Avatar and Cultural Transformation November 10, 2015
Without this playing with fantasy no creative work has ever yet to come to birth. The debt we owe to the play of the imagination is incalculable. Carl Jung
Culture is created by the human psyche. Intended or not, there is a psychological dimension to every art form. This is nowhere more evident than in James Cameron’s 2009 epic science-fiction film Avatar, a personal favorite.
Avatar’s characters, symbols and themes are updated versions of archetypes featured in stories from every nation, generation, and religion throughout history. Its symbols of interconnectedness—the wormy squirmy tentacled pony tails that bond with similar anatomical appendages of bizarre beasts, and the electrochemical connections between tree roots—are imaginatively resonant of ancient Hinduism’s Diamond Net of Indra, Jung’s collective unconscious, and quantum physics’ holographic universe. And its themes of self-discovery, initiation, revolution, transformation, and redemption have been with us since the first story ever told around a fire.
This lush film eloquently depicts the transformation occurring in humanity’s heroic journey into wholeness and consciousness. It does so by contrasting an ego that succeeds by opening to otherness and change with one that fails because it refuses to grow. Indulge me for a moment as I engage in a bit of imaginative word play to illustrate my point.
The time is the mid-22nd century. The place is Pandora, (mythically, the Greek goddess whose curiosity unleashed all the evils onto the world but whose ultimate legacy was hope). Pandora is a moon in the Alpha Centauri star system that is being colonized to mine a rare mineral. The plot revolves around the expansion of the mining colony which is threatening the existence of the local tribe of natives known as Na’vi.
Corporal Jake (Biblically, Jacob was Isaac’s son and Abraham’s grandson who overcame adversity to become the patriarch of the Israelites) Sully is a soldier whose body is bound to a wheel chair and whose soul has been sullied—i.e. contaminated and made impure—by bitterness, self-pity, and the aggressive mind-set of his dominator culture. Yet, by the end of the story, he is transformed into a heroic Warrior and passionate Lover.
Where love rules, there is no will to power; and where power predominates, there love is lacking. The one is the shadow of the other. Carl Jung
After undergoing training to be an avatar, Jake’s crippled body rests in a remote location while his mind inhabits a genetically engineered Na’vi body that interacts with the natives. His bravery, his respect for princess Neytiri (who says”nay” to tyranny and is Sully’s equal, savior, and Beloved), and his receptivity to the foreign ways of her culture all lead to his redemption and the salvation of the Na’vi.
And what might the name Na’vi symbolize? This tribe has long navigated safely through a difficult world by honoring the sacred underlying patterns of life. But because the people will not capitulate to the dominator ego mentality which has destroyed Earth, their culture is in danger of extinction.
Other archetypal themes are represented by the Na’vi’s spiritual leader Mo’at, (an abbreviation of Mother Earth?) who is a blend of the Jungian archetypes of Queen, Earth Mother, Wisewoman, and Beloved. Her earth-based values and connections to Nature are the glue that have enabled the Na’vi to flourish thus far. Then there’s Jake’s mentor, Dr. Grace Augustine (a saintly name if ever there was one), who symbolizes the archetypal Queen’s regard for shared authority and individual differences and the Wisewoman’s intuitive intelligence and pursuit of truth.
Finally we have a plot with the necessary obstacles every hero must overcome: the self-absorbed and self-serving ego symbolized by Selfridge, corporate administrator of the mining program; and the obsessive Warrior mentality of the head of security, Colonel Miles Quaritch (from quarantine, a place of detention? Or quarrel, an angry dispute? Or quartz, a hard rock?). Cameron’s soulless dark invader, like Lucas’s Darth Vader, has miles to go in his own journey because of his rock-hard rigidity and unrelenting itch to maintain his power regardless of the cost to anyone or anything.
So here we have a story about a brave, heroic ego vs. a rigid, fearful ego. Earthly and cosmic connectedness vs. personal self-interest. Accepting our shadows. Opening to otherness. Learning from feminine wisdom and nature. Moving toward balance. Uniting opposites with respect and love. Using our Warrior energy to protect and empower the vulnerable. Overcoming crippling disadvantages to become a force for positive change.
