Archive for February 2009
On a walk during a recent stay in Mérida we passed one of many old churches. Above the front entrance to this church was a stained glass window proclaiming Jesus. The city is filled with churches from simple “Christian” churches to a number built in the 16th and 17th centuries by the Spaniards. Though I am not particularly religious in a church sense, there is quite a pull to some of the images and the space and architecture of these old churches. That said, it is in the detail that I find resonances.
Jesus, in a Jungian sense is an archetype that points to the “Self” within the “self”. Okay, maybe that doesn’t make sense to most people, but I hope that I can explain it enough so that you can understand how it resonates within me. In a number of locations in the bible one comes across the words with proclaim about finding “Christ” within. Christ represents the godhead, the Imago Dei, that lies within each person. Sometimes religion ascribes the soul as that aspect though in Jungian terms, that would be somewhat inaccurate. I say somewhat as all aspects, all archetypes all become just aspects of the whole, the holy, that oneness of conscious and unconscious both personal and collective.
Jesus is a representation of the collective unconscious that points to the potential for all to achieve a state of being the best one can be. As one travels a journey of individuation, one becomes more and more conscious, more aware of the nature of self in relation to other and in relation the collective and in relation to what I can only say is the sum of all that is and all that isn’t, that which religions call god.
I took this photo only a few days after I arrived in the Yucatan. After leaving the wind, ice, snow and cold of my home on the Canadian prairies, the first few days was spent in adjusting to the heat. Birds and water and sand and sun – these were the images and sensations that fueled the process of adaption to a different place. And of course, this is all alchemical, perculating and distilling as base materials become transformed. And, this is what has happened and continues to happen to me during this time of rest and relaxation in Mexico.
The pelican is one of the symbols of the alchemical process, one that is ascribed to life-giving, life-sustaining. I have spent many hours observing these birds here from the deck of my villa and during long beach walks. The pelican has an intimate relationship to the sea. And thinking about this symbolically, I see the ego aspect flying above the sea, free and graceful. With only a few beats of their long wings, they are able to glide only inches above the water defying the pull of gravity, denying the power or influence of the sea. And as I watch, the pelican rises and poises before diving into the sea for a fish, for food.
The sea is vital for the well-being of the pelican, yet at the same time, the sea is a dangerous place, not always providing the nourishment sought. The dive into the sea leaves the pelican stunned and silent. And over the years, it causes blindness, a death sentence. The brown pelican who lives this way has less than half the lifespan of a white pelican. And for some reason, it is the brown pelican that I feel best represents the alchemical process of my own life.
Another image taken while in the Anthropology and History Museum in Mérida while I was there for the Carnaval. And like the image of yesterday, this artifact was found in one of the Mayan ruins in the Yucatan. At the centre of belief is IX’CHEL, the goddess of both life and death.
The feminine is cyclical in nature like the moon and the courses within a woman of the preparation for new life by discarding old possibilities. The feminine is cloaked in unconsciousness, in darkness and in mysteriousness. The feminine nurtures the earth and gives birth over and over again. Out of the dark and damp womb, humanity is born into a world of light. And, that same humanity is born to die, to be consumed by the very earth that gave it life.
The photo here was taken in Mérida, the capital city of the Yucatan, at the Anthropology and History Museum on the Paseo Montejo. It is a Mayan figure similar to one I photographed at Uxmal which was still on the wall of a Mayan building.
Obviously, the figure is male. Strangely, the bodies both at Uxmal and here are both headless. Both have bound hands as though the male is prisoner. Both have genitals exposed.
Realizing that these figures are found in a religious context, it follows that they are more symbolic than historical. So what can these figures be telling us? Perhaps, that as humans, human males, the ruling forces are sexual, not spiritual. Men are trapped in their bodies which demand so much. The power of instinctual drives dominate when one is not aware, not far along on the journey of individuation.
Today, it is still hard in our modern world. How does one balance the polarity of masculine and feminine which are resident in each of us? Regardless of our intellectual states, our bodies betray us, demand of us. And as a counter, the soul, the opposite, demands as well it share of presence. So begins the work of midlife, the marriage of both aspects within the psyche.
The human soul is a complicated thing. In all conceptions of soul, we have the idea of something separate yet integrally a part of the whole. We recognize that the separateness of soul means that one can lose soul, that soul can effectively die within one’s self. Yet, as we navigate through life knowing that there is a personal soul, we generally have no clue about the nature of the soul, where it is located or where it goes when there is loss of soul.
Religion tries to answer of these concerns and questions about soul, but can only do so with words that defy human logic, words that have a magical quality, words that confuse even more, the muddy waters when one looks even deeper or when one experiences a crisis of soul without any succour from the container of religious belief.
In Jungian psychology, the soul is referred to as anima for men and animus for women. Since I am a man, my soul is the other half of my self, the feminine aspect. If I ignore my soul then like this old woman camped outside of a church in Mérida, the soul becomes impoversed.
A change of pace with a shift from inanimate to animate. While boating slowly in a salt water laguna in northern Yucatan just east of Rio Lagartos, I came across a pair of black hawks sitting in a tree. Stopping, I took photos of the pair of birds sitting on the bare branches. Taking a fish being held in a basket as bait and throwing it into the water at a distance from the boat, I was able to get this photo of the hawk attacking. Behind the right leg you can see the fish he caught but wasn’t able to hold onto. The second throwing of a fish resulted in success, but not as good a photo.
It is not always that when one descends into the unconscious that one emerges with the food, the nourishment that one has expected. Sometimes ascent is no more than ascent for the conscious self, perhaps a troubled relief that ascent ideed happened. For the moment of darkness, of lack of awareness of self, no road forward appears, the journey appears unchanged. Yet, change has indeed occurred, only not conscious change. The ripples of change have been enacted. And as such, we will have unknowingly ventured down yet another “road not taken”.
The nose of Chaac, the Rain God. Ascending alongside the central staircase of the Magician’s Pyramid on both sides are faces of Chaac, each face contains an elephantine nose similar to the one found on the ground here. There are twelve such Chaac figures on each side. A thirteenth Chaac figure sits above the temple entrance. Thirteen being the number of levels in the Mayan heaven. The Chaac nose both receives the rain and distributes the rain (metaphorically) which comes from the Rain God.
Curious how such symbols of power between men and gods also can serve as ‘keys’ to one’s own inner world. When viewed as a key, the image makes ‘sense’. Water, the source of life speaks of the vast unconsciousness of humankind and of the container that holds us. At the same time as being a key, it also can serve as a ‘hook’. It even looks like a hook. And this is the danger when approaching the unconscious. Does one get hooked like a fish at sea and thus drown in the depths never to return to consciousness? Intentional descents are safer, especially with a guide, unintentional descents result in madness. Jung studied those lost in this madness to discover some of the territory of the unconscious. Choosing a descent? Not too likely. However, the pain of being present in the world without having the anchor of ‘meaning’ is often the stimulus to risk descents into the swampland, the dark sea of one’s unconscious aspects.