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The Archetype of Rebirth or Resurrection
The symbols of rebirth are: The cave; an egg; spring; the tree; the cross; dawn; emerging out of the sea; the snake; the bird; a seed; arising from the earth or faeces; green shoot from a dead branch or trunk; phoenix; drinking alcohol or blood red wine; flame; a pearl; the womb.
Rebirth is the Death of the Old Life
Rebirth is as difficult to face as death. It holds within it not just the memories of the struggles and difficulties of our own physical birth and growth, but also the challenge of becoming the unknown future, the dark possibility, the new. The dream of Andrew in the underground cavern below, is an example of positive rebirth. After realising himself as bodiless awareness he emerges from the cave, and finds himself near a tree.
Example: ‘A tremendous jolt of power poured into me from the tree. I saw that we had arrived at a place where a line of trees, about a 100 yards in length, stood very close together in a slight semicircle on the top of a bank. The trees had great spiritual power and the place was a holy temple. Two spiritual beings were there – an ancient Earth Being, and Christ.’ Andrew.
The next example is of a dream typical of meeting memories of physical birth. As can be seen, the experience is powerful enough to cause physical shaking.
Example: ‘All I can see of what I enter is a very narrow space with a light showing through. But immediately I enter I realise I have made a mistake for I am being forced swiftly through a dark, very narrow tunnel. I feel pain as I am dragged along and I hear loud banging noises which frighten me, but although they are loud they seem to come from inside my head. I feel terrified and breathless and very relieved when I wake before reaching the end of the tunnel. In fact as I write this account I am shivering.’ Female. Anon.
We usually face a deeply felt experience of death before encountering the archetype of rebirth. Neither the death nor the rebirth or resurrection are things that happen quickly. There may be dreams, waking subjective experiences or a short period in ones life when death or rebirth are felt very strongly – but the process as a whole is a psychological one which may take years to unfold and stabilise. With many experiences of archetypal nature, such as entering puberty and meeting the process that unfolds manhood or womanhood, we are working out psychic growth which involves our entire nature. Puberty is an excellent example of how an archetypal human process works in us individually, yet is very unique for each of us. At the same time however, while puberty is a well worn path which virtually everyone travels, some aspects of human possibilities, like death and rebirth, are not universal. Only comparatively few people really manage these points of growth.
The Great Cycles of Life
The cycle of death and rebirth happen mostly to people passing from adult maturity to old age. It connects with physical and psychological changes to do with altered relationship with life and society, and with ones own body and self image. The cycle may appear in young people however, if they face death, physically or in a deeply psychological way. In ageing ones relationship with children or procreation alters. Whereas they were at one time consuming and motivating drives, they are no longer sustaining or motivating. Work and ones relationship with society may also undergo a similar change. The identity one gained from having a place in society, and connections with other people through being a mother or in ones work, falls away. The personality, the attitudes, the hopes and ambitions built from the many years of life as a procreative, creative person meshed into society, dies through the lack of a relationship with the world that sustains it. This ‘death’ may be very painful, creating a great and sometimes crushing sense of pointlessness, of having no value in the world, of having nothing to live for. In some cases these feelings are triggered by the onset of menopause in women, or impotence in men – but also for men the absence of a sexual life or family life, or simply the process of ageing.
One man described it as, “The feeling of being paralysed, or being unable to move. It is not so much a physical impediment, but a sense of having no motivation, no ability to want anything, no drive to reach out.”
Fears may arise as to what is happening. Such fears are based on concepts we hold regarding ageing or death. The loss of identification with oneself as a procreative and higly motivated person may seem to be a sign of emerging incapability or even senility. The fear then sets up a conflict with the process of psychic growth.
A woman who had worked as a nurse, describes her experience of this as, “‘The feelings I have about dying, about losing my drive to live, link with ideas of being incapable as one is in hospital. Those are feelings or ideas I connect with it. Those images have made it – or are making it – hard to meet.”
However, such a felt death is only a precursor to the experience of resurrection, and this leads toward a new relationship with oneself and the world. The attitudes and way of life that was necessary as a procreative, work oriented individual whose self image was largely based on family background, physical looks, sexual potency, ability to get the goods of the world or gain power, steadily shifts. It moves toward a sense of self that is centred more on what there is on ones existence that is more timeless and less ravaged by change than the body, the emotions, ones intellectual concepts and the social scene.
Have I Lost Everything?
The change that takes place in this experience of an inwardly felt death, may at times feel like losing everything, shedding the past, becoming completely insecure. It usually leads to the realisation in ones life of parts of oneself that were never lived before, or never allowed expression before. There is not in the end a loss of anything, only a gaining that requires one to let go of the dominance of what was previously important. From this arises a feeling of wholeness and connection with the world and self in a new way. In her book about the individuation process, Jolande Jacobi says, ‘…. transformation is an integral component of the individuation process, which in turn follows a line of development whose goal is psychic-totality.’
There is however, no final death or rebirth. The cycle is a fundamental process in nature, and therefore active too in the physical and psychological nature of humans. It is not only old age or approaching death causing the experience to arise. It can also happen during profound personal growth, when old fears, traumas and habits fall away and allow a completely new relationship with sexuality, with work, with being alive.
See: Life and Death.