Matrignosis: A Blog About Inner Wisdom

Think Pyschologically; Live Spiritually

Snake Symbolism October 15, 2019

Snakes, and particularly red ones, are not only spirits of the dead, but can also represent emotional states, as you have heard in the paper. They stand for the heat of the soul, the fire of passion, and thus represent a more intense stage of development. ~Carl Jung, Children’s Dreams Seminar, Pages 364-365.

Snakes fascinate and terrify most of us. Because of this near universal reaction, and because snakes have played such important roles in the mythology of just about every religion, we know they have relevance to the psycho-spiritual life of every human being.

Throughout history the connection between the snake and the feminine principle has been profound and intimate: from Eve to the Serpent Lady of Ashtoreth and Kadesh; from Ishtar, the Babylonian Lady of Vision to the Serpent Goddess of Crete; from Kebhut, the goddess of freshness who played a part in Egyptian funerary ceremonies to the asp that transported Cleopatra to the afterlife; from Greece’s ancient Earth Mother Gaea to the Golden Age’s Queen, Hera, and her step-daughter Athena, goddess of wisdom; from east to west, serpents have always tempted, personified, accompanied, awakened, transformed, and empowered women and goddesses.

A snake is one of the most versatile of all creatures. It can live in the ground or in a tree, in the desert or in the water, but it is primarily considered a chthonic creature, i.e. as pertaining to the earth and the spirits of the underworld. This accounts for its association with the physical death of the body; however, because it periodically sheds its skin and emerges as if reborn, it is also seen as a symbol of transformation and the perpetual capacity for renewal.

Snake Goddesses from the Minoan civilization of Crete. Heraklion Archaeological Museum, Crete

Psychologically, because of its phallic form, it is a masculine sexual symbol; yet, at the same time, because of its devouring nature, it also suggests feminine sexuality as well as extremely powerful unconscious feminine energies. In this latter regard, Jung noted that distressing dreams about snakes are symptomatic of anguish over a reactivation of the destructive potential of the unconscious. It is no wonder they are almost universally feared.

Snakes are also associated with divine revelation. Evidence from shrines and oracular sites of the Goddess in Babylon, Sumer, Anatolia, Egypt, Greece, and Rome suggests that sacred serpents were kept and fed by priestesses who were consulted for prophecy. Perhaps it is this association that led Philo of Alexandria to believe that the snake was the most spiritual of animals.

In sum, Cirlot’s A Dictionary of Symbols notes: “If all symbols are really functions and signs of things imbued with energy, then the serpent or snake is, by analogy, symbolic of energy itself — of force pure and simple…” Thus is Hinduism’s Shakti personified as Kundalini, a Sanskrit word meaning “circular power.” It is said the sleeping serpent-goddess is coiled in the pelvis and can be awakened through spiritual exercises, especially yoga. When aroused, she rises up through the spinal chakras until she reaches the head, completely transforming the individual along the way.

Whatever we call this energy, spirit persons from every religion have reported powerful and often very distressing physical and psychological symptoms consistent with this symbolism. Like Indra’s Diamond Net which intuitively prefigured Jung’s collective unconscious, quantum physics’ Holographic Universe,and the worldwide internet thousands of years ago, the Kundalini goddess may well be an ancient expression of a scientific reality: to wit, the very painful but ultimately healing evolutionary transformation of consciousness we see taking place all around us in the world today.

The next time you dream about a snake, pay special attention to the setting in which you saw it, what it is doing, and how its appearance and behavior make you feel. Then ask yourself questions like these or any others that seem to apply: “When have I recently felt this way in waking life?” “What internal changes am I becoming become aware of?” “What instincts or energies seem to be stirring up in me?” “Am I afraid of them?” “Why?” “What’s the worst that could happen if I acknowledged their reality and let them out?” “What’s the best that could happen?” “What outdated aspects of myself are dying?” “What message might Snake have for me?” “What aspect of myself am I being asked to transform and heal?”

Image credits:  Top, Google Free images, original source unknown. The others are the author’s photos.

Thank you to Lewis Lafontaine for providing the beginning quote from Carl Jung.

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.

 

 

Gifts From Dream Mother and the Crones October 1, 2019

Respect for the Goddess archetype in her aspect as Crone may still be scarce in 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 which indwells us all.

