Facing the Wolf: An interpretation of little red ridinghood, Kali, Individuation, and the Primordial Unconscious
We surround ourselves by the systems we have created. All systems are connected and permeate into every aspect of our internal and external environments. Some systems and tendencies are created unconsciously from which most behaviors stem.
This article explores representations of Kali, the process of individuation, and the unconscious mind. It also evaluates healing internally to project healthy, sustainable systems rather than unhealthy expressions of tension that infiltrate into relationships, politics, and corporate mentality. By evaluating deeper perspectives of the human condition, we can help recognize our participation in reinforcing systems that may or may not serve the greater good. It’s a call to be the change.
Fluidity in change is often considered a feminine principle. The Divine Feminine has a variation of her that represents the darker aspects of conscious existence. Her name is Kali. In the book written by University of Pittsburg’s Ronal Curran, Ph D, Kali, Individuation and the Primordial Unconscious (2005), Curran explores the archetype Kali and her multitude of feminine expressions, some of which are brought to us through Indian folklore and traditions. Curran examines fear and the way in which religious dogma projects it outwardly as evil. Kali is a perfect example of our need to resolve the tension in darkness.
Curran refers to Kali as a misunderstood archetype. She destroys demons and removes false consciousness. She represents tension of the unconscious that is often caused by uninitiated and unexpressed calls-to-change. Neglecting to act on one’s innate desire to change often leads to a misunderstanding of the darker, more traumatic dimensions of the process of individuation, often described as the awakening of the Self. The purpose of this critique is to evaluate the tension in the human mind and consciousness that may lead to personality disorders and fragmentation, patterns of change and/or withdrawal, and congruent/incongruent human behavior.Curran opens his paper with a poem from Into the Woods, Stephen Sondheim’s (1987) musical. In the Little Red Ridinghood segment of Into the Woods, Sondheim presents a metaphor of the journey into the unconscious mind through a tale of Little Red Ridinghood. She is a little girl cloaked in a red cape, which journeys to her grandmother’s house. Finding herself alone, she is faced with the Big Bad Wolf. Red Ridinghoods cape, red and bright, symbolizes the human rite of passage from innocence to becoming an adult. In this case, she represents the Shakti awakening to find herself becoming a woman. The story can be interpreted as a talk of Kali where innocence meets destruction, fear meets courage, and death meets rebirth. The wolf actually devours her, calling forth a new beginning on her way to grandma’s house. In every journey of the soul, there awaits the wolf that will devour the concept of the self, after which a new person emerges transformed. The innocence of Red Ridinghood is “swallowed whole” (Curran p. 172) as she journeys into the dark forest of her primordial unconscious.
The story of Red Ridinghood challenges us to face our fears and to go into the woods. A film I recently and “coincidently” viewed at a happenstance dinner, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, is an adaptation of the book published in 1984 by Milan Kundera that inspired the movie. The movie is a beautiful depiction, even if unintended by the author, of the metaphor of Red Ridinghood and of innocence meeting wisdom, love, and survival. It was absolute chance that I would be there to see that particular film with such deep exploration of metaphor, all of which I could apply to this very assignment. What a beautiful synchronicity to fulfill this journey writing about metaphors and the archetype of Little Red Ridinghood.
Not only is the little girl with the red cape a form of shakti, but the wolf in the story may very well represent Kali – a more fierce form of shakti who is the initiator of the individuation process, the destroyer of false consciousness, and the bringer of awareness. In her greatest form of fierceness and beastliness, she is also known as true wisdom. Kali can be the “illuminating vision in the light available in the unconscious” (Curran, p. 174). She can guide us out of the woods by destroying aspects of ignorance.
The journey can lead to wholeness upon the recovery of the dark night of the soul, another name for individuation and process in the journey. The journey is the vision quest, the rite of passage, to become a man or woman. Have we forgotten the rituals which carry us through the woods to “grandma’s house of wisdom?” Grandma is the elder, the curandera—a female shaman—who awaits our arrival home. Home is safe and the dark is the “forbidden realm where dissociated ‘evil’ lies.” Curran added, “The dark is Satan’s domain. Christians dare not enter and do battle with its guardian demons, cut down its trees, and allow light to penetrate its forest canopy” (Curran, p. 172). We fear the dark and project that it is bad, but how could we recognize the light if there were no darkness. Many ancient texts and mythology look at polar opposites as neither right or wrong, or good or bad. The exist so the other can be recognized. Each are important to understand our dualistic nature to overcome it.
The archetypal image of Kali – the terrible, devouring goddess in Hindu mythology – fills a gap in Christian monotheism by including negative qualities that theistic dualism dissociates and attributes to Sa’tan [original translation is chaos]. (Curran, 2005, p. 172) We fear the forest just like we fear the mind. Have you ever seen someone over think themselves into a problem rather than out of it? Have we not projected the fear of such darkness onto each other and our Earth?
