Matrignosis: A Blog About Inner Wisdom

Think Pyschologically; Live Spiritually

The Symbol of the Eye November 29, 2011

Although the symbol of the eye was later appropriated by male gods, originally it spoke to qualities of the Great Mother Goddess.  Foremost among these was wisdom. Author Merlin Stone translates this ancient hymn to Ua Zit, the Cobra Goddess of pre-dynastic Egypt: “Uniting with Her sister Nekhebt, to create the power of all Egypt…Ua Zit emerged from holy forehead as the Third Eye, the Eye of Wisdom.”

The following passage comes from The Wisdom of Solomon in the Apocrypha of the New English Bible and dates about 900 B.C. It refers to Hokhma, the Hebrew feminine word meaning wisdom. Like Shekhinah, (Judaism’s feminine “divine presence of God”), Hokhma is associated with light, another feminine quality.

“Wisdom is the Holy Spirit. She is one and yet She is many…She permeates all with her ethereal essence…She is the brightness that comes forth from the eternal light, and…it is She who continually renews all, as Her power spans the universe and Her kindly orders are always fulfilled…”

The Egyptian Maat, whose name was based on the verb “to see,” was the original All-Seeing Eye and Mother of Truth. In The Woman’s Dictionary of Symbols and Sacred Objects, Barbara Walker says that the Sumerian Eye Goddess also represented the spirit of truth and law. “Hers were the All-Seeing Eyes from which no crime could be hidden.” Likewise, Sulis, the name for the Gaelic Sun Goddess, came from suil, an eye. And according to the Hindus, the Great Goddess “created and destroyed universes just by opening or closing her eyes.”

The Greek philosopher Plotinus also associated the eye with wisdom and light, reasoning that the eye would not be able to see the sun if it were not itself a kind of sun. Since the sun is the source of light, and light symbolizes the intelligence and the spirit, the process of seeing represents the spiritual act of understanding. The Herder Symbol Dictionary agrees, adding that since two eyes convey physical normality and its spiritual equivalent, the third eye is symbolic of the superhuman or divine. Because it is closely associated with light and spirit, the third eye “symbolizes spiritual and mental perception, but it is also — as the ‘mirror’ of the soul — the organ of spiritual and mental expression.”

Psychologically, the activation of the third eye means that we are perceiving and expressing the enlightened presence and wisdom of God the Mother, the feminine half of the Self whose specialty is right-brained mythos — the subjective inner wisdom of symbols, images, imagination, instinct, an understanding heart, intuition and meaning. When her worship was banished by patriarchal religions her mythos way of perceiving was replaced by the masculine God’s logos:  objective linear thinking and judging with logic, words, theories and creeds. Unfortunately, this religious one-sidedness has created an unholy imbalance in human affairs, both sacred and secular.

But there is hope. Through the centuries the symbol of the third eye has reminded all who care to see that opening our eyes and minds to God the Mother’s presence within us and the world can connect us to the fullest wisdom available to human beings.


The Mandorla Symbol October 4, 2011

A mandorla is an ancient symbol that is largely unrecognized in the Western world today. The shape, also known as vesica piscis, the Vessel of the Fish, occurs when two circles overlap to form an almond shape in the middle; hence, the name mandorla, which means “almond nut” in Italian. In Hinduism this shape is called the yoni, a stylized vulva used in religious art and as a maternity charm to celebrate and invoke the Great Mother’s creative, life-giving fertility.

Although the mandorla shares the symbolism of the mandala, the Hindu term for a circle, the two also have separate meanings. Whereas the mandala is a soul-symbol used as a meditative aid to encourage the spirit to move forward along its path of evolution from the biological to the spiritual, the mandorla represents the key to bringing this evolution about.

