As a child raised in the Roman Catholic tradition, I had found solace from reciting the Holy Rosary. However, by the time I became a home birth midwife, I had long-ago broken from the church and did not much think of the rosary. Yet, curiously, during a seventy-five-minute drive to attend my first birth as a midwife, I found myself spontaneously reciting the rosary. Praying calmed my anxiety about driving at night on treacherous roads, that had become polished ice from the blowing snow. At some point I noticed my prayers became a petition for wisdom and skill to safely serve the woman whose labor and delivery I would shortly attend. With that shift of intention, I became enveloped by a mantle of numinous energy, which remained until the mother was safely delivered and her infant was at her breast. Archetypal energy had been noticeably active.
The Holy Rosary references the rose, both a symbol of Christ’s passion and the Virgin Mary. The passion of Christ is historically linked to the ancient Egyptian Isis and Osiris myth (Harpur, 2004), and is one of many death-resurrection mythoi associated with various spiritual traditions and transformational rituals. There is a tradition of making rosary beads from rose petals (see Figure 3.). Following my rosary induced experience of the numinous I developed the practice of reciting the rosary before attending every birth, intentionally imaging a birthing temenos imbued with wisdom, midwifery skill, love, and grace. I attended more than five-hundred births, all with excellent outcomes which I attribute more to my conscious invitation to divine presence than my skill alone.
Over the years, my clinical practice expanded to include general sexual and reproductive health and psycho-physiological care. I experimented with various ways of creating sacred space, including Pagan rituals, new age modifications of Christian rites and Eastern religious traditions.
Regardless of the words or material I worked with, my intention seemed to matter most to the quality of the temenos and its power to contain transformational processes. About twenty years after the rosary experience, I heard, in a new way, these words from the song In the Garden: No guru, no method, no teacher / Just you and I and nature / And the Father and the Son / And the Holy Ghost in the garden / In the garden wet with rain. (Van Morrison, 1986)
I experienced a compelling imagination for a new office space. With the help of my artist sister, we created a space evocative of an enclosed garden, still wet from a recent rain, and richly scented by flowers and herbs. The light played mysteriously on stone, plant, wood, and fabric textures. Van Morrison’s words were our working mantra. Figure 6 is an image evocative of that space, as the original photos have been lost. What we created became a powerful place. Those who entered noticed more readily becoming calm and willing to engage with the therapeutic process. In the end, more powerful than the space itself was how the energetic resonance of that space entered my being and resides within me now wherever I work with people. What a tremendous gift!
Considerations regarding sacred space reach into antiquity. The rosary and sacred garden images are mandalas, a form of sacred geometry. In depth psychotherapy, the mandala or quaternity is “an image with a four-fold structure, usually a square or circular and is symmetrical; psychologically, it points to the idea of wholeness” (Sharp, 1991, p. 110). Wholeness is the harmonious reconciliation of conscious and unconscious aspects of the personal psyche, or the Self as coined by psychoanalyst, Carl G. Jung. Mandalas symbolize the temenos as well as the transformational process itself. The unwrapping of their meaningfulness provides the ego or conscious mind with assistance in the recognition, reconciliation, assimilation and integration of unconscious material during the process of individuation (Jung, 1954/1966; Sharp, 1991). Mandala images may appear in your dreams or waking life. You may create them spontaneously without a conscious knowledge of why. For example, you may unwittingly plant your carrots in a circle and then only later understand the personal meaningfulness of that action. Mandalas, and dream images are the fundament of psychoanalysis and depth psychology.
Jung encouraged the practice of psychoanalysis with a mindfulness toward creating the hermetic vessel (temenos) to protect the patient and their situation during transformation:
The symbol of the mandala has exactly this meaning of a holy place, a temenos, to protect the centre. . .. It is a means of protecting the centre of the personality [Self]” (Jung, 1950/1989, p. 178, para 410).
The libidinal and numinous energies of the psyche require strong protective boundaries. If they are accessed without due ritual care, psychic chaos and rebellion can result” (Smith, 2007, pp. 233-234).
During transformation, and especially when inviting the numinous, psychic energy potential is heightened; a person’s body, mind, and psyche is more easily disturbed. Thus, the need to create a safe transformational space.
