This is Mythic Deviant with Sea Gabriel and this week I'm looking at the Shapeshifter.
Shapeshifting is always a change, at the core. It's not pretending to be different, but it's actually becoming different. So, there is a way in which all learning all growth all change for the better or the worse is shapeshifting. The world is shape shifting around us in every moment.
We have a tendency to look at the archetype of the shapeshifter with a great deal of skepticism. We often see films in which the best friend turns out to be the villain or the mentor turns out to be the evil dominator, but there can be other kinds of shapeshifting as well.
Sometimes the shapeshifter is a suspected villain that turns out to be a friend, like Snape. In our actual day-to-day lives shapeshifting often looks like reframing. So, the shapeshifter in your personal world is that friend who can tell you why that terrible thing that happened to you is actually the best thing that could possibly have happened.
Like all archetypes the shapeshifter has its light aspect and its dark aspect and it can be used in all sorts of ways: it can be used for personal gain. The shape shifter can be used for growth and development, or, like all things with power, of the shape shifter can be harnessed for a higher purpose: for heroism, for friendship, for love.
Shapeshifters are all around us all the time: advertisers, spin doctors, politicians—all shape shifters—people who try to prove that the world can be seen from a different perspective. What we believe is a reality can always be looked at differently and seen as a different reality.
While it's true that all types of storytelling can be used to propagate lies, and we're going to do our best on the show to figure out how to not buy into the ones that are lies—how to differentiate the lies from the truths—shape shifting is not lying.
Shape shifting is a genuine change at the cellular level of something that is happening in the world. It is true change. It is true growth. It is true development, at its core. Shapeshifting is illuminating a new, true, perspective. That said, let’s look at some stories.
In Hindu mythology, there are three primary gods: Brahma is the God of creation; Shiva is the God of destruction; and Vishnu is the God of eternity, or everlasting life. One of the two most important books in Hindu mythology is the Ramayana and in the Ramayana we have a story of Vishnu, that God of eternity, incarnating so that he can enter the physical realm and deal with a character named Ravana.
Ravana begins this very, very, long story as a devotee of Shiva. So, I'm going to be skipping a all whole lot in the story. Ravana is born falls in love with Shiva and decides to devote himself to him. He does 10,000 years of austerities. Austerity's can mean anything from sitting in meditation or, as Ravana, cutting off one's head again and again in the hope that the God will descend and put your head back on for you.
After 10,000 years, Shiva decides that Ravana has really done a good job and shows up and says ‘yo, dude, you need a perk’ and Ravana asked for immortality. Shiva said no and actually put him through several more tests, but Brahma eventually goes ahead and gives Ravana immortality, as it relates to gods, and as it relates to animals. So, the caveat is ithat Ravana can still be killed by humans.
Ravana then goes about his business. He becomes king. He rules the world. He does lots of really great stuff. But then, you know, he gets bored: because people get bored. And so he wants to shake it up a bit. He starts hanging out with a few bad apples and things are starting to look like they're not so under control anymore. And at this point Vishnu thinks ‘so, I better step in just in case something goes awry here’.
So, Vishnu incarnates as a Rama and he enters the world as well. So, I was skipping ahead a lot again. We have all of Rama growing up and eventually Rama finds himself wandering the woods with his brother Lakshmana, after he has married the love of his life, Sita.
So, you see, they happen to be a away when Rama and Lakshmana run into Ravana’s sister, Shurpanakha. Shurpanakha, Ravana’s sister, falls immediately and madly in love with Rama. She must have Rama. But Rama says ‘no, I'm sorry you're not my type and I'm madly in love with my wife, Sita’. Shurpanakha is not thrilled about that, but she moves along and she goes to Lakshmana. ‘Oh, you are the man for me’. Lakshmanan says ‘oh, no, just no’.
Shurpanakha happens to be, by all accounts, strangely unattractive, in addition to having an evil heart. When she is rejected by both Rama and Lakshmana she decides that this is not about her. This is about Sita.
