Cats and other sacred things
Hello from Kenilworth in the UK!
After a crazy week in Newbury, we sight-saw our way to the next sit, which is turning out to be lovely. We are caring for an adorable Burmese cat who is chatty, opinionated, and alternately feisty and cuddly. He nestles with me while I’m on the computer (he’s next to me right now), and he’ll jump into the bed and snuggle with me in the morning. I confess I have missed having an affectionate cat around!
I saw the most marvelous presentation* this week by Alex Woodcock, a former stonemason now PhD who writes and lectures on gargoyles and grotesques. I’ve been looking forward to this event for some time now, and I was not disappointed.
Typologically, I have been grappling with the matter and wondering how it relates to my type preferences. Even Jung was entranced by the stone carvings on churches. He described medieval cathedrals in terms of how:
the infinity of the cosmos, the chaos of meaning and meaninglessness, of impersonal purpose and mechanical law, were wrapped in stone. This contained and at the same time was the bottomless mystery of being, the embodiment of spirit. What I dimly felt to be my kinship with stone was the divine nature in both, in the dead and the living matter.
Obviously he was enchanted too.
I recently overheard a tour guide inside Winchester cathedral pointing out the grotesques in the quire, and she remarked that these strange beings were put there in order to illustrate the ongoing battle between good and evil in the world, and remind us that we can never let down our guard.
It has also been suggested these bizarre figures are apotropaic, intended to repel demons and bad spirits and prevent them from lurking about. From this perspective, they are meant to either trap or dispel evil spirits (like scarecrows) and are not intended for human audiences.
Others have claimed that these figures are “liminal,” marking the boundary between what is human and what is divine. Some of the grotesques and gargoyles emphasize the “edges” of the body, perhaps with wide gaping mouths, and thereby collapse what is “inside” and what is “outside.”
Alex Woodcock surveyed all of these competing hypotheses, and then carried the day during his presentation by suggesting that monsters are “a ‘bridge’ between the material and spiritual worlds and belong to both.” He argues that “manifestation through dissimilar shapes is more correctly to be applied to the invisible,” and for this reason monsters (grotesques / gargoyles) are “the closest possible form to the sacred.” By their presence, gargoyles and grotesques “help identify churches as extra-ordinary spaces.”
Well, this argument nearly bowled me over. (It even coincides with what Jung observed about “the divine nature in both, in the dead and the living matter.”)
It also got me thinking about angels…
We are all familiar with angels, and some folks are quite sentimental about them. But in fact the Bible describes them in rather horrifying (dare I say grotesque?) ways.** They don’t seem like the loving human figures with pretty wings we have all seen images of.
Would this concept of “monsters” that are invisible and yet more divine than human apply to angels also?
I can see from what I’ve written here that I may have to develop a paper about this.
Typologically, does any of this material explain my attraction to these curious fellows? I haven’t been able to justify my fascination exactly. John Beebe said I was seeing trickster at work, but even that idea dovetails with Alex Woodcock’s hypothesis, since Mercurius, the trickster god, is a liminal figure. He was the only god who could pass between heaven and earth, and that’s why he was dubbed the “messenger of the gods.”
That paper is practically writing itself!
On a melancholy note, we have been informed by the homeowners of the sit we recently departed that Lorca (the adorable dog) appears to have a lump in his bottom that a biopsy reports as cancerous. The vet thinks it may be too onerous to treat—Lorca is a 12-year-old, after all. Robin and I are dismayed and likely to be heartbroken shortly. Please send your prayers for the sweetest dog you could ever hope to meet.
I believe I’ll leave it here for now. As always, if you or somebody you know would benefit from a bit of coaching, send them my way. I always love helping people transform their lives in order to triumph over whatever situation is troubling them. (I’m rather good at it too!)
-Dr. Vicky Jo
Here are two pertinent links.
* First is the YouTube recording of Alex Woodcock’s presentation—it runs about 1 hour. (I’d love to hear what you think of it!)
** Second is a link to another YouTube presentation on biblical angels. You’ll see what I mean by calling them monsters! (It runs about 9 minutes—and once more I’d love to hear what you think of this!)