The Green Man

Having just returned from attending a four day Dream Retreat, I want to share a little about the experience I had there. Out of respect for the tribe that gathered, and the impossibility of ever fully articulating the essence of what transpired between us, I’ll share an experience that relates to what I have been writing and sharing here with you, my WP tribe.

We were given the image of the Green Man, a figure who I have recently become quite fascinated with, for one of the active imagination sessions. I suspect he might have had a voice in a recent post of mine, Wild Child. The Green Man is an archetypal expression calling attention to our relationship to the natural habitat of the woods as a necessary source of life and creativity.

Osiris, ruler of the underworld and of rebirth and regeneration, was typically shown with a green face. (Tomb of Nefertari), 1295-1253 BC

The Green Man has made appearances in stories around the globe through both pagan and Abrahamic religious imagination, leaving behind a trail of art and symbolism in Europe and the Near-East.

I first heard (and have even written) about him a few months ago through Tom Cheetham’s book, GREEN MAN, EARTH ANGEL, The Prophetic Tradition and the Battle for the Soul of the World, in which Tom writes about Khidr, the Verdant One, how he is known in Sufism.

In Sufism, Khidr, a contemporary of Moses, is known as the righteous servant of God.

al-Khidr

“Who is Khidr? There is a hint of the answer in his name: Khidr is the “Verdant One.” He is the Green Man. He is the Angel of the Face and the Angel of the Earth as hermeneut: the Verus Propheta revealed to each soul in the form in which each is able to receive it. It is to this hermeneutics that we now turn.”

Cheetham sees the Green Man as mediator between the world of matter and spirit with a power to heal the schism between the two worlds.

“Matter need no longer be confused with the demonic. Indeed, everything becomes material. What had been conceived as spiritual reality becomes the realm of subtle bodies, and there is a continuum from the dense to the subtle that corresponds to an intensification of being. It is possible for any of the beings belonging to the world of Light to become more real, more themselves, more individual and intense in their very being.”

Along with spiritual hunger, the idea of matter as demonic, can be seen in our civilization that’s seemingly going mad. We speak of being too materialistic, outwardly focused, shallow in our relationships, wasteful and destructive in our use of precious resources. But at the same time, a heightened sense of the material world seems to be calling us “back to nature.” The call of the wild, the desire for closeness to nature, greater awareness of diet and the environment are all perhaps expressions of a need to redeem matter and reflect on our distinctions between matter and spirit.

“Like can only be known by like: this means that thought and being are inseparable, that ethics and perception are complementary. The form of the soul is the form of your world. This fundamental unity of the faculties of human cognition and the world to which they give access is that eternal pagan substrate of all religion.”

Cheetham sees here a need to reconsider these distinctions between matter and spirit, doing a sort of flip-flop around our ideas of them.

“It is a stance toward reality that gives weight to the display of the image, denying the schism between the inner and the outer, the subjective and the objective.”

Giving weight to both images and our subjective world, and in turn, imaging the weightiness, or to all that is real and objective may soften the boundaries between spirit and matter and perhaps see that, arising together, they are mutually inclusive.

Green man over a church window in Fountains Abbey

So, what about the Green Man and my experience with him during active imagination? Before I describe what I saw and heard, I must add that although I have practiced active imagination quite a few times, this was the first time that I felt truly engaged with, as Jung would have called it, an autonomous figure. Perhaps, I was misunderstanding how to approach this activity, making it more complicated than it actually is. 🙂

File:Greenman mask with eyes.jpg
mask by lauren raine

I close my eyes and immediately see a bright-green, leaf-covered figure of a man running in the woods away from me. I follow after him, trying to keep up. He stops at a large tree and enters into a hollow at the tree’s base disappearing from view. I enter into the hollow and begin to move downward.

At first I see around me many tree roots. The world down there seems alive with bugs, worms and slimy things. The smell becomes prominent and not too pleasant. I also see small bone chips scattered everywhere, presumably human and animal in origin. I also feel a heavy psychic presence.

