The Shape of Water: The Shape of Change? January 30, 2018
Filmgoers may have laughingly dismissed Godzilla, the Teenage Werewolf, and The Creature from the Black Lagoon in the 1950’s, but nobody laughs at the real-life monsters we see on television every day in the form of terrorists, genocidal dictators, and political leaders who incite divisiveness and spout nuclear threats. We get it. Dystopia is us. Our problems are caused by humanity’s psychological and spiritual ignorance, and they will not be resolved until enough individuals acquire more mature and humane ways of thinking and behaving. What used to be the role of deities and religious authorities has now become everyone’s job.
Fortunately, there are seers among us to show us the way. They are the courageous and gifted artists who create books and films depicting ordinary people who evolve into heroic individuals. The Star Wars series, Avatar, Arrival, and The Shape of Water are examples. Their mythic themes and archetypal characters limn the shape of our own souls. Everyone enjoys a good story. But do we realize these stories are about us? Do we understand their metaphors and decipher their symbols? Do we apply their lessons to our own lives?
Each of us contains a possible hero like Luke Skywalker, an indomitable Amazon heroine like Princess Leia, a Wise Man like Yoda, a menacing Warrior like Darth Vader. You may relate to Avatar’s Jake Sully, a vulnerable wounded Warrior with the potential to be healed by love, but his counterpart—the dark side’s ruthless, power-hungry Colonel Miles Quaritch—also lives in you. Regardless of your gender you can activate the healing of an Earth Mother like the Na’vi’s Mo’at, a beautiful Beloved like princess Neytiri, or a benevolent Wise Woman like Dr. Grace Augustine. Archetypes are latent patterns of energy in everyone’s soul. They teach and empower us when we listen.
Consider Arrival’s gentle Louse Banks, a linguist who’s tormented by intuitions and visions which fill her with confusion and dread. She’s the image of a person in whom the Mediatrix archetype is activated. When the U.S. Army recruits her to communicate with alien life forms hovering over the earth, she breaks the rules to gain their trust. In a blog post titled “Arrival: How the Feminine Saves the World,” depth psychology expert Carol S. Pearson notes this “reveals how traditional elements of the Lover archetype are morphing to meet new challenges.” The world leaders see the aliens as dangerous threats and are preparing to make war on them. But because Louise is motivated by love, not fear, she sees them as wondrous life forms to communicate with and befriend. This prompts us to ask ourselves: Do I respect people and species different from me? Do I listen to the subtle messages of my body? Do I befriend my thoughts and emotions or try to ignore them?
In The Shape of Water, an even more vulnerable heroine saves the life of an amphibious monster. The year is 1962. Elisa is a mute, mousy janitor on the night shift of a top-secret government research lab desperate to get one-up on the Russians. One night a promising “asset” arrives in a portable tank in the form of a scaly green creature-from-the-Black-Lagoon lookalike from a Brazilian rainforest where he was worshiped as a god. Deeply drawn to this equally voiceless and powerless creature, Elisa initiates a fairy-tale romance with him by playing Benny Goodman on her portable record player, placing hard-boiled eggs on the lip of the tank in which he’s confined, and teaching him sign language when he emerges from the water to eat them.
As it turns out, the real monster in this story is Richard Strickland, a sadistic, square-jawed military officer who tortures the green man, sexually harasses Elisa, and makes racist comments to Zelda, her co-worker. Overhearing the scientists’ plans to kill and dissect her beloved in the name of science, a frantic and determined Elisa enlists the help of Zelda and her gay neighbor, Giles, to rescue him. The remainder of the film builds the tension amid a dreamy, watery green ambiance before reconciling it in a surprise ending that leaves us wondering: What just happened? Is he what he seems? Do I have it in me to do what she did? Does love really have a god-like power? How strong is my Lover archetype? Do I truly know how to love?
The characters in these films play out their roles against a backdrop of mythic themes:
the destructiveness of our shadow Warriors
the crises and suffering necessary for the making of a hero/ine
the need to respect, communicate with, and accept help from other people and species
love’s victory over ignorance and hatred
But here’s a not-so subtle difference. It used to be that only men got to be heroes, but we’re seeing more heroines now. Although the first Star Wars film to appear centers primarily on Luke Skywalker, it is his heroic sister, Princess Leia, who turns him into a hero. The same is true of Avatar’s Jake Sully whose heroism is inspired by the equally heroic Princess Neytiri.
