Note: My friends, my new book is coming along nicely. Meanwhile, I’m excited and honored to share an interview written by Audrey Schultz which appeared yesterday, June 20, on the Swenson Book Development blog. I hope you enjoy it.
If you’re someone who is curious about the human psyche, spirituality, and the connection between femininity and masculinity, chances are you’ll enjoy reading the work of Jean Benedict Raffa, whose writings and teachings focus on “psychological and spiritual matters from a perspective informed by Jungian psychology and personal experience.” She is the author of several books, including The Bridge to Wholeness, Dream Theatres of the Soul, and Healing the Sacred Divide, and recently, she has announced Schiffer Books will publish her new book titled The Soul’s Twins, which “offers a self-guided journey to wholeness and enlightenment by transcending masculine-feminine oppositions.” In light of this recent news, I had the chance to interview Jean for Swenson Book Development.
Swenson Book Development: Have you always known that you wanted to write? Was there a specific point in your life when you realized that this was what you wanted to do?
Jean Benedict Raffa: I’ve always loved to write, but it took a very long time to know what I wanted to write about. At five I made my first book by folding a few pieces of blank paper in half. Since I didn’t know how to write, I drew pictures of myself going through my day—waking up, sitting on the potty, eating breakfast. Then I got stuck. How could I draw what was really important—the thoughts and feelings in my head? It was words and understanding I wanted, not images. At ten I started my first real book, then trashed it after 30 pages. Discovering I had nothing to write about was a disappointment I carried around for many years.
My favorite assignments in school always involved writing, but it wasn’t until I spent a year writing my doctoral dissertation about the effects of television on children that the puzzle pieces began to fall together. The hundreds of late-night hours spent alone at my desk while my husband and children slept felt like minutes. With no pressure from the outer world, time, space, and even my body disappeared while I explored an inner realm of my own making. There I experienced the joy of creating, organizing, and arranging my ideas into words that had real value to others. This was what I was born for. But it was still only half the puzzle. It took a lengthy spiritual crisis during ten more years of struggling with unfulfilling work to know what I was born to write about.
SBD: You’ve stated on your website, “My work focuses on spiritual and psychological growth, the empowerment of women, generating reverence for the feminine principle and creating partnership between masculinity and femininity.” When people read your books, what is the impression that you hope readers are left with?
JBR: I hope readers go away from my books thinking, “This is important. It’s about me, the way I’m living my life, and the big questions I struggle with—not just meaningless, distracting surface stuff I’ll forget tomorrow. It touches my yearning and brings me hope. I want more of this.”
SBD: What inspires you to keep writing your books?
JBR: The ancient Greeks had a word, daimon, for the natural spirit — a genius replete with knowledge which is not quite human and not quite divine—in every individual. Your daimon is a very powerful force —a personal guardian who protects, guides, and inspires you as you travel through life. It starts out like a tiny seed buried in your unconscious and grows in response to your attention and unique experiences. It feels like a deep hunger to discover and manifest your natural gifts for the benefit of the world. Everyone has this yearning, but few heed it—partly because they don’t attend to it, and partly because they fear acting on it will result in banishment from their tribe.
I felt my daimon at the age of five, but it took over 40 years to blossom. And it’s still growing. I write because I have to write. I no longer have a choice. My daimon drives me to obey it, and I’ll always be grateful that I had the sense to listen and follow its guidance.
SBD: Do you view writing itself as a kind of spiritual practice?
JBR: Yes. Humans are evolving into greater consciousness. This is both a psychological and spiritual journey. Involving yourself in practices that lead to self-discovery develops skills that automatically connect you with your soul, your spirit, your daimon, other people, and the Self. The Self is Swiss psychiatrist Dr. Carl Jung’s name for the sacred within you. It is the core and circumference of your psyche, the archetype of wholeness, and your religious instinct. It doesn’t really matter what you call it, nor does it matter if your spiritual practice is sanctioned by outer authorities. What truly matters is that when you connect with it, it brings self-knowledge, expands your mind, opens your heart, fulfills your yearning, and infuses your life with zest, vitality, meaning, and most of all, love. The practices that have helped me connect with my Self are writing, dreamwork, study, and paying attention to synchronicities that excite my daimon.