We go down deeper and it becomes very dark. I can no longer see, but only smell, touch and hear. The Green Man begins speaking to me saying:

“This is the life, the abundance that feeds you. All life will come to be part of this place. You only see the fruit, the sweetness and suffer from neglecting us. We want to be recognized, seen; our sufferings, all the things left unsaid, for they both frighten and sustain you in your life. One day you too will feed the world from this place.

You’re a part of us, we feed and nourish you. Stop acting like you don’t know. Remember us and what’s gone before.

You suffer from forgetting our suffering. You’re fear of us has you running away.

(and in a much louder voice he says:)

My retreat is your retreat.”

That’s it. Perhaps the most startling line, besides the emphatic last line, was when he said to stop acting like I don’t know. I am still puzzling over that and am not sure what he is referring to, but have a few ideas. Perhaps there’s more I need to ask him and also hear your thoughts too. One clear take away from the dream retreat for me was how much our dreams and imaginings carry shared meaning. In hearing other’s dreams, and sharing my own, there was quite often a profound and obvious synchronicity of theme and image shedding light on some aspect of my life and the lives of the other participants.

The retreat was a full-bodied feeling of experiencing others inside and through myself. A most amazing time I will not soon forget. Highly recommended to anyone interested who happens upon an opportunity to participate. There are no strangers, your tribe awaits!

Except as noted, all quotes from Tom Cheetham. Green Man, Earth Angel: The Prophetic Tradition and the Battle for the Soul of the World (S U N Y Series in Western Esoteric Traditions). Kindle Edition.

Primordial Necessity

My impatient fate

Approaches me,

Stepping zealously

On the air.

It approaches me quietly,

Without noise,

It comes from

The remote area.

And I feel

That in no time,

It’ll open

With its burning fingers

The sacred, the whitest

Door of mine. 

Tsira Gogeshvili

“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.

Aion or Chronos, bound by Necessity

“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.”

Ananke

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.

Life Against Death – Part II

A consideration of the aim and purpose of artificial intelligence (AI), provides a fitting introduction to this followup post on Norman O. Brown’s book, Life Against Death. AI seeks to build a model of human intelligence for the purpose of:

1) The thrill and power of creating, fathering and possessing a better than human machine, a substitute for flesh and blood body.

2) Putting AI to work as servants so we save time for some other purpose.

3) To reach immortality either through an AI computer programmed to replicate itself, or to perfect our flesh and blood bodies with mechanical replacement parts allowing humans to at last say goodbye to death.

File:Robot Fish (4651519523).jpgA desire to recreate intelligence that matches or surpasses our own is perhaps the climax of a long history of our struggle against death. Does not attempting to mimic our likeness in an AI machine reflect back to us a sense of ourselves as discardable matter, preferring mechanical automatons better than we but without the messiness of life; our flesh, blood, pain and guts? Does it not also seek to be rid of the heart, the center of feeling?

Near the end of the book, Norman O. Brown quotes Henry Miller:

“The cultural era is past. The new civilization, which may take centuries or a few thousand years to usher in, will not be another civilization— it will be the open stretch of realization which all the past civilizations have pointed to. The city, which was the birth-place of civilization, such as we know it to be, will exist no more. There will be nuclei of course, but they will be mobile and fluid.

The peoples of the earth will no longer be shut off from one another within states but will flow freely over the surface of the earth and intermingle. There will be no fixed constellations of human aggregates. Governments will give way to management, using the word in a broad sense . The politician will become as superannuated as the dodo bird. The machine will never be dominated, as some imagine; it will be scrapped, eventually, but not before men have understood the nature of the mystery which binds them to their creation. The worship, investigation and subjugation of the machine will give way to the lure of all that is truly occult. This problem is bound up with the larger one of power— and of possession. Man will be forced to realize that power must be kept open, fluid and free. His aim will be not to possess power but to radiate it.” Henry Miller

Brown offers us a big view of the history of consciousness through an examination of Freud’s ideas alongside those of Whitehead, Bachelard, Goethe, Blake and Boehme, Rilke and others. He delves deeply into the question of how the disconnection between mind and matter/body at the level of human consciousness has turned us against our animal nature and in so doing, pitted life against death. By sacrificing the infantile pleasure instincts for the common good, repressed instincts become sublimated; turned away from oneself in service to the group through work, art, sport and religion. But in postponing and repressing the ability to feel pleasure, the all work becomes compulsive and all pleasurable states bring guilt. We then seek to possess, to become immortal through the legacy of building and owning stuff. 

