Athene and the Archetype of Divine Agency

Athene, daughter of Zeus alone, represents the ability, within a ruling structure, to work in such a way as to allow the prevailing order to remain while still finding new interpretations and modes of behavior which allow for life to run seamlessly on. Since it is the natural tendency for an order to dry-up and to stop reflecting the values which established it, Athene represents the tendency, counter to Ares, not simply to erupt into violent conflict, but to find a way to integrate into the new order the reality of a changing world or consciousness. She therefore represents the pliancy in life, and the inability of an order without fluidity of thought and innovation to maintain itself (without conflict) without such liquid and creative solutions.

Interestingly, in our article before, we noted that Zeus, the principle of order, hates “two-faced” Ares because Ares represents the mortal nature of all rules and the duplex process of reigning and falling as a ruler. Athene, however, is also a War-Goddess, and Ares, perhaps rightly, claims that she too “stirs up strife”, but why is it that she does not earn the ire of Zeus, or how is it, then, that she represents something so radically different from the undiscerning conflict of Ares? Homer gives us a brief glimpse into Ares’ perception of his stronger sister:

“Father Zeus, are you not angry looking on these acts of violence? We who are gods forever have to endure the most horrible hurts, by each other’s hatred, as we try to give favor to mortals. It is your fault we fight, since you brought forth this maniac daughter accursed, whose mind is fixed forever on unjust action. For all the rest, as many as are gods on Olympos, are obedient to you, and we all have rendered ourselves submissive. Yet you say nothing and you do nothing to check this girl, letting her go free, since yourself you begot this child of perdition.” (Homer, Iliad Bk V 872-880, Lattimore tr.)

Ares, typically, is incapable of looking past the fact that both his actions (as a warrior on the battlefield) and Athene’s actions (also as a warrior) appear to be the same. He has no conception of the fact that intention, favor, side of the battle, and pre-existing relationship might play into one’s judgment of a situation. It is precisely because Athene, cunning as she is, does understand not only the situation on the ground, but the situation on Olympos, that she may act in such sly and undermining ways. But undermining is not quite right–for to undermine is to consciously work against the established order. No, whereas Ares’ conflictual nature might undermine an order, but unconsciously, Athene acts in a way which might conflict with the usual practice of obedience to an order without conflicting with the spirit or nature of the order in actuality. She is the weapon of divine order on earth; here Karl Kerenyi will support us with his work on the subject:

“She is the rescuer from every danger and peril, the advisor for every tight spot, and the highest wisdom. The people’s chiefs and leaders, as well as the whole people itself, are advised by her; she presides over all local, tribal, and national gatherings. She maintains life and health [my ital.]. She is the gracious, gentle nurse who takes the children of mankind to herself, who makes mothers fertile and children grow and develop, who increases the stock of the people through a strong younger generation. She preserves the divine order in nature [my ital.], protects the seedlings and fruits from damage, sows and tends the noble and nourishing olive trees…” (Karl Kerenyi, Athene: Virgin and Mother in Greek Religion, P. 18)

Just as her father, Zeus, establishes the royal and divine order of things, so does Athene, as the active agent of her father’s authority, ensure that his will be done on the earth. Whether she is pulling the hair of Achilleus (Iliad, Bk I 194-200), or imploring Zeus to release Odysseus from his ignoble captivity on Ogygia (Odyssey, Bk I 45-61), or crying out to end the madness of further conflict after the brutal slaughter of the suitors (Odyssey, Bk XXIV 529-534) she is always enacting the will of her Father and maintaining order, in some fashion or another, on the mortal plane. She is the matron of heroes, journeyers, and cunning liars (Ibid, 18). But her pride of rank makes her more demiurgic than any of her siblings of the generation of her father. Kerenyi here expands:

“But she is also righteous, strictly recompensing Providence: seated beside Zeus, she is the only one who knows where the lightning bolts lie hidden, has the full right and power to use them, and also employs the aegis, the terrible shield of her father Zeus. With him she has many traits and epithets in common, and she is frequently worshipped jointly with him, especially in the most ancient sites of her cult.” (Ibid, 18)

In the ancient Greek religion and mythology, Athene, therefore stands as second only to Zeus, and is something of the πνεῦμα τοῦ πατρὸς or πνεῦμα ἅγιον of Zeus. But the purpose of this series is hardly a simple exposition of mythology and Greek mythology; the purpose, however, is to recognize in the figures of the gods their archetypal figures and how they work in the world along cultural and personal lines. Might Kerenyi, then, help us one more time with this?

“Although it was the religion of a Goddess, it actually existed side by side with the victorious father religion, in no respect subordinate to it as was the naturalistic Hera religion, but in all practical respects equal to it, yet without overthrowing the general patriarchal order. Is this not really an accidental product of history? But then one must also ask whether history could have produced such a thing without there being some foundation for it in the structure of human beings [my ital.].” (Ibid, 19)

Kerenyi therefore contends, as we have all along, that Athene, as a figure of mythology and religion, reflects some inborn capacity or archetype within man, the archetype of Athene, which after the order of the kosmos (or whole) is set by Zeus, continues and maintains that order, in direct collision with the strife-filled and aggressive motions of her weaker brother, Ares. So, just as her brother Ares, and his archetype, are activated in absence of a ruling order and before a new “king” or dominant of consciousness is established culturally or personally, so does Athene, as archetype, reflect the action which maintains and expresses the will of the healthy and rich order of a healthy and vivid dominant of consciousness. Just as it is clear that the process of “individuation” does not end the life of a person or culture, so is it necessary that, on occasion, the will of the gods (or the intentions of the unconscious and reality) be expressed in order to cultivate, cull, and right an existing order without overturning it entirely.

Just as Zeus begat Athene from his head without help from Hera (though perhaps from Metis), so does the new established order, whether cultural or personal, birth from its new ordering principle the capacity to maintain, extend, and alter itself to fit the demands of the world. For an order without malleability and agency would quickly become stagnant, dull, and fail to meet the demands of the world and reality, and thus without this active agency, the process from Prometheus to Ares, would have to start again anew, forever repeating itself. If one pays any mind to the state of Nietzsche’s health at the end of his life and his philosophy of the eternal recurrence (so like the Hindu concept of reincarnation), one might see there prima facie evidence of this process gone wrong, or rather, this process completed, over and over, devoid of the recognition and realization of the archetype of Athene, the principle of action in accordance with the principles and laws of the world and reality as a whole, the one who connects the mundane with the spiritual, and maintains the coniunctio oppositorum.

“The greatest weight.— What, if some day or night a demon were to steal after you into your loneliest loneliness and say to you: “This life as you now live it and have lived it, you will have to live once more and innumerable times more; and there will be nothing new in it, but every pain and every joy and every thought and sigh and everything unutterably small or great in your life will have to return to you, all in the same succession and sequence – even this spider and this moonlight between the trees, and even this moment and I myself. The eternal hourglass of existence is turned upside down again and again, and you with it, speck of dust!” Would you not throw yourself down and gnash your teeth and curse the demon who spoke thus?… Or how well disposed would you have to become to yourself and to life to crave nothing more fervently than this ultimate eternal confirmation and seal? (Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science, s.341. tr. Walter Kaufmann)

Just as Nietzsche’s philosophical statement above showcases the failure to integrate the contents of the archetype of Athene, so below will Kerenyi indicate the proper relation of Athene to herself and of one, be it culture or person, to Athene.

“If merely the result of historical accident, would this position of the Goddess have been acceptable, and would her image itself, with its internal tension and antitheses [my ital.], which soon will appear to us to be even stronger, have been tolerable?” (Kerenyi, Athene: Virgin and Mother in Greek Religion, P. 19)

Just as the archetype itself maintains internal tension and therefore vitality and health, so then does a person or culture who adequately integrates its contents. Athene, as archetype, therefore expresses the full and vivid life, lived in accordance with divine and mundane providence, and filled with energy, meaning, and purpose, culturally and individually. Though, of course, it is persons who comprise a culture.

 

Zeus, Conqueror of the Cosmos, and Archetype of the Ordered Whole

“For what is now happening is the decisive rapprochement with the unconscious. This is where insight, the unio mentalis, begins to become real. What you are now creating is the beginning of individuation, whose immediate goal is the experience and production of the symbol of totality[my ital.].” (Carl Jung, Mysterium Coniunctionis, P. 529, Par 753)

Zeus, mighty Olympian, the one with “unconquerable hands”, who wields the dreaded thunderbolt. Raised on the cliffs of Mount Ida by the Kouretes and his grandmother, Gaia, until he would take his mighty revenge on his father, Kronos, and supplant him and the titans with the new Olympian order. Zeus, mightiest of kings, who is “too strong”, and might, by his own claim, tie all his fellow Olympians to the other part of a string and still pull them, is the archetype of authority, order, and the completion of the process of integrating a new conscious dominant culturally or personally. Behold the might and authority of Zeus from his own mouth.

“Hear me, all you gods and all you goddesses: hear me while I speak forth what the heart within my breast urges. Now let no female divinity, nor male god either, presume to cut across the way of my word, but consent to it all of you, so that I can make an end in speed of these matters. And anyone I perceive against the gods’ will attempting to go among the Trojans and help them, or among the Danaans, he shall go whipped against his dignity back to Olympos; or I shall take him and dash him down to the murk of Tartaros, far below, where the uttermost depth of the put lies under earth, where there are gates of iron and brazen doorstone, as far beneath the house of Hades as from earth the sky lies. Then he will see how far I am strongest of all the immortals. Come, you god, make this endeavor, that you may all learn this. Let down out of the sky a cord of gold; lay hold of it all you who are gods and all who are goddesses, yet not even so can you drag down Zeus from the sky to the ground, not Zeus the high lord of counsel, though you try until you grow weary. Yet whenever I might strongly be minded to pull you, I could drag you up, earth and all and sea and all with you, then fetch the golden rope about the horn of Olympos and make it fast, so that all once more should dangle in mid air. So much stronger am I than the gods, and stronger than mortals.” (Homer, Iliad, Bk VIII 5-28, Lattimore tr.)

Zeus stands unopposed*, and almost feral in his might. He vaunts over the gods in a way, which if he were mortal, would be considered full of excess and hubris, but as king of the gods, such vaunts are his right and marks of his true authority, though Hera, lines 462-463, like a wife mortal or immortal, is quick to remind Zeus how well all know his strength. “Majesty, son of Kronos, what sort of thing have you spoken? We know well already your strength, how it is no small thing.” (Ibid. Bk VIII 462-463). He is energetic, powerful, visceral in his authority. Although, above, one cannot help but notice that he is also the “high lord of counsel”, but his “wide-eyebrows” and “dark-thoughts” are rarely so deeply speculative that they cannot be assertively and aggressively voiced. Perhaps, even though he derives his authority from the power of hands in large part, Zeus may also also receive some bit from his recognition of and obedience to fate. We again observe a small clue in one of his responses to Hera which followed one of his arrogant soliloquies.

