Matrignosis: A Blog About Inner Wisdom

Think Pyschologically; Live Spiritually

The Mediatrix Archetype in Dreams May 21, 2019

My last two posts here and here, were in response to questions from students at Justina Lasley’s and Tzivia Gover’s Institute for Dream Studies. This post is the answer to their final question: “How do I identify the Mediatrix archetype in my dreams?”

In Aeschylus’s tragic play Agamemnon, Cassandra is a prophetess who foretells the fall of Troy and the death of Agamemnon, but no one believes her. Agamemnon goes to war with Troy anyway, and when it falls, Cassandra is raped, then given to Agamemnon. On their way back to Greece, she and Agamemnon are murdered. Cassandra’s seemingly supernatural ability to see into the future, as well as her suffering for it, is one theme associated with the Mediatrix archetype.

In the ancient myth of Inanna, Goddess of Heaven and Earth, Inanna descends into the Great Below to visit her sister, Queen of the Underworld. There she is stripped of all her belongings and hung on a meathook for three days until she is rescued by tiny emissaries of her priestess. When she returns home she rules as a benevolent and wise goddess.This myth depicts another Mediatrix theme: the wisdom gained from the suffering that comes with going deep to connect with the darkest mysteries of oneself and life.

Persephone’s rape and kidnapping by Hades, followed by Demeter’s search for her with the aid of a torch provided by the goddess Hecate, contains the above themes and suggests a third: the guidance and protection provided by the Mediatrix. In this story the Mediatrix is represented by Persephone, who goes to the underworld unwillingly, Demeter, who consciously explores that realm in her search for her beloved daughter, and Hecate—the goddess of crossroads, entrance-ways, light, and the hidden arts of magic, witchcraft, ghosts, and sorcery.

In The Odyssey, Athena, goddess of war and wisdom, disguises herself as the old man Mentor. Mentor is Odysseus’s wise friend and guide, and in his absence, the teacher of his son, Telemachus. The word ‘mentor’ means wise counselor, teacher, sponsor, or supporter. These, too, are qualities of the Mediatrix archetype.

 

The Birth of New Spiritual Life

The Catholic Church uses the titles of Co-Redemptrix, Mediatrix of all Graces, and Advocate for Mary. For them, Mediatrix means that all the graces from the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit flow to us through Mary. In other words, the Mediatrix is also your spiritual guide.

Mediatrix represents an impelling force, a way of thinking guided by an ethic of care and compassion, that feels empathy for otherness and wants to understand and learn from it. Her goal is to share knowledge and create harmony between opposites within and without. She is both a physical and mental bridge that connects you with yourself, others, nature, and Spirit. Qualities associated with her include a humbling history of suffering, openness, receptivity, empathy, harmony, mindfulness, relationship, connection, understanding, special knowledge, gnosis, and compassion.

The Mediatrix’s knowing is not the ego’s accumulated accepted knowledge. Her mental specialty is subjective knowledge, like being aware and mindful of your honest feelings, bodily sensations, and intuitions. Noticing subtle messages coming to you from people and places and situations in the world around you. Feeling changes in your mood when you meet someone new, or touch an object, or visit a new place. Her influence can be as mind-blowing as a supernatural visitation or vision, or as gently affirming as experiencing the miracle and mystery of life as you gaze at the ocean.

It is your Mediatrix who wants to understand and learn from your dreams, and when the time is right, she will show up to provide guidance. But it can be very subtle, so you will have to be on the watch for her.

For example, you might see her influence in any of the above-mentioned archetypal themes in a dream or waking life. Or she might be a dream companion who quietly stays in the background to support and reassure you in a harrowing adventure. She could be a suffering orphan who’s been abandoned by her parents and begs for your attention. Or a dog you follow on a forest path.

She could be a barely noticeable passenger in the back seat of your wildly careening car. An indigenous grandmother wrapped in shawls who gives you three mysterious gifts. A whispered message from an unseen source. A priestess who leads you through an initiation, a wise woman who writes instructions in a book, an unknown woman who swims beside you toward your home base on the far side of the sea.

When you sense her presence in a dream, pay attention to how she makes you feel. What does she remind you of? When do you have these thoughts and feelings in waking life? What does she seem to be trying to do or say? Watch for her in the inspirations and intuitions that arrive in that liminal space just before your ego fully awakes in the morning. Make note of them and apply them to your waking life.

In time you will learn to trust her knowing, which is really your soul’s natural knowing as opposed to your ego’s culturally influenced knowledge. Following it will lead you to unimagined treasures.

Image credits:  Wise Woman, artist unknown, Google free images.