The most recent of these—Arrival, The Shape of Water, and The Last Jedi—convey a theme new to our time which resonates with many souls today: the feminine as savior. Louise, Elisa, and Rey are not fantasy superheroines like Wonder Woman and Aquagirl. And they’re not sidekicks who help the main character accomplish his goals. They are ordinary women who initiate change and accomplish it with the respect and cooperation of healthy, caring men. Louise’s heroism is aided by Ian, a scientist. Giles helps Elisa save the green man. And in the newest Star Wars episode, Rey becomes the last Jedi with the help of Luke Skywalker. The main protagonists are females.
This shift in the spirit of our times is reflected in recent statistics. The Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film reports that of the top 100 films in 2014, only 12% featured female protagonists. But then something happened. In 2015 the figure was 22% and in 2016 it jumped to 29%.
Although the data are not in for 2017, we appear to be seeing the beginning of a trend. Water, like earth, has always been considered a feminine element, and in dreams, water and earth symbolize the unconscious self. Societies have unconscious selves too. Like the ocean, our collective unconscious contains monsters, but it also holds overlooked hidden treasures. Is the feminine as savior of the world the shape of change? Are you and I the shape of change?
Note: For more posts like this, please check out the blog of noted author Carol S. Pearson, where this post first appeared.
Jean Raffa’s The Bridge to Wholeness and Dream Theatres of the Soul are at Amazon. E-book versions are also at Kobo, Barnes And Noble and Smashwords. Healing the Sacred Divide can be found at Amazon and Larson Publications, Inc.
Books: The Perfect Holiday Gift December 18, 2017
Holiday Greetings to all. It’s a week before Christmas, so there’s still time to order books for the readers on your list. In case you’re looking for ideas, here are some of my recent favorites. They’re all wonderful. Enjoy.
Regina Aguilar, Alchemy of the Heart: The Sacred Marriage of Dionysos and Ariadne. Chiron Publications. November 7, 2017.
Manipulated by mythologies which legitimate the authority of those who use them for economic and political advantage, we are increasingly estranged from our Source, our environment, one another and ourselves. We need stories that describe the soul’s healing, bring reverence for life, and connect us to an inner authority based on experiential knowing. Alchemy of the Heart—an in-depth Jungian analysis of the myth of Dionysos and Ariadne—is such a story. Dionysos exemplifies the destruction and restoration of wild, virile, passionate masculinity in deep rapport with the earth and femininity. Ariadne symbolizes innocent, trusting, devoted, but deeply wounded femininity in patriarchy. When a woman’s romantic illusions are shattered by masculine betrayal, the experience of feeling her supportive inner masculine brings renewed vitality and a mystical sense of oneness with life. The story and eventual union between the masculine Lover and feminine Beloved in the alchemical sacred marriage described in this myth is a metaphor for the inner path of integration and individuation available to you.
HeatherAsh Amara, The Warrior Goddess Way: Claiming the Woman You Are Destined to Be, Hierophant Publishing, October 24, 2016.
Written for women, The Warrior Goddess Way is filled with wise principles and insights from which anyone seeking greater power, passion, and freedom can benefit. Amara describes a pathway of presence, baby steps, and practice—a road to reclaim all of you, including your darkest fears and most precious gifts. It asks you to recognize how you have been trained to think and behave, to witness your mind instead of believing everything it tells you, and to embrace yourself in your entirety. Most of all it asks you to stop resisting things beyond your control and learn to love it all. To say Yes! to every situation in your life and ultimately, Yes! to death. Befriending death frees you to be more fully engaged with life. Examples and activities demonstrate the value of such qualities as presence, forgiveness, apology, authenticity, respect, listening, stillness, and awareness.
“Regardless of gender, the key to success in life is creating meaningful relationships.” With this line, the reader is ushered into a bold new territory where successful men care more about connecting and being real than wearing macho masks. In today’s world, authenticity and other qualities this two-sport All-American athlete now associates with greatness—like empathy, insight, honesty, vulnerability, compassion, acting for the good of others, and the ability to heal from one’s own wounds—are traditionally associated with femininity. Howes hopes to change this one-sided and outdated stereotype by describing nine toxic masks men wear which, when discarded, enable them to accept their vulnerability and evolve into a modern-day masculine archetype of benevolent and compassionate power, courage, inner peace and happiness.
