It is said that from blackness comes the light. As Massimilla Harris, a Jungian therapist reminds us, “keep in mind that birth comes out of darkness.” Many of us have some kind of hurt, some part of us that has sustained psychological, emotional, and spiritual injury that we have relegated to the darkness of our subconscious mind.
We all need healing to one degree or another and it is the guidance of the essentially positive Great Mother, the innate and archetypal feminine, who comes to us in our dreams and our darkest hours who can lead us into the light and healing. It is in our nature to seek change and if we let her, Psyche will show us the way.
Within us are a number of wounded negative complexes that serve as obstacles to our ultimate happiness. Our dreams offer us access to these wounds so that they can be treated. Love is at the core of our very nature but most of us I fear don’t really know what love really is. The on again/off again love from our childhoods has left many unsure, insecure untrusting, in scarcity, and anxious regarding the true nature of this love.
This leads many to cripple or ignore the inner feminine aspects of self-compassion and self-nurturance and make it difficult to forgive or even love ourselves let alone to forgive and truly love others.
Our environment doesn’t really support the value of the feminine either in that at least as far as the male gender is concerned compassion, nurturance, and intuition are signs of weakness. Women are demeaned when they show these attributes in the work place and further demeaned if they show masculine traits such assertiveness or decisiveness.
In my way of thinking this denial of the feminine aspect of the human psyche has caused a cultural neurosis– a feeling of incompleteness and unfulfillment by many. This may or may not be an obstacle to personal achievement but even amongst those who have achieved much there is quite often a hole in their lives that goes deeply and negatively affects their sense of happiness and well being.
Whether our culture is ruled by the matriarchal or the patriarchal i.e. whether we are relational or success and identity oriented to do so without compassion, and nurturance can cause all sorts of psychic damage to individuals and societies e.g. the guilt and/or shame of not living up to expectations of self or others that can result in the dubious safety of conformity which stifles creativity and joy or the loss of what our relationship values really are.
We are as a society out of touch with the feminine aspect, the other half of us that brings balance to our being.
Next time the feminine shows up in your dream pay attention to her and the message she brings, she may be your ticket toward greater love and happiness.
Down in the cave of the human mind where reality stops being reality lays the world of the dream. It is here that the mind’s inner eye perceives a fantasy much richer in form and function than the theater of the waking world.
In order to enter this world one needs to suffer a kind of death, for here is a place where the body cannot go.
Unless you live in total darkness there’s always a shadow, a hidden reflection of yourself–it is by definition that place where light cannot reach because of some obstruction. And that obstruction is often your ego-self.
The ego is that part of us that forms the conscious world identity that we hide behind and the inner image of ourselves that we are both proud of and afraid of simultaneously.
It is the guardian at the gate of our consciousness. It is the judge and jury for what gets sent to the shadow lands of our unconscious mind. And like our waking world prisons our shadow lands are overcrowded with what we reject and fear to face.
This is the netherworld of the shaman, medium, and mystic. But is also the hidden world of you and I. Whether mystic or common man we are called by our dreams to explore an underworld that rules the world above. Given that most of our mind is hidden from consciousness we often act, feel, and behave out of some mysterious force. When compounded by all the individuals of a society that force can become overwhelming for good or bad and lead us to our destiny or destruction.
When we don’t acknowledge the real forces behind our actions or our pathology we often make up things to explain these behaviors. For example, we will point at our parents, our upbringing, our genetics and our experiences with each other as cause for our beliefs, ideas and behaviors. But more often than not it is our un-dealt with shadow that is the true source of much of what we do, or don’t do, and it’s often the motivating force behind our actions.
Some say that to live more authentically, to be truly free, and to be more alive, one needs to deal with their hidden aspects, their shadow nature.
Magic, what’s magic save perhaps something that we don’t yet understand i.e. comprehend?
It can be something distant that we cannot see or measure somehow affecting something that we cannot touch that moves the oceans, throws galaxy-sized objects into holes we cannot see and keeps each of us rooted to the land when we should actually be hurled into space because of the Earth’s one thousand mile per hour spin, this is magic. It’s also called gravity. But gravity didn’t exist in the minds of humans as a fact until Sir Isaac Newton lifted the veil between fact and magic and showed us.
But what did he show us? He showed an effect and named it but couldn’t show the thing itself.
And speaking of things what is this “thing” we call space? It’s a nothing until filled with a something but is always more empty than not. It becomes bent by something unseen that cannot be measured except by its effect. Often we attempt to measure it by taking the distance between the objects floating in it but sometimes the distance doesn’t seem to exist at all such as when two particles become entangled and do a synchronized dance with each other though they be billions of miles distant. Simultaneously they respond as though there were no distance, no space, no time. Magic?
