As a college professor I taught Children’s Literature. Mythology, stories about humanity’s relationship with the gods, always raised a few eyebrows. Students tended to feel uncomfortable when this term was applied to their own faith traditions since it generally connotes “untrue.” So I found it helpful to note up front that myths are not necessarily literally or historically true, but they’re always psychologically and spiritually true.
From his extensive study of myths, psychologist Carl Jung concluded that we are all born with a “religious function,” an inherent sense of awe about, and longing to connect with the Sacred Mystery of life. He saw it as a faculty of our central archetype, the Self: our core and circumference, our god-image. Myths, rituals and religious symbols are our attempts to incarnate the Self so that we can be infused with love, hope and holy wonder. Some myths are helpful in this endeavor. Others are dysfunctional; for example, myths which justify the dominance, exclusion or destruction of others considered less worthy or entitled.
When our primitive ancestors reflected on the miracle of life, the Self prompted the thought that because humanity is gendered, the Mystery must be as well. Since Earth was the foundation of existence and had an inexhaustible fruitfulness, it felt like a Mother. This shaped our earliest images of God. Mircea Eliade noted: “In some cases, the sex of this earth divinity, this universal procreatrix—does not even have to be defined. A great many earth divinities…are bisexual. In such cases the divinity contains all the forces of creation—and this formula of polarity, of the coexistence of opposites, was to be taken up again in the loftiest of later speculation.”
Images of a Divine Androgyne of integrated masculinity and femininity appear throughout the world. Jungian analyst June Singer says they arise from the intuition “that the Ultimate Being consists of a unity-totality…[within which] exist all the conjoined pairs of opposites at all levels of potentiality.”
As a religious image, the Divine Androgyne was not about gender or sexuality. It was a metaphor for healthy interaction between life’s opposite, yet complementary energies within one unified, integrated being.
As humans grew more conscious of ourselves we created a new god-image of a single, omnipotent male Sky God without a feminine counterpart. Psychologically, this heralded the birth of the ego and its desire to separate from the unconscious maternal matrix from which it was emerging so we could develop our individuality and enhance our survival. While this “masculine” emphasis on self-preservation was a natural and necessary development, over time the ego’s need to associate with the masculine drive and reject the feminine drive for species-preservation has become the major threat to our survival.
The Garden of Eden story represents the awakening of our species from the purely physical consciousness we shared with other mammals into a new era I call Epoch II Ego Consciousness. This is when Hero myths emerged. They represent a phase of ego growth on the way to greater consciousness, not the end point. We have the potential to transcend the ego’s dualistic perspective and realize our essential oneness; to find holiness not just in the high-minded spirituality of a masculine Sky God, but also in the earthy Divine Feminine who pervades our bodies, minds, and all creation. But our growth has been stunted by the ego’s resistance to relinquishing its role as the center of the psyche.
Goddess myths provide an alternative way of living and incarnating the Mystery. Whether the main characters are women or men, Jungian analyst Monika Wikman says that myths about descent symbolize the “inner readiness to meet the larger facets of the psyche in the ways it manifests in our lives.”
The story of the Sumerian goddess Inanna’s descent was not just a fertility myth. It was also a metaphor for our initiation into the dark winter of our unconscious selves. Her meeting with her sister Ereshkigal, goddess of the underworld, represents the psychological trauma of confronting the reality of our previously disowned shadow selves. Her experience of being hung on a meathook for three days symbolizes the humbling ego-death in which ego relinquishes its worldly throne and accepts the feminine aspects of our natures so that the androgynous Self can assume its rightful position as center of our being.
The incarnating Self requires that both the masculine and feminine myths be lived in us. Our ego’s magnum opus is to enable this development by bringing the light of consciousness to the dark chambers of our psyches. As this happens, the incarnating Self replaces resistance, pride, ignorance and intolerance with openness, humility, self-knowledge and compassion. From a psychological perspective, psycho-spiritual maturity comes from integrating ego and Self, our masculine and feminine sides, and God and Goddess in loving partnerships.
Epoch II Ego Consciousness is dying. Humanity is acquiring the psychological awareness to change the course of history by consciously merging herstory with it. Many individuals already employ their egos in service to attaining Epoch III Integrated Consciousness. Those who already dwell there know that consciously integrating the feminine drive brings the enlightened experiential knowing of which mystics speak. Alchemists called this the philosopher’s stone. Some Jungians call it the incarnated Self.
To them, as to inward-looking people everywhere, Paradise is not a realm outside ourselves which we can earn by having proper beliefs. It is an ever-present reality available to all who courageously explore their own depths, create their own myths, unite their own opposites, and live their own lives with authenticity, wisdom and compassion.
About Jean Raffa:
Jean Raffa is an author, speaker and workshop leader. Her newest book, Healing the Sacred Divide: Making Peace With Ourselves, Each Other, and the World, is about psychological integration as a spiritual path to evolving consciousness. It recently received the 2013 Wilbur Award from the Religion Communicators Council for excellence in communicating religious issues, values and themes, and for encouraging understanding between faith groups on a national level. http://www.religioncommunicators.org/wilbur-awards You can find more about Jean’s books at her website, www.jeanraffa.com. Matrignosis, her blog about inner wisdom, is at www.jeanraffa.wordpress.com. www.facebook.com/jeanraffa
Healing the Sacred Divide is timely, as we become increasingly polarized around divisive issues of faith and politics. Raffa helps us work creatively with strife and divisions in ourselves, our relationships, and our world by first associating common dysfunctions with several popular ways of thinking about God. Then she shows us how to enter the “divide,” where polarized views and forces meet and mingle, as a sacred place of innovation and potential common ground.