The Horror and the Wonder II

In reference to my earlier post on these subject (“The Horror and the Wonder“) it occurred to me this morning to mention a great book by Erich Neumann entitled The Great Mother: An Analysis of the Archetype. Perhaps some of you are familiar with it or his other really magnificent book The Origins and History of Consciousness? It has been quite some time since I read these works, and I should really dive into them again. They were, as I recall, very wise.

Neumann handles the archetype of The Great Mother in her polar aspects as The Beneficient Mother and as The Terrible Mother, for she is both just as the great goddess Athena, goddess of Reason, is polar in her other aspect as the snake-headed Gorgon — emblematic of the often “paralysing” effects of logic. And might the close association of the words “gorgon” and “gorgeous” indicate an implicit polarity — a coincidentia oppositorum and enantiodromia?

Perhaps The Gorgon was even a preform of the goddess Athena, a kind of Nietzschean “transvaluation of values” indicating a movement of consciousness from the darkness of irreason to the clarity of reason? I don’t know of anyone who might have traced that geneaology of the goddess in such terms, but it might be interesting to do so. In any case, the close association of The Gorgon and Athena — the “eyes” — is even hinted at in this article on The Gorgon. (In Roman mythology, Minerva and Medusa are the counterparts to Athena and The Gorgon).

The aspect of the Goddess called “Terrible Mother” represents the horrors of physical existence. You are probably all familiar with the Terrible Mother as Kali the Devourer, who is the dark side of the Beneficent Mother. She is also called “The Dark” or “The Destroyer”. Kali is the Horror embodied,

Kali the Dark

Kali the Dark

The worship of the goddess Kali is often associated with the Thuggee cult (from which we get our word “thug”), where she is also known by an alternative name as “Bhowanee”. Ritual assassination and human sacrifice was justified as the requirement of blood sacrifice to Kali by some Thuggees, apparently.

The Goddess may therefore appear in three aspects — a trinity — and as having three different names, so that one might become confused thinking there are three separate entities. However, the Dark Mother side has her name and the Beneficent Mother has her name, and the unity of these polar aspects may also go by a third name, such as “Gaia”, in which her ambiguous unity is represented, for she embodies both death and birth, horror and wonder, or the awful and the awesome.

All so-called “archetypes” have this implicit polarity or complementarity, by the way, just as electricity has negative and positive polarity, or what we call “good and evil”, continuously transforming the one into the other by that process called “enantiodromia“. This is, nonetheless, not to be confused with dualism. Polarity (or complementarity) and dualism are different issues, befitting what I call Khayyam’s Caution after the ancient Persian Sufi poet Omar Khayyam: “only a hair separates the false from the true”. Dualism is a distorted understanding of polarity/complementarity and of enantiodromia. The Great Mother, as other “archetypes”, is a paradox because of this polarity. She violates the law of contradiction because she is a paradox, perhaps the most revealing of the archetypes in that regard, in terms of the intersection of horror and wonder.

And in those terms you really can’t do much better in explaining the coincidentia oppositorum of horror and wonder than in reference to The Great Mother archetype, for she truly is the best example of this fundamental paradox of life. The “return of Gaia” may very well imply the acceptance of paradox and coincidentia oppositorum more generally, which would be welcome. It is also connected with Nietzsche’s irruption of the “Dionysian”, or the revolt of the Dionysian against the “Apollonian” intellect. That is to say, what Jean Gebser calls “the irruption” — the re-emergence of the “ancient force” of the so-called “unconscious” reasserting itself in our time.

Very great caution and vigilance is required in the handling of these “Dionysian” energies, which can be very destructive as well as creative, which process is presently referred to as being “creative destruction”, although seemingly perversely interpreted, seeing as it is tipping more towards nihilism and a fascination with the horror and with violence and destruction. That is the crucial role of an enlightened ego consciousness, or what Castaneda’s teacher don Juan called “the warrior’s spirit” — to balance the horror and the wonder.

That’s part of the merits of Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy’s new model of logic. Rosenstock-Huessy realised that a new process of “revolution” was underway, just as Gebser perceived the irruption in our time of a new structure of consciousness. Rosenstock-Huessy thought it best if these newly emerging impulses were guided by enlightened thinking rather than coming as a big, wild chaotic surprise.



2 responses to “The Horror and the Wonder II”

  1. LittleBigMan says :

    Those two books by Erich Neumann are such wonderful and valuable citations. They have become items numbered 407 and 408 on my list of books to read. Thanks entirely to you, I won’t be at a loss as to what I must do when I retire 🙂

    “And might the close association of the words “gorgon” and “gorgeous” indicate an implicit polarity — a coincidentia oppositorum and enantiodromia?”

    I’m not quite sure. I have known some gorgeous women that would make me wish I had met Gorgon instead 🙂 At least sometimes Gorgon and Gorgeous are one and the same. In fact, Gorgeous may be a favorite mask of Gorgon.

    “Very great caution and vigilance is required in the handling of these “Dionysian” energies….”

    Yes, in fact, you mention the main reason for this in the same paragraph. Ego consciousness can be tricked very easily to go from a selfless seeking truth and justice to becoming self-righteous and egotistical. This was, as I have mentioned before, was the main reason for the misery that visited me for several decades.

  2. abdulmonem says :

    The struggle of concepts in the human self is not new, it is the struggle for spiritual growth. In chapter called the home of the spider in the Koran we read .do people think that they are left to say that they have trust in the rules of the universe without being tried and we have tried those who went before, in order to know those who are truthful and those who are liars, and rejoin, do they think they run the world by their rules away from the divine rules, how unwise. It seems it is cycles, tipping up and tipping down, and we are living the down cycle. Time to separate, it is a polarity of horror and wonder and it is for the human to make the choice.

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