Projection of the unresolved tension in the psyche can be seen through deforestation. The globe is being deforested, the very lungs of the Earth, to destroy that which is hidden and mysterious with little reverence to the future of such actions. Wisdom is the destroyer of such fear-based ignorance to destroy that which is a necessary part of our ecosystem, the forest, and that which is necessary even metaphorically to work through our mind labyrinth.
When we fear the unknown, we often project the fear as evil in two ways – as transference or projection onto someone else using a faulty filtration system. There is no light or truth in this distorted reality.
Kali is the goddess representing the “borderline state” – experienced by the ego as chaos, where the unconscious and the psyche as a whole were “undifferentiated” (Curran p. 175). She is the ugly that most look away from, the tendencies we know residing in each of us that we dare not imagine. It is the abyss we fear to be consumed by because we are not sure of the outcome or repercussions of such “looseness” in behavior. What if we get hurt, lose ourselves, or worse yet, our fears are seen?
The unconscious mind can be metaphorically seen as a black hole. Except for the cosmologists, astronomers and the out-of-the-box curious most people never think much about that mysterious formation of no-thingness at the center of our galaxy. They’ve heard of it but to go into conversation about it, hey, that’s radical! Yet the acknowledgment of such a mystery could bring forth an anecdote to narcissism. We know the dark force is there in the center of our galaxy, yet we refuse to think deeper about its reality. We fail to recognize how precious we are – so small in the greater scheme of things yet a part of something so vast and quite frankly chaotic!
The black hole is a mass of darkness consuming everything that gets too close. The black hole is the unconscious mind we dare not travel into until the tension becomes to much inside of us – The Dark Night of the Soul – to begin the journey into the belly of the whale as Jonah explored to find salvation. For example, I lost the original version of this article in a perfect storm of computer glitches while emailing it to myself from a cafe. It disappeared in every way, straight into the black hole of hard work, never to be retrieved. I sat frozen after I realized it was unretrievable in the storm of chaos. Rewriting it from the same enthusiasm seemed bleak, and it was saddening.
Jonah, Hebrew: יוֹנָה, Modern Yona Tiberian Yônā, in the bible spent three days in the belly of a whale in order to find gratitude and repent. Three is a very sacred number and is the basis of the sacred cube. It also signifies the trinity, in itself a symbol of power that brings the forces together to balance and reverence to the feminine energy (wiki). In the yogic tradition, the word so similar to Yona, is yoni. A yoni represents the feminine. Yoni (Sanskrit: योनि yoni) is the Sanskrit word for female genitalia, the source of all life. Its counterpart is the lingam, the phallus. It is also the divine passage, womb or sacred temple. The word also means: place of birth, source, origin, spring, fountain, place of rest, repository, receptacle, seat, abode, home, lair, nest, stable. (wiki)
The black hole, Jonah’s journey into the belly of the whale, and Kali are symbols of the yoni – the feminine principle that which will destroy what’s necessary to transform us into something different outside of fear. Why be afraid? What do we really have to lose besides our fear? Isn’t that a good thing? Perhaps we can see the dark projections against women over the ages as men’s fears to go into the woods.
What if at the end of a black hole there is simply another big bang? Rather than fear what’s inside us or outside of us, maybe we should revere it. The feminine has been depicted as the temptress luring us into our desires, like the black hole, that reaches from the center of a galactic unconscious daring to engulf us and stretch us into some unknown existence. It’s the wolf, the forest and the night. Yet she is also mother, the cosmic heartbeat of the universal mind and the spiraling galaxies to remind us of cycles – birth, discovery and destruction.
The dualistic nature of man still trapped in his reptilian brain where tension is building can lead to outward destruction as the fear inside us wreaks havoc all around us. I term it the trail of tears where perception is projection and tension escalates. It’s then that the soul begins to whisper its sweet advice to take the journey to find the higher Self – a journey into the unknown, the forest, the black hole of our being – and lean into the discomfort, as our beloved University of Houston’s Brene’ Brown would advise.
When we journey into the unconscious mind we may find the wolf waiting for us there, patiently, to devour our faults and fears so they are no longer hidden. When we fear the journey and repress the tension stirring us to face our demons, we project the journey or evolution of self as something evil. We simply fear that which we do not understand.
It isn’t hard to see that we have projected the system inside of us onto the systems and connections that we weave and build outside of us. Politics is one example.
Often politicians from one party sit silently on the sidelines watching the politicians on the opposing side spin their wheels for change, often unsuccessfully. Later, the politicians sitting doing nothing report to the public, “Look at how ineffective is the President’s ability to be bipartisan.” Nothing gets accomplished without cooperation except a propaganda campaign used to gain support in the next election for their political party.
