I remember being told once about the Alchemists in the 12th century, who saw the world as consisting of three layers of reality.
The first level was the physical, the mundane, where time is linear and we are ordinary. This is the ‘chop wood, carry water’ level of existence, the world of the senses. We believe in things that we can see or feel or taste. It’s sensual and tactile and worthy of celebrating for its own sake. (Or so I believe. I’m not sure what the 12th century Alchemists thought.)
The third level was seen as the sacred realm, the Source, the place where all things come into existence. From not being into being. It’s the place of the Mystery, it’s where our minds stop, our questions fall away. It’s where our paradoxes are absorbed and resolved. It could be called the Void, or the Cosmic Womb. It’s the spiritual ground on which everything stands. I could go on, use more analogies and metaphors, but all I’m doing is skirting around it with words that only point like a finger into mist.
The second level, the in-between level, was seen as the realm of the archetypes. It was understood as being the medium, or the bridge, by which we enter the sacred realm, and vice versa, how the sacred realm enters us. So here we find all religions, all religious stories and images, all mythologies and fairy tales. Here we find Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey, and we find the Mother Goddess, all the other deities and angels. We find the life givers and the destroyers, we find the kings and queens and healers and magicians, the magical child, the maiden and the crone. We find the trickster and the abandoned baby, the witch and the priestess and the talking animals.
In the archetypal stories, we find the path from ailments to healing, from separation to union, from foolishness to wisdom. We find the stories that underpin our experiences and make our lives richer and more meaningful, more soulful, more connected to others. Sometimes, we can follow the thread of an archetypal story to find our way out of the dark passages of our lives.
Another way of thinking about archetypes is this: they are mono-faceted. They embody particular qualities, or particular stories, completely, without ambivalence or ambiguity. On the other hand, we human beings are multi-faceted. We are made up of complex interactions of various archetypal characteristics, some of which are entirely paradoxical.
The making of Wisdom Dolls is connecting with this archetypal realm. We start with simple materials - calico, thread, paint, and as we work, we quieten and listen to the inner prompting to choose this shape, or colour, or this decoration, or this. That doesn't mean we have to work in silence - the conversations we have as we make, can be fantastic. We choose sometimes by intuition, sometimes by clear association and conceptual thought. In the end, we have made a Wisdom Doll, and then we tell the story of the Doll, and in the telling, we get to hear it ourselves. We hear our own insights, our delight or our grief, our authenticity. And we go home with that Doll, and live with her (or him), and if we chose, we can continue this dialogue with what we have made, and explore where that might take us in conversation with ourselves.