“When the going gets weird, the weird go pro.” Hunter S. Thompson
I (Florian) don’t know about you, but to us it’s recently felt like the earth changes have been turned up a few notches. It feels that familiar power structures, social structures, political structures and the environment are going through ever accelerating transformations into new, unfamiliar, confusing and disturbing forms. A friend recently mentioned the term social tectonics, the building tension between different groups that seems to be growing, until like an earthquake in plate tectonics, a sudden rupture may occur. Many people talk about being in a permanent state of trauma, with constant anxiety, hopelessness and helplessness. How do we learn not just to survive, but to thrive in these seemingly catastrophic times? We can make the best of these challenging times by doing shadow work and facing the Dark Goddess.
Heraclitus, the great pre-Socratic philosopher coined the phrase ‘panta rei’ (Ancient Greek for ‘everything flows’) 2500 years ago. Another way to say this is ‘the only thing constant is change.’ If we remember the alchemical stages, which apply both to our individual psyches and the collective psyche, we know that each and every stage has to happen for the Great Work (another word for the alchemical journey) to proceed. One of the stages that’s required to transcend the seemingly never-ending mundane cycles of solutio and coagulatio is mortificatio. This stage is also called putrefactio. As the names imply, this is a process of death and decay. Everything we’ve known and taken for granted feels like it’s dying. It’s unfamiliar and feels irreversible. We may have gotten pretty good at handling the cycles of life so far, the coagulatio of the mundane and tedious activities, alternating with the solutio of joy, bliss, tears or sorrow, but now we are being taken in a new, unfamiliar direction and it’s easy to get fearful or anxious. But just as the dying plant materials of the forest floor feed the new growth, our individual and collective psyches need to go through this transformation to reach the next stage of separatio, which, in a nutshell, is a profound revaluation of our values, or as Nietzsche said ‘Umwertung aller Werte.’ (a ‘revaluing of all values.’) Another word for this process is Shadow work, facing the things we weren’t conscious of about ourselves so far and letting certain dearly held beliefs or self-views die.
Separatio, the re-evaluation stage, requires that what is familiar dies first (mortifcatio) and at the same time heralds the promise of conjunctio, the ultimate alchemical stage, when the opposites are reconciled and in which we realize that the obstacles and frustrations we have experienced were really just necessary stepping stones for personal growth and evolution. To us, separatio is hope, a new perspective, the new dawn or budding light inside the darkness of mortificatio, but how do we get there?
From my limited perspective, it feels like the US, and likely other parts of the world, and value systems such as capitalism and patriarchy are going through a mortificatio process right now. There’s no turning back. This process can’t be stopped. We can’t reason with the process, since it’s chthonic and archetypal and really seems to have taken possession of people’s psyches. We can really only hope for the process to be kind and gentle and perhaps that is already asking for too much. The deep hope Jung’s view of alchemy gives us is that it allows us to maintain some awareness that this is a process that is necessary and will eventually lead to the next stage. An awareness that is bigger than ego, a form of surrender and trying to remember the bigger picture, even if I have no idea what the bigger picture is. We keep reminding ourselves to trust the process.
How do we maintain balance and ‘sanity’ when everything around seems to be crumbling? Alchemists and other mystics talked about the Axis Mundi, the World Axis, the one axis of orientation that we can always rely on. Well, this Axis Mundi isn’t somewhere in the outside world, but in our psyches. In reading Jung’s Red Book, I learned that the only orientation that we can maintain is the axis from the ego to the Self. This path is called Individuation. Our individual path of Individuation is our Personal Myth. This is not an ego story we tell ourselves, but a myth that is slowly revealed by our psyche to our ego. I think to truly thrive in this chaotic time, we need to cultivate our personal myths. And like all myths, personal myths connect us to something much larger than our ego, such as our place, our connection and our ancestors. As Cathy always says, we can heal ancestral trauma by rewriting the story to have a triumphant ending. Us living our personal myth can be that triumphant ending to generations of trauma.