Ira Israel, How to Survive Your Childhood Now That You’re an Adult: A Path to Authenticity and Awakening, New World Library, November 7, 2017.
Western culture’s beliefs in capitalism, science, and religion taught you to value the wrong things like productivity, consumerism, and romantic love. Your futile struggles to find happiness and unconditional love via these beliefs created resentments and judgments about the past. As an adult you still dwell on these beliefs and ignore your present pain to stave off future pain. In How to Survive Your Childhood Now That You’re an Adult, psychotherapist Ira Israel deconstructs common dysfunctional mindsets and encourages you to accept and own the reality of your life. Suggestions to raise and reorient your consciousness include seeking a new definition of authenticity—encompassing the psychological principles of attachment, atonement, attunement, presence, and congruence—and practicing Buddhism’s Four Noble Truths, Eightfold Path and Three Jewels. Your practices will alleviate suffering, promote loving relationships, and help you live with authenticity and love.
Winifred M. Reilly, It Takes One to Tango: How I Rescued My Marriage with (Almost) No Help from My Spouse—and How You Can, Too, Touchstone, April 4, 2017.
Written by marriage and family therapist Winifred M. Reilly, this wise and practical book addresses unrealistic expectations and dysfunctional interactions which damage love relationships. With examples from clients and her own marriage, Reilly takes the reader through five developmental stages of partnerships. She concludes the key for positive change is for one partner to name the basic issues that create conflicts, accept personal responsibility for their role in them, learn how to manage their anxiety, and take risks to respond in new ways. This weakens habitual patterns and transforms the relationship into a more forgiving and loving partnership.
Tosha Silver, Outrageous Openness: Letting the Divine Take the Lead, Atria (Reprint Edition), July 12, 2016.
Doctrinaire religions can leave you spiritually alienated because they focus on external observances instead of internal realities. Tosha Silver suggests you align with the Divine by asking for what it wishes for you instead of insisting on your ego’s preferred outcomes. When you offer your problems to the Divine and invite it to take the lead, then symbols and synchronicities tell you when to act. Your openness and trust in a divine order of love and abundance frees you from worry and allows the perfect solution to any problem to arrive at the right time. Silver shares a fascinating and entertaining collection of brief stories which illustrate these principles at work in her life and the lives of others.
Sara Avant Stover, The Book of She: Your Heroine’s Journey into the Heart of Feminine Power, New World Library, October 13, 2015.
Building on Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces (1973) and Maureen Murdock’s The Heroine’s Journey (1990), yoga and meditation instructor Sara Avant Stover’s The Book of She describes how women can reclaim their feminine power. Combining personal stories, examples from wisdom traditions, and advice from noted psychological and spiritual teachers, Stover highlights 13 stages of the feminine journey. These are organized into five parts: Preparing for the Journey, The Descent, The Initiation, The Ascent, and The Homecoming. Readers are encouraged to explore and heal their inner and outer lives with numerous activities, rituals and guided meditations within a framework of guiding principles—cultivating an ongoing practice, welcoming silence and prayer, clarifying your priorities, taking responsibility for your life, exploring dualities, and facing your shadow.
Richard Rohr with Mike Morrell, The Divine Dance: The Trinity and Your Transformation, Whitaker House, October 4, 2016.
“Bad theology is like pornography—the imagination of a real relationship without the risk of one.” This sums up the theme of The Divine Dance—a repudiation of Empire and a celebration of Relationship. Central to this celebration is your willingness to actively change what you let into your heart and consciously participate in the divine dance of loving and being loved. Trinity is a foundational principle of perennial philosophy—the core beliefs common to every religion. Some call it the Third Force. It is also a living reality—a circular flow of love in you and the universe that mirrors the orderly spinning dance of subatomic particles which birth and sustain life. The 67 essays in this book depict God as absolute relatedness. They affirm that your participation in the dance can transform your illusion of separation into a spiritual experience of radical relatedness with yourself, your life, and the Divine.
I think of you often as I work on my next book and will stay in touch in the New Year. I wish you the happiest of holidays. As the nights grow longer and darker, may your inner light grow stronger and brighter.
