still can’t see it in themselves, let alone imagine a society in which women accept their sovereignty and their voices are heard and heeded without reprisal. But once a new light has entered a soul, no force on Earth can quell the fire of evolving consciousness. 

Some of my posts come from the heart, some from the head. This one comes from the gut. It’s difficult to write because I’m swamped with strong emotions I don’t quite know how to express. So I’ll simply tell you the truth. I’ve recently come across three troubling blogs. One is written by a woman who describes the sad and dangerous life she lived as a prostitute in New York City for ten years.  A second expresses a woman’s disenchantment with her religion because of the oppression she’s experienced. A third is by a woman who is regularly abused by her husband and wishes she lived in America. None of these women make excuses or plead for sympathy. They simply tell the truth about their lives. And the truth is shocking, painful, and scary.

It’s shocking to know how many women suffer at the hands of men who fear and hate them. Shocking to know how often the authorities responsible for protecting women feel justified in not doing their jobs. Painful to know that so many women in today’s world are disrespected simply because they’re female. Painful to realize I’d rather turn away than face this truth. Scary because it reminds me how vulnerable I am…because I’m a female.

I started this post a few hours ago and was almost finished when I accidentally deleted it. So I had a little inner discussion that went like this:  “Oh, darn! It’ll take too long to try to rewrite it. I should just start over with another topic that’s easier to write about.”

My conscience responded with,  “Are you sure you didn’t unconsciously delete it accidentally on purpose so you’d have an excuse not to post it? Are you perhaps feeling a wee tad cowardly?”

Oops. We bandied this about until the doorbell rang. It was my daughter, granddaughters and granddog who’d dropped by for a brief visit. I told my daughter  how I didn’t know if I wanted to re-create the post and she said, “Why don’t you just write another one about how conflicted you’re feeling?  Wouldn’t that be appropriate for your blog?” Yes, indeedy it would! How’d she get so smart?

So I’ve decided to tell another truth I don’t want to think or write about. A website called Archetype in Action has been publishing posts of mine for several months in the hope of raising awareness about the unconscious forces in ourselves and society that perpetuate misogyny. Last week it published an older one about the feminine principle in men and women, only to be hacked. Someone deleted my article and replaced it with a formal-looking notice saying it was inappropriate! The site manager provided another link and the problem was solved. But the bigger problem is still there. If I keep writing my truths here will I and my blog be the next target for hackers who want to stifle my voice?

This morning’s e-mail contained the latest post from the blogger who’s experienced oppression by her religion and culture. In it she expressed her anger at the hypocrisy of a religion that makes scholarly pronouncements emphasizing women’s rights while dismissing the women who do not experience these rights. After I read it I clicked on the link to her site so I could make a comment.  Guess what. The post was gone and there was a notice that said: “Not Found, Error 404. The page you are looking for no longer exists.”

Here I am, a well-intentioned, well-loved, well-treated woman in 21st century America, afraid to express my anger about injustices against women for fear of becoming a target. Is a world where women are afraid to tell the truth the kind of world in which we want our daughters and granddaughters to grow up?

Strong Women:  May we know them, may we be them, may we raise them.

One final note, since this is a repost, it does not contain the many wonderful comments from strong women that arrived after the original post was published.  If you’re interested, I invite you to read them here.

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.

 

Three Billboards: The Myth and the Message February 20, 2018

Three Billboards Day 04_118.dng

Dark, quirky, clever, and controversial, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri has been nominated for seven academy awards this year. Like “The Shape of Water,” nominated for a whopping 13, its protagonist is a powerless, justice-seeking female up against an unsympathetic patriarchal system. In this case, the villain is not the U.S. military, but a small town, good-old-boy police force. Both plots are driven by the archetypal hero/ine vs. villain theme punctuated with racism, violence, and abuse of power.

