Thursday, October 15, 2009

Ouroboros: Eternal Symbol of Endings and Beginnings

The symbol of a snake curved in a circle and eating its own tail is goes back to Ancient Egypt, appears in old Alchemy drawings and can be found today on album covers and tattoos. Secret societies have also used this symbol throughout the centuries.

In the simplest of terms, the Ouroboros symbolizes the eternal cycle of life. In many traditions, the circle represents wholeness, or One-ness, because a circle has no beginning or end. (This is part of the symbolism behind the wedding band, but that's another topic for another day). The Ouroboros snake appears to have a beginning (head) and an ending (tail), but since these are joined together, it points to the fact that the two are actually one in the same. Here, the "ending" is really a new beginning and the cycle starts over again.

The Great Cycle of Life that shows up time and again is one of the most significant aspects of Nature itself. All living things, as well as planets and stars, have their life cycles. In the case of an apple tree, the dead apple that falls to the ground and starts to rot is actually the fertilizer that nourishes the seeds inside, which in turn grows into a new apple tree, and so on. The death of the apple makes it possible for the birth of a new tree. Some spiders do the same thing; the mother guards over the egg sac and when the babies are hatched they will consume the mother to help in their survival.

So what about humans? Most everything we eat, including vegetarians, was once alive and then killed for our consumption so that we may survive. Symbolically, the Ouroboros can represent the "death" of the child so that the adult can be born (aka puberty), or, that the death of the bachelor heralds the birth of the husband as he takes the vows of marriage. Generally speaking, we want to "kill" the lesser so that the greater may emerge. In mythology, the Mentor or teacher must die at some point (actually or symbolically) so the Hero or student can then become the master.

Many Near-Death Experiences involve a passage through a dark tunnel where there is light at the end where loved ones are waiting to welcome you into the new world. Is this not the same as our birth, when we move through the birth canal into the light outside, where our parents are waiting for our arrival?

Circles and cycles are not difficult to understand: we see the seasons change and change back again; the death of the night announces the coming day and the death of the Sun brings the night and nocturnal creatures to life. Each month the New Moon begins the waxing phase and the Full Moon begins the waning phase and so on. This cyclical motion of constant change and then starting over again is just about everywhere you look if you care to observe.

In Science, we have the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics (or conservation of energy) that states, "Energy cannot be created or destroyed, it can only be transformed." So really, the place where the death becomes the birth is the point of transformation, and in the long view, the transition from one to the other is seamless. That is, even though one form "dies," it doesn't really go anywhere - it just takes on a new form.

In the spiritual tradition of the Phoenix, the bird that lives for 500 years eventually consumes itself in its own flames, only to be born again. [As a side note, it may be that the Bald Eagle of the United States is really a Phoenix in disguise.] This "born again" motif shows up in Christianity, where the old "sinner" self has to die so that the "saved" Self can emerge and thrive. Think of the Ouroboros when you consider what Jesus meant when he said "I am the Alpha (beginning) and the Omega (ending)."

In our own lives, the Ouroboros can be a powerful and practical symbol to conjure up in our minds (or tattoo on our bodies or use as a wallpaper on our iPhones) when we are faced with any kind of ending or new beginning. The lesson from the snake eating its tail is that endings such as death, loss and change can be seen as new beginnings, new life, new love. The circle represents the Eternal; the head and tail the death and rebirth of the Temporal. Most religious traditions and philosophies agree that, while we have only a short finite life in this world, we are part of an eternal existence in the Universe.

Change is perhaps the greatest of fears, and we meet it with such resistance because it often feels like a death. It can feel like we're dying when we make a significant change - even with changes that are for the better, ones that we actually want to change. Actually it IS a kind of death - the death of some part of our way of life that have known up to this point, and often exchanging it for a new way that is unfamiliar and probably scary. This may be the inspiration for the phrase, "Better the devil you know than the devil you don't," and why some people stay in abusive or dead-end relationships because it's the one we know. This relationship between death and change is represented in the symbolism of the Tarot cards as well - the Death card does not mean death; it means Change.

Even when we make it through the first part, accepting and adjusting to the new way can also be difficult. We say "Out with the old; in with the new!" every December 31st as we ring in the New Year. But it's when we don't let go of the old, and try to hang on to some of the same beliefs and attitudes that we get ourselves in trouble. The new way won't allow for the old habits. The security blanket of our childhood needs to be traded for the responsibility of adulthood. Cultivate the Faith that the net will appear WHEN you leap, and not before. Believe that gifts on the other side of the river will worth making the crossing. Let the bachelor pad and womanizing lifestyle die to the past, and don't bring them into your new marriage.

