Matrignosis: A Blog About Inner Wisdom

Think Pyschologically; Live Spiritually

How Self-Aware Are You? Epoch II: Ego Consciousness May 24, 2016

images-2“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.

Lucas_Cranach_(I)_-_Adam_and_Eve-Paradise_-_Kunsthistorisches_Museum_-_Detail_Tree_of_KnowledgeLet 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.

images-1This 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.

mmmI’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. 

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

 

How Self-Aware Are You? Epoch I, Contd. May 17, 2016

5+too+much+of+the+animal+CW++7“Man, like the other animals, is originally simply the puppet of instinct, just as the infant is. Unless he is moved by instinct, he remains passive, even asleep. When instinct is aroused he reacts precipitately, with a characteristic all-or-none type of reaction.  He is aware, it is true, of what he does and of what happens around him. But he has no self-awareness:  psychic images flit past in his consciousness, leaving little or no trace, no residue as it were, much as a moving picture flits over the screen.  As long as the picture is being thrown upon the screen, it dominates the space;  when the light goes out the picture disappears from the screen and leaves no trace upon it.  Such is man’s consciousness before the ego develops.” ~M. Esther Harding, Psychic Energy, p. 209.

Dr. M. Esther Harding was one of Dr. Jung’s most accomplished and articulate followers.  Trained at the London School of Medicine for Women and the University of London, she worked with him in Zurich before beginning her analytical practice in 1923 New York. Her classic book, Psychic Energy:  Its Source and Its Transformation, is still an influential source for students of Jungian Psychology. Written during, and inspired by World War II, its purpose was to explore “what savage impulses, what ruthless monsters of the deep” lie beneath the cultured mask of consciousness, awaiting “a chance to seize the mastery and despoil the world!” ~Harding, p. ix.

As she explained,

“Until the first appearance of the works of Dr. C.G. Jung, the unconscious was regarded as merely the repository of forgotten or repressed experiences.  In this there could be no answer to the problem of a world in the grip of a barbaric regression. But Dr. Jung discovered and opened to all explorers another aspect of the unconscious….and found there the sources of psychological life that produce not only atavistic [ancestral] forms but also the potentialities for new development.” (p. ix,x).

During a three year period beginning in 1913, Jung experienced an intrusion of the “savage impulses” and “ruthless monsters” of the unconscious that shook him to the core and turned his world upside down.  As a practicing psychiatrist, he had a rough idea of what was happening to him, but instead of medicating himself to control his impulses and dull his pain as was the custom, he took a revolutionary approach.  He decided to allow the monsters to have their say, to heed the messages they brought him in dreams and fantasies, and to interact with them by way of active imagination.  The techniques and theories he developed, along with his transformation and healing, informed his work for the rest of his life and led to this important insight:

“Every civilized human being, whatever his conscious development, is still an archaic man at the deeper levels of his psyche.”~C.G. Jung, Modern Man in Search of a Soul, p. 128.

This archaic being dwells within each of us in the form of archetypes and animal instincts. The source of all our psychological energy, this being is not inherently evil any more than animals are.  It is simply the natural expression of our psychic energy as focused solely on ourselves during our earliest phase of consciousness. As I noted in my previous post, I call this Epoch I: Physical Consciousness.

13254589_1238648242842042_9128749749319303061_nWith family guidance and conditioning from societal institutions—education, religion, business, and government—this energy is gradually brought under a measure of control so that the child begins to create a mask, or persona, of acceptable attitudes and behaviors. If the persona remains unchallenged by inner (psychological) or outer (societal) forces, the child can, and often does, grow up to live out his or her life without evolving into more mature phases of consciousness. As Harding explained,

“A person whose consciousness has not grown beyond the state of the autos [Epoch I] can nevertheless undergo a process of development and refinement. The focus of his interest may shift from the more grossly physical to the aesthetic, and he may acquire all the subtleties of cultured appreciation; nevertheless, if his consciousness is oriented to the effects on himself only, he is still in the auto-erotic stage of development….