Frances McDormand plays Mildred Hayes, a grieving mother whose teen-aged daughter was raped then set afire. Angry at local authorities who haven’t solved the murder, she rents three unused billboards and puts up an accusatory message to sheriff Willoughby, played by Woody Harrelson. In the face of animosity and threats from several fellow citizens, especially the racist, mama’s-boy police officer Dixon (Sam Rockwell), she persists in calling attention to her cause. As tension and emotions ramp up in a series of unexpected events, viewers discover that in this battle between good and evil, the lines aren’t as clearly drawn as we might prefer.

Original as this film is, at bottom, its theme is archetypal. Consider the ancient Greek myth about the Earth Mother goddess Demeter and her beloved young daughter, Persephone. Carol S. Pearson’s latest book, Persephone Rising, contains an insightful explanation of the same psychological forces which continue to influence us and our culture today.

In the myth, innocent Persephone gathers flowers in a field when Hades erupts through a cleft in the earth and abducts (and some say rapes) her. When Demeter realizes her beloved daughter is gone, she is overwhelmed with grief. After getting no help from the gods who, fearing retribution from Zeus, refuse to tell her what happened to her daughter, she sets aside her responsibilities for making the crops grow and searches the earth tirelessly. While Demeter grieves, all growth on earth ceases, then dies. As Dr. Pearson notes, Demeter’s recognition that her needs matter too result in the “first ever recorded sit-down strike.”

Zeus — the Father/King of the gods and prototype of patriarchy’s top dog whose power trumps everyone else’s — is not happy about this.  It was he, Persephone’s father, who had given Hades permission to take her to the underworld in the first place. But if the famine kills the humans, who will build his temples? Who will worship him with gifts and offerings? So this macho, uncompromising thunder God relents and demands Persephone’s release. Demeter’s non-violent protest works.

But will Mildred’s protest work? Will it stay non-violent? Our dualistic mindsets want a hero to celebrate, a scapegoat to blame, a heretic to crucify. But these people are not polar opposites like virtuous princes and wicked witches. They are complex, multi-faceted human beings grappling with complex issues and powerful emotions that aren’t easy to reconcile.

The gods and goddesses represent amoral, instinctual forces in all of us. At bottom, this is who we are. You and I contain every emotion they feel, and we are capable of being gripped by them to commit every act they do, good and bad. The only difference between them and us is that we humans want to be virtuous so we make rules for ourselves, try to keep them, and disown our shadow sides that want to break them. But sometimes they show up anyway.

Mildred’s daughter has been taken from her and she deserves justice, but can we condone her increasingly questionable tactics? We might likewise ask, how can Demeter, supposedly an endlessly loving and forgiving Mother goddess, let humanity starve to death just to get her daughter back? Does her grief justify her means?

Seeing unsuspected sides of Sheriff Willoughby and officer Dixon is equally unsettling. Why isn’t Willoughby putting more effort into pursuing the culprit? Is he indifferent to Mildred’s suffering? Why does he let Dixon — one of those ignorant Warrior bullies we love to hate — get away with his senseless cruelty toward a man less powerful than he? Are these people redeemable?

Demeter gets her daughter back from the underworld, at least for part of every year. But though Mildred has some admirable goddess qualities, she is not a goddess, and no matter how much she acts like one her daughter will never return. Is there a human force strong enough to reconcile her fierce Demeter hunger for justice? Dixon, like Zeus and Ares, the God of War, savagely punishes people he hates. Will Mildred become like him? And if she does, will this cancel out any vestiges of human goodness left in her?

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is a dark, disturbing film, but I loved it for highlighting human complexity and prompting these and other difficult questions. It is the function of artists and art to raise a culture’s awareness. To challenge our either-or morality. To explore the gray realm between opposites in which a creative third force can emerge to reconcile our divisiveness. I love it that this film is being honored for rising to this challenge.

But I loved the dreamy, fairy-tale quality of The Shape of Water too. This leaves me with another question. Which one do I want to win the Oscar for best picture? This is a complex issue I haven’t reconciled yet.

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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