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This blog tells of two numinous experiences accompanied by mandala images that symbolically inform my individuation. When
reviewed along the continuum of my life they demonstrate an evolution towards wholeness, from an initiatory experience (Henderson, 1967/2005) to a mature and beneficial relation with the ego-Self axis.[1] The first mandala image was a silver-moon, which was both a numinous experience and a “threshold experience” (Conforti, 2008), and heralded my destiny for a profound and precocious engagement with the autonomous psyche. The second image, the lapis blue rose mandala, I
experienced as a vision in my fifties, and it has become, without volition, the overarching numinosum currently informing my living. I regard the lapis blue rose as a gift of alchemical gold—the treasure hard to attain—and it is a concordant and meaningful evolution of the silver-moon coin. I ever more appreciate how my destiny proves to be a tapestry woven from the threads of communion between my ego-self and the Self.

One of C. G. Jung’s key psychological theories is that we have a potential destiny, an a priori Self, which insistently and consistently threads itself through our lives as a sort of genetic expression of our essential and incorruptible spirit-soul being, and which informs the development of our relationship to the center point of eternal being. This center point, according to Jung, appears in mandala symbolism. Jung expended considerable effort in his opus to demonstrate how mandala imagery is an expression of the numinous, something he referred to as the Self-archetype or Self-complex:

[The mandala] motif is the premonition of a centre of personality, a kind of central point within the psyche, to which everything is related, by which everything is arranged, and which is itself a source of energy. The energy of the central point is manifested in the almost irresistible compulsion and urge to become what one is, just as every organism is driven to assume the form that is characteristic of its nature, no matter what the circumstances. This centre is neither felt nor thought of as the ego but, if one may so express it, as the self. Although the centre is represented by an innermost point, it is surrounded by a periphery containing everything that belongs to the self—the paired opposites that make up the total personality. . .. The self, though on the one hand simple, is on the other hand an extremely composite thing. (Jung, 1950/1990, p. 357, para 634)

For Jung, the emergence of mandala symbolism in a person’s dreams, fantasies, visions, or imagination was evidence of this centering and guiding Self’s activity in that person’s life.

The guiding Self first expressed itself in my life through a numinous experience that accompanied my first conscious experience of the loss of mother. These events preceded my mother’s death by two years, and I have considered that they may have been Psyche’s way of preparing me for surviving that difficult reality. I think this because of how those events provided me with an archetypal image of the great mother that sustained me through the years of devastating grief following my mother’s death. This first numinous experience erupted into my consciousness on the day of my third birthday celebration.

For a birthday gift, I received from my mother’s sister a small purse made of white brocade, which was intended to contain my child’s prayer book and rosary for when I attended Catholic Mass. It also had a shiny new silver dollar coin in its inner pocket. I remember how the silver coin and the purpose of the purse filled me with wonder and joy.

At one point during the day, I walked the rather long path to the outhouse alone. While sitting in dark outhouse my attention was caught by a beam of sunlight streaming through a crack between the wallboards. I rummaged in my purse, brought out the silver coin and held it in the light. I became mesmerized by the play of light on the coin and imagined that the moon had descended into the darkness surrounding me. I am unsure of how long I played with the coin in the sunbeam but there is a felt memory of timelessness. As I gazed at the silver-moon coin in the darkness I felt penetrated by the love of the Holy Ghost,[2] and became filled with an overwhelming joy. Suddenly I was dizzy, and my silver-moon coin slipped from my fingers and fell into the void of the outhouse hole. I investigated the blackness of the hole, hoping to retrieve my silver-moon coin but it was hopelessly lost. I became frightened and my body began to shake from misery.

Distressed and disoriented I sought to find my way to the house to tell my mother of the horror and petition her help. Somehow, I ended up in the pasture curled beside a resting milk cow. I remember the warmth of her musky breath as she nuzzled me, but not how long I nestled beside her. It was dark when my aunt found me. I remember a sort of desperate and hysterical attempt to convey to her the direness of having lost my silver-moon coin. She responded by scolding me for having gone so far from the house alone and telling me that my silver dollar did not matter because they had just received news that my mother had given birth to a new baby sister, which was more precious to God than anything. In that moment I hated her. I had the horrible fantasy that my mother had also disappeared into the same dark hole as my silver-moon coin and became inconsolable.

