I haven’t been living in the forest for a while…

The Forest

‘Living in the forest’ is a metaphor that I drew from Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estés‘ monumental book ‘Women who Run With the Wolves’. The final story of the Handless Maiden is a journey of deep and total transformation, the healing part of this takes place over seven years of living in a forest. When I began this blog I was living in a forest and I was undergoing deep transformation and healing, so it seemed an appropriate title. The last two years (at least) have been overwhelmed by thorough psychological restructuring: Saturn in Scorpio, for me, especially by a very long Saturn return before it squared my Sun. It’s now right on top of my natal Mars.

For the past six months I have been sporadic with blogging. I’m trying to write my doctoral thesis, and I moved out of the forest and into the small coastal township nearby because I had been struggling to focus living where I was. To some extent I’m still ‘living in the forest’ in the self-work that I’m doing: in the processing and journalling, but in some ways I always have been doing this work.

I don’t know where I will live next or what I will do. Part of my recent processing has been about coming to terms with uncertainty and change – which are actually the only constants in life. For a long time I clung to the prospects of security – of owning property, of safety, of regular income… but while these things can be nice, they are not actually security or certainty, because that’s not a real-life thing, it’s a fantasy. Over the past two years everything has changed. I don’t want the same things and it surprises me. I don’t know why I want the things I do want, or why I’m drawn to the places that now seem so appealing. Even more surprising is my sense of stability and the noticeable absence of emotional trauma from my daily lived experience. I suppose these are some of the rewards of Saturn in Scorpio work. Anyway, I will continue to blog (more) regularly, because these sacred, private things are important to share, and because that seems to be a part of my journey.

Advertisements

Doing Shadow Work

I was about fourteen the first time I was introduced to the concept of the shadow through Ursula le Guin’s Earthsea Quartet, in which Ged split off a part of himself out of a foolish desire to prove himself and spent many years running from his shadow.  Later, when I was sixteen, my counselor, Fiona (who was also practiced in Celtic shamanism) explained the shadow as all the parts of a person they don’t like – that they are afraid of – that they don’t want to deal with. She talked about bringing the shadow into the light of awareness and encouraged me to write a list of all the things in myself that fitted this description. It was easy to pinpoint external things: the things I felt guilty about, the obvious things I struggled with. It was harder to dig deeper than that, into the tangled unconscious web of depression and trauma that I wasn’t ready to face. I wanted to make things special and spiritual. I didn’t want to deal with the raw ugliness of reality.

The shadow is the realm of nightmares and the parts of psyche that are hard to face: pain/sadness, fear, rage, the horrific: too hot or too cold for comfort.  A friend of mine who was who was practiced at lucid dreaming was warned never to try to meet his shadow. He took that as a challenge and so one dream, while he was flying along, he decided to do it. Suddenly a figure appeared, a doppelganger of himself, but darker, with a malicious grin. The dream abruptly morphed into his worst nightmare and my friend, an arachnophobe, was being eaten by an enormous spider while his doppelganger laughed.

The shadow is a terrifying concept, yet compelling. We might know there is something there but we don’t know what, and perhaps there is another level of naivete, or several more layers, or hundreds. We will never know until we begin the arduous task of peeling them back. We may hope for specialness, for treasure, but that is unwise because it opens us up for unhinged delusions and losing our path.

I think of shadow work as stumbling in the dark, like the le Guin’s priestess in her underground labyrinth, there is danger in rushing in: the danger of being lost to the blackness, of starving to death. We have to feel our way, to edge carefully around the walls until we learn the map. Then we can be at home in the dark landscape of unconsciousness.   That is why the work is worth doing: because when you face the most terrifying parts of self, there is nothing left to fear and as if we can process these things in the light of consciousness, they don’t need to manifest externally.

The other side of my Saturn return

kintsuroi

Every 29-ish years Saturn gets back to the same part of the zodiac as it was when you were born. Symbolically, Saturn is the planet of scarcity, of structure, restrictions, hard learning. Saturn is the disciplinarian, the devil, the shadow.  Saturnian characters appear in almost every story as villains, as domineering parents, as strict school masters, and often, as the people who teach us the most important lessons. When I first heard about Saturn returns I was terrified. I was expecting a lot of awfulness and perhaps, if I survived it I would come out more awesome afterwards.  Later on, my friend Roy told me “Nah, Saturn returns are great – they are the time in your life when you get to let go of all the messages about who you’re supposed to be -from society and family – and decide who you really are.” That sounded much better than just going through hell for potential long-term benefits. I waited with anticipation.

