The Umpqua Community College Shootings

The Nightmare, by John Henry Fuseli, 1781
The Nightmare, by John Henry Fuseli, 1781

Another gun rampage, another massacre today, this time on the campus of Umpqua Community College in southwestern Oregon. Add thirteen to the many senselessly killed in the past several decades at the hands of those seemingly possessed by what Scott Preston calls “ultimate self-contradiction leading to self-annihilation (A Tsunami of Unreason II, The Chrysalis). We are living in the midst of what Nietzsche predicted well over a century ago, and what came after his pronouncement of the death of God:

What I relate is the history of the next two centuries. I describe what is coming, what can no longer come differently: the advent of nihilism (Nietzsche, The Will to Power, pg. 3).

Nietzsche knew the forces that had become manifest in the earth. He recognized the deficiencies of rational thought that transformed the minds of the people and Western culture. But he also knew that nihilism has two faces: a destructive side, which we usually see, and a creative side.

In January of 2014, I wrote these words concerning nihilism:

Nihilism is a transitional stage in the process of overcoming oneself. Many times, the thinker will arrive at the edge of the Maelstrom (my metaphor, not Nietzsche’s) after deciding that all is meaningless. The Maelstrom makes one giddy, its potency is overwhelming, its possibility incomprehensible. Frightened by the roaring, gyrating turmoil, most turn away, commit suicide, or live the remainder of their lives in torment (Nihilism as a Precursor to Transformation).

This turning away is what I suspect most of these shooter-killers are doing. In this era of what Gebser calls the deficient mental-rational mode of consciousness, we all daily face degrees of nihilism. The good thing is that some of us can deal with it and remain on the path to emergent consciousness and the coming era of integration. On the other hand, some us can’t deal with it. Many of these persons turn to the destruction of others and themselves.

Nihilism is an extremely powerful force which has the ability to wreak utter havoc. We have seen its decadent side during most of the twentieth century, especially since the beginning of The Great War in 1917, as well as what we have experienced so far in this century. Nietzsche believed in an “active” and “passive” nihilism.” Passive nihilism is a decaying, depraved perversion. The active nihilist actively seeks to overcome this state of decay. It is a revolutionary mindset, the philosophizing with a hammer, if necessary, to break down old, decrepit values, transforming oneself into the Self one is meant to be.

The decrepit side of nihilism is self-contradictory and disintegrative. These are characteristics of the deficient mental-rational mode of consciousness. The shooter-killers are souls divided against themselves. Instead of seeking harmony within themselves, they have, whether consciously or unconsciously, thoroughly embraced a meaningless and irrational existence. Their souls have been annihilated.

We hear much about gun control when these massacres occur. I am of the opinion that guns are definitely too easily procured these days, but this is not the answer. It is the reply of the knee-jerk reactionary. Scott Preston does a good job of describing this type of person:

The reactionary, however, isn’t really given to honest reflection, self-evaluation, sincere self-appraisal, or self-knowledge. Instead, rather than honestly face one’s own self-contradictions and duplicities,  ideological reconstruction, revisionism, lip-service paid to “principle”, and rationalisation (and failing that, violence) are the usual resorts of the reactionary mentality and attitude, regardless of how irrational, absurd, or untruthful these may be (The Reactionary, The Chrysalis).

In the case of gun control, the advocates would be reactionaries of the political left. There are also reactionaries of the political right, such as Kim Davis, who refuse to grant marriage licenses to gay couples. Both these types are prisoners of the deficient mental-rational type of consciousness. These two types have a stranglehold on our culture. No, gun control will not suffice to stop these killings. We must learn about soul, about consciousness, and most of all about our true selves. We must learn to harmonize with the earth instead of fighting against it. Let us lay down the repudiated thinking of The Enlightenment and embrace the future.

