Matrignosis: A Blog About Inner Wisdom

Think Pyschologically; Live Spiritually

The True Meaning of Christmas Stories December 10, 2019

“Stories … protect us from chaos, and maybe that’s what we, unblinkered at the end of the 20th century, find ourselves craving. Implicit in the extraordinary revival of storytelling is the possibility that we need stories — that they are a fundamental unit of knowledge, the foundation of memory, essential to the way we make sense of our lives: the beginning, middle and end of our personal and collective trajectories. It is possible that narrative is as important to writing as the human body is to representational painting. We have returned to narrative — in many fields of knowledge — because it is impossible to live without them.” ~Bill Buford, nonfiction writer and former fiction editor at The New Yorker

Here in the northern hemisphere of the Americas, ’tis the season for watching televised reruns of our favorite Christmas movies. Why do we love them so much? What is it that brings us back, again and again, to re-experience stories we’ve heard so many times? Perhaps we can get a clue from recaps of a few that stand out for me.

“There’s always room for a story that can transport people to another place.” ~J.K. Rowling, novelist, screenwriter and film producer

A Christmas Story: Ralphie, a precocious, imaginative nine-year-old, wants a BB gun for Christmas but is discouraged by his mother, his teacher, and a department store Santa Claus who all fear “you’ll shoot your eye out!” After a series of episodes that depict the yearnings, humor, pathos, and disillusionment of an ordinary child growing up in a mid-century American family, Ralphie’s usually distracted and frustrated, but fundamentally loving father surprises him on Christmas morning with a BB gun. Ralphie does almost shoot his eye out, but it’s still his favorite Christmas ever!

White Christmas: Two soldier/singers enlist a sister act to assist them in helping their aging and discouraged superior officer from their military years save his failing country inn in rural Vermont by producing a Christmas musical extravaganza. Their efforts result in a spectacular show, and just as it ends, snow begins to fall. This will insure a white Christmas and a lucrative ski season for the inn.

It’s a Wonderful Life:  George Bailey’s missed opportunities and financial problems have brought him to such despair that shortly before Christmas he contemplates ending his life by jumping off a bridge. As he prepares himself, his guardian angel dives in the water and George ends up saving him. After the angel takes George through an alternative reality where he sees what his town would have looked like if it hadn’t been for all his good deeds, George returns to his present reality which he now sees through the eyes of love, joy, and gratitude for the miracle of his wonderful life.

Elf: Orphaned as an infant, Buddy grows up at the North Pole with Santa and the elves believing he’s an elf, albeit a large, awkward, and very strange one. Painfully disillusioned when he learns he’s not, he takes off for the big city and discovers his birth father, a cynical and driven workaholic who rejects him. But Buddy’s innocent, helpful nature wins the love of the woman of his dreams and transforms his father into a caring husband and father who has learned from Buddy to appreciate the important things in life.

“The human species thinks in metaphors and learns through stories.” Mary Catherine Bateson, writer and cultural anthropologist

What do we learn through stories? We learn about who we are, what our souls look like and yearn for, the things that are more important to us than money or material possessions, more valuable than gold. We learn that we are lucky to be alive and loved. We learn that we want to stay present to precious moments of wonder and joy and be grateful for them.

Hope, yearning, suffering, kindness, humor, community, transformation, and love. These are archetypal themes about universal experiences and emotions. We’ve all been nine years old, hoping for that very special present. We’ve all suffered disillusionment, disappointment, regret, and despair over mistakes made and dreams unfulfilled. We’ve all been the recipients of acts of kindness and been changed by them. We’ve all experienced moments of joy, gratitude, and love for the blessings of a life we want to last forever.

And in the end, that’s what all our stories — not just Christmas stories, but also hero journey stories, myths, fairy tales, and autobiographical stories — come down to:  our basic human need for a miraculous transformational experience of being known and loved that will fulfill our soul’s yearning, bring hope, and end our suffering. Whatever our religion, the wish to improve and be conscious and mindful of the miracle of our life is the true meaning of the stories that last. Among those, the ones that remind us of this wish are the most beloved.

What are your favorite Christmas movies? What do you love most about them?

