Matrignosis: A Blog About Inner Wisdom

Think Pyschologically; Live Spiritually

Three Billboards: The Myth and the Message February 20, 2018

Three Billboards Day 04_118.dng

Dark, quirky, clever, and controversial, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri has been nominated for seven academy awards this year. Like “The Shape of Water,” nominated for a whopping 13, its protagonist is a powerless, justice-seeking female up against an unsympathetic patriarchal system. In this case, the villain is not the U.S. military, but a small town, good-old-boy police force. Both plots are driven by the archetypal hero/ine vs. villain theme punctuated with racism, violence, and abuse of power.

Frances McDormand plays Mildred Hayes, a grieving mother whose teen-aged daughter was raped then set afire. Angry at local authorities who haven’t solved the murder, she rents three unused billboards and puts up an accusatory message to sheriff Willoughby, played by Woody Harrelson. In the face of animosity and threats from several fellow citizens, especially the racist, mama’s-boy police officer Dixon (Sam Rockwell), she persists in calling attention to her cause. As tension and emotions ramp up in a series of unexpected events, viewers discover that in this battle between good and evil, the lines aren’t as clearly drawn as we might prefer.

Original as this film is, at bottom, its theme is archetypal. Consider the ancient Greek myth about the Earth Mother goddess Demeter and her beloved young daughter, Persephone. Carol S. Pearson’s latest book, Persephone Rising, contains an insightful explanation of the same psychological forces which continue to influence us and our culture today.

In the myth, innocent Persephone gathers flowers in a field when Hades erupts through a cleft in the earth and abducts (and some say rapes) her. When Demeter realizes her beloved daughter is gone, she is overwhelmed with grief. After getting no help from the gods who, fearing retribution from Zeus, refuse to tell her what happened to her daughter, she sets aside her responsibilities for making the crops grow and searches the earth tirelessly. While Demeter grieves, all growth on earth ceases, then dies. As Dr. Pearson notes, Demeter’s recognition that her needs matter too result in the “first ever recorded sit-down strike.”

Zeus — the Father/King of the gods and prototype of patriarchy’s top dog whose power trumps everyone else’s — is not happy about this.  It was he, Persephone’s father, who had given Hades permission to take her to the underworld in the first place. But if the famine kills the humans, who will build his temples? Who will worship him with gifts and offerings? So this macho, uncompromising thunder God relents and demands Persephone’s release. Demeter’s non-violent protest works.

But will Mildred’s protest work? Will it stay non-violent? Our dualistic mindsets want a hero to celebrate, a scapegoat to blame, a heretic to crucify. But these people are not polar opposites like virtuous princes and wicked witches. They are complex, multi-faceted human beings grappling with complex issues and powerful emotions that aren’t easy to reconcile.

The gods and goddesses represent amoral, instinctual forces in all of us. At bottom, this is who we are. You and I contain every emotion they feel, and we are capable of being gripped by them to commit every act they do, good and bad. The only difference between them and us is that we humans want to be virtuous so we make rules for ourselves, try to keep them, and disown our shadow sides that want to break them. But sometimes they show up anyway.

Mildred’s daughter has been taken from her and she deserves justice, but can we condone her increasingly questionable tactics? We might likewise ask, how can Demeter, supposedly an endlessly loving and forgiving Mother goddess, let humanity starve to death just to get her daughter back? Does her grief justify her means?

Seeing unsuspected sides of Sheriff Willoughby and officer Dixon is equally unsettling. Why isn’t Willoughby putting more effort into pursuing the culprit? Is he indifferent to Mildred’s suffering? Why does he let Dixon — one of those ignorant Warrior bullies we love to hate — get away with his senseless cruelty toward a man less powerful than he? Are these people redeemable?

Demeter gets her daughter back from the underworld, at least for part of every year. But though Mildred has some admirable goddess qualities, she is not a goddess, and no matter how much she acts like one her daughter will never return. Is there a human force strong enough to reconcile her fierce Demeter hunger for justice? Dixon, like Zeus and Ares, the God of War, savagely punishes people he hates. Will Mildred become like him? And if she does, will this cancel out any vestiges of human goodness left in her?

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is a dark, disturbing film, but I loved it for highlighting human complexity and prompting these and other difficult questions. It is the function of artists and art to raise a culture’s awareness. To challenge our either-or morality. To explore the gray realm between opposites in which a creative third force can emerge to reconcile our divisiveness. I love it that this film is being honored for rising to this challenge.

