Integral Spiritual Mythology: Mirror Images of the Soul (Part III)
"For us the gods no longer descend to sit on physical thrones. We must acquire the spiritual faculties that enable us to ascend in our vision to the thrones where gods are to be found who can only be alive to us in the spirit. We must learn to fill the abstract formulas we use with spiritual contents of our own experience. We must become able to face truths that are deeply disturbing to those who grasp them rightly. We must become able to see things as they are."
- Rudolf Steiner, Polarities in Evolution
As we descend into the Center of the 4th epoch and emerge from the other side, our thoughts and their corresponding intellectual abstractions, which are always losing vitality and transitioning to empty husks of their original meaning, spread ever-wider to encompass more and more of the phenomenal world. That is when the immanent phenomenal world of our experience, which is now immersed in the rotting corpses of this hyper-abstract thought, appears to our waking consciousness as extremely remote from the 'boundary' of those spiritual realms which we can no longer sense or locate. Yet there is always an inner logic to the mythic metamorphic process which is not difficult to discern upon reflection (a critical function of our Memory is to discern this logic so we can make sense of our present and future). When we engage in abstract thought, we submerge deeply into the perceptions of the phenomenal world in a way that was never possible for our ancient ancestors. That submersion then makes all of modern technological development possible, since that technology relies on the quantitative precision which only abstract 'measurements' can provide. This technology, in turn, recently began providing us with the conceptual imagery to envision our ascent back into a more holistically integrated world at the dawn of the sixth epoch. We will return to that in a later installment. For now, let us remember how the deep dive of the 15-16th centuries A.D. came at an enormous spiritual cost for each modern soul.
We need to be crystal clear that we are dealing with practical realities here which influence all of our current cultural dynamics. It has become impossible, for example, to ignore the misplaced outrage in Western societies these days. The cynical pictures of that outrage are thrown in our faces every day we turn on the TV, read the newspaper, browse a website, watch a movie on Netflix, or order groceries from Amazon. It is probably fair to say most people cannot even interact with a relative, friend, or a colleague for long without these matters threatening to rear their ugly heads and cast an excessively dark shadow on the otherwise meaningful activities of their day. The outrage is "misplaced" precisely because it cloaks the "things as they are", as Steiner referred to the spiritual realms above. They cloak the 'disturbing truths' within our own souls which we desperately need to face and grasp. The spiritual content is then drained from the phenomenal world and replaced with abstract formulas - "the lack of meaning in the world is due to X oppressing Y", and "due to Y pretending to be a victim of X", and "X refusing to move forward to Z", and "Y tearing down the traditions of W". The stubborn refusal to rightly grasp these truths is palpable, just as the desire to remain immersed in the political machinations of a physical game of thrones, far removed from the spiritual thrones of the ancient Gods.
...humanity needs to be given something today that truly changes the present state of soul to the same extent as the dreamer's state of soul changes to being fully awake and alive for the day, when he wakes in the morning.
People hear of deeply significant things that must inevitably lead to ruin, to decline and fall, and they do not even feel indignation. Things are going on in the world, intentions are alive in German lands that should horrify people — yet they do not. Anyone incapable of being horrified at these things also lacks the power to develop a sense of truth.
It has to be pointed out that healthy indignation over things that are not healthy should be the source and origin of enthusiasm, of the new truths that are needed. It is actually less important to convey truths to people than it is to bring fiery energy into their lethargic nervous systems. Fiery energy is needed today, not mystical sleep.
