Matrignosis: A Blog About Inner Wisdom

Think Pyschologically; Live Spiritually

The Couple: A New God-Image January 17, 2017

gerard_francoispascalsimon-cupid_psyche_endIt is my belief that the problem of opposites…should be made the basis for a critical psychology. A critique of this sort would be of the utmost value not only in the narrower field of psychology, but also in the wider field of the cultural sciences in general. ~Carl Jung, CW 8, par. 260.

In my last post, “What is Enlightenment” I introduced the Couple archetype. One reader responded with some thoughtful observations about same-sex couples, and I look forward to exploring this rich topic in future posts. But first, I’d like to lay the psychological and spiritual foundation for the Couple archetype. The following material comes from my manuscript, The Soul’s Twins.

According to Dr. Lawrence Odermatt of the Jung Institute in Zurich, the Couple holds profound spiritual meaning for many people in today’s world. Dr. Odermatt’s research has convinced him that the Couple is, in fact, emerging from the collective unconscious as a symbol of the Self. By this he means that people today expect things from the couple relationship that were formerly expected from their God-images, or ideas about The All, and from the religions created around these images.

Dr. Odermatt cites the following as some examples of the spiritual expectations people have about relationships today. People expect the couple relationship to provide a space or place of relaxation and regeneration from the stress of work and economic pressures. This is exactly what people in the past expected from places of worship, sacred rituals, and sacred festivals and days like Beltane, Christmas and the Sabbath.

People want their couple relationship to bring emotional security and satisfaction. This has not always been true. In the past, when marriages only took place between men and women and were primarily for social and political power and financial security, people rarely hoped to be emotionally fulfilled by their marriage partners;  they did, however, expect it from their spiritual lives and practices.

People today also want their couple relationships to be containers for their spiritual and intellectual development, for their deepest yearnings and newest insights. They want the couple relationship to nurture their creativity and unique potential, to provide meaning for their lives. These functions too, have traditionally been associated with religion.

Finally, and to me, this is the most telling and pertinent expectation of all, Dr. Odermatt says that today people want partners who will confirm and accept them as unique individuals while at the same time providing them with an opportunity to merge with another so as to experience oneness, togetherness, wholeness. In other words, today the couple relationship is becoming a symbol for the creative union between humanity’s two basic drives, the two halves of the Self:

1. The drive for self-preservation is our compulsion to express our individuality. The need to find, develop and manifest our unique skills and passions in meaningful work has traditionally only been associated with and assigned to males and denied to females. In some parts of the world it still is. Nonetheless, it is inherent in all of us, regardless of gender.

2. The drive for species-preservation is our compulsion to experience oneness with another in caring, intimate relationships which nurture our creativity and bless our community with new life, whether physical, cultural, psychological, spiritual or all four. This drive has traditionally been associated with and assigned to females, and some families and cultures still discourage its expression in males in any outlet other than sexuality.

 

Humanity is evolving and here, in our time, our collective God-image is undergoing a dramatic transformation. We are imagining God as something far more balanced and complex than a superior masculine spiritual authority who is fascinated by the feminine other—whether the world of physical matter (L.mater or mother), the Mother Church, or women—while remaining separate and aloof from her. In a development prefigured two millennia ago in the beautiful myth of Psyche and Eros, we are imagining God as an inner reality: our potential for a sacred intimate union, a loving partnership between our masculine and feminine sides. This new God-image honors the masculine and feminine principles equally and in all of us as a spiritual reality. In other words, each of us is in and of God.

This way of imagining God has already had thrilling, far-reaching effects. In the social and political arena it has allowed us to consider granting people ultimate authority over what they do with their own bodies and offering full and equal opportunities to everyone regardless of race, religion, gender, nationality, or sexual preferences. Such a God-image also gives contemporary religious institutions far more freedom than their predecessors had to encourage individuality and celebrate mutually meaningful relationships free from fear-based prohibitions and prejudices. And it gives religious groups permission to offer instruction on world religions, mythology, psychology, dreams, meditation techniques, and the newest scientific advances in medicine and physics because of a growing awareness that this knowledge liberates people from debilitating fears and helps them live more purposeful, meaningful lives.

The internal union between our masculine and feminine sides was anticipated by the practice of alchemy in the Middle Ages and the great wisdom traditions throughout the world before that. It was brought to our attention by Carl Jung, who likewise used the over-arching metaphors of masculine and feminine to represent every pair of opposites. Conducting our own magnum opus of uniting our inner opposites into our conscious awareness is our hope for wholeness, individuation and enlightenment.

