male and female principles as union of opposites

If you have seen Wagner's Parsifal you know that the bowl corresponds to the Grail and the dagger to the spear and that the two belong together; they are the male and the female principle which form the union of opposites:




The cave or underworld represents a layer of the unconscious where there is no discrimination at all, not even a distinction between the male and the female, which is the first differentiation primitives make. They distinguish objects in this way, as we still do occasionally. Some keys, for instance, have a hole in the front, and some are solid. They are often called male and female keys. You know the Italian tiled roofs. The convex tiles are placed above and the concave ones underneath. The upper ones are called monks and the under ones the nuns. This is not an indecent joke to the Italians, but the quintessence of discrimination

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When the unconscious brings together the male and the female, things become utterly indistinguishable and we cannot say any more whether they are male or female, just as Cecrops came from such a mythical distance that one could not say whether he was man or woman, human or serpent. So we see that the bottom of the cistern in our dream is characterized by a complete union of opposites. This is the primordial condition of things, and at the same time a most ideal achievement, because it is the union of elements eternally opposed. Conflict has come to rest, and everything is still or once again in the original state of indistinguishable harmony. You find the same idea in ancient Chinese philosophy. The ideal condition is named Tao, and it consists of the complete harmony between heaven and earth

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FV (Tao Symbol)


On one side it is white with a black spot, and on the other it is black with a white spot. The white side is the hot, dry, fiery principle, the south; the black side is the cold, humid, dark principle, the north. The condition of Tao is the beginning of the world where nothing has yet begunand it is also the condition to be achieved by the attitude of superior wisdom. The idea of the union of the two opposite principles, of male and female, is an archetypal image

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When the dreamer comes to these symbols he reaches the layer of complete unconsciousness, which is represented as the greatest treasure. It is the central motif in Wagner's Parsifal that the spear should be restored to the Grail because they belong eternally together. This union is a symbol of complete fulfilmenteternity before and after the creation of the world, a dormant condition. That is probably the thing which the desire of man is seeking. That is why he ventures into the cave of the dragon, to find that condition where consciousness and the unconscious are so completely united that he is neither conscious nor unconscious. Whenever the two are too much separated, consciousness seeks to unite them again by going down into the depths where they once were one. Thus you find in Tantric Yoga or Kundalini Yoga an attempt to reach the condition where Shiva is in eternal union with Shakti. Shiva is the eternally unextended point, and he is encircled by the female principle, Shakti, in the form of a serpent

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We have traces of an analogous symbolism in Christian reports about the ancient mysteries. There is a report by a Bishop Asterios about Eleusis, and it says that every year the priest made the katabasis or descent into the cave. And the priest of Apollo and the priestess of Demeter, the earth mother, celebrated the hierosgamos, the sacred nuptials, for the fertilization of the earth. This is a Christian statement which is not substantiated. The initiates of the Eleusinian mysteries were sworn to the strictest secrecy; if they betrayed anything, they were punished with death. So we have practically no knowledge of their rites. We know, on the other hand, that during the mysteries of Demeter certain obscenities took place because they were thought good for the fertility of the earth. The distinguished ladies of Athens assembled, with the priestess of Demeter presiding. They had a good meal and plenty of wine and afterwards performed the rite of the aischrologia. That is, they had to tell indecent jokes. This was considered a religious duty because it was good for the fertility of the next season

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A similar rite took place in Bubastis in Egypt at the time of the Isis mysteries. The inhabitants of the villages on the upper Nile came down in parties, and the women on the barges used to expose themselves to the women on the banks of the Nile. It was probably done for the same reason as the aischrologia, to ensure the fertility of the earth. You can read about it in Herodotus. In southern Germany as late as the nineteenth century, in order to increase the fertility of the soil, the peasant used to take his wife to his fields and have intercourse with her in a furrow. This is called sympathetic magic

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The bowl is a vessel that receives or contains, and is therefore female. It is a symbol of the body which contains the anima, the breath and liquid of life, while the dagger has piercing, penetrating qualities and is therefore male. It cuts, it discriminates and divides, and so is a symbol of the masculine Logos principle

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In our dream the dagger is said to be the key to Toledo. The idea of the key is often associated with the mysteries in the cave. In the cult of Mithras there is a peculiar kind of god, the key god Aion, whose presence could not be explained; but I think it is quite understandable. He is represented with the winged body of a man and the head of a lion, and he is encoiled by a snake which rises up over his head. You have a figure of him in the British Museum. He is Infinite Time and Long Duration; he is the supreme god of the Mithraic hierarchy and creates and destroys all things, the durée créatrice of Bergson. He is a sun-god. Leo is the zodiacal sign where the sun dwells in summer, while the snake symbolizes the winter or wet time. So Aion, the lion-headed god with the snake round his body, again represents the union of opposites, light and darkness, male and female, creation and destruction. The god is represented as having his arms crossed and holding a key in each hand. He is the spiritual father of St. Peter, for he too holds the keys. The keys which Aion is holding are the keys to the past and future

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The ancient mystery cults are always connected with psychopompic deities. Some of these deities are equipped with the keys to the underworld, because as the guardians of the door they watch over the descent of the initiates into the darkness and are the leaders into the mysteries. Hecate is one of them

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