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.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Praying mantis symbolism

Lately I've been obsessed with praying mantises. One showed up in my dreams and it felt incredibly significant and, of course, during the course of researching the symbolism thoughts keep rising and making me even more obsessed.

In the dream I open a door and see a giant praying mantis with golden claws, which scares me and I try to run away from, but it follows me. Then I notice that it's been hurt because my cats were playing with it, and then I feel bad and want to protect it and I put it on my right shoulder.

Cats, like all warm blooded animals, represent the instinctual, emotional self, specifically the instinctive feminine. Cats are like small lionesses, the animal I associate with the hot, primitive childish emotions that I keep deep down inside me, which have been boiling over uncontrollably since this whole thing with G has started. So my instinctive, emotional self, particularly the feminine part of myself, has been wounding what is represented by the praying mantis, which at first I run away from but eventually I not only stop running away, I actually put it on my shoulder.

When you put an animal on your shoulder it's not like keeping pet dog or a cat, or a parakeet in a cage. An animal that rides on your shoulder is a companion, a familiar. It's your animal soul, almost like the "daimons" of Philip Pullman's The Golden Compass. It may even have something important to say, as if it's a part of you and can see or know things you can't.

Plants often symbolize the Self, a Self which has developed to some degree and gained a certain inner unity, when the riotous animal passions have calmed enough that all the parts of the personality can pull in one direction, that of growth. To Jung insects weren't "real" animals, who we can communicate with and are like us in their emotions, but more like plants that could move. Insects have so little sense of themselves that they'll eat parts of their own bodies if wounded.

On the one hand, it's my animal emotionalism that let's me feel sorry for the mantis, but on the other there's obviously something that I need to learn from it's impersonal, detached patience. I need to protect it, and not only protect it but carry it with me. In Jung's autobiography, he wrote about Personality No. 2, a personality that was different from the Jung who was a child at that time, had been born a certain year in a certain place, had to go to school and obey grown ups that was Personality No. 1. Instead, Personality No. 2 was an impatient, somewhat cantankerous old man, who was interested in alchemy and the occult and had very definite views about certain grown ups' stupidity. He also wrote about Personality No. 2's that he saw in others, and this had me wondering where my Personality No. 2 was, or if I even had one. I certainly never remembered having an experience like the ones he wrote about (although Jung was singular in the power and significance of his visions and experiences.) But maybe I don't have a Personality No. 2 in the sense that Jung did, but rather an animal Spirit Guide. I always wondered if the Lioness was my animal, but that doesn't feel right - I identify with her and love her, but she's not my guide. The Lioness is less a symbol of my Self and more "myself", my real self, the primitive but pure emotional self I hide deep inside myself, but the Praying Mantis just might be my guide. To the San Bushmen, the praying mantis is a manifestation of God, the "voice of the infinite in the small."

"The !Kung call themselves zhu twa si, 'the harmless people,' in contrast to non-San, whom they call zosi, 'animals without hooves,' meaning they are as dangerous as predator animals... They believe the praying mantis is a divine messenger and when one is seen, diviners try to determine the current message.

Following are three main areas of focus in the surprisingly wide range of things that the praying mantis can represent. Each section is just made up of those quotes that felt meaningful to me at this point in my life; following these three sections I'll go into a discussion/musing about the mantis.

Zen Warrior

  • Patience and balance, mindful movements.
  • Fighter/warrior. Top of the food chain.
  • Zen/Taoist qualities of patience, unassuming stealth, imitates nature, calm yet deadly, total focus.

Praying mantis symbolizes patience and balance, among other things. "[I]n China, the mantis has long been honored for her mindful movements...

The mantis is a predator and is at the top of the food chain within the insect world...

"Seisan" a karate technique teaches how to get inside the opponents attack while developing a strong foundation (a characteristic of a fighting mantis). In fact, the Mantis has been known to take on much larger creatures and defeat them using these described abilities. It is very understandable when observing the mantis that it is revered by the Orient, as well as, all over the world. These hunting and fighting methods have Zen/Buddhist/Taoist like qualities: of patience; unassuming stealth; imitating nature; calm yet deadly posturing; and total focus.

The Power of the Dark Moon
  • Part of the cycle of life, yin/yang, the Tao. Specifically, the predatory, violent side.
  • Women's power.
  • Autumn. Also the cycle of life, the season of the harvest.
  • The necessity of violence: it serves to protect the sustenance which is important for life. Part of maintaining harmony.

Concept of Yin/Yang

Asian Cultures strongly emphasize the connectivity of all living things and their societies are built upon this concept. The circle of life is the relationship of life and death, implying without one you can't have the other. This interrelationship is Yin and Yang... Without the predator/prey relationship there could be no environmental or world harmony...


We can even take this a step further through deductive reasoning to state that the circle of life in essence equals immortality. After all, the continuation of the life cycle means that we are achieving immortality. However this can only be achieved with a balanced relationship. If there becomes an imbalance, then the cycle is interrupted. Thus, it is in the nature of Japanese culture to remain in harmony.

Women Power

Most western cultures associate the mantis with women power. In nature, the female mantis has been noted to eat the male mantis if he hangs around after copulation. While in practical terms that also ensures the circle of life by providing nutrients for the next generation, this threatens the western man as a symbolic reference to women having power and using it to undo man.


