Aug 31, 2010

Zarathustra's Three Metamorphoses

Kazbek, by Arkhip Kuindzhi
In his greatest work, Thus Spake Zarathustra, Friedrich Nietzsche proclaims that "God is dead" (Nietzsche 41). For Nietzsche, this means that the philosophical abstraction known as "God" to institutional religion, especially Christianity, has died in the hearts and souls of Western man. It also means that the dualistic metaphysics of Plato is no longer viable. With one fell blow from his philosophical hammer, Nietzsche strikes down the two-world theories that have dominated Western thought since Plato. But even though God's death leaves a gaping hole in Western man's being, Nietzsche has recognized that the death of God is necessary to bring about transformation.

Prior to God's death, human consciousness is bound in a morass of "Thou shalts," a controlling, will-less existence, where the new, the unique, is anathema. Creativity, which is mankind's birthright, is frowned upon when it is implemented to bring about new values, new opinions, and new attitudes, that deviate from the norm. But when the ideals, the "eternal" standards have died, creativity can burst forth. As in the saying of Jesus, "Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit" (John 12:24 KJV). Before, the existence of God guaranteed eternal standards of ethics, knowledge, politics, metaphysics, etc. But afterwards, all these are obliterated. Now, humanity is tossed upon a sea of uncertainty. Now, there are no absolutes. In the midst of such a tempest, however, a new creation is born. The problem, for Zarathustra, then, is to discover new realities--to create new meaning out of the chaotic aftermath of God's death.

In the section of Thus Spoke Zarathustra entitled, "Of the Three Metamorphoses," Zarathustra describes a process of human transformation. The metamorphoses will become Zarathustra's answer to the nihilism created by the death of God.

Nietzsche begins: "I name you three metamorphoses of the spirit: how the spirit shall become a camel, and the camel a lion, and the lion at last a child" (Nietzsche 54). These metaphors describe various stages in the transformation of human consciousness. Just as we pass through physical stages on our way to adulthood, Nietzsche proposes that we pass through various stages of consciousness. We are constantly becoming. We are not static creatures. In fact, for Nietzsche, nothing is static; all is in flux; there is no imperishable being; all is becoming. One point, however, should be noted: this process of transformation is not necessarily linear. Rather, it is cyclical in nature.

First, let us ponder the camel. A camel is a beast of burden. When commanded, it kneels down to accept heavy loads. It seems to possess a sense of duty in bearing what it is ordered to bear. It can go days through the desert without water. The camel-image refers to the human tendency to confront that which is difficult for us out of a sense of duty. We do not will what we do at this stage, but do "what we ought to do." We are not free to make our own decisions because we give our will over to what we believe are our duties. Nevertheless, by doing "what we ought" we challenge ourselves, paving the way for further refinement.

Zarathustra says, "What is the heaviest thing, you heroes? so asks the weight-bearing spirit, that I may take it upon me and rejoice in my strength" (ibid.). In bearing the heaviest burdens, the camel-spirit becomes lofty in its strength, in doing its duty. This type of attitude reminds me of someone like Hegel, who would try to systematize all reality into a neat logical box, and then have the audacity to believe that everything has been explained. In order for further metamorphosis, this pride must be weakened: "Is it not this: to debase yourself in order to injure your pride? To let your folly shine out in order to mock your wisdom" (ibid.)? It would be a heavy burden indeed for someone like Hegel to admit that he was wrong. I know of one philosopher who did this. Shortly before his death, Thomas Aquinas had a mystical experience that caused him to describe his life's work as so much straw. Sometimes, "wisdom" must be mocked in order for new realities to be born.

Zarathustra asks if it is not a heavy burden "to feed upon the acorns and grass of knowledge and for the sake of truth to suffer hunger of the soul" (ibid.)? For someone who has devoted much time to the search for truth and understanding, it is a very heavy burden to discover that all our so-called wisdom and knowledge is fleeting. The seeker longs for a person, a book, or some other foothold that can lead him or her to a bedrock of truth. It is burdensome because one discovers there is no such absolute foundation. One must consume what small morsels of truth one can find on the cold, damp ground. One must suffer hunger of the soul when the understanding comes that all so-called truths are really uncertain.

Zarathustra asks if it is not a heavy burden "to wade into dirty water when it is the water of truth, and not to disdain cold frogs and hot toads" (ibid.)? Think of sloshing through a green, miry swamp. It is a nasty undertaking. One can get lost very easily. The air smells bad. There are dangerous creatures at every turn. The frogs and toads are not really dangerous, but they are a nuisance, and there may be serpents lurking about. Seeking for truth is exactly like this. It is a burdensome affair to search and search, only to find that one is going around in circles, not to mention all the encumbrances along the way. This is the realm of becoming, where there are no absolute standards--no firm path on which to tread. Actually, there is no sense of being, except that it is becoming. The greatest burden here, however, is when one learns to wade into these waters without disdaining the difficult struggle of living in a world that is devoid of standards. This undertaking can bring about transformation.

The camel takes upon itself its heavy burdens and flees into a desert of solitude. Here, the camel must continually question even the "truths" it has accepted. It must interrogate this new idea, i.e., that there are no absolute standards.

The seeker of truth who carries the burden of uncertainty will eventually need solitude. Not actually literal solitude, but a separation in thought from those who still adhere to two world theories. Only in solitude can genuine creation be brought forth. This is why Zarathustra traveled to the mountains. "Here he had the enjoyment of his spirit and his solitude and he did not weary of it for ten years" (Nietzsche 39). It is in the desert that the camel changes into a lion, for "it wants to capture freedom and be lord in its own desert" (Nietzsche 54).

The lion is, at the same time, a mighty, noble warrior, and a vicious killer. It is noble in the sense that it craves freedom. It desires to create its own freedom, but it must kill to get it.

The camel is only a beast of burden. A beast of prey is required for the task of capturing freedom. The might of the lion can perform the task at hand.

Who is to be the lion's victim? "It seeks here its ultimate lord: it will be an enemy to him and to its ultimate God, it will struggle for victory with the great dragon" (Nietzsche 54-55). The great dragon, which the lion will battle for its freedom, is called "Thou Shalt." The lion's foe is the spirit of commandments, i.e., when others seek to instruct us in what we must believe and accept as truth. History is replete with examples of the enforcement of commandments. One that comes to mind is the Catholic Inquisition.

The great dragon sparkles with gold. "The values of a thousand years" shine on its scales (Nietzsche 55). The dragon believes itself supreme because it believes it possesses the one truth concerning all existence. It believes in a transcendental realm of absolute ideas that can be understood by humanity through the faculty of reason. It believes in a transcendental being (God) that has created this realm and now watches over it, so that truth remains eternal. The dragon despises opposing opinions. "There will be no 'I will,'" it says. One either conforms, or one is trampled underfoot. But the might of the lion says, "I will!" The lion is the beginning of the will to power, the will to create new realities, the will to become what one is meant to be.

The lion cannot create new values. However, its might is needed to capture freedom for itself. After the dragon has been mauled by the spirit of the lion, what then? The lion must understand that now there is no guiding hand of a transcendental God, or the firm foundation of a realm of absolute Ideas. There is no external authority. Now, the lion is alone; it is responsible for itself. There are no more laws, no more duties for it to bear. Is this not the greatest burden?

The lion is victorious. It has uttered the sacred "No" to the dragon. One thing remains: the lion is not capable of creating new values for itself. It is merely a warrior. Its talent lies in destruction. For creation, another metamorphosis must take place: the lion must become a child.
But tell me, my brothers, what can the child do that the lion cannot? The child is innocence and forgetfulness, a new beginning, a sport, a self-propelling wheel, a first motion, a sacred Yes (ibid.).
The child possesses unique talents which make it the perfect choice for the third transformation. The child is innocence. It has no sense of what life was like when the dragon was still alive. There is no guilt because there is no awareness of Thou Shalt. It knows only becoming--awaking each day to discover a new idea, a new game to play, a new world to explore.

The child is forgetfulness. It has forgotten the heavy burdens of duty and the longing for freedom. Now, it constantly abides in freedom. It has forgotten the golden scales of the dragon. It has forgotten the ancient ways of the past, the so-called eternal values and standards. It lives only for the moment.

