Matrignosis: A Blog About Inner Wisdom

Think Pyschologically; Live Spiritually

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.


For the Crones May 3, 2016

The powers most capable of halting the escalation of hatred and chaos in our world today are not physical or political.  They are psychological and spiritual. They are activated in individuals whose minds are committed to seeking justice for all, whose hearts are filled with caring and compassion, and whose behavior is directed toward connecting and healing.

When everything we say and do originates from that core of love, it spreads through Indra’s diamond net and quickens the sacred spark that lives in every soul. Each of us can make this contribution to healing the separations within and between the peoples of the world.

Throughout history mothers and grandmothers have dedicated most of their energy, and often their lives, to nurturing and preserving life. Of course, many fathers and grandfathers have done the same. But women’s contributions have been educationally, financially, politically and spiritually restricted, vastly underrated, and largely taken for granted except for occasional lip service.

It doesn’t have to be this way. In a world splitting apart to birth a more evolved consciousness, the most important work we can do is to consciously respect and courageously share the blessings we’ve received from the other side of the Divide.  To that end, and because Mother’s Day is celebrated this month, I offer these questions for reflection:

  • How have my female ancestors enriched and improved my life?

  • Am I as nurturing toward others as the benevolent women in my life were and are to me?

  • How can I use my unique skills in original and authentic ways that will justify their belief in me and benefit all beings?

One of my responses to these questions is this song to the elder women who’ve made a difference in my life.  I dedicate it to crones everywhere.



To the Queens:

Sovereign and brave, you stand

firm against those who would abuse power

and labor tirelessly to bring justice to the voiceless

and downtrodden.  You protect all that is vulnerable

and foster culture and creativity. You nourish seeds

of hope and new life in our hearts. Help me

lead with caring and integrity.

To the Mothers:

Wild and free-spirited, you have raced the wind like Horse.

Like Lioness you have fearlessly forged new trails to feed your children.

Like Bear you bear your solitude by boldly entering the dark winter wilderness,

yet you always return to the world in Spring with love honed fierce by sacrifice and birthing.

Great Mother of all that exists, teach us to love our bodies and trust the cycles of our lives.

To the Wisewomen:

Understanding, intuitive and trusting, you have aided birth and befriended death.

You have borne and survived intolerable suffering on paths of deep descending;

yet, aware, authentic, and free, here you are! Still dancing among the living.

You release your attachments to desire as you weave strands of meaning.

Show me how to joyfully participate in the sorrows of the world.

To the Beloveds:

Attractive and magnetic, you receive your lovers passionately

and share the truths of your souls with honesty and intimacy.

Your acceptance and encouragement inspire heroic striving.

Your beauty and endless generosity inspire artful living.

Bless me with gracious hospitality to otherness.

To all the Crones:

You are the Wisdom Women.

We are watching you.

Please help!

Image Credits:  Google Images.

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.


What Wants to Be Born? March 22, 2016

Buds on our Meyer lemon tree

Buds on Our Meyer Lemon Tree

“Everything you can imagine is real.” ~Pablo Picasso

Here in the Northern Hemisphere, Mother Nature is in labor once again. All winter long she’s been hibernating, gestating powerful new forms in her underground womb. Atoms and molecules have been moving around in the dark, separating and connecting, ebbing and flowing, and now she’s giving us front row seats, as she does each spring, from which to view Act IV of her Birth/Growth/Death/Rebirth passion play.

Signs of her new life are sprouting everywhere, even here in Central Florida where most of our vegetation stays green throughout winter.  On this morning’s walk I photographed tightly folded buds that will be transformed into lemons this summer, brilliant red bottlebrush blossoms still laden with unopened buds, and fresh unfurling leaves of crape myrtle trees that spent the winter naked as skeletons.

Blossoming Bottlebrush

Blossoming Bottlebrush

Where does all this new life come from?  Well, that’s the Big Question isn’t it?  The Mystery that’s always confounded us, that we have yet to solve. Humanity has always reflected on it. When our ancestors sank deep into reverie, opening their minds and suspending their judgment, images entered their awareness as they observed the creations and forces of nature. Some images were borrowed from nature;  others came from depths we still cannot fathom. Hungry for understanding, our forebears interacted imaginatively with their images, examined them from all angles, anthropomorphised them, embellished their attributes, furnished them with motives, and imagined nefarious plots until they’d created stories that satisfied their spirits and souls.

