As a boy I was fascinated by the tales of Middle Earth as told by J.R.R. Tolkien. I also knew that if one fought bravely enough that good could eventually triumph over evil.
As I grew older I became aware of the Northern Norse mythology that Tolkien used as the foundational source material for his work. But unlike his stories I learned that the most striking feature of this mythology was that all was hopeless, that the apocalyptic battle at Rognarök was humanity’s doom, and that no matter how bravely the hero fought the monsters and giants would defeat humanity and the gods of Asgard.
But I also learned that for the gods and heroes and heroines of the North loss in battle gave meaning and mettle to the warrior who courageously stood their ground and fought on regardless of the fact that all was hopeless.
What’s this? I was dismayed that these epic battles would ultimately end with evil triumphing over good. How could this be? The purity of courage be damned I thought, it needed to be rewarded and besides winning and defeating was the goal of all good and evil confrontations or so I thought. Oh yes and by winning of course was meant that “good” would always prevail.
It wasn’t until years later that I achieved some insight into these wonderful tales from the North.
From the writings of Carl Jung I was introduced to the concept of the Conflict of Opposites and the effect of either ignoring or battling the shadow i.e. evil aspects of our personal or collective nature. In this context. either ignoring or actively suppressing the shadow one gives it power, diminishes their own power, and leads to their being overwhelmed by it.
I surmised that if Jung were right, then the hopelessness and defeat so often celebrated in the Northern myths becomes an allegorical warning to mankind regarding its relationship with the shadow aspects of its personality. Is it possible that when one resists or denies the shadow either in themselves or the society in which they live that its power over us becomes paramount in that our violent response only adds to the violence of the shadow and increases its power and makes impossible to overcome? Oh I won’t deny that some battles can be won but ultimately the shadow keeps returning ever more powerfully. Will we never defeat it and have a permanent peace?
We are both good and evil. So what does this say about a God in whose image we are created? If then God is also both, to resist this would seem futile and self-defeating.
I remember that in a long ago Judo class the teacher talked about not meeting force with force to overcome ones opponent but by using the opponent’s own energy to defeat them. To me now this simple strategy seems a useful metaphor for dealing with the shadow forces of our nature. If we allow ourselves to become the shadow by denying it we will be defeated no matter how glorious or courageous our actions but if we learn to accept this darker aspect as part of ourselves and turn its energy toward good it can add to our own best intentions and we can prevail.
A while back my wife and I had been traveling along the coast of and in the waters of the Adriatic, Ionian, and Aegean Seas, the places where Homer penned his stories of the ultimate heroes of the Archaic to Classical eras of ancient Greece and Rome.
While traveling along the Dalmatian Coast one cannot help but to step into the ancient worlds full of myth and fantasy. Myth is the secret opening to the psyche through which the universe pours its wonder and wisdom. Myths are the productions of the psyche.
This psyche of which I speak represents the totality of the human mind, both the conscious and the vast unconscious. In classical mythology it is the personification of the soul, or inner animating spirit and in science the psychological structure of a human being, the center of thought, motivation, and feeling. But in myth, Psyche was a beautiful girl loved by Cupid (Roman) or Eros (Greek) and made immortal by Jupiter (Roman), Zeus (Greek), the King of the gods.
Though myths come wearing many costumes, they represent the one true being. It is said by some researchers e.g. Joseph Campbell, that all of humankinds “religions, philosophies, arts…prime discoveries in science and technology, the very dreams that blister sleep” come from the “magic ring of myth” *.
Myths today are mostly thought to be quaint little fables that the ancients made up to explain their world and that disappeared once science took over. But in science the essence of humankind has been reduced to chemical and mechanical interactions and social conditioning and meaning is only in what can be observed and reproduced scientifically– life is only about procreation and survival whereas the ancients envisioned a much greater significance for humankind whose essence was of the universe and where meaning was to be found in every thing and act.
In today’s modern world there is an almost desperate search for meaning, i.e. something that says we are more than just our parts, our bodies, status, or our fashion statements.
We long to be the hero in our own myth, to slay dragons, earn acknowledgment and win the Golden Fleece, find the Holy Grail, be wooed by the White Knight or win the hand of the most beautiful princess of the land or be dubbed an immortal** by the god of gods.
To the ancients the myths that sustained them were a reality i.e. the gods lived amongst them and everyone accepted this. Today all we have is our unrecognized inner myth or pantheon of dreams.