The child is a new beginning. When long-held beliefs have been called into question by the camel, and then destroyed by the lion, one enters a new epoch. After a time, the values one has created for oneself become obsolete. These must not be allowed to become sacred cows, for, eventually, they must be destroyed and replaced by new values. The spirit of the camel will question whether these beliefs are still viable. If not, the spirit of the lion will destroy them. Then comes a new beginning, the spirit of the child, who will bring about the creation of new values. This cyclical process never ends, unless one becomes stagnant, i.e., if one ceases to create by returning to a notion of static being.

The child is a sport, or a game. Children are always inventing new games, along with a set of rules for each. When I was about eight years old, some friends and I invented our own version of "whiffle ball". It was similar to regular baseball. But, because we didn't have enough fielders, we had to create a set of rules that would work for just three or four players. Also, the rules would change depending on whose yard we were playing in at the time. We didn't need any adults telling us how to play our game. We created it ourselves. This, in my opinion, is the attitude that Nietzsche is trying to get us to think about here. We need to adopt the attitude of a child. When faced with a problem, even if it is only how to play a silly child's game, the child will create a solution. He/She will allow spontaneity to flow freely, creating rules that fit the particular situation.

The child has no knowledge of anything eternal or transcendent. There is only spontaneity and creative play, that is, until we adults pound our values into their heads. After enculturation is complete, they are fortunate if they ever break free from the Thou Shalts of the herd.

The child is a self-propelling wheel. At this stage of transformation, the child possesses the will to power, or the power to roll its own wheel. Creation is the wheel that is propelled along by the will. As long as it is understood that all is becoming, the wheel continues to roll along. However, when "wisdom" becomes ensconced in one's thinking, then the wheel comes to a screeching halt.

The child is a first motion. When the great dragon was still alive, no movement existed. There was only static being; there was no creation. There were only "the values of a thousand years." The camel questioned those values; the lion destroyed them. Now, the child is the first motion, because the child is the creator. Creation is not static, but dynamic.

Think of how the earth continually creates and re-creates. Every spring, new life bursts forth from the earth. There is a period of growth, decay, and then death. I think this may be how Nietzsche envisions this process of transformation. Creators always pass through such periods of growth, decay, and death. The child represents growth, i.e., the growth of new realities. The camel eventually doubts these realities (decay), and the lion destroys them (death). Then, once more, the child creates new ones, and the process begins all over again.

The child is the sacred Yes. In order for new creation to occur, the spirit of the child must utter a holy Yes to life.
Yes, a sacred Yes is needed, my brothers, for the sport of creation: the spirit now wills its own will, the spirit sundered from the world now wins its own spirit (ibid.).
Before, the spirit had no will of its own. It was controlled by the beliefs of others, by the beliefs of the herd. But the sacred No was spoken by the lion. The spirit now has no sense of duty; it is not impelled to act in any other way than the behavior it chooses. Now the sacred Yes is needed in order for creativity to be unleashed, for new values to be invented.

Nietzsche is saying that we should simply adopt those values that give us the greatest pleasure. I see it as being much more complex. He is affirming the need to pass beyond all polarities (good and evil, for example) and create for ourselves a set of values which will allow us to envision the prospect of overcoming ourselves. Perhaps we will never get there. The Ubermensch may only be a possibility. The main point, however, is to take the risk, to make the attempt, to struggle with the uncertainty. By doing this, we are constantly abiding in the flux of life.

Works Cited

Nietzsche, Friedrich. Thus Spoke Zarathustra. New York: Penguin, 1969.

Dostoevsky And Existentialism

Existentialism was a movement that took place in philosophy after the Second World War, but its roots go back many centuries. It was a break with the Enlightenment mindset which attempted to bring mankind to a state of perfection.

The objections to traditional thinking came when Western man began to encounter his own finitude: the Renaissance had promised unlimited horizons for humanity; the Enlightenment had peered down the corridors of Time and saw man as a perfected being:
Our hopes for the future condition of the human race can be subsumed under three important heads: the abolition of inequality between nations, the progress of equality within each nation, and the true perfection of mankind...(Condorcet, Sketch for a Historical Picture of the Progress of the Human Mind)
This was the general mood among thinkers during that time. Even religious thinkers were enticed by the idea that man was finally on his way to achieving fulfillment. While still holding to faith in the spiritual realm, the Protestants, with their puritan work ethic, viewed nature as a realm hostile to the spirit, and meant to be conquered by zealous industry. In this way, Protestant man assisted the New Science in carrying out the immense project of the despiritualization of nature, and emptied it of all the symbols and images that had been graven upon the human psyche. Protestantism stripped man of the unity of his nature.

As the modern world moved onward, faith became less and less important as a result of the continued secularization of society. Protestant man is the beginning of the West's terrible encounter with Nothingness.

The marriage of Protestantism and capitalism, as shown by historians, was of major importance in the rationalization and despiritualization of human life. For several centuries, the two pillaged and reconstructed the globe, snatching for themselves new continents and territories, and seeming to prove the superiority of their religion and intellect. By the middle of the nineteenth century, capitalism had erected the worst slums in human history.

The depersonalization caused by Western man's fascination with the abstract led directly to the revolt of men like Dostoevsky, Kierkegaard, and Nietzsche.

Fyodor Dostoevsky, a Russian novelist, was arrested in April, 1849 as a member of a socialistic group of middle-class liberals interested in Fourier's theories. A little more than half a year later, he was before a firing squad, stark naked, and awaiting his death. He later wrote of his thoughts while waiting there in the prison yard in the freezing cold,
I kept staring at a church with a gilt dome reflecting the sunbeams and I suddenly felt as if these beams came from the region where I myself was going to be in a few minutes.
At that moment, an officer came galloping across the square, waving a handkerchief to signal that Tsar Nicholas I had commuted the sentences of Dostoevsky, and the twenty other men who stood there with him, to prison terms in Siberia. Dostoevski's comments: "A lesson never to be forgotten." Grigoriev, another of the condemned men, became insane after this; others suffered nervous breakdowns, contracted incurable diseases, or had their ears and toes frozen. Dostoevsky did not remember having felt the cold at all.

This experience, coupled with the rediscovery of his faith in Christ while in Siberia, had monumental effects on his later literary career.

After several years of wandering around Europe, gambling away all of his money, an unsuccessful love affair, never-ending problems with his publisher, loss of his best friend, and finally bankruptcy and near starvation, he was a broken man indeed. Even the success of Crime And Punishment could not pay his entire debt. After marrying Anna Gregorievna, the final ten years of his life became a period of quiet and comfort.

Dostoevsky has been called "the father of modern psychology," for he knew about human nature, about human suffering, defeat, and failure. He did not want to be called a psychologist; he declared emphatically, "I am not a psychologist, I am a realist." Nietzsche complimented him by saying that he was the only psychologist from whom he had learned anything.

The extremes which had shaken his life took him on a journey through the dark regions of the mind of man. He once said, "Always and in everything I go to the extreme limit." His passion for excess led him to the uncharted realms of human existence where he would confront the mysteries of life. "The ant knows the formula of its abode and work... but man does not," he once said.

His writings are poignant examples of the anxiety of nineteenth century man. In his work, Notes from Underground, he paints a picture of the attitude that was emerging after the disappointments of the Enlightenment:
I am a sick man....I am a spiteful man. No, I am not a pleasant man at all. I believe there is something wrong with my liver. However, I don't know a damn thing about my liver; neither do I know whether there is anything really wrong with me. I am not under medical treatment, and never have been....I refuse medical treatment out of spite....I don't expect I shall be able to explain to you who it is I am actually trying to annoy in this case by my spite; I realise full well that I can't 'hurt' the doctors by refusing to be treated by them; I realise better than any one that by all this I am only hurting myself and no one else. Still, the fact remains that if I refuse to be medically treated, it is only out of spite."
This is only the first paragraph of Dostoevsky's bleak portrait of his "anti-hero." One should read the entire book to get at what he is saying. The main point is, and I will let him speak for himself, he and his contemporaries "have lost all touch with life, we are all cripples, every one of us....We are stillborn." The transition from the optimism of the eighteenth century is obvious.

The underground man actually does not want to find his true motive -- he is hiding from himself: "There are certain things in a man's past which he does not divulge to everybody but, perhaps, only to his friends. Again there are certain things he will not divulge even to his friends; he will divulge them, perhaps, only to himself...But, finally, there are things which he is afraid to divulge even to himself."

The skepticism of David Hume helped drive a wedge between reason and nature, and led to the attitudes of men like Dostoevsky, by his contention that there is no "necessary connection" among matters of fact. Hume regarded reason as merely a tool for detecting relations among ideas; reason can tell us nothing about the real world, was his opinion. This led to Dostoevsky making statements like: "you can't explain anything by reasoning and consequently it is useless to reason." Quite a monumental change from Condorcet's previously quoted statement of optimism.