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.

 

Identifying and Working with Archetypes in Your Dreams May 7, 2019

This wonderful book was written by Justina Lasley, founder of the Institute for Dream Studies.

In my last post I answered questions from students at Justina Lasley’s and Tzivia Gover’s Institute for Dream Studies about what brought me to dreamwork and how it has influenced my life. Their remaining questions were about identifying and working with archetypes in dreams.

Archetypes are universal, unconscious psychic forms, or images. Contents of the collective unconscious of humanity, they are the psychological equivalent of our physical instincts. Although we are not normally consciously aware of our instincts or their archetypal images, they nevertheless predispose us to perceive our experiences and behave in certain predictable ways.

We cannot directly know the archetypes, but we can learn about them from their symbolic manifestations in myths, fairy tales, dreams, and imagination. Examples of the primordial images which populate the treasure trove of our dreams include animals, objects, people, themes, and motifs. With our preference for the conscious ego’s rational processes above all our other functions, western culture tends to devalue the psyche’s natural, intuitive, imaginative processes. This split between the rational mind and nature created the seriously dysfunctional attitudes and practices which have brought us to the brink of destruction.

When you can see and acknowledge the very real power of archetypes in your dreams and waking life, you will understand yourself with all your bright and shadow qualities better. The more self-aware and self-accepting you become, the more compassion you will feel for yourself and others. Over time your dysfunctional ways will abate and  you will discover and live the meaning and purpose of your life. As you grow in consciousness, others will be affected. The ripple effect will take over and you will become part of the solution.

This is precisely what the students at the Institute for Dream Studies hope to do with their lives. They were particularly interested in the four basic feminine and masculine archetypes I’ve written about in my new book, The Soul’s Twins: Mother, Father, Queen, Warrior, Mediatrix, Sage, Beloved, and Lover. Here is their first question:

Q: Does it take a while for one to determine their dominant archetype(s)?

Yes. During my first two or three years of dreamwork I focused almost entirely on understanding the meaning of the symbols and images in my dreams. I examined them from three perspectives:  my personal associations for the symbols, my culture’s associations for them, and the archetypal associations for them in myths from every culture. I also looked for manifestations of their negative sides in the hope of recognizing and befriending my Shadow. I knew from my Jungian studies that it was my major barrier to deeper self-knowledge.

In those early years I was mostly doing intellectual head work and paid little attention to my emotional responses to the images, themes, or overall feeling of my dreams. I knew very little about the archetypes and wasn’t terribly interested in them. And it rarely occurred to me to look for any connection between my inner/dream life and my attitudes and behavior in waking life. Mostly I was just compiling fascinating data.

My tenth birthday was one of the last times I saw my father. His death some months later was the impetus for my Orphan’s awakening.

This was fun and very useful, but I craved more. I began to notice uncomfortable recurring archetypal themes. I wondered what they had to do with the way I acted and felt. I saw how I covered up my inner realities with outer attitudes and behaviors that weren’t true to what I knew myself to be and feel inside. I wanted to know who I was beneath my persona, why I was the way I was. I wondered what the underlying complexes and archetypal patterns were that seemed to trigger strong emotions. When I noticed that many of my attitudes and behaviors centered around stereotypes about masculinity and femininity, I began to study and write about that. I was following my intuitions and instincts, and was rewarded when a hidden new world of archetypes opened up for me.

My first strong connection was with my Warrior. He was very good at defending and protecting me, but soon I saw that he was often overly quick to do so. So I began to look for what he was defending. I found her in my dream emotions and occasional glimpses of sad, vulnerable, self-pitying Orphan girls who I eventually identified as different versions of my immature Mediatrix. She was suffering from feelings of abandonment she didn’t understand and just wanted her Mother. In waking life my personal  mother had been too busy trying to be a surrogate Father/provider to give me the comforting nurturance I needed. I realized my Warrior had made it his job to defend this rejected child I didn’t want to admit to, so I focused on developing the nurturing Mother in myself so that together, she and my conscious ego could love this childish part of me. That meant I had to give my Warrior another job. Now his goal-oriented determination and persistence help my Sage with my writing. Over time other archetypes have revealed themselves, each with their own issues, strengths and weaknesses.

Only recently has my Queen stood out as my powerful personal authority who’s been with me all along without my knowledge. With help from my Warrior and Sage, she has given me the confidence to make my own way through life on my own terms. Last to awaken have been my Beloved and Lover. This development has brought more forgiveness, compassion, and satisfaction to my life than ever before. It’s been thrilling to watch them blossom.

