LIVING THE ARCHETYPES
Whence comes reality? What is reality, really? Is it the timeless, formless Void? The swirling ether? Beyond time, beyond space, beyond even our minds . . . pure Emptiness. The indescribable, unnamable, ungraspable, infinite Absolute.
Or is such talk a spiritual parlor game, irrelevant to our everyday existence? What could be more real that the gentle sting of snowflakes on the tongue, the smell of coffee brewing in the morning, the quickened heartbeat of a first kiss, and sunrise over green fields wet with dew?
If both perceptions are true – that our reality is composed of unfathomable Emptiness and a concrete world of Form – how can we connect the two domains?
Our human history is largely the story of how this question has been addressed by myth and philosophy, instinct and science. Between the realms there is a bridge: archetypes.
Archetypes are symbolic patterns or prototypes upon which all other similar things are based. The study of archetypes is (most assuredly) fascinating, but I might never have paid much attention to them had I not been shanghaied by that most seductive of archetypes: erotic love. Before delving into theoretical definitions, then, I would like to mention our encounter with two particular archetypal characters. You have probably met up with them, too, in one form or another.
Tis thine the world with harmony to join, for all things spring from thee, O power divine.
The triple Moirai [Fates] are ruled by thy decree, and all productions yield alike to thee:
Whatever the heavens, encircling all, contain, earth fruit-producing, and the stormy main,
Thy sway confesses, and obeys thy nod, awful attendant of Bacchus God.
~ Orphic Hymn 55 to Aphrodite Ourania
According to classical mythology, Venus was the Goddess of Love and Beauty. Although Homeric poems say that she was daughter of Dione and Zeus, supreme ruler of the gods, legend has it that she was conceived from sea foam fertilized by Uranus, first ruler of the Universe. To the Greeks she was Aphrodite, a name which means “born of sea foam”. Much later, in the 15th century, Botticelli would paint The Birth of Venus, showing her arising out of the sea in a huge scallop shell, an iconic image that has inspired countless artists. Whatever her exact origins, she cavorts throughout ancient myths as wise counselor, dangerous seductress, and inspiration to men, women, and gods alike. She was worshipped and petitioned in matters of sensual love, creation and procreation, as well as for her protection and blessings in artistic endeavors. Tended by the Graces, she reveled in laughter and pleasure.
Venus and Me
For most of us, this picture of Venus fits in with our general awareness of ancient Western cosmography. According to astrology, even the planet named Venus bestows an emotional and creative influence on our lives. Therefore, it made sense to me when Ellen Goldberg, an astrologer friend, explained that my life was rich in romance due to the nine Venus aspects of my chart. And I was flattered but not surprised when James took to calling me his “Venus with arms” (after the statue Venus de Milo), in tribute to the loving impact our relationship was having on him.
Once called to my attention, my Venus characteristics were impossible to deny. In spite of my conservative upbringing, I had always been strong-willed, creative, and sensual. I liked initiating romances and falling in love, even if they eventually resulted in pain or dissolution. I always had the confidence to pick myself up and begin again. Relationships for me were my medium for growth, and learning love in all its forms attracted me more than anything else. My boyfriends used to accuse me of using my temptress wiles to make myself irresistible to them, and I never understood what they meant. I was simply being myself. When they called me “Goddess”, “My Queen”, and “High Priestess”, I would deflect them with the socially-demanded modesty that springs from insecurity, until I gradually stepped into those titles. I came to realize that such false modesty keeps us in denial of our true potential. Besides indicating our maladjustment to reality, it makes it easier for others to manipulate or dominate us. Inanna, Venus’ earlier Sumerian incarnation, was the regal and powerful “Queen of Heaven”. When I championed social and environmental causes, I was pulling strength from my Inanna roots. I was as at home by the ocean as if I, like Aphrodite, had been born of the sea. With my practices of gardening, flower arranging, and writing, I was celebrating the Venusian love of beauty, fertility, and art. The astrologer was right when she told me my ruling planet was Venus! The Goddess of Love had always been within me, but it was when I engaged a Mars lover that she exuberantly came out to play.
Hear me, helper of men, giver of dauntless youth! Shed down a kindly ray from above upon my life, and strength of war, that I may be able to drive away bitter cowardice from my head and crush down the deceitful impulses of my soul. Restrain also the keen fury of my heart which provokes me to tread the ways of blood-curdling strife. Rather, O blessed one, give me boldness to abide within the harmless laws of peace, avoiding strife and hatred and the violent fiends of death.