My experience has felt a lot like being hand-washed by a powerful woman in the olden days – in a very rough fashion – like my psyche has been scrubbed and rung out over and over. But Saturn manifests in many different ways, a lot of it comes down to which sign and house Saturn is in. For people born the year before me, with Saturn in Libra, when I ask about their 29th year, a lot of them say it wasn’t all that bad, (Saturn is exalted in Libra) but when I ask if they went through massive changes in relationships and relating, whether they have been doing a lot of work to balance their lives and other Saturn-Libra things they generally agree with urgency and zest: “Yes! That was when my major relationship broke up and I went travelling” etc.

Saturn in Scorpio is a whole different ball game. Scorpio is intense. I would be surprised to find a 1984 baby out there who hasn’t had a very intense year. Scorpio governs power, money, fears, transformation, sex and all those deep-dark scary parts of ourselves. Saturn in Scorpio will bring up everyone’s fears around intimacy and security, but if it happens to be in a major transit for you, it will be a lot more intense.  All of those things you’ve been running from, well, here they are. Deal.

How a Saturn return manifests will also relate to where Saturn is in your chart. Mine is in the 5th house: the party house. A few years ago I started going to a local transformational festival (Kiwiburn, New Zealand’s regional Burning Man event) and realised that partying and having fun is quite a hard thing for me to do (natal Saturn in the 5th). I want to be serious, I want to do soul-work. Why is everyone getting drunk and talking shmack? Facing the tensions and paradoxes is all part of doing the work. My Saturn return started in January last year, right in the middle of the festival. It was the first time I had worked (volunteered) to manage part of the festival and it was hard work. I got completely burn out. I loved it, but it took me all year to recover, to decompress. A couple of months later Saturn retrograded back over 10 degrees of Scorpio and my natal Saturn and everything in my life was brought into question especially things relating structure, freedom and security, and personal attachments as well. I have been journaling every day (for the first time ever), processing, processing, letting go…

Saturn went direct again, as it does, and crossed over 10 degrees precisely as I was attending another burn, this time in Australia. Burning Seed was also incredibly intense. Pressure built up and up. I had a fantastic time and several terrifying experiences. At one point I tripped over a fallen tree which was hidden in long grass. It is quite scary being in a forest in a country that has spiders and snakes when you come from a place like New Zealand. I had this weird bump on my knee and it was bleeding, so I went to the medics and was told by a volunteer that I had probably been bitten by something: cue panic attack. She assured me it was probably just a spider: JUST a SPIDER? It occurred to me then that this was very appropriate of Saturn in Scorpio, while I struggled to breath in a normal way. A few minutes later the actual medic turned up and looked at my wound, “Aw, did you fall over and bang your knee?” I nodded, feeling very silly and very relieved. The fifth house is also about creativity. I’m also doing a PhD and writing novels. Everything finally make sense.

Doing the work of Saturn in Scorpio involves facing and working through all those issues around fear and power, and because it’s Saturn, the best way to do it is through embracing structure. For me it has been through yoga and journaling, and just recently, through eating what my body really wants to eat (no processed crap, no grains). It has also meant embracing the structure imposed on me by having a child in school. My day has a very definitive routine. While this all might sound boring, I have never been a structured, disciplined person in my life, so I’m in awe. I have resisted structure because I’ve always resisted what I was told to do – reacting to the messages from society and family, rather than really figuring out what I wanted and working towards that. I feel like I’m free of the pattern of desperately trying to be free. I also feel like I’ve resolved my childhood trauma – the thing I’ve been trying to do my whole life – and like I’m not wounded and broken anymore. Freaky.

So there is light at the end of the tunnel if you do the work, and despite being a masterful procrastinator, I have been doing the work. Apparently if you don’t resolve your Saturn stuff in your first return it will come back with a vengeance in 29 years time. Good luck.

