Matrignosis: A Blog About Inner Wisdom

Think Pyschologically; Live Spiritually

Insights from Ireland: Dreamwork as a Vessel May 14, 2013

Moths_to_a_flameWe arrived at the conference on “Jung, Yeats and the Creative Imagination” on Sunday afternoon. At our first gathering that evening, Jungian analyst Monika Wikman spoke about the third world between spirit and matter to which Yeats and Jung sought connection because, in Yeats’ words, “a fire was in my head.”

The third world is the realm of creative imagination. The fire in our head is that realm. It is a natural faculty of the mind that we experience as a call to explore Mystery.  Many do not feel its warmth; others are as attracted to it as a moth to flame. Drawing too close can be risky, even dangerous. In Monika’s words, “The beings of the third world have their own life. We do not manipulate the presences; we just open up and allow the inspiration to come.” We’ve heard about the torment, addictions and self-destructive tendencies of writers and artists who’ve been burned by it; and we’ve marveled at the divine madness of saints and holy fools who see the gods and hear their voices in it.

I am one who feels the call to this fire. I didn’t ask for this. It’s simply an inner reality I cannot ignore any more than I can ignore my needs for food or love. Harnessing its life-changing impact on my unsuspecting ego has been a major challenge of my life. Luckily I stumbled on the vessels of writing and dreamwork. These keep me in a middle space that is neither too close nor too far from the fire. Either alternative would be intolerable.

I tell you this so that you might understand why I find my dreams so compelling and why I try so hard to extract meaning from them. I also tell you to introduce the strange dream I awoke from on Monday morning.

Dream #4434: “Electric Blue Possum Excrement”
Act I: Fred’s got several spring cleaning and remodeling projects going on. I’m annoyed at the mess, the workmen, and Fred for not letting me know he’d be doing this. An interior designer shows me a large square picture of a huge golden ceramic urn superimposed over a stately gray mansion. He wants to paper the dining room with this design he’s created and asks my opinion. I’m not sure I want to look at this every day. It feels strange and ungraceful for wallpaper.

Act II: There’s a shiny rectangular portion of a wall in one room that’s been used as a pin board. X has taken off most of the notes that were stuck to it and the surface is riddled with pin holes. I start filling them in with putty and smoothing it across the surface. I envision sanding it when it’s dry so it will look perfect. There’s one sheet of paper left that contains a list of some kind. I start pulling it off to get to the holes beneath. There are a few smaller pieces of paper there too. X doesn’t want me to remove the sheet of paper or see what it’s covering.

electricbluelightningvoltAct III: Another designer piles an armful of primitive-looking antique objects on the right side of a mantel. He moves them around to create a still-life arrangement. I like it. Startled by the movement, a possum hidden beneath the objects darts out, jumps onto the beautiful patterned carpet, and starts running through the rooms. He leaves a trail of excrement in thin, zig-zagged lines. I’m surprised to see that they’re electric blue. As I chase him I yell in angry frustration to anyone who can hear, “I’m not cleaning up this possum shit!” Even as I say this I wonder where I’ll find a pail, water and cleaning rags. I know cleaning it up is my job.

So there you have it. Are you suitably befuddled? So was I at first. Only gradually have I come to see the meaning it holds for me. I’ll tell you about that in upcoming posts. Until then I invite you to share any associations you might have if this were your dream.

You can find Healing the Sacred Divide at this Amazon site or 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.


Children and Meditation March 19, 2013

My Latest Writing Candle

My Latest Writing Candle

Achy and tired from a one-hour morning walk on the treadmill, I sat at my computer a while ago with a single question.  What shall I write about for tomorrow’s blog post?

Before fully awakening this morning I dozed off and on in dreams about a new post. But I can’t remember a word of it now. Plus, my mind is still absorbed in the book I was reading on Kindle (The Bet, by Vivienne Tuffnell) as I walked. What I really want to do is keep reading. But one-track-minded as my ego is, it decided to defer that particular gratification until I’ve written this, with no idea what this would be.

Years of dreamwork and meditation have taught me some valuable realities. One is that my ego’s conscious thoughts and feelings are balanced by equally valid and influential unconscious material. Another is that when I experience a writer’s block it’s because an unconscious issue “wants” to be addressed. Third, my ego can gain access to this material. I have rituals for times like this, and I trust them because they never let me down.

So I lit my ever-present candle—the current one has a nostalgic scent of cinnamon and evergreens called Joie de Noel—closed my eyes, held my hands in front of me, focused on feeling the tingling in my palms and the beating of my heart, and entered the pregnant darkness (a term for the unconscious I got from the title of Jungian analyst Monika Wikman’s book.) Within seconds I was far away.  I’ve been feeling stirrings of excitement lately about the coming of spring and our annual mid-May trek to North Carolina, and this is where I immediately went.

