The Emergent Awareness of Soul

Procession of Carpenters, Fresco from the Bottega del Profumiere (Perfumer's Workshop) (VI, 7, 8), Pompeii.
Procession of Carpenters, Fresco from the Bottega del Profumiere (Perfumer’s Workshop) (VI, 7, 8), Pompeii.

…the essential characteristic of the mythical structure is the emergent awareness of soul (Gebser 61).

In the schema of Jean Gebser, the mythical structure is the mode of awareness that appears prior to the mental-rational structure of consciousness. It is characterized by a two-dimensional, unperspectival level of awareness. There is no real awareness of space, and only a natural awareness of time. This means an awareness of the movements of time through natural events, such as the changing of seasons, the moon cycles, the movement of planets, etc. This all occurs in a world without spatial awareness. The cyclical movement of nature is the predominant human point of view at this time. It is cyclical, so there is no movement forward in space. It is only circular movement from pole to pole; it doesn’t go anywhere. It is an endless circularity. The shifting between poles seems to create a unique energy that initiates the emergence of a new consciousness.  Thus, from this experience mankind creates symbols and myths. The emerging of imaginative thinking signals the emergence of the individual soul.

Such is the world of humans around 40,000 years ago, the era of late Cro-Magnon man, or “European early modern humans” (EEMH), as scientists now call the humans of that age, and his descendants. They begin to form a symbolic and mythological worldview, bringing about the emergence of the soul, and begin to distinguish themselves as individuals. The Ego, at this point, is certainly not yet developed, but it is starting to form. This is the advent of the road to self-consciousness.

Prior to the mythical structure, the soul is not regarded as being that important. In the fully mature mythical mode of consciousness, however, soul becomes very crucial, indeed, to the human experience. Gebser explains that

Myth is the closing of mouth and eyes; since it is a silent, inward-directed contemplation, it renders the soul visible so that it may be visualized, represented, heard, and made audible (Gebser 67).


what is viewed inwardly, as in a dream, has its conscious emergence and polar complement in poetically shaped utterance (ibid.).

This is the advent of imagination. Prior to the mythical structure, “vital connections reach awareness and are manifested in emotional forms” (ibid.), whereas the mythical has “an imaginatory consciousness, reflected in the imagistic nature of myth and responsive to the soul and sky of the ancient cosmos” (ibid.).

Some very important archetypal motifs become evident in mythology in the period from about 20,000 B.C.E to the point when consciousness mutates to the mental structure around 500 B.C.E: stories about the cosmos, especially the Sun and Moon; the genesis of the earth and of mankind; myths of sea voyages, such as that of Odysseus; all other Greek myths, especially those of Hades, Narcissus, and Athena. This is not to mention the comparative myths of humans around the world. Joseph Campbell aptly demonstrates the importance of these.

On the importance to us today of this form, and all other forms, of consciousness that have emerged, or are emerging, Gebser sums up succinctly in this statement:

Everyone who is intent upon surviving–not only the earth but also life–with worth and dignity, and living rather than passively accepting life, must sooner or later pass through the agonies of emergent consciousness (Gebser 73).

This agrees with James Hillman’s position that the nature of the soul is to pathologize.


Works Cited

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

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Cauldron of Knowledge

Print by J.E.C. Williams in the book 'Y Mabinogion', trans. J.M. Edwards (Wrexham, 1901).
Print by J.E.C. Williams in the book ‘Y Mabinogion’, trans. J.M. Edwards (Wrexham, 1901).

There is a Celtic legend called the Cauldron of Changes that you can read on the website, Chalice Centre. I would like to discuss one aspect of this story that pertains to the knowledge of Soul and its transformative effects on human beings.

In the story, a peasant boy named Gwion is hired by Ceridwen to stir and keep watch over the cauldron, which she has prepared for her ugly and hapless son, Avagddu. Because of her great love for the boy, she desired to find a way to transform her son. After studying books of Druidic alchemists, Ceridwen has learned how to make a special brew that can illuminate one with the knowledge of all things, past, present, and future. She carefully gathered all the necessary ingredients into a large iron cauldron, which must simmer for a year and a day. She conscripts Gwion to keep watch over the steaming vessel.

According to the alchemists, tasting three drops of the magical liquid would bestow the aforementioned knowledge. For a year, Gwion stirred the cauldron with a large wooden spoon, and kept the flames burning by feeding it with twigs and leaves. On the last day, Gwion decided to stir the pot sunwise for luck. As he did so, three drops flew out of the pot and landed on his hand, burning him. Immediately, he thrust his hand into his mouth to cool the burn. An instant after swallowing the magical elixir, his mind was illuminated. Worlds upon worlds opened within him, spreading out endlessly into eternity. In an instant, he was made aware of all the interconnections of Nature. He could hear and understand the trees, the babbling brook, the crawling insect. He could hear and understand their music and their languages.

You can read the rest of the story in the above link. What I have described so far is quite intriguing for someone who is fascinated by the things of the Soul.

First of all, this myth reveals the powers contained within the cauldron, which I see as a metaphor for the unconscious psyche. In our stage of evolutionary development, a simple taste of these powers can transform our entire lives. Perhaps in the future, there will be a greater flow of knowledge between consciousness and unconsciousness. For most of us, however, these incidents do not occur all the time. Now, we experience occasional irruptions of the unconscious into our conscious minds. These are incidental, stupendous, and wonderful examples of the powers of the soul, but they are prototypical of what lies ahead for the human species.

After our culture has experienced several centuries of intense emphasis on reason, logic, rationality, and science, the powers of the soul have atrophied. This began to change in the twentieth century, with the increased interest in things of the soul. This is in large part a result of the work of C.G. Jung. We still, however, have a long way to go. The process of evolution takes much time. We know we are circumambulating to a point in history where the powers of the soul will be restored. We see it moving in that direction everyday, especially on the Internet.

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