Dostoevsky's chapter in The Brothers Karamazov, entitled "The Grand Inquisitor," gives us a glimpse into how he viewed organized religion.

The story takes place in Seville, Spain during the worst days of the Inquisition. Christ appears to the people of the city, performs several miracles, and is subsequently arrested by the Cardinal, the Grand Inquisitor. He is taken to a dark prison cell and locked away. Soon after, the Grand Inquisitor pays him a visit. These are his opening remarks:
You? Is it really you? You need not answer me. Say nothing. I know only too well what You could tell me now. Besides, You have no right to add anything to what you said before. Why did you come here, to interfere and make things difficult for us? For You came to interfere -- You know it."
The Cardinal then informs Christ that He will be burned as a heretic the next day. Christ remains silent through all of this.

The entirety of Dostoevsky's brilliant insight in this chapter must be read to be appreciated. The words spoken by the Cardinal are powerful and frightening, and resemble modern day religiosity.

Dostoevsky's insight into the human condition, along with others like Kierkegaard and Nietzsche, led to some fascinating discoveries in psychology in the twentieth century. Their insight provides us with clues to the mysteries of healing the human psyche.

Aug 30, 2010

The So-Called Meaning Of Life

Have we, as Westerners, placed too much emphasis on the idea of meaning? We're always asking, What is the meaning of life? Perhaps this is not really the correct question to be asking. Inquiring into the meaning of life seems, in this day and time, to be an exercise in futility. I question whether this practice was ever a fruitful endeavor.

Meaning in life infers that there is a goal to be attained. You start out your life here, and, if you do the "correct" things, such as go to school, go to church, marry someone you supposedly love, get a great career going, have a few kids, and then end up with a boat-load of money when you're sixty-five. And then you float up to heaven when you die (What do you do for eternity when you get there?). Is that it? These things sound great, but aren't these really what the ego desires? I contend that it is the ego that requires a meaning, a signification in life. If we were not living in the clutches of egocentricity, we would not even think to bother with such trivial questions.

We have adopted the way of the god, Hercules, at the expense of all others. He is the archetypal hero. In his twelth labor, Hercules did not journey to Hades to learn from death and the underworld, as he should have, but with intense aggression, he drew his sword, wounded Hades, slaughtered cattle, wrestled herdsmen, and choked and chained Cerberus. We view our so-called heroes in the light of Hercules' victories. Hercules is the heroic ego of Western culture. The hero of today is consumed with ego, as in those who think of nothing but money, power, and success. Most of all, they desire to conquer death, as in Christianity.
One day the Buddha held up a flower in front of an audience of 1,250 monks and nuns. He did not say anything for quite a long time. The audience was perfectly silent. Everyone seemed to be thinking hard, trying to see the meaning behind the Buddha's gesture. Then, suddenly, the Buddha smiled. He smiled because someone in the audience smiled at him and at the flower. . . . To me the meaning is quite simple. When someone holds up a flower and shows it to you, he wants you to see it. If you keep thinking, you miss the flower. The person who was not thinking, who was just himself, was able to encounter the flower in depth, and he smiled. That is the problem of life. If we are not fully ourselves, truly in the present moment, we miss everything.
--Thich Nhat Hanh
The quest for meaning is an ego-trip, nothing more. The ego cannot accept that life simply is. We should simply live, for life is poetic, musical, colorful. Life is it's own meaning. So, stop searching and just live it! Stop climbing the ladder, stop running the race! Live! Smile!

Hades, Ruler of the Underworld

Hades, as we all know, is the god of the Underworld. At his birth, he was devoured by his father, Kronos, along with his four siblings. Later, his brother, Zeus, forced the Titan god to vomit forth his children. This led to a great war on the Titan gods, whereby they were vanquished to the dark pit of Tartaros.

The victorious gods then drew lots for their portion of the cosmos. Hades, of course, ended up drawing the shortest straw and was allotted the realm of the dead as his portion. From our modern, Herculean, hero-worshiping, egocentric point of view, I suppose you could say Hades was a loser; he fumbled the ball; he ran too slow; he went bankrupt.

The Ruler of the Dead, however, is quite an interesting fellow. For instance, did you know that Hades is the god of the hidden wealth of the earth? One of the common names associated with Hades is Pluto, which is derived from ploutos, meaning "wealth." Hades is god of all precious minerals and metals that are mined from the depths of the earth, for
The entire bulk and substance of the earth, was dedicated to father Dis [Haides] (that is, Dives, ‘the rich’, and so in Greek Plouton), because all things fall back into the earth and also arise from the earth. - Cicero, De Natura Deorum 2.26
He is also responsible for the fertility of crops, since it was Spring when he released Persephone, the goddess of Spring's bounty.

Furthermore, Hades is known as the god of funeral rites and mourning.
Of Haides it is said that he laid down the rules which are concerned with burials and funerals and the honours which are paid to the dead, no concern having been given to the dead before this time; and this is why tradition tells us that Haides is lord of the dead, since there were assigned to him in ancient times the first offices in such matters and the concern for them." - Diodorus Siculus, Library of History 5.69.5
What does this all mean for us, you may ask? Are you interested in becoming conscious of unconscious psychological processes?
Hades himself is described as a handsome, sombre and dark man with a dark, full beard and regal garb of deep tones (typically blacks and crimson) carrying a bident or two-pronged harpoon and, like Hecate, a key. The key has always been an important symbol in magickal religions representing the key to the unknown or unrealized. The gateway of the sub or supraconscience. It is a symbol of knowledge and wisdom, which is usually attributed to darker Gods and Goddesses.( 
If you are interested in depth psychology and becoming more acquainted with True Self, James Hillman has this to say to you:
To start with the image in depth psychology is to begin in the mythological underworld. . .(Dream and the Underworld, page 5).
 Hades is the ruler of the Underworld, so we should become very familiar with him and what he represents in the psyche. This has much to do with our dream lives.

Hades is not equivalent with the Christian Satan. He has both positive and negative attributes, as do all the gods.

Aug 29, 2010

The Logical Western Box

The attitude that says we must force meaning from myths and dreams is an attempt to place them into our own little logical Western box. It is reductionist in that we try to limit them to a particular interpretation. The same holds true for the interpretation of dreams. These images are so multifaceted and so complex that they cannot be circumscribed within our analytical minds. They comprise a vast, limitless landscape of imaginality where reason cannot tread.

For example, a dream of being in a deep, dark forest doesn't necessarily mean that the forest is the unconscious. It may be, but it also may have different meanings. One must take into account the context of the entire dream. So-called dream dictionaries are worthless because they attempt to reduce the image to a formulaic interpretation.

In this epoch, we are in the grip of the Hero archetype, fueled by ego and selfishness. The hero is best typified in mythology by the Greek god, Hercules. The hero craves victory at all cost. The drive for corporate profit is one of its manifestations. War is another of its pastimes. Sports, yet another. These are all exercises in futility. The ego must be pulled down from its lofty pinnacle. There are other gods who deserve recognition. The pendulum always swings. The Hero/Ego will diminish as we learn to other archetypal figures to come to the fore.

Our heroes today, in the quest for victory at all cost, are totally opposed to death and the underworld. The hero of today is consumed with humanistic ego, as in those who think of nothing but money, power, and success. Most of all, they desire to conquer death, as in Christianity (The last enemy to be conquered is Death). They refuse to recognize the underside of things, much to their dismay.
Today, cut off from this psychic background, the heroic becomes the psychopathic; an exaltation of activity for its own sake (James Hillman).
This "psychic background" is nothing other than the gods, who we have forgotten and tried to kill. Cut off from that, mankind has become enamored with itself, thus leading us to the present rule of Ego.

What we are seeing today in our government, our places of worship, our universities, etc., is blatant egocentricity, or the cult of Ego. Our so-called cultural heroes have, for the most part, rejected Soul and its mundus imaginalis. This attitude has led to disastrous results, such as endless war and rampant corruption in government and business.


Humans are hard-wired to suffer. To be truly human, suffering is necessary. I think we miss the point, however, when we think there is some Omega Point to it all, some teleological reason to explain it. Life is as it is. We are thrown into the world, to borrow from Heidegger, and it is how we deal with this thrownness that is important.

