Category Archives: Jean Houston

The Greek Journey Part Three: The Amphiareion

Our Journey to Greece was inspired by a great healer named Asclepius who lived in Ancient Greece over 3000 years ago. His wholistic approach to healing included drama and dreams, laughter and song, dance, spirituality ….

“Asclepius,” writes Jean Houston, “demonstrated how full well-being can be created by energizing and balancing the body, heart, intuition, dreams, faith and spirit of a person.”

Today we set out from Athens, travelling 22 miles northeast to visit a sanctuary and oracular healing center.

Founded in the 5th century BCE and flourishing until the 4th century CE, the site was dedicated to the god-hero Amphiaraus. Healing at the Amphiareion came through dreams and their interpretation.

The Greek travel writer Pausanias described the process in the 2nd century CE:…the first thing is to purify oneself, when someone comes to consult Amphiaraus, and the purification ritual is to sacrifice to the god, and people sacrifice to him and to all those whose names are on ( the altar), and — when these things are finished—they sacrifice a ram and spreading out its skin under themselves, lie down waiting for the revelation of a dream.

We approach the Amphiareion as pilgrims, as well as time travellers, for we have come to an ancient ruin seeking a spiritual power that lingers. Nestled in a plain among mountains, here there were once baths, a theatre, the god’s temple, staff residences, shops, inns, the agora and a water clock. Today there are only stone remnants of pedestals and sleeping benches.

Yet the peace of this place envelops us with its natural beauty, its quiet strength.

First we purify ourselves, washing our hands in a bowl that holds water infused with herbs. We have been asked to bringa non-physical sacrifice, something in our lives we are ready to release….I have been wondering what this might be.

Inviting us to find places to sit among the tumbled stones, Jean speaks: “Sacrifice is about making holy. “What aspect of your life do you wish to make holy?”

We ponder this in silence. What rises for me is an old fear, one that emerges now and then with renewed ferocity. It is about home, about belonging: where do I belong? with whom? I feel drawn to sacrifice this fear,handing it over to the Sacred Presence to whom my life is dedicated, trusting Love to care for me…

I sit looking into a grove of trees, then across to the distant mountains, breathing in peace and trust.

After a time, Jean calls us back together. Now her invitation to us is to close our eyes, to imagine ourselves back to the 5th century BCE. Within our minds the Amphiareion reappears as a glimmer of white marble buildings, with throngs of hope-filled seekers, moving gracefully in their draped line garments, speaking, gesturing, laughing, even singing…the scene moves in our imaginations like a documentary film.

“Now, open your eyes,” Jean invites. “What do you see?”

There are people who have a gift for seeing with open eyes something long vanished. It does not happen here, today. Yet, for a while longer, we move back and forth in time in our imagination.

My eyes are still closed, so this is no vision. But I do sense a presence. A tall man in the flowing white robes of Ancient Greece is standing, facing me. He looks directly at me with wisdom and kindness in his expression:

“Why have you come? What healing do you seek?” I hear him speak in the silence of my heart.

Startled, I show him my questions, though I form no words. 

He grasps at once what is in my heart, then he speaks to me:

“You have your home within you.”

I believe I have encountered an oracular healer, one who heals with words from the Sacred Presence.

Later, we walk the grounds, eat fresh figs straight from the trees, climb the steep stone steps that lead to the ruins of the ancient theatre. There some of our companions speak to us, sing to us.

Aingeal proclaims the call of our time crying out “Now is the time to banish fear from our lives”, the call to each to live that fullness of life that will be our gift to the evolution so needed, so longed for.

Dick sings an “Alleluia” moving Leonard Cohen’s words into a celebration of newness of life.

What have we experienced? Something more than an archaeological site, more than a history lesson.It is a wrinkle in time; it is a taste of healing power that nourishes each of us in our own way, in our own need.

We board our bus, re-enter the crowded, vibrant, noisy, streets of 21st century Athens.

We pass a car dealership. It offers to us its own version of “oracular healing”, loudly proclaiming in a huge red-lettered sign: FIND NEW ROADS.

Greece: A Mythic Journey

In Tolkien’s book The Hobbit, Bilbo rushed out the front door of his hobbit-hole towards adventure without even stopping to pick up a “pocket handkerchief”. I, too, rushed away from a gathering at the Ignatius Jesuit Centre in Guelph, Ontario without even stopping for lunch. Racing along the 401 highway towards the “Park ‘n Fly” at the Toronto Airport, heart in mouth, I thought only of arriving in time to catch my flight to Athens. An hour later, moving through the press of travellers seeking the flight desk, I was startled by a heavily-accented voice that rose above the din: “This way to Athena. This way to Athena.”

Athena. Already the realm of the mythic is opening. The goddess herself will guide our journey. May she also guide us through this imaginal journey, revisiting the sacred sites and processes, the teachings and experiences, the beauty, wonder and depth of the journey which Jean Houston led through Greece from September 22 – October 9, 2015.

Athena

As we travel one hundred miles northwest from Athens towards Delphi, our faithful driver Panagiotis (whose name means “holy one”) guides our elephantine bus along cliff edges with the confidence of a boy skirting puddles. The massive ancient mountain of Parnassus, more than a million years old, looms to our right, its rounded limestone bulk worn smooth by eons of weather. Looking downwards left across the valley that leads to the Gulf of Corinth, we see the great olive grove of more than a million trees. 

The olive tree was Athena’s gift to the people who named their city in her honour.

