Sunday, August 23, 2015

Thoughts on the Tau Te Ching 6

Poem 6

The Tau is called the Great Mother
empty yet inexhaustible,
it gives birth to infinite worlds.

It is always present within you:
You can use it any way you want.


The mother always has a central place in the life of all offspring, animal or human for obvious reasons.  Consequently, most cultures and religions have feminine gods as well as male ones. The act of physical birth is central to  life, and birthing also has its close psychological counterparts in the personality itself.  There is also a growing body of research that shows that babies in the womb feel, taste, learn, and have some level of consciousness.

The Blessed Virgin: an example of the Mother archetype

Chronic anxiety in the mother before birth can set the stage for a whole array of problems later: complications of birth, miscarriage, death, anxiety and/or depression in the child after birth and so on.  The opposite is also true, thankfully, and when a mother is feeling healthy and happy she produces the hormone oxytocin that is often called the molecule of belonging. The presence of this component creates feelings of bonding and strengthens the immunity in the baby. The message imprinted on the baby's brain through stimulated neurotransmitters communicates a sense of safety and peace, care and security. (See HERE)

Another example of the Mother Archetype
The famous psychiatrist Carl Gustav Jung invented the concept and term archetype.  In brief, an archetype may be defined as a representative model or universal example of something.  He saw them as essentially the basic elements or contents of what he termed the collective unconscious.  In essence, this means that they are symbols of abstract spiritual needs that are often projected onto other people to help individuals understand the world in which they live and grow and die.  The mother archetype that we often encounter in our dreams can be experienced as the archetypal nurturer or carer on the one hand or as a mother who abandons her child on the other - in which case the dreamer encounters an archetype with exaggerated flaws and complexes. This archetypal mother plays a dramatic part, consequently, in much storytelling, mythology and lore, and as a result also exercises an important role in psychology and psychotherapy.

Another important image associated with motherhood is that of womb which also exercises a central role in human psychological development.  It is interesting to note that the Latin word "matrix" originally meant "womb" and that it comes from the same Indo-European root that gives is the following words: "mother," and "mater" and other equivalents.  

Further, it is also interesting to note that a womb-tomb theme has been explored for instance in a recent archaeological book on the Newgrange Passage Tomb here in Ireland: Newgrange: Monument to Immortality (The Liffey Press by journalist, photographer and amateur astronomer Anthony Murphy.) In Irish archaeology we also find ancient carvings in stone called Síle na Gig (or Sheela na Gig or Sheila na Gig).  These ancient carvings are of women with exposed genitalia and are, interestingly and unusually, found in churches, usually near the doorway, and also in castles.  However, they are not erotic carvings as such as the women portrayed are old and are certainly not glamorous and some hold their genitals apart while others seem to be screaming.  Also, these Síle na Gigs are not unique to Ireland and they are also found throughout Britain, France and in some parts of Germany. One theory put forward for these carvings is that the Sheelas represent goddesses of birth and fertility and are pre-Christian artifacts in spite of their being found in churches which were in fact pre-Christian shrines or temples before they were Christianized.

Sile na Gig from Kilpeck Church (Hereford)  England

One way or another the archetype of the mother and the centrality of the image of the womb to civilization shoots through all cultures so it is not surprising to see them as being central to Taoism.  

I will finish these reflections here with a line that resonates with the above Taoist poem from the psalms of the Bible (also poems): "A prince from the day of your birth on the holy mountains; from the womb before the dawn I begot you." (Psalm 110).

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