At this point in my life, I suppose my purpose, or reason to get up every morning, is to remember who I really am. I feel like a man who has awakened to find he has no real memory, an amnesiac. Here and there, I get fleeting glimpses, memories of the real me, but they fade quickly and I am overshadowed by black melancholia.

The few moments of remembrance, however, are incredible! If one could somehow sustain such experiences! If I could only hold the moment in eternity!

I sense these voices and images within all of us are natural ways for us to remember. We try to repress them with so-called education and cultural inculcation, but they are always there. If ignored and repressed, they reveal themselves as devils; if embraced, they are gods, willing to share with us the universe.

Fleeting glimpses are probably all we will ever have. We are so mired in this world and its trappings that it's very difficult to remember accurately.  Alas, for this we suffer.

Aug 28, 2010

Active Imagination: The Bridge to the Unconscious

Photo by Someone35
Between the universe that can be apprehended by pure intellectual perception and the universe perceptible to the senses, there is an intermediate world, the world of Idea-Images, of archetypal figures, of subtle substances, of "immaterial matter". This world is as real and objective, as consistent and subsistent as the intelligible and sensible worlds; it is an intermediate universe 'where the spiritual takes body and the body becomes spiritual,' a world consisting of real matter and real extension, though by comparison to sensible, corruptible matter these are subtle and immaterial. The organ of this universe is the active Imagination; it is the place of theophanic visions, the scene on which visionary events and symbolic histories appear in their true reality (Henry Corbin).
This is the world we journey through every night in our dreams. The multitude of images and stories we experience have their own unique reality. We are said to "fall asleep." We do, indeed, fall; rather we plunge into a world of depth and mystery. Most people just dismiss this as something we ate the previous day, or some other reductionist retort.

We in the West are trapped in materialism and, therefore, cannot accept the Imaginal. We can't seem to bridge the yawning chasm Descartes placed between mind and body. We've been conditioned by several hundred years of rationalistic and materialistic thinking, to neglect the awesome forces within us.

On the other hand, this situation is changing dramatically. More and more people are awakening to the fact that we are more than simply biological automatons living in a world of dead matter. Even scientists are waking up. For example, biochemist Rupert Sheldrake has integrated Jungian ideas into his theories. Sheldrake mentions Jung in this quotation:
specific morphogenetic fields (consider Jung's 'archetypes', Plato's 'Ideas', or the astrological signs and planets as further examples of morphogenic fields ) are responsible for the characteristic form and organization of systems at all levels of complexity, not only in the realm of biology, but also in the realms of chemistry and physics. These fields order the systems with which they are associated by affecting events which, from an energetic point of view, appear to be indeterminate or probabilistic; they impose patterned restrictions on the energetically possible outcomes of physical processes. If morphogenetic fields are responsible for the organization and form of material systems, they must themselves have characteristic structures. ...the structures of past systems affect subsequent similar systems by a cumulative influence which acts across both space and time (qtd. at
Henry Corbin, among others, has already told us how to cross the abyss and move into this amazing world of Imagination.
Corbin is saying that if you know how to use your imaginative faculty, you can reliably reach the Imaginal Realm. He called this faculty "active imagination," the same term Jung used to describe his method of accessing the psychoid realm of the archetypes. Unfortunately, our culture is largely clueless about how an imaginative faculty works. Like other unused things, our active imaginations have atrophied. When it comes to imaginative muscle, we're couch potatoes (The Door To The Imaginal, by Mary Pat Mann).
 In the following passage, Jung discusses the technique that he rediscovered (it was used by the ancients to gain spiritual insight):
It is therefore with the greatest hesita­tion that I make the attempt to illustrate from case-histories. The material I shall use comes partly from normal, partly from slightly neurotic, persons. It is part dream, part vision, or dream mixed with vision. These "visions" are far from being hallucina­tions or ecstatic states; they are spontaneous, visual images of fantasy or so-called active imagination. The latter is a method (devised by myself) of introspection for observing the stream of interior images. One concentrates one's attention on some impressive but unintelligible dream image, or on a spontane­ous visual impression, and observes the changes taking place in it. Meanwhile, of course, all criticism must be suspended and the happenings observed and noted with absolute objectivity. Obviously, too, the objection that the whole thing is "arbitrary" or "thought up" must be set aside, since it springs from the anxiety of an ego-consciousness which brooks no master besides itself in its own house. In other words, it is the inhibition exerted by the conscious mind on the unconscious.

Under these conditions, long and often very dramatic series of fantasies ensue. The advantage of this method is that it brings a mass of unconscious material to light. Drawing, painting, and modelling can be used to the same end. Once a visual series has become dramatic, it can easily pass over into the auditive or linguistic sphere and give rise to dialogues and the like. With slightly pathological individuals, and particularly in the not in­frequent cases of latent schizophrenia, the method may, in cer­tain circumstances, prove to be rather dangerous and therefore requires medical control. It is based on a deliberate weakening of the conscious mind and its inhibiting effect, which either limits or suppresses the unconscious. The aim of the method is naturally therapeutic in the first place, while in the second it also furnishes rich empirical material. Some of our examples are taken from this. They differ from dreams only by reason of their better form, which comes from the fact that the contents were perceived not by a dreaming but by a waking consciousness (CW Vol. 9i, p 190).
Active imagination is the bridge that allows us to pass into another world. It is a practical means of dredging unconscious knowledge from the vast ocean of the unconscious.

Aug 26, 2010


Imaginatio is the Star in Man, the Celestial or Supercelestial Body (A Lexicon of Alchemy, by Martin Rulandus).
We don't realize what is available to us. We go through our daily lives, often extremely depressing, usually focused on material things. We forget that all we need do is close our eyes and enter another world. The Imaginal is a vast landscape, an immense cosmos where nothing is impossible. It is not limited by physical laws, the constraints of logic, or space-time constructs we are accustomed to.
One of the most significant characteristics of this realm is that within it the things that one encounters—and they are very specific things indeed, ranging from rocks and trees to buildings and entire cities have about them a distinctly personal character. As Corbin says, the pronoun best used when describing the specifics of this dimension is not "what" but "who." The imaginal dimension, he wrote, is "a universe for which it is difficult in our language to find a satisfactory term." It is "an ‘external world,’ and yet it is not the physical world. It is a world that teaches us that it is possible to emerge from measurable space without emerging from extent, and that we must abandon homogeneous chronological time in order to enter that qualitative time which is the history of the soul" (Recovering a Visionary Geography, by Ptolemy Tompkins).
One cannot rationally explain such things. When the experience comes, however, there is a deep sense of meaning and emotion. This is the nature of Truth, Aletheia, if you will. With such truth comes, not necessarily enlightenment, but a sublime sense of satisfaction.


[Man] can be understood only as an image of the macrocosm, of the Great Creature. Only then does it become manifest what is in him. For what is outside is also inside; and what is not outside man is not inside. The outer and the inner are one thing, one constellation, one influence, one concordance, one duration, one fruit. (From Paracelsus, Selected Writings, ed. Jolande Jacobi, trans. Norbert Guterman.New York: pantheon, 1951, p. 21.)
Know that you are another world in miniature and have in you Sol and Luna and even the stars [Origen, Homiliae in Leviticum, 5, 2.].
With those who accept the doctrine of Microcosm/Macrocosm, there is the tendency to think that the macrocosm is superior. This is not the case at all. In our Western mindset, large is better than small, but this entirely misses the point. These realities are intermingled in such a way as to be nearly indistinguishable.

This seeming dichotomy between Microcosm/Macrocosm is illusory. Speaking this way, of two realities, is a kind of heuristic device to aid in understanding. The teaching is directly related to the esoteric doctrine, As above, so below. I would say there are myriad possible meanings to the phrase. I take it to mean that the depth of Soul is comparable to the infinity of the physical universe. Just as there are innumerable worlds in our universe, there are innumerable worlds within us. The complexity of the physical universe corresponds to the complexity of mankind as well.

If you travel the way of spirit and climb the scala paradisi, you will ultimately fall from your lofty heights and end up deep in the mire. If you traverse the depths, you will, in my opinion, find the place you have long sought after. The way of Soul is a descent, not always pleasant, but the roots emanate deep and draw up the water of life. This is why the sages have always admonished us to "know thyself." Because of the ouroboric effect, the deep passageways will lead to the height of Man's glory.

New World Order?

