Statue of Yamantaka, Vanquisher of Death (wikipedia)


by Florian Birkmayer, MD

Many of us were disturbed but not surprised by the events of January 6, 2021, a day of domestic terrorism, exposing for all to see the dangers of a fascist-in-all-but-uniform demagogue—that were long predicted, but like Cassandra’s prophecies were ignored for far too long—and highlighting the systemic racism of law enforcement. What can we learn? What are the archetypes at play? How can we heal this ‘them-vs-us’ thought virus that has possessed so many, not just those who were seduced by lies to invade, destroy and kill and try to stop the legitimate process inherent to our democracy? How can we turn terror into healing?

As several have said, compare the presence of national guard during BLM protests on the capitol and in many other places and the teargassing and beating of non-violent protestors for a manipulative photo-op (and many other occasions when people rightfully and peacefully protested against the unlawful, yet unpunished killing of black men) with the lack of preparedness and response on the day the confederate flag, a symbol of state-sponsored terror against black people, was raised in the people’s capitol. The contrast couldn’t be more stark and disgusting. Blinded by their own shadow projections, literal black-and-white thinking, law enforcement was unprepared for and maybe even in cahoots with white supremacist terrorism. A terrible truth has been brought into the light of day like a lanced abscess.

Above all the active encouragement, long-standing grooming and permissiveness (by refusing to call in the national guard and reported glee) by the seditionist-in-chief led to this revealing of the horror that has been in the shadow of America all along. The seditionist-in-chief has groomed his followers with incessant lies, the same way a child abuser grooms children into allowing or participating in acts against nature. They believed his lies, slowly being groomed and now this has led to bloodshed and terror, but if there’s one blessing it’s that he and the vile dehumanizing ‘ideology’ he stands for have been undeniably unmasked.

It is important to note that these domestic terrorists were not protesting for change, they were violently terrorizing to take the US back to the days of the confederacy, when violence was state-sponsored and people living in this country were segregated by skin color. They tried to change the will of the people, which is enshrined in the peaceful transition of power, by claiming that what must prevail is only their will, or more precisely the lethal lies they had been brainwashed with, by the incessant repeating of lies of voter fraud, a technique developed by national-socialists and now combined, ineptly but no less dangerously, with the reality-distorting power of social media. Already Plato in the “Republic” wrestled with the essence of democracy: how do we get along and share power with people we don’t agree with. Inherently this means respecting the will of the people and not being seduced by lies, no matter how often they are repeated. History marches forward not backward, and those who want to bend its arrow backwards to some literally white-washed yet actually horrifying past and who try to deny reality are reminded that reality is the ultimate teacher.

The archetypes I am reminded of in this situation are the horned, bull-headed Tibetan god of death Yama who is vanquished by Yamantaka, the vanquisher of death. Yamantaka is the wrathful manifestation of Manjushri, the bodhisattva of wisdom and discernment, and is represented as a thousand-headed and thousand-armed version of Yama, bull-headed and horned.  (Apparently, the long-lost origins of the barbaric ritual of bull-fighting go back to ancient rituals of killing death in the form of a bull.)

turning terror into healing

Yama the wrathful Buddhist God of Death (wikipedia)

There is something bullish, blindly rageful about the death archetype of Yama. He possesses people and has a single-minded point of view and wants to kill and destroy and as such was literally embodied by the participant in the terrorist acts of January 6 wearing the bull costume. I don’t think he had any idea of the archetype he was embodying or possessed by. There was a single-mindedness and blind madness to this group possession and that is the danger of being possessed by an archetype. To be honest there is a single-mindedness in any ‘them-vs-us’ thinking, which is a particular form of possession.

The cure through disempowerment and transformation of this single-minded desire for death and destruction is represented by Yamantaka. Yama can’t be fought in direct combat, because death conquers all. So Manjushri, the bodhisattva of wisdom and discernment, turned himself into Yama and then multiplied himself a thousand times. In this multiplication of archetypes and points of view, Yama is vanquished. His single-mindedness is no match for the multiplicity and multidimensionality that Manjushri embodies and can manifest. Yamantaka comes, turning terror into healing.

Above all it is important to remember that the way that wisdom and discernment (Manjushri) conquer single-minded possession by a desire for death and destruction (Yama) is by transforming himself. Recent events remind us that to truly change the world, we need to change within. We need to feel the multitude that we contain and to remind ourselves that our limited ego and all its wants and wills are part of a much larger whole, instead of unconsciously projecting our shadow, and with it our disdain. We need to overcome this mutual shadow projection. We the microcosm truly contain the macrocosm, and vice versa, like a fractal contains itself.

