Monthly Archives: April 2013

The Serpent

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Adam & Eve The Serpent

Adam & Eve The Serpent

The Serpent

The Serpent is one of the oldest and most widespread mythological symbols. Its meanings are highly complex. The Serpent is a symbol of life and death, it is solar and lunar, light and darkness, good and evil, wisdom and blind passion, healing and poison, spiritual and physical rebirth. The presence of a serpent is often associated with female deities and the great mother.

In some cultures snakes are fertility symbols, and in others they symbolize the umbilical cord, joining all humans to Mother Earth. The snake is assigned many aspects. It is  shown as a Dragon, a snake twining up a trunk or staff, and as a Naga sheltering the Buddha.

In Christian mythology, the snake acts as tempter. It convinces Eve to eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge. The snake is evil, the devil himself.  In many religions, the devil is a supernatural entity that is the personification of evil and the enemy of God and humankind.

After Eve and Adam have eaten the fruit, God confronts them. Adam blames Eve and Eve blames the snake. God expels the two of them from the Garden and places a Cherubim at the entrance to keep them out. In his anger, God tells Adam that he will live by his labors, Eve will suffer in childbirth and the snake will forever be the lowest of the low.

In Gnosticism, the snake is thanked for bringing knowledge to Adam and Eve.  With knowledge, Eve and Adam are freed from the Demiurge’s control. I want to give credit to the serpent and to the woman who listened to the snake. Eve took a bite of the apple and a) she didn’t die, except to her old naive self and b) she was wiser and more conscious for having done so. By sharing her discovery with Adam he became wiser too. So instead of seeing the snake as the devil and the apple as sin, we need to be thankful for the disobedience, the curiosity to listen to something outside of the box, explore life’s possibilities, grow beyond childhood and listen to the wisdom within.

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The Bremen Town Musicians

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Bremen Town Musicians

Bremen Town Musicians

April fools us with five Mondays this year so Michelle and I have decided to each do a one-off tale of our own choosing.  I selected  The Bremen Town Musicians because it’s been a favorite of mine since childhood.  Since then I’ve revisited this tale several times, always with the same sense of delight.  I can pinpoint exactly where this sentiment resides – right at the top of my tummy – waiting to erupt into a gleeful sound, something between a chuckle and a gurgle.

In retrospect I  see that I loved the idea of animals (read non-entities and minions) upsetting the established order of things.  Their cheerful aplomb and raucous courage cheered my own rebellious heart.  I attribute that rebellious streak and longing for independence to my (at the time) terrifyingly angry mother, the strict hierarchy imposed on our family by the military culture we lived in, and the genetic disposition inherited from Dad’s determinedly individualistic family. The self-determination of the donkey, dog, cat and rooster endeared them to me.  To this day they remain great favorites of mine.

Male donkeys represent stubbornness, vulgarity and  laziness.  Though originally associated with Ra the Sun god ancient Egypt, later they became aligned with Seth the ‘evil’ brother and shadow side of Osiris.  Female donkeys, on the other hand, represent knowledge, symbol of humility, poverty, courage and peace. They appear twice in the Christ story – once to carry the Holy family to safety and again to carry Christ on his triumphal entry into Jerusalem.  Apuleius also made use of the donkey in The Golden Ass.  He transformed his protagonist into a donkey in order that he might work through his thoughtless foolishness and eventually regain human form  under the divine auspices of Goddess Isis.  The juxtaposition  of Donkey’s differing traits remind me of the Tao, the spiritual path we must all, sooner or later,set foot up.fyVMtP8A

Being born in the year of the dog gives me a great affinity for canines.  Their wild ancestry sings in my bones and allows me, at least metaphorically, to run with wolves.   Dogs above all else, symbolize loyalty, an attribute I appreciate in others and aspire to myself.  Because of their dual nature (wild and domestic) the dog is said to walk between worlds.  Dogs are often guardian figures such as Anubis or Cerberus or the companions of powerful Goddesses  such as Hecate, Diana, Hel, and the Caillech.  The hounds of Hell, who run with the Wild Hunt through Celtic nights, are sometimes called The Hounds of the Mothers.  Cave canem!  Beware of the dog  who can focus her wild nature through the lens of her loyalty and fight to the death to protect what she loves.

mosaic dog

Ah cats, who can deny their insouciance?  Sacred since time immemorial in both their domestic and wild guises they remain to this day creatures of portent and mystery.  Long demonized by The Church because of their affiliation with the Feminine Divine, cats have managed to retain their popularity in spite of being drowned, hung, skinned and burned at the stake. One reason is their ability to destroy vermin.  Unlike dogs who serve man out of love and loyalty, the cat makes a pact with humanity in which both parties are expected to fulfill certain conditions.  Cats love the night and seem to have a special affinity for the moon, reflected in the luminous orbs of their dark-adapted eyes.  Their purported nine lives make them a symbol of transformation and rebirth.

