MYTHOLOGY & PSYCHOLOGY
Is it possible for that cold one
to pull me so
that I am mad with wanting?
I run toward her
as to one on intimate terms
with my own soul. 1
ARTEMIS/APOLLO, DIONYSUS/APOLLO AND THE BRIDGE OF CHIRON
Apollo (sun and culture) and his twin sister Artemis (moon and wilderness) are a mythological polarity and complex with roots far predating the Greek pantheon (the word 'complex' — a psychological term — points to a core pattern unresolved in the unconscious).
Artemis is the moon goddess — a proud descendant of the Great Mother goddess of archaic cultures. She is the Potnia Theron (‘Lady of the Wild Things’), protectoress of the sacred value of Earth. She represents nature in the raw, unspoiled and untamed; that which is wild, dangerous and unpredictable. We can imagine her as the divinity of our inner nature, Goddess of those remote places of the psyche not yet given cultural form, as yet unnamed and untamed. Seeking her is to court a baptism into archetypal vision — an entry into the virginal psyche with its quality of deep interiority, pristine freshness, imaginal containment, and freedom from external contamination. Foster-mother to the process of becoming, her energy is active, powerful and transformative. But one does not wander too far into the untamed wilderness of nature or of the soul without risk: Artemis demands respect and woe betide those who ignore her.
Conversely, Apollo — an equally complex god with ancient roots — is understood as the development of mankind away from Nature, our striving to escape the bindings of instinctual existence through conscious awareness. He is a cosmocrator — ordering principle in the cosmos and in the psyche. Like sunlight which makes the fruits of the Earth ripen, this sun god presents us with an image of becoming on the road to fulfilling our destiny. 'One of the noblest symbol of the ascent of man' 3, Apollo is a god of balance, proportions, harmony and wisdom — Bringer of the Light of spiritual life. Only through him can we make sense, and art, of the Dionysian chaos of our origins.
Both the Goddess and the God are patrons of youth; both ‘Light Bringers’ who support an upward spiritual tendency. But the virginal psyche and the cultivated soul are basically incompatible, precluding each other; one must give way to the other. The fantasies and impulses of the uncultivated psyche, those blinding and confusing movements of the soul, may be tamed by rational paradigms and cultural forms. Conversely, Artemis has the power to ‘uncivilize’, to return things to their earlier forms: nature and the unbroken stirrings of the psyche will take command and dissolve human learning and understanding.
At the extreme, raw, irrational feelings may seize consciousness and produce sensations of utter terror and confusion ― tearing the ego apart with the ferocity of Dionysian maenads. But Dionysus, a lord of death, gives life its depth dimension precisely through sensations of being scattered and dismembered. His way is the will of life rejoicing over its own inexhaustibility, even to the sacrifice of its highest types.
Moving away from our origins paradoxically include a soul-impulse to re-connect with them. For it is in the nature of twins that once separated they ever seek to re-unite. The Artemis/Apollo dyad asks an essential questions: how can our culture evolve ever further afield while remembering the wisdom of the wild? The Dyonisus/Apollo dyad asks a similar one: how do you differentiate from uroboric unity while retaining connection with the underlying oneness of life?
Enters the Centaur Chiron, shaman and mediator. Link between Apollo and Artemis, an eager student of both. A bridge between any complementary pairs of perceived opposites like mind and body, spirit and instinct, culture and nature. If Chiron is experienced as the painful wound of their separation, it also drives our quest for their reunion. Chiron is a path of individuation and growth through paradoxical re-integration. Heralding the Hermetic dictum “Only that which has first been separated can be properly joined” 4, Chiron is an ever-widening spiral of growth that ever-strive to return to its source.
SHAMAN — THE JOURNEY OF SUFFERING, DEATH, REBIRTH AND RETURN
In the figure of the shaman we have not only the historical figure of the healer/priest, but an archetype looming in the depths of the collective psyche — perennially alive within the archeology of the individual, both as an imprint of our cultural pre-history and within our personal biography.
From wandering puer to senex sitting in knowledge and authority, the trajectory of the shaman’s path has traditionally been the work of fate. The wandering youth stumbles by chance, error, or accident into some virginal retreats of the macrocosm or the microcosm. For having uncovered Artemis, nature in her pristine condition, he may be killed on the spot. It is not a question of being punished moralistically for having trespassed on sacred ground: her simply enters upon his essential fate, his necessity. Wandering in the forest of the soul, he stumbles upon nature in her most naked and washed purity, and of necessity his nature is turned around.
In traditional cultures, the shaman (a word derived from a Siberian Tungus verb meaning 'to know') is initially set apart from the tribe by the force and immediacy of personal religious experience and vision. Holding center place in the shamanic tool kit are the hallucinogenic plants ceremonially used to induce ecstasy. The plant itself is considered sacred, synonymous with the God with whom the shaman communes, and from whom he learns inwardly. Externally, sacred sites and places of pilgrimage powerfully evoke the inner terrain. Trials of initiation may be literalized into ordeals of physical and psychological endurance.