The coniunctio in alchemy is a union of the masculine and feminine, of the spiritual and material principles, from which a perfect body arises, the glorified body after the Last Judgment, the resurrection body. This means an eternal body, or the subtle body, which is designated in alchemy as the philosopher’s stone, the lapis aethereus or invisibilis. ~Carl Jung, ETH Lectures, Pages 158-167.

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons.  Psyche and Amor, also known as Psyche Receiving Cupid’s First Kiss (1798), by François Gérard: a symbolic butterfly hovers over Psyche in a moment of innocence poised before sexual awakening. 

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.

 

Mandorla Consciousness: Part I June 21, 2016

Pieter_Bruegel_the_Elder_-_The_Tower_of_Babel_(Vienna)_-_Google_Art_Project_-_editedWhen the human animal developed an ego our species began a long, slow separation from Nature. What was once a guilt-free ride in the unconscious maternal matrix where instinct ruled, unchallenged, became an arduous trek through the tangled jungles of guilt, self-torment, and self-doubt. For the first time we reflected on the consequences of acting on our obsessive urges. We discovered the value of planning ahead and self-restraint. And we bowed in respect to the rare members of our tribes who demonstrated the benefits of living with these new skills.

Something miraculous was happening to us. No longer were we merely crude vessels whose only aims were procreation and survival. We were evolving into consciousness.

This is the metaphorical meaning of the Old Testament story of the tower of Babel (Genesis 11: 1-9).

At that time all mankind spoke a single language. As the population grew and spread eastward, a plain was discovered in the land of Babylon, and was soon thickly populated. The people who lived there began to talk about building a great city,with a temple-tower reaching to the skies—a proud, eternal monument to themselves. ‘This will weld us together,’ they said…But when God came down to see the city and the tower mankind was making, he said, ‘Look! If they are able to accomplish all this when they have just begun to exploit their linguistic and political unity, just think of what they will do later! Nothing will be unattainable for them! Come, let us go down and give them different languages so that they won’t understand each other’s words!’ (The Living Bible Paraphrased. Carmel, New York: Guideposts Associates, Inc. 1971, p. 8)

In this story people are hoping to re-create the golden paradise of unity in which they luxuriated before they became self-aware. But the jealous Old Testament God has a very different perspective. He sees their wish as prideful and self-centered just as he sees Eve’s desire to know the difference between good and evil as selfish and disobedient. So he punishes them by separating them from all that feels familiar and safe and cursing them with the confusion and mistrust that naturally arise between different cultures.

But who is the “us” God refers to when he says, “…let us go down and give them different languages so that they won’t understand each other’s words”?

An even more problematic question is,“Why would God want to confuse humanity?” Could this really be the intent of an authentically benevolent deity or has another, unconscious force been shaping our ideas and stories about God?

Let’s begin with my first question. In Biblical, Apocryphal and Gnostic traditions, Sophia symbolized God’s Wisdom. In Judaism the Shechinah was God’s female persona.

Feminine wisdom was the partner of the God of logos from the beginning, but we saw less of her as the ego grew stronger in its grand march through the ages. The reason for this lies in the natural development of our psyches. If consciousness was evolution’s gift to us, dualism was its curse. Recognizing our choices gave rise to conscience and moral responsibility, and we became conflict-ridden crucibles of transformation. What had once been a unified, albeit unconscious psyche, was changing into a house divided against itself. And as we changed, our God-images changed.

This was the situation at the stage of the ego’s growth represented by the story of the Tower of Babel. We’d long been banished from Eden’s paradise of childhood innocence and had grown into conflicted teenagers. One part of us yearned to return to the comforts of unconsciousness, the other wanted to push on to express our individuality. To the young ego, both choices were profoundly attractive, and both were intolerable.

Was it a jealous God who wanted to confuse and separate humanity? Or was this God-image the creation of a confused adolescent ego? In fact, dualistic thinking was separating us from our original sense of unity and part of us wanted to preserve it by “erecting a monument” to it. But to the other part, returning to the unconscious state it associated with the maternal matrix felt like death!

So the fearful, ambitious part of our ego took the lead and aligned itself primarily with “masculine” values like toughness, goal-oriented striving, separating, clear thinking, and individuating, and projected these values onto a masculine Sky God of logos. Correspondingly it disowned “feminine” values like softness, relatedness, nurturance, tender feeling, pleasurable sensation, an understanding heart, and a restful diffuse awareness in which one is vitally present and connected to the whole. And to escape its guilt about abandoning Great Mother, it assumed “God made me do it!”

Next time, Mandorla Consciousness, Part II.

