Speaking in Symbols

Learning the language of the subconcious

Archive for the category “feminine”

The Sow, the Horse, and the Butterfly, pt 1

During a recent meditative session, I had the image of a sow, a black horse, and a brown butterfly come to mind in succession.  I’ve found all of these images fascinating, though I’ve had a hard time coming up with a connection. Perhaps they are all symbols that I need to consider individually.

For several days now, I have also tried to combine all three images into one big blog post, with little success. I’ve made a decision, then, to write separate posts for each animal.

The Sow

sow1The pig is a creature of extremes. Depending on the culture, the pig is a symbol of wealth, fertility, and abundance, or one of filth, sloth and greed.

The image I saw was one of a sow, a mother pig. As I considered the sow, I think of her motherhood, and the fierce way that she protects her piglets. I have heard of hunters trapped by mother boars who were protecting their piglets.

The dichotomy continues, though. Pigs are omnivores, and  not particularly picky about what they eat. Sows will eat their young during lean times–making the sow the best and worse of mothers.

The sow was sacred to Demeter, the Greek Goddess of fertility, grains, the harvest, and marriage.

The sow differs from the image of the horse and butterfly, in that she is the epitome of domesticity. Her power comes from her staying close to the farm.  She is homely, and unloved.

I have come to love the poem “St Francis and the Sow” By Galway Kinnell

The bud
stands for all things,
even for those things that don’t flower,
for everything flowers, from within, of self-blessing;
though sometimes it is necessary
to reteach a thing its loveliness,
to put a hand on its brow
of the flower
and retell it in words and in touch
it is lovely
until it flowers again from within, of self-blessing;
as Saint Francis
put his hand on the creased forehead
of the sow, and told her in words and in touch
blessings of earth on the sow, and the sow
began remembering all down her thick length,
from the earthen snout all the way
through the fodder and slops to the spiritual curl of the tail,
from the hard spininess spiked out from the spine
down through the great broken heart
to the sheer blue milken dreaminess spurting and shuddering
from the fourteen teats into the fourteen mouths sucking and blowing beneath them:
the long, perfect loveliness of sow.

 

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Shadow monsters

As I’m learning about symbols, one of the things that I find fascinating is the division of masculine and feminine symbols and principles. On the masculine side, there tends to be things like the sun, the sky, light, inflation and stability, while on the feminine side, there are things like the moon, the earth, shadow and darkness, depression and chaos.

The feminist in me gets indignant over the idea that the masculine symbols tend to be positive, and the feminine symbols tend to be negative, and she is ready to go on a long rant about the patriarchal society–but I’ll save that for another blog.

There is a reason I’m bringing this up here, I promise.

 

Shadow monstersIt’s been about a week since this image came to me, and I began my research on it, so the details of what I was doing were a little fuzzy.

The details may be hard to see, but these three monsters are shadows cast by little people down at the bottom. I tried to make it look like the shadow was going across the floor, then up a wall, but I’m not sure how well I succeeded–this was also one of my first attempts at using oil pastels, so things aren’t as crisp and clear as I would like.

Artistic criticism aside, the more I study this image, the more interesting it gets.  My first impression was that the shadow monsters represent something hidden, some personal secret. Whatever is casting this shadow is completely overwhelming the people.  I saw this as an image of fear.

Looking at this image logically (a masculine trait), I can see that there is nothing to the monsters. They are just shadows, and shadows can’t hurt you. But when I bring emotion (a feminine trait) into the picture, I see fear and anxiety, and am reminded of a child who cannot sleep because he is frightened of the shadows in his room. No matter how logically you explain that there is nothing in the closet, nothing under the bed, and the scary shapes are the same things he sees during the day, it does nothing to comfort him.

I spoke in my last post, “Of Kings and Slaves“, of needing to find balance, and I think this image speaks of that. The shadow, the feminine, is overwhelming and scary, and masculine logic does nothing to ease the fear. By increasing the light, the masculine, the shadow monsters become stronger, more terrifying. Changing the angle of the light will diminish them, but it will not cause them to go away.

In speaking with my therapist, I came up with two ways to vanquish the monsters.light within our heart One, is to give each of the little people a light source, an internal light.  Doing this would allow each of the individuals to chase away the darkness in the shadow. For me, this inner light source is representative of God, spirituality, and self esteem. This is also the masculine way of doing things. By bringing additional light in additional places, it becomes a fight with the monsters. If I put the symbolism of spirituality aside, and  simply focus on the masculine method, this can be terribly destructive–think of the sun in a cloudless sky during the midst of a drought, for instance, or the destruction that is wrought by an out-of-control fire.