“For Hektor the huge will not sooner be stayed from his fighting until there stirs by the ships the swift-footed son of Peleus on that day when they shall fight by the sterns of the beached ships in the narrow place of necessity[my ital.] over fallen Patroklos. This is the way it is fated to be [my ital.]; and for you and your anger I care not; not if you stray apart to the undermost limits of earth and seam where Iapetos and Kronos seated have no shining of the sun god Hyperion to delight them nor winds’ delight, but Tartaros stands deeply about them; not even if you reach that place in your wandering shall I care for your skulks; since there is nothing more shameless than you are.” (Ibid, Bk VIII 473-483)

Two bits are interesting from this second indication of what Bruce Louden in his “The Gods in Epic, or the Divine Economy” calls the “theomachy” or elements of battles between the gods, or for our purposes, aspects of the unconscious struggling for conscious dominance in the culture of a people or person. Zeus, besides again showing massive aggression, and again towards his wife, shows that it is not simply his desire to flex “the royal muscle” but his adherence to fate (moira or heimarmene) which makes him act so candidly. Indeed, he makes something of the ultimate threat, suggesting that if Hera stood apart in Tartaros, that he would care not, because he serves fate**. Now let us consider why it is important that the king of the gods, or the symbol of conscious totality, the “new-king”, or the vital conscious dominant might serve fate. It is precisely because the “old-king” or conscious dominant failed to serve fate, the representation of the will of the unconscious, that the original connection between the “old-king” or conscious dominant was severed. For it is precisely this recognition by Zeus that he must, one, dominate the other gods around him in terms of his greater strength and wisdom, and two, follow fate, and using the tools above, ensure that the other gods do as well. Otherwise, he, like his father and his father’s father, will suffer the same “severing” and again be replaced by fate with a new king.***

Let us now move on to considering the natural antipathy between Ares, archetype of conquest and conflict, and his natural progression, his father, Zeus, archetype of the conqueror now ruling. Again Homer’s Iliad shows their conflicting natures in the wake of Zeus’ conspiring and ever-treacherous wife, Hera’s, conniving words to a banquet of Olympians on high:

“Fools, we who try to work against Zeus, thoughtlessly. Still we are thinking in our anger to go near, and stop him by argument or force. He sits apart and care nothing nor thinks of us, and says that among the immortals he is pre-eminently the greatest in power and strength. Therefore each of you must take whatever evil he sends you. Since I think already a sorrow has been wrought against Ares. His son has been killed in the fighting, dearest of all men to him, Askalaphos, whom stark Ares calls his own son.” (Ibid, Bk XV 104-112)

And Ares’ reaction and response:

“So she spoke. Then Ares struck against both his big thighs with the flats of his hands, and spoke a word of anger and sorrow: “Now, you who have your homes on Olympos, you must not blame me for going among the ships of the Achaians, and avenging , my son’s slaughter, even though it be my fate to be struck by Zeus’ thunderbolt, and sprawl in the blood and dust by the dead men.” (Ibid, Bk XV 113-118)

One sees here the bitter difference between Ares’ almost thoughtless energy and Zeus’ brutal adherence to fate. In fact, just lines later, Athene, herself an aspect of Zeus, is the one who checks the fury of Ares (123-142). Ares, who represents acting with stupendous energy, but with a struggle in heart and not necessarily a thought in mind, is offered as contrast to Zeus whose will reflects his established authority and the will of fate. For Ares, and his archetype, only truly serve fate when Zeus, or any conscious dominant, fails to do so itself.

Though conflict always seems just beneath the surface amongst the immortals, the need for Ares only truly exists when the conscious dominant has fallen, and a new one requires a forceful entrance to supremacy. After this time, however, as tense as things may become, the archetype of conflict must be replaced by the archetype of the conqueror, or the one who brings things to order, a kosmos, and rules in accordance with fate and in connection to the creative unconscious. This necessity exists not only in mythology, but in politics and on a personal level as well.

“In their conflict with the emperor, Gregory and his successors did not have armies of their own to deploy and sought instead to bolster their power through appeals to legitimacy[my. ital.]. The papal part initiated a search for sources of law to bolster its case for the universal jurisdiction of the church. One of the consequences of this search was the rediscovery of the Justinian Code, the Corpus Iuris Civilis, in a library in northern Italy at the end of the eleventh century. To this day, the Justinian Code remains the basis for the civil law tradition that is practiced throughout continental Europe and in other countries there, from Argentina to Japan. Many basic legal concepts, like the distinction between civil and criminal law, and between public and private law, have their origins in it.” (Francis Fukuyama, The Origins of Political Order, P. 268)

Above we see the capacity for a new attitude or way of being to take shape out of non-violent conflict through innovation. Just as the church used litigious means to pursue their civil interests, and it did so by a return or reconnection to a code from the past (Justinian code), so does the consciousness of an individual, after passing through the archetypes of the hero, Dionysos, Hermes, and Ares, finally come to the rejuvenation of consciousness that it first sought in removing the “blockage” of the “old-king.” In so receiving the new king, Zeus, the following “goal of the process” may occur.

“The avowed purpose of this involvement is to integrate the statements of the unconscious, to assimilate their compensatory content, and thereby produce a whole meaning which alone makes life worth living and, for not a few people, possible at all.” (Carl Jung, Mysterium Coniunctionis, P. 531, Par 756)

“To put it in modern psychological language, this projection of the hieros gamos signifies the conjunction of conscious and unconscious, the transcendent function characteristic of the individuation process. Integration of the unconscious invariably has a healing effect.” (Carl Jung, Symbols of Transformation, P. 433, Par 672)

Therefore, the ascending and ascendancy of Zeus, as a dominant of the conscious mind connected to the life-spring of the unconscious (and reality) “assimilates compensatory content” and produces the meaning in the lives of people and persons which the old and dying king failed to. It is, therefore, in the vitality and pure and dominating force of a living and real attitude towards life that meaning and healing for a culture lie.

For a final word on the turning point and revitalization of a spirit of a culture or person, let us look to Tarnas’ description of Zeus as Jupiter:

“the principle of expansion, magnitude, growth, elevation, superiority, the capacity and impulse to enlarge and grow, to ascend and progress, to improve and magnify, to incorporate that which is external, to make greater wholes[my ital.], to inflate; to experience success, honor, advancement, plenitude, abundance, prodigality, excess, surfeit, the capacity of inclination for magnanimity, optimism, enthusiasm, exuberance, joy, joviality, liberality, breadth of experience, philosophical and cultural aspiration, comprehensiveness and largeness of vision, pride, arrogance, aggrandizement, extravagance; fecundity, fortune, and providence; Zeus, the king of the Olympian gods.” (Richard Tarnas, Cosmos and Psyche, Pp. 90-91)

Only when a person or culture has been “made into a larger whole”, or simply whole can it rightly and honestly experience the enlargement and expansion of its mental boundaries and truly experience fortune, success, and magnanimity. In being healthy, whole, and connected to reality (the unconscious), so does a culture flourish in spirit, through optimism, politically, through cultural aspiration, and economically through fortune and liberality. After the fight is over, and the king has won his throne, so long as he maintains his proper relationship to fate (or as a mental attitude, its relation to the unconscious) does a body politic or individual advance, grow, and live a meaningful and complete life. Therein lies the salvation of the pysche of man and the spirit of his society, America and otherwise.

*Although, curiously, Homer does include an account of the gods on the Danaan side (Athene, Hera, and Poseidon) once binding Zeus–and Thetis getting Briareus, one of the hekatakheires (hundred-handed giants), to save Zeus from this binding. (Iliad, Bk I 396-406)

**Further argumentation for Zeus and all gods serving fate: “Fate governs both gods and men. And it is this primordial acceptance of fate which gives Homeric religion, with all its affirmation of this world and of human existence, its peculiar realistic pessimism. Yet, even in the awareness of the bitterest fate, Homeric man never demands a reversal of nature nor expects rivers to flow uphill. His natural and vital existence, to which the numinous and the miraculous are alien and hostile, called forth gods in its own image.” (Walter Wili, The Orphic Mysteries and the Greek Spirit, from The Mysteries, P. 65, ed. Joseph Campbell)

*** “Zeus was director of Olympus, but he was responsible to the great board of directors of the world, the moira, an invisible influence, the “Faceless Corporation” of Olympus, so even Zeus could not do what he wanted.” (Carl Jung, Seminar on Nietzsche’s Zarathustra, Vol. II Page 917)

Ares and the Archetype of Conquest and Conflict

“It is as though we were possessed by fears, emotions, undertones outside of ourselves. All new contents are at first autonomous contents; and where there is such a content we may be sure that in its development it will possess the individual either with or without his consent and it will bring a great change into his life.” (Carl Jung, Seminar on Dream Analysis, P. 183)

In the recent series, we have considered the process by which a person or culture transforms from a state of dessication, decrepitude, desperation, and depression into a thriving, vital, and renewed person or culture. We first considered the Promethean effort that the archetype of the Hero must endure in order to displace a former, weakened, and ultimately life-negating attitude of meaningless cynicism which cuts off a culture’s connection to its energizing source of life and perception of reality as such. We then considered the stage after, when a sort of anarchy of rushing energy flows forth into a culture with potential disastrous effects. Only after such a chute de roi, a purging of the space between making for a clearing, does the archetype of the divine messenger, Hermes, activate–during which time the consciousness and unconscious of a culture reconnect. In connecting, the consciousness of a culture then receives its new “dominant of the consciousness” or its new attitude or set of values. It is not, however, the case that the transmission of a new attitude or ideology, at the level of a person, culture, or state is met with harmony. No, rather than the process ending with transmission, in a way, it is just begun: for the first reaction after transmission is not one of acceptance, but one of conflict.

Let us, for a change, observe a practical and political example of this change before looking at it on a smaller, more personal level.

“The history of American industrial labor relations in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was, of course, violent and conflictual, as workers established the right to strike, to bargain collectively, and to influence conditions of occupational health and safety. But the labor movement was co-opted into the system after winning these concessions. It never turned to Marxism, anarchosyndicalism, or other radical ideiologies in the early twentieth century as did many European trade unions, particularly in southern Europe.” (Francis Fukuyama, Trust: Human Nature and the Reconstitution of Social Order, P. 275)

Above, we observe that in the case of a changing ideology and political order (labor relations) that the reception of an idea, if the idea or set of values is to be operant, is immediately followed by conflict, violent and otherwise. How, though, does such a conflict, if we are to maintain our analogy, manifest in the mind of a single person? Let us look to an account by the psychologist Carl Jung of a person being treated for a neurosis.

