In the Gnostic tradition there is a parable that the simple man goes home wondering what is for tea. The complicated man goes home wondering about the contradictions of life and the vastness of the cosmos. The wise man goes home, like the simple man, wondering what is for tea.
The three men represent distinctly different ways of being. The simple man thinks that the world is what he knows of it. To him self-fulfilment is about acheiving his own ends and filling his belly.
The complicated man has lost his appetite because he is plagued by all kinds of things that never bothered him before. He has the sneaky feeling that he is not the master of his own house. In fact he experiences sudden yawning depths in himself he had no inking of when he got up that morning and is all perplexed and turned about. The wise man has let go of trying to figure it all out but only by virtue of racking his brains to the point of exhaustion and allowing in the prospect of mystery..
”not as a cloak for ignorance but as an admission of his inability to translate what he knows into the speech of intellect.” C G Jung
It is the first two men and the transition from one to the other that concerns us. What happens when cosy self sufficiency is suddenly ripped open? What inner storms must rage when the dustbin you took for the Unconscious contains a sentient beast that not only looks back but meets your gaze and gestures something? What happens when your fear of looking within because of what you will find there becomes the fear of what you will become as a result?
Not all change and growth is by steady increment, though that is difficult enough. There are also the paradigm shifts that change the very way you see things let alone what it is that’s on veiw.
Mostly what we conceive of as ‘resistance’ has to do with facing unpleasant things from the past that won’t stay there, stuff that’s not quite done with us.
But then there is the encounter with That which has never been conscious.
I once spoke to a man who had fallen into crisis out of the blue. He was successful and had a stable life but now felt unaccountably panicky, agoraphobic, anxious…
but also angry with himself for feeling so lost, ”Its ridiculous,” he said, ”I feel like I’m lost on a village pond in a row boat”. I could help him directly by pointing out that he’d mistaken the body of water concerned since he was in fact very much at sea and couldn’t help but be lost. Much cheered he begin to learn some navigation and piloting skills.
Realising you are not master of your own house presupposes one who is. One who is also identified with the Gods, the experience of which is a kind of death..
or at least the adrenalin of forty foot waves.
”The merely natural man must die in part during his own lifetime. He will infallibly run into his Unconscious, a fatality he has no inkling of until it overtakes him.” C. G. Jung
This brush with the Self, if it were confined to an event repleat with marquee and canapes, might be tolerable enough. We could give it a name and have a fancy ceremony to try and contain its impact upon us. But it has a way of happening by itself in all kinds of unforseen circumstances that cannot be prepared for.
Ritual, humanity’s response to the Gods, may go some way to contain the de-integrating effects of Zeus’ messenger but it is in the nature of the Self to bust in on consciousness under its own steam leaving the ego deflated and deposed in a way that can feel like eviseration.
Marie-Louise von Franz describes the experience of waking from a dream in which the sense of Inner Other was undeniable,’ I pulled my knees up under my chin and stayed in bed all day.”
She also spoke about her first encounter with Jung at a party aged nineteen. She straightway told him a dream that she had gone to the moon adding, ‘wouldn’t it be wonderful to go to the moon?’ ‘But you have been’, he replied, ‘did you experience it or not?”
She walked away in some shock thinking, ‘either he is mad, or it will take me twenty years to understand what he just said.”
I was at a party once. Someone had prepped a very heavily made up young woman that I was a psychotherapist. She made a bee-line for me and, without qualification, launched in…
”I met a baby dragon in the woods. I took it home and looked after it. When it was grown I released it into the woods again but the villagers came up and beat it to death!’
By now she was crying loudly, the mascara streaming down her cheeks. Everybody staring.
‘What does a dragon mean?’
Do you see,’ I asked, ‘how you just beat it to death?”
Nominal acknowledgment of the Unconscious is a form of suppression because it stays at the level of it being interesting garbage. She didn’t want to know the dragon. She wanted to know about the dragon. She wanted to turn it over in her hand, for it to be an object of consciousness. I knew another woman who ‘had’ a dragon. She hugged it, she said. ‘And paid the price,’ I replied, indicating the livid rash covering her throat and chest, the motivation for her referral. She knew it was psychosomatic but hadn’t quite grasped how.
