Hieros Gamos and “the Greek Mind”.

Rosenstock-Huessy railed against the domination of Western consciousness by “the Greek Mind” — Greek rationalism, that is, or mainstream philosophy from Parmenides onwards. He made a pointed exception for Heraclitus, to whom he paid homage as being “the Greek Buddha”. The Greek Mind didn’t comprehend Heraclitus, who was called “Heraclitus the Dark” or “Heraclitus the Obscure”. But everything from Parmenides onwards Rosenstock considered a mistake, including its influence on Christianity via St. Paul, who was a Pharisee. (He also held that Christianity was now in transition from the Pauline Era to the Johannine Era — less “religion”, more “spirituality” as it were).

And, indeed, as mentioned in the last post, there is this curious fact of this Greek world — the cosmogenesis of the Greek world and mind begins with a rape and in an act of violence. The Greek cosmos begins with the story of the Sky Father, Uranus, and Earth Mother, Gaia, locked in sexual union. The Earth Mother groaned under the embrace of Uranus and pleaded for release from his oppressive and suffocating embrace, to which her son, the Titan Chronos, (or Cronus), responded by castrating the Sky Father with a scythe, thus effecting the violent separation of Earth and Sky. (Blake’s Zoa “Urizen” may have some connection with the name “Uranus”). Chronos’ act may have been the first vivisection. (Chronos is almost certainly the source for the common image of Death with its scythe).

In fact, Blake has a poem called “Earth’s Answer” that seems to recall the oppression of the Earth by Uranus – Urizen still

Earth rais’d up her head,
From the darkness dread & drear.
Her light fled:
Stony dread!
And her locks cover’d with grey despair.
Prison’d on watry shore
Starry Jealousy does keep my den
Cold and hoar
Weeping o’er
I hear the Father of the ancient men
Selfish father of men
Cruel, jealous, selfish fear
Can delight
Chain’d in night
The virgins of youth and morning bear.
Does spring hide its joy
When buds and blossoms grow?
Does the sower?
Sow by night?
Or the plowman in darkness plow?
Break this heavy chain,
That does freeze my bones around
Selfish! vain!
Eternal bane!
That free Love with bondage bound.
Cronus with his symbol the Scythe

Cronus with his symbol the Scythe


I believe that ancient cosmogenesis myths still underwrite and buttress much that is called “rationalism”. It’s not difficult to see in this cosmogenesis also the origins of the analytical approach including the symbol of the scythe, the castration, and the separation of the whole into its parts. And this narrative of origin in violation and violence needs to be contrasted with the origin narrative of Genesis, which is not a rape or an act of separation, but a marriage and a union of God and the Void through the inseminating Word. Hence “God is love” and the union of God and the Void is the “sacred marriage”.  The Judeo-Christian cosmos begins as an act of love, while the Greek cosmos begins in an act of violence and aggression. It is this distinction which, I believe, lies at the root of the difference between the Christian and the pagan world views (although there is an implicit connection also between Jesus with his “sword” — i.e, “I come not to bring peace but a sword…” — and Chronos with his scythe).

(And as Jill Bolte-Taylor put it in her TED talk, “which would you choose?”)

The Void is the Great Mother, waiting for her husband. From the union of God and the Void, through the inseminating Word, springs all things, all creatures. This is the primal hieros gamos or “sacred marriage” that becomes the precedent for all marriage, and is carried on by the Hermetic Philosophy and in William Blake,


hieros gamos II

The Hermetic Hieros Gamos


“Where man is not, nature is barren” is Blake’s own interpretation of the hieros gamos and reflects the idea of Genesis as a marriage, rather than a separation. And what that means is, that the presumption that “nature” or the Earth could continue on very well thank-you, or even better, without human consciousness hanging around is quite wrong-headed, and is simply an error of the dichotomising attitude that McGilchrist associates with a deficit of right-hemispheric attention (or the hyperactivity of the left-hemisphere mode of attention).

These different origin myths continue as the subtext of contemporary controversies, most especially evolutionary versus creationist narratives. Recently, I was reading of yet another one that appeared in The Guardian. The error of both narratives, which is really the absurdity of both narratives, is that both treat these cosmogenesis narratives of origin as if they were primitive scientific texts about the origins of physical reality. They weren’t the least bit concerned with that, but with the origins of meaning, and which is, of course, the very thing that much natural and social science is the least interested in. In principle and by establishment, contemporary natural science does not deal with the “why” of things, but only the “how” of things. And as McGilchrist has pointed out, the issues of “why” or “how” are associated with the predilections of the two modes of attention of the brain hemispheres. In effect, where Thomas Berry speaks of “The Great Work” as the “communion” of the human and non-human worlds, or the “mutual presence” or mutual presentiation of the human and the natural, he’s speaking to the same hieros gamos, just as much as Blake’s “Where man is not, nature is barren”. What human consciousness brings to the natural world is that same sort of meaning or intentionality that the artist brings to a bare stone or a raw block of wood and sees in it something implicit, something that wants to be emancipated from the blank stone or the rough block of wood — it’s fulfillment in meaning.

