Spiritual Practices: Archetypes — The Mother

the mother

We are continuing our study of archetypes as a spiritual practice through the book, Illuminating the Way, by Christine Valters Paintner. You’re welcome to get the book and follow along, or just enjoy the blog and comments. This week we are in the third chapter, the archetype of the Mother.

To review from my last blog, Archetypes are “instinctual and universal patterns of thought developed in human beings over thousands of years.” (pg. xi) “The Mother, in the fullness of her form, is the source of all life and nourishment, of unconditional love and care, the generous flow of abundance and grace.” (pg. 38)

Boy, I thought the Sovereign was a rough chapter. The archetype of the Mother has brought up all of my own mama drama. I had to read the chapter twice.  Mothers are complicated. My own mother was incredibly beautiful and fun and adventurous. She was also a workaholic during the day and an alcoholic at night. As you can imagine, trying to work through the shadow issues I may have inherited from my own mother has been a painful, lifelong work, some of which I’ll share here.

But first, the good stuff. I think it is interesting to look at Mary, the mother of Jesus, as an icon of this archetype. As a non-Catholic, I have not spent much time thinking about Mary, save the yearly Christmas story. I loved the idea that she was there for Jesus birth with her brave YES, and she was also there at Jesus death, with a gut-wrenching NOOOOO.

mary mother of jesus

The idea that the inner Mother helps us call forth a YES to birth new things, new ideas, and creativity, while also holding us during our loss and grief was very comforting to me. I grew up with a very masculine idea of God and I’m eager to press into the feminine side of God. I understand thresholds, having navigated, and helped others navigate, both physical births and deaths, as well as other kinds of thresholds. I love the idea that the Mother is there to help lead us, comfort and guide us over those thresholds.

I was intrigued that our inner Mother is to be a source of stability for us. She helps us stay in difficult places and feel our hard feelings. She gives us love and compassion and shows us the gifts that come from staying in those liminal places of unknowing. I need that right now. Even though I’m older, I’m in a very “what am I supposed to do with my life” space. It is difficult and uncomfortable.

My own mother was a seven on the Enneagram. She craved new experiences like a junkie craves drugs. She worked as a nurse, a dental assistant, a hairdresser, a real-estate agent, and she owned two different beauty shops. We moved every three years whether we needed to or not, and difficult feelings like sadness or anger were not welcomed in our house. As a sensitive child, I was labeled a crybaby and I learned at a young age to stuff my hurt feelings.

Sorting through these patterns has been a life work for me; to stay with hard feelings and not run from them. I’m learning to practice the welcoming prayer and acknowledge that these feelings are a part of me and learn from their wisdom and pain. I have worked with my husband to create a stable home for my children, ignoring the internal clock that tells me every three years that it’s time to move, change jobs, or run away.

As I did the imagery of sitting in the presence of the Mother, I felt that she wanted to hold me. I was reluctant but as I allowed myself to be held, I received a mother’s blessing, calling me out of my shell to risk again. She called me to create boldly and to hold my head high, walking in the confidence of my sixty years of wisdom, love, and acceptance of others.

I loved this prayer at the end of the chapter,

“May you be blessed with a yes on your lips and in your heart to the holy invitations that come your way. May you find yourselves in intimate partnership at all of the times of birth that you are called to labor through, and may you know yourself held through a thousand losses and times of grief. May the Mother nourish you with lavish generosity.” (pg. 48)

I’d love to hear how you relate to the archetype of the mother in your own life, or how your own mother gave you grist for the mill of your own growth. Feel free to share in the comments below.

Photo Credits. The Mother, Mary Mother of Jesus

Spiritual Practices: Archetypes — The Sovereign

close up portrait of lion
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

We are continuing our study of archetypes as a spiritual practice through the book, Illuminating the Way, by Christine Valters Paintner. You’re welcome to get the book and follow along, or just enjoy the blog and comments. This week we are in the second chapter, the archetype of The Sovereign.

To review from my last blog, Archetypes are “instinctual and universal patterns of thought developed in human beings over thousands of years.” (pg. xi) And this week we look at The Sovereign: “Sovereignty is about being centered in your own power and taking full responsibility for meeting your needs.“ (pg. 20)

This archetype was harder for me to relate to than The Fool. There is a bit of “learned helplessness” in my life based on my family of origin issues, so the idea of coming into my own power feels like a shirt that doesn’t fit comfortably. Also, having been happily married for thirty-five years has meant that there is another person involved in meeting my needs; he is a wonderful man who loves to help me. So…what does it mean for me to embrace my inner Sovereign?

I love the idea of birthright. It is the idea we were divinely gifted with certain unique skills, gifts, and talents with which we can bless the world. In fact, I wrote my first book series, The Birthright Series, around that idea.

But, Valters suggest that The Sovereign might be a midlife archetype as it takes a long time to come into your wisdom enough to know your place in the world. This is something I’m still trying to figure out. For me, finding my place in the world is not a linear process, but a spiral I keep coming back to as my life continues to evolve and change. Who I was, in my last big understanding of myself, had to be deconstructed so that I could figure out who I am now — and how to use my wisdom and power to create safe spaces for others. It is an ongoing process that I’m still working on.

king david

My other issue with this chapter was Valters’ use of the icon of King David from the Hebrew scriptures. David had a lot of good qualities: He was a shepherd, a poet, a singer, a dancer with joy (channeling his inner Fool); he was brave against Goliath, and he wrote great Psalms. And, he was also a murderer, a rapist (In my opinion Bathsheba had no ability to say no to a King, and he used his power and privilege against her. You’re welcome to debate that in the comment section). He was a terrible parent, a serial adulterer, etc. So,  I had some baggage to get through when Valters asked us to imagine spending time in his presence. But even that was a graced encounter for me.