“But if we look into the psychoanalysis of actual cases of neurosis and see what devastation the so-called repressions have wrought, what destruction has resulted from a disregard of elementary instinctual processes, then we receive–to put it mildly–a lasting impression. There is no form of human tragedy that does not in some measure proceed from this conflict between the ego and the unconscious[my ital. and bold]. Anyone who has ever seen the horror of a prison, an insane asylum, or a hospital will surely experience, from the impression these things make upon him, a profound enrichment of his Weltanschauung. And he will be no less deeply impressed inf he looks into the abyss of human suffering behind a neurosis.”

(Carl Jung, The Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche, P. 366)

One observes from above that conflict results not only from the emergence of a new idea in the political sphere but also from the “disregard of certain elementary processes” which occurs when a certain view of the world, or Weltanschauung, fails to reflect reality in a genuine and honest way–otherwise known as the dominant of consciousness, or the old-king, failing to rule and guide in a way that reflects and represents reality truly. When this conflict between the “ego” or the conscious mind, and the “unconscious” occurs, so does what is a called a “neurosis” develop. This conflict, or neurosis, thus, is largely a process (if dealt with properly) by which an old conscious dominant is recognized as failing, disposed of, and then replaced by a new one. But this replacement, as we have observed in the series so far, is hardly a one-step process, so the next question which occurs is what is the goal of the neurosis or the conflict; in the political order above, the goal of political strife is the acceptance of a new idea or way of being–does this hold up on a personal level as well?

Yes, naturally, the goal of this process is order and legitimate authority, or the archetype which Zeus, king of the Gods, represents. But like the young fledgling Zeus, hidden from and destined to combat his father Kronos, as his father Kronos once combatted his father Uranus, the archetype of Ares, represents the time between the transmission of a new attitude (or mode of cultural expression and values) and the acceptance of these values. For a mythological example of the tension between the two, let us venture to Book V of Homer’s Iliad.

“Do not sit beside me and whine, you double-faced liar, To me you are most hateful of all gods who hold Olympos, Forever quarreling is dear to your heart, wars and battles.” (Homer, Iliad Bk V 889-891, Lattimore tr.)

What one observes immediately is that Zeus, principle of order and authority, rather naturally and nastily loathes his son, the principle of chaotic discord and strife, but why this grand hate? Precisely because Ares represents the same energy and strife which can at first destabilize an existing order, but is also necessary for the acceptance and dominance of a new one. In observing the actions of Ares, Zeus observes the two-fold aspects of ruling–those of reigning and those of falling. He, therefore hates his battling son, because Ares is at all times a reminder of the fact that his rule may some day fall and that no order is eternal.

But if Ares represents sort of mindless conflict and discontent, how does he differ from the archetype of Dionysos? The fact is that where Dionysos represents the surging of instinctual energy without form, Ares reflects the surging of energy towards a specific goal, even if it is outside the scope of the archetype even to know it. It is the archetype of Hermes, therefore which provides the scope and goal of the aggression and savage energy of the archetype of Ares. Let us, as we so frequently have, turn to Richard Tarnas’ description of Ares in his aspect as Mars:

“the principle of energetic force; the impulse and capacity to assert, to act and move energetically and forcefully, to have an impact, to press forward and against, to defend and offend, to act with sharpness and ardor; the tendency to experience aggressiveness, anger, conflict[my ital.], harm, violence, forceful physical energy; to be combative, competitive, courageous, vigorous; Ares, the god of war.” (Richard Tarnas, Cosmos and Psyche, P. 90)

In reading the description above, one almost undoubtedly conjures the image of a young and resolute man hungry to make his impact on the world. And this is precisely what the archetype is and represents. After the connection to the new conscious dominant is made by the archetype of Hermes, the time to act and move and fight and to aspire (sometimes with more energy than thought) comes about in the form of aggressive and active Ares.

For the principle for which one is fighting is not forgotten, but rather the time for pontification on it is both in the past and in the future as its ascendancy and primacy (in the form of the archetype of Zeus) is struggled for. During the struggle, all one knows is struggle, and that is precisely what it takes to get through the conflict, and that is precisely what the archetype of Ares allows a person or a people to do. If this archetype seems particularly intermediary, one need only look back above to the opinion which Zeus holds of his son to see that that opinion is by all means shared. For the ruler who observes and rules with clear-sightedness and intelligence will always have antipathy for the single-minded and wolf-like ferocity of Ares. But such energy and resoluteness is by nature hot–by no means lukewarm–and it is in the boiling water that the substance is transformed, again, culturally or personally. Jung will grant us some last words on this part of the process:

“The growing redness (rubedo)* which now follows denotes an increase of warmth and light coming from the sun, consciousness. This corresponds to the increasing participation of consciousness, which now begins to react emotionally to the contents produced by the unconscious. At first the process of integration is a “fiery” conflict, but gradually it leads over to the “melting” or synthesis of opposites.” (Carl Jung, Mysterium Coniunctionis, Pp. 229-230)

The conflict produced by the archetype of Ares, therefore, is necessary for increasing the consciousness of a person or people, and in increasing this consciousness, it is molded or forged, like a sword placed in a furnace, that it might be given new shape and purpose. As said above, however, this archetype is in essence and intermediary. In the final quote of today’s article, we will see the limits and fullest expression of the archetype of Ares by a recognition of its goal.

“Although the opposites flee from one another they nevertheless strive for balance, since a state of conflict is too inimical to life to be endured indefinitely[my ital.]. They do this by wearing each other out, like the two dragons or the other ravenous beasts of alchemical symbolism.” (Ibid, 230)

The purpose, therefore, of the archetype of Ares is to strive and struggle for a definite period of time, and at the end of that time, with the struggle ended, then comes the archetype of Zeus, the principle of order by law, who by nature is inimical towards his strife-filled son.

*”The redness (rubedo) of the sun’s light is a reference to the red sulphur in it, the active burning principle, destructive in its effects[my ital.; just like Ares] (Carl Jung, Mysterium Coniunctionis, P. 99)

Hermes and the Archetype of Transformation

“You can see what kind of a deity this is, a new thought, a new spirit. All the old gods were psychological facts which later on became ideas. The old gods represented by the planets Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, are the old personal gods living on Olympus. They became later on psychological constituents of human character. We speak of a saturnine expression, a mercurial temperament, a martial bearing, jovial behaviour, etc., and we forget that we thus liken man to the great rulers of Olympus. A god may appear to you if it pleases him to do so, and if you integrate or entertain him, as it were, that means a new spirit, a new attitude in you.” (Carl Jung, Seminar on Dream Analysis, pp. 181-182)

Hermes, great messenger of the gods, and son of Zeus and Maya is most popular for his capacity to bring the will of the gods, generally Zeus, down to mortals from above, particularly in Homer’s Odyssey. There is, however, another role which he plays for which he receives a smaller, but potentially more important, bit of credit: as psychopompos. A psychopomp, from psuche+pempein (soul+to send), is a spirit or daimon who brings souls between worlds, like Charon, or Hermes himself. In both the Iliad and Odyssey Hermes acts in this capacity in Book 24 of both Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey (once with Priam to his son Hektor, and in the latter he takes the souls of the suitors to the Underworld). But he also is mentioned in the famous Book IV of Vergil’s Aeneid as both taking souls to and from the Orcus, the Underworld, and the same power is ascribed to him in Book I of Statius’ epic, Thebaid.

Given our recent course of study starting from the archetype of the hero as bringing about tremendous change in the conscious dominant of a person or society, and the archetype of Dionysos proving the necessary “space between” or katharsis before a new dominant takes hold of a person or place: what then does Hermes as an archetype represent, and when in this process does his role become operant? We will begin by examining Hermes’ role as psychopomp in the epic tradition, and then we will connect that role with his “birth myth”, and finally we will consider the symbolism of Hermes/Mercury in conjunction with his purpose and function as archetype.

In Book XXIV of the Iliad, Hermes is sent by Zeus to ensure safe-passage of Priam from his safe and living world of Troy to the camp of his opposite number, his dead son, Hektor, and his son’s murderer, Achilleus, who now holds the body of Hektor hostage. Priam must therefore leave his home, cross the battlefield, and then “kiss the hands” of his sons’ killer–transitioning both his physical place and his state of being across the battlefield. As Zeus commands Hermes down, he makes an interesting comment about Hermes: “Hermes, for to you beyond all other gods it is dearest to be man’s companion, and you listen to whom you will, go now on your way, and so guide Priam inside the hollow ships of the Achaians…” (Homer, Iliad, Bk XXIV 334-337. Lattimore tr.) And then again Hermes is described: “He caught up the staff, with which he mazes the eyes of mortals whose eyes he would maze, or wakes again sleepers.” (Ibid, 343-344) One observes from these two descriptions two important aspects of Hermes: he of all the gods most cares for man (ostensibly, now that Prometheus is out of the picture), and he has the capacity to wake or put to sleep a man. What this means, is that Hermes is the archetype, par excellence, of the transition between one state of being and another, or transformation (for it is humans who go from sleeping to waking, and alive to dead*). Just as Dionysos represents the space necessary between states, so does Hermes represent the active process of transformation, though this transformation can be positive, waking, or negative, being put to sleep, both aspects are essential to transformation. Let us now look to Hermes’ expressly stated role as psychopompos that we might not be tempted to think his role as transformational archetype be a “stretch”.

In Homer’s Odyssey, Book XXIV, after god-like Odysseus has killed withe suitors with the help of his herdsmen (Eumaios and Philoitios) and his son Telemachos, all 108 suitors require guidance to the underworld. It is in this way that Book XXIV opens.

“Hermes of Kyllene summoned the souls of the suitors to come forth, and in his hands he was holding the beautiful golden staff, with which he mazes the eyes of mortals whose eyes he would maze, or wakes again sleepers [my ital.]. Herding them on with this, he led them along, and they followed, gibbering. And as when bats in the depth of an awful cave flitter and gibber, when one of them has fallen out of his place in the chain that the bats have formed by holding one on another; so, gibbering, they went their way together, and Hermes the kindly healer led them down along the mouldering pathways.” (Homer, Odyssey Bk XXIV 1-10, Lattimore, tr.)