Stories are the way to capture the hopes, dreams, and visions of a culture. They are true as much as data are true. The truth of the powerful and irresistible story illustrates in a way data can’t begin to capture. It’s the stories that make you understand.” — Carl Sessions Stepp, professor, Philip Merrill College of Journalism

“We tell ourselves stories in order to live.” ~Joan Didion, writer and journalist

“God made man because He loves stories.” — Elie Wiesel, author and Nobel Peace Prize winner

Image credits:  Google images, unknown sources.

 

A Thanksgiving Blessing November 26, 2019

I began writing Matrignosis in March of 2010. This post, A Thanksgiving Blessing, was published on November 23 of that year. It was a time of renewed hope and joy at the wondrous blessing of having five grandchildren. They’re nine years older now, and I’m so thankful to be able to tell you that they’re all well and thriving. My beloved granddog Bear, is gone, but memories of him still warm my heart. We have a new granddog now, and Izzy holds a special place of her own in our hearts. 

Here’s the original post, slightly revised, from November 23 of 2010.

Years ago when The Bridge to Wholeness: A Feminine Alternative to the Hero Myth was first published, I presented several workshops about the differences between the life cycles of men and women. Using the model of the ancient descent myths which preceded hero myths and often featured women whose journeys followed a pattern of sacrifice, suffering, death, and rebirth — for example, the Sumerian myth of Inanna, Queen of Heaven and Earth — I encouraged participants to reflect on how they had experienced these stages in their own lives.

My purpose was threefold. First, I wanted them to understand the differences between how their feminine and masculine sides experience life, and to know that both are valid and worthy of our attention. Second, I wanted to guide them in an experience of inner work that would expand their self-knowledge. Third, I wanted them to appreciate the repetitive nature of life’s processes so that they might acquire trust that each ending, even the death of the body, is also a threshold to a hopeful new beginning.

One memory from those workshops stands out from the others. Having experienced a lengthy and painful death-like period in the middle of my life, I was speaking about the hope and gratitude that had followed it when a psychiatrist asked me a question. “I have a client who is a deeply depressed and bitter quadriplegic,” she told us. “He can’t do anything for himself. He will spend the rest of his life this way. He is not religious. What hope can I give him about rebirth? What should he be grateful for?”

The room was silent. My first thoughts were, Who am I to be talking about rebirth when I’ve never had a death experience remotely like the one this man is suffering at this very moment? What kind of hope does he have? I had an answer, but in that moment I couldn’t think how to express it in a way that wouldn’t sound flippant. I felt very humbled and remember sharing that emotion, but have no recollection of what else I said. I’ve carried that question with me ever since and would like to answer it to the best of my ability now, just in case that doctor or patient, or someone like them, might someday find my thoughts helpful.

If you are reading this post on the day of its publication two days before Thanksgiving, I am on a plane headed for Viet Nam, Laos, and Cambodia, sites of some of the most horrendous killing fields on the planet. There, vast numbers of human beings suffered and died in ways I cannot imagine or bear to think about. What was left for them to be grateful for in their last moments?

Life. They had Sophia’s sacred spark of Life. Until their last breaths they had traces of sensory awareness, memories, thoughts, feelings. Perhaps they saw the sunlight sparkle on a blade of grass, felt a cool breeze, remembered the taste of chocolate ice cream or the feel of a mother’s tender touch, experienced a rush of love for their lovers, children, or grandchildren.

You and I have Life. We have the capacity to be conscious of it and present to it in this moment. We can choose to let go of the past, stop worrying about the future, and attend to what is. Here. Now. Life within us, life around us. What could be more worthy of thanks?

No matter where you are or what you are suffering, you can be present to the miracle of being alive in this precious moment, this perfect Now. May your awareness bring you hope and gratitude this Thanksgiving Day and in the days to come.

 

Hera Possession November 19, 2019

This post from September 27, 2011 is one of my top five most-read since I started this blog.  It’s time I posted it again, this time with three new paragraphs at the end!  Enjoy.