SBD: What are you most excited for regarding your latest book, The Soul’s Twins?
JBR: It feels like the completion of my life’s work. Seen from this perspective, my first book laid a foundation, my second designed a blueprint, the third built a framework, and this one feels like the finished house—basement, attic, and everything in between. It also has the most potential to serve the largest and most diverse audience.
Psychologically speaking, everyone has a feminine and a masculine side—a full palate of potential from which to make works of art out of our lives. Recent events have raised collective awareness that too many qualities from the feminine spectrum have not received equal attention, respect, or expression because of outdated gender stereotypes. I’m excited that The Soul’s Twins has the potential to be of help in humanity’s inevitable march toward creating inner and outer partnerships that dissolve harmful stereotypes and heal our divided psyches.
SBD: Has your experience in writing The Soul’s Twins been different from your experiences with your other books, or has it been much the same?
JBR: Each book has been different. The first, largely a memoir, took over a year to write. The second only took four months. Both quickly found publishers. Then in the mid-nineties I worked on The Soul’s Twins for two years before I realized the audience for it was too small, and there was still much I needed to learn. So I set it aside and wrote several iterations of Healing the Sacred Divide over a period of 18 years until it morphed into its current form. Once it came out, my daimon had nothing to say about another book until last year when a particularly meaningful synchronicity sparked my interest in revisiting and reworking my long-dormant manuscript. This time, my timing was right on.
SBD: If you could pick just one piece of advice to give, what would it be and why?
JBR: Think psychologically; live spiritually. By this I mean take your inner world seriously. Pay attention to what’s going on in you—reflect on it, accept your wounds and shadows as natural parts of your path, and learn to love yourself. Open your mind to new ways of thinking and living. Adopt a practice that brings self-knowledge and improves your relationships. Then, moment by moment, take the next step you must take and do the thing you must do.
I’m absolutely delighted to announce that It’s official! There will be a another book! Here’s the press release that Jill Swenson, my book developer, sent to Publisher’s Marketplace where it appeared this morning:
Congratulations to Jean Benedict Raffa who has signed a contract for a new book with Schiffer Publishing. The Soul’sTwins offers a self-guided journey to wholeness and enlightenment by transcending masculine-feminine oppositions. Drawing on archetypes rooted in wisdom traditions from world religions, Raffa offers a reference guide and spiritual road map to become your whole authentic self by integrating the full potential of your soul’s twins. Heal your conflicts, create more loving relationships, and grow into psychological and spiritual maturity.
Jean Benedict Raffa is the author of The Bridge to Wholeness: A Feminine Alternative to the Hero Myth,Dream Theatres of the Soul: Empowering the Feminine through Jungian Dreamwork, andHealing the Sacred Divide: Making Peace with Ourselves, Each Other, and the World, which received the 2013 Wilbur Award from the Religion Communicators Council for excellence in communicating religious faith and values in the public arena and for encouraging understanding among faith groups on a national level.
I couldn’t be more honored that to have Schiffer as my next publisher. They are an old and highly respected independent publisher with a large list of books and a wide, diverse audience. I’m especially impressed with the high quality of their books: the beautifully reproduced images, excellent paper, and coffee-table worthy formats and designs.
This book is far from finished and we have not established a publication date yet. Once I’ve completed the writing, there will still be much to be done. I’m afraid I’ll be obsessed with it for at least a year and a half, so although I’ll be visiting my sites from time to time, you’re not likely to see much of me on social media.
Just know that I am here and happy and well, and that I’ll be checking in with you from time to time. And if you don’t hear from me for a while, don’t forget to think psychologically and live spiritually.