We see above that Hermes not only brings sleeper to wakefulness and wakened ones to sleep, but he also commutes the living to the world of the dead, and as we will see below, vice-versa. Interestingly, just as the suitors are transformed from living to dead, so is their speech, of which Hermes is the god, also rendered from intelligible to unintelligible as well. His power is by its very nature the active principle of transformation. Whether he is represented as putting one to sleep (like Argos, the giant whom he killed and earned the epithet Argeiphontes for), waking one up, or bringing one back to life or guiding one down to death. Even in more subtle ways does he represent transformation in the Odyssey where he transforms Odysseus from captive to free-man on Kalypso’s island, Ogygia (Ibid, Bk V 98-117), or when he gives Odysseus moly to prevent him from transforming when he ate the food of Circe (Ibid, Bk X 275-310). If one looks closely, one even observes that Hermes “explained the nature of [the plant, moly]” (304), therefore transforming Odysseus from ignorance to understanding on the substance. We will now conclude the historical overview of Hermes as a transformational archetype in epic with two brief quotes from Vergil’s Aeneid and Statius’ Thebaid. Though the Thebaid was written first, we will continue with Vergil’s Aeneid.

Interestingly, in Book IV of Vergil’s Aeneid, Mercury (Hermes) speaks twice to Aeneas insisting that he hurry along away from mad Dido. First he reminds Aeneas that he has his own city to fight for and colonize (Vergil, Aeneid, Bk IV 345-371, Mandelbaum tr.). And then when Aeneas has the audacity to attempt to sleep the night away, Mercury drops the bombshell that resonates throughout time along with Agamemnon’s assessment of Klytaimestra from Book XI of Homer’s Odyssey, “Why not flee this land headlong, while there is still time? You soon will see the waters churned by wreckage, ferocious torches blaze, and beaches flame, if morning finds you lingering on this coast. Be on your way. Enough delays. An ever uncertain and inconstant thing is woman [my ital.].” (Ibid, 781-786). But where one observes his capacity as psychopompos in its clearest form is in his description before his first visit:

“Mercury made ready to follow his great father’s orders. First he laces on his golden sandals: winged to bear him, swift as whirlwind, high across the land and water. The he takes his wand; with this he calls pale spirits up from Orcus and down to dreary Tartarus sends others; he uses this to give sleep and recall it, and to unseal the eyes of those who have died.” (319-327)

And then again in Statius’ Thebaid:

“His father spoke. Atlas’ grandson appeared and quickly bound winged sandals on his feet. A cap concealed his hair. His glow dimmed stars. In his right hand he held the slender wand he uses to induce and banish sleep or send dead souls to deep, dark Tartarus or, on occasion, bring dead shades to life [my ital.]. Down he leapt, upright; by the air sustained that instant, flying on the vast sublime and traced a mighty down-gyre through the clouds.” (Statius, Thebaid, Bk I 303-311, Ross tr.)

With Hermes effectively demonstrated as not only the god of transformation (life to death, sleep to wakefulness, unintelligibility to intelligibility (through language), etc. Let us now consider how his birth and theft of his brother Apollo’s cattle myth yet further demonstrates his archetypal capacity to transform. We will here quote from a summary, but full details from a variety of primary sources exist here.

“Conceived of Zeus, he had been born of a night-sky nymph named Maia…In a cave [Hermes] had been born, at dawn; and toddling forth from his cradle before noon, he has chanced–or had seemed to chance–at the entrance of the cave upon a tortoise (an early animal symbol of the universe), which he broke up and fashioned into a lyre, to which at noon he beautifully sang. That evening he stole Apollo’s cattle, and to appease the god gave him the lyre, which Apollo passed to his own son Orpheus.” (Joseph Campbell, Creative Mythology, P. 203)

So, we see above that Hermes, like Dionysos, was an illegitimate son of Zeus, but unlike Dionysos who gained authority through being dismembered (passively) and re-unifying, Hermes, himself, transforms his rank and earns acceptance through his transformational deeds. First, at dawn, a time of transition, at the mouth of the cave he was born at (the space between inside and out), he transforms a living tortoise into the dead lyre by which he transforms moving air and words into son. He then steals his brother’s cattle, transferring ownership from Apollo to him, a markedly underhanded transformation, but one all the same. And then he transforms Apollo from foe to friend, by transferring ownership of the lyre to him, and in doing that, he is accepted as an Olympian by Apollo and Zeus.

All this said, however, how exactly is it that Hermes as archetype of transformation represents a point in time or an energic process in both man and society? Just as in the beginning of this series we suggested that the task of the hero was to remove the “old-king” or dominant of the collective consciousness from power, so did we then indicate that a “purging” or katharsis had to occur between the rule of the old and new king (collective attitude). After the fall of the former dominant, and then after the “clearing of space” of the wild and unruly Dionysian archetype, then does the active transformation of a person or culture begin. That is the space of the archetype of Hermes. Let us observe his description as Mercury from Richard Tarnas.

“the principle of mind, thought, communication, that which articulates the primary creative energy and renders it intelligible; the impulse and capacity to think, to conceptualize, to connect and mediate[my ital.], to use words and language, to give and receive information; to make sense of, to grasp, to perceive and reason, understand and articulate;  to transport, translate, transmit [my ital.]; the principle of Logos; Hermes, the messenger of the gods.” (Richard Tarnas, Cosmos and Psyche, P. 90)

What one sees above is that the principle and essence of the archetype of Hermes is furnish and transmit a new leading collective or personal attitude after the former one has been destroyed by the archetype of the hero. Just as an old conscious dominant ceases to reflect reality and therefore halts the flow of life, vitality, and meaning, so does it become, after the steps above, necessary in some way to reconnect and mediate the new myth which will inform and unite a people or person with creative unconscious or reality as it is. It is precisely in this moment that the archetype of Hermes, messenger of the gods, mediator of wisdom, transformative archetype, is activated.** In the moment after the archetype of Dionysos does its work, then is a space created for the transformative connection between the unconscious and consciousness of a man or society. During this moment of connection or mediation, a link may be created by which the new myth of a person or a people is perceived and interpreted. Plato has a description of such a moment in his Symposium:

“I don’t know whether anybody else has ever opened him up when he’s been being serious, and seen the little images inside, but I saw them once, and they looked so godlike, so golden, so beautiful, and so utterly amazing that there was nothing for it but to do exactly what he told me.” (Plato, Symposium, 216-e-217a, Hamilton tr.)

And when this moment of transformation and transmission occurs on the personal level, the psychologists call it either the coniunctio or part of individuation.

“Our pictures of the coniunctio are to be understood in this sense: union on the biological level is a symbol for the unio oppositorum at its highest. This means that the union of opposites in the royal art is just as real as coitus in the common acceptation of the word, so that the opus becomes an analogy for the natural process by means of which instinctive energy is transformed, at least in part, into symbolical activity [my ital.].” (Carl Jung, The Practice of Psychotherapy, P. 250, Par. 460)

Just as Alcibiades received insight into the images inside by means of connecting to Socrates, so does one in a psychological sense, achieve a transformation of consciousness or attitude by receiving and embodying a new symbol or myth, a risen phoenix from the ashes purged from the old, now dead one. Jung uses the example of a physical or natural union as a process for transforming instinctive energy into symbolical activity, sometimes called sublimation. So, however, does the archetype of Hermes connect opposites (conscious to the unconscious; mortal to immortal; god to man) in order to revitalizes and reinvigorate the energy, meaning, and purpose of modern culture and modern man.

*Though the gods do appear to sleep in Homer’s Iliad Bk XIV (250-256; 352-355) with the help of the god Sleep, anyway.

** “And with Right may the son of Maia lend his hand, strong to send wind fair for action, if he will. Much else lies secret he may show at need. He speaks the secret word, by night hoods darkness on the eyes nor shows more plainly when the day is there.” (Aeschylus, The Libation Bearers, Ll. 811-818, Lattimore tr.) Hermes is no fewer than three times called “Hermes of death” or “lord of the dead,” as well (124, 623, 726)

The Myth of Dionysos and the Birth of a New Age

“But you cannot, artificially and with an effort of will, believe the statements of myth if you have not previously been gripped by them. If you are honest, you will doubt the truth of the myth because our present day consciousness has no means of understanding it. Historical and scientific criteria do not lend themselves to a recognition of mythological truth; it can be grasped only by the intuitions of faith or by psychology, and in the latter case although there may be insight it remains ineffective unless it is backed by experience.” (Carl Jung, Mysterium Coniunctionis, P. 528)

In our recent articles, we considered the archetype of the Hero and how it is activated during a time of transition and change from one set of cultural values to another. The focus of those articles was to establish the fact that “heroes” exist as people who are part divine, part mortal, and though they exist within time, they by necessity are timeless or exist out of time as well. Whenever the prevailing cultural attitude has become defunct and lost the energic capability to motivate and unite a people, such an “archetype” as it is called becomes activated–that is, whenever the life of a culture slows to a drip from a flow, then the hero archetype activates in order to “clear the blockage” and restore the vitality of the human spirit to a culture. But, after this transition time, what next? Though the hero exists to slay the dragon or the “old-king”, what time follows this slaying of old and decrepit values?

This part of the transitory time belongs to the archetype of Dionysos, or the archetype of rebirth, after the hero causes the “death” or “transition” from an old set of values–then does the archetype of Dionysos bring about the necessary space for the values of a new generation and a re-enlivened culture. First though, let us examine the place that Dionysos, that ever elusive and stranger to Greek culture, occupied within the Greek mythos and cult, and then we will analyze and interpret the meaning that such a figure in mythology represents. Frazer begins with one of the more popular accounts of Dionysos’ origin and dismemberment.

“Like the other gods of vegetation Dionysus was believed to have died a violent death, but to have been brought to life again; and his sufferings, death, and resurrection were enacted in his sacred rites. His tragic story is thus told by the poet Nonnus. Zeus in the form of a serpent visited Persephone, and she bore him Zagreus, that is, Dionysus, a horned infant. Scarcely was he born, when the babe mounted the throne of his father Zeus and mimicked the great god by brandishing the lightning in his tiny hand. But he did not occupy the throne long; for the treacherous Titans, their faces whitened with chalk, attacked hm with knives while he was looking at himself in a mirror. For a time he evaded their assaults by turning himself into various shapes, assuming the likeness successively of Zeus and Cronus, of a young man, of a lion, a horse, and a serpent. Finally, in the form of a bull, he was cut to pieces by the murderous knives of his enemies.” (Sir James George Frazer, The Golden Bough, Abridged. 1922. P. 451)

And then Frazer continues with an explanation of how the dismembered and murdered god comes back to life, like the seasons.