The light is good, certainly, but it is not the only way, and not necessarily the best way.

Tiers-of-night-sky_FullyM_001The second way to vanquish the shadow monsters would be to remove the light–without a light, no shadow can be cast. This would be a more traditionally feminine approach, It would involve figuring out the anxiety that the shadow monsters represent, and come to an understanding of a) why that situation would make me anxious, and b) coming to accept the anxiety as part of my life.

When this solution was first put to me, it seemed, well, scary. But the more I thought about it, the more sense it made. I’ve spent more than 20 years fighting depression, maybe it’s time to listen to what it has to say. Besides, there is a great deal of beauty that can only be seen in the dark–as one who tries to star-gaze in an overly-lit neighborhood, I can certainly attest to that fact.  Still, too much shadow is also harmful, it leads to destruction through cold, rather than heat. And, without light, nothing can grow.

Whether I face these monsters in the light or in the shadow, there needs to be a balance reached. Combining the masculine and feminine methods will not destroy the monsters, but neither alone provides the answers for everything.

Of Kings and Slaves

I have had two figures that have been reoccurring in my dreams recently, the figure of a king, and the figure of a slave.  Thoughking and slave their appearance change, they always show up together, and I have an innate knowledge that they are the same person.

While trying to figure out the best way to represent the sameness and the difference between the king and the slave, drawing them as a Janus, or bifrons, figure made the most sense.

Janus was the ancient Roman god of beginnings and transitions. He was often depicted as having two faces, because he could see into the future, and into the past.  To  me a Janus figure represents a dual nature, in this case, the extremes of power–an all powerful king, and a lowly slave.

 

The image of a king is one of power and responsibility. He holds the wealth of nations, he isking card the ultimate authority.  He is the decision-maker, and the results of his (and other’s) decision rest firmly on his shoulders.  He is a masculine power. He is the closest thing to a god on the earth.

In further exploring the symbolism of the king, the Arthurian legend of the Fisher King came to mind. The Fisher King was the last in a long line charged with protecting the grail. He was wounded in the leg or groin, and his health was reflected in the well-being of his kingdom–upon receiving the crippling wound, his kingdom became an uninhabitable wasteland.  The health then of the king archetype is a reflection of my mental health.  Unfortunately, determining the well-being of my king has proven to be a difficult task.

There is a great deal of anxiety attached to the image of the king for me.  For all the good, benevolent and compassionate deeds he preforms, he is also a stubborn, proud tyrant. I have a flowchart in my art journal under the entry for king;  anxiety<–tyranny–>discipline.  The way that the tyranny of my inner king is directed, if it is towards anxiety or discipline, has a profound impact on my mental well-being.

 

 

slaveIf I look at the slave that always accompanies my king, I see a puppet, a tool, a thing to be used. Even though the slave in my dreams is always male, the archetype of the slave is a female power, and as I was exploring the symbolism of the slave, it became natural to write about it with female pronouns.

The slave is more flexible and adaptable than the king. Her road is a tough one, but it is also the path of least resistance. She knows she will never “get ahead” in life, and she’s content with this.  Her existence is based solely on serving others, she is the epitome of humility.

In a way, I found more freedom in the slave image than in the king image. The slave doesn’t have to make the tough decisions, and she doesn’t take responsibility for her mistakes. But this is a trade-off for a comfortable life.  She has traded comfort for ease. She also believes that her worth comes solely from what she does.

I spoke to my sister on the phone while I was researching the characteristics of the slave. We were talking about some of the causes that I am passionate about (victims rights, feminism, education, etc). I expressed a wish to be able to do more, and she said “You don’t have to save everyone”. This struck a deep chord in me. I don’t think the slave knows that she doesn’t have to save everyone except herself.  She doesn’t see herself as worth saving.

 

The most important thing about these archetypes is that they always appear together. I never see the king without the Balanceslave, and I never see the slave without the king. They are one and the same.  There is a balance to be made between these two extremes.

I think that everyone has a dual nature, that we all have our extremes. The idea that I need to find my center, find my balance is one that has been overwhelming to me lately, mostly because I don’t know how I’m out of balance, I don’t know what side of the scale is lacking, so to speak.

Perhaps it isn’t so much that I’m out of balance, but the things that I’m using to find my balance is off–it does no good to counter the arrogance of a king with the fatalism of a slave, for instance.

The combination of the king and the slave also bring to mind the Christian God, with the kingly representation of God the Father, and the lowly Jesus of Nazareth. It is possible that I am being told to become closer to God, I don’t think that is the whole of the message.

I have worked on decoding the meaning of the king and the slave for a long time now, and I don’t think that I’m anywhere near having it all figured out.

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