“It has always been the prime function of mythology and rite to supply the symbols that carry the human spirit forward, in counteraction to those that tend to tie it back. In fact, it may very well be that the very high incidence of neuroticism among ourselves follows the decline among us of such effective spiritual aid.”
Campbell goes on to say, “dream is personalized myth, myth is depersonalized dream; both myth and dream are symbolic in the same general way of the dynamics of the psyche. But in the dream the forms are quirked by the peculiar troubles of the dreamer, whereas in myth the problem and solutions shown are directly valid for all mankind.”
We can learn about ourselves through an understanding of not only the ancient myths but those that we have created for ourselves both in our waking and sleeping dreams– we are already the hero of our own myth and much of the story is shared by others– we don’t have to take this journey alone.
*Campbell, Joseph, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Meridian Books, 1956
Not so long ago I wandered out to the front of the house one morning and looked up at the five am sky and saw the most beautiful site of the old crescent moon smiling down upon me. Standing awestruck for what seemed a very long time and moved nearly to tears I knew that I had to capture the vision in some meaningful way, so I ran back into the house and gathered my pen and journal and began to write…
Diamonds and glitter scattered across a Cheshire Cat moon in a sky not yet blue, but no longer black.
Cold and a shiver I pull up my jacket, a night I remember so many lives back.
As I lowered my gaze from the heavens to the world’s edgy line where dark silhouettes dawn,
A glow of first light urged the Nightpainter to lay down her brush toward another day drawn.
The Daypainter’s brush traced across mountain and valley and river and dale, warming all touched by this wondrous light.
Revealing a pallet of a great artist’s canvas making the night’s mare but a half recalled fright.
And out on the meadow full buttercupped and daisied, were beeflittered poppies all pretty and fine
Life shivered and shook and began to dance crazy and then greeted me for the 10 billionth time.
Life is holy, but some people out of either ignorance of that fact or as a self-serving and malevolent expression choose to not treat it as such.
We can either enhance life or diminish it, extol it or denigrate it. What enhances life is love, given freely without strings or attachments. Everything else is just a barrier to achieving and experiencing wholeness everything else is just survival, though of course one needs to maintain the latter to express the former.
But when the survival mode dominates we can only limit ourselves i.e. we take and hoard, hold onto, close up and restrict. In love we give ourselves away and in so doing save ourselves. Survival mode comes from a personal context of insufficiency (there’s not enough) and vulnerability (life is fragile). Survival with no other purpose than to continue life is a form of death. The soul is not about survival but the full expression of who and what you are_ it is about wholeness.
This is what wholeness looks like: No limits, open, truly free i.e. to be unbound by your beliefs, your prejudices, judgments and self-protections.
When we are free of the barriers we put up in order to feel secure, when we can give of our life freely we are then said to be in “possession” of it i.e. it belongs to us and not to someone else’s ideal or belief or dictate or expectation for us. When dominated by our survival mode, or even to the degree by which we have allowed ourselves to be dominated by this mode of living, everything else possesses our life and we are not free to be what we are.
“Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.”
But to be what we are takes immense courage, “The courage to be” as Paul Tillich called it– it’s not about what you do or don’t do, it’s about who you are and expressing that regardless of the evaluation of others.
Your life is holy, everyone’s life is holy and the clannishness we’ve created in order to protect ourselves from seen and unseen dangers is killing us, it selfishly treats only a select few as being holy and only if those few adhere to the clan belief system. There will never be true freedom to “be” with this kind of limit on the expression of wholeness i.e. ‘holiness’.
“I am neither of the East nor of the West, no boundaries exist within my breast.”
Beliefs that teach that only certain humans behaving in certain prescribed ways are looked upon favorably by God attempt to build fences around the real God. But God cannot be fenced in and fences don’t enhance, they diminish. To denigrate the differences between us does not enhance the human spirit it is a barrier to it.
If you were to strip away the stories, the interpretive overlay, and dogma of every religion you will notice that virtually every spiritual leader, credited with starting a new way of thinking, a new way of being in relationship with each other and with the spirit that created us has done so out of knowing that the purpose of being human is to become whole and to express that wholeness freely and honestly. All have known that what we are is love and that we need to learn to express it more freely. Anything else is not love and it is not an expression of wholeness or the sacredness of each of us.
