The Symbolic and the Diabolic

It’s time, I think, to revisit a theme that I made central to the concerns of the old Dark Age Blog, the predecessor to The Chrysalis. Here, in weighing and assessing the respective powers of  the symbolical and diabolical, we are at the very crux of things — of creation and destruction, integration and disintegration, affirmation and negation, eros and thanatos, the formal and the informal, time and eternity, and the finite and the infinite.

This is the play of the symbolic and the diabolic. In speaking of the symbolic power or force, we are referring to the integrative or creative tendency (which is called the “cosmic”). In speaking of the diabolic power or force, we are referring to the disintegrative or destructive tendency which moves in the contrary direction (which is called “chaos” or “nihil”). These can, in some fashion, be compared to centripetal and centrifugal force.

The word “symbol” is derived from Greek syn (together) and ballein (to cast, to throw). The symbol builds a bridge, in other words, It brings into relation things that are apart. This is the meaning of the “dia-” prefix. Dia-bolic is the contrary tendency — to separate, to thrust apart, to divide, to segregate, having the meaning of inhibit or to cast obstacles in the way or across. While the symbolic aims for unity and integration, the diabolic acts in the exact contrary direction, towards disunity, segregation, and fragmentation.

This the words themselves declare as their own meaning. The symbolic says “I am unity and concord”. The diabolic says “I am strife and discord”.

A true symbol builds a bridge that links the things of time with the timeless, that is to say, eternity. Or we may put it this way, too. A symbol seeks to form a bridge between the mortal and the immortal, healing the apparent dichotomy of Being divided against itself in apparent self-contradiction. The symbol forms, in other words, a bridge you can cross over between the existential and the transcendental. Or, to put that another way, between all that is temporal and time-bound with the non-temporal or timeless.

This non-temporal or timeless is called “the ever-present origin” or “beginningless beginning”. It is also called “emptiness” or “the Big Empty” because it is formless.

It is, nonetheless, your true home. The symbol may be considered a token, a map, or an invitation to the Prodigal Son to return home to the source in the transcendental, to awaken really to the transcendental that is already implicit and latent in the existential. That’s what the symbol signifiies — the coincidentia oppositorum of the finite form with the infinite. “Eternity in the hour”, as William Blake put it. “Nirvana and samsara are the same”.

The diabolical condition is, of course, what Buddhism calls “dukkha” — suffering, malaise, apartness, separateness. It is the condition of the Prodigal Son, who is the human ego-nature living in disintegrate or dismembered state, a parable of the journey into pain and back again to re-membrance. This “re-membrance” is the function of the true symbol.

And it is often in the worst depths of the diabolic condition (the disintegrative) that the symbol then acquires its greatest power of redemption and its meaning, forming a bridge once again between the existential and the transcendental, or between the temporal and “the ever-present origin”. That’s the paradox of it.

That seems to be our present situation in this, our present “Kali Yuga”. The paradoxical double-movement of the symbolic and the diabolical (or what we call now our “two centuries of nihilism”).

The theory of integral consciousness is simply the conviction that the redeeming power of the symbolic is now beginning to assert itself over the diabolical (which William Blake called “Analytics”).

But, it’s important to bear in mind that the symbol is essentially concerned with time, and about the relationship of time to eternity.


2 responses to “The Symbolic and the Diabolic”

  1. Christopher says :

    Well said about the symbolical and diabolical powers! It helped me to understand my fundamental theology course. Thank you!
    My doubt: what is the connection between Kali Yuga and this paradoxical double movement?
    Looking forward for the explantion. Once again thank you for the post!

    • Scott Preston says :

      Very pleased you found something useful in the post. The “double-movment” is a theme I cover quite a bit in the blog (“disintegration/integration” , “coherence/incoherence (or decoherence)”, or sense and nonsense in other terms (these are all parallelisms). If the Yugas or Ages are thought of as cyclic, the Kali Yuga is the nadir of the cycle. But at the bottom of the cycle, the movement begins again “upwards”. This is one way to think of the double-movement, but there are other ways of expressing it. Here’s one I recommended yesterday in a comment from the quantum physicist David Bohm.

      Another way of thinking of the double-movement is as cosmic process or chaotic process — as a coincidence of opposites of these two.

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