~ Homeric Hymn 8 to Ares
Astrologically, James’ ruling planet is Mars, and his life has been wrought with emotional struggle and physical hardship. Long before becoming aware of the Mars archetype, James had identified with the image of the triumphant warrior, which stood him in good stead as he overcame obstacles throughout his life. Due to a congenital handicap, even the ability to walk had been an uphill road of hospital stays, leg braces, body casts, and bitter trials. The Mars boy watched other children run and scamper like puppies, while he drew on his inner reservoir of self-will to take his careful steps. As a result, James does not hear the word “cannot”. It is not in his vocabulary, and he sees no place for it in others’ vocabularies, either. Mincing no words, James’ direct style doggedly pursues the truth. At times, I have seen people put off by his unpolished manner, but I appreciate the shining gem within such an authentic man. Whatever the mission, he takes the offensive to accomplish his goals. Once he decided to see the world, then off he went! Throughout his adult life as a traveling artist, nothing held him back – not his physical disabilities, nor his unsupportive parents, nor his shoestring finances. Though he walked with a limp, he carried his heavy load of canvas and paints into the mountains of Jamaica, up the narrow stairwells of Amsterdam, and even swam them across the Mekong River. He painted his way across Asia, Europe, and the Americas. Impulsive, adventurous, assertive . . . that’s Mars! His natural warrior skills were to come in handy during the difficult or precarious times producing Venus and Her Lover.
A Mythic Love Affair
As the mythological story goes, Zeus obligated Venus to marry his lame and ugly son, Vulcan, God of the Forge. Having a mind of her own and repulsed by his appearance, however, the Goddess of Beauty spurned Vulcan and chose instead the handsome Mars, God of War. While her calling as Goddess of Love led her into love affairs with others, her preferred lover was Mars. Renaissance paintings depict him as robust and dashing in his armor and helmet. The Warrior of warriors, he was fearfully worshipped for success in battle. As father of Romulus, he was revered as father of the Roman people. In conflicts, whether on Mt. Olympus or among earthly mortals, Mars always sided with Venus. This alliance sprang from their passionate union. The patron deities of love and war had several children – among them a daughter, Harmony.
Once I had left behind the lame and ugly behavior (precipitated by an addiction to alcohol) of my previous companion, I vowed that my next relationship would be equal and evolutionary. This opened the door for James. Venus spurned Vulcan, and, some time later, chose Mars. James could not resist our new love. After all, my name, Rebecca, means “temptress”. James, being a man of the sea, may have also detected a whiff of Venus’ natal “sea foam”. In James, I found a poignant mirror to my own identification with the warrior archetype. Out of our passionate union, the wars within ourselves yielded to the power of Love and Beauty. The natural consequence was art. The Venus and Her Lover books have been our offspring, our “Harmony”. Sometimes upon finishing a poem or a painting, we swore we could hear Venus’ capricious and knowing laugh.
Greek and Roman myths influence Western language, symbology, and literature. What transpired with James’ and my partnership, however, went beyond metaphor or even coincidence. The parallels between James/Mars and Becca/Venus were not contrived nor sought. James did not one day decide “OK – I’ll play Mars and you play Venus.” It was with hindsight that we saw the unfolding of the myth. This led us to the questions:
Who is Venus? Who is Mars? How can their tales have become our own? Aren’t the old myths just made-up stories with imaginary characters?
On the trail of these questions, James and I came to examine archetypes. Carl Jung, the founder of analytical psychology, kept running across common elements in diverse cultures, which he called “motifs” and “primordial images” until he appropriated the term “archetypes” for them. In his final work, Man and His Symbols, Jung describes how archetypes affect all human beings:
[Our] inner motives spring from a deep source that is not made by consciousness and is not under its control. In the mythology of earlier times, these forces were called mana, or spirits, demons, and gods. They are as active today as they ever were. If they conform to our wishes, we call them happy hunches or impulses and pat ourselves on the back for being smart fellows. If they go against us, then we say that it is just bad luck, or that certain people are against us, or that the cause of our misfortunes must be pathological. The one thing we refuse to admit is that we are dependent upon “powers” that are beyond our control. . . [Our] motto “Where there’s a will, there’s a way” is the superstition of modern man. Yet in order to sustain his creed, contemporary man pays the price in a remarkable lack of introspection. He is blind to the fact that, with all his rationality and efficiency, he is possessed by “powers” that are beyond his control. His gods and demons have not disappeared at all; they have merely got new names. They keep him on the run with restlessness, vague apprehensions, psychological complications, an insatiable need for pills, alcohol, tobacco, food – and, above all, a large array of neuroses. [Man and His Symbols, page 82]
Mars and Venus are not arbitrary characters; they personify the qualities of Warriorship and Love. Being devotees of these concepts would yield the corresponding life circumstances. But to such detail? Here I was living on an island, dipping my toes in sea foam regularly, raising my gentle yet mischievous son, and feeling enlivened by an exciting love affair. It was not so hard to imagine Venus watching her son Cupid playing by the sea, or Mars disporting with his wolf (James enjoyed dog companionship and considered the wolf his spirit animal). James was an artist whose message of love was exalted on his canvases upon encountering Big Love, Venus-style. Throughout our relationship, we felt the nudging and at times outright supervision by unseen forces.
Who are these forces? Venus? Mars? Cupid?
As Jung writes in Essays on a Science of Mythology,
An archetypal content expresses itself, first and foremost, in metaphors. If such a content should speak of the sun and identify with it the lion, the king, the hoard of gold guarded by the dragon, or the power that makes for the life and health of man, it is neither the one thing nor the other, but the unknown third thing that finds more or less adequate expression in all these similes, yet – to the perpetual vexation of the intellect – remains unknown and not to be fitted into a formula.”