Mandorlas have carried powerful sacred overtones from earliest times. For example, the virgin birth of the god Attis was conceived by a magic almond. Early Christians used the shape as a secret symbol to represent their belief that Jesus was the coming together of heaven and earth. In medieval Christian art it framed the figures of saints, the virgin Mary, and Christ, usually to suggest the aureole of light that surrounds the whole body of holy persons, but sometimes piously (with an unintentional double entendre) interpreted as a gateway to heaven. A twelfth-century panel in the Chartres Cathedral shows “Christ of the Apocalypse” within a mandorla. Alchemists and Christian mystics redefined the mandorla as the arcs of two great circles, the left one for female matter, and the right for male spirit.

As symbols of the interactions and interdependence of opposing worlds and forces, the two separate mandalas which must meet and merge to form the mandorla represent the sacred divide between spirit and matter, masculine and feminine, self and other. The space wherein these apparently irreconcilable opposites overlap is an image of hope for our torn world, a healing place where we can reconcile our struggles with life and each other.

In Owning Your Own Shadow, noted Jungian analyst Robert Johnson wrote, “The mandorla begins the healing of the split. The overlap generally is very tiny at first, only a sliver of a new moon, but it is a beginning. As time passes, the greater the overlap, the greater and more complete is the healing. The mandorla binds together that which was torn apart and made unwhole-unholy. It is considered the most profound religious experience one can have in life.” p. 102-3

The overlapping space between two souls is a place of growing self-awareness, acceptance, connection, and union. It is the communion table where God and human, self and other, ego and Self meet. It is a sanctuary wherein we connect with others to find refuge from the terrors of life. It is a womb of poetry, story and ritual where the boundaries between left-brained logos and right-brained mythos disappear, old life is refreshed, and new life is nurtured and protected. Above all, it is a threshold from which healing new life for ourselves and our world emerges.

The gorgeous art on this post is by my dear friend, Cicero Greathouse. I invite you to visit his site and click on the link “works on paper” to see his magnificent mandorlas. Perhaps you can pick out the one(s) which will grace the cover of my next book, “Healing the Sacred Divide.”


Jean Raffa’s The Bridge to Wholeness and Dream Theatres of the Soul are at Amazon. E-book versions are also at KoboBarnes And Noble and Smashwords. Healing the Sacred Divide can be found at Amazon and Larson Publications, Inc.


Scholar and Wisewoman Archetypes April 9, 2011

The Scholar and Wisewoman archetypes represent our instinct for reflection. Like the two sides of the brain, they symbolize two distinct yet complementary forms of mentation: logos and mythos. Release from delusion is the aim of both, and each pursues this goal in different ways. The Scholar is like a spotlight which enables our ego to think with  clear, focused consciousness and logic.  The Wisewoman is like a moonlit bridge which connects our ego with the subjective wisdom of our body, instincts, emotions and personal and collective unconscious.

He specializes in discerning differences and discriminating details; she specializes in connecting and comprehending the big picture. He is master of logic, abstract ideas, theories, collective knowledge, objective facts, and technology. She is mistress of imagination, metaphors, emotions, personal truths, spiritual meaning, physical awareness and intuition. Together, they represent the fullest kind of wisdom of which we are capable.

A primary feature of her mythos is analogical thinking. This has to do with our ability to see meaningful analogies: similarities and underlying connections between things. Where logical thought is factual, verbal, literal, historic, linear, objective, and “Mosaic”, analogical thought is symbolic, visual, mystical, mythic, intuitive, subjective, and “Hermetic”. As logical thinking is sequential, analogical thought is relational: one idea leads to another not because of an orderly arrangement of incremental steps, but because of an inner connection or comparison that is meaningful to the thinker.

Analogical thinking enables us to make intuitive leaps over vast amounts of information which, although it may be perfectly relevant, can bog us down in a morass of details, preventing us from seeing the big picture or grasping underlying relationships which weave the big picture together. Analogical thought guides all invention, culture, art, architecture, literature, poetry, myth, philosophy, psychology, and religion. This is not to say our accomplishments in these areas are devoid of logic. Far from it. It simply means that without mythos we would not have the imagination to create and beautify them or the insight to imbue them with meaning.

