Rachel and Leah – Wife and Mom


     The story of Rachel and Leah from Genesis, sisters married to the same man and in eternal competition with one another, resonated with me in a profound way.  The parallels with my own personal experiences, especially Rachel’s painful years of infertility, were obvious but it felt like a deeper connection than just shared infertility woes.  I didn’t grow up with sisters, so it was strange that I felt so connected to this particular story and not Sarah who had a much longer period of infertility to contend with.  It wasn’t until I looked at the story on an archetypal level that the message went from just personal relation to a larger lesson about human nature and relationships that, for me, were both profound and timely.

The Story

In the story, Jacob went to the land of his mother’s people to find a wife.  When he arrived, he saw and fell in love with his cousin, Rachel.  An agreement was made between Jacob and Rachel’s father, Laban.  Jacob would work for Laban for seven years and at the end of that time, be given Rachel as a wife.  He “served seven years for Rachel and they seemed to him but a few days because of his love for her” (Gen 29:20).  On the wedding night, Laban switched Rachel for her older, less attractive sister, Leah.  Jacob woke to find himself married to the wrong sister and Leah was doomed to live the rest of her life as an unloved wife.  Distraught and still in love with Rachel, Jacob agreed to work another seven years for Laban in order to marry her.   It was agreed however, that Jacob only had to wait one week to marry Rachel and so it came to be that Jacob married the two sisters.

Jacob loved Rachel but she was unable to give him any children.  This was a problem since Jacob had been told by God that he was to be the father of the twelve tribes of Israel.  It is also a problem because Rachel desperately wanted a child.  Then there is Leah, Jacob does not love Leah but she is abundantly fertile.  She takes her solace with her children but she desperately wants her husband’s affection. “The names that Leah gave her sons reflected her hope that Jacob would come to love her because of the sons she was bearing him” (Otwell, 52).

The Archetypes

In both of these women, we see not only a woman that embodies an archetype but also a woman that wants to fill both archetypes fully.  Rachel is the wife that wants to be a mother and Leah is the mother that wants to be a wife.  In the end, Rachel has children and so is given the opportunity to fill both archetypical roles but not after many years of anguish and the feeling of competition for offspring was firmly established between the sisters.  Instead of feeling simply gratitude at the birth of her first son; she is already unsatisfied and wants another son.  Her final son comes at the cost of her life as she dies in childbirth and so never reaches the final destination.

Archetypes are tricky because they can be so personal in interpretation.  Many critics of the scriptures claim that there are only two archetypes represented for women, the Madonna (mother) and whore (sexual object) but there are many archetypes for women throughout Genesis alone.  Rachel and Leah are an example of the predominant archetypal roles traditionally assigned to women, mother and wife.   Leah, conceived her children not out of purity like the Madonna, but out of incomplete sexual relations, sex without intimacy.  She is not the Madonna, she is purely the mother archetype.  Since Jacob does not love or desire her, she is free from the obligations of wife that would distract her from the role of mother.  Rachel, on the other hand, is most certainly appealing to Jacob sexually, but she is much more than a sexual object and not at all seen as a whore.  Rachel is the archetypal wife, Jacob loves her and she has the ability to devote her attentions to him since she does not have children to mother.  Both women fulfill their archetype but neither is fulfilled by their archetype.

The stories from the Torah are complex and at the same time, they are general enough to be open to a variety of interpretations.  With just this one small section of the story of Jacob, the range of interpretations is vast.  Some see Rachel as a sympathetic character, desperate to become a mother and contribute to her husband’s lineage while others have seen her as a once beloved wife that becomes intolerable in her single-minded desire to best her sister in a competition for sons that in the end, becomes the cause for her death.

Genesis does not tell us how Rachel feels about Jacob but we know he loved her.  Her desire for children seems to be driven by status but that may be the way it is presented because of the fact that Leah was so fertile and Jacob was only prophesized to have twelve sons.  This is a complicated issue and because we are only given a small glimpse into the lives of this family, I like most readers, will use the lens of my personal experience to fill in the blanks.  I found many connections to the story of Rachel and Leah.  While I never had to compete with a sister, I think Rachel and Leah also represent two sides inside the soul of married mothers.  While they are represented as two women, I argue that they can be viewed as the archetypal individual struggle to act as a mother or a wife.  The competition between the sisters can be a metaphor for the competition within the self to find balance between the archetypes.   Since it is impossible for me to separate my story from the sisters’ story, I will tell my story as it relates.

My Story

My story is similar to the story of Rachel.  My husband and I met when I was only fifteen years old and both of us felt an attraction to one another just on first sight.  Early on in the relationship, we felt that we wanted to be married but we waited almost eight years because we were young when we met.  After a couple of years of marriage, we felt ready to start a family but it just didn’t happen.

After eight years of trying and ten years of marriage, I became pregnant with our son.  For that first ten years of marriage and the eight years of dating, I was predominantly the wife archetype.  I was also a student and a teacher for many of those years but my husband also had his studies and career to build so this in no way detracted from my role as wife but actually was beneficial since it added money to our household and going to school was a way to build for our future.  We balanced each other well but we were uncomplicated and easy to balance.

I was able to be the “cool” wife that did fun things because I didn’t have kids to take care of like the other wives.  At gatherings, we could stay late because we didn’t have tired little children wanting to be home.  I was self-sufficient and independent.  If I needed to go to work, I went to work.  If I wanted to go see a friend, I went and saw her.  I never had to worry about who was going to watch the kids or work around nap schedules.  In many ways it was wonderful, but it became unfulfilling and each month brought another disappointment and failure.

My husband and I had never really fought up until this point in our marriage.  Like Rachel, I felt like I would die if I didn’t get to be a mother and was willing to take drastic medical and financial measures, but my husband was hesitant.  I saw so many others become pregnant so easily like Leah did and I became envious and angry with the world.  “When Rachel saw that she had borne Jacob no children, she became envious of her sister; and Rachel said to Jacob, “Give me children, or I shall die.” Jacob became incensed at Rachel and said, “Can I take the place of God, who has denied you fruit of the womb?” (Gen 30:1-2).

Rachel did not have the advantage of modern medicine but she did have an option like surrogacy and she gave her husband her maidservant to bear children for them.  In this way, she had two sons but it was not enough.  Later in the story, there is a fight between the sisters over some mandrakes.  Mandrakes were used for two things, as an aphrodisiac and as an aid for infertility.  Leah wants the plant so that Jacob may have attraction to her, even if it is medicinally induced and Rachel isn’t satisfied merely having claim over two children.  She wants more sons and she wants to carry them and bear them.  In the contest for the plants, Rachel trades an evening with Jacob for the plant and both sisters become pregnant.  The sisters continue to compete with each other for children and in the end, Jacob has twelve sons and one daughter by four women, two of which were his wives.


What does it mean to be a wife?  This is a tricky question and one that I do not intend to answer on my own, Craig Ballard Millet wrote a book on six archetypes she saw represented in the scriptures, two of which were the wife and mother.  I will be using her definitions of these archetypes and merge them with my own experiences and observations to help define these roles.     “Part of the problem in discussing the archetypal wife is that we tend first to think in terms of stereotypes, and the stereotypical wife is very different from (the archetypal wife).  The little woman who sacrifices her name and herself to her husband’s every whim, and who cannot know herself apart from his reaction to her, is a negative and destructive picture of what should be an archetype of considerable power” (Millet, 77).  The stereotype of the wife is a doormat and not a partner for her husband, merely a servant.