So use the Ouroboros to help you through the changes of life. Know that the ending is really a beginning. Believe that it's better to exchange the lesser for the greater, even if the greater is unknown. If it feels like death, then administer Last Rites. Light the funeral pyre of transformation so the Phoenix can consume itself in the fire and allow a greater one to rise from the ashes. Complete the cycle of living and move from death to life. Nail Jesus to the Cross so that He may rise as the Christ.

So go ahead, and stick your tail in your mouth. Do it now (or not). Better to do that than to stick your head in the sand...or up your ass:)

© Chris Sheridan


The Hero's Journey Pt 1: The Story of Myths, Movies and Mankind

All good stories (and even the not so good ones) all seem to share the same three universal components: The all have a beginning, middle and and end. From Myths of antiquity to blockbuster movies at the mall, they all start with some version of "once upon a time..." and end with "The End," that is, of course, unless there's going to be a sequel, in which case the end is followed by an "...or is it?" If you're a screenwriter, you'll begin your masterpiece with "FADE IN" and end with "FADE TO BLACK." Same thing. Oh, and a bunch of stuff happens to people in between.

Theseus and the Minotaur

Living things, including you, seem to follow this same theme: You're born, you live, you die. Some creatures go through this cycle in mere hours, while stars may take billions of years. And stuff happens to us as well, filling the space between the bookends of our lifespan.

This three part theme plays out again and again in the stories of our lives: Boy meets girl; boy loses girl, boy wins girl over. I came, I saw, I conquered. Psychologically, this theme shows up as something like: We believe in Santa Claus, we don't believe in Santa Claus, we become Santa Claus. Or, the more cynical: We love our parents, we hate our parents, we become our parents.

And spiritually, the wise sage tells us that: When you begin the path of enlightenment, trees are trees and mountains are mountains, as you travel along the path of enlightenment, the trees and mountains are no longer trees and mountains, and finally, when you reach illumination, the trees are once again trees and the mountains are once again mountains.

The point to this recurring theme, whether in fact of fiction, is that some significant event or catalyst will set a person or character into motion, cause them to go through changes in both their inner and outer worlds, and then return back to a place that resembles the beginning but is somehow different because it is the the person who has changed.

In writing movie scripts, this is called three act structure. Joseph Campbell, in his book "Hero With 1,000 Faces," calls this the Hero's Journey, and it too has three acts: Departure, Initiation, and Return. Campbell maintains that this "monomyth" is universal in all cultures across time, as told in myths and wisdom tales, it shows up in movies like Star Wars and many others, and it is the same journey that we take as people, several times in our lives. In addition to the "big" journey of birth, life, death, this patten repeats in the various adventures we take such as going off to college, marriage and family, career to retirement, or even just getting out of bed in the morning, facing the day with all it's challenges, and returning at night with something gained from the trip.

There is much more detail and many more layers to Campbell's "monomyth," but for now, let's stick to the three main parts:



This is the home world, one that the hero is comfortable with, the one he knows. This is very important because it is from this place, the known, that the hero will depart and enter the unknown. Campbell states there is THE CALL TO ADVENTURE which sends the hero off on the journey, but not too fast, as there is an initial refusal of the call. This reminds us that big challenges and facing change can be difficult for us, so it's natural to be reluctant at first.

So the beginning is a sort of ending. Often, it's the last day of the soon-to-be Hero's life as he or she knew it up till this point. And that's about to change, and set off an adventure that will change the Hero forever. The call is answered, with or against the Hero's wishes, and we're on to the next phase.


Like being inducted into the military, or getting married, the Hero is now in a different situation entirely, a strange and wonderful realm of new discoveries, trials and tests, and victories and losses. Often there is a sort of Gatekeeper figure and the Hero must prove worthiness to be allowed entrance into the "forest." For about the fist half of Initiation, the Hero rises to the tasks and passes the challenges, and, he or she meets the 'sacred other,' or the love interest, to borrow a Hollywood term.

Then just when things are going so well, disaster strikes. Things start to fall apart and the Hero seems powerless to stop them. Eventually things digress into the underworld where there is a MEETING WITH DEATH. This can be a close brush with death or an actual death of someone close, someone important to the quest such as the Mentor or Guide. Or it can be a symbolic "death" in that something once near and dear to the Hero is taken away. It could be all of the above, but the purpose is to bring the Hero to a point where s/he cannot solve the problems or surmount the obstacles; these difficulties have become to much to bear and all hope is lost.

It is at this very moment of despair and defeat that the Hero DOES give up, almost immediately followed by a visitation from a supernatural entity or power, or a deep inner realization that rises from the ashes of hitting bottom. This is THE transformative event that will now get the Hero back on his or her feet and with a renewed sense of purpose and resolve.


