Matrignosis: A Blog About Inner Wisdom

Think Pyschologically; Live Spiritually

Into the Heart of the Feminine April 28, 2015

Medusa-Caravaggio_(Uffizi)There is a thinking in primordial images, in symbols which are older than the historical man, which are inborn in him from the earliest times, eternally living, outlasting all generations, still making up the groundwork of the human psyche. It is only possible to live the fullest life when we are in harmony with these symbols; wisdom is a return to them.
– Carl Jung

This blog is based on my passion for self-knowledge and understanding the two great archetypal foundations of life: the feminine and masculine principles. My research, writing and inner work have shed a great deal of light on these mysteries. They’ve also shown me how much I don’t know. Luckily, I have many opportunities to learn.  One recently appeared in the form of a book I was asked to review. I’m delighted to share its deep wisdom about the feminine principle with you.

Into the Heart of the Feminine: An Archetypal Journey to Renew Strength, Love, and Creativity, is co-authored by Jungian analysts Massimilla and Bud Harris. In this outstanding and groundbreaking book, the Harrises use the myth of the Greek Gorgon Medusa to demonstrate the timeless reality of a profoundly destructive complex of images, symbols and themes known as the Death Mother.

Myths are born whenever a culture evolves into a new stage of psychological awareness. Exploring them provides healing and understanding of these developments that are trying to become conscious. Medusa’s myth emerged in Greece during a time when patriarchal gods were trying to assimilate and control the transformative aspects of the feminine principle. The Harrises have uncovered traces of this myth countless times in themselves and their clients.

Medusa was a ravishingly beautiful maiden raped by the god Poseidon in Athena‘s temple. The angry goddess transformed Medusa’s beautiful hair to serpents and made her face so terrible that the mere sight of it would turn onlookers to stone. This is a perfect symbol for the devastating psychological impact of patriarchy’s wounding and devaluing of the feminine archetype.

To quote the Harrises, the Death Mother “paralyzes our initiative, spirit, creativity, and vitality.” Her negativity “affects our culture in general, mothering in particular, and our ability to like, nourish, and take loving care of ourselves.” Unfortunately, it also cripples our ability to meet the emotional needs of our children. Thus do many of us, women and men alike, grow up feeling so unloved, unlovable, depressed, and deeply disappointed in life that we pass on the same curse to them. What’s more, “When the feminine principle is repressed into our unconscious, it becomes part of our collective shadow, and this shadow projects itself as a longing, or even a demand, for power.” Many of us experience the negative consequences of that particular beast every day.

UnknownWith Medusa’s story as guide, the Harrises demonstrate that to bring the feminine into our world, we must begin in a personal way. Only by taking the time to reconnect with the wholeness of who we are—and dreamwork is a primary way—can we learn to value the feminine and have it become reborn within us. This point is illustrated throughout the book in stories about clients who have experienced healing by following the map for the journey outlined in Medusa’s myth.

This requires us to recognize our denial and face our fear of inadequacy, shame, rejection, and belittlement along with the underlying rage, grief and woundedness that give rise to these debilitating fears. With reflection we accept “the reality that we have been damaged by some of the primary attitudes and values in our culture.” This realization strengthens us to confront our personal Death Mother.  In the final phase of healing we learn to pay attention to our lives so that we can celebrate the transformation taking place by living a fuller, richer life.

I love this book.  You’d get a good idea how much if you could see the underlines and comments on practically every page. One of my favorite things about it, apart from the many “Ahas” I acquired about my own Death Mother complex, is the Harrises’ clear grasp of our current cultural mentality. We’ve become so rational, verbal and literal that we’ve forgotten how symbols and images carry a deeper reality than words.  We’ve lost the art of thinking symbolically. And as the authors say, “To lose this art is to lose the kind of grounding that enables us to experience the beautiful depths of love and the Divine presence that is potentially within our capacities.”

What greater loss could there be than that?

You can see Massimilla Harris speaking about the Death Mother at this link:   

Image Credits:  Medusa, Caravaggio.  Wikimedia Commons.  Cover Design of Into the Heart of the Feminine: Courtney Tiberio.  Cover Photo:  Anthony Cave

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

 

An Easter Visitation From Serpent Mother April 7, 2015

A blood moon rising over Lake Virginia.

A blood moon rising over Lake Virginia

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

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

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

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

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

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

Serpent Mother

Serpent Mother

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

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

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

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

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

Corn snake image credit:  Wikipedia

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

 

The Anima’s Role in a Man’s Spiritual Journey January 6, 2015

anima_animus1Now that the holidays are over, I’d like to return to the topic I started a few weeks ago. I wrote about a man who, in the middle of his life, had a powerful dream in which he briefly identified with being a woman. What could this mean from the perspective of Jungian psychology?

