Alas! Two souls within my breast abide,
And each from the other strives to separate;
The one in love and healthy lust,
The world with clutching tentacles holds fast;
The other soars with power above this dust
Into the domain of our ancestral past (From Goethe’s Faust).
I realize this classic verse from Faust speaks to the terrible inner conflict of one who, on one hand is attached to the cares of the mundane, everyday world; on the other hand is a person seeking truth, self-realization, or, as Nietzsche called it, self-overcoming. The former is interested only in self-aggrandizement and material things. The world and nature are to be subservient to and distinct. The latter person is interested in overcoming the egocentric life, and loving her world and her fellow humans. In my experience, the conflict is an intense ordeal that never ceases.
We are familiar with interpreting this passage as pertaining to our own struggle. But these words can also be elevated to the level of the World Soul, that collective personage that is the sum total of human consciousness. Does she also experience the pain of this struggle? If the current state of our world is any indicator, then yes, most assuredly. On one hand, we see a disintegration of society, civilization, and culture. Historically, this side of the World Soul has become more evident since the advent of the Great War in 1914. Since then, the earth has been plunged into chaos and turmoil. One of the most disastrous events in this destructive chain was the discovery of nuclear energy. The atomic weapons dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki set off a deadly chain of events that we’re still seeing the effects of today, nearly seventy years later. This is not to mention the meltdowns at Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima.
Since 1914, irruptions of the shadow personage of the World Soul have been wreaking havoc in our world. We all know of the problems and challenges we face in the coming decades. But, there are “two souls” abiding within the World Soul. The other is full of truth, love, creativity, awareness, and wisdom. Just as we struggle, one nature against the other, so does the World Soul. Alongside the terror and malaise we have faced since 1914, there have also been amazing human achievements that have kept alive the notion that the human race can survive and thrive in the decades and centuries to come.
The World Soul must overcome herself and enter a deeper level of consciousness, just as we strive to do. The manner in which this will occur will be if we discipline ourselves and overcome ourselves, as Nietzsche bid us, along with many other wise human prophets. We must strive to overcome ego-consciousness and the narcissism of our world. If we band together in doing this, the world will survive and flourish. We know what will happen if we fail.
As in my last article, we have strayed too far from our origin. So has the World Soul. She has allowed it because we have allowed it. To find her way back, we must decide to find our way back. In his book, Ever-Present Origin, Jean Gebser writes,
Man is in the world to sustain it as well as himself “in truth,” not for his or its own sake, but for the sake of the spiritual present. It is this spiritual present which elevates wholeness to transparency and frees us from our transient age, for this age of ours is not the present but partiality and flight, indeed, almost a conclusion. Only someone who knows of origin has present–living and dying in the whole, in integrity.
Carl Jung writes in the Undiscovered Self,
[A] mood of universal destruction and renewal…has set its mark on our age. This mood makes itself felt everywhere, politically, socially, and philosophically. We are living in what the Greeks called the kairos–the right moment–for a “metamorphosis of the gods,” of the fundamental principles and symbols. This peculiarity of our time, which is certainly not of our conscious choosing, is the expression of the unconscious human within us who is changing. Coming generations will have to take account of this momentous transformation if humanity is not to destroy itself through the might of its own technology and science….So much is at stake and so much depends on the psychological constitution of the modern human.
I am confident we will be transformed, as will the World Soul. It won’t be easy, but nothing great ever is.