The Sublime and the Profane: Sacred Space, Dreams and Memoirs of the Sacred Feminine by Patricia ‘Iolana, DMStJA, MA, PhD (cand) University of Glasgow

Editor's Note: This paper is scheduled for presentation in the symposium “Sacred Sites, Dreams, Jung and Consciousness” at the 28th Annual Conference  of the International Association for the Study of Dreams  Friday-Tuesday, 24-28, June 2011, Rolduc Conference Center, Kerkrade, The Netherlands.

The way an individual feels physically, psychically, emotionally and spiritually within a sacred space is different for each person and location.  These individual experiences can be understood through a multitude of lenses including theological, psychological and scientific.  I understand these experiences through my revision and application of Abraham Heschel’s depth theology1, the feminist thealogy of Carol P Christ and the depth psychology of Carl Jung incorporating revised models of Jung’s archetype, anima/animus, collective unconscious, dreams and Individuation into an interdisciplinary, holistic lens I call Depth Thealogy where dreams play a significant role.  Those dreams that precipitate or even instigate an act of faith are understood as Jung first envisioned them as ‘the voice of God' or as later revised by Jean Shinoda Bolen as a ‘soul awakening'.

Bolen writes about her dream-inspired pilgrimage to several sacred sites in Crossing to Avalon (1994); two sites she visited were psychically and spiritually significant for her – Chartres Cathedral and Glastonbury. While her understandings of Jung’s archetypes and collective unconscious play an integral part in Bolen’s discussion of her experience with the Divine, when she attempts to explain her psychometric2 experiences in each sacred space, Bolen utilizes Rupert Sheldrake’s morphic resonance theory, which she considers very similar to Jung’s concept of the collective unconscious, as a method of understanding.  While there are similarities in these models, Sheldrake’s theory specifically addresses the energy field or ley3 lines that inhabit the sacred space – an element Jung never addressed directly. 

Whereas Bolen documents sublime, deeply spiritual, psychic states of consciousness during her time in these sacred sites, my psychometric experiences in the sacred space of the Avebury Henge were very much her polar opposite; they were shocking and profane.  This paper examines the sublime and profane transpersonal4 experiences within these sacred spaces through Sheldrake’s morphic resonance theory in an attempt to understand the nature of these experiences and the divine meaning beneath them.

Finally, I add a further aspect of inquiry based upon literary evidence of an emerging genre of women’s writing that serve to validate Jung’s visionary theories on dreams as what Andrew Samuels refers to as ‘good theory’.5  I am conducting a case study of five modern-day women who have published spiritual memoirs.6  For the women in my study, their journeys were precipitated by a significant dream or series of dreams.  As they followed the ‘voice of God’, these women discovered and embraced an immanent divine that disrupts and contests transcendental monotheism. They document Jung’s vision as they share their individual stories about how they heard the ‘voice of God.’  They document similar experiences from the dreams that prompted their quest to the ‘web’ (similar to Sheldrake’s morphic field) they feel connected to and with. These texts raise intriguing questions: Are these dreams a source of Divine revelation? Or are they the product of the collective psyche?  This presentation examines these questions.

Kilueau Volcano, HI


[1]. ‘… the theme of depth theology is the act of believing, its purpose being to explore the depth of faith, the substratum out of which belief arises.  It deals with acts which precede articulation and defy definition.’ (Heschel 2010[1959], 117-18)

2.  A form of divination or the ability to access information through touching an object

3. This theory of Morphic resonance is echoed in the literary works in the case study; the authors, however, refer to it as a web or being connected through a web.

4. My understanding and use of the term Transpersonal can best be understood by the definition provided by  “The roots of the word Transpersonal come from the Latin - trans (beyond) and persona (personality). Thus, Transpersonal becomes a continually changing perspective or moving point of perception which allows one to see the concept of one's individuality within its relationship to a much larger whole” (accessed 18 February 2011).  Carl Jung is considered by many to be one of the forefathers of Transpersonal thought and theory.

5. Samuels states in an interview how many of Jung’s theories were validated by his patients’ experiences.  He states: ‘That’s a real acid test of all psychological theory.  If it really turns out to be a description of what’s happening; it’s good theory.’  Andrew Samuels, in Segaller 1989, 03-20.33.

6. While this current case study only contains five spiritual memoirs, it is a theological progression from my earlier literary case study of 18 works of contemporary American literature that help define the rise of a genre I call literature of the Sacred Feminine.  See ‘Iolana, Patricia (2009) Literature of the Sacred Feminine: Great Mother Archetypes and the Re-emergence of the Goddess in Western Traditions (Sarbrucken, Germany: VDM Verlag).


Heschel, Abraham J (2010 [1959]) The Insecurity of Freedom: Essays on Human Existence (New York: Farrar, Straus, & Giroux.

Segaller, Stephen. (1989) ‘Carl G. Jung: The Wisdom of the Dream’.  Video. A Documentary Series made for TV in three parts: Part 1: A Life of Dreams; Part 2 Inheritance of Dreams; and Part 3: A World of Dreams.

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