THE REBIRTH OF FEMININE LANGUAGE:
RECLAIMING OUR IMAGINATION
. . .these eternal images . . . are meant to attract, to convince, to fascinate, and to overpower. They are created out of the primal stuff of revelation and reflect the ever-unique experience of divinity.
I do not know what bounds may be placed on the power of the imagination. It can heal the body, reveal the secrets of divine truth, transform the personality, incarnate God, and open up worlds of infinite diversity and potential.
Jeffrey Raff, Jung and the Alchemical
The imagination is, therefore, not a source of deception and delusion, but a capacity to sense what you do not know, to intuit what you cannot understand, to be more than you can know.
William Irwin Thompson, Gaia, A Way of
Albert Einstein said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” Samuel Taylor Coleridge called the imagination ‘the living power and prime agent of all human perception’. If imagination is so important to our lives, why aren’t we trained in its use?
What is the power of the imagination that it can move us to tears, to action, to love, to surrender, to death, to transformation? Both mystics and quantum physicists know that the human imagination is the most creative faculty we possess. Imagination is involved in magical workings as well as the transformation of consciousness. Imagination is the source of manifestation. And imagination is sourced in the Sacred Feminine.
Imagination is the Language of the Feminine Spirit
Imagination is foremost the language of the feminine, of the heart, of life itself. It is a soul language of images and symbols, of music and art, myth and spirituality: a language that has the ability to move us at the deepest levels of our being. It is also the universal language of our species, the one language we all share – the language of dreams and visions. We tend to relegate imagination to children, but it is too powerful a tool to leave behind once we leave childhood. Women also tend to have wonderful imaginations. But through centuries of persecution and denigration, women have abandoned this intuitive way of knowing when we wanted to make our way in a man’s world.
In his intriguing book The Alphabet Versus The Goddess1, the brain surgeon, Dr. Leonard Shlain, believes that we are just now beginning to relearn what he calls the language of the Goddess, the language of images, through the medium of films and television as well as through our use of the Internet. It seems we are depending more and more on images for information. It is a fascinating study that explores the different ways human beings perceive and integrate the world into their consciousness. His thesis is that once people and cultures learn to read and write and abandon their oral and pictorial traditions, their culture goes through tremendous changes which develop the left side of the brain and cause that culture to become predominantly masculine in orientation, valuing linear, sequential, reductionist, abstract thinking. It also downplays feminine values and ultimately women’s power in the culture. “Literacy has promoted the subjugation of women by men throughout all but the very recent history of the West. Misogyny and patriarchy rise and fall with the fortunes of the alphabetic written word.” 2 Whether this is the whole truth or not, it is an interesting theory about how our brains are changed by how we use them.
The feminine outlook values a holistic, simultaneous, synthetic and concrete view of the world. Images form the natural language of feminine consciousness, which connects us to the sensual world of appearances. Jung believed that psyche entails the imaginative possibilities of our human nature. The right side of the brain perceives all parts of the picture simultaneously, creating a whole gestalt. This is what a symbolic image does - it expresses the whole meaning of the idea.
Feminine consciousness is an inner vision first and foremost, the inner vision of Spirit. It is the language of images that is the mother tongue of Lady Wisdom. For the past few centuries, Western culture marginalized this vision until we invented the moving picture and saw our inner images projected out into the world.
We have to understand how the power of images affects psyche, since we’ve deluded ourselves into thinking that they have no affect at all. The biggest delusion is that our dreams are meaningless, when in fact they are the ‘royal road’ to our inner wisdom. We have to question how movies and television affect us and our children and our beliefs. We know from what the Nazis did in Germany that people can be manipulated by the use of archetypal images and symbols. And look at how our corporate media misuses the power of images to influence people to think they need to buy and consume their products.
It is up to our artists and writers, our teachers and visionaries - and women, who are the caretakers of life - to make sure that we don’t twist the meaning of images or use them to manipulate our beliefs. If we let this happen, we kill the imagination, the source of our creativity and wisdom. We can learn to use the imagination wisely once we understand its true value, and it will help us solve the overwhelming problems of creating a free and just society, here and around the world. It is only through balancing and valuing both masculine and feminine perspectives that we can create real change in our attitudes and beliefs about what is possible, what is live-giving, what is needed to heal the world.
If what Dr. Shlain says is true, it seems we all learned a masculine vision of life through the process of learning to read and write. While the eye scans the linear sequence of letters in words to discover their meaning in a one-at-a-time fashion, we are learning to think abstractly and see separation rather than wholeness. I’m not proposing we stop reading and writing – I don’t know a single woman who doesn’t love to read! We just need to learn how to put our wonderful imaginations to work in solving life’s problems.
Imagination Is More Important Than Knowledge
So what is the imagination and how it is more important than knowledge? The first thing you need to know about imagination is that you need to use it to understand it - very concrete, feminine way of learning! Then you have to understand how humans have related to it through the ages.
When was the last time you sat around a campfire in the woods, listening to a breeze moving through the leaves overhead, and then looking up, been amazed by the brilliant stars playing hide and seek beyond the treetops? The night, the fire, the stars and the breeze in the trees all evoke a response in you, a response of joy and wonder. Before long, you might find yourself telling stories, to others if they are with you, or to yourself if you are alone. Your imagination is awake, and you find yourself meeting the Universe face to face. This is how children feel. This is also how our ancestors felt in the face of the majesty of Life, before our modern rationality and our modern conveniences blinded us. It seems that only at night or in nature are we able to come close to this ancient mystery once again.
The Native Americans lived close to this mystery day and night as did the Celts and other aboriginal peoples. They lived with hearts opened to the mysteries of the Earth and they were able to penetrate the veils between the worlds. The Aborigines of Australia can still walk in the Dreamtime; Celts might vanish into the Hollow Hills where the Fairy Folk still dance. Is our modern life so full of joy that we dare banish these other realms forever as 'just so' stories? I think not, since joy is one of the things that is singularly lacking in most people's lives today.
We once had joy. Not so very long ago, we Westerners still believed in a cosmos that was friendly and awesome and full of mystery. Nature was alive with spirit and we humans were part of nature. We had a sense of place; we belonged here. Then in the sixteenth century at the beginning of our modern era with its new scientific worldview, we lost our inheritance – we no longer saw ourselves as a part of Nature. Unlike such scientists as Galileo, Newton and Kepler, who combined a deep reverence for the Cosmos as God’s creation and a need to understand and prove how that creation worked, this new scientific philosophy viewed matter as dead. The Earth is only dead matter, animals have no feelings and plants have no consciousness. This belief itself sprang from a religious viewpoint that believed that the Earth was inherently evil. Science slowly gave us a new view of ourselves and suddenly we don’t fit into this picture of a dead world that has to be conquered at all costs. We lost our true home when we stopped honoring this beautiful Earth as our Mother and Sustainer and instead rushed to own, rape and abuse Her.
Corporations, fictional entities that now have the same rights as human beings, and governments have used this philosophic ‘carte blanche’ to conquer nature and turn it into commodities that keep the global economic machinery running. This philosophy of life not only alienates us from our environment, but ultimately, from ourselves. This philosophy says the world is a machine, there is no God; therefore there is no meaning in life. If the laws of the universe are just mechanical, then goodness and justice and mercy play no part in life. This has developed into a philosophy of greed that is pervasive in companies that destroy the environment as well as in people’s lives in their pursuit of the 'almighty dollar'. This worldview says that since there is no ultimate meaning in life, why be responsible for my life? Is it any wonder that there is so little joy in our modern world since we are taught that these are the rules of the game?
The riddle we are faced with is: how do we bring new life into this death-in-life that most modern people are living? Modern life demands that we work more, consume more, and are in more debt than ever before. There is a ‘too muchness’ about modern Western culture that speaks of a hidden dissatisfaction with the glories of the capitalist system. Wanting so many things means that nothing is satisfying. We are like little children on the day after Christmas who discard their new toys before they ever become beloved.
The Swiss psychologist Carl G. Jung once described a psychoneurosis as "the suffering of a soul which has not discovered its meaning." Jung saw this suffering as the symptom of spiritual stagnation and believed it to be the major symptom of Western culture. And look at how these symptoms have spread around the world, giving rise to rampant consumerism as well as religious fanaticism. We have created a world out of balance, over-valuing a dead-end masculine perspective at the expense of a feminine perspective that understands the cycles of life and death. We won’t be able to relieve the immense suffering of poor and outcast peoples from the dangers of war, disease and hunger until we reconnect to our spiritual nature and honor such basic human values as truth, love, sacrifice and honor.
And in America we have to look at the violence that is so prevalent in a society that prides itself on goodness and freedom and ask how we’ve helped to create it. According to a Senate Judiciary Report, "The United States is the most violent and self-destructive nation on Earth." The U.S. leads the world in violent crimes, most especially in violent crimes against women. There is more violence, more homelessness, more sickness, more toxic pollution, more addiction and more useless consumption and waste than in any other society that we know of. These symptoms surely suggest that something about the way we live is hurtful and destructive. If we have nothing that feeds our souls, we languish and die. And so we create death all around us.
