The Collective Shadow
Index of SectionsBack to Index
The Origin of Shadow Complexes
Every community of people has associated shadow complexes and it is evident that if such complexes are ever to be dealt with an awareness of them has to arise from within the community itself. Two shadow complexes in the Western psyche can be better understood if we look at their emergence in history. The first is the gradual eclipsing and devaluation of the feminine aspect of divinity during the course of the Second Millennium BC which culminates in a significant metaphorical imbalance in the symbolical representations of all Western religions in favour of the masculine element. The second is an ambiguity in the concept and location of evil in morality based monotheism where the One God is posited as being Infinitely Merciful and Just. We will see that while both stem from mythological innovations with positive aspects, they have also, unwittingly, predisposed our psyche, in good conscience, to do great harm. The following discussion will show how such collective shadows can come about almost as by-products of mythological innovation and, removed from the conscious narrative, they take on a chthonic role in the depths of our collective psyche in its religious or ethnic guise.Back to Index
The Female Body as Metaphor
We already touched, in another discussion, on the presence of what we've called an Animal Master (or Master Spirit) in Paleolithic hunting cultures and inferred that the notion has continued across tens of millennia and indeed, is now only reaching exhaustion as the last hunting cultures have simply run out of refuges to escape from encroaching civilisation.The counter player to the Masterspirit would appear to be simply the Earth conceived as the giver, and re-giver after death, of life.
Yea, summon Earth, who brings all things to life,
And rears and takes again into her womb.
The female body, the visual image of most immediate experience, as a vehicle of new life and its nourishment, was the ideal symbol and metaphor for this dynamic. So its preponderance in the figurative art that has come down to use from the Paleolithic is not too surprising. Scholars like Joseph Campbell have suggested that while the male hunters mediated the mysteries of the Animal Master in the deeps of the cave systems in Europe, the mothers may have had their own mysteries centred on the hearth and these were associated with fecundity and the lunar cycle, with which the rhythm of their own bodies appeared to be in tune.
The Venus of Laussel was situated under a rock overhang typical of where the Paleolithic peoples lived, needing only a frame of stretched animal skins across wooden poles to complete a shelter. Traces of ochre were found on this carving as if an association is being made between it and the generative blood of the female body. Down through the ages we find accounts of copious amounts of ochre being used in burials, as if to stimulate the life giving power of the earth to regenerate the returned spirit in new corporeal form.
(see interactive map of paleolithic sites to get a feel for the distribution of the nude female figurines)
The Tropical Gardens
Our four seasons are based on the seasonal changes of plant life in non equatorial regions of the world. The Earth, metaphorically represented by the female body, may in the Paleolithic, when life was more centred on hunting animals, may have had a cyclic drama more modeled on the symbolic concepts of the maiden, the mother and the crone. The oldest representation we presently know of triple female nudes is from about 14,000 years ago and is found on a cliff face at Roc Aux Sorciers. It is notable that the focus is on the hips, with the rightmost nude figure being superimposed on two bison as perhaps an invocation to the earth to aid replenishment of the herds.
Of course, during the Paleolithic while hunters chased bison and mammoth across the frozen steppes of the north, there were other peoples inhabiting the jungles of the warm tropics for whom life was, relatively speaking, less harsh. It may be that the triune of female powers originated instead in such regions. Nearly every cultural facet of this culture is perishable but in the tales of the Hainuwele (myth: Frond of the Cocopalm), Satene and Rabia of the Marind people of New Guinea, we have a sense of Virgin Dema acting in concert at a rudimentary agriculture culture level.
More familiar to us, and associated with the sowing and reaping of cereal crops, are Persephone (maiden, fallowness, sowing and growth), Demeter (mother, maturation and harvest) and Hecate (guardian of cross roads(labyrinth?), the underworld, the moon and rebirth). The mysteries of this cycle were enacted in the celebrated Eleusinian Mysteries where agricultural ritual had been sublimated to the level of a spiritual initiation rite . The culminating moment for the initiate was a the revelation of a cut stalk of wheat followed by the appearance of a priestess representing the returned maiden, Persephone, from the Underworld. In such triune's the maiden-mother figures form a pair with the death mediating third figure set apart and often represented in mythology as being the guardian of a labyrinth which must be navigated by the dead to reach an afterlife. (see myth: Hymn to Demeter)
At the heart of both mythologies there is a trinity of goddesses identified with the local food plants, the pig, the underworld, and the moon, whose rites insure both the growth of the plants and a passage of the soul to the land of the dead.i
The peoples of the jungles reenact the sacrifice of the moon god whose waxing to fullness and waning to a death and rebirth, was experienced in the cyclical fruitings of the forest and in the harvests from their little gardens where they planted seeds, tubers or slips. This pivotal event marks the end of period of paradise of the ancestral immortals and the introduction of the killing-sex duality. Fruits are picked and return in a new season, plants are cut back and regrow, seedlings sprout from the rotting leaf litter on the forest floor and animals are killed but replenished by procreation.
