Matrignosis: A Blog About Inner Wisdom

Think Pyschologically; Live Spiritually

Remything Our Lives With Our Own Symbols April 10, 2012

The symbols and themes of dreams, legends, fairy tales and myths address realities that the soul understands, even if the conscious mind does not. For example, the legend of King Arthur features a walled city. We might be tempted to think that Camelot’s walls are nothing more than an incidental detail. So what if Camelot was surrounded by walls?  Lots of ancient cities were fortified by walls.  But as I’ve said before: Everything has meaning. Our symbols are clues to sacred mysteries.

If we look at the walled city as an important clue, we find the underlying meaning of Arthur’s story as it applied to the souls of those who lived in the place and time when it was written.  Cirlot’s Dictionary of symbols says, “Jung sees the city as a mother symbol and as a symbol of the feminine principle in general:  that is, he interprets the City as a woman who shelters her inhabitants as if they were her children…”

In the Old Testament of the Bible, cities are often spoken of as women, and in the Middle Ages, a city was one way of representing the Virgin Mary in art and architecture.  The walls that encircled cities were seen to have magical powers to protect the citizens in the same way that a mother’s womb protects her child or the enfolding branches of a tree protect a baby bear.

The walled city is no mere incidental detail in King Arthur’s story, and it ended in the only way it could.  The destruction of Camelot’s protective walls was inevitable given that this story emerged within a culture which, after a few hundred years of Roman rule, had begun to fear and scorn the Great Mother. Here is the symbolic message of this story: Not even the wisest and most benevolent King that any story teller could ever imagine could save a civilization that was systematically demolishing its feminine spiritual roots!

The negative elements of public and private myths speak to negative realities within the collective and individual psyche. What is the antidote to these powerful poisons? In his book The Mythic Imagination, psychotherapist Stephen Larsen says that conscious mythmaking is healthy and healing because it helps our egos relate to unconscious aspects of ourselves.

I think of the Wisewoman archetype as the part of us who knows when old stories that once worked for us have gone on too long, and who sends us new symbols that can ease us through the transition of change. But all the symbols in the world cannot help us if we will not help ourselves. It is up to us to notice symbols and themes that resonate, and to reshape them into new myths that will support and sustain the necessary changes. As theologian Matthew Fox has said: “Healthy people base their lives on healing, authentic stories.  Empowerment comes through the process of telling those stories.”

We cannot live the fullest meaning of our life by basing it on someone else’s story about who we are or what we should be.  Only our experiences, only our choices, only our own imagination and symbols have transforming power for us. To that end you might ask yourself these questions:  What stories have I lived by? How have they had a negative influence on me?  How have they been positive? What new symbols and themes is the Wisewoman sending my way? What emerging strengths would I want to feature in my new myth? What images might best symbolize these strengths?

 

Invoking Mother Justice November 9, 2010

Issues of right and wrong, good and bad, are core concerns of every seeker. Our ideas about how to handle moral issues derive from the psyche’s two primary archetypes: the King and the Queen. The King’s way to keep order, protect citizens and promote the flourishing of the realm is to create hierarchical systems of laws and penalties. The buck stops with the leaders — judges, dictators, presidents, imams, rabbis, priests, generals, CEO’s and gods — at the top of these systems.

Thus far in recorded history the King’s vision has predominated. However, when we look at civilization’s overall progress — from the Code of Hammurabi, the earliest written system of laws created in Mesopotamia in 1790 BCE, to the present — we see that our ideas about justice and morality have evolved dramatically: from ancient codes that self-righteously discriminated against slaves, members of lower social classes, women, minorities, and the poor; through elite monarchies and dictatorships where the leaders have absolute rule; to democracies founded on the principles of freedom and justice for all. Without a doubt we have made progress, but the daily news reminds us how far we fall short of our goals of lawful order and moral virtue.

What is at the heart of our growth toward moral maturity? The complementary vision of our Queen. Despite ignorance and repression, her ethic of shared authority, mercy, compassion, and care has manifested in shining moments throughout history and literature. For instance, in ancient Egypt the Queen’s interpretation of morality as a matter of the heart was considered one of the unalterable laws of life. The goddess Maat tested the weight of each dead person’s heart in one bowl of a sacred balance scale against the lightness of an ostrich feather in the other. If the heart was heavier than the feather, the soul was lost. Christianity was founded on this ethic, as was the legend of King Arthur’s Camelot and Victor Hugo’s fictional masterpiece, Les Miserables.

But no religion, nation, or era has ever been free of the influence of the shadow and never will. The shadow is our unconscious psychological underbelly, and our ignorance of it continually thwarts every effort to purge ourselves of all hardness and heaviness, all uncaring and mean-spiritedness, all selfishness, immorality, prejudice, hatred, and unforgiveness. Despite every fair law and good intention, our individual and cultural shadows will continue their ruthless reigns until we each accept personal responsibility for our moral failings.

Order and virtue rest on individual transformation. Balancing the Queen’s caring, understanding and forgiving with the King’s fairness and justice is key to that transformation. Maat’s scale judges the heart, not the head. She does not evaluate our god-images, ideals, the orthodoxy of our beliefs, the number of rules we know and keep, or whether or not our punishment fits our crime. Her concern is our capacity for compassion, mercy, generosity, kindness, and forgiveness. Moreover, her decisions are not based on her authority or the authority of the wisest leaders. Her decisions are based on internal evidence, and that is something we alone can judge. In Sophia’s ethic, the buck stops with our heart.

What does this mean for you and me? It means that all our hard work and good intentions will never make a lasting difference in the world until we take the first step of healing our own hearts.  If we’re not living with love, we’re still part of the problem.

 

 
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