Long ago when Earth was young and the collective ego in its infancy, the idea of uprooting oneself from the safety of home and hearth and taking a solitary journey into unknown territory had sacred significance. Even the most powerful rulers feared the unknown so much that they would not make any important move without first consulting divine guidance. Thus it was that in ancient Greece crossroads acquired sacred meaning, and divine help from Hecate, Goddess of the crossroads, was invoked at places where three roads met. Images of Hecate Trevia, (Hecate of the Three Ways) guarded three-way crossroads for many centuries.
Barbara Walker tells us that besides presiding at crossroads, Hecate was also the guardian of gates — especially the gate of birth. Under the name of Enodia, a name shared by Hecate, Artemis, and Persephone, the underworld Goddess also ruled the gates of death and was the original holder of the key to Hades. In the 8th century BCE in Italy, Vanth was the Etruscan winged goddess of the netherworld. With snakes wrapped around her arms, she carried keys and either a torch or a scroll inscribed with her name. In the Yoruba culture of Africa, Elegba the Divine Messenger is still consulted for divination. Luisah Teish says she is “the Master of the Crossroads, the Gatekeeper who stands between the Material and the Spiritual, the Visible and the Invisible, between Existence and Oblivion.”
These are all manifestations of the Wisewoman archetype, the aspect of the sacred feminine which enables us to explore the inner depths without losing our way. Her symbols describe her attributes. Keys represent access to secret realms, full power and authority within these realms, and the condition of being initiated. Her snakes protect sacred precincts, including the underworld. A torch is a common symbol of purification and enlightenment in rites of initiation. A scroll, as the original form of the book, is a symbol of learning, enlightenment, communication, and sacred writings. One other symbol associated with the Wisewoman is the veil, which suggests hidden or esoteric knowledge.
The “counselor at the crossroads” aspect of the Wisewoman represents our instinctive recognition of opportunities for choice at critical stages of life and the knack for making appropriate decisions based on love and the true processes of our souls. As “weaver at the gate” she represents our ability to stand between pairs of opposites, heeding the truths of both and holding the tension of indecision while weaving the separate and apparently incompatible threads of warp and woof into new patterns until they merge into an original, unified piece.
Some gates offer opportunities for choice — as when we learn we have a fatal illness and can choose how to treat it and how to approach our deaths — and some do not. For example, we do not get to choose when we are born or what family we are born into. But we can still reflect on the meaning of every passage, whether it is chosen or not, and we can choose how we will respond to what we cannot change. Will we accept it, choose to find meaning and guidance for our journey on Earth, take a new step in a new direction? Or will we fight it, ignore it, or blame it on someone else?
Two things protect us on the journey into the unconscious: the ability to trust our inner guidance when we reach a potentially dangerous crossroads, and the patience to wait at the gate until the healing solution comes. If we can do this, the Wisewoman, our inner priestess and healer, will direct our path to wholeness and spiritual growth. May you be fortunate enough to meet her at the crossroads and gates of your own journey.
Image Credits: Hecate, Google Images. Source Unknown.
Since the aims of the second half of life are different from those of the first, to linger too long in the youthful attitude produces a division of the will.Consciousness still presses forward in obedience, as it were, to its own inertia, but the unconscious lags behind, because the strength and inner resolve needed for further expansion have been sapped.This disunity with oneself begets discontent, and since one is not conscious of the real state of things one generally projects the reasons for it upon one’s partner.A critical atmosphere thus develops, the necessary prelude to conscious realization. ~Carl Jung, CW 17, Para 331b
The mother bear is one of the most tender, nurturing, and fiercely protective mothers in the animal world. The first and most difficult lesson she teaches her new baby when they emerge from hibernation in the spring is to stay hidden and quiet high up in a tree while she searches the forest for food. Soon the baby learns to stay in the tree until mother comes home and they are joyously reunited.
