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Emerging Archetypal Themes: Whale Rider, Aries & the New Female Leader


 

            While the sign of Aries conjures up images of warriors such as the Greek hero Jason with his golden fleece, and virgin huntresses such as the Greek Artemis and The Hunger Games heroine Katniss, it is also the sign of leadership.  Aries, which rules the head, gives the gift of strategy and leadership to its children.

            Today our world is in need of good leaders, people who will take the part of the people over the powerful, leaders who know how to spark the enthusiasm and creativity of everyone to help create a new world of peaceful coexistence and good stewardship of the Earth.  The world especially needs female leaders who are not molded by the patriarchy.   We do not need female leaders who stand for the old patriarchal vision of hierarchical power, domination and greed, but rather women who know how to access their own feminine wisdom and who lead from the heart.

            Niki Caro’s 2002 movie Whale Rider speaks about this need for new feminine leadership in a heart-rending story about the death and regeneration of a culture.  I believe it speaks to our own times and culture; it also speaks of the transformative power of Feminine Spirit to bring this new birth to life.   The old order is dying, but it seems that it is willing to kill off everything rather than die itself.  The way to help it die peacefully is to incarnate the feminine spirit of life.

            The archetypal Feminine Spirit symbolizes “the origin of life; all phases of cosmic life, uniting all the elements, both the celestial and chthonic; the Queen of Heaven, Mother of God, opener of the way; the keeper of the keys of fertility and the gates of birth, death, and rebirth.  As the Moon Goddess she is perpetual renewal, the measure of time, the weaver of fate.  As Queen of Heaven, she is archetypal wholeness, the mother of all wisdom, self-mastery and redemption through illumination and transformation.”  (J.C. Cooper, Encyclopedia of Symbols, pp. 108-109.)   These are certainly qualities we need to nurture if we’re going to transform our society.  It is always the Goddess who presides over birth, death and rebirth.  When we have women leaders who remember their feminine gifts, I believe wisdom and life will blossom in the cultural deserts of our modern world.  Very much like what happens at the end of our story.

            The mythological background of Whale Rider is important to the story, because our ‘creation stories’ help us understand our place in the universe.   On the east coast of New Zealand, the Whangara people believe their presence there dates back a thousand years or more to a single ancestor, Paikea, who escaped death when his canoe capsized by riding to shore on the back of a whale. From then on, Whangara chiefs, always the first-born, always male, have been considered Paikea's direct descendants.

            Whales are mysterious and ancient creatures.  They are the largest mammals, and since they live in the oceans, they symbolize creation itself.  Being so ancient, they seem to hold the records of all our past history, back to the beginning of time itself.  When I was young, I had recurring dreams of being in a primeval ocean, watching these ancient beings swimming around.  It was my first conscious connection to the collective unconscious itself, which I’ve since explored through my dreamwork and storytelling.  These gentle giants are mentioned in the Old Testament as leviathans, and they make a special appearance in the story of Jonah and the Whale, where the reluctant prophet Jonah is swallowed by a whale when he refuses God’s call.  He lived in the belly of the whale for three days before he was reborn.  And so whales have come to represent going into the depths, containment and rebirth.  The great whales in our story symbolize this same rebirth.  While the ancient myth spoke of a rebirth of the Whangara, the story of Whale Ride speaks to the death of the old patriarchy and the rebirth of the culture through the powers of the feminine spirit and the new female leader.

           Whale Rider begins with scenes of a hard birth and the death of the mother of twins, a boy and a girl, and the death of the baby boy.  Fairy tales often begin with a death, signifying that something is wrong with collective consciousness.   The missing piece needs to be regenerated, and in this story, it is the feminine dimension of life that can heal and transform the old order.  The patriarch of the family, who is tribal chief, has been waiting for the birth of this young boy, believing he will be the long-awaited new leader of the tribe. Porourangi, the twins’ father, will not bend to his father’s wish that he become tribal leader, and he leaves his baby girl, whom he defiantly names Paikea, to be raised by her grandparents.  While her grandfather, Koro, mourns the loss of the boy child, Paikea is immediately loved and cared for by her grandmother, Nanny Flowers.  As the years go by, even Koro learns to love his intelligent, curious and loving granddaughter.



          Years later, twelve-year old Pai is caught between her love for her increasingly bitter grandfather and her love of and heart-felt link to her ancient traditions.  Koro is troubled because he needs to train a new leader for the tribe.  He is fiercely dedicated to the old ways, even as the tribe itself flounders in modern misery. Neither of Koro’s sons were willing or able to take on the mantle of leadership, and this makes Koro even more rigid in his belief that he has to find a boy to take his place.