In a long chapter on anality, an important theme in both Freud and Protestant reformer Martin Luther, Brown makes the point that from primitive to modern man a split between mind and body can be associated with our discomfort of the dirt and filth of matter. Increasingly in Christianity we see the ancient split come into light:

“This paradox means that the Christian is split into two dimensions, spirit that belongs to Christ and flesh that belongs to the Devil…The whole realm of visible reality, the world and the flesh , belong to the Devil; God has retired into invisibility— Deus absconditus.”

Quoting Luther:

“It is nothing new or strange that the world should be hopeless, accursed, damned; this it had always been and would ever remain.”

The world as forever corrupt, the domain of the devil leads to an expectation of suffering, pain and misery as inevitable for the flesh, which we abandoned by retreating into spirit, a separated mental realm. This division between spirit and flesh increases our alienation to bodily pleasure and sense which in turn extends our alienation to the world of matter which we seek only for power and possession.

Although the eventual secularization of protestant beliefs in the modern world could not sustain a belief in the devil, we also fail to seek a grace or redemption of matter, still unable to break the chains of the compulsion to work and postpone pleasure to some imagined future.

“But as long as (to quote Tillich) “the Protestant principle cannot admit any identification of grace with a visible reality,” and cannot repeat with conviction the traditional Christian faith that the time will come when grace will be made visible, and that this goal is the meaning of history, it looks as if neo-orthodox theology will remain incapable of casting out demons, and therefore will be of limited service to the life instinct in its war against the death instinct. It diagnoses, but it does not cure.”

History itself can be seen as part of the problem. Through our sense of time we defer pleasure, looking to the future, saving time as we go to have more time, always necessary to those who cannot live in the present. Our inability to be present leaves us unlived, and so guilty, unredeemed, haunted, suffering from sins of both our personal and ancestral past. We do not easily live in the present, even if intellectually we know that’s all we have. We are bound by our sense of time which keeps us out of the eternal present.

Brown sees the intensification of the split and neurosis as necessary to bringing the repressed unconsciousness into consciousness. In the modern industrial era of capitalism:

“The alienated consciousness is correlative with a money economy. Its root is the compulsion to work. This compulsion to work subordinates man to things, producing at the same time confusion in the valuation of things (Verwertung) and devaluation of the human body (Entwertung).”

Capitalism may have emerged along with a more secular world, but Brown reminds us that the focus of our worship has moved from the god of church to the god of money and the power and hope in possessing things:

“The money complex is the demonic, and the demonic is God’s ape; the money complex is therefore the heir to and substitute for the religious complex, an attempt to find God in things.”

Brown concludes on a positive note by seeing that all of history has brought us to this moment in which the abolition of repression may free us from the split between mind and body into a resurrection, or a giving of life back to the body:

“The life instinct, or sexual instinct, demands activity of a kind that, in contrast to our current mode of activity, can only be called play. The life instinct also demands a union with others and with the world around us based not on anxiety and aggression but on narcissism and erotic exuberance…The death instinct is reconciled with the life instinct only in a life which is not repressed, which leaves no “unlived lines” in the human body, the death instinct then being affirmed in a body which is willing to die. And , because the body is satisfied, the death instinct no longer drives it to change itself and make history, and therefore, as Christian theology divined, its activity is in eternity.”

Finally, Brown sees in the vision of mystics, gnostics, kabbalists and alchemists, both east and west, the healing between mind and body where Freud’s polyperverse pleasure of the infant is found in the experience of the eroticsim of the entire body and the transformation of historical time into eternal time:

“But there is in the Western tradition another kind of mysticism, which can be called Dionysian or body mysticism, which stays with life, which is the body, and seeks to transform and perfect it.

In Boehme’s concept of life, the concept of play, or love-play, is as central as it is in Freud’s; and his concept of the spiritual or paradisical body of Adam before the Fall recognizes the potent demand in our unconscious both for an androgynous mode of being and for a narcissistic mode of self-expression, as well as the corruption in our current use of the oral, anal, and genital functions.