This haunting story is more than just another movie. It is a mythic reflection of us at our worst and best. Of our blind ego with its rigid and self-righteous attitudes. Of our dysfunctional dark shadow that clings to old habits and blindly fouls our planetary nest. Of our power-hungry Warrior who continues to dominate families, neighborhoods and societies.
There is no coming to consciousness without pain. Carl Jung
Our hope lies with Jake who represents the resilience, creative imagination, and heroic potential of every ego, no matter how much suffering it endures, to overcome its lethargy and choose consciousness: consciousness of our light shadow with its unique gifts and ideals and sensitivity and care. Consciousness of our healthy Warrior with the courage to say no to ingrained attitudes and practices that produce chaos, pollution and destruction. Consciousness of the love waiting to blossom between healthy femininity and masculinity.
Image Credit: Google Images
Meeting the Mistress of the Forest August 11, 2015
Once I read about a horse that lived in the same pasture for over 30 years, eating the same old tired grass, trying to find shade in the noonday heat under the same scrawny tree. After many years of neglect, the fence that separated this pasture from a lush, grassy meadow studded with beautiful leafy trees crumbled and eventually fell. Stepping over the fallen wood would have been a very simple matter for the horse, yet it stood at the border where it had always stood, looking longingly over at the grass as it had always looked.
I feel so sorry for that horse. It had become so accustomed to its old boundaries that it never noticed when they were outworn. I wish someone from the other side had called it over so it could have spent its final years grazing in a greener, fresher, infinitely more satisfying space.
Many of us have felt our spirits quicken through glimpses of something ineffable in the mist beyond normal awareness and longed to pursue it. But concerns about the judgment of others and habitual assumptions about what we think we should be thinking and doing are not easy to recognize or change. Moreover, the daily demands of life are so compelling that we usually defer our journey into the deeply alluring recesses of the forest until another day.
What are we to do if we do not want to end up like that horse? Luckily we humans have a special someone who beckons to us from beyond our outworn boundaries: she is the wisdom of the Deep Feminine traditionally called Sophia. But to hear her call we need to turn off the constant flow of words and listen with our hearts and bodies.
The promptings that come from this inner being are so faintly heard at first, however strong on their own plane, that we tend to disregard them as trivial. This is the tragedy of man. The voices that so often mislead him into pain-bringing courses–his passion, his ego, and blind intellect–are loud and clamant. The whisper that guides him aright and to God is timid and soft. Paul Brunton (22-1-201)
Her voice is very soft; her call, though compelling, is quiet. She speaks to us in urges, needs, wishes, emotions, feelings, yearnings, questions about the meaning and purpose of our life, attractions to people, ideas and activities, synchronicities, physical symptoms, accidents, instincts, nature, meaningful insights, joyful experiences, bursts of unexpected pleasure, creative ideas, images, symbols, dreams: all the things we have learned to ignore so we can perform with utmost efficiency in the rat race of daily life.
The message in her communiques seems so subversive that we have learned to ignore it too. Do not fear the unknown, she says when we are tempted to risk exploring the wilderness of our souls. Do not be afraid to ask questions. Do not be content with the half life that comes from avoiding your fears. Feel your fears, enjoy your pleasures, experience your life with all your being. Open yourself and go deeper, for great treasures lie buried in your depths.
Following Sophia does not result in a quick fix, but if we will go boldly and persevere, the mansion doors to the eternal sacred that lies within will open unto us. The inhabitant of that mansion is the Self, our inner Beloved. Made of equal parts masculine and feminine energy, (Animus and Anima, in Jungian terms), the Self is often symbolized by the King and Queen. Here in the West we project our King onto the distant Sky God and remain relatively ignorant of his feminine partner, Sophia, the Mistress of the Forest who is as close to us as our own breath and blood. Thus do we deny ourselves the opportunity to learn from her wisdom and cross over into her sacred space.
So how, exactly, are you different from that old horse?
How has the Mistress of the Forest been speaking to you lately? What is she saying?
Image credits: 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 Kobo, Barnes And Noble and Smashwords. “Healing the Sacred Divide” can be found at Amazon and Larson Publications, Inc.
