My impatient fate
On the air.
It approaches me quietly,
It comes from
The remote area.
And I feel
That in no time,
With its burning fingers
The sacred, the whitest
Door of mine.
“Original Sin is accounted for by the sin in the Originals. Humans are made in the images of the gods, and our abnormalities image the original abnormalities of the gods which come before ours, making possible ours. We can only do in time what gods do in eternity. Our infirmities will therefore have to have their ground in primordial infirmity, and their infirmities are enacted in our psychopathologies.” James Hillman
For James Hillman, revisiting our pre-Judeo-Christian past, returns us to a polytheistic world in which the gods were both many and varied in their power and influence. Taking us back in time, prior to the modern scientific view where reason now denigrates ancient cosmologies as anthropomorphic fantasies with little or no value, Hillman recalls for us what is lost in limiting divinity to the one God.
The Abrahamic God, psychologically speaking, condenses all divine power into one transcendent power, with admission left for only one Adversary down below; the Devil. This condensing forces an entire pantheon of ideas underground – for the gods personify archetypal ideas, images and powers – absorbing them into Abrahamic religions as either friend of the Devil, or friend of God. An entire pantheon reduced to two primordial powers forever at war with each other, battling over ownership and fate of us mere mortals.
My purpose here is not so much to bring more conflict to the competition of beliefs or ideas, but to turn to the Greeks, ironically because we do not share their beliefs, but for an understanding that imagining through myth and story are primary; before belief. Seen through the lens of fantasy, Greek mythology, as the Neo-Platonist writers of the not too distant past understood, portrays affliction and suffering as belonging, necessary and creative in ways we moderns may have lost sight of.
For the Greeks and other pre-Judeo-Christian polytheistic worldviews, each god personified a distinct nature or image, and through story displayed their characteristics and interactions with each other in a world alive, moving and fierce, and yet, divine, universal, unchanging.
But what does a polytheistic view do for us that a monotheistic one does not? For Hillman, polytheism offers us an articulated view of our nature through images and stories, and especially pathologies, of where we suffer. Sin then is not only, as some Christian theology understands it, an absence of the presence of the divine, but by necessity, a compelling or exaggerated influence of one of many gods, shaping the style, character and fate that befalls us. Evil here can then be attributed to a compulsion, habit or addiction to one aspect of any one of the gods, and not only to that of the Evil One. It’s as if the early Judeo-Christian consciousness rounded up all the gods, condensed and split them into opposing forces, leaving us with the simplistic opposition of Good vs. Evil, an unbearable tension in need of its own redemption – for nothing is purely good or evil.
Perhaps the absorption of polytheism by monotheism, when imagined as a shift in consciousness rather than a deliberate man-made manipulation, can itself be seen as an aspect of the goddess Ananke; as a necessary shift. The shift towards a monotheistic style of consciousness has brought us the gift of rationalism, and objectivism, both of which have led us to the ideas and discoveries of science and technology. Although we might argue the merits of different styles of consciousness, that argument is itself a display of the objectivity of a monotheistic style of consciousness. We cannot, I believe, undo a style of consciousness through an awareness of it only, but we might gain an understanding of the nature and value of imagination inherent in the mythologizing that remains present in us, regardless of belief.
A polytheistic style of consciousness is perhaps a more deeply immersed and subjective experience of the world as animated and alive. The shift away from that state allows us to amplify and abstract the sense of ourselves as separate from the environment, and to imagine the world as things unto themselves, with being and function independent of us and each other. The nuance of each god that gets lost in the monotheistic experience can be regained when we look to the specific images and relationships of the gods, recognizing in them primary, or archetypal influence upon our human nature – both as the source of all bounty and affliction, ever bringing us gifts through the limitations we are bound by, and especially through the infirmities we suffer.
“Man is as much in the image of the gods and goddesses when he is ludicrous, enraged, or tortured, as when he smiles. Since the gods themselves show infirmitas, one path of the imitatio dei is through infirmity. Furthermore, it is this infirmitas of the archetype that can be nurse to our wounds and extremities, providing a style, a justification, and a sense of significance for ours.”
In one version of the Greek myth of creation, the two primordial gods, Kronos (Time) and Ananke (Necessity), were entwined together, and “circled the primal world egg in their coils and split it apart to form the ordered universe of earth, sea and sky.” Wiki
The first movement, or cause within the cosmos, is this embrace of time and necessity. Hillman sees these archetypal figures with their influence on us as that which engage us through an unseen background of archetypal structures, or gods. Hence they are Necessity Herself, primary to all we are and become:
“Necessity in Greek mythical thought is spoken of and experienced in pathologized modes.”
What is meant by the word Necessity, who is Ananke? Hillman provides a list of semitic roots from the works of Heinz Schreckenberg: narrowing, throat, surrounding, embracing, strangling, to wind tightly around the neck as the neck-band of a slave, a necklace or yoke.
In a variation of the myth, The Moirai were described as ugly old women, sometimes lame. They were severe, inflexible and stern. Clotho carries a spindle or a roll (the book of fate), Lachesis a staff with which she points to the horoscope on a globe, and Atropos (Aisa) a scroll, a wax tablet, a sundial, a pair of scales, or a cutting instrument. At other times the three were shown with staffs or sceptres, the symbols of dominion, and sometimes even with crowns. At the birth of each man they appeared spinning, measuring, and cutting the thread of life. Shown here in a Flemish tapestry, Triumph over Death, ca 1520, Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
Ananke is that unseen binding, or placing of limits, through her entanglement with Kronos, or time, that creates the world: the Heavens, Ge, the earth, all the gods, mortals, plants and animals. Necessity then, is experienced in by the very nature of our environment, the place of our being, and throughout the relations of family, community, with the imposition of obligations, servitude, each of which, as Hillman says, “governs our being.”
She also has associations to the Underworld, operating as an invisible psychic force. She herself is imageless, which Hillman suggests accounts for her compelling force leading us into our afflicted states. She is blind necessity underlying all images that capture and compel us into mythological states experienced as reality.
“To use the word “reality” implies an ontological condition that cannot be otherwise. Therefore there must be something unalterably necessary about images so that psychic reality, which first of all consists in images, cannot be mere afterimages of sense impressions. Images are primordial, archetypal, in themselves ultimate reals, the only direct reality that the psyche experiences. As such they are the shaped presences of necessity.”
Ananke’s constraints that lead to our afflictions are the theme of Hillman’s essay titled, Athene, Ananke, and the Necessity of Abnormal Psychology, which moves from a general discussion of Ananke, into a deeper discussion on the relationship between necessity and affliction. Taking his cue from Plato, Freud and Jung, Hillman sees the constrictions of necessity as a first cause, that which leads us to Nous, or reason, through persuasion for the presence of “creating principles.” Hopefully, more reflections to come in a later post. Here’s a quote in closing:
“You may have noticed that I continue to call pathologizing a creating activity. Plato presents ananke in a similar manner. He assumes it to be an arche, a first principle not derivative of anything else. It is also a creating principle entering into the formation of the universe. And it is necessarily always there, not gradually overcome through the extension of the rule of reason. As the demiurge never wholly reduces chaos to order, so reason never wholly persuades necessity. Both are present as creating principles, always. “In the whole and in every part, Nous and Ananke cooperate; the world is a mixture resulting from this combination.”
Except as noted, all quotes from Hillman, James (2012-11-24). Mythic Figures (Uniform Edition of the Writings of James Hillman). Spring Publications, Inc.. Kindle Edition.