Millet writes, “The archetypal wife is not simply a mirror reflection of her partner.  She is a woman who innately has within and who intentionally cultivates skills of intimacy, commitment, and love.  These are difficult skills to cultivate and difficult ones to exercise.  They require constant attention and constant work, but the rewards are also generous” (78).  For the archetypal wife, it is all worth it because she has shared her life and her love with her partner.  “She will feel that her role as wife has far outweighed in value any money, success, or even fame that she has earned in a career.  For her, that one primary relationship defines her life and is her life” (Millet, 78).  I’ll admit, my first reaction to that quote was a negative one but then I had to understand my objection.  Millet is speaking of an archetype, not a person.  It is hard and not recommended for a person to attempt to fill only one archetype and neglect the other parts of themselves.  People are more complicated than archetypes which is why we struggle when trying to fulfill our roles.  We have multiple roles to fill and it becomes impossible when conflict arises between these archetypes just like the sisters battled for supremacy, so too do those archetypes struggle for supremacy within us.

Being an archetypal wife may be difficult but it becomes a struggle for time and balance when the wife’s role changes and she also needs to incorporate the archetype of mother.  In fact, Millet never mentions children in the chapter on wives.  Children automatically change a woman’s role to include the mother archetype so she can no longer be a pure wife archetype. If a married mother tried to be a wife archetype, her children would suffer and that would not be good for the marriage just like a mother completely switching to the mother archetype is not good for a marriage.  Before I talk about the wife that transfers all of her energies toward the mother archetype I need to address a crucial aspect of the wife archetype which is how a wife archetype becomes a mother archetype, sex.


Sex is an important factor of the wife archetype and often the way a marriage is made legal is sexual union, as was the case in the time of Rachel and Leah.  It was because Jacob had sex with Leah that he was married to her.  It could not be undone.  Sadly for Leah, this was probably the only time in her marriage that Leah experienced a loving sexual union.  For every other sexual encounter with Jacob after the first, the purpose was procreation and possibly a bit for recreation but never for expressing love.

The Battle between Sisters – The Battle for Balance in Self

The reason I feel it is important to mention sex as part of the wife archetype is because it is a part that may get lost when the wife becomes a mother. Whether the couple stops having sex altogether, it will usually decline with the arrival of children.  This is natural but the reaction from the husband is also natural – he feels neglected by the wife.  She is tired, her body is different, and if she is nursing, her body isn’t even her own and she may not be interested in sex.  In the animal kingdom, as with lions and many primates, males have been observed killing the offspring of nursing females to make them ready for sexual activity quicker.  The nursing offspring is seen as competition for the female.  This seems brutal when put to milder terms, the nursing child is competition even for the father.  The mother must spend her time and energy on the new life but also, her love becomes shared.  In humans, we recognize this so men do not kill their offspring in order to regain their wives but they do still exhibit jealousy.

Archetypal Loss

Sex is just one of the many important elements to the wife archetype that change when she steps into the mother archetype.  A mother simply cannot spend the amount of time and attention on keeping the house clean, making meals, having relationship time with her husband, maintaining her appearance, or on any of her many former activities from her wife archetype days.  She can easily lose herself in her new archetype to the point that her husband feels unloved and uncared for.  When the wife becomes a mother, the husband also becomes a father.  He has also had a transition of archetype to deal with and has his own new needs.  He may become angry or frustrated at the situation and since he loves his children, he takes his anger out in other ways.  Both parents are dealing with the loss of their old archetype but also the loss of the other’s archetype.

This disconnect from the former archetypes of the new mother can lead to problems with the other areas of her life, like for me with my classes and marriage.  I became so engrossed in my new archetype that I let the other areas slide, which to a point, is expected.  The problem is when the mother does not return her attentions to her former archetypes that she risks losing those roles.  If the mother does not realize that she has lost her wife archetype and that she was in jeopardy of losing her husband’s affections, she may lose the relationship that creates the archetype and would simply live without that part of her soul.  Some people lose other archetypes when taking the new role as mother, many quit school or work, and some, often not by choice, quit the archetype of wife.

The Mother and Me

This leads me to Leah, the mother that wants to be a wife.  In the soul of the married wife, Leah is a warning of what happens when we lose ourselves in motherhood and no longer attempt to fill the wife archetype.  This part of the narrative becomes painful for me because it is still fresh in my life that I recognize I have become like Leah.  Like many mothers, I fell in love with my children and want to spend all of my time and energy on them.  Especially after waiting for so long to become a mother, once I was given the opportunity to fill the role, I went into it whole-heartedly.  My body was not my own for almost six years of pregnancy and nursing.  It became soft as I never quite lost my “baby weight.”  I had a mom’s body.  Our kids slept in our bed, it was nice for the kids but not for my marriage.  This is not limited to me or my experiences.  Most women struggle to maintain intimacy with their husbands while balancing the new responsibilities of motherhood.

I had neglected the wife archetype for too long in order to fill the mother, student, teacher, and other archetypes.  I recognized the changes in our marriage but I did not see them through the eyes of the man that once had a wife but was now married to a mom.  Luckily, I think the revelation came in time that I will not completely lose my role of wife but it definitely will take time to repair.  Today, I relate more with Leah than Rachel.  I wish my husband loved me the way he did before we had kids.  When sex occurs and a woman becomes a wife, it can’t become undone.  The purity is lost but it can be something wonderful and more beautiful than the original purity.  Once a woman has a child and enters the mother archetype, there is no going back – the love shared with the couple will always be different – not less or more, just different and as a former Rachel, I miss that kind of love.  The new love is more complex, it is deeper in many ways but it is also shared with the child(ren) and complicated because it requires balance.  The purity of love between just the two is gone but it can be something wonderful and mot beautiful than the original purity.  “When Adam and Eve choose knowledge over innocence, they open to receive life in all its fullness, which includes both pleasure and pain” (Pearson, 109).

The Mother the Archetype

The mother archetype is the ideal mother for a child but not always ideal for herself or for others.  “Integration for a woman whose archetypal nature is maternal will mean consciously expanding her role beyond home into other areas of her life beside her children” (Millet, 105).    Like with the pure wife archetype, the mother only cares about fulfilling her archetype. One danger with total identification with these archetypes is that they are based on relationships and are therefore based on other people that are also flawed and human.  The archetypal wife may have a job but it is not her focus, her marriage is the most important aspect of her life.  An archetypal mother may have a husband but her focus is on her child(ren), not her marriage except for how that relationship may affect her child(ren).  In this last aspect, a mother archetype may not recognize that she can harm her children by engrossing herself too much in her new role.  “Putting all her energies into her own family may not be healthy for her or for them” (Millet, 105).   Children need their mothers to be more than archetypal mothers.  Their mothers and fathers are their role models.  If the mother is unfulfilled like Leah, the children will see this as a way to live life.  There is also a danger that an archetypal mother will have difficulty releasing her role once her children are ready to stop being mothered.  “She will need to intentionally cultivate the strengths of one of the three independent archetypes in preparation for the time when her children are grown” (Millet, 105).  If a mother fails to have balance and devotes herself entirely to her archetype she risks a loss of identity when her children become independent or she takes a risk that they do not become independent and she mothers them even as adults. This is why there needs to be balance.  A person can’t be an archetype and as seen with the story of Rachel and Leah, only filling one archetype tends to lead to discontent, bitterness, and even hostility.