For some time, there has been speculation that a shadowy cabal exists in our world that has conspired to lead us down the road to a one-world government. Some call this the Illuminati, or the New World Order. Some claim the Freemasons are behind it, or the Bilderberg Group, the Trilateral Commission, or the Council On Foreign Relations. It is truly a fascinating mythology of the most complex twists and turns. There is some evidence, I suppose, that it's all true.

What if, however, we don't look at this "conspiracy theory" so literally? What if we look at it as a story emanating from the collective unconscious? Perhaps the claims are, indeed, factual; most myths have their origin in empirical facts. For our purposes, however, let us lay aside the literal meaning for now and examine the imaginal contents of this theory.

The first thing we must understand is that this theory is a collective myth. It has arisen out of the psyches of many people the world over, in one form or another. It is a story being told by the anima mundi, or World-Soul.

Conspiracy theories have been around as long as there have been social groups, especially secret societies. Things done in secret always arouse suspicion.

The psychological tendency for humans to fear the rule of a one-world government is a reaction against a paternalistic, overly-rational, monotheistic self-tyranny. James Hillman wrote,
To define my person by my waking state neglects [the many dream] figures and their influences. I then become tyrannical, reflecting the jealous monotheism of Number One, who will not recognize the existence of independent partial personalities, and through this denial places them outside in the world, where the internal influences of complexes now become paranoid fears of invasions by enemies.
(Re-Visioning Psychology, page 33, brackets mine)
Hillman is here discussing the temptation of humans to understand the inner state in a monotheistic fashion, ignoring the multitude of personalities who make up the human psyche. The more primal viewpoint, polytheism, actually better coincides with the natural state of the psyche.

Hillman breaks with Jung in a major way. Jung taught that the archetypes, or inner personalities, could be integrated (individuation) into what he called The Self, kind of a Christic Center of the psyche. Individuation equals wholeness. Hillman sees this as just another example of monotheistic thinking. He would rather the archetypes remain independent and unique. The entire monotheistic/monistic concept is a form of ego-consciousness. The heroic Ego, like Hercules, believes it can subdue all others to itself and stand as Number One.

This idea, applied macrocosmically, gives ample evidence as to why nations need to remain autonomous. If it is healthier for the inner persons to remain independent and autonomous, then, according to the principle, As above, so below, it is healthier for nations to remain autonomous as well.

There is tyranny when only one rules. The One is jealous of all others. The mythology of one-world rule is a projection of our inner paranoia, our fear of a self-tyranny.

Aug 25, 2010

The Source Of Dreams

Hypnos, by Wilhelm Baron von Gloeden
There is a deeply cut cave, a hollow mountain, near the Cimmerian country, the house and sanctuary of drowsy Sleep. Phoebus can never reach it with his dawn, mid-day or sunset rays. Clouds mixed with fog, and shadows of the half-light, are exhaled from the ground. No waking cockerel summons Aurora with his crowing: no dog disturbs the silence with its anxious barking, or goose, cackling, more alert than a dog. No beasts, or cattle, or branches in the breeze, no clamour of human tongues. There still silence dwells. But out of the stony depths flows Lethe’s stream, whose waves, sliding over the loose pebbles, with their murmur, induce drowsiness. In front of the cave mouth a wealth of poppies flourish, and innumerable herbs, from whose juices dew-wet Night gathers sleep, and scatters it over the darkened earth. There are no doors in the palace, lest a turning hinge lets out a creak, and no guard at the threshold. But in the cave’s centre there is a tall bed made of ebony, downy, black-hued, spread with a dark-grey sheet, where the god himself lies, his limbs relaxed in slumber. Around him, here and there, lie uncertain dreams, taking different forms, as many as the ears of corn at harvest, as the trees bear leaves, or grains of sand are thrown onshore (Ovid's Metamorphoses Bk XI:573-649 The House of Sleep, tr. Anthony S. Kline).

Here we have a description by Ovid of the place where dreams originate. The home of Hypnos, the god of sleep, is located in Erebos, the land of eternal darkness. Hypnos is the twin brother of Thanatos, the god of death. You can see how closely dreams and death are related.

Hypnos is the father of Morpheus, the god of dreams. He is the leader of the Oneiroi, the dark-winged daimones of dreams.
They emerged each night like a flock of bats from their cavernous home in Erebos, the land of eternal darkness beyond the rising sun. The Oneiroi passed through one of two gates (pylai). The first of these, made of horn, was the source of the prophetic god-sent dreams, while the other, constructed of ivory, was the source of dreams which were false and without meaning. The term for nightmare was melas oneiros (black dream)(

Aug 24, 2010

Life Is As It Is

What exactly does it mean "to become?" It is change, of course, activity, movement from one state to another. It is a flower closed that turns and opens to the rays of the sun. It is the metamorphosis of a moth into a brilliant butterfly.

We can't help but become. We are constantly changing. We don't need to strive; it is automatic.

If the saying, Tat Tvam Asi (Thou Art That), written in the Upanishads is at once true, then what is it I need to become? It seems that becoming is just an illusion created by our enculturation. The whole idea of striving toward an endpoint, ala Teilhard De Chardin, is a mistake. Development in a linear fashion seems to be very important to Western culture, but linearity is a flawed view of things.

I am that, so there is no need for me to strive. I am that I am. I am already what I was meant to be. There is no further need for development or action.

By making the statement, I am that, I recognize I cannot know the Unknowable. I know what I can know, i.e. the knowable. The unknown cannot be known with that which is known. So, if I am to know the Unknowable, I cannot know it with my brain.

All that remains is a tremendous sense of tremendous mystery. Life simply is as it is. There is no amount of intellectual understanding we can arrive at that will change anything.

Aug 22, 2010

Black Bile

In his De Vita, Marsilio Ficino writes, “Of all scholars, those devoted to the study of philosophy are most bothered by black bile, because their minds get separated from their bodies and from bodily things.” (Ficino 7). Ficino, of course, is using the framework of Hippocrates’ theory of the four humors to explain the melancholic temperament in scholars. Aristotle also dealt with this problem, as did Plato.

According to Ficino, philosophers have a preponderance of black bile. My approach to this very odd-sounding statement will be one of openness. I want to give him the benefit of the doubt without immediately rejecting this seemingly absurd proposition. I want to know why he sees it this way.

The first impression I have is that the black bile is a powerful symbol for the darkness of melancholia.  Nowadays, biologists would scoff at the mention of the four humors. What most of them do not understand is how important imagination and myth were in the lives of the ancients. I believe the Soul was a very powerful idea for them and imagination is the way the Soul communicates. Being the Doctor of Soul that Ficino was, he picked up on this. I think he understood the symbolic nature of the four humors, especially black bile. He also speaks as though he accepted it as a viable biological theory. If we understand it in a metaphorical fashion, the modern cry of absurdity does not arise. We are free to be imaginative.

The theory of humors is a complex matter. I will but scratch the surface. As the theory goes, everyone has some black bile. The melancholy person, however, has too much. The scholar detaches his mind from external things and directs it internally. The philosopher, perhaps, does this to a greater extent than other scholars, due to the difficulty of the subject matter. According to Ficino, one moves “from the circumference to the center” (Ficino 6). He compares the center to the interior of the earth, “which resembles black bile” (ibid.). Truly, when we look inside ourselves, sometimes it is very dark. Black bile is a good image to represent the acerbic and somber nature of melancholy. It is disgustingly dark and bitter.

I first encountered this bitterness when I began to ask questions about my life and my world. It was the bitter uncertainty that plunged me into darkness. I could not answer my own questions satisfactorily, nor could anyone else. With the realization that "truths" I once embraced were now shattered, I clung to uncertainty as a drowning man would a life-preserver.

I don’t know if I’ve ever experienced detachment from my body, but I am certain there have been times when I despised it. It has greatly hindered me from seeking Truth, or at least I thought it did. I am rather of the opinion now that I am here in this body because this is my destiny. For some reason unbeknownst to me, Fate has led me to the situation I find myself in. I must “grow down” into it as a tree would sink it roots into the earth. Perhaps my desire for detachment is merely a projection of my dislike for the materialistic, literalistic worldview. Still, though, along with all my rationalizations, I have too much black bile.

Work Cited
Ficino, Marsilio. The Book of Life. Irving: Spring, 1980.

Where Are The Birds?

Once in awhile, on the eve of some tremendous cataclysm, birds will sing a most distinctive tune. I have witnessed this. One misty morning, I was walking beside a great lake in Switzerland (I would rather not name it), when I noticed that the birds were humming a most curious song. Taken aback, I cocked my ear to get a better hint at what they were saying.