- Steiner, Polarities in Evolution (1920)
We don't need to stretch our Imagination very far to see how Steiner's warning about "intentions alive in German lands" came to pass in the most horrific way shortly after he issued it. Our mythic exploration so far should have made clear this same conclusion: what was perceived in the world by the ancient soul, and what we still perceive today, is inseparable from how the soul conceived of the world and approached it with thought. A deadened thought-approach will perceive an equally deadened world with little reason to get excited in the morning, let alone a reason to treat other living souls with respect and dignity. That is evident in our own individual lifetimes as well, as our childhood imagination and curiosity dissipates into the monotonous boredom of adult routines. And the state-reliant "solutions" to this ongoing crisis of the Imagination are the equivalent of taking a three-dimensional jigsaw puzzle, with seven billion different pieces, handing one piece to each soul on the planet every year - only one piece handed out per year - and then asking each soul to make sense of the Whole jigsaw puzzle by finding all of the past and future souls who hold the other missing pieces. So what is the alternative? The alternative which naturally arises from our integral mythic considerations is for each soul to transfigure his or her own experience of the world so that they perceive its images, including all of the physical 'things' encountered, with their rich qualities of meaning and ever-expanding interior depth.
In the second Part of this installment, during our journey towards the Center of the fourth epoch of our current Age, we focused on the qualitative essence of the threefold mythic-spiritual relations, particularly the three dimensions of Space which reflect our inner soul activities of Willing (width), Feeling (depth), and Thinking (height). Now, we will be transitioning to also focus on the qualitative fourth dimension of Time. It is important to remember none of these relational qualities can be considered in isolation - the whole purpose of mythic integration is to summon a very broad range of qualities into an ever-growing ideal constellation of inner, interpenetrating meaning. The qualities of Space and Time are about as broad as they come, so we are really getting ambitious here and should by no means expect everything to fit right into place upon first, second, or even third pass. These mythic explorations are only the most basic steps we can take to help us orient in the right direction, and to begin asking ourselves more useful and penetrating questions about our own qualitative experiences in the world. With dedication and effort, and always praying for the Spirit's blessing, we can exercise our Imagination to build up its muscles and stamina. To help us with this transition from qualitative Space to Time, we will use a very simple imaginative exercise. We begin by looking at the image below and trying to sense the inner meaning conveyed by the phenomena of wind.
Currently we experience the wind as we also experience the abstract dimension of width. It is experienced as a purely mindless material process for our intellectual cognition, where fragmented air currents "originating" from 'over there' pass through our vicinity 'over here' and then leave us and move on to somewhere else. The fact that what I just wrote is hardly an explanation of the phenomena does not seem to concern the mere intellect. Instead of contemplating how the swift, cool breeze brings immense relief and comfort to our sweltering soul on a hot summer day, the mere intellect considers that relief as occurring only in our "personal" minds, completely separate from the phenomena itself. Every experience is broken up into tiny segments and appears to be excessively fleeting. Perhaps we feel as if we are always "fighting against the wind" when it blows through. We often remark that the wind "died" when we no longer feel the cool breeze, and this idiom is a reflection of how we actually perceive and conceive of the wind - it is as a phenomena which comes about every now and again, but keeps dying on us whenever we need it the most. The transfiguration of the width dimension is the recovery of those inner qualities of meaning which perpetually persist within our soul and keep the wind always at our backs. It then remains connected to every aspect of our surrounding environment - from the atmospheric conditions most relevant to our immediate circumstances, to the pollination of flowering plants necessary for our survival as a species, to the rhythmic airways of the entire Earth Soul. We can also then imagine how the wind interweaves and interpenetrates with our own breath, which, in turn, is the qualitative dimension of depth.
Try inhaling and exhaling in sync with the image above and sense the inner meaning which that process conveys. We sense the inner meaning of "integration" (inhaling) and "differentiation" (exhaling). When the Triune Divinity exhaled the breath of life into man, it was the Origin of our differentiated form within the Cosmos at large. With every single inbreath we take, we are remembering the Tri-Unity from which those forms were born. We are also remembering our interdependence on the world around us - the plants provide us oxygen to inhale, we transfigure the oxygen, and we exhale carbon dioxide back to the plants. That is one critical way in which the human soul participates in the qualitative breathing of the Earth Soul and how that Soul also participates in us. It is extremely important to take notice right now of what we are doing here with Reason and Imagination - we are Thinking. This process of Thinking is not other than the process of transfiguring the deadened abstract concepts which immerse the world of appearances. It is the process of resurrecting these appearances into the Kingdom of God and into eternal life. What we give back to the Earth Soul in our breath - as we also give to other souls in our speech which is formed from that breath - should be done so in full clarity of consciousness, as a voluntary sacrifice. As our thoughts lift the appearances of the world higher and higher into the rarefied airs of the atmosphere, we are transfiguring the abstract spatial dimension of height into its qualitative corollary. We can then adopt a 'bird's eye view' on the holistic relations of the planet that we were previously experiencing only as fish immersed in the water.