But I loved the dreamy, fairy-tale quality of The Shape of Water too. This leaves me with another question. Which one do I want to win the Oscar for best picture? This is a complex issue I haven’t reconciled yet.

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.

 

What’s the Point of the Three Kings? December 22, 2014

Hans_Baldung_-_Three_Kings_Altarpiece_(open)_-_WGA01199[1]Those of us raised as Christians know this holiday is about a lot more than rushing about, partying, shopping, eating, decorating, and giving gifts, and many of us enjoy warm memories and nostalgic feelings this time of year. But why does it sometimes feel that our gifts are not enough, both the ones we give and those received? Why do we sometimes feel we’ve missed the point of Christmas? What is the point, and how can we celebrate it?

To understand what’s missing we need to discover the true meaning of Christmas for ourselves, and to do that we need to look at the Christ story and our own lives through the symbolic language of mythos. This is not the left-brained language of fact and logic, but the language of myth and symbol, the language of the Soul.

The Christmas story takes place in a stable filled with animals at the Winter Solstice, the darkest time of year. Throughout the world, common associations for the symbol of darkness include the unconsciousness of our instinctual animal nature and all the ignorance, chaos, death, and moral irresponsibility that goes with it. Psychologically, this setting is a reference to unconsciousness, the state in which we all begin our lives and often end them as well.

The plot centers around a virgin who gives birth to a baby boy. Virgins and babies symbolize innocence and the abundance of undeveloped possibilities, like the pure state of a soul ready to receive Spirit. Birth represents new life with its potential for growth into greater maturity and wisdom.

And is there significance in the fact that the baby is a boy? Yes. Mary, like the Hindu goddess Durga, symbolizes the feminine source of all energy, and Jesus represents an extraordinarily hopeful new masculine form of ego-life that has manifested from the maternal matrix. From our soul’s perspective, the significance of Jesus is that 2,000 years ago he introduced into the Middle-Eastern world an unprecedented (for that place and time) new capacity for an inner birth of a deeply personal, intimate experience of Spirit. This experience is characterized not just by believing in the ideal of love or having a strong desire to love others, but by actually feeling and living with love.

At the end of the story three (the number of forward movement that overcomes the conflicts of duality) kings (the masculine principle, sovereignty, and worldly power) arrive after a long and arduous trek from the Far East with rare and precious gifts for the tiny baby. The kings symbolize the wisdom and individuated, religious outlook of a mature and unified consciousness that is born through self-reflection and self-acceptance. Having endured the hard work of this inner journey and assumed our own sovereignty, we are finally able to see the sacredness in everything and revere every form of life down to the smallest and seemingly least important.  Knowing the preciousness of this gift of new life, we want to give it to others.

And finally, the kings are guided by a star.  Stars are attributes of all Queens of Heaven.  They represent spiritual inspiration, the highest attainment, and the presence of divinity, hope and light in our lives. A star is also a symbol of creative imagination, our uniquely human capacity for combining outer facts with the soul’s meaningful inner truths and expressing them with life-changing symbols and images.

Like the myths of every religion, this story combines historical events with psychological truths. Christ mass celebrates a momentous evolutionary leap forward in ego consciousness from a primitive, ignorant, and self-serving survival mentality into an advanced self-awareness capable of bringing wisdom, love, and authentic being and living.

The point of Christmas is that you and I can take this leap into Christ-awareness and experience for ourselves the life-enhancing, soul-satisfying love, hope and wonder that come with it.  Giving material gifts is certainly one way to show and share our love during the holiday season, but giving the gift of our growing psychological and spiritual maturity to our loved ones is far more rewarding and lasting.

May a more mature psychological consciousness and spiritual enlightenment be quickened worldwide during this holiday season, and may the love in our hearts be abundant and overflowing.  Thank you for stopping by in this most blessed season.

P.S. I hope you won’t mind a little shameless self-promotional hint:  If you or someone you love is on the inner journey, one of my books might be a good holiday gift. Ebook versions of The Bridge to Wholeness and Dream Theatres of the Soul are at Amazon, Kobo, Barnes and Noble and Smashwords.  Healing the Sacred Divide can be found at Amazon and Larson Publications, Inc.

