Freedom includes the will to suffer this dark moon freely. No resistance. Today, I need to know that, and what, I suffer. I am afraid of that -knowing me-. I am afraid. To deny, ignore, or refuse what is contained therein, would perhaps be the ultimate rejection:
To eclipse is to occult, hiding through darkening. It expresses the deep vulnerability that darkness reveals, and yet is it not an opening of the womb of the new seed?
It is in and through the suffering that the layers are known, that feeling finds life, ripening through the depths of unknowing, wanting new being. If it flows, it goes, moving into this truly human proposition that there is always this need of the dark; fallow, alone, apart, the fear.
Oh surely we are one in the god scheme, the holy body, where love and light ask, can there be a god that doesn’t see an other? One, necessarily, is and is not one. You’ve punched that ticket still in your pocket.
Don’t waste another moment then in refusal of what befalls one. Necessary, like everything else, it is all that is. Whatever we choose, or chooses us, the deep surrender is not free, but beyond any freedom where the interpreter grants the dark moon’s solace of silence. Who knows? Keep asking…
During moments before thought translates into language, I recognize perhaps a truer, more immediate sense of my animal nature. In my relationships to other animals, I find these nonverbal states not only more readily happen, but are necessary for any exchange to take place. We may talk to animals, but in silent presence, where a different style of exchange takes place, a sense of oneself as one among many, in an enlivened, embodied world, can perhaps give us the felt experience of mutual participation in the sacredness of the world.
There’s a lot of human chatter now days about the state and fate of our world, and specifically, the influence of humans on the environment – conflicts between cultures, religions, etc. We are, it seems, beginning to see and fear the harm whose cause is doubtless our own. As it is recognizably a human cause, we look to ourselves to correct course. Whether the correction needed is seen as psychological, political, internal or external, if we are the problem, and we are superior, we must be the ones to find the solution.
But, even as far as this is true, in what ways can the source of a problem become the solution? What needs to happen? It’s not like we haven’t been aware of our dilemma for thousands of years. It seems we can’t self-correct!
James Hillman reminds us to reconsider the notion that the cosmos is not a man-made affair:
The mechanistic (indirect) theory of perception so essential to modern epistemology and cosmology of course guarantees an anthropocentric universe. Only humans are conscious. Animals have less memory, less stored knowledge, less mediating reason, less subjective interiority. Have they interiority at all? And unless they have this interior subjectivity, they cannot claim consciousness. The mediating subjective factors necessary to our human definition are the very same factors required by the indirect theory of perception. Dismantle the radio signals and the code system — all the intervening variables — and we shall find we have junked as well our notion of consciousness as an interior mediating process. For it is this definition of consciousness that has maintained through centuries from Stoic philosophy and Roman law through Christian dogma and European rationalism that animals are nonsentient, irrational, unconscious, and inferior. This condemnation of their consciousness assures our human superiority, allowing us to ignore “their inarticulate wisdom, their certainty, their unhesitating achievement”
We might also ask, if we go back far enough, who were we prior to this current state of affairs of assumed human superiority? What brought us from being one among many within a world we inhabit, to being and feeling separate and distinctly apart? Is it that very distinction, and the ability to make distinctions that becomes too much of a good thing, and so, culminating into a fatal flaw? Is the fate of humanity tied to a consensual perception which now grossly separates itself from non-human animals to the point of possibly extinguishing it all? Does our power over the animals along with our self-appointed management over nature truly protect, or does it make us even more vulnerable?
I venture the idea that a cosmology with soul gives special attention to animals. I propose that any acceptable new cosmology will have to receive approval from the animal kingdom.
Hillman reminds us that our relationship to animals in many cultures, times and places, very much carries with it the experience of communication with the divine. Divine in this sense being both an immanent and super natural presence of invisible powers. In this sense, animals are not simply food or predators, but carriers of messages from invisible worlds to ours. Besides the more familiar biblical story of Noah, the ark, and God’s directive to save the animals, Hillman mentions the correlation between Plato’s dodecahedron, ‘…used by the creative maker for the “whole.” ‘
Following upon the geometric shapes for fire, water, air, and earth, there is a fifth, the most comprehensive figure which has, says Plato, “a pattern of animal figures thereon.” [ 7] It reminds of another passage in Plato (Republic 589c) where he presents “the symbolic image of the soul” as a multitudinous, many-headed beast with a ring of heads tame and wild.