When we were in our thirties my husband and I were invited to a party at the home of a couple we’d recently met.  Halfway through the evening I was sitting on the stairs when a man I didn’t know sat beside me. As we made small talk I began to realize he was flirting with me. I’m not great at flirting so I was a bit uncomfortable, but he wasn’t saying anything the least bit offensive or inappropriate so I remained open and friendly.

After a time three women walked to the foot of the stairs, sat in a semicircle on the floor, and stared coldly and silently up at me. The hostility emanating from them was visible. I tried to include them in the conversation, but they simply sat and glared. I felt awful. I realized they must be friends of this man’s wife — perhaps one of them was his wife — who were banding together to intimidate this new female whom they saw as a threat. I had done nothing provocative, yet these women were obviously furious at me for attracting his attention.

This seemed so strange. They were not mad at the man, even though their behavior suggested he might have had an unsavory track record.  They were mad at me, a woman they didn’t even know. It didn’t seem to occur to them that they had probably been in similar situations.  They seemed to feel no kinship with me whatsoever. Our femaleness was not a basis of understanding and compassion, but grounds for suspicion and hatred.

In Greek mythology, Hera, the long-suffering, loyal wife of the powerful, philandering Zeus, was like the women at the foot of the stairs.  When Zeus deceived and seduced the innocent maiden Callisto, Hera in her jealous rage turned Callisto into a Bear which she then plotted to have Callisto’s son kill.  Zeus got off scot-free. This sort of thing happens again and again in the Greek myths. Why? Because Zeus and Hera represent archetypal patterns.

Of the seven major Greek goddesses that represent feminine archetypes, Hera is the one I’ve always liked least. Her fidelity and commitment to her husband were admirable, but she was so darned jealous and spiteful and their relationship was so filled with hostility and tension that they had no real intimacy. Moreover, her single-minded devotion to her role of wife and her power struggle with her more dominant partner in that one-sided relationship blinded her to the innocence of any woman who might unwittingly capture his notice.

“Hera possession” is a shadow of the Queen archetype. Our healthy Queen represents our potential to be sovereign over our own lives, understanding and caring partners, and cultural leaders who nurture healthy growth in others. But as long as our ego’s fragility and outward focus compel us to conform to society’s level of awareness, we will, like Hera, sacrifice everything — including opportunities for growth, relationships with friends and loved ones, and the most precious truths of our souls — to remain in the dark womb of inertia and unknowing where we can maintain our illusion of safety and status.  Like Hera, we may not be very happy there, but we will defend our position to our last breath.

And who will pay for our fearful need to conform?  Everyone. Women being jealous of other women, women not liking other women, women not wanting to mentor or learn from other women — this kind of divisiveness among women is not good for anyone, anywhere. Women will never fully break through the patriarchal glass ceiling that tries to prevent us from attaining fair and equal treatment unless we do two things.

First, we need to question and change negative gender-related attitudes by working on ourselves. I can think of at least seven goals we should work toward. If you can think of more to add to this list, let me know:

  • be more mindful of subtle forms of discrimination against you because of your gender

  • be more mindful of your attitudes and treatment of men which might unconsciously trigger your negative attitudes and behavior toward other women

  • train yourself to treat everyone with respect and fairness regardless of gender (or age, skin color, or anything else)

  • acknowledge your inherent worth and the inherent worth of all human beings

  • learn to love yourself and treat yourself with kindness, regardless of how others treat you

  • assume your rightful responsibilities at work, home, and in society; fulfill them to the best of your abilities

  • ask for the same respect and just treatment you give to others from anyone who denies it to you, regardless of their gender

Second, align yourself with wise and caring like-minded sisters and brothers who want to help. Work with them to achieve the egalitarian treatment everyone deserves. It’s bad enough when others try to diminish us. Let’s not do it to ourselves or each other.

Image credit:  Google free images, artist unknown

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

 

Excavating A Wounded Child with a Mother Complex November 4, 2019

Here’s another oldie, but goodie, from a few years back. Enjoy.

child-walking-on-beachMy parents have rented a vacation cabin on Lake Michigan. I’m playing by the shore and realize it’s getting dark. I look around. I’m alone. I begin walking along the water’s edge toward a distant pinpoint of light. Could that be my mother looking for me? How could she lose me? Will she find me? Will anyone find me? Will I have to live with a stranger?  Will they feed me? Could something bad happen to me? After what feels like an eternity, Daddy and Jimmy come up behind me. Daddy explains. He and Mama left the beach separately, each believing I was with the other one. I’m safe, but I want Mama! Why didn’t she come for me? Doesn’t she know how afraid I’ve been?  That I’d want her to look for me? 

