Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Primordial Symbolism: The Key to All the Problems of the World

When we consider all of the problems that our world faces, we rightly feel overwhelmed. Is there any person alive who can tell us, simply and clearly, what the root of the world's problems truly is? It would seem that the idea of a single root for all of our woes is too optimistic- based on observing our world today, it would seem to be at least a forest worth of roots.

But even a forest can spring from a tiny handful of seeds. Can we trace the rivers of war, depression, illness, violence, the sundering of family bonds, and the rise of materialism and greed back to just a few seeds? Could those seeds in turn have fallen from one tree?

Certainly if we look at the myths of our ancestors, we find a mythical origin for the terrible things that torment us. In the sacred myths, we see two tides of forces locked in eternal struggle with one another- we see conscious forces of great finesse and wisdom struggling to move things towards order and stability, and we see dimly conscious and unconscious forces of great power struggling against order, causing things to move towards disorder and chaos, by the mere fact of their presence.

Our ancestors expressed these powers as the Tribe of the Gods and the Fomorian powers, respectively. Our Germanic ancestors honored the Gods who struggled against the Giants in the same manner, and our Greek ancestors honored the Gods who struggled against the Titans. Throughout the Indo-European Pagan tradition, we see the Gods of Indo European people appearing as monster and giant slayers, noble beings who fight to create and uphold order in the world, and the positive conditions for life.

We can look deeper and see the root-elements that began this tide of struggle between light and dark: the fire and the water, or in the Germanic myths, fire and ice. The fire is expansive and warm, and while it can be destructive (like any element) it was the single element that gave humankind the power to secure safety for themselves and their families. Water (and its destructive form, ice) is necessary for life, but it manifests the frost, snow, floods, and cold rains that can destroy life without the warmth of fire. Even cool water will take a human's life if he or she is submerged in it for too long, chilling the warm fire in the body and bringing death.

It would not be too difficult a comparison to see the Gods as aligned to fire, and the Fomorians as aligned to water- after all, the Fomorians themselves were from "under the sea", as their name implies.

The myths are quite clear; the eternal struggle between the Gods and the Fomorians is not just occuring "out there" in nature, but also "in here", inside of human nature. The idea that "out there" and "in here" are somehow ultimately separated is absurd; people who believe that these two "places" are ultimately apart from one another will never know the wisdom of wholeness, nor completion as human beings. Druidic power-working and true sorcery is not possible until one "crosses the boundary", the perceptual boundary between what we feel is "in here" and what is "out there", and by doing so, realizes wholeness. In wholeness, we realize that what we once thought were our "subjective" states are important and seamless parts of this world- and so our desires, wishes, intentions, and thoughts all affect the world in the same manner that a storm might affect it, or a fire. Reality is not divided into "two"- it is one whole thing.

At any rate, the struggle between light and dark is not merely "out there"- it is reflected in human nature, in the way we struggle in that place we call "internally", with the dark aspects of our nature. Our duty is to join with the Gods through sacrifices and worship, so that they give us the needed courage, strength, and cunning to face the destructive powers that we experience as "inside" ourselves, and triumph over them, keeping the needed balance of spiritual personhood.

This struggle is often a failed struggle, for so many people today- and why? Why do so many people allow the darkest parts of their own nature to overwhelm them? Why do they become greedy predators, thoughtless opportunists, selfish oafs, violent offenders, sociopathic monsters, all stalking the corridors of homes, towns, cities, governments, and schools?

As a religious man, I could say that the loss of the worship of the Gods is to blame; the longer people go without consciously recognizing the Gods, sacrificing to them, praying to them, and inviting them to integrate their power into our souls, the harder it will become for humans to resist the threatening natural forces that exist within us all.

As a realistic man, I realize that people aren't likely to flock to my religion in great numbers; though my religion is ancient and innate to the human spirit, the forgetfulness that has come onto the sons and daughters of the first ancestors is immense and deep. Their addiction to foreign religions and selfish beliefs is profound. Those few who have cast off the shackles of the same foreign religions that stole their ancestral ways from them have mostly not found their way to any better spiritual harbor- most of them have abandoned themselves to the soul-destroying depths of atheism and materialism.