[Essays on a Science of Mythology, p.76]
Since we were identifying with Venus and Mars, the archetypes presented themselves to us in those forms.
Goddess of Love
History is filled with the sound of silken slippers going downstairs and wooden shoes coming up!
Venus – or rather, what she represents – was not confined to superstitious Romans, for she existed elsewhere as Aphrodite Ourania (the Greek Queen of the Heavens), Astarte (the Middle East), Inanna, Ishtar (Mesopotamia), Shakti, Parvati, Kamala (India), Rati (India, Bali), Isis (Egypt), Qetesh (Egypt, Canaan), Ala (Nigeria), Oshun, Erzuli (West Africa & Caribbean), Freya (northern Europe), Frigg (Norse), Arianrhod (Celtic), Xochiquetzal (Aztec Central America), Pachamama (Incan South America), Benzai Tennyo or Benten (Japan), and Su Nü, Hsuan Nü, and Ts’ai Nü (the Three Lady Immortals of China) – to name but a few! As long as people have fallen in love, they have acknowledged the power of “mighty Aphrodite”.
Before the violent rise of the Patriarchy, the Triple Goddess appeared universally among different peoples of the Earth, with her love/sexuality/fertility aspect always enjoying great popularity. How to navigate relationships – the perennial quandary! In native astrologies, the Goddess of Love was often linked with the evening and morning star, the planet Venus. In fact, ancient Sumerians, who were excellent astronomers, astrologers, and navigators, used the name Inanna to refer to both the Morning and Evening Star and the Goddess of Love, War, and Fertility.
The Principle of Correspondence
If we open our minds to the forces behind the archetypal images and expand our awareness beyond our three-dimensional reality, the interplay of forces on the Earthly plane reveals a drama manifesting across the Universe. This concept is in accordance with one of the seven Hermetic principles, as put forth in the ancient Egyptian treatise, The Kybalion. The Principle of Correspondence states: “As above, so below. As below, so above.” This can best be envisioned not as a linear hierarchy of planes of reality, but as structures that are replicated up a spiral to the infinitely large and down a spiral to the infinitely small. Using this fractal geometry perspective, we might say that whether we focus on the complex details of our lives or the grandiose intricacies of the Universe, we are studying the same phenomena. It is no accident that if I sketch a circle with rings around it, it depicts our conception of an atom, a solar system, and a galaxy.
We can look at it another way through Vedic mythology; from the Avatamsaka Sutra of Mahayana Buddhism, we learn that the god Indra has stretched a net across the cosmos, and at each intersection of the weaving is a shiny jewel or pearl. Each gem reflects all the other gems and within each reflected gem are all the other reflected gems, ad infinitum. Indra’s net allows us to comprehend how we are all connected in a holographic way. Our own struggles and triumphs, then, are important to all of Creation, which is discovering and evolving itself through us. As Tantra tells us, Creation is continuous, and we are its agents. Through meditation, prayer, shamanic quests, or meaningful ritual, we can engage our infinite natures when we turn our senses inward, and the mythic stature of our lives when we expand our context outward. Like jewels in Indra’s net – or fractals in the space-time continuum – we embody Life asserting its glorious self.
Applying the Principle of Correspondence as depicted in The Pleiadian Agenda by Barbara Hand Clow, consider the following scenario:
In the 3rd dimension: Becca and James make love.
In the 4th dimension: the archetypal Venus and Mars feel the sexual energy, and respond in kind, which could trigger Becca and James into any number of reactions, such as lust, pleasure, guilt, anger, surrender, or ecstasy.
In the 5th dimension: 5D beings feel the kundalini fire and experience cosmic orgasms.
In the 6th dimension: 6D entities expand the fields of passionate pulsations throughout the galaxy.
In the 7th dimension: 7D entities carry the feelings of love via galactic information highways.
In the 8th dimension: 8D beings can organize new morphogenetic fields out of the sexual seismic waves.
In the 9th dimension: 9D entities can birth new biological forms from black holes, and new creation springs forth.
Such concepts boggle the mind, which is exactly how James and I felt when the above scenario dawned on us. On a nighttime walk on our Caribbean beach, in the alabaster light of a Taurus full moon (I am a Taurus), when the sun was hiding in the house of Scorpio (James is a Scorpio), we strolled under palm trees in quiet conversation and comfortable silences . . . when all of a sudden, a multi-dimensional picture exploded into our awareness. The sea placidly lapped the shore, but our minds were dancing the merengue on silvery sparkles and moonbeams beyond the sea’s horizon and across the vault of heaven. We glimpsed the archetypal forces at work, vibrating up and down the spiral of manifestation. We stood on that spiral, too, and could be active participants, if we so chose.
