The Far Away Land of the Prodigal Son

The Chrysalis gets quite a few Google referrals for the phrase “what far away country did the Prodigal Son visit?”.

Well, the answer is rather simple. If you must have a name, the far away land is “this world”, and is called The Land of Forgetfulness.

The Land of Forgetfulness goes by other names, too, just like countries go by different names depending on the language. “Germany” is not called “Germany” in Germany. It is called “Deutschland”. In French, Deutschland is called “Allemagne”. In Arabic, Allemagne is “Almanya”. In Nordic languages, Almanya is “Tyksland”.

And so it goes. Recall the true spirit of the parable, please.

The Land of Forgetfulness into which the Prodigal Son journeyed is also called The Land of Dismemberment. You might even call it “Mordor.” That is an equally legitimate name for it; for when the Prodigal Son arose from his debased condition to begin his journey to his own homeland, it was a result (or so the parable goes) of his coming to re-membrance of himself, or, as the parable puts it, “he came to himself”.

Well… where (or more importantly, what and who) was he before he thus “came to himself”? It is totally irrelevant to the meaning of the parable, actually, what far country, geographically, speaking, the Prodigal Son might have found himself in, for we are all this Prodigal Son in whatever country we find ourselves. He is neither here nor there and yet is everywhere. The “far away land” is his remoteness from the source of his existence and the vital core of his or her being. This condition is called, also, “alienation” (in Marxian terms) or “estrangement” or “anomie”. Jean Gebser, in his great book The Ever-Present Origin, called it the process of “distantiation”. The “far away land” is a psychic “state”, not a physical space and place.

The Land of Forgetfulness is also the Land of Time. This movement of “distantiation” of the Prodigal Son from the ever-present origin, the eternal source, the fountainhead, or the vital core is entrance into the land of temporicity, not spatiality or geography. Since the parable of the Prodigal Son is a parable about the fall of man from eternity into temporicity, and this fall is a forgetting of who and what one truly is and from whence one arises, it is dis-memberment, for it is the failure of memory. Remembrance is re-membering, which is true memory, and not mere reflection. True memory is re-membrance from a dismembered condition, and this is truly “coming to oneself again”. It is recovery and convalescence from a long illness.

For “man is the sick animal”, as Nietzsche put it. But this echoes the parable of the Prodigal Son.

It is totally crazy and even insane to fret about what actual geographical country in which the Prodigal Son might have come to remembrance of himself, for we are all the “Prodigal Son” of the parable. The far away land is where you find yourself, for it is also “Land of the Ego”. It is what Blake called “the Selfhood”. It is ego-nature. Any country we wake up in and, in the act of awakening, come to remembrance of ourselves — whether we call it United States, Russia, Germany, Canada, United Arab Emirates, Iraq, Cameroon or even “Mordor”, this is “the far away land”.

And, perhaps, Tolkein’s Mordor is the most cogent symbol of this “far away land” and its meaning in terms of the parable, for it was the land in which the orcs forgot they were originally elves who had been seduced away from their authentic nature by the Ring of Power.

The parable is about the journey into narcissism and back again. This journey is described equally in the Greek myth of Narcissus and Echo.

The key difference, however between the pagan myth and the parable of Jesus is this: Narcissus never comes to remembrance of himself. He perishes because he cannot come to remembrance of himself. He can’t escape the trance of his own self-image. Nor do the Orcs of Mordor ever come to remembrance of themselves. The Prodigal Son, however, does come to remembrance of himself.

Homelessness is fallenness, and is the feeling of alienation and estrangement from the vital core of our being and existence. Nietzsche equated this sense of alienation and homelessness with nihilism. Morris Berman once wrote a book called Coming to Our Senses about this, our current demented and deranged condition at our “end of history”, and this “coming to our senses” is the meaning of the parable of the Prodigal Son, too, who “came to himself” and to remembrance of himself in the same sense. Thus, the Prodigal Son, unlike Narcissus, transcended the narcissistic condition.