New Dreams About My Animus April 14, 2015
I’ve just had a pretty mind-blowing synchronicity I need to tell you about! As I write these words, it’s early Monday evening, April 13, 2015. This afternoon we returned from the beach having spent the weekend with two couples who traveled several hundred miles to attend an annual fund-raising event for the Atlantic Center for the Arts. They’ve left now, so I’m at my computer preparing tomorrow’s post.
A few moments ago I remembered a note I put on my calendar several months back. It says: “Repost the post from April 30, 2011, ‘Dreams of the Animus,’ this April.” Thinking that was a good idea since I didn’t have a day ahead of me to write a new one, I copied the older post below.
Reading the first paragraph reminded me about the two dreams I had last night. Afraid I’d forget them, I stopped to record and work on them first. That finished, I returned here to read the rest of the 4-year old post and schedule it for publication tomorrow.
I’m still stunned by what I read. Because last night’s dreams are a disturbing update on my dreams from this time 4 years ago! To understand why this synchronicity is especially uncomfortable, you need to read the older dreams first.
DREAMS OF THE ANIMUS: A Re-Post from April 30, 2011.
Last weekend was special. I was born two days before Easter on Good Friday; but since Easter’s date is always changing, this year my birthday was the day before. April is glorious in Florida, so part of the specialness was getting to spend both holidays with my family in one long weekend at the beach. Another thing making it special was the dreams I had there. Of the two I recall, both featured my masculine side, or animus. Since one of my goals for this blog is to make Jungian psychology as relevant and helpful to others as it has been to me, I’d like to share these dreams in the hope of raising your awareness of your own inner resources.
Dream #4319: Passing Through a Threshold With My Animus. I’m entering an open doorway. A dear male friend (no one I know in waking life) is immediately behind me. His arms are wrapped around me, holding me gently. Our movements are so synchronized and easy that I can’t tell if he’s guiding or following me. Either way, it feels wonderful to be so close.
I awoke from this dream on my birthday. It was my first gift of the day. It said I am not alone as I move forward in my journey. Yes, I know I’m profoundly blessed to have a loving family, but the truth is, not one of them will ever feel my passions and emotions, understand my conflicts and yearnings, or experience my awakenings. It is my job to know and grow myself, not theirs. They have their own souls to make.
That’s okay, says this dream. Because my animus has always been with me he knows me completely; and because I have honored and empowered him, he will support me at the crossing of every threshold, even the one that opens to death. The comforting feeling of knowing my back is covered by this loving inner reality lingered all day.
Dream #4320: Dancing With My Animus. I’m on a small stage in an intimate room that feels like a chapel. I’m the female lead in a play; an attractive man is the male lead. We’re both feeling unsure of ourselves as we demonstrate a phase of a developing relationship in which neither partner completely trusts each other or their own feelings. We dance around the stage then he bends me over backwards and leans over me. We hold this pose and wait for the audience’s response so we’ll know what to do next. This play is an improvisation requiring spontaneous interaction and cooperation between the players as well as between the players and audience.
My birthday dream depicts one reward of accepting my masculine side. My Easter dream says this work is not over. The presence of an audience suggests that my other inner characters are interested in my soul-making drama. It could also refer to an outer audience which is watching and helping. Both interpretations feel right to me.
My ego’s passion is to know and relate to my whole Self; my animus’s passion is to help me manifest what I know in writing. The dream says we’re both still feeling our way in this partnership. The religious setting means our work together is sacred and archetypal. And the presence of an audience tells me the purpose of the dance between everyone’s masculine and feminine sides is twofold: to unite the opposites in our own souls, and to help all humanity birth this Sacred Marriage in the world.
Next week: So Is My Animus Doing His Job?
Dragon Lady: Shadow of the Queen April 25, 2014
The Western world has been obsessed with the masculine aspects of Deity for thousands of years. As a result, to experience the Sacred Feminine we must be willing to enter the remote caverns in our unconscious selves where we have dumped all our unwanted garbage in hopes we could forget it ever existed. In sum, we must be willing to develop a relationship with our “dragons,” by which I mean our frightening, disowned, less-than-lovely selves.
