“Why would the greater culture of our day respond so powerfully to a mediocre novel with such a crackpot view of the history of Christianity and Western Civilization?”
This article is excerpted from a lecture given at the Haden Institute’s SUMMER DREAM CONFERENCE, Kanuga Conference Center, June 26–July 1, 2005.
ONE THING you learn quickly when you begin doing dreamwork in a Christian context is that you are not one of a large group. Therefore, all of us who are doing dreamwork in the Church today have moments when we ask ourselves, “What are we doing?” For most of us, our parents did not do dreamwork. Our grandparents did not do dreamwork. Nor, except in the very earliest Christian era, did any of our Christian ancestors regard dreamwork as a regular Christian discipline. So why suddenly in our time has dreamwork arisen as something that many of us feel to be crucially important not only for ourselves but for the future life of the Church? Why dreams? Why us? Why now? Is this just a passing enthusiasm, or are we caught up in something bigger? This question began to be resolved for me when The Da Vinci Code hit the bestseller list in 2003. People started telling me that I should read this book. It is about the sacred Feminine, they said. This was amazing: the popular culture was talking about the sacred Feminine! So I got the book and read it.
The story, as you probably know, is rather bizarre. A curator of the Louvre is murdered, and at his death scene he leaves mysterious clues having to do with Leonardo da Vinci. A so-called symbologist, the hero of the story, is called to the scene and becomes caught in an unfolding mystery of secret symbols and codes centered around what a New York Times book reviewer called “the lost sacred feminine essence.” Here are some pieces included in the mystery. Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene. After Jesus’ crucifixion, Mary Magdalene fled to France, where she gave birth to his daughter, Sarah. At the time of the Crusades, hard evidence of the marriage of Jesus and Mary Magdalene was discovered in Jerusalem, and a secret society arose, called the Priory of Sion, to protect this great secret and to guard and preserve the bloodline of Jesus. The Holy Grail is all about Jesus’ bloodline, with Mary Magdalene having been the original Holy Grail carrying, literally, the blood of Christ. Leonardo, as a member of the Priory of Sion, knew all about all of this and conveyed it in his painting of the Last Supper, where, for example, the feminine-looking Apostle John is actually Mary Magdalene. The Priory of Sion, in protecting these secrets through the centuries, understands itself to be preserving the sacred Feminine, and its plan all along has been to reveal these secrets at the turn of the twentyfirst century. Pitted against the Priory of Sion from the start, and on up to the present day, is the Church, which has sought to squelch the sacred Feminine and keep all spiritual power in the hands of men. The deepest inner circle of the Church knows about the Priory’s plan to go public and thus has redoubled its effort to crush it. And somewhere in all of this is the answer to the murder in the Louvre.
THAT IS THE STORY that has captured public interest for more than two years. The Da Vinci Code has remained on the bestseller list for all this time, which is very unusual for any book. Many other books have now been written to address the issues in this book, and there have been several TV documentaries about it. It has been a huge cultural phenomenon. And yet, The Da Vinci Code, as literature, is of no better quality than a summer beach book. And it is poor history. Real history tells us nothing more about Mary Magdalene than what we have in the New Testament—additional information in the Gnostic texts was recorded later and is much less reliable. The Apostle John figure in Leonardo’s Last Supper really is the Apostle John—art historians can explain this convincingly. There actually is an organization called the Priory of Sion, but it was only established in the 1950s. It’s a weird little group that is trying to bring back the monarchy to France, and it has no particular interest in Jesus and Mary Magdalene.
So the question before us is this: Why would the greater culture of our day respond so powerfully to a mediocre novel with such a crackpot view of the history of Christianity and Western Civilization? The answer would have to be that this book catches something that is very close to the surface of the broad collective consciousness of our time. And that something, of course, is the emerging realization that there is such a thing as the sacred Feminine. In this regard there are at least three major points made by this book that are basically true, even though they are not true in the way in which they are portrayed in the story:
1) there is such a thing as the sacred Feminine;
2) the sacred Feminine has been repressed by the institutional Church;
3) the sacred Feminine was not repressed by Jesus.
Let’s look at these one by one.