The “magical” body which the poet seeks is the “subtle” or “spiritual” or “translucent” body of occidental mysticism, and the “diamond” body of oriental mysticism , and, in psychoanalysis, the polymorphously perverse body of childhood. Thus, for example, psychoanalysis declares the fundamentally bisexual character of human nature; Boehme insists on the androgynous character of human perfection; Taoist mysticism invokes feminine passivity to counteract masculine aggressivity ; and Rilke’s poetic quest is a quest for a hermaphroditic body.”

Science too, adds to the split in its attempt to get outside of its own humanity, subdue nature and discard the pleasure and importance of the senses:

“the only historian of science who uses psychoanalysis, Gaston Bachelard, concludes that it is of the essence of the scientific spirit to be mercilessly ascetic, to eliminate human enjoyment from our relation to nature, to eliminate the human senses, and finally to eliminate the human brain.”

“To eliminate the human brain,” brings us back to the question of AI’s quest and hopefully for you who have read this far, as it does for me, explains not so much why AI is a problem but that it is not a solution.

Except where noted, All quotes taken from Brown, Norman O. (2012-04-15). Life Against Death: The Psychoanalytical Meaning of History. Wesleyan University Press. Kindle Edition.

Ta’wil and the Ideas of Henry Corbin

“Ta’wil, the archetypal act of hermeneutics, that primary human activity overseen by Hermes who carries messages between the gods and mortals, is life lived at its highest pitch of intensity. It is the archaic and primordial experience of enacting meaning in the world. It is life lived in the full blaze of reality.” Tom Cheetham

Philosopher, theologian and professor of Islamic studies at the Sorbonne in Paris, Henry Corbin was also an acquaintance of James Hillman and C.G. Jung. All three had lectured at the Eranos Foundation Conferences during the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s and were familiar with each other’s works. Their influence on each other can be seen particularly in their writings on myth, symbol and archetypes, and although I am familiar with Jung and Hillman, it has been more of a challenge to find Corbin’s works.

I did however, recently discover a book devoted to Corbin’s ideas written by Tom Cheetham titled, All the World an Icon, Henry Corbin and the Angelic Function of Beings. This book is perhaps the best book I have read this year, and will forever remain near and dear to my heart. I would still love to read Corbin’s works, but Cheetham nicely condenses his ideas, adding his own insights that in no way detract or interfere with the complexity and beauty of the ideas presented.

Corbin was a Parisian, fascinated by what he saw as an underlying ecumenical thread between the religions of the Book; Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam. He was particularly interested in the similarity of the direct experience of the divine found in the mystical and contemplative traditions of all of these religions but particularly within the Sufism of Ibn ‘Arabi, Rumi and Avicenna.

Underlying the religions of the west and perhaps in human nature itself, is a move toward finding or creating a bridge from the individual to the divine and back again. It is through our work and our devotion that we experience glimpses of the divine and move toward becoming our true nature. Corbin says that whether we are aware and attentive or not to the presence of the Divine, there’s an angelic function that connects us to a divine image of ourselves as a whole and true but individual being. Through the repeating themes and desires within our hearts we can sense this image, but it is always remembered and kept by our angel. Reading about this idea reminded me of Hillman’s Acorn Theory described in his book The Soul’s Code and spoken of here:

“It is a worldwide myth in which each person comes into the world with something to do and to be. The myth says we enter the world with a calling. Plato, in his Myth of Er, called this our paradeigma, meaning a basic form that encompasses our entire destinies. This accompanying image shadowing our lives is our bearer of fate and fortune.” James Hillman

We are then, as the title of Cheetham’s fourth chapter of his book says, “in search of the lost speech”, and the Ta’wil, as Corbin says, involves an ability to hear language as one hears music:

“The ta’wil, without question, is a matter of harmonic perception, of hearing an identical sound (the same verse, the same hadith, even an entire text) on several levels simultaneously.”

