Portents of Doom

The Great Day of His Wrath, by John Martin

Strange irruptions from the depths of unconsciousness began to burst forth in the late nineteenth century, up to the beginning of World War I. It was evident that a disintegration was occurring, one that would ultimately lead to two world wars, the invention and detonation of several nuclear weapons, the rise of fascism, and the death of nearly one hundred million people.

Several important events occurred in 1912. C.G. Jung published Psychology of the Unconscious (Wandlugen und Symbole der Libido). It signaled the split with Freud, and would usher in a new revolution in psychology. Alfred Wegener formulated his theory of continental drift, which I have connected to Gebser’s theory here. On the morning of April 15, RMS Titanic was swallowed by the sea, plunging over two miles to the bottom of the North Atlantic after striking an iceberg the previous evening. The death of the Titanic sounds a powerfully dissonant chord in the increasing cacophony of the earth. It is a harbinger of things to come. Almost fifteen-hundred lives were lost that night because of a very freakish convergence of rare natural occurrences (irruptions from the collective unconscious, perhaps?). On June 6, the mighty Alaskan volcano, Novarupta, erupted spewing thirty times more material into the earth’s atmosphere than Mount St. Helen in 1980. Was this also evidence that something was amiss? Was it a dark outpouring of collective unconscious content from the depths of the Anima Mundi?

The World Soul has a shadow side, just as we do. It is the collective shadow of humanity. The fall toward darkness we have been experiencing for a little over one hundred years is the result of an ongoing mutation of the consciousness of mankind. We are in what fellow blogger, Scott Preston, calls a time of “dehiscence,” which is “a term used in botany to describe the last stages in the life of a plant or flower. It is when the plant, upon reaching maturity, dies, but in the process bursts or otherwise broadcasts its seeds” (Preston). This idea eloquently describes what has occurred, and what is occurring. The so-called Modern Age met its demise around the beginning of World War I, which began in August of 1914, just two years after the events described above. The ancients would call these “evil omens,” portents of future calamity and malaise. But, even though an age has been destroyed, and is still in the process of being destroyed, another is being birthed. The so-called New Age is on the horizon, that is if chaos doesn’t overtake us first. The collective World Soul must make peace with her Shadow prior to a new holistic and rhizomal mode of consciousness taking root. This means we must make peace with the dark energies within us. The over-inflated ego must be put to death. Like the Apostle Paul, we must “die daily” to the deceit of the narcissistic ego. A harmonious Soul is our only hope as a species. In conclusion, a warning from Jean Gebser:

…weapons and nuclear fission are not the only realities to be dealt with; spiritual reality in its intensified form is also becoming effectual and real. The new spiritual reality is without question our only security that the threat of material destruction can be averted. Its realization alone seems able to guarantee man’s continuing existence in the face of the powers of technology, rationality, and chaotic emotion. If our consciousness, that is, the individual person’s awareness, vigilance, and clarity of vision, cannot master the new reality and make possible its realization, then the prophets of doom will have been correct. Our alternatives are an illusion; consequently, great demands are placed on us, and each one of us have been given a grave responsibility, not merely to survey but to actually traverse the path opening before us (Gebser 5).

 

Works Cited

Gebser, Jean. The Ever-Present Origin. Trans. by Noel Barstad and Algis Mickunas. Athens: Ohio University Press, 1985.

Preston, Scott. Dehiscence and “Golden Age”. The Chrysalis. 26 Aug. 2015.

 

 

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The Inner Striving of the World Soul

Weeping Woman, by Picasso
Weeping Woman, by Pablo Picasso

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.

 

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The Epoch of Soul Revisited

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General Confusion, by Stanislaw Ignacy Witkiewicz

Three years ago on this blog, I wrote these words:

It must be the World Soul that transforms the Earth. By this, I mean the actual personality that is the collective Soul of the human race. The same self-organizing force that maintains our natural world is the same power that has begun to bring this about in the psyches of all of us, whether we consciously recognize it or not. The Epoch of Soul has arrived.