When I reflect on the feelings and experience of that day I am impressed most by the image of the silver-moon coin lost in the family’s ‘collective shit’, and by my having found comfort from the milk cow.  As a child the silver-moon coin became associated in fantasy with the loss of my mother. That event was the seed that blossomed into an archetypal loss of mother motif that consistently informs my personal and professional life. Overtime, I have learned of the powerful influence and
presence of the silver-moon mandala in the human psyche and its association with the archetypal feminine. Since that first numinous experience, I have upheld an
imaginal relationship with the silver-moon feminine and the Holy Ghost as my personal religious symbols of transformation. In his Symbols of Transformation (1956/1990) Jung refers to the moon as a symbol of the anima mundi, the world soul, and Holy Ghost:

[C]ertain early Christian sects gave a maternal significance to the Holy Ghost (world-soul or moon) …. The soul is fructified by the intellect [Logos]; as the ‘oversoul’ it is called the heavenly Aphrodite, as the “undersoul” the earthly Aphrodite. It knows “the pangs of birth.” It is not without reason that the dove of Aphrodite is the symbol of the Holy Ghost. (pp. 138 ,para 198)

The loss of mother set me on a path of imaginally recovering the silver-moon and holy cow feminine (e.g., the ancient Egyptian Isis-Hathor) lost in the chthonic realm of psyche through living as consciously as possible my experiences as woman, mother, wife, feminist activist, midwife, sexual and reproductive health practitioner, and depth psychotherapist.

In my search for the silver-moon mother lost into the collective shadow I have discovered the earthly Aphrodite and many other archetypal images of the feminine that seem to me the harmonizing balance for a collective psyche that is dominated by an unmediated masculine hero archetype in poor relationship to the feminine (e.g., Goethe’s tragic hero Faust). In Answer to Job (1952/1969) Jung expands on the idea of such a harmonizing balance through an exploration of the symbolism of the birth of the savior from the fruitful hieros gamos (sacred marriage) of Yahweh and Sophia. It was not until I experienced the lapis blue rose vision that such a saving balance became for me a psychic reality, though that was yet to be many years from my third birthday.

After my experience of being penetrated by the love of the Holy Ghost, I began to develop a desire to become a holy person. As I recall, this desire was humble though passionately insistent. My confessing this desire to my Catechism teacher was ill received. I was scolded and shamed for being so prideful as to imagine becoming holy. Regardless of her response, “the idea of the holy” (Otto, 1923/1958) remained with me, mercurially and mysteriously entwining through my living, inarticulate but persistent. Now I believe that the desire had something to do with communing reverentially, erotically (in the sense of Eros), and meaningfully to the autonomous psyche. My desire to become holy was my most nourishing imagination, and found resonance with my innocent reverence for the stories of saints, the Holy Trinity, and the Blessed Virgin Mary (BVM); with my love for the mystery of the Roman Catholic rite; with my joy of being imaginative and creative; and with my wonder at the effortless being of cows, creatures that make more sense to me than people, and with whom I have spent many comforting hours.

My desire to become a holy person was reinforced the day my mother died. After the funeral, while sitting in an armchair wrapped in the wine-red duvet that was a wedding gift to my parents, the BVM came to me in a vision. With the power of her gentle gaze holding mine she told me that she would be my Holy Mother if remembered to pray the rosary to her. As the vision of her receded from my inner eye, the image of her sacred heart entered my heart and ignited a fierce devotion to her, ignited the felt passion of her love for me, and further fueled my desire to become holy. And so, it was through the love and intervention of the BVM and the Holy Ghost that I survived the unbearable grief of the many mornings on which I awoke and tottered with sleepy legs toward the kitchen believing that today my flesh and blood mother would return and be cooking oatmeal for my breakfast, only to enter a cold, dim kitchen and once again feel the sting of being bereft of her. Surviving the loss of my mother was the necessity that drove me to develop a devotional relationship to the divine feminine. These early experiences came full circle to a harmonizing and restful resolution with the gnosis provided by the lapis blue rose vision, which is that there is no separation or loss only being in its manifest variations.

