The Navaho and the Western Psyche : Where the Paths Diverge

At the very beginning of his illustrious career, Joseph Campbell was intuitively alive to the fact that the imagery preserved in the sand paintings might reveal the proper steps toward an integrity of spirit:

We may learn from this rite of the Navaho Warriors, these images out of the American land, that the way to human dignity is a solemn mysterious way. The beauty of the pollen paintings is not of common day, nor does it represent the fashion of any hour or the self-expression of any personal talent, but a revelation, long inspired and anonymous. Their pollen power condenses into instructive form the vitality of the living atmosphere. They speak of what has long been sought and long been known. Solemnly, appropriately, they communicate those lessons of the way to human wholeness, which for millenniums have been held the most treasured of the possessions of man. (p 31)

Surely these sand paintings represent this book’s most unique contribution to the anthropology of the human soul. They contain an almost complete record of the mail initiation process, indeed one of the most complete we have. We are privileged to see how the reflective individual, actively immersed in the imaginary journey, may transcend the limitations of his consciousness. To the reader who, like Campbell, is seeking to learn what is already known by the many cultures of the world, the sand paintings present a rare opportunity for meditative insight. The individuation process, so often and eloquently described, is rarely inscribed so exactly in the language of the unconscious mind. Its imagery and symbols here allow the meditative mind to participate freely in a unique and uplifting journey.

How might we jettison the masculine and feminine bins? If we understand that the gender of the sun and the moon need not be fixed, can we go a step further and express the vision of a sacred living unity independent of a god or goddess image? Jung moves in that direction by suggesting that a God image might alter our state of consciousness but has nothing to do with primal truth. Joseph Campbell further provokes us when he says:

“We keep thinking of deity as a kind of fact, somewhere; God as a fact. God is simply our own notion of something that is symbolic of transcendence and mystery. The mystery is what is important.”

If we keep both Jung’s and Campbell’s statements in mind, recalling that gender interpretations of both the sun and the moon are sacred are culturally relative, we can begin to see that the sun and moon are universal symbols that transcend gender as well as cultural and temporal boundaries. And if we see these two great sources of light as universal, non-gender symbols, we can gain access to the primal energy and consciousness that was projected onto these symbols. Once again, Campbell helps us re-vision this mystery by creating gender-free definitions of lunar and solar principles. Campbell describes lunar consciousness as holistic and animistic with phases of alternation along with infinite cycles of transformation; Campbell describes solar consciousness as unchanged and constant—disengaged from time and representing rational clarity, scientific inquiry, technological development and eternal laws that never vary.

The Chinese concepts of yin and yang represented shadow and sunshine, with the moon as ruler of yin and the sun as yang. The beliefs and rituals surrounding Chinese cosmology were always aimed at restoring the balance of lunar, or receptive energies, and solar, or active energies. In India, the ultimate goal of hatha yoga—ha translating as sun, tha as moon, and yoga as union—is the spiritual practice of concentrating on the breath to achieve the marriage of the active solar and receptive lunar energies within the human body, be they male or female. Breath is also central to the Kundalini tradition of India. Here, the left nostril is believed to carry the lunar current, or Ida; the right nostril, the solar current, or Pingla, to achieve enlightenment. Practitioners of this tradition breathe these two energies, the solar and lunar, through each of the psychic chakras, or energy centers, of the body. Within the sacred tradition of alchemy, a prerequisite to male union with the opposite sex, is union within the male and within the female of the sun and the moon.

The deepest impulses behind the Chinese yin-yang, the Indian traditions of Kundalini, Hatha Yoga, and the sacred tradition of alchemy show that authentic transcendence can take place only in fluid, organic universes not fixed along a rigid male and female axis. Whether we view the sun and the moon as ungendered, as pure energy sources following the earliest Chinese and Kundalini cosmologies, we must reclaim these symbols of the sun and the moon for both men and women, as part of our physical and spiritual foundation.

With such re-visioning, there is no need to keep waging the battle between the sexes. Using solar and lunar energies together, in our awareness and within ourselves, we may participate in the Mysterium Coniunctionis, the highest mystery of the sacred tradition of alchemy, the union of opposites. David Bohm describes dual consciousness as holomovement, a folding and unfolding where we see the “unity of unity and diversity,” and the “wholeness of the whole and the part.” It is the double vision William Blake captures:

For double the vision my eyes do see
and a double vision is always with me
with my inward eye ‘tis an old man grey
with my outward, a Thistle across my way

It is this same solar-lunar double vision Lao-tzu describes in Tao Te Ching:

When everyone recognizes beauty as beautiful
there is already ugliness;
When everyone recognizes goodness as good
there is already evil.

“To be and not to be” arise mutually;
Difficult and easy are mutually realized;
Long and short are mutually contrasted;
High and low are mutually posited;
Before and after are in mutual sequence.[1]

Our consciousness embracing this double vision can serve the future of religion by liberating the solar and lunar energies from our culture’s male and female attributions, thereby giving each of us access to the solar-lunar qualities of the god and the goddess and aligning us with the wholeness of the universe. Mircea Eliade describes this alignment from a male perspective when he says: “Clearly man’s integration into the cosmos can only take place if he can bring himself into harmony with the two astral rhythms, ‘unifying’ sun and moon in his living body.”[2]

By embracing this double image, we live fully the kaleidoscope of life that at every turn reveals the sacred, and we open ourselves up to the deeper mysteries of transcendence. In the process, we might just discover that the true Mysterium Coniunctionis of the god and goddess is that they are already participating in this solar-lunar union within themselves and between themselves.