Tea, Dolls & the Sacred Marriage

March 3rd is Doll’s Day (Hello, Dolly!) or hina matsuri in Japan. In its earliest version (adapted from China) dolls were offered to the imperial family, the princesses in particular, to preserve them from illness and bad luck. The dolls were said to (magically) contain bad energies and the festival used to include the dolls being ritually released on a river. Now, though, it has become more of a decorative phenomenon. These ritual aspects have all but been removed (in most parts of the country). The skills of the doll crafts-makers are, however, (and perhaps have become moreso?) deeply impressive: the forms are meticulously rendered; there’s a rich and varied use of textiles and the faces, oh the faces, are really something to behold! [Read more about the festival, here]

Visiting a very impressive local collection recently with some dear friends I was delighted anew by the displays and particularly by the evolution of the forms over time. It was a Sunday and we were there to celebrate spring and the marvellous doll collection. First we enjoyed tea in the traditional old way, formally and with great beauty.

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Maybe because I was never much of a player with dolls as a child, I confess, as cute as they are, the dolls in child form do nothing for me. I read the infantilisation of this solemnity as a bit dodgy actually. What catches my adult attention, however, is that there seems to be some rather more primal and archetypal force in the depiction of the hierarchy of the imperial household all laid out in order in a celebration of the marriage of the Emperor & Empress (or King & Queen, in archetypal language).

The mythic sacred marriage is part of the archetypal structure of the human psyche and is found in various guises in different cultures throughout the ages. There is in human nature, it appears, a desire or drive to unite the physical and spiritual worlds, to understand, experience and overcome duality, and all this in order to engender the fertility that brings forth life. At the beginning of all life there is this primal syzygy of the one appearing to be two. As Freke and Gandy write: “The mystical marriage at the fulfilment of creation is the two knowing themselves to be one.”


While most Western representations of the sacred marriage depict duality, I find it noteworthy that the figures at the top of the hierarchy in these Japanese doll sets feature 3 (King, Queen, Senior Lady Courtesan) or 5 (King & Queen on the uppermost layer and 3 female courtesans, two younger on either side of the Senior Lady in Waiting on the next layer down). In the Yin-Yang symbol you may be used to seeing you will remember the black and white parts, each of which contains the seed of the opposite. In a Japanese rendition of this energetic principle we often see a more trinitarian arrangement, a kind of triskelion, with three parts rather than two, in apparent motion (e.g. mitsudomoe). The above diagram from alchemical texts shows the presence of a third, a bird, to represent, perhaps the Holy Spirit?

The woman figure in the Sacred Marriage myth is said to represent the incarnate, physical, ‘earth-ed’ aspect of divinity in the world while the man is purported to represent the transcendent spirit. I like the emphasis of the doll-set on the feminine powers; the emphasis on, as we say, ‘this side of Eden’. Of course, each of us bears the energies of both masculine and feminine in varying measures, and the task of what Jung called ‘individuation’ is to learn to work in balance with both sets of energy so that we might be whole.

Overcoming duality is a metaphor, too, for resurrection and happens, serendipitously, to be central to the Christian story we are preparing for during Lent.  A fascinating and timely find as a bit of an etymology nut and an admirer of Chinese ideographs, occurred when I went and looked up the (Chinese) kanji character for hina and to my surprise the translation of it was not doll (ningyou = ‘shape of a person’) but ‘chick’. First my eyes found the ‘radical’ OLD BIRD (and I was greatly amused by that!) and then my mind flashed on the candies sold in American shops around Easter called ‘Peeps’! The egg and its emerging inhabitant is an old symbol of Easter and the resurrection, of course, of Christ coming out of his tomb. I found this a fascinating reminder of the deep stories at play in the world and expressed in the seasonal celebrations I enjoy here.

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