Myth, Archetype, and Battlestar Galactica
The persistence of the mythical consciousness within us, let alone the ancient magical, and how it continues to influence our everyday decisions and choices in much the same way Jean Gebser describes in The Ever-Present Origin, is the theme of this post. It is quite necessary, in the context of the chaotic transition or post-modernism, that we become aware of the manifestations of the mythical in our environment, and in ourselves also, as an aspect of the return of the repressed. These are quite mythical and magical times if one remains alert and vigilant in detecting their “irruption” into the present.
I’m a fan of good science fiction, and the other day I picked up, cheap, a DVD called Battlestar Galactica. Those of you who own televisions are probably familiar with it, as it was once a television series. I don’t own a television, so it was something new to me. For those not familiar with Battlestar Galactica, I’ll provide a brief description of the plot.
In the far off future, humans have colonised the far reaches of space and so much so that “Earth” — the homeworld — has become a place of legend only, like the Garden of Eden. There are, oddly enough, twelve colonised planets called “The Twelve Colonies of Kobol” and their names are taken from the twelve signs of the Zodiac. The organisation of their societies seems to reflect the usual astrological interpretation of the Zodiac signs.
The Twelve Colonies of Kobol, however, come under attack from a civilisation of artificial intelligences called “Cylons”. The Cylons were created by humans for slave labour and they now bear great enmity towards the human race believing, apparently, that they will not be safe until the human race is entirely exterminated root and branch. So the Cylons launch a surprise attack on the twelve colonies that all but obliterates them. Only a rump of humanity, some 50,000 souls, remains. This rump, their planet colonies destroyed and now fighting for their lives against the Cylons, undertakes a journey through space in search of the fabled planet of origin, Earth.
The Cylons, who are machine-like artificial intelligences, have engineered humanoid versions of themselves, though, and these were used to infiltrate human settlements and are also among the survivors. These humanoid Cylons are biological, however, and their technical programming often conflicts with their biological sentience or body consciousness. In this inner conflict occasionally the biological sentience wins out over the technical programming, and they become Cylon “rebels” who sympathise with, and identify more, with their human enemies that with the Cylons. Some of these humanoids don’t even know that they are Cylons waiting to be activated. The discovery of the existence of humanoid Cylons takes the colonists by surprise.
At the end of the movie, though, in the very last scene, the commander of the Battlestar Galactica receives a mysterious note which reads: “There are only 12 Cylon models.” That’s where the film ends, but it sets the scene for whatever follows in the series, of course — the suspense in the race to discover who are the Cylon infiltrators.
Why twelve Cylon models? I’m not privy to the minds of those who created the story, so I can’t know from where they gleaned the idea that twelve humanoid Cylon models was just the right number. Twelve, though, is a pretty significant number in myth and legend, and one that seems to recur compulsively. As it turns out the twelve humanoid Cylons closely resemble humanoid versions of Jung’s archetypes, as one observant fan of the show discovered. And, uncannily, they also resemble the twelve archetypes of the “post-modern branding” model proposed by Margaret Mark and Carol Pearson in their previously discussed book on branding The Hero and the Outlaw: Building Extraordinary Brands Through the Power of Archetypes.
Now, I’m not suggesting that the creators of Battlestar Galactica got their ideas for 12 humanoid Cylons as twelve archetypes from Mark and Pearson, who in turn took their branding technique from Jung’s archetypal psychology. The show seems to predate the publication of The Hero and the Outlaw. But the resemblance between Mark and Pearson’s pop psychology of “twelve human archetypes” (gleaned from their rather deficient understanding of Jung) and the twelve Cylon models is pretty uncanny. To appreciate the sources of both, we have to delve deeper into the mythical consciousness structure and into a time in history when it was much more transparent, or much more the form of consciousness itself, than it is today with the hegemony of the mental-rational consciousness structure.
We’ve spoken to this in The Chrysalis earlier in discussing the number twelve as mythical number: the twelve winds of the Compass Rose, the twelve apostles of Jesus, the twelve Zodiac signs, the meaning of “dozen”, twelve-tone music, and so on.
The twelve winds were given names as follows (from Wikipedia entry “Classical Compass Winds“. These are the Greek names. The Latins had other names.)