To further this metaphor, it is interesting to see that Joseph, the firstborn of Jacob and Rachel becomes a great figure in later stories.  “The child born out of the love match was more important than all the other sons put together” (Sanford, 34).  The others did not thrive like the son born out of wholeness.  Leah’s sons were raised by an archetype that was unfulfilled.  There father favored the sons of Rachel because he loved their mother.  Probably even more so after her death, he looked to them as an extension of her and for this reason, they thrived.


So, how to find balance?  This is the question for every person that exists no matter what archetypes they are living.  In the story, Jacob can also be seen as striving for balance.  Craig Sanford argues the metaphor of the story is about Jacob striving for balance.  This is an example of how these complex stories can represent different things to different readers.  “There is a sense in which every man has a Rachel and a Leah within him.  It is as though there is a pull within each man towards social conformity and adaptation to outer demands and expectations” (Sanford, 35).  He argues that Jacob’s steadfastness to Rachel demonstrates that Jacob is a man of love.  He cleaves to the wife he loves over the wife that gives him sons and status.

Like most of the stories found through Genesis, the interpretation of a story is more telling of the interpreter than it is about the story itself.  I maintain that this is a story of balance and as a wife and a mother, I identify that balance as the balance between the archetypes because I am currently trying to find that balance.  By working on this paper right this minute, I am not folding the clothes that have been sitting in the dryer since last night and by doing so, also letting the clothes I washed last night sit in the washer.  I didn’t get them folded and put away last night because I fell asleep putting the kids to sleep and neglected both my archetypal wife roles of keeping the house clean and orderly and going to sleep with my husband.  To balance the student archetype, I have to neglect things like laundry.  To balance the wife archetype, I have to make my children grow and become independent by sleeping without me. This balance, it is what allows them to have cause for independence and lets them see it is okay for a person to put their needs first sometimes.

To balance school, work, motherhood, family, my creative side, and all of these things will be a constant struggle for balance.  I will never be able to fill any of my archetypes without feeling dissatisfaction with the other areas of my life.  This is true for everyone; for Rachel, for Leah, for Jacob, for me, and for you.  This is a universal truth and why reading this on an archetypal level is so beneficial.

Archetypes are universal.  The truth that we are human.  That we can’t and shouldn’t even try to live our lives devoted to a single archetype because we are complex, like the stories of the Torah.  To me, I read this as a story about balance between mother and wife because I live those archetypes but it can be read as a need to balance any archetype.  The story works for so many people on so many levels.  This is why so many have argued these texts were divinely inspired.  The texts balance the historical aspect with the literary elements, they speak to us personally and universally, they were carried through the oral traditions of a people yet said to have been written by the hand of God – they achieve balance where we cannot.

I wish my conclusion was more definite, one that gave an answer but this is a research paper, not an argument paper.  My need for balance will leave you with the lesson I have learned.  It is okay that I fail because I am human, but I need to strive to not fail too often in any one archetype or I risk losing that role.  We all struggle to maintain this balance.  We can’t expect ourselves or others to always fill the archetypal role we want them to fill because they too are balancing their archetypes.  In the end, I guess this story, my struggles, and this lesson which on the surface seem sad and difficult have all come together to become something better, something nicer.  This has all been a reminder to be a little kinder to myself and to others and a reminder to focus not on an archetype but to focus on balance and let the rest fall into place.


Works Cited

Millett, Craig Ballard. In God’s Image: Archetypes of Women in Scripture. San Diego: LuraMedia, 1991. Print.

Otwell, John.  And Sarah Laughed: The Status of Women in the Old Testament. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1977. Print.

Pearson, Carol. Awakening the Heroes Within: Twelve Archetypes to Help Us Find Ourselves and Transform Our World. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1991. Print.

Plaut, W. Gunther, Bernard J. Bamberger, and William W. Hallo. The Torah: A Modern Commentary. New York: Union of American Hebrew Congregations, 1981. Print.

Sanford, John A. The Man Who Wrestled with God: Light from the Old Testament on the Psychology of Individuation. New York: Paulist, 1981. Print.


Lovers, Fools, and Sufism

When I turn on the computer and read the news, I see a world in incredible pain.  It has become acceptable and even encouraged in our society to get the most for the self, even at the cost of others.  Greed and consumerism have begun to replace integrity and compassion.   People seek to fill the void but remain unsatisfied, so what is the answer?  In a word, love.  Our society needs more love.  It may sound simplistic or foolish but Sufism does not seem to have a problem with foolishness.  “Without love, the Soul does not engage itself with life” (Pearson, 148).  It is love that makes us human, it is love that makes us complicated, and it is love that brings us our deepest sorrows and highest levels of bliss. “It is Eros – passion, attachment, desire, even lust – that makes us really alive” (Pearson, 149).  The problem is how we define love, how we show love, and how we receive love. Sufis have been teaching us about the heart for centuries so it makes sense we can turn to them to learn about love.

What is love?

Love is impossible to define because it is something beyond words.  “Love is not primarily an emotion.  Sometimes the greatest enemy of love is sentimentality, the cheapening or trivializing of the greatest power in the universe” (Helminski, 46).  Love is powerful, it can make people do things that are contrary to logic, foolish even.  It is universal but it is also cultural and personal.  Love can only be talked about or understood metaphorically because it is an experience, it is a feeling, it is an action – it is beyond words.

We often try to define love by the way it makes us feel or by the way we express our love.   Another way we try to define love is by the relationship that it serves but this is also not a way to define love; this defines relationship or degrees of loving feeling but not love itself.  Love is complicated just like humans are complicated.  Since love can’t be defined with words, I will do what I do when I need understanding – I will look to the archetypes.  For the archetype of love, I turn to the goddess of love and beauty, Aphrodite.


Dr. Ginette Paris said that Aphrodite is “the smile personified.”   When I think of how it feels when a person smiles at me, I think of love.  There is a small tickle inside, a happy spark, and a connection – to me, this is what love feels like.  There are degrees of love, but I think that a smile is a small dose of love.  Aphrodite is as complicated as love but in knowing her, we can know love.  I will admit, I did not always see the importance of Aphrodite.  Just like the word love has become trivialized by overuse and misuse, so had Aphrodite in my mind.  For me, it took the absence of Aphrodite to understand her importance.

There is a scene in a popular movie, Casino, where the main character is describing his future wife.  He says how she makes every person feel like the most important person in the room.  She has charm and grace, to me, this is Aphrodite.  Love is showing care and Aphrodite makes each person so cared for that they feel loved.

Paris asserts that the lack of Aphrodite is depression.  “When depression takes root, only those gestures indispensable to survival persist. The depressed person no longer devotes any of his or her energy to Aphrodite” (32).  Since everything is for function, Aphrodite is considered unnecessary. The person lacks care, they are apathetic.  Love is caring, it is how to show love.  When we care about something, it shows just as when something lacks care, it also shows, “everything that is nice, gracious, or fragile is sooner or later broken, tarnished, or ridiculed” (32).  To find Aphrodite, I had to first lose her.  Sufism asserts that to know love, one must first have your heart broken. Just like everything else we have learned about love, it seems contrary to logic that to find something it must be lost or that in order to be whole, one must first be broken.  All these truths we gain from Sufism and love, because they seem to be illogical appear foolish.