Elaine Pagels, Princeton University professor of religion, says that through analogical thinking one can also receive insights or intimations of the divine which validate themselves in experience. Spiritual illumination and awakened consciousness cannot be fully explained with logic because they are subjective states of being that have to be experienced to be understood; yet they are products of the mind, just as logical thinking is. We have no means by which to prove they exist, but they are nonetheless as real to our souls as any event in the physical world.

Think of it this way. Logical thinking builds the Sistine Chapel. Analogical thinking designs it and paints the ceiling. One honors Sacred Otherness in the outer universe. The other honors Sacred Otherness within.  Together in intimate partnership they explore the heights and depths of our reverence for the miracle and blessings of life.

Our Scholar and Wisewoman aren’t about opposition or gender, but the cooperative interaction between the masculine and feminine in every psyche. As Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Jeanne Coyne said when asked whether women judges decide cases differently because they are women: “A wise old man and a wise old woman reach the same conclusion”.

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


Healing Arizona: Sophia’s Communication Style January 11, 2011

As I write this the shooting spree in Arizona which resulted in the deaths of six people, including a federal judge, and the wounding of several others — among them congressional Representative Gabrielle Giffords who apparently was the primary target — is very much on my mind. Practically everyone is wondering whether America’s recent vitriolic political environment might have contributed to this tragedy.

In an October post titled, “No More Toxic Air Waves, Please,” I worried about what effect the hate-filled, divisive political rhetoric would have on the youngest and most vulnerable among us. Early reports say the suspect is a mentally unstable young man with a known grudge against the government. Perhaps he would have done something like this regardless of the political climate. But factors like the deliberate ‘targeting’ of political ‘enemies’on Sarah Palin’s website, (Rep. Giffords was among those pictured in the crosshairs), and the media’s recent movement from informing to inciting have to be considered as potential influences.

One psychological explanation for this situation has to do with the differences between left-brained and right-brained communication styles. If you’ve been following this blog you know the left-hemisphere of the brain specializes in logos — logical, objective, focused reasoning — which is associated with the masculine principle. The right hemisphere prefers mythos, i.e. analogical thinking, subjective feeling, and diffuse awareness, and is associated with the feminine principle. I’m not talking about gender. This is about the masculine and feminine in all of us.

Diffuse awareness has four primary components: listening (as opposed to influencing), appreciating (as opposed to criticizing or judging), empathizing (as opposed to unfeeling analyzing and reasoning), and questioning (as opposed to blind acceptance and/or authoritarian telling). All four qualities enhance communication, contribute to wisdom and help unveil the sacred. All are associated with the feminine.

Diffuse listening occurs when we open ourselves to otherness by relaxing our needs to be heard, admired, one-up and right. Receptivity to whatever comes our way leads us straight through appearances and preconceived notions into the heart and soul of matters. Appreciating respects differences, sees similarities, and enjoys meaningful connections. Empathy, the ability to see through another’s eyes and unite with him or her in a communion of shared understanding and caring, is born when we shift our focus from differentiating ourselves to establishing intimacy. Finally, questioning is an open, thoughtful approach to otherness — other ideas and opinions, other belief systems, and other ways of perceiving — that is not defensive, rebellious, or confrontational, but truly interested in understanding, learning and growing.

The shocking violence in Arizona has multiple causes, but I have absolutely no doubt that our cultural obsession with left-brained values is one of the most influential. Fortunately, humanity is riding a mounting tidal wave that is heading for a new level of consciousness which balances and integrates opposites. Sophia of the wise and understanding heart is entering our awareness in a very big way, and adopting her modes of thinking and communicating cannot help but bring healing changes. I can’t wait to witness their unfolding in the new decade.


Dreams: Pictures of Emotions July 27, 2010

In the early years of working with my dreams my focus was almost entirely on head work: thinking, reading, discriminating, clarifying, understanding, analyzing symbols, and so on. I had heard that dreams were pictures of emotions and I enjoyed dreams that left me feeling happy or good about myself, but others that left me feeling bothered after I woke up were deeply puzzling.