Note:  This post and the next one were originally published by the Center for Action and Contemplation under the title, The Mandorla Consciousness. Radical Grace, Summer 2012, vol. 25, no 3, p. 18.

Image Credits:  Google Images, Tower of Babel, Pieter Bruegel the Elder

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.

 

For the Crones May 3, 2016

The powers most capable of halting the escalation of hatred and chaos in our world today are not physical or political.  They are psychological and spiritual. They are activated in individuals whose minds are committed to seeking justice for all, whose hearts are filled with caring and compassion, and whose behavior is directed toward connecting and healing.

When everything we say and do originates from that core of love, it spreads through Indra’s diamond net and quickens the sacred spark that lives in every soul. Each of us can make this contribution to healing the separations within and between the peoples of the world.

Throughout history mothers and grandmothers have dedicated most of their energy, and often their lives, to nurturing and preserving life. Of course, many fathers and grandfathers have done the same. But women’s contributions have been educationally, financially, politically and spiritually restricted, vastly underrated, and largely taken for granted except for occasional lip service.

It doesn’t have to be this way. In a world splitting apart to birth a more evolved consciousness, the most important work we can do is to consciously respect and courageously share the blessings we’ve received from the other side of the Divide.  To that end, and because Mother’s Day is celebrated this month, I offer these questions for reflection:

  • How have my female ancestors enriched and improved my life?

  • Am I as nurturing toward others as the benevolent women in my life were and are to me?

  • How can I use my unique skills in original and authentic ways that will justify their belief in me and benefit all beings?

One of my responses to these questions is this song to the elder women who’ve made a difference in my life.  I dedicate it to crones everywhere.

 

THE YOUNG WOMEN AND MEN ADDRESS THE CRONES

To the Queens:

Sovereign and brave, you stand

firm against those who would abuse power

and labor tirelessly to bring justice to the voiceless

and downtrodden.  You protect all that is vulnerable

and foster culture and creativity. You nourish seeds

of hope and new life in our hearts. Help me

lead with caring and integrity.

To the Mothers:

Wild and free-spirited, you have raced the wind like Horse.

Like Lioness you have fearlessly forged new trails to feed your children.

Like Bear you bear your solitude by boldly entering the dark winter wilderness,

yet you always return to the world in Spring with love honed fierce by sacrifice and birthing.

Great Mother of all that exists, teach us to love our bodies and trust the cycles of our lives.

To the Wisewomen:

Understanding, intuitive and trusting, you have aided birth and befriended death.

You have borne and survived intolerable suffering on paths of deep descending;

yet, aware, authentic, and free, here you are! Still dancing among the living.

You release your attachments to desire as you weave strands of meaning.

Show me how to joyfully participate in the sorrows of the world.

To the Beloveds:

Attractive and magnetic, you receive your lovers passionately

and share the truths of your souls with honesty and intimacy.

Your acceptance and encouragement inspire heroic striving.

Your beauty and endless generosity inspire artful living.

Bless me with gracious hospitality to otherness.

To all the Crones:

You are the Wisdom Women.

We are watching you.

Please help!

Image Credits:  Google Images.

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

 

Following Our Symbols: Healing Our Souls March 15, 2016

My photo of a black bear raiding a bird feeder in Highlands, NC.

A black bear raiding a bird feeder in Highlands, NC.

There is a thinking in primordial images, in symbols which are older than the historical man…[that] still makes up the groundwork of the human psyche. It is only possible to live the fullest life when we are in harmony with these symbols; wisdom is a return to them.”~C.G. Jung

Last weekend, Elaine Mansfield and I presented a Friday night lecture and Saturday workshop to the C.G. Jung Society of Sarasota about the lessons to be learned from loss and grief.  A major theme was how our culture’s one-sided emphasis on the brain’s left-hemisphere logos thinking has severely crippled the fullest development of our souls. Like Carl Jung, we believe that ignorance of right-hemisphere mythos, a way of thinking which employs imagination and symbol, undermines our hope of finding healing and meaning in our suffering.

Through sharing, writing, examples, and interactive experiences, we demonstrated how to use mythos to find meaning in the symbols from our dreams and myths. Dreams are personal myths. They come to bring healing and wholeness. Cultural myths do the same thing. If we know their language, both can guide us on our soul’s journey through and after life. As Jung noted, using this language to develop a harmonious relationship with our symbols is the first step toward wisdom.

