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Safer at Home, in The Underworld

Updated: Apr 9, 2020

"We are all in this together," is one of the phrases and memes that have taken over social media, television, and cable news broadcasts in the last few weeks. In three months, the Covid-19 virus has accomplished what spiritual teachers and religions have been trying to do for millennia. It has, with merciless efficiency, demonstrated that we are all connected, and how dependent we are on one another for survival. The virus erased community, state, and national boundaries in the blink of an eye. Military might on land, sea, or sky is no match for such an insidious, invisible foe.

Hierarchies of social structures are upside down. Suddenly, grocery clerks, truck drivers, UPS drivers, postal workers, take-out chefs, Postmates drivers, and Instacart shoppers are essential workers. Ten million people have applied for unemployment in the US in the past two weeks. Many global experts acknowledge that we will come out of this pandemic into a worldwide economic depression.

We are told to go home and stay there. "Safer at Home," "Shelter at Home," and "Stay Home" are the messages we receive hourly, as governments and healthcare workers desperately try to flatten the curve of the spreading pandemic. The shuttering of businesses, social distancing guidelines, and stay at home mandates have forced us all to go home. We have been pushed back to the hearth, the ancient, mythological center of Home.

Looking at this return to Home from a mythological perspective allows us to look at the big picture, to look at the universal human experience of this extraordinary time. Through the lens of mythology, we can look beyond our constant anxiety, fear, and uncertainty to see the personal and universal experiences of being human. Myths let us know that we are not alone, that the events we experience in our lives are similar to those that millions before us have known. They give us insight into our nature.

In the mythology of ancient Greece, the goddess of the home, the hearth, and the larder, the center of family life, culture, and the center earth itself is Hestia. Hestia is the hearth and the fire in it. She is the spirit of Home, where a family gathers and finds its center. As a goddess, Hestia never married or had children; she never left the home. She is the energy of Home that we relish in family reunions, in meals shared around the table, and in the warmth within holiday gatherings. The name Hestia also signified the center of the Earth, which the ancient Greeks believed contained the Earth's fire and center. To neglect the energies of Hestia is to ignore the heart and center of life. And now, we have all been urged to return together to the realm of Hestia.

Hestia's realm and energies spring from the archetypal feminine. Attributes contained within the archetypal feminine include relationship, intuition, creativity, nurturance, compassion, nature itself, the cycles of the natural world, and the immanence of divinity. Archetypes are structural forms that emerge from the collective unconscious. They are ancient fundamental psychological templates that we fill with familiar images. These images include well-known characters that inhabit myths, fairytales, and folklore such as the eternal child, the wise old man, the witch or old wise woman, the monster, the fairy godmother, the prince, the king, the queen, the good mother, the terrible mother, the father, and so forth. An archetypal image may bring some knowledge we need, may want to teach us to be courageous in the face of tribulation, or to find our wisdom, power, and strength within ourselves. Archetypes are neither good nor bad, but their structures always hold complementary opposites.

The world has been driven back to the realm of Hestia at a time when we lack relationship and compassion when cultural, religious, and socioeconomic differences have divided us into ever smaller competing factions. We have been driven back to Hestia at a time when we are destroying the very ecosystems on our planet that sustain our lives. The archetypal masculine world of Logos includes rationalism, logic, and by extension, science and commerce. Logos images humanity as transcendent and claims mastery and control over the natural world. Yet it has been stopped in its tracks by an invisible virus. Science, rationalism, and commerce have been refocused on defeating this one invisible thing.

At home, in retreat from a deadly pandemic, we are face to face with our own mortality. We are sheltering in close quarters for extended periods of time, straining our relationships. We are terrified of the threat to the lives of those we love. We are confronted daily with our frailties and personal faults. Fear, panic, and uncertainty are tearing at the fabric of our society, from the foundations of our economic system to our beleaguered health care system. These months, perhaps years, are a refiners fire that will, in due time, show us who we are. This journey that has brought us home is forcing us into the mythic underworld of our worst fears. Reminiscent of Dante's circles of Hell, the images of hospitals from around the world show the gravely ill, kept alive by machines and refrigerated ice rinks filling with bodies.

Scientists, researchers, doctors, and those essential workers on the front lines, are taking The Hero's Journey. They have answered the call to adventure and sacrifice. Their boon? Holding society together, saving lives, discovering a treatment, and developing a vaccine. As for the rest of us, we are on the Heroine's Journey, our boon, no less important. Having lived our lives under a patriarchal system that separated itself from the archetypal feminine thousands of years ago, we are on a quest for liberation and reunification. Our Heroine's Journey, launched from the realm of Hestia, is forcing us all to look at our relationship with ourselves, each other, and the planet. This is the realm of the feminine. We are being taken together, down and within. For the first time in human history, we are on a collective Heroine's Journey. It has already shown us we are all connected and dependent on one another for survival. The conscious feminine must be honored and reestablished in our experience of life. We must embrace intuition, creativity, compassion, nurturance, relationship, and the ecological balance of nature if we are to survive. By healing the wound caused by the repression and denigration of women, we take the first step toward the integration and balance of masculine and feminine within the human psyche. If we can create what psychotherapists and mythologists call the Hierosgamos, the sacred marriage between the masculine and feminine in our world, we may emerge from the underworld with a new story, one of hope and promise for the future.


(Image: William Blake, Dante in Hell 10 conversing with Farinata degli Uberti, 1824-1827.)

( Blue Marble. NASA. January 4, 2012)

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