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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The Epoch of Soul Revisited

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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Hermes, God of the Winged Caduceus

Hermes, by Salvador Dali, 1981


The story is told by Roman writer, Hyginus, that, one day, while Hermes was traveling through Arcadia, he witnessed two serpents engaged in a fierce battle. When Hermes placed his caduceus between them, they wrapped themselves around it and were at peace with one another. Thus, Hermes’ caduceus, to this day, has been associated with healing and a state of peace.

In the cosmology of the mundus imaginalis, Hermes has been given the task of bringing about peace and healing to all of us. One way he does this is by breaking down barriers that conceal from us the faces of the Others, as Tom Cheetham calls them:

When this Hermes is at work there is a tinge of real fear in the air, because behind the barriers He dismantles we can see the outlines of the Faces of the Others. Then we must consider the proffered opportunity: whether to accept them into our house, or whether to refuse the Feast. 1

Who are these Others with whom we should feast?  They

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. 2

This plethora of personalities will, most likely, never be unified into a single whole, as is the dream of many who seek enlightenment or individuation. It is the task of Hermes to introduce us to these personages, thus allowing us to know them for who they really are. By successfully carrying out this assignment, and assisting the Anima Mundi in the building of her Soul, he fulfills his own role as World Daimon. Hermes wears many hats, but this may be the most important one for our world. If we don’t come to know the Others in this way, we meet them in another, more miserable and malevolent manner, through disease and madness, chaos and violence.

Mr. Cheetham has discovered a very important nugget of truth in the quest for soul-making:

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. 3

By presenting to us and familiarizing us with the Others, Hermes bestows upon us the gift of healing. In doing so, our souls become stronger and more resilient. On a cosmic scale, this, in turn, brings about the strength and resiliency of the World Soul. This we are badly in need of in our day.

  1. Cheetham, Tom. Green Man, Earth Angel. New York: SUNY Press, 2004., p. 27
  2. ibid., p. 27-28
  3. ibid., p. 29
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The Tragedy of Orpheus

Orpheus and Eurydice on the Banks of the Styx, by John Roddam Spencer Stanhope, 1878

The story of Orpheus is very deep. As all archetypal symbols are, one can never exhaust their meanings. This tragic saga is one of the primary myths of depth psychology. According to Robert Romanyshyn, “Orpheus is…the poet of the gap, the poet of the border realms.” 1 Soul is the mediatrix between spirit and matter. This is the realm of the mundus imaginalis, Corbin’s world of the imaginal. Orpheus is its poet. This realm is also the territory where one is haunted by knowing and unknowing, where one discovers something only to realize that one has lost it again. I will deal more with this in my next article.

According to legend, Orpheus was born the son of Oeagrus, king of Thrace, and the Muse, Calliope. Other versions of the story say Apollo was his father. The Thracians were the most musical of all the Greeks, so it was natural that Orpheus would become a gifted musician. Not only this, but he became the most gifted of all musicians. It was said he had no rival, except for the Gods themselves. He was the “Lord of the seven-stringed lyre.” 2 His music brought a harmonious state of being to all things within earshot of his voice and lyre. Stones and trees would move themselves to be closer to the sounds emanating from him, and animals would lay silently and peacefully at his feet. It is said his music had the power to divert the course of rivers. Even the creatures in the Underworld were enraptured by his playing.

Because his fame as a musician had become widespread, the Greek hero, Jason, asked him to accompany him and his Argonauts on their quest for the Golden Fleece. Jason had made a wise decision. On the return journey they traveled past the islands of the Sirens, the same Sirens encountered by Odysseus in the Odyssey. The Sirens used their enticing voices to lure unsuspecting sailors to their deaths upon their rocky shores. As soon as Orpheus heard their bewitching voices, he began to strum his lyre with music so loud and so beautiful that he drowned out their enchantments so that the Argonauts could not hear them. It is said in another version of the story that Orpheus used his musical gifts to lull to sleep the dragon of Colchis, the guardian of the Golden Fleece, thus enabling Jason and his crew to escape with it.

Many came from near and far to hear the melodious sounds produced by Orpheus’ playing and singing. On many occasions, large crowds would gather. One such day, Orpheus caught sight of a lovely wood nymph named Eurydice. Immediately, he fell in love with her and she with him. The beautiful and shy Eurydice was said to be one of the daughters of Apollo, the god of music. These two became madly enraptured with one another, star-crossed from the start. They married soon afterwards.

After the wedding celebration, while on their way home, a shepherd named Aristaeus lay in wait to kill Orpheus and take Eurydice for himself. Orpheus was playing his lyre while Eurydice danced merrily through the fields. Suddenly, Aristaeus emerged from behind a bush and fell upon Orpheus. Orpheus managed to avoid him, and, grabbing Eurydice’s hand, the two began running swiftly through the meadow and into the nearby forest. Aristaeus followed close behind them. As the Fates would have it, Eurydice stepped accidentally upon a den of venomous serpents. She was bitten numerous times and fell, dead, upon the forest floor. Seeing this, Aristaeus gave up the chase, realizing its futility.

