by Dr. Sheila Patel: I grew up in a home where we learned a lot about Hindu mythology…
It seemed there were an endless number of gods and goddesses and it was easy to get caught up in a literal interpretation of their stories. In all honesty, it never really resonated with me. In my analytical mind, I never connected to the idea that worshipping a particular form would somehow bring things into my life. And the representations seemed flat and simplistic. Were these actual beings? What did it mean that Saraswati was the goddess of knowledge? And couldn’t I have knowledge without making an offering to her? I didn’t know how this all fit into my life.
When I first came to work at Chopra many years ago, I attended several workshops that revolved around working with archetypes. It was then that I learned that these archetypes – gods, goddesses, themes, motifs, epic characters in movies – were simply representations of qualities within all humans, and that by putting attention on those personas, one is awakening the expression of these universal qualities within themselves.
Archetypes as the Symbols of Higher States of Consciousness
These archetypes represent the often dormant potentials that lie within us all as states of possibility and that we have access to at any time. The idea that we all have the ability to access the collective qualities of humanity began to resonate with me. I could see the qualities of many of the gods and goddesses within me, some more than others. These archetypes are symbols of our higher states of consciousness and through their stories, we can learn about our own human potential. Now that I could understand.
Stories, told through archetypal characters, are part of our collective consciousness and shape our personalities and behaviors. Mythical stories represent our collective imaginations – in modern times by icons, heroic characters in books and film, and historical figures.
They represent themes, motifs, and aspects of humanity. And through these archetypes and their stories, we see what is possible. We meet the guidance of these personas within ourselves. We also understand how these archetypal qualities are showing up in our relationships, work, and personal narratives as well as which ones we need to bring forth. Understanding what these personas represent can help us unfold our full potential.
The Qualities of the Divine Feminine
So what about the Divine Feminine archetypal qualities? What does this mean and how does it play a role in our modern lives? To start, this energy lives within all beings of all gender identities and expressions. When we tune into the energy of the Divine Feminine, we bring forth the qualities of nurturing, compassion, and healing into our lives. Archetypes are shared human constructs, and they evolve as we evolve. Oftentimes, the descriptions of these classical archetypes didn’t resonate with me because they were described in a different context and time period. Finding ways to understand them in a modern context allowed me to explore the collective consciousness on my own terms.
What I concluded is that ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ are simply terms to describe seemingly opposing but complementary qualities embodied by people of all gender identities that each of us can draw on in different situations. The labels thus include, and show up as, ‘masculine’ which is typically described by logic, objectivity, force, competition, alongside the ‘feminine’ qualities that include intuition, subjectivity, nurturing, connection, and creativity. Although there is some overlap within these qualities, understanding the nuances, variations, and differences of them is necessary in order to see if there is an imbalance rising anywhere in our lives.
In the yoga tradition, the feminine and masculine are described energetically on opposite sides of the body. The energy on the right side of the body is connected to the left brain and is considered ‘heating’, which relates to masculine qualities. The left side of the body is connected to the right brain and is considered ‘cooling’, which relates to feminine qualities. Both sides need to be balanced in both the body and the mind to achieve good health. More broadly, in order to have balance and harmony in society, we must first balance and harmonize both the masculine and feminine qualities within us.
Healing Ourselves, Our Relationships, and the Planet
When looking at the qualities that we see dominating in the typical modern life, there is an overemphasis on qualities that are considered ‘masculine’. When society defines success as winning, achieving, working, and out-competing others, we bring out these qualities within us to survive. This may have been necessary in hunter-gatherer societies, but an overexpression of these qualities has led to many of our current challenges, such as planetary unsustainability, war, economic and social injustices, and poor physical and emotional health. At this point in time, in order to survive, we need to tap into the feminine archetypes within us and bring in more nurturing, love, creativity, intuition, connection, and stability into our relationships with ourselves, others, and the planet.
The Divine Feminine embodies a wide array of qualities so various personas have been created over time to describe them. Every culture has goddesses, mythological or historical figures, or epic characters portrayed through books and movies to represent the different aspects of the Divine Feminine and the qualities of love, beauty, family and community, and intuition.
Exploring the Archetypes of the Divine Feminine
Although there are many descriptions of nurturing archetypes, both modern and traditional, here are a few of the traditional feminine archetypes that I grew up with and their associated characteristics:
- Mahadevi –represents Mother Earth, creativity, fertility, and nature. Gives rise to other feminine archetypes over time.
- Parvati – represents motherhood, nurturing, devotion, steadfastness.
- Durga – represents fearlessness, balanced power, brings kindness and harmony; battles against suffering and injustice. Also later represented as
- Kali – a fierce protector and a destroyer of ignorance and illusion.
- Saraswati – represents knowledge, wisdom, and the arts; also represents independence, grace, and elegance.
- Lakshmi – represents abundance, wealth, prosperity, and happiness.
There are many ways to activate the Divine Feminine archetypes and qualities within us. One way is identifying with particular personas and reading their stories while imagining how their energies can show up in our own lives. We can also just bring awareness to the qualities that we admire yet are lacking and find ways to express those qualities through new activities, relationships, or our work. For most of us, there are some archetypes that we find easy to relate to, while others don’t connect naturally. Many people seek out experts who work with archetypes to bring out their dormant energies. If you feel called to explore archetypal energies within you, look up the work of Carolyn Myss, Jean Houston, or find tools in Deepak Chopra’s book The Spontaneous Fulfillment of Desire.
I invite you to explore whatever representations of the Divine Feminine archetypes resonate with you.
Expanding from Individual to Collective Consciousness
Understanding and working with archetypes connects our individual selves with the collective imagination. By invoking the Divine Feminine in all humans, we can imagine a world where individuals and leaders display the qualities of love, connection, harmony, and nurturing while maintaining the power to transform society and create anew. The future of our leadership must include an emphasis on these Divine Feminine qualities.
We can evoke the Divine Feminine as a way to move into the next phase of our own evolution, both personally and societally. Every culture, in its own way, described these qualities through mythology and archetypes. Tapping into the qualities of this collective consciousness allows us to create our own stories and narratives in our lives.
By understanding that we all have access to the full human potential, and having practices to awaken these qualities, we are empowered to create the lives and world that we want and so desperately need right now.