Monday, September 3, 2012

Knocking on the door

Work. Keep digging your well.
Don’t think about getting off from work.
Water is there somewhere.
Submit to a daily practice.
Your loyalty to thatis a ring on the door.
Keep knocking, and the joy inside
will eventually open a window
and look out to see who’s there.

~ Rumi

Had a great time with G yesterday. Put the question to him again... with a negative answer. But I can tell things have moved on. First off, I know what this is all about; it's about the desire for love, trust, a home. And second, I'm not infatuated anymore, and I haven't been for a while now.

Last night, and recently as well, I've noticed my reactions towards him, and the things I've notice about him: his immaturity mainly. And, although I've known it for a while, his weakness, the general weakness and cowardice that's a basic part of his personality. Although at one point I did think that we were on different levels (i.e. that I was more psychologically developed) later I wasn't so sure - different maybe, with different strengths and weaknesses but maybe not different levels. But his shit isn't cute anymore and, although it could be something for us to work through if we actually had a relationship, I really think it's not going to be.

The biggest thing I had to deal with in the aftermath of our day was feelings of loss, of longing for love, for someone who would be protective of me, to whom I was special, unique and beloved. To be beloved of someone, and to protect and have them be my beloved. And I still feel grief over the loss of what we could have had - I still think that we mesh well together - but I think I have my answer about who the pairings in the readings I've been getting are. I kept wondering; are the "two beings" who unite and work together as one me and G, or two different sides of me? And I think I have the answer.

One of the things I was thinking about is our role in each others lives. I know I'm in his life to help draw him out into living, to spread his wings and fly. But for the longest time I thought his role in my life was for me to suffer all the things I've avoided all my life. Last night I got a deeper look into that. The suffering isn't just suffering for its own sake - the suffering is part of connecting to the world. I fell in love with him because, as Jung said, love makes us risk everything for it's sake. It connects us to the world. And that connection often hurts.

All my life I've avoided anything that hurt. That meant that all my life I never connected to anyone or anything. It was always easy for me to ditch anyone who was difficult or caused me pain, and that meant I never lived, I only drifted through my life, so that I reached my middle years without ever really having lived at all. That's what I needed G for, to be willing to stay with a relationship with a person who caused me pain, stay with it even when it caused me pain. I've never done that before. I did a tarot and i-ching reading after G left and they indicated something big, something big and beautiful and amazing, was coming down the pike. I think it's related to this staying connected with life, even through what feels like unbearable suffering. This is the work that Rumi wrote about, the knocking at the door of Joy until It looks out to see who's there.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Being Prometheus

Monday of this week was a HUUUUUGE, monsoon like storm, which had completely blown over by the time I had to go out for lunch. When I came back to the office, however, I saw what at first I thought was a dead locust. It turned out to be a dead praying mantis (!!!) I took it as a sign that something, and not something good, was up with my Inner Mantis.

A couple of days ago, I had another freakout at work; worried that I was a terrible worker, would never be able to do my job effectively, would get fired and end up living on the streets, etc., etc. When I started doing visualization work later that night, I felt/saw vultures ripped out my stomach, like Prometheus. I was panicky and terrified. Then they changed into owls; it was still serious but it became more sacrificial and ritualistic. And off and on since then, the panicked feelings will come back and those visions will be in my head.

Before all this I had a dream about how we all put these giant belts around our midsection, which give us "super powers" but keep us from being our real selves. I realized that that's why we have these horrible, humiliating experiences; to rip off this artificial barrier we created to get by in the world. Each time I go through another round of the stomach-ripping, afterwards, I feel calmer and the world clearer.

Things have slowed down a bit as far as this kind of work is concerned (although I'm getting signals that I need to get back with the program) but this was a pretty interesting and encouraging development.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Dealing with the Wicked Witch

In my last post I wrote about how I'm going through the issues dealt with in the Hansel and Gretel fairy tail, but I was still unsure about the most important part of the story: how to deal with the wicked witch. What does it mean to trick the witch and push her into the fire that was meant for you?

So, I spent a lot of time pondering that question and I've come to a realization: yes, we do have to burn in the fire. It is about us not avoiding the flames and cooking in them... but we don't get attached to the feelings that are burning us.

By burning in whatever fire is burning us - anger, longing, bitterness, whatever - we let that fire burn out naturally, as Jung wrote. But there has to be a tiny distance, a tiny bit of space between "I" and the feeling. That's what Gretel pushing the witch into the fire is.

Normally, when we get caught up in a passion, we get completely caught up in it - we get so completely caught up in it we're possessed by it, to the point where we ourselves disappear. Part of moving the sense of "I" back from the ego to the Self is that when these overwhelming passions come over us, we can allow ourselves to be burned but not be possessed by them. It's like a trick, like tricking the witch, burning her instead of us.

And I didn't just have an intellectual understanding of this; the realization came while actually pacticing it. I experienced a couple of overwhelming, burning feelings and managed to let them burn without being taken over by them. Sometimes I went so far as to imaging pushing the witch into the oven. I also realized that water doesn't work, neither does earth. Only fire burns and purifies.

Monday, July 30, 2012

The hungry mouth

I get the neck of the chicken;
I get the plate with the crack.

I've been dealing with the parental wound lately; the lack of mother love. It's funny but what the ups and downs of my relationship with G have been leading me to is not my animus but my Mother. I've come to realize that the great, big, gaping hole in me - the one that howls like a starving, half-crazed wolf - is Mother Hunger, hunger for love and nourishment, acceptance. Hunger for Home.

So I've been reading books and scouring the internet for info on this particular kind of negative mother complex (there are several varieties apparently.) Some strike a chord in me... or maybe it's more accurate to say, they struck a wound.
Others suffer all their lives from a sense of their own inadequacy and inferiority; they feel that they are inevitably unacceptable, they are doomed to be outsiders debarred from normal companionship, whatever they do will be wrong, whatever they desire will be forbidden. They are accursed, alienated from God and man, and not least from themselves.

These are the individuals who have never had an adequate experience of mother-love. In childhood they felt they were not wanted, and consequently in them the image of Mother is of a demanding and destructive power. But the archetypal pattern of Mother as the source of life, that Jung described in the passage quoted above, is not, for that reason, obliterated in them, but inasmuch as it has not been activated by their actual human experience, it remains in the unconscious, latent, not even appearing as an image, nor is it capable, in the most injured persons, of being projected to some mother substitute, an aunt, grandmother, nurse or schoolteacher. This positive image, however, does manifest itself, even in the most deprived individuals, as the expectation of Mother. The reciprocal of child is mother, his weakness and dependence being the obverse reflection of her strength and care. And so in these individuals, the absence of the mother-image is felt as a lack - the deprivation is felt but not the possibility possibility of fulfillment. The child wanders in the wilderness, and remains not only deprived but actively hostile to everyone and everything, and not infrequently in his despair he becomes self-destructive as well.
(M. Esther Harding, The Parental Image, pp. 15-16)

Mothers, in many cultures, are expected to be accepting and nurturing. A woman I know has received a minimum of nurturing from her mother and has developed an intense fear of being abandoned. Thus, she has an "abandonment complex" intertwined with her negative mother complex. Her fear keeps her in a state of anxiety. Because of her over-eagerness to be accepted, she tends to drive away friends and lovers.
(Matton, Mary Ann, Obstacles & Helps to Self-Understanding)

Most of the things I found - and there's surprisingly little on the internet about this specific form of negative mother complex - were in this vein, but then I stumbled upon this site which contains author and analyst Jules Cashford's amazing essays (I've only read the one referenced in this post - there are many more to savor once I finish this post!) Below are (rather lengthy) excerpts from her piece on Hansel and Gretel, and the process of defeating the inner Evil Witch and restoring peace and fertility in one's life.

What struck me was the motif of the devouring mother, or the hungry mouth (the Evil Witch in the story.) I never thought of myself with a devouring mother, quite the opposite in fact as I had an absent mother, the lack of a mother. But, it seems, when the Mother archetype is wounded, she becomes the hungry maw that seeks only it's ever elusive satisfaction.
Neumann points out that ‘the destructive side of the Feminine, the destructive and deathly womb, appears most frequently in the archetypal form of a mouth bristling with teeth' (The Great Mother, p.168), as in the myths of the North American Indians, Egypt, Greece, some parts of Africa, and the Aztecs. In Aztec mythology, a gigantic open mouth is the hungry and all-consuming earth, and the death goddess is drawn with many knives and sharp teeth.

...That primary sense of life as a source of nourishment is missing.

So what to do? For many years I thought that nothing could be done about it; certain wounds could never be healed, just managed. But the very fact that I've been lead here must mean something. So I poked around and this is what I found. The whole process of transforming the Devouring Mother into the inner source of nurturing appears to be a long and complex one, but does seem possible. I guess it's important to remember that Jung said that we never solve our problems, we just outgrow them. Continuing with Cashford's essay, let's take a look at what that might look like.

