My story of the Hag set me thinking of the feminine archetypes in mythology. Ever notice how they are classified on the basis of which side of the reproductive cycle they fall? Maiden/virgin, flush of youth, spring, the one whom wars are fought for, the one who must be possessed. Mother, lush, peak of sexuality, the one who’s off bounds for the covetous gaze ( more on that later), bountiful, she already belongs to someone.She is the well-tilled field at the height of summer. Hag seems to have a wider scope, simply because she’s the one who’s no longer able to menstruate.She is ascribed with a whole lot of powers that range from evil schemer, dark magic, soul-sucker and on the other hand to wisdom of age, tough love, benevolence etc. Masculine archetypes on the other hand are usually a lot more prosaically divvied. Presumably there was nothing mystical about the male sexuality, so the archetypes are mostly an HR exercise of classifying according to occupation, warrior, farmer, king, renunciate etc. And while they all start off on that quiet note, they all morph into the most important archetype of the Questing Hero, who then toddles off to hunt for his lost feminine aspect and we celebrate their union by writing a BIG Story or Mythology.
When we put aside the superficial definition of these images that we carry in our unconscious, when we dig deep within the binary tool of mythos and logos, we find two types of communication. The way of the father, of logic and reasoning and governance and yes, science. And the way of the mother to provide us the context of the communication, the intuitive way to say the right thing to the right person, and imagination and compassion to know that science doesn’t always fill our hearts.
The following story was told to me by my mother many years ago. It is a tale within the Ramayana, of a time in the life of Rama and Sita, a time of calm before the storm, when there was joy and love and intimacy in beautiful forests of Chitrakoota. When I was looking up the archetype of the Mother, I happened to read a dry, heavily censored form of this story in the Ramcharitmanas and suddenly my mother’s soft-focus yet painted in deep rich colours version jumped up and begged to be told again.
Rama was sleeping with his head on Sita’s lap and she was trailing her fingers through his hair. Perhaps they had made love and were basking in the afterglow. Jayanta, the son of Indra, happened to pass by when he took in the tender scene. In the immortalised words Dr Hannibal Lecter, “Agent Clarisse Starling, when do we first start to covet…we covet what we see.” Jayanta had no business looking at Sita, Daughter of the earth, All Mother herself, with those eyes.
But he was the apple that hadn’t fallen very far from the tree. Remember Indra had been cursed with a thousand eyes embedded all over his body for his lust-filled gaze that would spare no woman, young or old, single or married. Unable to control his own lust then, Jayanta assumed the form of a crow , or Kakasura and dive bombed Sita. He pecked and clawed at her breast until she was wounded and a trickle of her warm heart’s blood dripped on Rama’s face and he arose to take in the horror of the situation. It is said that this was one of the very few times when Rama lost his impeccable, iron self-control to mete out a punishment that was perhaps not commensurate with the crime. He plucked a single blade of grass and whispered the mantra for the Brahmastra onto it and sent it flying after the now terrified crow. It would have taken but a twist of the crow’s fragile neck to finish it, why then the Brahmastra? The only understood modern equivalent of it would be the atomic bomb, that would lay waste to not just the a single crow, but perhaps all crows, all birds, Jayanta’s antecedents and descendants and and perhaps the known universe… Was Rama giving him time to reflect on the breathtaking horror of lusting after the Mother?
Squawking and flapping the crow flew around the universe looking for succour, someone who would protect him from the homing missile of crystallised rage. Shiva shooed him off Mount Kailash, Brahma shook his head firmly as he sealed shut the doors to Sumeru. Even his own father Indra wrung his hands in despair as he urged him to fall the feet of the one he had wronged. And so, Jayanta, his wings now leaden, made the return journey towards Chitrakoota, was he ready to seek forgiveness or did he just have nowhere to go, to hide? He flew on , the missile now gaining traction until he reached Chitrakoota and dropped exhausted, a few inches from where the Mother and Father waited for the errant son to seek Sharanagati, or surrender. For only remorse and repentance and an abandonment of all control at their lotus feet would guarantee a chance at redemption. In Ramcharitmanas, the crow does fall at Rama’s feet and doesn’t peck at Sita’s breast either but at her feet.
Here’s where my mother’s story veers slightly, but significantly. Jayanta fell a few inches away from their feet, he couldn’t bring himself to go that extra inch, his ego too big.
I can imagine Rama looking sternly away, the missile understanding its too vast potential, hovering nervously above Jayanta. And Sita rolling her eyes in exasperation. Deftly with her with her beautifully calloused feet she nudged the foolish Jayanta forward to lying between her and Rama simulating complete surrender and softening the stand between father and son. Rama relented and lifting the half-dead crow, he plucked the the blade of grass from the air and used its power to alter the vision of the crow. Jayanta would live, but now he nor any other crow would ever be able to look at anyone directly.
Here’s where mythology beautifully marries fable. Logos would tell us that crows have divided binocular vision- each eye takes in visual information separately of the other. And because crows are incredibly clever and have great memory, they will look at you with one eye, twist their neck in that knowing manner to look at you with the other eye to memorise your features. They will never forget an act of kindness or cruelty. Think about that before you shoo the next crow off. If we were to talk to a child (or an adult) about the wide field binocular vision of crows, we would watch their bright eyes glaze over. But tell a story about Sri Rama punishing the crow for his misguided action because of which crows can’t look straight at us, and get the kids to look long at the corvine creatures and ask for the story over and over. And later as students of Logos, reconnecting to the myth while studying the physics of vision.
Another favourite story of mine acknowledging the role of mother occurs on Mt Kailash, the homestead of Shiva and Devi. Rishi Bhringi, an ardent devotee of Lord Shiva reaches Mt Kailash to celebrate the mighty Lord with his songs of bhakti. In his worship however he excludes the Devi, Goddess Mother. He refuses to even acknowledge her presence. Amused, Shiva and Parvati fuse into Ardhanarishwara, challenging the rishi to now try and exclude the Devi. The arrogant rishi changes into a borer beetle ( Bhringi) to burrow his way between the Two as One. Angered and injured, Parvati curses him to lose all that his mother ever gave him. And lo, Bhringi collapses into a pile of bones, he loses all that is soft, that gave him form, his muscle, his organs, his heart, his brain, all gone. He can now no longer even stand to worship Shiva. Shiva eventually takes pity on him and sticks a third bone to help him stand as if on a tripod. And that’s all there is left of him.
When we hear our leaders talk about ancient Indians and their extensive knowledge of plastic surgery for having stitched together an elephant head on a human body, you see a deep disconnect with our own theology, a lack of self esteem so great that we need to cling to reason and logic to explain ancient treasures. Of not understanding the ‘mother lode’ of our cultural history. That is disrespect of the Mother. When we need to use science as a crutch to explain our nature. Approach stories with heart, connect to them with the very fibre of your being and then within them you will find the bones of reason and logic.