Matrignosis: A Blog About Inner Wisdom

Think Pyschologically; Live Spiritually

The Art of Tending the Fire March 26, 2013

An ancient theorem of enlightenment is As within, so without. Essentially, this means that we humans project the themes and processes of our souls outward into the physical world, which then functions like a giant movie screen. If we will look at this screen through the eyes of Sophia—by which I mean with right-hemisphere mythos—we will see our inner dramas enacted everywhere and this seeing will enhance our self-awareness.

For example, the following themes of the ego’s heroic journey into consciousness are found not only in ancient rituals, scriptures, and myths, but in current books, films, songs, paintings, sculptures, and other creative works:

Separation (leaving the safety and comfort of the maternal matrix to find your identity),

Achievement (strengthening your ego by finding and proving your individuality),

Sacrifice (changing your ego’s attitude toward power),

Suffering (entering the dark abyss of the unconscious),

Surrender, Death, Descent (losing the safety and comfort of familiar assumptions and conventional formulas; submitting to an authority greater than the world’s opinions),

Receiving help from unexpected sources (befriending your shadow and feminine side),

Rebirth (acquiring self-knowledge and more consciousness; being released from the prisons of rigid belief systems; becoming empowered to make original choices),

Return (re-entering the community on your own terms as a maturing, authentic individual),

Reunion (being reunited with feminine feeling and participating in the sacred marriage in which your inner opposites are united), and

Blessing (bringing healing new consciousness to your community).

These archetypal themes are developed in such literary works as Somerset Maughm’s The Razor’s Edge, Tolkein’s The Lord of the Rings, John Fowles’ The Magus, and even the humorous Skinny Legs and All by Tom Robbins. Films include Alan Ball’s American Beauty, M. Knight Shyamalan’s The Village and Lady in the Water, and George Lucas’sStar Wars series. The songs of Kris Kristofferson and other musicians likewise address many of these issues. Ultimately, the symbols and motifs of every work of art are imaginative manifestations of the artist’s need to understand and express him/herself, evolve into greater consciousness, and share what s/he has learned with others. Some artists know this; others don’t have a clue.

Imaginatively tracking the underlying threads of psychological and spiritual meaning that we find in myth, literature, film, art, our dreams and even the everyday events of our waking lives, is soul-making work.  As Jungian analyst Monika Wikman says, “The symbolizing function alive in the imagination unites the opposites of spirit and body and brings us into experience with the third, the intermediary, realm, which is both corporeal and spiritual and also more than the sum of the parts. The star in humankind—the living imagination and its connection to the divine—mediates psyche/body dimensions and misalignments…”  Using our imagination to find personal meaning in the themes and images that speak to us heals divides that prevent us from becoming our true selves.

The alchemists understood the transforming value of imagination. They addressed it with their symbolism of tending the fire and cooking earthly elements until they were distilled into their purest essences.  The essences were lifted into the heavens to mingle with and be fertilized by what Jung called the “seeds of the stars,”  their celestial, archetypal source.  Thus renewed, they returned to purify and renew the earth. This was a metaphor for transforming the baser, earthier elements of our psyches in ways that bring us spiritual awareness,  emotional warmth and the light of consciousness.

Our transformation does not happen quickly or easily. It is, as Wikman notes,  a never-ending process of cultivating “inner attentiveness to the life of the soul, and learning how to live and work with this flame that burns within in ways that are life enhancing, rather than destructive.”  This leads us “into growing awareness and participation in new transmutations between heaven and earth, between human and divine…[wherein]…we and the guiding spirit of wisdom grow in relationship to one another.”

If wisdom is the goal we seek, tending our inner fire is the art that will take us there.


Seeing With A Different Perspective January 24, 2012

Joseph Campbell said, “Myths are public dreams, dreams are private myths.”  How many of us realize that the plots of the books and movies we love—even the most fantastic, dreamlike ones about imaginary times, places, people, and creatures (for example, The Wizard of Oz)—are commentaries on the inner life of every human being who ever existed? How often do we remember that a weird dream is not just a meaningless phenomenon but a personal message about the realities of our unconscious selves?

Looking for the psychological meanings of public myths and private dreams is a powerful way to train your intuition, heal yourself, and increase your wisdom. Sometimes you won’t like what you see: Who likes the Wicked Witch of the West?  Yet, if you can imagine this story from a different perspective—as did the writers of the Broadway play Wicked who told it from her perspective—you’ll see how even the most terrifying villains can have benevolent intentions and teach valuable lessons. I’ll illustrate with a recent dream.

Dream #4346:  A Dragon Wants to Enter The House

I’m in a house. My mother’s in the kitchen. A dragon is outside flapping its wings against the roof and banging against the walls of a room in the far left corner. I walk down the hall and stand in the doorway. The opposite wall looks like a garage door with windows in the top half. The dragon is hanging down from the roof, its gigantic head framed in the windows. One huge eye stares at me. Its open mouth is lined with pointy teeth.