We are about to walk the Sacred Way, becoming one with the pilgrims who, for thousands of years, climbed to the Temple of Apollo in Delphi.

As was the case in most approaches to temples in Greece, the Sacred Way delivered the pilgrim to the gate of…sacred experience as though through a labyrinth, in this case a labyrinth which began down in the depths of the valley and wound upward through the Gate of Athena at Marmaria, through the underworld of the Kastalian Spring, and then into the sculpted and golden world of manifest divinity. ( “The Traveler’s  Key to Ancient Greece”)

ancient site of the Kastalian Spring

Like those earlier pilgrims who approached from Athens, we arrive first at the Tholos of Athena, a reminder that before Apollo took over this site, it was the holy place of the Earth Mother, Gaia.

The position of the sanctuary symbolizes Athena’s role as the protector of the place…but also serves to restore certain aspects of the old Goddess’ power to the sacred landscape, to mitigate the change wrought by the violence of the Olympian assault. Athena’s power is symbolized by the snake, thus repairing at least part of Gaia’s power snatched by Apollo. (from “Sanctuaries of the Goddess”)

Tholos of Athena

The late September sunlight sends a fiery blessing on us as we walk into the area of the Tholos, sacred to Athena.We see three great pillars supporting the massive stone ruin of the archway, the circle of fallen stones that are all that remain of her temple.

At Jean’s invitation we find places to sit on the ancient rocks, seeking for some hint of shade. We settle into the realm of Athena, whom Homer praised as “the glorious goddess, bright-eyed, inventive, unbending of heart…”

As Jean’s guiding archetype, the “ever near” Athena adopted Jean to develop the goddess’ own qualities as the One who shapes civilizations, companioning those who take on the task of co-creating with the Sacred.

We recall Jean’s words from her book, “The Hero and the Goddess” : 

 The realm of myth exists beyond time and space and daily reality. It is a symbolic world that dwells within us at levels deeper than our normal consciousness. And yet, it can be openly and vividly engaged in ways that expand the possibilities of every aspect of our lives. But to reach these depths and heights, we must pledge our commitment, our theatricality, our excitement. We must not bore the gods – or ourselves….

When we energetically and dramatically encounter this mythic realm and the beings who dwell there, we begin to understand that our individual lives – our personal stories – echo the events and truths of their lives and stories. We reflect these mythic beings and they reflect us. Experiencing this mutual recognition gives us access to more vigor and energy, a greater sense of joy and release, and an even deeper commitment to the unfolding planetary story. We begin living with the doors and windows of ordinary life wide open to the depth world.

(Jean Houston from the Preface to “The Hero and the Goddess”Quest Books, Wheaton, IL 1992, 2009)

Now we begin to engage this mythic realm and the beings who dwell there as Jean leads us in a meditation where the godded beings of the Greek pantheon offer their powers through each of the Chakras of our bodies.

Following the meditation we shall begin our climb towards the sanctuary of Apollo on Delphi, where we may encounter the spirit of the Oracle herself, the Pythias.

 We are leaving Athena’s Tholos when a sudden question sends me hurrying to catch up to our Greek guide, Calliope.

“Kapi, you have told us that the Greek people of today honour above all the Sophia, Holy Wisdom. Do they see a connection between her and the goddess Athena?” I ask.

“Of course,” Kapi responds. “They see a continuation.”

 At once our reflections on the Sophia become a river flowing from an ancient source,an unstoppable flow of wisdom and love, a promise fresh and ever-flowering, the Sophia, the “ever near” presence for which we long.

Icon of Sophia purchased from the Greek Ministry of Antiquities

Archetypes: Our Travelling Companions

In my grandmother’s tiny front parlour, next to her Victrola, sat a huge 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 out into the wide world, carrying his inheritance of fifty gold marks. That night he seeks shelter in a 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?

Atwen Undomiel

I’ve been reflecting on my life, calling to mind and heart Archetypes that came to me for a time, others that remain:  Arwen Undomiel,  daughter of the Elf Lord Elrond in Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings.” For years, Arwen was my Archetype, for her name means “Evening Star of her People”, something I longed to be.

Later, I recognized in Julian of Norwich, an Archetypal Presence, drawn to a life of solitude, where she reflected, prayed and wrote her book, ”Revelations of Divine Love.” One day I realized that as Julian spent time each morning at her window which opened out to a busy street in 14th century Norwich, listening to and responding to those who came to her, I too had such a “Window” where I might listen and respond on my computer.

On a ZOOM call in March, 2019, Jean Houston offered insights from her own  decades-long study of archetypes. Here are some highlights from that experience:

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 explicate order, limited in our reality. Archetypes bring to us the inspirations, ideas, supports, strengths to engage in our lives/our tasks with greater capabilities.

Einstein believed imagination was the key to understanding. 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, 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 process:

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; felt a sense of wholeness; heard the song, “Love Changes Everything”, had an inspiration related to a workshop being planned…)

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, expand over time as we journey with our travelling companion.

The nature of Archetypes

In recent postings from Anne Baring’s presentation to “Madonna Rising”, we have been exploring the meaning of Mary of Nazareth and Mary Magdalene, the two Mary’s of Chartres ,whom Anne describes as having attained “archetypal status. They are each an expression, an embodiment, of the Sacred feminine, an archetype of those energies, qualities that we associate with the womanly face of the divine.

Our Lady of the Way

What is an archetype and how might our relationship with one or more both enhance and enchant our lives? How might archetypes work with us and through us towards the healing of life around our suffering planet?

