A friend of
mine who is a mediator in Oakland, California, recently suggested that I
write about the mythology of conflict resolution, and in particular about
Iustitia, the Roman goddess of justice, whose eyes are closed. I do not
know much about this goddess but what came to mind was the old blind
prophet Tiresias for his blindness was brought about when he attempted to
resolve a conflict between the King and Queen of the gods, Zeus and Hera.
One fine day up in Olympus, Zeus and Hera had been arguing as
usual, but this time the topic was particularly personal and concerned
which of them took greater pleasure in sexual intercourse. Each claimed
that the other derived more bliss from the sexual act, so eventually they
decided to go and consult the wise man Tiresias.
Ovid tells us
that this mythic episode takes place before
Tiresias became a seer or prophet and in this instance he was chosen as a
mediator by the royal couple simply because his uniquely strange life
experience had encompassed both sexual polarities.
One fine day
long ago, the young Tiresias had been ambling through the forest when he
came across two serpents copulating. Intrigued by their beautiful
wrestling, he took his stick and placed it right down the centre between
their writhing bodies. To his surprise he was immediately transformed into
a woman, but Tiresias soon grew accustomed to his new body and lived quite
happily in female form for a number of years, taking a husband and bearing
children. Then one day it happened that Tiresias was again walking through
the forest when “she” came across the same sight – namely two intertwined
serpents. She took her staff and placed it between them and what do you
think happened? She was changed back into a man.
So Tiresias was
the logical choice as mediator because he was someone whose experience
included that of both parties. In the story told by Ovid we hear that he
concurred with Zeus and informed the divine pair that women do indeed take
greater pleasure in sexual intercourse.
Hera was furious at this
answer (perhaps her frequent and loudly announced family values meant that
she found it extra hard to go public with confessions of sexual ecstasy),
and she immediately cursed Tiresias with blindness. Zeus however took pity
on the poor man who had only spoken out of experience and gave him the
gift of second sight – or prophecy. He was henceforth to be the mediator
between two worlds – the present and the future.
If we take a
longer-term view, we might suppose that in subsequent stories Tiresias was
vindicated, for we hear that Hera did in fact take great pleasure in the
bliss of the marriage chamber. In The
Iliad, for example, Homer describes how Hera
went to great lengths to lure Zeus away from the battlefields of Troy and
bring him to bed – even to the extent of begging Aphrodite for the use of
her seductive girdle. However, some bitterness – perhaps an aspect of
Hera’s own shame – had to emerge before the healing of the royal couple’s
sexual relations could take place.
In cases of conflict perhaps
there is something being covered up – some kind of unpleasant poison which
lies buried deep down. The question then must be asked: how do you get the
poison out? Story telling might be a good method and perhaps mediators
need to be able to elicit the depth dimension of individual stories so
that the wounds of each injured party are shared. In so doing there is the
chance that a healing elixir can spontaneously emerge after the poison has
been sucked out of the wound and brought to conscious awareness.
In an old Indian myth we find a similar theme. We hear the gods
and the demons had come together to churn the milky ocean in order to
bring forth the amritra – the elixir of life.
Mount Mandara was uprooted and used as a churning stick and the great
serpent Vasuki was used as a churning rope with gods on one side and
demons on the other. But prior to anything good emerging, there came forth
a terrible poison, which would have been a terrible scourge for the entire
land. Neither gods nor demons knew what to do with it until the great god
Shiva appeared and through great focus of his yoga powers he swallowed the
poison and held it in his throat. The effort of holding the poison turned
his throat blue, but he had contained it so the world was saved. Shortly
thereafter the amritra came forth from the
churning and was gathered in the vessel of the moon.
