Encounters with the Goddess? by Thomas Schenk

Constellation 2, by Steven Kenny

Constellation 2, by Steven Kenny

image by Steven Kenny, used with permission

When Thomas shared this story in the comments section of Halstead’s article Re-godding the archetypes, it was intended to portray one man’s experience of an archetype in action.  Yet it was also larger than that.  It was also a personal story of private struggle, and deserved to be more than a footnote to someone else’s work.  Just as archetypes demand to be experienced as numinous in their own right, so this story demands to be read on its own.  So, here it is.  Thank you, Thomas, for sharing this with us.

From the dream world

When I was thirteen, I had a wonderful dream. The dream was quite complex and involved, but here are the main elements. I was in a huge arena, which I came to understand was the “arena of the world.” There was a large crowd of people walking up stairs into the arena, but I was walking down a set of stairs away from the arena. I walked down many flights of stairs, and came to an underground passageway. I entered the passageway and I saw a door ajar with a golden light coming from it. I opened the door, and inside was a beautiful woman, giving off a radiant golden light. We exchanged no words, but I felt a great joy in her presence.

The dream was so beautiful and powerful, that I wrote it down when I woke up, so I was able to remember many of the details. I had never heard of Jung at the time, but years later, when I read Jung, I immediately recognized the woman as the Jungian anima. While I know a Freudian would quickly read such a dream in a youngster at the age of puberty in sexual terms, there was absolutely nothing sexual about the dream.

Many years later, at the age of twenty-two, I had a dream that contained the following. I was on the North Shore of Lake Superior at a place like Gooseberry Falls. There was a gas station built out on the rocks by the water, a Mobil station. I stopped in the station and went into the bathroom. There was a stairs leading down into a lower level, and men were walking up the stairs. I walked down. When I got to the bottom of the stairs there was a woman there lying naked in a pile of rags. Semen was dripping out of her vagina. I looked at her and I knew she was the same woman I had visited in that earlier dream.

Into the waking world

A few years before this second dream, I set about living the hedonistic life style. I wanted to explore every avenue of pleasure and maximize the amount of pleasure I could have. Being the early seventies, there was a great opportunity. I lived the sex, drugs, and rock and roll scene to the maximum. I had a great time, but after a few years, I felt like ashes.

It was at this time that I had the second dream. It had a very powerful effect on me. I understood immediately the connection between the two dreams. The first dream was a calling, and the second told me I was failing in my calling. Recognizing this, I put an end to my pursuit of hedonism, and went back to my Zen Buddhist practice that I had abandoned. (The Mobil station and the North Shore are personal elements of the dream — my earliest sexual encounter is associated with a Mobil Station, and the North Shore has always been for me a sacred, holy place.)

The encounters with the Anima, the Goddess, did not end there. The most recent was a few years ago on an October night at Gooseberry Falls on the rocks by the Lake. I was meditating in the moonlight. During the meditation, I had made a commitment towards a certain course of action in my life. But as I was getting up to leave, a female voice said to me, “No, that is not the way it is to be,” and then told me the way it was to be. From the distance of a few years, I can now see that the course of action I was told to take was both wise and also aligned with that original calling.

Toward awakening

Now, I understand if at this point the reader thinks I’m simply crazy. It is very un-modern to hear voices and heed them. I write all this only to give a concrete example of how the archetypes can operate. I do not believe that the Goddess I have so wonderfully met exists as an entity out in the world, but nor is she something solely in “my” mind. I do not think she belongs to the supernatural, or is in violation of the dictates of naturalism, but I do think she challenges any simplistic understanding of dreams or the nature of the unconscious.

While I’m not sure what level of reality all this occurs on, I do know that through these dreams and in this calling, I feel deeply blessed, and I wouldn’t trade that blessing for anything.

The author

Thomas Schek

Thomas Schenk: “If asked, I’d call myself a Space-age Taoist, Black Sheep Catholic, Perennial Philosophy Pantheist, Dharma Bum.   In other words I am a kind of spiritual and philosophical mutt.  I’m not out to change the world, for I believe the world has a much better sense of what it is supposed to be than I ever could. But I do try to promote the value of the contemplative life in these most un-contemplative of times.  I don’t know if the piece presented here has any value, but I feel blessed that I can spend my time thinking about such things.  My version of the American dream is that here, as the child of a line of farmers and peasants going back through the ages, I have the privilege to live with my head in such clouds.”