First off, there's the relationship between Logos and Eros, the mind and the heart. Originally, it's the mind that keeps us safe, but at some point we must rely on our feelings and instinct.
Hansel, who as the boy images that aspect of the new life or the Self which is the more conscious, logos-oriented way of solving this problem, manages to outwit the step-mother's particular plan the first time, but fails to follow through the implications of what she intends: that life is not safe at home. It is only when his strategy is itself outwitted by the birds that he can be, as it were, tricked into facing the problem at a deeper level. The story moves towards an intensification of the original situation for the bread house with sugar windows and a witch inside is an image at this deeper level of the sweetness of any home with any kind of mother inside, and points to the danger of fantasizing the missing aspect of the archetype. The need for the mothering that was originally withheld is both appeased and perpetuated in fantasies about the original mother, and, more subtly, re-enacted in the search for a symbolic substitute in any experience. This creates a person predisposed to dependence on the other, hungry (to return to the metaphor in the story) for love while fearful of being starved or detoured (rejected or overwhelmed) by the imagined source of it. It would seem, then, that the first stage of growth would require a distinction between the good and the bad in the actual mother, and between good and bad mothering in general - what one has a right to expect - and, more fundamentally, between the Good and the Bad Mother in the Great Mother Archetype.

So looking at the fairy tale more closely as an image of the ‘anatomy' of the psyche, what can it tell us about this stage of separation? For the children to survive with all the odds apparently against them, so we have to follow what they do and what ‘happens' to them as a model for the instinctive responses that are right for this specific situation. It then appears that the deliberate, purposive working out of the matter, which Hansel adopts, is necessary to start with, but has to be suspended at the crucial transitional point in order for the more feeling, less conscious impulses of Grettel to take over.

In the beginning Grettel can only weep and must be comforted by her brother, who provides the ‘temenos' in which she can feel safe: ‘"Be comforted, my dear little sister, and go to sleep"', and he crams his pockets with the white pebbles that glitter in the moonlight. The way he drops these signposts for their return is instructive for, apparently unnecessarily, he stands still and looks back at the house each time he drops a pebble, pretending he is looking at his kitten waving him farewell, an image, possibly, of the magnetic power of the complex. Jung writes that a ceremony is magical so long as it does not result in effective work but preserves the state of expectancy' (VIII, 46), and in Hansel's ritual we could see a reluctance to give up the former expectations from his home. The first time his plan succeeds, but it does so only to lead them back to the original situation with nothing changed, pointing to the circularity of conscious solutions to problems of feeling. The second time there is a famine, the step-mother argues still more forcefully, and this time the door is locked against Hansel's ingenuity and they are taken still deeper into the forest, ‘further than they had ever been in their lives before'. This tells us that left alone the complex gets worse. They are more lost than last time, and they have half as much bread, for Hansel has to take from his own portion to feed his strategy, the dropping of crumbs that are picked up by ‘the thousands of birds that fly about in the woods'. The beauty of this image already implies that the failures on the side of the good, that reason, ‘the ratio of what is already known' (Blake), must fail in order to call forth from a deeper level of the psyche that which is not yet known, but which knows. "Never mind", said Hansel to Grettel, "you'll see we'll still find a way out"; but all the same they did not'. This ends Hansel's effective leadership, and for three days, the time of the moon's disappearance, Jonah in the whale and Christ in hell, things get darker than ever before. Once consciousness is unable to operate, however, as in all fairy tales, the unconscious is free to surprise us with its magic, and into this gap, this desperate need for help or else they would surely perish, comes ‘a beautiful little snow-white bird sitting on a branch, which sang so sweetly that they stopped still and listened to it'. Like Orpheus, the song enchants them, end they are distracted from their hunger and their longing for a way out of the forest - their own sense of what help is needed - and when the song is finished the bird flies in front of them and leads them directly to the witch. It is obvious that the bird does not belong to the witch even though it perches on the roof of the house she has made to lure them inside, so here we see a deeper impulse in the story.

[W]hen the snow-white bird brings the children to the witch, and obliges them to confront irrevocably that which they would have avoided had they known, we can see at work the fundamental directing agency of the Self. For the superior wisdom of the Self brings together the fantasy and the reality of the mother in the children, given in the image of the fantastic house of food on the outside and the child-eating real old woman on the inside; which is to say that the Self brings together the superficial conscious attitude adopted to the deprivations suffered from the mother - that it didn't really matter - and the interior unconscious feeling - possibly, that it hurt so much it's impossible to break the spell and get away from her. For what is a witch to a child except a figure whose power is so absolute, so all-containing, that escape is unthinkable? And when the imagination fails then the spell is cast.

What is the meaning of this psychologically? Two comments of Jung are particularly relevant here: ‘A complex can be really overcome only if it is lived out to the full. In other words, if we are to develop further we have to draw to us and drink down to the very dregs what, because of our complexes, we have held at a distance' (IX, i, 99). Also, ‘A neurosis is always a substitute for legitimate suffering' (XI, 75). So the children must go inside the sweet-tasting house and fully experience the evil of the witch within. They must suffer emotionally to the extent of imagining being boiled alive, roasted and consumed in what they had tried to avoid feeling too deeply because it hurt. Fire is traditionally a symbol of the heating up of feeling, the intensification and concentration of the whole being so that the inessential is burnt away and only the essence remains. The alchemists insisted that the fire be kept forever burning beneath the retort lest the heart falter and become distracted.
One of the things that strikes me about the above is how the mind helps us deal with things. It's the mind that schemes and helps us avoid being truly thrown "to the wolves." Of course, the problem is that Hansel - the mind - can only bring us back to the problem, never lead the way forward. For that we need the white bird, the symbol of the Self. It's only when we follow the bird that we finally break free of the endless cycle of suffering. Of course, originally it's to more intense suffering, but it's our legitimate suffering. Unlike the neuroses that we escape to - and are trapped in - when we try to avoid our problem, this suffering is ours. It belongs to us, as ugly and as horrible as it is.
Now that the witch can be seen for what she is, what can she tell us about the way the negative mother complex works? The story says that ‘witches have red eyes, and cannot see far, but, like beasts, they have a keen sense of smell, and know when human beings pass by'. This suggests that the complex acts relatively blindly, automatically, crudely, without differentiation and can be discerned whenever the person ‘takes things literally', recalling the literal imagination of the step-mother, who could not ‘see through' Hansel's strategy, supposing each time he was mistaking what he said he saw for the morning sun glittering on the chimney. On the other hand, she can smell like a hunting animal, which suggests her power is in the unconscious which is where she must be faced. On the surface, though, she is ‘apparently friendly', and her house likewise is a temptation to overlook what it contains, to take it literally for what it pretends to be, which is what the children do. They respond to it as though under a spell; they don't ask questions - whose house is it, will they miss the roof? Even when a shrill voice calls out from inside ‘who's nibbling my house?' the children answer: "Tis Heaven's own child, The tempest wild', and go on eating ‘without putting themselves about'. Because of their great hunger she gets them in her power, the extreme longing to be loved creates the dependence.

However, once Hansel and Grettel see the woman to be a witch, their relation to each other and to the problem change places. Hansel, as the carrier of the more conscious approach of the self, is locked up in the stable, and it is up to Grettel, the feeling powers hitherto dormant in the self, to take the active role. At first, like Cinderella, she has to serve the witch, is held in thrall to her, called a lazybones and starved of anything but crabshells, while Hansel, the imprisoned leader, is to fatten up to be eaten. Perhaps this is the testing time that is so difficult to predict. Who will win.

The tale tells us that trickery wins, that the trickster archetype is what is needed here. Both Hansel and Grettel play the witch's game, only they play it better than she does. Hansel pretends that he is thinner than he is, knowing she wants to fatten him, and holding out a bone instead of his finger, gains them time. Grettel pretends she is as helpless as she used to be - ‘I don't know how to do it; how do I get and shoves the witch in the oven instead of herself. That Grettel does to the witch exactly what the witch would have done to her may suggest that feeling must accept some identification with the dark aspect of the mother imago personified in the witch, maybe in the form that it is a greed for life's inexhaustible possibilities that contributes to the fear that they may not manifest themselves... At any rate, with the witch and Grettel before the open oven, ‘from which fiery flames were already issuing', it is not the time for moral deliberations, and we cannot but think that Grettel acts spontaneously rightly. But where does this usually weeping girl get her strength from? It seems from a combination of awareness and intensity of feeling. We are told that ‘Grettel perceived the witch's intention', and it is perhaps this moment of awareness that transfers the power of the witch to Grettel by releasing the energy trapped in her fear. At the point of immanent death she gathers enough strength, rebellion and even ferocity of feeling to say No to being devoured and this tips the balance and the negative complex is, as it were, burnt up. As with the stepmother, the witch's literal reaction to Grettel's pretense is no match for the dual perspective of awareness. Perhaps what this means is that the person trying to deal with the ‘witch' in himself or herself, since, while the witch may play a different role in the male and female psychology, there is a level at which the need for freedom from this complex is the same for both), must somehow trick the witch within, that is, withhold the habitual, automatic reaction in order to allow the feeling to deepen to an intensity that gets its power to respond from a hidden, previously submerged level of the psyche. As the trouble with this complex is that the instincts themselves have become distorted, it would seem necessary to, as it were, distort the distortion, do what feels wrong, to reach that last instinct of survival common to all animals when even a zebra will fight a lion to protect her young. It may be that in human animals this instinct has its parallel in the instinct of individuation.