As a child I learned to ignore uncomfortable emotions, or ones which, if I expressed them, would earn the disapproval of my family. By the time I entered junior high school, instead of responding authentically to each situation as it came, I automatically — and completely unconsciously — processed my reactions through a filter of how I thought I was supposed to act, which was calm, nice, reasonable, and, above all, unemotional. I assumed — again, I was not aware of this assumption at a conscious level — that what my mind thought and how I appeared to others was more important than what my heart felt. I thought if I was tough enough to take whatever was handed to me and didn’t let it get to me, it simply wasn’t a problem. I thought it was just a function of mind over matter, and I was rather proud of my will power.

The habit of being emotionally stoic was so deeply ingrained that I was almost completely unconscious of it as I was doing it, although I could sometimes see it after the fact. It wasn’t until about twelve years ago that I finally began to see it as it was happening. The catalyst was a dear friend and gifted dreamworker, Justina Lasley. After I related a dream to her, Justina focused in on a part where some men were treating me unkindly and asked me how that made me feel.

“Oh, fine. It’s no big deal,” I said offhandedly. Justina just sat there looking at me. “Really,” I said. “That’s just the way some men are; I understand that.” She just looked at me. I squirmed a bit under her penetrating gaze, and then the lightbulb went on. “Oh,” I said. “You mean, how do I really feel about this down deep? Oh, I get it! Well, I guess there’s a part of me that feels… sad? Hurt? Maybe…a little angry?”

I was stunned at this revelation. For the first time, I really got it in my gut that my automatic denial of strong feeling was part of my persona, the social mask I had built around my inner self to cover up my vulnerability. (Like the ego, the persona is neither good nor bad; we all have a social personality that helps us adapt to the requirements of everyday living.) This was a huge breakthrough for me. I had always assumed I was doing the right thing, the noble and spiritually desirable thing, in wearing this mask. But I was wrong.

Why? Because our emotional realities are as important to our well-being as mental ones, and repressing them saps the life out of us. When we lose touch with our feelings we lose touch with our souls. Indeed, in our compulsion to elevate logos over mythos/eros we’ve lost our souls. This is a major reason for the epidemic of anxiety in Western society today. The path to wholeness lies in accepting the whole truth about ourselves, including all our emotions, and not just the socially acceptable ones! Allowing ourselves to feel them without having to act on them is one of the best ways I know of to become who we are.

This is something I’m still working on! How about you?


Food for the Soul July 24, 2010

When I started this blog over four months ago I had no idea how much my soul hungered for the psychological and spiritual companionship of like-minded travelers, so was somewhat surprised to see how avidly I’ve been lapping up the warmth, wisdom, and compassion revealed in the comments of readers. Making your acquaintance has been a true blessing to me, and I offer you a gift in return: the recommendation of one of the wisest, most soul-satisfying books I’ve ever read written by one of my favorite new internet friends: William Douglas Horden.

Once in a while a book appears that is exactly what the spirit of the times cries out for. The Toltec I Ching, a reworking of an ancient oracle by a contemporary sage, is one of those books. The use of oracles was common in many civilizations of antiquity including the Greeks, Norse, and Egyptians. The most well-known is the Chinese I Ching, or ‘Book of Changes’, a collection of linear signs originating in the Shang Dynasty (1600–1046 BC). Oracles have long had an important role in Tibet and the Dalai Lama still consults one. The Yucatec Mayas consulted the writings of an oracle priest who correctly predicted the disastrous coming of the Spaniards.

Horden’s Toltec I Ching combines the ancient wisdom of the Chinese and Toltecs with the intellect and sensibility of a modern-day spirit person. For example, at the beginning of the 20th century Carl Jung said we each have a masculine and feminine side and repressing either creates psychological, cultural, and spiritual imbalance. Is there anything new about this message? No, spirit persons from every culture have always intuited this truth and devised wonderful teachings to convey it, but advancing civilization keeps forgetting and digging itself into ever-deeper holes. So just when we are waking up to the frightening darkness and depth of our current hole — featuring, among other things, terrorism, economic crises, worldwide violations of human rights, and environmental disasters on a global scale — along comes the Toltec I Ching.