This is my earliest memory, described in more depth in my book, The Bridge to Wholeness. I was three. Something new was set into motion that evening. I had become conscious of my separate existence in a very big, dark, and scary world. In their book, Into the Heart of the Feminine, Jungian analysts Massimilla and Bud Harris write:

“…early infancy is the time when the world of the family begins imprinting itself on our tiny psyches, and this is a critical time in our emotional development.  We know by now that much of a baby’s view of the world is filtered through the mother’s body and the emotional attitudes her body reflects. Of course this means that the child of a mother who is overly anxious or is resentful of the birth will feel out of adjustment psychologically, and such feelings will be the beginning of a negative mother complex.  When we grow up this way, our personality will be founded on a deep sense of anxiety, scarcity, and a mistrust of the world.  In contrast, if our mother is sufficiently gentle, loving, and emotionally secure, she will help us develop a basic sense of trust in life and in our place in the world.”

This memory resurfaced after last week’s post in which I described an example of how my mother complex influenced a relationship. Since practically everyone has mother issues of some sort—whether positive or negative, recognized or not—it seems appropriate to share more of what I’ve learned.

Every child experiences anxiety when it becomes aware of its individuality and vulnerability, and mothers vary in their ability to assuage this, our earliest wound. Good mothers are naturally gentle, patient, good-natured, affectionate, reassuring and loving. They make their children feel confident, safe and secure. Mothering can be more difficult for well-meaning women with mother complexes, jobs, other external stressors, or undeveloped “maternal instincts.”  Nonetheless, a well-intentioned woman with a powerful desire to provide loving care and ongoing reassurance can be good enough at meeting her child’s basic physical and psychological needs.

Unfortunately, many mothers are too wounded, stressed, narcissistic or oblivious to give their children enough basic nurturance.  Some are angry, jealous or resentful. Some are unstable, mentally ill or abusive. Some are not there.

My mother was more than good enough. Although anxious and emotionally fragile, she was kind, gentle and loving. I admired her, loved her, and felt loved in return. She tried hard to provide me with a safe and comfortable life, and I did feel safe until she and Daddy divorced and then he died. But when she was pregnant with me and throughout my childhood, Daddy was rarely home because he was having an affair. The strain of this plus her full-time job left her with little energy for me, physical or emotional.

I wasn’t neglected. Mama boarded women students from the nearby university in exchange for minimal rent and baby-sitting. But she was rarely available during my waking hours…and I missed her. As I grew older it got easier to lower my expectations and ignore my need for her. By the time Daddy died, I was proud of my independence and saw my ability to hide my hurt as a strength. But deep within, a three-year-old child still felt sad, lonely, deprived, and sorry for herself.

Me at 5, recovering from the measles.

Me at 5, recovering from the measles.

It’s taken years of digging through layers of rationalization and denial to see her. Besides feeling the aforementioned emotions, she tends to (1) project Mother onto self-confident and accomplished men and women she admires, (2) feel deeply disappointed and unforgiving when they fail to measure up to her ideals, and, most insidious of all, (3) assume she’s unworthy and unloveable.

I’m sharing the causes and effects of my mother complex to help others excavate theirs. Mine doesn’t compare to ones that were shaped by rejection or abuse, but this doesn’t mean I should deny my honest feelings. It’s too easy to fall into that insidious trap. Conventional wisdom urges us to toughen up, ignore our pain, and stay on the “sunny side of the street.” It advises against “self-absorbed navel-gazing” and “blaming your parents for your problems,” leading us to equate acceptance with blame.

This isn’t wisdom.  It’s escapist rationalization. I know the pain of assuming I don’t deserve to live my own life, that I must hide my true self. And I’ve experienced the exhilaration of escaping that dark prison. We can’t become the mature individuals we yearn to be until we make peace with the inner forces that made us who we are.