Next time I’ll answer the last question, which is about my dominant archetype, the Mediatrix. Until then, sweet dreams, my friends. And happy Mother’s Day to all who have birthed and protected new life in themselves.

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.

 

 

 

An Interview with the Center for Jungian Studies of South Florida February 5, 2019

The following is the transcript of an interview I had yesterday with Teresa Oster, MS, MSW. She’s a board member of The Center for Jungian Studies of South Florida where I’ll be doing a presentation on February 23. This is their link:  www.jungfl.org.  I’d love to see you there!

Q. Healing the Sacred Divide: Making Peace with Ourselves, Each Other and the World, which took you 18 years to write, is compelling reading, weaving the insights of many — spiritual masters, Jungian analysts, psychologists, and others — with your own. As a warm-up question, might you describe your personal library? How many books? How are they organized? What is on your reading table or night table now?

A. Oh, my. In our home we have a designated library/music/reading room with two walls of shelves containing about 1,650 books. At the moment there are another 200 plus on or near my desk for quick access. Most of the other rooms have a shelf or two of books as well. Those in the library are clustered together in genres:  classics, children’s literature, art, fiction, poetry, dreamwork, philosophy, archetypal symbolism, religion/spirituality, mythology, psychology, and women’s issues. Those nearest my writing desk belong to the last five genres.

The books on my night table at the moment are: The Hidden Spirituality of Men, by Matthew Fox; The Physics of Angels, Matthew Fox and Rupert Sheldrake; Man and Time: Papers from the Eranos Yearbooks, Volume 3, edited by Joseph Campbell;The Wisdom of Sundays, Oprah Winfrey; Philosophy: An Illustrated History of Thought, by Tom Jackson;  and Hilma af Klint: Paintings for the Future, by Tracey Bashkoff of the Guggenheim Museum. A friend loaned the last one to me last night. It’s filled with extraordinary archetypal images.

Q. Would it be accurate to call Healing the Sacred Divide a spiritual autobiography and workbook as well as a discourse on the trials and treasures in healing our divided selves, our divided relationships, our divided world? 

A. Yes. That’s a perfect summation. I find it almost impossible to separate my thinking and learning from my personal life and my passion for sharing what I’m learning with other psychological and spiritual seekers. I want to become my fullest Self and I love mentoring others who are on the same path.

Q. The late Jungian Analyst Robert Johnson wrote the forward to your previous book, Dream Theatres of the Soul. He appears to be a touchstone for your work. Would you comment on him, and his passing, and his favored concept of the mandorla, which you emphasize in Healing the Sacred Divide?

A. Robert A. Johnson was my earliest Jungian mentor. I met him at a Journey Into Wholeness conference in the early 1990’s and immediately knew him to be a soul brother. From him I learned that myths and dreams are valuable stories that show me the archetypal forces in my unconscious. I also learned that my psychological and spiritual growth is dependent on my ability to reconcile the conflicts in myself and my relationships. This is symbolized by a mandorla — the third, almond-shaped space made by two overlapping circles. It represents the holy space of dialogue and understanding where we connect with the Self and resolve conflicts in creative new ways. I’m sad that he’s no longer with us, but his soul left a powerful imprint on mine that will always be with me.

Q.You begin the book with a nightmare you had when you were ten, of the Lone Ranger, who you so admired but who shot you in the dream. The Lone Ranger has ‘shadowed’ you for all these years. Could you say just a bit about the importance of him in your process? I recently saw the archetypally rich film The Lone Ranger, starring Johnny Depp as Tonto. Have you seen it? If so did it resonate?  

A. My dream was as archetypally rich as the film. I did see it and I loved it. As a child, I idolized the Lone Ranger, Tonto, and Silver. I woke up from that dream screaming with outrage and weeping from a profound sense of betrayal. It has taken me years of inner work to understand why. The Lone Ranger was my version of the heroic Father archetype. Tonto was my personal image of my shamanistic Mediatrix/Sage archetype. Silver represented the power and potential of my Animus, the drive that motivates my teaching and writing. Why did the Lone Ranger shoot me at the age of ten? Because I was becoming aware of the toxic patriarchal conditioning of my childhood that said males were heroes and authority figures and females were victims and second-class citizens. The dream was a call to discover and empower the archetypal forces in myself, especially my feminine side. It took me 35 more years to find the path Jung paved for me and other seekers.

Q. You quote Krishnamurti: “The world problem is the individual problem.” Would you comment? How are we individuals responsible for the extreme conflicts in our world today?  