Prayer invites the numinous. Practices such as the Islamic purification ritual, Wudu, which requires washing the face, hands, arms, and feet before prayer prepares the temenos of the body for an experience of the divine. In your life, care for your temenos may be through confidentiality regarding relational exchanges or mindfulness when beginning or ending a meal, meditation, work, or play. Sacred space circumscribes “both a personal container and the sense of privacy that surrounds relationship” (Sharp, 1991, p. 133) to others and the divine.
The uterine environment is form of a temenos—protective, nourishing, private, and mysterious—that which contains the whole being-Self. As a symbol, the uterine environment is where elements of personality are born or cyclically reborn through death-rebirth journeys while integrating unconscious material. Such cycles are forms of initiation that liberate the ego-self from the state of uroboric unconsciousness (Neumann, 1954/1995). Not only the mother, but the divine parents or World Parents are known as the uroboric container, the unconscious paradise from which our ego struggles to be born and declare “I am” and to whom we return whenever we fall into unconsciousness or voluntarily enter the unconscious realm through shamanic-like ritual or transformational process (Neumann, 1954/1995). The World Parents are our genesis and our death. They are the temenos that contains us. Individuation and rituals of initiation “frequently includes (or is included in) some image of containment, which come from mythic patterns of the temenos” (Henderson, 1967/2005, p. 178). We leave the temenos of the parents through individuation to dwell in the temenos of ourselves. As you begin to observe the sacred spaces in your life notice what images arise spontaneously and contribute to your transformational process.
My imagined sacred garden temenos contains the waters of life, intentions of forgiveness, renewal, and love as the glue of the world coherently binding our interstitial spaces. Rain or dew is the basis of the work (alchemical prima materia), “the unknown substance that carries the projection of the autonomous psychic content” (Jung, 1944/1953, p. 317, para 426). Here, I am mindful of Masaru Emoto’s (2004) work on the crystalline structure of water in relation to various states of consciousness. In Van Morrison’s sacred garden space there is an imagination of the Holy Trinity (Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost). For me, such a space necessarily includes the Blessed Virgin Mary (BVM) Queen of Heaven (the Great Mother goddess). BVM and the Trinity, though associated with Christianity, are only one manifestation of more ancient symbols of the spiritual and incarnated divine masculine and feminine archetypes. The Holy Ghost was once known as Sophia, the “female archetype of spiritual transformation” (Neumann, 1974, p. 326), she who leads the way through the work, the soror mystica. The dove (Holy Ghost) is associated with Aphrodite, Astarte, Diana, love, peace, and grace. In alchemy the dove is “the extracted transformative substance” (Jung, 1963/1970, p. 157, para185). The alchemical text Introitus apertus tells us that only the love that is brought by the twin doves of the Goddess Diana can stop the machinations of the thief (unconscious ego-mind) who seeks to prevent the realization of wholeness (Jung, 1944/1953). We come back to the rose here. Sophia is the rose of the BVM (Neumann, 1974), and the Holy Rosary an icon of her archetypal powers. The rose itself is a symbol of wholeness, and the Rosicrucian rosa mystica was equivalent to the philosopher’s stone. Making the stone required that “the essence of the heavenly rose Sol descends into the flower—earth’s answer to the suns’ countenance” (Jung, 1944/1953, p. 76). In alchemy the colour violet is associated with the essence of the rose, as well as the “violet darkness a drop or flower or flame or pearl, or other likeness of the precious stone” (Jung, 1944/1953, p. 270, para 379). Vegetation within the garden symbolizes the life-death cycle; its existence makes the world fruitful and life possible. Once vegetation has fulfilled its biological imperative it dies and becomes the prima materia (ground) for new life. The process of transformation symbolically recapitulates the natural cycles of birth, growth, fecundation, fruition, death, decay, and rebirth. All these images within my sacred garden continue to inform and support my work with others. My sacred garden temenos is not a static place. Rather, it continually emerges from the mysterious fundament of its richness. Perhaps I will meet you sometime there. Meanwhile awaken to your sacred spaces towards realization of Self.
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