Matrignosis: A Blog About Inner Wisdom

Think Pyschologically; Live Spiritually

The Feminine Symbolism of Vessels February 16, 2016

Our relationships with nature and matter are closely connected to our relationships with our bodies. In certain orthodox religious circles, love for God as remote masculine spirit has gone hand in hand with physical self-loathing. For example, Moses Maimonides, the greatest Jewish medieval philosopher, was merely stating a commonly held belief when he said that “all philosophers are agreed that the inferior world, of earthly corruption and degeneration, is ruled by the natural virtues and influences of the more refined celestial spheres.” Likewise, St. Augustine considered his body to be the major source of his spiritual problems and sufferings.

This attitude is an obstacle to the fullest development of our spirituality. In Care of the Soul, Thomas Moore writes:

“Spiritual life does not truly advance by being separated either from the soul or from its intimacy with life. God, as well as man, is fulfilled when God humbles himself to take on human flesh. The theological doctrine of incarnation suggests that God validates human imperfection as having mysterious…value. Our depressions, jealousies, narcissism, and failures are not at odds with the spiritual life. Indeed, they are essential to it….The ultimate marriage of spirit and soul, animus and anima, is the wedding of heaven and earth…”

Vessels are classic symbols of feminine matter. Of the many vessels symbolizing feminine containment, one that is particularly dear to Christians is the chalice or grail, the highest level of spiritual development and heavenly and earthly happiness. The female body is a vessel which receives sperm and produces eggs. A womb is a vessel within a vessel, the cradle of life that receives, holds, nurtures, and protects a growing embryo. A breast is a vessel which creates and dispenses milk. A skull is a vessel containing the brain, itself a vessel teeming with creative potential. In Christianity, Mary is a vessel for new spiritual life.

Another vessel-like symbol is the tower. A tower’s elevated position links it to heaven; its impenetrability to virginity; its vertical aspect to the human figure; its roundness to the womb; its containment to creative new life. Hence, towers that are closed and windowless were once emblematic of the Virgin Mary. In early Christian times a tower was often used to suggest the sacred walled city, another feminine symbol. The Herder Symbol Dictionary notes that a tower with a light is a lighthouse, which has long been a symbol “of the eternal goal toward which the ship of life [is] steered across the waves of this existence.” Its light suggests Sophia, the divine spark of life within us.

For Jung, too, the tower was a feminine symbol with sacred meaning. In his autobiography, Memories, Dreams, Reflections, he describes the stone tower he built at Bollingen, a small town on the upper shores of Lake Zurich, and writes that it “represented for me the maternal hearth.” He wrote,

“From the beginning I felt the Tower as in some way a place of maturation — a maternal womb or a maternal figure in which I could become what I was, what I am and will be. It gave me a feeling as if I were being reborn in stone.”

Vessels accept, contain, protect and preserve the birth/death/rebirth cycle of life at both the physical and metaphysical levels. Our planet Earth is a living vessel whose life cycles mirror the soul-making processes of psychological and spiritual transformation. The matter (L. mater) of which our bodies are composed is our mother, teacher, partner and guide on the spiritual journey. For that, it deserves our everlasting gratitude. How do you honor and thank your mother/body for nurturing the life of your soul?

Photo Credit:  “Chalice” by Barbara Sorensen

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 Kobo, Barnes and Noble,  and Smashwords.

 

The Feminine Symbolism of Vessels February 12, 2014

Our relationships with nature and matter are closely connected to our relationships with our bodies. In certain orthodox religious circles, love for God as remote masculine spirit has gone hand in hand with physical self-loathing. For example, Moses Maimonides, the greatest Jewish medieval philosopher, was merely stating a commonly held belief when he said that “all philosophers are agreed that the inferior world, of earthly corruption and degeneration, is ruled by the natural virtues and influences of the more refined celestial spheres.” Likewise, St. Augustine considered his body to be the major source of his spiritual problems and sufferings.

This attitude is an obstacle to the fullest development of our spirituality. In Care of the Soul, Thomas Moore writes:

“Spiritual life does not truly advance by being separated either from the soul or from its intimacy with life. God, as well as man, is fulfilled when God humbles himself to take on human flesh. The theological doctrine of incarnation suggests that God validates human imperfection as having mysterious…value. Our depressions, jealousies, narcissism, and failures are not at odds with the spiritual life. Indeed, they are essential to it….The ultimate marriage of spirit and soul, animus and anima, is the wedding of heaven and earth…”

Vessels are classic symbols of feminine matter. Of the many vessels symbolizing feminine containment, one that is particularly dear to Christians is the chalice or grail, the highest level of spiritual development and heavenly and earthly happiness. The female body is a vessel which receives sperm and produces eggs. A womb is a vessel within a vessel, the cradle of life that receives, holds, nurtures, and protects a growing embryo. A breast is a vessel which creates and dispenses milk. A skull is a vessel containing the brain, itself a vessel teeming with creative potential. In Christianity, Mary is a vessel for new spiritual life.

