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.
Why am I here? What am I supposed to be doing with my life? Am I doing it? How can I know? Will I ever know? Is there an underlying pattern to it all?
These are some of the Big questions that philosophers, Spirit Persons, and ordinary seekers are compelled to ask and answer. Some rely solely on intellectual methods: following teachers, reading, studying, getting degrees, writing books. Some seek answers in traditional religions and ‘religious’ practices. Some experiment with various forms of self-reflection aimed at self-discovery, self-knowledge and consciousness. Some try combinations of these plus alternative practices like body work, mind-altering drugs and artistic pursuits.
As I noted in my last post, our hunger for answers to these questions is motivated by the ‘transcendent function,’ a form of archetypal energy we all inherit just by being human. As a reminder, here’s Jung’s definition:
The cooperation of conscious reasoning with the data of the unconscious is called the ‘transcendent function’…. This function progressively unites the opposites. Psychotherapy makes use of it to heal neurotic dissociations, but this function had already served as the basis of Hermetic philosophy for seventeen centuries. ~Carl Jung, CW 18, par. 1554.
In other words, even though we think of enlightenment as a strictly spiritual pursuit, it also has psychological (mental/ emotional/intellectual) components. Further, I would argue that it has physical components. In fact, I have come to believe that enlightenment is not solely a function of any one aspect of human nature, but of the whole package.
Buddhism expresses this idea through four “Aims” or goals of human life. As I see it, each goal is met within a particular domain of human functioning. Each domain is fueled by a physical instinct and represented by a masculine and feminine archetype. These stand at either end of the pole of energy in which that instinct specializes.
To be fully functioning spirit persons, we need to awaken, activate, and heal our fullest potential—masculine and feminine—in each of these four areas. ~Jean Raffa, Healing the Sacred Divide, p. 203.
Here’s my summary of these relationships:
(1) The aim of Lawful Order and Moral Virtue takes place in The Social Domain. Our social lives receive energy from our physical Instinct for Nurturance. Psychologically, this instinct is symbolized by the King and Queenarchetypes, our inner authority figures who govern our social behavior for the benefit of all.
(2) We accomplish our aim for Power and success inThe Physical Domain. This goal is primarily accomplished through our Instinct for Activity. We cannot just think or will our way to success. Our bodies have to be engaged in studied, committed, goal-oriented and self-disciplined practices. For me, the Warrior and Mother archetypes represent the opposite poles of physical energy available to us in pursuit of our goals in the material world.
(3) Release from Delusion: The Mental Domain. Our search for truth and enlightenment relies on our cognitive functioning, or intellect, which matures as we consciously activate our Instinct for Reflection and its archetypal representatives, the Scholar/Magician and Wisewoman.
(4) Love and pleasure: The Emotional Domain. To find emotional satisfaction in life, we need to activate our Instinct for Sex and its psychological equivalents, the Lover and Beloved archetypes. This does not necessarily require our participation in physical sex, but the aspect of our libido which specializes in this kind of energy does need to be activated. In other words, we need to experience passion, and being loved and loving in return.
Since Jung believed we have five instincts, and in keeping with his insight that the transcendent function progressively unites the opposites, I respectfully offer a fifth domain which is equally essential to enlightenment.
(5) Perfection and Completion: The Spiritual Domain. In my experience, spiritual growth is fueled primarily by our Instinct for Creativity: our capacity to imagine and find meaning in the inner forces which influence our journeys through life. Our creativity is symbolized by the Couple archetype, or Self, which gradually manifests in every area of our lives via the transcendent function.
I see the Couple as integrating the other four archetype pairs in a sacred marriage of fully individuated and fully related opposites. This union activates the creative instinct and brings us into the spiritual domain and Epoch III integrated consciousness. ~Raffa, HSD, p. 203.
As you can see, the search for enlightenment cannot be compartmentalized into one domain, but requires cooperation between every part of us in every domain in which we function. I stress this point to dispel the common misconception that putting all our spiritual eggs into one basket—traditional religious participation and belief—is the only way to attain enlightenment. This obsession with using only intellect and emotion to connect with a loving God not only dismisses the sacredness of the physical body, but it ignores the fact that our actual words and behaviors can be decidedly unspiritual. Moreover, it can lead to a dangerous split between mind and body, spirit and soul.
In conclusion I would like to note that despite all the thought and energy I’ve given to the pursuit of enlightenment, I cannot say for certain what it is. As I wrote in response to a comment after last week’s post:
“I wish I knew what enlightenment is. If it’s a conscious, consistent, ongoing process of trying to understand, individuate, love, realize our true selves, and appreciate the miracle of our lives, then, perhaps all of us who do this kind of work could be considered such. I mean, we know we’re part of a process, and we’re consciously involved in it. But if enlightenment is not a process, but an end-product, then I know I’m not “there.” I keep re-hashing old stuff and coming up with new stuff to process, so in this definition, I’m only as ‘enlightened’ as my thoughts, behavior, and motivations are in this very moment!” ~Jean Raffa
“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.