And here, Hillman notes Plato giving the animals their share of the cosmic power:
Let us consider this twelve-sided animal-headed image seriously indeed, although seriously does not mean literally. Rather, we may imagine this final and essential image of Plato’s cosmology — strange, unexpected, obscure as it may be — to be awarding animal-being cosmic superiority.
The vulnerability of a past prior to the introduction of technologies that increasingly separated us from other animals, we may fail to remember what drew our ancestors to both fear and envy, but also to eventually gather greater insight and reflection from the animals that share existence with us. It’s as if we humans, by separating ourselves from them, traded off our animal sensibility for an ever increasing capacity for reflective distance. And so began the long journey: negotiating territory and relationships not only with the other animals, but with the natural state of the environment. Through time and technology, we have become less willing to tolerate the inherent conditions of life on planet earth. Each so-called advancement, while giving us an edge over other creatures, left us without the necessity of getting along.
Hillman makes a crucial point that it is through relationship, and a cosmology which includes the animals, we are instructed through a direct mediation between the earthly and the divine:
The return of cosmology to the animal is not merely to invite “brute” palpable sensuousness into our thinking. The animal opens not only into the flesh of life but also toward the gods. According to fables, legends, myths, and rituals worldwide, animals impart to humans the secrets of the cosmos. They are our instructors in cosmology, that is, they mediate between the gods and humans; they have divine knowledge.
Divine knowledge, an intelligence beyond intellect and the power to rationalize, makes room for the intelligence that sees beauty, grace and the physical wonder of the other.
Although I am not proposing solutions here, enlarging the view of the long trail of human history, and seeing how language and technology influence our experience by continually exaggerating the sense of a separation from the animals, and from each other and the idea of anything outside or beyond the human realm. It cannot only be a matter of belief though, but of finding and allowing a place for the dynamics of relationship to become a vehicle for dissolving boundaries, walls, ideologies and fears that perpetuate a felt experience of separation that has plagued humanity for a very long time.
All quotes from: Hillman, James. Philosophical Intimations (Uniform Edition of the Writings of James Hillman Book 8). Spring Publications. Kindle Edition.
In the latter part of my recent post, Primordial Necessity, I offered some reflections on Ananke and the idea of Necessity as a compelling force, which are basedon James Hillman’s Eranos Conference speech titled, Athene, Ananke, and the Necessity of Abnormal Psychology. Here, I would like to continue on with Hillman’s insights into the significant role the goddess Athena plays in relation to necessity and compulsion.
In the story of Eumenides, who is associated with Ananke, we read of the trials of Orestes, who is caught between the demands of the Furies, whose presence tortures Orestes, after, at the command of Apollo, murders his own mother. The play has political parallels to Athenian culture that reflect a major shift in the pantheon in which the law of Zeus replaces the necessity for revenging sin with more blood shed. Through persuasive speech, specifically through the rhetoric of Zeus’ daughter Athene,* the goddess of wisdom, Orestes life is then spared.
During the trial of Orestes, it is Athene who defends Orestes against the fate of the noose:
“The balloting over Orestes’s fate is equal. Then Athene intervenes. There is a climactic argument back and forth between her and the Eumenides. But finally Athene persuades them and wins Orestes his life. The key word in her victory is persuasion, peitho, the word translated in our language as rhetoric. Rhetoric persuades necessity.”
Hillman suggests that Athene herself is sympathetic to the compulsion of necessity with its narrowing and constricting force:
“Athene has also invented instruments of limitation and containment, bringing the arts of pottery, of weaving, of measuring, of the bridle, yoke, and harness. In her is combined the very contradictions she must reconcile: the Nous of her father and the binding force of Ananke with whose collaboration her father rules.”
The unprecedented action of persuasive speech is for Hillman of utmost importance, a game changer. For something that was once blind force has now been given a place among the gods. By personifying them, the power of the gods is no longer blind or abstract. Their influence can now be told in story, both among the gods and with interactions with humans.
“The content of Athene’s words is that she offers the Erinys – the torturing furious forces of necessity who oppress Orestes – a place within the divine order. She offers a sanctuary, a cave, an altar (“new chambers,” 1005) where these powers may reside and be honored and yet remain alien: or “resident aliens” as they are called. The unimaged nameless ones shall be imaged and named. Sacrifice is possible. Reconciliation occurs.”