This brilliant and beautiful oracle is written in a series of 64 brief chapters that reads almost like a novel. The main character is the authentic Spirit Warrior. The setting is the dual inner and outer worlds of the would-be warrior’s awakening soul. The plot describes the warrior’s journey through a series of psycho-spiritual tests which develop his/her masculine and feminine sides, strengthen intention, motivate action, guide direction, and create growing awareness. And the theme is the exact same one found in this blog: how to free oneself from ignorance and transcend duality to become a conscious, responsible, enlightened being capable of making healing choices of benefit to the world.

William Douglas Horden’s writing style is clear and masterfully organized logos artfully combined with imaginative, symbolic mythos. And the format? Simply gorgeous! Martha Ramirez-Oropeza has painted 64 extraordinary full-color illustrations in a style as simple as it is profound; the print is plenty large for aging eyes; each page has a sense-satisfying heft; and the cover is as sturdy as a non-hardback book could possibly be.

In short, the team of writer, painter, and Larson Publications has created a work of art worthy to sit on the shelf with the world’s spiritual classics. The only books I’ve underlined more are my King James Bible and the complete works of Carl Jung. If you have not yet added The Toltec I Ching to your spiritual library you’re missing a key to the mystery, and mastery, of your soul.


Dreams and the Beloved June 8, 2010

Most of us want to grow or improve in some way: to be happier, wiser, kinder, and more loving. To be more creative, find more fulfilling work. To be better parents or partners. To live with more integrity. To lessen our anxiety and ease our suffering. To free ourselves from the emotional pain and habitual behaviors that fling us into the abyss and wound our relationships.To be more understanding and helpful to others. To feel more connected to the Mystery.

As award-winning author and urban shaman Donna Henes says in writing about the Queen archetype, “The holy elixir that we seek is the transformation of the painful, rejected, neglected, wounded, unsatisfied, unsatisfactory parts of our Self, into the unified, organized, energized, golden glory and grace of the fulfilled Queen. It is through our sincere and complete participation in this process that we learn how to recognize, claim and proudly proclaim our own true power. The power of our fully engaged Self.”

But many of us are at a loss about how exactly to participate in this process. Writing and dreamwork have been my most fruitful practices, but when I tell people how important my dreams are to me, I sometimes sense real perplexity along the order of, “Weird! What are you smoking, lady?”

How can dreams possibly be of any practical use? Because they provide insights about unknown aspects of ourselves that validate our worth and help us grow. I know this because I’ve experienced it. The proof is in the vast improvement in my inner climate: fewer hurricanes, heat waves, arctic blasts, volcanic eruptions, and floods; more balmy air, cooling breezes and refreshing rain. But this is not always readily apparent or easily conveyed to others and can be difficult to understand.

Dreams are natural resources of infinite value. They are available to everyone, and in these hard economic times, the good news is that they are absolutely free! But we have to be willing to mine them, and for that we need time, intention, and a bit of help from more experienced miners who can teach us the trade. To that end, in this and the next few posts I’ll share a bit of what I’ve learned about how dreams aid psycho-spiritual transformation.

My starting point is the Self, which is both our core and our circumference. Some think of it as our soul, the totality of who we are and who we have the potential to become. Jung called it the archetype of wholeness and in later years referred to it as our god-image and connection to the Mystery some call God. Composed of the twin drives for self-preservation (i.e. masculine logos, represented in alchemy by the King archetype) and species preservation (feminine mythos/eros symbolized by the Queen), the Self shapes our ideas about God and is the source of our irresistible compulsion to grow into wholeness, consciousness, and enlightenment.

The Self is our inner Beloved, a fresh, never-ending fountain of love, creativity, wholeness and sacred meaning that reveals itself in the symbolic images and soulful dramas of our dreams. Why does it do this? Because it has a natural benevolence that feels like love to us. Like a sleeping princess waiting for the Lover Prince to awaken her with a kiss, the Self rests at the core of our being, calling our heroic egos to their destiny of merging with the indwelling Mystery.

To be continued….


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