Aided by a power beyond (or witin) himself, victory in the final battle is all but assured, yet there is more ahead. This is the Return Home, a sort of journey in itself, when the Hero takes all s/he has learned and lost along the way, aided by a higher power, and brings it all together to solve the outer goal and satisfy the inner need (more on this later). And, one of the most important aspects of the Return, in addition to "slaying the dragon," is that the Hero brings back the Wisdom and gifts gained from the experience, so that all members of the home world will benefit from the Quest. This, then, becomes a kind of new beginning, and here is where we end the story.


One obvious benefit of understanding the universal Hero's Journey is that it enables us to better understand ALL Myths, since they all draw from this "monomyth" to some degree or another. Such stories are really Wisdom tales, handed down over the generations, that tell us something about ourselves and how to make it through the many challenges of life.

Some of our better movies serve the same function as myths, as the Cinema is the modern storyteller. But modern in appearance only, as the stories, while cloaked and adorned in current or future attire, underneath it these stories are the timeless myths, told once again. And, amazingly not that different than their ancient counterparts, the surround speakers and silver screens of the movies are just the modern versions of an elder storyteller next to the flickering light of the fire, whose booming voice stirs the imaginations of the audience sitting out there in the dark.

So the Hero's Journey can help us understand movies on a deeper level as well. For instance, the three phases of the Hero's Journey relate directly to the three act structure of screenplays and movies:



After initially refusing the call, Luke goes with Obi Wan to bring the Driod to the Princess. This is a grand departure, as he is not just leaving his village or country; he's leaving his home planet.


The Threshold Guardian is represented by the Cantina scene: Luke proves he's man enough to hold his own, but the Driods weren't allowed entry. Obi Wan, the Mentor, trains Luke and more challenges are met. In the 2nd half of this act, things go from bad to worse until the meeting with death (Death Star, dead planet Alderran, dead Obi Wan. The death of the Mentor is common in ancient myths, a necessary thing to happen so the student will then become the master. Supernatural help comes in the form of Obi Wan's disembodied voice, the compassion of the Princess and the higher duty to help save his comrades from destruction.


Armed with everything gained on his brief yet very eventful journey, Luke is able to defeat the enemy, and he returns with the Force, the all-but -forgotten tradition of sacred wisdom, for the benefit of all.

In general, say in a love story, the lovers meet - it's rough at first but they fall in love and eventually move in together (Departure). Now they are in unknown territory (Initiation) and they work through any difficulty until things are just fine. Then disaster strikes, in the form of an ex-lover from the past or due to some misunderstanding, and the relationship is on the rocks. Finally it's shipwrecked when one has an affair (or almost) and it's called off (meeting with death). Then cupid or eros plays a part, true unconditional love intervenes, and the one who was screwing up realizes he needs to change and does. Then in the third act, (Return), he wins her back over by proving his love and loyalty, and the gift they bring back is that of love itself - and with it, the hope for other lovers to also have a successful relationship.

More movie breakdowns will follow, so in the meantime read Christoper Vogler's "The Writer's Journey," which is basically Campbell's Hero's Journey, specifically geared for screenwriters. Many producers, executives, and directors swear by this book and for over 10 years it has sort of been an industry "bible" for storytelling in the movies.

This Universal Myth can help us better understand the stories IN our lives, and it can also help us understand the stories OF our lives. On a personal note, I found a strong parallel to the Hero's Journey when I broke my back in a plane crash and had to adjust to life in a wheelchair. The departure was from a life of being able bodied and pretty much taking that for granted. Then when I crashed and broke my back and became paralyzed, I was instantly initiated into a new and strange world of hospitals, surgeries, pain and wheelchairs. I made progress, got out of the hospital and then just wallowed in misery. The pills just made things worse along with the booze. Then as was about to give up hope, my brother intervened with a little help from Nature (an alternative to the pills), and brought the healing power of humor and music to my spirit once again. Then I was able to get out in my chair, learn how to drive again, and finally enrolled in college, back in the world again. The return was completed when I made a short film about my injury/recovery experience and shared it with the rest of the world, hoping that it would benefit at least one other person.

Even for smaller problems or situations, there are smaller journeys, and they follow this process as well. The process of buying a house or making a work of art can take a similar route: The decision to buy a house or the inspiration to sculpt a figure takes us out of our comfort zone, and we accept the challenge of the task in front of us (Departure). We learn much about real estate or sculpting clay. The possibilities grow, the sculpture takes form. Then disaster hits and we lose a bid or the credit is rejected and we want to go back to renting an apartment. We question the reason for making this sculpture and as any artist must, we question our own reason for existing and think maybe we should just forget sculpture altogether and trash the piece we've spent so much time on. As we give up, we open ourselves to other possibilities - any other possibility - and the right property shows itself, or the light hits the clay just right and we "see" the finished masterpiece and get back to work. Moving in to the house marks the return home, and maybe even the start of a family, and finishing the sculpture and displaying it is the gift of art for others to enjoy.