They told their stories, each culture in its own way, to the people around them, with images and themes that would captivate and instruct.  Like the 5,000 year-old story of Sumeria’s Inanna, Queen of Heaven and Earth, who descends to the Great Below to visit her sister, Ereshkigal, Queen of the Underworld. Inanna…who is hung on a meat hook to rot while Ereshkigal suffers birth pangs. Inanna…who, with the help of loyal friends instructed to wait for her, is resurrected with the water of life three days later and returns to the Great Above.

Skeletal Crepe Myrtle with Tiny New Leaves

Skeletal Crape Myrtles Sprouting Tiny New Leaves

Or the story of Egypt’s king Osiris, first told around 4,400 years ago. Osiris…who is murdered by his brother and becomes God of the Underworld, the dead, and the afterlife. Osiris…whose wife, Queen Isis, restores his body and conceives a son from it. Osiris…who in dying and being symbolically “reborn” in his son Horus, is worshiped as God of transition, resurrection, and regeneration. Osiris…a merciful judge of the dead in the afterlife and the granter of all new life, including sprouting vegetation and the fertile flooding of the Nile.  Osiris, the “Lord of love” with whom the kings of Egypt were associated at death; then, “as Osiris rose from the dead they would, in union with him, inherit eternal life through a process of imitative magic.” (Wikipedia)

Or Greece’s Persephone who, according to the 3,500 year-old story, is kidnapped and raped by Hades, God-King of the Underworld. Persephone…beautiful daughter of Demeter, Goddess of Fertility who, in her mourning, allows vegetation to die and people to starve until Zeus allows Persephone to return. Persephone…who, according to the Eleusynian Mysteries, brings the green new shoots of vegetation with her so the cycle of life can begin anew.

Mandala-Jahreskreis-SEASONS-NATURE-BEAUTYAnd Israel’s Jesus, son of a virgin who is married to a carpenter. Jesus…whose story from about 2,000 years ago tells us that he grows up to challenge the prevailing religious authorities with his gospel of love and social justice.  Jesus…who heals the sick, raises the dead, makes disciples of women and fishermen and forgives prostitutes their sins.  Jesus…who is killed by the Roman authorities who have invaded and conquered his land. Jesus…who is hung on a cross, buried in a cave, and reborn after three days.

“My whole endeavor has been to show that myth is something very real because it connects us with the instinctive bases of our existence.”  Carl Jung, Letters, Vol. 11, Page 468.

The universal story about the sacred Mystery of Life is told in myths. Each of us participates in this story, physically and mentally. Like Mother Nature, we too go through cycles. Like her we go into labor during winters when our souls have grown weary and cold. But beneath the surface, in the underground womb of our unconscious, our life energy continues to ebb and flow, separate and reconnect in new images of insights, possibilities and potential. And if, when they emerge in dreams and fantasies, we will see our images and use them imaginatively, our story can rebirth us into a new spring of hope, meaning, and resurrection.

“You are the Hero of your own Story.”  ~ Joseph Campbell

What new part of your story wants to be born this spring?

Photo Credits:   Mandala.  Google Images.

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 at KoboBarnes And Noble, and Smashwords.


Learning From Our Lady of the Beasts March 8, 2016

“The Earth Mother is…the eternally fruitful source of everything…. Each separate being is a manifestation of her; all things share in her life through an eternal cycle of birth and rebirth….Her animals….embody the deity herself, defining her personality and exemplifying her power.”  Buffie Johnson, Our Lady of the Beasts, Inner Traditions

The successful wielding of power to enhance our soul’s development is a primary concern of the feminine archetypes. For them, power is not about controlling otherness, but about loving and learning from otherness so that our souls are empowered to become what they were created to be. If this is to happen, our energies need to be redirected away from pursuits aimed at acquiring external, historical power toward those that bring internal, natural power. By natural power I mean the soul’s power to act from its rich, authentic core, unencumbered by the chains of fear, ignorance, and conformity. One way of loosening these chains is to learn from Earth Mother’s manifestations in nature.

