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Archetypes, Symbology & Internal Family Systems

I've worked with archetypes and symbology, often through Tarot, for over 30 years. When I became a ceremony celebrant in 2013, it was largely because I wanted to take that work to a deeper level and share it in a way that was useful to others. I had come to recognize that symbology internalized and enacted as ceremony can be transformative and healing.

Now it's shifting to an even more powerful place for me in the work I've been doing over the past few months with something called Internal Family Systems. IFS is a form of self-led therapy developed by Dr. Richard Schwartz, and I've been delving into it through a book called Self-Therapy, by Jay Earley, which my therapist recommended.

The basic premise of IFS is that within each of us exists many individual parts that serve as Protectors of other wounded inner child parts called Exiles. This is the "internal family" and is meant to be led by the Self, which is the truest and deepest core part. The Self is defined and identified by eight "C" words: Compassion, Curiosity, Calm, Clarity, Courage, Connectedness, Confidence, and Creativity. In other words, if you are embodying all of those qualities, you are operating from your Self, rather than from a fearful Protector part or the pain of an Exile.

IFS dovetails beautifully with the focus I've developed over the years on integration as the key to healing self and world. For a long time, my personal motto has been, "It's all connected." Now my understanding of how this applies to my own internal world is expanding in a way that is hugely inspiring to me. And it's refining my sense of how things work in terms of spirituality.

All of the archetypes, goddesses and gods, demons and heroes and villains that I've felt any kind of resonance with - they all exist within me, as parts of me. The beauty of IFS is in the emphasis on developing compassionate relationships with all the parts, even the darkest ones, rather than trying to get rid of them or imprison them. This is truly revolutionary, because in all the years I've "worked on myself," until IFS I'd never found a way to a) access my core wounds let alone heal them; and b) truly learn to love myself.

In fact, until IFS, I had no clear idea what 'loving oneself' actually means. The how of it. Sure, I could go through the motions of self-care, but to actually feel self-love is not necessarily part of that. I've now become very clear that the Self is love, and to love oneself means the Self feels and expresses compassion, appreciation, and care toward the Protectors and Exiles until they are healed - which as I'm understanding it currently, means they no longer operate separately from Self but become healthy expressions of Self, collectively as the personality.

I've been wanting to write about this for a while, but it wasn't until I drew The Chariot card one morning that it all came together in words, because this card, this archetype, is a symbol of the personality as the vehicle of the Self. Pamela Eakins, the author of my Tarot of the Spirit deck, says that each of us is simultaneously, "the act, the actor, and the means of action." In other words, I am both the Charioteer (the Self) and the Chariot (my Protectors and Exiles as well as my body); but also - I'm the journey that's being taken, from the starting point to the stops along the way to the destination.

I'm the relationship among my parts.

The problem is that when the Self and the "other" parts aren't in right relationship, the Protectors drive the Chariot, often wreaking havoc, or at least preventing us from enjoying the journey and/or going where we want to go.

This is where ceremony can come in as an aid in the healing process. Common ceremonies like weddings, baby blessings, and even memorials are ways that we honor, bond and process life events with others. We can use those same basic ceremony structures to bond with our own internal parts. I've been experimenting with ways to do this, and will be sharing some of my methods and discoveries in the near future.

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