The Unseen Partner September 6, 2016
“The time is ripe for the unconscious and conscious dominants to meet each other. The death of the old dominant is indicated by the fact that the king is about to die. This corresponds to the fact that the God-image, the collective dominant of the Western psyche, is moribund. In preparation for its death, it opens up an ancient tomb; in other words it opens up the unconscious. This activates the feminine principle, which had been dead and buried in the very same tomb, in the unconscious. As the tomb is opened, the unconscious is penetrated by consciousness . . . and a revitalization occurs.” ~ Edward Edinger
With this opening quote a beautiful new book, The Unseen Partner: Love & Longing in the Unconscious, prepares the reader for a unique experience of a universal story: the hero’s journey to individuation. Unique, because this personal account shared in a mythical, poetic voice is utterly original and will impact each reader differently. Universal, because beneath the art, poetry, and expertly-crafted prose is the mythic story of Everyman. Two decades in the making and released this Labor Day weekend, Diane Croft’s The Unseen Partner is a most refreshing and artful contribution to the literature on Jungian psychology. I absolutely loved it!
By midlife, Croft had taken a predictable path to a comfortable life and successful career. Educated at Wittenberg and Harvard Universities, she became a publisher at National Braille Press. And then an unknown force invaded her conscious psyche and set her on a new path. As her press release notes, this force pulled her “into an energy field—the sacred temple at the center of the psyche—” (called the “Self” by Jung), where she captured the poetic voice she heard by means of automatic writing.
“In the summer of 1996, I fell into an experience of automatic writing. I was seated at my computer getting ready to compose a budget narrative. Instead I wrote a few lines of verse that appeared without thinking or intention. ‘Born in a cataclysm of cosmic violence/the lunar birth of daughter moon.’ And then a second poetry fragment appeared . . . and so it continued for three years, at roughly the same time each morning, until there were more than seven hundred odd verses. People ask me if I heard voices. No, I say, I just took dictation. The fingers moved and the words were typed.”
The Unseen Partner is based on 55 of these verses. Each is accompanied by an artful image that symbolizes an aspect of the individuation process. Croft’s commentary on the meaning she gleaned from the poetry and imagery is the third factor that weaves everything together into a remarkable book which is itself a creative work of art.
Here’s an example. This poem titled “Holy Ghost” features the symbolism of “the third.” The accompanying image and commentary illustrate how these three factors work together.
Who is this three of thee and me
a holy ghost in daylight calling
stirring in my bed this night
cauldron for my troubled soul,
reminding me again and again
of the living power it holds
over my dominion.
“Since I was baptized Lutheran, the image of the Holy Ghost was not foreign to me, though I understood nothing of its meaning. Since I now believe this collection is about the relationship between my conscious ego and the larger archetypal Self, then I can only say that that relationship involves a third. Who is this three of thee and me? In Mythology of the Soul, Baynes writes, ‘The number three is specifically associated with the creative process. . . . Every function of energy in nature has, indeed, the form of a pair of opposites, united by a third factor, their product.’ Jung identified “the third” as one of the stages of individuation: ‘The advance to the third stage means something like the recognition of the unconscious, if not actual subordination to it. . . .’ So, as I understand it, stage one equals the original state of wholeness (the pre-conscious totality), stage two represents separation and the emergence of opposites (ego consciousness), and stage three would be the union of the opposites through the agency of the Holy Ghost, now contained within the human vessel.”
This was particularly resonant to me. I don’t remember ever reading this quote by Jung before, but in Healing the Sacred Divide (2012), I used the symbolism of “the third” to illustrate the three epochs of the development of consciousness. Each of my epochs corresponds with Croft’s description of the stages of individuation. This synchronicity comes as no real surprise, for “the third,” like all the symbols treated in this marvelous book, represents an archetypal pattern residing in every psyche. Nonetheless, I had so many delicious “Aha” moments in reading it that the overall experience took on the flavor of meditating on, and with, a sacred unseen partner.
As Rumi warned, (and as Croft writes in the last line of her epilogue), “‘Don’t go back to sleep.’ Wake up and dip your cup into the living waters.” I could not recommend The Unseen Partner more highly, and I’ll be returning to it again and again, for in it I recognize a reliable companion and guide to the living waters within me.
The Unseen Partner can be found at Amazon.
Image Credits: Book cover, Amazon. “Friendship,” 1907, Mikalojus Konstantinos Ciurlionis, Lithuania, Wikimedia Commons.
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 Kobo, Barnes And Noble, and Smashwords.