THERE REALLY IS such a thing as the sacred Feminine Feminine. But what is it? Is it what the novel says it is? Is it Mary Magdalene? Is she the sacred Feminine that we have lost? Is it her teachings? Is it that she was married to Jesus? Is it that she and Jesus had children? And/or: Will we find the sacred Feminine by reconnecting to the ancient goddess religions, to the cult of Diana or of Aphrodite or to the mystery rites of Isis? Is Gnosticism the key to the sacred Feminine? Is that what is in the lost gospels discovered at Nag Hammadi? Or have we had it all along in the Wisdom scriptures? And what about the Holy Grail—either the Jesus’ bloodline version or the King Arthur version? Will we find the sacred Feminine by studying the Grail legend? Or is it something that we bring back when we ordain women? Or when we ban masculine imagery for God, no more Lord and King, no more masculine pronouns? Does that bring back the sacred Feminine?
In The Da Vinci Code there is no suggestion that the sacred Feminine is anything more than all of these elements stitched together. Nor in the regular channels of institutional Christianity is there the slightest breath of suggestion of what the sacred Feminine might be beyond some of these possibilities. Not even in academia, in departments of religion and schools of theology, is there an established understanding that the sacred Feminine is more than some version of some of these possibilities. The fact is that while all these ingredients do indeed have something to do with the sacred Feminine, none of them is central to it: not Mary Magdalene, not the Holy Grail, not Gnosticism, not the ordination of women. What is central to the sacred Feminine is a natural transformative process hidden in the unconscious of every human being. The goal of this process is to transform a human being who has two warring parts—the reality of life, on the one hand, and high ideals, on the other—into a human being in whom these two parts are unified and at one. The struggle within each of us between these two sides, between life and ideals, is the war of the opposites. The transformation of human life from one in which the opposites clash to one in which the opposites dance together cannot be accomplished by high ideals and strong will alone, although that is the first way we try to do it, and it is the right way to begin. Some of the givens of life can indeed be made more ideal through will alone. We can, for example, change our speech from uncultivated to cultivated. We can change our store of knowledge by schooling ourselves. We can change our standard of morality by choosing and embracing a higher one. But we cannot change our instincts and drives, our deeply rooted natural reactions, feelings, and impulses. These are driven by a life force whose engine room is beyond our reach. We can contain them and restrain them by our will, but even this we can only do to a certain extent. And the mere containment of these life forces does not transform them. They are always waiting to break out again, and they take every opportunity to leak out in unconscious ways. Our instincts and drives, our natural reactions, feelings, and impulses are life. Because they are life, they change by a process of natural growth and transformation, not by the work of our will. Life, growth, and transformation belong to the feminine side of our existence and are rooted in the unconscious. Ideas, ideals, and the strong will of the ego belong to our masculine side, and they are rooted in consciousness. All of us have both sides within us.
LET’S LOOK at these two sides of human life as they develop in an individual. When we first come into life, we live primarily in the motherworld. The natural process of physical growth and physical transformation is front and center. Ideas, ideals, and the will of the ego are present at first as mere potential and then as weak structures, but physical life, which is the elemental Feminine, predominates. After puberty, ideas, ideals, and the will of the ego become much stronger. This is the masculine principle, and in order for it now to grow to its full strength and potential, it must push back against natural life; it must distance itself from it, rise above it, free itself for a life of the mind and for the pursuit of ideals that are higher than the endless round of natural life. If a sixteen-year-old girl gets pregnant in high school, or a sixteen-year-old boy drops out and joins a gang, they have gone back to the natural round. To avoid this they have to push against their instincts. They have to put down the unconscious, elemental Feminine and let conscious masculine ideals rise in their lives. But this development is not the end of the story. The more successful the ego is through the years in cutting free from the unconscious natural round and establishing its own kingdom in the realm of consciousness, the closer it draws to its own Armageddon. The further consciousness goes while out of relationship to the unconscious, the more it begins to extend itself beyond what underlying life can support. Not that this is an inherently bad thing. The state in which purely conscious development has gone too far is simply the end-time of the second stage of human life, which is the stage of one-sided masculine development. This stage is never going to stop short of overreaching. It is always going to push on to this point; and then it is time for the correction.