The moon as
vessel of the elixir has sometimes been compared with the Holy Grail – for
the elixir is the inexhaustible bliss that comes from the depths and which
is brought up between pairs of opposites. The Grail in Wolfram Von
Eschenbach’s Parcival is brought down from heaven
by the neutral angels (e.g. the ones that did not
take sides in the war in heaven between God and Lucifer). We are reminded
of Tiresias placing his staff between the opposites of male and female
serpents, and of course this image is none other than the caduceus of the
Greek god of mediation – the merry guide Hermes. In Raja yoga we find the
same intertwined serpent energies – the solar
pingala and lunar ida
nerves of the Kundalini wrapped seven times around the axial stem or
What is the meaning of the
central stick placed between the opposites? What is the meaning of the
Grail’s neutrality? We hear more on this theme from Chuang Tze, the great
Taoist sage who tells this rather amusing story.
philosophical cronies were in deep discussion when one says to the other:
“If you just hang on to your fixed position without taking into
account the bigger picture – that’s 3 in the morning.”
asks “What do you mean – 3 in the morning?”
“Well, there was once
a keeper of monkeys, and he was telling them that their food allocation
would be 3 portions of nuts in the morning and 4 in the afternoon. When
the monkeys heard this they were furious and a huge argument blew up which
lasted several hours. Eventually the man said, “Well, how would it be if I
gave you 4 portions in the morning and 3 in the afternoon?
monkeys replied “That would be just fine” and they were very happy.”
The point being made in this story is that if you stick to your
one-sided point of view without being able to see the big picture – the
Tao, then you are really stuck! In fact, you are nuts or you go nuts!
Mediators need to have one eye on the situation of the individual parties
but another eye needs to behold the Tao. Yet the Tao is not seen or
described by ordinary vision, which is perhaps why the eyes or one eye at
least, must be closed.
The task of the mediator is to bring to
attention of both parties to an awareness which goes beyond the personal
constructs of a conflict and brings out its archetypal or eternal aspects.
Once one can see the mythic or greater patterns of a conflict it
then becomes easier to divorce oneself from the archetypal pattern. It
becomes possible to see that one has just been playing a role in a larger
pattern, but that really one is free to move out of that if one so
We find the issue of blindness or rather dark glasses
coming up also in the Voudou god Ghede who is the trickster mediator
between two worlds – the living and the dead. In her book on Voudou
Divine Horseman, Maya Deren describes how she
asked someone possessed by the spirit of Ghede why he wore smoked
sun-glasses with the right lens removed. He replied “Well my dear, it’s
this way: with my left eye, I watch over the whole universe. As for the
right, I keep that eye on my food so no thief will get
Similarly the mediator has to have one eye on the
individual parties and their grievances but the other eye is to turn
inwards and observe the natural process of the Tao – or the laws of the
universe or the archetypal realm. We might also note that the left eye is
connected to the right side of the brain – which responds to patterns and
images rather than to divisions and logic (which are the preserve of the
left brain and right eye!)
The kind of blindness we have been
talking about transcends the world of individuality or the time-space
perspective and sees the eternal archetypal dimension which is always
playing out in our lives. As the poet William Blake wrote: “If the doors
of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is,
Presumably the idea of the blind Goddess of
justice is that she does not take sides. She sees through inward turned
eyes. But what the mediator needs is the compassion of the double optic –
one eye here in sympathy with the individual parties and their grievances
and one eye in eternity. Normally when we are all in conflict mode we see
only out of the eye of our individual time space position. The mediator’s
task is to opening the inner eye which in fact might only occur through
both warring parties closing their eyes altogether and looking inwards to
the archetypal dimension. The mediator needs to approach the imaginal
world and assist both parties to access their own inner space so that they
can imagine their deeper needs in conjunction with the needs of the other
party and so allow a solution to flow which takes them past 3 in the
morning! The closing of the eyes might be the first step as it was for
Tiresias in gaining his depth insights.
Blake, William “The Marriage of Heaven
and Hell” William Blake: A selection of poems and
letters. Ed. J. Bronowski, Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1958.
Chuang Tzu The Texts of
Taoism Part I (Vol XXXIX of “The Sacred Books of the East”
1891), trans. James Legge New York: Dover, 1962.
Deren, Maya. Divine Horsemen:
The Living Gods of Haiti. London: Thames and Hudson: 1953.
Homer. The Iliad of
Homer .Trans. Richmond Lattimore, Chicago, Chicago UP, 1951.
Metamorphoses .Trans. Mary M. Innes,
Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1955.
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