Friday, January 29, 2010

How to Kill Gnosis

Competition Vs Cooperation

In modern society, the idea of competition and status is central to our sense of accomplishment and self-esteem—it is the very life blood of the Western world. The difference between co-operation and competition is simple: cooperation entails working towards a common goal and adjusting one’s personal performance to fit with that of others; competition entails placing one’s own performance first, pitting it against others as a means to prove one’s superiority. In the latter case, the ultimate goal (“success”) is not shared but, on the contrary, depends on all the other parts of the system “failing.” Nothing could be further removed from how intelligent systems such as Nature actually operate. Yet to some extent, all myths—since they invariably entail the glorification of heroic prowess—are to blame for this deviation from the natural order.

Read as symbolic narratives, myths do indeed show how the archetypes—gods, demons, and men—work together as part of an alchemical process occurring within consciousness. Even when a mythic narrative betrays an overtly competitive flavor—as when Jason oversees a competition of warriors to choose his Argonauts—the competing is still directed towards the end of cooperation. Yet the more literally these myths are interpreted—as stories and not blueprints—the more the competitive struggle—good vs. evil—has been brought to the fore, and the less apparent the subtler nuances of cooperation have become. In myths, heroic challenges and conflicts are meant to prove the character’s mettle and reveal his true nature, his function within the story—just as does Jason’s testing of the Argonauts. The difference is between symbolic contest and actual battle. Men competing in a game and sharing beers afterwards—the modern male-bonding right—is very different from men meeting on a battlefield to kill each other. Yet it’s easy to see how the one can lead to the other—as when supporters of rival football teams go to war—and the reason is always the same: subtler, finer, metaphoric content is mistaken for coarse, literal, and personal meaning. When the ego gets overly invested in the game, the “game” becomes a war. Likewise with myths. When the various players are seen as actual autonomous forces battling to achieve opposed ends (rather than aspects of a single psyche), the mythic blueprint of individuation becomes a bloody tale of separate egos competing for power. It still acts as blueprint, but it no longer pertains to any true (inner) reality, even if soon enough it leads to the creation of an outer reality to match it!

Literalizing the Myths, Killing the Gnosis

At a certain point, impossible now to determine, mythic narratives began to distort, to lose their symbolic meanings in place of more literal interpretations. They began to serve a new function contrary to the old: instead of catalysts for gnosis—manuals for the psyche—they became simply tales of heroic individuals and their deeds, to be endlessly interpreted, re-interpreted, and misinterpreted. The most obvious and immediate way in which essentially non-rational narratives were made semi-coherent was to introduce the idea of “supernatural forces,” of gods and demons and the like. This was in stark contrast to the subtler, inner, psychic forces which they were originally meant to signify, forces found not outside or above Nature, but concealed within it.

It’s easy to imagine how those early scholars, when interpreting the old myths, and confounded by the lack of linear structure or rational meanings, would have found the temptation to “flatten” them out into straightforward narratives all but irresistible. To give a very simple example: Egyptian myths of Osiris, Set and Horus remain ambiguous as to whether Horus is Osiris’ brother or his son and whether Set is Horus’ brother or uncle, and so on. To the Egyptians, such questions seemed irrelevant, because the myths were not about individuals (not even supernatural ones) but abstract forces; hence the relationship between them would not have been fixed in the way we, with our mechanistic view of a world built upon structures and form, require things to be. When Zeus takes the form of a swan to seduce Leda, no actual transformation is required, because the forces of the psyche are not fixed and are always mutating. But when these principles are dragged into fixed identity-form as characters within a story, they need to be interpreted as supernatural, beings, gods, simply to make sense of them.