Angel of Death
Considering the harshness of life in those distant times the notion of the Earth taking back the spirit, or germ, of an animal or person was not a quaint idea. The fact that burials or cremations may not have been practical in the paleolithic (permafrost hard ground and scarcity of flammable materials), the agents of the earth might well have been vultures such as we see with Buddhist sky burials in Tibet even today. We note the oldest flutes found (35,000 years ago) are often made from the hollow bones of vultures and there may have been a connotation of death and renewal associated with the music played. When we roll forward to Çatalhöyük thirty millennia later at the beginning of the neolithic we find chilling murals of vultures flying above human torsos.
However, the most alarming depiction of this dual power of the female power at Çatalhöyük is expressed in female torsos moulded onto the walls where the breasts have been formed around the skull of a vulture with the curved beak left visible suggestive of the nipples. A frightening variation on the eat food - be food antithesis, such as we find expounded with gleeful mischief in the Taittirya Upanishad (3.10.06). The majority of breasts at Çatalhöyük are, however, moulded around boar's lower jaw bones so as to be invisible and are situated on the shrine walls below moulded bull's heads. The latter evocative of the lunar like cycle of death and rebirth personified in a vegetation deity and the former symbolic of the agent of regeneration.Back to Index
Rise of Agriculture, Rise of City States
The onset of agriculture, about 9.000BC necessitated a rapid evolution of mythic imagery to facilitate the increasing complexity of societies living together in ever larger numbers. With the first city states in Sumer around 3,500BC, and the proliferation of specialist skills that accompany urban civilisation, the imperative became far more urgent .
And as in every other known agricultural society...the sense of an essential spiritual accord between the social and celestial orders, with the well being of the community understood as a function of this accord, contributed to the flowering of a mythology of personified cosmic powers functioning simultaneously in the heavens and on earth.ii
If we look at Uruk (4100 to 2900BC), the first of the great cities of the world, we note that its period of flourishing straddles that of the onset of all the arts of civilisation circa 3,500 to 3,200BC. We also find that at the beginning of civilisation main temple in the town was dedicated to Inanna (literally Queen of Heaven , the planet Venus). And from myth we know that she had a sister or dark aspect of herself called Ereshkigal ( literally Great Lady under the Earth) who was queen of the underworld. Uruk's period of flourishing without city walls, or the necessity of protecting its trading routes by force of arms, was but the brief prelude to the beginning of armed conflict in the fertile crescent as competition between states became increasingly fierce and they suffered frequent incursions by nomadic tribes attracted by the promise of booty. (see myth: Descent of Inanna)
However, the acknowledged head of the gods in Sumer was the irascible air-god, Enlil, who, not entirely enamoured of human kind, sent a great deluge to eradicate it from the face of the earth. Human kind was only saved by the intervention of Enki who manages to warn Ziusudra (Sumer), (later Utnapishtim (Babylon) and later still Noah (Hebrew)) using, by way of intermediary, the whispering grasses of the delta. Gods are personifications of powers in the world around us and terrible floods are a natural hazard of Mesopotamia whose land is flat and, from the Persian Gulf to north of Baghdad, only a few metres above sea-level . For this reason the earliest temples in the delta region in the Ubaid period were built on raised platforms which over the centuries eventually developed into great Ziggurats (stepped pyramids) visible even from great distances and upon whose summits a sacred marriage would annually take place symbolising the accord of Heaven and Earth.Back to Index
The Moon God and his Consort
An always spectacular view in the December sky in Mediterranean climes is the appearance of the first (and last) sliver of the crescent moon, with the planet Venus near by, in the early evening sky. As the night darkens the moon appears like a great black disc sitting on an elegant barque and in the early hours of the night, visible to all, it descends majestically, accompanied by the planet venus, below the horizon. As the moon waxes, and is longer so directly between the earth and the sun, it remains longer in the sky.