Image Source:  Google Images, Flickr.com. 

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

 

Personality Type and Personal Growth October 8, 2019

The beautiful grounds of King’s House Retreat & Renewal Center in St. Louis, MO.

If you’ve ever wanted to understand yourself better, or if you’ve ever wondered if there’s something wrong with you because you’re different from most people around you, I urge you to take the Myers-Briggs Personality Type Indicator.

Here’s what Wikipedia says about it:

“The original versions of the MBTI were constructed by two Americans, Katharine Cook Briggs and her daughter Isabel Briggs MyersThe MBTI is based on the conceptual theory proposed by Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung, who had speculated that people experience the world using four principal psychological functions – sensation, intuition, feeling, and thinking – and that one of these four functions is dominant for a person most of the time. The four categories are Introversion/Extraversion, Sensing/Intuition, Thinking/Feeling, Judging/Perception. Each person is said to have one preferred quality from each category, producing 16 unique types. The Center for Applications of Psychological Type states that the MBTI is scientifically supported, but most of the research on it is done through its own journal, the Journal of Psychological Type, raising questions of bias.

The MBTI was constructed for normal populations and emphasizes the value of naturally occurring differences. ‘The underlying assumption of the MBTI is that we all have specific preferences in the way we construe our experiences, and these preferences underlie our interests, needs, values, and motivation.’

Though the MBTI resembles some psychological theories, it is often classified as pseudoscience.

The scientific validity of this introspective self-report is certainly worthy of study, but I don’t see any lack of it as a valid reason to write it off. There are some things science can’t measure. Like the practical usefulness of prayer, meditation, music, writing, or art to the individuals who practice them. Or which partner in a relationship loves the other more. Or which internal realities — subtle attitudes, needs, preferences, emotions — are helpful and which are harmful to healthy growth.

Every psyche has the same psychological potential, but each of us is a unique being with different traits, personalities, and experiences. How can a scientific test measure the value of one psyche over another? The things I know the most about are based on my personal experience. I can tell you with absolute certainty that the MBTI has had a profoundly positive impact on my life.

The first time I took it I was a thirty-something wife and mother who had gone back to school for my doctorate in the hope of finding….what? I didn’t know. Something to fill the ever-present longing that prevented me from enjoying my life.

I didn’t know why I was so restless and unhappy sometimes. I thought being a producer of children’s programming at a local television station would be a dream job. But when I was honest with myself, I knew there was nothing I really liked about it except creating the show and writing the original scripts for the children I hired. What was that about? I had no idea. I had spent years expecting my religion to satisfy my longing, but that was not enough either. In my worst moments I believed I was so deeply flawed that I would never be satisfied with my life.

So when professor Gordon Lawrence had our class take the MBTI before reading his book, People Types and Tiger Stripes: A Practical Guide to Learning Styles, I had no idea my life was about to be changed forever. I learned that my behavior followed certain patterns that Carl Jung called “psychological types.”  I learned that I could not totally change my basic type but I could develop and gain maturity within it. I learned that every type has its strengths and weaknesses, and that while my culture seemed to prefer a particular few types, none were inherently better or worse than any of the others.

This Station of the Cross at King’s House Retreat & Renewal Center in St. Louis was a helpful reminder to release my fears of unworthiness and replace them with love.

Knowing my type and feeling its rightness lifted a lifelong burden off me that I hadn’t known I was carrying. My husband’s type is common and highly favored in our culture. He’s comfortable in social settings. People understand and accept him wherever he goes. I had seen him as the standard and judged myself as severely lacking. My type is the rarest. I’m basically an outsider who dwells in the fringes and is rarely understood.

But I had a type. And it was okay!  I’d been floating aimlessly in a raft atop a sea of confusion for most of my life and finally, miraculously, I’d found a solid foundation I could stand on and trust.

The midlife discovery of my fundamental okay-ness changed me, my marriage, my self-concept. My perfectionism, my false expectations for myself, my fear I would never be good enough or contribute anything of value to society began to fall away. Gradually I grew more emboldened to trust my inner realities and take steps in directions that were true to them. Nine years later I resigned from my college teaching position because I had found my passion: writing about the inner life. Pursuing that passion ever since has made all the difference.