Another vessel-like symbol is the tower. A tower’s elevated position links it to heaven; its impenetrability to virginity; its vertical aspect to the human figure; its roundness to the womb; its containment to creative new life. Hence, towers that are closed and windowless were once emblematic of the Virgin Mary. In early Christian times a tower was often used to suggest the sacred walled city, another feminine symbol. The Herder Symbol Dictionary notes that a tower with a light is a lighthouse, which has long been a symbol “of the eternal goal toward which the ship of life [is] steered across the waves of this existence.” Its light suggests Sophia, the divine spark of life within us.

For Jung, too, the tower was a feminine symbol with sacred meaning. In his autobiography, Memories, Dreams, Reflections, he describes the stone tower he built at Bollingen, a small town on the upper shores of Lake Zurich, and writes that it “represented for me the maternal hearth.” He wrote,

“From the beginning I felt the Tower as in some way a place of maturation — a maternal womb or a maternal figure in which I could become what I was, what I am and will be. It gave me a feeling as if I were being reborn in stone.”

Vessels accept, contain, protect and preserve the birth/death/rebirth cycle of life at both the physical and metaphysical levels. Our planet Earth is a living vessel whose life cycles mirror the soul-making processes of psychological and spiritual transformation. The matter (L. mater) of which our bodies are composed is our mother, teacher, partner and guide on the spiritual journey. For that, it deserves our everlasting gratitude. How do you honor and thank your mother/body for nurturing the life of your soul?

Photo Credit:  “Chalice” by Barbara Sorensen

Healing the Sacred Divide can be found at Amazon and Larson Publications, IncEbook versions of The Bridge to Wholeness and Dream Theatres of the Soul are at Kobo, Barnes and Noble, Smashwords,and Diesel Ebooks 

 

Puppy Love July 20, 2012

Recently I shared a dream from many years ago (Seeing Through the Mist) of a sacred garden where a puppy playfully grabbed my hand as if inviting me to follow him. Who was this puppy named Prince? What was he doing in my dream? Where did he want to take me? In those days I had only a vague inkling of what this sweet symbol had to do with me. But the sweetness has spread a hundred-fold since then and I thought you might be interested in knowing why.

Animals in dreams usually represent our physical, animal natures. In Jungian psychology dogs are often seen as psychopomps, i.e. spiritual initiators and guides who direct the transformation of souls. For example, in Greek mythology, Cerberus is the three-headed dog who guards the river Styx, the place of transition between physical life and the underworld afterlife.  Psychologically, the upper world represents our conscious selves and the underworld represents the unconscious: our unknown depths. 

So how did this symbol relate to the transformation occurring in my soul? I found a clue in the writing of Thomas Moore. In his book, Care of the Soul, he says that during the Middle Ages, many wise people considered the body to be a physical manifestation of the soulDeepak Chopra addresses the same theme in Reinventing the Body, Resurrecting the Soul.  Both write about the loss of soul that comes from neglecting the sacred life in our bodies.

Was I attuned to the sacredness of the life in my physical body?  Did I treat it like a spiritual vessel for my soul? Did I respect the messages it sent me through emotions and physical sensations? Absolutely not. And here’s why. At the age of 11 I learned the most devastating lesson anyone can have:  the reality and inevitability of death.  When my father died, my unconscious response was to escape physical vulnerability and pain by strengthening my mind and spirit.

From then on, I was a stoic little Warrior.  I refused novacaine when the dentist drilled my teeth.  If my eyes filled with tears, I simply wiped them away and pressed on. If I felt physically drained, instead of noticing what was sapping my energy I criticized myself for wimping out. If someone said something cruel or nobody asked me to dance at the Jr. High cotillion, I refused to feel hurt.  So for the grown-up me, the puppy represented an inner soul guide whose appearance signaled my readiness to become better acquainted with my physical, instinctual, emotional self.

What about his name: Prince? Did that mean something too? Of course it did. Everything in our dreams has meaning for us. Consider this association for “prince” from The Herder Symbol Dictionary: “Psychoanalytically he can be understood as the representative of victorious ego powers.” This innocuous little puppy symbolized a profound spiritual truth: The success of our journey is a function of our (our ego’s) willingness to acquire as much reverence for the unconscious life in our bodies as we have for the conscious life of the mind.

That this puppy was a Prince and not a fully adult King suggested I had a lot of growing up to do. But the fact that he was being fed by unconscious aspects of my psyche (the unknown people in the dream who gave him food) was enormously reassuring because it said parts of me were beginning to heed this wisdom so beautifully expressed by Jungian analyst, Dr. Cara Barker: “Take the time to feed what is hungry in your soul, and rest what is weary in your heart.”  Today I realize that receiving Prince’s affirmation from the sacred depths was when I stopped trying to escape my life and started falling back in love with it.

Click here to see a video of my first interview for my new book, Healing the Sacred Divide.

 

Your Body As Your Partner in Dreamwork February 26, 2011

When you can’t get a dream out of your mind it’s a sign you need to spend time on it. Let’s assume I apply my usual techniques to my early worrisome tree dreams without gaining much understanding. Then one day at the bookstore I pick up a book on symbols and open it to a random page and there is a dream similar to mine with a psychological interpretation that hits me like a lightning bolt. Aha! I get it! I’m not sick. I’m not going to die! I just need a firmer grounding in the unconscious and what can be more helpful than persevering in dreamwork? I’m stunned and relieved and filled with gratitude. This synchronistic experience feels like a message from the Sacred and I don’t ever want to forget it.