In his work life, this man had become a highly successful and respected authority in his field. He was a responsible, law-abiding citizen and a loving husband, father, and social benefactor. Looking from the outside, one might ask, “What more could he possibly lack or want?” What more but a satisfying and meaningful inner life?

This introspective, scrupulous man is aware of the universe beneath the surface of his life. For him, filling society’s roles, following conventional rules, and acquiring worldly success are not enough. He is realizing his fulfillment lies in coming to terms with his whole self, including his unconscious feminine side. Something deep within him wants more than external observances: it wants internal congruence. It wants more than the appearance of caring and compassion: it wants the deeply felt reality. It wants more than the attainment of social power and authority: it wants a connection with his inner spiritual power and authority.

In his book Jung and the Lost Gospels, Dr. Stephan Hoeller summarizes the psycho-spiritual task of the serious seeker: “In Jung’s psychology, women need to integrate their animus, and men must do the same with their anima; the bringing to consciousness of the contrasexual image of each person permits entry into the kingdom of individuation and consequent wholeness.”

The word anima literally means soul. Jung saw the main qualities of the anima as relatedness and mediation, both between self and other and between ego and unconscious. The foundation for these qualities is love, or Eros, with its attributes of intimacy, harmony, tolerance, empathy, compassion, etc. In Volume 16 of Jung’s Collected Works he summarized the four stages in which a man’s anima develops: from the purely biological in which a woman is equated with the mother and only represents something to be fertilized; to an aesthetic and romantic level in which sex still dominates but woman has acquired some value as an individual; to a stage of religious devotion in which Eros is elevated to spiritual motherhood; and finally to Sophia, Wisdom.

Dreams of women show men at least two things about their unconscious selves: unknown feelings and attitudes toward femininity, and the health and maturity of their anima. In the dreams of a man who fears, distrusts, or disdains women and represses his “feminine” qualities, his anima will show up as an angry shrew, hag, witch, nag, victim, tease, or dangerous siren, and his dream ego will usually respond to her in ways typical for him in waking life.

Conversely, the dreams of a man who is accepting his feminine side — i.e. getting in touch with his feelings, developing respect for women, learning to express tender emotions, becoming comfortable with intimacy, growing more understanding and nurturing in his relationships, etc. — will be visited by increasingly friendly, kind, helpful, loving, trustworthy, and profoundly fascinating women.

Thus is the wicked witch transformed into the beautiful princess who awaits the prince’s kiss.  Thus does the feminine Spirit Warrior awaken and bestow her blessings of self-acceptance, true wisdom, and spiritual meaning on a man who is, himself, becoming a Spirit Warrior.

Next time I’ll discuss the role of men in women’s dreams.

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

 

 

What’s the Point of the Three Kings? December 22, 2014

Hans_Baldung_-_Three_Kings_Altarpiece_(open)_-_WGA01199[1]Those of us raised as Christians know this holiday is about a lot more than rushing about, partying, shopping, eating, decorating, and giving gifts, and many of us enjoy warm memories and nostalgic feelings this time of year. But why does it sometimes feel that our gifts are not enough, both the ones we give and those received? Why do we sometimes feel we’ve missed the point of Christmas? What is the point, and how can we celebrate it?

To understand what’s missing we need to discover the true meaning of Christmas for ourselves, and to do that we need to look at the Christ story and our own lives through the symbolic language of mythos. This is not the left-brained language of fact and logic, but the language of myth and symbol, the language of the Soul.

The Christmas story takes place in a stable filled with animals at the Winter Solstice, the darkest time of year. Throughout the world, common associations for the symbol of darkness include the unconsciousness of our instinctual animal nature and all the ignorance, chaos, death, and moral irresponsibility that goes with it. Psychologically, this setting is a reference to unconsciousness, the state in which we all begin our lives and often end them as well.

The plot centers around a virgin who gives birth to a baby boy. Virgins and babies symbolize innocence and the abundance of undeveloped possibilities, like the pure state of a soul ready to receive Spirit. Birth represents new life with its potential for growth into greater maturity and wisdom.

And is there significance in the fact that the baby is a boy? Yes. Mary, like the Hindu goddess Durga, symbolizes the feminine source of all energy, and Jesus represents an extraordinarily hopeful new masculine form of ego-life that has manifested from the maternal matrix. From our soul’s perspective, the significance of Jesus is that 2,000 years ago he introduced into the Middle-Eastern world an unprecedented (for that place and time) new capacity for an inner birth of a deeply personal, intimate experience of Spirit. This experience is characterized not just by believing in the ideal of love or having a strong desire to love others, but by actually feeling and living with love.