I realize that few will join me in the worship of the Gods again, and even fewer will consciously seek the true Illumination of the Spirit that is the supreme secret desire of the human heart. So, I must seek another answer to the problems of mankind that more will be able to embrace.

And fortunately for me, a great mystic and psychologist from the last century did just that- moving somewhat outside of the realm of traditional religion, Carl Jung approached the relationship of human psychology to spirituality, and was able to explain the problems that bedeviled mankind in more neutral language. His impact on the modern Pagan movement as a whole has been enormous, though most Pagans do a very poor job at getting the education needed to understand what Jung was saying. Because of this, many Pseudo-Jungian absurdities have been foisted onto modern Paganism- chief among them the idea that the Gods of the ancient world were merely "Archetypes" operating in the human subconscious.

To reduce the Gods to a Jungian psychological construct isn't just absurd with respect to the ancestral tradition; it's absurd with respect to what Jung actually said regarding "archetypes". Most people don't realize that Jung believed in not only Psychic archetypes (archetypes as they exist in the individual mind) but Psychoid Archetypes- powers that existed very much independant of individual human minds, but which reflected themselves there. Jung's notion of the "collective unconscious" was also not the neat playground that so many moderns make it into- it was a great mystery, a great sea of awareness that was also very much what we call "objective".

The Collective Unconscious was not merely the sum total of human subconscious minds; it was greater, omnipresent, and eternal. It was, in fact, very close to what modern monotheists might call "God"- though it is important to realize that Jung himself, after searching for the traditional "God" in the depths of the unconscious, admitted himself that he could find no such being. He used the term "God" to refer to the massive strength of life as a whole, and sometimes as a name for the personal divine spirit or genius which he believed was connected to each individual.

Jung is the unsung champion of modern Polytheism- few realize the depths to which he accepted the true multiplicity of the Divine. In his most prophetic, mystical writing, using the pen-name Basilides, he tells the confused people of the world:

"Blessed am I, for it is granted unto me to know the multiplicity and diversity of the Gods. Woe unto you, for you have substituted the oneness of God for the diversity that cannot be resolved into one. Through this you have created the torment of incomprehension, and the mutilation of the created world, the essence and law of which is diversity. How can you be true to your nature when you attempt to make one out of the many? What you do to the Gods, that also befalls you. All of you are made thus the same, and in this way your nature also becomes mutilated."

This profound statement frames one of the roots of the problems of the world- the foisting of the concept of "one God" onto the majestic truth that mankind had known since the dawn of time- Polytheism. But as I said before, my chances of getting many people to give polytheism another fair shake aren't great. So I turn again to Jung's great wisdom to help other people and myself to understand the root and seed of the great misery of the world. And Jung answers- like a shaman returned from the Unseen world with the knowledge of the secret cause of the tribe's problems- he reveals the root of our woes: the repression of primordial symbolic systems.

What's great about this answer that Jung gave is how easy it is to explain, how organic and intuitive it is. Allow me to use what words I can to sum up the great wisdom of the master Jung, with regards to the single maladaption that one could rightly blame the deepest problems of the world on.

It was Jung's original teacher Freud that first framed, in terms that modern people could accept, the idea that the unconscious mind and the conscious mind talked to one another through symbolic language. Symbols were the way the deep, unconscious depths of a person communicated with the conscious self. Jung went one step further to draw a distinction between what he called natural symbols and cultural symbols. Natural symbols, he believed, were not "put" in the unconscious by human beings; they were natural, eternal, and always present- the root symbols of existence itself, the primordial "symbol set" that had always been deep inside us. Cultural symbols, on the other hand, were the residue of long-held cultural norms, practices, and ideas.

Jung believed that the symbols of primal, shamanic societies were precisely those "natural symbols" that were within all people. He thought that the natural symbolism known and expressed by the unconscious mind connected conscious humanity with the natural world itself, and the cosmos. These "natural symbols" were in fact a sacred language of primordial images that contained great power.

From this point, Jung was able to reveal the heart and soul of human existance and purpose. Dr. Jeannette Gagan writes:

"Jung went on to explain that built into the human psyche is a matrix of energy linking us to the life-giving, soul-quenching primordial sources. But over time, he said, we disengaged from this matrix to such an extent that we are no longer nourished by the early reservoirs of sustenance. In the pursuit of scientific mastery over matter, humanity has severed its ties to the natural world."