The Fool

In the royal court the fool was entertainment.  His job was to express joy and enjoy laughter but he really did so much more.  “Fools have a license to say what other people would be hanged for, to puncture the Ruler’s Ego when the Ruler is in danger of hubris, and to generally provide balance to the kingdom by breaking the rules and thereby allowing an outlet for forbidden insights, behaviors, and feelings” (Pearson, 220).  Many say that lovers are fools.  Love, like the fool, breaks the rules.  We don’t always fall in love with the person we should or we do things that don’t make sense because of love.  To love someone is to put that person’s needs before your own.  Some would call that foolish but to the Sufi, it is foolish not to care for others because the truth is that we are all one.  “Only Love can tame the ego and bring it into the service of Love. … The lover, the beloved, and love itself are all one in reality” (Helminski, 49).  Since we are all one, showing love to another is the same as to show love to the self.

Another reason love is foolish is because it vulnerable.  “Love is the absence of defenses; it is emotional nakedness” (Helminski, 50).  That is scary and powerful.  Our clothing protects us and our emotional clothing separates us from others but love is a stripping away of otherness, there can be no clothing between that which is one. This makes us incredibly vulnerable and in this society, self-imposed vulnerability is incredibly foolish.

How do we show love?

To be love, to attempt to embody the Aphrodite archetype, is to care for others.  The true way to show love is to give care.  When we do this, we give of ourselves and our time and these are truly the only things that are ours to give – our greatest treasures.  Caring for others is not so simple.  To care, one must first know what the other person needs and wants, and knowing takes time.  Therefore, it can often be said that a people grow to love each other.

Showing love is difficult because often a person doesn’t even know what they need or want.  Also, many times a person may think they know what the other person needs and they attempt to give it to them only to find that it isn’t really what was needed. To care about a person is to get to know about that person, to care for a person is to use that knowledge to give them what they need, and to love a person is to want to do those things.

How do we receive love?

Just like showing love is different for each person, so is receiving love.  It is hard to know how to love especially when a person doesn’t know how to receive love.  To be loved, a person needs to be vulnerable.  To be truly loved is to be known.  Allowing someone to know you is scary.  What if they do not like what they learn? This is especially true for people that do not know or love themselves.  How can another know you or love you if you don’t love yourself?  It is possible to show love to those that do not know the love they need but it is more difficult.  By giving a person love, even when it is difficult for whatever reason is not an easy thing to do but I argue that this is the time when a person needs love the most.  “May my imitation become real.  By practicing the fruits of love, by showing kindness, patience, and generosity to others, especially when it doesn’t come easily, we may summon the cause of these fruits, namely, real love” (Helminski, 50).  That is why I argue that including some love, by sharing a smile – we can foster good feelings with each other and in the long run, learn to love each other again but unless we learn how to receive love, we are only doing half of the work.

Why do we need love?

Life is about balance.  I am not proposing that we all become fools and surrender completely to love but I think we have gone out of balance.  Aphrodite cannot exist for long without Ares to protect her beauty or Apollo to figure out how to do things.  The problem is I feel our world is not in balance.  We have become too hard and too concerned with function.  We have lost sight of beauty for the sake of beauty, love for the sake of love, and compassion for each other.  “Love has many fruits: kindness, patience, generosity, courage, self-sacrifice.  Love will produce these fruits; and these fruits will engender love. This is a two-way street.  The effect can produce the cause” (Helminski, 50).

When I think about people in our society that are sad or angry or generally unhappy and I wonder how can we help them?  When a person is suffering; above all else, they need love, they need care, and they need Aphrodite.  It is not easy to love, it takes your soul.  Some people would think it foolish to give love to those that don’t “deserve” it for whatever reason but those are the people that most need the love.  As Helminski pointed out, giving love creates love and by spreading it to those that are most unable to show it, we can help create the change toward love.  It makes no sense to only share love with those that are easy to love because they already know love, it is those that are difficult to love that need it the most.  Even if it seems foolish.

Works Cited

Helminski, Kabir.  The Knowing Heart: A Sufi Path of Transformation. Boston: Shambhala Publications, 1999. Print.

Paris, Ginette. Pagan Meditations. Dallas: Spring Publications, 1993.

Pearson, Carol. Awakening the Heroes Within: Twelve Archetypes to Help Us Find Ourselves and Transform Our World. San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1991. Print.


Last Event of 2016

There is something magical that happens when a group of women come together to share a creative space. With our busy lives, we tend to forget that we need this magic and we need to make time to nourish this energy.
Storytellers Retreats will be hosting their final event of 2016 this Sunday at The Yoga Connection in Beaumont.
Come renew, refresh, and reward yourself by making time to feed yourself – physically, creatively, emotionally, and socially.

Sally June will be hosting us at her studio that we affectionately call “The Treehouse.” She will also be treating us to two of her amazing yoga sessions that stretch the mind as much, if not more, than the body.

Kathy Jaffe will talk with us about the importance of story, how we think in story, we process through story, and how stories can shape our lives.

Parisa Danshevar will guide us through rhythmic experiences and stories from music to empower, enlighten, and enjoy.

Tracy Marrs will be sharing stories from mythology to discuss how to whether the storms of life and regain balance.

Tickets are all inclusive, with snacks, beverages, materials, workshops and lunch. We have limited tickets available – reserve yours at storytellerstreehouse.eventbrite.com for $50.

Tell me a story
Sing me a song
Paint me a picture
Share with me your soul …

While there is no pressure to reveal your creative work to others, you will find yourself excited to see what others create and want to share your own creations.

The lack of Aphrodite in “The Sopranos”

The Sopranos was a series directed by David Chase about a fictional character named Tony Soprano played by James Gandolfini.  In the show, Tony is the head of the New Jersey crime family.  His position should make him Zeus, the boss and in control but the series shows that Tony is really a broken Zeus.   In the first episode, he suddenly passes out while bar-b-quing making a dramatic explosion which leads him to go to the hospital for a series of tests (19:00-19:45).  This event also coincides with the loss of the ducks that will be discussed later in the paper.  When the tests conclude that nothing is physically wrong with Tony, he secretly begins therapy to attempt to end the panic attacks and regain control in his life.

For Tony, therapy is complicated.  He doesn’t see himself as needing therapy and he is resistant to the idea of therapy.  “They said it was a panic attack ’cause the blood work and neurological work came back negative. And they sent me here” (2:55-3:05). He is reluctant to seek therapy not only because in his line of work, therapy can be seen as a betrayal of confidence within the organization but also because he sees therapy as a crutch for weak minded people.  He thinks that talking about feelings makes him unmanly.  For a man that not only wants to but needs to represent Zeus, being weak and unmanly is unacceptable and leads to self-loathing. Therapy is not the cure for Tony, he needs Aphrodite to give him control and ease his sadness.  Even though he is Zeus and he has a Hera, he needs Aphrodite, especially in his business where he makes his money off of thievery, the selling of sex and pleasure, and gambling.  These trades need Aphrodite to balance the brutality, without beauty, a strip club is an ugly, sad place.  Without something beautiful to protect, violence is also ugly and only for the gain of power.  Tony is desperately seeking to have some beauty, something to protect, something to civilize his rage but as he seeks for his Aphrodite, he becomes more and more depressed with the frustration that he will not ever attain her.