For Hillman the importance of mythology for us, who may find their stories irrelevant, unnecessary, difficult or incomprehensible, lies in the psychological insight they offer into our afflictions, what he calls pathologizing.
“Although the problem from which Orestes suffers involves his father and his mother, their sins and their murders, it is neither Orestes the person, nor the archetypal protagonist of the human ego that is finally the problem. It is a cosmic, universal agony in which he is caught. By returning to Greek myths we can see our personal agonies in this impersonal light.”
Impersonal because of the archetypal nature of our pathologizing and suffering that we all have a share in. Although still very much subjective and necessary, pathologizing can be seen through the lens of mythology, not only of the Greeks, but of all polytheistic cultures. Their stories show us our problems, displaying ideas as divine powers, universal and generational, because of our unbelief in them. For as Jung rightly observed, “the gods have become diseases.”
Hillman sees our modern afflictions as an undercurrent; as compulsive necessity that drives our behaviors. Necessity though, is not something to be overcome by reason or understanding alone, but wants something from us besides abandoning or curing the pathology that has us in its grip. Pathology is perhaps, the arrow of desire aimed at soul-making.
“An analysis repeats the struggles in the soul of Orestes between reason and compulsion, and it repeats the speech of Athene, who persuades to reconciliation by finding place and giving image to the driving necessities. In the mouth of Athene speech becomes a curative hymn, a word which etymologically means “spun” or “woven” words. The relation between word and force is also reflected in society, suggesting that the rule of coercive violence increases when our art of convincing words declines. Peitho takes on an overwhelming importance both in the healing of the soul and the healing of society.”
Just as Orestes’ ordeal gains the Furies recognition by giving them a place among the gods, Peitho, or persuasive speech, provides the darker aspects of our compulsions and pathologies a place of recognition in our lives by letting them speak to us. Peitho brings speech to life as a force itself that shapes and forms us. Speech here is not merely functional, directive and practical but art, devotion or sacred breath. For speech is of the body as much as of the mind and through errancy brings the darkened depths out of the body. In speech our afflictions can be sifted and reworked for soul-making, a perspective freeing us from the purely literal and personal, to one that allows us to place our afflictions within the bigger picture of human experience.
“Speech arises from the same inmost depths where necessity holds the soul in bondage, creating our pathologizings.
…But we can give her modes of expression, ways to image herself in words, persuading her from her implacable silence – an archetypal therapy, a therapy of the archetype itself.”
“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.”
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.
One of the insights gathered from studying and attending to the nature of language is to see how close to the body and physical senses everyday language and speech is. The word language itself is derived from the latin “lingua,” or tongue.
When speaking of our native tongue, we might say that we have two tongues; the one in our mouth and the language we speak with. Here, perhaps, is the basis of metaphor and points to the idea that it is our use of language with its ability to both ground us in descriptions of sense and the physical nature of experience, and also to move us beyond that grounding, to an understanding that we also have ideas about the world. Here we see and think beyond the physical factual world into what lies under, over and beyond it to what might be called, primal knowledge.
The spacial quality of the metaphor intentionally expands our notions of ourselves and the world into dimensionality because life itself is multi-dimensional.
I am no scholar, or linguist, but experiencing the beauty of how language opens the world up to us and has itself a creative element, fascinates me. It’s important then, I think, to not think of language only as a device for reporting. The reporting style of speech, which likes to stick to the facts and get to the point, is one among many styles of speech, but perhaps has come to dominate our western culture today, permeating every corner of our lives from the family circle, to educational curriculums, to business speech. To get along in this world, yes, one must be able to understand this style of language, but that need not exclude us from appreciating and using other styles of speech.
Any style of speech will color how we see and experience the world. So, perhaps, the more styles available to us, the bigger the palette. Language also shapes the stories we tell ourselves and others. The answers we give when replying to everyday questions explaining what happened, why, where and how, are shaped by the language we use. Most of us, most of the time, like to think we speak out of necessity, and are telling the truth, a value deeply embedded within our culture. But this expectation forces our hand, demanding an expertise and honesty on a level that’s not always as easy and available as we may assume.
Language, which is of the body, is susceptible to habits, and behaves similarly to a virus. How much of our experience of life is driven by the assumptions embedded in the way we use language depends on how well we hear the implications of what we say and how aware we are of the ideas available to us. We don’t, it seems, have a choice to experience life without language.