Jung himself wrote:

"Man feels isolated in the cosmos. He is no longer involved in nature and has lost his emotional participation in natural events, which hitherto had a symbolic meaning for him. His immediate communication with nature is gone forever, and the emotional energy it generated has sunk into the unconscious."

Dr. Gagan, in her book "Journeying: Where Shamanism and Psychology Meet", goes on to say that (modern) religions appear to rely more on the spoken word and rational interpretations than on immediate perceptions and symbolic experiences. She quotes Jung, who said:

"We are so captivated by and entangled in our subjective consciousness that we have simply forgotten the age-old fact that God speaks chiefly through dreams and visions. The Buddhist discards the world of unconscious fantasies as "distractions" and useless illusions; the Christian puts his Church and his Bible between himself and his unconscious; and the rationalist intellectual does not yet know that his consciousness is not his total psyche."

And finally, we arrive at the crux of the matter: When humans are no longer able to contact the primordial symbols that are deeply alive inside of all of us, when contact between the human world and the unseen world (both perceptually without and within) is broken, the "numinosity" of the primordial symbols, the energy that they emit, falls deeper into the unconscious, or withdraws into the deepest parts of us.

There, this energy that was not allowed to "come across the gap" into full awareness and consciousness weds itself to all of our unresolved issues and to the shadowy aspects of ourselves deep within, making those things powerful. This is where the "shadow", the destructive, unconscious power inside us gets its true life and motivation.

Whether we realize it or not, most of us have unresolved psychic tensions and issues, buried deep inside us. We may not consciously feel that we are prejudiced people or racist, but deep inside, that could be a very real part of us. I often am amused at how far some people go to distance themselves from other people that they accuse of being "racist"- for Jung understood well what was truly occuring in this situation. He knew that we project our own shadow-qualities onto other people, and then attack them for reflecting back to us what we unconsciously fear or hate about ourselves. I remember this everytime I see a "noble crusader" leading a witch-hunt against homosexuals, or people accused of racism, or what have you.

Whatever is unresolved deep inside us will become empowered by the numinous, lost energy that we are not allowing to "come through" and resolve itself consciously and healthily. That is the key and the secret to what is wrong with the world today. Jung said "Even tendencies that might be able to exert a beneficial influence turn into veritable demons when they are repressed."

Repression is the key. Dr. Gagan writes:

"Ignored and repressed energy formulates the shadow self- an entity which, perhaps more than any other, strengthens the grip of violence and fear in our society. Tremendous stores of energy are sapped to keep these shadow emotions in check. What's more, they expand as we mature. From birth onward, the unconscious portion of the psyche accumulates the feeling energy that parental and societal figures were not able to tolerate... A society in which individuals are barred from giving authentic expression to their innermost feelings prohibits instinctual, archetypal energy from moving into the consciousness. Disconnected, these shadow feelings appear in dreams, or are projected onto others..."

This unresolved angst deep inside us becomes an army of dark forces, that work to subvert the positive aspects of our conscious selves.

There you have it. In simple language, the key to understanding the problems of our world has been laid before you, or perhaps placed directly into your hand. One thing is absolutely certain- Pagan religions from every era (in common with native and tribal religions in the modern day) preserved and honored the Primordial Symbols inside of each person- the Gods and Goddesses of the Pagan world were honored by rites in which the powers of the primal, natural symbols within were allowed to rise to the conscious self and make it strong, healthy, balanced, and powerful.

Allow me to illustrate this with a single example: sexual forces were allowed to rise to healthy expression through the honoring of the phallic divinities, and the great fertile and sexual goddess-figures that were prominent in all Pagan cultures. What happened when Christianity destroyed the worship of these figures? What happened when it repressed the natural and normal rise and cycle of sexual energy inside the human psyche? You see what has happened, everyday, all around you: sexual degredation, increased psychosis and pathologies related to sexuality, sexual idiocy, violence against women, who are seen by their societies as embodiments of sexual lust and temptation, and countless other problems.