With that simultaneous illumination, our partnership was cast into a new light, so we could make sense of our earlier questions: Where were these new paintings coming from that seemed to have a life of their own? Why the feeling that someone was not only watching but was invested in the course of our relationship? Why the unfolding of the Venus and Mars story? Why me? Why him? Why us?
from The Seven Planets with the Signs of the Zodiac (1539) by Hans Sebald Beham
Even if the multi-dimensional view were pure fantasy, it nonetheless served to provide a sense of humor and cooperation when James and I experienced the attendant pitfalls and pinnacles of a daily relationship. We see this world through a glass darkly anyway, and to be reviving – no, reinventing – a legendary man-woman dynamic in the present day bestowed a sense of wonder to life. Carl Jung would have known what we were feeling, for he said that engaging archetypes brought about synchronicities (what the skeptical call “coincidences”). If the story of producing Venus and Her Lover is anything at all, it is a magical ride of synchronicities. Jung wrote in Man and his Symbols: “We can perceive the specific energy of archetypes when we experience the peculiar fascination that accompanies them. They seem to hold a special spell.” [Man and his Symbols, page 79] Yes indeed!
So invigorating were our realizations, that we opened ourselves – personally and as a couple – to expanding our self-definitions. We were being pulled by morphic resonance and archetypal attractors – and even though we did not understand them fully, we knew we could trust the exhilaration we felt. We felt buoyed up in a river of love. Why resist?
Archetypal Caresses in our Art
No creature is fully itself till it is, like the dandelion, opened in the bloom of pure relationship to the sun, the entire living cosmos.
~ D.H. Lawrence
Living the archetypes infused our lives with heightened inspiration. Once we tuned into the morphic fields of the Goddess of Love and the Warrior, and then opened ourselves to their possibilities for evolution through us, James and I experienced a quantum leap in our creative work. His paintings took a completely new turn upward, appearing in a hitherto untried style: photo-realism. This is not so surprising, considering that we had composed the scenes with the camera. But James had not painted like that before; in fact, he had vowed to avoid figurative or repetitive work. But he came to realize that this project was bigger than him or me. He would not even sign the canvases with his own name. So now here he was, thrown into a crash course on figurative painting, and reaching for his reading glasses and smaller and smaller brushes. The Venus and Her Loverpaintings lashed him to his studio. Realistic erotica was such virgin territory that if he were away from the canvas for a day, he forgot all the steps in rendering them! He was showing up at my door with finished paintings, though, and as we studied the tableaux on my bedroom wall, James would say, “ I have no idea how I’m doing this!”
Meanwhile, my writing was manifesting as never before. Elémire Zolla, in Archetypes – The Persistence of Unifying Patterns, writes, “ The poet is ‘possessed’ by the archetype. The approach of the archetype creates the thrill of poetry.” [Archetypes – The Persistence of Unifying Patterns, p. 105]. Thrilling is right! My sessions contemplating Venus and Mars and the other divine beings were transporting me “behind the looking glass” of ordinary reality. I felt as if the characters on the canvas were speaking to me. In many cases, I was just playing the role of the temp secretary, jotting down their dictation. Zolla goes on,
Poetry is born from the shaman’s experience of controlled possession; he is perfectly alert while his whole being feels the god or archetype, while his imagination hallucinates to convey the figures that help gravitate towards the archetype. Poetry is, in Keat’s words, a ‘rich entanglement’ – so rich that it brings into play even the unnamable, silent stirrings of the unconscious. It is always more than the poet controls. [Archetypes,p.105].
Is this what happens when the power behind the God of War unites with the loving energy of the Goddess of Beauty, patroness of the arts? To be sure, Harmony had asserted herself in our lives. Our creativity blossomed, but James and I both sensed that it was only a thread of a much grander tapestry. I remember an ayahuasca ceremony with an Amazonian shaman. As I sat bare-chested before him, he chanted, combed my aura with the feathers he clutched, and sprayed my shivering body with some kind of firewater. Throughout his incantations he kept repeating, “La Gran Misteria! La Gran Misteria!” My lover and I now followed the multi-colored thread into what that native medicine man invoked: the Great Mystery. And like Hansel and Gretel leaving behind a trail of breadcrumbs that was eaten by birds, we were entering the deep, dark wilderness, and there was no turning back. Into the mythological realm we ventured, where “Surrender”, “Death”, “The Shadow”, “Miracles”, “Initiation”, “Creation”, and “The Quest” were the names of our way-stations. By agreeing to the journey, we agreed to taste the flavors along the way – some bitter, some refreshing, some sweet – which made us feel more and more alive.
What is the process of invoking archetypes? It is the process of coming fully alive, of finally arriving at oneself, by integrating our collective past, only to transcend it to dwell in higher and higher (or deeper and deeper) realms. We all can do it. In fact, we cheat ourselves if we do not. Stretching out fully into our archetypal selves allows us to bound across the Universe, conjuring sparkling ideas and placing them in the heavens . . . only to realize it feels like adorning ourselves with jeweled necklaces and earrings. A blink of an eye later, from our vantage point on Earth, we can view the unfolding dramas as if they were dust specks in a night sky, and sink into the vastness of it. We are but one pearl in Indra’s net. And yet – what a precious pearl! Paradox is the order of the day in the Great Mystery. Once you get used to it, it becomes comfortingly humorous.
