The Golden Thread
I give you the end of a golden thread, Only wind it into a ball, It will let you in at Heaven’s Gate Built in Jerusalem’s Wall — William Blake
This clever line from Blake is an allusion to what was known as “the Eye of the Needle”, which occurs in a couple of parables in the New Testament, such as “I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of the needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God”. Tradition has it, and Blake evidently is referring to it, that the Eye of the Needle was the name of a gate in Jersualem’s wall (although no archaeological evidence exists for this). Blake’s “golden thread” passing through Heaven’s Gate in Jersualem’s wall is quite evidently a reference to this same Eye of the Needle. Traditionally, and perhaps significantly in terms of the parable, this narrow gateway called Eye of the Needle was the only entrance into Jerusalem when the main gates were closed for the night. Because the gate was so narrow, any baggage or cargo that the camel carried would have to be unloaded first before the camel could pass through the gate.
In my reading of current literature on consciousness and the state of contemporary society, there are a few common themes emerging, which might be considered strands of this golden thread. It would be worth our while to identify them.
The foremost theme is the emergence of “unconscious knowledge”, mostly of an intuitional character. Jean Gebser refers to this as an “irruption” (which is equally, a disruption). This intuitional or unconscious knowledge is not the abstract, conceptual kind of knowledge of the mental-rational or perspectivising consciousness structure, but living knowledge. Rosenstock-Huessy calls it “survival knowledge”, although “sur-vival” has, in Rosenstock-Huessy’s social philosophy, the special meaning of “trans-cendent” or of “outrunning” decay and nihilism.
The emergence of this unconscious knowledge is both irruptive and disruptive. But because it is living knowledge it is transformative and transfigurative, powerful enough to bring about a “new heaven and a new Earth”. This is, for example, the premise of van den Berg’s “metabletic phenomenology” as adopted by Robert Romanyshyn, and discussed in his essay on “The Despotic Eye” and in his book Technology as Symptom and Dream. It is also the premise of Jean Gebser’s cultural philosophy in The Ever-Present Origin. It is also, significantly, the title of one of Eckhart Tolle’s books – “A New Earth“. The emergence of unconscious knowledge is synchronistically the transformation of the cosmos. This is not just a change of the “world picture” or models or what we call at present a “paradigm shift”. Because consciousness and cosmos are “co-evolutionary” — the term frequently used today — the cosmos physically mutates along with any mutation in consciousness structure. Knowledge of this co-evolutionary character of consciousness and reality is what Blake calls “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell“, nirvana and samsara.
The irruption of this unconscious knowledge, which is being termed “the return of the repressed”, is acknowledged even when not fully understood as such. It’s only recognised in its external or objective effects — the anomalous turn to the magical and the mythical, usually in quite deficient forms, simultaneous with the breakdown or disruption of the perspectivist consciousness structure or the “mental-rational”. Because the irruption and disruption are coincident, the sense of contemporary chaos, madness, and widespread uncertainty (attended by great Angst) is met with different responses.
The sense of disintegration is pretty much universal. It is expressed in the feeling amongst indigenous North Americans that “the Sacred Hoop is broken” (i.e, Black Elk Speaks). At the same time, it is recognised that “mending the Sacred Hoop” — that is, a new integration and return to wholeness — has become pressing.
Our responses to this irruption of strange unconscious knowledge and life are decisive for the fate of the Earth. Those who are aware of the “return of the repressed” — of the return of the “ancient force” of unconscious life and knowledge (Nietzsche’s “Dionysian”) — will seek to integrate that with consciousness. There are those also who are not aware of the meaning of this and respond with great anxiety and anguish, because the return of the repressed feels overwhelming and chaotic — “the Kraken Awakes”, “alien invasions”, “Reptilons”, etc, etc; the free-floating sense of Dread, a sense of “losing it”. This is the “irrational” response, some of it typically associated with “New Age” movements. This is associated with manias and frenzies of all kinds. And there is a third response which apparently Bollas calls a “hostility” or hostile response to “unconscious life”, which is the hyper-rational response — the attempt to preserve the status quo or stay the course by often hostile suppression or more subtle and implicit censoring of everything associated with this “return of the repressed”.
Bewilderment, “wild magic” and the return of the dragon power – the kundalini energy of “the coiled one”. It’s interesting that the attitude to the dragon has changed recently too. Films like Never-Ending Story, Pete’s Dragon, or How to Tame Your Dragon about befriending the dragon power, tussle with more classical and fearsome depictions of the dragon energy like Jurassic Park that recall more the combat of the Christian saints with the dragon power. Godzilla is an ambivalent symbol of the dragon power. Taming the dragon is, however, what William Blake did in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. There are likewise, many images of the Buddha depicting him taming and being protected by the dragon power represented by the cobra. The dragon is a creature of paradox. It may be the most benevolent of creatures or the most terrifyingly destructive. It’s polarity is the basic polarity of all energy.
So, too, the energies unleashed by the return of the repressed can be benevolent or fearsome.
There are more than two responses to the “irruption” of unconscious knowledge in today’s global context. Discounting the apathetic and indifferent, the integrative, the disintegrative, and the suppressive (even in more passive terms of willful neglect) are at least three responses, and they are everywhere today. But in the current American mainstream context, the latter two have coalesced around Trump and Clinton. But this configuration looks the same everywhere, including Canada.
In the present historical and spiritual context, neither a return to an idealised past nor preserving the status quo are adequate responses. In the current context both are deficient responses and even reactionary responses. And even some responses that feign “integralism” or “holism” — like Capitalism 3.0 or “holistic branding” — are disguised attempts to sustain the unsustainable status quo. Come “hell and high water”, which both look to be our literal fate, it seems they will have to run their course to its tragic ending.
It occurred to me after I posted this to relate an anecdote that is, perhaps, illustrative. I have a friend, who is a well know naturalist in these parts and who has written a few books about naturalism, who praises “bewilderment” in his books as benevolent — the return of the wild. Yet his ambiguity about bewilderment is revealed in his frequent escape from it back into the folds of the Catholic Church. He returns to the Church, he retreats from his bewilderment. He leaves the Church and returns to his bewilderment. And so it goes. Like a pendulum. Bewilderment versus civilisation. He’s caught in the apparent duality, when his “bewilderment” becomes frightening, he retreats to the Church. He’s torn between “paganism” and Christianity, and has become the plaything of forces he doesn’t fully understand. When he’s in his “pagan” or bewildered mode, he gives expression to some pretty outlandish things like all that is native is good, all that is non-native is bad (which leads into fascistic thinking), and then he retreats from those dreadful thoughts back into Mother Church.