Last weekend I attended a Jung in the Heartland conference in St. Louis. Almost every person I talked to was an INFJ like me, an INFP, or an INTJ like my son. I was with my tribe. It was a most joyous homecoming.

 

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

 

Sex, Suffering, Shadow, and Alchemical Transformation September 24, 2019

The secret of alchemy was in fact the transcendent function, the transformation of personality through the blending and fusion of the noble with the base components, of the differentiated with the inferior functions, of the conscious with the unconscious. Carl Jung, Vol. 7 of CW, par. 360.The

A friend and I have been discussing painful, life-changing experiences and what we’ve learned from them. Why do they happen? Why do they cause us and those we love so much suffering? Is there meaning in humanity’s endless suffering? The suffering of our planet? Can anything good come from it? Here are my thoughts on one of life’s biggest questions.

Jung said we have five instincts—nurturance, activity, reflection, sex, and creativity. Normally, we’re unaware of our instinctual needs, but at a deep unconscious level, our inability to fulfill them causes great suffering. The instinct for sex is associated with humanity’s desire for love and pleasure. These days, experiencing love and pleasure seems to be our top priority. Not finding it creates enormous suffering, which may be why we are so obsessed with sex. But our failure to satisfy the other instincts can also cause us to suffer. 

strong attraction to another person might initially appear to be about sex, but the love and pleasure you desire is not always or only sexual. Other instincts are also involved. You can find deep pleasure in loving yourself, others, and life. You can’t force love, and you won’t feel the real thing if your youthful need for safety, guidance, and reassurance aren’t met. So maybe there’s something about this person that involves your instinct for nurturance. Maybe your parents couldn’t give you what you needed and this fascinating person instinctively feels like someone who can.

Or maybe your attraction comes from an unfulfilled yearning to express your creative instinct. If you repressed your artistic interests in your youth because of cultural standards and pressures, your attraction to art and artists could be rooted in an unconscious desire to actualize your own creativity. Awakening that instinct will likewise provide access to untapped reservoirs of passion and pleasure.

Regardless of why you think you’re suffering or which instincts are involved, at bottom your pain is caused by your separation from your transcendent function—your true Self. What you don’t realize is that your ego’s conscious life is only the tip of your psychological iceberg. Beneath the water’s surface, you harbor memories of past experiences, forgotten thoughts, feelings, attitudes, and emotions. Deeper than that, the collective unconscious you share with every other human being contains myriad archetypes—each with different personality traits—and at least five different instincts—each with specific needs and urges. Like the inhabitants of the ocean’s depths, your unconscious entities interact with one another, and the alchemy of their interactions transforms you.

To live oneself means: to be one’s own task. Never say that it is a pleasure to live oneself. It will be no joy but a long suffering, since you must become your own creator. Carl Jung, The Red Book, p. 249.

Facing dark inner realities is painful. From childhood you’ve unconsciously disowned traumatic experiences and memories. When they seep into your awareness, it can feel like a matter of life or death to ignore, escape, or rise above them. But anything you have repressed simmers in your unconscious where it can morph into a powerful shadow you can no longer contain. When this happens, like steam from a pressure cooker, your shadow can burst into your consciousness and instigate a personal crisis.

This is a shattering experience that can seriously mess with your life. But things will not necessarily stay this way forever. As my friend wisely wrote when we discussed these matters, “the trauma creates the roots for the drama that cannot be resolved without trauma.” Pure poetry. In fact, this scenario is typical of the Hero’s Journey.

This is not just an imagined story.  Myths are rooted in psycho-spiritual processes with transforming power. Like caterpillar whose body has to dissolve before it can morph into a beautiful new butterfly, your ego has to die to old habits and fears before your true Self can revel in the light of day.

With enough time and effort, you can acquire self-knowledge, love for yourself and others, and gratitude for the miracle of life. Even then, your suffering will not be over. Like the poor, our dragons will always be with us. But you will find comfort in the knowledge that you are taming yours and that your heroic accomplishments make a difference. In assuming the burden of your own suffering, you lighten the load carried by your loved ones, our planet, and every form of life. 