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Impediments to Soul-Making

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El Abrazo de la Noche, by Daniel Valcarce

The soul’s tendency to pathologize, to fall apart, is absolutely crucial to soul-making. In our culture, with its positive thinking, extreme fitness advocates, diet fads, and pull-yourself-up-by-your-own-bootstrap philosophy, you would think we were the healthiest and most blessed people in the world. But it’s just the opposite. We fall apart just like every other human being. Our culture views pathology as evil in some sense, to be shunned. Let’s be truthful, however. Pathologizing is as much a part of our lives as waking and sleeping. We see ourselves as failures if we fall into calamity of some sort, be it ill health, financial ruin, or a bout of depression. In reality, pathologizing occurs in all of our lives at one time or another.

In depth psychology, much wisdom is gained from the study of pathologizing. Psychologist Erik Erikson once wrote, “Pathography remains the traditional source of psychoanalytic insight” (Identity and the Life Cycle, p. 122).  James Hillman said, “The insights of depth psychology derive from souls in extremis, the sick, suffering, abnormal, and fantastic conditions of psyche” (Revisioning Psychology, p. 55). We all experience these extreme states; it is part of the human condition.

Hillman defines pathologizing as

…the psyche’s autonomous ability to create illness, morbidity, disorder, abnormality, and suffering in any aspect of its behavior and to experience and imagine life through this deformed and afflicted perspective ( ibid. p. 57).

Hillman’s idea is that we begin to “see through” our suffering to what it is trying to say about the soul through the pathological event, and what the soul itself is saying. This is a phenomenological approach, taking the image of the pathological event as it appears, and allowing it to bring forth what is behind the event. Archetypal psychology looks for a god behind the pathology, an autonomous being of the psyche that demands to be recognized.

Since the inception of modern psychology, there have been roadblocks thrown in the way of allowing pathological images to speak. These are impediments to the soul-making process. The following ideas, which I borrow from Hillman’s book, Revisioning Psychology, form impediments that stand in the way of the crucial necessity of the soul’s pathologizing nature.

The first such idea Hillman deals with is Nominalism, or as he calls it, “nominalistic denial” (p. 58). In the early days of modern psychology, in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, it was stylish to attempt to classify psychological disorders in a rational and orderly manner. This is when many of the familiar psychological terms were coined, such as schizophrenia, alcoholism, claustrophobia, psychopathology, etc. In an attempt to classify illnesses in an objective, rational manner, the subjective person who suffered was ignored. Such an approach may work for the objects of scientific study, but the study of the soul is an entirely different thing. Hillman writes,

Labels like “psychopath” or “manic-depressive,” while bringing intellectual clarity also seal off in closed jars the content of what is named, and the person so named is relegated to a shelf marked “abnormal psychology” (ibid. p. 61).

The second “style of denial” Hillman deals with is that of nihilism. The point here is that, in the “language game called psychopathology,” diagnoses of abnormal psychology, since they now consist of empty, meaningless words, are simply thrown out. “There are no neuroses, only cases;  no cases, only persons in situations…” (ibid. p. 62). Hillman points the finger at existentialism, and, in particular, at philosopher, Karl Jaspers. Jaspers’ critique of psychopathology resulted in the rejection of it as a viable field by many of his followers because they didn’t take the time to “sort it through.”  Hillman names Michel Foucault and Ronald Laing as two thinkers who completely deny there is any value at all in psychopathology. They would even do away with psychiatry altogether.

The third impediment to soul-making is the idea of transcendence. Here, Hillman directs his critique at humanistic psychology. Humanistic psychology idealizes man, “sweeping his pathologies under the carpet” (ibid. p. 64).

Unlike the terms of professional psychopathology, these resonate with a positive glow: health, hope, courage, love, maturity, warmth, wholeness; it speaks of the upward-growing forces of human nature which appear in tenderness and openness and sharing and which yield creativity, joy, meaningful relationships, play, and peaks. We find the same one-sidedness in its goals, such as freedom, faith, fairness, responsibility, commitment. Besides the fact that its notion of growth is simplistic, of nature romantic, and love, innocent–for it presents growth without decay, nature without catastrophes or inert stupidity, and love without possession–besides all this, its idea of the psyche is naive if not delusional” (ibid. p. 65).