Thirty years ago I made the decision to take my inner life seriously enough to work on my dreams. The tenth dream I recorded presaged a turning point in my life that would come about because of that choice. Here is a brief summary:

Dream # 10A: Gifts From the Crones.

I’m 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 and I’ve brought gifts for her. She’s with three or four older women, grandmothers perhaps. They’re 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 surprise, 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’m 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 clear. Here are my associations:

I’m in a place like a Jewish kibbutz (somewhere foreign and somewhat threatening to my conscious orientation: i.e., the unconscious). I’m met by an admired professor friend (symbol of my positive feminine side), and three or four crones (images of the wisdom and authority of the deep feminine). I’ve brought gifts (my strong desire to connect with, and show respect for, the contents of my unconscious); but, surprisingly, the elder women give me sweet-smelling herbs and spices (symbols of the feminine, nature-based mystery wisdom which awakens the body and its senses and brings physical and spiritual healing in natural, organic ways). The dream says I know the value of these gifts and look forward to using them in the future (I want to acquire the wisdom of the Great Mother and hope to use it wisely someday).

This dream planted the seeds for this blog some thirty years ago. It said I know (from the Greek word, gnosis, meaning knowing or knowledge, particularly intuitive, esoteric knowledge of spiritual truths) the value of these gifts. I want the wisdom of the Great Mother (from the Latin mater matrimonium) and hope to use it wisely someday.

MatriGnosis. Matrignosis means “knowing Mother wisdom.” I made up the word when I started this blog over nine years ago but Dream Mother told me long before that that the Grandmothers were giving me gifts I would use some day. And I am. To name and write this blog, and to write four books about empowering the feminine principle in humanity.

Here’s another gift from Dream Mother. The dream ends with me crawling away through a darkened theater feeling guilty and nervous, yet confident and decisive. Why was I in a theater? I didn’t know at the time, (I was in the dark) but four years later, that tiny detail inspired the title for my second book about the inner life, Dream Theatres of the Soul: Empowering the Feminine through Jungian Dream Work.

A third gift was a new awareness of hidden beliefs and emotions that were blocking my growth. In the dream I felt anxious and nervous about being caught by the authorities. Who were these authorities, and why was I so afraid of them?

In those days I couldn’t see the patriarchal cloud of unspoken repressive attitudes and expectations for women under which I had lived all my life. I didn’t know I was intimidated by it. But deep within I felt I was breaking the Old King’s rules (the unspoken agreement of collective culture to discount femininity and the life of the unconscious) by entering this dark and foreign land, and I was afraid of ridicule and scorn. Thirty years later this fear has not completely left me, but I’ve made much headway and I’m still determined to overcome it.

Do you see why I trust the wisdom of my dreams? My ego could never come up with this stuff all by itself. And it happens often. Our ego selves are not alone. All we have to do is turn within where our teachers are waiting to bless us.

Being known and loved by the mysterious, benevolent grandmothers confirmed my worth. It touched me deeply that they were prepared for my arrival, wanted me there, loved me as I was, and offered their gifts freely.There were no strings, no reservations, no sense I had to behave a certain way or believe certain things to be acceptable.

Yes, I received this assurance from a dream. For some, this might invalidate its worth. But this would be a grave mistake. The archetypal feminine is an actual force within humanity that contains the potential to change and heal us and our world. My willingness to cooperate with it was all that was needed to spark a process of growth that still goes on. Even now, there are times when I need the reminder that I am good enough as I am, and entitled to be loved by my maternal Source. In retrospect I believe the unconditional love of this Source is the secret power of the crones’ gifts. Tapping into it may be the ultimate meaning of life.

Photo Credits: Google Free Images, Origins unknown.

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.

 

Caryatids and Queens September 17, 2019

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, sense of community, and the immovable strength and indomitable will to take a stand for social responsibility. 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 strength and authority.

Like caryatids, mature Queens have a strong need to nurture their communities. 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.

Historically, the feminine principle in all of us–and the women onto whom patriarchy projects it–has endured thousands of years of negative stereotypes and repression. We are fortunate to live in a time when women are finally taking positions of leadership in the mainstream of society. Some of them are very angry. Can you blame them? I, for one, cannot.