Have humans not done the same for thousands of years repeated in most ancient texts? Just a few examples include Jesus crucified at the cross, women who were burned at the stake and the millions beheaded in the dark ages. Because of this interdiction, Christian orthodoxy and its tendency to dichotomize put the unconscious off limits.
Mythology offers us a way to personify what we cannot image in a Western religious perspective. She puts us in touch with a violent and aggressive and even ecstatic relish in killing and devouring—homicidal predispositions that symbolize psychic attitudes and possibilities that are the preconditions for transformation and change. (Curran, 2005, p. 174)
How often do we criticize the politicians and leaders for not doing things that are promised? When this tension is projected purposely on the opponent, are they acting as obstructionists? Can we continue to allow power struggles and need for control to hinder us from humanitarian progress? When leaders are faced with this stand still tactic, is it their responsibility to deal with the problems? Leaving them alone to pass the issues over to the next election is not what they were hired to do. As voters should we demand reform and begin pushing for deregulation? The regulatory system is broken because we are broken. The systems around us are a reflection of the work that must be done first with each of us. When people form groups and there is money involved, we have to keep a watchful eye on how things progress.
As a society, we need to overcome our fears and begin to weave the systems outside of us differently. Mahatma Gandhi knew this well and stood against English tyranny in India. The healing occurs when we learn how we can make the systems we influence work better inside of us and then outside of us will change. The Kabalah says, “As above so below.” In other words, the microcosm is the macrocosm and all systems are interconnected. Separation is the greatest illusion of all.
Change takes inspiration, dedication, and cooperation. We are losing trust in our systems and this may be the tension needed for our own dark night of the soul. It can be an opportunity for us to begin evaluation of how we got here in the first place.
We can bring change if we reconsider a few things about trust. We would know there are only possibilities if our brains had not learned limitations in our upbringing. Saying YES to internal reform first could influence change political systems we see around us.
A good leader does not give up on the vision for humanity when faced with challenges. Nor should we give up on how we elect our governmental officials. We all need to act as leaders. We should all participate in taking the bull by the horns and embrace the challenge and step into it with as Ram Das calls it, fierce grace. This is Kali, the wolf and the black hole – the unconscious tension pushing us toward the journey. There will always be crisis which in Chinese has two meanings – opportunity or danger. We decide which way to go!
Let’s focus on what we weave inside and cultivate a YES to peace and harmony mentality. What would happen if the news applauded those people more who regularly check the ecology of their actions? This is how we can bring back the trust in our leaders. Senior Advisor to the President David Axelrod said, “When you show it [competence], it doesn’t become a story.” We should make it a story when things go well! The media could help us be the change by publicizing more of what goes well to help our unconscious minds heal! Forget ratings. In time, you’ll be #1 as the great shift in consciousness appears.
Martin Luther King spoke about the problems of “white men” and their tension. He said that the biggest crime is to watch something atrocious happening and doing nothing. Imagine if the Coast Guard saw a sinking ship on the horizon and did nothing. Our government often functions in the same way. The real “evil” is when we do nothing while the ship is sinking.
“Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person.” ~Mother Teresa
…the presence of others leads to the responsibility of helping being diffused among the onlookers in what they call a “diffusion of responsibility” along with a diffusion of the blame, since people do not think they will be blamed individually in a large group. Their hypothesis was that in an emergency, when an individual knows that others are around but cannot or unable to view their behavior, they tend to assume that someone else must be intervening and that their own intervention would thus fail to be helpful, and could perhaps even be harmful. (Darley & Latane 1968)
Martin Luther King (MLK) understood that those who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. They are merely bringing it to the surface – the hidden tension that is already alive festering like a volcano to erupt. “We bring it out in the open, where it can be seen and dealt with.” I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but where there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension, I understand it is necessary for growth. I think of the seedling ready to sprout into a new tree of life.
Socrates felt that it was necessary to create tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half-truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, and see the need for nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood. (wiki)
“Everybody can be great,” said MLK, “Because anybody can serve.”
You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve. You don’t have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”
Letting the wolf or Kali lead us through the forest is the passage to wisdom. Let us not fear the journey, instead embrace the journey. Politics, sustainable living – emotionally, physically and spiritually – takes a correct interpretation of the metaphors and archetypes we so live by. Tension can be the opportunity to help us arrive safely back at Grandma’s house again and again. She is wisdom waiting for us to come home.
The hero must face Kali in her most negative aspect, and go back to the cremation grounds to let the struggle between the ego and the unconscious mind process individuation to find the hero within. When we are a world of heros – warriors of the light – we will find reform, change and true progress.
“The work isn’t to do great things, but to do small things with great love!” ~Mother Teresa