File:A Sufi in Ecstasy in a Landscape LACMA M.73.5.582.jpgThe prophet, Cheetham reminds us, is not one who foretells the future but a messenger just as angels are understood to be. So perhaps a prophet is one who hears their angel, and in the religions of the book, the Word is then the voice of the Divine which comes to us and speaks through us when we are able to perceive and understand this mode of language. Fragmentation, literalism and Fundamentalism hinder our ability to open up to receive the messages of the divine without which our experience suffers from the “lost speech” where hearing becomes reduced to that of one voice, one truth. In the drama of lost speech an ear for harmony, metaphor, symbolism and poetics is devalued, ignored, forbidden or forgotten. Says Corbin:

“from the instant that men fail to recognize or refuse this interior meaning, from that instant they mutilate the unity of the Word … and begin the drama of the ‘Lost Speech .’”

The symbol in particular carries a message for each of us as we privately experience the power that comes from its numinous quality. We know it’s important even before we can say anything about it as we sense interiority and depth from the way in which we are touched by it. Cheetham writes:

“The encounter with a symbol is essentially an individual experience. This is the kind of meaning that Corbin calls “interior.” It cannot be made public. You can describe it, but only someone who has had a similar experience will know what kind of event you are talking about.”

Inner meaning is perhaps fragile, elusive and susceptible to our doubt or inclination to ignore it because of the fact that it is unverifiably your experience alone. Cheetham, in the quote below, nicely states our apprehension and our struggles with these events, but also pleads for the importance of the understanding of a speech as containing the depth and richness that is transformative when we can hear it.

As this post is getting long and there is much more to the Ta ‘wil to ponder, I’ll end here with this wonderful quote:

“The interior meanings are necessarily plural and in perennial conflict with every social and political will to power and domination. But whether we refuse it out of fear or ignore it out of inattention, willfully suppress it in the interests of political power, or miss it for some other reason, the interior meaning is hidden under the public meaning, and it is easier to leave it there. And yet the literal meaning is only the shell of reality, and in the long run it is not enough. For with only that public meaning available, the world loses its depth and mystery.

We lose contact with our individuality and are prey to totalitarianisms and fundamentalisms of all kinds—intellectual, spiritual, and political. And once totalitarian domination— the reign of Terror, and the dominion of Death— has obliterated the inner meaning of the word , once access to the heart of language is well and truly lost, its recovery, its re-creation, lies at the very limits of human capacity. We are fated to be actors in the grand drama of the Lost Word, the lost speech.”

Except otherwise noted, all quotes from Cheetham, Tom (2012-07-03). All the World an Icon: Henry Corbin and the Angelic Function of Beings . North Atlantic Books. Kindle Edition.

A link to Cheetham’s website dedicated to the works on Corbin:

http://henrycorbinproject.blogspot.com/

And an interview here:

http://www.commonweal.org/new-school/audiofiles/podcast/150_t_cheetham_ssu_longcut.mp3

Leaving the Temple

“Most, if not all of modern scientific data—and the interpretation thereof—is provisional in nature, only revealing a small part of the bigger picture.  In this respect, the interpretation of this research is, regrettably, false.   Here, I mean false in as bold and far-reaching as possible: not according to truth or fact; erroneous; incorrect; designed to deceive; illusory.” Erik Andrulis

In a recent post entitled Why Most Published Research is False, Erik Andrulis, scientist and theoretician by profession, challenges the notion that the field of science is capable of providing and condensing whole truths through data and research. My own sense is that science, because constrained as much as all human endeavor is by the nature of our senses, has a limited ability to translate and interpret research and data wholly and accurately into language and practice.

I see that the persistent but often ignored inability to separate the Knower from Knowing impedes our ability to tell the whole story. I love and respect that as a Scientist, Erik not only accepts, but can articulate for a lay audience the limitations of Science, which has become one of the most influential voices in the culture.

Now days, it’s risky for anyone, but especially a professional in the science community, to be critical of Science because acceptance or rejection of accepted dogmas is often used to identify individuals as either believers or heretics, much like Christianity was used in ages past. Okay, so heretics are not likely to suffer the physical torture as in ages past, but cultural shunning is still alive and well and has created an atmosphere in which there is very little tolerance for questioning the conclusions of science and related fields, and especially those that use or cite scientific evidence to support a conclusion or the promotion of an idea or a product.