Poor woman. Letting that in is a kind of Copernican revolution of the Soul. The church fathers locked Galileo up for years after they had accepted the maths involved. They just couldn’t accept that they were not the centre of the Universe and that God might be involved elsewhere. Their worlds were turned upside down.
”The personality becomes so vastly enlarged that the normal ego personality is almost extinguished.” C. G. Jung.
Mythologically speaking this dawning awareness is like the sudden descent of Hermes into everyday life. He’s a very disruptive chap. Kicks up a lot of dust, all winged helmet and sandals in your goods. And he steals things. So hang on to your stuff.
It won’t do any good. Bit by bit he will nick whatever you have, your preconceptions and comfy prejudices, your smug delusions, fancy self constructs and pet vanities, your belt and trousers…
So skilled a purloiner of valuables is Hermes that he even managed to steal Apollo’s cattle when he was a mere baby. Eventually Apollo found him out and dragged him of to their father Zeus for punishment. Zeus lets the boy go providing he return the herd. Stealing and trixiness are Hermes’ game.
There’s something inevitable about crossing life’s thresholds that is going to feel like being robbed. Apollo is peeved but forgets that, as messenger of the Gods, Hermes is the executive arm of Zeus himself who has given him the job of messing with his brother to remind Apollo, whose name means ‘assembly within the limits of the square’, of Hermes’ divine perogative to disrupt boundaries and to turn assemblies on their head.
Hermes shows up when we get to the edge of ourselves, when the way forward is unknown and Other. Whilst He,
So, the inner king also slays, but from within. He flays identity in a process the alchemists describe as the mortificatio, attended by what is cheerfully described as ,’the torments’.
‘cutting up the limbs, dividing them into smaller and smaller pieces, mortifying the parts and changing them into the nature that is the stone.’ quoting Hermes from the Rosarium.
When Innana descends to her dark and queenly sister Erishkigal she is deprived of a layer of clothing at every gate and has to arrive naked and bowed where she is killed and hung up on a meat hook. You wouldn’t wish it upon your worst enemy let alone undergo something similar yourself.
The Gnostics use the metaphor of a hyle of wheat that dies to itself when placed in the ground and the dormant mojo that follows.
and of course something does follow. Life, Jim, but not as we know it. And only after Hermes has had his way with you.
Then, new life does come
”A death blow is a life blow to some, who till they died did not alive become, who had they lived did most surely die…. but when they died, vitality began.” Emily Dickinson.
The story of Hermes and Apollo ends well. Hermes gives Apollo his sacred tortoise shell lyre and Apollo replies by gifting his young brother with the golden Cadeuces. symbol of the messenger that traverses between. And so what starts out as disorienting mindless prank pans out as creative exchange and renewed trust.
What concerns us here, however, is not that they all lived happily ever after but that there is a link to be made between enduring the loss of one’s inner bearings and the fruitfullness of life.
Likewise, between the depradation of outer kings and the Elysian fields of dull normalcy and docile self satisfaction we are then permitted to graze, free of concerns and responsibilities, without thought of your unadventure or anything so discomfiting as being deposed from within.
Inventing a system of leaders who are obliged to be tyrants, looks like a really poor choice of evolutionary development. After all, survival of the fittest also means being able to make it until tommorow.
On the other hand, who needs an encounter with Hermes? He’ll take all your stuff. He messes with your identity and can make you feel like a worm..
or like God
At least with outer kings what you see is what you get. Let them deal with Hermes. Lets watch and laugh as he fills the Jackass with inflated godliness. Then lets commiserate and console one another when vengeful hooves come flailing down on sacrificial substitutes, united in grievance, riteous in contempt.
”The psychological rule says that when an inner situation is not made conscious, it happens outside, as fate. That is to say, when the individual remains undivided and does not become conscious of his inner opposite, the world must perforce act out the conflict and be torn into opposing halves”. C G Jung
Its also fair to say that before you can truly integrate something it has to be projected so that you can find a way of both dealing with it whilst denying it, a kind of neurotic solution to a situation you can only glimpse at out of the corner of one eye if it is not to rip you to pieces.