Grettel flies straight to Hansel, crying: ‘Hansel, we are free; the old witch is dead', and we are told that ‘Hansel sprang like a bird out of a cage when the door is opened', a wonderful image of ‘the release of the dove'. Now appears the treasure of the Self, the pearls and precious stones disclosed in the other rooms of the house which they are free to explore once the fear has gone. Here are the jewels of the life renewed - joy, fearlessness, purpose, affection all that immersion in the waters of life makes possible. Leaving the ‘witch's wood' they come to a big lake with no bridge or ferry-boat, but just a white duck swimming in the water. The ‘crossing of the return threshold' is the hero's last trial in the hero myth (Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, p. 210-243), in which he is set the task of reconciling the truths won in the inner world with the actions he undertakes in the outer, public world. Here, some period of adjustment or some effort at translation is obviously indicated in the absence of any predictable way to cross the water to find the familiar part of the wood they came from. It is significant that at this point Hansel is the one who decides they can't get over because there is no bridge, and Grettel who sees the white duck and asks her help. The renewed feeling of the self can now for the first time exercise power for the care of life, for Grettel, sensitive to the duck's needs as well as their own, overrules her brother: "No", she answers, in total contrast to her submissiveness at the beginning of the tale, "we should be too heavy a load for the duck: she shall carry us across separately". The logos and eros of brother and sister are now in harmony with each other, such that each takes the lead when it is appropriate, and thus the original imbalance in the family is redeemed. Implicitly the story says that the killing of the witch is the death of the step-mother, for when the children run to ‘their father's house' and fall upon his neck, we are told simply: ‘but the woman had died'.

The restoration of the nourishing and healing aspect of the Mother archetype is shown in the emergence of the big lake with the bird now swimming upon it, an image of unity between nature and spirit which puts the duck, as Hermetic ferry-bird, in loving service. For the duck, white again as was the snow-white bird who led them deep into the unconscious, here ‘returns', in touch with the newly discovered waters of life to lead them back again. The treasure of the witch vanquished will buy them food to withstand any hardship, and so they are released from complete dependence on the Great Mother. But nothing is heard of the former famine in the land, and it is as though the confrontation with the reality of the bad personal mother which frees them from the negative mother complex within, activates at the same time the potency of the good mother archetype, so that from now on life may be trusted:

'Thus all their troubles were ended, and they lived happily ever after'.

Ok, I'm kind of stuck here. Everything up to the examination of Gretel shoving the witch into the oven makes sense to me. Part of it is that I'm still pretty early in the process (basically at the point where I'm exploring the nature of the witch), but part of it is that this explanation doesn't resonate with me. This is just speculation, but my feeling is that Gretel pushing the witch into her own fire represents "burning" the witch - the hunger and desire - in it's own "fire." In other words, cooking in one's own juices. This is, in fact, the dragon's fire that I wrote about in an earlier post on snake symbolism:

[It] is hard to accept: the fire has to burn the fire, one just has to burn in the emotion till the fire dies down and becomes balanced. That is something which unfortunately cannot be evaded. The burning of the fire, of the emotion, cannot be tricked out of one’s system; there is no recipe for getting rid of it, it has to be endured. The fire has to burn until the last unclean element has been consumed, which is what all alchemical texts say in different variations and we have not found any other way either. It cannot be hindered but only suffered till what is mortal or corruptible, or, as our text says so beautifully, till the corruptible humidity, the unconsciousness, has been burnt up. That is the meaning, it is the acceptance of suffering.
(Marie-Louise von Franz, Alchemy.)

So, the way I'd interpret it is that Eros (Gretel) draws us to those situations in which we have to cook in our juices. While our mind may tell us to stay safe, our heart keeps dragging us into just those situations where the witch is tossed into her own fire. Again, early days but this seems to be the more likely interpretation of the fairy tale. At least for me.

... *dammit*

Edit: 7/31/12

Some further thoughts (I expect these to keep coming for a while):

The house is a spun sugar fantasy of a relationship. It's not a real house, it's a fantastical house. When we've been driven from "home" (nurturing) by a mother who cannot give us the mother-love we need, we end up lost in the woods. And what we come upon is this faux house; it's not only not a real house, it's pure temptation. It's everything we thought we wanted, we are fed after we've starved for years (the years of famine.) But inside the house is the witch, the demonic caricature of the murderous stepmother. Something else to consider is that it's the Self itself that brings us to this deadly situation, because this is exactly what we need in order to truly resolve the problem at home. It's in the witch's house itself that the treasures of the Self reside.

Another thing is Gretel; this whole experience with the evil stepmother makes her completely helpless. When we are denied this mother-love our feelings can't function; we feel like we can't let ourselves feel, like it's all too much for us, leading us to rely on logic and reason. This can keep us out of trouble for a while but by itself it's incapable of finding a way out of the situation. The problem is that Gretel - our feelings - can't find her power until we're actually in the witch's house, i.e. the middle of our tumultuous emotional drama.

What does this mean? Is it that being in the situation with the witch puts the mind under lock and key forces us to rely on our feelings? Or is it that being in this situation allows us to bring some of the witch into us (Gretel doing to the witch what the witch had planned to do to her)? In either case the empowerment of feeling is part of the healing process as Gretel becomes more active, until at the end she tells Hansel they can't both ride on the white duck.

Gretel, as the female child, is the renewal of the feminine instincts. In the stepmother and the witch, and the presence of the famine in the land, the current female instincts (emotion, instinct) are wrong, turning them into the opposite of the nurturing mother into the destroyer. But, as with many stories of "evil" older women, their actions instigate the confrontation and change needed for renewal. The white dove is a symbol of the Goddess, and the white duck at the end is also female; with one hand the Mother Goddess drives us to wholeness with her terrifying side, and with the other she lures us to the same with her angelic side. All of this is in the service of pushing the young feminine, represented by Gretel, into her own power.

This reminds me of significant dreams I've had about the young girl in me (breaking and entering , the girl with long white hair) - is she the Gretel in me? The tender, connected emotional part? The part that the tough, intellectual surface me has always protected, the way Hansel protected Gretel? This seems to be the case, but I'm still not quite certain what she needs to do now. I know that I've been in the witch's house with this thing with G that I've been going through (the sugar spun fantasy of love with the raging, hungry witch inside.) What exactly is that Gretel's supposed to be doing?

Hansel has been jailed. Gretel is suffering (the whole thing with G is the pain of her Cindarella suffering - loving and loving, but with no reward.) But what is the thing with tricking the witch with the bone, and with Gretel pushing her into her own oven? How can I empower my inner Gretel to find her power? From my dream I've started by rescueing the trapped little animal, but later the girl was blind (a weakness) and she ran away. Do I need to keep my emotions present - keep Gretel from running away - when all I want to do is stop feeling for him? I need to ponder this some more...

Edit #2:

Had some futher realizations, specifically about the symbolism of burning the witch.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Snake symbolism: Birth of the Sun Child

Zeus is the Eagle, raising itself higher and higher; competent, bright, bringing self-esteem upon oneself. The snake is pain and difficulty, feeling helpless, lost in the dark woods. The ego naturally seeks out the Eagle... but the Self seeks wholeness, because what the ego doesn't realize is that it's in our weakness that God can enter our lives. Children are our wholeness, including what is frail, weak, stupid, helpless and frustrating. It's our humiliation, and our uncontrolled passions. It is what is in us that is exactly what it is, regardless of what is socially desirable... or even socially acceptable. The Child, like the Ouroboros, is the symbol of wholeness.

Child, snake and lion
Very often, the snake appears in ancient mythology combined with the motif of the child. For instance, the mythical god of the Athenians was King Erechterus, who was the son of Athena and who was kept as a little child in a basket into which one should not look, for one would see a child surrounded by snakes. One cannot be sure exactly what it means, but coffrets grotesques have been found in Southern France (probably material from the Middle Ages and not earlier), in which naked children are playing with snakes. The child-god and the snake-god were very often combined like that.

The child-god is also the archetype of the poisoner, so to speak. The Cupid of antiquity has a very poisonous arrow with which he can even subdue - as the poets say - the great god Zeus, for if Cupid shoots an arrow at him, Zeus may have to hopelessly pursue an earthly woman, though he may not even like the situation... If you do like it, you will be happy and say that you have fallen in love. If you do not like it,  you will say that you have been poisoned; you are bound to do something you do not like and are forced into a situation which feels like subjection or poison to the ego.
(Marie-Louise von Franz, Puer Aeternus)

Some people have a frustrated infant within them. Usually they are very correct and polite, and make very few demands on the analyst, but being too polite and correct and considerate is always suspect. One knows that they would like to eat up the analyst completely like the lion, making childish demands and scenes, because the analyst has stopped five minutes before the time, or answered the telephone, or put off the hour, or even had the flu!