Deep within all of us is a universal thought-form that influences virtually everything we do, believe or think we know. This form, feeling, or image is expressed in a myriad of ways at our most unconscious level. These universal forms are called “archetypes” and reside in an ethereal realm called the Collective Unconscious. They are most often accessed through our dreams or other trance states such as meditation. But the images are expressed in more than just our dreams, we can see them in our myths, our fairy tales, and fictional stories and they shape the relationships that matter in our lives.
From this universal center of the human psyche comes an image of the Spirit, it is the opposite of matter and may visit the dreamer as a wise old man or woman who can guide us through the spiritual world and /or through problem issues in the waking world. Collectively these are known as Spirit Guides. In the world of the Shaman these may come as a “Spirit Spouse” who assists in the shamanic work through dreams, ritual, and/or trance.
The ancient Egyptian Magus Hermes Trismegistus believed all beings possess the potential to access the infinite wisdom of the Spirit that the individual has the ability to know the whole by becoming like the whole. One does this by aligning themselves with the divine source of their being.
The Spirit can come to us in the form of a loved one who has died, a ghost or with the impression of the infinite that is called a “numinous” feeling, with the sense of something divine, something entirely different from all that we experience in our usual waking life.
At its very root the Spirit is our connection with nature, what Carl Jung the Swiss Psychiatrist and dream analyst called, “The nourishing soil of the soul”. I believe that our dissociation with nature has left us disconnected from our experience of Spirit i.e. of the divine. Nature is part of the soul of our existence and to pollute it and destroy it to make way for more hamburgers (destruction of the rain forests so as to grow more beef), oil drilling platforms and pipelines, cars, parking lots and shopping malls is to destroy or sicken part of our own soul.
As Jung once said, “Nature is not matter only, she is also Spirit”. I think that when we make our wallets more important, when we make our material objects more important, when we make ourselves more important we rob the Earth of its Spirit and from ourselves as well.
Spirit images in our dreams also remind us of death, endings, transformation, and letting go, what needs to happen in order to grow beyond our own self-imposed limits and what is absolutely necessary to evolve sustainably.
The Spirit or soul of the Earth and of humankind is the hub of the wheel of the Four Elements that I’ve been writing about this month. It is the center from which all else radiates.
“And there is no object so soft but it makes a hub for the wheeled universe,
And any man or woman shall stand cool and supercilious before a million universes”
–Walt Whitman, leaves of grass
To me this suggests that there’s no object so insignificant that it can’t have the whole universe revolving around it. It is our very divinity that we are giving up when we focus exclusively on the material to the detriment of Spirit.
“Air moves us, fire transforms us, water shapes us, earth heals us . And the balance of the wheel goes round and round . And the balance of the wheel goes round.”
– By Cathleen Sheil, Moonsea and Prune of Reclaiming
The third in the Four Elements series deals with Air. Images of Air in dreams such as in trouble breathing, wind, airplanes and flying can be significant indicators of thought processes, attitudes, emotions and relationships– all kinds of relationships.
At the level of the physical world the air that we breathe is made up primarily of Nitrogen (about 78%), 21% oxygen, 1% argon and .038% CO2. Depending on where you live there are also trace elements of various pollutants that will significantly negatively affect an individual’s health and well-being.
At the level of the metaphorical world where dreams, myth, the mystical, and spiritual Air has a long list of meanings i.e. many of the world religious cosmologies have creation myths that involve the breathing of life into the world and its people.
In dreams Air often symbolizes creativity, intelligence and thought. If the air in a dream is foggy or heavily polluted then it could suggest that the dreamer’s thought processes are cloudy, imprecise or even being poisoned through some negative self-talk or the negative talk of someone else.
Air conditioners might represent the need to “clear the air” i.e. to clean up some interpersonal issues. Cold air can reflect ones relations with another person or persons (domestic, business or social) whereas ‘hot air’ can be about undo influence, nonsense talk, or even evil talk.
To walk on air is to be feeling upbeat or the desire to feel this way. It can also refer to self-confidence i.e. to have the sense of mastery over ones circumstances (note that to walk on water is to have the same meaning over ones feelings).
Dreams of Flying through the air can be exhilarating and liberating.