I saw myself sitting cross-legged in the center of the tipi we erect each spring. Our grandchildren were sitting in a line facing me. I was going to teach them how to meditate. I was wondering how to start and what to say and how they would react, imagining jokes and giggles and restless stirrings, when I realized how far my mind was from my hands. Immediately I was back at my desk feeling the tinglings. Within less than two minutes, what I wanted to write about was birthed into my awareness. Or rather, what I wanted to ask you about.

Except for the few minutes of deep-breathing combined with the simple  centering mantra I teach my dream groups and use to open my workshops, I’ve never taught anyone to meditate. I have little formal training and am largely self-taught with help from books. There are many different kinds of meditation and people respond differently to different methods. The one that works for me involves following my breath and the life in my body, noticing when my mind strays away from that focus, and then bringing myself gently back to it. With almost no effort or strain,  my ego swiftly goes to the place wanting the most attention.

So here’s my question.  Have any of you ever taught children to meditate?  If so, would you do it with children between the ages of five and eleven or is that too early? If not, should I find a fun way to teach what works for me, or have you had success with a different method? Of course, all of this is predicated on the assumption they’ll be interested in learning. But I figure it won’t hurt to give it a try.  I’d love them to have a mental practice to ease the stresses they’ll be experiencing in the coming years.

Any thoughts would be greatly appreciated.

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


The Risk-Taking Leap March 15, 2013

sacred-springThe risk-taking leap into the void is a theme common to many heroines who, through a whole lot of trouble, work, and grace participate in the creation of Eros [feeling] bridges between the old and the new, transforming the cosmology.  Legends and fairy tales weave these patterns of the maiden able to take the risk necessary to transform culture.” ~Jungian Analyst Monika Wikman

Whereas hero myths emphasize ascending to the heights as the proper guide to a successful life, heroine myths often employ the theme of descent. These symbolize two different ego orientations: toward the outer world of physical reality or toward the inner world of our soul’s reality.

Every young ego’s deepest desire is to prove itself worthy by attaining success in the outer world, and unless it is denied this path for some reason, this is the one it will inevitably choose. Most families encourage the outer way because it is the universally sanctioned model for the first half of life. Even the East with its five-thousand-year tradition of inner exploration knows that young egos need to find safety, develop their skills, and establish intimate relationships before they’re ready to wholeheartedly pursue the inward path. Since this is the standard, usually only the most sensitive and introverted of souls, or those with the deepest pain or strongest spiritual longing, risk leaping into the inner darkness.

It is the honing of the longing for the divine that reaches for the living water beneath the surface of our lives.  It teaches us how to tend the living spring, to differentiate and live in such a way that sweet healing water arises from within. And when the water becomes muddy and troubled, the water also can become clear and healing again as we take the directive of the spirit of the spring. Often in individuation, tremendous refinement of love is required over the course of our lives.” ~Monika Wikman

The inward path has a different set of rules and it takes time and experience to learn them. Because this way is far less well-understood in the West, and because it requires detaching from the spirit of the times, it inevitably entails confusion, conflict, self-doubt, pain and suffering. What will happen if we leave the safe familiar way?  Will we be punished?  Will anyone still love us? Yet, diving into the depths in search of We-Know-Not-What, is our hope of satisfying our spiritual yearnings.

Without a growing process of experience and differentiation, we risk lapsing into a dumb animalhood in which either the inner music of the soul may be so repressed that it seems nonexistent or a substitute may take its place in the form of regressive or sappy derivatives.  It requires tremendous patience, honesty, and cultivating an ear to hear the complexity of what is constellating. There is a time to leap and a time not to leap, and these are completely individual fates and responsibilities.” ~Monika Wikman

The risk-taking leap is a leap into Love. Eros. Feeling. Every religious tradition says this is the Sacred Mystery. And if we relentlessly pursue it, we can incarnate it in ourselves.  For the soul that yearns to transform culture, nothing else will do but learning to love ourselves, our work, others, the world, and otherness of every kind, including life itself.

Why is it usually a maiden who leaps into the void? Because our feminine sides live for relatedness and love. Without it we risk living without passion and meaning. No one can give us these gifts for they dwell in us. It’s that simple, really. We can nurture what awakens our passion, or we can wither. And we get to choose.

Quotes from Monika Wikman Pregnant Darkness:  Alchemy and the Rebirth of Consciousness.

You can find Jean Raffa’s Healing the Sacred Divide here or at Larson Publications, Inc. 