Before attempting the ambitious leap from Space to Time, we will secure our proper footing by contemplating the qualitative threefold Space as a Whole. In mythic numerology, threefold relations generally point to the quality of Perfection. This quality can be imagined as an ever-evolving ascent propelled by the polar relations - Wisdom-form, Spirit-matter, Conscious-unconscious - remaining in perfect balance with each other. This balance of the poles does not mean each one is given equal quantitative measure or weight, but rather it is when each pole assumes its proper qualitative role in the living organism of the Whole - the 'lower' pole remains in service to the 'Higher' pole - form to Wisdom, matter to Spirit, unconscious (instinct) to Conscious - which then allows the Higher pole to bring the lower pole into harmonious alignment with itself, making way for unceasing spiritual growth and maturation. Jean Piaget, the foremost developmental psychologist of the 20th century, referred to the state of that balanced metamorphosing process in each individual as the "zone of proximal development". Carl Jung spoke of it in terms of the "individuation" process which brings about the "union of the opposites". Many other modern thinkers have expressed this threefold qualitative perfecting process in their own unique ways, and we will briefly mention a few:
Immanuel Kant - threefold sub-categories for fourfold categories of quality (reality, negation, limitation), quantity (unity, plurality, totality), modality (possibility, existence, necessity), and relation (inherence, causality, community).
Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel - thesis, antithesis, synthesis (these should be understood as essential dynamics of the Spirit i.e. higher Thinking activity for Hegel)
Arthur Schopenhauer - cause (determined interactions of the mineral world), stimulus (autonomic plant growth), and response (complex animal behavior).
Soren Kierkegaard - essential Self-becoming as journeying through a house with a "basement, first floor, and second floor".
Charles Sanders Peirce - firstness, secondness, thirdness (many other "trichotomies" came under these universal categories for Peirce)
Sri Aurobindo - Nature as an "evolution or progressive self-manifestation of an eternal and secret existence, with three successive forms as her three steps of ascent." It is the "characteristic energy of bodily Life", the "characteristic energy of pure Mind", and the "characteristic law of Spirit".
Much fewer modern thinkers, however, have thought to consider the fourfold quality of Wholeness. Martin Heidegger was one who, in his own unique phenomenology, incorporated the fourth dimension of Time into a threefold consideration of Being. Carl Jung is especially relevant for us today, since it was the images of ancient mythology which led him to consider the fourfold relation as critical to our psychic life; a relation which he found missing from the historic Christian theological world-conception. Jung identified the threefold relation with the conscious functions of the psyche - sensation (also will-desire), feeling, and thinking - while he considered the fourth function to exist within the 'unconscious' as "intuition". These conclusions are entirely consistent with those reached by Coleridge, Steiner, and Barfield, who we considered in The Divine Song (Part I), as long as our intellect does not obsess with the outer labels and instead focuses on the inner meaning of what is being conveyed. Towards the end of the 14th century A.D., in the image of Petrarch ascending Mount Ventoux to view the infinitely expansive landscape below, we sensed the idolatry of abstract intellect emerging. Petrarch was even struck by a pang of guilt when indulging in that three-dimensional view, as he inwardly sensed a chasm emerging between his soul and the spiritual realms which were now obscured by this abstract depth. We will briefly consider the etymological imagery of the word "depth" to get a better sense of what Petrarch was perceiving, feeling, and thinking within his soul during these monumental metamorphoses of the Spirit.
late 14c., "a deep place, deep water, the sea," also "distance or extension from the top down (opposed to height) or from without inward," apparently formed in Middle English on model of long/length, broad/breadth; from dēp "deep" (see deep (adj.)) + -th (2). Replaced older deopnes "deepness." Though the word is not recorded in Old English, the formation was in Proto-Germanic, *deupitho-, and corresponds to Old Saxon diupitha, Dutch diepte, Old Norse dypð, Gothic diupiþa.