Often dreams of flying reflect ones sense of freedom and independence or the desire for the same. I recall that during my tenure in one job a number of years ago I would occasionally have dreams of flying, only the flying was a struggle often ending with a crash back to Earth. As the waking world struggle increased and I tried to remain optimistic, it required that I wear a mask of being upbeat, my dream-self would hide the fact from others in the dream that I could fly. When I finally quit that job my flying dreams reflected free flight across beautiful terrain and I didn’t try to hide the fact that I could fly from anyone.
My flying dreams showed an interesting progression that reflected accurately my waking world emotional state and ability to control my personal sense of power and control over my circumstances.
Breathing has a number symbolic meanings i.e. if you’re breathing rapidly in the dream perhaps you are experiencing some anxiety or tension in your life. Breathing underwater can suggest a desire to return to the comfort and safety of the womb though in some cases this can also suggest that you are submerged in your own emotions. Not being able to breathe could indicate exhaustion (note that some people with asthma may have dreams of breathing troubles).
Someone breathing into the dreamers mouth might suggest that there is some aspect of the other person that the dreamer may want to take into themselves or it can suggest if the person blowing into the dreamer’s mouth is dead that this person still lives within in them. Images like this can also suggest the need to have more life “breathed” into ones experiences or ones activities. “A breath of fresh air” is a phrase often used to signify new and positive change.
Wind is a powerful image and can reflect changes in circumstance or emotions e.g. there can be “ill winds”, “warm winds”, “cold winds”, turbulent winds of turmoil and light breezes of harmony and tranquility. Wind in general represents a ‘life force’, energy, and a feeling of vigor or aliveness. Some Native American Shaman see the wind as a ‘living’ being or spirit that can be engaged and worked with for good or evil. In Peru I met a shaman who performed a cleansing and healing and as part of that blew three short breaths toward the Andes mountains.
Finally, airplanes can be about overcoming obstacles and rising to success, new-found freedom and increased awareness. If the dreamer is flying the airplane it may reflect either the need to take control or that they are under control of their life. To crash in an airplane my suggest that ones goals are too unrealistic and that because of this one might fail i.e. it could all come ‘crashing down’– this may also reflect the dreamer’s lack of confidence and self-criticism that may be self-defeating. Missing one’s flight can be about feeling helpless, left behind, or trapped by some circumstance that is preventing the attainment of some goal.
Dragons turn up in dreams from time to time but what is he or she trying to tell us?
They have a long history in both Europe and in the far-east. In Europe they often lay waste to villages, turn brave knights into ash and steal fair maidens for feasting.
In the English story of St. George and the Dragon the knight does battle with the Dragon that has stolen the King’s daughter. He eventually slays him but is that all there is to it? Is it all just a fairy story, probably not because every story is symbolic of the psyche of humankind? And the story of Saint George is no different. Psychologists suggest that the story may be archetypal in that it represents the battle between good and evil I all of us. This shows the selfless courage of the hero and is an attempt by the psyche to integrate the opposites and that Saint George’s conquest represents when someone has successfully done so. But all dragons are not always demonic aspects of the self.
The Dragon is actually the major symbol of good fortune in Chinese Astrology. The Dragon constellation, for example, is accorded the honor of being the guardian of the Eastern sky. Traditionally the Dragon brings in the Four Blessings of the East: wealth, virtue, harmony and longevity.
Of the 12 signs of the Chinese zodiac the Dragon is the most special, as it is a mystical being rather than an earthly animal. According to Chinese astrology it’s a karmic sign and we can expect grand things from this year.
Chinese mythology sees the dragon as a symbol of wisdom.
Interestingly enough the root word for Dragon in ancient Greek was Drakon that means “to see clearly” or “that which sees.” This might be interpreted as wisdom.
Confucious (a famous Chinese philosopher) compared Lao Tzu (the writer of the Tao Te Ching) to a Dragon.
A good luck and wisdom symbol. Many pictures show the dragon handing the “Pearl of Wisdom”, or the “Pearl of Potentiality”to a shaman. Good, life-giving energy (chi) is channeled along “Dragon-lines” that in China were said to follow underground water or magnetic fields.To dream of a dragon is considered by some Chinese to be very auspicious.
The Lung dragon was the most powerful of the three species of Chinese Dragon and was considered a divine animal. The Cha-yü dragon only showed up when a ruling sovereign showed a lack of virtue. This dragon was known for eating men (symbolic of an leader who consumed the virtue and life force of others).