Between the period of the earliest female figurines circa 4500B.C...a span of a thousand years elapsed, during which the archaeological signs constantly increase of a cult of the tilled earth fertilised by that noblest and most powerful beast of the recently developed holy barnyard, the bull - who not only sired the milk yielding cows, but also drew the plow, which in that early period simultaneously broke and seeded the earth. Moreover by analogy, the horned moon, lord of the rhythm of the womb and of the rains and dews, was equated with the bull; so that the animal became a cosmological symbol, uniting the fields and the laws of sky and earth.iii
With variations over the millennia the main drama we notice in Mesopotamia is that of the death of the vegetation deity in Spring at the time of the cereal harvest - the Akitu Festival. The god, variously called Dumuzi (Sumerian) or Tammuz (Babylonian) and of which Attis (Phygrian), Adonis (Levant) and Osiris (Egyptian) are all variations, descends into the underworld, where he resides for a period until he is returned to life by the action of his devoted consort. Considering the harvest has been secured the subsequent mourning of the deity's sojourn in the underworld is, unusually, typically freighted with a spontaneous outpouring of grief. The significance of such collective grieving would appear to be a displacement of the keenly experienced tribulations of life to a personification of the seasonal trials of the land. Dumuzi's sister, Gestinanna (the vine) offers to take his place in the underworld for half the year and so the two agricultural cycles alternate albeit with the mythological emphasis very much on the cereal growing aspect.
The priest-kings of early Sumer would have incarnated the figure of the divine bull and would for a time have been literally put to death in an elaborate costume drama reflecting the Will of Heaven as possibly evidenced by the Royal Tombs of Ur. Yet in this on earth as it is in heaven drama the deity would be restored by the intervention of the goddess in the figure of Inanna or Ishtar ( Isis in Egypt). In a modern drama it is the player who is key whereas in ancient times it is the role that endures and the player no more important than a costume change. Indeed in the agricultural period we can adduce, from such rituals as are recorded in James Frazer's Golden Bough, that any sign of aging in a corn-god could impact the harvest and so was reason enough for a new player to take the part while the tangible remains of his predecessor might be strewn in pieces upon the land to increase its yield.
(sunrise 2500BC in Sumer (Basra) using stellarium.org screen capture with Greek zodiac shown)
Leo Frobenius during his expeditions to Africa found examples of myths of this Moongod and his Venus consort in the geographical area encompassing Mozambique, Angola and Zimbabwe: (Myths: Death of Mambo or Mapungubwe-Makoni ).
There, the king representing the great god-head even bore the name 'Moon'; while his second wife was the Moon's beloved Venus. And when the time arrived for the death of the god, the god and his Venus-spouse were strangled and their remains placed in a burial cave in the mountain, from which then they were supposed to be resurrected as the new, or 'renewed', heavenly spheres.ivBack to Index
Tiamat and Marduk
The Babylonian myth in which a menacing Mother of the Waters of the Abyss, Tiamat, is defeated by the sun god, Marduk (see myth: Marduk and Tiamat), who then goes on to fashion the world from her dismembered body, is often cited as the pivotal myth in which Nature is no longer a manifestation of maternal earth divinity complementing a paternal celestial divinity schema but merely raw material to be fashioned to the will of human kind. And coeval with this new myth, in the middle of the Second Millennium BC, is the rapid development of mathematics in Babylon building on the sexagesimal system, used to define units of space and time, developed by the Sumerians. By comparison a similar advance in mathematics did not accompany the flourishing of civilisation, with its multitudinous forms of architecture, in Ancient Egypt (Hugh Thurston - Ancient Astronomy).v
Further, Thorkild Jacobsen (The Treasures of Darkness) saw in the Tiamat myth a reflection of a shift in emphasis from priest-king whose destiny was decided by the priestly interpretation of the movement of divine celestial spheres to the rise of ruthless political kingship prefigured in the Middle East by such figures as first Sargon of Akkad (2,300BC) and later Hammurabi (1700BC).vi
Jacobsen also identifies the Second Millennium BC as the first recorded appearance of what we might call Job Syndrome, a curious combination of humility and hubris whereby, despite right-action, the gods appear to heap misery after misery upon their suppliants until they cry out indignantly at perceived injustice.vii From around 1700BC Indo European and Semitic peoples begin to expand their spheres of influence by military conquest leading to a period of almost perpetual tumult in Europe, the Middle East and India leading to a profound psychological change which Joseph Campbell has termed, The Great Reversalviii, a negative view of life captured later in the snatch of Christian prayer,
to thee do we send up our sighs,
mourning and weeping in this valley of tears; and further to the East by the Buddha's pithy declaration,
all life is sorrowful. This in turn leads to increasing preoccupation with what comes after this life, surely a place, or state, where the injustices of this world will be put to rights.
Grand the plans of gods and man,Back to Index
But when the day is done
Bones broadly scattered in the sun,
For ironic Moira the fray hath won.