“Thus far the resurrection of the slain god is not mentioned, but in other versions of the myth it is variously related. According to one version, which represented Dionysus as a son of Zeus and Demeter, his mother pieced together his mangled limbs and made him young again. In others it is simply said that shortly after his burial he rose from the dead and ascended up to heaven; or that Zeus raised him as as he lay mortally wounded; or that Zeus swallowed the heart of Dionysus and then begat him afresh by Semele, who thereby conceived him.” (Ibid, 452)

Therefore, one sees that in his aspect as a God of Vegetation (much like Adonis, Attis, and Osiris (Ibid, 449), Dionysos is born, lives a brief time, is torn asunder, often by the Titans, and is resurrected to reascend anew, like the dawn from eternal night, or spring from frosty Winter. Forever does Dionysos, the dismembered and deceased god, or principle of the immortality of the spirit, experience death and rebirth. These solar and vegetable analogies are useful, but the symbol of a god as representing the change of the seasons is hardly novel. To connect the archetype of Dionysos to the process of the birth of a new age requires a more humanistic and human-centric approach.

Before observing the civic role which Dionysos plays, though, we must observe and examine the point that one comes to over and over again with the Dionysos myth: he experiences rejection (and usually dismemberment) before being accepted as an Olympian. He is at once a bastard son of Zeus and in the cults, and often enough he is a stranger from Thrace or farther East (Frazer, 449). How, then, does this strange God of orgiastic rites, first dismembered, and then glorified, express the situation of a culture which has experienced the rise and fall of a prevailing attitude or set of values? We will now look to Vernant who includes Dionysos as a figure who serves to transform children into citizens, just as he first represented the change of Fall to Winter and Winter to Spring.

“But before this time, the young of the two sexes had deposited garlands of grain near Artemis, which, in allusion to the first victims, dedicates them forever to the goddess in their youthful status. It is as if, through these garlands given up to the goddess, they are both the young who are “sacrificed” to her and the ones, now ripe, who are liberated from her charge. Instead of grain given to Artemis, they put garlands of ivy around their foreheads and, thus arrayed, they go to the temple of Dionysos Aisymnetes, the god who, a stranger like them, was integrated into the civic cult with the title of Master and Arbiter. The nocturnal ritual, the controlled and regulated orgiastic behavior of this daimon xenos [strange god; my trans.] who henceforth was adapted to Greek culture[my italics], guaranteed the young their own integration into the civic community by contriving a change of status through which the young ceased to be young in order to become adults[my ital.], yet without entailing any confusion in status between youth and adult or any effacement of boundaries between them.” (Jean-Pierre Vernant, Mortals and Immortals, P. 212)

One therefore observes that beyond simple transformations of the seasons that Dionysos was also associated with changes of status between children and citizens. He is, in of himself, always duplex in some form or another. In Hesiod’s hymn to him, he appears androgynous and wearing purple, looking like a youth or a man, or a man or a god. It is precisely because Dionysos, youngest of the Olympian gods, is expressive not only of initial rejection (dismemberment; or like any new cultural idea), but of transformation from one form of being to another–child to adult-citizen, alive to dead, dead to alive, stranger to familiar, and mortal to immortal. Just as in our most recent article we observed Kronos’ role as a god who experiences the rise to power and the fall from it, so does Dionysos represent the prevailing confusion, discontent, “de-unification” (dismemberment) which occurs during a twilight state of transition between one age and another, one cultural dominant to another, or even one prevailing attitude to another on the personal stage.

The Archetype of Dionysos indicates a time of dangerous and uncontrolled energies. Without the form and structure set out in a person or culture’s life, the energies of the person or people are unrestrained, destabilized, and without unity. Therefore, just as the Archetype of the Hero represents the positive aspect of change from the old-dying king (culture cut off from life), so does the Archetype of Dionysos represent the time between the fall of the old cultural values (old king) and the coronation of the new values (or new, revitalized, king or cultural values). During this time between “rulers”, the energy or vitality of the unconscious rushes back into a culture, but without the cultural safeguards of order, ritual, and custom to hinder its explosive and potentially monstrous force. The Archetype of Dionysos, then, represents the negative or darker aspect of transition–the moments between darkness and light–and the dangers which twilight and dawn both hold for those who desire clarity of sight and purpose.

This time, however, serves a valuable purpose. Just as day does not become night without first passing through twilight, so does the Archetype of Dionysos serve as a time of “preparation” in that it allows for katharsis or cleansing of one mode of being that another might replace it. Joseph Campbell here explains this “time between” below.

“…tragic katharsis (i.e. the “purification” or “purgation” of the emotions of the spectator of tragedy through his experience of pity and terror) corresponds to an earlier ritual katharsis (“a purification of the community from the taints and poisons of the past year, the old contagion of sin and death (my ital.), which was the function of the festival and mystery play of Dionysos. The meditating mind is united, in the mystery play, not with the body that is shown to die [or former attitude of conscious, personal or cultural; my add.], but with the principle of continuous life that for a time inhabited it, and for that time was the reality clothed in the apparition (at once the sufferer and secret cause), the substratum into which our selves dissolve with the “tragedy that breaks man’s face” has split, shattered and dissolved our mortal frame.” (Joseph Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, P. 26)

The Archetype of Dionysos thus acts as an “intermediary” time between one set of collective (or personal) values and another set of oncoming values. During this “middle” time, a great purge or catharsis of the former attitudes and values occurs in order to make way for the new ones. And in observing this time between, one observes not only the unity between prevailing cultural and personal values, but also the continuity of life beyond one’s necessarily limited and mortal perspective. Though one’s customs, attitudes, values, or body might fade in their mortal decrepitude, so does one observe that life itself will prevail and continue on–just as it did before, during, and will after one’s physical death (was this perhaps the great secret of the Eleusinian Mysteries?). One therefore celebrates “the universal life”, as Campbell puts it, in experiencing the Dionysian age and rites, and in one’s mortal and finite way, experiences the magnitude of life eternal beyond one’s mortal grasp. To really hit home this imagery, Jane Harrison espouses the role of Dionysos in the Eleusinian Mysteries through a brief explanation of a vase painting from the 4th century.

fig159

“The central figure is Demeter, crowned and sceptred, sitting on an altar-like throne. To the right is Kore with her torches. She turns towards Dionysos. He too is seated, as becomes a god, and he holds his thyrsos. He is seated, but on what a throne! He is seated on the omphalos [midriff of the world; my add.]. To the ancient mind no symbolism could speak more clearly; Dionysos is accepted at Eleusis; he has come from Delphi and brought his omphalos with him. We are apt to regard the omphalos as exclusively the property of Apollo, and it comes as something of a shock to see Dionysos seated quietly upon it. We have already (p. 319) seen that Apollo took it from Ge, took the ancient symbol of Mother Earth and made it his oracular throne; but at Delphi men knew that it had another and mystical content. It was the tomb of the dismembered Dionysos.” (Jane Ellen Harrison, Prolegomena to the Study of Greek Religion, Pp. 556-557).

What we see above is that Dionysos is, as written earlier, the symbol for unification of opposites (coniunctio oppositorum) par excellent. Not only does he offer the time between one prevailing set of attitudes and values and another (as katharsis or purification), but he, in of himself, carries the omphalos of the world with him, which contains his own dismembered corpse, and is usually associated with Apollo. This is a lot of symbolism expressing the same concept: the omphalos indicated the connection between the lower half of the body or world with the upper half; carrying one’s own dismembered corpse indicates the connection between immortality and mortality, or life and death, and the association with Apollo indicates the transition from the god of daylight, or the sun, high in the empyrean, through the twilight space of Dionysos, to the earthy and dark richness of Ge (Gaia=Earth). Dionysos, in all we see above, serves therefore as an archetype of the transition–between one time and another, life and death, heaven and earth, and mortality and immortality. And in of himself, as a god and archetype, he contains the principles of the coniunctio oppositorum, particularly linking life with its opposite, death.

Post Scriptum:

If one is so inclined to look, one even finds them same strange idea of the rejected or discarded item (or the rejected and dismembered god) which would come to great importance in the rather obscure works of Carl Jung. Here he quotes an obtuse passage from the Bibliotheca Chemica.

“Finally, there will appear in the work that ardently desired blue or cerulean colour, which does not darken or dull the eyes of the beholder by the healing power of its brilliance, as when we see the splendour of the outward sun. Rather does it sharpen and strengthen them, nor does he [Mercurius] slay a man with his glance like the basilisk, but by the shedding of his own blood he calls back those who are near to death, and restores to them unimpaired their former life[my italics], like the pelican.” (Carl Jung, Mysterium Coniunctionis, P.14)

And again, but in slightly clearer (but still highly obscure) form:

“But sometime he must set about the opus himself, for, as the alchemists emphasize, nobody else can do it for him. Like this apprentice, the modern man begins with an unseemly prima materia which presents itself in unexpected form–a contemptible fantasy [or this quote itself! my addition] which, like the stone that the builders rejected, is “flung into the street” and is so “cheap” that people do not even look at it[like this blog! my addition]. He will observe it from day to day and note its alterations until his eyes are opened or, as the alchemists say, until the fish’s  eyes, or the sparks, shine in the dark solution. For the eyes of the fish are always open and therefore must always see, which is why the alchemists used them as a symbol of perpetual attention. The light that gradually dawns on him consists in him understanding that his fantasy is a real psychic process which is happening to him personally. Although, to a certain extent, he looks on from outside, impartially, he is also an acting and suffering figure in the drama of the psyche.” (Ibid, 528-529).

Just as Dionysos suffers death and rebirth, so does a man and so does a culture metaphorically do so, and in so experiencing such suffering and decay–and then rebirth, so does a new attitude in one man come to be and a new cultural consciousness and awareness on a larger scale.

America and The Archetype of the Hero: Timeless or Timely?

We begin with a brief examination of the connection between man and man as a symbol for the sort of “universal process of nature”. As uncomfortable as it is to view man in such a way(as a symbol), especially when he is so capable of living as unnaturally as he pleases*, the fact remains that man, like any natural object or being, might serve as a symbol of that life-source, or energy, which apparently runs through all things, so long as it is part of a physical system. In the quote which follows, Carl Jung elucidates the connection between “solar” imagery and man, both experiencing increase and decline, both Apollinian and Dionysian.