In Chinese mythology the Dragon of Hidden Treasures is a symbol of vigilance and the guardian of their fortune.
The Chinese New Years Dragon represents benevolence, but also power, representing the forces of nature. It is a rain bringer and dragon of fertility that brings only benefit to the people.
The Chinese frequently paired the dragon with the image of a phoenix bird (Fenghuang, or the August Rooster). Since Neolithic China these two were considered two of the four Supernatural Spirits symbolizing both the four directions and the four seasons (which seem to have been added to over the millennia e.g. The dragon, phoenix (or the Feng bird for short), unicorn (or deer), tortoise and tiger). They were often thought of as the “Gentleman and the Sage” and given that the Emperors of China often thought of themselves as descended from the Dragon, the Phoenix was often seen as his mate. Thus this pairing has been likened to the union of the Yin and Yang. An old saying in China goes, “When the Dragon soars and the Phoenix dances, the people will enjoy happiness for years…”
For the ancient Chinese culture dragon were primarily symbolic, but the idea of the actual existence of Dragons surfaced Millennia ago as the philosopher Chang Qu found gigantic bones of a dinosaur and mistook them for that of a dragon.
In Chinese myth, dragons originated as rain deities. Folk legends say that the dragon lives under water half of the year, rising into the sky during the spring when the constellation of Draco, the dragon, is at its highest. In China, dragons are symbols of authority, fertility, goodness and strength, and the benevolent giver of wealth and good fortune.
They were generally portrayed as protectors, guarding treasure, temples, or even Heaven itself, keeping watch over sky and waterways. This image of beneficent power was appreciated by China’s rulers, who used the dragon as an imperial symbol. The emperor occupied the Dragon Throne, wore dragon robes and even slept in the dragon bed. Chinese people sometimes referred to themselves as children of the dragon.
In Chinese culture, the season of the Dragon is mid-spring, its direction is east by southeast, and its fixed element is wood.
Symbolic meaning of the Dragon in dreams:
The dragon and the snake have a rich symbolic history in the mythology of mankind. In general, animals were seen to have certain attributes that were often observed in their natural behaviors. It was these attributes that people wanted to take on for themselves and it was thought that aligning ones self, or by extension, ones nation, or tribe with the animal it would assist in this process. This practice still exist to some extent in military banners and national emblems, note the Eagle in the Marine Corps banner as well as that of the national emblem, or the double headed eagle of Greece or the eagle in the Egyptian flag, or the dragon in the flag of Wales.
The Dragon is often the protector of treasure with the TREASURE representing YOU. (which was the point of the book The Dragon’s Treasure. It can represent fears that have to be overcome before recognizing the true self. Often it can be the guardian of the spirit. For some it is their ‘Spirit Guide.’
The fearsomeness of the Dragon could represent the fear felt regarding the unconscious.
Dragons and snakes are interchangeable in many cultures. Giant snakes like the Naga can be found in many cultures, Hindu, Buddhist to name two of the most well known. They often represent rebirth and death. The Minoan Snake Goddess of early Greece represented wisdom and the snake of the Asclepion was a healing snake that we still see emblazoned within modern medicine. All can be considered symbols for meaning in the dream world.
• Dragon totems in some Native American traditions represent messengers of balance. They are also seen as the masters of all the elements: earth, wind, fire, and water. They are seen as powerful guardians and guides and embody the primordial power.
“A Dragon totem is one of the most powerful totems, representing a huge range of qualities, emotions, and traits. When Dragons come to us, it could mean many things.
The most common message a Dragon totem [may] carry to us is a need for strength, courage, and fortitude. Dragons are also messengers of balance, and magic – encouraging us to tap into our psychic nature and see the world through the eyes of mystery and wonder.
More specifically, Dragons are the embodiment of primordial power – the ultimate ruler of all the elements. This is because the Dragon is the master of all the elements: Fire, Water, Earth, and Wind.
As a totem, the Dragon serves as a powerful guardian and guide. Encourage communication with your Dragon, and acknowledge your Dragon’s presence as often as possible.”*
With the Native Americans of the North and Southwest there were a number of Dragon and serpent legends. Most of these Dragons and serpents stole children and were associated with water. Some stories may have been used to scare children away from water and thus the serpent became a type of bogey.
