This is Sea Gabriel with Mythic Deviant and part two of the Shapeshifter: The shapeshifter for Growth and Development.
Last time we looked at how the Shapeshifter archetype could be used for personal gain. That is about fulfilling our most base needs. This time, we’re on to using the Shapeshifter for ourselves and/or others: usually we suspect that change will be positive . . . but, really, one never knows. More on that later with ‘The Ends Justify the Means.’
For now, the shapeshifter, while taking a bit of a beating by our current indoctrinators, is really about life, change, and growth, at it’s core. Shapeshifting is eluding death: death of the heart, mind, soul, or body.
That said, let’s launch into story, because it’s interesting (at least to me).
This is a Celtic story about a character called ‘Math’. Yes, that is a funny name. Math is the God of Increasing Wealth or, well, growth and development. So it’s appropriate that he’s one of our stories for today.
Math Thab Mathonway was vital for humanity. He assured our survival and physical fulfillment. He also protects us. But, like with so many things. There’s a catch. Math must, when not in active duty, continually rest his feet on the lap of a virgin in order to exist in our world: not a bad life, though, in my estimation, virginity is overrated, when physical. I say that as a person who embodies the virgin archetype: you know us, the people who weep when someone walks on new snow.
Back to the story. Math has a palace in Gwynedd. It is a lovely palace and it houses his extended family, most of whom are Gods (a gender-free word when I use it. I personally have no need to focus on a diety’s genitalia, well, except, perhaps, in this story).
Math’s virgin ottoman, Goewin, is a lovely girl. And when his nephews, Gilvaethwy and Gwydyon, come to live with him, Gilvaethwy agrees. He falls madly in love with the young lady. He must have her. So they devise a plan to get Math out of the house.
The young men convince Math that they must go to another kingdom in order to procure a new, tasty-sweet, animal: the pig (sacred animal to the vikings).
They disguise themselves as bards and play beautifl music for King Pryderi, knowing that he cannot refuse their sow-request when they are finished. But he does so, even though it is considered incredibly rude. He explains to them that he has sword an oath not to gift or sell the pigs. Gwydion, our magician and trickster, explains that they want neither the gift, nor to purchase the pigs. With that he conjures 9 (Sacred number for the Vikings) black stallions and insists that he would like to trade for them. Trading is not part of the oath.
King Pryderi, after checking with his elders, agrees. And Gilvaethwy and Gwydyon head home. But as soon as they are gone, the stallions also disappear. And Pryderi, knowing he has been had, launches an attack against them. Much fighting ensues, buts the young men eventually make it home to Uncle Math and tell him they’ve been unjustly followed and attacked.
Math, in his sacred duty as protector, leaves his home and, with his troops, combats Pryderi.
Gilvaethwy and Gwydyon, thrilled that Math is distracted, heads home. There Gilvaethwy approaches Goewin and tries, unsuccessfully to woo her. She is dedicated to her position with Math. Eventually, as Gwydyon stands guard, Gilvaethwy rapes her.
The war wages on until Pryderi, an apt leader, insists that his men must return home saftely. He suggests a one one one combat with the opposition under Math’s leadership. Gwydyon, having returned to the battlefield with his now shamed brother, agrees to fight. He agrees because he is the magician. He casts illusions which Pyderi attemps to fight and eventually wins unfairly.
When they get home there is a great victory celebration and Math rewards them. Until, that is, he goes to put his feet on Goewin and discovers that she is no longer the virgin he requires. He asks her about this and, feeling ashamed, she tells the truth.
Math is somewhat livid at this point.
He calls his nephews in his quarters and confronts them. Gilvaethwy admits his transgression. With that, Math transforms Gwydyon into a Stag and Gilvaethwy into a Hind and sends them into the forest. A year later they return with their son, who Math returns to human. He then changes them into a Boar and Sow. Again they leave for a year and reproduce.
When they return with their son, Math turns him into a human and them into Wolves, this time switching up the gender so that they each can learn what it is like to be a ‘man’ and a ‘woman’: to be predator and prey. A year later they return with their son and Math turns them all back into humans.
As usual, there is more to this story. But, the point is, here Math has used shapeshifting to turn his nephews into animals to teach them two important lessions: the difference between human beings and other animals, and to teach them the expreince of animalistic forms of each gender: to teach them compassion.
This is the second person use of shapeshifting for growth and development.
There’ also a first person use. But I need to mention that this brings up the question “Do Gods and Magical Beings learn?”
There is a good argument for ‘no’. If immortals learned, then they would all be completely enlightened in just a few human lifetimes. And there would be no more stories. Narratives depend on conflict, which, in turn, depends on people behaving In ways that are ignorant. If all the Gods knew everything and did their personal work to understand who they were in the larger picture, they would be capable of producing a world without conflict. And we would have no new stories.
On the other hand they could choose to reach this place within themselves, but continue to behave in a way that plays out conflict, not because they feel it internally, but because it’s fun, and teaches us. For this story, I’m going with that theory. So back we return to the Ramayana. Last time I mentioned how, in this story, Rama marries Sita and the two of them take off into the forest with Rama’s brother: Lakshama.