From c. 1400 as "the part of anything most remote from the boundary or outer limit." From 1520s as "quality of extending a considerable distance downward or inward." Figurative use in reference to thought, ideas, etc., "profoundness," from 1580s.
Finding ourselves submerged within the dark depths of the sea in the 14-15th centuries A.D. should already prompt the inner meaning of the Deluge (Flood) that we explored in Part I of this essay, which is recounted in all cultural mythologies of the 3rd and 4th epochs. It is the inner meaning of spiritual darkness as self-consciousness emerges within the sense-world, when the spiritual is drained from the 'outward' appearances and poured 'inward'. When we get to the modern age, there is apparently no trace of the spiritual left in Nature. Yet, there is always an inner logic at play in these developments. One cannot transfigure the deadened appearances of the sense-world without fully participating in them. It is through that participation in them that One is able to cast a higher Light on their lower physical manifestations - that is, to be "in the world, but not of the world". What is most tragically ironic for the soul of modern man, yet will also be the source of the greatest joy when properly understood, is that the totality of spiritual content from the 'celestial spheres' is now existing within our own psyche. It is groaning in anticipation to be unveiled from within by our Imaginative thought-activity, which can expand our psyche and render it more porous to the Spirit . It will do us no good, however, to simply take that assertion on faith. Therefore, we must travel through Time to discover the inner logic which makes it a necessary conclusion. Consider the mirror images painted in this excerpt about modern man and "archaic man", i.e. man prior to the 4th epoch, from Jung's book, Modern Man in Search of a Soul.
According to the primitive idea of mana, the beautiful moves us, and it is not we who create beauty. A certain person is a devil - we have not projected our own evil upon him and in this way made a devil out of him... The mana conception has it that there exists something like a widely distributed force in the external world that produces all those effects which are out of the common. Everything that exists, acts, for otherwise it would not be actual...
So far we can easily follow this primitive idea. The difficulty arises when we try to carry its implications further, for they reverse the process of psychic projection of which I have spoken. These implications are as follows: it is not my imagination or my awe that makes a sorcerer of the medicine-man; on the contrary, he is a sorcerer and projects his magical powers upon me. Ghosts are not hallucinations of my mind, but appear to me of their own volition...
The question is nothing less than this: 'does the psychic in general - that is, the spirit, or the unconscious 0 arise in us; or is the psyche, in the early stages of consciousness, actually outside us in the form of arbitrary powers with intentions of their own, and does it gradually come to take its place within us in the course of psychic developments? Were the dissociated psychic contents - to use our modern terms - ever parts of the psyches of individuals, or were they rather from the beginning psychic entities existing in themselves... Were they only by degrees embodied by man in the course of development, so that they gradually constituted in him that world which we now call the psyche?
The whole question strikes us as dangerously paradoxical, and yet we are able to conceive something of the kind. Not only the religious teacher, but the pedagogue as well, assumes that it is possible to implant in the human psyche something that was not previously there. The power of suggestion and influence in a fact... the idea of a complicated building-up of the psyche is expressed in primitive form is many widespread beliefs - for instance, possession, the incarnation of ancestral spirits, the immigration of souls, and so forth. When someone sneezes, we still say: "God bless you", and mean by it: "I hope your new soul will do you no harm."
