Category Archives: Archetypes as Companions for our Lives

Sophia and Mary of Nazareth

I write this on the Feast of the Annunciation, March 25, 2020 at a time when each of us is being called into a new planet-wide reality, invited to give our love, our trust, our assistance, our presence, (our respectful absence!) in a crisis unlike any we have experienced.

In this moment, we, like Mary of Nazareth, may feel astonished.

May we respond with the courage Mary showed to a request beyond anything she might have imagined.

Today, I travel back in time to my first encounter with Mary. I remember a day when I was perhaps eleven years old. Each afternoon, walking home from school, I passed our parish church. On this day, I was drawn to go inside.

I remember glancing at the marble statue of Mary, standing to the left side of the altar.

Her stone pale white face was shuttered, her eyes downcast. The statue radiated coldness. Though I did not understand what her title of “Virgin” signified, I associated the word with an absence of what I longed for most in my life: warmth, caring, love.

I turned my gaze away from the statue, noticed a small booklet on the bench where I was sitting. It contained the Scripture readings for the Sundays of each month, with reflections. On the inside front cover, someone had written of Mary, creatively presenting ideas in the form of a letter as though it had been written by her.I have now no memory of the letter’s content. Perhaps I did not even read it. I was transfixed by the words at the end, “Your Loving Mother Mary.”

 In that instant, my life shifted. A loving presence entered into my existence and has never left me.

As Jean Houston has written, “Whenever they move into our awareness, both personally and collectively, archetypes and the old and new stories that they bring with them announce a time of change and deepening.”

To grasp the true significance of Mary as Archetype, come with me now to the tiny sanctuary dedicated to Isis on the Island of Philae in the Nile River.

Crowded into a space never meant for a group as large as ours, stand here with the other travellers on this spiritual journey to Egypt, led by Jean Houston. Listen now to the words Jean is reading from the writings of Apuleius, a second century Roman, not a Christian. In the story, a hapless magician named Lucius has cried out to the goddess for help. Isis responds.

The way the Sacred One identifies herself to Lucius may startle you:  I, the natural mother of all life, the mistress of the elements, the first child of time, the supreme divinity…. I, whose single godhead is venerated all over the earth under manifold forms, varying rites, and changing names…

 Behold, I am come to you in your calamity. I am come with solace and aid. Away then with tears. Cease to moan. Send sorrow packing.

Soon through my providence shall the sun of your salvation rise. Hearken therefore with care unto what I bid.

Eternal religion has dedicated to me the day which will be born from the womb of this present darkness.

After the reading, listen as someone suggests that we call out all the names by which we have known the Sacred Feminine.

Listen as voice after voice calls out wonderful names. Many of these names are familiar to you, titles you may have learned as a child. We knew them as part of a litany, composed in honour of Mary. Yet many of these titles were given thousands of years earlier to Isis:

Mystical Rose. Tower of Ivory.  Gate of Heaven. My own voice calls out: Star of the Sea. Jean’s voice, strong, certain, proclaims: Mary in all her forms.

The human heart longs for a divine mothering presence. Ancient cultures honoured a feminine divine who over millennia was called by many names: Isis in Egypt; Inanna in Sumeria; Ishtar in Babylon; Athena, Hera and Demeter in Greece; Anu or Danu among the ancient Celts; Durga, Kali and Lakshmi in India; for the Kabbalists, Shekinah; for the gnostics, Sophia or Divine Wisdom.

In the early centuries of Christianity, Mary of Nazareth became an Archetype of a Loving Mother. How that came about is a luminous story.

Christianity had no “Mother God” to put in the place of the Goddesses whose worship it was determined to eradicate. In his book The Virgin, Geoffrey Ashe writes of his theory that Mary’s gradual ascension in Christianity was not an initiative of Church Leadership, but rather a response to the hunger of the early Christians for a sacred feminine presence.

Mary became for Christianity a portal for that sacred presence. Or, put another way, a sacred presence responded to the cries of her people when they called her “Mary”, just as that presence had responded over the millennia to other names cried out in love or sorrow or desperate need.

And yet, and still, before any of that happened, Mary, a young woman living in Nazareth, a town despised in Israel, was already a luminous presence who made a choice to say “yes” to a call that held mystery, uncertainty, unimaginable risk, a call to mother a child with a love that would ask of her everything.

When we first meet Mary in the Gospels, she is being offered that invitation.

Here is how Irish poet John O’Donohue imagines the scene:

Cast from afar before the stones were born

And rain had rinsed the darkness for colour,

The words have waited for the hunger in her

To become the silence where they could form.

The day’s last light frames her by the window,

A young woman with distance in her gaze,

She could never imagine the surprise

That is hovering over her life now.

 

The sentence awakens like a raven,

Fluttering and dark, opening her heart

To nest the voice that first whispered the earth

From dream into wind, stone, sky and ocean.

 

She offers to mother the shadow’s child;

Her untouched life becoming wild inside.

Where does our story touch Mary’s? Where are the meeting points? What are the words waiting for the hunger in us “to become the silence where they could form”? When our hearts open, will they also become a nest for a new birthing of the Holy?