            Meanwhile, Pai feels her connection to the whales and is so certain of her calling that she defies her grandfather and secretly sets out to learn the ancient lore of the tribal leaders, which her grandfather believes is reserved only for males. When she is banished from the lessons her grandfather sets up for the boys of the tribe, she secretly listens in and learns.  She gets her uncle to teach her how to use a traditional Maori weapon and even defeats the young boy who is beginning to stand out as a leader.  When Koro finds Pai fighting him, he sends her home in disgrace.  He feels as if she is the cause of all the trouble the tribe is having, never once looking at himself and the kind of leader he is.

            Koro represents the Senex, the old patriarchal man who can become so rigid in his thinking that he never allows anything new to flourish.  This type of attitude causes people to rebel against the old ways instead of honoring them, because instead of living those ways with feeling and depth, the Senex uses rules and discipline to make people obey him.   We see this happening in our political system.  One side wants to go back to ‘the good old days’ and sees anything new as dangerous to the system.  And of course it is dangerous, mainly because the system doesn’t work anymore and has to be replaced.
The sad part is that Koro really believes he is doing the right thing.  But he cannot see that his inflexibility concerning the old ways is exactly what is killing the tribe.  There is no life in the way he hopes to train the young men.  While their fathers are proud that their sons have been selected for this honor, they themselves do not honor the system.  They hang out like they’re teenagers, riding around like gang members or lazing away the day.   They are not men, so they cannot provide the example their boys need to grow into men.  And Koro’s rigidity does not serve them either.

          There is no feeling life attached to the old system.  This is what happens when an archetype becomes a stereotype.  Archetypal energy is eternal, but its forms need renewing in each new age.  There is NO LIFE in the old ways for this tribe.  Except for Pai, who loves the stories and believes in them.  The men take no pride in their heritage and it shows.  And while the women support the old ways, they too are hampered by the deaden energy of the old system.   Live has become a wasteland.

         As Koro gets more desperate to find a new leader, he takes his anger out on Pai, the loving and innocent young woman of heart who just wants to help!  He berates her and shames her and blames her for all his troubles, and still she loves him.  At one point when her dad comes to visit, Koro says something so hurtful about Pai that she decides to go live with her father in Germany.  But as they drive to the airport, Pai hears the call of the whales and knows she has to stay on.  And so she goes back.

         As things worsen, Koro becomes more rigid in his thinking.  None of the boys are working out as leaders, while time and again Pai proves her worth by doing what they cannot do.  But still she is rejected, because she is a worthless girl.  How many women can relate that that!   Even the most successful women have what I call the inner Taliban, voices within us which tell us how worthless we really are, berating, shaming and putting us down.  In one of the most poignant scenes in any movie I’ve seen, Pai, trying hold back her tears, recites something she wrote for her grandfather, about everyone being capable of being a leader in some way.  But her grandfather never shows up at the school, because he has discovered that a pod of whales have beached themselves.  When the tribe finds out, everyone tries to get the whales back into the water.  But to no avail.

         Except, of course, for Pai.  She climbs up onto the biggest whale and prays for him to move.  And he does!  Soon Pai is holding on as the whale leads the other beached whales back to the deep ocean.  Pai is willing to sacrifice herself for the whales and her people, even though her beloved grandfather even blames her for the whales’ plight.  When Pai’s body is washed ashore and taken to the hospital, her grandfather finally acknowledges her as the leader of the tribe.

         When Pai’s leadership is finally accepted, the tribe comes alive.  All the members feel the power of their ancient roots, and they come together to reclaim their heritage.  With young Pai as their new female leader, everyone is reborn.  There's a new spirit that brings them all alive.

          And that’s the power and purpose of Feminine Spirit!  With Uranus moving through Aries, all of us are sensing that we have to see ourselves differently if we want to make a difference to our world.  We all need a new identity, an archetypal identity, that names us as leaders, healers, wise women, storytellers, visionaries, warriors and stewards of the Earth. And  we will be seeing more and more feminine women taking on leadership roles in our society.  Women, often against great odds, are already working all around the world to help people live a more peaceful and sustainable life.

             Now it’s time for each woman to become the female leader our world needs, just as each man is being called to remember that to be a leader means to sacrifice his ego needs for the greater good.

Dreams of New Feminine Leadership

        Women are working hard to discover who we are and what we can do to help each other and our world.  Each woman has her own special gift to bring to the table.  Yet all women must leave the patriarchy behind to they can explore these feminine gifts and learn to use them for the life of the world.

One creative and intelligent woman has been working hard to find out where her gifts and talents lie.  Like most modern women, she has been a ‘Father’s Daughter’ a woman who supports the patriarchal order.  Now she is leaving ‘the Father’s House’ and descending to her own roots.  She dreamed:

I am moving up to a large room at the top of a house. It is above the tree tops and has large windows opening in all directions. I can hear a bird singing outside. This is Father Will’s old room, (he died last year). I look around; it will take a lot of work to make it my own. The cabinets and tables are a light green, but in disrepair, paint crumbling etc. I am with another woman, a friend. I suddenly feel afraid and tell her my concern that I can be seen at night by everyone if I turn a light on. I fear gangsters may shoot at me. I also sense the presence of my perfectionist brother. I love this place but it seems too lonely, but I feel uncertain whether I want to go into the crowded town below.