Letting go of symbolic parents

Many stories begin with letting go: one must let go of the safety of one’s home to adventure into the woods, a sacrifice is made, the protagonist surrenders their dreams only to rediscover them later, the good parents must die in order for the transformational journey to begin. There are so many stories of orphans (or half-orphans) – the Little Match Girl, Harry Potter, Hansel and Gretel, Cinderella, Vasilisa, and so on. Aside from the fairy-tale romanticism with orphans, there is a necessity involved in the death of the ‘too good’ mother, as Clarissa Pinkola Estés calls her, and sometimes the ‘too good’ father as well.  The safe world created and maintained by good parents is torn away and the story really begins.

If you came from a safe, nurturing family, there is a point at which you are likely to break free of the comfort zone and begin your own journey. Internally, you let go the ‘too good’ parental archetypes, they have become suffocating in their love and you need room to grow. Just as Maui split his parents apart, you crack open the protective world of childhood and emerge into a more dangerous place with more opportunities for suffering and learning. This is the process of the bud blooming into the flower, the seed sprouting. After a while the safety of the shell gets to be too restrictive, the pressure build and a new metamorphosis must occur.

If you had a tumultuous childhood, however, you may not know where to start. If you didn’t get enough of the ‘too good’ mother or father archetypes there is no pressure of safety to break free from, just a yearning for love and nurture and comfort.  If there are no parents with the ability to meet your needs now you may turn to friends, lovers or various addictions, no doubt repeating the same insecure attachment patterns you grew up with. To begin the journey you must let go of the ‘too good parents, but how can you do that if you don’t have them to begin with?

It is possible to cultivate the nurturer archetypes in oneself. I believe it takes practice and repetition – visualising and imagining what that delicious safety must feel like, the warmth, the love, the unconditional nature of the bond. Hold it, feel it and then let it go, bearing in mind that none of the fairy tale orphans wanted their good parents to die, but they all had to let go of the ledge to experience free falling.

There is mourning here, because with loss and life shattering change there is always grief. If you grew up with insecure attachments to your primary carers you experienced that loss over and over again and developed protections against it. You may be chronically tired – chronically mourning the loss you suffered repeatedly, continuously. It is perhaps similar to re-living a nightmare every night. With every new attachment comes piercing anxiety for the inevitable loss. Perhaps you avoid attachments all together, or chase them, or perhaps you have closed off against the pain. Either way, acceptance is always the best medicine.

Of course, I speak from personal experience, and in exploring this archetypal journey I’m treading on my own damaged emotional nerve-endings. This is an attempt to re-wire my brain, to heal my damaged or under-developed archetypes and to move past the acute pain.  I have transferred my often unmet childhood needs for love, attention and nurture onto lovers and particularly nurturing friends, repeating the same painful cycle. It is so hard to cut yourself off from people you feel you need. It is a terrible sacrifice to let the ‘too good’ mother die, but one that is necessary in order to break out of the dependency cycle. I suppose it’s a bit like psychological weaning; it creates the space for solid sustenance and growth.

The Luminaries, by Eleanor Catton: astrological archetypes through literature

I thoroughly enjoyed this 800 odd page novel, set in gold-rush New Zealand. The astrological symbolisim is obvious from the outset with star charts drawn up to represent the planets at the time. It doesn’t include Uranus, which was discovered some seventy years earlier, just the old astrological planets. Incidentally, Neptune was being discovered around the same time the novel is set (1865). I just found out that Eleanor Catton read the collected works of Jung before she embarked on the novel and had the idea that 12 characters would represent the zodiac while others would represent the planets. It’s very clever but doesn’t cut in on the story which is wonderfully well written, so much so that it has been shortlisted for the Booker.

I do believe Catton used the movements of the planets to guide the plot and decide the scenes she was writing.  It would take much re-reading to figure out all the intentional synchronicity.  She takes great care to describe each character, slipping in the properties of the astrological archetype in a way which could easily go unnoticed. Of course every zodiac sign and planet has many different facets and Catton seems to draw on a few of these for each character and also incorporates other characteristics which might better fit the story.  I won’t go too much into what is obviously stated, I will focus instead on broader reflections of the novel’s symbolism.