So if we know the process, and the journey is pretty much the same for just about everything, we can find where we are along this particular journey and have a road map of what will come next. So when we're at the state of despair and want to give up, we can recognize this as just part of the process and we are right where we need to be to succeed. This can take a lot of the anxiety and confusion that come with difficult and unknown situations, and remind ourselves that we have a purpose for doing this, that there is something valuable to gain and share with others, that makes the current challenges all worthwhile.

This is just an introduction to this subject and more will come regarding the other characters in the Hero's Journey, the inner and outer aspects of the journey and the personal inner transformation that must take place in order to satisfy the outer goal of the story.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Health Care System: Heal Thyself!

There is much debate on the national level about the health care system in the United States at this time. Most agree that more Americans need access to health care and that the rising costs of health care need to be reduced. Words like "socialized medicine" get kicked around when talking about a universal health plan, with all kinds of fear mongering from every side of the debate. We recognize that the USA spends more than any other country on health care, we know that our doctors and equipment are the best in the world (every wonder why medical students from other countries come here to study to become doctors?), and, whether we want to admit it or not, we currently rank 37th in the world as far as quality of health for our citizens.

So, Mr. President, and all who care to read this, the problem is not really a lack of health insurance coverage, or even lack of health care, or the result of a profit-driven health system that is out of control. While yes, these things may be true, they are not the problem. The health care system is overbloated and overpriced, but this is merely a symptom of the problem. The problem is: WE ARE NOT HEALTHY! Sure with organic veggies and "no trans fat labels" and every diet craze imaginable, we are trying like hell and many are living healthy lives, but as a collective people, we as a whole are just not healthy. But don't blame the HMO's with their ungodly amounts of paperwork and restrictions, or the aggressive advertising of the pharmaceutical companies, or the stranglehold the insurance industry has on doctors and patients alike. It's not really their fault. Really.

3rd panel from © Alex Grey's triptych, "Journey of the Wounded Healer," used without permission.

There is now, there has always been, and always will be only one primary health care provider for each of us and costs no money at all. This provider is YOU. Only YOU are at the front lines of your own health care "system" or program. Only YOU decide what you put in your mouth (and on your skin since it's just about the same thing) and whether or not you exercise your body. No act of Congress, Presidential directive, or TV reality show will intervene on your behalf. This is something each of us must do and do for ourselves.

And, as health and dis-ease come from not just one source, YOU have to be the gatekeeper for all areas of your physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health. We know that stress can play a huge part in wearing down our immune system, making us more vulnerable to disease and reducing our ability to recover from illness. So in addition to improving our diet and exercise (which should be obvious to all by now), we must keep vigilant guard over what we allow ourselves to see and hear; we need to make sure we are harboring peaceful and healthy thoughts, and not dwell upon misery, lack, disappointment, regret, resentment, guilt and all the rest. And we need to watch our speech, because what we speak over ourselves and others, if negative, can have huge negative consequences. But keep in mind, the toxic feelings and words we spout out at someone else will inevitably come back to us to shoot us in the foot.

Health, after all, is a holistic process. In fact, the word "health" means to be whole. If we are unhealthy, we are fragmented or scattered in some way or another. Health comes when we integrate all parts of our being. Many of us are torn or divided when it comes to our own health. We join the gym but stop going after the first month; we buy the exercise machine and end up using it to hang wet towels to dry; we start the diet, lose the weight, but then put it right back on.

And why is this? Is this because of ignorance, that we just don't know right from wrong? Doubtful. Or is it because we are divided emotionally, torn between being good TO ourselves, or being good FOR ourselves? Do we trade the brief relief of "comfort food" for years of indigestion and discomfort as a result? Is our desire to eat the healthy food eclipsed by our addiction to junk food? Do we feel empty inside, and no matter how much food we stuff ourselves with, we still feel empty?

This is just another example of what the Ancients referred to as "praying to two different gods." It may be that this internal division, or having conflicted emotions, lies at the heart of the problem. We have heard that people in other countries, such as France, eat all the "wrong" foods - rich in fat, sugar, etc., but are actually more healthy than the average US citizen. So it may not even be the food itself, or the food alone, that "causes" the problem of health concerns, rather it is the attitude of acceptance - and not denial or guilt - that maintains a harmonious healthy way of enjoying food. Isn't it common logic that tells us if you eat something you want, and then feel guilty and wish you hadn't, this tension gets your stomach in a knot and actually hinders the process of digesting the "guilty" food, thereby keeping it in your system longer than it needs to be!