Jean Houston’s luminous writing on “The Nature of Archetypes” provides answers to both these questions.  

Jean writes: I have had hundreds of research subjects in altered states of consciousness and many thousands of participants in my seminars describe adventures of the soul so grand, so mythic, and yet so redolent of universal themes, that I can readily testify to the existence of a collective pool of myth and archetype residing in each human being as part of his or her natural equipment.

This joining of local life to great life is a central experience of what I call “sacred psychology.” It differs from ordinary psychology in that it provides ways of moving from outmoded existence to an amplified life that is at once more cherished and more cherishing. It requires that we undertake the extraordinary task of dying to our current, local selves and of being reborn to our eternal selves. When we descend into the forgotten knowings of earlier or deeper phases of our existence, we often find hidden potentials, the unfulfilled and unfinished seedings of what we still contain, which myth often disguises as secret helpers or mighty talismans.

our ancestors saw them in the heavens, prayed to them as Mother Earth, Father Ocean, Sister Wind

Myths have such power because they are full of archetypes. Archetypes are many things–primal forms, codings of the deep unconscious, constellations of psychic energy, patterns of relationship. Our ancestors saw them in the heavens, prayed to them as Mother Earth, Father Ocean, Sister Wind. They were the great relatives from whom we derived, and they gave us not only our existence, but also prompted our stories, elicited our moral order. Later, they became personified in mythic characters and their stories–the contending brothers, the holy child, the search for the beloved, the heroic journey.

As major organs of the psyche, archetypes give us our essential connections, and without them we would lose the gossamer bridge that joins spirit with nature, mind with body, and self with the metabody of the universe. Archetypes are organs of Essence, the cosmic blueprints of How It All Works. Because they contain so much, archetypes bewilder analysis and perhaps can only be known by direct experience.

(a) mythic being becomes an aspect of ourselves writ large

Thus, in the journey of transformation, as we participate in these symbolic dramas, we actively engage in archetypal existence. For not only do we form a powerful sense of identity with the archetypal character, but this mythic being becomes an aspect of ourselves writ large, and symbolic happenings appear with undisguised relevance, not only for our own lives and problems, but for the remaking of society as well.

Working with myth and archetype, we discover that we are characters in the drama of the Anima Mundi, the Soul of the World. In this discovery we push the boundaries of our own human story and gain the courage to live mythically ourselves and to help heal our world.

A psychology with a mythic or sacred base demands that we have the courage both to release old toxicities and diminishments and to gain access to our inner storehouse of capacities and use them to prepare ourselves for the greater agenda–becoming an instrument through which the source may play its great music. Then, like the hero or heroine of myth, we may, regardless of our circumstances, become an inspiration for helping culture and consciousness move towards its next level of possibility.

this dream demands that we live out of our true essence

 At this we startle, we shake. The scope of this dream demands that we live out of our true essence, which is always too large for our local contracted consciousness to contain. I find that it requires many mythic adventures of the soul to reloom body and mind. But such is necessary if we are to return to everyday life with knowledge gained in the depths that can be put to use to redeem the “unread vision of the higher dream” inherent in both self and society.  

Archetypes are shared constructs. We might think of them as greater Presences, which stand behind and inform the personal images of many individuals.

such timeless beings ask…to be regrown

Sometimes the archetypes manifest in their archaic forms as gods or goddesses or as legendary heroes or heroines of earlier cultures, but always such timeless beings ask to be seen in new and fresh ways–they ask to be regrown. 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. I deeply believe that such is happening all over the globe. Because I travel so much, I have occasion to witness firsthand the changing of the archetypes as society changes.

The enhancement goes both ways, for as we grow the “gods”, the “gods” grow us.
How do we grow these so-called gods? Perhaps it is by pursuing a conscious partnership with an archetype or psychospiritual power that has the same kinds of qualities as ourselves, as Athena was the natural partner of Odysseus. In living and working with these mutual qualities as gracefully as one can, humans help to individuate and extend the essence of the archetype in the world. The archetypes do not need to be met as old dependencies. They need to be met as co-partners.

Mary Magdalene

(What I am calling “Athena” may be the emerging archetypal orchestrator of my own inner crew of selves. Thus I do not become the archetype; rather, I allow her a more central role in my psychic development. As I experience it, this is neither inflation nor possession; it is a partnership that instructs, guides, inspires, as well as shedding light on the meaning and message of hard times– though without making them go away.  

Image of Athena by Susan Seddon Boulet

Discipline AS a Way of Love

Sophiawakens for August 19, 2020

Of (Wisdom) the most sure beginning is the desire for discipline,

care for discipline means loving Her… (Wisdom 6:17 Jerusalem Bible)

These words about discipline from the Wisdom Literature of the Bible have been with me in recent days. As I thought about them, I noticed how I have come full circle with the concept of discipline. When I was young, I accepted it as a denial of pleasure, like giving up candy for Lent, harsh but ultimately good for me. Later, I rejected that self-denying approach to life, embracing joy and a sense of being loved without having to “earn” it through sacrificing what I enjoyed. In recent years, I have discovered discipline in a new way, a commitment to “showing up” in a relationship with the Beloved each day…

Reflecting on this, I recalled a story that shows discipline as a requirement of love. Here is an excerpt from The Little Prince :

The fox…gazed at the little prince for a long time. “Please tame me!” he said.

“I’d love to,” replied the little prince, “but I don’t have much time. I’ve got friends to find and lots of things to understand.”

