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),

Indra's Net 2

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.

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12 responses to “The Roots of the Ego Consciousness”

  1. Scott Preston says :

    By the way, the term “ego consciousness” is simply a synonym for Descartes’ “cogito”, or “I think”, or the res cogitans — the thinking thing. So, what Seth means by this “ego consciousness” is this reflexive “I am” or “I think” or even “I walk”

  2. Scott Preston says :

    Also, although I’ll be bringing in Nietzsche later in this discussion of Seth and the rootlessness of the ego-consciousness, it might be worthwhile pointing out here first, that the Dionysian and the Apollonian polarity that figures so prominently in Nietzsche’s philosophy is this distinction between “feeling-and-desire mind” and “the body-mind” or, equally, the intuitive or deductive, or the musical and the dialectical. But this will become more pertinent when I turn to discussing what Seth refers to as “the ancient force”, which is the Dionysian factor, and which Jean Gebser calls “the archaic” consciousness.

    So, I am working towards an integration of these perspectives, which I think will culiminate in a surprising conclusion (at least, it did to me) — that the “transition” from the “human” to the “transhuman” also anticipated by Seth, Gebser, Nietzsche, Kahler (perhaps) is well underway, despite the pronounced dangers, crises, etc attending it. But that will be prepared for later in the series.

    • srosesmith says :

      The words tree and true are cognates.
      Yes!

    • Scott Preston says :

      This is interesting… particularly Sharon. Just discovered that the name “Dionysus” is connected with the word “tree” through the suffix “nysa”, meaning tree. Some interpretations of the name “Dionysus” are given to mean “he who impels the (world)tree”. Some of his bynames are “Endendros” (“he of the tree”) and Dendrites (“he in the tree”), and so the cult of Dionysus was closely associated with trees or forest. As Dionysus Agrios, he is “the wild”. There’s an extensive article on his attributes in Wikipedia. Compare his role with that of Apollo (also in Wikipedia) — a complex relation that I’ll be exploring in the posts on Nietzsche and Seth, Einstein, Blake, etc. But the discovery of Dionysus association with tree — that was a surprise to me.

      Hope you get this.

  3. amothman33 says :

    It is very interesting, Ibn Arabi spoke about the sisterhood of the palm tree to Adam and its auntship to people. The story of the crow teaching Cain how to bury his murdered brother is well-known. Nothing is disconnected.

    • Scott Preston says :

      Yes. Ibn Arabi’s view of the kinship of man and tree is indeed in the same vein as don Juan’s. Of course, there is the physiological similarity of the spinal column and nervous system branching to the tree-form, which may suggest shared identity. A similar conception is Goethe’s “Urpflanze” or Archetypal Plant. That seems to be the key here: biologists deal with “prototypes” and discover kinship through the prototype. But the “shamanistic” or magical vision — such as Blake, ibn Arabi, Goethe, don Juan, etc — perceives the archetypal form primarily, and accords it higher value and more immediate reality, than the prototype.

    • Scott Preston says :

      A further thing to observe about the perceived kinship of man and tree, and the resemblance of the spinal column to a tree, is that in Yoga, the kundalini energy rises up the spinal column like sap rises in the tree, and so a basic affinity exists in that respect between man and tree, one of more immediate and vital interest than descent from distant and remote primate prototypes. That sense of human affinity with the tree is immediate and direct, timeless in a way, requiring no drawn-out narrative of evolution. The man of insight feels immediate kinship with the tree, and has no need of a narrative to justify or explain it.

    • Scott Preston says :

      Another thought just occurred to me. There is a tradition amongst North American aboriginal tribes that one has to ask permission of the trees before entering a forest — either to pass through or to take timber. Then one has to wait until the forest gives, by way of a sign, its assent or blessing.

  4. amothman33 says :

    Thank you Scott for these refreshing thoughts. There is a verse in the Quran which states that the human is a plant of the earth. There is also the story of the bird that conveyed the story of Sheba to Solomon. The human kinship is not confined to plants, but include animals and everything. Our relations to air ,to water, to fire and to dust. The water feels me as I feel it. The story never stops.

  5. Scott Preston says :

    So, to what extent does the affinity of tree and human extend? Here’s a strange story from today’s Windsor Star (Windsor Ontario) about a woman and a tree that I happened to come across this evening

    http://blogs.windsorstar.com/2013/07/05/woman-dies-after-sharing-story-of-growing-old-with-willow-tree/

    • srosesmith says :

      That’s wonderful, Scott! I vaguely remember some reference to that in Jung (or in one of the Jungians) somewhere. Looking forward to what you’re further putting together!

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