At the end of the story three (the number of forward movement that overcomes the conflicts of duality) kings (the masculine principle, sovereignty, and worldly power) arrive after a long and arduous trek from the Far East with rare and precious gifts for the tiny baby. The kings symbolize the wisdom and individuated, religious outlook of a mature and unified consciousness that is born through self-reflection and self-acceptance. Having endured the hard work of this inner journey and assumed our own sovereignty, we are finally able to see the sacredness in everything and revere every form of life down to the smallest and seemingly least important.  Knowing the preciousness of this gift of new life, we want to give it to others.

And finally, the kings are guided by a star.  Stars are attributes of all Queens of Heaven.  They represent spiritual inspiration, the highest attainment, and the presence of divinity, hope and light in our lives. A star is also a symbol of creative imagination, our uniquely human capacity for combining outer facts with the soul’s meaningful inner truths and expressing them with life-changing symbols and images.

Like the myths of every religion, this story combines historical events with psychological truths. Christ mass celebrates a momentous evolutionary leap forward in ego consciousness from a primitive, ignorant, and self-serving survival mentality into an advanced self-awareness capable of bringing wisdom, love, and authentic being and living.

The point of Christmas is that you and I can take this leap into Christ-awareness and experience for ourselves the life-enhancing, soul-satisfying love, hope and wonder that come with it.  Giving material gifts is certainly one way to show and share our love during the holiday season, but giving the gift of our growing psychological and spiritual maturity to our loved ones is far more rewarding and lasting.

May a more mature psychological consciousness and spiritual enlightenment be quickened worldwide during this holiday season, and may the love in our hearts be abundant and overflowing.  Thank you for stopping by in this most blessed season.

P.S. I hope you won’t mind a little shameless self-promotional hint:  If you or someone you love is on the inner journey, one of my books might be a good holiday gift. Ebook versions of The Bridge to Wholeness and Dream Theatres of the Soul are at Amazon, Kobo, Barnes and Noble and Smashwords.  Healing the Sacred Divide can be found at Amazon and Larson Publications, Inc.

Art Credit:  Wikimedia Commons

Three Kings Altarpiece (open)

1507 Linden panel, 121 x 70 cm (central), 121 x 28 cm (each wing) Staatliche Museen, Berlin

 

Do We Need Schools for Forty-Year-Olds? November 10, 2014

ArrienbookSome years ago I was working on a precursor to my latest book, a manuscript about creating partnership between our psychological opposites.  Throughout history cultures have found the categories of “masculinity” and “femininity” useful for designating differences between pairs of opposites in many areas of life, including languages, electronics, social roles, leadership styles and so on.  Curious about the different ways men and women develop psychologically over a lifetime, I used the same categories in an assessment tool I created.  The Partnership Profile estimates the relative weight an individual gives to the masculine and feminine qualities of his or her psyche.  I wanted to use it to help people understand that everyone contains both kinds of qualities, and both are equally necessary to a successful adaptation to life.

As Jung wrote in 1930 when gender and sexual stereotypes were more widely accepted and adhered to than now:

“We might compare masculinity and femininity and their psychic components to a definite store of substances of which, in the first half of life, unequal use is made.  A man consumes his large supply of masculine substance and has left over only the smaller amount of feminine substance, which must now be put to use.  Conversely, the woman allows her hitherto unused supply of masculinity to become active.” Jung, CW, Vol. 8, para. 782

Over the next few years I administered The Partnership Profile to over 700 people in various stages of life, from college students to old age, and used the results to refine my instrument and draw some preliminary conclusions about the natural changes that occur in the psyche over a lifetime.  I’m not sure I agree with Jung’s observation that men have a larger supply of masculine qualities and women of feminine, but my results did bear out his findings that everyone has both, and that our use of them changes over time.  He wrote,

“How often it happens that a man of forty-five or fifty winds up his business, and the wife then dons the trousers and opens a little shop where he perhaps performs the duties of a handyman.  There are many women who only awaken to social responsibility and to social consciousness after their fortieth year.  In modern business life, especially in America, nervous breakdowns in the forties are a very common occurrence….Very often these changes are accompanied by all sorts of catastrophes in marriage, for it is not hard to imagine what will happen when the husband discovers his tender feelings and the wife her sharpness of mind.” Vol. 8, para 783

