Bearing

The bear can be seen as the spirit of the wild. Because it cares for its young in almost human fashion, the bear was a much loved symbol of the Great Mother as the Self, from around 50 000 BC. ‘To bear’ is to carry, to give birth; awakening from hibernation is to be reborn. (1)

Jason of the Golden Fleece, early alchemist, was baffled by a task set him and his men by Poseidon’s wife: when she had unyoked the horses from Poseidon’s chariot, they were to ‘recompense our mother amply for what she had suffered all the long time she bore us in her womb.’ Then, a great horse came bounding out of the sea, a monstrous animal, with its golden mane waving in the air. It shook itself, tossing off the spray in showers, and galloped away. 

They realized that Poseidon’s wife had unyoked the sea-horses; now, the task of the Argonauts was to take up the load: ‘Argo [their ship] carried us in her womb; we have often heard her groaning in her pain. Now, we will carry her. We will hoist her on our shoulders,’ carrying her through the desert, bearing, following the trail of the horse, who would surely lead them on.

The mythical hippocampoi were sea-horses, horses with fishtails, chained at the bottom of the sea, forced into service by Poseidon. When freed, they became horses. (2; 3)

If psychic pain is too much to bear, vital energy remains trapped, acted out as compulsive riding of Poseidon’s wave. The hippocampus in the brain functions as the master puzzle builder, integrating long-term autobiographical memory (4). By engaging with the complex in a therapeutic relationship, by bearing the process, the discomfort and pain, a fundamental shift may eventually occur, freeing up trapped energy, inspiring and strengthening the weak ego.

Initially, the Argonauts had been carried by the potentially transformative, mother-ship container. (5) As the Self, She ‘bears’ and ‘births’ us, and them, through the process of becoming, individuation. In turn, we have to bear and suffer Her so as ‘to recompense [the Self] amply,’ fulfilling our role in evolution.

Photo credit: Dea Artio with her bear counterpart, Switzerland, 2nd Century BC (B. Johnson, 1994 p.345)

REFERENCES

  • 1. Buffie Johnson, Lady of the Beasts, 1994 p.338
  • 2. Wikipedia, Argonautica, written by Apollonius Rhodius, 3rd century BC
  • 3. Theoi Greek Mythology:  www.theoi.com
  • 4. Daniel Siegel, The Healing Power of Emotion, 2009 p.168
  • 5. Erich Neumann, The Great Mother, 1963 p.45

Trickster creates

Feeling distressed, we might engage with a creative medium within a contained space and be surprised to discover the reality of the living psyche, of unfamiliar content in the new creation, a message ‘from the deep.’ If we create the right circumstances, the inner child will come.

A traumatized child has difficulty in relaxing and playing. A playful approach to life’s difficulties allows one to play around with possibilities in difficult times, to adapt.

“Trickster makes this world,” he creates. (Lewis Hyde, 1998) Trickster sits on the ‘border;’ he ‘opens or closes’ the connecting door between our inner and outer worlds. He re-members or dis-members, symbolizes or dissociates us. (Kalsched, 1997, 197)

A symbol is an image of psychic energy, a complex fact, not fully understood by consciousness; it portrays “an objective visible meaning, behind which an invisible profounder meaning is hidden.” (Jacoby, 1957, 77) It contains conscious aspects as well as content from the unconscious. From a conscious point of view, it often appears as a paradox.

Jung described the Transcendent Function of the psyche like this: the conscious personality is goal-directed and has to adapt to the outer world; this is what it has to do. But this is often not beneficial to the whole or complete personality. Because it is mostly unconscious, it is not possible for the conscious personality to have this perspective. The self, the totality, then tries to restore the balance by way of the symbol, e.g. through a slip of the tongue, a dream image, or in symbolical creative work.

In symbolical creative work one may find a window on the unfolding, lifelong process of becoming. When relating to it, inviting it into one’s real lived life, it nourishes immature wounded aspects of the personality, in turn supporting the process of individuation, of growing towards greater maturity.

