The spectacular journey into self-hood begins in a safe and protected environment, the womb. The womb of our mother mirrors the larger womb of creation from which we emerge. We develop within the mother’s body and her body serves as the first and primary matrix of our experience. The infant in the womb is pure possibility, pure potential. The infant experiences no language, only pulsations, movements, and cycles of activity and sleep. Time is the rhythm of the mother’s heart; space the containment of the mother’s body.
As the baby is born into the world it bring with it this presence of pure possibility. To gaze into the eyes of a newborn is to know pure potential. Many of us have experienced such precious moments, holding an infant in our arms, a twinkle in infant eye opens our hearts to a wild and powerful universe within a fragile form.
As the infant comes into the world it knows no difference between the womb-like world of the mother’s body and a larger world. Instead the infant world is still a reflection of the divine mother. There is a unity between self and the mother.
Within this unity of experience there is a flow of sensation, some internal and some external. The infant gets cold, or hungry, or feels pleasure at the breast. The imagination is forced to create meaning out of the enigma of existence, out of a flow of sensation. And from early on in life there is a primal process of splitting, as the infant sorts sensations into dualistic pairs of pleasure and pain, good and bad, love and hate. These are the origins of archetypal dualistic pairs that reside within our mind as ur-symbols, forming a foundational archetypal network through which we navigate the world.
As the infant experiences desire for food or love or warmth, imagination arises. The infant imagines that which is good, and wishes for that which is pleasurable. A wish for the mother’s breast or the father’s arms or a loving gaze. This is the divine in creative form, as creative imagination. The baby cries out their desire for pleasurable things, for the fulfillment of their wishes. These first acts of imagination give rise to creative potential.
But there is also fantasy about that which is feared. Haunting images of a dark and shadowy archetypal inner world emerge. Story book images of wicked witches, roaring dragons, spiders or slimy snakes in dark chambers emerge form archetypal fantasy networks which reside within shadow worlds.
As we grow into self-hood each of us learns to navigate a ‘real world’, but our conceptions of the world are always based, in more measure than we can admit, upon creative imagination and fearful fantasy. Though we may learn to wean ourselves from our reliance upon a primal unity with the mother, she remains there with us as the foundational archetype of our psychic development. Though we do leave our own mother’s body we are always within the matrix of the divine mother– as the earth which contains and nourishes us, as the prima materia from which we all emerge.
Erich Newman, The Origins and History of Consciousness
Edward F. Edinger, Ego and archetype