Everyone, male or female, who has ever been repressed, abused, dismissed, taken for granted, or struggled to be taken seriously and heard with respect goes through a rage stage before they grow wise enough to take responsibility for their angry shadow and attain their full wisdom and power. History shows that for people of strong character and good will, given enough time and experience, their anger over the injustices they have suffered eventually dissolves and is replaced with an ethic of care, compassion, justice, and social responsibility.

This is true both of individuals and the civilizations we produce. After all, wasn’t it the rage of our forebears at the injustices they suffered in other countries that brought most of them to America? Didn’t that rage give rise to the wisdom that drove the writing of the Declaration of Independence? Didn’t it fuel the Revolutionary War and secure the ratification of the U.S. Constitution?

Underneath our wounds, deep in our unconscious selves, every one of us contains the capacity to develop the Queen’s determination and indomitable will to do the right thing: to support, protect, and nurture everyone in our society, regardless of age, gender, race, social class, or religion. May we all, female and male alike, manifest more of this wise use of feminine strength.

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.

 

The Mediatrix Archetype in Dreams May 21, 2019

My last two posts here and here, were in response to questions from students at Justina Lasley’s and Tzivia Gover’s Institute for Dream Studies. This post is the answer to their final question: “How do I identify the Mediatrix archetype in my dreams?”

In Aeschylus’s tragic play Agamemnon, Cassandra is a prophetess who foretells the fall of Troy and the death of Agamemnon, but no one believes her. Agamemnon goes to war with Troy anyway, and when it falls, Cassandra is raped, then given to Agamemnon. On their way back to Greece, she and Agamemnon are murdered. Cassandra’s seemingly supernatural ability to see into the future, as well as her suffering for it, is one theme associated with the Mediatrix archetype.

In the ancient myth of Inanna, Goddess of Heaven and Earth, Inanna descends into the Great Below to visit her sister, Queen of the Underworld. There she is stripped of all her belongings and hung on a meathook for three days until she is rescued by tiny emissaries of her priestess. When she returns home she rules as a benevolent and wise goddess.This myth depicts another Mediatrix theme: the wisdom gained from the suffering that comes with going deep to connect with the darkest mysteries of oneself and life.

Persephone’s rape and kidnapping by Hades, followed by Demeter’s search for her with the aid of a torch provided by the goddess Hecate, contains the above themes and suggests a third: the guidance and protection provided by the Mediatrix. In this story the Mediatrix is represented by Persephone, who goes to the underworld unwillingly, Demeter, who consciously explores that realm in her search for her beloved daughter, and Hecate—the goddess of crossroads, entrance-ways, light, and the hidden arts of magic, witchcraft, ghosts, and sorcery.

In The Odyssey, Athena, goddess of war and wisdom, disguises herself as the old man Mentor. Mentor is Odysseus’s wise friend and guide, and in his absence, the teacher of his son, Telemachus. The word ‘mentor’ means wise counselor, teacher, sponsor, or supporter. These, too, are qualities of the Mediatrix archetype.

 

The Birth of New Spiritual Life

The Catholic Church uses the titles of Co-Redemptrix, Mediatrix of all Graces, and Advocate for Mary. For them, Mediatrix means that all the graces from the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit flow to us through Mary. In other words, the Mediatrix is also your spiritual guide.

Mediatrix represents an impelling force, a way of thinking guided by an ethic of care and compassion, that feels empathy for otherness and wants to understand and learn from it. Her goal is to share knowledge and create harmony between opposites within and without. She is both a physical and mental bridge that connects you with yourself, others, nature, and Spirit. Qualities associated with her include a humbling history of suffering, openness, receptivity, empathy, harmony, mindfulness, relationship, connection, understanding, special knowledge, gnosis, and compassion.

The Mediatrix’s knowing is not the ego’s accumulated accepted knowledge. Her mental specialty is subjective knowledge, like being aware and mindful of your honest feelings, bodily sensations, and intuitions. Noticing subtle messages coming to you from people and places and situations in the world around you. Feeling changes in your mood when you meet someone new, or touch an object, or visit a new place. Her influence can be as mind-blowing as a supernatural visitation or vision, or as gently affirming as experiencing the miracle and mystery of life as you gaze at the ocean.

It is your Mediatrix who wants to understand and learn from your dreams, and when the time is right, she will show up to provide guidance. But it can be very subtle, so you will have to be on the watch for her.