The fog had rolled across the lake and encircled the shoreline, making visual perception very difficult. To compensate, ears perked up to the song-sounds emanating from these remarkable creatures. In an instant, just when I thought I was beginning to comprehend the message, the wind swept it away like so many dead leaves. The fog, then, quickly lifted and I found myself in brilliant sunshine. This saddened me, for the mist was trying to help me understand the music. I shook my fist at the sky and cursed the sun!

Apparently, the fog had brought the message to the birds and they were trying to relay it to me. I wish I had listened closer because, by the end of day, the birds had been taken away.

Aug 20, 2010

Two Eyes Of The Daimon

In the midst of thunder, there are two eyes: one for time and one for eternity. In tandem, they see the ubiquitous depths of man’s affliction. Once I saw, as you see, a great dearth in the land. Asphyxiating gas held me in its sway, and the Sun swallowed the sky.

I looked and beheld, within the deluge, the dross of ignorance slowly abating. Fire overwhelmed the green stars. From charred remains, I saw blue slivers of night fall upon the ground.

The waters above my head,
Lest they wash over me.
I descend,
Into the formless deep.

I stood at the edge of the universe and watched as bolts of lightning flashed upwards and entered my body. A gaping chasm yawned at my feet and expelled its energy. Never had I witnessed such an infusion of power. Then I looked and saw a burning red sphere ascend from the Abyss. It engulfed me in its miserable, glowing intensity.

From below.
Whirring, humming,
Breathing, pulsating,
Rising up,
Past layers of ignorance.

I was immersed in a vortex of power. The root of humanity, blazing, circumambulated me. I fell on my face, prostrate, and was frozen.

When I awoke, I was atop a high cliff. Below me lay a great river, which followed a serpentine path down the cobra's back, shining in the noonday night, as if diamonds were being swept along its bed. At any moment, lightning might break the dullness of the day and bring with it wreaths of hoary rain to pound, to tantalize, the living creatures within.

I witnessed this, from my perch, high above the fray. The dynamic fixated my gaze. My ears stood on edge, awaiting the next articulation. There was a strange aroma in the air, almost garlic, not quite cinnamon. It lingered for a moment and then rushed away with ferocity. Suddenly, an energy spoke with a voice so soft I could almost see it. It reminded all that autumn was now quite near and that the green shoots we were witnessing would last forever.

At this, the river began to spiral and coil. The movement was at once exciting and interesting. I longed to reach out and touch it, but I feared its shiny fangs. They were arrows and bows, ready to spring at the throat. Even with my armor about me, I dared not move, for I would regret any passivity on my part.

Much sunlight passed before I looked again into the rocky valley. A white mist had ascended from the vernal seascape and enveloped the cobra, now ready to pounce if anything dared breach its boundaries.

Giddy with delight, I lost sight of the dynamic and fell into a terrible maelstrom that had formed just above me. I whirled round and round for several years before alighting upon the cobra's back. Finding myself in this position, I was amazed at how uncomfortable it was. It was as if I had been born to ride the serpent all along.

Three Images Of The Unbound

In the days of Heraclitus, Greek philosophy was still in its infancy. But even at this early juncture, Greece had already experienced the profound intellects of such luminaries as Thales, Anaximander, and Anaximenes. Of course, there were others, but these are the ones I wish to discuss, leading up to Heraclitus and his idea of boundless depth.

This period in history is within the era Karl Jaspers called the Axial Age (Ger. Achsenzeit, "axistime"). Jaspers, and other scholars of spiritual and philosophical history, believed that a great awakening of consciousness began around 800-1000 BC (Hick 113). During this time, the archetypes of Western religious and philosophical thought were established. The various theories of the arche, which the aforementioned Greek thinkers conceived in the sixth century B.C., are crucial to the understanding of Heraclitus’ idea of psyche.

Thales proposed the arche to be water. He believed water to be the cause of all things. I have read many speculative treatises as to what Thales meant. Most of them seem to literalize his statement, as if he were a modern scientist. We should examine statements from this period in a mythopoeic manner, seeing that the Greeks at this time were still very much in a mythical mode of consciousness, a kind of hypnogogic state.
The early Greeks stood at the dawn of rational consciousness. They had just stepped out of participation mystique with nature (Edinger 8).
They were attempting to understand their world by asking rudimentary scientific questions, but it would still be a long, long time before humans began to think scientifically, as we understand it today. I see Thales as being deeply introspective, as most philosophers are. Legend has it that, while gazing at the heavens one day, Thales fell into a well, hence the beginning of the stereotypical absent-minded professor. He must have been a very contemplative thinker. Thales looked into his inner recesses and perhaps thought about the sea, which he was so familiar with, being a resident of Miletus. To a coastal city and its residents, the sea is the lifeblood of the community. What better image to represent the arche? Thales intuitively recognized that man’s Being, and everything else, originates with the sea, both psychologically and biologically; the former because the sea is an archetypal image of unconsciousness, from which consciousness arises; the latter because we now know that all biological life originated in the sea. In my own view, I think the sea could be the most ancient metaphor of psyche. On an intuitive level, Thales may have been thinking of a connection between water and psyche. One thing is certain, a nexus was established at this point in the history of Western culture between water and the primordial source of all things.

Anaximander took another step toward identifying the arche with the Soul. He said the arche is the Apeiron, or the Boundless. Being a student of Thales, Anaximander was no doubt familiar with the contemplative, introspective habit of his teacher. Even though we hear much of his external accomplishments, such as being the first to construct a map (an imago mundi), little is said about his inwardness. I believe his idea of the Apeiron is a product of deep self-examination. He disagreed with Thales and claimed that the arche could not be one of the material elements. Here, I see Anaximander withdrawing the projection, at least for the source of all things, from external substances. He realizes this incomprehensible “something” is not material, even though it is the material cause. The Apeiron is boundless, infinite, eternal, ageless, indestructible, and “encompasses all the worlds.” As Thales before him, I believe Anaximander is getting a glimpse of the nature of Soul. By his recognition of the infinity of the Apeiron, Anaximander, perhaps unwittingly, pushes Western consciousness toward a quantum leap in its development, and toward Heraclitus’ idea of Soul as boundless depth. The idea of Soul was also prevalent with the early Greek thinkers, but mostly as a result of the poets and sages. At that time, Soul was viewed by the Greeks as "the life-breath or animating 'spirit' which departs as a ghost" at the point of death (Kahn, 126).

Next, Anaximander makes a remarkable conclusion:
And into that from which things take their rise they pass away once more, as is meet; for they make reparation and satisfaction to one another for their injustice according to the ordering of time, as he says in these somewhat poetical terms. – Theophrastus, Phys. Op. fr. 2 (R. P. 16).
He now tells us that when things originate from the Apeiron, a crime is committed against it. And to make reparation for the things wrongdoing, it returns back to the Apeiron, thus satisfying some idea of cosmic justice. There is an idea of shame associated here with the coming into being, or, as I see it, the arising of consciousness from a sea of unconsciousness. Just as the author of Genesis declares Adam and Eve guilty for partaking of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, Anaximander associates guilt with the differentiation of consciousness. It also reminds me of the sin of the fire-thief, Prometheus, who kindled the anger of Zeus. For some reason, when ancient man began to think of himself as an individual, a painful sense of wrongdoing accompanied his self-consciousness.

Another Milesian thinker, Anaximenes, who was a student of Anaximander, put forth his own idea that air is the arche. Here is yet another powerful image of the source of all things that can be associated with Soul. For thousands of years, air, wind, breath, etc. have been archetypal symbols of both Soul (psyche) and mind (nous), as well as spirit (pneuma). In fact, Anaximenes made the association himself. According to Theophrastus, he said,
Just as . . . our soul, being air, holds us together, so do breath and air encompass the whole world." -- Aet. i. 3, 4 (R. P. 24).
According to classicist John Burnet, this is a point in Western thinking where the microcosm/macrocosm idea makes an appearance, which was also the Pythagorean view. Usually with this idea, psyche is microcosm while the universe is the macrocosm. Clearly, therefore, a connection is established in Anaximenes’ theory between the arche (air) and Soul.

So, we have three unique philosophers with three wonderfully different ideas of the arche, which I believe are actually symbols of Soul. These men gazed into their own inner processes and derived three creative ideas which undoubtedly speak to their own individual personalities. They describe, however, a phenomenon which is common to all mankind.