This goes on for about two years and then one day the mother bear trees her cub as usual. She goes out into the woods as usual. And she never comes back. It may seem cruel, but the good mother’s job not only is to protect but also to liberate. If she does not leave her cub when the time is right—a time roughly equivalent to adolescence in a human—and if the cub does not disobey the good mother by climbing down from the tree it will never survive to preserve the species.
We humans are like that cub. We began our lives as vulnerable, instinctive animals utterly dependent on Mother. She was the center of our universe and we had no choice but to submit to her, our caregivers, our teachers, our leaders because conformity to outer authorities kept us safe. In time we grew into adolescents with growing awareness of our egos and our agency. We believed we were thinking for ourselves and making our own choices. But most of the time we simply parroted what we’d been taught by others, claiming their preferences as our own and defending them with fervor. And when we found jobs and love partners and moved out of our parents’ homes, we thought we’d grown up.
But in the cosmic view of humanity’s history, our species is still in its adolescence. We may not be consciously tied to our mothers any more, but in the world of our psyche, our unconscious attitudes toward or against her still prevail and we have yet to take the hero’s journey to conscious individuation. How do we know we’re still in the tree? Here are 12 symptoms:
when things go wrong we proclaim our innocence while blaming our mother, father, partner, or someone else
when we resent our mother for unresolved childhood grievances which govern our thoughts and behavior toward her instead of being able to forgive and love her as she is
when we who are safe, well-fed, and comfortable resent our family for not serving our needs, our religion for not helping us change, and our government for not treating us fairly while taking no steps to rectify these situations on our own
when we despise our flawed unworthiness and beg our gods to fix us instead of facing our inner realities and doing the necessary work to understand and heal ourselves
when we’re afraid to listen to our own hearts, trust our own instincts, explore our own dreams, communicate honestly, and live our own lives in accordance to our interests, enthusiasms, and passions
when we sulk, complain, and criticize others without accepting the responsibility for and consequences of our own negative attitudes and choices
when our unconscious inner inertia prevails over our resolutions to change our toxic habits and attitudes
when we want freedom, yet stay exactly where we are because conformity and familiarity are preferable to exploring the frightening unknown
when we haven’t suffered the agony of making an original choice in the direction of our own hearts and passions
when we can’t love ourselves or forgive each other
when we resist changing our attitudes or values in directions that serve the greater good
when we ignore the fears and fantasies that trap us in our trees
We are living in the twilight of the psyche’s immaturity. Those of us in the second half of life must accept responsibility for our part in contributing to the growing darkness. No one can save us but ourselves. We must leave our trees and become good mothers to ourselves, each other and the planet. If we cannot awaken from our dreamy fantasies and childish attitudes—if we cannot develop our own authority and speak the truths of our own spirits and souls with love, if we cannot face and deal with our disappointments, discontent, and fear of death, if we cannot live our own lives with the passion and joy we were born for—we will contribute nothing to the evolving consciousness which alone can birth a hopeful new dawn.
Note: My friends, in looking through some past posts I ran across this one fromApril 27, 2012 which seems especially appropriate today. Six years ago we were talking about the War on Women. Since then, we’ve made progress, especially with the #MeToo movement, but much remains to be done. After thousands of years of conditioning by male-dominated societies, we carry the roots of misogyny in the depths of our psyches. Some people, even very well-meaning ones, still can’t see it in themselves, let alone imagine a society in which women accept their sovereignty and their voices are heard and heeded without reprisal. But once a new light has entered a soul, no force on Earth can quell the fire of evolving consciousness.
Some of my posts come from the heart, some from the head. This one comes from the gut. It’s difficult to write because I’m swamped with strong emotions I don’t quite know how to express. So I’ll simply tell you the truth. I’ve recently come across three troubling blogs. One is written by a woman who describes the sad and dangerous life she lived as a prostitute in New York City for ten years. A second expresses a woman’s disenchantment with her religion because of the oppression she’s experienced. A third is by a woman who is regularly abused by her husband and wishes she lived in America. None of these women make excuses or plead for sympathy. They simply tell the truth about their lives. And the truth is shocking, painful, and scary.