How about an object that morphs from one thing to another merely at the choice of the person who decides how they are to be observed? This is the stuff of dreams or is it magic?
What about something that exists everywhere and everywhen simultaneously until someone chooses to look at it? And what is this force that the moon exerts upon our oceans, something that is powerful enough to move trillions and trillions of tons of water but whose influence can be overcome by a mere dollar-store magnet (try it, hold a magnet over a steel paper clip. Which wins out the magnet or gravity)?
And what is it that permeates a room full of people who have a singular collective intention that then “magically” manifests into reality without any of them lifting even the smallest finger? Also how is it you can sense something happening before it happens?
We can point to things and say that they exist, we can show their effect and even name them but do we really understand them any better? For example, why does anything exist and why does it exist in the manner in which it does?
Even after we’ve explained and tested our explanation it’s still a mystery the only difference being after the testing we can call the magical thing a “fact”. It’s still magical but now it’s accepted e.g. it was once thought that the moon moving the oceans was an occult mystery, now it’s an accepted fact but the actual mechanism with all its formulas and terminology is still a mystery– it still seems magical.
When I see a hugely heavy metal object speed down a runway and leap into the air as though it weighed nothing at all it can be explained in terms of physics i.e. with airspeed, lift, and force equations but it still feels like magic.
When I see a baby born there’s a being who came together from two microscopic single-celled objects that then morphed into millions of differentiated cells that work together to form legs, hands, heart, eyes, ears, toes, fingers, skin, brain, and hair ad infinitum and all directed by a spiraling helix of some infinitesimal matter that seems to come from nowhere– a code more complex than all the digital code that has ever been written by all the worlds programmers and hackers and all of this to create a means for the soul to express itself physically into the realm of things.
I see this and I understand some of the process, I’ve even learned to identify the processes and name some of the parts but I still don’t know how it does it or why it does it the way it does or why it does it at all. It still feels like magic.
It, or rather reality, really is all magic isn’t it? It’s either magic of the unknown or factual magic, dissected, labeled, and proved to exist, but magic none the less.
Don’t let your experience of magic be hostage to the assumptions and prejudices of others.
At a Dream Conference attended in Berkeley the presenter was detailing the Alchemical method of transmutation. What, pray tell, was I doing learning about this ancient and largely discredited precursor to chemistry and what did it have to do with dreams?
The presenter spoke of the seven (combined within four primary) processes the alchemist had to perform in the most exacting of ways in order to produce the transforming element, the Philosopher’s Stone, that which would transmute lead into gold (not depicted is the seventh process and is the choosing of the unredeemed matter to be transformed–in this case, “us”).
} part of the process of letting go, by
discovering what and then releasing
And she likened it to the recovery of the soul. Carl Jung thought of it as representing the Individuation process, where human beings wrestled with and integrated their varied and opposing aspects so to develop into a fully actuated being, in short, the process for aligning ones outer nature with their inner nature–the quest for wholeness. To him it was the promise of our ‘becoming’. He thought that the images of the alchemical process mirrored a person’s inner psychic state of being and thus gave guidance to what was needed to achieve this inner/outer balance. Thus the emblematic alchemical arcana (see example on left) represented a roadmap to healing.
Firstly one needs to free the soul from the body and become familiar with their unconscious identity as separated from their conscious, ego-bound identity. Dissolving, or causing one to let go, or surrendering, ones positionality is the next step. This is a form of ego-death where the ego is no longer the prime mover. In the third step one recombines the soul and consciousness to form a new and singular mind. The last step fixes ones mastery over the self after having integrated the disparate parts of the overall psyche.
So what am I talking about when I use the term “disparate parts of the self?” I’m talking about the various aspects of our selves that are usually in inner conflict with our self such as our feminine and masculine aspects. Most people operate as though they are one or the other based upon their anatomical differences and different ways of thinking and viewing the world. There’s also our wisdom selves, or radiant self, and our shadow selves e.g. for simplicity’s sake our positive and negative aspects–that which we readily embrace and that which we categorically reject.
But it is the ego-self that makes the decisions of what to reject or embrace and bases these choices on the basic need of the ego to stay in control. This is not a very good system for triage because of the limited vision of the ego-self. Thus the need to let go the predominance of this part of the ego, that can be likened to a huge mountain obscuring the landscape beyond, in order to see over the top of it. The ego-self doesn’t know everything of what it needs or doesn’t need in order to fully function. There is much in the unconscious that has been thrown away by the ego-self that can be immensely helpful if it were to be reintegrated into the overall psyche.
The internal alchemist can guide each of us to delve into the psyche where we have the power to change the essence of our stories.
I remember that during the height of the Polio epidemic in high school I painted a large billboard announcing the coming of a Polio clinic where people could get not only their children inoculated, but themselves as well. On it I depicted a large writhing dragon being slain by an equally large hypodermic needle. Little did I know that this symbol of slaying-the-dragon was to be the mythos for much of my life.
At one time I could have posed as the poster boy for “Robert The Blah”, but time and again I found myself in situations where I had to dig deep inside to find the power to draw my inner sword in order to confront whatever metaphorical fire-breathing dragon stood before me. Over time the mythos evolved into what might be called “Robert The Dragon Fighter” [i], but I continued to operate in the old myth. To fully manifest and use the power of what I had become I had to be willing to change my personal mythology.
In order to change our lives for what we imagine to be better, we more often than not need to change our personal mythology–to rewrite the story of ourselves and what we say we are. The ego-self resists this because to the ego-self it looks like death and it is death in a way because to rewrite ones life mythology they must kill-off, or dissolve, the old to make way for a birth, if you will, of something new. This re-envisionment can only happen after we have dissolved the current vision to make way for the new.
The dream world is our access to the imaginal, the vision of what is and what can be, it is a portal of discovery that can lead to an awakening in our so-called waking lives. It can reveal not only the archetypal conflicts of the human soul, but our own inner conflicts as well. It is quite literally our alchemical and psychosocial laboratory for evolutionary change, expansion of consciousness (i.e. what it means to be really conscious), and for the freeing of the soul. In fact, dreams always come to us in the service of our health and well-being and to aide us in our alchemical quest.
Jung suggested that at a deeper level the ancient alchemists were searching for more than just transmuting metals, but were meddling in something much bigger. For hidden in the common base metal of the human psyche was a wealth of grand value if only they could discover the path to its achievement. Many of our myths have hinted at this e.g. Jason and the Golden Fleece, Sir Percival and the Grail, Hercules and the hand of Persephone, and the innumerable stories where heroes try to reunite what has been separated into a more harmonious whole.
Even the dreams of those such as the Old Testament Jacob who wrestled with his God and learned to let go or dissolve his own ego position so as to evolve into someone more fully capable of dealing harmoniously in his world was an example of the kind of alchemy that is going on all around and within us. In Hebrew ‘Jacob’ is translated as, “Over reacher, or he who supplants” –an aspect of the separated ego-self–but is then given the name of Israel, “one who wrestles with God” an aspect I believe of the psyche trying to integrate itself.
Also such notable scientists as Sir Isaac Newton were also drawn to the alchemical sciences in an attempt to balance and ultimately unify the physical and spiritual aspects of reality.
Jean Houston, philosopher and author, has said that each of us “are valuable characters in the drama of the world soul, pushing the boundaries of their own local story and gaining the courage to be and do so much more.”
Many scholars in human development are convinced that our personal mythology informs the way in which we live our lives, that we make our decisions for better or worse as a consequence of our mythology. Much of therapy and dream work is about bringing ones mythos to consciousness, confronting it, and gaining some mastery over it–it is the alchemical process at work.
Much of dream work and personal therapy involves distilling the dross of the soul in order to work with the purified essence of the self. It is as Jung said that dreams are
The process, then, is the transformation of the unredeemed self into the ultimate expression of our being. In this way we can be the Philosopher’s Stone, or the fully Individuated, or fully Actualized human.
The Alchemists may actually have been projecting the inner processes of the psyche onto the objective world–pretty much as we all do when trying to make meaning of the world we live in. They may have inadvertently been the first of the Depth Psychologists and self-development gurus, or at least revealed the processes needed for the development of the self. It seems that metaphor may also run deep within the waking mind as well as in the dream.
“Your vision will become clear only when you can look into your own heart. She who looks outside, dreams: she who looks inside, awakes.”- Carl Jung
[i] Note that I don’t use the term “Dragon Slayer” here because I don’t always slay the dragon i.e. get the better of him. Often my internal dragons, aka “self-criticisms” get the better of me. There are also times when slaying or fighting with a metaphorical dragon isn’t what’s called for. Sometimes the dragon shows up when I’ve been inflating my personal image i.e. acting arrogant and the dragon appears to cut me down to size. In this case even friends have played the role of the dragon and though they spit what seems like fire, they are only doing it because they care–this I want to nurture, not slay.