The Passion of Matter
A soulless society feeds on ignorance, violence and poverty. It has nothing to teach its citizens. Americans take pride in the fact that we’re free, but real freedom is earned by responsibility and choice. President Barack Obama’s Inauguration speech stressed this Truth: “It is time to set aside childish things and grow up. It is time to take up the burden of freedom and choice. It is time to take up our service to the world. It is time to become responsible for ourselves, for each other, and for the Earth.” For what good is served when politics and media culture fosters fragmentation and ignorance, rather than enlightened choice? .
An ancient alchemical text, the Corpus Hermeticum, explains why people remain in ignorance.
Wickedness remains among the many, since learning concerning the things which are ordained does not exist among them. For the knowledge of the things which are ordained is truly the healing of the passion of matter. 4
Healing the passion of matter! How can we do this? By taking responsibility to learn, to grow, to deal with the constant longing in our souls, because our souls know the answers to the questions of our life and can give us the knowledge we need to live consciously and well
One of the meanings of the word passion is to suffer. Matter, or our human nature, is suffering through a lack of understanding of the things that are ordained in our lives, that is, the natural laws of our human nature. We have lost our connection to what it means to be fully human – body, mind and spirit. We need to listen to our bodies, our minds, our emotions and our spiritual understanding so that we make good choices in our lives.
What we have been told is that matter is dead, and that our human bodies are corruptible and ultimately evil. This philosophy gave rise to crass materialism and compulsive consumerism. But healing the passion of matter entails seeing that matter is full of spirit; that life itself is sacred. For the alchemist, the transformation of matter through the alchemical process was such a healing, for it entailed the spiritualization of matter. While the Enlightenment scientific community rejected alchemy and astrology, scientists such as Galileo, Kepler, Francis Bacon and Isaac Newton were alchemists and astrologers, because they viewed matter as full of spirit. And of course, our physicists now tell us that matter is most definitely alive and full of consciousness!
Perhaps we are suffering through our problems as a labor that gives birth to a new consciousness that can heal the fragmentation of the Western ego. This seems to be our ultimate purpose this lifetime, for our world is at a turning point. We are being forced into consciousness by the suffering of our ‘matter’ - both our personal bodies and the Earth's body.
Any sacrifice on our part can now be seen as a ‘making sacred’ or giving meaning to our lives. We are beginning to understand that we have to suffer through a situation to find its meaning. Ask anyone who’s gone through the pain of divorce or disease about the suffering that brings consciousness. Although the suffering is bitter, no one comes away from the experience without coming into a conscious relationship with themselves for the first time in their lives. Through all the emotional suffering people have learned that there is meaning in everything we do in life. We just have to find a context for our suffering, a context that is the healing of the passion of matter. That context is a cosmology, a sacred story that helps us understand the things that are ordained for us (i.e., living a joyous, conscious life). We need to re-discover a sacred story about Life.
Our New Sacred Story
New stories being told about our times, stories told by alternative healers, seekers, pagans, traditionalists. Stories about the first black American President. Over 1/4 of the people in our country, about 44 million people, are what sociologist Paul Ray calls Cultural Creatives, people who are active in transforming our political, social and spiritual heritage. Many of these people are women, and all of them believe in the feminine principles of love, peace, service and interdependence.5 They are working to understand and bring about the ‘things that are ordained’, the necessary changes we all have to make if we are to continue living here on our mother, the Earth. Many people believe that when a critical mass of these creative people is reached, (really only a small percentage of the entire population – very like the 144,000 righteous remnant of the Book of Revelation) then a new consciousness will become available to anyone who tries to access and ultimately understand and use the gifts of the imagination for its true purpose.
We need to find our place in the universe once more. We need to come home. The search for meaning was ignored when our modern scientific worldview focused on how things work rather than why things are. This is what happens when we separate spirit from matter. But the search for meaning has always been the work of our poets, artists, musicians, mystics, alchemists, great teachers, pure scientists, storytellers, psychologists and women. So there is hope that we'll re-discover those stories and begin to live within them again.
We are all being called upon to be the healers of our times, and we are seeing this happen. It seems there is a growing movement among baby boomers (an estimated 1.1 million already) to move out of the corporate world and go to work in non-profit organizations, with millions more to follow in the coming years. About ½ of the 78 million boomers are interested in jobs that help others, putting their talents to work for the group. And we have a new American leader to whom the baby boomers have passed the torch and we already see how he is calling Americans back to a life of service, rather than the self-service of the past 50 years.