In fact, improper digestion may be a huge culprit in poor health. First, the foods themselves, loaded with artificial sweeteners, preservatives, dyes and flavoring, are difficult for the body to assimilate. Actually the body probably doesn't want to assimilate some of this stuff so it stores it elsewhere or puts undo burden on your liver, kidneys, intestine or heart.

Another example of a divided self, when it comes to health and body image, is in the commercials and advertisements we are bombarded with every day. This mixed message of gluttony and vanity causes a sort of schizophrenia where we are told to attend the all-you-can-eat buffet, and in the next ad, we are asked to join a weight loss program. The image of the beautiful 20 year old girl running on the beach in a bikini just adds to the frustration. More on unrealistic body images and the even more unrealistic feeling that we have to look that way in a future post.

To sum this up, care for your health by developing better habits with your body, intellect, emotions and spirit. Move your body in any way you can. Eat as many good things and reduce as many bad things as possible, including prescription medications. Ask your doctor if you can reduce or eliminate at least some of your medications. Work with her to find healthful ways of getting what you need without the chemicals: If, with a healthy lifestyle, you get your cholesterol and pre-diabetic weight under control, there will be no need for the medications, which, by the way, often produce other problems themselves. Train your mind to focus on the good things in life - the positive aspects of your life and not the negative. Free your emotions from the shackles of guilt, expectation, hurt, betrayal and loss. Stuffing your feelings inside is like stuffing food inside, and, like a lake, if there is no outflow or release from the emotions, the water becomes stagnant and vile. Call upon whatever spiritual power or Force (or Darwin, random selection or science) that you have, develop this relationship as you go, and ask for the guidance, strength and will to follow through with the right choices for health. When our problems become too great for us to solve, we need to become greater, and, like a goldfish who only grows according to the size of the bowl, relieve the bondage of self and replace it with the infinite wisdom of the Universe.

Your body - and what you do with it - IS your health care system. You are the first responder, the primary physician, and it is up to you to make this system work. You don't need a gym membership or personal trainer to work out. Walk, if you can, even for 15 minutes a day. Lift weights of any amount a few times a week. If you can't afford a couple of 5 pound dumbells at the thrift store, then fill empty 2 liter soda bottles with water and lift those. And if they're not empty, dump your diet cherry soda in the sink and then put them to better use. Stretch. You don't need to go to yoga classes and contort your body in weird ways, just get on the floor and stretch your body while you're watching TV. Make the choice (or don't). Make it now (or don't). Take the initiative (or don't). It's up to YOU, not your doctor or the Congress or the President. If you don't have health insurance, get the ASSURANCE that you will not need to go the the doctor if you eat, move, and relax the mind and emotions for good health.

We have asked our health care system to do way more than it should be required to do. We have burdened it with every symptom or uncomfortable feeling we have, demanding that doctors and medicine make us feel better with a pill, while we continue with the unhealthy behaviors that got us there in the first place. It is as if we are taking poison, going to the doctors for an antidote, then continuing on with taking more poison and finally getting angry at the medical system for letting us down! And this is exactly what we are doing to our bodies. We are asking the organism to digest and assimilate artificial foods, process toxic thoughts and images and harbor deadly resentments - and then getting mad at it because it's not not "doing it's job," so we go to the doctor, get a pill and start the whole thing over again.

Your health care system is YOU. Mr. President, health care reform begins and ends at home. For what is left over, the injuries and illnesses that we cannot take care of ourselves, will be a much smaller amount and less of a burden on our doctors and hospitals, which could easily handle the remaining load.

Health Care will take care of us, if we take care of our health.

© 2009.10.13

Monday, October 12, 2009

Yin and Yang: The Union of Opposites

The Yin-Yang symbol, or Taiji, is one of the most recognizable ancient symbols in modern culture, and appears regularly on anything from surfboards to tattoos. While the symbol itself is well known, some of its deeper meanings remain hidden, and its use as a practical tool for personal transformation could be greatly increased.

Most commonly known as the Yin/Yang (not Ying - Yang), a symbol for the Tao, this powerful image contains a wealth of meaning and can provide a touchstone for brining yourself into harmony with all the seemingly opposing forces in life. In the West with our strong sense of individuality, we generally hold an "either-or" attitude when it comes to polar opposites, most notably with the concept of good vs. evil. In the East, which puts unity over individuality, there is a sense of "plus-and" regarding opposites. Opposites in the West are mutually exclusive (in that one can survive without the other) while in the East, they are seen as being mutually interdependent. In the latter, the opposites are still distinguishable from each other, but never separated.

In fact, all polarities only really exist in relation to each other, such as up and down, left and right, etc. You can't have one without the other, so they "need" each other to exist. Take the example of the bilateral symmetry of our own bodies: we say we have a left ear and a right one (or eyes, lungs, etc.) but we would not say we have a left or right nose, mouth or heart. In art, the "figure-ground" relationship is absolutely necessary, as we can only see something relative to what it is not. If you have a white object on a black background (or visa versa) you would be able to see it clearly. If you have a black object on a black background, you would not.