I was beginning to become aware of a movement in the collective psyche that would bring about what I called the Epoch of Soul, but I was still seeing imperfectly. The vision is still not entirely clear, but it is coming into sharper focus. The Epoch of Soul is nearing, but it has not yet arrived, as much as wishful thinking would desire it. Humanity is still somewhat within the confines of what Jean Gebser calls the “mental-rational” mode of consciousness. It is deteriorating, and has been since the rise of perspective during the Renaissance. It would seem that we are in the last throes of the overemphasis on ratiocination, if events of the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries are reliable indicators.

There are, however, powerful beams of light shining into the collective psyche. We can finally see the integral structure beginning to influence human consciousness. An excellent example of this is how the Internet has influenced our lives in the past twenty years or so. The Internet is a huge rhizomal structure, analogous to the World Soul. Myself, and others, have written, for several years, about the rhizomal nature of the World Soul. In my article entitled, Rhizomal Soul, I describe how hierarchies based on transcendent power structures are quickly crumbling. The rise of immanence is the spread of rhizomal soul, roots snaking underground, interconnecting the previously unconnected, making an idea like “nation-state” totally obsolete. Have you ever seen what underground roots can do to a road or sidewalk? They grow underneath and actually lift and tear at the cement until it cracks and deteriorates. This is what the horizontal growth of the World Soul is doing to hierarchical power structures. This is all part of the manifestation of the integral consciousness structure.

The collective unconscious is a powerful rhizomal presence in human experience. It is a complex, subterranean root system that snakes and intertwines all humans in the tangle and convolution of Soul. This collective entanglement will one day decentralize the self-aggrandizing and narcissistic tendencies of human ego. It is already beginning. The rhizomal Soul will one day replace the Me Generation with the We Generation. No, it will not be perfect; Utopia will never totally manifest on earth, but we are a world of strivers, even though our goal may not always take us in a particularly linear evolutionary path. We may whirl in the maelstrom for a thousand years or more, but, eventually, the mutation to deepened consciousness will come. The more we allow the rhizomal root structure of Soul to grow, the quicker we will get there. It is up to us to care for Soul and nurture it.

The integral structure of consciousness has been undergoing birth pangs for several decades already. Of course, it will include all previous structures, the archaic, the magical, the mythical, and the mental-rational. Interestingly, Gebser’s model is based on a four-fold structure, while C.G. Jung viewed the quarternity as a basic structure of reality. This is also analogous to William Blake’s Four Zoas.

The World Soul is not only the collective soul of the human race, as I had previously mentioned, but of all things in our universe.  I believe it is this power that is orchestrating these mutations of human consciousness, which began with primordial man. According to Sufi mystic, Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee,

The world is a living spiritual being. This was understood by the ancient philosophers and the alchemists who referred to the spiritual essence of the world as the anima mundi, the “Soul of the World.” They regarded the World Soul as a pure ethereal spirit diffused throughout all nature, the divine essence that embraces and energizes all life in the universe (Anima Mundi: Awakening the Soul of the World).

 

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The Messengers

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Jacob’s Ladder, by William Blake

We, at least we who have a background in Judeo-Christian religion, have been taught all our lives about angels. Other religions, of course, have a similar idea. The word, angel, carries so much baggage that I hesitate using it. Immediately, one thinks of winged creatures, usually fat babies, who bring some sort of blessing to humanity. Usually, we think of these beings as originating in some sort of heavenly paradise, but I have an idea as to what they actually are. They are part of the natural order of the universe. Read what the Spanish poet, Juan Eduardo Cirlot, has to say about the angel:

 A symbol of invisible forces, of the powers ascending and descending between the Source-of-Life and the world of phenomena (Cirlot 9).

These messengers may not be empirical beings, but they are, nevertheless, powerful, and very natural forces.  The ascending and descending calls to mind the story of Jacob’s Ladder, where Jacob dreamed of these beings traveling up and down a ladder that reached into heaven (Genesis 28:10-17).

There are not two worlds, one earthly and one heavenly. This is just the way mankind has literalized the manner in which the natural world operates. In our world, there are complementarities, of which the pair, consciousness and unconsciousness, are but one very important example. Also, there are different modes of Being, of which the powers we know as archetypes are one.