And so she goes after Sita and she attacks her. Rama and Lakshmanan defend Sita, and in doing so cut off Shurpanakha’s nose. A girl really never likes to have her nose cut off, so she goes to her big brother.
Shurpanakha tells Ravana ‘you have to help me’.
And Ravana is ‘actually a don't have to help you’.
‘Nope, I can’t help you’.
So then she comes back a day or so later and says ‘I don't want your help or anything, but I just want you to know how incredibly fabulous Sita is’. ‘Sita was the most beautiful woman I have ever seen. She had a heart of gold. You would love Sita. In fact, I’ve felt really concerned that you don't have such an incredibly wonderful woman in your life. And really you deserve Sita. Of all people, Sita should be yours. And she compels Him.
So Ramana becomes obsessed with Sita he must have the Sita. First, Ravana goes and he attempts to seduce her, but to no luck. So he kind of goes stalking her through the forest. Meanwhile, Rama and Lakshmana have caught on to the fact that Sita, perhaps, is in peril here.
And so they left her alone in a hut and they put a magical boundary around it telling her not to come out. But, of course, Ravana is able to get her to come out. He transforms himself into the world's most beautiful golden doe and he taunts her just outside of the circle. With very feminine energy he essentially attracts Sita out of her own protective boundaries so that he can kidnapp her and go running off.
There's much more to the story. The point is that Ravana is able to transform himself. Ravana, who is a very manly kind of king, who has been ruling over people, has also been doing 10,000 years of austerities. He's really built up his own self-awareness and his own self-knowledge so he behaves in a way that is completely transformative instead of being his kingly, discerning, overpowering, self. He turns into a very feminine, beautiful, creature that is able to attract, to lure her out. He gets what he wants by being different.
It's important to note that he is not pretending to be different. He really becomes the doe. We can use shapeshifting to change, not who we appear to be in the world, but who we are in the world, so that we’re able to get more than we would be otherwise. We can change who we are in the world in order to get what it is that we want. It's important to note that when this pertains to reality we can change ourselves into things we never thought we wanted.
Now we’ll shake it up and move over to Greece. Our goddess of the hour is Athena. Athena totally rocks. Athena is the goddess of war and strategy. Her mother's Metis and Metis is intuitive wisdom, experience, or the ability to understand by understanding a variety of perspectives. So Metis is insightful wisdom, and Athena uses her insightful wisdom to understand what is happening and create strategies for moving forward. She is a warrior.
Athena also happens to be in charge of spinning and weaving. Spinning and weaving are an external feminine energy in ancient Greece. So, women would sit at home. They would spin and they would weave. You hear about it in all the stories. There are people spinning and weaving in the background. That's because that's how they created value for their families. They would create beautiful things and then they would go out and they would barter them with one another for other beautiful things. This was really the development of income and so is the way that women got out in the world and essentially embraced and used their personal power in order to support their families.
So this is part of Athena's territory because it's part of the warrior aspect of the feminine. Athena as the goddess naturally is the world's best spinner and weaver. However, there's a young woman named Arachne. And Arachne has spun and woven since she was a wee wee wee baby. And she is incredibly good at it. She makes the most beautiful tapestries that anyone has ever seen. They are just phenomenal.
People come from all over the land to see her tapestries and to buy her tapestries, which bring enormous amounts of money. And everyone tells her how incredibly beautiful they are, and how much they love her tapestries, how it makes it look like the wind is blowing, and how you can almost see the waves lapping on the shore when she makes these incredibly beautiful things.
She starts to take it a little personalty and be like ‘yeah, yeah, I am the best’. One day she takes it as far as to note that she is better than the goddess herself. This is always going to go somewhere bad. Anytime anybody says they are better than a god or goddess, like, bad things are going to happen: that's all.
So Athena obviously overhears this and incarnates. She incarnates as an old woman and she comes up to Arachne, who she does lik,e because, you know, you can remember that she is into spinning and weaving. She really has great respect for this art, and so this girl is doing a fantastic job she does care about her.