Why isn’t humanity there yet? What’s holding us back? Simple. The Epoch II masculine-oriented ego.
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.
If you get nothing else from my books or blog, remember this:
“…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.
“The animals follow the natural law only….With man things are very different. He is not at one with himself. He is subject to two laws that do not by any means always coincide. Consequently he is inwardly divided.” Esther Harding, Psychic Energy, p. 202.
By around the age of three, most children’s egos are strong and consolidated enough to think of themselves as separate individuals. This is when memory begins. We do not leave Epoch I behind at this point but we do begin to adjust our responses to our instinctual needs according to the demands of our environments.
Thus we grow into a more mature form of self-awareness I call Epoch II Ego Consciousness. During this time we gradually lose our allegiance to the natural law as we obey the human law to prove ourselves and become responsible members of our families, groups, and society.
Most of us experience spurts of increased self-awareness during the normal developmental stages; for example, adolescence when we begin to assert our independence, young adulthood with its task of finding meaningful work, marrying and parenting.
During these critical junctures we acquire new needs and desires which challenge the status quo. Conflicts between what was and what is coming into being strengthen our egos to a certain extent, and many people lead happy, productive lives without looking very deeply into their unconscious selves. Or we may not be happy at all, yet do not seek help or change in any meaningful way because lethargy, habit, pride, and fear of the unknown prevent us from stepping too far out of our familiar comfort zones.
Moreover, we may grow in some areas of our lives, yet maintain one-sided, either/or attitudes in others. We might continue to open to new insights and ways of thinking in our work and relationships, yet we might think, “I know my religion is correct. To question its beliefs is dangerous,” while ignoring secret doubts. Or we automatically agree with our political party and assume the other is wrong without weighing the issues. Or we avidly uphold unjust laws that violate human rights while fighting the enactment of new ones that would right these wrongs.
Certain qualities are common in Epoch II. Among them are
dualistic thinking and with it, a sense of being separate from others;
a primary emphasis on self-preservation and need-satisfaction, that is, self-centeredness and selfishness; ‘the will to develop our individuality;’
an outer-referential focus on society and its rules and conventions;
resistance to and bias against otherness, including other people, other ways of thinking, other belief systems, and the unknown or disowned otherness of our own psyches, i.e. our unconscious selves;
anxiety about our self-worth;
conflict between our longing to lapse back into the unconscious maternal matrix and the pressing need to prove ourselves.
Masculine Values. A primary feature of Epoch II is the ego’s preference for masculine values which gradually supplant our Epoch I condition of pure enjoyment in the Mother’s paradise of dependency and the innocent pleasures of simply being. During Epoch II the healthy ego of either gender flexes its wings, struts around the nest, and begins to assert its will power, independence, self-discipline, competition, achievement and ambition.
Repression. Developing these qualities has advanced civilization in many valuable ways. But because of our dualistic thinking it has also had some nasty repercussions. This is because of repression, a second major feature of Epoch II self-awareness. If “the way I (my ego) am” is the good, right way, then I will develop bias, prejudice, suspicion, hostility, fear, and aggression toward anything that conflicts with the ‘oughts’ and ‘shoulds’ of my self-image.
Shadow. The third major feature of Epoch II Ego Consciousness is the development of a shadow. This unconscious complement to the ego is composed of everything we don’t know or like about ourselves. As long as we refuse to acknowledge these disowned aspects of our psyches they influence our attitudes and behavior without our awareness. Becoming conscious of our personal and collective shadow is one of the most critical and potentially life-enhancing challenges we face today.
The majority of Epoch II egos restrain their shadows and repressive tendencies without causing undue damage or harm. But some obsess over the “masculine” qualities so highly prized during this phase that they become inordinately repressive to “feminine” otherness, both figuratively and literally. Unwilling to consider opposing points of view or budge from entrenched polarized positions these egos become so self-righteous and closed-minded that they gravitate, like the Sky God onto which they project these qualities, toward agitation, divisiveness, domination and war.
“Egos like this might be strong enough to keep growing, and often are well-intentioned. But as long as they put their consciousness in service to repression, and as long as they cling to their position as the sole “deity” within the psyche, they will not recognize their imbalances. The most powerful and repressive of these Epoch II egos are the major culprits in the dangerous dramas playing out on the world stage today. In their psychological ignorance, many of them fervently believe they are God-centered; but in truth, they are firmly entrenched in Epoch II egocentricity.” J.B. Raffa, Healing the Sacred Divide, p. 44.
