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.