Jung is speaking of the same integral metamorphoses of the Spirit which we have been exploring in these essays. Elsewhere in his writings, it is made clear that these are not idle speculations for him - he genuinely sensed the Spirit working through all of the mythic traditions, cultural developments, and individual souls of the world. Jung knew that the archetypes of the 'collective unconscious' he identified in his psychological research were no less alive than the ancestral spirits of primitive man, and both of those were no less alive and real than the thoughts which we subconsciously and consciously experience from within ourselves today. Apart from Steiner, Jung was likely the most well-read thinker writing in the 20th century, who also possessed a consciously vivid Imagination (he even developed exercises for pursuing "active imagination"). Therefore, he could clearly perceive all of these qualitative and fluid mythic connections we are discussing throughout human history and in every sphere of human culture. In a collection of essays entitled, Aion: Researches into the Phenomenology of the Self, Jung writes about the early Gnostic Wisdom which emerged in the first few centuries after Christ incarnate at the Center of the 4th epoch. In that Wisdom tradition, the image of the fourfold essence which encompasses transfigured Space and Time is prefigured as it will be reborn in the Thinking of the 5th epoch (modern age) and our present day, which is the dawn of the 6th epoch.
Since all cognition is akin to recognition, it should not come as a surprise to find that what I have described as a gradual process of development had already been anticipated, and more or less prefigured, at the beginning of our era. We meet these images and ideas in Gnosticism, to which we must now give our attention; for Gnosticism was, in the main, a product of cultural assimilation and is therefore of the greatest interest in elucidating and defining the contents constellated by prophecies about the Redeemer, or by his appearance in history, or by the synchronicity of the archetype.
In the Elenchos of Hippolytus the attraction between the magnet and iron is mentioned, if I am not mistaken, three times. It first appears in the doctrine of the NAASSENES, who taught that the four rivers of Paradise correspond to the eye, the ear, the sense of smell, and the mouth. The mouth, through which prayers go out and food goes in, corresponds to the fourth river, the Euphrates. The well-known significance of the “fourth” helps to explain its connection with the “whole” man, for the fourth always makes a triad into a totality. The text says: “This is the water above the firmament, of which, they say, the Saviour spoke: ‘If you knew who it is that asks, you would have asked him, and he would have given you a spring of living water to drink.’ To this water comes every nature to choose its own substances, and from this water goes forth to every nature that which is proper to it, more [certainly] than iron to the Heracleian stone.”
As the reference to John 4:10 shows, the wonderful water of the Euphrates has the property of the aqua doctrinae, which perfects every nature in its individuality and thus makes man whole too. It does this by giving him a kind of magnetic power by which he can attract and integrate that which belongs to him. The Naassene doctrine is, plainly, a perfect parallel to the alchemical view already discussed: the doctrine is the magnet that makes possible the integration of man as well as the lapis.
The process of shedding Light on the collective subconscious is also the integral process of revealing the ancient Spirits who had previously been perceived from without and who were, in the fifth epoch, submerged within. According to Jung, this process was actually what made the field of "psychology" possible in the second half of the 19th century A.D. It is simultaneously the process by which we drink from the wonderful water of the fourth river Euphrates and also begin directing the water from that wellspring of Life to all of Nature; it is the process by which we receive the grace of the Redeemer and by which we also pay forward His redemption to the phenomenal appearances of the world. What we are trying to imagine here as we approach the Center of the Cosmic perfecting process in the 4th epoch - where we begin to transfigure the abstract quantity of linear time into the concrete quality of holistic Time - is how the fragmented souls of the modern world are integrated and once again made Whole. These are not far distant prophecies for us to simply envision and speculate over, but rather they are concrete realities which have already begun taking form in the world around us. Although we will see those concrete expressions in the images of various personalities and thought-systems as we move forward, we should always remember that these considerations only come to life in our own thought. We are not passive observers of these developments but active participants in them. In fact, the developments only reach their fulfillment in each individual's deep commitment to a sense of truth, a feeling of responsibility, and a need for Imagination
“I have seen it once, the one thing that my soul sought, and the fulfillment which we pose beyond the stars and push to the end of time—I have felt its presence. The most exalted was there—in this circle of human nature and things, it was there.”
