Monday, October 4, 2010

Archetypal Musings

Crossing to Avalon: A Woman's Midlife Quest for the Sacred FeminineI've actually been trying to write this post all day. It has been difficult to put into words why Jean Shinoda Bolen's "Crossing to Avalon" just didn't quite pull me in. There are many, many folks who know more about her than I do. Psychiatrist, Jungian analyst, Professor, author as well as a voice at the forefront of what I can only call feminine mystic studies. She really helped bring the Goddess to every woman.
The book is her personal journey into midlife. Post-divorce, Jean went on a pilgrimage to sacred sites in Europe. Her visits to Chartres Cathedral, Glastonbury and the Isle of Iona are superimposed with the mythical journey that most of us know as the Grail legend. She weaves in all sorts of Greek and Celtic mythology – mainly centered on female deities and feminine experience – along with the occasional Jungian principle. She picks apart the myths and their archetypal metaphors, bringing herself deeper and deeper into a mystical experience that energizes and centers her within the mystery of the journey itself.
It would be impossible to even try to detail how she layers her tale with symbols, metaphor and folklore. Everywhere she looks, everything she feels is part of the archetypal tale that she writes about. Bolen has done something that I think everyone should do – she has taken her faith and spiritual journey and has tailored it to fit who she wants to be in the world.
And it doesn't quite work for me. Because it is so singularly her experience and interpretation of what she sees.
There are two things that I can't quite let go of:
  1. She is so obviously looking for feminine empowerment within the actual historical ruins of a patriarchal tradition. In some ways that is lovely and I know in her other works she isn't quite so focused on unveiling all that is mystical and powerful about the ancient goddess traditions. I guess I navigated those waters a while ago and no longer need to try to make everything fit into a construct of my own gender. "To understand the Grail story from her perspective is to enter the realm of the Goddess and women's mysteries – where Grail, and Goddess and Woman come together." Why can't we simply explore the tale and let me figure out what it means to me? I don't buy into the whole 'women are the vessels through which the goddess comes' scenario in the first place so it is kind of hard to keep following her down this path.
  2. The other aspect of Jean's work is that of being a Jungian analyst. I give a better nod to this work probably because I'm a therapist and respect Jung's body of work. I'm really not too sure about the whole collective unconscious part of his theories and Bolen seems to hold to that theory as she talks about the "timeless, transpersonal source" or the "deep stratum" that we all have potential access to. And when we do access it, we all have access to the same cache of symbols and meanings. As I read her metaphoric journey, I keep feeling like I am being told by an expert that goddess X means Y. What if I don't want to think of labyrinths as wombs? What if I don't think the Grail is Cerridwen's cauldron? What if I think Bolen's interpretations of ancient folktales is simply a product of her time and place? Is that her point? Or does she really believe all of this?
See? I get totally wrapped up in the "what ifs" and then… I can't follow her on her journey. Too many leaps into the frothy realm of fiction and fantasy.
And then she says something like this:
"During midlife, the desire to be real to ourselves, which comes from our soul, contributes to the crises we unconsciously create when we do not consciously acknowledge that we do not feel vital and authentic. There is an internal impetus to become a whole person and when we spend time in the metaphorical forest and the actual forest or natural world, we are exposed to the possibility of retrieval and growth of our instinctual nature, our spiritual connection with Nature and our sense of oneness with the universe." (p.157)
That quote alone makes me love Jean Shinoda Bolen. If she wants to use myth and archetypal stories to make this quote more accessible – I may or may not patiently read through her musings to get there. If she can help women have their own relationship with sacredness and spirit – awesome. Retrieving our "instinctual nature" is important for whatever journey age is bringing because the first thing that anyone needs to do is value their own way that they make sense of the world. I don't need Greek goddesses and grail legends in order to do that – but if someone else does – good for them.

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