The farther removed we are from nature, the less apt we are to hear Sophia’s voice or learn from her natural guidance. One night after an eventful weekend at our mountain home I recorded five valuable insights I had acquired, all of them necessary to my empowerment, and none of which I would have learned had I stayed indoors. Through my adult interactions with nature I am rediscovering something I knew as a child but never had the words for: staying close to nature brings me closer to my truest self.

A major step in my own return to nature began when, in my fifties, I fulfilled a childhood dream of buying my own horse to train: a two-and-a-half-year old gray thoroughbred I called Honey’s Shadow Dancer — gray to symbolize the union of the opposites of black and white for which I strive, Honey for his sweetness, Shadow to signify my desire to be always mindful of my own shadow, and Dancer to honor the ever-changing dance of life. For me, the physical care I lavished on him and our efforts to understand and trust one another were spiritual practices that were every bit as meaningful as my earlier, more cerebral ones.

Native teachers and healers Jamie Sams and David Carson tell us that for many native peoples Horse represents both physical and unearthly power, and that the impact of Horse’s domestication was akin to the discovery of fire. “Before Horse, humans were earthbound, heavy-laden, and slow creatures indeed. Once humans climbed on Horse’s back, they were as free and fleet as the wind. Through their special relationship with Horse, humans altered their self-concept beyond measure. Horse was the first animal medicine of civilization.”

The term animal medicine refers to life lessons learned from animals whose characteristics and habits demonstrate how to walk on our physical Earth Mother in harmony with the universe. Like Buffie Johnson, I think of the aspect of Earth Mother that conveys lessons through wild creatures and beloved animal companions as Our Lady of the Beasts.

What animal teachers has Our Lady of the Beasts sent to you?

Image Credit:  Google Images

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 at KoboBarnes And Noble, and Smashwords.


Animal Medicine: Seeing Hidden Emotions March 1, 2016

As one of the best teachers I’ve ever had, my horse Shadow ranks right up there with Jung and my dreams. Horses, like dreams, are Nature: they do not lie. People can cover their true feelings with masks, but horses do not know how to make masks. As animals of prey that have survived by being intensely alert and wary, they are easily unsettled by subtle signs of incongruence in people’s behavior. The tiniest gesture—a tentativeness in our stride, a sideways glance, a sudden intake of breath—can trigger prehistoric horsey images of predatory wolves clad in sheep’s clothing and cause them to spook.

One of the most amazing…and frustrating…things about horses is that they naturally mirror our emotions. If we are afraid, they will be afraid. If, beneath a calm exterior, we are irritable or angry, intense, anxious, sad or excitable, they will behave in accordance with the deeper reality. Shadow was especially good at this. And since I’ve always been especially good at ignoring my uncomfortable feelings, together we were a Jungian analyst’s dream and a horse trainer’s nightmare!

The first time Shadow and I took a dressage test, I was vaguely aware of feeling a tad nervous; but because I didn’t like the way that felt, I ignored it. Thirty minutes before my test was to take place, Liz, my trainer, told me to exercise him in the round pen.  This is a technique where you stand in the center of the pen and ask the horse to walk, trot, and canter around you in wide circles. This warms him up, reminds him of cues, bonds him with his trainer, consumes excess energy, and gives the trainer an opportunity to monitor his mood and correct inappropriate behavior.

I’d done this many times in the smaller pen at the stable where he lived, but he was a very young, high-strung thoroughbred and I still wasn’t very confident about his trustworthiness or my ability to handle him.  Moreover, I’d never ridden him in a horse show before. An added stressor was that we were both in a strange new setting and I was very aware that people were watching us out of curiosity.  In short, I was still a rank amateur in horse training, and here I was on stage.  I had every right to feel anxious, but I simply refused to admit it.

When Shadow started moving along the fence he couldn’t have looked more anxious; his movements were tentative and irregular and his eyes darted wildly from side to side as he looked over the fence to scan the horizon for danger. When I asked him to canter he raced around in the thick sand so quickly and recklessly that I was afraid he would fall and hurt himself.

My sweet Shadow. He's no longer with us now. He died of colic just before his 8th birthday.

My sweet Shadow died of colic ten years ago, just before his 8th birthday.

Worried, I yelled “Whoa” louder and louder, but this only got him more stirred up. I tried rushing to the side of the pen with outstretched arms to stop him, but that only made him turn around and gallop away in the opposite direction. Then suddenly the veil dropped from my eyes and I saw the full extent of my anxiety in his behavior.  Praying this would work, I stopped dead still in the center of the ring, closed my eyes, and began to breathe as slowly and deeply from my belly as I could.

As I calmed myself, his response was immediate and dramatic. Within two turns around the ring his wild pace slowed to a canter. Two more and he was trotting. A minute later he walked calmly toward me, stopped behind me, and touched his nose to my left shoulder. Whereas before my behavior had convinced him there was something to worry about, now he was equally convinced everything was fine.

This lesson affected me profoundly. Fifteen minutes with Shadow in that pen brought home something I had not mastered after years of meditation: recognizing my negative emotional states and rendering them harmless by returning to my quiet center. This skill is crucial to conflict resolution in everyday relationships, yet how many of us have acquired it? Can you imagine how different the world would be if everyone involved in international relations had a Shadow to show them their shadow?

What lessons has Our Lady of the Beasts taught you through your animal friends?

Image Credit: Top: Google Images. Bottom:  My photograph.

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 at KoboBarnes And Noble, and Smashwords.


The Feminine Symbolism of Vessels February 16, 2016

Our relationships with nature and matter are closely connected to our relationships with our bodies. In certain orthodox religious circles, love for God as remote masculine spirit has gone hand in hand with physical self-loathing. For example, Moses Maimonides, the greatest Jewish medieval philosopher, was merely stating a commonly held belief when he said that “all philosophers are agreed that the inferior world, of earthly corruption and degeneration, is ruled by the natural virtues and influences of the more refined celestial spheres.” Likewise, St. Augustine considered his body to be the major source of his spiritual problems and sufferings.

This attitude is an obstacle to the fullest development of our spirituality. In Care of the Soul, Thomas Moore writes:

“Spiritual life does not truly advance by being separated either from the soul or from its intimacy with life. God, as well as man, is fulfilled when God humbles himself to take on human flesh. The theological doctrine of incarnation suggests that God validates human imperfection as having mysterious…value. Our depressions, jealousies, narcissism, and failures are not at odds with the spiritual life. Indeed, they are essential to it….The ultimate marriage of spirit and soul, animus and anima, is the wedding of heaven and earth…”

Vessels are classic symbols of feminine matter. Of the many vessels symbolizing feminine containment, one that is particularly dear to Christians is the chalice or grail, the highest level of spiritual development and heavenly and earthly happiness. The female body is a vessel which receives sperm and produces eggs. A womb is a vessel within a vessel, the cradle of life that receives, holds, nurtures, and protects a growing embryo. A breast is a vessel which creates and dispenses milk. A skull is a vessel containing the brain, itself a vessel teeming with creative potential. In Christianity, Mary is a vessel for new spiritual life.

Another vessel-like symbol is the tower. A tower’s elevated position links it to heaven; its impenetrability to virginity; its vertical aspect to the human figure; its roundness to the womb; its containment to creative new life. Hence, towers that are closed and windowless were once emblematic of the Virgin Mary. In early Christian times a tower was often used to suggest the sacred walled city, another feminine symbol. The Herder Symbol Dictionary notes that a tower with a light is a lighthouse, which has long been a symbol “of the eternal goal toward which the ship of life [is] steered across the waves of this existence.” Its light suggests Sophia, the divine spark of life within us.

For Jung, too, the tower was a feminine symbol with sacred meaning. In his autobiography, Memories, Dreams, Reflections, he describes the stone tower he built at Bollingen, a small town on the upper shores of Lake Zurich, and writes that it “represented for me the maternal hearth.” He wrote,

“From the beginning I felt the Tower as in some way a place of maturation — a maternal womb or a maternal figure in which I could become what I was, what I am and will be. It gave me a feeling as if I were being reborn in stone.”

Vessels accept, contain, protect and preserve the birth/death/rebirth cycle of life at both the physical and metaphysical levels. Our planet Earth is a living vessel whose life cycles mirror the soul-making processes of psychological and spiritual transformation. The matter (L. mater) of which our bodies are composed is our mother, teacher, partner and guide on the spiritual journey. For that, it deserves our everlasting gratitude. How do you honor and thank your mother/body for nurturing the life of your soul?

Photo Credit:  “Chalice” by Barbara Sorensen

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 at Kobo, Barnes and Noble,  and Smashwords.


Inanna: Myth of Descent February 9, 2016

Inanna: myth of descent

Note:  Most of us are familiar with hero myths.  Today we see these “solar” myths from the patriarchal era as metaphors for the ego’s heroic efforts to conquer the “dragon” of unconsciousness and ascend into the heights of power, success, acclaim, fulfillment and enlightenment. Far fewer people are familiar with “lunar” descent myths, some of which predate the solar myths and feature women. Their themes are about loss, suffering, death and rebirth with resultant deepened self-knowledge, wisdom, compassion, trust and love.

Primitive humans probably created these myths to describe the cycles of life as it progressed through nature’s seasons, and to reassure themselves that spring’s sprouting and summer’s blossoming will always follow agriculture’s decline in the fall and apparent death in winter. But Dr. Carl Jung proved time and again that they are also stories about the life of the soul which can be of enormous comfort to individuals who find themselves in a descent phase of life.

In keeping with the onset of winter, this past December Susanne van Doorn featured a series of posts about the mythological theme of descent on her blog, Mindfunda. I was honored to be invited to write her first guest post about the Journey to the Underworld.  The following is a repost of that article.

Jean Raffa

Today’s Guest author is Dr. Jean Raffa, a former television producer and college professor who—with the help of Jungian psychology—began following her passions for self-discovery and writing during mid-life. Jean has written several books. Her first was “The Bridge to Wholeness.” Her second book, “Dream Theatres of the Soul,” got her invited to make a keynote speech at the International Associations for the Study of Dreams in the summer of 2015. You can see her videos about this book at her YouTube channelHer newest Wilbur Award-winning book is called “Healing the Sacred Divide.”  Next week, Elaine Mansfield will write about the darkness of the descent.

On March 11-12, 2016, Jean will appear with author Elaine Mansfield at the C.G. Jung Society of Sarasota for a presentation on descent, loss and grief based on the myth of Inanna.

Myth of Inanna: 3 kinds of Descent

A psychological descent can take many forms. Sometimes it shows up in strategies to escape painful present realities by regressing into past memories. We’re consumed by a bittersweet yearning for the “good old days” when we were young and innocent. Life was easy and we were on top of the world.



We were a handsome Apollo, a confident football star and president of the high school student body who is trying to recapture our youth by driving a sporty new car or finding a younger wife. We were a beautiful, innocent Persephone, an entitled daughter and gifted student who has been pulled into the dark realms of obsessive binge eating, shopping sprees and plastic surgery.

A second kind of descent is forced on us by circumstances beyond our control: an accident, illness, divorce, loss of a home or job, death of a parent, child, or spouse. These can plunge us into the depths of a depression where grief and sorrow are constant companions.

Picture: huffingtsonpost


Then there’s the existential descent into meaninglessness which appears uninvited at mid-life. Suddenly the beliefs and ideals that served so well in the first half of life no longer work, yet questioning them feels dangerous. Worse, we’ve met our shadow in feelings and urges we can no longer ignore and our naively positive self-image is irretrievably damaged.

Captivated by the archetypal Hero’s widely publicized and deeply satisfying rise to success, we are rarely prepared for our conflicts and losses. To an ego that has prided itself on being in control and doing everything right, it can feel as if we are adrift in a chaotic sea. Kris Kristofferson described this painful experience in his song, “Shipwrecked in the 80’s.” For some, the metaphor of falling into an abyss and plunging into what St. John of the Cross called a “dark night of the soul” is more apt.



From the age of 17 I derived all the meaning I needed from my religion. Then at 37, I experienced an existential descent. On the outside it was business as usual, but inside I was walking through the valley of the shadow of death. Nine years later I was rescued by Jungian psychology. After committing to a regular practice of study, reading, self-reflection and dreamwork I finally began to understand what had happened. My ego had been brutally assaulted by unconscious instinctual forces within my psyche. Brutal? So it felt to me. Nonetheless my ordeal was life-serving. Without it, I would never have willingly explored my unconscious and been rewarded with the elixir of a revitalized life-force and the gold of affirming self-knowledge.