“The finest of all symbols of the libido** is the human figure, conceived as a demon or a hero. Here the symbolism leaves the objective, material realm of astral and meteorological images and takes on human form, changing into a figure who passes from joy to sorrow, from sorrow to joy, and, like the sun, now stands high at the zenith and now is plunged into darkest night, only to rise again in new splendour[my italics]. Just as the sun, by its own motion and in accordance with its own law[my italics], climbs from morn till noon, crosses the meridian and goes its downward way towards evening, leaving its radiance behind it, and finally plunges into all-enveloping night, so man sets his course by unmutable laws, and his journey over, sinks into darkness, to rise again in his children and begin the cycle anew. The symbolic transition from sun to man is easily made…” (Carl Jung, Symbols of Transformation, P. 171)

The hero, like the sun, experiences increase and decrease, lighting up the world, but still returning to darkness. The heights which he experiences are only matched by the depths which he must endure. Jung’s description of man and the sun as symbol  exemplify not man himself, but man as he “ought to be”, a man who experiences the richness and fullness of life–a man like a hero. For example, let us look to see how the description of Gilgamesh by Sin-leqi-Unninni in the prologue of the epic, Gilgamesh.

“He had seen everything, had experienced all emotions, from exaltation to despair, had been granted a vision into the great mystery, the secret places, the primeval days before the Flood. He had journeyed to the edge of the world and made his way back, exhausted but whole[my italics].” (Sin-Leqi-Unninni, Gilgamesh, P.69. Mitchell tr.)

One sees above an apt description not simply of Gilgamesh, but of heroes in general in the Western Mythological tradition. To provide a more expansive view, connecting Gilgamesh to all the West, Vernant below gives a concise account of what makes a hero.

“Supernatural birth, expulsion from the human world[my italics], abandonment of the infant in the space of that other world symbolized by the immensity of the sea, survival and return among men after going through the ordeal whose normal outcome would have been death: Perseus’ biography from the very outset, even before the career of his exploits begins, contains all the ingredients needed to give the young man his properly “heroic” dimension.” (Jean-Pierre Vernant, Mortals and Immortals, P, 135)

First, Vernant adds the “otherworldly” or “divine” element of the hero (which Gilgamesh shares in being 2/3 divine), the survival of some impossible circumstance, like Herakles killing the two vipers as a child, and abandonment, like Philoctetes on Lemnos or Odysseus on Ogygia. There are several important aspects which unite the efforts of a hero and have him represent the “archetype of a hero”. The most important one, however, which perhaps creates the others, is that the hero appears out of time. Vernant continues.

“In literary tradition, the heroes are situated in a world and a period that are not quite that of Greece. They do not belong to the Iron Age. Above all, the heroes are a religious category that is both worship of the gods and funerary cults, and they can only be conceived of within the framework of civic religion.” (Ibid, 279)

In Hesiod’s Works and Days, Kronos first creates the race of Gold, and then after they pass away and become spirits of the earth, Zeus creates the race of silver, and then bronze, and then somewhere between bronze and the next men of iron, the heroes arise–without metal. Perhaps it is the case that they are not given a metal, because as Vernant suggests, they are necessarily men out of time, not in line with the manner of being or prevailing consciousness of their time. Is the hero then an archetype of transition indicating the change from one age to another– and if such an archetype were now constellated (activated or charged) in America, how would it look? Especially if one looks closely at Hesiod’s own description of these men do they appear all the odder:

“But when earth had covered this generation also, Zeus the son of Cronos made yet another, the fourth, upon the fruitful earth, which was nobler and more righteous, a god-like race of hero-men who are called demi-gods, the race before our own, throughout the boundless earth. Grim war and dread battle destroyed a part of them, some in the land of Cadmus at seven- gated Thebe when they fought for the flocks of Oedipus, and some, when it had brought them in ships over the great sea gulf to Troy for rich-haired Helen’s sake: there death’s end enshrouded a part of them. But to the others father Zeus the son of Cronos gave a living and an abode apart from men, and made them dwell at the ends of earth. And they live untouched by sorrow in the islands of the blessed along the shore of deep swirling Ocean, happy heroes for whom the grain-giving earth bears honey-sweet fruit flourishing thrice a year, far from the deathless gods, and Cronos rules over them; for the father of men and gods released him from his bonds. And these last equally have honour and glory.” (Hesiod, Works and Days, 156-169. H.G. White tr. Extracted from here.)

Not only is it the case that this is the first and only race of men who are “nobler” than the race before, but those who survive the great wars in Thebes and Troy (and their returns home) are given over to the isles of the blessed (much like the Elves, Frodo, et alia in Tolkien’s Return of the King), and interestingly, Kronos is freed from Tartarus and made ruler of these men. This seems odd: for one, Kronos is the god who first created the race of gold, the greatest race of mortal men, so these heroes are in their way equated with the mightiest most beloved men by the gods–who died as if “overcome by sleep”. But the race of men is also called theion, or god-like, and clearly, they are mortal, so they do not reflect the gods in being deathless (until taken to isle of the blessed), and as they endured war, it was also the case that they did endure suffering and sorrow while on earth, unlike the gods. What then was it that made them god-like?

The question above is answered by the fact that Kronos is placed above the men as their ruler. Kronos was overthrown precisely because he had become the “old-tired” dominant of the collective consciousness which results in the “zest–libido–[going] out of life”. If Kronos, though, was a deposed and fallen form of the “Old-King” or “outdated form of cultural consciousness”, why would he be placed above these men out of time? Precisely for this reason. Because the semi-divine (hemitheion) men partook of both divinity and humanity, mortality and immortality, so must their lives and places in history be duplex. On the one hand, they endure suffering in the world, and on the other they endure no suffering on the Isle of the blessed. They live for a finite amount of time as men in the world, and then forever after “live” as the ageless gods do on the blessed isle, remembered for all time in poetry and as a result of their distinct funerary rites which effectively apotheosize them.***But does this at all answer why Kronos is placed above them as ruler? We turn to Richard Tarnas who explains that Kronos represents, in his Saturnine aspect, a ruler not simply for a time, but himself “out of time” as well. He says that the following qualities are represented by Kronos/Saturn:

“…to experience difficulty, decline, deprivation, defect and deficit, defeat, failure, loss, alienation; the labor of existence, suffering, old age, death; the weight of the past, the workings of fate, character, karma, the consequences of past action, error and guilt, punishment, retribution, imprisonment…” (Richard Tarnas, Cosmos and Psyche, P. 91)

It is precisely because Kronos, in fighting against his own fate to be superceded by one of his own children, after himself usurping the throne of his father Uranus, has experienced both rising and declining in the celestial sphere that he is an apt ruler for those men who have also experienced the fullness and two-sided nature of life. Kronos rules because he has been both king and prisoner, upstart son and cast down ruler. He, more than any Titan or Olympian (Prometheus would be close), is a fitting ruler for those who know the duality of human existence, heroes, because he, even as a god, experienced such dualities of increase and decline himself. In experiencing both the temporal and changing, and in experiencing the timeless and immortal, both Kronos and the hero exist outside of time and place, together united in a place all their own.

It is all well and good that the hero might achieve his proper place amongst his fellows and ruled by an appropriately like-minded deity, but the question remains, if the hero is an archetype of transition and of change, how does it help current society, America, if he simply leaves the world and exists on the isles of the blessed? Is not the purpose of the Hero Archetype practical in nature–affecting and joining one time to the next by disposing of the tired and old dominant of the collective consciousness? Joseph Campbell provides us with the necessary context to answer this practical and timely question.

The return and reintegration with society, which is indispensable to the continuous circulation of spiritual energy into the world, and which, from the standpoint of the community, is the justification of the long retreat, the hero himself may find the most difficult requirement of all. For if he has won through, like the Buddha, to the profound repose of complete enlightenment, there is danger that the bliss of this experience may annihilate all recollection of, interest in, or hope for, the sorrows of the world; or else the problem of making known the way of illumination to people wrapped in economic problems may seem too great to solve.” (Joseph Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Pp. 36-37)

The hero must not only embody the qualities which Vernant discussed above (survival of situations which might lead others to death, expulsion from the world, abandonment), but he must also come back, and even when he does, like Plato’s mysterious person who escapes his chains in the cave, he or she may be castigated, punished, or flat-out ignored. If the hero then represents the archetype which rejuvenates and reconnects a culture with its roots, values, and meaning, even then he may suffer violence or “he may meet with such a blank misunderstanding and disregard from those whom he has come to help that his career may collapse.” (Ibid, P. 37). How, then, does the hero accomplish the task which both establishes him as a hero and frees a culture from the tyranny of its “old-king”? Carl Jung attempts an answer by elucidating the fact that a man, if he is to be a hero, must endure the coincidentia oppositorum, or that the apparent opposites of life: good and evil, beautiful and ugly, useful and useless, et alia must not be sided with and therefore lose their energic tension but endured as parts and poles along the same energic spectrum or whole.

“But if a man faced with a conflict of duties undertakes to deal with them absolutely on his own responsibility, and before a judge who sits in judgment on him day and night, he may well find himself in an isolated position. There is now an authentic secret in his life which cannot be discussed–if only because he is involved in an endless inner trial in which he is his own counsel and ruthless examiner, and no secular or spiritual judge can restore his easy sleep. If he were not already sick to death of the decisions of such judges, he would never have found himself in a conflict. For such a conflict always presupposes a higher sense of responsibility. It is this very quality which keeps its possessor from accepting the decision of a collectivity. In his case the court is transposed to the inner world where the verdict is pronounced behind closed doors.”

“Once this happens, the psyche of the individual acquires heightened importance. It is not only the seat of his well-known and socially defined ego; it is also the instrument for measuring what it is worth in and for itself. Nothing so promotes the growth of consciousness as this inner confrontation of opposites[my italics].” (Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections, P. 345)

Therefore, if a man or a woman is capable of enduring the presence and existence of these opposites, and not simply siding with one aspect of his or her nature: goodness, economic value, rationalism, then is society bettered by his or her heightened consciousness–then is he or she representing the archetype of the hero–and society continues to be bettered by more and more individuals enduring the coincidentia–more than any social or political reform could ever hope to offer.