Orpheus was overcome with grief. The death of his beloved wife haunted him day and night. His mourning was overwhelming. His playing and singing were so sad that all of Nature wept for him. Orpheus implored Apollo to allow him passage to the Underworld where he could consult with Hades and beg for his wife’s return. Apollo consented, and the gates of Hades opened freely before the enchanting sounds of his lyre. Even Cerberus  was lulled to sleep by the music. Then, Orpheus made his way to the palace of Hades. His music and singing caused Hades and Persephone to weep profusely, as it did all of the denizens of the Underworld, to the point where Hades agreed to allow Eurydice to return with him to the upper regions. There was one condition, however, that Orpheus would have to meet. While Eurydice followed him back to the world of light, at no time could Orpheus turn and look upon her until she was, once again, in the upper world. Elated, Orpheus agreed, and he and his wife began the journey home, Eurydice following behind. As Orpheus stepped into the light of the Dayworld, he made the ultimate mistake. He turned and looked to see if Eurydice had yet emerged from the darkness, but she had not. He barely caught a glimpse of her before she was taken back into the deep places of the earth.

After this, Orpheus was broken and disheartened. There are differing stories concerning Orpheus’ death. One claims that Dionysus ordered the Maenads to kill Orpheus. Thus they did by dismembering him. His shade descended to Hades, where he was reunited with his beloved, Eurydice.

In my next article, I will discuss some of the symbolism in this tragic saga.



  1. Robert D. Romanyshyn, The Wounded Researcher, New Orleans, Spring, 2007, p. 11
  2. G.R.S. Mead, Orpheus, London, TRS, 1896, p. 14
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Heraclitus and the Deep Soul

Chud Departed Beneath the Earth, by Nicholas Roerich

Heraclitus said, “One would never discover the limits of psyche, should one traverse every road–so deep a logos does it possess.”

In this passage, Heraclitus gives birth to a new idea of Soul as limitless depth. He also has some other things to say about Soul which are different than his predecessors. I may explore these in later essays. For now, I will deal with this idea of depth, which is, as far as I can tell, quite a new development in early Greek thought.

Prior to Heraclitus, the Greeks understood Soul as “the life-breath or animating ‘spirit’ which departs as a ghost” at the point of death (Kahn, 126). According to my sources, they didn’t really elaborate on this early idea. Heraclitus brings the strikingly new and unusual thought of the logos of Soul as being so immeasurably deep we will never find its bounds, no matter how far we dig down. In my thinking, this statement is comparable to the idea that the ways of God are past finding out (Romans 11:33). Many religious people say they have an understanding of God, but they have not even scratched the surface. Similarly, we do not understand our own cavernous inner recesses. Our rationality can no more understand Soul than we can understand God. Language breaks down when one attempts to think and write about such things. I once thought I knew a lot about God. At a point in my life some years ago, the suffering of illness brought me very low. I believe it was my destiny, for there, in my suffering, I discovered an aspect of myself that wanted to ask questions about my life and about reality. That is what led me to Philosophy, which has brought me both happiness and pain these past ten years. Being brought to a low place is the beginning for understanding Soul. Melancholy seems to be a natural prerequisite for experiencing Soul. Happiness and pain form one reality, which is something Heraclitus is also interested in.

My mind wants to say, “There is something within me that has such depth, I will never discover its limits.” The trouble is, however, I know the thing I am thinking of is not an objective thing at all. Heraclitus is utilizing the Greek idea of psyche to shed light on his experience of unbounded connectedness to the world. He feels it within himself. In some way, Soul has a sense of numinosity which is so perplexing and paradoxical to our rational minds, we will never fully understand it. But I don’t think Heraclitus is concerned with rational understanding. That will come later in Greek philosophy. What he is talking about is an experience within himself of the very foundation principle (arche) upon which reality is structured.

The Hermetic idea of macrocosm/microcosm is intimately connected with this passage, I think. Looking within oneself, one finds a place so deep, so vast that it staggers the imagination. It leaves one feeling giddy, an experience which many mystics have repeatedly reported. This deep place can be compared to the physical universe, to outer space. In some mysterious way, objective space is an image, a metaphor for subjective space. I am no astronomer, but I have read that scientists believe the universe is constantly expanding at the speed of light. This is the best physical image we have of the unbounded. There are deep mysteries in this mode of thought. At best, all we can say is that Soul is just as limitless as our vast physical universe.

Heraclitus directs our attention to the logos of Soul. It is the logos that is deep. According to Charles H. Kahn, logos should here be translated as “measure.” Thus the passage reads, “So deep a measure does it possess” (Kahn, 129). The logos of Soul and the logos of the cosmos are discussed separately, but I don’t think they are actually to be understood separately. What I think may have happened with Heraclitus is this: he said in another passage, “I have searched myself.” Obviously he was deeply introspective. What seems to occur after one gazes inward for some time is that the deep logos of Soul is recognized as being identical with the cosmic logos, which, according to Heraclitus, orders everything in our universe. And herein is the error of the people “who live as though their thinking were a private possession” (Fragment 3 in Kahn). Actually, the account, the logos, is shared among all humanity. Just as the deep logos of Soul is common among us all, so is the cosmic logos.

It seems that Heraclitus was the first thinker we know of to examine and describe the deep nature of Soul. I suppose we could say he was the first depth-psychologist.


Works Cited

Kahn, Charles H. The Art and Thought of Heraclitus. New York: Cambridge, 1979.

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