“First we must learn to think mythologically. Powerful things happen when we touch the thinking which myths, fairy tales, and our own dreams bring to us.” ~Robert Johnson

I began studying mythos in my late forties. Every night I recorded my dreams. When I had time for reflection I consulted good symbol books for possible meanings. Occasionally I used active imagination with compelling symbols. Among these were bears. Today Bear is one of my most valued healers and guides.

Bears, in their simple willingness to shake off their unconscious sleeps, abandon the dark caves of their births and hibernations, and make their solitary ways into the forest, are associated with endings and new beginnings. They demonstrate that transitions from known to unknown are not to be feared as obstacles or punishments, but embraced as thresholds to enriched living. This lesson from my dream bears brings me peace and trust during times of change.

During hibernation bears fall into a sleep so deep that they appear to be dead; yet, wonder of wonders, they emerge from their caves in spring as if they have been resurrected, often with a new cub or two. In terms of our soul’s journey, this pertains to experiences of transformation and rebirth  that awaken us to new insights about the unconscious world beneath our ordinary awareness.

A golden bear in my collection of bear symbols.

A golden bear in my collection of bear symbols.

It was only natural that Bear would become a cherished symbol when I was compelled by unconscious forces to embark on a painful spiritual quest. Although initially devastating, my encounter with the Self within eventually brought far greater rewards than the familiar comforts I left behind. Like Bear, I too am now at home in the unknown where I love to roam the wilderness and fish for nourishment in dark, deep waters.

Many Native Americans associate bears with spiritual introspection. So do I. Bear emerged during a phase of massive psycho-spiritual house-cleaning and remodeling. I was attending weekly classes on Jungian psychology, studying books, recording my dreams, and writing down meaningful insights in my first book about psycho-spiritual development. For reasons I did not fully understand, a golden bear became a prominent symbol in that book. Just as Bear spends long periods of time in inward-focused hibernation each year, so was I thoroughly immersed in my inner world.

Some years ago a new theme, return to nature,  began to demand my attention. It manifested in ways unusual for me then: a decreased motivation to write, restlessness, attraction to the outdoors, and an alien itch for more physical activity. I recognized another threshold, another opportunity to follow Bear.

As large animals that are so human-like at the same time they are so strangely other, bears generate an awareness of, and reverence for, the instinctual life of the body and soul. In a culture such as ours, based as it is on a centuries-old tradition of valuing mind over matter and repressing the instincts, Bear reminds us that we ourselves are animals, and that, in the soul-stirring words of Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Mary Oliver,

“You do not have to be good. You do not have to walk on your knees for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting. You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.”

Fred and me before a circus-themed costume party.

A scary bear and an affectionate bear tamer before a circus-themed costume party.

Once the golden bear called me out of unconsciousness and into awareness of the sacred place within. Now it calls me out of myself. You’ve hibernated long enough, my bears say. Come out here and find us! It’s time to explore your senses and immerse yourself in your body and nature, the final sacred place for pilgrims such as you.

What symbols have appeared in your dreams?  How have they brought healing meaning to your life’s journey?

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.

 

Learning From Our Lady of the Beasts March 8, 2016

“The Earth Mother is…the eternally fruitful source of everything…. Each separate being is a manifestation of her; all things share in her life through an eternal cycle of birth and rebirth….Her animals….embody the deity herself, defining her personality and exemplifying her power.”  Buffie Johnson, Our Lady of the Beasts, Inner Traditions

The successful wielding of power to enhance our soul’s development is a primary concern of the feminine archetypes. For them, power is not about controlling otherness, but about loving and learning from otherness so that our souls are empowered to become what they were created to be. If this is to happen, our energies need to be redirected away from pursuits aimed at acquiring external, historical power toward those that bring internal, natural power. By natural power I mean the soul’s power to act from its rich, authentic core, unencumbered by the chains of fear, ignorance, and conformity. One way of loosening these chains is to learn from Earth Mother’s manifestations in nature.

The farther removed we are from nature, the less apt we are to hear Sophia’s voice or learn from her natural guidance. One night after an eventful weekend at our mountain home I recorded five valuable insights I had acquired, all of them necessary to my empowerment, and none of which I would have learned had I stayed indoors. Through my adult interactions with nature I am rediscovering something I knew as a child but never had the words for: staying close to nature brings me closer to my truest self.

A major step in my own return to nature began when, in my fifties, I fulfilled a childhood dream of buying my own horse to train: a two-and-a-half-year old gray thoroughbred I called Honey’s Shadow Dancer — gray to symbolize the union of the opposites of black and white for which I strive, Honey for his sweetness, Shadow to signify my desire to be always mindful of my own shadow, and Dancer to honor the ever-changing dance of life. For me, the physical care I lavished on him and our efforts to understand and trust one another were spiritual practices that were every bit as meaningful as my earlier, more cerebral ones.