Friday, January 22, 2010

A Herd of Cats: The Stand Alone Complex

The term “stand alone complex” comes from the Japanese anime film Ghost in the Shell. Wikipedia describes it thus:

A Stand Alone Complex can be compared to the emergent copycat behavior that often occurs after incidents such as serial murders or terrorist attacks. An incident catches the public’s attention and certain types of people ‘get on the bandwagon,’ so to speak. . . . . What separates the Stand Alone Complex from normal copycat behavior is that the originator of the copied action is not even a real person, but merely a rumored figure that performed the copied action. Even without instruction or leadership a certain type of person will spring into action to imitate the rumored action and move toward the same goal even if only subconsciously. The result is an epidemic of copied behavior-with no originator. One could say that the Stand Alone Complex is mass hysteria-with purpose.
What the stand-alone complex describes is individuals who are not part of an overt organization, acting independently yet in ways that are complementary and form part of a common directive or motion: “a herd of cats.” (The recent war against Scientology by “Anonymous” was the first recognized case of a SAC occurring in the real world.) Such individuals appear to be united by a subtler, hidden affinity; rather than group affiliation, they are being moved by a kind of internal resonance that is observable only from a distance: by tracing the effects of individual actions, it becomes possible to discover an underlying order behind them. In the world of sorcerers described by Carlos Castaneda, for example, individual sorcerers are possessed of specific characteristics that pertain to their energetic configuration, and which designate their function within the group (there are four types of male sorcerers, for example, and four types of female).

This suggests that an individual's nature (as with the various animal species) determines its character, disposition, and function within the collective as a whole. Within Nature, for example, although the many species of plant and animal life act separately (concerned primarily with their own survival), their motions intersect and overlap to form a larger system, one in which all isolate activity can be seen as part of a whole. The same must inevitably apply to human beings, even as heavily socialized as we are. Each of us has a given nature and function within the collective, and once aligned with that nature, we would expect to naturally become part of (components within) that greater organism.

Myths describe this process. They map the way in which individual, seemingly independent parts—“characters”—interact (even when at odds) to create an overriding narrative or design with a specific, preordained conclusion or intent. If certain ideas or aspects of a given mythic narrative are emphasized, to the exclusion or distortion of others, disharmony is the inevitable result, and so the primary objective cannot be achieved. Take out the villain from any good myth story and see what becomes of the Hero. Eradicate mosquitoes from the environment, you lose the swallows and bats, until eventually, the whole system collapses.

“Degrading” any one aspect of the whole is an inevitable side-effect of over-emphasizing or “aggrandizing” another, and the result is that the whole system comes off-course. Socialized humans are conditioned, “swayed,” by such biases to go against their nature and act in ways aberrational to their inherent function. As a result, there is an increasing loss of harmony with the other “parts” of the system, among the human species and, by extension, the ecosystem. Myths that glorify the heroic role, for example, diminish the significance and integrity of the other roles and cease to act as psychological blueprints, or at least, as blueprints that show the way towards individuation. In fact, they become different sorts of blueprints, a different class of myth, closer to the popular meaning of the term as what is “believed but untrue,” as opposed to the true meaning of myth, being that which is true, but rarely believed (being disguised as legend or fairy tale).

In our present culture, everyone wants to be the solar hero-leader type, the shining star, and not only of their own lives but, if possible, of other people’s too. Needless to say, this is not possible: a mythic narrative in which every character is in the Hero is one in which the heroic quest has become meaningless. It would be like a body in which all the parts try to act as the head, and in which all refuse to be in a “lower” position. If there is no co-operation, no agreement as to specific function, there can be no functionality. This is not merely death to the system, it is still-birth.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Root of All Paranoia

Post at the SW forum:

We are all always living in the end-times

What's happening now is the collective awakening to this awareness: the living presence of death in our lives.

Since death is the only thing that is forever, it is our closest actual "knowing" about God.

So, the majority can only know God by dying.

Paranoid awareness is the beginning of the intimation of the divine that is moving behind (and orchestrating) all things. Because we haven;t integrated an awareness of our mortality, this then becomes malevolent, since we know, in our bodies, that the force behind everything is intimately connected to our annihilation.