It is my contention that Heraclitus’ idea of the unfathomable depth of Soul was directly influenced by these three previous ideas, for there is an idea of infinite depth in all three. Concerning Thales’ theory, the primordial images of sea, abyss, and ocean certainly contain an element of immense depth. The archetypal sea is unfathomable. Anaximander states clearly that the arche is the Apeiron, the Boundless. An element of Anaximenes’ theory of air speaks to the airy heavens of the macrocosm and the pneumatic realms of the microcosm, which encompasses the infinity of the universe. Besides this, Cicero mentions that “Anaximenes said that air is a god, that it is infinite and always in motion” (De Natura Deorum I. 26).

By the time Heraclitus arrives on the scene, he has much prima materia to work with. 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 travel. 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.

It is amazing to think there is “something” within me that has such depth, I will never discover its limits. 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 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 that, as he said in another fragment, "I have searched myself." Obviously, again we are dealing with someone who 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.

I originally thought that Heraclitus may have been the first depth psychologist in Western culture. I have now modified my view to include the Milesians alongside Heraclitus. All these men were acutely aware of the boundless nature of the source of all things.

Works Cited

Edinger, Edward F. The Psyche In Antiquity. Toronto: Inner City, 1999.

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

Hick, John. Philosophy of Religion. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1990.

On The Wings Of A Dream

Lament For Icarus (1898) by Herbert James Draper
The myth of Daedalus and Icarus has been on my mind recently. You can read a brief account of it here.

Daedalus was a skilled artificer. One of his creations was the Labyrinth to house the Minotaur. He was said to be the originator of images.

After the Minotaur was slain by Theseus, King Minos imprisoned Daedalus and Icarus in the Labyrinth. Daedalus, of course, knew his way out, so it was not a problem. Getting off the island of Crete was, however. So, he fashioned wings from feathers and wax for him and his son. They would fly to freedom. Daedalus told Icarus to fly a middle way, not too high lest the heat of the sun melt the wax, and not too low lest the sea foam moisten the wings and make them unusable. We all know the outcome. Icarus flew too close to the sun and plunged into the sea and drowned.

I'd like to return to the subject of metaxy, the Greek word meaning "in-between." In Plato's Symposium, Socrates argues that Eros is a daimon who is in-between (metaxy) god and mortal. Indeed, according to Socrates,
the whole of the daimonic is between [metaxy] god and mortal" (202d11-e1).
This state of "in-between-ness" is important in the history of religion and philosophy. I would like to focus on psyche as metaxy.

Daedalus tells Icarus to fly a middle course, not too high, not too low. I see this as a wonderful image of the state of metaxy. It is a place between time and timelessness. It is living in the moment. It transcends opposition.

The metaxy is the realm of
alam al-mithal, the world of the Image, mundus imaginalis: a world as ontologically real as the world of the senses and the world of the intellect, a world that requires a faculty of perception belonging to it, a faculty that is a cognitive function, a noetic value, as fully real as the faculties of sensory perception, or intellectual intuition. This faculty is the imaginative power, the one we must avoid confusing with the imagination that modern man identifies with "fantasy" and that, according to him, produces only the "imaginary" (Henry Corbin, Swedenborg and Esoteric Islam).
The metaxy is this imaginal realm, where image is the meeting place between conscious and unconscious, between human and divine, between all polarities. We visit this world every night in our dreams.

Aug 19, 2010

Ficino's Idea Of Soul

The theme of Soul is the thread that weaves together the tapestry of Ficino's thinking. I would like to focus on a passage from Ficino's commentary on Plato's Phaedrus:
You must understand that in approaching the task of depicting the idea of the soul. . . (Marsilio Ficino and the Phaedrian Charioteer, Michael J.B. Allen, page 96).
He goes on to describe six conceptions of the soul, which I may deal with in later essays. For now, however, my aim is to dissect what Ficino means by an idea of the soul.

Years ago, when I was taught about the soul as a Christian, the language used suggested an objective entity living inside my body that is the real me, the me which will ascend to Heaven when this body is no longer functional. I was under the impression that my soul and spirit were one in the same and that I somehow possessed them in the same way I possessed clothing or a pair of shoes. Why did they speak of my soul as if I owned it? All of this was frustrating and perplexing to me.

When I began trying to break free from the influence of Christianity, (which is a very difficult thing to do, by the way) I tried to understand myself in various ways, most of which brought me no closer to understanding my human nature. I could not accept the viewpoint of materialism, so I delved into depth psychology. I have always been convinced that my epiphanous experiences of music, literature, philosophy, and art have a deeper explanation than simply brain chemistry. Actually, there is probably no explanation at all, for "You could never arrive at the limits of soul, no matter how many roads you traveled, so deep is its mystery" (Heraclitus). I am now of the opinion that Ficino's idea of soul, which is of course heavily influenced by thinkers like Heraclitus, Plato, and Plotinus could be of great value to me in my understanding.

What I like most about Ficino's idea of soul is that it is just that, an idea. He doesn't claim that his idea of soul is the definitive explanation, as we are accustomed to hearing in dogmatic theology. I think he is letting us know that soul is something very deep and mysterious, which we will never fully understand. The best we can do is use metaphorical language (ideas) to help us scratch the surface. Furthermore, I don't think he is coming to us from the point of view of religion, even though he was an ordained priest. From what I have read so far, he is telling us that Soul is the foundation for all aspects of our lives. It is the very bedrock of our existence here in this world. Perhaps Soul is akin to Heidegger's Dasein?

Ficino doesn't seem to compartmentalize our experience of the world, as we see today. For example, a university has different colleges, which are totally set apart, to study liberal arts, engineering, mathematics, etc. The spirit of the Renaissance, which Ficino was so attuned to, examined human experience as a holistic endeavor. Engineering was as much an aspect of Soul as the liberal arts. I think it is sad we have lost touch with this viewpoint. I recall Heidegger's discussion of tools and how they interact with Dasein. I would venture to say that a similar discussion could be made using the idea of Soul.

The main point in this essay, then, is that Soul, in Ficino's writings, is an idea, a perspective, a way of seeing something that is unfathomable and mysterious.

Jung's Coniunctio: The Chymical Wedding and Heraclitus

In the workings of alchemy, the reconciliation of Sol and Luna is often referred to as The Chymical Wedding. Carl Jung's theory of the conjunction of polarities in the psyche borrows heavily from this teaching.

The ancient Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, tells us that "the way up and the way down are one and the same" (qtd. in Wheelwright 78). The idea that opposites complement each other and are actually the same is still alive today in Jungian psychology. As we will see, Jung relied heavily on the interrelatedness of opposites to explain his entire psychological theory. This article will attempt to show the Heraclitan influence in Jungian thought.

The philosophy of Heraclitus is one of the most fascinating examples of thinking in the ancient world. He may have been influenced by Eastern philosophies seeping into the Mediterranean region. He was certainly inspired by the Pythagorean and Milesian thinkers. He was rumored to be a pupil of Xenophanes.

Heraclitus understood the world to be a place where nothing remains fixed; everything is in flux and is constantly being transformed.

One of the main aspects of his teaching is that "opposition brings concord," and "out of discord comes the fairest harmony" (qtd. in Wheelwright 77). What he means by this apparent contradiction is that both positive and negative realities are required in order for harmony to exist. Justice is exhibited by the striving of one thing against another, for in this striving there is agreement or harmonia. He points to the bow and the lyre to illustrate his point. The strings of a bow and lyre require tension in order to operate harmoniously. If the bowstring were not tightened, an arrow could not be shot. Similarly, if the lyre strings were not tightened there would be no beautiful music. There is harmony in the shooting of an arrow with a bow, and in the music of a lyre, just as there is a certain harmony in the world. The discord which we experience is merely the process whereby unanimity arises. Heraclitus teaches that the consensus is not obvious, but concealed, for "hidden harmony is better than the obvious" (qtd. in Wheelwright 79).

Heraclitus believed that fire, which he seems to identify with God, or the world process, is the source of all becoming. "It throws apart and then brings together again; it advances and retires. Everything flows and nothing abides; everything gives way and nothing stays fixed" (qtd. in Wheelwright 70-71). To him, fire was the perfect symbol to describe reality.