I imagined kneeling before him (he was the King after all) and he put his hand on my head and said, “Forgive me.”

I used to work with college students and take them to a week-long camp. There we studied the New Testament book of Mark and eventually got to the story of the woman with a flow of blood (Mark 5:25–34). One intriguing part of this story involves the woman telling Jesus her “whole story.” Since it is recorded in Mark that she’d been bleeding for twelve years and exhausted all her money on doctors, I assume that was a LONG story. We all have LONG stories of pain and suffering. After studying this passage, we gave the students the opportunity to tell their “whole story.” This story-telling often went on until two a.m. One year my male co-leader, after hearing so many women share their stories of sexual abuse, got on his knees and asked the womens’ forgiveness on behalf of all men who had harmed them. It was a powerful moment. He had done nothing to any of us, yet he was willing to stand in the gap for the men that had done harm and ask forgiveness. It was an incredibly healing experience. I felt that power of The Sovereign again when, in my imagination, I saw King David ask my forgiveness. Sovereignty is about owning up to your choices, including your mistakes, and using your power to heal and to bless the world. Now that is something I can try to live into.

The shadow side of The Sovereign is getting caught up in power for the sake of power and misusing it. We certainly see too much of that in today’s world. But another way the shadow reveals itself is in becoming a martyr and not taking responsibility for caring for our own needs, often while resenting those that try to help us. As an Enneagram Two, that is something where I need to be careful. I could easily live in martyrdom and I’m sure I have in the past.

I love the idea that “Sovereigns create safe and healthy spaces for others to grow and develop their gifts and are never threatened by others living into their own power as well.” (Pg.22) This will be my take home. This is really what gives me joy and life, creating safe spaces for others to grow and being the champion of others’ successes.

What are your thoughts about The Sovereign? Do you see this archetype in yourself? Do you struggle with its shadow? What gifts of the Sovereign do you want to bring to the table of your life?

Photo: King David

Spiritual Practices: Archetypes – The Fool


My next few blogs will look at twelve archetypes as described in the book, Illuminating the Way: Embracing the Wisdom of Monks and Mystics, by Christine Valters Paintner.

If you would like to get the book and read along, that would be fabulous. I think it’s a really fun read. It has fun and interesting features, like Icons, Scripture and mandala art — and there is no way I can cover all that in this blog, so you might enjoy checking it out. I also think this book would be fun to discuss in an in-person group and I might try that later too. In the meantime, here are my thoughts on the introduction and the first chapter.

Archetypes are “instinctual and universal patterns of thought developed in human beings over thousands of years.” (pg. xi)

They are useful in spiritual practices because they help us get in touch with different parts of ourselves that may be previously hidden to us but can be helpful when revealed. It also helps us get in touch with the shadow sides of ourselves that might be keeping us from living from our true selves.

I have never studied archetypes, so this book is a revelation to me. When I saw the first chapter was entitled, “The Fool,” I thought, “I’m not like that at all.” Boy was I wrong. I’m glad that the author chose St. Francis as the Archetype for The Fool as he has always been a favorite historical mentor of mine. He is most often depicted with birds and other creatures around him, as he loved all living things. He left a wealthy Italian family, gave all he had to the poor and wore a simple brown habit. He lived among and ministered to the marginalized. The church, at that time, was all about money, so he was living in a way that seemed foolish to those in power. He challenged the status quo and began a whole new movement of like-minded followers.

The world could use some more Fools right now, right?

I so relate to St. Francis and the archetype of The Fool. “He described nature as a theophany, a place of divine encounter and intimate relationship.” (pg. 3) If you’ve been following my blogs for any time you know I feel the same way. The “thinnest” places for me are out in the middle of a forest or by the ocean.

It’s only been within the last six years that I’ve identified with my inner Fool. When I aligned myself with my friends in the LGBTQIA community, I was called many things, ”foolish” among them. It was painful to have been an influential teacher, trainer, and speaker, in the evangelical community, and suddenly become “suspect,” and rapidly uninvited to places of influence. I had not changed, people’s perspective of me had changed when I started speaking my truth.

The Fool is like a prophet sometimes, telling the truth by standing on the outside of traditional thinking and seeing things differently. Truth-telling, done with love and humor, can be a subversive act. It can also be painful and lonely, so you have to find other fools to stand with you. St. Francis started a movement of Holy Fools that had a profound effect on the world, then and now.


Each archetype has a high side and a low side, a true self and a shadow self, much like how we talk about the Enneagram. The shadow side of The Fool involves hurting others by using humor to tear them down. I have definitely done that and it grieves me terribly. Once you say something flippantly, to be funny, no matter how many times you apologize, it can’t be unsaid. Another shadow side of The Fool is cynicism. When I was in college I was often referred to as “guileless.” Unfortunately, that is not true of me anymore. The world is such a difficult and hurting place that I’m often given to cynicism and despair.

So, for me, The Fool challenges me to weigh my words, speak the truth in love and not use humor to hurt. Also, I want to keep hoping for a better world and not give into cynicism. When I need strength to stand against injustice, I need to channel my inner Fool. And, The Fool is fun! The Fools energy helps us to not take ourselves so seriously.

Do you relate to The Fool? I’d love to hear about it. There are many archetypes so there may be some we relate to more than others, but I bet we can find some of each one in ourselves and I think the goal is to bring all of their voices and wisdom to the table to be strong, complete persons. Remember this started as an exercise to find out what it means to be our True Selves. “The self that arrives is the self that was loved into existence by Divine Love. This is the person we are destined from eternity to become – the I that is hidden in the I AM.” David G. Benner