Pluto symbolizes the energy of regeneration and evolution, with Leo ruling individuation and consciousness and Virgo ruling self-knowledge and service. Those of us who lived through the 60s or were born in the 60s came to renew our consciousness, our sense of what it means to be human and our responsibilities to each other. We do this by discovering our own individuality and talents, and then contributing them to the greater life of the community. Many people have had to face their own wounding and heal themselves, heal the passion of their matter, and in that healing have discovered their ability to heal others. The idea of the wounded healer is a very ancient belief, and is at the root of shamanic lore. To see this happening on a collective, cultural level is exciting, because it means that we have a chance to create the change that will heal the passion of matter. For we are remembering that matter, our physical world, is alive and intelligent and knows the things that are ordained for the health of life on this Earth.
People are healing themselves by listening to the voices of the Earth’s imagination - the winds, the waters, crystals, plants, the stars, the body, the soul. For only by going through the darkness ourselves can we become true guides for others who still reside there. The great Western mystic, Hildegard of Bingen, said that "God has arranged everything in the universe in consideration of everything else."6 Perhaps the inner suffering and loneliness of many people has been Spirit arranging for the new creativity that our times so desperately need.
We are living in a defining moment. The times are calling upon us to envision the future life of this planet. Ours is an age of rapid change and chaos; the violence of our culture reflects the violence of this chaos. The transition of the ages always involves a return to chaos so new forms can arise. There have been many prophecies about the changes we are going through: the changing of the astrological ages, the end of the Mayan calendar, the belief in the Second Coming of Christ. These times give rise to great spiritual awakenings, and many people are opening up to the gifts of Spirit. Once again, medicine people, visionaries and mystics are being heard and honored. But it is a spiritual awakening that must take place within the heart of each individual, and each individual has to do the hard work to gain self-knowledge, which precedes the true gifts of the Spirit. This self-knowledge is not only one of criticism of self but also of acceptance of self. We have to name ourselves and our wounds for them to heal. And we have to gather the tools for healing that can be passed on to others who are still suffering.
The Power of the Imagination
An important tool we ignore to our detriment is the element of human imagination, the gift of Feminine Spirit. We misuse our modern media, and over- stress left-brain thinking in our schools, and so our imaginations stagnate. Our quest for scientific objectivity has taken a wrong turn, because we have rejected the place of imagination in the search for truth. William Irwin Thompson speaks of imagination as the awareness of the unseen (feminine) part of life.
Imagination is needed to shape a theory or a hypothesis, and Whitehead argued a long time ago that pure induction could never produce a scientific view of the world. A heap of facts was useless, and neither a Homeric epic nor a scientific theory of evolution could ever be produced from mere facts. For people in a pre-scientific culture, people endowed with acute powers of observation and remarkable sensitivity, there was no way to imagine the life at one's feet except through the poetic imagination which made the little creatures half human. And in a way, this poetic imagination of the ancients is more sensitive to humanity's embeddedness in the biosphere, for in seeing "the little people" as half human the ancient Irish "fairy faith" recognized that there is no "us" and "them," that we are in them, and they are in us.
The imagination is, therefore, not a source of deception and delusion, but a capacity to sense what you do not know, to intuit what you cannot understand, to be more than you can know.7
Most of us don’t take responsibility for our imaginations, and so we engage in 'daydreams' that have little meaning other than childish wish-fulfillment. But Jane Roberts, in her Seth books, shows that imagination is much more than that.
Imagination also plays an important part in your subjective life, as it gives mobility to your beliefs. It is one of the motivating agencies that helps transform your beliefs into physical experience. It is vital therefore that you understand the interrelationship between ideas and imagination. In order to dislodge unsuitable beliefs and establish new ones, you must learn to use your imagination to move concepts in and out of your mind. The proper use of imagination can then propel ideas in the directions you desire.8
If we don’t acknowledge and use our creative imaginations, we are ignoring a psychic reality that operates on us according to its own laws and patterns. We become blind to the unknown parts of ourselves. We forget soul.
“For the creative imagination is not so named with some metaphorical intent, nor in a spirit of fiction, but in the full sense of the term: the imagination creates, and is universal creation itself. Every reality is imaginal, because it is able to present itself as a reality. To speak of the imaginal world is nothing less than to contemplate a metaphysics of Being where subject and object are born together in the same creative act of transcendental imagination.
To this, I would also add transfiguration & resurrection.9
Along with a rejection of a deep spiritual nature within ourselves, we have rejected this feminine mode of consciousness which is imaginative, playful and mysterious. It is time for women to re-discover our feminine wisdom. Men have always been fearful of and yet attracted to this aspect of the feminine imagination. Why else would they have such a love-hate relationship with the ‘enchantress’ in women? This is also why most men have always projected their souls onto women, for they just don’t understand how to use imagination like women do. That is another reason to learn it. Women have to teach men its proper use and function, because right now, the masculine mind uses the imagination to dominate and manipulate people.