It’s shocking to know how many women suffer at the hands of men who fear and hate them. Shocking to know how often the authorities responsible for protecting women feel justified in not doing their jobs. Painful to know that so many women in today’s world are disrespected simply because they’re female. Painful to realize I’d rather turn away than face this truth. Scary because it reminds me how vulnerable I am…because I’m a female.
I started this post a few hours ago and was almost finished when I accidentally deleted it. So I had a little inner discussion that went like this: “Oh, darn! It’ll take too long to try to rewrite it. I should just start over with another topic that’s easier to write about.”
My conscience responded with, “Are you sure you didn’t unconsciously delete it accidentally on purpose so you’d have an excuse not to post it? Are you perhaps feeling a wee tad cowardly?”
Oops. We bandied this about until the doorbell rang. It was my daughter, granddaughters and granddog who’d dropped by for a brief visit. I told my daughter how I didn’t know if I wanted to re-create the post and she said, “Why don’t you just write another one about how conflicted you’re feeling? Wouldn’t that be appropriate for your blog?” Yes, indeedy it would! How’d she get so smart?
So I’ve decided to tell another truth I don’t want to think or write about. A website called Archetype in Action has been publishing posts of mine for several months in the hope of raising awareness about the unconscious forces in ourselves and society that perpetuate misogyny. Last week it published an older one about the feminine principle in men and women, only to be hacked. Someone deleted my article and replaced it with a formal-looking notice saying it was inappropriate! The site manager provided another link and the problem was solved. But the bigger problem is still there. If I keep writing my truths here will I and my blog be the next target for hackers who want to stifle my voice?
This morning’s e-mail contained the latest post from the blogger who’s experienced oppression by her religion and culture. In it she expressed her anger at the hypocrisy of a religion that makes scholarly pronouncements emphasizing women’s rights while dismissing the women who do not experience these rights. After I read it I clicked on the link to her site so I could make a comment. Guess what. The post was gone and there was a notice that said: “Not Found, Error 404. The page you are looking for no longer exists.”
Here I am, a well-intentioned, well-loved, well-treated woman in 21st century America, afraid to express my anger about injustices against women for fear of becoming a target. Is a world where women are afraid to tell the truth the kind of world in which we want our daughters and granddaughters to grow up?
Strong Women: May we know them, may we be them, may we raise them.
One final note, since this is a repost, it does not contain the many wonderful comments from strong women that arrived after the original post was published. If you’re interested, I invite you to read them here.
By the 1970’s, Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time (1962) was a staple in youth literature throughout North America. As an adult in 1977, I fell in love with it while doing research for the Children’s Literature course I taught. Considering that it was published in the pre-internet/social media era, this modern fantasy was arguably as popular with young readers in the 1970’s and 80’s as J.K. Rowlings’ Harry Potter series was with millennial youth. In 2003 Disney turned it into an award-winning made-for-television film, and now, 56 years after its inception, a new version of this classic has at last arrived on the big screen. I couldn’t wait to see it, and did last weekend.
Meg Murray (Storm Reid) is the gifted oldest daughter of two brilliant astrophysicists who are developing theories about the origins and nature of the universe. When we meet her she’s an angry middle-school misfit, tormented with self-loathing and grief over the unexplained disappearance of her beloved father (Chris Pine) four years earlier. Meg’s only joy is her little brother Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe), a precocious genius and telepath whom she deeply loves and fiercely protects from bullies.
The story takes off when Charles Wallace introduces Meg and her new friend Calvin O’Keefe (Levi Miller) to his strange new friends—Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon), Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling) and Mrs. Which (Oprah Winfrey). Like the benevolent Mother Goddesses they symbolize, these beings have come to Earth from somewhere in the cosmos to help Meg and Charles Wallace rescue their father from imprisonment by the evil shadow known as IT. Traveling across a wrinkle in time and space called a tesseract—a new theory being developed by Meg’s mother (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) but as yet unproven by her—they are transported to the dark planet Camazotz where they rescue Dr. Murray but lose Charles Wallace to the evil. The timeless message of this story is conveyed by the way Meg saves him from the gathering darkness.
