The Goddess Re-visioned: 

Dreaming the Depths of Pathology as Soul

by Maureen B. Roberts, PhD


In exploring how pathology - including the eruption of Dionysian madness - reconnects us to soul, it's worth bearing in mind that if deconstructing norms and allowing for space in which shadow may limp and dance have a part to play in therapy, then there's little room for correcting, civilizing, patronizing, advising, moralizing, soothing, or privileging the 'light' of pleasant, or comforting 'spirituality' over the darkness of pain, suffering, and life's unavoidable cruelties.

Therapy, if it is to honour all the gods, hence soul as polytheistic - must give voice to the wounding and darker fires through which soul is forged. These blackenings, then, which lure soul to Underworld in their dreams of death, prismatically scatter seeds of nocturnal meaning into many fields of personal, cultural and political life where, bathed in soul's moisture and moonlight, they await germination.

Hecatean Dreaming

In this lunar light, in which dark Hecate's hounds of death bay, let's look at Mary's dreams: "I was flying over my husband's steel mill and the surrounding neighborhood, which is very rough. I come upon an orphanage named Our Lady Of Victory, a Catholic Children's Home. I descend in the dream to get a closer look, because this courtyard is full of statues, each kneeling in prayer around the Virgin Mary, who is lying in horizontal state on a funeral pyre, a great black stone slab. The other statues seem to be crying real tears. Pan and St Francis are there. I leave this place to discover that 'they' are fixing up the slums and constructing new homes for the needy. This pleases me in the dream. Through the next few years I began to have 'Baby Dreams'. I kept finding a baby who was malnourished and unkept and I would attempt to correct the injustice and nourish and care for it (it was either male or female). Sometimes my mother was there in a negative way, but each time I seemed to be the only person who could help this child and something would always happen to thwart my best intentions. Last week after a long build up of tension about my job, my marriage, my loves, and health problems, I walked in to work and gave my notice. I have circles and bags beneath my eyes and a broken spirit."

[In a later dream:] "I birthed the Black Madonna. She was the most beautiful creature I had ever seen. I wrapped her in swaddling clothes and laid Her in the manger and opened my full and acheing breast to feed her, after which we both fell asleep in each other's arms."

The dream beckons, reasssures and intrigues, not least of all because we've had several deeply impacting Madonna dreams shared around the Jung Circle [online Discussion List] Fire. The dreams (literally) moved me deeply; in other words, they prodded the Underworld soul in me.

Instead of trying to analyse the dream, then, I'll toss out some mythic associations and imaginal musings on it - as a way of celebrating and poeticising the dream's inexplicable truth. (One can analyse only by killing, or dissecting. I prefer to hold the dream intact - and to be held in turn by Eros as the full-spectrumed whole).

Psyche's Underworld Aesthetic

Firstly, I'm struck by the dream's Persephonic motions and metaphors of descent, death, blackness - all the soul's night array reflected in turn in Mary's own woundedness. The Black Madonna is one facet of the chthonian Goddess who images the maternal paradox of She who can remake what, as 'dis-integrating' Nature, she has destroyed through death: so Isis remakes Osiris. Persephone, the Greek mirror of the Black Madonna, is sometimes imaged as monstrous in form, with fangs and Gorgon eyes, like the Hindu Kali, but she is also nurturing Dark Mother to the depths of soul.

The dream, then, has to me (as yet another mirror of it), an underworld aesthetic that's soulful in extremis. The myth of Psyche also comes to mind, since her journey reflects soul's painfully initiating and endlessly returning path.

In our lone struggles and woundedness are their divine cause and cure. Only when Psyche descends to the lowest pit of Hell and pilfers a measure of Persephone's treasure, can she be reunited with Eros, patron of psychology and father of the divine child. The treasure, soul's initiation through death, is found in the Abyss of the heart's lone struggle to find its own authentic voice. Psyche feels the torture of loss and impossible effort. Weighed down with the Underworld lead of affliction, she contemplates the literalizing of death through suicide. Only wild Pan (who appears in Mary's earlier dream with the equally Nature-loving St Francis) helps her. Through 'pan-ic' transformed to courage, she attunes to the Madwoman, the Wild Woman, sisters of Persephone whose drums beat to Nature's wisdom, not to the cool, metronomic tick-tock of logic.

Perhaps the circles and bags beneath Mary's eyes are beautiful reminders of her own Psyche circles of death and return, of her toting with great toil from Below the 'bags' of Persephone's stolen treasure in order to share them with a suffering world.

'Hot Dog' Dreaming

The dream calls us, accordingly, to re-vision taboos and pagan shadows which announce the presence of the dark divine. For the infernal deities, too, have their part to play in the polytheistic drama of soul. While I was part of the Christian Church, for instance, I used to loathe dogs and yet all the while had recurring dreams about black dogs that were dying from being so hot; they glowed like coals and I always felt immense pity for them and tried to comfort them in their death throes. Finally, in a last 'hot dog' dream, the dying black dog stood up and metamorphosed into a black Wolf, who led me to climb upward and jump from rooftop to rooftop, as I gleefully escaped a group of irate Christians, who were seated neatly around a rectangular table, shouting for me to come down. I didn't and went on to leave the Church, along with its repression of the instinctual, fiery realm of Hadean depth. The Wolf stayed with me as a soul guide in Underworld and later became a shamanic totem.