And naught remains for Apollo's progeny,
But to sing her praise,
In comic agony.
excerpt from the Legend of Keret (1500-1200BC)
Manifestations of the Collective Shadow
Recapitulation of the Purposes of Mythology
If we take the salutary aspects of mythology as satisfying the four functions defined by Joseph Campbell:
that of eliciting and supporting a sense of awe before the mystery of being.ix
to render a cosmology, an image of the universe that will support and be supported by this sense of awe before the mystery of the presence and the presence of a mystery.x
to support the current social order, to integrate the individual organically with his group;xi
to initiate the individual into the order of realities of his own psyche, guiding him toward his own spiritual enrichment and realization.xii
and, specifically, in regard to civilisation:
A mythological canon is an organisation of symbols, ineffable in import, by which the energies of aspiration [of a civilisation] are evoked and gathered toward a focus.xiii; we might be forgiven for wondering wherefore the endless horrors of human history. In respect of a mythological basis of conflict Campbell did comment :
There are two pathologies. One is interpreting myth as a pseudo-science, as though it had to do with directing nature rather than putting you in accord with nature, and the other is the political interpretation of myths to the advantage of one group within a society, or one society within a group of nations. xiv
Now mythology is typically drafted by a dominant elite and since the establishment of civilisation in the Middle East, the military elites have changed frequently (Sumerians, Akkadians, Hittites, Egyptians, Babylonians, Assyrians, Medians, Persians, Greeks, Seleucids, Romans, Arabs ) creating something of a mish-mash of mythology. When all the burning ash settled though the symbol of the female body was among casualties of the changing order being now associated almost wholly with temptation and seduction, the Devil's Door, to use a later Christian expression. Though who exactly is this Devil and why is the hitherto natural life impulse of attraction of the male for the female form become something to be so condemned while, by comparison, the male impulse to violence is regarded, at best, ambivalently?Back to Index
Good versus Evil
The experience of nearly all life on our planet is of daily cycles of light and darkness which, away from the equator, varies with the seasons. We further experience the sun as being stronger in summer than in winter. As the female body was an ideal symbol for the cycle of life, so this duality of day and night, light and darkness provided the ideal symbol of contending forces of good and evil. While in the Orient we have the philosophical idea at the heart of Taoism of ever changing complementary opposites expressed by the yin-yang symbol. The notion of an uncompromising war between Absolute Good and Evil is attributed to Zoroastrianism which originated, geographically, in modern day Iran towards the end of the Second Millennium. And the code of morality established at this time, sanctioned by the Absolute Good, Ahura Mazda, would to our modern eye obviously codify not only the virtues but also the cultural prejudices of the time. His antagonist, Angra Mainyu, his twin is a destructive spirit who will at the end of time be overthrown. When this notion appears westwards it has evolved: Moses receives the tablet with the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai and Jesus and Muhammad will also issue moral precepts which are recorded in the Bible and Koran. The concept of sin has been used ever since to define disobedience to the deity of Absolute Good with the accompanying connotation of sinners succumbing to, if not actively allying themselves with, the forces of darkness.
While in India the philosophers imagined universes coming into being and vanishing like ephemeral bubbles in beach surf breaking in oceans of time in numbers dwarfing even the discoveries of modern science; the Magi/Priests of the Middle East had an idea of creation more or less coeval with the beginning of civilisation about 4,000BC. And hence the insight that our psyche is an accretion of many layers slowly evolved over hundreds of millions of years was not available to them. So impulses to violence, lust, gluttony and greed could not be attributed to the manifold conflicting demands of the biological systems of the body but must instead be due to a harmful principle that originates outside our body, an evil principle, the Devil who infiltrates our body with temptation and evil counsel.
The Devil in the Middle East and the West has been a troublesome metaphor. To accord too much power and status is to impugn the infinite power of the One God whose dignity has subsumed the functions and grandeur of all the other gods and goddesses. In a world in almost perpetual tumult the One God is preoccupied with the moral conduct of humanity and the serious business of salvation and punishment in a next life. The Devil therefore is what challenges his Will and is conceived not as an equal but merely a fallen angel. Earthquakes, volcanoes, storms, deluges, famine, plague etc were not the work the Devil but the 'righteous retribution' of God for persistent sin or disobedience on the part of humanity. No moral sanction can be laid at the door of God for his apparent acts of genocidal retribution, even Job's indignation collapses in the face of God's infinite majesty.
The interpretation of natural disasters as divine retribution for moral failings on the part of humanity set a very dangerous precedent for 'justifiable' or 'righteous' acts of retribution. Further covenants between deity (or spirits) that before were essentially confined to the provision of the essential food stuffs were now, with the advent of monotheism, of a moral order, whereby the Will of God was revealed exclusively to one group and so other groups who did not accept this self evident revelation, left themselves open to divinely sanctioned retribution - in this life.
With monotheism humanity is divided into 'Believers' and 'Unbelievers'. The former are divided into rival factions whose modest differences in dogma are nonetheless allied to their sense of identity and so vehemently defended. Indeed in modern times as doctrine is increasingly out of kilter with the known reality of the universe , it is more often identity with, and membership of, a particular group that appears to be of paramount importance rather than the particular precepts of the religion. The sense of belonging to a group is reinforced by common participation in a set of rituals that punctuate the key thresholds of life such as birth, marriage and death.