Pythagoras of Samos, famous for the so-called Pythagorean Theorem in geometry, knew full well that opposites cannot be exclusive and listed several of them. A brief consideration of these will make clear that opposites need each other for either to exist:

Up/Down, Finite/Infinite, Hot/Cold, Dark/Light, Rest/Motion, One/Many, Masculine/Feminine, etc.

And even with a concept such as night and day, we say commonly say that two things or people are "different as night and day," but really, they are just two aspects of a unified whole. The earth simply rotates and the only difference between night and day is a matter of timing - if it is day, it will soon be night; if it is night, the day is not far behind. Or from a perspective in space, one plainly sees that the globe of the Earth is ALWAYS in a state of Night/Day: 1/2 of the planet is lighted by the Sun, the other 1/2 is in shadow. This would hold true regardless of the rotation of the Earth - even if it didn't rotate. And, as Pink Floyd states in their album of the same name, there is no Dark Side of the Moon, really. Like the Earth it is half lit, half shadow all the time, and from our perspective, the side of the Moon we don't see is actually the far side.

OK, so now we can see that opposing forces or ideas are really two parts of a whole, recognizable and distinguishable from each other but not separated in the larger sense. And as the question goes, "What good is this and how can it be useful to me?" Actually, our concept of separated reality - this vs. that - is at the heart of many of our difficulties as people and as a culture. And the unification of the opposites is a major goal of many spiritual and philosophical traditions, such as Taoism, Alchemy and Jung's theory of Individuation, or psychological integration.

In our public discourse, most of the debate on any issue or policy is caged in a highly polarized manner, pitting one against the other in a duel to the death. Do you ever wonder why none of these arguments can be resolved? It's because the whole notion of trying to have one of a pair of opposites reign victorious over the other is an impossibility. But, both sides usually dig in and fight harder for their side and it only results in more division and opposition. Like all opposites, the more you strengthen one pole, by necessity, the other pole is equally strengthened. What you persist resists, as a wise person said. Another states, the higher you climb, the harder you fall.

So before we start trying to reconcile opposites in the outside world, we need to reconnect opposing forces, ideas and emotions within ourselves. Actually, the separateness of opposites is only a mental construct, an illusion that we buy into, and any re-unification is merely a conceptual one, as the opposites are never "really" separate. But this change in our perspective, that we begin to see opposites as being inseparable, each needing the other to survive, is most important.

We have all heard of the split between our emotional and intellectual impulses, or we have asked the question, "Should I follow my Head, or follow my Heart?" Again, these two forces are not separable, they are forever connected within our consciousness. One may seem to take power over the other, but what often happens is they are in cahoots with each other and if we don't get a grip on them both, we will be bounced from one pole to the other in a constant battle that has no victor. Actually the only "victory" is in the harmony between the head and the heart. They don't have to totally "agree" with each other on all points, but they will working together if we let them, or work against each other (and us!) if we leave them to their own devices and let them run riot.

Just seeing the head and the heart as being two aspects of the same thing, one being more intellectual and the other more emotional, will go a long way toward reconciling them so they are in harmony. But if we continue to view them as opposites in a constant struggle, they will always be in disharmony. Try to see other opposites as being inseparable as well.

Look at the symbol again. The Yin aspect (back part) is the Feminine - soft and receptive - while the Yang (white) is the Masculine - hard and assertive. Clearly the man needs the woman, the woman needs the man, or the human race would not survive. But internally, according to Dr. Jung as well as the ancients, each of us possesses a bit of the other. In a man, there is a female aspect or feminine side (anima) and in a woman, there is a male aspect or masculine side (animus). If in the symbol, the white Yang part is the masculine, then the black dot represents the female anima aspect within. Conversely, the black Yin contains a white dot of masculine animus energy. The goal is to have balance, and have the opposite work in harmony instead of against. If we ignore the other, we will be out of balance. Even a macho "man's man" can most benefit from being in touch with his receptive, emotional and nurturing side. Likewise, a "grily girl" can also be best served when getting in touch with her assertive, logical and competitive side. But if we go too much in this direction, we end up with ineffectual men and overbearing women, as is often portrayed in our television sitcoms and pop culture.

Now consider again, the head and the heart. If the head is Yang (white) and he heart is Yin (black) then the balancing dots of the opposite come into play. Buddhist philosophy talks of the heart-mind. Others write about the intelligent heart. So it is true that emotions have intelligence and the intellect has feelings. Now is it easy to see the danger in seeing them as mutually exclusive. Can you recognize the advantage in tempering our emotions with the intellect, and opening the cold logical mind to the warmth and compassion of the heart?

