Archetypal Silence

Archetypal Silence    2001 by Robert Sardello
A great Chinese sage once said: “Who will prefer the jingle of pendants if he once has heard stone growing in a cliff?” This is a beautifully brief description of the phenomenon of Silence. Let me try to extend that description. Silence is not a derivative phenomenon; it does not originate from something else; it does not come from sound as its cessation. We do not experience sound as first and silence as its end. All we have to do to verify the fact that Silence is more primary than sound is to drop into silence for a moment and feel its presence. It is just there, and does not start when are quiet. When we are quiet, we sense its presence, but it was there all along. Silence swirls around us, and also everywhere within us. We do not become silent; rather we find our way to the doorway of silence by the particular kind of attention needed to enter, being quiet enough to find the doorway in.

Everything, it seems, has its own quality of silence. It is a unified but many-qualitied phenomenon. The Silence of high, rocky mountains can be felt as a immensity of Silence that contacts us, touches us in such a way that we feel ourselves as one with the immensity, the immovability and the vastness, which become in such moments, spiritual qualities, alive and animated. But a dense forest has its own kind of Silence, darker, deeper, more inward, where the experience of touch is felt much more from within the body rather than as if being touched from outside. There is the happy silence of the wandering stream, the radiant but oppressive silence of the pyramids, the magical silence of the stars casting spells over the whole of the earth, the vast interior silence of the cathedral, as if the walls were built around the silence, the silence of a leaf falling into silence, enfolding it. We could go on and on. One can imagine making a vast catalogue of the qualities of Silence, a kind of character description of Sophia, the Soul of the World.

Whenever we find the way into archetypal Silence, the thing or event we are sensing strengthens in its autonomy. Our usual sensing is filled with past memories and with what we already know so that the things of the world lose their soul qualities. We feel in control as long as we know what we are sensing. In silence, this control ceases. Things live in suchmoments closer to the archetype of Silence and they become more defined in the context of their homeland of Silence.

Silence is experienced as a kind of touch in which our whole body is the sensory organ that is required to be, as it were, stimulated all at once. We cannot say that Silence is experienced just in front of us, or to one side, or above, or in back. It is all around and also within, but has the quality of complete Otherness; Silence is Other than us, when we experience silence we find our soul. The name that we give to the experience when we are touched by silence is solitude. We feel alone, one, fully ourselves, more than our ego, but not isolated, cut off. It is as if we receive some of the strength of silence that allows us to feel individuality more strongly.


Hidden away in the Sacellum Volupiae, the Roman Sanctuary of Pleasure, is a statue of Angerona. Her mouth is bound and sealed. An uplifting finger touching her lips points to her silence and her suffering. This quiet Angerona is goddess of silent suffering and the suffering of silence. I invoke her image as counterpoint to the clamor of voices speaking out on modern problems and crises. The more one listens to all this outer shouting, the more difficult it becomes to hear the quiet inner voices.

Angerona, the protecting deity of the ancient city of Rome, is imaged with a bandaged mouth and with a finger to her lips commanding silence. She is the goddess of secrecy, as well as of fear and anguish, and was believed to give relief from pain and worry. At the height of her feast day, the day of the Winter Solstice, the sun reaches its weakest moment of the year, and at that same moment the light begins to increase. As they waited for this critical promise of renewal, the goddess’ worshipers were reminded of the necessity of honoring the delicacy of the natural balance. She is sometimes referred to as a goddess of death.

Angerona is the goddess of the Winter Solstice, the moment many ancient cultures celebrated as the opportunity for rebirth and renewal, a moment often reserved for the celebration of initiation rites, which marked the rebirth of the individual as well as the tribe and, by extension, the cosmos. She is both silencing and silenced, cautioning silence and prevented from speaking.

The goddess of silence watches over the cyclical renewal of the earth and the cosmos. With her finger raised to her already bound mouth she is doubly cautionary. Be quiet enough to listen, she says, but not to me. Be quiet, while I don’t speak. Listen, that is, to everything else. To everything. The cosmos is most eloquent when it speaks in silence.

A connection exists between Angerona, Silence, and Sophia. Angerona is said to be the same as Sige, the goddess Silence, who in the Gnostic creation stories, for example, in the Pistis Sophia, is the mother of Sophia. Sophia emanates from Silence and Depth. I have worked here, though, with Sophia and the sense of touch, the Sophia who says to us: “Quiet, don’t you know I am going about my Mother’s work?”


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