PS. New podcast at Vagabond Blues: More freee-associative folly from Jason Kephas, on consciousness as a vehicle for the body, dreaming the double, opening and softening to entities, lucid dreaming vs. dream control, heightened awareness, connecting to the body while asleep, moving the body from the outside, JDR's sorcery method, and ending with some "musical" esoterica and confessional crooning. (Quality Alert: may be offensive to musically trained ears.)

Saturday, January 09, 2010

The Hero's Journey

The most basic model for a myth—at least of those that have survived to the present day—is that of the Hero’s journey. This is a familiar, three-act narrative that involves the hero’s removal from a comfortable, ordinary life (usually through the arrival of some alien element or threat), whereupon he must embark upon a quest. During the quest, he encounters previously unimagined worlds and entities by which he is tested; at some point (usually around the end of the second act), the Hero loses everything and experiences a period of despair and seeming defeat. Finally, overcoming his own resistance, limitations, or weakness, he discovers an aspect of his being previously hidden from him and manages to turn the situation around, thereby overcoming all obstacles and returning to his homeland triumphant. The Hero’s victory is more than merely a personal one, however, since it invariably entails some kind of redemption or salvation for others in need of the Hero’s intervention: it is only by conquering evil and saving his land or people from ruin that the Hero becomes a man and enters into his true, predestined nature as a cosmic (archetypal) being: a servant, and equal, of the gods.

Although the Hero invariably has to overcome and destroy seemingly evil forces in this quest for wholeness, in psychological terms all hostile or alien elements represent disowned aspects of the Hero’s psyche. As such, they are crucial to his empowerment and self-knowledge. This is why evil characters are vital to the action in any myth story—just as vital as the Hero, in fact, since without them, there would be no story at all. When the Hero prevails and things are brought into right balance, when order is restored, everybody wins, and this includes the seemingly “evil” or adverse figures: through their destruction they can be re-integrated into the collective once more. (Take for example, the Star Wars trilogy, in which Darth Vader’s death is the prerequisite for his redemption.) The process being mapped, then, is that of individuation through integration.

Myths might be seen as being a form of ancient psychological training which both describe and enable initiation into higher (and deeper, more integrated) modes of consciousness. True myths, then, are not written so much as revealed—they represent inner and outer journeys that occur in the lives of exceptional individuals, that are then passed down to the community as a means for allowing its members to partake. Exposure to higher-deeper consciousness—even at a distance—accelerates the community’s process towards the same.

Modern myths can hardly be said to serve the same purpose, however. Strictly speaking, even so-called ancient myths have been divested of much of their original meaning, having been so heavily re-interpreted to suit our modern sensibilities. Rendered linear and logical, they have become simply “stories.” How much more so, then, in the case of popular mythic narratives found in movies, which rearrange and reinterpret the same basic archetypal components into rational, all-too-literal (as opposed to symbolic) meanings in an attempt to give rise to “new” narratives. In fact, since the same basic components are simply being reshuffled to appear new, what is occurring is a distortion and corruption of the original “blueprints” into arrangements that—though they may be more “diverting”— are far from maps to individuation.

In fact, as we shall see, they may actually have been designed towards the very opposite end.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Vagabond Blues

I have started a new podcast site to link to my Vagabond Blues site and recorded the first audio for my awesome, unknown amorphous audience...

The first episode is called A Conglomeration of Molecules and is a free-associative discussion on living beyond struggle, grotty sorcerers, the effects of I-phones on our chances of survival in the end-times, attachment theory, people-connections as the means to connect to Earth, love as the only engine of survival, and the incalculable cost of freedom.

The woman I mention who discusses attachment theory, Sue Johnson, can be heard here.

Friday, January 01, 2010

The Purpose of Myth

Myths tell stories; not with a moral or a message, but with a purpose. Rather than instructional or cautionary tales, myths are closer to being a kind of “user’s manual” for the psyche. Myths are collective blueprints, maps not of outer terrain but of the inner landscape of the psyche. At the same time, since they are narratives, these maps are moving, dynamic, in constant flux and change. They chart a process within the psyche, a process by which that internal landscape is both revealed and transformed: transformed by being revealed. This is evident in the most traditional and familiar of mythic narratives, that of the quest for forbidden (or promised) lands, the hunt for magikal treasures, and suchlike.