Native teachers and healers Jamie Sams and David Carson tell us that for many native peoples Horse represents both physical and unearthly power, and that the impact of Horse’s domestication was akin to the discovery of fire. “Before Horse, humans were earthbound, heavy-laden, and slow creatures indeed. Once humans climbed on Horse’s back, they were as free and fleet as the wind. Through their special relationship with Horse, humans altered their self-concept beyond measure. Horse was the first animal medicine of civilization.”

The term animal medicine refers to life lessons learned from animals whose characteristics and habits demonstrate how to walk on our physical Earth Mother in harmony with the universe. Like Buffie Johnson, I think of the aspect of Earth Mother that conveys lessons through wild creatures and beloved animal companions as Our Lady of the Beasts.

What animal teachers has Our Lady of the Beasts sent to you?

Image Credit:  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.

 

Animal Medicine: Seeing Hidden Emotions March 1, 2016

As one of the best teachers I’ve ever had, my horse Shadow ranks right up there with Jung and my dreams. Horses, like dreams, are Nature: they do not lie. People can cover their true feelings with masks, but horses do not know how to make masks. As animals of prey that have survived by being intensely alert and wary, they are easily unsettled by subtle signs of incongruence in people’s behavior. The tiniest gesture—a tentativeness in our stride, a sideways glance, a sudden intake of breath—can trigger prehistoric horsey images of predatory wolves clad in sheep’s clothing and cause them to spook.

One of the most amazing…and frustrating…things about horses is that they naturally mirror our emotions. If we are afraid, they will be afraid. If, beneath a calm exterior, we are irritable or angry, intense, anxious, sad or excitable, they will behave in accordance with the deeper reality. Shadow was especially good at this. And since I’ve always been especially good at ignoring my uncomfortable feelings, together we were a Jungian analyst’s dream and a horse trainer’s nightmare!

The first time Shadow and I took a dressage test, I was vaguely aware of feeling a tad nervous; but because I didn’t like the way that felt, I ignored it. Thirty minutes before my test was to take place, Liz, my trainer, told me to exercise him in the round pen.  This is a technique where you stand in the center of the pen and ask the horse to walk, trot, and canter around you in wide circles. This warms him up, reminds him of cues, bonds him with his trainer, consumes excess energy, and gives the trainer an opportunity to monitor his mood and correct inappropriate behavior.

I’d done this many times in the smaller pen at the stable where he lived, but he was a very young, high-strung thoroughbred and I still wasn’t very confident about his trustworthiness or my ability to handle him.  Moreover, I’d never ridden him in a horse show before. An added stressor was that we were both in a strange new setting and I was very aware that people were watching us out of curiosity.  In short, I was still a rank amateur in horse training, and here I was on stage.  I had every right to feel anxious, but I simply refused to admit it.

When Shadow started moving along the fence he couldn’t have looked more anxious; his movements were tentative and irregular and his eyes darted wildly from side to side as he looked over the fence to scan the horizon for danger. When I asked him to canter he raced around in the thick sand so quickly and recklessly that I was afraid he would fall and hurt himself.

My sweet Shadow. He's no longer with us now. He died of colic just before his 8th birthday.

My sweet Shadow died of colic ten years ago, just before his 8th birthday.

Worried, I yelled “Whoa” louder and louder, but this only got him more stirred up. I tried rushing to the side of the pen with outstretched arms to stop him, but that only made him turn around and gallop away in the opposite direction. Then suddenly the veil dropped from my eyes and I saw the full extent of my anxiety in his behavior.  Praying this would work, I stopped dead still in the center of the ring, closed my eyes, and began to breathe as slowly and deeply from my belly as I could.

As I calmed myself, his response was immediate and dramatic. Within two turns around the ring his wild pace slowed to a canter. Two more and he was trotting. A minute later he walked calmly toward me, stopped behind me, and touched his nose to my left shoulder. Whereas before my behavior had convinced him there was something to worry about, now he was equally convinced everything was fine.

This lesson affected me profoundly. Fifteen minutes with Shadow in that pen brought home something I had not mastered after years of meditation: recognizing my negative emotional states and rendering them harmless by returning to my quiet center. This skill is crucial to conflict resolution in everyday relationships, yet how many of us have acquired it? Can you imagine how different the world would be if everyone involved in international relations had a Shadow to show them their shadow?

What lessons has Our Lady of the Beasts taught you through your animal friends?

Image Credit: Top: Google Images. Bottom:  My photograph.

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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