Jung discusses the dog in the context of alchemy and as the dark side of the Moon, Hecate, or Diana; hence (also) Persephone's animals were dogs. Wolf, as I've hinted at, coincides with Hadean instinctual depth, which mythically parallels the Christian Hell, with the major difference that (amoral) Hades is included in the mythography of the sacred, whereas Hell is rejected as 'bad', or 'evil' by Christian orthodoxy. Bringing them back together - as mutually reinforcing 'contraries' essential to life - was what William Blake envisioned in The Marriage of Heaven & Hell and what Jung attempted with his Answer to Job

Renewing the Waste Land

The same waning of the patriarchal dominant and earthing of soul and Goddess through their joint appearance as an Underworld, dark Madonna is the dominant theme of the following dream by Teresa (and note the Jungian slip with 'squarely one'):

"I am outside my house when I see a frail, bent old man standing near a leafless tree. I notice he is being threatened by a huge bird of prey, either an eagle or vulture. I know immediately that this bird is murderous and must be distracted, so I cry loudly, 'No!' - much like one would to distract a young child. The bird turns slowly to focus squarely one [sic] me with his/her black piercing eyes and monstrous yellow beak. Now I know I am in trouble, but can protect myself only by boldly standing my ground and staring it down. The staring continues and I make tentative conciliatory steps toward the bird, but it flies away."

Here the old man and leafless tree might well be symbolically synonymous and as such bring to mind the 'waning sick King' mythic motif, the ageing of the ruling dominant of the collective, which must make way for new life - often an enantiodromian reversal - upwelling from the unconscious. (Note the dreamer's allusion to the 'child' bird as the opposite of the old man). The sick King traditionally mirrors the state of the land, as in the case of the wounded Fisher King - a Christ figure - in the Grail legend. The land then becomes a Waste Land - imaged perhaps as the 'leafless' tree. And Christ is of course the ruling image of the divine Self throughout waning Piscean age of dualistic thinking.

The archetypal old man as Saturnian senex is characteristically melancholic, sick, leaden, and barren, as opposed to the fruitful warmth of Nature. The dreamer's black-eyed bird, then, may be doing its much-needed work of removing (like a vulture) the sick old king in order that a new divine child may be birthed. Will the dreamer be willing to let it carry out its ruthless task and inflict a necessary death? In the dream, she resists it, but then makes a conciliatory gesture - as though she starts to appreciate the necessity of death as the route to rebirth. Was there a parallel personal myth at work here - her own growing acceptance of soul's dark night as the heavy-hearted nigredo of alchemy?

The nigredo, as the alchemists understood (and experienced), is a black affliction of soul, a melancholia feeding on death and flying through Underworld in the guise of the the raven, who is black as the eyes of the dreamer's predatory bird. The dreamer mentions, as well, the bird's yellow beak; in Celtic lore, the Blackbird, for instance, has a yellow bill, which symbolizes its power - as a link to Otherworld - to dig into the blacksmith's gold - just as the leaden heart of the nigredo precedes the gold of the risen Sun of new insight.

Soul's Need for Depth

Soul, coextensive with World as Soul, when deeply wounded is driven to its own depths to find its needed medicine. In alchemy as a dramatization of soul's diurnal rhythm, the sun falls repeatedly from daylight awereness with the weight of Saturn's monastic metal, which cradles and shields soul in Underworldly lead. The Vulture is a bird of death (black), the Eagle a bird of the Sun (gold). The verbal slip perhaps alludes to the basic alchemical mandala, the squaring of the circular unity - the bird focuses 'squarely one' on her.

It's precisely our fear of death, depression, madness and loss, our turning a deaf ear to the gods who call to us through these soulful symptoms, that keeps us fated to heed their cries for recognition as legitimate facets of the Underworldly divine. In other words, until we retrieve the treasure from the depths, the depths keep dragging us down through illness, madness, suicide, depression. As an example, in the context of the flow of psychic energy, chronic depression arises when energy that is normally channelled into conscious alertness and outer activity is pulled down into and sometimes trapped in unconscious depths. And until what soul craves is retrieved from Below, soul will continue to hunger for depth.

Those prone to heaviness and depression (descent, or lowering of libido) are therefore often the ones who are best able to dredge up the treasure from the deeps. The currency of Underworld is forged from lead; dealing in it is the price we pay for plundering the deep and salvaging its elusive riches. Indeed, taking depth to the extreme of initiatory death, if one does not go over the edge, or off the deep end, one cannot explore the depths, nor know the total abandonment to falling that spells death for the sovereignty of the light-loving ego.

The Marriage of Logos & Eros

Schizophrenics and shamans in this sense know what it means to fall into the Underworld domain of Dionysus and be torn apart by powerful maenadic energies. Such 'dis-integrations' can amount to an initiation, and the forces that have torn you apart can in turn become your most powerful allies. Black Madonna, too, calls us to depth, death, soul, reconnection to the divine in matter, to shadow, Nature, feminine and the dark night of the soul, to all that has been missing from an overly sanitized, overly rational, distant and exclusively masculine God-image. Only if we can transcend the tension of the opposites through centring our consciousness in the heart of the mandala will the divine androgyny be restored.

Without the feminine, the masculine is sterile and lacks the grounding and empathy of soul; without masculine detachment, the feminine wallows in suffocating depth and moisture and cannot be articulated through the cool clarity of the word. The positive Logos as the love of truth, and positive Eros as the truth of love, must marry within the individual and in the World if we are to birth the Puer of new beginnings - and survive our own apotheosis as human gods.

Extracted fromThe Erocentric Vision: The Mythogenesis & Dreaming of a New Wholism c. 1999 Maureen B. Roberts. Not to be reproduced whole or in part without permission. 'Erocentric' is a term I coined to denote this new weblike consciousness grounded in Eros as the feminine principle. *Note that all original dream material has been used with permission.


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