In empowering our ego and masculine qualities we are obeying the evolutionary imperative to see and use all of our human potential. But if we stop there, vast amounts of our psychological inheritance, including our instincts and many aspects of our feminine sides, remain buried in a dark, pre-conscious reservoir.
This effects every aspect of our lives, especially our relationships and spirituality. In the West and Middle East our separation from the human mother is accompanied by a rejection of the archetypal Great Mother. Fortunately, this doesn’t destroy her.
Why? Because the Sacred Feminine is an archetypal reality in the psyche and the ego has no control over it. If this were not true, humanity would never have projected her onto ancient Goddesses and she would not be re-entering our awareness today.
Next time I’ll have more to say about this repressed archetype and how our acceptance of her has the potential to heal the divisive schisms threatening our world today.
Image Credits: Elephant Quote: Depth Psychology Alliance. Jung Quotes: Courtesy of Lewis Lafontaine.
“Obviously we do not know how the ego arose in man. We have certain myths showing how ancient man thought about this problem, and we can observe the phenomenon in very young children today. Just as the individual child must undergo training and discipline, so too the primitive nature of man had to be housebroken and domesticated, restrained and adapted, if he was to advance in culture and in ability to control his environment.” Esther Harding, Psychic Energy, p. 197.
Since we learned to talk, humans have told stories around the campfire about the inner life of the psyche and the mysterious archetypal energies which indwell it. We call these stories myths. With borrowed images from nature that instinctively aroused strong emotions like fear, awe, passion, wonder, greed, hope and gratitude, myths presented characters, settings, plots and themes that attempted to answer humanity’s most universal and fundamental questions: Why are we here? Who made us? Why do we act the way we do? How can we stay safe? What are we supposed to do and be?
Most of these images—like the sun, the moon, mountains, trees, bears, snakes, unusual stones, springs of fresh water, thunder and lightning—still have emotional power over us. Early humans would not have understood what their fascination with these images said about them. Nonetheless, they resonated so deeply that the stories are still being told.
“Myths are concerned with origins, the fear of death, and the hope for the overcoming of death in another world.” A.S. Byatt, Introduction to Maria Tatar’s “The Annotated Brothers Grimm,” p. xix.
Let us imagine how the Bible’s account of our origins came about. A storyteller wonders where the first parents came from and imagines them being created by a superhuman Father God. Fondly recalling his/her own early carefree days when every need was met by doting parents (Epoch I of self-awareness), our storyteller memorializes this idyllic time in the image of the Garden of Eden, a paradise where humans and animals co-exist in harmony…. as long as everyone obeys Father God.
Early humans would have understood this rule completely. Life was hard, and children who strayed away from camp would be in peril. Parental obedience was essential to their survival.
Other images also called to mind their instinctual need for safety. For example, a gigantic tree could be climbed when danger threatened, and its thick canopy of leaves provided cover from rain. So it made sense to situate a Tree of Life in the center of the Garden. Sometimes tribal rituals were performed around special trees to show gratitude for their protection. So far, so good.
“The further development of the individual can be brought about only by means of symbols which represent something far in advance of himself and whose intellectual meanings cannot yet be grasped entirely.” ~Carl Jung, CW 4, Para 680.
As humans gained more control over their environments, travel and communication with other tribes exposed them to other myths with different images and new symbolic meaning. Whose stories were right and whose were wrong? Which god-images and rituals were good and which were evil? Dualistic thinking had entered the picture.
This advanced the plot further. Enter the forbidden fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Enter Eve who is fascinated by the luscious ripe fruit, symbolizing the psyche’s readiness for a new level of self-awareness. Enter an evil snake who represents a powerful temptation to challenge the status quo. Enter a new problem: seeing and having to choose between opposites. Enter the consequences: after Adam and Eve’s expulsion from the garden, the dire implications of the problem of opposites for the future of humanity was anticipated with the symbolism of Eve giving birth to twin boys, one of whom killed the other.
The symbols speak for themselves. Disobeying the Father God by eating the fruit marked a revolutionary advance in the psyche. What Eve would not have known, and her storyteller probably barely intuited, was that in departing from the collective mentality, she became the mother of Epoch II Ego Consciousness.
“When the ego begins to develop and gains some autonomy—some power, over against the might of nature, to determine and control itself and its environment—it gradually acquires a feeling of being a separate entity. The individual learns to differentiate between the I and the not-I, with an ever increasing emphasis of the value of the I. That is, he becomes aware of being a self. This awareness is accompanied by an intoxicating sense of selfhood, an inner expansion of the I. Unchecked, this will produce an inflation…
“In the outer world the ego seeks to dominate its environment and to subject all things, persons, and conditions alike to its interest. In the inner world, as many psychic contents as possible are brought under its control, and those which cannot be dominated are suppressed.In this way a threshold is built up between the conscious and the unconscious part of the psyche.” Harding, p. 241.
