When I was young I went on holidays to my uncle’s farm in the West of Ireland and this day, which was a holiday, was seen as marking the change from the Summer season to Autumn. My aunt would say that the days started getting shorter once this day was over. Maybe so, here in this part of Western Europe. However, there is a different awareness in mainland Europe – in countries such as Italy – where this day , Fer Agosto , is the central day of the Summer Holidays, characterized by warm weather and family meals. This is an ancient day of celebration, stretching back to the Roman feriae Augusti (August break) when horse races were organized, as they are still in the famous Paleo in Siena. It marked the high point of the Summer heat, realizing a human need for a break before the important work of the harvest began,
The religious calendar often piggy-backed on these human rhythms and celebrations and August 15th is no exception, celebrated by Catholics as the Assumption of Mary, the mother of Jesus, believing that Mary was taken directly, bodily, into heaven. I am not too interested in understanding the theological mystery of this day or looking at things from the viewpoint of what may or may not happen at the end of time. I am more interested in the fact that Carl Jung stated that establishing this feastday was the most important religious event since the Reformation in the 16th Century. He felt it finally gave due recognition to the feminine aspect of the person, emphasizing the role of the anima alongside the animus.
Jung said that this was “the profoundest problem afflicting the human psyche: an imbalance which favored masculine principles and archetypes over the feminine ones”. It is an imbalance which seems to have been recognized in all religions and wisdom traditions, as we find representations of female figures from the Virgin Mary in Catholicism and Orthodoxy to Quan Yin in Buddhism. However, what Jung is drawing our attention to, is the need to acknowledge these aspects not just outside us, in our religious figures, but also within ourselves and within society, a task which clearly has a long way to go.
It is clear that Western Society is built on an over-emphasis of traits and activities that are considered masculine – logical thinking, analysis, action, and has neglected its feminine, more contemplative side (while ironically at the same time, having an objectified, sexualized version of romantic love). So Jung prompts us to reflect on the need to balance aspects within ourself and within society, embrace the energies and understandings that come from both male and female principles. In simplistic terms this may alert us to the need to hold both logic and creativity, decisiveness and compassion, inner work and outer ambition. He goes on to say that this can fulfil “that yearning for peace which stirs deep down in the soul, and for a resolution of the threatening tension between opposites. Everyone shares this tension and everyone experiences it in his individual form of unrest”.
Jung seems to suggest that the unrest we experience comes when we do not get a balance between the different elements within us. It seems that becoming whole is a matter of balancing the different intelligences with us, the head, body and heart, and this can be help by a meditation practice which consciously holds the inner and outer, the self and others. However, we frequently overemphasize one aspect over another. working too much at times, such as spending too much energy on the outer while neglecting relationships or leisure. Furthermore, when we do not find the balance inside we tend to project it outside. This can often be noticed when we are moved to see in another person or in an object or career all the qualities which we think will definitely fulfil and complete us, alerting us to the fact that what we are actually glimpsing are missing aspects of ourselves, or unlived parts of our life. .
The quality of all of our relationships is a direct function of our relationship to ourselves. Since much of our relationship to ourselves operates at an unconscious level, most of the drama and dynamics of our relationships to others and the transcendent is expressive or our own personal psychology. The best thing we can do for our relationships with others, and with the transcendent, then, is to render our relationship with ourselves more conscious.
James Hollis, The Eden Project