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14 Comments on “Encounters with the Goddess? by Thomas Schenk

  1. Thomas, thanks again for sharing your experience. It is powerful! There is a deep wisdom in us — one that speaks to us in dreams, voices, insights and myriad other ways. And I agree that listening to that wisdom is not discordant with a naturalistic worldview.

  2. I read this comment when it was originally posted and found it very inspiring. I didn’t comment at the time because there was so much to read and take in on that particular discussion, but I’ve had a somewhat similar experience myself (only similar in the fact that I had a significant dream when I was in my teens that I attribute to my Anima, and even a subsequent dream later in life). The inspiring part is the meaning you found within these experiences of yours.

    Do you feel that the clarity of your most recent encounter has a connection to your meditative practices?

  3. Wow. That was such an honest and real dream, in the sense that you feel it in your gut. I’ve always appreciated such honesty and am honoured to be an audience of such a personal journey.

    I enjoyed reading “I do not believe that the Goddess I have so wonderfully met exists as an entity out in the world, but nor is she something solely in “my” mind. I do not think she belongs to the supernatural, or is in violation of the dictates of naturalism, but I do think she challenges any simplistic understanding of dreams or the nature of the unconscious.”

    In my view, the stories and associations in cultures have are always of the subconscious and we as individuals always have our own subconscious associations to the meanings of images and actions. These tend to come to light in dreams or times of deep contemplation, and sometimes the way those images are projected to you is you speaking to yourself from the subconscious mind. That you know things that you, in the forefront of your mind, don’t know.

    In this I can see that the outside world of understanding meaning from images and actions is completely in line with the internal world of the mind, especially the subconscious mind. They are interwoven and cannot be separate. This is how I understand it.

    Is this along the lines of what you meant by it not being an entity out in the world, but neither solely in your mind?

    Thank you for the courage of sharing such a deeply moving personal experience.

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  6. Thomas, you’ve written there that you could understand if a reader thought you were crazy. Well, this reader doesn’t think you’re crazy, anyway!

    Experience is the bottom line about personal divinity — humans of diverse cultures do experience presence of a personal God/dess through dreams, visions, voices… Experiences like this seem to be part of our nature, as Jung’s word “archetype” acknowledges. I think this is the bedrock upon which all theologies — traditional or modern — are constructed.

    A most important question for modern world-views of humanism and naturalism is whether and how they can acknowledge the universality and the power of such experiences.

    May the Goddess continue to bless your path.

    • >A most important question for modern world-views of humanism and naturalism is whether and how they can acknowledge the universality and the power of such experiences.

      Good point, Colin. Any ideas on how they can do that?

      • Thank you for the question, B.T.

        I think there are a number of sources which theological humanists and naturalists can draw on for ideas. Jungian psychology, mentioned by Thomas in his article, is a very important one.

        Another source is Stuart A. Kauffman’s understanding of God as a self-organizing tendency within nature. Kauffman is a biochemist, Jung was a psychologist, yet the way Jung describes the psychology of growth towards wholeness (individuation) has something in common with what Kauffman says about the way all sorts of living systems organize themselves.

        About a week ago I completed and web-published an article of my own about naturalism and the divine. The article starts from a not-exactly-personal, yet living, image of God/dess which came to me while I was drawing: a tower of coral with tentacles.

        If you would like to read it, it is at

        • I had just found that page the other day actually. I would definitely like to learn more about potential naturalistic forms of the path of Kali.

          Incidentally, if you like Jung and Kauffman, you might enjoy the two-volume series Jung in the 21st Century, by John Ryan Haule. He attempts to show the essential compatibility of Jung with modern evolutionary biology, and also puts forward a self-organization-type theory of reality, which sounds similar to how you described Kauffman. I’m not sure Haule succeeds at any of his arguments, but it was a fascinating read to be sure. 🙂

        • Re naturalistic forms of the path of Kali… I’ve done some study and some writing on related topics – about what Sanskrit sources say about Kali, about Kali and Tantra, about Kali and Jung, about eastern and western natural philosophies. But I think that recent “tentacled coral” page is the first where I have mentioned religious naturalism and described myself as a religious naturalist.

          Regarding naturalism as a religious movement, I am on a learning curve right now – for instance, I didn’t even know about your Humanistic Paganism website until Thomas Schenk told me about it a few days ago. I also didn’t know about John Ryan Haule. Many thanks for the reference. I’ve just been looking at his website, and was interested to find that he says quite a bit there about the history of tantra.

          When I’ve learned a bit more about naturalism, I hope I will able to write more about how Kali and naturalism relate…

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