The Roots of the Ego Consciousness
Castaneda’s teacher, don Juan, once told him that trees were man’s closest relations in this world. A Darwinian might scoff at such statements as the naive belief of an unschooled primitive mind. Nonetheless, don Juan was essentially correct. Or, we may say, it is a valid shaman’s truth, as much as the primate precedence is a valid biologist’s truth.
In antiquity, trees were protected and even held sacred. “The Word for World is Forest” is quite true, to recite the title of Ursula LeGuin’s novel. The similarities between German Welt (World) and Wald (Forest) are quite evident. The English words “savage”, “salvation”, “saviour” are connected to the Latin “silva“, meaning woods or forest. Amongst the Germanic tribes, harming certain trees was a capital offence akin to murder. A man accused of harming a sacred oak was disemboweled, and his own intestines and body applied as a bandage to the wounded tree. Or so I learned from a brief perusal of James Frazer’s The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion.
The tree is the central narrative of many origination or cosmological myths — the Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge in Genesis; the tree Yggdrasil is the Cosmic Axis in Norse mythology, and is probably the same as Indra’s Net (also here depicted as a tree),
The Buddha and the Bodhi Tree are inseparable companions in the narrative of his struggle for enlightenment.
One of William Blake’s more cryptic “Proverbs of Hell” seems to make reference to the implicit affinity of the essential human form and the World Tree
The rat, the mouse, the fox, the rabbit: watch the roots; the lion, the tyger, the horse, the elephant, watch the fruits.
“Watch”, here, may have the meaning “guard”. If so, it brings to mind Eckhart Tolle’s conviction that the animals are “guardians of being“. It is so. Man’s very first teachers were the plants and animals, and the ingrate has repaid them badly for their favours.
That man’s closest relative is the tree is as much a truth as the evolutionary biologist’s fact of physical descent from the ape. It is quite beneficial to suspend or bracket off the fact for a while and to contemplate instead the “shaman’s” truth, for it is a truth of That which Blake calls “the Poetic Genius” in man. We might call it a truth of “the feeling-and-desire mind”, rather than “the body-mind”, to employ a useful distinction made by H. W. Percival in Thinking and Destiny.
This distinction is apt, for it conforms to don Juan’s own views. For the shaman, man is first and foremost a perceiving being, not a thinking one, and that “reality is a feeling we have for it”, whereas the body-mind offers only a second-hand “description” or narrative derived via “reflection”. In other words, there is a distinction to be made between a “truth” which is the im-mediate perception of “the feeling-and-desire mind” and a “fact” which is the mediated operation of “the body-mind”, however paradoxical that might seem. A fact is an image, derived via “reflection”, even when it takes the form of a mathematical statement: 1 + 1 = 2.
This distinction was widely known in the past, of course, where “truth” and “fact” were distinguished in terms of “sacred” and “profane” knowledge, or “revelation” and “reason”, or “revealed truth” and “man-made truth”, the latter always being of a lower order of truth, as is implied in the very meaning of the word “fact” — a thing made (as in “factory”, or “manu-facture”), therefore a fact is a “creature”. It was probably Galileo who set the tone for a disastrous confusion of truth with fact and an illicit reduction of truth to fact, which was the controversy he had with the Church. The contest has been largely mythologised as the struggle of an heroic free-thinker with ecclesiastical dogmatists, or the early struggle of a young Age of Reason against the decrepitude of an Age of Faith. But that really wasn’t the issue. More recent critical scholarship has dispensed with the mythologising and corrected the historical record, finding Galileo was truly in the wrong (Owen Barfield’s Saving the Appearances: A Study in Idolatry and Wade Rowland’s Galileo’s Mistake: The Archaeology of a Myth).
“Ego consciousness must now be familiarized with its roots, or it will turn into something else.” Without bearing in mind a distinction between “truth” and “fact”, between “sacred” and “profane” forms of truth, or between revelation and deductive reasoning, this statement can’t be interpreted at all, let alone acted upon. The consequence of this confusion is now “the unnecessary war between reason and intuitive knowledge”, or, in other terms used by Percival, between “the body-mind” and “the feeling-and-desire mind”. The situation has become so dire, in fact, that even Einstein, who knew and valued the difference, felt compelled to draw attention to it repeatedly and insistently. “Imagination is more important than knowledge”, or, (thanks to alexjay’s reminder in an recent comment), “The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.” How is Einstein’s statement different at all from Seth’s full statement about the problem of a rootless ego-consciousness?
Ego consciousness must now be familiarized with its roots, or it will turn into something else. You are in a position where your private experience of yourself does not correlate with what you are told by your societies, churches, sciences, archaeologies, or other disciplines. Man’s “unconscious” knowledge is becoming more and more consciously apparent. This will be done under and with the direction of an enlightened and expanding egotistical awareness, that can organize the hereto neglected knowledge–or it will be done at the expense of the reasoning intellect, leading to a rebirth of superstition, chaos, and the unnecessary war between reason and intuitive knowledge.
The answer is, they aren’t different at all. The rootlessness of the ego-mind is the narcissistic condition that has become, in our time, a crisis of consciousness. And it is the common conviction of Seth, of Einstein, of Jean Gebser, of Friedrich Nietzsche that unless remedied soon, this rootless condition of the ego-consciousness — this “unnecessary war between reason and intuitive knowledge” that is the soul of self-contradiction — will result in a global catastrophe, if such isn’t already upon us.
And that will be the subject of the next post as I delve more deeply into the overall significance of Seth’s remarks.