Examples: Amhuluk (Oregon); Ancient Serpent (Piute); Angont (Huron); Kolowisi (Zuni); Msi-Kinepeikwa (Shawnee); Palulukon (Hopi weather Dragon-similar to Chinese version); Stvkwvnaya (Seminole Dragon with a magic horn on its head).
The Australian Aborigine speaks of the Dreaming where two Serpents Yingara and Ngalyod (mother and father deities) are revered as the Rainbow Serpent creators of the world.
From the Wiccan perspective it represents a person of power and if in the dream you are riding on it, then it may be about spiritual insight.
A winged Dragon may also mean some kind of transcendence, a passing from a “lower” to “higher” level of maturity.
A Hydra is a many-headed dragon. Legend has it that Hercules kept cutting off the heads, but they grew back. To dream of a hydra might suggest that you are having a recurring issue in your life i.e. something that keeps coming back and never seems to get handled. Some sources (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Snap-dragon_%28game%29) suggest that after Hercules killed the dragon he made of it a flaming meat and named it “Snapdragon.” A game of this name was played by children in some English speaking countries from the 16th through the late 19th centuries on both Christmas eve and All Hallows eve. In a bowl of blue flaming brandy were placed raisins that the children would try to pluck out without getting burned and then eat, all the while chanting,
“With his blue and lapping tongue,
many of you will be stung
Snip, snap, dragon.”
The symbolism of conquering danger in both the legend of Hercules and the dragon and in the playing of the game, “Snapdragon” is inescapable. We humans are always telling the story of conquering evil, of being the heroes of our own personal myth. Thus continues the ongoing reconciliation between the opposites good and evil.
As with some other animal symbols the Dragon and/or snake may also represent your sexuality, especially if your sexuality scares you. Does it threaten to rule your life?
Myth, or the study of them, mythology, is frequently what the other guy believes in. All too often it is denigrated, put-down, and demeaned. “Oh, that’s just a myth!” is often heard as a means of dismissing something that one doesn’t believe in, or disagrees with. We are taught very early to discriminate between what is real, fact, and what is not real, myth or fiction.
That’s well enough, but many of the things we believe are real can turn out to be myth. At one time the whole world believed that the Sun orbited the Earth, most believed there were many gods and that women were property. “God created the world in six days!” Is this a myth or fact, or maybe a myth that points at a fact? After all, it is a fact that the universe was created. It’s the how, when, or why that stumps us and so we make up stories of explanation and adhere stubbornly to them until something better comes along.
And that is the purpose of myth–it’s a means of pointing to what is often the ineffable i.e. what we have trouble putting words to. Our myths point to a reality that is hard to express, or visualize. They also point to human or environmental behavior that is difficult to explain otherwise. It’s not that these behaviors don’t exist, but that we are trying to fathom the world, its people, and ourselves through the power of allegory and myth. We project onto our gods, our heroes and on to other people our own myth. When we learn to read it, the reality of the real world will begin to reveal itself.
Even though myths are often used as the end point of explanation, they can also be the first step in dealing with reality in that they identify what needs explanation e.g. what is it we are seeing? Essentially myths may serve as allegory or symbol of what is real. This is also what our dreams do, they point to the reality we may not see.
For example, when we say that we are a writer, a biker, and a lover of chocolate we then want to explain why that is so. For example we might say, “I am the way I am because my Dad was a biker, my Mom a reader, and chocolate’s an addiction, or surrogate for the love I never got because my Dad was off riding and mother too buried in her books. Or here’s a more ancient explanation for the unknown, “the sky is dark and thundering so there must be an angry god” or perhaps a vengeful sorcerer, demon, or witch.
We develop a lot of myths about ourselves e.g. any time we say, “I am the way I am because…” we are creating our personal myth, our personal explanation for reality–the story, or narrative, that we live by and through. Of course most of these behavioral explanations require some form of blaming someone, or something, other than our selves. And for many of us the whole of life is a myth. Does that mean that your life isn’t real, or true? Not necessarily, for in each personal myth is the seed of truth if we had the eye to see it. Mostly we are so busy making up stories about who we are that we can’t see the reality beneath the stories.
Why do we seem to give such power to our myths? What we seem to do more often than not is to confuse the pointing finger with what the finger is pointing to.