As I turn away in fear it bangs on the window. I hear a crash. He must have broken through. I call out to my mother, “Run! We’ve got to get out of here!” This feels like Fred’s old house so I know the door to the garage is ahead and hope we can escape in my car. Then I realize I don’t have the keys.  I ask my mother where they are and hear her voice saying they’re in the family room.  Oh no! I’ll have to go back toward the dragon to find my keys.

I awoke with my heart pounding. Do you see how archetypal the symbols are?  House? Kitchen? Mother? Dragon? Windows? Doors? Eye? Teeth? Keys? About the only things missing are a hero, some woods, a sword and a horse! This is a drama about the unfolding of my private myth. So far I understand that a powerful unconscious emotion (the dragon) is desperate for my ego’s attention. Although I’m gaining perspective on it (I glimpse it through windows separating me from the unconscious) I still fear it. It has something to do with the nurturing (kitchen) I received or didn’t receive from my mother, and also with my husband (I’m in the house where he grew up).  Finally, the keys to this mystery relate to family (the keys are in the family room). For the next several days I’ll carry this dream with me, feeling its feelings, talking to its images, looking to developments in my waking life for new insights.

Why am I telling you this dream? You can’t possibly understand the complexities of my inner life, and even if I did, I wouldn’t share them all here. But I want you to see my trust in the benevolence of dreams, and I’d like to help you work with yours. So with the understanding that your responses say more about your inner life than mine, I welcome your projections. Perhaps I’ll share some of mine next time if I think they could be helpful.


Disney Princesses August 30, 2011

In the 1970’s Westerners experienced a huge surge of awareness about gender stereotypes and we began a concerted effort to free ourselves from them. One issue receiving a lot of attention was how the depictions of female characters in traditional literature unconsciously influenced little girls’ beliefs about themselves and their place in the world. This led many women, myself included, to revisit our personal stories to see how we had limited ourselves.

Huge changes occurred in our cultural stories too. Television shows like Charlie’s Angels  featured women in roles that had been traditionally reserved for men.  Scholars like Marija Gimbutas (The Goddesses and Gods of Old Europe) and Merlin Stone (When God Was A Woman) wrote books that examined feminine aspects of spirituality. New volumes of fairy tales were re-written to give the female characters more power and control over their lives. Since then, our growing awareness has fostered greater gender balance in many sectors of society.

How then do we account for the phenomenon of the Disney Princesses? Some see them as positive role models for their daughters, but many see them as stereotypes which are bound to scar our daughters’ minds.  Why do they think this?  Because the rule for female leads in such tales as Cinderella, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, The Little Mermaid, and Beauty and the Beast is that they must be young, beautiful, sweetly shy, innocently seductive, charmingly vulnerable, and, for the most part, deferential to males. Moreover, although there are occasional deviations, the plots almost always follow the  masculine-hero-rescues-feminine-victim-and-conquers-villain formula for heroic behavior.

If we take these stories as literal models for gender behavior in the outer world  they are, indeed, limiting. But what if we see them as symbolic of the inner life of the soul which has a masculine and a feminine drive? What if we realize that each of us contains a sweet and vulnerable Cinderella/Snow White/Aurora/Belle Orphan who needs to be rescued from its child-like dreaminess so we can become conscious, mature, and responsible? What if we recognize the cruel Stepmothers, Stepsisters, and untamed Beasts within us who can influence us adversely if we do not become more aware of them?  What if we see that helpful Fairy Godmothers, noble Kings and Queens, and heroic savior Princes are also part of our potential and we can choose to empower them if we wish?

The characters and plots of our cultural stories are projections of our psyches that show us who we are and who we have the potential to become. If we view them as opportunities for self-reflection they can be portals to growth and self-discovery. The Disney Princesses represent a youthful stage of development of our feminine sides. As such, they will appeal to most children for a little while. A few might even stay in that stage throughout their lives — perhaps because the archetype is simply a powerful part of their true personality, or perhaps because they’re afraid to risk changing — but most will grow beyond it. And when they do, there are plenty of other role models out there to pick from.

At 6 and 9 my granddaughters have already outgrown the Disney Princesses. I wonder how long it will be before they discover Barbie and Ken…


Dreams of Trees February 22, 2011

Dreams are essentially about the soul’s journey from ignorance to enlightenment. Issues related to this process include leaving our dependence on the mother’s world; strengthening our ego; developing our individuality in the father’s world; facing our fear of the unconscious; descent into the soul’s dark night; accepting our shadow; honoring the instinctual life in our bodies; trusting and becoming grounded in the unconscious; acquiring self-knowledge and meaning; following our passion; experiencing regeneration and revitalization; uniting our inner opposites; and growing more centered and psychologically androgynous. All these themes are about establishing our ego’s connection with the Self, our central core, God-image and Beloved.