For example, you might see her influence in any of the above-mentioned archetypal themes in a dream or waking life. Or she might be a dream companion who quietly stays in the background to support and reassure you in a harrowing adventure. She could be a suffering orphan who’s been abandoned by her parents and begs for your attention. Or a dog you follow on a forest path.

She could be a barely noticeable passenger in the back seat of your wildly careening car. An indigenous grandmother wrapped in shawls who gives you three mysterious gifts. A whispered message from an unseen source. A priestess who leads you through an initiation, a wise woman who writes instructions in a book, an unknown woman who swims beside you toward your home base on the far side of the sea.

When you sense her presence in a dream, pay attention to how she makes you feel. What does she remind you of? When do you have these thoughts and feelings in waking life? What does she seem to be trying to do or say? Watch for her in the inspirations and intuitions that arrive in that liminal space just before your ego fully awakes in the morning. Make note of them and apply them to your waking life.

In time you will learn to trust her knowing, which is really your soul’s natural knowing as opposed to your ego’s culturally influenced knowledge. Following it will lead you to unimagined treasures.

Image credits:  Wise Woman, artist unknown, Google free 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. 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.

 

The Wisewoman: Counselor at the Crossroads, Weaver at the Gate May 1, 2018

Long ago when Earth was young and the collective ego in its infancy, the idea of uprooting oneself from the safety of home and hearth and taking a solitary journey into unknown territory had sacred significance. Even the most powerful rulers feared the unknown so much that they would not make any important move without first consulting divine guidance. Thus it was that in ancient Greece crossroads acquired sacred meaning, and divine help from Hecate, Goddess of the crossroads, was invoked at places where three roads met. Images of Hecate Trevia, (Hecate of the Three Ways) guarded three-way crossroads for many centuries.

Barbara Walker tells us that besides presiding at crossroads, Hecate was also the guardian of gates — especially the gate of birth. Under the name of Enodia, a name shared by Hecate, Artemis, and Persephone, the underworld Goddess also ruled the gates of death and was the original holder of the key to Hades. In the 8th century BCE in Italy, Vanth was the Etruscan winged goddess of the netherworld. With snakes wrapped around her arms, she carried keys and either a torch or a scroll inscribed with her name. In the Yoruba culture of Africa, Elegba the Divine Messenger is still consulted for divination. Luisah Teish says she is “the Master of the Crossroads, the Gatekeeper who stands between the Material and the Spiritual, the Visible and the Invisible, between Existence and Oblivion.”

These are all manifestations of the Wisewoman archetype, the aspect of the sacred feminine which enables us to explore the inner depths without losing our way. Her symbols describe her attributes. Keys represent access to secret realms, full power and authority within these realms, and the condition of being initiated. Her snakes protect sacred precincts, including the underworld. A torch is a common symbol of purification and enlightenment in rites of initiation. A scroll, as the original form of the book, is a symbol of learning, enlightenment, communication, and sacred writings. One other symbol associated with the Wisewoman is the veil, which suggests hidden or esoteric knowledge.

The “counselor at the crossroads” aspect of the Wisewoman represents our instinctive recognition of opportunities for choice at critical stages of life and the knack for making appropriate decisions based on love and the true processes of our souls. As “weaver at the gate” she represents our ability to stand between pairs of opposites, heeding the truths of both and holding the tension of indecision while weaving the separate and apparently incompatible threads of warp and woof into new patterns until they merge into an original, unified piece.

Some gates offer opportunities for choice — as when we learn we have a fatal illness and can choose how to treat it and how to approach our deaths — and some do not. For example, we do not get to choose when we are born or what family we are born into. But we can still reflect on the meaning of every passage, whether it is chosen or not, and we can choose how we will respond to what we cannot change. Will we accept it, choose to find meaning and guidance for our journey on Earth, take a new step in a new direction?  Or will we fight it, ignore it, or blame it on someone else?

Two things protect us on the journey into the unconscious: the ability to trust our inner guidance when we reach a potentially dangerous crossroads, and the patience to wait at the gate until the healing solution comes. If we can do this, the Wisewoman, our inner priestess and healer, will direct our path to wholeness and spiritual growth. May you be fortunate enough to meet her at the crossroads and gates of your own journey.

Image Credits:  Hecate, Google Images. Source Unknown.

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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