This story begins in the 12th house of the psyche, whereupon Walter Moody (Mercury) unwittingly interrupts a secret meeting of 12 very different men at the crown hotel. It must be in the 12th because we are so in the dark, and where else would we find 12 men, symbolising the twelve zodiac signs, than in the natural home of Pisces? In fact, this whole story belongs to the 12th house as the character symbolising the sun and psyche, Emery Stains (fantastic name) is literally stumbling around in the dark for the almost the entire journey.  Therefore, treating this novel as a Jungian journey means delving into the exploration of one’s psyche in the dark, with minimal illumination that grows as we progress.

Despite not being represented, the archetype of Neptune is obviously in the room, probably sitting in the back corner smoking opium. Opium is very prominent in this story both in the pipe and in laudanum tinctures.  There are many delusions at play, of grandeur, of love, of mysteries and plots that might actually not exist. This story also has a very strong Pluto/Scorpio theme, secrets, suspicion and paranoia add tension to the narrative. There is gold involved as well as prostitution and death. You can’t get more 8th house than that.

I would indeed like to re-read this novel and observe the characters in relation to my own personal archetypes in the style of Clarissa Pinkola Estes. It promises to be an interesting and illuminating journey into the dark recesses of the subconscious.

Inner Tyrant: the evil stepmother archetype

“Wicked Stepmother” by Christy Norris

She appears in numerous fairy tales: cruel and ruthless, miserly yet unfairly generous to her own ugly daughters. She feeds the greedy, self-pitying elements of the psyche and starves, neglects and abuses the innocent children: Hansel and Gretel, the good and beautiful Cinderella, Vasilisa, Snow White.  She is a terrible parent to the psyche: insecure, desperate, plagued with fears and loathing; she is murderous.

She is the cousin of the wicked witch, the sister of the predator. Like them she is a shadow archetype, but unlike them she resides in the house of the personality while they attack from the outside.  She is the inner voice of negative self-talk, the self-criticism, self-deprecation. She seeks to control the good and innocent elements of personality because she is afraid. Of course, not all stepmothers are evil, and birth mothers and fathers can be just as tyrannical but the symbolism of the stepmother archetype is one of severance and separation: she represents a fracturing of the psyche that is difficult to re-integrate.

Just as in the personality these shadow elements come from fractures and suppression, in society the repression of femininity has led to the demonisation of strong women. Strong women are often discriminated against.  Female politicians, prominent feminists, and leaders are judged on their appearance and personality, their very femininity is called into question time and time again. They are shaped into the evil step-mother or the witch, representing, in the outside world, this part of the psyche that is so difficult to manage. She is the product of misogyny.

In Cinderella and Snow White she is defeated, with the help of dwarves or the fairy god mother, but ultimately by the prince.  From a feminist perspective, this story is achingly patriarchal, complete with the happily-ever-after ending. A woman cannot save herself, she must play the role of the helpless victim and await her rescuer.  From a symbolic perspective the prince represents the animus of a woman’s psyche, although this strong defensive archetype need not be a masculine.

In the story of Vasilisa the Wise, as told by Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estés, the young heroine defeats her cruel step-family with the help of the little doll her dying mother had given her, symbolising intuition.  The stepmother’s plot to kill the sweet and uncomplaining Vasilisa was to send her into the forest in search of fire from Baba Yaga, the terrifying witch-crone. With the help of the intuitive doll Vasilisa is able to complete impossible chores and return home with a fiery skull on a stick. This burning gift of awareness watches the stepmother and step sisters all night and by the morning they are burnt to cinders.

The evil stepmother archetype and the process of burning up one’s inner tyrant through awareness and observance is reminiscent of Eckhart Tolle’s ‘pain-body’ and his advice on dealing with it.  The pain-body concept is the tangle of emotional damage everyone carries around with them. Sometimes it is dormant and sometimes it is active. It seeks to feed itself through creating drama and misery. Tolle advises close observance of the pain-body, and the cultivation of self-awareness, in order to overcome it’s controlling influences.

Astrologically, as the pathological parent, she resides in the fourth and tenth houses, in Cancer and Capricorn, in the afflicted Moon and Saturn.  She is cunning and resentful as the dark side of Scorpio, Pluto and the eighth house can be and she and her daughters’ gluttony could be represented by an unruly Taurus, Venus and the possessive second house.