Myths are populated—we might even say “configured”—by archetypes. Just as a car is constructed around various parts that together make a vessel, myths are built upon, with, and through the arrangement of archetypes. You could say a mythic narrative is akin to the tracks left in the dust by the movement of archetypes; yet at the same time, it is more than that. A myth is a strange attractor, a morphogenetic field created by archetypes, one that draws us into a sympathetic relationship with them. This relationship allows us not merely to experience the tale second-hand, but to embody it. By matching our psyches with the process being revealed, they are transformed by it and become one with it. Since archetypes are essentially synonymous with the myths they inhabit, or “drive,” if we align ourselves with a mythic narrative through our actions, we become identified with the archetypes. This is the alchemical process described by Jung as individuation, by which the various unrefined aspects of the personal self are integrated and transformed, into a holistic, transpersonal Self, just as the alchemists of old transmuted lead into gold.

Individuation & the Archetypes

The process of individuation described by Jung is the goal of psychological development; in metaphysical terms, it amounts to “God’s incarnation.” The first step to individuation is “differentiation.” This entails distinguishing and separating each part, or psychological function, of the psyche, in order to consciously access and understand them. According Jung, the psyche is divided into three major parts. Firstly there is the ego or conscious mind, which equates with the personal self (including the constructed identity). Then there is the individual unconscious, which includes forgotten or suppressed memories from our lives, from birth to present (including our dream life), and equates with the impersonal or authentic self. Finally, there is the collective unconscious, shared by the species, the combined memory of human thought and experience from ancient to modern times, including the basic human instincts as well as the archetypes. This last amounts to a transpersonal or archetypal Self—i.e., “God’s incarnation.”

Individuation, then, is the transformational process of integrating the conscious with both the individual and collective unconscious. Integrating the conscious with the collective unconscious is the means of harmonizing and realizing the archetypes. As in the ancient mythic tales of men transformed into heroes, and sometimes into gods, this is achieved by embodying the forces of Nature and of the Universe.

Jung wrote: “I use the term ‘individuation’ to denote the process by which a person becomes a psychological ‘in-dividual,’ that is, a separate, indivisible unity or ‘whole.’ . . . The persona is an obstacle to the individual’s development. The dissolution of the persona is therefore an indispensable condition for individuation. . . . It is the task of the conscious mind to understand these hints. If this does not happen, the process of individuation will nevertheless continue. The only difference is that we become its victims and are dragged along by fate towards that inescapable goal which we might have reached walking upright, if only we had taken the trouble and been patient enough to understand the meaning of what crosses our path.”

Archetypes (the gods and demons of ancient myth) are universal principles with nothing personal about them. And yet, they can be embodied by individual characters and so become anchored in the personal, temporal realm of mortal men and women. Without such anchorage, archetypes have neither form nor identity, being rather functions, types of motion, “processes.” So it is fair to say that the gods can only become real, whole, through men. Like gravity or electricity, putrefaction or blossoming, these divine processes pertain to the Universe at large, but also to the inner universe of the psyche. So, although the archetypal powers embodied in myth as “gods” stand for elemental forces such as wind, rain, Sun, and so forth, they also correspond with aspects of our being every bit as vital to the smooth functioning of our inner world, as the planets and stars are to that of the Universe.

In simple terms, myths are populated by certain basic types—the Hero, villain, sidekick or second-in-command, the evil feminine (temptress), the good feminine, and so forth. Jung described how these romantic tales can be interpreted psychologically in terms of anima, animus, Shadow, Other, and so forth. Just as the various aspects together make up the totality of the psyche, or Self, so the many gods and devils of ancient myth made up a Pantheon—a collective—which was not a static museum of idols but a living, moving process (much as are the Psyche, and the Universe), described and mapped via the narratives we call “myths.”