WHEN WE REACH this endtime as individuals—usually we are in our forties and we call it the midlife crisis—we have three choices for how we will respond. Our first choice is super-repression. We can hang on to our high ideals and pile up all the furniture in our inner house against that door of the unconscious that is trying to open, that is bulging with the life force that wants to break out and restore equilibrium. This will produce a tight and distorted individual life that darkens the other life around it. Think Darth Vader, “Dark Father,” the character in Star Wars: he is almost a machine, so much life has been repressed in him. The second choice is to do a flip-flop. Jung has a long word for this, “enantiodromia.” It means that something flips over and the other side comes up. This is a very common way in which people deal with the unconscious. Just flip it over and do the opposite. In this alternative, the person caves in to the emerging life force without applying consciousness to the situation. The ego’s ideals and principles are completely overthrown as the repressed life force rushes in. This is the preacher who runs off with his secretary. The third alternative is transformation. In this the person hangs on to ego consciousness and high ideals and at the same time allows the door of the unconscious to open. He courageously faces what flows out, using all his ego strength to recognize and understand what he is experiencing. Within that flow of life that is now being consciously faced are troublesome forces, like the in-love feeling that the preacher has for his secretary and other things that we would call the shadow. But also in that same flow is the hidden instinct for wholeness that is the sacred Feminine. This is a natural process imbued with divinity that is there to help us resolve the tension between ego ideals and the troublesome forces of life—and to resolve that tension in a God-centered way that preserves and strengthens love and creates wholeness.
WHY IS the sacred Feminine, the instinct for wholeness, hidden? Or to use the language of The Da Vinci Code, why is it a secret? It is said to be hidden because it seems to be hidden, not because it really is hidden. It is actually right in front of us all the time, but it takes a strongly developed consciousness to see it. It is important to note the pattern here: unless the Masculine puts down the elemental Feminine in the second stage of life and gets strong on its own, it will not be strong enough in the third stage of life to open the door and face what is going to come out of the unconscious. For this we need an ego consciousness that has enough strength to stand before the free flow of the life force and really look at it and really seek to understand it. We need an ego consciousness that is strong enough not to run in fear when it sees in the flow of life an intelligence and purpose and creative ability that exceeds the ego’s own conscious understanding. By standing and facing this truth, the ego has to acknowledge that the ego itself is not the most powerful force in its own personality. For the ego, who up until now has been king, this is death, death as the master of its own realm. But because it dies, and only because it dies, it can be reborn as a new kind of ego that bows its head to the greater master who lives within its own house, not up in heaven but here on earth, in the things that happen both inside and outside. So The Da Vinci Code is right: there really is such a thing as the sacred Feminine. And yet nowhere in the book is there so much as a clue that the sacred Feminine is the author of this death and rebirth, this transformation of the ego that happens when the secret of the sacred Feminine becomes known. Nor, of course, is there any clue that this powerful inner event can only happen individual by individual, as one by one each person’s ego becomes strong enough to face it.
THE SECOND TRUE POINT made by The Da Vinci Code is s that the sacred Feminine has been repressed by the institutional Church Church. This is obvious on the face of it. The institutional Church, on the whole, does not even know about the transformative process of the sacred Feminine as I have just described it, much less does it teach about it or help people find their way to it. But before we attribute this omission to a diabolical plot by the Church against the Feminine, let us look at it in the greater context of Western Civilization. If we take a quick tour of the prehistory and history of the Western world, we can see that it follows the same stages of growing consciousness that we see in individual life. In the earliest days of human life in the West, before the rise of civilization, the balance of life and idea, of Feminine and Masculine, was heavily weighted toward the Feminine. For early man the challenges of basic physical life overshadowed and dominated any ideas that arose. This was the heyday of the elemental Feminine. The goddess religions arose and grew great during this time, especially toward the end of this period. It was only with the invention of writing that the idea side of life, the masculine side, could start to gain some ground. Without writing there is no way to compare anything and no way to conserve and amass knowledge. Writing was invented around 3000 BC, and with that civilization took off and began to go. By the time of Christ, widespread consciousness was beginning to make real progress. The Greek philosophers were in full swing; we already had Aristotle and Plato. In tandem with this development, and directly related to it, the goddess religions were fading in strength, and monotheism was rising to highlight and support the masculine principle of ego consciousness and the high ideal. As this development moved on through the early centuries of the Christian era, the great human project was to rise above mere instinctual life and free the human for reflection and thoughtfulness. This meant a campaign of suppression of the elemental feminine principle throughout the Western world so that the human ego could grow strong and high ideals could be sought. The Church played an important role in this campaign by stressing the importance of the individual and by preaching high ideals. Two thousand years later, the Church is still playing the role it has always played, and this traditional role still helps many people who are at the stage of trying to rise above the downward pull of elemental, instinctual life.