Our rational, scientific world-view has flattened out our lives into a two-dimensional, spiritless travesty of what we might become. It narrows our options and imprisons our vision. The inner mystery is ignored until it sends us symptoms, like gifts, to enlarge our vision of the meaning of our lives. That is why so many people have started down the spiritual path through the psychologist's office. The word psyche and the word soul are related. The Oxford English Dictionary explains the word psyche thus:
". . .breath or to breathe; hence life; the animating principle in man and other living beings, the source of all vital activities, rational or irrational, the soul or spirit in distinction to the body. It is also considered the animating principle of the universe as a whole, the anima mundi or world soul."10
Psychology itself deals with the logos of psyche - the meaning of soul. The Greek philosopher Heraclitus said: "You could not discover the limits of soul (psyche) even if you traveled every road to do so; such is the depth (bathun) of its meaning (logos)."11 To go into the depths, to deepen events into experience, to look for many layers of meaning in our lives, to engage in imaginal work; this is something to be desired if we are to fill our lives with something more than addictions and mindless entertainments.
When we entertain the notion of soul, we once again get back in touch with the 'vital activities' of life, the rational, thinking activities and the irrational, imaginative ones. It is the imaginative function of psyche, or soul, which entices us to dive into the depths of life's mysteries. And it is through psyche that we transcend our human isolation and become a part of the whole, a part of the world soul, the animating principle of the Universe. It is the knowledge that each one of us is a part of this larger whole, that we each contain a spark of Divinity, which gives us the courage to confront the mysteries of life. Like Jacob wrestling with the angel all night, we each must wrestle with this angel of mystery until we claim the gift of our individual lives and names.
'To enter the mysteries' (which is one meaning of the word mysticism), we must go into the place of mystery; we must go into the place of soul or psyche. We must encounter the Unconscious within and discover for ourselves the reality of the human psyche. It is there that we will discover the repressed Feminine Spirit and reclaim our native ability to understand symbolic language. There we can reclaim our ancestral roots and our ties to ancient feminine wisdom. It is through the imagination that we begin to reclaim the gifts of the Spirit, and the first of these gifts is joy.
Stories Are Language of the Unconscious
Everything that we know and feel is derived from the images of the psyche. These fantasy images run through our daydreams and night dreams, and they are constantly taking shape even when we are busy working and thinking. For the most part, we are unconscious of them, and even though everyone is fascinated by their dreams, not many people are willing to take them seriously: even though researchers have found that dreams play an essential role in keeping us both physically and psychologically healthy. Most people do not understand the language of dreams because it is non-directed and free-floating, and we have forgotten the deeper meanings that images point to and symbolize. We have forgotten because of our one-sided dependence on rational, left-brain processing. Ancient cultures, such as Egypt, Native America and Celtic, preferred a more imaginative, non-directed type of thinking. These cultures accepted that dreams and visions have a meaning, and they found ways to bring these gifts into the community, either through rituals or through stories, music and poetry. In their acceptance of this more imaginal consciousness, they established cultures that lived in harmony with the world around them. Each tribe and each person knew his/her/its place in the cosmos and this made for the harmony and balance that is so sorely lacking in our 'most violent' of cultures.
There is an old Seneca story that speaks to the heart of this matter, for the Native American tribes lived constantly in the presence of stories.
Long ago, there were no stories in the world. Life was not easy for the people, especially during the long winters when the wind blew hard and the snow piled high about the longhouse.
One winter day a boy went hunting. He was a good hunter and managed to shoot several partridge. As he made his way back home through the snow, he grew tired and rested near a great rock which was shaped almost like the head of a person. No sooner had he sat down than he heard a deep voice speak.
"I shall now tell a story," said the voice.
The boy jumped up and looked around. No one was to be seen.
"Who are you?" said the boy.
"I am Great Stone, " said the rumbling voice which seemed to come from within the Earth. Then the boy realized it was the big standing rock which spoke. "I shall now tell a story."
"Then tell it," said the boy.
"First you must give me something," said the stone. So the boy took one of the partridges and placed it on the rock.
"Now tell your story, Grandfather," said the boy.
Then the great stone began to speak. It told a wonderful story of how the Earth was created. As the boy listened he did not feel the cold wind and the snow seemed to go away. When the stone had finished the boy stood up.
"Thank you, Grandfather," said the boy. "I shall go now and share this story with my family. I will come back tomorrow."
The boy hurried home to the longhouse. When he got there he told everyone something wonderful had happened. Everyone gathered around the fire and he told them the story he heard from the great stone. The story seemed to drive away the cold and the people were happy as they listened and they slept peacefully that night, dreaming good dreams. The next day, the boy went back again to the stone and gave it another bird which he had shot.