Creative Interactions With The Shadow January 18, 2013

creative-activityVessels we create via creativity, dream work, shamanism, and so on, are of value to us and the world soul to the degree that they give form to the religious instinct that connects us with the original spirit, the mediator of the opposites, the god of change and renewal.” Monika Wikman

I absolutely love this quote and think it’s one of the wisest things I’ve read in a long time. When our egos cooperate with our imagination to give creative shape and form to our inner contents, the latent Self (the archetype of our religious instinct or god-image) incarnates. In turn, the incarnated Self connects our egos with the sacred realm beyond the personal psyche (Jung called it the psychoid) whose energies stimulate uniting, renewing changes in us and the world.

But why, you might ask, do we need imaginative inner work to do this? Why not use logic, reason, intelligence and will power to renew ourselves and the world? The answer should be painfully obvious to anyone who has peered through the veil of cultural conditioning. For thousands of years cultures throughout the world have insisted that “we”, with our heroic egos, brilliant philosophies, and correct religions, know how to create the best of all possible worlds.

Golem, by Philippe Semeria

Golem, by Philippe Semeria

If we know how, why haven’t we succeeded? Because, my dear friends, we have individual and cultural shadows which interfere with our best intentions. These cannot be kept in check until we see them for what they are, and we can’t see them if they don’t have recognizable forms. I’m not dismissing the value of ego, reason, or willpower. I’m just saying we need to partner these left-brained strengths with our right-brained powers of mythos: imagination, creativity, emotion, symbolism, feeling, personal meaning, and myth-making. This is the soul’s language, and without positive change at the soul level, we cannot effect lasting positive change in the world.

In my last post I explained how we might discover a shadow of self-critical thinking by noticing our body language, emotions, and thoughts and then reflecting on them. Highlighting a shadow is essential, but it’s not enough. Once we know we have a shadow complex we need to work with it in imaginative ways that will make it easier to recognize in the future. Since the Self is our core and circumference, it contains unconscious shadows as well as conscious egos. Giving form to a shadow is therefore a way to incarnate another aspect of the Self. (If you don’t understand what the religious instinct has to do with dark shadows, think demons and devils.)

You can start giving form to a shadow by naming it. Dr. Jekyll called his shadow Mr. Hyde. Mary Shelley called hers Frankenstein. Organized religion calls its shadow Satan. In mythology and folk tales our shadows take such imaginative forms as dragons, ogres, witches, wicked step-mothers, wolves, vampires, monsters, golems, zombies and so on. I call my self-critical shadow Spiritual Bully. Now that s/he has a name, I can identify him more quickly in my habitual self-criticism and critical attitudes. Seeing him makes it easier to rein him in before he does any damage.

Monika Wikman notes other ways to incarnate the Self: “We can learn to draw forth the light in our life through individually-honed media (for example, dance, poetry, art, play, chant, active imagination, meditation, music, nature, sports and sexuality) that encourage spontaneous relationship with the Self and the numinosum [a term for the concept of “holy“].”

I hope you’ll share how you’ve used creative interactions with your shadow or other inner contents. We who are committed to self-knowledge need all the help we can get!

My newest book, Healing the Sacred Divide, can be found at this Amazon link or at Larson Publications, Inc.



A Life Under Construction December 14, 2012

houseunderconstructionAs I ponder what this season means to me, this time of fading light and lengthening darkness, graying skies and skeleton trees, crisp air and muffled throats, four words recycle through my thoughts: Birth. Death. Rebirth. Change. And it’s not just the seasons that are changing. It’s me too.

Once I saw life as a well-marked road with a clear destination. Or an upward trek to a distant mountain peak. One day I’d arrive at that light-filled place and be finished. Or it was a spiral whose circles would get smaller as they rose higher until only a small, still point was left. I told myself I’d keep digging until a dazzling light illuminated everything I needed to know. I’d write a book that would answer all my questions and say everything I needed to say. I’d dialogue with my loved ones until the air between us was crystal bright and sparkly with no misunderstanding, confusion, or hurt. I’d be at peace. Done. Oh, and happy all the time because no matter what happened outside, inside it would always be spring.

Jungian analyst Monika Wikman writes, “The beginning of the journey of awakening often carries the innocence and naivete’ of the fool archetype.” So I guess I’m not alone. What I failed to realize was that to live is to change. That life itself is change. How could I not have understood this?  There it is, in front of me every day. The bald cypress trees that were dense with greenery two months ago are sparse with rust-colored needle-like leaves. Our grass has patches of yellow for want of rain. Every day but Sunday our normally quiet street buzzes and bangs, chugs, hums and throbs with the saws, hammers, and generators of a neighbor’s house reconstruction. And this too will change.