This German poet of the late 18th century was a living example of how the four-dimensional 'aperspectival', 'time-free' consciousness began to manifest itself in the soul's Imagination. Aesthetics such as poetry and music are for the modern world what mythology was for the ancient world. In their images we find prefigured the holistic spiritual developments which will only later trickle down to the fragmented intellectual spheres of philosophy and science. Hölderlin, in particular, was quite conscious of this flowering consciousness within himself. He passionately contemplated Greek mythology and Plato's dialogues while many thinkers around him were forgetting the Reality of the spiritual altogether. In the verses above, we observe that he placed the subject ("It") after the predicate, ignoring the traditional division into linear sequential parts of subject and predicate. This simple inversion was an expression of his Imagination reaching beyond the limits of abstract space and linear time to perceive both as a unified Whole which could be freely explored, just as we may freely explore the objects in our room right now. The Imagination does not provide total spiritual freedom, but, relative to the abstractions in which the mere intellect imprisons itself, it provides more degrees of freedom than what most people speculate is possible. By way of his Imagination, Hölderlin illuminated the inner meaning of this elegantly simple observation - "Time is long, but the True comes to pass."
There is a deep inner logic weaving through the spiritual which can be perceived even by the mere intellect. That is because the source of all knowledge, physical and spiritual - sensible and supersensible - is our shared spiritual activity of Thinking. As our immanent experience reveals, as well as all cognitive sciences of the 20th century, our Thinking is patterned and follows clearly discernible principles, even if those principles are not fully understood in their qualitative essence. When we internalize the spiritual evolution explored thus far, a few key images should really stand out for us and leave a lasting impression. We should not imagine what is mentioned below as part of a "Divine plan" executed by a "supernatural" or "transcendent" agent who stands apart from his creation and puts all of these things in motion within it before stepping away, apart from a few interventions here and there. Such an agent, if he truly existed in that remotely abstract manner, could never be experienced or known, and therefore is practically non-existent and unworthy of our consideration. What we are interested in here is the natural and logical unfolding of principles, laws, and archetypes existing entirely within the dynamics of the world we can immanently experience and know; ones which are operative in every moment of our lives.
During the involution of the first to fourth cultural epochs, there was a tremendous darkening of the spiritual world which once lived in the direct perceptions of ancient souls. The spiritual knowledge which was once preserved implicitly in the widespread cultural traditions of humanity were later preserved explicitly by a select few who were initiated into the ancient "mysteries". Knowledge of the Spiritual is also knowledge of the Eternal, the Infinite, and the Universal. Such knowledge, by its very nature, is not meant to stay confined to small pockets of individuals here and there. Therefore, the initiates embedded this knowledge within the major mythological and philosophical traditions of their respective cultures. As the emptying of the Spirit (kenosis) progressed, the spiritual knowledge could not be solely entrusted to mythology and philosophy which was quickly losing its importance in the the general populace. To preserve such knowledge, it had to make its way into the general currents of cultural life and permeate the lives of many souls, even those unaware of the spiritual Light which is being kindled within them. Here is where the four Gospels and their inspired authors enter the scene. They are each aware that a natural 'solution' to the problem of esoteric Wisdom, as outlined above, must unfold from within the Mystery traditions by way of an exceptional initiate, but none could be certain from where this new initiate will emerge or how the new initiate will go about fulfilling the integral purposes of the ancient Wisdom. We will discern that fulfillment by contemplating the four images of its expression in the next installment.
Some time ago — to us it seems like a long time —
All those who made our lives happy climbed upwards.
The Father turned his face away from people,
And sorrow came rightly upon the earth.
Finally a quiet genius appeared, comforting in a god-like
Way, who announced the end of the day, and disappeared.
The choir of gods left some gifts behind, as a sign
Of their presence and eventual return, which we
May appreciate in our human fashion, as we used to.
That which is superior had grown too great for pleasure
With spirit among men. And to this day no one's strong enough
For the highest joys, although some gratitude survives quietly.
Bread is the fruit of the earth, yet it's blessed also by light.
The pleasure of wine comes from the thundering god.
We remember the gods thereby, those who were once
With us, and who'll return when the time is right.
Thus poets sing of the wine god in earnest, and their
Ringing praises of the old one aren't devised in vain.
- Hölderlin, Bread and Wine