On the day of the lapis blue rose vision I was plagued by a migraine, and had spent most of the day meditating, journaling, and resting as best I could. Late in the evening I experienced the following vision:

A very bright light centres on my third eye. It has the quality of sheet lightening; I think of a quasar. I look at the light and see that it is emerging from a very dense darkness, dense like a black hole is dense. I watch this play between light and dark density and from it emerges a lapis blue rose. It looks both natural as a rose would look in the form of
its petals, but it also looks constructed as if for an exercise to demonstrate geometrical form for Islamic sacred structures. It is symmetrical and asymmetrical simultaneously—it is formed and formless, ordered, and chaotic—it is stillness and perpetual movement—it is deep silence and the essential cosmic breath-sound-rhythm. It is mystery and revelation. It is deeply attractive to me, and I feel as one with it and it with me. It is my greatest desire fulfilled for beauty, truth, justice, and all that is in my heart that I call desire. I exist on earth and in heaven simultaneously. (Author’s Journal)

It took me several days to begin to articulate this experience and to recover my physical equilibrium from having experienced the sheer power of the numinosity of the
vision. (See the cover image for this blog.) I labored to birth words that would articulate the experience:

Is-ness /scintillating illumination / scintillating cosmic breath / molecules brushing each other’s energy field / creating sound moves, undulating through me / sound moves caressing my body-being / in undulating waves of knowingness / formed and formless / light and dark / star matter in which stars live / chaos and order / symmetry and asymmetry / is and is not / wholeness of being and single point of being / opposition and union / stillness and perpetual motion / deep silence and essential cosmic breath-sound / mystery and revelation / the greatest treasure desired / Ma’at! (Author’s Journal)

With the name of the ancient Egyptian goddess Ma’at, I knew that the vision was a lived experience of her aspect that is the inhalation and exhalation of life and the greatest treasure desired (Lamy, 1981/1991). She  is the animating force behind the enfolding and unfolding “implicate order” (Bohm, 1980). I learn from Roberts (2000) that Ma’at is associated with the lapis lazuli stone, and recognize the lapis aspect of the vision as a symbol the goal of the alchemical opus.

The blue rose aspect of the vision also figures in alchemy but not as the ethereal and spiritually oriented work of creating the lapis but the work that includes recovering the chthonic feminine. The blue rose recalls to me a childhood memory of seeing a film, which fascinated me, and concerned medieval knights searching for a mystical blue rose. “The well –known ‘blue flower’ of the Romantics might well be the last nostalgic perfume of the ‘rose’; it looks back in true Romantic fashion to the
medievalism of ruined cloisters, yet at the same time modestly proclaims something new in earthly loveliness” (Jung, 1953/1993, p. 76, para 90). Jung’s comment resonates with my sense that the vision’s blue rose element is bound to the loveliness of matter as is the lapis element bound to spiritual loveliness.

It seems that the blue rose, and the lapis come together in an alchemical coniunctio of earthly (matter) and heavenly (spiritual) loveliness. This union of opposites makes sense to me and seems connected to becoming a holy person, with respect to my sense that a holy person is equally related to heaven and earth and is not the desexualized, corporeality-denying persons declared holy by many religions. Perceiving the lapis blue rose as a union of heaven and earth helped me understand my ambiguity about joining a convent as a youth, even though doing so seemed at the time to live out my desire to become holy.