That is the symbolism of the madness in the lead, but it also contains Osiris, the immortal man, and if only you accept that spot within you, you will come to the creative content where the Self is hidden. The frustrated child could be said to be an aspect covering up an image of the Self, and the devouring lion also an aspect of the Self.

If you take the image of the devouring lion this is quite clear. If I think I ought to be top dog everywhere, have the most beautiful partner, have money, be happy, and so on, that is a paradise fantasy, and what is that? It is a projection of the Self! So actually, the childish thing is the desire to experience everything in the here and now. The fantasy in itself is entirely legitimate, it has the idea of the coniunctio, a perfect state, a state of harmony. It is a religious idea, but naturally if projected onto outside life and wanted there, in the here and now, that is impossible. The way in which the person wants to realize the fantasy is childish, but in itself it is valuable and has nothing wrong or unhealthy in it.

So just in that undominated mad spot of the person, or in the wild or problematic spot, there is the symbol of the Self. That gives it the drive, which is why people never know what to do for they cannot repress it; or if they are reasonable and just give the thing up and realize how childish it is and that one should be resigned and adapt to life, then they feel that they are cured but that they have been robbed of their best possibilities and so are frustrated.
(Marie-Louise von Franz, Alchemy)

Oh snaaaaaaap, more stuff related to the owl dream! I love when this happens :D  In it's positive aspect, the child is the symbol of renewal, but the child archetype also has some negative aspects: being incapable, less than perfect, weak... and being "childish;" irrational and unreasonably demanding. This is definitely a problem of mine. I want everything, but I deny myself anything. I know I have this devouring wolf inside of me that could eat, and eat, and eat whole fucking world, so I make sure to keep it down by not asking for anything, and being scrupulous about what I take from others. In fact, if I get more than I give, I feel uncomfortable.

This is also deeply intertwined with my need for love and connection. I grew up being sent from one family member to the other. I always thought my mother had sent me away; she was sick and almost died but, upon learning when I was twenty-four that even on (what she thought was) her death bed she begged to keep me, I burst into tears. I never even knew this had bothered me, just as I never realized that deep down, I felt like I always had to make people like me so they wouldn't send me away again. These are all realizations that came up years later.

I have the eternally hungry infant inside me, and this makes me both fear and long for love. What I long for is the rest and peace that comes with having a place of my own, without fear; as the Wiccan's say "perfect love and perfect trust." This is why I get so crazy in relationships. And this is precisely why I need to work through relationship issues.

In the owl, the child was beheading owls with a stick. I still don't know what the stick means but the child and the owls are pretty obvious: this neediness and childishness in me is beheading my wisdom - my owl's are "losing their heads." Also, both my interpretations are right: the child is a symbol of renewal, but a frustrating, childish one. And the owl is a symbol of wisdom. I don't think the dream is telling me whether I should do one thing or the other as much as just giving me an objective understanding of my situation.

Traveling in Egypt

This is a long excerpt, but it is positively overflowing with gems of insight and wisdom. And straight up excellent advice, in general and for the different types/functions. Here von Franz talks about the value of the inferior function/the child-like parts of ourselves.
[T]he child has a naive view of life, and if you recall your own childhood, you remember you were intensely alive. The child, if it is not already neurotic, is constantly interested in something. Whatever else from which the child may suffer, it does not suffer from remoteness from life, normally - only if it is thoroughly poisoned by the neuroses of its parents. Otherwise, it is fully alive, and that is why people, thinking back to their own childhood, long to have that naive vitality which they have lost in becoming a grown-up. The child is an inner possibility, the possibility of renewal, but how does that get into the actual life of a child?...

It has to do with he inferior function - through which the renewal comes - which has remained childlike and completely naive. Therefore, it conveys a new sight and a new experience of life when the worn-out superior function comes to its end, and it imparts all those naive pleasures which one has lost in childhood. That is why we have to learn to play again, but on the line of the fourth, or the inferior, function. It does not help if, for instance, an intellectual person starts some kind of intellectual play. If a thinking type were to quote the Bible, saying that unless you become like little children you will never enter the kingdom of heaven, and then would go to a club to play chess - that would not help at all, for it would again be on the main function. There is a great temptation to do that; namely, to accept the idea of play and of turning to something else, something noncommittal, but to do it within the field of the main function. I have often seen feeling types whose feeling functions have run out. I tell them they must do something which has no purpose, something playful. Then they propose working in a kindergarten, or something like that. But that is nonsense, for that would again be on the feeling side; that would be a half-way acceptance and an escape at the same time. The really difficult thing is to turn directly to the inferior function and play there. For this, the ego must give up its directing line, because if you touch your inferior function, it decides on the kind of play; you cannot decide. The inferior function, just like an obstinate child, will insist that it wants to play at something or other, though you may say that it is not suitable and would not work well. For example, in an intuitive, the inferior function may want to play with clay, but the intuitive person lives in a hotel room and would much prefer something clean because clay makes a lot of dirt in a hotel room! But you cannot dictate to the inferior function! If you are an intuitive and your inferior function wants to play with stones or clay, then you have to make the effort to find an ambiance where that would be possible. That is exactly the difficulty. That is why the ego always has thousands of objections to turn to the inferior side. It is always something very difficult to arrange in practical life

The inferior function is a real nuisance, just as children are, whom you cannot put in a box and take out when it suits you. It is a living entity with its own demands, and it is a nuisance to the ego which wants to have its own way... But if you accept the humiliating experience of making the ego submit itself to the demands of the inferior of childish part of the personality, then the divine child becomes a source of life; then life has a new face, you discover new experiences, and everything changes

I often notice that when the feeling type begins to think, he does so exactly like the early Greek pre-Socratic philosophers. He has thoughts like those of Heraclitus or Democritus, and such people, and is as fired by these as were the early Greek philosophers. If you read Empedocles or Heraclitus, you will find an eternal youth in the way they think. That is why I love those philosophers so much. Nowadays, it seems very like mythological thinking - not very scientific. For instance, the atomic theories of Democritus are awfully naive, if looked at according to modern theories, but there is a kind of wholeness and enthusiasm about them, together with the idea that now they see the whole picture. Naturally, the material is full of projections of the symbol of the Self, so one gets quite carried away when reading it. There is a kind of springtime of the spirit; the early Greek philosophy is like the blossoming spring of philosophy. Very often, if a feeling type gets down to his own thinking, he comes to this kind of experience; when that happens, the thinking type must retire to his own estate and not say that one knew that twenty-thousand years ago! The same thing applies to the thinking type if you get him or her to bring up naive real feeling, rather than something organized. Usually, the thinking type is so much a thinker that he even organizes his feelings appropriately, and because he does not get on with his real feelings, because they are unadapted, he generally has a pseudo-adaptation to feeling. I would say that the main method for getting to the playfulness of the inferior function is to scratch away the pseudo-adaptation with which we all cover the inferior function. The feeling type, for instance, is usually full of school and university theories and imagines that those are his thoughts. But they are not: they are pseudo-thinking adaptations to cover up the fact that his real thinking is awfully embryonic and naive. The same holds true for the thinking type who has very naive feelings; for instance, "I love you, I hate you." If he went round the world saying that, or saying, "I can't stand you," you can imagine what a stumbling block it would be! It would not work for two minutes! Even in school, you cannot tell your teacher that you cannot stand him! I am a thinking type myself and I loved certain teachers and hated others. But I would never dissimulate my feelings sufficiently; I always showed her how I felt. I knew it would have been much more diplomatic not to show too clearly how much I despised a certain teacher, but it was always quite obvious. When you become adult, you hide these reactions and acquire a pseudo-feeling adaptation. Thinking types are often very amiable and seem to have very balanced, amiable feeling reactions, but never trust that! That is just a pseudo-adaptation, because the other is so painful and helpless and childish that one cannot show it. But if you have to go to it, then you must again dig up the naiveté of your real feeling and get the crust off the pseudo-adaptation

Intuitives very often have no relationship to the body and are likely to dress badly or be dirty, but since that does not work, they learn to wash and put on nice clothes, and so on; although they may be quite correctly dressed, there is no personal style. If they would dig up their real sensation, their taste would be artistic, but weird and very much out of the ordinary. Intuitives who get down to their sensation cannot buy ready-made clothes; everything has to be made for them. Neither can they eat hotel food; they must either have a cook or they must cook for themselves, and it must be very special. It gives them a lot of trouble to discover this, and, what is worse, it is a nuisance and expensive both in money and time. You can have the tailor and the cook but that is not quite genuine, or you can go down to the inferior function, but that is the greatest time thief in existence, because it is primitively slow