Departure on the journey is often signaled by images of thresholds, crossroads, womb-like doors, holes or openings such as caves, grottoes and underground places. A period of incubation, enwombment or gestation follows, during which the future shaman may be physically or mentally ill, as he descends into the terrain of death. He may be called upon to battle demons, endure various psychic trials, or encounter spirits that have possessed or attacked him. Imagery of death may symbolize a former world view, self-concept or phase of life that is dying. He may have visions of being eaten down to the bone by demons or hungry spirits; he may be tortured, burnt alive or dismembered. Through these near-death or inner-death experiences, the initiate is shown the true depth and meaning of life. On the sacrificial altar the highest mastery of the Self is achieved. Having discovered the eternal joy of becoming beyond all terror and pity, he will be resurrected...if all goes well. Whether animals, ancestral, archetypal, or indeed psychological, the spirits involved in his trials may then become his allies and assist him in his work, “via a covenant forged in death and in spirit between the eater and the eaten”. 5
Time for return to the world may be signaled by dreams or images of birds or flying creatures; revitalization and rebirth occurs as the spirit returns to the body. The peaks of sacred mountains, the heart of the sun and various images of centering, reconnection, re-memberment and the reconciliation of opposites are key features of this period of restitution.
The World Tree or axis mundi at the center of the universe symbolizes the core of harmonious interchange between the Underworld, the everyday world and the celestial realms — a channel opened up during the inner journey. Shamans are trained to move up and down this ladder, to operate at the threshold of opposites, creating cosmos out of chaos, the Middle Realm of Earth a dream to be shaped by the dreamer.
At Kairos (the ‘right moment’ when the timeless realms intersect with our common experience of time), a temporary bridge between eternity and the human world is formed. At such times the archetypal or psychological core of an experience may suddenly reveal itself and release a process previously frozen or stuck.
The purpose and goal of the shamanic journey is unique to each traveler, but deo gratias, it will result in reclaiming lost fragments of the self, and the fulfillment of that individual self through consecration to a larger collective purpose.
PROMETHEUS FIRE — THE PSYCHEDELIC QUEST
The ceaseless quest for more inclusive biospiritual consciousness, where outer-wilderness (nature) and inner-wilderness (psyche) entangle, play with one another, and become one another, is not without dangers. Falling prey to hubris (defying Natural Law) and getting burned by too bright a fire is always the risk.
Holding center place in the shamanic tool kit are the hallucinogenic plants used to induce ecstasy. The plant itself is considered sacred, synonymous with the God with whom the shaman communes, and from whom he learns inwardly. Structurally, psychoactive compounds are closely related to indoles in the brain, interacting with the latter in such a way as to lock non-ordinary states of consciousness temporarily into place: in the chemistry of consciousness, we are kin to the plant kingdom.
Owning to their very power, psychedelics tools have often been compared to Prometheus fire, 'the flowery splendor of all-fashioning fire' 6 stolen from the gods. Theirs is the gift of the light of spiritual illumination that can free us from the bondage of unconsciousness. Through ritual participation in hallucinatory experience, our lost connection with the gods is restored.
But doing so entails the risk of over-exposure to the archetypal dimension. Overwhelm is an all too common occurrence: the unwary ends up chained and tormented just like Prometheus. Raw, irrational feelings may seize consciousness and produce sensations of utter terror and confusion ― tearing the ego apart with the ferocity of Dionysian maenads.
Any true entry into the unknown interior, the forest of the psyche, entails a reversal, a breaking up of the mentality that entered the woods. The soul itself is affected in the process of introspection. We who may start out as skillful hunters, enthusiastically and confidently in search of firm knowledge about the psyche, soon become as unpredictable, elusive, and mysterious as that which we are pursuing. Drawn toward the mystery with the illusion of conquering, we soon become as mysterious and untamed as that we sought to overcome. Deeply affected by visions, by our very identification with the pristine qualities of the virginal, we move deeper into that inhuman world. The pain of pathology begins when we can no longer extract ourselves from the woods of our fantasy ― visitors no longer, now inhabitants. Prisoners.
Magical realms must not be carelessly invoked or entered. One must be ready. Like the astronaut’s first steps on the moon, walking the psychedelic path is also an awkward experience, particularly in the absence of external guidance.
But the rewards as well as the adventure, perhaps to some eyes the nobility of the quest, make for a worthwhile, and very human, endeavor.
AWE AND REVERENCE
As man intellectual understanding and physical mastery over the outer world has increased, he has lost sight of the wholeness of nature. Lack of appreciation for the interconnectedness of all life inevitably brings alienation, a feeling of being not ‘at home’ either within oneselves or, indeed, on the earth. We are left with a kind of loneliness, an inadequate comprehension of what life can be.
In contrast, wilderness man lived with an instinctive awareness of his place within the totality; the visionary and conscious awareness of this was earned by the shaman through his suffering, inititation and submission to his vocation. The Shamanic or Centauric mode of consciousness is not cognitive in the usual sense, but more intuitive and cosmopoetic — capable of embracing paradoxes that totally confound the linearity of Western rationality. It keeps up in direct contact with the force-field lying beneath the myriad forms perceived by our senses; it perceives the luminosity and interconnectedness of the whole of life, including the realms beyond physical death.
The mythic image of Chiron suggests the re-emergence of an ancient world view that lies dormant in the substrata of the individual psyche — one that we are called upon to re-embrace, refine and re-integrate. Rather than fearing or being obsessively driven by the formidable energy of our primal origins, we are now invited to touch this mysterious and powerful realm as an ongoing modality of awareness which supports the arising of individuality not disconnected from its roots, but arising from them.
This search for wilderness man will connect us to the child within and his capacity for joy. We may also feel humanity’s indescribable suffering at being wrenched from primordial innocence in the interests of ‘socialization’, ‘education’, and other processes designed to make us fit into a system which no longer pays its dues to the spiritual origins of life as reflected in nature.
Today more than ever before, we are asked to address the unhealed history within our own biography and the world at large—to take "the healing we took birth for" 7. As we wander on this journey, we will rekindle an attitude of awe and reverence toward the cosmic immensity of which we are but a small part, and the respect for life which follows this realization.