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.

Here is a very clear example of death and rebirth. It occurred when the man explored a dream of entering an old house that was lived in previously by his ancestors. Puma was a great cat that had leapt on him as he started his journey. Lurch was a figure representing the guardian of the threshold:

 I started by imagining myself standing in the shadows of the house with Puma and Lurch.  Then we walked together into the darkness.  The subjective images took on a life of their own and I saw we were walking in a large underground space like great catacombs.  The light was dim but we could see our surroundings, and not very far into the cave like space was a tomb on our right.  It had the form of a low wall about a foot high in an oblong, and the wall surrounded a long stone in the centre, which was roughly body shaped.

As we drew level with the tomb an enormous change occurred in me.  Suddenly I became a woman.  It was no longer imagination.  I was now completely experiencing myself as a woman whose tomb we had approached.  As such I was torn by an immense pain of loss.  As my complete identification deepened my body curled up with the pain as I was torn by wretched crying.  Suzanne told me my voice changed as I cried out again and again for release from the pain of losing all my children, my husband, even my parents.  My hands were clawing my legs in an effort to express the misery, and I was screaming that I could not bear to live any longer with such pain.  I cried out to God to take me, for there was nothing left for me to live for.  “Why?  Why did this happen to me?  Why has everything I loved been taken from me?”

There was no response to these awful cries and tearing sobs.  But slowly a shift began.  It seemed to me as an observer witnessing this awful pain, that by entering this place the spirit of that woman had woken in me.  But as she had died in such unresolved agony of loss, that is what was met when she awoke.  But gradually she realised she was alive again in a new way.  She began to recognise that I was holding her within me.  Because I was not frightened of pain and emotions, the misery could play itself out in me.  And because my understanding of what was happening flowed into her awareness, she slowly saw and felt her loss in a different way.  In fact we were both realising she was experiencing resurrection, and that in turn meant there was no final death as believed by many.  Therefore there was no loss as she had originally felt it.

At this point something truly incredible occurred.  She and I both realised she was one of my past dwelling places – past lives.  But for her the viewpoint was slightly different; for she saw me as a continuation of a life that she had failed to be a part of because of the awful pain of loss. It had kept her from flowing into what was her future as my life.

From my perspective she was one of the past dwelling places the spirit that was at the core of my present personality had lived in and as.  She was not one of my lives, because the personality that I am was unique and had not lived that woman’s life, but my spirit had. Because she was now part of me and me of her I asked her what she had brought into my life. Her reply was, “A woman’s love”.

Example: I’m imagining Christ emerging from the grave. Who is he now? Not the man he was even if he looks the same and more or less has the same qualities which you do and you don’t. So I think death needs to be factored in whenever there’s a break in the reality that you knew, and it’s not just you have to know it, but everyone around needs to know it. I’m reminded of after my father died, that when I met people, I felt I couldn’t be with them until I said that my father had died because that had changed everything and they couldn’t possibly know I was without that. So in the same way, anyone who’s died and come back is not the same.

I suppose I can say that whatever happens to you, even if the worse happens, you have something that can re-grow you, if you’ve lost everything, that means you haven’t lost everything, that basic clear quality, maybe it’s a new form, maybe it has gone on a few steps, but it’s still there if you listen to it. Don’t struggle with it unless it is a struggle, let it happen, don’t make it a big fight because you may be fighting against what is emerging.

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.’

Example: Last night, I very vividly had a lucid dream, where I saw a pregnant (very pregnant) women hanging from a rough rope in a bathroom. The bathroom was unfamiliar to me.

A dream expressive death and rebirth. The rope was death, the pregnancy was rebirth.

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.

Copyright © 1999-2010 Tony Crisp | All rights reserved