You know that in primitive countries it is impossible to hurry people. If you travel in Egypt, it is no good ordering the cars for 9:00 am and expecting to be beyond the Nile or in the Kings' Tomb at 10 am. Everyone who travels in the Orient knows that he must put up with being two or three hours late; he cannot arrive on time as Europeans do. But once you have made the adaptation, life is much nicer, because you have all kinds of experiences: the car breaks down and causes a lot of fun, and instead of arriving at the Kings' Tomb, you get into the desert and do a lot of swearing, and so forth. But that's life too! You cannot organize the inferior function. It is awfully expensive and needs a lot of time, and that is one reason why it is such a cross in our lives: it makes us so inefficient if we try to act through it. It has to be give whole Sundays and whole afternoons of our lifetimes and nothing may come out - except that the inferior function will come to life. But that is the whole point. A feeling type will only bring up his thinking if he begins to think about something he cannot use in this world, neither for examination nor study; but if he will think about something which interests himself - that is how to get going because it is not possible to yoke inferior playfulness to utilitarian motives. The essence of play is that it has no visible meaning and is not useful. I would tell a feeling type to learn what he needs by heart for his exams, and not try to think, because he won't be able to do so. He should make pseudo-adaptations, and if the thinking type gets into a situation where he has to behave - say he has to attend a funeral - then he must on no account pull out his personal feelings. He must just behave and do the conventional thing with flowers and condolences; that is the right pseudo-adaptation for him. To get at his real feeling, the thinking type must find a situation where he can play with it, and then it will be quite different. So the first thing to do is to take it out of the adaptation field and keep the pseudo-adaptation for those cases where it is necessary. I think nobody can really develop the inferior function before having first created a temenos; namely, a sacred grove, a hidden place where he can play. The first thing is to find a Robinson Crusoe playground, and then when you have gotten rid of all onlookers, you can begin!
(Marie-Louise von Franz, Puer Aeternus)

So basically, the Snake is also the Child, for ill and for good. It's the part of us that causes us humiliation and pain... and also the door through which God comes. It's the poisoner... and the source of new life. Its why its our weakness and imperfection that is the part of ourselves that is the most valuable.

There's not much I can actually add to this. Go and do as von Franz suggests (as will I.)

Animus/anima and their function

Yes, I am still trying to work on some more snake symbolism posts (yes I am) but it is taking for-freaking-ever unfortunately... there is just so much! In the meantime, I've had a bit of a random musing about the animus/anima and Jung's understanding of their chracteristics. Jung describes the anima as a man's feelings and the animus as a woman's thinking, but when I think about my own animus, he's definitely not my thinking. I think pretty damn well, actually. And he's also not my spirituality. I have no problems there all on my own. Where I do have problems is in my feeling and sensation functions, and this is where my animus seems to like to spend his time. Who is my animus? What is he like? Well, he's exactly what I'm not... i.e. not intellectual, but rather with a calm, confident emotional stability... Or when he's acting up, a raging, out of control hurricane of a beast.

This leads me to believe that the animus/anima is actually of our opposite function. Since most women Jung knew seemed to be mostly of the feeling function and most men of the thinking, Jung formulated his theory that a woman's animus is thinking and a man's anima is feeling, but I'm leaning more towards our anima/us just being our opposite. Its still early days, and I don't have a lot of evidence to back this up, but this is the direction I'm leaning towards.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Snake symbolism: Dragonfire

When a snake dream occurs, it is a signal that consciousness is especially far away from instinct; it shows that the conscious attitude is not natural and that there is an artificial dual personality which appears to be, in some ways, too well adapted and too much fascinated by the outer world and, at the same time, inclined to fail hopelessly in decisive moments. In such a case, Jung continues, we find that there always exists a sort of secret attraction to the missing inner double, which one both fears and loves as that which could make one whole. That is why the snake is essentially double in mythology. It arouses fear, brings death, and poisons; it is an enemy of light and at the same time a savior in animal form - a symbol of the logos and of Christ. When it appears in the latter form, it represents the possibility of becoming conscious and whole. Instead of intellectual understanding, it promises knowledge born from immediate inner experience: insight and secret wisdom - gnosis.
(Marie-Louise von Franz, Puer Aeternus)

My recent realization about aging is actually turning out to be the perfect intro to the complex (and vast!) symbolism related to the snake. And the child archetype, the two are closely connected. It's somewhat ironic but I think aging, in our culture, represents the child/double snake archetype; it is what is unadapted to the outer world, repulsive even, but the source of renewal.
Just before his resurrection, the sun god is represented as an ithyphallic man lying on his back with erect phallus and around him is the snake which eats its own tail. The inscription merely says: "This is the corpse." You see therefore that in the underworld when the sun god has reached the moment when death  and resurrection meet, when he is in his tomb at the depth of the underworld, he is represented as surrounded by this snake. According to the Egyptian text, the snake which eats its own tail is considered to be the guardian of the underworld and it is probably the snake which is invoked here.
(Marie-Louise von Franz, Alchemy)

The first aspect of the snake that we see is a repulsiveness that inspires horror and revulsion. The snake represents everything that we fear, everything we try to run away from. The snake is the guardian of the Underworld; in mythologies around the world, the snake is the destroyer, killed by the Sky God in order to create a world for his people.

This is one of the most persistent themes in mythology, the antagonism of the Sky God and the Serpent. In myths around the world, the great Serpent battles the Sky God (Jörmungandr and Thor, Typhon and Zeus, Vritra and Indra, Leviathan and Yahweh, Tiamat and Marduk). The Sky God universally represents consciousness. The serpent is the chaotic origin of all life, out of which the hero God has to struggle in order to live... She's the Devouring Mother, but, at the same time, the source of all life. Leviathan "lives over the Sources of the Deep." Tiamat, the original Great Mother, who mixed fresh water and salt to produce the gods and was later split by Marduk to form the earth, the heavens, and humanity. Jörmungandr, Thor's nemesis, the tail eating "World Serpent" who holds the world together (another Ouroboros). Ophion incubating the primordial egg. And Amduat, the many coiled serpent from which all creation arose.

The other opposition inherent in the animosity of Sky God and Serpent is success vs. death, specifically the death of the ego. The Sky God represents the Sun at midday, at the zenith of it's power. But the Serpent is the fall from those heights; suffering in the deep, painful, humiliating Underworld. This is why the snake arouses such horror in us; it's everything we fear, everything we instinctively run away from. It's death... and suffering in the fires of Hell. The snake is the fire of our impurities... as well as devouring fire that burns all of our impurities to ashes.
[T]his bringing together of opposites means they are secretly one, for the fire has to be put out by fire, or has to be cooled, refrigerated, by its inner fire.

[Emotion] transforms, cooks, and enlightens, that is the way in which fire brings light: if I am emotionally gripped by something I can understand it; if I am not emotionally wrestling with my problems, or something else, then nothing comes out.

[It] is hard to accept: the fire has to burn the fire, one just has to burn in the emotion till the fire dies down and becomes balanced. That is something which unfortunately cannot be evaded. The burning of the fire, of the emotion, cannot be tricked out of one’s system; there is no recipe for getting rid of it, it has to be endured. The fire has to burn until the last unclean element has been consumed, which is what all alchemical texts say in different variations and we have not found any other way either. It cannot be hindered but only suffered till what is mortal or corruptible, or, as our text says so beautifully, till the corruptible humidity, the unconsciousness, has been burnt up. That is the meaning, it is the acceptance of suffering.

Sitting in Hell and roasting there is what brings forth the philosopher’s stone; as it is said here, the fire is extinguished with its own inner measure. Passion has its own inner measure; there is no such thing as chaotic libido, for we know that the unconscious itself, as pure nature, has an inner balance. The lack of balance comes from the childishness of the conscious attitude. If you only follow your own passion according to its own indications it will never go too far, it will always lead to its own defeat.

The fire of the passion looks for that which will extinguish it, and that is why the urge for individuation, as long as it is a natural inordinate urge, seeks impossible situations; it seeks conflict and defeat and suffering because it seeks its own transformation.

Fire blinds us and burns us up, consumes us. But fire also creates light, which allows us to see. We must have fire (emotion) in order to understand a thing. Our fiery, burning impurities are the prima materia, the Fruedian unconscious; double in aspect (both good and bad). Despite problems it can and does create, it's the basic material needed for individuation. If left by itself it's useless; it needs consciousness. This is why need projection (passion, love, etc.), as painful, humiliating and crazy-making as they are; only in projection are these archetypes made conscious, and consciousness is necessary for transformation. Jung said that projection can either lead to growth, or murder. Fire and suffering are the only things that can bring forth the philosopher's stone. Fire transforms a thing into a divine substance.

This is definitely what I have been going through. It is only by suffering in the torments of our passions in the Underworld that that unclean, corrupted fire can burn itself, finally purifying itself. Everyone has that one area which we keep to the side, that one little area we don't want to look at. We're willing to make sacrifices, or do the work, in any area but that one... But you know what you have to do. It's that area in which you must make the sacrifice.

If left to our own devices, we would try to stay in the Sky God's light and hide from the Snake. But delaying one's journey to the Underworld too long is the cause of our neuroses, or even if we don't succumb to neuroses, it's where we constantly seem to trip ourselves up. We become our worst enemies. It's as if there's something - or Someone - inside us which is determined to wreck everything. In those situations, where we're resisting our growth, the Self takes on the guise of the devouring serpent, but that's only because we're resisting It. Not that burning in the fire isn't painful, but that's what we're here for: to burn, to be burned, until all that is corruptible in us is burned away and the beauty we long for is born from the ashes.

