Matrignosis: A Blog About Inner Wisdom

Think Pyschologically; Live Spiritually

Insights from Ireland: Creating a Vessell May 10, 2013

nigredoOn Wednesday morning of the Jungian conference we shared recent dreams and Monika artfully assembled them into a group poem about what was being stirred up in our collective unconscious. Tom and Monika’s talks on alchemy and folklore had convinced me that Sunday night’s poop dream was highly relevant so I added it to the mix. But before I relate it I want to explain the basis for my associations with its symbols. What follows are summaries of concepts from the conference that relate to the symbols in my dream.

Alchemists were concerned with things spiritual rather than things temporal. They were committed to personal growth and refinement in preparation for the mystery of death and beyond. Their practices were directed toward understanding the soul’s processes on its journey through life. Carl Jung incorporated their symbolic language and images into his groundbreaking psychological theories, and Yeats used them in his poetry.

The alchemical process begins with the baser parts of humanity called the prima materia.  This is lower chakra stuff like unrefined instincts and raw, ungovernable emotions. Alchemical and dream symbols of prima materia include lead, excrement, mud, darkness, dangerous animals, carrion birds, and putrefaction. Tom quoted texts which described the proper attitude toward these: “Rejoice when your matter turns black.”  “All life proceeds out of corruption,” “Dig where you stumble! That’s where the gold is,” and “What has the highest value is what will come out of the lowest value.” The highest value—symbolized by the philosopher’s stone—is what psychologists call individuation and spirit persons call enlightenment.

The same truth is addressed in the Celtic folktales William Butler Yeats loved and collected. They say, for instance, that one must always listen to the animals and the crazy old lady in the woods.  This is an acknowledgement that animals and so-called “irrational” women represent unwanted instincts and emotions that have been marginalized in society. If we would find the gold, we need to accept these and other disowned shadow qualities for “this is where the face of the soul might appear.”

chemical-retorts-on-glass-tableIn alchemy the messy, difficult work of accepting and transforming our prima materia is symbolized by a vessel like a cauldron, crucible or urn which contains and “cooks” the dark matter. The point is to know what’s in the vessel of the psyche and to carefully tend the creative fire beneath it so the spirit can be released without the prima materia boiling over and doing damage in our outer lives. This is how we create consciousness.

Literal examples of vessels that can safely contain our inner work are Jung’s The Red Book, and Yeats’s poetry. Both men “cooked” the dark forces acting upon them by looking at them, reflecting on them, and exposing them to the fire of their creative imagination. Over time, their prima materia was distilled into symbols and themes that represented the spiritual lessons which had been entrapped in it. This was their magnum opus and their offering to the world.

We, too, can cook our shadow material in ways that bring us closer to our heart’s core. For example, in May of 1982 I experienced a depressing letdown after receiving my doctorate. Instinctively I turned to writing, an activity I have always loved, as a way to process some distressing internal conflicts. That summer I indulged in a creative orgy that produced over 40 poems. They’ll never be published, but that wasn’t the point. I was writing them for me.

One insight I’ve acquired from this conference is that I was an alchemist-in-training that summer.  With no idea of the significance of what I was doing,  I was crafting a vessel for my inner excrement. Seven years later I began refining my vessel with dream work.  Since then, few things have brought me as much meaning and fulfillment as the literal vessels that contain the spiritual lessons I’ve distilled so far: my books and this blog.

You can find my latest book, Healing the Sacred Divide, at this Amazon site and at Larson Publications, Inc.


Insights from Ireland: Following the Call to the Deep Heart’s Core May 3, 2013

View from a cave of Kesh

View from a cave of Kesh

With my 70th birthday coming up this year I’d been giving some thought to how I wanted to celebrate. Top on my list was to be with my family, but might there also be something a little unusual and special?

I was still considering possibilities this winter when I received an e-mail catalogue from the New York Center for Jungian Studies about their annual spring conferences in Ireland. Each lasts a week, takes place in a different location, and has a different theme. When I came to the third and last one, my heart quickened. “Jung, Yeats & the Creative Imagination” would take place during April 21 – 27. My birthday week.  As if this weren’t enough, one of the presenters was Jungian analyst Monika Wikman!

If you follow my blog you know I think very highly of Monika and her book, Pregnant Darkness.  And I’ve written posts about creative imagination. Moreover, although I’d never read the poetry of William Butler Yeats, several people have recommended it to me. One was the founder of Innisfree Press, the publisher  of my book, Dream Theatres of the Soul: Empowering the Feminine through Jungian Dream Work.” Innisfree’s motto was “A call to the deep heart’s core,” the last line of one of Yeats’ most beloved poems, “The Lake Isle of Innisfree.”

I felt the call. So with the full support of my husband—who, although not a lover of Jung or poetry, is a lover of travel and me—we signed up.  We have just returned and it was all I’d hoped for and much more. Since my way of processing experience is to write about it, I’d like to share a few of my thoughts in upcoming posts. I hope some will be meaningful to you.

Our group of 35 people checked into our lodge in rural County Sligo on Sunday afternoon. On Monday, the day before my birthday, we climbed up a steeeeep, hill to the Caves of Kesh. As the bird flies, it wasn’t that high or far, but as the human walks, this was no piece of birthday cake. There was no trail, so we each had to find our own way.

Survivors of the climb

Survivors of the climb

The first part of the hike featured a grove of scrubby trees, a locked gate that had to be scaled, thick black mud, and prickly undergrowth like heather and stinging nettle which we occasionally had to grab to keep from sliding and falling. Some fell anyway.  The next phase was up a deceptively innocent-looking pasture dotted with more quagmires, slippery grass, and a plethora of sheep poop, some of which ended up under our fingernails when grabbing grass was the only way to maintain balance. By the way, as you will learn in an upcoming post, poop steadily gained in importance that week until it became a defining symbol for the entire conference!

In Celtic mythology the Caves of Kesh were hiding places for two lovers pursued by an angry King/husband. But it was the climb that held significance for me. Not only have I had many dreams of ascending steep stairs only to find the way blocked at the top, but as a soon-to-be-70 elderwoman, I was on a mission to shatter stereotypes about aging and gray-haired women. Determined to prove to myself and all present that 70 is not synonymous with doddering, I kept going. As it turned out, Fred and I were two of only 14 people who enjoyed the stunning view from inside the caves. I’m proud of us!

So here are a few things I’ve been thinking about my visit to Ireland last week:

  • 70 is a number, not an excuse to forego adventure.
  • Inheriting healthy genes is not within my range of choices, but staying open, listening to myself, accepting challenges and doing my best are.
  • Most successes are the result of sheer determination and perseverance.
  • When viewed through the lens of creative imagination, everything—even the names of islands and publishing houses, climbing, caves, stinging nettle, mud and poop—has symbolic meaning for our soul’s journey.
  • No matter how difficult the climb may be, following the heart’s call is worth it.

You can find Healing the Sacred Divide at Amazon or Larson Publications, Inc.

Note:  I’ve just seen the ad that’s been placed on this post and I want you to know I have nothing to do with it and can’t figure out how to take it off. I apologize.  Please know it’s not authorized by me.


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