Tony is diagnosed with depression; rage turned inward, and begins the combination of Prozac and therapy.  Even though the show spans several years, for this paper, the focus will be primarily the first episode.  The first episode is crucial to any television series because it is when the audience first “meets” the characters.  Traditionally, mafia shows focus on the men, the mobsters, but “The Sopranos” also includes a strong female presence.  However, as strong as the female presence is in the show, the lack of Aphrodite is just as strong.

In the series, Tony is surrounded by women: his wife, mother, daughter, sisters, strippers, girlfriends, and therapist.   With all of the women that appear in the series over the years, Aphrodite does try to make an appearance but she is always just out of reach for Tony. After discussing some of the women in the show, I will use four points about the nature of Aphrodite that Dr. Paris makes in her book “Pagan Grace” to show that while Tony’s profession does not lend itself to happiness and well-being, it seems that Tony’s biggest problem is the lack of Aphrodite in his life.  Dr. Paris explains in detail in writing how the loss of Aphrodite leads to depression but I liked this quote from class.  “She is the smile personified” (Paris lecture). Aphrodite is connected to civilization, flowers, and of course, sex and its purpose.  By showing how these four elements are represented, depression, civilized nature, flowers, and sex in the episode, I plan to show Aphrodite is not only absent but it is made a point of the show to demonstrate her absence.

Lots of women but no Aphrodites

After opening credits, the series begins with a shot of a naked female statue in the therapist’s office.  She is metal, hard and cold, not in the least bit sexual and Tony appears uncomfortable. Next, the first female in the series is Dr. Jennifer Melfi, played by Lorraine Bracco; Tony’s therapist enters the scene.  She is attractive but she is not Aphrodisiac, more Athenian.  She is wearing a tan pantsuit and puts her glasses on to show she is in therapist mode. She keeps her arms and legs crossed while they speak, further distancing herself from Tony and Aphrodite (1:40-3:50).  Of the important women in Tony’s life, Dr. Melfi is the closest to Aphrodite.  He does experience a longing for her but she rebuffs his attentions.  Even in her personal life, Dr. Melfi struggles in the realm of Aphrodite. She is not in touch with the Aphrodite inside herself; she is always in the realm of the mind.  She needs Aphrodite as much as Tony.

The second and third women are Tony’s daughter and wife, respectively.  In a scene at the Soprano home, Tony is excited about a family of ducks that made their home in the family pool.  This is one place Tony shows real joy but it is a break from his archetype, he walks into the pool wearing his robe, the reaction from the others shows how it is out of his character (5:15-6:04).  It seems to make them uncomfortable.  Also, as we see by the end of the episode, the ducks, just like Aphrodite are impermanent.  As they walk into the house, his daughter and wife want things from him.  His daughter, Meadow Soprano, played by Jamie Spiegler, informs him that she and her friend are late for school.  Next, after a brief exchange to his young son, we meet Tony’s wife, Carmela, played by Edie Falco.  Together, Tony and Carmela make an excellent representation of Zeus and Hera.  In the first shot we get of Carmela with Tony, her body posture is tense, almost aggressive.  She talks to him about familial, social obligations and makes a cutting remark about his extramarital affairs that is so subtle, it can almost be overlooked  (6:50-7:16) but later in the episode, the extramarital affairs and loss of love is shown very clearly when Tony is in the hospital for tests (20:25-21:45).  In many of the scenes with Carmela in this episode her priest is also in the scene (18:30-18:40).  Carmela while not unfaithful like Tony has an unnaturally close relationship with her young, attractive priest that Tony insinuates may be seen as inappropriate.  She wears fine clothes and jewelry but she is fierce in her ability to protect her position as Hera.  She protects her family but is not loving toward her husband.  When she hears a noise outside, she does not cower or look for help from the priest who is at her house watching movies, she grabs a large gun and walks outside to confront the cause of the noise, the daughter, Meadow (25:00-25:21).

In this first episode Meadow’s character is still not clearly defined because she is still figuring out her own place in the world.  She is young and she battles with her mother for independence.  Later in the series, we see Meadow try to find herself by trying on a variety of archetypes.  She eventually becomes a college student interested first in pediatric medicine, then finally law. Eventually, in the series she does bring Tony some glimpse of the goddess and mild joy but in the first episode, she is moody and causes tension within the family.

The last and most dynamic woman to be introduced in the episode is Livia, Tony’s elderly mother.  Dr. Melfi says that Tony describes her as a helpless old lady but also as a larger than life character.  While she is Tony’s mother, there is nothing of Demeter in Livia and definitely an absence of Aphrodite.  Her house is old fashioned, Tony has to knock several times before we hear the half fearful, half angry response from inside and she unlocks the locks to allow Tony entrance to his childhood home. She tries to feed him and when he refuses, she gives him food anyway.  The conflict between Tony and his mother arises that he wants to have her move to a retirement community and she doesn’t want anything to do with it.  She is completely resistant to any kind of change and shows major signs of depression herself.  Her house is dark and stuffy.  All the windows and doors are closed and locked.  Her hair is disheveled, her robe is misbuttoned, and she is wearing worn, old styled slippers.  She seems to be a Hestia figure but she is losing her capabilities for living in her own home.  She rejects change and has an extreme fear of the outside world (14:46-18:30).  Now to contradict the picture of helpless, fearful old woman, we learn that Livia also embodies another archetype.  She reveals herself as one of the puppet masters of the mafia family.  To most, she seems like just another elderly woman but it is her cunning that makes things happen within the family.  Her cunning and position are only introduced in this episode but it is already clear to the audience that while she appears to be a Hestia, she is actually Athena in disguise.  While she can no longer manage to make herself a meal without a catastrophe, she is able to plot and scheme all the way to trying to have her own son murdered.   She is a major player and skillful manipulator.  If any person in the series would benefit from Aphrodite, it would be Livia.  It would go against everything she is to have Aphrodite in her life – she is the complete opposite and absence of Aphrodite.  In fact, the archetype that Livia fits is that of the anti-Aphrodite, she is angry, loveless, depressed, and cruel.

The important women in Tony’s life are lacking Aphrodite but even the setting lacks the goddess.  Tony works out of two places, an Italian meat market/deli and a strip club, The Bada Bing.  In this episode there is a scene where the guys are having an informal type meeting in the club.  It is bright outside and not busy in the club.  The men are seated at a small table drinking; they are not in the same room as the dancers.  They have a view of the dancers but they are turned away from them, they don’t notice them.  When the waitress does come by with drinks, she is seen as an interruption and nuisance.  For Tony and his crew, these women are not beautiful or even worth looking at; they are simply another form of income.  The women are topless and dancing but their movements seem somewhat mechanic and out of tune with the music, like they are bored or drugged.  Also, they are not really attractive but all this doesn’t matter because no one in the room is looking at any of the dancers anyway.  Even in a place where the goal is to arouse men, the focus is not on the beauty or sexual attractiveness, it is about profit. This is a place of commerce, not beauty or grace.

