The Healing Art of Song: Mermaid & Siren Fairytale Motifs
The healing power of a song, sound or voice rises from a sensorial realm which exists much closer to mythic dimensions of the unconscious or archetypal depths.
The movement, rhythm, and breath of sound, sends information beyond intellect or reason alone. Because it is experienced as a bodily dimension of language, according to Jungian analyst Marion Woodman, it is not to be understood consciously, but to be felt, to be touched as an intuitive force seeking connection with the world-- both body and soul.
As we make contact with the psychic realms through our voice, we are united with its ineffable power, and we are capable of sharing our soul songs as restorative medicine for the Earth and for all. This may take the form of actual music or songwriting, or it could be a metaphor for greater service to the unique callings or gifts we wish to offer humanity. To be clear, when I say voice, I am not only referring to our physical voice, but to the poetic tongue that speaks to us in stories, fairy tales and mythology around the world.
Western culture has lost touch with the experience of sound and the imaginal, we are overly intellectualized in our pursuit of music and the arts, and so often miss the profound meaning hidden within them. How many of us believe our voice sounds “ugly”? How many of us think we need to be trained in order to sing for others? This is not true. Our voices channel deep psychic energy and are uniquely designed to connect our souls with the rhythmic movement of breath and body.
So what exactly happens when we allow this process to occur? Why should we allow the sound of our voice to move through us? A subtle field of awareness begins to travel back into the mythic realms. At this level, our true Self can communicate with us beyond reason. The initiatory energies we receive in dreams and visions reflect our essence as a whole, and like a seed beginning to sprout, we sense ourselves being expressed. We allow the language of waking archetypes to teach and transform us, rather than make ourselves fit into preconceived ideas polluted by the over-culture, previous generations, or our families of origin.
According to Joachim Berendt, in his book The Third Ear, sound is an almost forgotten force. There are three times the number of connections between the ear and brain as there are between the eye and brain. This forgotten force immediately reminds me of the forgotten Feminine, the Soul of the World. Much like Her, in order to be heard, a sound requires us to be quiet, to listen, and to surrender in order to receive it. Sound can seem unknowable or chaotic because it is not fixed into a familiar form that is easily recognized. Surrendering to the power of sound requires us to trust in the mystery of the body, sensation and the untapped healing wisdom of our soul.
The healing power I receive through sound and voice work happens more regularly these days. As I sing I am brought into a present awareness. I feel an indescribable connection to the sun pouring through a window and a bird’s wings unfolding like a dance we both know by heart. I weep as each note pours through me. It’s not about the song itself, but I am deeply touched by it, I sense it moving inside me and in the world around me.
I recently had a dream about the death of my mother, with my face and her face somehow joined as one. I interpret this as a symbolic death of my childhood conditioning or wounded ego self. Our body began to twitch and tremble as spirit struggled to leave form, and a song that I sang earlier in the day floated into the dream. Again, I wept as the song became a heavenly chorus singing us back home.
Mermaid & Siren Voices
I'm reminded of the powerful voice motif in the popular fairy tale The Little Mermaid. After visiting with the dark Sea Hag, the Little Mermaid agrees to exchange her beautiful singing voice for a pair of legs so that she might explore the upper human world and reunite with the prince she loves. This represents the longing for union with the masculine (prince) and lower, more earth based chakras (human legs).
Yet the Little Mermaid loses touch with the vital power of her own soul voice, intuition, and the metaphorical language of the unseen realms. I believe this illustrates the conflict we all face in seeking to harmonize the feminine world of psyche and the unconscious with our human form. Yet Mermaids help us make contact with this paradox as they symbolize a type of hermaphroditic figure, a union of opposites, according to Jungian theory.
A mermaid is intuitive nature below, represented by a fish tail, this is a common metaphor of the feminine depths, or unconscious. A mermaid is also a human from the waist up, which is symbolic of a rational, masculine consciousness that is known or brought to light. As we move from a Piscean age it becomes even more necessary to be transformed by archetypes that integrate our wholeness rather than separate and repress one aspect in favor of another. We look for symbols of unity so that we can integrate wholeness within, rather than project what's missing onto other people, religious institutions or governments.
The voice is a common motif found within the tales of yet another half human/ half creature enchantress--the Siren. In Greek Mythology, Sirens were half bird, half woman, and by the Middle Ages became synonymous with the mermaid figure. In many stories, Sirens lure sailors to death by the sound of their spellbinding voice.
What I find fascinating is that the sailor often loses focus and wrecks his ship because he is so enraptured by the Siren's song. This can be a metaphor for the dark side of the unconscious and the destructive power it holds if we do not treat these forces with the respect and reverence they deserve.
Sometimes we are simply too arrogant or concerned with material possessions, that when the unconscious seeks our attention, if feels we are going mad or insane. The fear of losing our identity or becoming consumed by the feminine energy is what holds many people back from evolving their receptive/psychic capacities.
On the other hand, a sailor falling into the oceanic depths represents reunion with our wholeness. In this case, it is the masculine returning to the feminine realm, unlike in The Little Mermaid where the feminine journeys to the upper world. The sailor symbolizes the human ego and the siren is a deep unconscious calling, asking us to remember the exquisite masterpiece of our soul.
The sailor loses focus on his masculine task. Up until this point, he may have found a false sense of control over the unpredictable sea. But now, he hears something, a woman's voice he cannot ignore, and he becomes willing to surrender to his feminine nature. For some, it can be like an ego death or initiation to enter into these realms, but it is ultimately not destructive for destruction's sake. It is also not about completely losing our human intellect or perception. It is about maturing our consciousness, reawakening to the true Self, and perhaps being reborn once more.
Robert Bly and Marion Woodman (1998). The Maiden King: The reunion of masculine and feminine.