“Please tame me”

“You only understand the things you tame,” said the fox. “People no longer have the time to understand anything….If you want a friend, tame me!”

“What do I have to do?” said the little prince.

“You must be very patient,” replied the fox. “Sit down in the grass a little way away from me, like this. I’ll watch you out of the corner of my eye and you won’t say a word. Language is a source of misunderstanding. And each day, you can sit a little closer.”

The next day, the little prince returned.

“It would have been better if you’d come back at the same time,” said the fox. “If you come at four o’clock in the afternoon, then from three o’clock I’ll start feeling happy. The later it gets, the happier I’ll feel….but if you come at any old time, I’ll never know when to feel glad in my heart…we need rituals.”

“What’s a ritual?” said the little prince.

“Something else that is too readily forgotten,” said the fox. “It is what makes one

day different from another, or one hour different from the other hours.”

(from The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery, 1943; English translation, 2010 by Ros and Chloe Schwartz)

This wisdom from the fox echoes the teaching of spiritual writers that we must be willing to show up, at the same time each day, or at least at some time each morning and evening, for perhaps a quarter hour. During this time, we need to be willing to wait, to listen, to quiet the inner chaos of anxiety or questioning, of self-reproach or self-justification, just to allow ourselves to be in the silent presence of Love.

In her magnificent book, The Search for the Beloved (Tarcher/Putnam New York, 1987) Jean Houston writes:

While the realm of the Beloved may still remain “other”, the distance can be bridged by bringing the extraordinary into the ordinary….

Although being porous to the Beloved increases the capacity to live in two realms, the growth and maintenance of this capacity seems to depend upon the faithful practice of a discipline. Discipline has had a very bad press. We must recognize that the high practice of a discipline gives enormous freedom, and with this freedom comes a greatly increased capacity to love. Often we do not love others, much less the Divine Beloved, because we are caught up with every whim, irritant, and distraction….Discipline, conscious and mindful orchestration of the pieces of our lives, gives us a capacity to live in the depths as well as on the surface. Ideally, a discipline has a physical, mental, and spiritual component and is practiced each day. If, however, your discipline becomes compulsive…then it is time to consciously change it and do something funny or ironic. (pp. 132-3)

Shapiro cites words from Proverbs where Wisdom/Chochma/Sophia again speaks of discipline:

Listen to Me:

Follow Me and be happy.

Practice My discipline and grow wise….

(Proverbs 8: 32-33 NRSV Bible)

Commenting on this, he writes:

To listen you must first be silent. When you are silent, the narrow mind, the small self of thought and language, melts into the spacious self of clarity and compassion. To be mindful is to be present. When you are present, the distracted self recedes and the greater self emerges. With this comes Wisdom, joy and happiness.

Sometimes, and I find this usually happens just at the end of the brief listening time, Love surprises us with a fresh thought, a somersault of insight, that lifts us to a new place. And when Love is wholly silent and I long for words, I open my book of poems by Hafiz, to find at times a gift that eases my heart. Like this verse, found on day when my soul was dark and troubled:

I wish I could show you,

When you are lonely or in darkness,

The Astonishing Light

Of your own Being!

(I Heard God Laughing, translations by Daniel Ladinsky)

Truly, as Wisdom/Sophia/Chochma assures us in Proverbs:

I bring joy to those who listen;

I bring happiness to those who are mindful of Me…

Find Me and find life,

Find Me and find grace…

(Proverbs 8 NRSV Bible)

Walking with Wisdom Sophia

Where do you seek wisdom? Do you have overflowing shelves where recently acquired books hide earlier treasures like the nine layers of settlement in ancient Troy? Do you seek teachers trained in ancient wisdom?  Select from among the many speakers now available on-line? Or have you been fortunate enough to find a truly wise teacher who leads you inward to your own source of deep wisdom?  If so, you have already found Wisdom: She has already found you.

Wisdom is bright, and does not grow dim.

By those who love her she is readily seen,

and found by those who look for her.

Quick to anticipate those who desire her,

she makes herself known to them.

Watch for her early and you will have no trouble;

you will find her sitting at your gates.

Even to think about her is understanding fully grown;

be on the alert for her and anxiety will quickly leave you.

She herself walks about looking

for those who are worthy of her

and graciously shows herself to them as they go,

in every thought of theirs coming to meet them.

(Wisdom of Solomon 6:12-17 Jerusalem Bible)

Once we come to know and trust our inner “Sophia”, we have a treasure within us, and the eyes to recognize Her everywhere. The wisdom of the ages, of the sages, of the poets and the mystics. takes on a vibrant clarity, a singing resonance, for we have an inner lake that catches the light, reflecting to us the heart of reality.

Rabbi Rami Shapiro’s book, The Divine Feminine in Biblical Wisdom Literature (Skylight Illuminations, 2005) which I have been referencing for the past weeks, has opened my eyes as well as my heart to the myriad facets of Wisdom’s presence in the natural world from its sunlit morning warmth to night’s radiant moon path stretching across the river, to its wild winds, crashing thunder, its rain suddenly rushing from the skies, a Niagara of unseen source. Within my own life, I have become aware of a presence of Wisdom, showing me the moonlit way through challenges in relationships, difficulties in my work, small or larger questions of “What now?” or “How next?” …  for, as The Wisdom of Solomon assures us:

Even to think about her is understanding fully grown;

be on the alert for her and anxiety will quickly leave you.