“The word is now a virus. The flu virus may have once been a healthy lung cell. It is now a parasitic organism that invades and damages the central nervous system. Modern man has lost the option of silence. Try halting sub-vocal speech. Try to achieve even ten seconds of inner silence. You will encounter a resisting organism that forces you to talk. That organism is the word.”William Rice Burroughs
But, the virus isn’t necessarily a sickness or a parasite is it? Beyond any notions of taming, eliminating or dampening the capacity for language, what else is there? Is the day-to-day practicality of informing and staying informed the only game in town? Could our relationship to language have rather a symbiotic quality?
Language, when seen as a way to bridge a variety of levels of experience, may lead us out of speaking for the sake of practical reporting and into a place where we see all things anew.
Language that aims for endings, conclusions and summaries of what we believe and think of as the truth, may reflect something deep inside us that refuses the challenge of living in a world between order and chaos. How safe do you want to be, the world may be asking us, and at what cost? One of the costs of truth is exclusion. By making a selection as to what the truth is, we are also making a valuation which excludes other meanings and possibilities deeming them as “not truth.” This is tricky, because we will make choices, perhaps because of the recognition of the exclusive nature of our choosing. To refuse choice and meaning, and to not live within the givens of our environment and culture, would be putting ourselves at the far end of the spectrum where order disappears and chaos reins.
Chaos though, in many mythologies, is both primal and necessary, understood as the source of the world. From Hesiod, 7th or 8th century B.C.:
“Verily at the first Khaos came to be, but next wide-bosomed Gaia (Earth), the ever-sure foundations of all the deathless ones who hold the peaks of snowy Olympus . . . From Khaos came forth Erebos and black Nyx (Night).”
Or as one among several original elements. From Aristophenes:
“At the beginning there was only Khaos (Air), Nyx (Night), dark Erebos (Darkness), and deep Tartaros (Hell’s Pit). Ge (Earth), Aer (Air) and Ouranos (Heaven) had no existence. Firstly, black-winged Nyx (Night) laid a germless egg in the bosom of the infinite deeps of Erebos (Darkness), and from this, after the revolution of long ages, sprang the graceful Eros (Desire) with his glittering golden wings, swift as the whirlwinds of the tempest. He mated [or fertilised] in deep Tartaros (Hell-Pit) with dark Khaos (Air), winged like himself, and thus hatched forth our race [the birds], which was the first to see the light.”
From Ovid’s Metamorphosis:
“Ere land and sea and the all-covering sky were made, in the whole world the countenance of nature was the same, all one, well named Chaos, a raw and undivided mass, naught but a lifeless bulk, with warring seeds of ill-joined elements compressed together.”
And finally, from Genesis, which presents creation as coming into being from what is formless and void through separation:
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters. And God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night.”
Order and chaos may be seen then as two poles necessary for life, for aliveness. Too much of either eliminates the possibility of any life – order stifles movement, chaos refuses the containment necessary for the discrete recognizable entities that we, and each “thing,” is. It may be that the source of the world is unified or chaotic by nature, but identity, with its inherent job of separation, knows of others by being a self. This, I believe is our predicament, and not something to be overcome, but seen through as if we are walking between the two extremes, aware of both the desire for order and the need for renewal through a bit of chaos.
Ironically, to see through may come from a softening of vision, double vision, or second sight. It’s the hard and fast rule and desire for orderliness that sees sharp edges, well-defined boundaries, divisions of truth and lies, black and white, dead and alive. Double vision loses these distinctions by blurring the edges, seeing likeness and similarity in things habitually seen as different. Habit is how we are ordered, poesis, or soul-making is how we are disordered, broken by chaos for the sake of the new. This opening is an exchange with the gods and may be painful as we give up something cherished, protective, habitual, but may also be freeing. Freeing, as we not only disidentify with ownership of an idea or belief, but freeing as expansive in the boundaries of what is “me” and “not me.”
As John the Baptist says, “I must decrease so that He may increase.” This does not have to be understood in a Christian sense only, but as a way to express a willingness towards states of immersion. As we immerse ourselves in conversation with others, ideas and the invisibles, we disappear for the sake of the other. Other meaning, what presents itself to us as the veil is lifted, the walls come tumbling down and the bridge between order and chaos opens up where we may then experience the liminal, non-ordinary at any given moment.