File:God the Geometer.jpgMay I suggest that science itself has fallen into the grip of a myth, and one of the most persistent and unexamined myths of the western mind; that of the Hero, the same myth that underlies Christianity.

Both address the problem of evil and of human suffering and offer a form of salvation as the solution, even though the problem gets restated by science as having material roots rather than spiritual, with the philanthropic goal of peace through prosperity by creating and using technology for the elimination of pain and suffering, and where paradise on earth means elimination of hardships of the past to feed, clothe and protect ourselves from the elements.

Worthy goals, but without reflection and clarity, the myth of the hero, with his emphasis on action and acting (salvation and saving) risks losing sight of the goal caught up in the thrill of the conquest and battle, either seeking power over demons or power over the elements inside the laboratory.

A Science that is gripped by the power of the hero myth and its fantasy of salvation has faith in a goal that lacks clarity and vision and trusts in its ability to understand the human condition, and to be on the side of goodness which empowers its position in the culture, reaching levels of intoxication similar to those of the Christian zealots it once claimed to be freeing us from. The hero’s good intentions replace the necessity for reflection and justify its every deed, from splitting the atom to modifying genes, because the ends are trusted to justify the means.

Here we find that science and religion do share a likeness in their mythological perspective of playing the part of a powerful hero which requires a weaker victim in need of saving. I see a cultural shift from the salvation of personal sin through spiritual means from the grace of God and King to the salvation of science and technology through material grace and the promise of an end to suffering.

Mythologically speaking, we have traded in our gods of religion for the gods of science and technology.

Science is supported with facts and figures, and offers us the security of the concreteness of stuff that works – all else is deemed anecdotal, meaning unreliable, not to be trusted and often used to discount all claims of a metaphysical nature such as Near Death Experiences, the power of prayer, dreams or any other spiritual practices.

There’s cultural history here in which We, being swept away by the myth of the Hero, under the guise of finally leaving religion behind and getting it right through science, are seduced by the acceptance and power that comes from the fight against the former powers of the old King, the Christian God, and even Superstition, all of which in moderns times have been placed into the shadowy darkness whose defeat as a cultural paradigm is viewed as essential for Progress.

With this criticism I am not promoting a return to the past , but that by looking at the demands of the Hero archetype through its images we might locate ourselves within the myth, and see how it drives and influences the culture through political, religious and scientific beliefs. If we want to save something, what is it and what are we saving it from, and more importantly, what are we saving it for?

“If I told you what it takes to reach the highest high,
you’d laugh and say nothing’s that simple.
But you’ve been told many times before,
Messiah’s pointed to the door.
No one had the guts to leave the Temple.” Pete Townshend

Amazing journeys…Part One

In the fifty or so years of my life I have tried on a lot of different cosmologies:

Methodist/Congregational – the religion of my parents, probably going back for quite a few generations on both sides of my family. Although I attended church and Sunday school throughout my childhood, not much of what the Christianity of these particular denominations profess was ever clear to me as a child. I remember memorizing a psalm and receiving a Bible, and a few bible stories, but that’s about it. I sang in the youth choir, loved it!

Atheism – there are several periods of my life where atheism was the belief of my heart. In our wstern culture the embrace of atheism often harbors a lot of anti-Christian sentiments. Hence the polarization between believers and nons. Christianity is often described as a drug for the masses, or  idealism,  a fantasy, anti-intellectual, anti-scientific, corrupt or just a way to appease one’s guilt. Atheism helps one to move away from the shadows of either an unexamined or negative experience of Christianity. This is a logical conclusion when you imagine living in a world where there had never been a thought of God. There would never be atheism when there’s no God not to believe in. Theism and atheism then, cannot help but be ideas in a relationship.

