Is it the fear of what is other, the initial recognition of duality, that tempt us further into categorizations of duality? Is individuality, that necessary movement for freedom of action, what fosters a battle stance, a duality initiating all future duels?
Perhaps fear of the other culminates, as Jung suggested, in a reduction of the gods to diseases, eliminating their autonomy, in favor of our own specifically human sentience. Could we have moved from a world where once all was personified, to one where we’re not even sure of our own personhood? Can too much objectification bring enough distance to the point of questioning the reality of anything beyond our subjectivity?
“…the experience of the gods, of heroes, nymphs, demons, angels and powers, of sacred animals, places, and things, as persons indeed precedes the concept of personification. It is not that we personify, but that the epiphanies come as persons.”
“Epiphanies come as persons,” for some rarely, but to understand the truth of this we can look to dreams, music, divination or art.
If you can possess your experience, all threats of “other” are “managed.” Filtering experience, we make sense of the world as fits our emotional state, religious viewpoint, cultural conventions, language skills, or whatever else shapes the habits of our awareness. Barriers between us and the world are forged categorically: self and other, self and self (resistance even to unwanted thoughts and fantasies that have their way when all is quiet), self and world (especially the uncivilized worlds of forest, jungle, deep-sea and inner city). Sometimes, it is only through a dream or nightmare that we may be reached, and then, rather than hear a message, we might rather insist it was something we ate. 🙂
“When Pan is dead, then nature can be controlled by the will of the new god, man, modeled in the image of Prometheus or Hercules, creating from it and polluting in it without a troubled conscience.”
In their book, Pan and the Nightmare, Wilhelm Heinrich Roscher and James Hillman remind us of a historical account of Herodotus’ in which Pheidippides receives a message from the god Pan that saves Athenian democracy:
“Herodotus says Pan burst in on Pheidippides, cried out his name, and gave him a crucial message that saved Athens. The leaders of Athens believed Pheidippides, won the battle, and set up the Cult of Pan in Athens. Were the cunning and intelligent Greeks so deluded? Did all this come about because of the exhausted state of mind of a certain messenger who had a sudden bright idea and conjured up “Pan” to bless it with authority?”
Here Hillman mocks the modern prejudice which insists the phenomena of receiving messages from the gods is some form of delusion or power grab. I agree with Hillman that it is to the essence of the experience; that of being receptive to receiving messages, that remains relevant to us. What has modernity done for us by refusing to even entertain any such direct experience of the divine? Are we any wiser, safer, secure in our destiny, more civil in our interactions, more caring for home, city and planet for it?
I love the hints, suggestions, ideas and messages that come through experiencing the world as personal; alive, layered, varied, imprecise, whose purpose serves more than functionality. When fear provokes me into summarily dismissing a way of looking at or reconsidering something or someone, or refuse a new way to hear an old idea, it leaves an unsettled feeling in my heart. That unsettledness, when attended to, may offer a gift of insight, understanding, compassion, beauty and love.
When ideas themselves can be seen as other, coming to us personified, as dream images do – without the threat of seeming like a foreign invasion, the desire to possess them and boss them around might lessen. Their gravitas remain, but without weighing us down as owners and managers. If there is one gift I have received from spending time with Hillman’s ideas, it is this loosening and respect of fear and an increase of interest in ideas for their own sake.
“Could we step back from our times, step out of the pretensions of the fearing ego who would bring every atom of nature under its control? Then we might realize again that we are not the source of personified gods. We do not make them up, anymore than we invent the sounds we hear in the woods, the hoof prints in the sand, the nightmare pressure weighing on our chests.”
As well, it is freeing when I recognize that others are also not necessarily the author of ideas. We may all be possessed by them, and accountable to our use and expression of them, but who knows where their source lies?
Perhaps our need to possess ideas, shifting them away from an experience of the divine, comes from the absorption of polytheism by monotheism, and monotheism by a rational materialism that takes monotheism one step further. If monotheism reduced the gods to one, eliminating the competition and separating divinity from the material world, materialism finished the job by removing altogether any notion of the divine, reducing the world to mostly dead bits and pieces bossed around by the ideas of chemistry, genetics math and physics, as if that settled the mystery of their source.
But the shifting of states of awareness through the ages may be necessary, and the Greek imagination helps us to see Dionysus at work here. It may be Dionysus, the only god to have one mortal parent, that best represents the psychological style of modern consciousness, for he was both a god of the grapes, given to transcendent ecstasy, but also ripped apart by the Titans to avenge his father Zeus’ love of Semele, his mortal mother.
Can this myth tell us something about the modern tendency to reduce the world into bits and parts, along with a desire for to make and see whole through transcendent states, whether through drugs, alcohol, technology, apocalyptic visions or meditative states? Can we see the possessiveness in reducing the world to bits and pieces, and deadening it for the sake of control only to seek out the simplicity of reception?