Art Credit:  Wikimedia Commons

Three Kings Altarpiece (open)

1507 Linden panel, 121 x 70 cm (central), 121 x 28 cm (each wing) Staatliche Museen, Berlin

 

The Secret Meaning of Christmas December 25, 2012

sunoversnowImagine our surprise when, on a trip to Indochina two years ago, our group of travelers arrived in Saigon to find it decorated for Christmas! Windows of one major department store were topped with thick mounds of carved styrofoam snow. Our hotel lobby held a giant blue Christmas tree and a life-sized Santa Claus who swiveled his hips while he sang “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree.” When I asked our guide why a mostly Buddhist country celebrates Christmas in such a big way, he replied, “Christmas is universal now. It’s all about shopping.”

Come to think of it, that’s pretty much what it’s about for many Westerners too, along with decorating our homes, reuniting with loved ones, preparing special foods and exchanging presents. Amidst all the bustle I wonder how many of us actually experience the love, joy and peace that is the promise of Christmas or profoundly connect with its underlying psycho-spiritual meaning. And what is that meaning? To find it we need to use the symbolic language of mythos.

The Christmas story takes place in a stable filled with animals at the Winter Solstice, the darkest time of year. Throughout the world, common associations for the symbol of darkness include the unconsciousness of our instinctual animal nature and all the ignorance, chaos, death, and moral irresponsibility that goes with it. Psychologically, this setting is a reference to unconsciousness, the state in which we all begin our lives and often end them as well.

The plot centers around a virgin who gives birth to a baby boy. Virgins and babies symbolize innocence and the abundance of undeveloped possibilities, like the pure state of a soul ready to receive Spirit. Birth represents new life with its potential for growth into greater maturity and wisdom. And is there significance in the fact that the baby is a boy? Yes. Mary, like the Hindu goddess Durga, symbolizes the feminine source of all energy, and Jesus represents an extraordinarily hopeful new masculine form of ego-life that has manifested from the maternal matrix. From our soul’s perspective, the significance of Jesus is that 2,000 years ago he introduced into the Near-Eastern world an unprecedented (for that place and time) new capacity for an inner birth of a deeply personal, intimate experience of Spirit.

At the end of the story three (the number of forward movement that overcomes duality) kings (the masculine principle, sovereignty, and worldly power) arrive after a long and arduous trek from the Far East. Guided by a star, (stars are attributes of all Queens of Heaven and represent the highest attainment, the presence of divinity, hope and light), they bring rare and precious gifts for the tiny baby. The kings symbolize the hard work of individuation and the religious outlook of unified consciousness, a way of being that sees the sacredness in everything and reveres every form of life down to the smallest and seemingly least important.

Like the myths of every religion, the value of this story does not hinge on external fact, but psychological truth. Christ mass celebrates a momentous evolutionary leap forward in ego consciousness from a primitive, self-serving survival mentality into an advanced self-awareness capable of authentic being and compassionate living. The secret meaning of Christmas is that you and I can experience a rebirth into Christ-awareness.

May psychological and spiritual enlightenment be quickened worldwide during this holiday season, and may the love in our hearts be abundant and overflowing.  Thank you for stopping by on this most blessed day. Merry Christmas.

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

 

A Dream With Meaningful Symbols April 13, 2012

Has it ever happened to you that an ordinary symbol or image from everyday life suddenly feels significant? Perhaps it happens after a synchronicity like falling in love with a painting then finding the same image on the cover of a fascinating new book. Or maybe you have no idea why an image moves you deeply.

Either way, your heightened awareness of a symbol tells you you’ve connected with an unknown aspect of your unconscious self that is bringing more meaning to your life. You can ignore this, which is what most of us do, and life will go on as usual. But if you want to understand yourself better and feel more spiritually connected, you can take these inner awakenings seriously and look into the meaning of the symbols that elicit them. In doing so, you create a new story for yourself: you remyth your life.

Once I got serious about self-knowledge and began to pay attention to my dreams, things like this happened quite often. At first I hid my growing fascination with certain symbols for fear people would think I was weird and make fun of me. But after a few years a special dream gave me more confidence to be myself.

Dream #860: Acquiring the Courage to Be Real. I’m walking through an underground corridor lined with narrow but beautiful rooms decorated with elegant antiques. It is the mansion of an older, reclusive, hardworking woman. I live here too. The doorbell rings, telling me my friend has arrived. The older woman asks me to buy her some lemonade while I’m out. To be polite, she asks if my friend wants to come in. When I say no she is relieved.