Myths can also be used to hide the assumed reality of ourselves so as to protect us from what we fear the world is, or what we fear we are. There is of course nothing wrong with a personal myth and it’ll do until something better comes along. But you might take the first step in your own growth, and in deciphering your own metaphors for understanding life, your life. As Jean Houston, a human potentials movement leader, said “myth does serve as a manner of explanation, but it is also a mode of discovery…it is the stuff of the evolving self that awakens consciousness…”
You might ask yourself what is your personal myth i.e. who and what do you think you are and are not and why? Jot down a list of adjectives along with their explanations and then scan them and look for themes. What reality does all this seem to point to? For example, if you are someone who meets criticism with hostility and are quick to defend your position, what is it you fear you are that you then feel so compelled to defend against it? What are you protecting?
The myth you have created can inform you as to the fact of you, the reality of you. The informants are all around you and every judgment you have of another person is part of your personal myth and can tell you more about you than it can about them.
Every point-of-view, every criticism, every acknowledgment, and every belief contains valuable information about you and collectively this information can paint a picture of the ‘you’ who exists in the world. And I believe that the more you understand what you’ve created the more you can discriminate between that and who you really are.
“Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.”
― C.G. Jung
Let’s use the biker, reader, chocolate example again, if you believe that chocolate should be one of the main food groups because it is such a good pick me up when you’re feeling down, or you get upset anytime someone ignores you, and your explanation includes what your parents did when you were a kid you might look for a theme in that. Is there “hurt” in that, or “abandonment”? Is there fear, or anxiety? Do you feel compelled to defend your position? From what and why? The story will reveal parts of yourself that you may have hidden long ago. Where else in your life do these feelings and reactions come up? Do they arrive in your dreams, work, school, or on a date? What might they be telling you about yourself?
I was reading an article not too long ago that made reference to Plato’s Shadow World, you know, The Allegory of the Cave from his book The Republic.
In this allegory Plato imagined a group of prisoners chained in a cave facing a wall and unable to turn around. Behind them was an eternally burning flame and between the flame and the prisoners there was a parade of objects and people that cast their shadows upon the wall. To the prisoners their reality was this two dimensional movement of shadows before them. Unknown to them was a reality of immense multidimensional complexity that if they had known of it would have totally explained their universe.
In a lot of ways Plato’s shadow world is a reflection of what the unconscious shadow mind that resides in each of us does to our experience of reality. The cave we live in is the one of our conscious mind and its three dimensional way of seeing things. We too, like the prisoners in Plato’s allegory, cannot “see” the reality behind us when all we have is the wall of our conscious mind to perceive with.
What we are missing is a 4th dimension of space, that created by the unconscious mind– that part of us where we have stuffed what we don’t want to look at, that part of us where the archetypes of the whole of humanity lay informing and forming what we see and what we do. There is a world beyond our conscious awareness that makes up 80-90% of the real world. But unlike Plato’s prisoners we have the ability to “turn around” so as to perceive it, so as to understand the meaning of the world we find ourselves in.
How do we do this? How do we loosen our own chains so as to make the shift in perception? Fortunately it’s pretty easy for the universe has given us the tools to expand our consciousness through our dreams and the art of meditation. Both tap into the Great Unconscious, both give a glimpse as to the world behind us that cast the shadows that lay before us.
Our world is not just the three 3 dimensional reality we’re so familiar with– there’s a 4th dimension to the space/time continuum we’re all used to and it is the realm of the greater psyche and the individual and world soul that informs and enriches its every expression.
Just as Plato’s prisoners saw their shadows as neither positive nor negative the objects that move in our unconscious mind are also neither positive nor negative, it is our conscious mind that labels them as such. This shows up especially with those who have low self-esteem for they cannot see the positive aspect shadows that hide within the unconscious. But there is an inestimable reservoir of creativity that resides in the shadow world of the unconscious mind i.e. both that which is labeled positive and that which is labeled negative contribute significantly to what is created in the conscious world.
Next time you have a dream where a dark something or someone shows up and threatens your dream-self don’t run from it, engage it, start a conversation with it. You may find that such a conversation actually illuminates what’s going on in your life. The shadow often has information to enlighten even though it seems to come from the darkness. Using your dreams to unlock the chains that have kept you staring at only one dimension of reality can be immensely rewarding.
Given that this time of year has several of the world’s religions celebrating the spirit I thought I’d do a quick and dirty review on the Gods they believe in.