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The Rooster is known for his courage.  Long associated with the sun he is a solar symbol in many cultures around the world, venerated for bravery, kindness, raucous good nature, eroticism and ability to keep time.  His appearance in dreams may be a call to “wake up” or, if he appears in full plumage, a sign to strut your stuff.   In Christianity the rooster stands for the risen Christ, but he is also affiliated with the Greek trickster god, Hermes.  Good fortune belongs to Rooster, but his self-assurance and confidence can slide quickly into vanity and fool-hardy “cockiness”.

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All these animals are rich in meaning, they appear in dozens of tales around the world as both bit players and heroes. I could go on and on about any of them, but I can  already see a pattern emerging. Self-reliance, connection to Spirit, rebelliousness,  good humor  are all qualities I prefer and can lay claim to on my good days. Their shadow sides are mine as well. I am glad my old friends don’t hesitate to crow, bray, screech or bark when I get too vainglorious, stubborn or aloof.  This story reflects so much of my own nature. It’s interesting, gratifying and very humbling to me to see how little has changed, how much remains the same.

For some reason I gave this Germanic (notice the dachshund)  tale a Japanese setting – perhaps because of the import these creatures retain in so many diverse cultures around the world.  Their meaning differs, sometimes radically, but these four animals all make their home in our collective unconscious.  They are messengers from our deepest selves and most ancient community, bearing lessons and rewards for those of us with eyes to see and ears to hear.

As a child, I never noticed this story was about old animals being discarded by their community.  Now, my own aging eyes and ears perk at tales dealing with the end stage of life. After seeing my mom in and out of several nursing homes and watching my dad’s decline into old age, I am poignantly aware of how many of our old relations are shuffled off to deteriorate in death’s waiting room.  It’s an awful way to go.  I thank whatever gods may be that both my parents died at home, surrounded by family.  My own ageing process remains both fascinating and frightening .  I hope to meet it in the same spirit as Donkey, Dog, Cat  and Rooster meet theirs.  You’ll notice I used a lot of color (our prompt from Leah for April) in portraying them and yes, I used the word hope, upon which I cast such aspersions in the previous post.  The story speaks to me of color – the rainbow colors of diversity and change, creativity and novelty, courage and carnival, persistence and possibility.  I really like this story.  I like it even more now than when I first heard it.  It’s a noisy tale.  It says, “Do not go gentle into that good night.”

Coloring

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Coloring

Week #4: Prompt; Color

How does the word color work with Pandora’s Box?  This week I have no insight nor make any connection between the prompt Color and  Pandora’s Box.   What keeps coming up are the words Coloring and Coloring Books.

When I was young, sick and had to stay in bed, my mother would buy me a new Coloring Book and a box of crayons. I loved the dot-to-dot pictures. I loved the new crayons with their perfect points. I decided to turn my previous collages into black and white images. I then colored them using colored pencils. My enthusiasm for coloring did not last long. Perhaps it didn’t work back then either. When I was sick, I often fell asleep mid-page.

I decided to look up the word color in the dictionary. I hoped to find a new definition, something I could expand upon. Something to peak my imagination. What caught my interest is the word coloring. When used  as a verb … to misrepresent, especially by distortion or exaggeration – to color the facts. … I agree.  In the story of Pandora, the subject of  distortion  and misrepresentation  apply … the story colors Pandora and Eve as scapegoats. It’s women’s fault that there is evil in the world.  See my last post … First Sinners.

I looked up Color in my symbols dictionary and read what it had to say. “Color as a symbol is the differentiated, the manifest, diversity, and the affirmation of light. Black and White represent negative and positive, and all opposites. God, as light, is the source of color.” As I colored my black and white collages, I note that whatever is “colored” becomes more meaningful, pops-out, turns into a highlight …the red apples, the red heart, the yellow pears, the flowers, the bird and the Box. Pandora’s face, the butterflies, the blue shirt and the torn paper all take on a special focus. So what do I make of this collage? A Poem.

 Red apples, yellow pears,

Fruit from the Gods

Flowers briefly announce

Spring, Summer and Fall

Temporary, fragile, juicy heart,

Open faces, dot-to-dot the branch

With bird flutter and orange butterflies

Dancing gold coins tossed before the blue

Torn truth, black and white, splashes raindrops

Down to color  the feminine psyche.

The Color of Hope

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Color of Hope

The Color of Hope

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all,

And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.