I have experienced (as you must have done at times) how a day can suddenly open out in beauty, revealing patterns unseen until that moment, making sense of the journey of our life in ways we had not understood.  I recall a day, reflecting on the work I am called to do in Spirituality, I was led by Wisdom-Sophia to Jean Houston’s talk on the fluidity of time from her Quantum Powers course.

Following Jean’s guidance, I stood before a curtain of time, allowing a moment in my life I had not understood to reappear. A few years ago, I was invited into a new beginning. I have since thought I had missed the moment, had not taken the road shown to me, and somehow lost the gift being offered.

Now in a sacred moment, with the assistance of a true Wisdom teacher, I found that the invitation had taken me to just where I needed to be: to this place where I have everything I require for this work among you.  I experienced a moment of joy, a recovery of trust, finding the way right here under my feet, a yellow brick road, hiding under a layer of dust, pine needles, dried autumn leaves.

I share this with you, not that you need to know about my life, but that you may know more about your own, learn with Sophia to recognize your path, find the joy of walking in it, companioned by Wisdom.

We live now, as Jean Houston reminds us, in the time of the great confluence, when the wisdom of the ages, from many different sacred traditions, is available to us, along with the newest discoveries of the physicists, who have been called the mystics of our time. What we need is inner guidance to open our hearts to recognize wisdom when it presents itself to us. Often for me, especially when my spirit is deflated, when the moon of my soul is obscured by clouds, light breaks through with poetry. During such a moment this past week, I came upon these works of Hafiz:

You don’t have to act crazy anymore—

We all know you were good at that.

Now retire, my dear,

From all that hard work you do

Of bringing pain to your sweet eyes and heart.

Look in a clear mountain mirror—

See the Beautiful Ancient Warrior

And the Divine elements

You always carry inside 

That infused this Universe with sacred Life

So long ago

And join you Eternally

With all Existence—with God!

(trans. Daniel Ladinsky in I Heard God Laughing)  

 IMG_3819-775x522

May you too find that clear mountain mirror within, kneel there beside Wisdom-Sophia and be amazed at what you see, O Beautiful Ancient Warrior, bearer of Divine elements.

 

 

 

 

 

Where Is Sophia?

What Wisdom is and how she came to be, I will now declare,

I will hide none of the secrets from you;

I will trace her right from the beginning

And set out knowledge of her, plainly,

Not swerving from the truth.

(Book of Wisdom, Chapter 6:22 Jerusalem Bible)

Last week, we set out to find Sophia, the missing feminine aspect of the Holy, aware that traces of her presence can be glimpsed in old stories, ancient wells, crumbling parchments, carvings of small feminine figures, buried ritual sites, in the names of hills and rivers. Yet if these ancient sightings were all we had, her tale would be a tragedy, telling of a great treasure irretrievably lost… Instead, the story of Sophia has never ended. Her presence among us is moving towards a shining moment, a fresh revelation.

Years ago, I purchased a book that sat for almost two decades in my library, unopened. When I decided I needed to know more of the Sacred Feminine for this blog, I drew it from my shelf, began to read, and knew almost at once that I had found a treasure: Sophia: Goddess of Wisdom, Bride of God by Caitlin Matthews (First Quest Edition 2001,The Theosophical Publishing House, PO Box 270, Wheaton, IL  60189 -0270)

Here are a few excerpts from the Prologue:

The Goddess simply did not die out or go into cold storage two thousand years ago to be revived today in the same forms she manifested then. If the Goddess wanted to survive and accompany her people, surely she would have done so in a skillful and subtle manner.

Sophia is the great lost Goddess who has remained intransigently within orthodox spiritualities. She is veiled, blackened, denigrated, and ignored most of the time, or else she is exalted, hymned, and pedestalled as an allegorical abstraction of female divinity. She is allowed to be a messenger, a mediator, a helper, a handmaid. She is rarely allowed to be seen in charge, fully self-possessed and creatively operative.  

Flo Schell Mother Earth

Mother Earth painted by Flo Schell 

Sophia is the Goddess for our time. By discovering her, we will discover ourselves and our real response to the idea of a divine feminine principle. When that idea is triggered in common consciousness, we will begin to see an upsurge in creative spirituality that will sweep aside the outworn dogmas and unliveable spiritual scenarios that many currently inhabit. When Sophia walks among us again, the temple of each heart will be inspirited, for she will be able to make her home among us properly. Up to now, she has been sleeping rough in just about every spirituality you can name. (Prologue xxv, xxvi)

What is it about our time that has lured Sophia to walk among us openly again? I suggest that it is what calls to every earthly mother most compellingly: our need. As we have been recognizing in the decades before and after the millennium, our planet is in crisis, and we are finally understanding that we cannot live a healthy life on a sick planet.

COVID has written this truth as clearly as if it were carried in the white smoke of an airplane across the skies. Scientists are connecting the dots. This pandemic and recent outbreaks of illness that arose among other species and became virulent in humans cannot be cured until we recognize that our lives are interconnected with all life on the planet. Our disregard for other species has sent them into crisis, and ourselves as well. A return in our time to our ancestors’ honouring of the earth and all her life as sacred is as crucial as it is alluring.

Decades before this pandemic, Caitlin Matthews wrote:

For the first time in two millennia, the idea of a goddess as the central pivot of creation is finding a welcome response. The reasons are not difficult to find: our technological world with its pollution and unbalanced ecology have brought our planet face to face with its own mortality; our insistence on the transcendence of Deity and the desacralization of the body and the evidence of the senses threaten to exile us from our planet.