“And Cleopatra said to them: the waters enter and awake the bodies and the weakened spirits in them since they must suffer in the underworld for a long time and then they sprout out of the underworld and come up and clothe themselves in beautiful colors like the flowers in Spring and Spring itself rejoices in the beauty which it gives them. To you who understand me, I will say, when you lift up the plants and the elements and the stones from their original places, they look beautiful but are not, but after having been tested with the fire then they acquire the beautiful color and much more beautiful glory, namely the hidden glory which has the longed for beauty, and that comes when the matter is changed by the fire into a divine substance.”
(Marie-Louise von Franz, Creation Myths)

Monday, June 25, 2012


Re-reading this post has made me realize that it could be hurtful for some people so I'm adding a caveat. At the same time, when I started this blog I decided I had to be brutally honest... about my own ugliness and pettiness. Otherwise it doesn't really have much meaning. This is supposed to be one person's journey into their Underworld; it's bound to be personally embarrassing at times. That being said, I'd like to be clear that I strongly believe that any prejudice, whether based on age, sex, sexual orientation, religion, color, whatever, is wrong. Period, point blank.

... Which is why this recent development makes me so happy!

I'm noticing that my perception of older people is changing. Whereas before I was very resistant to growing old - and, quite honestly, found older people unattractive - that feeling has evaporated somewhere along the line.

Over the weekend I was watching a documentary (Between the Folds, an amazing and beautiful documentary on the art and science of origami.) And I suddenly noticed that I found the older people interesting rather than faintly unattractive. This seems to be part of the whole first half/second half of life issue: in the first half, you're concerned (rightly) with success, and that includes sexual success. But in the second half, we start to see the reality of life. We stop caring about this world and "success" and more about depth of life, and the beauty of life.

One thing that stood out was that invariably, as these origami artists grew in themselves and their art, they found themselves simplifying things. When they were younger, they wanted to make the biggest, most complex, most realistic origami. As they grew older, they wanted to simplify, to say more with less. When you're younger, you want to be better, to do better. As you grow older, you care more about the beauty of a thing.

If recently I've come to realize that the purpose of life is to die well, then this experience is showing me that aging well is about seeing the beauty of life. I feel like I'm finally beginning to understand that.

Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.
~ Leonardo da Vinci

Edit: 6/25/12 pm

It's tonight and it's still happening; this feeling of seeing older people, really seeing them. There's a feeling of almost being two different species, with two different goals. It reminds me of a book by Sheri Tepper, Grass, set on an alien planet in which the species has two completely different phases. The older is gentle and wise, the younger predatory, preying on and killing the older. They're so different they look like completely different species. It's as if caterpillars killed and ate butterflies.

Knowing Tepper this is exactly what she was writing about, I just never got it before. I look at younger people and I realize that all they're interested in, all they judge others on, is sexual attractiveness. Other things are there but at the base of it sex is the most important. Fundamentally I don't see a real problem with this, but our problem is that everyone seems to hold the younger view; that is, that people have no value unless they're sexually attractive to others. We have a society of people in which we only grow older on the outside, not the inside. And we end up hating ourselves. Inside of us is Tepper's planet, with the young animals feeding on and killing the older, wise, gentle and beautiful creatures.

One of the symbols of the Self is the beautiful young woman or man. This is the image that we as a society have become trapped in, even when it no longer serves us but actually harms us. We've forgotten the Wise Old Woman or Man. We've lost the wisdom and grace that growing older brings, deepening in the second half of life until we return to the beginning, but with a lifetime of experience and wisdom. The Child is also a symbol of the Self, but to stay in it and refuse to grow up is a disease. It's no different with trying to stay in the young woman or man.

The physical decline we suffer from, sometimes severe, isn't a natural part of aging but the consequences of an unnatural and harmful diet and lifestyle. Natural and proper aging, although with some decline in pure power and physicality, isn't about becoming weak and frail, it's about turning inward. Each stage of life has it's own grace. Each stage has it's own image of the Self, if we live our lives deeply. It's a rather amazing experience, shedding another layer of the false paradigm we've been hypnotized by. To be able to see the real person, neither as a power player nor as a sexual object, but to see the real, unique, individual person that they are. It really does feel like grace.

Edit 6/26/12

I think I may have it! Aging definitely is an "owl" to youth; they only undersand it with fear and loathing. But aging has many gifts that, unless youth die to it's youth, we will die without ever having understood.

That's what my dreams were telling me; that my sexuality (the cat) and youth (the child) were harming what was spiritual and wise in me (the praying mantis and owl.) And how that I'm caring for them, I've started receiving their gifts.

The Albedo

Being deep in nigredo, a white light appears. We have arrived at the second stage of the Great Work: albedo, or whiteness. The alchemist has discovered within himself the source from which his life comes forth. The fountain of life from which the water of life flows forth giving eternal youth.

(Dirk Gillabel)

Aargh! I really wanted to write on snake and child symbolism but more stuff came up in my dreams recently! Most of my dreams are pretty humdrum - probably having more to do with Fruedian, personal issues - but lately I've been getting more archetypal/collective dreams. Which is cool! And make me feel like I'm making some significant breakthroughs, especially this last one.

The dream focused on images of looking for a partner. I take that to be the search for the coniunctio; the union of the male and female halves, usually internally, i.e. with our animus/anima but occasionally externally with an actual partner or even both at the same time (i.e. sex! and romance!). I've obviously been doing a lot of animus work lately, both internally and externally, and something appears to have changed. While I'm "looking for a partner" suddenly I'm in a giant tree, like the World Tree and all of these images of nature come up.
I go up into the trees. It's precarious. I have to cling on a large bundle or rope of vines, many of which pull off as I pull myself up, but I trust the tree. I know the tree is helping me. All the land is one organism; the large tree, the water, and the rock below it. There is white (in the water). The white gathers. It's connected to the rock (the rock is a solidified whiteness?) I chop out a small slab of the rock and bring it back to the others...
While I was thinking about the dream the first thought in my head was that this was the "albedo" stage referred to in alchemy. Jung realized that alchemy was really a psychological/spiritual compensation for the excessively spiritual emphasis of the dominant Christian religion. In other words alchemy is a description of the path of individuation in symbolic language.
The Great Work (Latin: "Magnum Opus") is an alchemical term for the process of creating the philosopher's stone. It has been used to describe personal and spiritual transmutation in the Hermetic tradition... It originally had four stages:

Nigredo, a blackening or melanosis
Albedo, a whitening or leucosis
Citrinitas, a yellowing or xanthosis
Rubedo, a reddening, purpling, or iosis

...Other color stages are sometimes mentioned, most notably the cauda pavonis (peacock's tail) in which an array of colors appear.

The colors symbolize the various stages a person goes through in the individuation process. And there are four of them - shocker! - or not, as 4 is the number Jung found to represent wholeness in dreams, myths, etc. The four colors are associated with the four Jungian archetypes that characterize these stages; "In the Jungian archetypal schema, nigredo is the Shadow; albedo refers to the anima and animus (contrasexual soul images); citrinitas is the wise old man (or woman) archetype; and rubedo is the Self archetype which has achieved wholeness." (

Nigredo ("Blackening")
Nigredo, or blackness, in alchemy means putrefaction or decomposition... In analytical psychology, the term became a metaphor 'for the dark night of the soul, when an individual confronts the shadow within'.

Albedo ("Whitening")
...Following the chaos or massa confusa of the nigredo stage, the alchemist undertakes a purification in albedo, which is literally referred to as ablutio – the washing away of impurities. In this process, the subject is divided into two opposing principles to be later coagulated to form a unity of opposites or coincidentia oppositorum during rubedo.

Citrinitas ("Yellowing")
[It is the] "transmutation of silver into gold" or "yellowing of the lunar consciousness." In alchemical philosophy, citrinitas stood for the dawning of the "solar light" inherent in one's being, and that the reflective "lunar or soul light" was no longer necessary.

Rubedo ("Reddening")
Rubedo is a Latin word meaning "redness" that was adopted by alchemists to define the fourth and final major stage in the Magnum Opus. Both gold, and the philosopher's stone were associated with the color red, as rubedo signalled alchemical success, and the end of the great work. Rubedo can be interpreted as achieving enlightened consciousness and the total fusion of spirit and matter... In the framework of psychological development (especially followers of Jungian psychology) these four alchemical steps are to be taken as analogous to the process of attaining individuation: In an archetypal schema, rubedo would represent the Self archetype, and would be the culmination of the four stages. The Self manifests itself in "wholeness," a point in which a person discovers his or her true nature.

Midnight Sun

There are many other symbols in alchemy for the second phase, or albedo: the white swan, the rose, the white queen, and so on. As lead is the metal of nigredo, silver is the metal of albedo, transmuted from lead. As silver is the metal of the moon, the moon was also a symbol for albedo. Alchemists also talk about the white stone or white tincture. They all means basically the same thing, although one has to understand them in the context in which they were written.