“Meaning”, of course, corresponds to what McGilchrist calls “the implicit”, the perception of which is associated with the predilections of the first attention (right-hemisphere).

Of course, there are evolutionists and creationists who have become somewhat more sophisticated in their interpretations of these matters than the ordinary, everyday controversialists reported in the press, and that the meaning of “creation” or “evolution” is more paradoxical and ambiguous than the fundamentalist or the reductionist like to admit (or even can admit). And it’s here where the Hermetic Philosophy, with its principles of the hieros gamos and the coincidentia oppositorum (the paradoxical) hits its stride today. I think it can be appreciated that the Hermetic Philosophy (and in its chief expression as alchemy) was attempting to overcome the dichotomy of the divided brain.

Whatever one thinks of Nietzsche’s pagan “blonde beast” and his “will to power”, there’s no question but that it fed into Nazism’s own neo-paganism and its myth of origin in an act of violence. And the fact that so many institutional Christian Churches — Catholic and Protestant both — went along with this is certainly testimony to the degeneration of Pauline Christianity as well as the implicit problem of “the Greek Mind”. Things are often interconnected in very subtle ways.

“Make love. Not war”, the slogan of the hippies, seems quite trite on the surface. But how much depth of history is summarised in that! Undoubtedly, those who espoused it didn’t really understand the depth of cosmogenetic myths that informed it in that way. The distinction between the Christian view of Genesis and the pagan Greek view of Genesis are both implied in it, demonstrating still that Genesis is not as remote from our consciousness as we tend to think but is, as Gebser insists, “ever-present”.

Certainly, I think Rosenstock-Huessy is correct in thinking that “the Greek Mind” is something that needs to be overcome, because to follow its dominating logic to the end is to end in a very unhappy place which is, in McGilchrist’s terms, the lop-sidedness of the hypertrophy of the awareness of the brain’s right-hemisphere and the hyperactivity of the brain’s left-hemisphere. Rosenstock-Huessy believes that the Greek Mind ran into error (an error we are re-committing) because it did not understand the “we” person of grammar as anything but an aggregate of separate “I’s” rather than as an integral, and in those terms made any kind of “communion” or authentic fellowship impossible, and consequently, any kind of integrality was foreclosed on it. And you may note in that respect something significant about Jill Bolte-Taylor’s TED talk as well, when she remarks “these are the “we” inside of “me””.

That’s the hieros gamos.



3 responses to “Hieros Gamos and “the Greek Mind”.”

  1. abdulmonem says :

    It is the story of coitus again,well-expressed through the narrations of both paganism and monotheism. In both cases, it is faith that runs wrongfully astray in one story and runs rightfully straight in the other. It is the story of humanity ever since the beginning. It started with the refusal of the devil to respect Adam, thus refusing to obey the divine command and on that heeling the human stories continued to be displayed on that divisive paths. Those who imitate the devil image and those who imitate the divine image. In short there is those who believe in a divine plan and those who deny such plan, like the devil who refused the command. Life is a process of fulfilling the command or disobeying the command And it is not in the capacity of the human to change that divine setup, the only thing he can do is making himself obey the command and induce others to follow suite without compulsion. In actuality we are all undergoing such process.

  2. Scott Preston says :

    Blake’s “dark Satanic Mill” and Fukuyama’s “end of history” are the same. I’ve just decided that they are the same. And the “objective” realisation of this is the Anthropocene. The Anthropocene is the dominion of Urizenic Man.

    Which is what? Well, it is as McGilchrist characterised it — the self-referentiality and tautological dynamic of discursive (or recursive) rationality associated with the left-hemisphere of the brain, and the deficit of right-hemispheric function, and this accounts, I think, for the contemporary fascination with the Zombie meme. Urizenic Man is the mind closed in upon itself in a “system”, and this is “end of history” and “Anthropocene” and “dark Satanic Mill” all at once. This is also Gebser’s “deficient mode” of the mental-rational (or logico-mathematical) and “loss of the vital centre”. It looks like an Escher print, doesn’t it?

    OK. Next question. What to do about it? And I mean, at the socio-historical level rather than the individual level. We know what we must do at the individual level — nothing, ie, stop the windmills of the mind and mental-merry-go-round by silencing the Monkey Mind — become empty, as Rumi puts it. But at the social and political level?

    Goedel’s Incompleteness Theorem suggests that the bubble will burst by the pressure of factors extraneous to the system itself — the unpredicted, the anomalous, the “revenge effect” and so on. In the absence of any “exits”, something external to the system will have to make an entrance, which I’m sure will come as a big surprise and a shock — the “shock of the real”, as it were. Something like Jill Bolte-Taylor’s brain haemorrhage.

    Climate change seems to fit the bill for Goedel’s anomalous, extraneous factors — even as haemorrhage.

  3. abdulmonem says :

    It is nice to move toward flashes of clarity, On the micro level, emptying to be filled with new water, on the macro level something external will have to make an entrance. Both movements are in an interacting course, heading toward the origin.

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