“Such a person will give the impression of being an egotist, but his egotism is not the result of a conscious determination to have his own way, of a will to power; rather it is due to his complete ignorance and unawareness of any aspect of the situation except such as effect him, or those with whom he is identified. Such a person does not realize that he is dominating his environment or demanding more than his share, and he would be amazed if he were to be made aware of the true nature of his attitude.” p. 208-9.

We all know people like this; we see them on the news every day. And if we magnify this situation from the individual to the collective, we see global implications in this observation from Harding:

“Up to the time of the rise of modern materialistic thought…the hypothesis that rational thinking could solve all the problems of the world was very widely accepted. But there remained the irrationality of man himself.  If only man would act rationally, perhaps wars and depressions and insanity could be avoided; but unfortunately man does not seem to be any more capable of acting sanely now than he was a thousand years ago.  We are still confronted with man’s own irrational behavior and the untamed forces within his psyche.” Harding, pp. 202-3.

Call me a dreamer, but can you imagine a future when Enhancing Self-Knowledge is a key plank in the platform of a presidential candidate?  When the Department of Defense’s main priority is to defend us against the untamed forces within the psyche? America has been at the forefront of many of the world’s great advances;  why not lead in promoting consciousness, the most valuable and life-enhancing advance of all?

Image Credits: Thanks to Lewis Lafontaine for the Jungian images.

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

 

 

How Self-Aware Are You? Epoch I: Physical Consciousness May 10, 2016

Lewis Lafontaine's photo.

“So long as the child is in that state of unconscious identity with the mother, he is still one with the animal psyche and is just as unconscious as it.

The development of consciousness inevitably leads not only to separation from the mother, but to separation from the parents and the whole family circle and thus to a relative degree of detachment from the unconscious and the world of instinct.

Yet the longing for this lost world continues and, when difficult adaptations are demanded, is forever tempting one to make evasions and retreats, to regress to the infantile…” ~Carl Jung, CW 5, Para 351

People often find Jung’s theories and writing difficult, and it’s no wonder.  He was introducing humanity to a radically different way of seeing and thinking about ourselves, and he used words and phrases in ways that only someone familiar with his work is liable to understand.

The above quote is a good example. What did Jung mean when he wrote about a child being “in that state of unconscious identity with the mother?”  What does it mean to be “one with the animal psyche?” What was he trying to say in this quote? Essentially he’s referring to a common problem that can obstruct our psychological growth.

Lioness with Cub, national Reserve, Pilaneberg, South Africa

Lioness with Cub, National Reserve, Pilaneberg, South Africa

FreudEriksonPiaget, and Kohlberg have described psychological development as a series of stages in which people exhibit typical behavior patterns and abilities.  Jung and Neumann went a step beyond in focusing on the development of consciousness itself, particularly in terms of our psychological and spiritual self-awareness.

Based on these and other developmental theories, I’ve summarized the development of consciousness in three general “epochs” of self-awareness. In this system, Epoch I is Physical Consciousness,  Epoch II is Ego Consciousness, and Epoch III is Integrated Consciousness. For most of us, the first is of relatively brief duration,  the second is quite long (the whole of life for many people), and the third sometimes does not even begin.

“In the first epoch our awareness is limited to our five senses and the forces of physical instinct:  bodily urges, unchecked emotions, and primitive images.  As infants we are like hungry wolf cubs in a vast and comforting wilderness.  We don’t question our habitat or behavior or wonder if there is any other way to be;  we simply act and react to physical stimuli without plan, reflection or guilt….Unburdened by self-consciousness and self-doubt, we are unthinkingly innocent of any wrongdoing because we have no moral code and feel no need to alter or repress anything about ourselves.”  ~J.B. RaffaHealing the Sacred Divide, pp. 20-21.

This earliest phase of life is “that state of unconscious identity with the mother,” Jung referred to:  a paradise of egoless, guiltless, free-and-easy instinctual behavior. During this magical time we are in heaven.