The myths that emerged in the Near East around 2000 BC featured a male deity who, unlike the son/lover of the previous Goddess religion, was a storm god of fire and lightning who conquered a dragon of darkness and evil. According to Merlin Stone, author of When God Was a Woman, “…the plot and the underlying symbolic theme of the story is so similar in each myth that, judging from the stories that do use the name of the female deity, we may surmise that the allegorical identity of the dragon or serpent is that of the Goddess religion.” Some still call a powerful, assertive woman a Dragon Lady. To many males, (and some women), especially those with domineering mothers, their own feminine sides and certain women seem extremely dragon-like: something terrible and threatening that needs to be overcome. Jung agreed and considered the dragon to be “a mother-image (that is, a mirror of the maternal principle or of the unconscious)…”
But the dragon is by no means all negative. Hindus and Taoists consider dragons to be powerful spiritual beings, masters of the waters and guardians of treasures, especially the pearl of perfection that symbolizes enlightenment and bestows immortality. The Herder Symbol Dictionary says that in China and Japan the dragon grants fertility “because it is closely associated with the powers of water and hence with the yin [feminine] principle.” Thus, one meaning of this paradoxical symbol is that if we wish to attain the highest levels of consciousness and spirituality, we need to face all the despised and rejected qualities we have relegated to the feminine unconscious, and it is this descent that earns us the ultimate prize.
Unconscious parts of ourselves acquire negative power because of the well-known psychological law that the longer and harder we repress them, the more energy we give them until they start influencing our behavior in disagreeable ways. They are like sweet little girl dragons which start out innocently enough. If we love them and allow them to come out and play they will grow up to become our friends. But if we ignore them and starve them and keep them cooped up in dark and cramped cages — in much the same way many male-dominated cultures have treated women and their own feminine sides — they grow stronger and angrier every day.
While the bad news is that facing the Dragon Lady, a symbol for the Queen archetype’s shadow side — i.e., the regressive powers of the feminine unconscious — can be very painful, the good news is that she can initiate us into a far nobler fate than we could ever imagine. After all, if Snow White had not been terrorized by the evil Queen she never would have run into the wilderness, met her protectors, the seven dwarves, eaten the poisoned apple, and been awakened by the kiss of the prince to experience union with her Beloved.
Prince Ego’s search for the princess, our unconscious feminine self, is the authentic hero’s journey, and their union symbolizes wholeness or enlightenment, the ultimate prize and true destiny of every soul. So the next time you’re faced with an uncomfortable truth about yourself, it might help to remember that facing and befriending the Dragon Lady is the price of the prize.
Healing the Sacred Divide can be found at Amazon and Larson Publications, Inc. Ebook versions of The Bridge to Wholeness and Dream Theatres of the Soul are at Amazon, Kobo, Barnes and Noble, Smashwords, and Diesel Ebooks
Psychology and Religion: Natural Enemies or Intimate Partners? January 7, 2014
In my growing up years the relationship between psychology and religion mirrored the cold war between the U.S. and Russia. Other than the fact that each was suspicious of the other, they appeared to have little in common.
But this began to change for me at the age of 17. One morning I was reading the assigned Bible verses at church camp when suddenly the door to a hidden dimension of my being burst open and a flood of feeling and meaning rushed into my awareness. Suddenly I understood words which, until then, were written in a foreign language. And they spoke directly to me!
My heart responded with stunned awe and wonder. God was real. Moreover, God knew me and was using the Bible to communicate with me!
Joseph Campbell called an experience like this “… a profoundly felt, inward knowledge of the transpersonal imperatives and quality of life…” The impact was so powerful, in fact, that I couldn’t get enough of the New Testament and read it again and again over the next several years.
“‘Archetype’ is Jung’s word for the psychological image of a god, and when an archetype is activated, we speak of its impact as numinous. In other words, numinosity is the charge of energy in whatever we experience as divine or demonic. If you want to know what is numinous to you, consider what you find fascinating, compelling, thrilling, mysterious, horrifying, gripping, tremendous, terrifying, dreadful, or awesome. Think about the things with which you are preoccupied in spite of yourself.” -Jungian analyst Janet O. Dallett
My experience was numinous. I can use religious language and call it a “baptism of the Holy Spirit.” Psychologically I can interpret it as the activation of the Self archetype. Or I can see it as both. Having no psychological understanding at the age of 17, I chose the former. But it doesn’t really matter how I saw it. Either way, it happened. And it got my attention in a big way.