Water

We associate our emotional life with water. Without our world of emotions, we are stranded in a dry blazing desert, the world of one-sided mind. Logical thinking has its place but is often over emphasized in modern culture. Water flows together: our emotional life unites things. When cleansed, it is nourishing. Without water, no life is possible.

Water is able to flow around an obstruction and flow on. It fills up the empty space and takes on its shape: it adapts. Water reflects light. When we are able to relate to our emotional life, we are better able to reflect upon ourselves and our lives. Mourning forms a central aspect of the process of self-acceptance. Grief allows the old life to become compost for the new.

Water is the solvent: old structures, depleted of their content, may be dissolved in water. After a period of drought, rain brings a feeling of release, of relief of tension. When a pregnant woman’s water breaks, birth is imminent. Creation myths often tell us that water was the source from which everything originated.

‘The waters’ have been associated with the Great Mother symbolism since ancient times: the place of the waters is the Great Mother, and the place from which we might be reborn, renewed. Creation myths tell us about upper and lower waters. The waterfall connects the waters of above with the waters of below, it connects the higher values with the everyday world. The tree and the fountain likewise connect upper and lower; it draws up the water from below, the water of the earth, the well-springs of life, wisdom, and make it available to everyone who will delve down deep enough within her/himself.

A more conscious integrated perspective on life brings the possibility of compassion that is objectively contained, water with shape, also sometimes called Eros.

The well

Our world is dominated by rationality and superficiality, resulting in loneliness and meaninglessness, but by restoring the relationship with one’s deeper personality one may draw from the wellsprings of Life.

All over the world, wells have been dug by hand since the ninth millennium BCE (1). Human settlements have always been dependent for survival on a well with a fresh clear spring, so that social structures developed around it.

The well resembles a tree, for water can be drawn up to serve life and growth similar to how a tree draws up water through its roots and fibers. It conveys the idea of a dispensing of nourishment, available to all. Life is inexhaustible. It grows neither less nor more; it exists for one and all. Generations come and go, and all may enjoy life in its inexhaustible abundance. (2)

Wells have been associated with sacred ceremonial descent, ritually lived, for millennia. Like the holes in the ground, hand-dug by men and women over time, it resembles the development of consciousness over time. Archetypal patterns of descent, linking above and below, ego and Self, became more fully known by humanity and potentially available to anyone who would ‘go down all the way’ to the roots, who ‘does not neglect the work’ (2).

A well needs to be maintained, cleaned, lined. Through Jung’s psychology, the existence and mechanisms of this psychic structure was made conscious and accessible to any individual who felt called upon to undertake the journey so that the inner relationship with one’s roots may be restored and the individual replenished by the waters of Life to find connectedness in life and meaningful nourishment.

1. Wikipedia.org, well

2. I Ching, p. 185 – 6

Symbolism of the tree

The tree represents the manifestation of the life-force, of our ability to grow into greater maturity; when faced with an impossible life situation, one should not try to force anything, but ‘stay in one place and grow, like a tree.’ (Jung, Dream Seminars, 1929)

Growing is a slow process. Only swamp plants shoot up overnight. Inner growth may enable one to outgrow and rise above a difficult life situation, to attain a more objective perspective and discover alternative options that may have been there all along. A very large tree may grow from a very small seed.

The seed has to break open and grow towards the light, the higher values. Breaking open is painful, but necessary; without it there will be no growth. The tree roots us. Its roots stretch away into the darkness of the earth, into the shadow. Like the fountain, the tree may draw water from deep beneath the earth, from the well-springs of life, if the roots reach deep enough.

A tree goes through seasons of spring, summer, autumn and winter. After the death-like feeling of winter, stripping away the old, new life returns, blossoming, ripening our fruit. Animals and birds may be fed and sheltered. When the time comes again, we shed our beautiful autumn colors so that it may become compost for new life. Our lives circle continuously through periods of spring, summer, autumn, winter and spring again.