The Unattainable Aphrodites

Aphrodite does attempt to enter the show.  In episode twelve, we get a glimpse of hope for happiness for Tony.  His life seems like it is adjusting with the therapy.  Tony has encounters with a beautiful, Aphrodisiac woman named Isabella.  In the episode, we learn that she is visiting from Italy and staying with the neighbors.  She is graceful and attractive and Tony enjoys her company.  The problem with this Aphrodite is that she turns out to not be real; she only existed in Tony’s mind.   Dr. Melfi and Tony conclude that Isabella is the result of the need to alter Tony’s medication.  It is interesting that Aphrodite appears here as not only fictional but a result of anti-depression medication. She is beautiful and graceful and just like a flower, impermanent.

Another brush Tony has in the series is Adriana, is Tony’s nephew, Christopher’s, fiancé.  She is completely unattainable to Tony because of her relationship to his nephew.  In episode fifty-seven, Tony talks about his desire to be with the young, pretty Adriana to Dr. Melfi.  In the end, Tony recognizes that his desires can’t be acted on as it would destroy his relationship with his nephew and wouldn’t actually be possible.  In the end, it is just like Isabella, the Aphrodisiac experience only exists in the mind.  For a twist, Tony and Adriana end up in a car accident under questionable circumstances.  The nephew and other members of the crew believe there may have been a sexual encounter and Tony has to deal with fallout from an unrequited encounter with Aphrodite, the closest he ever comes to the elusive goddess.

Depression and the lack of Aphrodite

Tony suffers from depression; he is a broken Zeus.  His world is filled with ugliness and violence. He lacks beauty, civilized nature, and love.  Through the series, Tony battles depression and the fallout from being a mob boss with the perceived weakness of having a mental illness.  Even though Tony is depicted in scenarios where he enjoys being extremely violent and cruel (10:50-11:00); in reality the audience is made to have sympathy for him. The lack of Aphrodite, the lack of beauty and civilization causes Tony to continue to pursue the goddess but he never seems to reach her. This frustration causes him to have more and more sadness and self-pity.

Aphrodite, the civilizer

The world in which Tony lives is untamed.  It is crude and uncivilized.  Men settle conflicts with force and laws are regularly broken, not only as a rule of business but just in everyday situations.  When Aphrodite is present, she must be protected.  In order for Aphrodite to be protected, we must have rules and we must follow those rules.  Tony is quick to anger; he uses violence to resolve issues in most situations.  He is fierce and dangerous; he is arguably an Ares outside of the family setting.  Ares seduces Aphrodite and protects her but Tony is an Ares without an Aphrodite to protect.  Instead of being civilized and living in a way to protect the beauty of the world, Tony and his crew cause violence and destruction in almost every episode.

The Garden State

It is interesting that the setting for the show is New Jersey, the Garden State.  Gardens are cultivated and organized.  They are the safe version of Aphrodite.  This combines the beauty and impermanence of flowers with the civilizing nature of Aphrodite.  This is not Tony’s New Jersey.  Tony’s New Jersey is not safe, it is not civilized, and it is not beautiful; it is hard and gritty.  His New Jersey is introduced in the opening credits of the series.

The show starts with the view from inside the car.  The car is crossing the bridge into city.  Everything is hard and industrial.  The scenery is old, dirty and dilapidated.  Tony is driving the car.  He is smoking a cigar and we see the progression from the New Jersey turnpike to Tony’s home.  “The New Jersey Turnpike, at least the northern part, is an adventure. Its abstract expressionist shapes, strange lines and angles, concentration of various transport, kinetic energy and tumult, wildlife and history, the things you see from it, its concrete and iron and rubber, its noise and smells and speed, make it a thing of gritty beauty.” (HBO)  This is a good description for Tony’s New Jersey.  It is also most certainly a place that lacks Aphrodite.  It lacks her beauty, it lacks her grace, and it lacks her civilizing nature (0:00-1:39).

Sex in Sopranos

The last important connection with the series and Aphrodite’s absence is with the representation of sex in the series.  As I have previously discussed, Tony works out of a strip club.  The women are treated as objects for sexual gratification but none of them are in any way Aphrodite.  The sexual acts with the strippers are for commerce, they aren’t joyful, graceful, and certainly are not portrayed as beautiful or loving.  The characters do not contain Aphrodite so neither does their sex.  Carmela, Hera, has sexual obligations to Tony but that is not aphrodisiac, it is more out of duty than love or passion.  When we see Tony in sexual encounters outside the marriage they are usually more violent than beautiful.  Every woman he dates is psychologically damaged and depressed.  The women all lack Aphrodite and end up doing Tony more damage than good, leaving him more depressed and further from the goddess.

This wraps up Tony’s sad state through the series, there is no love, no beauty, no grace, no compassion, no tenderness; basically no Aphrodite for Tony.  While telling the story of a New Jersey crime boss we also learn what it means to lose a goddess.  Her absence is felt through the entire series.  The audience, while maybe unable to verbalize it as such root for the violent, sad man to have some Aphrodite in his life; an ease to his suffering.  Tony can’t attain his goal of attaining Aphrodite, if Aphrodite appeared, things would be righted and there wouldn’t be a show.  The only way the story could continue would be for the goddess to keep alluding Tony.  As Tony would say, there is no happy ending for a mob boss.

Works Cited

Paris, Ginette. “Aphrodite, Ares, and Athena.” First Session. Pacifica Graduate Institute, Carpentaria, Ca. 4 Jan. 2015. Lecture.

Paris, Ginette. Pagan Meditations: The Worlds of Aphrodite, Artemis, and Hestia. Dallas, Tex.: Spring Publications, 1986. Print.

The Sopranos. Perf. James Gandolfini, Edie Falco, and Lorraine Bracco. HBO Home Video, 2001. DVD.

Page, Jeffrey. “The Sopranos.” HBO: Homepage. HBO. Web. 24 Mar. 2015. <http://www.hbo.com/the-sopranos#/&gt;.



Parvati, Kali, and Balance

Siva, god of destruction, is associated as the consort or husband of Devi, the Mother-goddess, who is represented in the form of several goddesses. Two Devi representations that stand out are Parvati and Kali because they are so very different, especially in the way they relate with Siva. Parvati is a calming force for Siva while Kali incites him to greater destruction. Parvati attempts to civilize Siva, to change him, but Kali is even more uncivilized than Siva so through their relationship another, more civilized, Siva is revealed. Studying the myths and relationships with these three deities demonstrates both duality and balance.

Western perspective and confusion

These myths and information about the deities can be very confusing, the more information that is uncovered, the more confusing it becomes. Part of the confusion, for me, was from looking at these myths through western eyes. Zimmerman warns about reading these myths through western perspective, but every person uses their background knowledge when reading so it is almost impossible not to incorporate your own cultural perspective in any reading. The other part of the confusion is the fluidity of the characters. Parvati is identified as the reincarnation of Sati, Siva’s first wife, but she is also being represented as Durga, Rudrani, Uma, and Kali, entirely different goddesses, but in truth, all of these goddesses are aspects of Devi. How can one deity be so many different goddesses; such extremely different personalities? I believe the way to reconcile this is to look at our own natures, are we as individuals easy to label? Are we calm or wild, happy or sad, or funny or serious?  The truth lies that we identify somewhere in the middle, we are at times happy, at times sad – we are complex beings and so are the gods and goddesses in the Hindu religion. In the western world, it is expected for religious personalities to be easy to label and understand, not fluid; they are extreme. However, to a person who understands the nature of duality and the complexity of whole characters, it is understood that no one is all this or that but a mixture of qualities, this is what is known as duality. What the myths show with these two consorts is a need for balance of these extremes. Siva must be at times destructive, as is his nature, but at times he must also be calm to allow for Brahma and Visnu to create and preserve. With Parvati, we see her as the cause of balance but with Kali, we actually see Siva as the one that calming force for the wild goddess.