“The religious part of the psyche is at work whenever you pay attention to something that is numinous to you, whether or not other people feel it is important.” -Janet O. Dallett
I kept paying attention and had more numinous experiences. Each one awakened awarenesses about the spiritual dimensions of life and created lasting changes in me. I knew I was part of a vast Mystery and I was compelled to trust the stream of life-giving feeling and knowing that was my umbilical cord to the Sacred.
For a long time I dared not speak about this. Who was I to think God indwelled me, when one of the most respected religious authorities in my church openly disparaged “humanism” and “psychology” because they were the despised “wisdom of man” as opposed to “the wisdom of God?” What was important to him was belief in the word of God as revealed to spirit persons two thousand years ago and recorded in Holy Scriptures. What was revealed to today’s spirit persons was heretical.
But the Bible, Torah, and Koran are not God. They are symbols that point to the Mystery some of us call God, Yahweh, or Allah. As such, they can trigger life-changing numinous experiences, but only if they activate our archetypal roots—the religious part of the psyche—in ways that get our attention. Whatever God is, it cannot change us or the world without our growing awareness!
Psychology and religion are not natural enemies, but intimate partners in the sacred dance of life. We are not only imprinted with the Sacred, we are sacred, just as all life is sacred.
Photo credit: dreamstime
Learning From Our Lady of the Beasts April 16, 2013
“The Earth Mother is…the eternally fruitful source of everything…. Each separate being is a manifestation of her; all things share in her life through an eternal cycle of birth and rebirth….Her animals….embody the deity herself, defining her personality and exemplifying her power.” Buffie Johnson, Our Lady of the Beasts, Inner Traditions
The successful wielding of power to enhance our soul’s development is a primary concern of the feminine archetypes. For them, power is not about controlling otherness, but about loving and learning from otherness so that our souls are empowered to become what they were created to be. If this is to happen, our energies need to be redirected away from pursuits aimed at acquiring external, historical power toward those that bring internal, natural power. By natural power I mean the soul’s power to act from its rich, authentic core, unencumbered by the chains of fear, ignorance, and conformity. One way of loosening these chains is to learn from Earth Mother’s manifestations in nature.
The farther removed we are from nature, the less apt we are to hear Sophia’s voice or learn from her natural guidance. One night after an eventful weekend at our mountain home I recorded five valuable insights I had acquired, all of them necessary to my empowerment, and none of which I would have learned had I stayed indoors. Through my adult interactions with nature I am rediscovering something I knew as a child but never had the words for: staying close to nature brings me closer to my truest self.
A major step in my own return to nature began when, in my fifties, I fulfilled a childhood dream of buying my own horse to train: a two-and-a-half-year old gray thoroughbred I called Honey’s Shadow Dancer — gray to symbolize the union of the opposites of black and white for which I strive, Honey for his sweetness, Shadow to signify my desire to be always mindful of my own shadow, and Dancer to honor the ever-changing dance of life. For me, the physical care I lavished on him and our efforts to understand and trust one another were spiritual practices that were every bit as meaningful as my earlier, more cerebral ones.
Native teachers and healers Jamie Sams and David Carson tell us that for many native peoples Horse represents both physical and unearthly power, and that the impact of Horse’s domestication was akin to the discovery of fire. “Before Horse, humans were earthbound, heavy-laden, and slow creatures indeed. Once humans climbed on Horse’s back, they were as free and fleet as the wind. Through their special relationship with Horse, humans altered their self-concept beyond measure. Horse was the first animal medicine of civilization.”
The term animal medicine refers to life lessons learned from animals whose characteristics and habits demonstrate how to walk on our physical Earth Mother in harmony with the universe. Like Buffie Johnson, I think of the aspect of Earth Mother that conveys lessons through wild creatures and beloved animal companions as Our Lady of the Beasts. Next time I’ll share some empowering animal medicine she brought to me through my beloved teacher, Shadow.
What animal teachers has Our Lady of the Beasts sent to you?
Congratulations to the three winners of my blog tour giveaway: Nancy Hup , Vicki Edmundson, and Rick Boys. They’ll each receive an autographed copy of Healing the Sacred Divide, and Nancy, as first place winner, will also receive an Amazon gift card. Thank you to them and to all who followed the tour.