Image credits: Alchemy, from Camille Flammarion’s 1888 book L’atmosphère: météorologie populaire (“The Atmosphere: Popular Meteorology”).Google images. Butterfly, personal photo.

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

 

Caryatids and Queens September 17, 2019

Femininity is universally associated with beauty, softness, tenderness, receptivity, relationship, and caring. While some equate these qualities with weakness, Spirit Warriors know they make us stronger than we ever imagined possible. Of the many symbols suggesting this kind of strength, none speaks as strongly to me as the caryatid.

Caryatids are gigantic columns or pillars in the form of beautiful, fully draped females. A very old architectural device, they were originally used to support immense entablatures in sacred public buildings. In ancient times it was said that seven priestesses founded major oracle shrines. These priestesses had different names in various parts of the world. In the Middle East they were known as the Seven Pillars of Wisdom, hence their common usage as columns holding up temple roofs. These same pillars are referred to in Proverbs 9:1: “Wisdom [Sophia] hath builded her house, she hath hewn out her seven pillars.” On the Acropolis at Athens, caryatids are associated with the strong and independent goddess, Artemis Caryatis, from whom they get their name.

My first glimpse of caryatids at the British Museum filled me with awe and wonder. In them I saw feminine beauty, gentleness, independence, spirituality and mystery blended with majestic, connected, sense of community, and the immovable strength and indomitable will to take a stand for social responsibility. I was looking at the Queen archetype.

A defining characteristic of the caryatid’s strength is her queenly way of serving society. She is strong enough to support huge public buildings in which many activities take place every day, but never takes on more than she can handle, never gets crushed under the weight of her responsibilities.

Nor does she claim godlike perfection and omnipotence for herself: no savior complex for her! She simply receives what she is strong enough to receive; contains what she is large enough to contain; gives what is hers to give. Her strength is not based on compulsions to prove anything or pretend to be something she is not, but on a clear understanding of the nature of her gifts, dimensions of her interior space, and limits of her strength and authority.

Like caryatids, mature Queens have a strong need to nurture their communities. They are pillars of society who are always there to listen and understand; share in pain or joy; defend the innocent, weak, vulnerable and disenfranchised; and advance culture. They have a quiet, grounded strength that does not belittle, gossip, or betray confidences. They accept without rejecting differing opinions and protect without exploiting weakness. They do not relinquish softness; rather theirs is the softness of the lioness, not the lamb. Although receptive, they are never doormats. They nurture but never smother. Theirs is the warm and life-giving receptivity of the womb, not the cold hardness of the tomb.

Caryatids and Queens stand tall and firm with eyes wide open. With steadfast devotion and resolve they support institutions and endeavors which are in everyone’s best interest. We emulate their strength when we subordinate our ego’s will to the greater good and work for the betterment of all without betraying our personal standpoints.

Historically, the feminine principle in all of us–and the women onto whom patriarchy projects it–has endured thousands of years of negative stereotypes and repression. We are fortunate to live in a time when women are finally taking positions of leadership in the mainstream of society. Some of them are very angry. Can you blame them? I, for one, cannot.

Everyone, male or female, who has ever been repressed, abused, dismissed, taken for granted, or struggled to be taken seriously and heard with respect goes through a rage stage before they grow wise enough to take responsibility for their angry shadow and attain their full wisdom and power. History shows that for people of strong character and good will, given enough time and experience, their anger over the injustices they have suffered eventually dissolves and is replaced with an ethic of care, compassion, justice, and social responsibility.

This is true both of individuals and the civilizations we produce. After all, wasn’t it the rage of our forebears at the injustices they suffered in other countries that brought most of them to America? Didn’t that rage give rise to the wisdom that drove the writing of the Declaration of Independence? Didn’t it fuel the Revolutionary War and secure the ratification of the U.S. Constitution?

Underneath our wounds, deep in our unconscious selves, every one of us contains the capacity to develop the Queen’s determination and indomitable will to do the right thing: to support, protect, and nurture everyone in our society, regardless of age, gender, race, social class, or religion. May we all, female and male alike, manifest more of this wise use of feminine strength.

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

 

 
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