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.