Reimagining the Gods | by Holly Hudley

Spring is in full form in Houston. For many birds and insects it is a way-station on a long migratory path. Especially magical are the Monarch butterflies whose fifth generation descendants from the year before pass through the same spaces as their ancestors, lay new eggs, and the striped caterpillars munch on the same milkweed as those who came before. Their jewel-like chrysalis, lime green threaded with gold, is a house of transformation. In the process of metamorphosis, the caterpillar digests itself, turns to oozy liquid enzymes, and contains highly organized cells known as imaginal discs that eventually form the body parts of the butterfly. This birth, death, rebirth process produces an entirely new creature. It is miraculous. And yet it is entirely necessary to the continuation of the caterpillar, the butterfly, and the milkweed. While scientists don’t know exactly what it remembers from the liminal space of the cocoon, it is a given that the caterpillar must evolve to survive. If we consider the Christ archetype, it is a direct mirror to this process, one that is not only necessary, but inevitable. “What happens in the life of Christ happens always and everywhere” (Edward Edinger). We find the butterfly beautiful, a diaphanous angel, but often resist our own process of transformation. What, then, can the human and her human made systems glean from the butterfly?

#1. “That we are not all going to die, but we shall all be changed” (Edinger).

Every spring we watch the caterpillars spin themselves into their cocoons. On occasion we’ll get a cold snap and they never emerge, the chrysalis eventually blackens. Or they do emerge but their new wings don't completely unfurl. Of course, those that emerge, transformed and whole, are an apt metaphor for the “ultimate goal of individuation—the transformation of ego into archetype” (Edinger). A Jungian look at the Christ archetype does not reveal Jesus as an intermediary between God and human, but an example of the revelation of the  divine in the human. This is possible for every single one of us. We do not take this for granted as the caterpillar dissolves its essence into enzymes and imaginal discs, so why do we lack this kind of imagination for ourselves?

Necessary to deep change is for our ego to disintegrate into ooze, maintain some form of “imaginal cells” that might help us perform daily tasks, and revitalize to make room for the Self. What Jung and Edinger call the Self Rudolf Steiner names the I. If we can truly understand the incarnation of Christ, “we learn to exert our full self awareness or I-consciousness” (Steiner). If we can accept the challenge of personal transformation, we can more consciously participate in societal change. In mythospeculation, the challenge Brian Swimme, and before him Thomas Berry, issues is how do we engage with the impending Ecozoic Era in full awareness? The time for changing systems and making way for a death-rebirth cycle is now. “We are living in what the Greeks called the kairos—the right moment—for a ‘metamorphosis of the gods,’ of the fundamental principles and symbols. The peculiarity of our time. . . is the expression of the unconscious man within us who is changing.” Edinger asserts that even the Church, or perhaps especially the church, is poised to undergo its own incarnation cycle, learning to live between tradition and progress, ushering in the individual as emissary of the sacred.

#2. The darkness of the chrysalis contains the tension of opposites; its earth bound caterpillar self and its sky bound butterfly self.

Think of how Jesus accepted betrayal with a kiss, from which he incorporates into his psyche loyalty to a future vision and betrayal of and by his “tribe,” his Jewish heritage. Similarly, to fully individuate as the butterfly, the caterpillar must let go of all her caterpillar ways, but somewhere in her is the memory of her original form. So integral is her original form that she can still lay eggs to birth new caterpillars who will perpetuate the birth-death-rebirth cycle. It goes on and on and on. To borrow the metaphor on a personal level, in order to fully individuate, one must hold within the dichotomy of the dysfunctions and gifts of her family of origin as well as the image of who she imagines herself to be outside the cocoon. This is exactly where we find ourselves in this moment of human development. We live in an infinite cosmos; we are finite. We are differentiated unique beings; we are one whole.  If we emerge from the cocoon in tact, we simultaneously understand that matter and spirit are not separate. “The goal of the incarnation cycle, like the goal of individuation, is the coniunctio. The time has come for the psychic opposites—heaven and earth, male and female, spirit and nature, good and evil—which have long been torn asunder in the Western psyche, to be reconciled” (Edinger).

#3. The change from a caterpillar to a butterfly to the human eye is a kind of quantum leap.

The other morning when my boys and I were leaving for school, we noticed a fat, striped caterpillar just beginning to curl itself into a cocoon. Within an hour it was sealed in its hard shell. Ten days later, the cocoon was darker and thin, starting to break open. By that afternoon I watched as the butterfly prepared for its first flight, wings damp and curled. There is a great leap between the caterpillar and the butterfly. There is a great leap for the human between death and rebirth. “Evolution may proceed slowly, as when a plant moves form one green leaf to the next. A leap occurs in the plant, however when the last leaf has emerged and flower buds begin to form, and comparable repeated leaps occur in the evolution of the human race” (Steiner). What Steiner and Jung had their differences both foretold was the necessity of the human realizing her own embodiment of the True Self for spiritual evolution to take place. In sum, if we accept the invitation to consciously participate in the birth-death-rebirth cycle, we cannot live as a divided self. We integrate ego into Self, caterpillar into butterfly, spirit into matter. None of these things are separate. It is our calling at this juncture, not only to reimagine the gods, but to reimagine ourselves as part of the great cosmic unfolding.