Gaia, Grail, and Green Man
What follows is another long post - it's the lecture I'm giving tomorrow at Main LIbrary, Read it all if you like, or just pick up the main ideas here:
1. If as Jung says, myths are the collective dreams of a culture or time,
2. and they can arise to help out with the collective individuation,
3. then what are we dreaming about climate change?
4. As we see the increasing threat of Earth as a wasteland, I see some links with the myths of Gaia, the Grail legend, and the Green Man.
5. I see them because they arose in my own dreams that helped me heal from cancer, which was a personal environmental crisis. Can we extend this to the collective?
6. I don't know. But I would love to hear your dreams about things that threaten the whole of humanity these days: climate crisis, racial issues - please share.
New Section just for pictures, film, and songs at the end!
Carl Jung said, “The dream is the private myth: the myth is the public dream.”
He also suggested that in a time of crisis, collective dreams and myths arise to help us see our way through. If we are humble and wise enough to listen to dream wisdom among other forms of knowing, it is possible to cohere around the Self’s sense of the issue rather than the Ego’s. Perhaps we can dream our way forward, collectively, into the lifegiving changes we must make. I have seen this work on the personal level, in my own dreams and those of my clients, so I trust that this is possible on the collective level as well.
A few days ago, the United Nations' IPCC issued another urgent warning. Our climate is changing at crisis speed, and we are far behind in slowing the damage before the Earth becomes a living hell for most surviving life forms (including us). Panic and blame are not my point: I simply want to know why are we so stuck? Is this complacency, lack of education, denial, distractedness? A crisis of this clarity and proportion should have all hands on deck.
As I’ve wondered along these lines, and as I’ve healed from my own wasteland of cancer, three myths have presented themselves to me: Gaia, the Grail, and the Green Man. The grouping first came from my own dreams. As I researched these myths, I found that all three got considerable play in Western culture during the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, when environmental concerns began to catch widespread public attention. What follows is some wondering out loud how the collective unconscious may have be helping us out through the picture-feelings of archetypal energies that come up for us in recent years.
Gaia, or Mother Earth, as creative and sustaining force for all of life
When the Apollo missions began photographing Earth from space, we behold the earth as a whole. These stunning visuals shifted our perspective. Across nations and cultures, we were able to see ourselves as global citizens sharing a beautiful planet.
Meanwhile, James Lovelock was developing his hypothesis that the earth is a single life system that sustains life through continual adjustments in species, climate, ocean and weather events. A year after the first space photo was published, he named his idea the Gaia Hypothesis at the suggestion of novelist William Golding. It was a brilliant move: the name and narrative invited us to hear crucial science as story. It helped us vulnerable, powerful humans to realize our intersubjectivity with the life of the planet as well as life on the planet. Gaia says – louder each decade - that if we are to survive, we must make profound changes. Life itself probably won’t die out anytime soon, but we might. Nature is more powerful than we are. There is no normal way forward; we can’t “sustain” how we live now.
Grail Question – key to healing
So why are we, as a species, so hard to change? To understand stuckness, we have the myth of the Holy Grail, specifically the old French version about the Fisher King. It’s interesting that so many film versions of the Arthurian legend came to the screen in starting in the late 1960's : maybe the dying king was an apt image for the social upheaveal in America. Chretien, in the 12th century, tells it this way: the King, for reasons unclear, is wounded in the thigh or groin. He can’t heal, he can’t die: he’s stuck. And the land mirrors his condition: crops fail, waters are drying up, there’s no rain, no food. The king feels relief from pain only when he fishes in his boat. His one hope for healing is if a pure knight arrives at his castle and asks the correct question - which is a secret.
So here we are: living in our tormented ego-structure, stuck in our dying land, and waiting for someone aligned to the Self, and enlightened enough to ask the right question.
After endless misadventures, Perceval finally arrives and asks: Whom does the Grail serve?
That’s it. Then king can drink from the Grail. He'shealed; consequently, the land revives.
The Holy Grail is the cup from which Jesus and the disciples drank at the Last Supper. Mythically, it is the cup of suffering, shared by the archetype of the Willing Sacrifice or the Wounded Healer. It is the Self willing to serve something higher than the Ego, something higher than even good intentions, prudence, compassion.
And whom does it serve? The story shows deep connection: the wholeness of the Grail knight, the King, the land, and its peoples are interdependent. Individuation of one person links to individuation of the whole. I wonder - if myths and dreams teach us to understand the Grail’s power, and help us choose a path of wisdom and necessary sacrifice, then could we help the whole creation – Gaia – be healed?
Green Man – life force, vegetative vitality, hidden in plain sight
A third helpful myth has emerged in the early 20th century. For ages, the Green Man has been hiding in plain sight – in rituals, stories, songs, and oddly, often in many old British churches. Once you know to look for it, his leaf-hidden face seems to be everywhere. Sometimes he’s pictured with vines proceeding from his mouth, the greening force emanating like a speech bubble. Scholar P.M. Araneo says: "Whilst the figure of the Green Man has appeared, disappeared and reappeared throughout the centuries, there is evidence to show that his appearance is often linked to times of upheaval, change or environmental crisis."
The Green Man can be friendly, but he’s also a trickster, with shades of Christ and Dionysus. He’s there and not-there, testing our perception. Invisible like viriditas, the greening power of God, and felt in the blood, like “the force that through the green fuse drives the flower.” Common as grass, unruly as kudzu.
I mention the Green Man not because I think he’s charming. I bring up Green Man because he appears in my dreams, whether I’m dreaming for myself or – apparently sometimes – for others.
He showed up when there was an environmental crisis in the landscape of my body. He showed me I had a cancer, and he encouraged me, partnered me, helped me heal. With his lively vitality, a wink, a knowing, a hug, a bouquet of parsley, he presented the problem as opportunity and calling. He says, Here’s your bagpipe – time to play it! He uprooted a dead tree to show me the problem. In another dream, I’m distraught over a burned-out church, but he says Hey look – and I see his ring on my finger, huge, like a Queen Anne’s Lace flower. He puts me out in the rain. He plants gorgeous vines that lure me off the path, and gets me lost in a strange world. Sometimes I get him mixed up with Jesus.
The Green Man was my guide through my personal environmental crisis. I hope his lively greening power will continue to visit all of us, and help us become dreamers willing to align our small selves with Whom the Grail Serves, to heal both the Fisher King (representing personal and collective power) and Gaia (the entire created life system.)
It's a massive shift, almost impossible to imagine, but we must. Perceval’s story shows us that we must start within, with the simple practices for setting Ego aside, and listening for a wisdom that arises naturally through unconventional ways of knowing, including our collective and personal dreams. The king revives. The Green Man winks. Gaia breathes. .
Correction: Here's the right link to the Grail scene from Excalibur.
If you have any dreams that offer wisdom for collective healing and wholeness, I’d be grateful to hear them. Please send to email@example.com. I never share dreams without permission.