Hillman further criticizes humanistic psychology for being “shadowless, a psychology without depth, whose deep words remain shallow because transcendence is its aim” (ibid.). Hillman has the psychology of Abraham Maslow, et al. in mind here.

Attention is also turned to the transcendent teachings of the East, that have so pervaded our culture since the 1960’s. Eastern teachings, many times, view human pathologizing as “evidence of the lower, unactualized rungs of the ladder. Meditate, contemplate, exercise through them and away from them, but do not dwell there for insight” (ibid. p. 66). This attitude says that

Psychopathology in and for itself is not an authentic expression of the soul’s divinity. Divinity is up at the peaks, not in the swamps of our funk, not in the sludge of depression and anxiety…” (ibid.).

Hillman admits that his take on Eastern teachings derives from the manner in which they are taught by Westerners. In their native soil, they are “rooted in the thick yellow loam of richly pathologized imagery–demons, monsters, grotesque Goddesses, tortures, and obsenities” (ibid. p. 67). He says,

The archetypal content of Eastern doctrines as experienced through the archetypal structures of the Western psyche becomes a major and systematic denial of pathologizing (ibid.).

The soul’s pathologizing is a natural occurrence. To deny it, is to deny soul.

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Alchemy: Raven’s Head

Nigredo – dal manoscritto Viatorium spagyricum, Herbrandt Jamsthaler, (1625)

In the “furnace of the cross” and in the fire, says the “Aquarium sapientum,” “man, like the earthly gold, attains to the true black Raven’s Head; that is, he is utterly disfigured and is held in derision by the world (Jung 353)…

There is much more to be said about black than what has been said. The blacker the black, the whiter the white will be. The blackest black provides the most fertile incubator for transmutation. It is said by the alchemists to be as a raven’s head (caput corvi). It is not that black is to be identified with literally, as we see in suicides; it is symbol, image. Remember, all is image.

The raven is a harbinger of death, the dying of the common, the old ways, the old paradigm. From this thickest of blackness, a diamond will be born. Many people believe that diamonds are formed from coal. This, however, is a popular misconception. Geologist, Hobart King, says the majority of the world’s “diamonds…were formed in the mantle and delivered to the surface by deep-source volcanic eruptions” (Hobart King, How Do Diamonds Form?). Creation takes place deep within the earth’s mantle, where black is absolutely black, where carbon material is pulverized beneath the continental plates, some ninety miles below the earth’s surface. The temperatures there reach at least 2000 degrees Fahrenheit. After being ground to the blackest powder, the earth creates these wondrous stones and thrusts them back up to the surface. As above, so below. This is a powerful image of how the Nigredo works within the human psyche. At times, our lives are thrust deep into the unfathomable depths of the Underworld, where we are crushed, pulverized, and annihilated until we are black as the raven’s head.

 The Nigredo is the ultimate process of deconstruction. Where health once was, now there is only sickness; where happiness and meaningfulness once were, now there is only intense melancholia and nihilism. The Latin word, nihil, literally means “nothing.” One becomes as nothing when one encounters the raven. Where life once was, now there is only death. James Hillman writes, “Like a black hole, it sucks into it and makes vanish the fundamental security structures of Western consciousness” (Hillman 1626). Furthermore,

Black breaks the paradigm; it dissolves whatever we rely upon as real and dear. Its negative force deprives consciousness of its dependable and comforting notions of goodness. If knowledge be the good, then black confuses it with clouds of unknowing…(ibid.).

The purpose of the Nigredo is to plant us firmly in the darkness and in the depths of the Underworld. This prepares us for the next stage of transmutation.

Works Cited

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

Jung, C.G. Mysterium Coniunctionis: An Inquiry Into the Separation and Synthesis of Psychic Opposites in Alchemy. trans, R.F.C. Hull. The Collected Works of C. G. Jung, Vol. 14. Princeton: Princeton, 1963.

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