With the advent of monotheism, God is on the one hand above all that human kind can think or say and yet, at the same time, we notice in the vocabulary words like 'Father', 'Him' and 'Son' that immediately imply both gender and anthropomorphic qualities. A fundamental characteristic of western religion is to stress on the one hand the transcendent qualities of deity but then, on the other, to attribute to deity local space-time qualities even to the unselfconscious hubris of certain priests, and the self righteous, taking on the mantle of deity's spokesperson. Phrases like
let his will be done on earth as it is in heaven, puts one more in mind of the star gazing Mesopotamian priests who tried to fathom the Will of Heaven by interpreting the movement and conjunctions of celestial bodies, rather than a transcendent principle. Transcendent implies an indefinable state outside of space-time whereas all qualities that pertain to our experiences in space-time invariably have their opposite. Mystics of all traditions have always known that if you're dealing with an image, you're dealing with a representation, a symbol. And this is fine up to a point. But as Meister Ekhart wrote:
The hardest leave-taking is taking leave of God for God.
Mythological symbols never really disappear, ultimately derived from structures within our biology, they are merely recycled and timeless primitive motifs becomes sublimated to sophisticated spiritual practice and insight: in Holy Communion in Christianity we have the sacred spiritual act of eating and drinking of the body and blood of the God incarnated miraculously in bread and wine rather than the cannibalistic literal eating of the flesh and drinking of the blood of the god-sacrifice that occurred in many of the Tropical Garden cultures. In Buddhism the lightening bolt typically wielded by the chief god of almost every patriarchal pantheon, is reinterpreted by the symbol of the vajra, the lightening flash of enlightenment, which allows one to pierce the veils of maya to discover the irreconcilable paradox that what was antecedent to space-time can be apprehended, in a deep sense, through the fuzzy flux fabric of space-time from which every organic filament of life has emerged and, if we're to believe the mystics, is implicated and apprehendable, at least in one guise, as compassion. Christianity has this too but it is de-emphasised. In the heterodox Gospel of Thomas Jesus says:
I am the light that is above them all. I am the all; the all came forth from me, and the all attained to me. Cleave a (piece of) wood; I am there. Raise up a stone, and you will find me there.
The medieval Irish scholar Johannes Scottus Eriugena speaking of Jesus in his Periphyseon, and following in the Greek rather than the Latin tradition, writes:
He is called Cherubim, flaming, flashing Sword, Way and Tree of Life in order that we may understand that the Word never withdraws from the sight of our hearts and is always immediately present to enlighten us. In no place and at no time does it allow us to lose the memory of the bliss which we lost by transgression, but always wishes us to return to it. Until that end is achieved, it sighs while sharing our grief and goads us on as we take the road which leads there by mastering the steps of knowledge and action.xv
Although even here, as in the east, the emphasis is still somewhat negative,the wonder of life being deemed, in some sense, inadequate to life's trials and tribulations.
Go, said the bird, for the leaves were full of children,Back to Index
Hidden excitedly, containing laughter.
Go, go, go, said the bird: human kind
Cannot bear very much reality.
T.S.Eliot - Burnt Norton 1935 (Four Quartets)
With the rise of civilisation and empire we have vast amounts of people acting in concert inspired, or coerced, according to religious and/or political ideology. While many of our instinctual centres are susceptible to the 'imprint of learning' during our youth, once imprinted it can take quite a bit of conscious effort later to undo. In some parts of our DNA we may still have strands not dissimilar to that which make fish move in vast shoals or flocks of birds wheel in flight. Carl Jung referring to particular instinctual patterns in the human psyche has written while discussing the term participation mystique:
The further we go back into history, the more we see personality disappearing beneath the wrappings of collectivity. And if we go right back to primitive psychology, we find absolutely no trace of the concept of an individual. Instead of individuality we find only collective relationship or what Lévy-Bruhl calls participation mystique (Jung,  1971: par. 12).
Most people would have some experience of the chubby faced Labrador that becomes a savage sheep killer once it joins with a few other dogs or the gentle teenage son or daughter who becomes a bully when in a group with their peers. These are many instances where the individual consciousness is not resilient enough to withstand the reversion to a lower instinctual level of behaviour that allows us to participate in a group identity.Back to Index
The Abiding Bureaucracy
Nation States and the great religions are very much more sophisticated than casual groups so in what sense can this behaviour be observed in them?