The Goddess appears as a corrective to this world problem on many levels. In past ages she has been venerated as the World Soul or spirit of the planet as well as Mother of the Earth. Her wisdom offers a better quality of life, based on balanced nurture of both body and spirit, as well as satisfaction of the psyche. (Prologue xxix)

And so we take up our search for her with hope, trusting that our desire to find her is matched by her desire to be found. Jean Houston writes in Godseed: “The longing with which we yearn for God is the same longing with which God yearns for us.” (130)

In our quest, we may say that “The longing with which we yearn for Sophia is the same longing with which Sophia yearns for us.”

When we begin the search with longing and trust, we soon discover someone is coming to meet us: perhaps in a conversation with a friend, an article we read, a song we hear, an experience that holds that mix of surprise and joy that is her trademark…

For me, this happened only days ago when I was in a time of deep distress, too troubled to even pray for help. CBC Radio’s Classical Music station was offering the “signature series”. I was only half–listening, caught up in my own despairing thoughts, when I heard the announcer say with great conviction, “She will never leave you.” Though he was speaking of the key of F sharp major, the words pierced my darkness with a shaft of light as surely as though he were speaking of Sophia. At once they returned me to my senses, to my trust….

Let us offer ourselves to Sophia as co-creative partners in her coming more visibly among us. A simple practice of sitting in silence for ten minutes each day, perhaps at dawn and dusk, opens a window for her entry, creating a space for her to come to us bearing the wisdom we each need to do our part to assist in her return.

The Powers of the Universe: Part Nine Inter-Relatedness

On a summer morning seven years ago, while I was living in my hermitage in the woods beside the Bonnechere River, I sat outdoors, holding a mug of coffee, enjoying a warm breeze.  I was preparing to write about Inter-relatedness.

At once, a dozen other tasks presented themselves, each one more appealing than writing. I washed a woven place-mat, hung it outdoors to dry, answered emails, read an old poetry journal, and finally settled on something truly urgent: picking crab–apples from a tree at the top of my lane.

I had noticed the tree the day before, its two large branches split near the trunk, their massive burden of crab-apples hovering just above the ground. I thought the tree might have been struck by lightning or pummelled by winds in a recent storm.

I began to fill a large bin with crab-apples, so eager to be picked that they nearly leapt from their branches. I worked quickly, mindlessly, concerned only that these small apples should be “used” before they fell to the earth to rot.

After nearly an hour of moving heavy branches that hung all askew, picking as many apples as I could reach, I decided I could do no more. I was hot, sticky, and being slowly devoured by a local chapter of mosquitoes who had found me out. Then, I happened to look up at the tree.

Something shifted in me. I was aware of a presence, a dim dark knowing, that moved my heart. Above me, the two split branches hung like almost-severed arms, and above them there was no great trunk. This was it. The tree was hopelessly broken, and would not bear again. Somehow I knew that it hadn’t been lightning or fierce winds but the sheer weight of this huge crop of apples that had broken her branches. This feast of fruit she offered as her dying gift.

Did I acknowledge that? Offer my thanks? I hope so, but it was a brief act. I was eager to get out of the sun, away from the mosquitoes, into my swimsuit.

Minutes later, I was walking through the woods to where a stairway of carefully-placed flat rocks led down into the river. Embraced by the slowly moving water, my companion of seven years, I felt at first only the bliss of coolness, buoyancy.

The Bonnechere  River

But gradually there came again the dim knowing that I had experienced beside the tree. Again I sensed a presence, a something, a someone, cooling me, embracing me, welcoming me into its life…

It was late afternoon when I at last opened my notes on the Powers of the Universe, garnered from Brian Swimme’s DVD series and Jean Houston’s teachings on the way these powers impact our lives.

Jean had spoken of White Buffalo Calf Woman who taught her people that all things are inter-related, so they must reverence all of life. This, Jean said, is what the power of Inter-relatedness is about: a vision of caring with a sense of the whole; we need an overarching vision that is so simple and alluring that we can see what can be, not from many different perspectives (science, art, religion, etc.) but from an all-inclusive vision. Jean sees the Power of Inter-Relatedness as an incredible invitation from the cosmos to create deep caring.

Inter-relatedness or Care has been at work in the Universe for 13.8 billion years, says Brian Swimme. Without it, the Universe would fall apart.

Parental care emerged as a value in the Universe because it made survival more possible with the mother and father fish caring for their young. As reptiles evolved, Swimme speculates that either they discovered caring, or perhaps it evolved along with them. Reptiles watch over their young and do not eat them (as do some fish).  The amazing power of care deepens with the arrival of mammals, whose care continues sometimes for a lifetime. This, says Swimme, is the Universe showing what it values, enabling mammals to spread out.

In some species of mammals, the female selects among her suitors the male who offers the best chance of having her offspring survive. The female is behaving in a way that will affect the next generation. Through her, the Universe is working to extend care. An intensive study of baboons led researchers to find that when a female chooses a sexual partner one of the qualities she seeks is tenderness. Thus life seeks to deepen and extend care.

Mother Loon nestles babies on her back

Care has to be evoked. A mother sea-lion establishes relationship with her pup by licking, nuzzling, thus evoking her own motherhood. It is the same for us humans, says Swimme. We need to find ways to activate these deep cosmological powers so that we can interact with the universe. This requires imagination. The power of care is evoked out of the plasma of the early universe. How do we enter into that process of evoking care? Just becoming aware is to participate.