So... It looks like the (*mumble mumble curse*) nigredo phase I've been going through is letting up. And it certainly feels that way; even when thinking about work, or G, I don't feel torn and angsty anymore, just peaceful. Jung said that we don't get rid of our problems, we outgrow them, and this certainly seems to be happening (yay!) Also, the bit about the albedo in the white stone or the tincture reminds me of the white in the water, and how it was in the stone. Will need to do more thinking (and living) on this as all this albedo stuff is really new for me - I'm sure lots more stuff will come up in the future!

At any rate, now that the albedo phase appears to be coming up I did a bit of searching around on it. This is what Dirk Gillabel of House of the Sun has to say about it (the quotes in the rest of this post come from him, too):
Albedo happens when the Sun rises at midnight. It is a symbolic expression for the rising of the light at the depth of darkness. It is the birth of Christ in the middle of the winter. In the depth of a psychological crises, a positive change happens.
This reminds me of The Star and The Moon cards in the Tarot: The Star for obvious reasons (the light shining in the dark) but The Moon, too. The next stage, Citrinitas, talks about changing the white to yellow, the lunar consciousness to the sun. And both of these cards comes right before the Sun in the Tarot. This makes me think that this lunar awareness, which is what light is, comes before the solar; i.e., we become aware of things internally and then we live them in the world (?)

The Fountain

The source is one: male and female are united. In alchemical images we see a fountain from which two streams of water flow into one basin.

This brings me to the second apparent aspect of the albedo stage. I don't have as good a feel for this as I do for the "midnight sun," which I definitely feel in my own life and consciousness, but this is something that frequently comes up, that of the splitting into two, i.e., animus/anima work.

I feel like I was going through a bunch of animus work along with my nigredo/shadow phase... although that may have been because it was so much a part of my shadow. I think the concept is that once you deal with depression and darkness, then you're ready for working through issues of union. This makes a lot of sense to me even though I don't feel like I really know what this is talking about; until we deal with our shadow, all of our animus/anima work, whether internally or with others, will really be working on shadow issues. We'll either project our bright shadow onto our partner and be infatuated, or our dark shadow onto them and hate them. It's only after integrating our shadow that we can work on separating out the male/female.
The union of Hermes and Aphrodite. The moon is above the retort, indicating this is the stage of Albedo. The sun above is the next stage of Rubedo. At the same time sun and moon are again the opposites to be united. Aphrodite has two torches. One pointing down, representing the lower passions to be transmuted. The upside down torch is the purified energies. Aphrodite is standing on a tetrahedron, the perfect three dimensional body, as all corners are equally distant from each other, resulting in a lack of tension.

As we mentioned above, Aphrodite/Venus as the morning star is a central image for the albedo phase of the Great Work. Aphrodite was born from the foam that arose when the genitals of Uranus (cut of by Chronos, out of hate and jealousy) fell into the sea. The cutting of the genitals represents repressed and tormented love. The sea, symbol of the soul, however will bring forth the love goddess. Liberation will happen when we become conscious again of the contents of the soul. As Aphrodite is born from the sea, she is the guide through the fearful world of the unconscious (the sea, or the underworld). The alchemist descends into these depths to find the ‘prima materia’, also called the ‘green lion’. The color green refers to the primal life forces. Venus also has the green color. An important characteristic of Aphrodite is that she helps us in our human shortcomings. She gives ideals and dreams to fulfill. But she also gives frightening images in order to make man aware of his lower nature. "By her beauty Venus attracts the imperfect metals and gives rise to desire, and pushes them to perfection and ripeness." (Basilius Valentinus, 1679) Liberation can only happen by becoming conscious of the lower nature and how we transmute it.

In Jungian psychology Venus/Aphrodite is the archetype of the anima (in alchemy also the ‘soror’ or ‘wife’ of the alchemist). The anima is the collective image of the woman in a man. It is an image especially tainted by his first contact with his mother. The anima represents all the female tendencies in the psyche of a man, such as feelings, emotions, moods, intuition, receptivity for the irrational, personal love and a feeling for nature. She is the bearer for the spiritual. Depending on the development of the man she can also be the seductress who lures him away to love, hopelessness, demise, and even destruction.

Other alchemical images for albedo are baptism and the white dove, both derived from Christianity. Baptism symbolizes the purification of both body and soul by ‘living water’. ‘Living water’ was regarded as the creative force of the divine. It allowed the soul to be received into the community of the holy spirit. Thus baptism allows the purified soul to bring forth the resurrection of Christ in oneself. This is the ‘hieros gamos’, the ‘sacred marriage’ between the soul and Christ. Christ here represent our own inner divine essence.

This union seems to be about many things; one's relationship with one's internal contrasexual partner, one's relationship with one's external partner, but also about body and spirit and other pairs in one's life. My dream specifically talked about "looking for a partner" so I assume this is going to continue to be an important part of my growth.

Not sure what else I have to say about this topic - this post is just a preliminary exploration of the Albedo. I'll write more as more comes up.


Something that occurred to me on re-reading this post; the coniunctio doesn't have to do with sex, even with the internal, contrasexual part of us (i.e., the animus, or anima.) It could be anything which is complex and split in our lives which we need to heal and bring into a higher union (very dialectical materialism-esqe.) For example, a couple oppositions/tensions in my life right now are:
  • the internal world and the external
  • play/rest and work
  • youth and age
I think that the male/female opposition, while it can be about our relationship with the other sex, whether internal or external, is also a powerful symbol of all the oppositions in our lives. This albedo stage is where we're separating out the confused mass of the nigredo, like Psyche with the seeds. Then, during the rubedo stage, we can see where there is an underlying and higher unity.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Owl symbolism

Had another intense dream. Most of the dream wasn't that impactful, but the part with the owl was so intense it woke me up. I take both emotional intensity and whether a dream wakes you up as signs that you need to pay some serious attention. So I started researching owls, and their general meaning has to do with the scary/mysterious night-time knowledge, regardless of culture (with the exception of the Japanese, but that has to do with the fact that the Japanese word for owl is close to their word for good fortune, and therefore owls are associated with fortune in the Japanese culture, but that's really a one off.)

Following are the various meanings of owls from around the world.

Owl symbolism from around the world
The owl is sacred to the Greek goddess of learning, Athena and is even depicted on some Greco-Roman currency as a symbol of status, intelligence and of course, wealth. In ancient Egyptian, Celtic, and Hindu cultures the symbolic meaning of owl revolved around guardianship of the underworlds, and a protection of the dead. In this light the owl was ruler of the night and seer of souls. A misunderstanding of this necessary relationship gave the owl some negative associations with death. It should be clear that the owl was honored as the keeper of spirits who had passed from one plane to another. Often myth indicates the owl accompanying a spirit to the underworld - winging it's newly freed soul from the physical world into the realm of spirit.

A quick-list of owl symbolic meanings:

Native Americans associated the meaning of owl with wisdom, foresight, and keeper of sacred knowledge. This may largely be due to the fact that the owl is a great foreteller of weather conditions. Also its ability to see at night is legend among the Native Americans, and this attribute would be invoked during ceremonies when an oracle of secret knowledge was required. Similarly, West African and Aboriginal Australian cultures viewed the owl as a messenger of secrets, kin to sorcerers, as well as companions to seers, mystics and medicine people.

During medieval times in western and central Europe it was fabled that owls were actually priestesses (witches) and wizards in disguise. To this day the owl is considered a witch's familiar (an animal soul-spirit linked to a spiritual person via a unique, communicative bond).
What's Your Sign
Africa: Among the Kikuyu of Kenya it was believed that owls were harbingers of death. If one saw an owl or heard its hoot, someone was going to die. In general, owls are viewed as harbingers of bad luck, ill health, or death. The belief is widespread even today

The Americas: In the culture of the Uto-Aztec tribe, the Hopi, taboos surround owls, which are associated with sorcery and other evils. The Aztecs and Maya, along with other Natives of Mesoamerica, considered the owl a symbol of death and destruction. In fact, the Aztec god of death, Mictlantecuhtli, was often depicted with owls. There is an old saying in Mexico that is still in use: Cuando el tecolote canta, el indio muere ("When the owl cries/sings, the Indian dies"). The Popol Vuh, a Mayan religious text, describes owls as messengers of Xibalba (the Mayan "Place of Fright"). The belief that owls are messengers and harbingers of the dark powers is also found among the Hočągara (Winnebago) of Wisconsin. When in earlier days the Hočągara committed the sin of killing enemies while they were within the sanctuary of the chief's lodge, an owl appeared and spoke to them in the voice of a human, saying, "From now on the Hočągara will have no luck." This marked the beginning of the decline of their tribe. An owl appeared to Glory of the Morning, the only female chief of the Hočąk nation, and uttered her name. Soon afterwards she died. People often allude to the reputation of owls as bearers of supernatural danger when they tell misbehaving children, "the owls will get you."  Also, in the native Cherokee culture, as well as many other Native American cultures, owls are a very bad omen. It is said that if you are outside in the broad day light and an owl flies over your head a family member or loved one would die within the coming week.