Another aspect of living mythically that I learned was that my life events loved to make a mockery of any Type-A, traditional, goal-driven plans. I had to let go of such an obsession. There were way too many balls in the air (most of them invisible!) at any given moment for me to plan how to juggle them. So the artistry of my performance was not my pre-conceived idea of how it should look, but the moment-by-moment improvisation that was made possible by my willingness to go with the flow. By welcoming archetypal forces into our lives, James and I both came to realize that most of what actually existed in the Universe was invisible. After all, we can see only a tiny sliver of the wide band of frequencies in the electromagnetic spectrum. The Kosmos is full of vibrations and interference patterns of vibrations, which certainly affected our actions in the world. This was a fortunate lesson, because given the enormity of the world’s problems we as a civilization now faced, James and I needed to access as many dimensions of reality as possible! We needed to love deeply while at the same time letting go of attachment to outcome.
The more practice I got in invoking Venus in my life, the more deeply I dove into the archetypal pool. Her manifestations and her symbols revealed wonders within me and in the outer world. Venus’ sexual allure, which had always come natural to me, I now unselfconsciously played out. Tantra’s artistic expression of sexuality provided plenty of tips, so that our lovemaking welcomed heartfelt ritual, music, sensual dance, flowers, incense, fresh fruit, and chocolates. Astarte, who was sometimes depicted in mermaid form, took over my body as I swam joyfully in the tropical sea, calling to the dolphins (Astarte’s and Aphrodite’s totem). The dolphins responded, and in their presence, my heart swelled with their boundless love. Doves, another Astarte/Aphrodite animal, though rare where we lived on our Caribbean island, awoke us one morning with their cooing. Where had they come from? Here they were, to accompany my journey into Venus. And by the time of our move from Europe to Hawaii, a choir of doves settled outside our bedroom window to begin our days with their gentle warbling. As I dug my hands into the earth, I prayed that the Fertility Goddess would bless my garden. As I raised my son, I let the Great Mother’s compassionate wisdom guide me. Before writing a poem, I often invoked her creative power. In my studio in India, I wrote between altars to Sarasvati (Patroness of the Arts) and Kali (Goddess of Transformation), making sure to also invoke Kama, God of Love. James and I dedicated ourselves as artists to see this project through, infused with the creativity of Venus and the focused directionality of Mars. When times were tough, we called up the fortitude of Ishtar or Mars, deities of war. Ishtar’s image standing upright with one foot on top of a lion assured me I had the strength to triumph over the forces that threatened our success. Sometimes you need a fierce protectress.
The Venus archetype, accordioned back through her earlier incarnations, provided me with a palette of colorful and useful talents. But she could not supply the full range of qualities I needed as a woman, nor as a human being. Viewing Aphrodite as part of the Triple Goddess introduces Athena, who uses her intellect to strategize and can stand alone in battle, and Hera, who, having lost her earlier powers, maintains the home and remains true to her man. In the myth of the Judgment of Paris, Eris (Goddess of Discord), an uninvited guest at a wedding, rolled an apple into the group of Olympians attending the event. The apple was marked “For the Fairest”. Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite all reached for the apple, arguing why each one deserved it. Zeus was called in to settle the dispute and cleverly passed the job onto a Trojan prince, Paris. Then, according to this Greek patriarchal story, each goddess tried to bribe Paris. Hera offered him the power to rule over the kingdoms of Asia; Athena, victory in battles; and Aphrodite, the most beautiful woman in the world. Paris, heeding the direction of his inner phallos archetype, bestowed the apple on Aphrodite. She made good on her promise by insuring his abduction of Helen, the gorgeous wife of the Greek king Menelaus. This set the stage for the destructive decade of war between Greece and Troy, or so the story goes.
The historical significance of the myth is of less consequence than its cultural significance. The three aspects of the Triple Goddess are cast into competition, and Paris, an alpha male of a patriarchal system, values one over the others. Accordingly, the sexy, romantic vixen wins the prize in our society. In general, this value is projected onto all women by men; that is how they invoke Aphrodite. Women, too, still clutch after the golden apple as they cram themselves into tight clothes, balance themselves on high heels, and gamble their health and pocketbooks on facelifts and silicone breast implants. Sex appeal, according to Madison Avenue, comes in only one youthful package, and women strive to fit the picture of the model in the glossy magazines. If they do not, they internalize Paris’ judgment, and carry out the sentence through diets, anorexia, or a struggle with low self esteem. Thus we, as a society, invoke Aphrodite in her seductive form – excluding Hera, Athena, and the many Triple Goddess attributes – to our collective and individual detriment.
Archetypal Man and his Quest
When your time comes to die, be not like those whose hearts are filled with fear of death, so that when their time comes they weep and pray for a little more time to live their lives over again in a different way. Sing your death song, and die like a hero going home.