Why did I think it would be any different with me? My inner house, my psyche, is under construction too. Last night I snuggled and relaxed into sleep with contentment after a day well-spent: a rainy morning of reflection and dreamwork that brought refreshing new insights after a long dry season of too much intellect; closure on more Christmas gifts; help from my son uploading the contents of my old iphone to my new one; a pleasant evening with dear friends. Yet other nights my thoughts churn and thicken with worry like cement in a rotating mixer.

goldenseatThis morning I awoke trusting there’d be time enough to answer my waiting e-mail and fit in my workout. I took it for granted that inspiration for the next blog post would come and I wouldn’t have to rush to a family Christmas party. Other days I wake up cranky from a stiff body and an uncomfortable dream, overwhelmed by a too-long to-do list, annoyed at the sudoku puzzle I thought was a snap until I bombed at the very end.

Sometimes I fight or ignore inner change. Then I lapse into a space that’s dark and narrow, like the hallways that led to the bathrooms I was looking for in two recent dreams. Then one morning I awaken from a dream of receiving a warm hug from a loved one walking behind me, holding me close, supporting me on my way, and I feel fresh appreciation for my husband’s cheerful breakfast commentary about the news, gratitude for a horoscope that sparks an idea for a blog post, pleasure at the synchronicity between an unusual word appearing in last night’s dream and this morning’s newspaper. I feel my limitations, know I will die, yet my heart surges with wonder and joy. In moments like this I sit in what Wikman calls, “the golden seat between the opposites, the incorruptible experiences of Self where we are not unduly thrown around by life changes, though we experience these changes.”

It’s true what she says: “Circulation of the psychic libido, when taken to heart, becomes…an embodied “religious” instinct…a felt experience of the divine.” ~Monika Wikman

My newest book, Healing the Sacred Divide, can be found at this Amazon link or

Monika Wikman’s book, Pregnant Darkness, can be found at this Amazon link.


Religion From the Head: A Good Christian December 7, 2012

rome-christian-martyrs-grangerI was born into a family of “good Christians.” My mother’s great-grandparents were Calvinists from the Netherlands who immigrated to Holland, Michigan in 1848.  Within a few years they moved to Vriesland, Michigan where they lived in a tent while building themselves a log house and clearing 40 acres of land. My great-great grandfather was an elder in their new church. My grandmother wrote about her forebears, “On Sunday they regularly attended the meeting, at first in Kuslander’s house, but later built a log church, sometimes being discouraged and down-hearted during the week, but on Sun. the pastor encouraged them, and on Mon. with renewed strength, they would go to work again. They had to walk over 2 miles to church through the woods by way of a blazed trail.”

In my youth, many of my family’s elders still held strict religious views which forbade work, movies, dancing, or playing cards on Sundays, and they disapproved of people who did these things. Sundays were for church, home, family, praying, Bible study and resting. Although my parents loosened up a bit in their religious views, they, too, were good, responsible, well-meaning, church-going people. Right beliefs, good deeds, and behavior beyond reproach were what counted. “Love your neighbor as yourself” was a mental ideal and a moral duty, and most of us used our intelligence, self-discipline and will-power to act kind and loving.

The-Crusades-300x223Influenced by their examples, I believed I was a deeply spiritual person because I was fascinated by the idea of God, loved studying the Bible, prayed and attended church regularly, agreed with the preacher, volunteered for different ministries, and was nice to people. Over the years, this belief was reinforced by some powerful religious awakenings. But gradually it dawned on me that in the depth of my heart I was not experiencing marked improvement in compassion for myself and others. To the contrary, it seemed like the older I got, the sadder, more secretly cynical, disillusioned, self-critical, anxious, and angry I became. This paradoxical relationship between my idealistic thoughts and true feelings mystified me. What was I doing wrong?  I could not see that my tribe emphasized religion from the head while unwittingly de-valuing the role of the heart.

Then at 37, archetypal forces over which my ego had no control showed me that for every bit of “good” in me, there is an opposite potential for “bad.” Totally unprepared for this psycho-spiritual crisis, and utterly alone except for the old God-image with whom I wrestled daily, I descended into a Dark Night abyss where a fierce struggle between inner opposites went on for many years. When I emerged  from my baptism by fire with new eyes and a cracked-open heart, my old spiritual resources were dead to me.  Only a few Jungians I met understood what Jungian analyst Monika Wikman meant when she wrote: “A central means of traveling toward the religious function is the ability to hold the opposites, both-and instead of either-or.” My psyche had formed a new center and I had found a new tribe.

Recently I met more members of my tribe at a Jungian Journey Conference in Laurel Hill, NC. What refreshed me beyond measure was not the heady theories that Jungians can get into just like other spiritual seekers. It was the palpable presence of love and acceptance radiating from the open eyes and understanding hearts of fellow travelers who are attending to the paradoxical truths of their very flawed, very human souls. For them as for me, religion is not just about the head.  It’s primarily about the heart.

Note: While writing the above paragraph I gave in to an urge to check my Facebook page where this synchronistic video was waiting for me.  Enjoy!

My new book, Healing the Sacred Divide, can be found at this Amazon link or


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