Another misconception that arises with looking at the myths with the western perspective is that the Devi goddess is not as important as her consort god, Siva. Since Parvati doesn’t have any history separate from Siva, she would be seen as less than to westerners. “Her identity and nature and nearly all her mythological deeds are defined or acted out vis-à-vis her consort/husband, the great ascetic god Siva” (Kinsley, Hindu Goddesses 35). In fact, she was reincarnated specifically so that Siva could have a child that was necessary to save the world. In reality, she is equal to or more powerful than Siva. She is the only one powerful enough to make Siva change his mind. It is implied that “the great male gods are entirely dependent on the Devi for their strength and power and that if she withdraws her power, they are impotent and helpless” (Kinsley, Hindu Goddesses 137). In the westerner’s mind, it is he who does the action that is important, not the one that inspires it. The mind can be much more powerful than the body. What westerners do not often recognize that both have power and importance; it is about balance.
Who is Siva?

Siva, pronounced and often written as Shiva, is one of the three gods responsible for the creation, upkeep, and destruction of the world. Brahma is the creator of the universe, Visnu is the preserver, and Siva is the destroyer. He must destroy the illusions and imperfections of the world so we can have positive change. Often, destruction is thought of in negative terms but it is necessary to have destruction in order to have creation, it is balance.

Siva contains many contradictory elements and an untamed passion; he can be seen as both good and evil. His behavior is often extreme, especially when without Parvati. “Paradox is the very heart of Saiva mythology” (O’Flaherty 300-337). He is an ascetic that abstains from all worldly pleasures while at other times; he is a hedonist that gives in to his every whim. “Although the apparently contradictory strains of Siva’s nature may well have originated from different times and places, they have resulted in a composite deity who is unquestionably whole to his devotees; this is why the Hindus accept and even glorify what might otherwise seem a meaningless patchwork, a crazy quilt of metaphysics” (O’Flaherty 300-337). It is Siva’s contradictions that make him whole and more realistic because upon reflection, it is apparent that humans also have contradictions and this makes Siva more relatable. The way Siva achieves balance is through his marriage with Sati and later her reincarnation, Parvati. “Together they are fertile, generative, and equilibrating, but apart they are potentially destructive” (Handelman 133-170). Siva also achieves balance with Kali, however with Kali; he is the calm to her destructive nature, showing that Siva contains both the wild and out of control as well as stabilizing aspects in his nature. The inclusion of the Kali myths demonstrate that Siva contains duality and balance within his own personality.

The Devi Goddesses, Parvati and Kali

Since Parvati is the reincarnation of Sati, the two are often seen as the same goddess; two lives of the same goddess. Parvati, Sati, comes back to the world for the purpose of bearing Siva’s child to the world. There are many versions of the myth of Parvati and how she becomes mother to Siva’s offspring. This is a synopsis of the history of Parvati: there was a demon named Taraka terrorizing the world and the only way this demon could be defeated and balance restored was by the offspring of Siva. Since Siva did not have any children and had no interest in having any sort of family, Sati was convinced to return to the world to persuade Siva to have an offspring. Parvati gains Siva’s admiration by performing tapas, cutting herself off from the world and mastering her physical needs. When they are finally married and make love, they are interrupted and Siva’s seed is spilled outside Parvati. It is eventually deposited into the Ganges River and becomes the child Karttikeya, also called Skanda and other names. He returns to his parents and saves the world and restores balance by defeating the demon Taraka. Parvati raises Karttikeya as her own son but she also creates a second son, Ganesa, on her own. The reason Parvati decides to have the second child is to guard for her so she can have privacy. When Siva returns, Ganesa does not allow him in and Siva cuts his head off. Parvati demands that Siva brings their son back to life so Siva grabs the head of an elephant and places it on the boy’s body. The complete family is Siva, Parvati, and their two sons, each created individually by one of the parents.

Even though Parvati is the daughter of the Himalayas and lures Siva out of his ascetic isolation by becoming an ascetic herself, she values the household and society. She “represents the beauty and attraction of worldly, sexual life, which cherishes the house society rather than the forest, the mountains, or ascetic life” (Kinsley, Hindu Goddesses 46). The couple represents the tension between the ideals of the ascetic and the householder. Siva has no desire for family or in settling down but Parvati desires, in fact is born, to marry Siva and have children. “Contact with his properly cultured spouse seems to connect him with ordinary social reality and temporarily domesticates him” (Yocum 119). While Parvati does partially domesticate Siva, she does not fully succeed in achieving her desire for a “normal” life. For instance, Parvati desires a proper home but they never do . Also, Siva retains his wild, ascetic appearance, and continues some of his wild behavior. Since Siva is a god of many extremes, it is Parvati’s role to be the tamer of these extremes, both ascetic and sexual and create balance. Siva never fully gives in to her desires as a householder and she never goes back to asceticism so they remain in a constant state of tension or balance.

The relationship of Parvati and Siva is a case for opposites attracting, duality and balance, but Kali and Parvati are also a representation of duality and balance. While Parvati hardly has any independent history, Kali is rarely associated with her male consort, Siva. Parvati is the householder that desires children yet Kali is often depicted as virginal and violent. Kali prefers the battlefield, Parvati prefers the home. Parvati and Kali may appear to be opposites but Kali is actually represented as part of Parvati. Parvati and Kali are an example of duality and balance existing within one individual.

Kali exists with Siva as the personified wrath of Parvati or Sita. She comes into being when we need to see the otherwise calm and beautiful Parvati be fierce. While Parvati is known for her beauty and quiet grace, Kali is known for a terrible and frightening appearance. Even when compared to Siva’s most terrible forms, she surpasses his wild appearance. “She is always black or dark, usually naked, and has long, disheveled hair. She is adorned with severed arms as a girdle, freshly cut heads as a necklace, children’s corpses as earrings, and serpents as bracelets” (Kinsley, Hindu Goddesses 117). Her nature is fearsome and she enjoys battlefields and cremation grounds. While Parvati calms the wild nature of Siva, Kali intensifies it. In fact, Siva is the one that needs to calm Kali’s wild behavior. In their relationship, they are depicted “in situations where either or both behave in disruptive ways, inciting each other, or in which Kali in her wild activity dominates an inactive or sometimes dead Siva” (Kinsley, Hindu Goddesses 119). When they are together, she is always extreme and uncontrollable.

While Parvati tries to tame Siva, Kali compliments his destructive habits and madness, bringing them to even higher levels, the opposite of balance. She is seen in most images as dominant over Siva, often standing on his body. She is never “subdued by him and is most popularly represented as a being who is uncontrollable and more apt to provoke Siva to dangerous activity than to be controlled by him” (Kinsley, Hindu Goddesses 120). She is the one that needs taming, even in her role as demon slayer, which one would think would help bring balance. In battle, Kali becomes so drunk on blood that she becomes out of control and must be subdued or she may just destroy the world. Balance in these situations is attained by the intervention of Siva.