In slicing and dicing as we have throughout the last millenia, perhaps the resulting technology will come to serve another twist of fate. Through the transcendent impulse, we may see seeing, taking on a birds-eye view of not only our planet, but of the vastness beyond our understanding, which may foster in yet another Dionysian trait; a rebirth into another style of consciousness, one that expects variety, mystery and yet without fear, experiences of the divine everywhere, and especially in everyday living.
18 thoughts on “I-Me-Mine”
Well, the mystery of mysteries that of who we are, and what is our real essence, and purpose, has haunted us since Man’s beginnings and we reason, and ask us ‘Who we are?, Where we come from? Etc.
Religion, and Philosophy try at best to answer that question, but as individuals, each of us has to live, and experience it’s own self, and come to grips with their own life, and whatever they get from it, not only as thoughts, and ideas, but as what we cannot share, our own experience of being, unique to us.
Ignore if you care for Christmas, or not Debra, so Happy Holidays to you!😉💖
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Yes, as you say, it’s a deeply personal experience that struggles for a sense of communion. A worthy struggle, I’d say.
Thanks sharing your wisdom with us here! Happy Holidays!
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A thought that came to me in reading this piece a second time was related to Pan and the Athenians, and it is kind of a wondering on my part if a bit of the modern protest to the notion of receiving messages has to do with the intermingling of world cultures, and the subsequent question: why would the gods pick one culture over another? Why would the gods favor the Athenians? And if they did, what does that mean about the gods, and about the inexplicable and fickle nature of the world in which we live.
I also much enjoyed the discussion about the weightiness of ideas, and about not “owning” them. I think I come at this from a slightly different perspective, but when we admit these ideas are alive and not merely the product of our fancy, it sort of suggest that WE are like those ideas. We are not the product of fancy either. We no more control who we are than we control any of these vibrant forces at work within and through us. And if we’re not in control of something as simple as who we are… then… our own nature suddenly becomes an open and far-reaching possibility, a reservoir of mystery. We can be drawn to that. It is the type of mystery whose exploration can nurture us and those around us.
What remains is not creating an identity, creating a self– rather, exploring the self we have been given… with all of its attendant richness and diversity.
Perhaps your insight aout the fickle nature of the gods brings up the question of both their teological aim and morality. The gods themselves, each fickle in their own way, may not be the bestowers of objective morality, the truth bearers driving us to paradise or ruin, that we moderns sometimes take, or want them to be. Perhaps one has to be thinking in linear time to ask what ultimate good does anything have? That’s a very tricky question and one I could never answer. The world is a dramatic story whose ending, although inevitable, plagues us by tugging at our hearts according to whatever story we think we’re in, yes? The gods then, are perhaps amoral, and do not bestow good and evil on us, but personify for us a particular power, and any particular power can be used for good or evil, yes? I don’t think the gods favored Athenians, but, rather, that the Athenian, Pheidippides, attributed an insight in the form of a message from Pan. To understand the gods as powers, is to personify the powers, specifying and differentiating the nature of power by seeing its qualities in story and character.
I’m not saying that morality has no place in the world, but that we moderns tend to see everything through its lens. Then, we too often miss the quality or nature of particular powers and their power over us, especially when their use is justified for ends that we think are necessary and morally imperative. We jump past quality because, perhaps, it has become too deeply imbedded within the notion that we are the sole creators of our individual self. If our individual nature is purely a human creation, an inside job, whose influence is derived from the world of human nature only, which therefore makes us the only morally conscious beings with a will to power in the universe, we deprive ourselves of the influence of the bigger world around us. Although it may not matter whether or not the gods exist, what does matter is how we perceive influence, or if we perceive it at all. Looking at polytheistic cultures affords us one way out of reductionistic humanism and its view that the world, besides us, is unconscious, unknowing and uncaring.
On the other hand, we might ask, what influence on the subsequent history of the world did the hard battle for democracy have for future generations? This is a bigger, more difficult question. Must we say that wars between cultures are necessary to eventually usher in the peace of a globally united earth community? I don’t think we can answer that for sure. There may be millions of ways to cultivate life as we know it under our circumstances. We can’t though, discount entirely the phenomena of history as it has happened. We can only look at history as it is perceived at any point in time and remind ourselves that we are influenced even as we look. Maybe love and compassion comes out of all of this, maybe not. For myself, understanding the nature of influence as both an inside and outside job has qualitatively changed my perspective and humbled me. I cannot completely know all that drives me, influences me and eventually leads me to my very human fate of death, and this increases my respect for all that happens in a very strange world we find ourselves in.
Without intending undue assumptions on my part, I sense that besides our different understanding of unseen forces, we very much agree as to the nature of our selfieness Michael. 🙂 It’s obviously not necessary to see the world through the personification of powers and forces because many people and cultures have a variety of ways to reach a common understanding. Thankfully so!
Thanks so much for leaving such inspiring comments which give me much to think about and offer an opportunity to further contemplate and articulate these ideas that capture my attention.
First off, I just want to say thank you for taking such time to explore your understandings with me. I always greatly enjoy the exchange, and leave them enriched and expanded.