These non-empirical forces that, for millennia we have called angels, are the so-called “principalities and powers” of the World Soul. They do her work in Nature, ascending and descending between consciousness and unconsciousness. It is said we all have a “guardian angel,” or what Socrates called his daimon. These beings are a great mystery, since they are non-empirical, but many of us have experienced the whisper in the ear, or the slight nudge in a certain direction when making an important decision. It is part of being human. They bring ideas to us, descending to the depths of the Underworld, procuring what we need at the moment, and ascending back up into consciousness to provide the answer. Those epiphanies and eureka moments that we sometimes experience are brought by these beings. They are our lifeline to the vast ocean lying beneath us.

These beings of the unconscious are real and are at work in our psyches and in our world. They sometimes appear in our dreams. The archetypal power in charge of these forces is none other than Hermes, messenger of the gods, and World Daimon to the Anima Mundi. It is he who marshals these forces to come to our aid, to bring needed knowledge to us from the Underworld. Hermes is the god of secret knowledge and the guide of all souls. Tom Cheetham writes,

These Others come to us as persons: mothers, fathers, lovers, strangers; as angels and demons, as complexes and as  gods. They  all  embody  and  exemplify styles of consciousness, modes of living, ways of being. And  it  is  only  by being able to perceive the work of the real Hermes, that we can feel their presences at all. Without this, our worlds are filled with stereotypes, with typologies, with categories, with prejudices, and we never see a real person, never meet any Others at all. Until they break through in madness and misery, violence and destruction (Cheetham, 28).

We must greet the bearers of those strange voices, we must be the host at the Feast, and welcome the strangers. This is a delicate business. Respect and attention, care and  courtesy  are  required. Again  we  require  the  aid  of Hermes, for  the  ego wants  to  wall  itself off from the  Others. We  need  Hermes  in  order to violate those  boundaries. The  only  way  we  can  establish  the  Communion  that  is required is by moving freely in the spaces between the stars. We can only know who we are  if we know who we  are  not, if we  experience  our boundaries by experiencing where they touch those  of the  Others (Cheetham, 29).

When we encounter these beings, the usual answer from our medical community is to medicate us with various chemicals, to try and silence the messengers. I am skeptical concerning antidepressant medications because they attempt to quell the soul; they try to control what is naturally occurring. How can we be transmuted if we don’t endure the pressure and sometimes pain of their voices? The waking ego, indeed, wants to run away from the messengers, to be walled off from them, as Cheetham says. But we should learn to interact with them, as William Blake and  Emmanuel Swedenborg did. Then, we will be in a position to receive what they have to offer.

Works Cited

Cheetham, Tom. Green Man, Earth Angel. New York: SUNY Press, 2004.

 Cirlot, J.E. A Dictionary of Symbols. Trans. Jack Sage. London: Routledge, 1971.

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Why is Hermes Important?

return-of-persephone.jpg!Blog
Return of Persephone, by Frederic Leighton

Hermes, as the World Daimon, plays a crucial role in the lives of all human beings. It is he who is responsible for guiding us through our lives via our individual daimons at his command. Don’t forget, we are not speaking literally here; we are creating mythology. Since there is a correlation between the individual and the collective, microsom and macrocosm,  as above, so below, we can compare the roles of the World Daimon and the various invidual daimons. Their whispers in our ears come to us from Hermes, since he is responsible for guiding our souls  to their ultimate destinies. In fact, he is the guide of the collective soul, the Anima Mundi. In his role as collective psychopompos, he guides the decision-making process of the World Soul. We must have hope that humanity, as a collective, will heed his wisdom.

Hermes is Lord of the Metaxical, the in-between places where we so often travel in life; the neither-here-nor-theres that we so often encounter. It is Hermes that will guide us through these most difficult of places, if we listen to the still, small voice. It is usually just a hint of a whisper. We get so tangled in the affairs of everyday living that we forget many times to listen to those ever-so-slight nudges from inside ourselves. As Richard Stromer writes,

For myself, I think this last aspect of Hermes’ role as guide of souls—his role as the guide into and out of  those passages in our lives which are inherently liminal in nature—is the most powerful one. As someone  who has been dealing for the past several years with the particularly momentous life passage called  “midlife,” I have had considerable opportunity to experience this aspect of Hermes’ energy. As Stein  observes, “at midlife there is a crossing-over from one psychological identity to another” As a consequence, he writes (and I concur), “in our reflecting on the midlife transition and the experience of  liminality within it, the world of Hermes therefore immediately suggests itself as a mythic, archetypal  backdrop” (Hermes as God of Liminality and Guide of Soul, by Richard S. Stromer).