While the unplummetable deeps of our collective unconscious speaks with the antiquity of the biological systems of life, there are layers less deep in which new constellations of the perennial motifs, responding to new keenly felt collective experiences, are re constellated in the imaginations of individuals sensitive to the zeitgeist and poured forth in blazing visions which then evoke an answering energy in the populace at large. Historically, the written accounts of such visions can appear modest enough in comparison to the extraordinary renderings in architecture engendered by such upwellings within a people. While the pyramids of Egypt are considered among the most extraordinary achievements of human kind they are, from a functional point of view, ignoring the destiny of the god-king, fairly useless . That is unless we consider that such undertakings necessitate by their nature extraordinary organisation which in turn requires the creation of bureaucracies to oversee the huge logistics of such undertakings. Great prestige is conferred by their accomplishment on the society through the vicarious identification with the god-king, priest-king, general or president. A sense of the collective identity is reinforced. Even today a newly liberated state will typically undertake some huge building project of a dam or canal as an assertion of their national identity as much as for practical reasons.
Bureaucracy maintains the state and many invading armies in Mesopotamia had relatively simple societal structures and so used the extant bureaucracy to impose their values and beliefs while at the same time usually coming to terms, adopting or demoting, the gods and goddesses already in residence. A Kudurru boundary stone from 1600BC gives a good sense of the eclectic and evolving sense of a layered cosmos built upon the Sumerian original. And if we take our psyche as the regulator of our psychological well being, we should add to this the religious and political bureaucracies that have had such an influence on our nation states. While they encourage our development in a general sense they often discourage it in the individual sense. The following words were written by Carl Jung in 1928:
It is a notorious fact that the morality of society as a whole is in inverse ratio to its size; for the greater the aggregation of individuals, the more the individual factors are blotted out, and with them morality, which rests entirely on the moral sense of the individual and the freedom necessary for this. Hence, every man is, in a certain sense, unconsciously a worse man when he is in society than when acting alone; for he is carried by society and to that extent relieved of his individual responsibility. Any large company composed of wholly admirable persons has the morality and intelligence of an unwieldy, stupid, and violent animal. The bigger the organization, the more unavoidable is its immorality and blind stupidity. Society, by automatically stressing all the collective qualities in its individual representatives, puts a premium on mediocrity, on everything that settles down to vegetate in an easy, irresponsible way. Individuality will inevitably be driven to the wall. This process begins in school, continues at the university, and rules all departments in which the State has a hand. In a small social body, the individuality of its members is better safeguarded; and the greater is their relative freedom and the possibility of conscious responsibility. Without freedom there can be no morality.
Our admiration for great organizations dwindles when we once become aware of the other side of the wonder: the tremendous piling up and accentuation of all that is primitive in man, and the unavoidable destruction of his individuality in the interests of the monstrosity that every great organization in fact is. The man of today who resembles more or less the collective ideal, has made his heart into a den of murderers, as can be easily proved by an analysis of his unconscious, even though he himself is not in the least disturbed by it. And in so far as he is normally 'adapted' to his environment, it is true that the greatest infamy on the part of his group will not disturb him, so long as the majority of his fellows steadfastly believe in the exalted morality of their social organization.xvi
As ever expanding collectives appear to be an unavoidable feature of history, it is imperative that collectivities have ritual forms that on the one hand keep the spectre of their unconscious shadows before them, and on the other, allow for the cathartic healing of historical injuries. In recent times we have had examples of leaders of nations making apologies to other nations or peoples, for crimes or excesses committed in the past, with almost instant salutary effects.
In the European Union the hierarchical notion of responsibility embodied in the principle of subsidiarity, with adjudications of conflict where necessary by the EU Court of Justice, may allow in time this particular colossus to act in both directions: from the top-down and bottom-up. This will not occur however unless there is a genuine striving and a deep realisation among citizens of the long and difficult narrative that has brought us to this juncture and the potentially catastrophic consequences of a reversion to self interested parochialism. In the words of George Catlett Marshall to the students of Princeton University on the 22 Feb 1947:
In order to take full part in the life that is before you, I think you must in effect relive the past so that you may turn to the present with deep convictions and an understanding of what manner of country this is for which men for many generations have laid down their lives. Therefore a deep understanding of history is necessary â€“ not merely recent history which concerns itself with the trivia surrounding conspicuous men and events, but an understanding of that history which records the main currents of the past activities of men and which leads to an understanding of what has created and what has destroyed great civilisations. You should have a clear understanding of the institutions upon which human liberty and individual freedom have depended, and the struggles to gain and maintain them.xvii
The forums of the people are now to be found now on the World Wide Web in all their sober seriousness as well as contagious hysteria. The traditional framework of the complementary contrarieties that are the 'perturbing creative acts of the few' and the 'stabilising repetitive acts of the many' appears to be evolving so that the act of creation itself is becoming a far more collective effort and mimics more the versatility of the pluripotential life force itself.Back to Index
In last chapter of the New Testament, the Apocalypse, we have our final representations of female divinity in the Christian tradition. Described as standing on the crescent moon, clothed with the sun and with a crown of twelve stars representing the zodiac like the Magna Mater of old. She gives birth to a child messiah who is immediately spirited way by an angel to God in Heaven to avoid his being devoured by the awaiting dragon/serpent . The dragon/serpent pursues the mother into a great desert where she remains - with provisions.