This may be, in large part, why Christianity thrives so today in the Third World, where literacy is just now becoming widespread and the chance for ego development is only just now appearing. But in the Western world, the stage of one-sided development of the masculine principle has gone on for a long time, and it has begun to create more problems than it can solve. Western ego development has grown so strong and become so disconnected from the reality of life that it has produced a number of dire, planet-wide crises, such as global warming and the ever present nuclear threat. The magnitude of these problems is enough to indicate that one-sided masculine ego development in Western civilization has reached a stage that is comparable to the midlife crisis in an individual. As a culture, we now have the same three choices that an individual would have. We can go into superrepression, and some people are going this route: this is the rise of fundamentalism. We can flip-flop, and many are going this route: this is the rise of hedonism and the growing deterioration of the social order. Or we can choose transformation, and a small but increasing number of people are feeling their way along this route: this is where the rising interest in dreams and inner work comes from, both in the culture at large and within the Church.
THIS BRINGS us to the third true point made by The Da Vinci Code Code, which is that Jesus himself did not repress the sacred Feminine. There are many ways I could make this case, but I will focus on the argument that seems to me to be most simple and clear. For this we will look not at Jesus per se but at Christianity at the moment of its birth. From the absolute very beginning of Christianity and on up to the present day, there has been an enduring constant among all the variants of this religion. That enduring constant is that in order to be a Christian, a person must be baptized. Now, what is it that makes baptism so important? According to the words of Paul, recorded in our very earliest Christian documents, one becomes a Christian in baptism by going down beneath the water and dying there with Christ and then rising up again, reborn with Christ, transformed, just as Christ was transformed in rising from the tomb. Both the tomb and the water are understood to be a kind of womb from which new life is born after death has been suffered. Let us look very closely at exactly what the image of this ritual is saying to us. Water is universally a symbol of the unconscious, and the unconscious is the feminine realm. So to become a Christian we must go down into the unconscious, into the feminine realm, and die. The symbolic death in baptism obviously represents the death of the original, ego-centered ego, and the symbolism of rising transformed to new life obviously represents the emerging of the new ego that has bowed its head to the greater master in its own house. As Paul himself puts it, “It is no longer I who lives, but Christ who lives in me.”
The “I” who no longer lives would be the original ego. So at the forefront of Christianity for all this time we have carried, hidden in plain view, the secret of the sacred Feminine. But before we could see it and recognize it for what it is, we had to need it. It had to be relevant. And for many of us now, we do need it—it is relevant. For many of us, the mere ritual of baptism is not enough anymore. We need more than the image, more than the idea, more than the unconscious action. We need the actual experience of immersion and death in the waters of the unconscious and the actual resurrection as transformed human beings. We need the fifteen-year version of baptism, not the fifteen-minute version.
That is not to say that the ritual version of baptism is without value. It has very great value, and the Church must keep offering it. Like a dream that is not analyzed, the ritual does do a certain amount of good for the individual on an unconscious level—all ritual does, if it is good ritual. For broad collective consciousness, the baptism ritual carries a crucial image of the underlying reality that it symbolizes. It has kept that image before the Christian community for 2000 years, and it must continue to keep it before us. But at the same time, the Church needs to open its eyes to the deeper implications of the baptism ritual and claim that territory for its own. It is the territory of the Church. And the recognition of this is beginning to stir.
SO, WHY DREAMS? Why us? Why now? I hope it has become a little clearer what we are up to in this small but growing movement of Christian dreamwork. Why dreams? Because dreams are, to quote Freud, “the royal road to the unconscious.” They are our most direct portal to the living voice of the sacred Feminine. As Carl Jung put it, “Every night a Eucharist.” Why us? Because we are Christians, and our religion is dedicated at its very heart to transformation through the sacred Feminine. Why now? Because the old era of one-sided devotion to the masculine principle is drawing to an end in our part of the world. A transition in consciousness is on the horizon. The reality of this transition is beginning to penetrate the collective consciousness of our time, galvanizing the imaginations of millions of readers of a second rate novel that catches, barely catches, a glimmer of the emerging truth. It is this major shift in human consciousness that has gathered us here today. This sacred Feminine thing wants to happen. It is happening to us. It is grabbing us up one by one and gradually winning us over in our devotion to its transformative action in each of our lives.
•• The idea of the hidden aspect of the Feminine and the need for advanced ego consciousness in order to see it comes from C. G. Jung’s Flying Saucers. The idea of two levels of feminine reality, the elemental and the transformative, is from Erich Neumann’s The Great Mother.
Joyce Hudson is the author of NATURAL SPIRITUALITY and the editor of THE ROSE. As she heads toward the end of her fifties, her monkish tendendicies are intensifying. She dreams of great stretches of solitude, of time to read and to write. Husband, dog, and cat do not count as interrupters of solitude—fellow monks all. Sunday afternoon dream group at Emmanuel Church in Athens doesn’t count either—what would she do without it? And she loves the dream conferences. But beyond that . . .