I climb the stairs and open the door into a big, dark, dusty warehouse. I follow a narrow path through broken pieces of junk to a door which opens onto the street. It’s opened by my beautiful, young, black-haired friend who wears a white trench coat and is bathed in brilliant white light. We walk through a rundown, weedy front yard onto a busy street. The passersby do not suspect there is an elegant, but somewhat narrow mansion below the ground behind this junky facade.  The older woman is afraid of people knowing she is there or how she lives.

This dream told me I had a fearful shadow (older woman) who was hiding the best parts of herself—my richer, fuller spiritual nature (mansion)—deep inside (underground) behind a neglected persona (warehouse, weeds, front yard). That she wanted some lemon “aid”  (in Judaism the lemon symbolizes the human heart), said that she lacked the compassion to give more of herself and the courage to be real.

It was very heartening to know that my ego had grown enough spiritually (walking up stairs) to step through my barrier of fear (doorway) and enter life in the outer world more fully. And to know that the feminine aspect of the Self (friend, the opposites of black and white, white light) wanted to help me obtain what I needed (lemonade) felt absolutely wonderful. This was when I  finally understood that the sacred feminine is real, that she lives in me, and that she’s a helpful friend!

Understanding the symbols of this breakthrough dream emboldened me to reveal more of my true self to family, friends, and in my writing in a way that nothing else had the power to do. And yes, I am now aware of levels of spiritual meaning in many things I never thought twice about before, including narrow mansions, lemons, doors, stairs, warehouses, white light, and even junky yards!

 

Whispering Symbols: Dot and Circle March 27, 2012

I am too committed to my psychological and spiritual growth to cling to assumptions that have no practical value for me.  If believing in the connectedness of all life and the meaning in all things did not produce observable healthy change, I would accommodate myself to what did; but the fact is that mythos—the symbolic way of thinking that is sister to masculine logos—has served me exceedingly well in my efforts to become more conscious, whole, and connected.

Mythos is the language of the body, heart, and soul. It is associated with the feminine realm—i.e., all that is mysterious, unconscious, creative, felt, organic, and personally compelling. It whispers to us in feelings, physical symptoms, imagination, fantasy, and dreams that reveal unconscious dimensions of ourselves.

Both logos and mythos contribute to our fullest development. Children use mythos thinking automatically. This is why they respond to everything new with spontaneity, enthusiasm, joy and wonder.  But once the “masculine” phase of external striving begins, logos and the ego tend to dominate our thinking and spirituality, and life begins to lose its savor. Those who never leave mythos behind or who return to it later on discover undeveloped aspects of themselves by following meaningful symbols, powerful emotions, cognitive dissonance, uncomfortable personal dilemmas, and bodily symptoms through the labyrinth of the unconscious.

Symbols unlock doors to hidden chambers of ourselves wherein we discover purpose and meaning. Some symbols only have meaning for certain individuals or groups; others have universal appeal. Take, for example, a dot and a circle.  Why does every culture on the planet use these simple designs in religion, art, architecture, literature, and adornment?  Is this just an amazing coincidence, or is there something profound within each of us to which they speak?

In A Dictionary of Symbols, J.E. Cirlot tells us that a dot is a symbol of unity and the Origin.  A circle suggests infinity, the All.  And a circle with a dot or hole in the center represents the center of infinity, i.e., emanation or first cause. These symbols all speak to the same psychic reality, the Self which contains our predisposition to believe in a sacred realm, shapes our images and ideas about it, and motivates the spiritual search.

We cannot “know” our Source of Being—the eternal essence that we call God, Goddess, Father, Mother, Jahweh, Allah, Great Spirit, or whatever term you prefer—and words alone can never describe all that we intuit.  But the universal symbols of the dot and the circle resonate deeply.

Eastern religions have produced myriad renderings of circular mandalas, each with a center point, upon which devotees may focus their thoughts during meditation.  Similarly,  native peoples throughout the Western world have long created sacred circles in sand paintings and arrangements of stones as aids to worship in religious ceremonies. Jung saw mandalas as symbols of individuation, and his The Red Book contains many of the exquisite images he painted during his most intense time of inner exploration.

These and other symbols—like geometric shapes, abstract designs,  certain kinds of people, activities, animals, plants, elements, imaginary beings or objects—capture our attention with mysterious power because they carry important meaning for us. What symbols and activities attracted your childhood imagination and appeared in your fantasies? Do they still appeal to you today?  What do they say about your passions and journey through life? How can you bring them into your life to create more meaning and fulfillment?

 

 
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