Regarding the human soul, Heraclitus believed it is impossible to ascertain its limits, in the sense of our understanding the depths of the soul. He said, "You could not discover the limits of the soul, even if you traveled by every path in order to do so; such is the depth of its meaning" (qtd. in Wheelwright 72). Here, we have an indication of a similarity arising with what we in the modern world call depth psychology, of which Jung's Analytical Psychology is an example. Depth psychology is based on the theory of the unconscious mind, i.e., that there are things in the mind which we are not consciously aware of. Sometimes our conscious minds will thrust something which is too painful to bear into the unconscious. These things can then fester in the unconscious, affecting our conscious attitude. For example, certain emotions can be repressed and can influence behavior, many times causing mental distress. The main point here is that Heraclitus recognized the boundless depth of the human psyche some twenty-five hundred years before Freud and Jung.

As in the Heraclitan doctrine, Jungian psychology stresses the existence of a conflict of opposites, or enantiodromia. This is a term which Heraclitus used to describe the endless to and fro process of the eternal flux. The opposites are at war with each other, but in this conflict there is harmony, for both positive and negative need one another. Jung based his theory of compensation on this principle, claiming that the conscious attitude, at times, must be balanced by gaining awareness of certain unconscious processes. According to Jung,
Just as all energy proceeds from opposition, so the psyche too possesses its inner polarity, this being the indispensable prerequisite for its aliveness, as Heraclitus realized long ago" (Jung 346).
A good example of what Jung means lies in an explanation of his doctrine of the anima and animus.

For Jung, all human beings have both male and female characteristics. For instance, all men have a female element abiding in their unconscious minds. Similarly, all women have an unconscious male element. One's conscious attitude is usually dominated by those characteristics belonging to whatever sex one happens to be. The opposing characteristics, if not recognized by the conscious mind, can bring about many problems in the conscious attitude. For instance, a man who is not aware of his anima may experience irrational moods, peevishness, and bad temper. (Bennet 122). A woman who represses her animus may, for example, not respect the feelings of others because she is overly rational (Bennet 130). For men, Jung called the female image anima. For women, the male image is the animus. These are Latin words which both mean "soul." Anima is feminine; animus is masculine. If one set of characteristics is dominant, the opposite will manifest itself in dreams, possibly hinting at how the conscious attitude should be adjusted so that balance can be restored to the psyche.

Another area where Jung was influenced by Heraclitus is in his personality typology. Again, he utilizes the Heraclitan principle of enantiodromia to explain why people have different personalities. He begins with the distinction between what he terms introverts and extroverts. Basically, the introvert is characterized by a flow of energy inward; the concentration is on the subject. The extrovert's energy flows outward, into the world; the concentration is on objects and other people. Every person has both characteristics within them, just as in the anima/animus doctrine. One of the two, however, will dominate the conscious attitude.

Each of these basic attitude types consists of four functions: thinking, feeling, sensation, and intuition. As in the introvert/extrovert distinction, one of the opposites will be dominant. For instance, someone may be an extrovert who is thinking-oriented instead of feeling-oriented. This person might also be guided more by his intuition than his senses. Another may be an introvert who is feeling oriented, and who relates more to sensation. Using this procedure, Jung was able to study human beings in a more precise manner. The Myers-Briggs Personality Test, used by psychologists today, is based on Jung's typology.


Bennet, E.A. What Jung Really Said. New York: Schocken, 1966.

Jung, C.G. Memories, Dreams, and Reflections. New York: Vintage, 1965.

Wheelwright, Philip. The Presocratics. Indianapolis: ITT, 1966.

Aug 17, 2010

Zen Consciousness

Recently, while going over some of Heidegger's ideas on thinking, it suddenly occurred to me how similar these sound to some notions I studied in a course on Zen Buddhism. In the course, we explored the teachings of a Zen scholar by the name of Katsuki Sekida. Sekida is a lay teacher of Zen who has been associated with Diamond Sangha in Hawaii. In his book, Zen Training, Sekida's focus is on thought-impulses, or, as they are called in Japanese, nen.

According to Sekida, the mind operates in a particular way. The way the mind operates is only one nen at a time. You cannot really do two things at once because you cannot be conscious of two things at once.

Nen actions make their appearance before we are aware of them. A thought impulse occurs without our being aware of it. If you are going to become aware of a nen action, it takes a separate nen action to become aware of the first nen action.

First-nen occurs, for example, when one has an experience of a beautiful sunset. Before the awareness of "just how beautiful it is" dawns on you, you are momentarily held spellbound in the grasp of the experience. Then, immediately, there follows second-nen, which reflects on first-nen. According to Sekida,
The first and second nen come and go momentarily, and when a serial process of thought is occurring the second nen will frequently arise to illuminate the preceding nen, and the two will intermix as if they were entangled with each other (Sekida 109).
In second nen, one is aware of first nen. Second nen allows us to analyze and evaluate first nen. Although we can think of these as being two separate operations, they appear to us as being intertwined, as Sekida points out. Third-nen is thinking on the thought of "how beautiful the sunset is." Third-nen bonds with first and second nen to give the illusion of the continuity of the ego. Being deluded, we believe that the ego is some sort of permanent entity. In Buddhism, any kind of permanent sub-strata is rejected as being illusory. There are only discrete nen-actions.

Through zazen, or meditation, an experience known as one-eon nen can occur. One-eon nen is where second nen never emerge. The experience consists of first nen impulses, one right after another. A good example of this can be seen in a story about Ryokan, a famous Japanese Zen Master. Bosai, an eminent scholar, had gone to visit Ryokan to discuss poetry, philosophy, and literature. Ryokan suggested they have some sake'. He told Bosai that he would have to go borrow some at a farmhouse not far away. After waiting and waiting for Ryokan to return, Bosai set out to look for him. After searching for awhile, He found him sitting under a tree, gazing at the moon. Ryokan had been engaged in one-eon nen while experiencing the sight of the beautiful moon; the first-nen impulse was repeating itself over and over (Stevens 133).

The more primordial kind of thinking which Heidegger discusses seems to be very similar to first-nen. Heidegger's study of Parmenides illuminates the original connection between thinking and being. Thinking, to Heidegger, belongs to being. In this belonging-together of being and thinking, thinking thinks on being. It does not evaluate and analyze a thing--it experiences it as "that which emerges out of hiding." In this, it is similar to first-nen. The initial impulse of the essence of a thing, as in the example of the sunset, carries with it no logical analysis of the thing. The thing emerges, and is grasped in its essence. One-eon nen would be a looping of this first-nen impulse, or the logic-free thought of the being of the sunset, being experienced over and over.

I'm not certain that Heidegger's idea of thinking and Sekida's first-nen action are the same, but they both seem to be aiming at the same emerging of the thing-to-be-grasped.


Sekida, Katsuki. Zen Training. New York: Weatherhill, 1975.

Stevens, John. Three Zen Masters. New York: Kodansha, 1993.

Dreams and Literalism

Taking images literally, with the same kind of realism as the ego uses in the daylight world--this is the heroic error, a mistake of Herculean proportion, given further Judeo-Christian blessing through warnings against demons, dreams, ikons, and all forms of the soul's imaginings (Dream And The Underword, by James Hillman, page 116).
The literal mindset has wreaked incredible havoc in Western civilization. The tendency to literalize images has been a problem in human history ever since the advent of ego in the dark, misty past. When ratiocination became firmly entrenched in the human psyche, literalism was intensified.

Much damage has been inflicted by religion on the manner in which we view images. Warnings have been issued by church leaders concerning dreams, visions, icons, demons, etc. Why the fear of images? Are they afraid we may learn something about reality they don't want us to know? Was this another method to keep the masses in their place? It has been a disaster for Soul. Literalistic religion is poisonous. It's not just Christianity; all religions suffer from fringe sects that promote literalistic interpretations. True religion knows better. 

We have been taught that real is the same as corporeal. This is yet another lie to provoke attack upon images. It's a well-known fact that people can imagine themselves to be ill until they actually become physically ill. That's a real phenomenon.
There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy (From Hamlet).
Logic breaks down when it tries to examine the imaginal. It simply cannot deal with it. Logic is the work of the ego, the hero who would bravely slay the dragon of irrationality.

Ego cannot deal with images, such as dreams. Because it can't find clear meaning, it guesses, assigning all sorts of interpretations to the image.
Each morning we repeat our Western history, slaying our brother, the dream, by killing its images with interpretative concepts that explain the dream to the ego" (Hillman, 116).
A dream-image is what it is, nothing more, nothing less. In order to derive anything from it, it must be examined phenomenologically, not logically. The use of hermeneutics, as in the close reading of a religious text,  brings forth truth; in this way it is epiphanously revealed, as in the Sufi idea of ta'wil. Jung's use of active imagination is a powerful technique that can be used for this purpose.


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