Just as Hermes leads souls to the place of the dead, to Hades, we, too, are sometimes led to the recognition of dead characteristics within ourselves that must be mourned for a time, and then buried forever.

 

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Alchemy: In the Service of Nature

 
 

rp_4edcd-1.jpg

The Promethean archetype, the desire to steal that which was meant to serve Nature and use it exclusively for human purposes, should not be the blueprint for the practitioner of alchemy. Even individual soul-making, if focused solely on the human, does not assist the Anima Mundi in her transmutation. The primary task of the alchemist, his passion, is to further the improvement of the World Soul. The alchemical practice is not to carry out the Promethean aim of what is best for humanity. Rather, it is more akin to a religious devotion to Nature.

Certainly, this is a dichotomizing of humanity and Nature. In reality, they are one and the same. Humanity is certainly a natural phenomenon. It is just as natural as any natural thing can be. The problem arises when the Promethean attitude is venerated to the exclusion of the cherishing and nourishing of Nature. A good example would be a large oil company assuming they are improving the world for mankind by drilling oil anywhere they can find it. What they’re doing has more to do with profit than it does with a supposedly altruistic aim. Of course, this is not serving Nature, but only selfish human ends. This is the Promethean archetype in a nutshell. It has nothing to do with the true practice of alchemy. If you want to understand Prometheus, read Ayn Rand. Her lead characters are almost always Promethean in nature.

Jung recognized what is, in essence, the Promethean spirit in Christianity, and how it differs from the Magnum Opus:

Here we come to a parting of the ways. The Christian receives the fruits of the Mass for himself personally and for the circumstances of his own life in the widest sense. The alchemist, on the other hand, receives the fructis arboris immortalis [the fruit of the tree of immortality] not merely for himself but first and foremost for the King or the King’s Son, for the perfecting of the coveted substance. He may play a part in the perfectio, which brings him health, riches, illumination, and salvation; but since he is the redeemer of God and not the one to be redeemed, he is more concerned to perfect the substance than himself (Jung 352, brackets mine).

So, alchemy has to do with the redemption of God rather than with the redemption of humanity. Humanity certainly benefits from the transformation and transmutation of Nature simply for being part of Nature. (No, this is not an avowal of pantheism on my part, although I do believe in a form of panentheism). The alchemical vocation can certainly bring one “health, riches, illumination, and salvation”, but these are not the primary goals. Where Christianity misses it is in placing man at the center of the universe, and thinking that if man is redeemed, then Nature would be also. This, however, is backwards. The Work is for the sake of the Work, not for the sake of personal enrichment. The Work is to transmute the Anima Mundi.

So, how can alchemy assist in the transmutation and transformation of the World Soul? James Hillman offers these suggestions:

By treating the materials as ensouled, by invoking the spirits of the metals and speaking of their emotional qualities, alchemy found gods in nature, and soul, or animation, in the physical world (Hillman 409).

J.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy is one of my favorite stories. I discovered Tolkien as a teenager, after I heard Robert Plant say once he was reading Tolkien’s books. Straightaway, I went out and bought them. My favorite thing about the story is that it is an animistic tale, for all things are ensouled and all of Nature is reverenced. There are many, many examples of this throughout the story. For instance, the manner in which the hobbits smoke their pipes is fascinating. It’s as if the tobacco has soul, having the ability to take various shapes. And, remember how the swords and daggers had names, and sort of possessed their own personalities? This is ensoulment of natural materials. Nature is not a cold, lifeless place. It is filled with soul, with life.

James Hillman claims that “alchemy is animism” (Hillman 408). This is because the materials of alchemy are reverenced as possessing spirits, motives, emotions, even the ability to cooperate with the alchemist in his various endeavors; not literally, but mythologically. Our modern world has lost this precious attitude in this day of reductionist materialism. There is a dire need to recover this worldview before it is too late.

Works Cited

Hillman, James. Uniform Edition of the Writings of James Hillman Volume 5: Alchemical Psychology, Kindle edition. Dallas: Spring, 2013.

Jung, C.G. Psychology and Alchemy. The Collected Works of C. G. Jung, Vol. 12. Princeton: Princeton, 1953.

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