Almost everybody who reads a book before seeing the movie says the book was better. Unfortunately, I think this holds true for A Wrinkle in Time. Like dreams, we always prefer our own inner images to those of others. Nonetheless, there is much to love about this film.
For example, the child actors are remarkable. Storm Reid is pitch perfect as Meg. At times, her depiction of an array of confused and conflicting feelings brought me to tears. I’ve been there. Levi Miller as Calvin is a natural at portraying a wounded boy who hides his secret sadness beneath his earnest, inherent kindness. And Deric McCabe as Charles Wallace is a constant surprise and delight. Sometimes the youngest children, like eight-year-old Brooklynn Prince of the Oscar-nominated film, The Florida Project, are uncannily confident actors because they’re still too delighted with the imaginary world of “let’s pretend” to be self-conscious about it.
Once the travelers reach Camazotz, the costumes, sets, makeup, and auditory and visual effects are gorgeous and highly imaginative, but for me, unsettling and too much. Almost annoying. I would have preferred a more subtle palette with less in-your-face, technologically contrived color and pizazz! And as much as I admire the actresses who play the triple Mrs.’s, (symbolic of Hecate, Greek mythology’s three-faced goddess guide through the underworld), they are too young and glamorous for me.
Madeleine L’Engle described Mrs. Whatsit as a frumpy, bumbling and eccentric old woman (who morphed into a young and beautiful white winged creature that was part horse and part manta ray), Mrs. Who as a plump little woman in enormous spectacles, and Mrs. Which as a coldly authoritative black-robed, beaked-nose witch with a broomstick who had difficulty materializing into human form. In the film version none of them is remotely old or witchy. Mrs. Whatsis is a gorgeous young redhead and Mrs. Who an exotic, raven-haired beauty. And the majestic Mrs. Which is a stunning Queen of the Cosmos with a glass-beaded unibrow, glittering eye shadow and lipstick, a shimmering, constantly changing wardrobe, and impossibly thick blonde-white hair….. I quite envied her hair…..
Yes, the costumes and makeup are gorgeous and highly imaginative, but for me they don’t work. It’s not that I dislike what today’s highly sophisticated technology can do—after all, it made Star Wars, Avatar, and The Shape of Water possible. But too much of it detracts from the story and makes it difficult for the viewer to suspend disbelief, an attitude essential to the full enjoyment of a fantasy like this.
Despite this, the story and characters are as moving and inspiring in this film as they were in the book. Meg’s wounded but indomitable will, Charles Wallace’s belief in his inner knowing, Calvin’s desire to help, and the determination of the three Mrs.’s to conquer evil with good are deeply familiar, soul-satisfying themes. Most satisfying of all is the way Meg saves Charles Wallace. By loving him. It’s the same timeless message about how anyone is ever really saved from the world’s darkness. Love is the one power evil doesn’t have, will never have. Knowing that love conquers all, we can endure anything. Even a highly anticipated film that doesn’t quite live up to our expectations.
Dark, quirky, clever, and controversial, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri has been nominated for seven academy awards this year. Like “The Shape of Water,” nominated for a whopping 13, its protagonist is a powerless, justice-seeking female up against an unsympathetic patriarchal system. In this case, the villain is not the U.S. military, but a small town, good-old-boy police force. Both plots are driven by the archetypal hero/ine vs. villain theme punctuated with racism, violence, and abuse of power.