You brought up a lot of ideas here and I’m not sure whether or how to begin, or how exactly you interpreted my first paragraph. But I feel that the self, and what influences the self, is far from exclusively an inside job, and I’m with you when you say that realizing the scope of what influences you (both internally and externally) was humbling. I don’t think I could even begin to offer a thoughtful, put-together view of the way I experience “being influenced,” but it surely transcends what is contained the phrase “inside job.”
As I write, I think I am realizing more of what you wrote yourself, and am understanding the reason you wrote what you did about morality in the modern age. In sitting with your comments, I feel quite a bit of resonance. I was trying to point out that the notion moderns may possess of the gods favoring one human group over another would be a plausible modern reason to close off the rich and varied field of influence that you are describing as achieving personification as the gods.
And I think it is absolutely a loss to close this space off within or from ourselves. But it is equally a loss or breach of logic to suggest that the ultimate, mysterious root of that which influences and flows through us plays favorites. Conundrums like this force me to dig deeper for understanding. And in digging deeper I find conclusions similar to what you have described here.
We dance with the gods and forces that surround and flow through us. It isn’t right or wrong, and the forces merely seek expression. Perhaps as we flow with what arises in our hearts, the proper colors of god and force from the cosmic palette step forward to aid in our expression, and somehow at the same time we are responding to a calling we cannot explain or assert an authorship thereof. There is a logic to this the mind cannot process. A calling is a given– not something we pluck from a shelf.
The modern haste to posit what is for the good of oneself, of others, of the world is indeed a limiting movement, particularly as it can lead to judgment and the stifling of the natural intermingling of all these forces and desires by labeling some as good or right or better and others as bad, wrong, and less than. We are speaking here a little bit about control and authorship, I think, and of the need to relinquish the grip we keep on what is real, on who we define ourselves to be, and on where we are going. So much of that defies understanding!
It is so much richer and freeing to respond to the calling that we feel, to appreciate its mysterious nature, and go along for the ride, even as we take a turn at the oars… 🙂
Your words are so articulate and so much appreciated. There’s nothing I would add to what you say. You have an incredible and admirable way of listening to the ideas and then restating them that resonates deeply with me.
Thanks so much for richly sharing ideas and visions here.
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Once again Debra you have really got me thinking. I want to do some thinking here and come back to it. So beautifully challenging. Thank you.
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Thank you Don!
I appreciate your words and that you see beauty in the challenge. So lovely. These ideas challenge me too. Although I write them, it doesn’t mean there is not still a mystery and challenge in contemplating their meaning and understanding for me too.
The thought that the epiphanies come as autonomous persons and that ideas are autonomous is very precious to me and also very obvious. Still, the consensus culture we live in continues to insist otherwise. I think I am the rational one in thinking what I think but I cannot count the times I have been accused of being irrational. I am glad you share my rational craziness, Debra (if I may be so presumptuous). Consciousness must break the brain barrier, otherwise we will remain stuck in our evolution as a species.
Very inspirational – thank you, Debra.
I love that they are obvious to you too. Yes, we do share in this experience/knowledge of recognition of the variety of forms in which ideas are personified. Perhaps it is because we see them come to us fully clothed and embodied in dreams, or even in literature? Yes, consciousness must break through the brain barrier and we, as a human body, need to lend credence to the awareness and ideas common to all humankind throughout the ages, as told in stories, art, music and culture. Perhaps we are doing that? On a good day I like to think so.
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I love the hints, suggestions, ideas and messages that come through experiencing the world as personal; alive, layered, varied, imprecise, whose purpose serves more than functionality. When fear provokes me into summarily dismissing a foreign way of looking at something, or a new way to hear an old idea, it leaves an unsettled feeling in my heart. That unsettledness, when attended to, eventually brings a gift of insight, understanding, compassion, beauty and love.
This is so precious Debra, a treasure chest of jewels is contained within these words on this page. i am still working on recognizing the usefulness of fear. Perhaps you can switch with me momentarily and play the “therapist” role. Clearly life has taught you well.
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Hey thanks so much Linda. Fear is so powerful. Although I have secretly harbored a desire to be a therapist, it would be interesting to see how that translates in real life.
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So my playful musing was not far off afterall…
No, not at all! 🙂
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The ending excites me, Debra 🙂 Love
The part below feels so whole to me – the whole part, of the part below.
“When fear provokes me into summarily dismissing a foreign way of looking at something, or a new way to hear an old idea, it leaves an unsettled feeling in my heart. That unsettledness, when attended to, eventually brings a gift of insight, understanding, compassion, beauty and love.”
Yes, the end excites me too. Who knows where this adventure leads?
Thanks so much for reading and leaving a note.
I love this. The idea that ideas unsettle us (certainly me) and shake me up, bringing about a crisis of sorts, and then insight…that is what seems to happen before I am able to make any helpful contribution or to grow.
I like the idea of thoughts or insights as inspiration from outside too…shaking up the sediments and creating a space for something new.
Thank you Nicci, for your kind words. Ideas as things separate from us, helps me to see them as something to consider and not to own. They do seem to have a life of their own. 🙂