As was stated earlier, the Ancient Wisdom has a way of showing up in many unusual areas of life and there is an old TV commercial that sums this up nicely. In it, one person is walking down the street eating a big chocolate bar and is very happy about it. Another person is equally happy eating peanut butter straight from the jar. When they collide, they both accuse the other: "You got your peanut butter on my chocolate!" "You got your chocolate in my peanut butter." When they both taste the new combination, they are more happy than before, and the product is a unification or the "opposites" - a Resse's peanut butter cup!

I'll end on a personal note on how I have used the Yin-Yang symbol in my life. After a frustrating period of trying to decide my career path and determine my personal identity, I was torn between being a scholar or a rocker, a performer or a writer, feeling that I must decide between the two. After I finally gave up, I had a moment of realization, and the Yin-Yang symbol appeared to me in a way that I had never seen it before. An overwhelming sense of no longer having to struggle and the unmistakable feeling that I could be both - perhaps even had to be both - in order to reconcile the two. Not an either-or solution, but a plus-and solution. And to make the epiphany even more concrete, I went and had the symbol tattooed on my shoulder so that anytime since, when I feel torn between two opposing feelings or decisions, I just look at it and remember that it is possible, and preferable and profitable, to hold a larger vision that encompasses both.

© Chris Sheridan


7 Days of the Week and the 7 Planets

There are only 7 objects in the sky that appear to move (the word planet derives from the Greek term for "moving"), relative to the background stars. Of course the Sun and Moon are two, and the remaining five are Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. The ancients were well aware of this and that these points of light were much different than the stars in the firmament.

Under the Earth-centered (geocentric) model of the solar system, all 7 "planets" revolved around the Earth. Of course now we know that this is an optical illusion due to the Earth's daily rotation, and that the Earth and all the planets actually move around the Sun (heliocentric). But this literal model of the solar system, while being scientifically "correct," is not as useful as the geocentric one. Symbolically, there is much more to gain from the Ancient way of looking at the cosmos. And, some scholars believe that even back then, select people actually knew the planets went around the Sun, they still kept the original for it's esoteric value.

So why use the Ptolemaic, Earth-centered version if we know that it is outdated and technically wrong? A lot of this has to do with a form of Astro-theology, or a religious viewpoint and worship of the stars, planets, and particularly, the Sun. This is a huge subject and will be explored in future posts, but for now, just take a look at the old diagram and imagine the rings, or spheres, of each planet that encircles the Earth as being layers - like a Russian nesting doll - with each one fitting inside the next and the Earth at the core. Astrotheologists believed that to come into the Earth and live here, our souls have to first pass through each level and it's corresponding planet, and with each one, we put on another layer of materiality to survive the physical Earthly experience. Then, when we die, we shed each layer to get to the Eternal beyond, returning to the realm we originally came from.

OK, so that's just a bit of Astrotheology, but knowing this, we can understand the importance the ancients put on the planets, and that's why the 7 Days of the Week are named after the 7 planets. In most languages (but not all) and cultures, the 7 days of the week correspond to the same 7 planets. Here we'll take each day and identify the corresponding planet:


This one is obvious - the Sun. Known as Ra (or Re) by the Egyptians (as in the sun's rays), the Sun has been worshipped and respected by all cultures throughout time. Even the word itself has significance - Jesus was the Son, and the Sun's technical name, Sol (as in Solar or Solstice), can relate to the human Soul as well.


Monday is actually Moon day. The ancients knew the Sun and Moon were different than the other 5 planets - not just because of their size, speed and intensity but due to a certain quality they possess.


Tiw is the Nordic God of War, equivalent to Mars in the Roman pantheon, so the Day of Mars (dies Martius) is really Tiw's Day. The French for Tuesday is Mardi (Mardi = Mars), as in Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday).


Another Norse God, Odin, was called Wodan (Woden) by the Anglo-Saxons and both related to Mercury, from the Roman. Woden's Day (Day of Mercury) became Wednesday, and if you've ever wondered why we spell it that way (instead of Wendsday, which is how it sounds), this is why the "d" comes before the "n."


Thor, the Norse God of Thunder, relates to the Roman Jupiter, who was also the God of Sky and Thunder. So, the Day of Jupiter, became Thor's Day, sounding very similar to Thursday.


The Norse God of Love was Freya, and the Roman was the Love Goddess Venus, so the Day of Venus, became Freya's Day, or Friday. The Italian word for Friday, Venerdi, sticks closer to the original Latin, Venus.


Not really sure what planet could relate to this day, but through process of elimination, we are only left with planet Saturn, so it is the Day of Saturn, or Saturday, as this is the one English translation that comes directly from the Latin source.