Disney's Peter Pan with the Lost Boys.

Disney’s Peter Pan with the Lost Boys.

“If we have a concept of time it is that we dwell in eternity.  If we have a concept of God it is this bliss of oneness that connects us to everything and makes us feel buoyantly, vitally alive. Neither good nor bad, right nor wrong, Epoch I is simply everyone’s earliest experience of being a human being.  All our future psychological and spiritual growth plays out against this primal background of immersion in a maternal ocean of innocent, unconscious, infinitely pleasurable physical life.” ~J.B. Raffa, Healing the Sacred Divide, p.22.

Is it any wonder so many of us, like Peter Pan, continue to long for this lost world and struggle to stay young for as long as we can?  In a child, this is a natural and charming way of being, and there are people who remain in this state of harmless, guileless innocence throughout their lives.  Others grow increasingly dissatisfied with themselves as adults. And some become dysfunctional. In fact, a lack of guilt or sense of responsibility,  self-centeredness, emotional immaturity, antisocial behavior, and low impulse-control are all characteristics of sociopaths.  This is why we need egos, (organs of consciousness), and why our egos need to grow in self-awareness. At this point in history, learning to critique and control our more primitive “inner child” has become crucial to our very survival.

Mary Cassat, Mother and Child

Mary Cassat, Mother and Child

Despite humanity’s evolutionary advances, negative aspects of an Epoch I mentality still pervade contemporary society. Symptoms include:

  • a  large population of unhappy adults who cannot seem to make difficult adaptations into adulthood,

  • the temptation “to make evasions and retreats, to regress to the infantile,”

  • blaming others for our unhappiness and expecting them to make us happy,

  • obsessive glorification and pursuit of youth and physical beauty,

  • addictions to substances or behaviors that provide temporary escape from our problems and responsibilities,

  • a single-minded focus on satisfying our own instinctual needs without caring about the needs of others, and

  • self-centered, irresponsible, antisocial attitudes, words and behaviors without regard for consequences.

“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

What did Jung mean by this?  I’ll address this and more as I explore the evolution of consciousness in coming posts.

Image Credits:  Thanks to Lewis Lafontaine for the Jungian quotes and deer child image, Wikipedia for the Disney image of Peter Pan, and Pinterest for the lioness and cub image.

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

 

 

Perfection, or Who’s the Purest of Them All? April 19, 2016

8365_1213225978717602_2921151023910765268_nWhen 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.

Lewis Lafontaine's photo.

Quote and Image Credits:  My thanks to Lewis Lafontaine for sharing this quote and these images on Facebook. 

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

 

Following Our Symbols: Water March 29, 2016

2400ejf_willow“From the living fountain of instinct flows everything that is creative; hence the unconscious is…the very source of the creative impulse.”~Carl. G. Jung

“Without water, there is no life;  so water is not an image or simile, but a symbol of life.” ~Tom Chetwynd, Dictionary of Symbols (p.422)

Water is not only a symbol of life. It is the very precondition of life. Without water, there can be no life. Is it any wonder that most cultures have associated water with the feminine and the dark depths of the unconscious?  After all, it has always been the female of our species who gives birth to new life.

What does water have to do with the processes of your psyche? Chetwynd explains:

“The feminine unconscious moistens the dry, hard, conscious realm of the male Ego, and brings life to it.  Vice versa, the too moist, the too emotional and unconscious, may need to be dried out in a fiery male domain (hellfire). 

It’s crucial to understand that when Chetwynd uses the terms “feminine” and “male” as adjectives, he’s using them the same way Jungians do: as metaphors for the basic energies of the psyche of every man and woman.  In Jungian terms, “masculine” and “feminine” are the primary pair of complementary opposites under which every other pair of opposites can be subsumed.

Thus, the moon is “feminine” and the sun is “masculine.”  The unconscious is “dark” and “feminine” and the conscious Ego is “light” and “masculine.” Soul is “feminine” anima; Spirit is “masculine” animus.