A.The opposite of Krishnamurti’s comment is likewise true: the individual solution is the world solution. We and our species are evolving from a state of primitive infancy toward greater consciousness and psycho-spiritual maturity. As you do your inner work and grow in self-awareness, you automatically motivate everyone you touch to seek healthier resolutions to their problems and find meaning for their own lives. For the first time in human history, the internet has the potential to swing the tide of collective consciousness away from conflict and hatred toward understanding and love. I truly believe that if we join the drops of our individual awareness to the gathering collective wave, we can save our species and our planet from destruction.

Q. Another author you cite is Jungian Analyst Janet O’ Dallett, author of The Not-Yet Transformed God. She spoke to our group many years ago, but I still remember what she told us before the lecture. She said she lived on the Olympic Peninsula near Seattle and there were two houses on her property.  She lived in one and her husband lived in the other. What do you think she was trying to say about the individual in relationship?  

A. I love that. I think she was trying to illustrate how hard it is to create a healthy, loving, lifelong, relationship with your partner without sacrificing your freedom to be true to yourself. For the last few years I’ve been taking baritone ukulele lessons and writing songs. My latest song, “Happy Place,” is my answer to your question. It’s about the mandorla that two individuals can create in a couple relationship. Here are the last lines: 

“I wish my happy place was yours. I wish that yours was mine.

But everybody’s got their own. Seems like that’s just fine.

Together we’re building a place of our own, where we both can grow.

You can do your thing and I’ll do mine….It’s the happiest place I know!”

 

Q. You cite so many influential authors in The Sacred Divide. I was disappointed not to see a bibliography. Might you want to hand one out to attendees at the upcoming event?  

A. I’ll be happy to. I’m in the midst of creating one for my new book, and I’ll bring it with me to the workshop.

Q. You called your first three books a trilogy. Now you are working on a fourth. What is the subject of the new book?

A. The Soul’s Twins transforms my work into a quaternity — a symbol of wholeness that is my answer to the Lone Ranger and the patriarchal culture he alerted me to at the age of ten. I believe it is imperative for our species to eliminate old stereotypes about Deity and gender by consciously integrating the feminine and masculine principles within and without. The Soul’s Twins was conceived in the early 90’s when I attended an intensive at the C.G. Jung Institute in Zurich where Jungian analyst Dr. Martin Odermatt introduced us to a newly emerging image for the Self. He called it the Couple, a new God-image representing the unifying force of love that can heal the world.

Over the next year I wrote a manuscript describing how the interaction between four basic feminine archetypes and their four masculine archetypal partners creates the Couple. I also created and tested a self-assessment instrument called The Partnership Profile which is included in the new book. I didn’t know how to finish it then, which is probably just as well because I’m pretty sure the world wasn’t ready to receive it. So it sat in my computer until two years ago when my Animus reared up and demanded that we revise, condense, and see it through to publication. He and I are very excited about the dramatic movements like #MeToo that are shaking up and tearing down the toxic bastions of patriarchal dominance. I’m pretty sure the time is right for it now. May it be so!

Reminder to attendees: Some journaling is part of this event. Bring notebooks and pens. Sharing is optional.

Image credits:  The rearing horse found on Google Images is attributed to rebelyell.

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.

 

The Wisewoman: Counselor at the Crossroads, Weaver at the Gate May 1, 2018

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.

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.

 

A Wrinkle in Time: A Timeless Tale March 13, 2018

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.

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.

 

Three Billboards: The Myth and the Message February 20, 2018

Three Billboards Day 04_118.dng

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.

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.

 

The Shape of Water: The Shape of Change? January 30, 2018

Filmgoers may have laughingly dismissed Godzilla, the Teenage Werewolf, and The Creature from the Black Lagoon in the 1950’s, but nobody laughs at the real-life monsters we see on television every day in the form of terrorists, genocidal dictators, and political leaders who incite divisiveness and spout nuclear threats. We get it. Dystopia is us. Our problems are caused by humanity’s psychological and spiritual ignorance, and they will not be resolved until enough individuals acquire more mature and humane ways of thinking and behaving. What used to be the role of deities and religious authorities has now become everyone’s job.

Fortunately, there are seers among us to show us the way. They are the courageous and gifted artists who create books and films depicting ordinary people who evolve into heroic individuals. The Star Wars series, Avatar, Arrival, and The Shape of Water are examples. Their mythic themes and archetypal characters limn the shape of our own souls. Everyone enjoys a good story. But do we realize these stories are about us? Do we understand their metaphors and decipher their symbols? Do we apply their lessons to our own lives?