I was ambiguous about joining a convent because I could not imagine living only as a nun and having to relinquish the earthly pursuits of a sexual life and mothering, which had as much meaningful attraction to me as becoming holy. My culture made it clear that my choices were either a nun or a wife/mother, and that living as both was impossible. My familiarity with the libretto of Carmina Burana  (Orff, 1936/1975) helped me imaginally manage my ambiguity. The particular words that mirrored my dilemma were, “in my mind’s wavering balance / wanton love and chastity sway in opposite scales / but I choose what I see, I offer my neck to
the yoke / to a yoke so sweet I cross [to love of ] the other” from the song In Trutina  (Orff, 1936/1975). I saw the ‘other’ as a human other and not a spiritual other, so I
chose marriage and children. However, I would have benefitted from a collective imagination of a way for a young woman to live out her imagination of becoming holy while having sex and babies.

The lapis blue rose vision provides for me that very imagination, as it is a symbol of the wholeness to be found in pursing life deeply related to spirit and matter, rational and non-rational, body and soul, heaven, and earth. It is the sort of living that is the stuff of which saints are made of and from which holiness derives, an idea that was synchronistically supported by an event the day following the lapis blue rose vision.

The day after the vision I found a copy of the novel Beautiful Losers by Leonard Cohen (1991), which I had long wanted to read but had had difficulty obtaining.  I did not make the synchronous connection until I read the following passage a few days later:[3]

What is a saint? A saint is someone who has achieved a remote human possibility. It is impossible to say what that possibility is. I think it has something to do with the energy of love. Contact with this energy results in the exercise of a kind of balance in the chaos of existence. A saint does not dissolve the chaos; if [they] did, the world would have
changed long ago. I do not think that a saint dissolves the chaos even for [themselves], for there is something arrogant and warlike in the notion of a [person] setting the universe in order. It is a kind of balance that is [their] glory. [Such a person] rides the drifts like an escaped ski. [Their] course is a caress of the hill. [Their] track is a drawing of the snow in a moment of its particular arrangement with wind and rock. Something in [them] so loves the world that [they give themselves] to the laws of gravity and chance. Far from flying with the angels, [such a person] traces with the fidelity of a seismograph needle the state of the solid bloody landscape. [Their] house is dangerous and finite, but [they are] at home in the world. [They] can love the shapes of human beings, the fine and twisted shapes of the heart. It is good to have among us such [persons], such balancing monsters of love. (Cohen, 1991, p. 101)

This passage answered something that I needed to have known as a child with respect to becoming a holy person. As I pondered the passage, I noticed the shell of shame around my desire to become a holy person dissolve and be replaced by a deep acceptance of how the holy lives in me, and how it is not a matter of becoming holy but living holy — wholly. I felt my third eye open and experienced the idea of the holy as eternally and universally accessible.

I was astounded and humbled by both the vision and the synchronistic finding of Cohen’s book. It became clear that my willing collaboration with the chaotic rupture of the autonomous psyche into my conscious life is essential for developing wholly – becoming holy. The lapis blue rose ruptured my ideas about truth, love and chaos and compelled me to recognize the necessary cosmic connective tissue binding light and shadow. It deepened my appreciation of how the nature of the cosmos includes the known and the unknown existing in a constant flux of revelation and concealment. With the help of Cohen’s thoughts on what is a saint and the lapis blue rose vision I understand that which fuels my desire to be wholly-holy is a sincere desire to know deeply the energy of love; the love that is the autonomous, equiponderant, scintillating creative light and void that is the connective tissue marrying chaos and order—the sort of love that in my upbringing I understood as the grace of the Holy Ghost—the descent of the catalytic styptic fire of cosmic knowing into the clay of human being that animates in us the divine.

Synchronistically, while writing this essay, a copy of The Red Book: Liber Novus (Jung, 2009) was delivered to my door. I opened the book to a random page curious to see what would be revealed. It was page 121 of the ‘second book’ on which there is an image of a diamond centered in a circle quartered by four rivers. In that image I recognized an imaginal cousin of the lapis blue rose. Jung’s inscription beside the image is translated as follows:

This stone, set so beautifully, is certainly the Lapis Philosoporum. It is harder than diamond. But it expands into space through four distinct qualities, namely breadth, height, depth, and time. It is hence invisible, and you can pass through it without noticing it. The four streams of Aquarius flow from the stone. This is the incorruptible seed that lies between the father and the mother and prevents the heads of both cones from touching; it is the monad which countervails the Pleroma. (Jung, 2009, p. 305).