Nonetheless, as an old woman, she remarks ‘certainly you're not better than the goddess’. But Arachne stands by it says ‘yes, indeed, I am better than the goddess’. And then, in that moment, Athena reveals herself as a goddess— which it is worth noting does not kill anyone. Many gods and goddesses reveal themselves as such and suddenly everyone drops dead, but not in this instance. So Athena's tempering her destructive power.
She reveals herself as a goddess and she challenges Arachne ‘okay, right here right now, Babe’ to see who is the better spinner and they both take to their looms. Athena weaves a beautiful tapestry she's actually pulling the clouds from the sky and she's picking up the colors of the sunset and she's putting them all into these gorgeous vibrant scenes and all of the scenes are about the vindictiveness of the gods.
In Athena's tapestry, it shows Athena and Poseidon vying for Athens. Athens had a competition between the gods to see which one they would give their loyalty to Poseidon showed up and made them a very beautiful salt water fountain in the middle of the city but they thought ‘we don't really need a salt water fountain, as beautiful as that is’ and then Athena showed up and she gave them the olive tree and they, of course, went out to make incredible amounts of money and prestige in their lives by creating olive oil; they gave the city to Athena.
So, it shows Athena as the victor right in the center of the tapestry, then the tapestry goes on to show Athena punishing Medusa. It shows a king and queen of Trace, who compared themselves to Zeus and Hera, and were therefore transformed into mountains. It shows the pygmy-queen, who boasted that she was more beautiful than Hera, and who was immediately transformed into a stork and then her entire people were set out to Hunt her, and all storks, for eternity. It shows Antigone, of Troy, who said that her hair was more lovely than Hera’s . . .and then Hera turned her into a crane. And it shows a king weeping on stone steps after his daughters are taken from him after he offends the gods. And the whole thing is woven together in a beautiful border of olive branches, once again reinforcing Athena’s supremacy.
Everyone thinks that this is incredibly beautiful. It's just a gorgeous tapestry and they applaud to no end and then they turn towards Arachne's tapestry . . . and there is Arachne's tapestry. Her tapestry, which is also stunning, is filled with beautiful vivid colors that no one thought one could even reproduce, and you can see the motion in it as if it's coming to life. Arachne's tapestry is the most gorgeous thing anyone has ever seen and it is all about the rediculousness of the gods.
It shows Zeus desperately attempting to seduce young women by becoming a variety of things: a beam of light; a wannabe bull; andEagle. It shows Poseidon and Medusa behaving inappropriately in Athena's temple. It shows Apollo, chasing after a young woman who turns herself into a tree rather than give them a smooch, and it shows Dionysus behaving so drunkenly he can't even stand to seduce someone. And the entire thing is adrift in a border of ivy, indicating that it is all tied up. Everyone looks at it, and gasps.
How could she do this this? It is not going to be okay. But Athena stands up and says ‘okay, everyone, vote—who has the more beautiful tapestry?’ And they go back and forth from one to the other and they are comparing them, but the fact is that they are both incredibly beautiful. Meanwhile Arachne, who'd been busy working on her own tapestry, really inspects Athena's tapestry. And she sees all of the retribution's of the gods. And she thinks ‘this is going to be my fate: it is going to be a fate worse than death’. In thinking that, she feels humiliated and guilty and she understands that she has moved outside of her proper place in the world.
She gets her beautiful, silken, threads and she makes the most attractive noose anyone has ever seen. She throws it over the bow of a branch and she hangs herself as Athena goes on about the beauty of the tapestry.
Athena looks over and sees Arachne is dangling from the tree and she thinks that's not quite what I wanted’. That's going too far. The girl is beautiful and she does beautiful work and I do want to punish her, but not like that. Athena steps in and, as Arachne dangles, she transforms her from a girl into a spider. She tells her that from now on she may spin forever the most beautiful tapestries in the world: that few will ever notice. Arachne has retained her power, and her beauty, and the wonderful thing that she did so well, that Athena loved in her so much, but she has lost the ability to boast about it. So Athena has shapeshifted Arachne into the spider. It's pretty clear that Arachne, as a spider, is going to be—at her core—in her nature—quite different than she was before her spider experience.