Jungians are not the only ones who think like this.  Throughout history we’ve always used words this way, not for the purpose of assigning different roles and characteristics to men and women, but in recognition of the fact that we all perceive life in terms of pairs of interconnected opposites.

Many languages assign feminine and masculine endings to words depending on their associations. For example, agricola, the Latin word for farmer, ends with “a,” a feminine suffix. This did not mean that only women could be farmers, but that the fertile earth and its life-sustaining vegetation was associated with femininity. Likewise, the word for wolf, lupus, ends with “us,” denoting masculinity. Obviously not all wolves are males;  however, Latin speakers associated wolves with the animal ferocity of aggressive male warriors.

You’ve probably already realized that the same way of thinking designated the Latin word for Soul as anima, and the word for Spirit, animus.

“There is an alchemical saying: Man is the heaven of woman and woman is the earth of man. The woman’s task is to bring things down to earth.” ~Marie Louise von Franz, Psychological Perspectives by E. Rossi 

imagesCAECWPK9That might have seemed appropriate to the alchemists, however, many Jungians today would not say it is a woman’s task, but the “feminine” task to bring things down to earth. Consider: What is the Latin for heavenly? Caelestibus. Masculine. And how about earth? Moon? Water? Terra, luna, aqua: feminine associations all.

Jung believed your purpose in life is to attain conscious union with the Self: your physical, earthy, sacred source, the life-sustaining fountain at your core composed of your animating (anima + mating?) anima and animus.

The Latin word for conscious union is neuter: coniunctio. And is there a Latin word for consciousness itself: “knowledge of self” or self-awareness? It appears there is. According to Lewis and Short’s Latin Dictionary, Cícero and Livy used the word conscientia to mean “self-consciousness.” Feminine.

Thinking in this symbolic way leads to a startling conclusion which logos thinking fails to grasp; which, in fact, our “male ego” seems to be fighting with all its might not to grasp lest it be forced to give up its presumption of primacy. Were it not for our feminine sides, we would have no animating, rejuvenating fountain, no Self, no ego, no psychological life. No consciousness.

We would not be sentient creatures. We would not feel, love, care, be aware of our bodies, perceive with our senses, think, imagine, will, or create. We could not surpass our ignorance, grow, change, become conscious of the miracle of life.

Every day, political leaders and common criminals alike demonstrate disrespect for the feminine elements of life by violating women and restricting their rights. Reinforcing hierarchies of male supremacy. Amassing wealth while permitting life-sustaining water and earth to be exploited and polluted. While this disrespect may serve the aims of the minimally-conscious “male ego,” it does not and cannot serve life.

 Yin and Yang

Yin and Yang: The Coniunctio

 

What symbols have the power to overcome our toxic lack of consciousness? Can you or I do anything to help?  Can our vote in the coming election promote greater respect for the feminine waters of life? For the healing of humanity and our planet?

Photo credits:  Kasko Marine Fountain.  Ackenberry Trout Farms. Moon over water: Google images.

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

 

What Wants to Be Born? March 22, 2016

Buds on our Meyer lemon tree

Buds on Our Meyer Lemon Tree

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

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

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

Blossoming Bottlebrush

Blossoming Bottlebrush

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

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

Skeletal Crepe Myrtle with Tiny New Leaves

Skeletal Crape Myrtles Sprouting Tiny New Leaves

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo Credits:   Mandala.  Google Images.

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

 

Inanna: Myth of Descent February 9, 2016

Inanna: myth of descent

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

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

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

Inanna

Jean Raffa

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

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

Myth of Inanna: 3 kinds of Descent

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

Inanna
Picture: viewsfromtheroof.com

 

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.

Inanna
Picture: huffingtsonpost

 

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

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

Inanna

 

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
Inanna Queen of Heaven
unkown artist on easy.com

 

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
Inanna courting Dumuzi
Image: Beyondpottery.blogspot.com

 

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.

Inanna
I Tjing hexagram 3: Difficulty at the Beginning

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 
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