This journey is fundamental to the soul’s growth and dreams serve this growth, often with the imagery of trees. But it’s easy to misinterpret the meaning of this symbol. For example, in an early dream I passed by a tree so loosely rooted that the trunk shifted when I touched it and I was afraid it would fall over. Another dream around the same time featured a flimsy willow tree whose roots were so soggy from the nearby swamp that it, too, was in danger of falling and dying. Unaware of the psycho-spiritual meaning, I feared I was mentally unbalanced or going to die. But these dreams simply said my conscious ego (trunk) had weak connections (roots) to my unconscious (ground); and the water-swamped roots suggested nothing worse than the powerful unconscious emotions which occasionally overwhelmed me.

Years later I had an extraordinary dream in which the tree meant something very different. I offer a summary of it to you in partial explanation of who I am and what this blog is about. For the full text, consult my book Dream Theatres of the Soul.

Dream #843: “Two Snakes in the Tree of Life.” Someone narrates a story as I watch it unfold. A little green snake begins his life on one side of a tree, unaware of a huge old brown female snake higher up on the other side. After a long journey through the dark tree he pops out directly into the mouth of the big snake who munches down on his head. Another onlooker thinks this is the end of the little green snake, but a giant rainbow streaks across the sky from right to left and beneath it, on a stage in a vast cosmic theater, the little green snake reappears as a virile young cowboy who slaps two coins onto a saloon bar and says, “Set ‘em up, Joe.” He did not die but was transformed into a human. I think this is the best possible ending to the story.

I believe this story represented the spiritual initiation of my masculine ego and its reunion with the archetypal Great Mother. The part of the dream in which she bit down on the head of the male was especially perplexing until I read Barbara Walker’s The Woman’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets. Walker writes that stories from ancient religions often featured a male snake deity who was the consort of the Great Goddess: “[This male snake]…gave himself up to be devoured by the Goddess. The image of the male deity enclosed or devoured by the female gave rise to a superstitious notion…that the male snake fertilizes the female snake by putting his head in her mouth and letting her eat him.”

This strange drama in the Tree of Life was an archetypal symbol of transformation and renewal whose message filled me with joy.  My spiritual practice of dreamwork was paying off and my soul was being regrounded in the Mother as a stronger, more conscious individual.

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


Sophia’s Gift of Meaning December 21, 2010

Psychologists look for meaning in dream, myth, and fairy tale symbols because, as products of the unconscious, they compensate for the narrow visions of our egos and show us what we need to know to grow and thrive.  Reflecting on the metaphorical  meaning of our stories educates, encourages, and empowers us.

Here’s an example of what we can learn from fairy tales. The initial situation in a fairy tale represents the conscious state of affairs in a culture or individual. Leaving the original setting and going into the forest opens up the possibility for new insights lacking in the conscious orientation. What happens to those who enter the forest depends on their attitudes. The one who is indifferent, self-centered, self-righteous, proud, or disrespectful; the know-it-all who does not listen to advice; the person who must take charge, dominate, or control; the one who refuses to change: these people fall by the wayside or return home in disgrace. Such characters represent the weak and immature ego which does not easily acknowledge the significance of otherness. As the fairy tales illustrate, this attitude is ultimately destined for failure.

The hero or heroine in fairy tale and myth is always the one who succeeds because s/he has the correct attitude — the same attitude of humility, alert attention, trust, reverence, and respect that characterizes the deeply religious — toward the strange and magical beings encountered in the forest. This theme reflects a very profound truth. According to Jung, acquiring a religious outlook is an essential component of the journey to wholeness. By “religious” Jung did not mean believing in specific creeds that reflect personal or cultural biases. Rather he meant having reverence for every form of life including the unconscious, unknown otherness in the world and ourselves.

Religions try to develop religious attitudes by teaching their devotees to revere the symbols and themes of their myths and find spiritual meaning in them. Meaning is a human necessity. With it, there’s nothing we can’t bear; without it, there’s nothing to live for. There is nothing logical about meaning. We cannot see it, explain it, measure it, or prove it to anyone’s satisfaction. Nevertheless, it is a profound reality. If we have it, we know it because we feel a sense of purpose and vitality that was formerly lacking. Meaning is the “Aha!” of understanding; the “Eureka!” of discovery; the light bulb that turns on with a new insight or idea; the joy of finding the purpose of our lives; the blissful participation in eternity when we’re absorbed in work we love; the awed awareness of the miracle of being alive and knowing we are known and loved by something beyond ourselves.

The Greek myths provided sacred meaning for people in the Golden Age, but as the world changed and people grew more conscious they no longer found meaning in the old myths. The same is true of many people today for whom the myths of Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, or Islam are no longer tenable. While losing faith in our religious traditions can be devastating, it is a signal that we are ready for a newer, more personally meaningful and experiential spirituality. We receive this gift from Sophia, our spiritual mediatrix and mother, by looking within, listening to our hearts, discovering our true selves, and following our bliss:  in other words, by creating and living our own myths.

If you seek a deeper, more fulfilling spirituality, listen to what nourishes your soul with meaning. That’s Sophia talking and you can trust her. She knows the way home to your Self.  May you experience more of her gift.

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


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