The entire meaning and mystery of what is called “religion” is contained in the parable of the Prodigal Son. The Prodigal Son is Everyman and Everywoman who has not come to remembrance of themselves and of who and what they truly are.  This is Nietzsche’s formula, also, for self-realisation. “Become what you are!”  And until we become what we are, we will remain “strangers in a strange land”, exiles and outcasts in the Land of Ego, occupied territory in terms of “the foreign installation”.

And that means, come to remembrance of who and what you truly are — come to your senses; come to yourself. Then you will know what “the far away land” was and is. It is yourself. And yourself is Shakespeare’s “undiscovered country”.

The Zen Buddhists have a koan, “Show me your face before you were born!” This is, equally, a call to the Prodigal Son to come to remembrance of himself, or the Prodigal Daughter too.  And for this reason, too, true Muslims wage the true jihad against the self-nature, which is the forgetfulness and the dismemberment of Man’s condition in order to come to re-membrance.

Re-membrance is the integral consciousness. It is the overcoming of the fallen segregate natures of William Blake’s warring Zoas, too. And in that sense, William Blake’s poetry is only an articulation of the meaning of the parable of the Prodigal Son, who is the fallen Albion dismembered into the four Zoas, and who are equally the four nafs of Islam or the four Guardians of the Four Directions in Buddhism, or the four Beasts around the throne of God in the Book of Revelation.


8 responses to “The Far Away Land of the Prodigal Son”

  1. amothman33 says :

    To remember the bond taken by God from the human to be an honest creature as put in the Quran. It is an imaginatve journey in the psychic wonderland.Life is a collections of parables the bond is its core and wherever you turn you will be in the face of God.

  2. alex jay says :

    “Here [at the chthonian oracle of Trophonios in Boiotia] he [the supplicant] must drink water called the water of Lethe (Forgetfulness), that he may forget all that he has been thinking of hitherto, and afterwards he drinks of another water, the water of Mnemosyne (Memory)which causes him to remember what he sees after his descent.” — Pausanias, description of Greece (Greek travelogue C2nd A.D.)

    Tis the journey of the soul from origin to descent to ascent (logos to material back to spiritual) – a homecoming, but the journey involves playing that stupid football game in-between … so you might as well make the most of it and enjoy the ride, score a touchdown and kiss the homecoming queen … like daddy did with his Prodical Son … : )

    • Scott Preston says :

      What an interesting remark! I do recall something now about the water of Lethe. Did this have something to do with the Orphic Mysteries?

      • alex jay says :

        I’ll get back to you on that, as I have a few minutes ( I only spend a short time on important issues – LOL) to prepare myself for a boring social event. However, I think you may find this interesting (I do, since the carnival king, Mr. Carney – slang for his family background – has been drafted to save the Bank of England, as all other indigenous candidates are too sullied in corruption – so why not bring in a colonial to distract). These boys are clever … and they get away with it!

      • alex jay says :

        Yes, except unlike Pausanias description when the devotee drank from both rivers, the Orphic rites instructed not to drink from Lethe.

        “Gold-leaf tablets found in graves from Thurii, Hipponium, Thessaly and Crete (4th century BCE and after) give instructions to the dead. Although these thin tablets are often highly fragmentary, collectively they present a shared scenario of the passage into the afterlife. When the deceased arrives in the underworld, he is expected to confront obstacles. He must take care not to drink of Lethe (“Forgetfulness”), but of the pool of Mnemosyne (“Memory”). He is provided with formulaic expressions with which to present himself to the guardians of the afterlife.”

        “I am a son of Earth and starry sky. I am parched with thirst and am dying; but quickly grant me cold water from the Lake of Memory to drink.”

  3. LittleBigMan says :

    “The Land of Forgetfulness goes by other names, too, just like countries go by different names depending on the language. “Germany” is not called “Germany” in Germany. It is called “Deutschland”. In French, Deutschland is called “Allemagne”. In Arabic, Allemagne is “Almanya”. In Nordic languages, Almanya is “Tyksland”.”

    So true! This forgetfulness, I think, began when we started parsing the land and naming it with all those names.

  4. srosesmith says :

    Beautiful! Thank you, Scott!

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