Middle East: In Arab mythology, owls are seen as bad omens

Western culture: T. F. Thiselton-Dyer in his Folk-lore of Shakespeare says that "from the earliest period it has been considered a bird of ill-omen, and Pliny tells us how, on one occasion, even Rome itself underwent a lustration, because one of them strayed into the Capitol. He represents it also as a funereal bird, a monster of the night, the very abomination of human kind. Virgil describes its death-howl from the top of the temple by night, a circumstance introduced as a precursor of Dido's death. Ovid, too, constantly speaks of this bird's presence as an evil omen; and indeed the same notions respecting it may be found among the writings of most of the ancient poets." A list of "omens drear" in John Keats' Hyperion includes the "gloom-bird's hated screech."

In France, where owls are divided into eared owls (hiboux) and earless owls (chouettes), the former are seen as symbols of wisdom while the latter are assigned the grimmer meaning.

As is pretty clear, owls are overwhelmingly associated with death and misfortune. This is probably because they're associated with the night-time "otherworld." Jung, in his autobiography, describes a trip to Africa where he spent some time with a people he felt were some of the most natural he'd ever seen. During the day, everything was good, everyone was happy. Even when pressed "What about when something bad happens," they always responded that everything was good. This changed dramatically when the sun went down which, being close to the equator, was an almost instantaneous event. Then, the world was filled with evil.

People with less less differentiated and developed ego's (like the people Jung met in Africa) and even those with highly differentiated ego's but a resistance to the unconscious (like extroverted sensation types) have problems with the things the owl, a predatory creature of the night, represents. Distinguished by it's enormous eyes and near invisibility and soundlessness, it can see and hear you but you can't see or hear it... until it's too late! This gives it the uncanniness that's often associated with highly efficient night time predators.

Owls, crones and goddesses

Something that stood out to me is how I often I was reminded of the Praying Mantis. Both are pure predators that rely on patience and an ego-less invisibility rather than flash and speed. And both have a strong association female power.
The modern West generally associates owls with wisdom. This link goes back at least as far as Ancient Greece, where Athens, noted for art and scholarship, and Athena, Athens' patron goddess and the goddess of wisdom, had the owl as a symbol. Marija Gimbutas traces veneration of the owl as a goddess, among other birds, to the culture of Old Europe, long pre-dating Indo-European cultures.

The word "cailleach" in the Scottish-Gaelic means old woman! "Coileach-oidhche" is the word for owl, believe it or not it means "night-cockerel"! These birds were most often associated with the Crone aspect of the Goddess. The owl is often a guide to and through the Underworld, a creature of keen sight in darkness, and a silent and swift hunter. It can help unmask those who would deceive you or take advantage of you.
The White Goddess

And in Hinduism, with it's symbolically rich mythology, owls are associated with the goddess Lakshmi, one of the forms of the eternal female goddess Shakti.

Lakshmi is the Hindu goddess of wealth, prosperity (both material and spiritual), fortune, and the embodiment of beauty

Lakshmi in Sanskrit is derived from its elemental form lakS, meaning "to perceive or observe". This is synonymous with lakṣya, meaning "aim" or "objective".

In India, the male principle is spiritual and static, while the earthy feminine principle is active and passionate.
Shakti from Sanskrit shak – "to be able", meaning sacred force or empowerment – is the primordial cosmic energy and represents the dynamic forces that are thought to move through the entire universe in Hinduism. Shakti is the concept, or personification, of divine feminine creative power
Wikipedia entries on Lakshmi and Shakti

What this all seems to boil down to is that the dream about the owl is a kind of continuation of the praying mantis: both are feminine symbols of power, both have to do with the spirit realm, and both are distinguished by their ability to see. Both are also being mutilated in some way by another archetype. In the case of the Praying Mantis, it was the feminine, passionate part of the self, the cat (which, after reading the above, reminds me somewhat of Shakti.) In this most recent dream, this principle is being mutilated by the child.

The child is often one of the symbols of the Self, but a specific aspect of it: the frustrating but renewing part that comes through our weakness. It's the part of us that doesn't do what we want it to do, and doesn't do anything particularly well, but is the refreshing source of life. This another connection between the dreams, because in me this Child self would come through the feelings, or the Cat self.

This is all pure conjecture - I don't feel I've explored this enough and am sure more will be coming. But these two dreams seem to be saying that this spiritual part of me, which is an aspect of the Self, is being wounded by my feeling self. What does it mean? I thought I was supposed to protect it, but now I wonder if this is saying that this needs to die. The old Self needs to die and be reborn in a larger form? I don't know, but I'll be keeping my eyes open.

I also need to write up something about snake/child symbolism. I spent so much time on it I ran out of steam and never got around to writing about it, but this is something that continues to come up, and it's an incredibly rich, valuable set of symbols that I really have to write up something about it.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Grey wings and red

[T]he alchemical philosophers conceive their aqua nostra to be ignis (fire). The source  means not only the flow of life but its warmth, indeed its heat, the secret of passion, whose synonyms are always fiery. The all-dissolving aqua nostra is an essential ingredient in the production of the lapis. But the source is underground and therefore the way leads underneath; only down below can we find the fiery source of life.

(C.G. Jung, Dreams, p. 194)

It's cool how the universe sends exactly what you happen to be thinking about, when you're thinking about it. I'm still thinking about the dream about the man with grey wings and everything that brought up, so of course I keep finding stuff related to that. I was trying to finally finish Jung's Dreams and I kept running into the topic.

The dream about the Man with Grey Wings is about G. The symbolism of the color grey suits him pretty much to a T, both the problems he's having as well as the strengths that are his:
[S]ecurity, reliability, intelligence, staid, modesty, maturity, conservative, old age, sadness, and boring.

[T]imeless, practical, and solid... [C]an mix well with any color. Although well liked and often worn, people rarely name gray as a favorite color possibly because Gray also is associated with loss or depression.

Gray is the color of sorrow. People who favor gray can be the lone wolf type or narrow-minded. Gray with more silver in it can be a very active color.

Native Americans associate gray with friendship. Gray is the symbol for security, maturity and dependability. It connotes responsibility and conservative practicality.

Gray is the true neutral color. Its energy imparts void, emptiness, lack of movement, emotion, warmth and identifying characteristics. Because of this, gray can be restful. It has a detached and isolated feeling. Gray can have a cooling effect when placed next to other more vibrant colors. It has a stabilizing effect, making vibrant colors stand out while muting their vibration
This is pretty much a perfect description of G, and even as I was interpreting the dream I realized that my red wings had to have something to do with this. Below are what the color red symbolizes, from the same websites:
Red can symbolize many things; from blood, to love, to infatuation. For example, red can symbolize excitement, energy, speed, strength, danger, passion, and aggression. According to Henry Dreyfus, it is popularly felt that red, the color of blood and fire, represents life and vitality... Red is also looked upon as a sensual color, and can be associated with man's most profound urges and impulses.

Red is the warmest of all colors... Red is associated with fiery heat and warmth. It can also mean danger (burning). Red is the color of blood, and as such has strong symbolism as life and vitality. It brings focus to the essence of life and living with emphasis on survival. Red is also the color of passion and lust.

Put some red in your life when you want:
increased enthusiasm and interest
more energy
action and confidence to go after your dreams
protection from fears and anxieties
I can't help thinking about the Union of Unreconcilables and how central this difficult union is to my current tasks, in particular in regards to my relationship issues with G. Even in the description of the color grey they talk about how these two opposite colors have the ability to moderate each other. At the same time, it makes it obvious why our dynamic is as annoying as it is, with me pursuing (and scaring the bejeesus out of  him) and him being scared and running away. Aside from the fact that people who are focused on this world, as sensation types like him are, are pretty much completely terrified of the "other world" (which is also precisely what he needs from me), there's the fact that as the Grey in this pair, he's the one who's careful and fearful. And I'm the one who's frightening. Maybe I need my Mantis to help me keep this in mind and not take things so personally.

Another thing that's helping put things into perspective is in remembering the dream about The Man with Gray Wings is that fact that it's not me he's necessarily running away from, it's the shouting man in the water; i.e., himself. All I'm doing is reassuring him. But I really do feel this is something he needs, especially since he's living the more negative aspects of the Grey than the positive ones right now. Below is another thing that came up, which explores the relation of Dionysian passion with Hades (which is what G is):
The Dionysian element has to do with emotions and affects which have found no suitable religious outlets in the predominantly Apollonian cult and ethos of Christianity. The medieval carnivals and jeux de paume in the Church were abolished relatively early; consequently the carnival became secularized and with it divine intoxication vanished from the sacred precincts. Mourning, earnestness, severity, and well-tempered spiritual joy remained... "But Hades is the same Dionysos in whose honour they go mad and keep the feast of the wine-vat."
(1, p. 217)

I'm still not 100% sure of what it is that I'm supposed to be doing but at least the situation is becoming much clearer, especially compared to when I first got hexagram 38, Estrangement and I had absolutely no idea what that had to do with anything. Now at least I know what it has to do with... now I just need to figure out what it is that I need to do. I think it's to stay with it, but with a certain Mantis-like detachment and larger vision.


1.   Jung, C.G., Dreams.

I'm not back but I will stop ignoring this blog

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