"I shall now tell a story," said the big stone and the boy listened.
It went on this way for a long time. Throughout the winter the boy came each day with a present of game. Then Great Stone told him a story of the old times. The boy heard the stories of talking animals and monsters, tales of what things were like when the Earth was new. They were good stories and they taught important lessons. The boy remembered each tale and retold it to the people who gathered at night around the fire to listen. One day, though, when the winter was ending and the spring about to come, the great stone did not speak when the boy placed his gift of wild game.
"Grandfather," said the boy, "Tell me a story."
Then the great stone spoke for the last time. "I have told you all of my stories," said Great Stone. "Now the stories are yours to keep for the people. You will pass these stories on to your children and other stories will be added to them as years pass. Where there are stories, there will be more stories. I have spoken. Naho."
Thus it was that stories came into this world. To this day, they are told by the people of the longhouse during the winter season to warm the people. Whenever a storyteller finishes a tale, the people always give thanks, just as the boy thanked the storytelling stone long ago.12
Human beings are creatures of story. We make sense of our world by telling stories - what our day was like, how we came to understand an experience, what happened to us on vacation. Through stories we imagine our lives into being. As Caroline Casey says, “A good story conjures the reality.” We shape the universe through this storytelling capacity. It is a very right-brain, feminine talent. And yet, it is what stories we choose to tell that make all the difference between hope and despair, fullness of life and scarcity, life and death. There are also cultural stories which can feed a people with visions and dreams of their future, or close off all hope of fulfillment. They can make us insecure and fearful, or inspire us to courageously stand up to oppression and death. When a people loose touch with their cultural stories, they loose touch with their souls and with their place in the Cosmos. This has happened with all conquered peoples when their stories are taken away from them. It is what is happening in America and around the world today. We are in danger of losing our individual, cultural and spiritual stories to the corporate story.
Are we thankful, like the young Indian boy, for the stories our culture tells us? Do these stories teach us important lessons? I believe the answer to both questions is no; first, because most of the stories the media creates no longer spring from the imagination, but rather deaden it, and second, because we no longer trust stories to teach us anything. Our culture does not value the bard or the storyteller as a teacher; so many people do not take the 'lesson' of the good story to heart. We have lost touch with our child-like imagination, which can see worlds in a drop of dew or hear music in the fall of a leaf. We do not let the world tell us stories anymore, and we are afraid to listen to what our imaginations whisper in the night.
George MacDonald is the writer that many of our best modern fantasy writers revere as their mentor. He wrote, in the 19th century, stories and plays for the 'childlike'. He often wrote about what he called 'the fantastic imagination' and he insisted that, while this imagination was attuned to certain 'natural laws', there was no set and final meaning in stories he wrote. The story contained a meaning only if the listener perceived one. But he always hoped to awaken something in his readers, something that was akin to what happens when we hear beautiful music.
The best thing you can do for your fellow, next to rousing his conscience, is - not to give him things to think about, but to wake things up that are in him; or say, to make him think things for himself. The best Nature does for us is to work in us such moods in which thoughts of high import arise. Does any aspect of Nature wake but one thought? Does she ever suggest only one definite thing? Does she make any two men in the same place at the same moment think the same thing? Is she therefore a failure, because she is not definite? Is it nothing that she rouses the something deeper than the understanding - the power that underlies thoughts? Does she not set feeling, and so thinking at work? Would it be better that she did this after one fashion and not after many fashions? Nature is mood-engendering, thought-provoking. . .13
To rouse the something deeper than the understanding - this is what the imagination and dream-creating function of the soul does for us. This type of consciousness is the myth-making aspect of psyche, either creating mythic themes within individual's dreams and fantasies, or creating cultural mythologies. This is the aspect of psyche that relates to the archetypes, those instinctual patterns of human behavior that Carl G. Jung postulated are the contents of the Collective Unconscious.
The Archetypes of the Collective Unconscious
Archetypes are those pre-existent forms of behavior, apprehension and perception of experience and reaction that make us human.14 Similar to our instinctual knowledge, they help us shape and meet life in a 'human' way. But we can only perceive archetypes through their archetypal images, for they themselves are unknowable. Archetypes are not inherited images, but inherent psychic structures responsible for the production of those images.15 These archetypal images in turn give rise to the myths, dreams and stories of individuals and cultures. Jung believed that these transpersonal patterns of images are not located within human beings, but rather human beings are located in and subject to the intentions of the archetypes.
