Statistically, one in every 4,000 live births involves the birth of identical mirror twins, meaning that the twins are mirror reflections of one another. Any physical asymmetry in one twin shows up on the opposite side in the other twin; consequently, when the twins face one another, it’s as if they are looking in the mirror at themselves: one will be left-handed, the other right-handed, plus their hair will naturally part on the opposite sides of their heads, etc. This is caused by the splitting of the single fertilized egg relatively late in the twinning process, just before the moment when the twins would become conjoined; in other words, joined together in the literal, physical sense.
It is this very rare form of twinning which is invoked when we think of the Twin archetype symbolized by the constellation Gemini. Being an identical mirror twin, myself (who, by the way, was born in the sign of Gemini), this topic hits close to home. I would even suggest that it gives me a certain advantage, an insider’s view, if you will, into the deeper, more subjective levels of the Twin archetype experience, yielding some important and very timely insights concerning the path to Unity Consciousness which is the ultimate goal of these often trying, though very promising, transition times.
Recently, when my twin sister announced that her son (my nephew) and his wife were pregnant with twins, the two of us spontaneously squealed with delight and jumper around the room like a couple of crazed look-alikes in a Double Mint gum commercial gone horribly awry. In the days following, as it started to look like we might be losing at least one of the already dear in-utero twin babies through miscarriage, we began studying the phenomenon known as the Vanishing Twin Syndrome. With ultrasound a common diagnostic tool during the first trimester of pregnancy these days, it is now known that 22 of every 300 pregnant women begin their pregnancies carrying twins. Of those 22 twin pregnancies, only three will result in the live birth of twins (one set of which will be identical; ¼ of those will be identical mirror). In the other 19 pregnancies, one of the twins will die in the first-trimester and be reabsorbed into the placenta, disappearing without a trace, hence the designation Vanishing Twin Syndrome.
When it was sadly confirmed, through ultrasound, that one of the twins no longer had a heartbeat, my sister and I began to explore the more interior aspects the twin experience through the doorway of the Vanishing Twin Syndrome. Along the way, we found ourselves revisiting the Twin archetype, as well, and asking questions about how all of this might relate to the topic of Unity Consciousness.
We quickly put the Google search engine to work investigating the subject, and what really got our attention was how the surviving twins experienced their loss. A particularly insidious version of survivors guilt seemed common among those interviewed by researchers and/or treated by therapists (since the in-utero loss was part of implicit rather than explicit memory and, therefore, more difficult to integrate without assistance). It was also common for surviving twins to develop patterns of overcompensation for what it was felt their “vanished” twins had done in utero (i.e. given up) by never giving up, no matter what. Other common survivor experiences included: chronic loneliness; feeling like someone or something was missing; being highly-sensitive; difficulty making deep commitments; obsessively seeking a “soul mate”; codependency issues; trouble with boundary setting; having an imaginary friend in childhood; difficulty sleeping alone; and long-term issues with food and eating (fear/guilt over eating too much, unwillingness to share, feeling panicky about not getting enough, bulimia, anorexia, etc.).
Even though my twin and I had obviously both survived our in-utero experience together, we still found ourselves relating strongly to much of this material, especially those aspects that had to do with the sharing of scarce resources and being highly-sensitive. It makes sense that this would be the case; maybe we both survived, in part, because we were very tuned into each other and worked out a way between us to share nutrients.
Inspired by what we were learning, we began to question what any of this rich inter-subjective, unborn twin experience might have to do with what twins are supposed to be about archetypically. How does the traditional sense of the archetype correspond to the lived experience of twins themselves, in this case, those who have survived the loss of their twin in-utero and been so deeply affected by the experience?
In the world’s creation mythologies, twins are described as bringing opposing principles, or duality, into the world. Gemini, the astrological sign of the twins, is, likewise, often described in terms of acute polarization: between the spiritual and the material, good and evil, life and death, masculine and feminine, etc. We are told one born in this Sun sign has a tendency to be fickle, indecisive, even two-faced. These characterizations have always left me very unsatisfied and unsettled.
The Wikipedia version of the Gemini archetype, at least, doesn’t stop with this description of duality but takes it a step further, opening the doorway to the realization of the non-dual (Unity Consciousness) container of duality, when it states that Gemini is about “the ability to relate to opposing visions simultaneously.” Hmmmmm. How can opposing visions be related to simultaneously unless there is something larger than the opposing visions, holding both? Now we’re onto something…
In ancient times, Gemini Twins were understood to epitomize the ability to see both sides of a situation and to communicate between the sides because their dexterous dispositions ensured empathic knowledge of both extremes: the victor and the victim; the healer and the invalid; the teacher and the student, etc. Such profound empathy occurs only after independent experience of both extremes has been absorbed, which requires that the antitheses of love/hate, confidence/insecurity, praise/insult, trust/falseness, etc., be first encountered as singular incidents before being recognized as two faces of the same coin.
The constellation Gemini was seen as a reminder that contradictory forces must be brought together and recognized as mutually-dependent. It symbolized the eternal union and mutual reliance of conscious reasoning and unconscious belief, as well as the quest to reconcile all contradictions in a central threshold where reason and belief, intellect and emotion, the spiritual and the material, masculinity and femininity, life and death, etc., merged into one.
The prenatal Vanishing Twin experience we’re exploring today certainly seems to inspire, indeed require of surviving twins, ultimately, the ability to relate to opposing experiences of life and death simultaneously. One dies, one lives (duality), but something bigger contains both. There is grief, there is guilt and fear, and there is, finally, at best, enough open-minded, open-hearted “relating to” all of this for true, expansive acceptance to be realized; in other words, Unity Consciousness.