- Aparctias (N) are the “Scythians above Thrace”,
- Boreas (NNE) are “Pontus, Maeotis and the Sarmatians”
- Caecias (NE) is “the Caspian Sea and the Sakas”,
- Apeliotes (E) are “the Bactrians”
- Eurus (SE) are “the Indians”,
- Phoenicias/Euronotos (SSE) is “the Red Sea and “Aethiopia” (prob.Axum)
- Notos (S) are the ” “Aethiopians beyond Egypt” (Nubia)
- Leuconotos/Libonotos (SSW) are “the Garamantes beyond Syrtes”,
- Lips (SW) are “the Ethiopians in the west beyond the Mauroi” (Numidia, Mauri people)
- Zephyrus lie “the Pillars of Hercules and the beginning of Africa and Europe”
- Argestes (NW) is “Iberia or Hispania”
- Thrascias/Circius (NNW) are “the Celts”.
The Compass Rose predates Christianity. It was simply adopted by Christianity as meaningfully representative of the spirit of the twelve apostles. For, recall, in the ancient Latin tongue “wind” “breath” and “spirit” are very often the same word — spiritus.
In an essay entitled “The Twelve Tones of the Spirit”, Rosenstock-Huessy presumed to interpret the significance of this repetition of “twelve” in the ancient myths as twelve stages in a fulfilled life-time. And we may say, too, that these twelve “tones of the spirit” correspond to the human archetypes as also the twelve winds of the Compass Rose. Those stages in a life, presented in order from death to birth, are
Prophet or warner
teacher or educator
leader or legislator
sufferer or perseverer
protester or rebel
critic or analyst
doubter or despondent .
player or singer
learner or wanderer
reader or conceiver
listener or obeyer
These stages or “tones”, as he puts it significantly (given our earlier discussion around The Music of the Spheres and The Jazz of Physics) are presented in reverse order: from death towards birth reading top to bottom. Rosenstock-Huessy justifies this arrangement by noting that in nature, birth precedes death; but in the life of the spirit, death precedes birth.
Now, “The Twelve Tones of the Spirit”, which is included in I Am An Impure Thinker, is a tricky essay to understand. And it’s even trickier if you don’t share Rosenstock-Huessy’s theological perspective. But he has, I think, hit upon something here that may well account for the significance of the number twelve and for interpreting its symbolism as well as the symbolism of the Compass Rose as an image of the circle or cycle of life, inasmuch as the twelve winds are these same “twelve tones of the spirit”, and which are also symbolised by the Zodiac. And they also bear some resemblance with the “twelve Cylon models” in the story. For Rosenstock, these twelve are passages of the spirit through life, but which are only perceived as such from the end of life back towards birth. This manoeuvre, coincidentally, is what Castaneda was taught as “the recapitulation”, where he was required by his teacher, don Juan, to recall the details of his life in reverse order of their occurrence, backwards, in much the same way as Rosenstock insists that the real fullness of the spirit is only realised when a man or woman lives their life backwards from their death to their birth. This is why he presents his “twelve tones of the spirit” in the order that he does.
There is also to be mentioned that the largest sect of Shia Islam is called “The Twelvers” after their belief in “the twelve just imams” which also brings to mind the mandala of the Compass Rose.
This arrangement also hints at what Gebser refers to as a “pre-existing pattern” in the unfolding of consciousness, and so one which may very well be mapped in the Compass Rose, which is, after all, a mandala. I don’t think I am being overbold in suggesting that Rosenstock’s “twelve tones of the spirit” could readily replace the names of the winds of the Compass Rose. Moreover, the Compass Rose bears a notable resemblance to the indigenous Sacred Hoop or Medicine Wheel also,
So, are the humanoid Cylons as “human archetypes” the same “twelve tones of the spirit”? There is certainly a comparison to be made, and I certainly don’t think it was a deliberate and conscious decision to cast them as such. As is frequently the case, the artist is often unaware himself or herself of the deeper currents and undercurrents which drive him or her in the forms of expression. And I think that is the case here with Battlestar Galactica — the mythical poking its head up through the matrix of the mental-rational.
And one other thing, which seems quite uncanny. Recently NASA threw the astrological community into a tizzy by introducing a long forgotten Zodiac sign — the 13th sign — Ophiuchus. By some crazy coincidence, pertinent or no, there is also a 13th Cylon model, hidden or unrealised known only as “the Artist”.
I will probably return to this “twelve tones of the spirit” in later posts, and why it may be more significant than it appears at first blush.