One of my favorite insights of Archetypal psychologist James Hillman is that our culture has begun to embrace a rejection of Christianity without understanding the reach into our hearts, minds and souls Christianity has had in the past two millenia. Hillman’s beef with Christianity is not the usual bad press that Christianity and Christians get now days a la Dan Brown. Hillman does not rail against their hypocrisy for being less than perfect, but rather, sees the notion of perfection itself as undesirable. He also dislikes monotheism and blames it for a literalism in our thinking that consistently tricks us into climbing up the sign rather than acting on its message. His use of the idea of the imaginal will require at least a post unto itself…but you can hear excerpts from a recent Hillman lecture here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iFkkQ9eq8qw

Baha’i – Through the music of Seals and Crofts, in my teen years I became interested in the Baha’i faith. It’s probably the first time I ever set out to study and examine a set of beliefs. Primarily, the attraction to me was their belief in the oneness of all religions, humankind and a plea for world peace. After a year of study I officially declared myself a Baha’i and spent nearly three of my teen years going to their house meetings, reading and praying their materials and going to their summer camp in Eliot, Maine.

For Baha’is, God is a creator, with a transcendence that keeps us from having direct knowledge of Him. Only the major prophets Jesus Christ, Buddha, Moses, or Muhammad have received direct knowledge from God. Shucks! I guess my hunger and thirst for direct experience in all things that do manage to get my attention, left me disappointed when the implications of ever knowing an overly transcendent God set in. If there is a God powerful enough tp have created us I would expect He has the power to know us and allow in us a capacity to know Him even if our ability to have contact with Him has necessary limitations. The desire for relationship, very much connected to a missing sense of identity and personhood found me, once again, back on the trail of an ever more satisfying cosmology.

…more to come!

Religion, re-organized

I hear it said by many today, that spirituality is the important thing, religion not so much. I take this to mean that some people have come to prefer not belonging to a particular church, even though spirituality remains an important part of their life. Sometimes people tell me religion is an obstacle to God. If you ask me, being human is the biggest obstacle to encountering God, as well as to encountering each other and sometimes even oneself.

I don’t know how the cultural history of the of the word “religion” led to its popular meaning today of “blind and boring ritual that has nothing to do with God”, but you often hear the profession “I am spiritual, not religious.” The root, “religere,” meaning to bind, is a fitting way to describe what happens to the heart smitten by God or anything that comes to hold power over us. If my religion binds me to God or anything else, is it the binding itself that is too hard to bear? Even with greater than ever freedom, we moderns often suffer from a decreased capacity to bind, commit to, and especially to stay the course. We move, change jobs and partners more often than any generation in the past.

Perhaps it is so that many people who have had a gripping encounter with transcendence are disappointed when the church experience fails to deliver to them any sort of connection to God, to others, or even to oneself. Having had several transcendent encounters with the invisibles, ancestral and angelic, it never occurred to me to view church and spirituality as mutually exclusive or inclusive locations to meet up with unseen entities.

I have attended church in the hopes of encountering God. More often than not, the only encounter I have is with myself, my thoughts, feelings, hopes and worries wherever they happen to be that day. But there is an encounter in church that seems to require the confines of sensual structure; the building, the people, and our increased reception to what enters into us both physically and mentally because of the particularity of place, time and otherness.

People outside church may also be similarly engaged, but the people in church; those at Mass who are there for the ritual, believe they will encounter the risen Christ. They are there to absorb the essence of God – body, blood and spirit – into themselves in the hopes of transforming their imperfections, weaknesses, and human frailty.

The church then is a container of sorts, in the same way that marriage, family or friendship is. There is something happening in us when we are contained. A relationship is constellated between the members that shapes meaning and purpose for each of us, and a shared identity between us. Parts of others that enter inside us inhabit us like furniture inspiring us with ideas and emotion. Over the course of our lives these relationships are a part of what transforms us.

There’s really no guarantee that those who still choose to go to a particular church with a ritual practice are necessarily doing so for a deeper transcendent relationship with a higher power. They may very well be in a blind stupor, endlessly repeating meaningless ritual because they are comfortable sheep in need of a shepherd.

Scan from Mystery of the Golden Flower by C. G. Jung

For those outside of traditional religious practice it may seem unnecessary, restrictive, blind and unoriginal to organize one’s practice institutionally among a flock or herd. Although I have left as many churches as I have joined, it is bittersweet to me that none of these practices have stuck. The religious urge remains, as Jung noted,

“You can take away a man’s gods, but only to give him others in return.”