I’ve heard it in the chillest land
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.

So says Emily Dickinson.  Knowing Emily as I do (she’s an old favorite of mine), I’m inclined to go along with the traditional rainbow-at-the-end-of–the-flood interpretation of her poem.  Nevertheless, she was well versed in irony and used it to alleviate bouts of frustration, bitterness and despair.  It’s possible “Never stops at all” means “Oh PLEASE, shut the Hell up!”

Do you ever get a tune in your head that won’t quit, just keeps replaying, again and again, no matter what?  Hope can sound like that – a repetitious melody that disallows any other thought and won’t let you rest.

Hope can be regarded as a delusion that keeps reality at bay; a dangerous illusion that can prevent introspection, delight in present pleasure or engagement with the world. Emily’s last line speaks to this when she says hope never “asked a crumb of me.”  In other words, Hope precludes relationship, give and take, mutuality. It can be a lonely pastime. Henry Miller would agree. He said, “Hope is a bad thing. It means that you are not what you want to be. It means that part of you is dead, if not all of you. It means that you entertain illusions.”

Of course there’s no definitive answer to whether or not hope is a blessing.  It remains a word of many colors – some somber, some bright.  Speaking of color, April’s prompt  from Leah Piken Kolidas at Creative Every Day is color.  Rainbow seemed an appropriate association for both color and hope.  Among my Pandora related collage images I found a rainbow-colored box and a rainbow-colored bird and although Michelle had already appropriated Emily’s poem, I wanted to use it, too.

My last collage for this story, leaves the ending as ambiguous as ever .  It answers none of our questions.  Who sent the storm that rained for forty days and nights – and why?  Why must girls be raised in ignorance to be exploited, manipulated and used?  Who profits from promises?  Who does Hope serve?  What lies beneath the surface of this tale built on deceptions?

The Box

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On Opening the Box

 

This week, I embrace the most accepted meaning (in our culture) of negativity – bad, evil, yucky, eech, nasty, unpleasant, dirty, harmful, damaging etc.  These are the attributes normally attributed to the evils Pandora let loose on mankind.  These are also  qualities often associated with women. (Yes, Virginia there is a misogynist.)

To this day, many forms of Christianity blame Eve for expulsion from the Garden of Eden.  Furthermore, any child born of woman gets stained, tainted, indelibly marked with sin as he/she slides through the birth canal.  These negative notions manifest in all sorts of ways in our society – you, no doubt, can easily name a dozen or so.  For example, women have a plethora of ugly sobriquets, which don’t bear repeating, so do their genitalia.  The mis-translation of Pandora’s jar to Pandora’s box doesn’t surprise me.  As Freud said, “There are no accidents without intentions.”

Jars, cauldrons, and pots are archetypal symbols of the great and holy mystery of the womb.  Even without vulgarization, the association is obvious but why does this ancient story connect women’s sexuality with ill?

We don’t know what exactly what changed during the 3rd and 4th millennia B.C.E. to subvert the worship throughout southern Europe of the Great Mother as a primary deity, but I tend to agree with Marija Gimbutas that a widespread invasion from the north took place by a people with superior technology whose primary deity was masculine.  Since human psychology is based in our mammalian brains, it has continued pretty much the same for thousands of millennia.  We were as susceptible to a good smear campaign in 4,000 B.C.E. as we are today and just as capable of manufacturing propaganda, mis-information and lies.  It isn’t difficult  to imagine a new religion dissing the old in order to replace one god with another.  We can find many historical examples of this in our  history, it’s not a stretch to imagine pre-historic predecessors engaged in the same activity.

How ere it came to be, modern twenty-first century women still suffer from it, as we have for generations. This collage is a picture of that lie.  It shows evils in the form of insects (other beings suffering a bad rap) emanating from Pandora’s “box”.  The vulture and the bronze representation of a liver are elements from the related Prometheus myth and denote the cruelty of Zeus (depicted at the lower right).  The liver also stands for the art of hepatoscopy, a kind of divination based on reading the liver.  It’s a reminder to search for the meaning below the meaning (see previous posting).

The vulture is one of the oldest known symbols associated with a goddess.  Even before Isis, with whom it became closely linked, the vulture belonged to Nekhbet whose oracle shrine is the oldest yet discovered in Egypt. (3100 B.C.E.)  Her priestesses were called muu (mothers) and wore robes of Egyptian vulture feathers.  The vulture stands for regeneration, maternity and the mystic cycle of birth, death and rebirth.  In my collage she represents the lost power and sanctity of the feminine.   However, the vulture’s wing encircles Pandora like a mother’s arm; the power, beauty and sanctity of the feminine are still Pandora’s to call upon if she will waken and remember.