In myths and stories, people have godlike powers. They have superhuman strength they can do all sorts of things that I cannot do in my immediate life: my personal wand does not work that way. However, human beings have kind of a magical thing about us in that we only notice what we understand.
We’re completely ignorant about much of the world—because we don't get it. So, we just ignore it. That's the way we work. If we know something well enough to magnify it into an important aspect of a story then I guarantee that we can do it to some extent. It is within our understanding. So, we can shapeshift ourselves and we can shapeshift our own worlds, just not with wands.
The way that we shapeshift, is by changing our perspective, by changing the way that we see things and the by changing the way that we do things. So, let's say the thing that I want to shapeshift is the fact that there is a person in my life who isn't listening to me. And this really irritates me. It's very upsetting to me that this person is not listening to me. I really want her to listen. I keep trying to talk to her. What I would like to do is whip out my magic wand and just magically make her listen magically: make her understand what it is that I need to convey.
It’s actually okay with me if she never gets on board with me, if she never agrees, that's fine. But I really want her to listen and hear it and that's not happening right now. I can’t do that. I don't actually have power over other people in my immediate surroundings, nice as that would be (for me). I only have power over myself. So, I have to change the other component of the problem: she is not listening to me and that bothers me.
Instead of concentrating on ‘she is not listening to me’, I need to concentrate on ‘that bothers me’. Why is it that it bothers me that she is not listening to me? at least in my own world I guarantee that it bothers me because I do it too. It's that human superpower again. If I didn't do it, I wouldn't understand it, therefore, I wouldn't notice it ,and it wouldn't bother me.
The fact that it bothers me means I do it. The way that I can diminish the amount that it bothers me is by dealing with the way that I do it. So, it bothers me that am I not listening to me: and how can I make that not bother me?
I am not listening to me because I never have enough time. I really love doing things and many things seem really important to me: I am always overcommitted. I really want to do more, and more, and more. As I constantly drive myself to do more, I do not listen when I need a break. I totally roll over myself and power through it.
If I got in the habit of getting up when I wanted a break: walking around the block walking—over to the park—coming back five or 10 minutes later, calm able to actually think again and move things forward . . . I would be so much more reasonable. I start doing it and I realize that I am much calmer. I’m much nicer when I show up to talk to the same person again. I'm able to be more present. Time no longer makes me anxious. And if she doesn't listen to me it doesn't really bother me. She doesn't have to take care of me now because I'm taking care of myself.
She doesn’t really need to listen to me because I am listening to myself. On the other hand, the irony is she's actually more likely to listen to me. She's more likely to listen to me because I am calm, because I am more rational, because I am taking care of myself.
So, it can be that by shapeshifting myself internally I actually shapeshift her internally: she genuinely changes the way that she feels about and behaves toward me. Or she might not.
I remember encountering John Cleese talking about writing the life of Brian and how not-funny Jesus was. Effective humor actually depends on people behaving in ways that are irrational. Something is funny when a person is behaving in a way that has nothing to do with their it external environment but only has to do with their internal environment.
So, I know that if I show up completely differently, if I am now calm, and I'm cool, and I'm taking quietly, and I'm fine, and she continues to act really defensively and hostilely: it has nothing to do with me. She is reacting to something that is happening inside herself, which is none of my business, and which I have no control over.
But I have still completely shapeshifted her, because, not only do I recognize that this is not my problem and has nothing to do with me, everyone around us can see that to well.
When I was behaving all anxious and all stressed out, then it looked like her defensiveness was appropriate. But when I show up being all calm, and cool, and collected, and everything is no big deal and I'm not taking it personally, and she is still behaving all defensively, everyone understands that the problem is now about her interaction with the world and not mine.
So I've completely shapeshifted my own external reality, in addition to my own internal reality.
And that, my friends, is the shapeshifter for personal gain. Next up: shapeshifting for growth and development have a great day. Author responsibly.