The two gentlemen are out when they encounter a woman who tries to seduce each of them. When she fails, she runs back to her brother, Ravana, who is profoundly powerful in both worldly and spiritual ways. She convinces him that he must have Sita, Rama’s wife. Ravana turns himself into a deer and kidnaps Sita. He takes her back to his palace, across the ocean. As they fly through the air, she throws off a trail of jewelry for her husband and brother in law to follow, sure that they will rescue her.
That’s about as much as I mentioned last time. But now I’m adding that Rama is not human. There is a triumvirate of male Hindu Gods: Brahma, the god of creation; Shiva, the god of destruction; and Vishnu, the god of eternity. In his job of preserving the continuity of life, Vishnu periodically incarnates as a physical being in order to teach, learn, and repair. And this is Rama.
So Rama is not a normal guy, he’s the God of Eternity, incarnated into physical form in order to ensure the perseverance of life. And he’s come to experience an understanding of trust, betrayal, and personal values, in order to teach humanity, through his stories, and ensure the continuity of life in general.
Back to the story, bearing in mind that I’m not telling the whole thing, just illustrating the archetype for now. Rama and his brother, Lakshamana, return to their place in the woods and find that Sita is gone, even though the magical protective barrier is still up. The call for her and look for her, eventually finding some of her jewelry. And off they go traipsing through the woods in search of her.
Meanwhile, the monkey princes are hosting a civil war. Hanuman, the commander of one of the monkey armies, is sent to investigate Rama and Lakshmana as they stumble near the battlefield.
Just as Rama is secretly an avatar of Vishnu, Hanuman is often thought to be an avatar of Shiva, the God of Destruction.
In any event, they recognize each other’s souls immediately, and Hanuman drops to his knees in praise of Rama.
The story gets complex here as they encounter issues over the monkey war, and random demons, but eventually Hanuman goes off to in search of Sita and finds her at Ravana’s island estate, Lanka. En route, he has also had a few bouts of personal shapeshifting where Hanuman alters his size as small as a cat, to creep, and as large as a mountain to prove his divinity.
Back in Lanka, as this adventure was happening, Sita has been refusing Ravana, who is desperately trying to court her. He is much more gentlemanly than Gilvaethwy and Gwydyon and does not take her by force.
So, when Hanuman arrives, he sneaks into Sita’s quarters, knowing that he can’t defeat Ravana just then, and tries to persuade her to return with him. She refuses. She wants Rama to save her. Some would say that, at this point, Sita is being snotty or just rude, but it’s likely that she doesn’t want to be left alone in the woods with Hanuman. If she’s going home with a man, she’d like it to be her husband.
And eventually, Rama does show up and take Sita away, however he suspects her of enjoying her time with Ravana. In time, she offers to do a trial by fire. When she is not burt to death, but rather saved from incineration by the Gods, Rama comes to believe in her innocence.
But in time that is not enough. Sita returns to the palace with Rama but the townspeople are whispering not-very-nice things that indicate that they think Rama is a pansy for allowing his unfaithful wife back into his home.
So he banishes her into the forest, where she gives birth to his twin boys who are trained by a sacred master. Rama finds out and, impressed with his offspring, wants to see them. But not so much Sita. He’d like her to prove her innocence again. So she does.
But this time, Sita does not ask to be spared if she is innocent. Rather, she asks that the Earth rise up and consume her if she is innocent so that she doesn’t have to live with his hollow accusations anymore. And that is the end of Sita. And the heartbreak and shame of Rama.
The Ramayana, while it contains many lessons, can be seen as an illustration of the God Vishnu incarnating as Rama in order to assist in our growth and development by illustrating the repercussions of trust, betrayal, and values.
So how do we shape-shift for our own growth and development? I think it’s both the simplest and most difficult thing we can possibly do: change.
Somebody said “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
Albert Einstein, Mark Twain, and Benjamin Franklin have all been attributed, but there’s no evidence that they said it. It was probably my next-door neighbor, the irritating one.
Anyway, we shapeshift for our own growth and development by stretching our comfort zones, taking small steps toward big dreams.
When we think it’s too late, it’s not.
Dreams don’t always look the same in the light, in fact, they never do. But when we take steps to make the impossible come true it almost always does, just perhaps not the impossible we had envisioned.
Want to be a rockstar? Learn to play an instrument, yes, even if your 87. Want to write a novel? Write something, anything. Want to go back to college. Do a search online for programs you’re interested in. Dreams are pointers in the direction we should move, not end-point destinations. We are happy when we follow our dreams, not necessarily when we catch them. Light is squelched when we hold it in our hands, but lights our way when we pursue it.
Be bold: Shapeshift. Because when we can see ourselves clearly enough, we can subtract our reflection from our images of the world.
There’s one more Shapeshifter coming up: shapeshifting for communal or cultural change. Plus we’ve got to get in that ‘Ends Justify the Means’ thing I mentioned.
Until then, author responsibly.