Our personal psychology is just a thin skin, a ripple on the ocean of collective psychology. The powerful factor, the factor which changes our whole life, which changes the surface of our known world, which makes history, is collective psychology, and collective psychology moves according to laws entirely different from those of our consciousness. The archetypes are the great decisive forces, they bring about the real events, and not our personal reasoning and practical intellect. … The archetypal images decide the fate of man.16
It is through the psyche that we have direct contact to the archetypes, the basic patterns of human behavior. Another way to say this is that each person has a spark of divinity within, called soul, which is made in the image and likeness of God/Goddess and which shapes our humanity, for good or ill. This spark of divinity within each person pursues aims and intentions that are beyond our ego control, intent on achieving optimum health and well-being. This sacred ‘other’ within us sends us information through dreams, visions and fantasies to help the ego come into balance with the larger forces of the collective unconscious.
The Lost Language of Symbols: A Language of Meaning
What we have lost with the repression of the imagination is our understanding of symbolic language. Because imagination has been repressed, it is easier to manipulate it and us, because the symbols retain their power, even when we are unconscious of it. A symbol always points beyond itself to something unknown. It is a bridge between the unconscious and consciousness, for, although the meaning of a symbol can never be exhausted, it is the best way to represent the unknown reality that is trying to be expressed by the unconscious. Symbolic language speaks of such intangibles as feelings, moods, values and ideas that cannot be rationally understood and explained.
It is a language women prefer, even though it has led us to be called incomprehensible. It is a language of deepening, a language that wakes things up within us, and gives us an experience of our own depths. It is the very voice of Lady Wisdom, for it is the way we learn of and relate to the ways of the cosmos.
This is the education that our people have been denied. This is the knowledge that can bring the healing of the passions of matter, for the symbols and the stories connect us to the patterns which make us human, the patterns which can take us past the stuck places or the hurdles in our lives and onto the next part of our journey into life. These archetypal images contain and focus our energies and help up tame the passions that would keep us unconscious of the meaning of our lives.
And yet, our Western educational system does not teach us how to work with the imagination, or even how to think about and understand our place in the Universe. We no longer look to Nature - Earth's cycles and laws - for an understanding of our own human nature, for the rational mind has pre-empted that knowledge for itself. We are not taught about the patterns of human behavior or the necessity of suffering for growth in consciousness.
Our modern educational system’s main purpose is to shunt people into an economic structure. Our children are not trained in the gifts of creativity and imagination that are their birthright, for these talents are not valued by the corporate entities that run the world. The most amazing gap in our education has to do with the very thing all human beings desire most: we do not teach our people how to be in relationship, either with Self or an Other. The very thing we want the most is the biggest mystery to us, for though Love will always remain a divine mystery, we could learn to become vessels for the power of this mystery. And so we perpetuate the misery and the unconsciousness of our people.
It is time to give service to our community and to our nation because it is only in this way that we can know what we value. We need guiding images to contain and express the energies of our people. We are divided within ourselves: we say we value honesty and truth, yet our politicians are dishonest, our bankers commit fraud, and we admire power and wealth over simplicity, humility and individuality. The story of the Tower of Babel comes to mind: we are all talking gibberish and can no longer understand each other. We are divided within and without. We have forgotten how to be simple and direct or how to attune ourselves to the spirit of life. Most often, we seem to be enfolded in the arms of the Angel of Death, and we would rather stay with a known dis-ease than struggle with the unknown in life.
The only way to meet Death is to face it. If we are to come through this chaotic time into a new birth, we must reclaim the use of our imaginations, so we can give birth to new images that will describe our new experience of life and the world. This coincides with a return of Feminine Spirit, for the Goddess is the Birther and the Great Transformer. The East calls her Maya of the 10,000 Faces. When we meet and name those 10,000 faces, we will finally understand the voice of Lady Wisdom, who is the Spirit in Nature, both the world's nature and our human nature. And we can only come to that place with a loving heart, otherwise we will continue to misunderstand and misuse the power of images. The poet Rainer Marie Rilke understood feminine spirit, women and symbols.
For there is a boundary to looking.
And the world that is looked at so deeply
wants to flourish in love.
Work of the eyes is done, now
go and do heart-work
on all the images imprisoned within you;
for you overpowered them:
but even now you don't know them.
Learn, inner man, to look on your inner woman,
the one attained for a thousand
natures, the merely attained but
not yet beloved form.17
Like the famous storyteller, Scheherazade, I hope the images and stories I tell you will keep you wondering about what is coming next. I want to "shower your right-brain with images", as the Christian theologian Matthew Fox once said at a workshop. Perhaps some image will speak so strongly to you that you will follow it to a new place and a new wisdom. The power of the imagination must be respected and understood, so we can make choices that are honorable and live-giving. With the proper use of the imagination, we can create a new reality.
