The Bard's Grove

"There are times when people need stories more than they need nourishment, because the stories feed something deeper than the needs of the body."
Charles DeLint, The Onion Girl

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Emerging Archetypal Themes: Virgo’s Search for Wholeness & Sharon Shinn’s Troubled Waters.

The Bard’s Grove

I want to resume my Emerging Archetypal Themes Blog by sharing some of my favorite fantasy adventures with you.  Fantasy novels tell us stories that show how the archetypal patterns are shifting and being renewed.  Our human instincts are once again expanding, growing and deepening to meet the needs of our changing world, and these fantasy stories can help us understand how we are being renewed.  Add to this the astrological energies of the signs of the zodiac and I hope to tell you about bardic tales that will open your imaginations and spark your vision.

 From Guy Gavriel Kay to Judith Tarr, Patrick Rothfuss to Sharon Shinn, the archetypal stories are being transformed from a Disneyesque stereotype to a wondrous Lord of the Rings enchantment.  These fantasy stories evoke a strong response because the really good ones follow the archetypal path of ancient myths and fairy tales.   When stories grow organically out of the archetypal structures—the cosmic laws of life—they resonate with our DNA and touch our hearts and minds.   Archetypal stories change us.

Virgo:  Knowing Yourself and Naming Yourself

Virgo, the sixth sign of the zodiac, is the Virgin.  To be a virgin in the ancient world did not mean a woman was sexually chaste; it meant that a woman ‘belonged to herself’ – that is, belonged to no man.  Just as a virgin forest is overrun with life and possibilities, so too the Virgin Mother of Virgo is filled with a harvest of possibilities.  The Cosmic Story speaks of the energies moving through our skies, telling us of the new life generated each year here on Earth.  When the Sun travels through the sign of Virgo, we look at both our personal and collective harvest.    The constellation of Virgo imagines a woman with wings holding a sheaf of wheat, and this Virgin asks us each year from the middle of August until the Fall Equinox in mid-September – what have you made of yourself this year? (For more on the Virgo archetypal, see The Cosmic Story

The Virgo aspect of our journey through life is to get to know ourselves on all levels of our being.  We grow more self-aware as we experience life and as we integrate what we learn in life—when we come to acknowledge the meaning of our experiences.   As we do, we change and grow, so each year we need to figure out who exactly we are now.  Unfortunately, that is something many of us weren’t taught to do.  The old cultural categories we’ve been given to explain our personalities and our talents are work-oriented.  You are what you do.  So our usual measure of growth is how much more money we’re making or how old we are. 

In ancient times and other cultures, the wise women and sages knew that we are comprised of a mixture of the four elements of life: earth, water, air and fire.  And sometimes, the elusive and mysterious fifth element, the quintessence or spirit.  Our modern approach to life disregards our connection to Earth and her laws, and so we’ve lost touch with the powers within us that define who we are.

Sharon Shinn’s Troubled Waters: Knowing and Naming Yourself

One who neglects or disregards the existence
Of fire, water, air and earth
Disregards his own existence, which is entwined with them.
Lord Mahavir/Jainsim

But what would it be like if our cultural norm was not only to understand who we are and what our talents are but that everyone else understood them as well.  Imagine a society where everyone understands that there are different personality traits which give rise to different talents, which are fostered and trained.  Imagine a society where you start off knowing yourself and your possibilities and naming yourself.  

That’s the basis of the society that Sharon Shinn creates in her novel, Troubled Waters.   Instead of telling you the story, I’m going to describe the culture of knowing she creates.  That doesn’t mean that everyone in the novel is self-aware and honorable.  It just means that people have a common basis for judging actions, which is based in a good understanding of the psyche.  Something we are often lacking in our society.  So since we are dancing in Virgo, let’s look at how these fantasy characters know themselves.

Ms. Shinn uses five basic types of personalities, most likely based on the five elements of Chinese Medicine.  I find them fascinating, because each quality is associated with an element.  The five are Elay (Air/Soul), Hunti (Wood/Bone), Swella (Fire/Mind), Coru (Water/Blood), Torz (Earth/Flesh).   See what you think you are!

Elay             Hunti            Sweela           Coru             Torz
(Air)          (Wood)          (Fire)         (Water)          (Earth)
Joy            Courage          Innovation    Change        Serenity
Hope          Strength         Love            Travel         Honesty
Kindness     Steadfastness  Imagination   Flexibility  Health
Beauty        Loyalty          Clarity          Swiftness    Fertility
Vision          Certainty   Intelligence     Resilience   Contentment
Grace          Resolve          Charm            Luck           Patience
Honor          Determination Talent         Persistence   Endurance
Spirituality   Power           Creativity     Surprise       Wealth
SOUL          BONE            MIND        BLOOD        FLESH

The grace and power and imagination and surprise and wealth of this form of personal power—this knowing your name/element/Self—is what helps move this story forward.  Perhaps if we want to move ourselves forward in understanding our true nature, we might see which category we fit into and live consciously with it, embracing our strengths and weaknesses alike.  It makes for a much rounder personality.

The first thing I loved about Ms. Shinn’s world was that when a baby is born, the father must wait five hours (they do everything in terms of five) and then go out into the street and ask three strangers to give his child a blessing.  They have these blessings (the above qualities) inscribed on coins which you can get at any Temple of the Five Elements, a place to go meditate when you need to rebalance yourself and ask for guidance.   When you ask your question, you can take a ‘blessing’ coin out of a giant cauldron, see which quality of character you pick and find an answer to your question.  Then you carry that coin with you until you are asked to give it to someone else.  

So, each baby gets three random blessings which define their future.  But they also carry within themselves these traits in greater or lesser amounts, with one as their defining element.  So a woman who is Coru might be open to feelings, changeable as water, flexible in situations.  A man who is Sweela meets the world head-on with intelligence, charm and imagination.  And all the world knows that’s just who he or she is.  The naming helps people accept each other.  That doesn’t mean you aren’t responsible for your actions—there’s still a moral imperative to live to your highest abilities.

Here are some examples of how Ms. Shinn describes these elemental qualities.


“Sweela (fire) was not a restful element at the best of times.  It exhorted you to feel, to care, to think, to love, even to remember.  Zoe closed her eyes and unlocked her heart and let her mind flood with images of her father.  Laughing.  Arguing.  Dancing with her mother.  Flirting with a strange woman.  Reading by candlelight.  Listening to music.  Meditating.  Sleeping. Coughing.  Suffering.  Dying.”   

“He was a sweela, with brushy red hair and ruddy complexion. … He kept a neutral expression on his face, but it was clear he was a passionate man, quick to anger, quick to laugh. She had a sudden, swift, visceral memory of boisterous conversations at his house, loud arguments and outbursts of gusty merriment.” 

When I think about these traits in my fire sign friends, I often forget that they are related to their inner connection to fire.  Always on the move.  Always creating something, whether a meal or a garden or a dress.  Sometimes destructive, like their passion fierce.  They are Fire!

“But that was the torz gift—connection to humanity, connection to the world.  You might apologize for bumping into your neighbor, but then you would smile, you would whisper a comment about the weather.  You would feel human again, part of the great, messy pageant of life.  You would cease to feel so alone.” 

“The big man…looked like a creature made entirely of soil and clay—a little dull, a little slow, but powerful.  Patient. … he could wait for a decade to destroy his enemies, but when he had the chance, he would crush them under his relentless weight. … Then he smiled at her and she saw the other side of the Torz (earth) personality—not charm, no, but a certain earthy appeal. … he was the kind of man who always had a dog at his heels, a grandchild on his knee, a serving girl bringing him an extra portion.  The kind of man who liked to surround himself with other people and who won their affection without even seeming to try.”   

I have a brother who has all earth signs for his Sun, Moon and ascendant.  He is so very much like this, especially the part about winning people’s affections without even trying.  Everyone loves him—he’s easy going, kind and finds something to enjoy about everything and everyone.  And he is always there when you need him.   He is Earth!


“This was always the element that spoke to Zoe the least, conveying as it did a sense of spirituality, occasionally even visions.  But elay also equated with hope, a renewed belief that the world could be restructured or at least comprehended.  Yes—of course—she was puzzled now, a little lost, but eventually the world would make sense again.” 

“Most of them were elay (air), people of soul and air.  The women frequently were great philanthropists and social reformers, always working to improve the lot of the poor, while the unmarried daughters often went off to serve in the temples.  The men tended to be philosophers or tinkerers or writers.”  

Because of my air ascendant, I can relate to this element a lot.  I think my writing is very hopeful, sometimes has vision and is definitely connected to my spirituality and my Soul-Centered Counseling practice.  There are other air people I know who live their values, believe in fairness and justice or are witty and mentally agile.  We are Air!

“Gradually Zoe felt her muscles relax, her hurt and confusion start to drain away.  In the temple, this was the gift of the coru; it washed you clean of worries.  Your troubles were carried away in the river’s insistent hands.”

Describing the coru (water) heroine: “There is humor in you, is there not? A deep appreciation of the ridiculousness of the human condition.  And a certain tolerance for the vagaries of human nature.”     

 “From my coru mother, I inherited a certain amount of resilience.  I think this means that, no matter what my situation, I can look about me, I can appreciate what it offers, and I can adapt.”  “I am a woman of water…I am more likely to slip away in stealth than to blaze up in wrath.” 

“A coru woman seeks and seeks for passage through an unnavigable space.  She will rise to any level or turn into any channel.  And if you attempt to block her way, she will flood the banks and sweep everything ahead of her.”

“I love you,” she whispered against his mouth.  “No matter what changes, that will always be true.  Spoken from the heart of a coru woman.”

I can relate to this element too.  I have a water Moon, and I am more at peace floating in the water than anywhere else.  Water calls to me, and I have been learning how to channel the power of water, of feelings, of the imagination.  But I never connected to the fact that it is my watery nature which is open to change and travel, gives me my flexibility and resilience, my swiftness and persistence.  I am Water!

“In the Temple, the hunti pew…was painted a handsome ebony and seemed to be so solidly bolted to the floor that no catastrophe could budge it by so much as an inch.  Zoe felt herself grow stronger, surer, as she sat before the sigil for wood and bone.  Her spine stiffened; she drew herself up taller.”

And descriptions of the hunti (wood) hero:  “After that first greeting, she didn’t say a word.  She simply watched him, simply waited.  He was hunti, he could be as stubborn as oak itself, but she was not going to yield.”

 “And there is no ending an argument with a hunti man.  He takes a stand and will not yield it, even when the battle no longer rages.”

“I love you,” he answered.  “And that will not change though the rest of the world is made over.  Word of a hunti man.”

Someone you can depend on.  Someone who is strong and safe and yes, utterly sure of himself.  My three sons have this quality.  They all have some earth in their charts, and because I raised them on good fantasy stories, they had an ideal to look up to.  And so yes, these are other people you can depend on.  They are Wood!

How We Might Prosper by Knowing Our Name

We could do worse than see ourselves in terms of the four or five elements that comprise the powers of Nature.  If you are into astrology, perhaps you need to explore which elements rule your Sun, Moon and Ascendant.  You can discover a lot about yourself by naming which qualities are innate to your personality and purpose.  Then you can see which qualities you lack and work to incorporate them into your life.

When you name yourself through an element, you can also begin to own your power, instead of denying it.  If you are a water person, then you have to learn to use your feeling nature and trust it.  If you are a fire person, perhaps you are scattering your energies instead of focusing them into some creative project.  If you are an air person, are you sharing your vision?  And if you are a wood person, are you shouldering your responsibilities?  If you are an earth person, your connection with other people is your gift.

Ms. Shinn has created an interesting world where people name and own their powers.  And while we might describe this story as just fantasy, I say we can learn a lot about ourselves if we just step into the imagination of these personality traits and discover how we are connected.

From The Bard’s Grove,

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