To heal the divisions and competing limited views of reality in the country, we need to heal the divisions within ourselves. To overcome the lies, like Yamantaka we have to see the multitudes within and around us as the higher reality and truth. We have to vanquish death, single-mindedness and projection. And each of us have to root out ignorance, lies and (self)deceptions within ourselves, which also includes getting rid of the thought viruses (the lies that others tell us) that we have been infected with. It is a crucial time for turning terror into healing.


After I wrote the above, I was reminded of my friend and mentor Digby Henry who created the following exercise. When we think about mutual shadow projection, what we are really projecting is our woundedness, which is the shadow of our anger at the other side or person, i.e. the one we’re projecting onto. Instead of projecting, either in anger or desire for healing, we need to do the work within ourselves. For this, I have found Digby’s exercise to be profound and powerful. I humbly wish that as many people as possible on seemingly opposing sides can do this exercise and heal their wounds instead of projecting their shadow.


Exercise: The Healer’s Wound
by Digby Henry

The epic wound is found in the mythology of heroes, healers and shaman. For each, the wound is a requirement of the status. The wound is often the moment of initiation and opening to the path. If the path is not taken the person is crippled. If the path is taken and the wound not healed, the person is crippled. Health for the healer is in resolution of the wound. Through the wound each of us can journey beyond the limitations of the present moment into the presented opportunities. The wound is a crossroads of choice. Each of us can choose to remain in the anguish of the wounding, stay sealed forever in the scaring or grow through the injury into purpose. The offering of the wound is transformation.

Healing the wound is not being born again or starting anew. It is growing on beyond the wound, beyond the crib of childhood, beyond the anguish of adolescence and beyond the apathy of adulthood. Healing the wound is growing up, growing on and becoming again response-able.

For many healing the wound breaks open the door of the hiding place. The healing cracks the concrete of our certitude and presents the dilemma of decision. Whether a rape of the soul or an unkind word in a conversation, the wounding will close the coffin or present the ten
thousand opportunities of our life.

It has been said, “the healing of a wound must come from the blood of the wound itself.” (Frank MacEowen, Monthly Aspectarian, 1997).

Many healers carry emotional wounds. These wounds can both enhance and hinder their healing ability. This exercise invites the work of recognizing and resolving an emotional wound. The invitation is to create a symbolic totem or design to represent and carry the energy of the wound.

First, consider the emotional wound you wish to resolve. Look at and experience the elements of the wound: thoughts, feelings, ideas, and sensations. Ask how this wound has served you. How has is been part of your survival and growth? Is it an experience and memory that you are
ready and willing to let go of?

As you review this wound consider how it might be reflected out into a totem or design. Elements to consider are pictures, drawings, inks, colored pencils or crayons, weavings, twine, string, rope, wool, cotton, sculpture, clay, wood, natural elements, twigs, branches, grasses, leaves, stones, plants, essential oils. From these or other elements make totem structure, a design or drawing representing the wound and all its elements. As you craft this object allow the held energy of the wound to transfer into the totem. The totem may include healing herbs, plants and essential oils. A drawing, Mandela or design may include healing symbols. The totem is not to represent any other person or life form. The totem is to represent your experience and the blood of your wound.

Once the totem is complete hold it in your hands, focus on all pent held energy, emotional blood and meaning this wound has carried and blow all of it into the totem. Continue to blow until the energy of the wound has been transferred from you to the totem. As you blow out the wound energy, breath in clear healing energy to fill the space. Through this process maintain clarity of focus that the experienced energy of the wound is let go of and placed into the totem or drawn

The healing of the wound is in letting go and resolving. In creating the totem, the wound and the blood of the wound is let go of and placed in the totem. The healing of the wound is in the resolution of the totem.

Consider now a resolution and a ritual. The totem can be burned or cast into fire, buried or entombed, cast into the water, sealed and placed in a shrine. The totem cannot be sent or given to another person. The focus is to return the emotional wound to the natural universe for its injury and energy to be cleansed and healed. Its purpose has been served.

As you perform this ritual, say this mantra repeatedly:

For all that is and ever be
I freely give and cast from me
This totem of my injury