Just as Venus is not the only mythological role model for Woman, Mars the Warrior is not the only one for Man. Even though the plots of our classic literature and Hollywood movies center around the Hero, a man had better have more guises in his repertoire to be healthy and successful in life. Some examples:
- the Lover [Cupid who loved Psyche (Greek), Vertumnus who loved Pomona (Roman), Ollantay who loved Cusicollur (Incan)]
- the generous, self-sacrificing or protective Father [Osiris (Egyptian), Dionysus (Greek), Jesus (Christian)] whose symbol is the Tree of Life Dionysus (Greek), Jesus (Christian)] whose symbol is the Tree of Life
- the Destroyer [Shiva (Hindu), Susanowo, the Storm God (Shinto), Ah Puch (Mayan)] who clears the way for transformation and rebirth
- the Magician [Merlin (Celtic), the Shaman (Siberian and other indigenous traditions), Medicine Man (Native American), Thoth (Egyptian)] who can journey alone or guide us into other realms.
When we visualize Jesus as the compassionate shepherd who protects us, or take courage from Ollantay’s undying devotion to his beloved, we externalize archetypal characters that are actually internal. True, it is helpful to dialogue with Green Man in the forest trees, but we must realize that we call to the Spirit of Nature within us, not outside of us.
Although, as Jung said, archetypes reside in the collective unconscious of the human race, we should also remember that their home address is within our individual souls. It is important to hear our inner voice(s) with discernment and trust them. Since this takes time and devotion, invoking the archetypes is best seen as a practice.
The more you do it, the more you recognize the signposts along the way, the more you learn the lay of the mythological land. Thus you forge a path. The power is in being fully present throughout the process.
To undertake living the archetypes is akin to the voyage described by Carlos Castaneda in Journey to Ixtlan – The Lessons of Don Juan, in which Castaneda finally comes to understand that Don Genaro’s protracted tale about his trip to Ixtlan has no ending. As Genaro states, “I will never reach Ixtlan.” He is always on the way there.
Journey to the Underworld
Long time thy shadow hath been thrall to me . . .
– William Shakespeare (in Henry VI)
The way there (“to Ixtlan”) can have snake pits, not the least of which is the mindset installed in us by 5000 years of patriarchal domination. For example, our journeys of self-realization are certain to include the unveiling of our shadow aspects. We may invoke a goddess or a god – say, Inanna or Dionysus – to escort us into our personal Underworld. But if we lug with us the notion that the Underworld is a dark, evil place of damnation and punishment, we can be swallowed up or scared off of our quest. The patriarchal gods have but a few tools in their toolbox – a sword, a hammer. With the sword they drew a line in the sand: on this side, the good, the light, the heavenly; on the other side, the evil, the dark, the bottomless below (whose satanic forces require the hammer). From this line sprang our schizophrenia and our dualistic perception of the world. But . . . is duality reality? Does a hell of fire and brimstone exist beyond the boundaries of our minds? To get to know the denizens of our Underworld – our fears, urges, neuroses, and emotional wounds – we may prepare (as Inanna did), gather our courage, and then get to work encountering them.
Also dwelling in the repressed, unconscious shadow may be more evolved parts of ourselves that we do not feel capable or worthy of handling – hidden talents or intuitions. Whether dark, scary secrets, or hopeful, emergent abilities, the contents of the shadow have been locked away in the basement of our psyches, and we cannot progress without liberating them.
We must receive these orphaned parts of ourselves, heal them, and reintegrate them into our psyches. Under cover of darkness is when we can perceive Kali’s blood-stained lips and knowing smile as she cuts away the self-defeating forces within us. After such drastic therapy, we feel disencumbered. A new agility attends the ongoing journey.
Invoking the archetypes may seem at first like a safe pursuit, done in the comfort of your favorite reading chair with a thick book of mythology in your lap, but as the archetypes leave the pages and sink into your being, you meet their counterparts by sinking into your own Underworld. So be prepared. As James and I have established relationships with these characters, we have come to recognize them as parts of ourselves – male, female, human, animal, elemental, and Kosmic.
I have been describing how archetypes came alive in our lives through our artistic venture. Let us turn, now, to a fundamental question: Where do they come from?
It is one light which beams out of a thousand stars. It is one soul which animates all men . . .
– Ralph Waldo Emerson
The goal of tantric practice is to realize nonduality, the One. In this unified existence of infinite energy and possibilities, pure consciousness abides in a blissful state, in nirvana (a Buddhist term often translated as “Heaven”).
Outside time and space, before duality, the unmanifest realm contains limitless potential. Scientists have called it the vacuum or Zero Point Energy. For philosophers, it was the Void, and for spiritual seekers, the One. It has been personified: in the Hebrew Kabbalistic tradition, Ein Sof is the masculine face of God. For Hindus, Lord Shiva represents pure consciousness.
According to the tantric view, Lord Shiva has a female counterpart: Shakti. In the Kabbalah, the feminine face of God is the Shekhina. Obviously, the Masculine and Feminine exist in a world of duality.
Shakti and Shiva, no longer in the eternal bliss of sexual union, become aware of one another as “subject” and “object”. Shakti performs her seductive dance, generating vibrations from her womb and giving birth to differentiated reality: one object/creature/phenomenon after another, seemingly separate in space and sequential in time . . . a dance of illusion that is so convincing, the entire manifest realm springs to life, unaware of its origins. Voilà! The world of Form! From the One to the Many. [“The All-Embracing Whole of Reality” as depicted in Tantra – The Indian Cult of Ecstasy, by Philip Rawson, page 19]
In the book, Tachyon Energy – A New Paradigm in Holistic Healing, David Wagner and Gabriel Cousens describe how from Zero Point Energy (the formless, omnipresent energetic continuum of the Universe, existing faster than the speed of light), tachyons emerge. The Void begins to take form. Tachyons are still moving faster than the speed of light, however, and take a step down in frequency to become SOEFs – subtle organizing energy fields. SOEFs exist below the speed of light and hold particular vibrations around which forms may coalesce.