How we position ourselves within our relationships with all of life is crucial, and is an act of imagination. To position ourselves in order to USE life leads to the extinction of countless species. Even 100 million years of parental care was not enough to save many species of fish from extinction. The shaping of our imagination by economic, educational and manufacturing systems that see use as the primary mode or orientation towards life on the planet, also views children in schools as “products” to be shaped, (and a tree’s bounty of crab-apples as something to be “used”.) What would be another way?

Swimme notes the amazing capacity of humans to care, a power that is coded in our DNA, where life has extended its care through us. But we also have through the power of language and symbol, through our conscious self-awareness, the capacity for empathy. We can learn to experience care for another species, even as we can imaginatively occupy another place, and extend our care to other cultures. With deepening compassion we move outside of our own boxed–in perspective.

Seeing that cosmological care is built in from the very beginning of the universe, some people today speak of the Great Mother or Mother Earth. This, says Swimme, is the cosmological power of care employing a powerful image or symbol to reflect upon itself through the human.

On a day when I tried to avoid writing of Inter-Relatedness, I was given the gift of experiencing this power directly in the self-giving bounty of a crab-apple tree, in the welcoming, cooling embrace of a gently-flowing river. Great Mother felt very close, inviting me, in Jean Houston’s words, into “a vision of caring with a sense of the whole”.

 

Powers of the Universe: Transformation

Transformation is among the most stunning of the powers of the universe.

Unlike the power of transmutation which creates small changes over time, transformation is sudden, dramatic.

One day in July, a few years ago at our community’s summer place, Mary noticed a nymph crawl out of the lake to attach itself to a plant. Mary, who has spent some twenty summers tending our lake, observing the life it contains, clearing deadwood, decay and weeds from its floor, knew what was about to happen. She carefully carried the plant with the nymph still attached up to the lodge. Then she invited everyone to come and watch the miracle. Within an hour the adult nymph had shed its tight skin, expanded its new body.

Before our wondering eyes, this pale, fragile, newly-emerged creature, its transparent wings delicate, took flight as a dragonfly.

Transformation.

In his DVD series “Powers of the Universe”, Brian Swimme notes that while transmutation is the power of change at the individual level, transformation is change that is worked into the whole universe by the individual.

Scientists believe that the universe was aiming towards life from the beginning, yet the universe had to transform itself over and over through almost 10 billion years to get to LIFE.  Early events in the universe are present in the early structures to which they gave birth.

Within stars, the birth of the universe is re-evoked, returning to its earlier stages.

Galaxies come to birth holding different eras in their structures. Galaxies enable planets which enable life.

These are transformative events leading to a time when more of the universe is present in one place.

Life is a way of holding a memory of an event. For example, in photosynthesis cells learn how to interact with the sun.

That learning process is remembered in the genes so it can be folded back out. Now that whole event of photosynthesis is here. It’s not a “one-off”. More of the universe is folded into it.  The memory is passed on by cells.

With the invention of sexuality, two beings fuse, the memories they carry shuffled together in new ways.

The ancestral tree remembers, folds itself into a new being, shuffling events, shuffling genes so new combinations can arise.

The energy that permeates the solar system has been there for all time. Elements of the earth came from the stars. Life holds together all these ancient events.

A colossal interweaving enables this moment to exist. We can’t say the universe is simply here “by luck”. Swimme says that the universe is aiming to participate in the creation of community, attempting to become involved in a four-dimensional way in every place to activate community.

We have to orient ourselves to the reality that the universe is aiming towards this.

We are invited into a huge responsibility as part of this unfolding. An individual’s experience can become the source for the recoding of the planet. All of cultural DNA can be recoded. The way in which we organize ourselves is recoding the genetics of other species.

With the appearance of the human we have the possibility of the transformation of the planet.

Swimme asks what laws we are proud of : ending slavery? votes for women? laws to protect animals? Where else do we see possibilities for transformation?

Today, as I write this, transformation is happening here in Canada, in the US, and spreading to countries around the planet that will affect the whole concept of policing, restoring a call to “serve and protect”. Practices such as racial profiling leading to harsh treatment, even to serious injury and death will no longer be tolerated either by political leaders or by the people of our countries.

As Canada‘s CBC News reported: Thousands of people took part in an anti-racism protest in downtown Toronto Friday (June 12, 2020). Protesters have called for greater accountability from Canada’s police agencies, cuts to policing budgets and acknowledgement of systemic racism in law enforcement. 

From small transmutations in our personal lives, we can consciously seek the larger changes that will alter the planet, testing them for their coherence within the powers of the universe, asking whether these changes will contribute to the enhancement of life, becoming transformative.

We are part of the unfolding of the four dimensions of the universe. The universe is present now, enfolded in the work we do.

The mystics and poets intuited this before the scientists sought proof. The poet Rainer Maria Rilke wrote a century ago that, “We are the transformers of Earth.  Our whole being, and the flights and falls of our love, enable us to undertake this task.”

One of the clearest descriptions of the experience of transformation at the personal level comes to us from the 20th century mystic, Caryll Houselander. After a long illness, a bout of scrupulosity, Caryll had an experience of God that removed her obsessive fears and gave her a profound peace.

She writes: It was in the evening, I think. The room was dark, and the flames of firelight dancing on the wall seemed almost to cause me pain when I opened my eyes…. I no longer attempted to translate my torment as particular sins; I had realized in a dim, intuitive way that it was not somethinI had done that required forgiveness, but everything I was that required to be miraculously transformed.