Duality and Balance

Through the relationships of Siva and Parvati, Siva and Kali, and Kali and Parvati the theme that we see over and over again is the existence of duality and the need for balance. Balance between the spiritual and social worlds with Siva and Parvati is important in Hindu culture since the stress towards living a spiritual life would almost suggest a break from the world of the household but balance is actually the message, not just renunciation. “Both renunciation of action ant the selfless performance of action lead to the supreme goal. But the path of action is better than renunciation” (Easwaran 29). Balance between out of control, destructive behavior and the need to have that destruction reigned in as seen with Siva and Kali is important since Siva’s destruction is meant so that a better world can be created not the entire world destroyed. Finally, the balance of independence and interdependence, wild destruction and calm house making, and beauty and terror are seen in one being with Kali and Parvati which demonstrates how we all have the capabilities of extremes within ourselves.

“It is sometimes said that Indian culture generally betrays a love for extremes, that moderation and balance tend to get lost in the Indian tendency to exploit everything to its ultimate limit” (Kinsley, Freedom from Death in the Worship of Kali 183-207). However, it is in these dual natural extremes that we see balance. Siva, Parvati, and Kali are extreme in nature but together they have balance. Humans and the gods and goddesses of Hindu myths have dual natures that contain extremes and balance. It is by nurturing different aspects of our natures that we become more to one extreme or the other. Often, it is the people we surround ourselves with that causes us to be either more extreme or balanced, like demonstrated by the relationships of Siva with Parvati and Kali.

Even though it may appear that the Indian culture has a love for extreme, I believe it is the western culture that actually embraces extremes, or absolutes. As demonstrated, the relationships of these three Hindu deities show a desire for balance, they show complex characters that contain dualities and balance. It is the dominant, western religion, Christianity, the non-human characters are extreme; Satan is purely evil and the personification of god, Jesus, is purely good and without sin. Even the actions taken by god in Christianity are extreme; when Adam and Eve commit the first sin, they are cast out into the wilderness; when the society is too corrupt, a flood is sent to wipe out all of humanity and life save for one family and pairs of each animal. This is why it is so difficult for westerners to comprehend the wholeness, the dualities that exist in Hindu deities. It is hard to think of a supreme being as both out of control and stable. For the western mind, these deities are too human which makes them hard to understand or respect. That is why, even with Devi, it is hard for a westerner to grasp that she is both Parvati, the householder, and Kali, the bloodthirsty warrior. The duality of the gods and goddesses in Hinduism doesn’t lessen their importance, it increases their ability to be relatable and makes the lessons from their myths relatable to our lives.

There are two lessons shown through these relationships, balance and duality. First, is duality; all humans have duality, we are not extreme. This is important to remember when dealing with each other and when reflecting on ourselves. We can be less judgmental by remembering that everyone has a dual nature and is struggling towards the second lesson which is balance; balance within the individual and balance in relationships. Balance is necessary within the individual, without balance there is dissatisfaction and unhappiness. It must also exist in a relationship or there will be the same result of dissatisfaction and unhappiness and often the termination of the relationship. Sometimes qualities can shift back and forth between the individuals in a relationship, as we see with the shift of Parvati to Kali with Siva but tension and balance must exist.

Balance and embracing our own duality can lead to a happier, more enlightened life. The Bhagavad Gita tell us “they live in freedom who have gone beyond the dualities of life. Competing with no one, they are alike in success and failure and contend with whatever comes to them” (Easwaran 25). We can be happier with who we are because even when we fall short, we know we have the qualities to be better. When we feel overly proud that we have a specific “good” attribute we can become more humble by recognizing that we also contain the “negative” attribute as well. By recognizing duality in others and having less judgment or comparison to them, we can be happier with who we are and who they are.

I would like to end with one of my favorite quotes from The Bhagavad Gita. “It is better to strive in one’s own dharma than to succeed in the dharma of another. Nothing is ever lost in following one’s dharma, but competition in another’s dharma breeds fear and insecurity” (Easwaran 21).  This relates to the messages of balance and duality. We need to recognize and embrace both our inner Parvati and Kali. Even if others may see one trait as better than another, it is within ourselves that we need to strive to succeed, not in the eyes of others. It is not competition or scrutiny of others that will make us happy. All people must strive to contend within their own dharma and understand their own duality in order to maintain balance and attain true joy and spiritual enlightenment and these are the lessons I learned from studying Siva, Parvati, and Kali.

Works Cited


Easwaran, Eknath. The Bhagavad Gita. 1st edition. New York: Vintage Books, 1985. Print.

Handelman, Don. “Myths of Murugan: Asymmetry and Hierarchy in a South Indian Puranic .” History of Religions. 27.2 (1987): 133-170. Web. 21 Dec. 2013. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/1062666&gt;.

Kinsley, David. “Freedom from Death in the Worship of Kali.” Numen. 22.3 (1975): 183-207. Web. 21 Dec. 2013. <http://www.jstor.org.pgi.idm.oclc.org/stable/3269544&gt;.

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Storytellers: Weekend retreat for women with a story to tell

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”
Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

     I lived most of my life with untold stories inside of me. I wouldn’t acknowledge the stories from my past and was afraid to believe in stories for the future. This was a painful way to live because I wasn’t my true self. It took years of studying mythologies and depth psychology to begin to understand the importance of our stories. Once I embraced my stories – both lived and unlived – life began to change in ways I had not before imagined possible. I was no longer content to live the life that was easy. I wanted a life that was interesting and fulfilling. I learned how to write my story and actually live it! I had control of my life. It wasn’t easy, in fact it was terrifying, and continues to be an ongoing journey but the rewards are certainly worth the effort. In fact, the effort has been its own reward. I invite you to join us for a weekend of self-discovery to find out what stories need to be told and how to tell them to shape a better future.

Our speakers Juile Paegle, Kathy Jaffe, and myself, Tracy Marrs are enthusiastically preparing meaningful experiences for our exciting weekend focusing on the power of words. You don’t need to be a writer to have a story to tell but if you want to write, Julie and myself have years of experience guiding writers of all levels to awaken their untold stories and make them alive on the page. Oftentimes, facing these stories can be difficult, Kathy is a licensed therapist with a background in word power and living mindfully. Her experiences and training give her the ability to help others as they navigate their narratives to find their authentic selves.

If things get a little too cerebral, take a break and go for a swim in the pool, relax on the deck and listen to the birds, or wander along the many scenic trails, on your own or with a friend. Also, make sure to take time to quiet the mind and stretch the body with our amazing yoga instructor. Stories can heal the past, enrich the present and comfort and inspire us for the future. Your story is important – let us help you find it, express it, and live it.

September 16-18, 2016

Camp de Benneville Pines


Transformative power of story

Stories are transformative.
Stories touch the soul and the mind.
Data and logic are meaningless unless they make a person care. To care about data, the active thinker creates a story within their own mind – they activate prior knowledge and relate to the information. Data can move active thinkers to create change. Active thinkers can care about data but they have to be able to relate the data through their prior knowledge (stories). Stories or data converted into stories make people care because it is easier to relate to a story than a fact.
Stories create emotion which is what is needed to create change. Logic alone will not move people to action, for that we need our stories.

This is why I teach through story.