The symbols and themes of dreams, legends, fairy tales and myths address realities that the soul understands, even if the conscious mind does not. For example, the legend of King Arthur features a walled city. We might be tempted to think that Camelot’s walls are nothing more than an incidental detail. So what if Camelot was surrounded by walls? Lots of ancient cities were fortified by walls. But as I’ve said before: Everything has meaning. Our symbols are clues to sacred mysteries.
If we look at the walled city as an important clue, we find the underlying meaning of Arthur’s story as it applied to the souls of those who lived in the place and time when it was written. Cirlot’s Dictionary of symbols says, “Jung sees the city as a mother symbol and as a symbol of the feminine principle in general: that is, he interprets the City as a woman who shelters her inhabitants as if they were her children…”
In the Old Testament of the Bible, cities are often spoken of as women, and in the Middle Ages, a city was one way of representing the Virgin Mary in art and architecture. The walls that encircled cities were seen to have magical powers to protect the citizens in the same way that a mother’s womb protects her child or the enfolding branches of a tree protect a baby bear.
The walled city is no mere incidental detail in King Arthur’s story, and it ended in the only way it could. The destruction of Camelot’s protective walls was inevitable given that this story emerged within a culture which, after a few hundred years of Roman rule, had begun to fear and scorn the Great Mother. Here is the symbolic message of this story: Not even the wisest and most benevolent King that any story teller could ever imagine could save a civilization that was systematically demolishing its feminine spiritual roots!
The negative elements of public and private myths speak to negative realities within the collective and individual psyche. What is the antidote to these powerful poisons? In his book The Mythic Imagination, psychotherapist Stephen Larsen says that conscious mythmaking is healthy and healing because it helps our egos relate to unconscious aspects of ourselves.
I think of the Wisewoman archetype as the part of us who knows when old stories that once worked for us have gone on too long, and who sends us new symbols that can ease us through the transition of change. But all the symbols in the world cannot help us if we will not help ourselves. It is up to us to notice symbols and themes that resonate, and to reshape them into new myths that will support and sustain the necessary changes. As theologian Matthew Fox has said: “Healthy people base their lives on healing, authentic stories. Empowerment comes through the process of telling those stories.”
We cannot live the fullest meaning of our life by basing it on someone else’s story about who we are or what we should be. Only our experiences, only our choices, only our own imagination and symbols have transforming power for us. To that end you might ask yourself these questions: What stories have I lived by? How have they had a negative influence on me? How have they been positive? What new symbols and themes is the Wisewoman sending my way? What emerging strengths would I want to feature in my new myth? What images might best symbolize these strengths?
“Man, like the other animals, is originally simply the puppet of instinct, just as the infant is. Unless he is moved by instinct, he remains