As the great comedian George Carlin said, “The planet is fine…the people are fucked.” One could say that climate change is an immune reaction by the planet against our activities that are no longer in harmony with the planet and it will self-correct and eliminate this parasite or cancer, i.e. us. What is a cancer, fundamentally? A cancer is a group of cells that’s forgotten they are part of a larger organism. Most human beings are acting like cancer cells, with no regard for the ecosystem that we are dependent on. The oxygen we breathe is literally made by plants all around us, and when there are vast wildfires due to climate change, the ‘lungs’ of the earth are being destroyed and may not be able to provide enough oxygen for us to breathe at some point. All the food we eat ultimately comes from plants, who are the only ones that can turn sunlight into nutrients.
As Chief Seattle said, ‘The Earth does not belong to us, we belong to the Earth.’
One way to connect to ourselves and the whole that bypasses the intellect is Aroma. Plants evolved aromatic molecules to be able to communicate with the beings around them, across species. Interestingly during the major mass extinctions in Earth’s history, when the majority of animal species of those eras were wiped out, many plant species survived. (1) Maybe there’s a reason. Maybe nature is trying to tell us something.
«Because she has learnt to love without any personal agenda, she makes an excellent guide. She knows how tough and how gentle we have to be to enter into this life and to leave it. She holds an unspeakable wisdom in the very cells of her body. The beauty and the horror of the whole of life are held together in love.”
The above quote describing the wise crone comes from the brilliant book “Dancing in the Flames” co-authored by Jungian analyst Marion Woodman, with Elinor Dickson.
The above quote above is an accurate description of the true potential of the crone or wise elder. It’s what we should be aiming for, as each one of us journeys towards that stage in our lives. It also makes me (Cathy) realize the depth of the work necessary in order to realize this potential. Self-honesty, a willingness to go through a stripping away and delve into the dark are required to reach this place. The transformation demands all of us and the price is the death of the old ego patterns.
Working on the Separatio stage recently forced me to stop, dive in deeper and take the time to look at what was blocking me from fully expanding into the wisdom and love described in the quote.
I felt like I was forcing myself into a corner and the only way out was to confront some major aspects of my own mother complex. As I encountered the ‘devouring mother’ aka the Death Mother—the shadow side of the archetype of the nurturing mother and part of all our psyches—I began to understand. One of the major keys to the journey towards becoming a wise woman is liberating ourselves from the unconscious actions, re-actions, fears and emotions that took seed when we were children, mothered by our mothers, who were themselves mothered by their mothers. This unconscious inheritance, both the archetypal (i.e. general) and the specific (i.e. our lineage and the familiar and historical traumas inherited), controls us. It can perpetuate transgenerational traumas, secrets and lies and retraumatize us through various forms of abuse. Yet we are unaware of it like a fish is of the water it swims in. A crucial part of the journey of individuation is to become a ‘conscious mother’ in the world, no longer controlled by these unconscious patterns.
“…words associated with her [the crone] begin to take on a different dimension: timeless, spaceless, detached, fearless, free, beauty, guide, wisdom, surrender, spontaneity, paradox…she evolves out of the conscious mother and conscious virgin.” (2)
Some time ago, these negative, devouring patterns were having a profound, negative and unconscious impact on my relationship with my 20 year old son. For me the only way through these patterns so I could liberate myself from them, was to jump into the void and face the frightening underlying feelings that were coming from my unconscious and dominating this relationship. I resisted strongly, until finally one morning, the painfulness of the feelings left me with no choice.
There comes a moment when we’re forced to face the frightening underlying feelings that rise form our unconscious, to face and go through and beyond them or allow ourselves to continue to be devoured by them. In this place we feel the void, we are pulled into a painful and terrifying journey to meet the dark goddess until finally we start to sense her and understand her place in the feminine psyche.
‘Today the dark goddess is associated with the unknown, repressed side of our femininity. Intimately tied to the integration of shadow materials…experiencing her in our body is a starting step to experiencing ourselves whole. The sense of wholeness is essential to healing.’ (3)
This is a big part of the important Shadow Work that we are called to do on the path towards elderhood. We need to create a womb-like space in our lives, where we can find and enjoy solitude. It is in this uterus-like cave that the dark goddess lives.