From an Integral perspective, the “wrinkles” in the Divine Matrix/Zero Point Energy field do not come into being randomly, because everything emerges holarchically. A holon has a self-identity, a wholeness, while at the same time being part of something else. It is a whole/part. Each holon sits nested in the greater context of the more encompassing holon “above” it, such as atoms which are held within molecules which are held within cells, and so on. Ken Wilber explains, in A Brief History of Everything:
. . . Evolution is in part a self-transcending process – it always goes beyond what went before. And in that novelty, in that emergence, in that creativity, new entities come into being, new patterns unfold, new holons issue forth . . . [A Brief History of Everything, page 24]
Wilber continues: What is creativity but another name for Spirit? If, as Whitehead said, creativity is an ultimate – you have to have it before you can have anything else – what is an “ultimate metaphysical ground” if not Spirit? For Spirit, I also use the Buddhist term “Emptiness” . . . But Spirit or Emptiness gives rise to form. New forms emerge, new holons emerge – and it’s not out of thin air. [A Brief History of Everything, page 25]
With this dramatic backdrop of Creation in the Kosmos, let us now focus on that intermediary step between infinite Emptiness and creative Form: holons, subtle organizing energy fields (SOEFs), prototypes, blueprints, seed ideas . . . in a word: archetypes.
On their journey toward manifestation, archetypes establish the essence of what will later take shape in the material world, and, we believe, they do so via sacred geometry. From our perspective, that is why spirals, fractals, the Golden Mean, the double tetrahedron, the sphere, mandalas, and other configurations resonate so profoundly within us. Humans started etching spirals onto cave walls eons ago, and the geometric shape still fascinates. Iconic depictions and symbols reverberate with a familiarity beyond our current memory. Archetypal image.
Seed-idea archetypes, being closer to the Absolute/Godhead/Brahman/the One/Great Spirit, beckon us to grow into our transcendental potential; we can, therefore, allow them to guide us into the creative emergence of ourselves as expressions of the Divine.
The Power of Sound
All music is an effort to bring silence somehow into manifestation. The seers of the ancient East have been very emphatic about the point that all the great arts – music, poetry, dance, painting, sculpture – are all born out of meditation. They are an effort to in some way bring the unknowable into the world of the known. Perhaps a song may trigger a desire to go in search of the source…
Additionally, we propose that archetypal creative emergence does not tiptoe wordlessly onto the scene. Vibrations ripple out from archetypes like rocks thrown into a pond, and the “kerplunk” they make could explain the mythic reverence for the sounds of Om, AK, the first sutras of the Rig Veda (Vedic), the sacred syllables of the Sephirot (Kabballah), and the resonant names of the Divine: Yahweh – Buddah – Allah – Wakantanka – Krishna – Tara – Quan Yin – Sarasvati – Kali – Shakti – Brahma – Yeshua. The seed sound “Ah” corresponds to the heart (anahata chakra), and is found in mantras and chants from different traditions worldwide. We hear it within ourselves when a lover touches or strokes the body with sensitivity, and in the ascending energy of orgasm. Ahhhhhh . . . . Archetypal sound.
The science of cymatics studies how sound waves manifest visually. Hans Jenny, a pioneer of cymatics, set metal plates or membranes to vibrating with different frequencies, and then observed how fine particles (sand, powders) or fluids reacted. Experiment after experiment produced ordered, symmetrical patterns on the vibrating surface, many taking form in what could only be described as mandalas. From Hindu and Buddhist meditative and ritual traditions, the mandala is a circular geometric diagram used to focus the mind for meditation, in other words, to help immerse the practitioner in the archetypal geometry of the Kosmos.
Myths tell of the creative power of seed sounds and harmonics:
- “In the beginning was the Word, the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (Christian)
- The Ancestors sang every thing – from water holes to lizards to trees – into being, giving them names. (Australian Koori/Aborigines)
- The humming sound of Om arose from the Infinite Ocean, awakening Vishnu who had been asleep on the coils of a cobra; when a lotus bloomed from his navel, Brahma the Creator emerged, and proceeded to create the world. (Hindu) Om is the foremost of the bija (seed) sounds considered sacred in mantras.
- Spider Grandmother spun the web of life and sang magic words over all beings to give them life. (Native American)
While the art of Venus and Her Lover relies on archetypal ideas or images, the poetry often includes rhythm, rhyme, mantra, and seed sounds, to reflect the power of archetypal sound.
Allegory of the Cave
There is a Light of which all lesser lights are pale shadows, there is a Bliss of which all lesser joys are anemic copies, there is a Consciousness of which all lesser cognitions are mere reflections, there is a primordial Sound of which all lesser sounds are thin echoes.