Jean Houston advises that when we are moving into an experience of transformation we should go looking for guidance from the mystics, writers and poets who have experienced this.  Welcome beauty into our lives. Know that we have within us a visionary process which is a source for the recoding of the planet. All the codings for the life of the unborn future are available in us. We are the recoding, the reset button

Powers of the Universe: Cataclysm

 

Cataclysm is as essential to reality as emergence. The destructions, degradations and disasters of the universe are part of the story of its life, a movement from a complex to a simple state that allows for the emergence of newness.

Imagine a star twenty times the size of our sun. The force of gravity would reduce it to a cinder were it not for the opposing energy sent forth from its heart, created by the fusing of hydrogen nuclei into helium nuclei. This activity allows it to maintain, in Swimme’s words, “a seething equilibrium” for some ten million years.

But when the hydrogen has all been transformed into helium that fusion process ends. Gravity causes the star to collapse into a smaller space until its core heats up to the temperature required to fuse helium into carbon. The cycle repeats as carbon fuses into oxygen, then oxygen into silicon and on and on until only iron remains. Iron releases no energy when it fuses; nothing is left to push out from the star’s centre to oppose the force of gravity.

The star can only implode upon itself and in seconds a multi-million year process is over; a massive star becomes a mere speck.

Cygnus Loop Nebula:  a small portion of the nebula which is actually the expanding blastwave from a stellar cataclysm — a supernova explosion — which occurred about 15,000 years ago. The supernova remnant lies 2,500 light years away in the constellation Cygnus the Swan.

But the energy of the implosion has crushed the constituent electrons and protons together to form neutrons, releasing more elementary particles called neutrinos.

This reverses the imploding movement to blast the star apart in a firework display more brilliant than a galaxy of shining stars. As it expands a nucleosynthesis takes place, creating the nuclei of all the elements of the universe. In this supernova explosion are birthed the elements that will form our planet and our bodies.

(For a fuller explication of this process, see Chapter 3: “The Emanating Brilliance of Stars” in Journey of the Universe co-authored by Brian Swimme & Mary Evelyn Tucker, Yale University Press, New Haven & London, 2011)

The life story of a star is an astounding example of cataclysm giving birth to new life. But the power of cataclysm is seen in many aspects of life in the universe.

Two hundred and fifty million years ago (when our earth was already ancient of days at age four billion and a bit…) a cataclysm occurred that eliminated 96% of marine species and 70% of land species. Swimme says that huge die-offs occur roughly every one hundred million years, and we are right in the middle of one now.

Whatever our capacities for conscious denial, Swimme believes our hearts and our bodies feel this awareness in a rising sense of frustration, of regret, of failure. I would add to that a profound sense of grief. I recall watching a power-point that singer/songwriter Carolyn McDade prepared to illustrate the species in my own bio-region under threat of extinction. As I watched the unique, startling beauty of each form of life, the soulful eyes of owls, reptiles, birds, otters, small mammals gazing back at me from the screen, I was shaken by a grief so sudden and wrenching that I wept. All the while, Carolyn’s voice sang a prayer of pleading:

 “ let them continue on….”

Later that summer I saw in the river near my home an otter with a mate and young, and felt a deep joy…

Concurrent with this extinction of species we have the desertification of land, the shrinking rain forests, the dying rivers and lakes as though engaged in a death dance between nature and man-made structures. We see the waning into near-extinction of many of the religious, political, economic, education, health and societal systems in which we had once placed our trust.

Is there a graced way to live into a period of cataclysm? Swimme suggests that we might identify with the power that is destroying us by consciously surrendering aspects of ourselves, our society, our way of being in the world, that no longer serve us, thus enabling the universe to pulverize those aspects…

We can try to see the destruction of consumer culture as part of the earth’s work of cataclysm, seeking to free us, to free our lives.

When cataclysm strikes an area of the planet through flood or fire, earthquake, tornado or tsunami, haven’t we heard voices raised that dared to bless the disaster for revealing what is really worth valuing in life?

Do we not experience this re-assessment of what really matters in our present COVID 19 crisis?

The twentieth century mystic Etty Hillesum, shortly before her death in Auschwitz in 1943, at the age of twenty nine, wrote words that may be a light for us in this time:

 Etty Hillesum 

I shall try to help you, God, to stop my strength ebbing away, though I cannot vouch for it in advance. But one thing is becoming increasingly clear to me: that you cannot help us, that we must help you to help ourselves. And that is all we can manage these days, also all that really matters: that we safeguard that little piece of you, God, in ourselves.  And in others as well.

Alas, there doesn’t seem to be much you yourself can do about our circumstances, about our lives.  Neither do I hold you responsible.

You cannot help us but we must help you and defend your dwelling place inside us to the end.

This is our moment, Brian Swimme believes: our star exploding, ready to create emeralds and giraffes, ready to release us into a new earth community.

For the next level of growth, of deepening, something has to wake us up, shake us up. It may take a tornado to blow us all the way to Oz where the greatest gifts await us.

Jean Houston says that the call of this time of Cataclysm is to “radical reinvention” in order to speciate, to become a deepening spirit of the earth for her new emergence.

Never before in history have so many devoted themselves to develop fully, to regard problems as opportunities in work clothes.

Encouraging us that we have just the right gifts on just the right planet to bring this new earth community to life, Jean adds,

“You are blessed to be alive at this time.”