So, for life to re-enter society and one’s self, one must simply remove the impediments which prevent the free-flow of energy, so as in physics, so as in the psyche:

“Life, being an energic process, needs the opposites, for without opposition there is, as we know, no energy. Good and evil and simply the moral aspects of this natural polarity. The fact that we have to feel this polarity so excruciatingly makes human existence all the more complicated. Yet the suffering that necessarily attaches to life cannot be evaded. The tension of opposites that makes energy possible is a universal law, fittingly expressed in the yang and yin of Chinese philosophy…” (Jung, Psychology and Religion, P. 197)

*”But man is the unnatural animal, the rebel child of Nature, and more and more does he turn himself against the harsh and fitful hand that reared him.” (H.G. Wells, A Modern Utopia, Ch. 5)

**Libido simply means “energy” for Jung, not sexual energy like for Freud.

***”The monumental work of Erwin Rohde remains one of the most eloquent sources for our understanding the heros ‘hero’ as a very old and distinct concept of traditional Greek religion, requiring cult practices which were also distinct from those of the gods[my italics].” (Gregory Nagy, The Best of the Achaeans, Pp. 114-115)

The Archetype of the Hero and the Promethean Task of Education

The Archetype of the Hero and the Promethean Task of Education

By A.E. Schmid

America and the entire Western world are experiencing a crisis: vitality and meaning are seeping out of the existences of its peoples and no one knows what to do. Medicate? Yoga? Theosophy of some sort? What about a return to nature or to Western Religion? None of these answers seem satisfying, and the question and problem presented by this dwindling value and meaning is felt especially poignantly in our American classrooms. What is it that we really aim to teach? Is measuring students and teachers by objective and calculated standardized tests truly the full extent of the goal of education? Or is the goal something more, something nobler, both a return and departure from what is and what has been? I propose that the goal of education is to teach one “how she should then live” in the wake of a country that has lost its connection to its mythological roots.

How, though, does this relate to mythology and particularly to mythology in contemporary culture? The current conception of mythology by the lay-person or typical student in secondary education is that mythology and its motifs are human fabrications first conceived of to explain and deal with the modern world. This paper, however, in adopting more of a Jungian and Campbell-esque perspective suggests that a particularly American mythology must be pursued by a confrontation with a varying world, and in particular Western mythologies, during one’s education in order to re-connect an individual with the roots of his conscious and unconscious mind. In so doing, one observes the function of mythology not to be for amusement nor even explanation of physical phenomena, but rather as a necessary part of the psychic health of an individual and a culture. The goal then of education is to provide students, people, with the tools necessary to confront these realities, and to prepare them for the grueling task of aiming towards meaning in their lives. Naturally, this sentiment was expressed wonderfully well 91 years ago by the Swiss Psychiatrist Carl Jung:

“I thought: “Now you have the key to mythology and you have the power to unlock all doors.” But then something within me said: “Why unlock all these doors?” And then I found myself asking what I had done after all. I had written a book about the hero, I had explained the myths of past peoples, but what about my own myth? I had to admit I had none; I knew theirs but none of my own, nor did anyone else have one today.” (Carl Jung, Introduction to Jungian Psychology: Notes of the Seminar on Analytical Psychology Given in 1925, P. 26)

In the century between that time and this one, the sentiment that rang through in the statement above rings more true than ever: the West, and particularly America, lacks a cohesive mythology, a governing set of values springing from the unconscious, and this has led to a “stopping up” and perhaps even a severing of the necessary connection between a society and its governing myth–its very essence and life-blood. This happens not only on a social level, but in strange mimicry of Plato’s notion of the city and the soul of man, on the individual level as well.

“From the psychological point of view the ceremony has the significance of a meaningful institution, inasmuch as it represents a clearly defined procedure for canalizing the libido*. It has, in fact, the functional value of a paradigm, and its purpose is to show us how we should act when the libido gets blocked. What we call the “blocking of the libido” is, for the primitive, a hard and concrete fact: his life ceases to flow, things lose their glamour, plants, animals, and men no longer prosper[my italics]. The Ancient Chinese philosophy of the I Ching devised some brilliant images for this state of affairs. Modern man, in the same situation, experiences a standstill (“I am stuck”), a loss of energy and enjoyment (“the zest”–libido–has gone out of life”), or a depression.” (C.G Jung, Symbols of Transformation, P. 170.  First Bollingen/Princeton Printing, 1976)

In the words above, one reads the modern state of man: listless, stuck, depressed–deprived of his vital energy, and in his listless depression, he strives for and fails to find meaning. In the article which follows, we will examine how such “zest” or energy can re-enter into one’s life and culture and the effect that such a transformation has on education, and therefore, what the true purpose of education is. Jung continues:

“One frequently has to tell the patient what is happening to him, for modern man’s powers of introspection leave much to be desired. If, even today, the new fire is kindled at Eastertide, it is in commemoration of the redemptive and saving significance of the first fire-boring. In this way man wrested a secret from nature–the Promethean theft of fire. He made himself guilty of an unlawful intervention, incorporating a fragment of the age-old unconscious into the darkness of his mind [my italics]. With this theft he appropriated something precious and offended against the gods. Anyone who knows the primitive’s fear of innovations and their unforeseen consequences can imagine the uncertainty and uneasy conscience which such a discovery would arouse.” (Ibid, 170)

Jung here briefly mentions the myth of Prometheus and its significance–it involves wresting consciousness out from the grip of the unconscious–but at great price to him. Just as the first humans were banished from Eden for eating of the arbor scientiae, so was Prometheus suspended on a rock forever having his liver eaten by the eagle of Zeus.**So, what one is to learn from this mythological reference, is that the act of becoming more conscious involves a “robbery” or a “wresting” from the creative unconscious–a taking from potentiality into actuality something that could be into something that is. Jung finishes his quote in the following lines.

“This primordial experience finds an echo in the widespread motif of robbery (sun-cattle of Geryon, apples of the Hesperides, herb of immortality). And it is worth remembering that in the cult of Diana at Aricia only he could become her priest who plucked the golden bough from the sacred grove of the goddess.” (Ibid, 170)

We might add to that the account of the Garden of Eden, Odysseus’ taking the veil of Ino (or stealing the Palladium with Diomedes), Aeneas taking the golden bough to go to the underworld, et alia, but the basic point is that mythology, throughout the Western tradition, sends image after image to its people indicating both the danger and the need of expanding its consciousness–lest it become dessicated and lowly–and therefore be so mean as to require a divine flood as found in: the Enuma Elish, Works and Days, Genesis, Metamorphoses, or even just have it hinted at as in the Gilgamesh epic, et alia. But what, exactly, is being “brought to consciousness” by this Promethean fire? What is it that reconnects humanity with the creative unconscious and reinvigorates its vitality or libido? Richard Tarnas provides a colorful account in his Cosmos and Psyche:

“Prometheus, the Titan who rebelled against the gods, helped Zeus overthrow the tyrannical Kronos, then tricked the new sovereign authority Zeus and stole fire from the heavens to liberate humanity from the gods’ power. Prometheus was considered the wisest of his race and taught humankind all the arts and sciences; in a later tradition, Prometheus was the creator of humankind and thus held a special relationship to humanity’s fate from the beginning. Every major theme and quality that astrologers associate with the planet Uranus seems to be reflected in the myth of Prometheus with striking poetic exactitude: the initiation of radical change[my italics], the passion for freedom, the defiance of authority, the act of cosmic rebellion against a universal structure to free humanity of bondage[my italics], the urge to transcend limitation, the creative impulse, the intellectual brilliance and genius, the element of excitement and risk.” (Richard Tarnas, Cosmos and Psyche, P. 94)

What Prometheus represents, and what an educator is meant to embody in this mythless time—in contrast to the negative aspect of this archetype, the tyrannical demagogue, then, is the need for radical change and realignment of values–or in the case of America, the search for values themselves at an individual or “grassroots” level. In a wave of testing methods and techniques holding teachers accountable in order to receive federal funding, the core purpose of education is lost: the need to pursue liberty of thought (ripping insight from the unconscious into consciousness) and to “free humanity from [intellectual] bondage.” There is no higher goal in education than to teach students the art of inquiry and skills necessary to question an old, esteemed, but ultimately failing cultural mythology. Only in pursuing what is new and yet radical can what was ancient and lost be regained. Tarnas continues:

“The resonant symbol of Prometheus’ fire conveys at once a rich cluster of meanings–the creative spark, the catalyst of the new, cultural and technological breakthrough[my italics], brilliance and innovation, the enhancement of human autonomy, sudden inspiration from above, the liberating gift from the heavens, the solar fire and light, lightning and electricity both literal and metaphoric, speed and instantaneousness, incandescence, sudden enlightenment, intellectual and spiritual awakening…” (Ibid, P.94)

Although Tarnas gets a bit excited with his amplifications (how do we become more incandescent, really?), his point about the need for new cultural breakthroughs in order to keep pace without god-like technological ones seems not only apt, but necessary. So, what does it mean to accept the Promethean fire or a bite from the apple of the arbor scientiae rather than the arbor vitae? Nothing more than accepting a finite, but definite place in the world, while expanding one’s consciousness (or one’s people’s) through knowledge, insight, and creativity rather than remaining in a perpetual state of identity with the collective unconscious, which is, like the fruit of the arbor vitae promises, as immortal as the race of man. This means overthrowing the old dying king, or lifeless and blocking state of consciousness, in order to rejuvenate and revitalize life, culture, and ultimately to bring harmony and meaning to the people of a society. This is the goal of education, and it is far more important and far more serious an issue than it is treated as in American today.

This does not mean, however, that humans, and especially Americans, are to become identified with their insight and advances and in some way think themselves “more than human” or “less subject to natural laws”. No, in attaining new perspective and cultural breakthroughs, the goal is not to go beyond being human (or good and evil), but to become rooted and more human in the wake of tremendous technological advances. The proper perspective is here elucidated by Jean-Pierre Vernant in his exposition of the function of Ancient Greek sacrifice:

“Greek sacrifice differs from Vedic sacrifice in that the latter is a prototype for the act of creation, which brings forth and binds the universe together in its totality. Much more modest, Greek sacrifice recalls Prometheus’ act, which alienated man from the gods. In a ritual that seeks to join the mortal with the immortal it consecrates the unattainable distance that henceforth separates them[my italics].” (Jean-Pierre Vernant, Mortals and Immortals, P. 280)

The proper relationship to the unconscious, or to “immortals” as Vernant describes it is to join to some part of it, but to maintain one’s recognition (ostensibly because of observing its utter difference in magnitude during the connection) of the difference between mortal and immortal, conscious and unconscious. Clearly, according to the thinkers above, the difference is substantial. The goal, though, in attaining “more consciousness” is to liberate one’s self from a conscious attitude (culturally or personally) which no longer represents reality as it is and has cut off the “libido” of a person or culture. Finally, though, how does this relate to the archetype of the hero? Joseph Campbell will help us here.