The story of Scheherazade is a wonderful example of the power of stories and images to transform consciousness. Although safe because she was the daughter of the Sultan's Vizier, she made a free choice to try to change her world. Through her bravery and cunning and storytelling ability, she saved the women of her kingdom. And she saved her man. What's better than that!
We live in a society that is mythologically and imaginally illiterate, where mistrust and misunderstanding of the imagination has led to a psychic wasteland. We have lost touch with our collective stories that shape a world of hope and aspiration. Hollywood has polluted our psyches as we have polluted our world. We need to clean out and clean up our collective psyche. We need to re-mythologize our world and come up with creative solutions if we are to birth a new world and evolve to a new level of human consciousness.
The Cosmic Story of Our Times
That is why it is important to look at the religious stories that are influencing our very masculine, Christian Western society in these turbulent times. Once we know the story, we can enter into it and understand it from the inside. So far, we have seen how our culture uses force and antagonism, a very masculine way of dealing with differences, to solve 'problems'. What can a more feminine wisdom, which is inclusive and synergistic, bring to the global table?
One of the ancient stories that has very much influenced our national dialog and many of our political leaders' decisions, and therefore our world, is the story of The Book of Revelation from the Bible. Whether we consciously know it or not, the story told in the Book of Revelation has been part of the Western collective psyche for two thousand years, and even if we never consciously think about it, let alone believe it, we are effected by it. Many people today have consciously rejected the religion that gave rise to this story and so reject it, just as there are fundamentalists who are consumed by it.
I suggest you just read it for yourself and let the images work on you. It is our cultural story about the end of time and redemption. Since we also have the Mayan prophecies about 2012 floating around, it is important to understand exactly what you believe about this time we are living in. That's always a prerequisite for conscious action. What most people seem to remember about The Book of Revelation is the image of the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse – death, famine, war and pestilence. People don’t often remember who the Woman Clothed with the Sun is. And yet this is one of the few images of hope in the midst of a dreadful story about the end of an age. It is specifically an image of the power and purpose of women in such a time of change. The Woman is giving birth to the divine child of the new age. This image raises women once again to our own divine heritage. But it also gives us a clue about our purpose in life. We are here to birth a new age. And we do it through reclaim our feminine wisdom.
The most important issue I see women pondering today is the question of their spiritual purpose. Everyone I counsel wants to know what Spirit wants them to do with their lives. I always tell these women to look in their hearts and remember what they love the most and then go do it! I think we need to incarnate the spiritual energy of this image of the Woman Clothed with the Sun , so we can understand our life's purpose. She is the newest incarnation of the Sacred Feminine Spirit, and She has a part to play in the transformation of our individual and cultural lives. She is a symbol of Lady Wisdom. And She calls us to service.
To return to a feminine sensibility, we need to be telling stories, sharing images and dreams, seeing that the myths of our lives can bring about a transformation of consciousness, because these stories teach us through the power of the imagination. Images hold power. They are transformers. We can let the media shape our images for greed and misuse of power, or we can let new mythologies be born within each of us. These new mythologies can transform each of us and they can transform the world. It is time for us to re-learn symbolic language. It is our mother tongue. That is why symbols affect us so deeply; they imprint us in the womb with the genetic code of our being human.
Symbols can cause great evil if they are twisted by a person, a nation or a corporation for personal power. The Nazis used the ancient, world-wide symbol of life, good luck, happiness and blessings, the swastika, to elevate their political agenda. Symbols hold power. But when we learn the language of symbols, we are taken into a deeper understanding of what it means to be human, for symbols contain the wisdom of our genetic code. And out of this deeper sight, we can imagine and create a future that will serve the best in us.
Learn to understand symbolic, imaginal language so you can contribute your vision to these transformative times. As you read this book, enjoy the stories and information, and use these examples to learn the language of the psyche. Do not be afraid to step into an image or a story. Wander around, take on each character, go on the adventure, dive into an image and watch the story unfold. What does the story bring up for you? How does it answer your questions about life?
Symbols contain energy and are full of life. And as such, we need to love and respect their power. Learn to understand different symbols and pay attention how they affect you. Then dive into true stories, for they combine the symbols that tell the deepest stories of all: the stories of how to be human.
A story is like water
that you heat for your bath.
It takes messages between the fire
and your skin. It lets them meet,
and it cleans you!
Very few can sit down
in the middle of the fire itself
like a salamander or Abraham.
We need intermediaries.
A feeling of fullness comes,
but usually it takes some bread
to bring it.
Beauty surrounds us,
but usually we need to be walking
in a garden to know it.
The body itself is a screen
to shield and partially reveal
the light that's blazing
inside your presence.
Water, stories, the body,
all the things we do, are mediums
that hide and show what's hidden.
and enjoy this being washed
with a secret we sometimes know,
and then not.