This can be taken further- In the worship or warrior Gods, men who were excellent fighters had a right to be proud, and express their pride and power. It was virtuous, in the Pagan world, to be good at what you did, and that included fighting, crafting, speaking, or whatever. It was okay to be proud of one's achievments. The power of these things was allowed to flow freely and to resolve itself in a healthy manner. But under Christianity's dim philosophies, Pagan virtues were called "glittering vices"- and only humbleness, chastity, and submission to God were seen as real virtues.

From top to bottom, the ancient religious systems that organically celebrated and expressed the primordial symbols of human life were destroyed by Christianity, and by Islam. The human psyche has taken a repressive beating, and the shadow inside us and inside the world has grown immensely powerful.

Where Christianity failed and finally came to an end, (being reduced to the current toothless state it now languishes in) a supremely unwise society picked up the pieces and carried on, instituting new rules of repression and absurdity. Secular societies are, in general, no better for the health of the human psyche than Christian society was- and some secular societies are downright hateful to it- such as atheist communist societies, who have actually gone further to destroy what few remaining spiritual symbols and systems were left.
What's even more perverse is the fact that Christianity contains within itself just enough primordial symbols to give the religion its feeling of power and holiness- the Tree, the Serpent, the Dove, The Fish, The Solar Cross, The Sacrificed God, and others. But the Christians themselves have become cut off from the power of these symbols, and they refuse direct contact with their deepest minds and selves.

Now, I have offered you some ideas to pick apart. I end by praising my Gods and Goddesses, and my Ancestors, and feeling the great power that streams clear and strong from the deepest part of me, emerging into my mind and my world, endowing me with the joy and love that I feel everyday of my life.

Through the symbols that are the sacred language of my Pagan religion, the primordial symbols from the spiral to the horns, the beasts, the cup-and-ring marks, the circles, and the elements themselves, a true power of psychic health and regeneration is allowed to appear. That is what my religion offers all who declare their loyalty to it. The Gods allow the deepest, greatest powers in nature to emerge and integrate in a healthy way through all of us, who give ourselves in courage and love to their ancient ways. There is no more repression and no more "internal" war with a shadow that is only ourselves buried in the pain of repression.

I have not seen this same psychic health or abundance appearing in the mindstreams of Christians, and I was born into a Christian household. I've seen the lack buried at the heart of the religion itself. Only Catholic Christianity, with its Goddess Mary, has a few symbols- chiefly the symbol of the Compassionate Mother/Virgin- that allows them to access a measure of psychic health. Jung himself remarked that his Catholic patients showed far more internal health than his protestant ones, and for just that reason- the presence of the divine feminine that still persisted, albeit in a dumbed-down form, in Catholicism.

Protestants, in their pernicious crusade to cut out what few good symbols Christianity still had living within it, destroyed the worship of the Virgin Mary, as well as other mystical symbols and practices in the heart of Christianity. They did this in the grip of their own detestable ignorance, framed as a quest to "purify" Christianity of "heathenish" Catholic qualities. As a result, to this day their countless sects are in the grip of non-stop sectarian disputes and fights, and their leaders and preachers are known as the epitome of intolerance, hatred and stupidity.

Anyone who has encountered Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, Fred Phelps, or even the average local Baptist minister, will already know what I am talking about. The fierce masculine one-sidedness and farsical over-simplicity of most forms of Protestantism is matched in the minds of these church-goers by fanaticism and the savage species of closed-mindedness for which they are known. Deep down, they are victimized by the shadow that casts its long and destructive gaze over all that they do.


nobody said...

Fantastic post.

One of the most healing religious experiences I've had over the past couple of years or so has been the discovery of the Divine Mother, the Goddess of Compassion.

Though I'll say that I failed in my search to find a goddess in Northern European pagan pantheons that resonated with me as much as Quan Yin / Kannon, White Tara, and even Mother Mary.

The closest I've found to a similar feeling for a goddess outside of these traditions is Yemaya / Iemanja in Afro-Cuban traditions, strangely enough. Her connection to the ocean / water is a big part of it.

Why this is I'm not exactly sure, but I think it has to do with the fact that the figures above embody more of the "flavor" of compassion that really resonates with me than the other goddesses I researched. It's hard to explain.

Erik said...

Hey Robin,
Sorry for the OFF-TOPIC post, but since I don't IM I didn't see another way to contact you to let you know that I've tagged you as a Thinking Blogger. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to follow the link to see how to nominate five other bloggers. Thanks for making me think!