...In Japanese symbolism, the Mantis represents the season of autumn. Kobayashi Issa, one of the four prominent forefathers of haiku, used the mantis as a symbol of autumn in his poems... [W]hen we see a Mantis with these other autumn symbols, we see the circle of life being represented, in particular, Autumn, the season of harvest.

[Mantises] dine on insects that may be harmful to what you are growing... In nature, the mantis's role is protecting the crops, thereby, protecting the farmer and protecting an important ingredient in the circle of life sustenance... [W]ithin the circle of life, the Mantis requires violence of action in order to maintain that harmony.

"The Voice of the Infinite in the Small"

  • Mantis as God; the unblinking eye (similar to the fish eye).
  • Mantis shows the way.
  • The one who teaches.
The praying mantis is the oldest symbol of God: the African Bushman’s manifestation of God come to Earth, "the voice of the infinite in the small,"* a divine messenger. When one is seen, diviners try to determine the current message. In this culture they are also associated with restoring life into the dead. "Mantis" is the Greek word for "prophet" or "seer," a being with spiritual or mystical powers.

Meet the eye of a mantis and feel the presence of God. Interspecies communicator Sharon Callahan says, "the I of me, and the I of the creature became one and we rested on the breath of God." She notes that a praying mantis appears sometimes in person, other times in a dream or even in an object of art, but always with the "shiny conscious eye ~ God looking at me through the eye of the Mantis.

The praying mantis shows the way. In the Arabic and Turkish cultures a mantis points pilgrims to Mecca, the holiest site in the Islamic world. In Africa it helps find lost sheep and goats. In France, it's believed that if you are lost the mantis points the way home.

Also, there are many references to the Creator taking the shape of the Praying Mantis and teaching humans language and fire.

Is the praying mantis in my dream related to the girl with long white hair? Blind girls often show up in myths paired with the Wise Old Man; they represent Eros, blindly falling in love. The two are a pair: youth and age, male and female, wisdom and folly, detachment and complete and utter attachment. Since I'm a woman I suppose the symbol of the Self which has detached wisdom is the detached but powerful female Mantis. Like the snake/child pairing they too must be two sides of the same coin. When I drew a picture of the mantis, the blind girl was there. She may be blind but the mantis, who was perched on her head, has a gaze that never blinks. She is in fact the Eye of the Goddess, which sees everything clearly and without emotion, without compassion but also without judgment.

The Praying Mantis is woman power. Contrast her to the Cat, who's feminine instinct and passion, and the blind girl, who's young and powerless. Like a plant, the Mantis is at one with Herself, capable of doing great violence with calm and dispassion. As women age, and they change from Girl to Crone, they stop caring what people think of them and start acting like the Mantis. This may be why such powerful women tend to terrify men, as black widows and praying mantises do. A man's story is different; he has to confront the black widow, or the mantis; he has to confront the devouring snake side, without fear, without destroying life - and without letting himself be destroyed - and come into himself as a man. But a woman has her own story; she has to become the independent Mantis/Crone, without running away from life, but to preserve it. Life needs the dark side as well as the light.

Without Atropos to cut the thread of life which had finished it's course the entire web of creation would be threatened. But in order to mature into the Mantis, a woman has to develop the qualities of the Wise Crone: insight, detachment, a vision of the bigger picture, and the ability to destroy that which threatens the greater harmony of life. And in order to do so a part of her has to remain outside the sticky mess of personal feeling, not by running away from it but by living it, learning from it, and eventually being able to step back from it. As the I-Ching put it, "Retreat is not the forced flight of a weak person but the voluntary withdrawal of a strong one."

We can only become strong by living life, not by running away from it. I think the reason I'm going through all of this crazy emotional shit is because I avoided it for so long in order to protect myself. So I'm getting a really intense education in emotional upheaval and heartbreak... but this is having an effect on my Mantis. As with men and their Wise Man and Blind Girl, I have to balance the Mantis and the Lioness (also the Blind Girl): I need to stay with the relationship but not be consumed by it.

And yes, I do think the Mantis just may be my Spirit Guide; no matter how crazy I've gotten, something in me has always been dispassionate and clear eyed. But until now, it's been paired with the sour bitterness of an unlived life. I guess now by God I'm living it...


"Animal Symbolism of the Praying Mantis" by Avia Venefica []

"Praying Mantis" by Souled Out (Swan Raven & Co.) []

"Pray for the Preying Mantis" By Ken Wilson[]

Praying Mantis in Totem Library []

Edit 6/12/12

On re-reading "The Union of Irreconcilables" I came across the puer/puella's problem with withstanding the tension of the pull of opposites. Maybe the reason why is because the passions (the cats) damage the still center (the Mantis), and the point of putting the mantis on one's shoulder is to keep it out of harm's way. Putting it on your shoulder also means keeping it close to you, and paying attention to it. Listening to it. It means putting it up higher than the cats at your feet, and not letting them run roughshod all over it.

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

I just recently decided to check in and see what, if anything, was going on. And it looks like this is actually quite active! Apolog...