“The dark goddess is the symbolic initiator of menopause. She lives at your core. She is the midwife of your soul. She will guide you into a new way of living through a symbolic re-birth. She will lead you through the cauldron of destruction of all that you no longer need to a place of authentic clarity.” (4)
This re-birth, like our original births involves separating from our mothers once again. What’s unique this time, it that we need to separate from the shadow side of our mother. The Death Mother that resides in our unconscious leads us into the underworld as part of this initiation.
Labdanum essential oil a powerful ally for shadow work shares its power and effectiveness, helping us dig down into the hidden parts of ourselves that are ready to come into the light. Remember that delving into the underworld can be a long, dangerous and arduous journey. Labdanum can help us go deeper and further, but we also need aromatic allies to keep us grounded and safe and to calm the inevitable fears when they get too much. One of our favorite ‘safety oils’ or grounding oils is Vetiver (Ruh Khus), which makes us feel held, nurtured and safe.
While you are traveling in the underworld, always remember that you are visiting the parts of yourself that need to be consciously perceived and identified. We need to become aware, in order for these parts to lose their power over us. When we return from our journey into the void, we see things in a new light and act in new ways that are authentically ours.
Talking about the Void, reminds me (Florian) of my own journey. I had a tendency, since I was very young, to spontaneously go into the void inside myself, which was a terrifying experience. It didn’t feel like death, but more like a frozen non-existence, a total darkness in which there was no movement. As I started working on myself, I inevitably revisited the void many times and gradually, over many years, something changed. At first it seemed like there was the tiniest ember, like a match after the flame has gone out. Slowly, this became a small flame and gradually a small fire inside me. I still go into the void, but since that fire appeared it has never gone out. To me that fire is a symbol, spontaneously generated by my psyche, of the new awareness that Individuation grows inside. As I kept returning to and exploring the void inside, I started to feel a compassion. A deep truth that seemed like a paradox was revealed: The void is compassionate. How can this be? How can this terrible (non)place be the source of compassion? I knew this was ‘true’ intuitively, but struggled with understanding this for years, until the same imagery appeared to me in Tibetan Buddhism.
In Tibetan Buddhism, each buddha or ‘deity’ has a benevolent and a wrathful manifestation. You can think of them as opposing aspects of the archetype that each buddha or deity represents. I have long felt a deep connection to Avalokitesvara, the 1000-armed Buddha of Compassion. His name translated means ‘he who beholds.’ I feel that the essence of deep healing work, such as can happen in good psychotherapy and what is really the foundation of our Aromatic Shamanism, is ‘to behold.’ The therapist beholds the client, as the client beholds the therapist, and if we’re lucky, a Third emerges, which Jung called the ‘10,000 year old man’, by which we are beheld.
Avalokitesvara is the ‘patron saint’ of that deep kind of soul healing work. We heal when we are beheld and when we behold ourselves. I’ve been exploring the Avalokitesvara archetype (another manifestation of which is Quan Yin) for years. I also became fascinated by ‘Mahakala’, the ‘great black one’, a wrathful Tibetan Buddhist ‘deity’, who is the personification of the Void. He is considered a protector of home and hearth, among other things. How wonderful that the Tibetan Buddhists recognized the importance of the Void by giving it a personification.
Then I learned that Mahakala is the wrathful manifestation of Avalokitesvara, i.e. they are shadows of each other, flipsides of the same archetype. There is that connection between the void (Mahakala) and compassion (Avalokitesvara). I felt that my intuition from years earlier that the Void is Compassionate was validated by the deep link of these two ‘deities’, who are one and the same. I have to admit that I still can’t fully wrap my head around this, since it is one of the deep mysteries. Perhaps we could say that Mahakala is our ally for Shadow Work. When I revisit the Void, to retrieve more material in the ongoing journey of Soul mining that is Individuation, I find it helpful to remember ‘the Void is Compassionate.’ It is a hard-earned awareness that endures, like the fire in the darkness. The experience of Separatio is becoming aware of and cultivating this fire. And when the chaos in the world appears to engulf us in a void of hopelessness, we can remember this is just a necessary stage in the process and that even during the greatest challenge, the void beholds us with compassion. The void is our ally and our womb in Shadow Work.
If you need some perspective during these challenging times, consider one of our consultations.
(2) “Dancing in the Flames” by Marion Woodman and Elinor Dickson
(4) “Natural Wellness Strategies for the Menopause Years” by Laurel Alexander