In conclusion, well, sort of, we might see beginnings in every moment, life perpetually coming out of the void, where the void is the source of life itself. We might see beginnings as not something that happen once, or even twice as in rebirth, but beyond historical happenings into that which is happening perpetually; chaos forming into order, refining into structures that eventually fall apart from too much structure, back into chaos where they mix and mingle, formless and once again ready to be ordered anew.
“Paradise Is exactly like Where you are right now Only much, much better.”Laurie Anderson
In reviewing last week’s session of the Jung Platform’s class on James Hillman’s book, Alchemical Psychology, I want to reflect more on the place and nature of the vessel in the work. Hillman says:
“You are the laboratory; you are the vessel and the stuff going through the cooking. So, too, the fire is an invisible heat, a psychic heat that clamors for fuel, breathing room, and regular loving consideration. How to build the heat that can dry up the soggy, soggy dew, melt the leaden oppressions, and distill a few precious drops of intoxicating clarity?”
Suffering can frequently be a catalyst to move us into the deeper uncharted waters in which we can, by necessity, dispose ourselves to the alchemical work. Drifting aimlessly, we’re sometimes not even sure if we are still afloat. Sometimes though we can transform our suffering, by making ourselves available to experience that dark night in which we can’t know yet where we’re going.
We must now, at least for a little while, feel the acute aloneness that comes when the world no longer makes any sense.
But until we can acknowledge the darkness around us, that the cold aloneness like an endless deep-sea has cut us off from others, with a growing fear that we may not make it back to shore, we may never need to confront the angel who waits for us to say yes to the invitation to enter into a unique cosmic wrestling match.
“In Greece, in the Asklepian temples where “patients” went to find healing by dreaming, they incubated for a period of time devoting themselves to focused brooding and right procedures in order to be blessed by a beneficent dream. In the Bible, Jonah, abandoned by his shipmates, had to remain for a time in the belly of a great whale sunk in the depths of the sea. In that darkness he generated heat, lost his hair. Solitary confinement; utter internality. This is the Nekyia, the night sea journey through the underworld made also by Odysseus, Aeneas, and Hercules, and by Eurydice, Inanna, Persephone, Psyche, by Orpheus, by Christ.”
Neither a journey for journey’s sake or to get to some place of our choosing, nor a way to fix ourselves or the world, it is perhaps a journey of necessity because reaching the edge of the sea with still no land in sight, tired, lonely and hungry, this is where you now find yourself.
“Whether this underworld is frigid and ghastly or burning with the hots of hell, it is a realm characterized by temperatures suitable only for demons, ghosts, heroes and heroines, goddesses and shades who are no longer altogether of the upper world.”
While it may be that “not all who wander are lost,” some of us will very much find ourselves leaving the upper world, without a map, a compass, or even a boat. Even our friends and family become strange to us, all is dark and everything we once thought we knew ceases to make any sense and no longer interests us. None of the old ways work anymore.
“Outsiders. Marginals. Alchemy is a profession of marginals; those at the edge. Those who live from their own fires, sweating it out, self-sustaining their own temperatures which may be at variance with the collective climate.”
In our modern world, the difficulty of the alchemical work, the profession of marginals, lies in our need and willingness to be alone, suffering until we can make our own compass, one which will chart a course of our own making. We moderns are soft, accustomed to traveling together, looking to experts to remind us to wear a seatbelt or a helmet, avoiding harm at all cost. There is much shame around getting hurt, we are to be held accountable. No longer optional, we must fill out the accident report, insurance claim, pay our liability insurance, all the while hoping to mitigate the harm done with “no-fault” policies.
So, how do we accept being in the margins, enough to let go of our need to be “on top of it” and in control. What will happen in accepting the invitation to wrestle the angel?
When you find yourself already at the edges, in the margins, and you know that you’ve already come too far and there is no turning back, that is when you might finally see that you have become the vessel and that you are also the substance.
In the vessel and substance that we have now become, we can prepare to do the great work. In alchemy there is first off the matter of the heat, and as the scintilla, or spark of our suffering has just lit the fire, we’ll need to turn our attention to its properties.
“If alchemy is the art of fire, and alchemists, “artists of fire,” as many texts repeat, then the alchemist must be able to “know” all the kinds of fire, degrees of fire, sources of fire, fuels of fire. And, the alchemist must be able to fight fire with fire, using his own fire to operate upon the fires with which he is operating. Working the fire by means of fire. Nature works on nature. Alchemy, an art of nature, a natural art that raises the temperatures of nature.”