The next female form in this drama is the Whore of Babylon whose full title is: Babylon the Great, the Mother of Prostitutes and Abominations of the Earth and evoked by D.H.Lawrence in his discussion of the Book of the Apocalypse:
Only the great whore of Babylon rises rather splendid, sitting in her purple and scarlet upon her scarlet beast. She is the Magna Mater in malefic aspect, clothed in the colours of the angry sun, and throned upon the great red dragon of cosmic power.xviii
While the, whore of Babylon, image has been used as something of an fit-all label for whatever is considered decadent it is never-the-less fairly specific in its reference. In the very early period in Sumer it does appear that the gods had their temples with hierarchical harems of priestesses who, depending on their status, had various taboo's imposed upon them but who performed what has been termed sacred prostitution. This no doubt was a sacred institution in its early guise imitative of the hieros gamos, but in the tradition of institutions everywhere, there is a degeneration over time until the principle purpose becomes that of filling the temples store houses and treasury. In the story of Gilgamesh the wild man, Enkidu, is seduced and civilised by the temple prostitute, Shamhat, so that he can be brought to Uruk to counter the unacceptably arrogant and licentious behaviour of Gilgamesh.
In Lucian's, The Syrian Goddess, written in the early second century AD not long after John's Apocalypse, we note in a great city not far from the Euphrates, not only strong Hellenistic influences, due no doubt to its belonging to the recently defunct Seleucid Empire, but also the dominating presence of the goddess, her eunuch priests and orgiastic rites. It can be imagined that the violence visited upon the female metaphor for divinity in western religion must, in part at least, have reflected a revulsion on the parts of strongly patriarchal peoples to the overtly sexual nature of such rites. So much so that the only acceptable image of the female divinity becomes the Madonna, the paradoxical Virgin Mother.
If for a moment we push back deeper in the other direction even beyond the cultural level reflected in the mythological complexes of Persephone and Hainuwele we find out in the Pacific tales of Hina, Maui and Te Tuna. The role of the Cosmic Serpent, is here taken by the giant eel, Te Tuna (the phallus) who lives under the sea is emphasised (Hades-Okeanus in Persephone myth). Maui kills Te Tuna and and on the advice of his mother, buries the body which in time produces the green shoots of the first coconut tree. The complementary aspect of this tale may be found in the Maori tale called Maui seeks Immortality where we find that the original labyrinth has the topography of the goddess' body and the hero task of entering and leaving her body fails when a bird (or companions laughing in other versions) wake the goddess and Maui dies, and so death remains in the world. Discussing this motif of the goddess guardian of the way beyond death Campbell comments:
For one of the most important as well as illuminating aspects of the prehistoric perspective opened by a comparative study of myth rests in the problems of the pig's taking on the role of the serpent as the sacred animal of the labyrinth - and after the pig the bull, and after the bull the horse.xix
In his summation Campbell suggests an ultimate mythopoeic origin among 'gardening' communities along an arc stretching from Northeast Africa round to India circa 7,500BC.xx
As a final comment the, 'cosmic serpent threatening a maiden who is then saved by a hero' mythologem has many variations and, with significant shifts in the powers that each protagonist represents, has persisted over a great swath of recent human history. Today we find a trace of it still survives in the heavens where the Greek tale of Perseus saving Andromeda from the sea monster, Cetus (cetacean) is immortalised in the constellations of Cepheus, Cassiopiae, Andromeda, Cetus, Pegasus and Perseus.
(Related myths: Mapungubwe-Makoni,The Great Serpent)
Embedded Collective Pathology in Recent History
To return to our original premises, if the two shadow complexes we posited at the outset are latent pathologies in our western psyche how have they manifested in recent history?
This essay is a delayed response to an unfortunate visit to the Museum of the Inquisition at Carcassonne where the machines of torture used by the Inquisition (and secular authorities too no doubt) across Europe are on display. Nearly all appear custom designed to inflict damage, and likely death, on the female body. When we then consider the estimated one hundred thousand women put to death as witches in Europe between the 15th and 18th century it would appear that the issue of heretics and religious schism provided an ideal trigger for both European pathologies to coalesce and manifest in all their absurd and sanctimonious viciousness.
An individual serial killer like Jack the Ripper leaves an indelible trace of horror on our consciousness yet equally vicious crimes committed by anonymous officials acting on behalf of religious or secular authorities are glossed over with much the same inhumanity as the original murderous sacrifices of our ancestors in their edenic tropical gardens.
