It seems in our mundane, comfortable lives we can look but not see, or we are content with what we see on the surface. Sometimes we only see what we expect or want to see instead of all the vibrations and colors that are actually present. We often look carelessly in such a way that our seeing bounces off the surface instead of seeing through and seeing deeply into the matter.
In youth, ancient and modern women paint their eyes with eye shadow to be seen and adored by men. In preparation for a rite of passage or a descent into the underworld, ancient women ceremoniously painted their eyes in a symbolic gesture and prayerful anticipation of seeing what they had not yet seen… or for the Veil to be lifted that they might get a glimpse of the Holy. One of the Gifts of our descent into the Unknown, into the Ordeal, or underworld, is that in the seeming long, dark “night of the soul,” another Eye opens and we might begin to see what we have not yet seen.
So, when we begin to see birth as hero's journey, we also understand that one of the Tasks of Preparation and the Ordeal is to learn to see. How do we train young women to see both within and in the world? Once they see, and want to see, we might ceremoniously paint their eyes to acknowledge that their Mother Eye, their inner Eye, their Eyes are opening.
Eyes and learning to see are powerful symbols and tasks of this initiatory Ordeal. So yesterday I painted Eyes that are open and seeing in the Ordeal. The Eye is a universal symbol of illumination. In ancient Mesopotamia, the Eye was a motif representing holiness and a desire to see the Holy. In Egypt, the sacred Eye is called a wedjat. I like the Egyptian wedjat which resembles the marking around the eye of the falcon; I enjoyed painting this graceful symbol. Do you know the Egyptian creation myth that includes the wedjat?
The Creator, Atum-Ra created the First Children: Shu (air) and Tefnut (moisture). Shu and Tefnut got together and produced Earth (Geb) and Sky (Nut). Earth and Sky then begat nine children (one of whom is Isis). In one of the stories, Shu and Tefnut were lost in the primordeal Sea. So Ra sent his Eye to search for them. When the Eye returned, she was so very sad to see that Ra had replaced her with a new Eye, she cried; from her tears were born human beings.
When I think about seeing in darkness, I always think of how Jacques Lusseyran** described “seeing” as a blind man in his book, And Then There was Light. Here is a passage (I recommend you read the book):
“I could feel light rising, spreading, resting on objects, giving them form, then leaving them. Sighted people always talk about the night of blindness, and that seems to them quite natural. But there is not such night, for at every waking hour and even in my dreams I lived in a stream of light…
“As I walked along a country road bordered by trees, I could point to each one of the trees by the road, even if they were not spaced at regular intervals. I knew whether the trees were straight and tall, carrying their branches as a body carries its head, or gathered into thickets and partly covering the ground around them.”
This kind of seeing Lusseyran describes reminds me of the seeing associated with the Third Eye, sometimes called the “Eye of the Heart” or the “Eye of Knowledge.” Seeing with the Third Eye is about direct perception, intuition, imagination, inner visions and out-of-body experiences: the perfect Eye for Laborland where women are likely to have one or more of those experiences of seeing. So I painted the Third Eye.
The third eye on the forehead of the Hindu god Shiva is usually closed to gaze inward, but opens when there is need for destruction. This is a powerful symbol to contemplate.
**Jacques Lusseyran (1924-1971) was a French political activist and a remarkable writer. He was blinded in an accident at school when he was eight years old. When Germany invaded France, he was 17 years old; he formed a Resistance group (with 52 boys), was captured and lived in a concentration camp for about 2 years until the liberation. His book and story are remarkable and inspiring.