I am walking down a dirt road with this woman friend. We see a country store to our right and go in. I see it sells a little of everything. There are two saleswomen. One, a dark skinned woman is selling black tee shirts. My woman friend asks for two. I then also ask for two, one for me and one for my mother.

 I get on my bike and continue down the dirt road, it is unfamiliar, further left then the route I travelled before. I arrive in an indigenous town, and dead end inside a broken down cathedral. I turn left and go through an archway and I see there a dark skinned native woman with her two children in a small area outside the cathedral. It is hot and dusty with some small scrubs.

 I continue to my left on a road that leads to a little town and there are many people in the town square.  A dark haired, dark skinned peasant woman is trying to speak. She keeps trying to position herself under an archway but others keep pushing her off center. Then she is up on a table and I am speaking to her telling her that she is beautiful and give her other compliments to give her confidence.

Then I am in a room or small house cutting the hair of childhood Puerto Rican friend, I am worried about how to trim it, suddenly I see a V patterned into her hair cut. I realize I must let that guide my trimming. Then my hair trimming changes into fashioning a leather jacket for her. Another peasant woman comes in who is going to hem it. I am trying to put the layers together and start to tell her what to do. But then I realize she knows what she is doing.

I leave the town through another archway and travel a distance further left and begin passing some adobe homes, with no one presently there. I become aware that the ocean is on my left and that a woman is ahead of me in the center of the village. She is coming to teach the townsfolk. I sense their presence welcoming her. She has no equipment or books but is really wanted by the villagers. She is going to simply talk from her own Experience.

I wonder if I can live here, if this is where I am to live. I feel relief.


 

            This is a woman who has been working at breaking free from old religious beliefs so she can teach about a new feminine spirituality.  In the beginning of the dream, she is high up, going to live in rooms with windows that look out over the landscape.  This is a bit removed from life, although she gets a perspective on life.  Like the old priest whose room it used to be, living here would keep her from experiencing life.  It keeps her locked into the intellectual perspective of the Father’s Daughter, which often only categorizes experience rather than lives it.

            When she descends to the city, she connects with her earthy, native feeling life. She comes to a dead end and passes by an abandoned church, which has obviously rejected the woman and children who live in the outdoor square.  She keeps going to the left, which symbolizes moving into the unconscious.  She’s ready to change her thinking (cutting hair) and put on a coat of animal skins – to live in her instincts.   The dream reminds her that she has all these parts within herself, waiting to be recognized and honored.  The woman who wants to teach down by the ocean is the new feminine spirit within her that wants to experience life and reflect on its meaning.

            Another woman working on leaving the patriarchal Father’s House dreamed that she had to sacrifice herself for the good of her community.  This ended up being a sacrifice of her professional advancement, for she ended up stepping back from the expected outcome of her schooling and upbringing to learn about and integrate a new way of being for herself.  In the end, she became a conscious woman, a wise woman.

            I am in a large meadow with many people I know.  I go around to say goodbye to all of them, because I am about to be beheaded – for the good of these people.  My family is there, my friends, and my professional acquaintances.  Some people offer me advice.  An older analyst tells me I don’t have to do it if I don’t want to.  My mother tries the hardest to stop me from making this sacrifice.  My ex-husband lies there on a couch, coldly indifferent. But I am determined that this is necessary.  So I finally kneel down and put my head on a block of wood.  There is a figure with a black hood over his face, holding the axe.  Just as I begin to wonder if it’s such a good idea, I hear the swish of the axe coming down.  Next thing I know, I’m standing up and a round object comes flying into my hands.  And I wake up.

            The Head represent the life-force, vitality and intelligence.  The old tales of beheading, like Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, speak to the necessity of letting the old life-force (the old year) die so the new life (year) can be born.  If we don’t lose our heads sometimes, we never get to experience new life – we get stuck in old patterns.  This woman had to let go of the patriarchal imperative that says to be really successful, one must become famous and make a lot of money.  She gave up that belief to learn a different way of being.  While it was hard, she ended up with something even more important.  She ended up with Wisdom.

            Whale Rider is an exquisite movie about the struggle between the old order and a new order of being.  The old way disregards women as irrelevant.  We are seeing how this belief is still prevalent in American society as patriarchal white men gather to decide on women’s health issues without asking for female input.  It’s time to put these old beliefs to rest and allow women to take their place in leadership roles that allow them to use their innate female gifts and talents.

            The World will be better for it.

From the Bard’s Grove,

Cathy Pagano

If you have comments or dreams that speak to this emerging archetype, please add it to the comment section.  I’d love to hear from you!

 

            

          

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