Now all this is interesting and might get you a correct question on Jeopardy!, but there is more to it than just trivial information. By recognizing the 7 naked-eye "planets" and their corresponding days of the week, we are connected with an Ancient past that is shared by most cultures across the globe.

Since then, science has removed the mystery of the planets and filled us with facts and figures about temperatures, gravity pull, geological composition and precise orbital computations instead. The Gods and Goddesses that once dazzled us with awe and wonder in the spectacular night sky, have now been replaced by inert gaseous and rocky orbs that hurl meaninglessly around a rather average central star.

Even though we "know" more about the solar system and planets than our predecessors, we have lost the symbolic meaning behind the planets, Moon and Sun. But evidence is all around us that reminds us of our long symbolic heritage, even in something as mundane as the days of the week. You don't need a book on astrology or mythology to appreciate the Gods and Goddess from which the planets were named, just a simple acknowledgement that there is a celestial namesake for each day.

So when you look at your calendar from now on, you can "see" there is much more to a name than meets the eye. You can gain strength from connecting with a common source that is both ancient and current. And, even though our modern telescopes can see into the far reaches of the Universe, it is the same bright objects, these 7 "wandering stars" are the same ones seen by our ancient kin, and still the only 7 we can see today with the unaided eye. It is this ability to recognize the symbolic meaning in everyday things that will help you connect with the Ancient Wisdom and help re-enchant the world once again.

© Chris Sheridan


Saturday, October 10, 2009

A Warning: The Rose Gives The Bees Honey

An old and obscure Alchemical manuscript came with a specific warning for those who are about to read it:

"Wisdom is as a flower from which the bee its honey makes and the spider poison, each according to its own nature."

This quote appears in Manly P. Hall's "Secret Teachings of All Ages," and serves as a stern warning for anyone delving into esoteric practices, and, actually, is a great reminder for all of us, no matter what power we are wielding. For it is not the thing itself that is good or bad, rather, it is what WE do with it that makes it either a constructive or a destructive force.

Colorized version of a 16th century Rosicrucian engraving. Translation: "The rose gives the bees honey."

Notice in this harmless looking image, the beehives to the right and the spider webs on the left of the rose. This may also be a veiled reference to the to "left-hand path," and the "right-hand path." The caption above only mentions the bees and honey, leaving the spiders to be discovered by those who look more deeply into the image. Most old alchemical drawings would leave something out to prevent the untrained person from understanding the formula, thereby concealing it for only those who know how to read it.

This is a very valuable image to behold, along with the warning it contains. Almost anything, or any power that we can access, can be a force for good or a force for ill, depending on the intention and how it is used. Nuclear energy can power entire cities, or in the form of a bomb, destroy entire cities. Fire can heat our homes or burn them down. A sharp knife in the hands of a skilled surgeon can save a life, or in the hands of a thug, end a life. And, of course, the power of money, which often is labeled "bad," is the same power that can impoverish others through greed, or empower a community through compassion. This is also the difference between so-called "white" or "black" magic. The magic is neither white or black, it is the magician (and her intention) that makes it so.

This all may seem quite obvious but there are some not so obvious types of power that can also benefit from the spider/bee warning. Intelligence, which is often seen as mostly good, can be used to educate someone or to insult another. Physical strength in the form of a bully can be used to beat someone up, or in the hands of another, lift someone up. Our words - what we say and what we write - can brainwash a nation or inspire the world.

As the warning stated, even something like Wisdom, almost always considered "good," is like the rose in that it can be used with good or evil intent. So try not to be so quick to judge something as being good or bad. For the most part all things which have power and influence can be used either way; it's in how we use them that determines their quality and effect. Even being loving and caring can be used in a negative way, like if you spoil or coddle a child too much, he or she will then be unprepared to enter the world and manage on their own.

So ask yourself often, "Am I making honey with this, or am I making poison?" or "Am I being a bee or a spider in this situation?" Then answer honestly, and if you honestly don't know, ask for guidance that you become more bee-like and less spider-like in your personal or business relationships. For example, when you are about to confront someone, or if she says, "We need to talk," take a moment first to conjure up the honey bee image and determine to do your part to make the situation more sweet, and not more poison than it already is.

Psychologically, it is also important to keep the warning in mind when you are dealing with your own issues and feelings. The things we say to ourselves about ourselves can be very poisonous indeed. Keep a watchful eye, and if you catch yourself spouting venom, change over to "bee-mode" and produce sweeter thoughts and images in your mind. Negative situations and relationships are rarely if ever solved by adding more negativity and poison.

Remember, it is YOU who decides to be a bee or a spider. Bees only know how to be bees, and spiders only know how to be spiders, and the rose is neutral. We have a choice to take what we have and use it either for making honey or making poison.

So, are you a bee or a spider?