I’ll have more to say about this second phase of self-awareness next time. Meanwhile, keep in mind that the story isn’t over and “happily ever after” is nowhere in sight. If we are to reach our fullest potential we will need to agonize over more conflicts and ask new questions like, What new thoughts, impulses and images are arising in me? Where are they coming from? Who or what do I try to dominate? Which aspects of my inner world do I try to suppress?
Image Credits: Google Images: Garden of Eden, Lucas Cranach. Quote Image courtesy of Lewis Lafontaine.
“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.
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 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.
And 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.
If you haven’t read last week’s post, you might want to go there first to hear my thoughts about the basic masculine archetypes. This time I want to highlight the feminine ones. Please remember that these energies and qualities, so-called “masculine” and “feminine,” are part of the psychological inheritance of everyone, regardless of gender. It’s only society that assigns some of them to men and others to women, and these associations can very from culture to culture. Unfortunately, this limits all of us to only a portion of our fullest potential.
In my system, the feminine archetypes are the Queen, Mother, Wisewoman and Beloved. These images of our basic instincts serve our “feminine” drive for species-preservation and relationship. The ways we see and use their energies are transformed over time as our egos mature through three “feminine” phases: the innocent Maiden, the life-giving Mother, and the wise Crone.
In the first phase we unconsciously serve the drive to preserve our species by emphasizing relationships, conforming to tribal/cultural standards, and sexual activity; in the second, the cycles of life force us us to become more aware of our individual needs; and in the third, attending to our inner, spiritual selves becomes as important as meeting the needs of others.
Our Queen is a culture mother and the feminine sovereign of the psyche. Like the goddess Hera, a Queen in the Maiden phase automatically honors her duty to society without reflection. Her growth is usually instigated by some sort of crisis —rape or love, parenthood, illness, divorce, or loss of a loved one—which destroys the Maiden’s virgin innocence and instigates the Mother’s suffering. If she develops a conscience and learns moral responsibility she becomes a caring Crone/Queen of personal sovereignty, moral virtue, respect for individual differences, and social leadership.
The Mother archetype represents our instinct for physically serving the birth/death/rebirth life cycle. In our unreflective Maiden phase our Mother is, like the warrior goddess Artemis and Mother Nature herself, as capable of destroying life as mothering it, simply because she is not very aware of the significance of otherness and puts her own needs first. In our Mother phase our Mother archetype struggles to understand and serve the needs of individuals as much as her own and the activity of the impersonal Great Mother who gives and takes all life. As our egos mature, the Crone Mother helps us value the life in our bodies and souls as much as life outside ourselves.
The Wisewoman is diffusely aware of, and deeply sensitive to, the maternal depths of the unconscious. In our unreflective phase she is like Greece’s Persephone, Stephen King’s Carrie, and Walt Disnery’s Sorcerer’s Apprentice. Because we lack the experience and logical thought to handle the vast unknown, our Maiden can get us into trouble with archetypal powers we don’t understand and can’t control. Our transformation into the Mother phase begins when our mistakes force us to distinguish between objective facts and subjective symbols in the inner and outer worlds. Our Crone Wisewoman integrates logos with mythos to see the big picture, understands how the parts connect, and creates personal psychological and spiritual meaning.
The Beloved is the magnetic principle in relationships. Our Maiden Beloved is like Aphrodite: an innocent, unconscious seductress driven to attract sexual, emotional, and spiritual fulfillment by attracting and pleasing others. Our Mother phase begins when we suffer the conflict between wanting to please our lovers and wanting to discard them when they no longer please us. Our Crone Beloved is like a hospitable, emotionally authentic hostess who lives in beauty, inspires others, and gives what we could only hint at in our youthful phase: full sensory and emotional intimacy with fully respected and loved otherness.
Whereas shadow masculinity destroys otherness, shadow femininity is self-destructive. A compulsive Queen can burn us out if we give too much of ourselves. Our Mother can sabotage our relationships by being too receptive or smothering. An obsessive Wisewoman can cause us to be depressed and overwhelmed by the unconscious. And if our egos obsess over the outer appearance of beauty, our Beloved can compel us to sacrifice the true beauty of our souls. But as we accept our feminine sides and partner them with our masculine sides, their union can give birth to a Spirit Warrior of perfected selfhood and completed relationships.
What does your attitude toward the feminine archetypes say about your ego’s maturity and your acceptance of the feminine side of your psyche? How are your relationships and service to our species evolving in ways that benefit all?
I wish you all a happy and love-filled Thanksgiving Holiday. I am so very thankful for you, my internet community. You have enriched my life immeasurably.
The Wilbur Award is given by the Religion Communicators Council for excellence in communicating religious faith and values in the public arena and for encouraging understanding among faith groups on a national level.