“The composite hero of the monomyth is a personage of exceptional gifts. Frequently he is honored by his society, frequently unrecognized or disdained. He and/or the world in which he finds himself suffers from a symbolical deficiency. In fairy tales this may be as slight as the lack of a certain golden ring, whereas in his apocalyptic vision the physical or spiritual life of the whole earth can be represented as fallen, or on the point of falling, into ruin.” (Joseph Campbell, The Hero With a Thousand Faces, P. 37. 2nd ed. Bollingen/Princeton)

There are clearly several examples in the world today of cultures or people falling into ruin (this paper was first written during the crescendo of the Greek economic crisis), And yet examples from America’s political drama might well fit here now as well. Many of the failings, however, in America find their root in blaming education or teachers. And perhaps to some degree this is right, but to use a term borrowed from the psychologists, is not our projecting the unconscious failings of our culture onto our education system and the teachers that embody it, itself creating the necessary pre-conditions for the activating of the hero-archetype in our culture? The inferior, humble, people “unrecognized or disdained”, shall be the ones, if they accept the call, to bring forth new contents from the collective unconscious and replace the dying prevailing conscious attitude (all hail economics) with a richer, more vital, and deeper rooted one. This is but chapter one of this discussion.

I will leave you today with this short and poignant quote by Jung—an admonishment at best, and a warning at worst:

“Collectivity in itself is an evil, a collectivity without evil is impossible; even the best collectivity one could imagine is vicious–at all events a most horrible bore, and to be boring is equal to evil.” (C.G. Jung, Lectures on Nietzsche’s Zarathustra V.2, P. 583. Ed. James Jarrett. Princeton. 1988)

We must wrest ourselves from the unconscious forces which begin to surge our unsure shores lest the tidal flood of collective forces, now mounting power, wash away all we have sought to become.

*The meaning of the term libido is used to mean one’s store of vital energy. For Jung, It does not carry the sexual denotations of the Freudian concept of the same name.

**For those, who are unfamiliar with the Prometheus myth, the major and oldest accounts of it come from Hesiod’s Works and Days (42-105) and his Theogony (507-583) (though, curiously, Prometheus is not credited with creating man from mud and earth, as he is known to have in the tradition in these texts) and Aeschylus’ Prometheus Bound. What one learns is that Prometheus or Zeus first created the several generations of man, after Kronos made the first “golden race”, and that Prometheus earns the ire of Zeus by first portioning out the “good parts” of meat to humans by tricking Zeus and by giving fire to man (and various contrivances) in direct opposition to the will of Zeus.

 

What is the Function of Myth?

“Therefore I submit that other than mathematical statements (i.e., statements implicit in nature) are likewise capable of pointing to irrepresentable realities beyond themselves–such, for example, as those products of the imagination which enjoy universal acceptance or are distinguished by the frequency of their occurrence, like the whole class of archetypal motifs. Just as in the case of some factors in mathematical equations we cannot say to what physical realities they correspond, so in the first case of some mythological products we do not know at first to what psychic realities they refer. Equations governing the turbulence of heated gases existed long before the problems of such gases had been precisely investigated. Similarly, we have long been in the possession of mythologems which express the dynamics of certain subliminal processes, though these processes were only given names in very recent times.” (C.G. Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections. P. 311)

In the middle of this statement in his personal biography Memories, Dreams, Reflections, Jung makes the radical claim that myths, like mathematical equations, do not always correspond to physical realities. He instead suggests that at first myths may correspond to some psychic or mental reality. But what, really, is the evidence for some psychic reality, and what is the distinction between the psychic and physical, and how do we make sense of it? The relation between the two “realities” seems to be represented by the existence of what is called neurosis by contemporary psychologists, and the function of myth, therefore, is to bridge the gap between the differences in one’s perception of reality (physical or psychological) and reality itself. For as will be suggested by the psychologists and mythologists below, the distinction between physical and psychical reality is a false one, and the more important question is how one bridges the gap between one’s perceptions of reality and reality itself, especially to relieve the suffering of a person or culture.

Therefore, when we look to the noted classicist and psychologist Marie-Louise von Franz, she suggests that the purpose of myth is to restore balance to a culture which has lost its connection between its every day living and its unconscious roots or collective myth. The function, then, of myth is to restore life and vital energy into  a people who have lost it. Or put in the language of the psychologists, to reduce the suffering of neurosis on the personal level or spiritual crisis on the collective level. Does hearing of a culture cut-off from the vivacity of life and utterly neurotic sound at all sound familiar? One need not look any further than the prevailing economic attitude present in America today to realize that the governing forms of thought which govern our people have calcified and become brittle, unmotivating, and weak.

“The cause of this transformation process, which can be shown to occur again and again in the spiritual history of its peoples and which we have only briefly outlined here, is to be found first of all in the tendency of spiritual forms to rigidify. This is connected with the fact that it is the nature of human consciousness to wish to, or even to have to, formulate and pin things down in a clear and ambiguous fashion [viz. Vernant, Campbell, and Jung below; my addition]. By contrast, the unconscious psychic life tends towards more fluid and less precise modes of behavior. That is the reason why, in individuals, as well as in whole cultures, consciousness and the unconscious can fall into opposition. When this happens, we speak of neurosis in individuals and in cultures, of a spiritual crisis.” (Marie-Louise von Franz, Archetypal Dimensions of the Psyche, P. 11)

So, if a person or a people lose their connection to the creative or collective unconscious, which creates the myths which a people express, interpret and live–a rift manifesting in neurosis on the individual level and spiritual crisis on the societal level is the result. What then is the solution to a person or a people losing contact with his creative myth, though? Again, we turn to Dr. von Franz:

“The old sick king is a symbol for the rigidified spiritual forms of culture referred to above, which are no longer in harmony with the sphere of the instincts, nor with the unconscious spiritual tendencies of the collective unconscious. The renewal is usually brought about in the myth by a hero, who is often a simple man or a simpleton altogether. His naive genuineness is capable of bringing the creative transformation completion. This myth is to be found among all the peoples of the earth, and its existence shows how important this kind of historical-psychological transformation is.” (Ibid, P. 12)

Dr. von Franz’s argument is that in order to heal the rift between the conscious mind of a person and people and the creative unconscious which provides the “vitalizing” myth of a person or people’s life is to live-out the archetype of the hero. This means to rejuvenate a people or person by discarding the former, outdated myth of the “old king” in place of a far humbler, less regal, and more vividly living myth. But in what language, exactly, would such a myth express itself? How is one to know if one is receiving the living myth which will bring meaning and order to one’s life, or even to one’s people’s life? Let us look to Jean Pierre Vernant, Joseph Campbell, and Dr. Carl Jung for help in interpreting both the function and language of myths.

“What characterizes the human level as opposed to that of other creatures on the animal scale is the presence of these vast mediatory systems–language, tools, religion. However, man is not aware of having invented this language of religion. He feels that it is the world itself that speaks this language[my italics] or, to be more precise, reality itself is fundamentally language. The universe appears to him as the expression of sacred powers that, in their own particular forms, constitute the true texture of reality, the being behind appearances, the meaning that lies behind the symbols that manifest it.” (Jean-Pierre Vernant, Myth and Society, P. 104, tr. Janet Lloyd)

And in agreement with Vernant, Campbell, in one of his more mature works writes:

“Mythological symbols touch and exhilarate centers of life beyond the reach of vocabularies of reason and coercion. The light-world modes of experience and thought were late, very late, developments in the biological prehistory of the species. Even in the life course of the individual, the opening of the eyes to light occurs only after all the main miracles have been accomplished of the building of a living body of already functioning organs, each with its inherent aim, none of these aims either educed from, or as yet even known to, reason[my italics]; while in the larger course and context of the evolution of life itself from the silence of primordial seas, of which the taste still runs in our blood, the opening of the eyes occurred only after the first principle of all organic being had been operative for so many hundreds of millions of centuries that it could not then, and cannot now, be undone…” and “The first function of a mythology is to reconcile waking consciousness to the mysterium tremendum et fascinans of this universe as it is: the second being to render an interpretive  total image of the same, as known to contemporary consciousness.” (Joseph Campbell, Creative Mythology, P, 4)

The two mythologists above agree in one important respect: mythology is the language of reality which must be interpreted by the minds and words of men.  A myth, as explained above, therefore directly represents the reality of both the psyche and the reality of which it is a part (and the psyche, which is a part of reality, interprets reality). One might even suggest that it is the psyche and its tools which exist precisely in order to understand and express the truths of myth, rather than the more mundane and wrongheaded point that one’s psyche or mind “creates” a myth. The important piece that is added to Dr. von Franz’s quotes is essentially, then, that the neurosis of an individual and spiritual crisis of a people is the result of not perceiving the reality of myth or of misinterpreting one’s personal or societal myth or worst one neglects the myth of the creative unconscious in favor of a more rigid and less current image of the unconscious. In agreement with the mythologists above, Dr. Carl Jung, the psychologist explains the relationship between myths, the creative unconscious, and the expanding consciousness man has of the reality in which he is placed and lives. And in so explaining, perhaps a solution to today’s spiritual crisis might be suggested.

“Only here, in life on earth, where the opposites clash together, can the general level of consciousness be raised. That seems to be man’s metaphysical task–which he cannot accomplish without “mythologizing.” Myth is the natural and indispensable intermediate stage between unconscious and conscious cognition. True, the unconscious knows more than consciousness does; but it is knowledge of a special sort, knowledge in eternity, usually without reference to the here and now, not couched in language of the intellect. Only when we let its statements amplify themselves, as has been shown above by the example of numerals, does it come within the range of our understanding; only then does a new aspect become perceptible to us.” (C.G. Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections)

Just as Dr. von Franz wrote above, the purpose of myth is to connect the conscious mind of a person to his unconscious roots, and just as Vernant and Campbell wrote that myth is the representation of the language of reality, Jung here suggests that myth occupies a middle place between the “conscious mind” and the “unconscious mind” in order to act as sort of a bridge between the two in order to raise the level of the conscious mind to greater heights. In that lies the solution to both the neurosis of a man and the spiritual crisis of a people–as well as to the problem of the function of myth. Myths do not exist simply as stories to be rigidly adhered to and to be told over and over again. No, they exist as the language of the unconscious for raising the level of the consciousness of a person or a people who is suffering to a new and healthy level of being in accordance with reality. As a myth’s stature rises (to the old king) and moves away from its roots in the unconscious, it seems to partake of less and less reality, therefore experiencing both diminishing marginal returns and a corruption of its purpose. By following a rigid or outdated mythology, one stops following, perceiving, and correctly interpreting “reality itself” as Vernant puts it–and in failing to take account of reality, one’s mind, spirit, and even body at the personal and societal level begins to become corrupt. It is therefore the duty and function of the myth, particularly that of the hero myth, to renew, reinvigorate, and bring about a renaissance or renovatio of the human spirit on a personal or collective level.