The First Sinner

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The First Sinner
Pandora’s Box:
Wk 3 the negative aspect

The First Sinners

Pandora’s Box: Week #3, The Negative Aspect

 The fabric is torn. When women are seen as the lesser of the sexes, instead of as different but equal,  society is weakened and suffers discrimination. When it is taught that men are more logical, inventive, mathematical, and scientific and the stronger and brighter of the species,  society is negating half of its people. In the story of Pandora’s Box or  Eve and the Garden of Eden, the woman is cast in the  role of  the gullible, devious, nonsensical, illogical, stupid, disrespectful and naïve instigator.

 The difference between Instigator and Initiator is intent. An instigator is someone who starts trouble, or something destructive, while the person who is the initiator is someone who causes something important to begin. In both stories the woman is an initiator.

 In Timothy 1. 2:11-15 Paul gives as his rationale for directing that a woman should learn in quietness and full submission and she is not permitted to teach or assume authority over a man, she must be quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived, it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. He gives the women the major part of the blame. I think he was a misogynist.

In my collage, we see Pandora being lectured by the heavenly angel. The Angel is telling Eve/Pandora that all women are marked of her sins,  hereditary sin is the punishment.  This darkness is symbolized by the Crow. Because Eve tempted Adam to eat the fruit from the tree of knowledge and Pandora opened the box lid and let all the evils into the world, the two women are branded First Sinners. Now humankind is born into sin. The Angel says, “It’s all your fault.” I hope Pandora isn’t buying into this bogus crap.

I think all of this is nonsense. These are stories to keep women subordinate to men.  It is an attempt to blame women for all the evils of the world. In the case of Zeus, he is the one that put all the evils into the box in the first place. Who gives a beautiful box as a wedding present with a caveat? Here is the key but “what ever you do, do not open the lid.” wink, wink!  Zeus was the instigator. He knew Pandora would open the box, Zeus made sure Pandora had the quality of curiosity.

In the case of Eve and the Tree of Knowledge, God puts the forbidden tree right in the middle of the garden. Then he has the tree produce tasty eatable fruit. Everyday Adam and Eve see the Tree of Knowledge and are tempted. The Snake, probably a woman, seduces Eve into taking the apple. God could have put the tree in an out-of-the-way corner,  or the tree could have bared bitter berries, or cones or hard nuts. But God was the tempter, the instigator. The woman was  set-up. The Gods use women to get back at men. These stories suggest that the Gods need to get in touch with their feminine side and stop tricking women into doing their dirty work.  Ever notice that these stories always make the woman beautiful, picturesque and hard-working? And if  Paul has his way, all women would be compliant and quiet.   “Good Luck with that!”

Hope is the Thing

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Hope is the Thing

Pandora’s Box:  Week #2 Positive Aspect of the Story

Hope is the Thing

Emily Dickinson wrote …

Hope is the thing with feathers

That perches in the soul

And sings the tune without the words

And never stops at all.

 Hope gives us a reason to believe. Hope moves us forward, lifts us up, and changes us for the better. In my collage, the woman is offering up Pears, a symbol of hope, in the hopes that the gods will favor her goals. In the Emily Dickinson poem, she uses the metaphor of a songbird as the symbol of hope. The songbird sings his song never really knowing if anyone is listening. By singing out our hopes there is a chance they will come true.

The dictionary defines the word “Hope” as the feeling, “that what is wanted can be had or that “something you want to have happen is likely to happen.”  Dr. Barbara L. Fredrickson argues that “hope” comes into play when our circumstances are dire, when things are not going well, and when there is considerable uncertainty about how things will turn out. She states that hope literally opens us up and removes the blinders of fear and despair. It allows us to see the big picture, thus allowing us to become creative and have belief in a better future.

Butterflies and dragonflies are symbols of hope. Psychologist, C.R. Snyder says that hope is cultivated when we have a goal in mind. When we believe the goal is reachable and have a plan on how to reach that goal. We are like “the little engine that could, because we keep telling our self “I think I can, I think I can.”

In the collage, she places her heart on the world axis, opens her self and waits in anticipation. In the human heart, hope endures, defeating despair despite overwhelming circumstances. She sits near her Hope Chest. It is full of needlework, quilts, bed linens, and towels. She is ready to begin a new life and she has Hopes that the desired out come is at least possible.”

 

Curiosity

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The Harbinger

The Harbinger

Seize the moment of excited curiosity on any subject to solve your doubts; for if you let it pass, the desire may never return, and you may remain in ignorance.

~William Wirt (9th Attorney General of the United States 1817– 1829)

Wonderland is rife with stories about the consequences (initially dire or at least unhappy) of opening forbidden boxes.  Sometimes the boxes come as covered baskets woven by Native Americans, sometimes they are locked rooms, sealed jars or stoppered bottles.  Always the person who opens them is driven by insatiable curiosity to take a peep inside.  Most often they’ve been warned to KEEP OUT!

But, like the person who insists on visiting the spooky basement at midnight to investigate a strange noise instead of sneaking out the back door and running like hell while dialing 911, the insatiably curious just can’t help themselves.

Tales about locked boxes are often touted as learning stories intended to make people conform.  But, if we read them carefully, we find by the end justice prevails.  So perhaps the stories are really about the necessity to persevere through trial, error and some suffering, in order to bring about change for the greater good.  These accounts are among our oldest, old enough to be called myths,  with roots that go back into antiquity.  They are often complicated, richly layered tales full of twists and turn, successes and set-backs.  To me, they seem like initiation stories- rites of passage.

One characteristic of initiations is to take everything the student has learned and turn it upside down by teaching a seemingly opposite truth.  This radical paradigm shift knocks the aspiring initiate out her/his previous assumptions into beginner’s mind; open to new ways of inquiry and conjexture.  In Pandora’s Box the story seems to a warning.  On the other hand ,it might offer the neophyte encouragement to continue on the journey.  Or the story might be a koan meant to force the student to think more profoundly and explore alternative explanations.

In my collage, Pandora, who wears still keeps her golden key in the  medicine bag strung around her neck (perhaps she will encounter other boxes) has already unsealed her jar (bottom right corner) letting loose a swarm of noxious insects, many of which fly and/or sting.  The insects have long since dispersed.   Now, months later, something new has appeared on Earth – flowers.  Many of those flying, stinging, creepy-crawlies were pollinators.  Not only is the world awash in beauty, but a new kind of food is growing in abundance – mangos, paw-paws, bananas, apples, pomegranates, peaches pears, watermelon, pecans, walnuts, cashews,  almonds, potatoes, tomatoes, zucchini, cauliflower, eggplant, squash, beans , chilies – the list is endless.

You can see these flowers in my collage and also the pollinators, without whom much of the world’s population would starve to death.   The closed jars represent the potential for discovery – the potential for emptying that leaves the womb, which all jars represent, ready for new life.  The emptying is essential to creation; be it a baby, a book or a better mousetrap.  The sealed jars are the catalysts of curiosity, harbingers of action.  Pandora is the universal girl who dares act, who uses the gifts she’s been given to initiate change.

Pandora’s Keys

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“Pandora’s Keys”

(Pandora’s Box) Week #1 The Big Picture

 As the Greek Myth begins, Zeus is angry with the brothers Prometheus and Epimetheus for stealing fire and giving it to humans. He decides to send the brothers a “gift” … the gift of trouble in the form of a woman. He orders Hephaestus, the god of craftsmanship, to create a woman out of Earth and water. Hephaestus asks Aphrodite to be his model and when he is done, Athena breathes a soul into the creation. All the Gods and Goddesses give Pandora a gift so that she will be complex and beautiful. Apollo gifts her music, Hermes gifts her persuasion and great curiosity, and one by one, the gifts are added and received.

In my collage, I show Pandora as a young beautiful maiden. She is the first human woman. Zeus expects her to be very desired by all men. In fact, the first man to see her falls madly in love and they get married.  Pandora is very innocent.  She has no life experience and is surely uncorrupted.  As is the case with many young women today, she has no idea just how beautiful and vulnerable she is.

Zeus gives Pandora  a beautiful golden box with the admonishment to never open it.   Zeus knows that the gods have given her curiosity and Hermes  a set of keys. He knows it is only a matter of time before she opens the box.  One day when she is alone in the house, she sees the golden box and wonders what’s in side. She remembers the keys.  She tries the largest one first. Nothing happens. Next, she tries the littlest key and sure enough, the lock clicks.  Surprised, she gently opens the lid a crack to peek inside. As soon as the top is ajar, all the ugly evils fly out and about the room. She stares as they disappear through the crack beneath the door.

She is deeply saddened. Why would Zeus give her such a lovely gift and blackness pours out? As she is about to re-lock the box she hears a strange voice call out to her. “Pandora, take off the lid,” the voice said.  Pandora uncovered the box and out flew the spirit of Hope. “Zeus tricked you”, the spirit said. “I was hiding at the bottom, beneath everything else, Zeus didn’t see me. Now that I am free, I will give Humans Hope.”  Pandora opened the window and let Hope fly out into the afternoon breeze.