Frances McDormand plays Mildred Hayes, a grieving mother whose teen-aged daughter was raped then set afire. Angry at local authorities who haven’t solved the murder, she rents three unused billboards and puts up an accusatory message to sheriff Willoughby, played by Woody Harrelson. In the face of animosity and threats from several fellow citizens, especially the racist, mama’s-boy police officer Dixon (Sam Rockwell), she persists in calling attention to her cause. As tension and emotions ramp up in a series of unexpected events, viewers discover that in this battle between good and evil, the lines aren’t as clearly drawn as we might prefer.
Original as this film is, at bottom, its theme is archetypal. Consider the ancient Greek myth about the Earth Mother goddess Demeter and her beloved young daughter, Persephone. Carol S. Pearson’s latest book, Persephone Rising, contains an insightful explanation of the same psychological forces which continue to influence us and our culture today.
In the myth, innocent Persephone gathers flowers in a field when Hades erupts through a cleft in the earth and abducts (and some say rapes) her. When Demeter realizes her beloved daughter is gone, she is overwhelmed with grief. After getting no help from the gods who, fearing retribution from Zeus, refuse to tell her what happened to her daughter, she sets aside her responsibilities for making the crops grow and searches the earth tirelessly. While Demeter grieves, all growth on earth ceases, then dies. As Dr. Pearson notes, Demeter’s recognition that her needs matter too result in the “first ever recorded sit-down strike.”
Zeus — the Father/King of the gods and prototype of patriarchy’s top dog whose power trumps everyone else’s — is not happy about this. It was he, Persephone’s father, who had given Hades permission to take her to the underworld in the first place. But if the famine kills the humans, who will build his temples? Who will worship him with gifts and offerings? So this macho, uncompromising thunder God relents and demands Persephone’s release. Demeter’s non-violent protest works.
But will Mildred’s protest work? Will it stay non-violent? Our dualistic mindsets want a hero to celebrate, a scapegoat to blame, a heretic to crucify. But these people are not polar opposites like virtuous princes and wicked witches. They are complex, multi-faceted human beings grappling with complex issues and powerful emotions that aren’t easy to reconcile.
The gods and goddesses represent amoral, instinctual forces in all of us. At bottom, this is who we are. You and I contain every emotion they feel, and we are capable of being gripped by them to commit every act they do, good and bad. The only difference between them and us is that we humans want to be virtuous so we make rules for ourselves, try to keep them, and disown our shadow sides that want to break them. But sometimes they show up anyway.
Mildred’s daughter has been taken from her and she deserves justice, but can we condone her increasingly questionable tactics? We might likewise ask, how can Demeter, supposedly an endlessly loving and forgiving Mother goddess, let humanity starve to death just to get her daughter back? Does her grief justify her means?
Seeing unsuspected sides of Sheriff Willoughby and officer Dixon is equally unsettling. Why isn’t Willoughby putting more effort into pursuing the culprit? Is he indifferent to Mildred’s suffering? Why does he let Dixon — one of those ignorant Warrior bullies we love to hate — get away with his senseless cruelty toward a man less powerful than he? Are these people redeemable?
Demeter gets her daughter back from the underworld, at least for part of every year. But though Mildred has some admirable goddess qualities, she is not a goddess, and no matter how much she acts like one her daughter will never return. Is there a human force strong enough to reconcile her fierce Demeter hunger for justice? Dixon, like Zeus and Ares, the God of War, savagely punishes people he hates. Will Mildred become like him? And if she does, will this cancel out any vestiges of human goodness left in her?
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is a dark, disturbing film, but I loved it for highlighting human complexity and prompting these and other difficult questions. It is the function of artists and art to raise a culture’s awareness. To challenge our either-or morality. To explore the gray realm between opposites in which a creative third force can emerge to reconcile our divisiveness. I love it that this film is being honored for rising to this challenge.
But I loved the dreamy, fairy-tale quality of The Shape of Water too. This leaves me with another question. Which one do I want to win the Oscar for best picture? This is a complex issue I haven’t reconciled yet.
The Wilbur Award is given by the Religion Communicators Council for excellence in communicating religious faith and values in the public arena and for encouraging understanding among faith groups on a national level.