Mythologies typically involve a Creation Myth and/or Myth of Origin when the creator god fashions the world as it is and may establish a covenant with the beings it has created which contains sacred truths that are not be questioned. Even in the 21st century in Europe in the religious sphere, these unquestionable truths are still recorded in the Bible and Koran. Now the symbols and metaphors of these two traditions have roots much deeper than either Christianity or Islam and any removal or alteration of symbols and metaphors arouses great agitation. However, if we consider the moral system of the Zoroastrians and note how much of it was culturally and historically conditioned there is a case for religions, which claim universal validity, to nuance the narratives of their sacred texts to be more reflective of the more recent experience of their communities; essentially through the revivification of concretions of symbol by rendering them transparent to ever deepening mystery in an ever more revealed world.Back to Index
Religions and nation states will often concede temporary lapses in their morality or adherence to the law on the tacit understanding that such lapses do not in any way impugn their founding narratives. Now I picked the two examples in this discussion on the basis of their persistence over two millennia and also because their influence still colours how we view the world - albeit unconsciously.
In Christianity there is a concept called, Original Sin, which is taken to human kind's first act of disobedience in the Garden of Eden, a more modern take on such a concept would be the responsibility we all share because we derive the benefits of nation states that have committed appalling acts which, by virtue of our citizenship we must take some ownership of. If we owe a debt of gratitude to our ancestors for our 'better history' we also have a burden of responsibility to correct, even in small ways, some of the harm perpetrated.
The fields of science and the humanities have provided new modes of understanding and experiencing the world. Yet it is certain that large sections of the population will cleave to the sense of identity and belonging provided by their religious traditions and the solace they provide in the face of death. When an organisation of symbols rendering the sense of life fail they are called, in the modern parlance, mythology. But equally changes in the point of view of 'people of faith' do not generally come about because a piece of archaic text has been redacted to reflect a more modern viewpoint but generally necessitate some accompanying ritual to effect a transformation of the point of view. The Dogma of the Assumption of Mary into heaven in 1950 suggests that the Catholic Church was attempting to address an awareness of an imbalance, or ambiguity,in the representation and status of the Mother of God.
The clarity with which we view other religion's or nation's shadow complexes is always in direct proportion to our hyperopic view of our own and hence the frequent hypocrisy of well intentioned criticism. Awareness of shadow complexes begins within.
T.D. 20thDec 2013
i Joseph Campbell, The Masks of God Vol. 1, Primitive Mythology. (London: Arkana, 1991), p. 186.
ii Joseph Campbell, The Way of the Seeded Earth. the Middle and Southern Americas Part 3, Mythologies of the Primitive Planters (New York: Harper & Row, 1989), p. 286.
iii Joseph Campbell, The Masks of God. Oriental Mythology. Vol 2 ([S.l.]: Penguin Arkana, 1991), p. 41.
iv Campbell, The Masks of God Vol. 1, Primitive Mythology., p. 166.
v Hugh Thurston, Early Astronomy (New York: Springer, 1994), pp. 64–83.
vi Thorkild Jacobsen, The Treasures of Darkness: A History of Mesopotamian Religion (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1976), pp. 77–78.
vii Jacobsen, pp. 147–164.
viii Campbell, The Masks of God. Oriental Mythology. Vol 2, p. 211.
ix Joseph Campbell, The Masks of God. Vol. 3, Occidental Mythology (New York [etc.]: Penguin Compass, 1991), p. 519.
x Campbell, The Masks of God. Vol. 3, Occidental Mythology, p. 519.
xi Campbell, The Masks of God. Vol. 3, Occidental Mythology, p. 520.
xii Campbell, The Masks of God. Vol. 3, Occidental Mythology, p. 521.
xiii Joseph Campbell, The Masks of God. Vol. 4, Creative Mythology (New York [etc.]: Penguin Compass, 1991), p. 5.
xiv Joseph Campbell, The Way of Myth: Talking with Joseph Campbell, Shambhala Pocket Classics, 1st Shambhala ed (Boston: Shambhala : Distributed in the U.S. by Random House, 1994), p. 152.
xv Johannes Scotus Erigena, Periphyseon = On the Division of Nature (Eugene, Or.: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2011), p. 277.
xvi C. G. Jung, The Portable Jung (New York: Penguin Books, 1976), pp. 100–101.
xvii Forrest C. Pogue, George C. Marshall: Statesman, 1945-1959 (New York, N.Y., U.S.A: Penguin Books, 1989), p. 524.
xviii D. H. Lawrence, Apocalypse (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1974), pp. 87–88.
xix Campbell, The Masks of God Vol. 1, Primitive Mythology., p. 197.
xx Joseph Campbell, The Masks of God Vol. 1, Primitive Mythology. (London: Arkana, 1991), p. 387.