For a while I conducted partnership workshops at the Disney Institute. At one session an elderly man stood up and proudly shared his score which was heavily weighted on the feminine side of the continuum.  Then he said something like this:  “I was a marine for over thirty years, and I’m proud of it. But I’m here to tell you that the score I got today is right on.  It sure wouldn’t have been when I was a young man, but I’ve changed.  My wife and I live next door to a little old lady whose health is bad and I go over there every day to help out. I cook, clean, buy groceries, run errands, do odd jobs.  My wife won’t go with me.  She says she’s had enough of that and would rather read.” At this point his wife nodded vigorously in agreement.  He continued, “But I can’t get enough.  I love helping her!  That’s a whole new part of me I never knew I had when I was a marine.”

hollisbookJung wrote:

“The worst of it all is that intelligent and cultivated people live their lives without even knowing the possibility of such transformations.  Wholly unprepared, they embark upon the second half of life. Or are there perhaps colleges for forty-year olds which prepare them for their coming life and its demands as the ordinary colleges introduce our young people to a knowledge of the world?  No, thoroughly unprepared we take the step into the afternoon of our life;  worse still, we take this step with the false assumption that our truths and ideals will serve us as hitherto.  But we cannot live the afternoon of life according the programme of life’s morning;  for what was great in the morning will be little at evening, and what in the morning was true will at evening have become a lie.” Vol. 8, para. 784

Have you experienced this reality?  What do you think?  Should someone start a school for forty-year-olds?

Note:  For those interested in reading more, I highly recommend The Second Half of Life by Angeles Arrien, and Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life by Jungian analyst James Hollis.

Ebook versions of The Bridge to Wholeness and Dream Theatres of the Soul are at Amazon, Kobo, Barnes and Noble and Smashwords.  Healing the Sacred Divide can be found at Amazon and Larson Publications, Inc.

 

 

 

 

Elephant in the Cave August 12, 2014

Inner work is any practice that helps make the unconscious conscious; for example, dreamwork, art, journaling, psychotherapy, meditation, prayer, yoga, body work, active imagination, ritual, and so on. But the ego’s fear of seeing beneath the surface makes most of us naturally resistant to this kind of work. The ninth dream I ever recorded addressed this issue:

It is night and very dark. I try to lock an elephant in a cave, but when I push on the door to close it, it breaks. I run for help because I am afraid the elephant will get out and do some damage.

This dream is short, sweet, and very much to the point. What could be more frightening to a tiny ego than a massive elephant on a rampage? Who wouldn’t try to lock it in or run away?

In religious practices and literature, the elephant often symbolizes power, wisdom, and happiness. As a mount for Asian royalty, it represents sovereignty. And as an instinctual creature with advanced sensitivity, it symbolizes inner knowing and intuition. Since animals in dreams usually represent our instincts, (Jung said we have five: activity, nourishment, reflection, sex, and creativity), to me the elephant suggested my instinct for reflection because reflecting on our inner lives can activate these positive qualities.

What about the other two symbols in this dream? A cave is associated with birth (the Eastern church depicts Christ’s birth in a cave), the maternal womb, and sacred initiation rites. Like the unconscious, caves are dark places containing hidden potential and spiritual treasures.

A door represents a psychic force which, when closed, keeps us from knowing what lies behind it. But when it is broken or open, we can travel between the outer, conscious world of logic, reason, and objective fact, and the mysterious inner world of the unconscious.

While this dream helped me recognize my resistance to reflecting (elephant) on my personal unconscious (cave) because my ego was afraid of opening (door) to the unknown, it held much more meaning for me than I was capable of understanding then. At the time I thought the unknowns I feared were changing in ways that might be problematic for my family and discovering some hidden unworthy qualities, but after twenty-five years of inner work, I have rooted out a deeper, archetypal source of my fear.

All three symbols in this dream are related to spirituality. Western and Middle Eastern religions traditionally associate spirit with the distant masculine Sky God with whom they connect via mental abstractions: correct words, clear ideas, strong beliefs, and noble ideals. This approach has long devalued the spiritual significance of the soul which is associated with femininity: physical matter, the body, emotion, instinct, feeling, inner knowing, intuition and the birth/death/rebirth cycle of life.

Of what was I so afraid? To what has my religion had such stern resistance for the last 5,000 years? Simply this: The feminine aspect of the Mystery we call God. The Mystery incarnate in matter. The sovereignty, spiritual authority, power and wisdom of our own infinitely beautiful and loveable bodies and souls. The energies of Sophia, Goddess of Wisdom: the sacred spark that indwells us and all creation. Poor little ego.  So terrified of life!

“The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.”~Joseph Campbell

Photo Credit:  Gregory Colbert

Ebook versions of The Bridge to Wholeness and Dream Theatres of the Soul are at Amazon, Kobo, Barnes and Noble and Smashwords.  Healing the Sacred Divide can be found at Amazon and Larson Publications, Inc.

 

 
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 5,110 other followers

%d bloggers like this: