Medusa as Shamanic Guide to Feminine Serpent Wisdom

Medusa – Serpent Goddess of female wisdom whose name means “I come from myself”, may have a lot to teach us in reclaiming our wise woman- but we have to reach behind the mask… a very scary thing for us modern women to do, as the mask has kept us, if not entirely connected to our feminine wisdom and power, then at least alive in a culture that has largely rejected these aspects of the feminine.

In the beginning the mask of Medusa was a protection to guard the feminine mysteries from those who had no ‘rite’ to know them, or those who could misuse, damage or destroy this sacred knowledge. Unfortunately, as women became less sourced in their feminine power, the mask of stone that could be turned turned either outward or inward, replaced the true face of feminine power.

Medusa- serpent headed monster, once priestess, primordial sea nymph, stony-eyed death giver, cave dweller on the edge of the world…

What can the myth of Medusa mean for modern women?

Like all myths the Myth of Medusa is a living entity, morphing into new shapes and interpretations with the continual unfolding of human consciousness.

The most commonly known version of the myth is that Medusa was a priestess in the temple of Athena, goddess of wisdom before her terrible transformation. In this myth we witness Medusa very much as the victim, rather like Persephone whose journey of initiation is also corrupted to portray the feminine in a passive state. In both cases, the myth of Medusa and the myth of Persephone may instead be read as journeys of initiation in claiming our Queendom by accepting our true essence.

Originally a sea nymph, her beauty was beyond compare and men travelled far and wide just to catch a glimpse of her- though in her vows of chastity appropriate for Athena’s temple she would give herself to no man. But the mighty sea god Poseidon had other ideas… so enraptured was he by Medusa’s beauty that he vowed to have her by hook or by crook. Poseidon raped Medusa in the temple precincts thus enraging the chaste and virtuous Athena who, rather than avenge Poseidon, instead punishes Medusa by changing her beautiful tresses into hissing serpents.

Medusa at once is banished from the temple taking up residence with her two gorgon sisters, Sthenno and Euryale, in a cave on the edge of the world, on the ocean’s edge near to the border of night and death. So horrifying was Medusa’s monstrous appearance that any mortal who dared to look upon her was immediately turned to stone- stories spead far and wide about the lands and caverns in the area being strewn with pertified men.

Of the three hideous gorgons, Medusa was the only one who could die and the solar hero Perseus on a mission contrived by King Polydectes set out on a mission to slay the head of Medusa. The gods were on his side… donning a mirrored shield given by Athena, golden winged sandals from Hermes, a sword form Hephaestus, and a helmet of invisibility from Pluto, the young demi-god son of Zeus and the mortal Danaë, was invincible.

Taking care not to look at Medusa directly, Perseus captures her reflection in his mirror as he slowly steps backwards, then with one fell swoop cuts of her head. From her severed body spring the winged horse Pegasus and the golden sword wielding giant Chrysaor. The other two gorgon sisters arrive on the scene, but Perseus escapes wearing the helmet of invisibility given to him by Pluto. Some people say that he flew away on the back of Pegasus holding in his hand the grotesque head of Medusa and that wherever the drops of blood fell to the earth, flowers, plants and other verdant life sprung forth.

Thereafter the goddess of wisdom Athena wore a breast plate of the Medusa’s head on her person as a symbol of protection. She gifted the blood of Medusa to the great healer Asclepius who separated it into two vials- the right vial it was said had great healing properties- even the power to bring back the dead- while the blood of the left vial was said to destroy and kill.

The Myth of Medusa is immensely rich with its origins rooted in north Africa and the Egyptian goddess Neith, who was known as Anatha in Libya, and Athena in Greece. In her book, ‘Mysteries of the Dark Moon’, Demetra George tells us that Neith emerged from the primeval floodwaters, and her name means, “I have come from myself”. As part of a triple goddess figure with Neith/Anatha, and Metis, Medusa embodies the third dark aspect of the destroyer/crone, and was revered as the Queen of the Libyan Amazons, the Serpent Goddess of female wisdom.

Feminist and Jungian scholars have made much of the layers of symbolism embedded within the story. For George, “Medusa in her association wit the serpent and the menstrual blood that could both heal and destroy, embodies the dark moon mysteries of the goddess. In her red-faced gorgon mask mounted by a crown of snakes, Medusa in women signifies a source of feminine wisdom that is connected to their sexuality.”

Kundalini serpent power is the life-force, prana or chi that lays dormant at the base of the spine until such time that it is activated and begins its journey up the spinal, passing through and activating the chakras (power centres) before arriving at the crown chakra. At which point cosmic consciousness is awakened. This force can then be used for regenerative healing and renewal, open doors of creativity, oracular wisdom and spiritual power.

Like Demetra, I see the hissing crown of the Medusa as feminine serpent power that once activated moves one beyond the constrictions of duality into a cosmic consciousness where there is a union between human and divine. Another way to say this is that the human body becomes the earthen vessel able to be penetrated by and hold divine energy.

This power has been repressed and punished by centuries of culture that have feared it, and women themselves have become cut off from the root of their feminine grounding. The monstrous aspect of Medusa is the mask we wear to protect ourselves from the vulnerability that we feel in being cut off at the root. Either we turn the mask out toward those we feel we must protect ourselves from- and in the case of modern women this often translates as many aspects of culture. If we turn the mask inward on ourselves, we despise all that makes us powerful and feminine- our menstruation- shamanic birthing- sexuality- magic, and Dark Goddess wisdom. This power has been so feared and so rejected in our culture that we have learned to disown it in ourselves and punish it in others.

Rather than see the myth of Medusa as another story of female disempowerment and victimisation, I see Medusa as a shamanic guide who can lead us to the places where we have blocked Dark Goddess power in ourselves. One way to do this is to acknowledge the mask of bitterness we wear, and the situations where we can petrify others and ourselves in our stony rigidity and insecurity.

However, this tale comes with a huge caution- these mysteries must be approached carefully and with great respect, and at the right time. Like a kundalini awakening the serpent power must not be unleashed prematurely or in ways that are dangerous, for then it can kill.

The clue to approaching the feminine mysteries lies in the fact that Perseus, or anyone else for that matter, cannot look directly at Medusa. With a lot of help from the gods in the form of magical tools, and by only looking upon the reflection of medusa rather than her actual person, is Perseus able to slay her.

This tells us that the feminine mysteries cannot be approached in a rational way, and that we must seek the help of the gods to contact the divine. That is why we need ritual, ceremony, initiation, rites of passage and prayer, and return to our bio-mystical rites.

It is said that at one time Athena and Medusa, along with the sea goddess Metis were all part of the tripe goddess archetype- from Athena we receive wisdom, intellect, valour and courage, from Metis intuition and creative expression, and from Medusa sexual power, magic and psychic abilities. Before patriarchal consciousness separated these aspects of femininity, this trilogy of power and attributes was the bedrock of the feminine wisdom and essence.

If you would like to work with Medusa and begin to see behind the mask in your own life, looking at the placement of asteroid Medusa in your chart can point to the area of your life and rulership under whose power Medusa operates.

Contact me if you would like a consultation.

Shamanic Mask Work for Personal Liberation.

Using masks as a shamanic practice is deeply powerful and healing. In last night’s Sun & Moon lodge, wearing a mask gave me permission to be more theatrical, more confident, and removed from my usual persona so that I was able to open and channel an energy that is both me and at the same time is the point where I meet the gods. Mask wearing as a shamanic practice grants us access into the transpersonal realms where we are liberated from the burden of our conditioning.

In shamanic mask work the ego is silenced, our normal persona falls away and something else comes in- latent parts of ourselves, shadow parts, gifts, sacred insights… we become a transmission for something much larger than our ego identified self and beliefs about who we and others think we are.

Wearing a mask also has a strong effect on those around us… their preconceptions of us drop away, they can no longer hold onto who they think we are- which in turn challenges them to also redefine who they are. They are brought in that moment into a new space of knowing nothing about us or who we might become. And they are not sure who they will become in this new dynamic.

Last night we worked with the mask of Medusa which as a symbol is more than the myth of the terrifying gorgon abandoned in the cave at the edge of the western world. The mask of Medusa was donned by priestesses who worked with dark moon magic and wished to keep their workings secret from the uninitiated. The serpent headed crowns and monstrous masks were an emblem of the serpent rites and mysteries.

When considering the mask in a modern context and working with it for collective and psychological healing, it is interesting to consider the many masks we wear in our lives and the expectations that we fulfil for others. By refusing to accept the masks, by refusing to wear them, and instead explore hidden parts of ourselves by dropping our persona and stepping into something new is so liberating!

In ‘Mysteries of the Dark Moon’, Demetra George says that in order to transform the mask, we must recognise and acknowledge the wrathful face that we present to others. In working with Medusa, we must recall her from her banishment and reclaim the serpent headed Queen by honouring the dark moon wisdom that arises from our sexuality. Medusa is the source of our deep, regenerative healing power. The menstrual blood of the Serpent Goddess that could heal or kill, and even raise the dead is reflected in the twin serpents of Life and Death twinning about the winged staff of the caduceus- today the emblem of the medical profession.

Finding the point where asteroid Medusa is placed in our natal birth chart offers clues to understanding how this power may be activated in our lives and the ways in which we wear masks to deny and supress this power in ourselves, or project it on to others.

Please contact me if you would like an astro-shamanic consultation.

Samhain and the Stars of Secret Knowledge

Image by Annelie Solis

October is a time when the veils between the worlds are thinnest, gifting us an opportunity to merge the world of matter and spirit, life and death. At the threshold of Samhain, we may transition more easily beyond the usual restrictions of duality.

For the ancient Celts, Samhain marked the end of the old year and the beginning of the new year, holding for a moment the past and present in one eternal continuum.

It is traditionally a time to honour our ancestors, the ones who walked before us, and all our relations in the cycle of life. As embodied expressions of our lineage, we walk with, and sow the seeds of their consciousness.

This year, the October new moon happens on 28th, 3 days before Samhain. This adds double availability in accessing liminal states as dark of the moon is also a time when the veils are thin… a time when the workings of the goddess are being woven within the mystery of Her darkness. At the balsamic moon, in the void of creation, the old is being released, returned to the womb of creation while the new, not yet known, is being dreamed, or birthed, into being.

At this time we also have an opportunity to release that which has served its purpose and dream ourselves into being.

At the end of October, we stand before the threshold of the old and the new not just as a spiritual ideal but also as a natural phenomenon. All around nature is retreating into herself, into her centre, deep within the earth, releasing the harvest of the old year, composting the energy in order to fertilize the seeds of the new… seeds that are not yet realised on the physical level for they are transiting from the world of spirit to the world of matter.

And this is the secret of Samhain.

What is it that we need to compost from our past to fertilise our future? As a sacred substance compost cannot just be disregarded, forgotten or disposed of in a vacuum, for it contains the essence and power of all that has gone before. This is our lessons learned, our wisdom gained, and our evolving consciousness.

We cannot forget our ancestors; they have learned much and have much to teach us. They have a seed intention and in spite of the wounds that may have afflicted them, the essence of that intention wants to be realised.

The process of transformation is not only witnessed in the world of matter it is also reflected in the dance of the cosmos in the stars… ‘As above so below’.

On October 27th, just before Samhain the fixed star Symra joins the Sun at 4 degrees of Scorpio, one day before the sun/moon conjunction of the new moon on the 28th. Three days later, and one day before Samhain, fixed star Khambalia joins the Sun.

Both stars are within the constellation of Virgo, the Virgin, whose esoteric knowledge has to do with the mysterious secrets of life-death, and renewal, and spirit in matter.

The configuration of Symra and Khambalia conjunct the sun and moon just before the threshold of Samhain reflects the occult workings that take place behind the scenes- ‘beneath the skirts of the virgin’, or the mysterious processes of nature that the alchemists have long attempted to know and master.

Symra, which means the ‘train of the skirt of the goddess’ relates to the 3rd tarot, the Empress who is the gateway to source, and keeper of a secret knowledge, available to us if we know how to access it.

Other archetypes that hold the key to this wisdom are the Virgin Mary, Inanna, Ishtar, Demeter, Persephone, Kali/Shakti and Gaia.

While Symra is located at the left shine of the Virgo constellation, Khambalia is located on the left foot and is an old Coptic word meaning ‘crooked claw’.

Khambalia has connections with the swastika, which far from the corrupted meaning imposed upon it by the Third Reich, is in truth an ancient symbol of life, power and the sun. It is a visual depiction of the harmony and equilibrium of the changing seasons and the innate wisdom of nature.

The word ‘Shambala’ has a similar root to Khambalia, as has the pentagram and the Arabic word for five, ‘Khamsa’. For the ancient Arabs these were the most auspicious of stars.

The pentagram has associations with Venus and again points to the mysteries of merging spirit and matter. It is no coincidence that ‘crossing into the dark’ time of year is presided over by the goddess, the crone and her feminine mysteries of renewal. This myth is an analogy of the cycle of Venus in the sky from Morning Star to Evening Star.

The solar gods having expressed their energy and brought forth the harvest, like Dumuzi, now descend into the underworld for 6 months of the year where he will be transformed ready to take up his sovereignty again with the return of the light.

While the Empress wears a starry crown her throne is placed firmly in the material world- in a field of corn. Traditionally associated with matter, the Empress has dominion over all growing things. Manifesting spirit in the material world is the deep mystery known to the Empress, Virgo, the Virgin Mary, and many of the feminine archetypes who operate in the occult knowledge of renewal.

The birth of Christ, birthing Christ consciousness are the processes that happen in the mystery of the goddess. It is She who births solar consciousness by an occult process that is beyond the bounds of rationality. It is magic.

Women have the capacity to experience something of this wisdom every lunar cycle in the process of menstruation.

As women we can connect to this wisdom through our womb, the alembic from which we create our lives, and affect the lives of those around us, and in the world. The womb is the living chalice that when cleared and opened has the potential to connect us with the  divine and empower us to be creators and leaders of our world.

If we are cut off from our womb – the seat of our power- the portal, or doorway, to source is blocked and our ability to create and manifest is lost or weakened.

Samhain, the teachings of the dark moon, the secret wisdom of the goddess, the bio-mystical experience of menstruation and birthing, and the womb as cosmic portal between spirit and matter are the teaching that are open us- as men and women- as we enter into the dark of the year.

The teachings are below our feet in the earth and above our heads in the stars, and we, conduits of spirit and matter are creators far beyond what many of us have been led to believe.

We are part of the same cycle of renewal and in this process we have potential to grow and evolve, carrying the most sacred seed of our ancestors forward so that it flowers and blooms in us.

Samhain teaches us that while everything changes, everything is circulated in the great cosmic womb, returned to the earth as primordial matter and recycled as energy to rebirth the new. By honouring and accepting the past, and by understanding that it is all part of one eternal continuum, we too free ourselves to be renewed in the cycle of life.

October Full Moon: The Mother’s Body

Sacred-Relationship Inner Ecology

As the moon reaches her fullness at 20° Aries, somewhere in the region of 30 000 people are actively protesting what many feel is our extinction crisis.

Extinction rebellion, or XR as it is known is a socio-political movement actively engaged in civil disobedience, and non- violent disruption to confront the potential, if not likely, social and ecological collapse.

An article in last Thursday’s Guardian revealed the 20 firms behind a third of all global carbon emissions. Not surprisingly they were oil, petroleum, gas, energy and other mining companies. Some were listed as ‘state owned’, while most are shareholder owned with CEOs reaping yearly salaries in the region of $20 million plus.

Mining deep into the earth’s body the mantra of corporate growth is “more” and, not content with trawling the depths of her flesh we have created ever more sophisticated technologies to suck the marrow from her bones.

And what is it for? A breakdown of world spending reveals total military expenditure by all 29 NATO members was $963 billion in 2018, accounting for 53 percent of world spending, while the global market for pharmaceuticals reached $1.2 trillion in 2018. These figures were taken from a quick google search and may not be entirely accurate, however it is clear that many of the earth resources are fueling these giants.

In the full moon chart, the sun- what is conscious- is at 20° Libra. The sabian symbol for this degree is:

“A revivifying contact with the Mother-force of nature and of social togetherness”

It continues:

“It is very good and healthful to become revitalized by collective experiences and deep feelings of undifferentiated unity as they merge in the vast refreshment of the planetary “Mother” where “she” is most dynamic, unlimited and unconfined by boundaries.”

This is the deep longing of the soul, to merge with the Mother, and yet, in the age of shareholder led corporatocracy, military-pharma-culture, and the unlimited harvesting of the earth’s resources where do we witness the “Mother” in her unlimited and unconfined boundaries?

It seems that every part of her body is cut up, fenced off, mined, or built upon.

As the hermetic principle states: “As within, so without; as without, so within”. We might ask ourselves where can we witness the Mother in ourselves? Where can we merge with the vast refreshment of our inner planet? And are not the two inextricably linked so as to be one in the same?

With asteroid Bacchus exactly conjunct the Sun, we may find illuminated pathways to the wild places within ourselves.

A T-square with Pluto at 20° Capricorn, moon at 20° Aries, and sun at 20° Libra- points to the great transformation underway reflected in the Saturn/Pluto conjunction culminating in January 2020.

Pluto, the great revealer has left his calling card, Saturn lord of karma, time and structure is ready to do his books- the collective checks and balances, and an appraisal of how on or off track we are for the next step of our evolution.

It might be said that the Pluto Saturn conjunction is a collective Saturn return.

Pluto associated with the resources and riches of the earth, squaring the sun and moon reveals a truth about both our conscious reality- the story we tell ourselves- and the unseen workings of the situation.

Asteroid Gaea in a trine with expansive Jupiter and the full moon illuminates the bigger picture coming into focus, binging us a step closer to genuine insight beyond the polarisation and splintering of surface level distraction, inward to the divine cells of our body and the wise guidance of the heart.

‘As Above So Below’- October 2019 News.

artwork by Jarah Tree
artwork by Jarah Tree

“That which is above is like to that which is below, and that which is below is like to that which is above, to accomplish the miracles of the one thing.”

-Hermes Trismegistus

Wheel of the Year Celebrations and Gatherings

Red Spiral offers Wheel of the Year ceremonies 8 times a year to celebrate the ‘sabbats’- the 4 cross quarter days, the 2 solstices, and the 2 equinoxes.

The next community celebration is on Thursday 31st October from 7-9 PM in Concorde House to celebrate Samhain. In the Celtic calendar Samhain marks both the end and the beginning of the yearly cycle. It is the Celtic new year marking a time when all of nature is withdrawing inside itself to release the old and prepare for the new.

It is a time to honour our ancestors as we pay homage to those who walked before us, giving thanks for their lives and remembering them in their death. The veils between the world of matter and the world of spirit is now at its thinnest, offering connection with realms beyond the everyday world, dreaming the future into being and letting go of attachments to the past.

Wheel of the Year festivals are an opportunity to mark points of transition within the sacred circle of our community and the natural world. It is an invitation to be witnessed… to voice your gratitude, hopes, and intentions in a ceremonial space… to let go of the old and invite in the new.

Our ancestors and many indigenous people across the world possessed a greater awareness of the need to mark the passing the time and the cycles of nature. In this way they were embedded into a matrix of a cosmic consciousness, in the knowledge they were part of something bigger than the personal dramas and minutiae of everyday life.

The sense of interconnectedness to an infinite creative intelligence allowed for the possibility of renewal, rites of passage, growth, and development through the natural phases of life. To belong to something larger than oneself offered power and life force through recognizing oneself as an expression of spirit in material form.

Transpersonal psychology and ideas may go some way in exploring and describing the potential for expanded awareness, however there is something magical in experiencing rituals and ceremonies that embody and express divine energies.

In times such as ours when more and more of our energy is spent in virtual worlds, disconnected form the cycles of the moon, the movements of the planets, and the natural rhythms of harvest, life and decay, it is important to pause, reflect and connect with the wider expressions of life and death.

Sun & Moon Lodge-

October also see the birth of a new monthly venture taking place on the on the full moon- the ‘Sun & Moon Lodge’ is a mixed circle that incorporates shamanism, astrology, mythology, and story- telling. The first one happens on Friday 11th October in Canterbury and will be hosted by Karen and Simão Cortes – astrologer, mythologist, and facilitator of astrodrama circles.

The theme of the first circle is Dionysus/Bacchus and the wild gods as on that evening the Sun is conjunct asteroid Bacchus. In ancient Greece, the two main mystery traditions were the Eleusinian mysteries – enacting the descent and return of Persephone – and the Dionysian Mysteries, to remove inhibitions and social constraints, liberating the individual to return to a natural state.

Women’s Moon Lodge-

Continues to meet every new moon and is facilitated by Karen for an exploration of how working with the lunar cycles, archetypes, mythology and shamanism can facilitate greater depth of awareness and connection to our feminine inner wisdom and authority.

Moon Lodge is an opportunity to deeply honor ourselves as we take our place in the community of women to be witnessed, supported and inspired, and to offer our presence as our unique gift to the circle.

This is the way Red Spiral works… an endless weaving of the material, emotional, spiritual, mental and cosmic realms to bridge spirit and matter, or heaven and earth if you like.

It is embodied practice and awareness of the interconnectedness of all things, and upholds the hermetic aphorism-

 “As within so without, as above, so below”.

 

Why We Need Ritual

Ritual

We are the stars which sing
We sing with our light
We are the birds of fire
We fly over the sky
Our light is a voice
We make a road for the spirit to pass over

                                                                                                    Dead Can Dance- Song of the Stars

In the modern West the split between culture, nature, and spirituality is a worthy topic in addressing the issues we are currently facing. The pervasive lack of integral spirituality and ritualistic context continues to create a vacuum in our human experiences both individually and communally.

Transitions events of life, and rites of passage are left unmarked and unwitnessed often creating problems ranging for mild anxiety to psychosis. In tribal and many non-Western cultures, rites of passage and initiation provides the crucible for transformation. In our non- ritualized and spiritually void modern culture, behaviors that are not easily accommodated within the socially acceptable are feared, rejected or pathologized.

Mental health diagnosis rises as does suicide rates, and yet conditions and experiences that would be recognized in many non-Western or tribal contexts as call to initiation, or an attempt to restructure the ego, are medicated and stigmatized. This leads to social and spiritual isolation- or what we have come to refer to as ‘the dark night of the soul’.

Araya-Cassildas-Song
Painting by Araya-Cassildas

Initiation and ritual provide a container for transition, that is, moving from one state to another and that crossing being acknowledged and accepted within the community. A three-fold process of separation from daily life, transition and transformation experienced through a death of the old, and reintegration back into the community with a new identity is the basic format of initiation.

The Latin term ‘transitio’ means the act of going across; the most common rite of passage is that of child to man or woman and is marked in puberty rites in many indigenous communities. The importance of this transition is crucial for the well-being of the community… on return from the death/rebirth journey, the young man or woman is expected to take responsibility for their role in the cohesion and harmony of the tribe. In Western society, the lack of puberty rites herald two things

1.Children will self-initiate to be accepted as an adult. They will do this by any number of damaging and dangerous behaviors which will not elicit the desired response and in fact will inspire the opposite response.

2.Individuals will continue to exist in a child state into adulthood never taking full responsibility for themselves or contributing to their society in meaningful ways.

Acting out behaviors, addictions, promiscuity, self- harm and other symptoms of destruction to self and others are labelled mental illness. In the history of psychopathology women outnumber men 3.1, while the risk of suicide is more prevalent in men by about the same odds.

In many tribal cultures, confrontation with death, either real or symbolic, is a prerequisite of transformation. Alternatively, Western consciousness is death denying and any attempt to approach death willingly is indicative of mental illness. Modern near-death experiences from addiction, dangerous behavior or self mutilation are viewed as a cry for help, however on another level it could be viewed as the soul’s need for wholeness through dissolution and restructuring of the ego. If handled with insight, awareness and compassion, these experiences could provide the possibility of growth and integration. These insights have been well explored in the work of Stanislav and Christina Groff who espoused the need for a transpersonal psychology that recognizes the manifestations of what they call ‘spiritual emergence’.

In a culture that lacks awareness of these transpersonal states, it is more likely that what occurs is ‘spiritual emergency’ as the troubled soul attempts to make a meaningful spiritual connection that appears to be pathology.

Ritual, myth and initiation could be the missing link in providing a bridge to not only the spiritual world, but to our communities, and the earth which in the end, it may be argued, there is no real difference. The existentialist psychologist Rollo Reese May believes that suicide attempts and personality disorders are caused by the lack of meaningful and sacred myths: “Without myths he says, we are without soul.”

Western culture places little or no value on transpersonal and transformative experiences and therefore cannot hold them. Instead what is valued in Western culture is a matrix of economic wealth, civilized and non-troublesome behavior, and a general acceptance of the contemporary features such as technology, medication and consumerism, leading to a well controlled but fragmented society.

aboriginal-passage
Clip from the 1971 film Walkabout

Rites of passage is not just about a transcendent experience with a spiritual intelligence, it is also about communing with others and feeling a sense of belonging in one’s community. During rites of passage, an existential state with the sacred is shared with others who also recognize this state and/ or participate in the experience. This ‘communitas’ is undefined and unstructured existing beyond all hierarchies and categories (See Turner, 1966). A common humanity exists within the group and the desire to merge is acknowledged and accepted. The group dynamic is a cohesive whole where each one is united with his or her community and is imbued with a profound sense of belonging and acceptance- very different to the sense of alienation and isolation that many people face during times of transition in the modern West.

Given that it is predominantly women who are diagnosed as suffering from personality disorders, and that very often a signature of that disorder is co- dependency, or emotional dependency, this raises further questions about spiritual availability for young girls in our culture. The Christian-Judeo paradigm of religion in is itself invalidating of the feminine. We have the father and the son but no feminine in the holy trinity; the story the feminine is divided, and until the assumption of Mary in 1950, the feminine was not divinely assumed into heaven. When divinity is not reflected through a self-referential image, the experience is further invalidating.

I know there is also much to say about the young masculine experience in a culture that does not provide any rites of passage initiation- the consequences of this are all too clear and there is much to be done.

According to Mircea Eliade, reality and identity are established for ‘primitive peoples’ through “participation” and “repetitions” of the mythological paradigms. We know who we are and what our role is through contacting a sacred mythos that places our individual life in a collective sphere and provides a sense of belonging. There is no sacred myth in Western culture save for the crumbling skeleton of the church, no cohesive glue that binds us in a shared humanity. A corporate global consciousness married to an increasingly pixilated technological culture separates us from each other, spiritual connection, earth connection and ourselves. In this we become soulless. Malidoma Patrice Some, a West African writer and spiritual workshop leader says,

“We need ritual because it is an expression of the fact that we recognize the difficulty in creating a different and special kind of community. A community that doesn’t have a ritual cannot exist. A corporate community is not a community, it is a conglomeration of individuals in service of an insatiable soulless entity.”

Through stories, myths, ritual, and the sacred we bring meaning to our existence and to the world, we breathe life back into the world soul and allow the possibility for a broader spectrum of experience, a more integrated, creative weaving of self, earth and spirit and all the possibilities that holds. The Freudian model of ego, id, and superego, and the primacy of Western psychology that was born of that is but a pale imitation of the beautiful mystery of the soul.

I love this song by Dead Can Dance- Song of The Stars, it communicates so much about our sacred nature.

Dead Can Dance- Song of the Stars

The ritual landscape, the faery realm, and the Grail

The Mists of Avalon
Glastonbury Tor, Saint Michael’s Tower.  Author’s own photograph ©

The mystic and theosophist, Rudolf Steiner says, “We can see the Grail as the knowledge awaiting us if we can raise ourselves to it by working upon ourselves”. This is no light feat; the journey itself reflects the pleasures and the pain of the soul coming home to itself. The Grail in this context is not a material object, neither is it the same objective experience for everybody, it is the gift we receive when we walk our own unique soul path facing all the inherent dangers and perils along the way.  As Jung states, “Individuation comes one person at a time, not to the collective, for only in the individual are opposites reconciled and united.”

What is this journey to Self becoming and who or what are our allies along the way? Well, I may as well be up front here… I don’t think many answers are to be found within traditional psychotherapeutic models, or in psychopharmacology, as neither acknowledge the inherent spiritual possibilities contained within psychic disruption. Exceptions to this are Stanislav Groff, the Czech psychiatrist whose pioneering work in transpersonal psychology re-framed psychological disturbance as spiritual emergence. An alternative and far more holistic view can also be seen in the work of R.D. Laing, and the anti-psychiatry movement.

When it comes to questing for one’s personal Grail, what is required is a deep spiritual therapy, or even a radical spiritual therapy to mend our damaged bodies and souls. Inner journeys of this kind do not follow a rational linear structure, they spiral on a loop, sometimes the same experience is revisited many times in different ways, and sometimes the gap between the insights are wide and lonely. It is like joining dots in some great stellar configuration, time and space collapse blurring the boundary between past and present, inner and outer.

The Grail as a symbol of individuation is a subject that is explored in Steiner’s The Mysteries of the Holy Grail. It is also to be found in Marie Louise von Franz and Emma Jung’s, The Grail Legend (yes, Jung had a very wise wife!)

The Damsel of the Holy Grai bly Dante Gabriel Rossetti,
“The Damsel of the Holy Grail” by Dante Gabriel Rossetti,

In this blog I want to talk about how the land itself has a pivotal role in our journey to wholeness. Part of the reason why traditional psychotherapy is not entirely effective is precisely down to its lack of contact with the physical world and even, in may cases the physical body- although the lineage of body psychotherapy from Wilhelm Reich through to Alexander Lowen, and Gerda Boyesen seeks to address this imbalance. In the absence of initiatic knowledge, mystery schools, and proper use of ritual so valued and respected in the ancient world, the modern world is painfully bereft of suitable containers for the processes of inner alchemy. Journeying to the inner planes through the head alone is likely to lead to splits and possible psychosis if we are not rooted in the body, the base chakra and present to the material world. Disembodied, we also deny ourselves the possibility of receiving guidance from the genuis loci, or spirit of the land.

Genius of Place (genius loci) and Lares. Fresco in the lararium of the House of the Vettii in Pompeii. 60—79 CE. Pompeii, House of the Vettii.
Genius of Place (genius loci) and Lares. Fresco in the lararium of the House of the Vettii in Pompeii. 60—79 CE. Pompeii, House of the Vettii.

In psychological terms, it is often the case that people become over identified with the archetypal realms, fixating their identity around a particular story, symbol or archetype. In Shamanic speak this may be described as soul loss.

Changeling by Arthur Rackham
Changeling by Arthur Rackham

There is a chance of being drawn into the Other World and getting stuck there. For the Celts, such a state may be understood as having being taken by the faery queen into her magical Queendom where one is held captive for a period of time- usually 7 years. In his poem, The Lost Child, W.B. Yeats illustrates this journey and alludes to the reasons why a person may become vulnerable to such a capturing-

Come away, O human child!To the waters and the wildWith a faery, hand in hand.For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.

‘The Stolen Child’ by W.B. Yeats

A danger is to become susceptible to soul-loss, or being held captive by ego-structures or complexes created by suffering or trauma. An inability to deal with over-whelming eruptions from the psyche often perpetuated by the demands and pain of the world, or else experiences perceived to be caused by external phenomenon, can cause a ‘checking-out’ into the labyrinths of the mind. Going into hiding, taking refuge in the hidden caverns of the unconscious may provide some escapism from the ‘real world’ but there is a price to pay. If presence and consciousness are absent, the person can become a vacuum in which archetypal and daimonic forces use for purposes that care little for the small individual trapped within a mire of chaotic forces. See my blog on ‘the daimon’-

The Daimon

In her adaptation of The Stolen Child, Joan Stockford, shows a way to rescue ‘the stolen child from the realms of faery, it is a journey of reclamation, a brave and courageous feat that involves descending into the dark realms (the unconscious) with presence (consciousness) and determination to take back what was has been lost. It is in a sense a return to innocence as the soul essence is restored and the person is able to receive divine or spiritual intervention.

Adaptation of ‘The Stolen Child’

Glastonbury is considered a place of spiritual pilgrimage where many seekers on the path to healing and wholeness find themselves. Theories abound as to why this little market town in the West country should possess the power to draw and transform people. It is said that Glastonbury, or Avalon is the gateway to the underworld, where Gwyn ap Nudd rules over his dark kingdom. Many writers including R.J. Stewart have written about the initiatic potential of such encounters. This understanding of initiation through the Western Mystery Tradition finds it parallels with Greek and Egyptian knowledge of the conditions necessary for the transforming soul.

Geomancer and local Glastonbury Writer, Nicholas Mann, says,

“Research into the Celtic tradition allowed me to understand the full significance of Avalon as the location in time and space of the portal for soul journeying between the worlds. I understood how this significance accounted for the myths and qualities attributed to the Glastonbury Avalon, and how the awareness of the portal for the soul on its journey between the worlds resonated on long after the Celtic period.”

In Glastonbury as in other ‘vortex’ places, there is a presence, a spiritual quality, or sentience within the land which can be interacted with forming a resonance – a kind of ‘mutual reception’ or ‘participation mystique‘. It can affect healing both for the land and for the participating individual, and for the ancestors.  It is not rational, it is a purely right brain and intuitive experience, or as Steiner describes it-

“The human spirit elevates itself to the tremendous impressions of its outer world and first divines and afterwards recognizes spiritual beings behind these impressions; the human heart develops a sense of the boundless sublimity of the spiritual realm.”

In the Celtic tradition Sovereignty is the archetypal Goddess of the land, she is “not simply the right to rule over a clan or country; sovereignty is a divine power that was granted by the goddess of the land.”  In a hieros gamos between the king and the land, sovereignty ensures that only an eligible king can come to rule.  The scholar R.S. Loomis says the Grail legend has its origins in Celtic mythology where the Goddess of the land, Sovereignty, asks the question, “To whom shall this cup be given?”  This question is the all-important question of the Grail, it alludes to the fact that to be wedded to the land in a sacred marriage, we must know ourselves- our essence. To know ourselves is to have fully accepted and received ourselves. To have made our bodies a suitable home for our spirit facilitated by our unique soul journey.

If as Steiner says, “We can see the Grail as the knowledge awaiting us if we can raise ourselves to it by working on ourselves”, it is not too much of a leap to suggest that the Grail as a quest for individuation is to finally ‘know thyself’. Furthermore, the possibility of fully knowing oneself as a realized individual is a process that not only takes place within the individual psyche but includes the living earth… it is a synthesis that harmonizes the three powers of thinking, feeling and will- closely which are connected with the trinity of spirit, soul, body. For Steiner it is the holy spirit, Sophia, who may guide us on this journey.

Only an eligible king, one who knows the answer to the question, “To whom shall this cup be given?” is worthy of the title of King.  Here, ‘King’ may be read as the individuated, sovereign human who reigns over his or her kingdom (mind), established through a sacred union with the land, the physical body and the world of matter.  It is the seal of a person who has opened an energetic flow between the three realms – body, soul, and spirit.

William Blake The Reunion of the Soul and the Body at the resurrection (1808)
William Blake, “The Reunion of the Soul and the Body at the resurrection” (1808)

Psychedelics for healing trauma

peyote

Recently there has been a lot of discussion on trauma and healing trauma.  Psychiatry, psychology and consciousness studies is expanding its understanding of the psyche as an anomalous structure in which states of awareness in the non-ordinary realms can be made sense of in new ways.  The potential of our human experience has exploded beyond our self-imposed boundaries.   One such area in this field is the use of psychedelics; studies initiated in the modern West since the 1950’s began to explore the expanding perameters of human consciousness to include non-ordinary states of reality as valuable insightful, and healing.

Studies of the brain, particularly the limbic system, show how trauma is not only a mental experience but is also a somatic one and that unhealed trauma continues to have serious effects in the lives and experiences of human beings, potentially lasting the whole life-cycle and causing premature death.   Trauma is not a singular experience, it seems to encompass many states of awareness through different realms previously misunderstood or known only in special contexts such as religious or shamanic, pre-rational awareness.  The worlds are merging and to an extent this is an uncomfortable interface for traditional science which separates spirit and matter, mind and body.

In the 1960’s the anti-psychiatry movement challenged the assumption that mental illness was caused by a blip in the brain of the individual.  Many barbarous procedures were carried out to ‘fix’ the problem: over medication with complex pharmaceutical drugs continues to be the method of choice for consciousness suppression. Continuing to the present day, the solution peddled by allopathic medicine is to first classify and then medicate the faulty brain to bring the individual to ‘normality’, or at least under control and limit disruption to the social order.

Psychiatrists such as R.D. Laing began to explore the deeper meaning behind an individual’s ‘abnormal’ behaviour, suggesting that perhaps it was not so abnormal after all and in fact made perfect sense within the environmental context of the suffering individual.  Naturally this exploration began to look at structures such as the social collective to which the individual belonged, beginning with the family.  Families however belong to cultures and cultures belong to human systems.  This line of enquiry therefore was in danger of questioning the fabric of our social order, or system, and although the movement was limited in scientific acceptance, its essence continued through the work of pioneers in consciousness such as Stanislav Groff.

It seems the issue is hot once more- why is it that certain individuals display anomalous behaviour in an otherwise well adjusted society?  Could it be that what they experience is a normal process of being human and that what has been deemed abnormal or pathological is in fact symptomatic of the damaged soul getting well? And could it be that society is not that well-adjusted after-all? More, perhaps the ‘mad’ person is delivering an important message pointing towards cultural transformation and spiritual wellness? Madness may be the barometer of how out of balance we have become.  There are only so many labels, so many drugs and so much finger-pointing that we can hide behind.

In the last two decades ‘plant spirit medicine’ has exploded into our cultural experience and many individuals, including those usually thought of as belonging to main stream society, have begun to explore the unchartered aspects of their psyche by working with psychoactives.  Historically the prerogative of the pioneering psychonauts of the 60’s and 70’s, psychedelic exploration is finding its way into mass culture and psychotherapy.  Take for example the Multi-Disciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies based in California, MAPS is a ‘non-profit research and educational organization developing medical, legal and cultural contexts for people to benefit from the careful use of psychedelics and marijuana’ (MAPS web-site).  Indeed, there is a new breed of therapists who are placing the psychedelic experience at the heart of the healing experience. The intention of MAPS is for the exploration of consciousness towards individual healing within a safe and controlled environment. Still, many seekers are opting for a more ‘free-range’ experience and are making pilgrimages to countries where plant spirit medicines are an acceptable and sacred part of the culture.

In such an uncontained context so much can and does appear to go wrong, although perhaps the ‘wrongness’ may be viewed as part of the healing…  out there on the fringes there are few blue-prints to work from.  That may be because each individual psyche has its own path to walk, and although the ‘medicine’ opens the individual to deeper insights and awareness concerning his or her unconscious material, ultimately redemption and ‘individuation’ as Carl Jung calls it is very much an individual experience, a path no one can walk for us.

Perhaps there could be an element of risk management and MAPS may have the right idea in trying to contain the experience within a controlled environment. It could be argued however that journeys of the soul cannot be regulated in this way and that part of the process of self-mastery is precisely through surviving the under-world.  That said, I do feel that Shamans, ‘ayahuasqueros’ and medicine men and women from the global south may not have an inherent understanding of the types of splits ingrained within the cultural psyche of the global north – a culture which may be said to be suffering from ‘institutionalised trauma’.  It may be argued that societies belonging to an advanced capitalist paradigm are in fact structured through and maintained by perpetuating trauma and fragmentation.

An important question then appears to centre around the question of integration.  Once a person has seen into and felt into the shadow of their own, and possibly collective soul, how does he or she integrate that insight within a culture which by and large continues to perpetuate the dynamics which cause the fragmentation in the first place?  Once the sickness has been seen and felt, it does not automatically heal, seeing it is only the beginning albeit a crucial stage- feeling is also crucial.  It seems that what we need are facilitator and therapists who, from personal experience and having walked the path themselves, are able to stay present with a person through the various stages of moving from unconsciousness to consciousness, integrating a new way of being.  Birthing a new consciousness does not happen in isolation but neither can it happen in a new wing of an old paradigm.  What we are being called to is a radical transformation that involves everybody.

To what extent can plant medicines initiate change on a somatic, cellular level?  Integration must surely involve the whole person, mind-body-spirit.  Sadly, there are those who fall down the rabbit hole and struggle to come back.  There is also the danger of re-traumatisation.  Cutting edge neuroscience is showing that the way to heal trauma and PTSD is to re-experience the trauma in a safe environment, this resets the wiring of the brain.  Studies show that due to brain neuroplasticity we can literally re-wire our brains and create new neural pathways but to do so we must stay present to our experience even within the overwhelm of triggering.  In this light, we need a new class of therapists, less directive authority and more shamanic guide. Ultimately, I feel it takes someone who has been ‘there’ and understands the cultural context in which the trauma was initiated, or perhaps this is not necessary for the actual healing of the spirit but is, I feel, for the re-integration of unconscious material and learning new ways of being within one’s cultural environment.

This presents the question – in a culture where the indigenous medicine people and healers were systematically persecuted, how do we re-engage with our own cultural wisdom?  It could be by awakening our indigenous heart through experiencing other cultures for whom the healing traditions and the voice of the ancestors can still be heard.