Each of us contains a possible hero like Luke Skywalker, an indomitable Amazon heroine like Princess Leia, a Wise Man like Yoda, a menacing Warrior like Darth Vader. You may relate to Avatar’s Jake Sully, a vulnerable wounded Warrior with the potential to be healed by love, but his counterpart—the dark side’s ruthless, power-hungry Colonel Miles Quaritch—also lives in you. Regardless of your gender you can activate the healing of an Earth Mother like the Na’vi’s Mo’at, a beautiful Beloved like princess Neytiri, or a benevolent Wise Woman like Dr. Grace Augustine. Archetypes are latent patterns of energy in everyone’s soul. They teach and empower us when we listen.

Consider Arrival’s gentle Louse Banks, a linguist who’s tormented by intuitions and visions which fill her with confusion and dread. She’s the image of a person in whom the Mediatrix archetype is activated. When the U.S. Army recruits her to communicate with alien life forms hovering over the earth, she breaks the rules to gain their trust. In a blog post titled “Arrival:  How the Feminine Saves the World,” depth psychology expert Carol S. Pearson notes this “reveals how traditional elements of the Lover archetype are morphing to meet new challenges.” The world leaders see the aliens as dangerous threats and are preparing to make war on them. But because Louise is motivated by love, not fear, she sees them as wondrous life forms to communicate with and befriend. This prompts us to ask ourselves:  Do I respect people and species different from me? Do I listen to the subtle messages of my body? Do I befriend my thoughts and emotions or try to ignore them?

In The Shape of Water, an even more vulnerable heroine saves the life of an amphibious monster. The year is 1962. Elisa is a mute, mousy janitor on the night shift of a top-secret government research lab desperate to get one-up on the Russians. One night a promising “asset” arrives in a portable tank in the form of a scaly green creature-from-the-Black-Lagoon lookalike from a Brazilian rainforest where he was worshiped as a god. Deeply drawn to this equally voiceless and powerless creature, Elisa initiates a fairy-tale romance with him by playing Benny Goodman on her portable record player, placing hard-boiled eggs on the lip of the tank in which he’s confined, and teaching him sign language when he emerges from the water to eat them.

As it turns out, the real monster in this story is Richard Strickland, a sadistic, square-jawed military officer who tortures the green man, sexually harasses Elisa, and makes racist comments to Zelda, her co-worker. Overhearing the scientists’ plans to kill and dissect her beloved in the name of science, a frantic and determined Elisa enlists the help of Zelda and her gay neighbor, Giles, to rescue him. The remainder of the film builds the tension amid a dreamy, watery green ambiance before reconciling it in a surprise ending that leaves us wondering: What just happened? Is he what he seems? Do I have it in me to do what she did? Does love really have a god-like power? How strong is my Lover archetype? Do I truly know how to love?

The characters in these films play out their roles against a backdrop of mythic themes:

  • the destructiveness of our shadow Warriors

  • the crises and suffering necessary for the making of a hero/ine

  • the need to respect, communicate with, and accept help from other people and species

  • love’s victory over ignorance and hatred

But here’s a not-so subtle difference. It used to be that only men got to be heroes, but we’re seeing more heroines now. Although the first Star Wars film to appear centers primarily on Luke Skywalker, it is his heroic sister, Princess Leia, who turns him into a hero. The same is true of Avatar’s Jake Sully whose heroism is inspired by the equally heroic Princess Neytiri.

The most recent of these—Arrival, The Shape of Water, and The Last Jedi—convey a theme new to our time which resonates with many souls today: the feminine as savior. Louise, Elisa, and Rey are not fantasy superheroines like Wonder Woman and Aquagirl. And they’re not sidekicks who help the main character accomplish his goals. They are ordinary women who initiate change and accomplish it with the respect and cooperation of healthy, caring men. Louise’s heroism is aided by Ian, a scientist. Giles helps Elisa save the green man. And in the newest Star Wars episode, Rey becomes the last Jedi with the help of Luke Skywalker. The main protagonists are females.

This shift in the spirit of our times is reflected in recent statistics. The Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film reports that of the top 100 films in 2014, only 12% featured female protagonists. But then something happened. In 2015 the figure was 22% and in 2016 it jumped to 29%.

Although the data are not in for 2017, we appear to be seeing the beginning of a trend. Water, like earth, has always been considered a feminine element, and in dreams, water and earth symbolize the unconscious self. Societies have unconscious selves too. Like the ocean, our collective unconscious contains monsters, but it also holds overlooked hidden treasures. Is the feminine as savior of the world the shape of change? Are you and I the shape of change?

Note:  For more posts like this, please check out the blog of noted author Carol S. Pearson, where this post first appeared.

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.

 

 
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