Jung refers to this image in Psychology and Alchemy (1953/1993) “in the context of a discussion of mandala symbolism” (Shamdasani, 2009, p. 305).  He refers to the pleroma in Seven Sermons to the Dead (1961/1989) and elucidates his understanding of the pleroma in Answer to Job (1952/1969).  He writes that “in the pleromatic or (as the Tibetans call it Bardo state, there is a perfect interplay of cosmic forces” (Ibid., p. 394, para 620) – it is the living hierogamy of Yahweh and Sophia in eternal, infinite and dynamic harmonizing interplay (Ibid.). Recognizing characteristics of the lapis blue rose in Jung’s definition of the pleroma comforted me; I felt less alone in my experience of the lapis blue rose even though living the truth of it requires individual effort.

I was also struck by the notion of the incorruptible seed in Jung’s inscription, which echoes my understanding of the lapis blue rose as a symbol of the incorruptible seed/Self of my center. It also brings me back to the relationship between Ma’at and the lapis blue rose, for in ancient Egyptian funeral texts the soul or the person’s Ba body that serves Ma’at in truth and justice becomes the incorruptible seed (Lamy, 1981/1991; Roberts, 2000). I am comforted too to know that contained within my center of being is the lapis blue rose center point of my individual being deeply and meaningfully connected to the incorruptible and eternal one.

In conclusion, I would agree with Dallett (1998) that it is a “perilous and electrifying moment when the power of God enters the human psyche” (p. 6) and that one must approach the interpretation of such experiences wisely and judiciously. Yet, it seems that human living lacks vitality without ruptures of consciousness by the numinous.  My experience of the lapis blue rose vision affirmed my growing capacity to survive the nearly unbearable paradoxes of the Self. It has helped me better understand Jung life and work, and in particular his  Answer to Job (1952/1969), in which he explores the biblical story of Job – a man who learns to bear the shockingly paradoxical good and evil of the deity Yahweh – as representative of the psychological problem of establishing a healthy functioning ego-Self axis. A problem resolved through communion between the ego and the Self, a “double process of the humanizing of the Self and the deifying of the ego” (Edinger, 1991-1992). The silver-moon and lapis blue rose make me mindful of the role of the numinous in the individuation process, “which ensures that everything which belongs to an individual’s life shall enter into it, whether her [or she] consents or not, or is conscious of what is happening to him [or her] or not” (Jung, 1952/1969, p. 459, para 745). Undoubtedly those experiences have caused me to engage my ego in service to the Self, despite being challenged to resist the danger of hybris when the Self reveals to me love, grace, and gnosis. I regard the silver-moon coin and lapis blue rose images as a calling to a vocation of conscious relation to the Self – “the center and circumference of the total personality, including both conscious and unconscious aspects” (Dallett, 1998, p. 71) – despite the machinations of the ego, which are in truth unavoidable.  I have learned that engagement with the Self can be dangerous and even deadly (Dallett, 1998; Edinger, 1986) but less so if the ego serves the Self  in its attempts to express wholeness.

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[1] The ego-Self axis in depth psychology is regarded as the “centre of a complex of parallel and opposing processes which take place between the directing totality centre [Self] on the one hand, and consciousness and the ego centre on the other” (Jacoby, 1985/1990, p. 53). More recent interpretations of the ego-Self axis do not separate the ego from the Self  and consider that “the ego is actually contained within the Self and is not a separate entity” (Corbett, 2007, p. 199). I am inclined to agree with the latter interpretation, particularly considering my experience of the lapis blue rose.

[2] I had at that time just started Roman Catholic Catechism training in preparation for receiving First Holy Communion and so would have been familiar with the idea and image of the Holy Ghost.

[3] I have made changes to the passage to render it gender neutral, as originally it only included pronoun referents to the male gender, thereby excluding the notion of others having the quality of being saints as described by Cohen.