Inanna and the Descent Myth

Myths from every culture and religion are allegories of psychological and spiritual truths. In them, we can find guidance and healing meaning for our lives. Seeing the similarities between my story and the Sumerian descent myth of Inanna, Queen of Heaven and Earth, brought me great comfort.


Inanna Queen of Heaven
unkown artist on


The first half of Inanna’s life was, like mine, fairly predictable. We both struggled to create a comfortable home, affirm our individuality, and establish our authority. Inanna accomplishes this by having a bed and a throne made for her. Then she cleverly tricks Enki, the God of Wisdom, into giving her the gifts of civilization, which she shares with the city she rules. She tops it all off (she assumes) by courting, seduction, bearing children, and fulfilling her Queenly duties.

I, too, gained knowledge through my cleverness:  enough, at least, to get a college scholarship. I earned two degrees, met, courted and married my husband, established a home, and birthed a daughter and a son. Eventually I earned a doctoral degree and a college teaching position. I’ve done it all, I thought with a measure of self-satisfaction. That’s when I learned that cleverness, knowledge, possessions and physical comfort do not define success or insure fulfillment.

My descent from Inanna’s “Great Above” to the “Great Below” began when my shadow broke into my awareness with a moral conflict between two intolerable choices.  I was profoundly tempted to break a rule that had always been sacrosanct to me, and appalled at myself for considering it. I spent sleepless nights praying to the God I had been taught to believe in, challenging beliefs that felt outdated and meaningless while fearing retribution for my audacity. I found little joy in living. My stomach hurt much of the time. I lost 20 pounds. At times I knew there was meaning in my ordeal, but my knowing provided scant relief. Mostly I felt alone and miserable. Like Inanna and Persephone, I was introduced to the dark underbelly of the unconscious beneath my naive “good girl” self-image. The shock was devastating.

Inanna is a “good girl” too:  a loving wife to Dumuzi, a mother, and a sister to Ereshkigal, Queen of the Underworld. At mid-life Inanna descends into the underworld to, by some accounts, attend the funeral of Ereshkigal’s husband. Or was her call, “Let him come. Come, man, come!” an invitation to her animus, her unconscious masculine side?


Inanna courting Dumuzi


On the way down she is humiliated by being stripped of all her earthly possessions: symbols of her beauty, success, femininity and the power she has worked so hard to attain. Humiliation is a crucial element of descent myths because crisis and suffering are the only powers that can destroy an ego’s belief in its invincibility.

The story of Inanna in body and soul

If we look for it, we will find that every detail of a myth can have psychological and spiritual meaning. For example, the number three in myths and fairy tales heralds the arrival of Mystery. Receiving three wishes, asking for help three times, or being the third and youngest child to attempt a difficult task signals our readiness for an initiation that will force us out of childhood innocence into mature responsibility and consciousness.

I Tjing hexagram 3: Difficulty at the Beginning


Sure enough, three shows up in the story of Inanna, Queen of Heaven and Earth, too. At the bottom of her descent she is met by Ereshkigal who, perhaps jealous of her sister’s charmed life in the world above, has her hung naked on a meat hook where she suffers for three long days. I hung on my metaphorical meat hook for three years, plus another six during which my suffering gradually diminished.

Like Inanna’s descent, mine was a painful physical, emotional and spiritual experience. But, unwilling to give up or make a terrible mistake, I persevered in my outer life and stirred the contents of my inner world over a low, reflective fire. Ever so slowly, this alchemical opus brought about lasting changes.

My body awakened to instinctual energies I had long repressed. My ears heeded my soul’s cries of pain. My heart felt compassion. My ego’s center of gravity shifted from a place of control and resistance to a place of surrender and acceptance of forces far more powerful than my puny will. My eyes were opened to my sovereignty over my own life and my childish dependence on others dissolved. I began to make my own choices and take responsibility for them. Death took up its abode on my left shoulder and Choice on my right, each whispering daily reminders to savor every moment.

Hero myths have healing meaning too, but “happily ever after” does not tell the whole story.  Descent myths do.

On the third day, Inanna is rescued by her loyal priestess, Ninshubur, and Enki, the God of Culture, and she returns to life in the world above. There she faces new problems, but now she has the awareness to handle them with wisdom and balance. With Inanna’s help, I’m getting better at that too.

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.


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