The urgent needs of our time require a “yes” to the conception, followed by the birthing, of new life.

Mary’s story gives us the courage to say “yes” without knowing where that “yes” may lead. It is enough to know that certainly our own life will become, like Mary’s, “wild inside”. Mary comes as Archetype to each one of us who carries the Holy within us, seeking a place of birth.

We walk the dark road, with Mary, in trust. We walk companioned by one who knows our struggles to maintain our trust in the face of inner doubts and outer calamity.

We walk with one who loves us and encourages us, prepares us, to welcome “the day which will be born from the womb of this present darkness.”

 

Archetypes: Our Travelling Companions

In my grandmother’s tiny front parlour, next to her Victrola, sat a heavy hard-bound book containing all of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales. In the  summers of my childhood, after a magical overnight train journey, we stayed with my grandmother. I remember my eagerness to open that book on each visit, turning always to the same story, “The Travelling Companion”. It had all the delights a child could want: terror and sadness, mystery and secret journeys to a hidden cave in a mountain, an ogre and a bloodthirsty princess who beheaded her suitors when they could not answer her questions… but most of all I loved the main character, John.

Andersen begins, “Poor John was very sad, for his father was ill and would not recover.” After a loving farewell, promising that John would be cared for by providence, the father dies, leaving the young man all alone in the world. After the funeral, John sets off into the wide world, carrying his inheritance of fifty gold marks. That night he seeks shelter in church where an open coffin sits, awaiting a funeral the next day. Wicked men, to whom the dead man owed money, come to seek revenge. They plan to seize the man’s body and hurl it into the woods. But John approaches them, offering his fifty gold marks if they will promise not to dishonour the dead man. They agree….

Next morning, as John continues on his way, a stranger with a wise and kind countenance asks if he might travel with John as a companion. Well, you can guess the rest…. This was no ordinary mortal, but a magical being who helps John to win the love of the fierce princess with whom he has fallen deeply in love. When John and his new bride, now a loving woman, freed from the ogre’s power, begin their new life together, the companion bids John farewell, revealing himself as the spirit of the dead man whose body John saved from dishonor….

This story has been rising in my memory over these recent weeks as we have been exploring together the concept of Archetypes. For, after all, is not an archetype in our life truly a “travelling companion”, offering not only company but powerful assistance in achieving the tasks of our lives, the desires of our heart?

On Saturday, I joined a ZOOM call. Jean Houston (jeanhouston.com) offered further insights from her decades-long study of Archetypes. Here are some highlights from that Zoom Meeting:

At the base/root of our relationship with an Archetypal presence is LOVE, the Beloved Friend, the Companion of our lives.

Archetypes are our connection to the wider reality, the “hooks and eyes” that assist us in accessing the “Implicate order” as David Bohm calls it. We are the part of the “explicate order”, limited in our reality. Archetypes bring to us the inspirations, ideas, supports, strengths to engage in our lives/our tasks with greater capability.

Susan Seddon Boulet’s image of Moon Goddess Selene

Einstein believed imagination was the key to knowing. As we learn to extend our imagination, it takes us into the imaginal field where so much potential lies, where we encounter the Archetypes. Rumi wrote that for each garden that he sees around him, there are a thousand magnificent gardens within his soul…

Who is the Archetype you chose or were chosen by in your life? He or she may be a real person living now, or someone who once lived (Julian of Norwich, Hildegard, Brigid of Kildare, Mary of Nazareth, Mary Magdalene) or someone in the imaginal realm, such as the Greek Goddesses, or Brigid, the ancient goddess of the Irish, or Isis of Egypt. We are called to grow the Archetypes if they are of the past, to engage with them as co-creative partners, to assist in their rebirth for our times.

Jean suggests we think of a time when we called upon an Archetypal presence to assist us with some task or challenge. Now imagine how our lives might change if we were to live more consciously, more continuously aware of being partnered by the Archetypal presence in our daily tasks, our relationships, decisions, challenges… Jean suggests we begin with our strongest senses to engage the Archetype, whether that be through dance, music, art, or perhaps writing a dialogue where we ask the Archetype a question, then write the answer that rises in us…

During the Zoom Call Jean invited us into the following processes:

  1. Breathe deeply, and sense you are drawing in with each breath the presence of your Archetype; draw in her/his seeing, hearing, touching, tasting, knowing, loving… In the practice what do you see, hear, touch, feel, experience in the presence of the Archetype? (When I offered this process to a group of friends, some experienced the scent of sandalwood, of roses; one felt a sense of wholeness; another heard the song, “Love Changes Everything”, and yet another had an inspiration related to a workshop being planned…)

2. Raise your hands, palms outward, towards where you imagine your Archetype standing, facing you. Feel the energy that may tingle on your palms. Know yourself deeply loved, known, encouraged and understood by this presence, the part of yourself that links you to the sacred, the LOVE in the Universe.

As Jean assures us, a relationship with an Archetypal presence is not unlike other relationships in our lives: it will grow, deepen, and expand over time as we journey with our travelling companion.