Why Is the World in Chaos? June 7, 2016
“The ego has the capacity of seeing itself, at least in some measure, in relation to the rest of the world, a power that the autos does not have. It also becomes aware that others likewise possess ego consciousness and the power of criticism. Thus it is aware of what others think and say, and aware also of what it for its own part thinks and speaks. It can say, “I am the one, I am the thinker, the doer.
“But beyond this it does not go. For instance, a man in this stage of self-consciousness does not realize as a rule that ideas occur to him without his willing them, that actions are performed through him—that he is being used by thoughts and impulses arising from something other than his I.” E. Harding, Psychic Energy, p. 204.
We live in an era dominated by Epoch II masculine-oriented ego consciousness. Realizing we are separate from Mother and nature has led us away from our previous immersion in natural law and toward the human law which is subject to dualistic thinking.
Epoch II egos see everything in terms of opposites: self/other, familiar/unfamiliar, good/evil, right/wrong, male/female, human/nonhuman, strong/weak, soft/hard, worthy/unworthy, entitled/unentitled. Our choices for one side and against the other are motivated by self-interest.
This psychological reality is at the root of our world-wide epidemic of hatred, fear, violence, crime, war, terrorism, genocide, animal extinction, and destruction of nature. No government or religion can stop the madness until we acknowledge our inner divides and take steps to heal them.
Our species has evolved naturally into Epoch II, but thankfully we know it’s not our final destination. History provides examples from every era of individuals who acquired what has been called a higher, enlightened, or unitive consciousness. Developing this holistic way of seeing ourselves and others is a slow and gradual process that varies among individuals and never ends.
For example, Carl Jung reported that he was eleven when one day on his walk to school he stopped with the sudden revelation: I am! I am what I am!” He realized that until then he had been living in a mist. This new level of awareness is common to adolescence; however, as Jung soon learned, we can expect many more awakenings during Epoch II before we acquire an integrated consciousness that transcends the ego’s self-centeredness.
I experienced a rush of self-awareness at eleven too. I could say, “I am the thinker, the doer.” But this knowing only marked a huge onslaught of painful self-consciousness which undermined my confidence, and I remained minimally self-aware for many years.
It wasn’t until I was 37 and had been nudged forward by several more revelations that I awoke from the fog that had obscured a devastating truth. I was the pawn of powerful unknown inner forces which were compelling me to consider some frightening possibilities.
Did I dare abandon strategies that had kept me safe so far? Was it conceivable that I might actually break sacrosanct rules and pursue fascinating new ways of thinking and living?” At that time it didn’t occur to me to ask, “Could this temptation possibly be a blessing and a beginning and not an ending and a curse?”
Eve must have asked herself similar questions as she stood on the threshold of Epoch II ego consciousness. Some of us are asking them today as we approach Epoch III integrated consciousness.
“Whereas Epoch I is about Mother and Epoch II about Father, Epoch III belongs to the Self, or Divine Couple. Their relationship develops within us as we consciously integrate opposites that were formerly separated.” J. Raffa, Healing the Sacred Divide, p. 73.
Imagine a baby chick morphing out of egg white and yolk into a fuzzy form strong enough to peck out of a shell that has become painfully restrictive. In the same way, our species evolved for thousands of years before it broke out of the Epoch I maternal matrix in which instinct provided our only agency. In succeeding, we obtained the self-awareness and personal power that characterizes Epoch II.
Fueled by their fear of the Great Mother with whom they associated their previous unconsciousness, our patriarchal forebears systematically persecuted and repressed her. They would rather die than lose the ground they’d worked so hard to gain. This resistance is still deeply ingrained in the most primitive pockets of every psyche, and every ego instinctively fears losing its power if the feminine regains hers.
Nobody thinks this consciously. The Epoch II ego is far too self-absorbed to notice or admit its deepest fears and it will do anything to escape them. Hence, the obsessions, addictions, and abuse of women that are the hallmark of our time. Nonetheless, it is true. Our one-sided ignorance of our unconscious self, which we associate with the feminine principle, stands between us and psychological wholeness, spiritual enlightenment, and world peace.
“…integrating the… [feminine principle] into our personalities, world-views, and God-images is not a foolish idea promoted by a bunch of angry libbers longing for a sentimental regression to a Golden Age of matriarchal power and psychological innocence! It is the next and necessary step toward increased consciousness in which our egos become less self-centered and more God-centered, and the solution to individual and global strife.” J. Raffa, HSD, p. 75.
Next time: Epoch III.