All quotes from Hillman, James (2011-10-10). Alchemical Psychology (Uniform Edition of the Writings of James Hillman) Spring Publications, Inc.. Kindle Edition.
“Take one thing a day, either a physical, actual object that needs to go, or better yet a habit, or psychological bug and exorcise it, throw it out.”
You can find links to all the contributors and their offerings at the link above to the bluebutterfliesand me blog. Clearing away is something that perhaps comes and goes in the same way that the seasons do. Sometimes something must go just as autumns changes clear the trees for next year’s growth.
More than any other time in my life I feel blessed with abundance. Not the richness of having things but the richness of being alive and of being immersed in whatever I am doing and wherever I am. It wasn’t always this way, and that might be why I am now able to appreciate peace and happiness when it does arrive that at one time seemed so elusive.
I’m not sure that I can narrow down what I am clearing to one thing, but these past few years I have felt my attention facing a little more outwards into the world. Maybe that is what aging does to us, or maybe it is something else, but I am far less concerned with why, than with what the change is like.
In the earlier years of my life I was very focused on the seeming mysteriousness of who I am. Having always felt deeply unsettled, a troubled child, I thought my quest in life was about knowing who I am. But as I get older (I am 55 now), I find my interests shifting outwards to a curiosity about what is going on for others and in the world in general. Life can be hard and suffering comes in many different shapes and colors, but as much as is possible, I don’t want to add to the world’s or to any individual’s suffering. So, the question has become, what does the world need? A very big question…
Although it seems that the world is in a mess, the more general my feelings are for the worlds problems, the less it seems I can do anything about them. So, part of what I am coming to see is the importance of differentiating between what is within my reach to change and what problems are too abstract, and not in reach. Probably not big news for some people, but life is made up of small moments, but they can be powerful sometimes life-changing moments when we look to see how we can help each other, even in small ways.
So, I thought I would offer up a few thoughts about the clarity emerging from this shift in perspective. I hope these thoughts do not come across as criticism of their opposites, or of anything that might be important and helpful in someone else’s situation – they are not meant to be.
1) I am not a project to be worked on. There’s more happiness to be found from engaging others and the world. I am the vehicle, the eye, the mind, moving, seeing, thinking, taking in and hopefully bringing forth something that the world needs. The I that would fix me is just as broken as the me I would fix. Healing is needed of course and does indeed happen and there’s nothing wrong with seeking a path towards that goal.
2) The world needs each and every one of us. Together we make up a whole, and there is no world outside of that whole. We are in the world and the world is in us. We are the world – all of it. We all belong, but it’s good to be aware that not everyone feels this way and it might be your turn to remind someone else that they are needed, even or especially when they can’t see why.
3)We have nothing. We don’t have anything because life is a motion picture. Things, feelings, others, ideas, beliefs are all in motion and organically changing; psyche reflects soma. We are the movie, the play, the song. It’s a drama, a tragedy and a comedy and sometimes it seems all at once.
4) We all make choices, ready or not. We all realize in varying degrees the choices we are making. Some of us need reminding of the power we actually have instead of the power we think we want. This was especially true for me back in the days of my youthful folly.
5) It is easier to misunderstand but more rewarding to take the time to understand. When I find myself immediately resisting an idea or an opinion, it can be tempting to place myself in opposition and increase the tension, but I have been trying to practice listening and imagining the world from the perspective of what it is that is being resisted. It’s not always easy to do, but when done, it helps me to understand how someone can form the ideas and opinions they have.
6) You can always change your mind. This is a wonderfully freeing gift that we are granted. Opinions change, feelings change, love is available if we practice looking for it and passing it on to others, even in the very small kindnesses that we do in our day-to-day.
7) Everyone and everything needs our love. Again, love happens in small ways and to the things that we touch and use as well as the people, the animals, the ground that we walk on. Love for the world can bring care for the world, and care for the world can bring beauty and peace.
At the very least I am trying to be less a part of the problem and more a part of the solution as my life unfolds. Where once upon a time I felt separate, apart and outside of the world we all share, I now see the world as an unfolding tapestry where each of us has a part of the continual weaving that makes up what C.G. Jung and others have called the Anima Mundi, or Soul of the World.
Please enjoy Soul Fields post posted today tomorrow and tomorrows todays offering from Karen, whose link should be found here.
Here are the links to all of the contributor’s posts in this series: