Friday, August 10, 2012
Understanding Archetypal Patterns
Wisdom’s Call: Understanding The Archetypal Patterns
The Arab word al-kimia means the art of transformation. Alchemy, besides being a forerunner of the science of chemistry, was also a spiritual undertaking in which the alchemists were trying to produce the Philosopher's Stone. This mystical substance was believed to be an essential ingredient for turning common metals into gold, as well as being the foundation for an elixir of life which would cure any disease as well as prolong life. As a spiritual discipline, alchemy was the art of transforming human consciousness. The Philosopher's Stone symbolized the key to the evolution of human consciousness from an imperfect, diseased, corruptible and ephemeral state towards a perfect, healthy, incorruptible and everlasting state. For the alchemist, the Stone symbolized his evolution from ignorance to enlightenment, as well as the hidden spiritual truth that leads to that goal.
Jung felt that alchemy was an historical forerunner of his own psychology of the unconscious, whose goal is also the transformation of consciousness. The alchemical images are very similar to those images which appear in modern dreams that depict the production of a new center of personality in an individual.11 Jung calls this new center the Self, which results from the process of Individuation. The alchemists, like Jung, explored the realm of the psyche, trying to understand its processes through symbolic imagery. One of their most important tasks was to liberate (or discover in themselves) the Spirit in nature. Paracelsus, a famous medieval doctor and alchemist, states that the lumen naturae, which is the 'light in nature' comes from the astrum, the star in each individual. This star is innate in us, for it comes from God; in fact, it is the part of God within each of us. And it is through this light that we can come to knowledge, for it drives us on to seek out the mysteries and wisdom of the Divine.12 This divine image within each person corresponds to the archetype of the Self.
The Self is the energetic center of psychic life, the archetype of wholeness which contains all other archetypes within it. Disconnected as we are from our essential nature, we find our wholeness through these other archetypes. The archetypes configure our experiences of life – friendship, parents, siblings, schooling, love, marriage, work, creativity, initiation, death, sacrifice, transformation. They hold the patterns of relationship and while they are eternal principles, they manifest differently in each age. They are in the process of changing, for at least cosmically, we are coming to the changing of the Great Ages.
The archetypes operate within us unconsciously, energizing and informing our lives for good or ill. But we can become conscious of how they operate in our lives and actually work with them to co-create a new life. They speak to us in the symbolic language of our imagination, our visions, our dreams and more generally in our myths and stories. That’s why it’s so important to understand what stories you tell yourself. The old story is a small one – the story of how we fit into the patriarchy. Our work, our hopes, our talents – all in the service of patriarchy. But when we go in search of our soul, we need these Big Stories to reflect on. Once we see our lives in terms of these mythic stories and deep symbols, patriarchy loses our allegiance When we work consciously with these energies, we step outside the ego delusions of what we believe we want and get in touch with the reality of the Self. When we align our ego with the Self, we open ourselves to our true desires, discover our wholeness, and understand our life purpose. It is easy to see the correspondence between the different archetypes and the many stars in the heavens, for each archetype holds out a bit of light and knowledge, each exerts an influence by its luminosity and numinosity.13
When we discussed lunar consciousness in an earlier chapter, I mentioned that at the new moon, the lunar light shines out into the universe, and that this is a time in which the movement of psychic energy flows deep within. At this time in the monthly cycle, lunar consciousness looks at the stars within, just as the moonlight shines out toward the starry universe. We make contact with the archetypal images through lunar consciousness; when we look within we can bring back these images into our daily lives.
The alchemists had a similar view of the Moon's function. They believed the Moon, which they called Luna, is the sum and essence of the nature of the six major metals – silver, mercury, copper, iron, tin and lead - which correspond to the five planets known in the ancient world - Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn - plus the Moon itself. Luna is called the "universal receptacle of all things" and "the first gateway of heaven. She gathers the powers of all the stars in herself as in a womb, so as to bestow them on sublunary creatures.”14
The stars' energies are focused through this Moon funnel, just as the archetypes can only be known through the archetypal images of lunar consciousness, which come to us in dreams and are the stuff of stories. In astrology, the Moon represents our personality, the unconscious needs that give us security and comfort. The planets are the archetypal energies common to all of us, and it is through the movement of the Moon through the sky and through our charts which touch off these complexes. If we understand how we are affected by these complexes, we can make them conscious. Our rational consciousness cannot go right to this source of Wisdom - it must be mediated through the imagination. Even scientists like Descartes, Einstein, Niels Bohr and Elias Howe, the inventor of the sewing machine, were among the many creative people who got their initial idea from a dream image.15 We behold this truth in the sky, for we cannot see the stars in the light of day. They are only visible when the light in the sky is the Moon, not the Sun.
Our ancestors saw in the movements of the planets and the stars an image of the power of the Spirit. The sky meant something to them, for it symbolized the principles that they felt ordered their lives and also the force behind those principles. They knew there was power in the sky and, just as the tides where pulled by the changing Moon, they found that the seasons came and went with the changes of the Sun and stars.16 (I don't need to remind you that the sun is our own individual star.) In predicting this orderly process, early humanity came to feel that their fate was also guided by a divine order. The mysterious night sky, with its billions of sparkling lights and the great soft light of the Moon, symbolizes the collective unconscious of humanity, a guide to Spirit and to the greater purposes of life.