Atheism presents a case against the existence of God, but wouldn’t it need an image of God to present a case against it? Why the need to refute the existence of something you know doesn’t exist? These might be considered antireligionists. In fact they seem to make a religion out of antireligion. Originally this word “atheist” was given to those who didn’t believe in the gods of the larger society. Today it represents the belief that there are no gods. They base their beliefs on the fact that there is no “empirical evidence”. Never mind that there may not exist the means for gathering or detecting empirical evidence re: the spiritual.
Life after death: In atheism there is the belief that there is no life beyond death. There is of course no “empirical evidence” to support this belief.
Deism suggests that there is a God but that it is not involved in our every day life. It teaches that God is knowable through creation itself.
Life after death: Regarding any after death phenomenon the deist claims that there’s no evidence either way i.e. of its existence or non-existence.
Theism makes a case for God’s continued intervention in the lives of its creation. Theism teaches that God is not knowable. Types of theism 1) traditional Abrahamic religions known as monotheisms and 2) polytheism such as Hinduism comprised of many gods and demi gods with one primary god and with each representing a different aspect of reality. Note that Paganism may be considered a branch of polytheism. In truth this term was used by Christians to demonize polytheistic religions so as to establish their inferiority. Modern Paganists incorporate nature worship into their belief systems. There are Pantheistic (the belief that all reality is identical with divinity), Polytheistic, animistic and even monotheistic pagans. There are even Henotheists who believe in their one god but not to the denial that there may be other gods e.g. Yaweh or Allah. The Muslims believe that Allah and Yaweh is the same God. Pantheists believe that though there may be many gods such as with polytheism there is an underlying unity e.g. in Hinduism, the Brahman.
Life after death: Theists believe in a life after death though there is no evidence to support it.
Animism: Totemic Spirit beings formed the creation. For example, in the Australian Aboriginal cosmology Rainbow Snake created the world. Totemic beings continue to create the world as the ancestor spirits. The Inuit of the Pacific Northwest Americas have stories of Raven who created the Earth, the father of all life who was created out of the darkness. As with some of the old Hellenistic religion Raven could come to earth as a human (remind you of anyone?) or an animal (e.g. lion, sheep, dove)
Raven– creator god
Life after death: The Australian Aboriginal, for example, believes that every person essentially exists eternally in the Dreaming. This eternal part existed before the life of the individual begins, and continues to exist when the life of the individual ends. Both before and after life, it is believed that this spirit-child exists in the Dreaming and is only initiated into life by being born through a mother. The spirit of the child is culturally understood to enter the developing fetus during the fifth month of pregnancy.
Secular Humanism: Secular humanism posits that human beings are capable of being ethical and moral without religion or a god. This may be somewhat like Atheism but a little less cynical. An essential part of secular humanism is a continually adapting search for truth, primarily through science and philosophy without the imposition of any belief.
Life after death: A concern for this life (as opposed to an afterlife) and a commitment to making it meaningful through better understanding of ourselves, our history, our intellectual and artistic achievements, and the outlooks of those who differ from us.
Nearly all the isms require either belief or experience.
Belief of any kind requires trust and confidence that something is true or the validity of something often backed by evidence but also through something called faith.
Experience is a direct observation or personal encounter not requiring trust or confidence, faith or evidence. It’s a knowing separate from knowledge. Knowing is the experience of something first hand while knowledge is gained through other people’s experience. It’s like the difference between book learning and on-the-job practical experience.
Belief seems to lock up ones thinking because if you think you know the truth there’s no room for the truth in your knowing. Belief tends to be static but experience is in the moment-by-moment living. Experience is of the “be here now” while Belief may be of the “be here then”.
For example, at one time I could never believe in God for I had no experience of it. Once I had an experience of it I no longer needed a belief in it. Now that doesn’t mean that I haven’t locked-in my experience and turned it into a belief e.g. “I believe in God because I’ve had an experience of it”. I’m only human and that’s what we do. When I notice I’ve done this I try to think of the experience as a fond memory of a past moment that I’m not experiencing at the present moment and let it go. When I’ve truly let it go the moment often returns reminding anew.
This isn’t easy this not holding onto a favorite memory and allowing whatever experience I’m having in the moment to just be what it is. But somehow there’s a knowing that transcends the memory and the desire to lock it up in a precious little silver box, a knowing that floats freely wherever I go as long as I don’t hold onto it. It’s that free-floating knowing that keeps God bidden or unbidden always by my side.