– Ken Wilber
Archetypes, as we have described them so far, are the seed Forms or blueprints for our physical reality. Plato told a similar story that explained how there is more in our world than meets the eye. In The Republic (Book VII), he delivers the Allegory of the Cave. It goes like this:
In an underground cave, the Troglodytes are chained and restrained in such a way that they can only see straight ahead, to the cave wall before them. Behind them, on an elevation, blazes a fire. Between the people and the fire is a walkway where others pass by, talking and making noise, some of them carrying things aloft – and all of which cast shadows on the wall. Naturally, the Troglodytes take the shadows to be real, and think the shadows are making the echoes they hear.
Glaucon, who has been listening to Plato’s story, remarks: “You have shown me a strange image, and they are strange prisoners.”
“Like ourselves,” I replied, “and they see only their own shadows, or the shadows of one another . . .
“To them, the truth would be literally nothing but the shadows of the images.”
If someone were able to break free and see the fire and the people on the walkway, and then try to explain it to his fellow Troglodytes, they would think him mad, and his perception crazy. Plato tells the Allegory of the Cave as a cautionary tale for the plight of the philosopher.
We can also consider it an analogy of how archetypes cast their forms onto our concepts of reality.
From the Depths of the Sea of Consciousness
Analytical psychology gives another definition to archetype. In the collective unconscious of humanity there exist basic motifs, or archetypes, that have been reinforced by generations upon generations of common experience. For example, the Great Mother is a powerful archetype on Earth because every living being in the history of the world has had a mother. Ingrained in the human psyche is the dynamic of the mother. Likewise, the Hero’s Journey, with its typical phases [see box] is such a common storyline, it is called the monomyth. From Ulysses in Homer’s The Odyssey, to Luke Skywalker in Star Wars, the hero has been telling his instructive tale to avid audiences for millennia. through morphic resonance, to a body of knowledge held by metaphysicians, past and present.
Mythic archetypes appeal to us because we can identify with them. Not only do we act out their plots in our lives, they recur in dreams, art, religion, fairy tales, and myths. Their symbols appear in sacred geometry, the Tarot, astrology, the I-Ching, the runes, and the literature of alchemy. They represent the common ground we share with all human beings, a cultural inheritance from our ancestors that help us identify our roles, clarify the themes being played out, and discern a tried-and-true course of action. The contents of the collective unconscious represent a rich repository of human experience and possibilities in the noosphere.
In Venus and Her Lover, we draw upon archetypes in both fashions:
- as intimations of Spirit, seed ideas or pure essences of the Divine (Emptiness, the Absolute, Brahman)
- as energetic imprints of the collective unconscious, universal symbols of the human experience
In a sense, the mythic archetypes bubble up from our magico-mythic past, and the seed-form archetypes beckon us to our boundless identity as Spirit. With that awareness, we can use archetypes not only to define our place in the world, but to open our way to the Kosmos.
Archetypes, Alive and Kicking
James and I undertook Venus and Her Lover by letting ourselves be carried away by our passion. We were having fun. Once we realized that new myths were manifesting through us, we figured we were doing what painters, sculptors, and poets throughout history had done. Then we discovered that Carl Jung had predicted that the New Age would bring with it new myths. He wrote, in Essays on a Science of Mythology:
In reality we can never legitimately cut loose from our archetypal foundations unless we are prepared to pay the price of a neurosis, any more than we can rid ourselves of our body and its organs without committing suicide. If we cannot deny the archetypes or otherwise neutralize them, we are confronted . . . with the task of finding a new interpretation appropriate to this stage, in order to connect the life of the past that still exists in us with the life of the present, which threatens to slip away from it. [Essays on a Science of Mythology, p.76]
Were James and I answering a call to update the interpretation of archetypes? It was a question we could only answer for ourselves, by jumping into the process with both feet, to discover where we might surface. As we got into the swim of invoking archetypes, we could better accept our cultural inheritance, while at the same time discovering hidden resources within us.
To the ancient Romans, Venus and Mars were real characters. When the Roman legions marched onto victory, they were infused with the courage and authority of Mars. When a man delivered a daily bouquet to his beloved, he was not struck by an obsessive-compulsive disorder but by Cupid’s arrow. The more we invoked the archetypes, the more our daily lives shimmered with synchronicities and sense of purpose. We asked Ganesha (Remover of Obstacles) to clear the way for our art, and the powerful elephant boy within us did so. After concentrating on Lakshmi (Goddess of Abundance), we held more money in our hands than we ever had in our lives. Tangling with Kali (Goddess of Death and Transformation) left us both emotionally in pieces. Ah yes . . . be careful what you wish for! Through our experiences, the arbitrary nature of reality was laid bare. Our lives are like blank books. It is up to us to fill in the pages. Grandiose themes prompt us from our collective past, and whispers of infinity lure us toward our collective future. What a beautiful story James and I had agreed to create together! Accepting our roles humbly and playfully, and with a nod to an apparently long line of interested parties, James and I were bringing out a new vision of Venus and Mars and the love that immortalized them.