Note: This is the fifth in a series about self-awareness. For more information read the previous four posts or consult Healing the Sacred Divide.
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 Kobo, Barnes And Noble, and Smashwords.
Perfection, or Who’s the Purest of Them All? April 19, 2016
“When one tries desperately to be good and wonderful and perfect, then all the more the shadow develops a definite will to be black and evil and destructive.
People cannot see that; they are always striving to be marvellous, and then they discover that terrible destructive things happen which they cannot understand, and they either deny that such facts have anything to do with them, or if they admit them, they take them for natural afflictions, or they try to minimize them and to shift the responsibility elsewhere.
The fact is that if one tries beyond one’s capacity to be perfect, the shadow descends into hell and becomes the devil. For it is just as sinful from the standpoint of nature and of truth to be above oneself as to be below oneself. It is surely not the divine will in man that he should be something which he is not, for when one looks into nature, one sees that it is most definitely the divine will that everything should be what it is.” ~Carl Jung, Visions Seminar, Page 569.
“What?” you say? “You mean I have to accept the bad parts of myself? No Way! You must be crazy. I’m not giving in to laziness, lust, selfishness, fear, or greed. I’ve spent a lifetime trying to be perfect. Now you say I have to stop? Didn’t Jesus say, ‘Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect’ (Matt. 5:48)? Well, that’s all I’m trying to be: perfect!”
In the Aramaic language Jesus spoke, the word perfect meant completed, or whole, not always good or spotlessly pure. Here’s the paradox Jung was addressing and we find so difficult to accept: to complete ourselves we have to be honest with ourselves, and this means acknowledging those things in us we think of as bad as well as the ones we consider good. We can’t be complete by accepting only half our nature. For example, by identifying solely with reason and logic, we cut off our capacity for passion, intuition, instinct, and the tender feelings of empathy and compassion. Then we start finger-pointing, name-calling, wall-building, and war mongering.
Accepting our flaws is not for the faint-hearted. Like Christine, the innocent young singer who, in the classic Gaston Leroux novel, earnestly persuaded the Phantom of the Opera to take off his mask, we may be painfully convinced of our puny audacity in challenging the archetypal masters and mistresses of our unconscious, and we may faint at our first sight of the ugliness. But it is only when the ugliness has been unmasked and we can see it for what it truly is that it loses its negative power over us and we can begin to learn from it.
The Phantom was certainly a dark and frightening creature, but behind that hideous face was a pure musical soul with the voice of an angel. If Christine had refused to grant her negative animus its rightful place in her life, she would not have achieved her destiny. Fortunately for her, instead of rejecting the Phantom she came to love him, and in the final act of lifting the mask a second time and kissing his grotesque face, her ego grew up and she developed an honest relationship with her unique Self.
Snow White had the same problem. She was tormented again and again by her wicked stepmother, a dark, vain, and passionate feminine antagonist—psychologically the opposite, shadow side of her own conscious personality—who did everything she could to destroy the sweet passive child who knew nothing of evil. Snow White’s trials were long and painful, but by patiently enduring them she was brought to the point where she could awaken to her masculine strengths (represented by the kiss of the prince), conquer her own evil tendencies (represented by the evil Queen), gain enough balance and maturity to stand on her own two feet, and marry her prince (the Sacred Marriage, or hieros gamos).
In the masculine hero myth, the hero kills his dragons, or inner and outer enemies, thereby earning his way to salvation. It is true that a kind of death always precedes transformation and rebirth. However, the feminine way, which we must incorporate into our psyche as well if we wish to continue to evolve, is not to fight perceived imperfections in order to destroy them.
Rather it is a peaceful way of withdrawing, descending into our own depths, seeing, reflecting, grieving, accepting and integrating. This happens slowly, gradually and naturally, through a diligent desire to let our immature egos die a natural death to make way for the new, the way flowers fade and wilt after they have produced seeds from which new growth will arise in the spring.
No matter how hard we may try, we’ll never be perfected in the traditional sense of the word. But it is possible to become more aware and individuated, and thus less vulnerable to our hellish inner demons. By owning them as parts of ourselves, we’ll be less apt to project them onto others. This is our only hope of moving ourselves and the world a little closer to our enduring ideals of peace and salvation.
Quote and Image Credits: My thanks to Lewis Lafontaine for sharing this quote and these images on Facebook.
Inanna: Myth of Descent February 9, 2016
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.
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 channel. Her 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.
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
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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