So what do I do?  I like to create original rituals for special dreams. I might buy a little bonsai tree and make a private ceremony of putting it on my desk and vowing to feed and water and prune it properly. I could prepare and bless a plot of ground in my yard and plant a new tree there, or replant a sickly one to this new location. I could buy a painting or sculpture of a healthy tree or create one myself. I could take a walk in the woods or park, noting how different trees make me feel and photographing those that touch me in some way. I could wear tree earrings or a tree pin; meditate before my private altar on which I’ve arranged a picture of a tree, a bowl of water, a bowl of earth, sandalwood incense and a lit candle; act out my dream and the emotions it brings up; write a tree poem; sing a tree song; do a tree dance…

You get the idea. Dreams that move you in some vital way are important milestones in your soul’s journey. Involving your whole self in rituals that bring them into the outer world helps you integrate your new insights. Religions use sacraments for the same reason: because the body retains images, smells, sounds, tastes and tactile experiences long after the ego forgets. You could have left your religion 40 years ago and forgotten all about its power to move your spirit and then one day you step into a church and are hit with a wave of smells and music and imagery and all the old emotions and spiritual awareness come flooding right back.

Medieval philosophers (and many moderns) believed the body is the visible manifestation of the soul. If so, this means your body has as much to do with your psycho-spiritual growth as your mind. In her groundbreaking book, Molecules of Emotion, Candace Pert, Ph.D. offers convincing evidence that the body functions as an important part of the mind. Your body is likewise an important aspect of spirit, for as the medieval mystic Mother Julian of Norwich taught, God indwells our souls. If your body is a manifestation of your soul and your soul contains God, then how could your body not be spiritual?

Using body work to honor important dreams partners your ego with your soul in sacred work. Why do I call this work sacred? Consider these words from Thomas Moore: “Spiritual life does not truly advance by being separated either from the soul or from its intimacy with life. God, as well as man, is fulfilled when God humbles himself [sic] to take on human flesh….The ultimate marriage of spirit and soul, animus and anima, is the wedding of heaven and earth.”

May your dreams lead you toward this sacred marriage.

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

 

Puppy Love May 11, 2010

Recently I wrote about a dream from many years ago of a sacred garden where a puppy playfully grabbed my hand as if inviting me to follow him. Who was this puppy named Prince? What was he doing in my dream? Where did he want to take me? In those days I had only a vague inkling of what this sweet symbol had to do with me. But the sweetness has spread a hundred-fold since then and I thought you might be interested in knowing why.

Animals in dreams usually represent our physical, animal natures. In Jungian psychology dogs are often seen as psychopomps, i.e. spiritual initiators and guides who direct the transformation of souls. For example, in Greek mythology, Cerberus is the three-headed dog who guards the river Styx, the place of transition between the upper- and underworlds. Psychologically, the upper world symbolizes everything we know about ourselves and the underworld represents our unknown and undeveloped depths.

A major issue with spiritually oriented people like me is that we can become so infatuated with the abstract life of the mind that we tend to lose touch with our feelings and bodies. Have you ever been moved to tears by something and not known why? Our bodies send us emotional messages like this all the time, and dismissing them is like failing to open a letter from your most trusted friend. I used to ignore these spontaneous eruptions from the underworld but now I try to figure out what they’re trying to tell me. Are they about a sad loss? A painful betrayal? An unhealed wound? Or do they signify overflowing gratitude for the blessings of my life, like the freedom to be myself, a thoughtful gift from a grandchild, or a loving hug from a dear friend?

Anyway, during the Middle Ages, many wise people considered the body to be a physical manifestation of the soul. This idea is being revived today by people like Thomas Moore (Care of the Soul), and Deepak Chopra (Reinventing the Body, Resurrecting the Soul). The common theme in these books is the loss of soul that comes from neglecting the sacred life in our bodies. So for me, the puppy represents an inner soul guide whose appearance signaled my readiness to get better acquainted with my physical, instinctual, emotional truths.

That’s cool enough, but what about his name: Prince? Did that mean something too? Of course it did. Everything in our dreams has meaning for us. Consider this association for “prince” from The Herder Symbol Dictionary: “Psychoanalytically he can be understood as the representative of victorious ego powers.” This innocuous little puppy symbolizes a profound spiritual truth: The success of our journey is a function of our (our ego’s) willingness to acquire as much reverence for the unconscious life in our bodies as we have for the conscious life of the mind.

That this puppy was a Prince and not a fully adult Queen or King suggested I had a lot of growing up to do. But the fact that he was being fed by unconscious aspects of my psyche (the unknown people in the dream who gave him food) was enormously reassuring because it said parts of me were beginning to heed this wisdom so beautifully expressed by Jungian analyst, Dr. Cara Barker: “Take the time to feed what is hungry in your soul, and rest what is weary in your heart.”  Today I realize that receiving Prince’s affirmation from the sacred depths was when I started falling back in love with my life.

 

 
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