“Winter is Coming”: Myth and History and Mytho-history

Some of you may be Game of Thrones aficionados. For my part, it’s one of the most curious things I’ve ever seen — the magical, the mythical, and the historical all mixed up, pretty much as it really is in post-modernity. Despite being “fantasy” it is, in many ways, brutally realistic about the human condition. I see Game of Thrones as a metaphor for a world going through “chaotic transition”. There are already a lot of places on Earth today where it is not fantasy, but the daily reality. “Winter is coming!” has even become something of a meme among those who already feel or sense that we are on the brink of succumbing to a new Dark Age.

Winter is Coming, and so is the rule of the Night King and his army of the dead. In Game of Thrones, winters can last a thousand years — a millennium. It’s an odd number, because it seems to be connected with the Book of Revelation, the Second Coming, and the “1,000 year reign of Christ”, only, in Game of Thrones its rather the threat of the 1,000 year reign of the Night King, who is evidently not only an image of the Anti-Christ, but also of Yeats’ “rough Beast” of “The Second Coming“. Game of Thrones does, in some ways, follow the pattern of Yeats’ poem, and is, in that sense, somewhat ominous.

One of the tasks that the Modern Mind set for itself was to purge history proper of all its mythical elements and references as being, in the main, either lies or superstitions, or as being, in effect, “false memory”. That was a tall order actually, since history and myth very often intersect and interpenetrate. One thousand years is as much a mythic notion as it is a measure of historical time. Winston Churchill insisted that the British Empire would last 1,000 years. Hitler insisted that the Empire of the Third Reich would last 1,000 years. Their boasts were empty, but it’s not difficult to see the connection between that hubris and the promise of the 1,000 year reign of Christ.

A millenium also appears, curiously, in Jean Gebser’s writings. His anticipation of the “irruption” of the new integral consciousness structure — a new Renaissance as it were — he admits could be abortive, in which case, it may have to wait another 1,000 years. Yet, even according to Gebser, if the emergence of the new integral consciousness is abortive, it is very likely to be the end of us anyway. We won’t have a 1,000 years to try again.

“….if we do not overcome the crisis it will overcome us; and only someone who has overcome himself is truly able to overcome. Either we will be disintegrated and dispersed, or we must resolve and effect integrality. In other words, either time is fulfilled in us — and that would mean the end and death for our present earth and (its) mankind — or we succeed in fulfilling time: and this means integrality and the present, the realization and the reality of origin and presence. And it means, consequently, a transformed continuity where mankind and not man, the spiritual and not the spirit, origin and not the beginning, the present and not time, the whole and not the part become awareness and reality. It is the whole that is present in origin, and originative in the present.” (the Preface to The Ever-Present Origin, pp. xxvii-xxviii)

That doesn’t sound like Gebser expects us to have a second chance if we get it wrong.

In Game of Thrones, ice and fire, darkness and light, chaos and order  — the Night King and the Mother of Dragons — are moving towards a decisive confrontation. We don’t yet know how that will unfold or what the outcome will be, although we can anticipate from clues like magic swords and dragonglass, that there will be a happy ending and Light will prevail over Darkness and the Mother of Dragons will prevail over the Night King and his army of the undead. Maybe not. Daenerys Stormborn may be “the Unburnt”, but perhaps not the Unfrozen.

I suspect many people find The Game of Thrones fascinating because they sense we are, collectively, in this same situation. Winter is Coming along with the Night King and his zombie army and his threat of a “1,000 year reign” and we don’t know how to handle this or what the outcome will be — the denouement. Will “the Lord of Light” and his very flawed servants prevail, or will everyone end up as fresh recruits in the Night King’s zombie army?

Myth is intersecting again with history and in quite peculiar ways — as mytho-history. That would probably drive Plato nuts. It was Plato who radically separated the mythos from the logos. If the mythopoeic consciousness dare not “suffer a witch to live”, the mental-rational consciousness dare not suffer a poet to enter the blessed Elysian Fields of Plato’s Academy and the realm of Pure Reason. And despite all subsequent attempts to purge mind and history of its mythic and magical elements, they keep recurring and intersecting with what we are pleased to call “reality”.

A lot of people also find this renascence of myth and magic very upsetting. Others are exploiting it for sinister and nefarious purposes — “spiritual marketing” or “holistic branding” or “marketing 3.0” as they call it, all with the aim of engineering “branded behaviours”, fresh recruits for the Night King’s zombie army, as it were. “Winter is Coming!” is a metaphor for what Revelation calls “the abomination of desolation”.

Often myth is truer of ourselves and our reality than is history. These things must not be confused, though. Our world and our reality can be described in terms of a set of logico-mathematical relations (the mental-rational consciousness). It can also be described in terms of poetics and as a vast network of symbolic forms (mythical or mythopoeic consciousness). And it can be described in holographic terms, too (magical consciousness). Why do we think it must conform to one or the other? All are needed, in their proper place and in their proper time. Knowing where and when they are appropriate (and therefore “effective”) and where and when they are completely inappropriate (and therefore “deficient”) is very much implicated in what Gebser calls “time-freedom” and “fulfilling the times”.

That’s for a rather obvious reason: the logico-mathematical (or mental-rational), the symbolic (or mythopoeic) and the magical (or technical) all function within different spatio-temporal frameworks. Time is not uniform. There is mental-rational time (clockwork time), mythical time, and magical time, and they are quite variable. That’s because, as Augustine put it, “time is of the soul”, and the soul is quite multiform. The soul is a vast ecology in its own right — an ecology of moods, archetypes, personalities, potencies, and faculties, some not even developed and expressed yet. And the more we come to think in ecological terms, the more that latent ecodynamics of the soul can manifest itself.

This is easily proved, actually. It’s the recurrence of the number 12. It’s ubiquitous — the 12 signs of the zodiac, the 12 winds of the compass rose, the 12 disciples, the 12 tones of the spirit, the twelve gods of high Olympus, etc, etc. These are, actually, the soul’s self-portrait which it paints onto the external world. And if we weren’t such narcissists, we could read them easily.

We need, in other words, “steps to an ecology of soul” as much as we need “steps to an ecology of mind” (Bateson).

 

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10 responses to ““Winter is Coming”: Myth and History and Mytho-history”

  1. Scott Preston says :

    Actually, after all that I forgot to mention even why I posted about this.

    If you look deeper into issues like “fake news” and “false memory” you’ll discover that “beneath” them are what Gebser would describe as “deficient” forms of the mythical and magical, ie, “decadent” forms of the mythical and magical. Jung described much the same thing in that film I linked to earlier called “The Heart of the Matter”.

    Today humanity, as never before, is split into two apparently irreconcilable halves. / The psychological rule says that when an inner situation is not made conscious, it happens outside, as fate. / That is to say, when the individual remains undivided and does not become conscious of his inner contradictions, the world must perforce act out the conflict and be torn into opposite halves. / C.G. Jung 1959

    And as regards false mythologising, as it applies to either history or biography too.

    Biographies should show people in their undershirts. Goethe had his weaknesses, and Calvin was often cruel. Considerations of this kind reveal the true greatness of a man. This way of looking at things is better than false hero worship! / G.G. Jung, 1946

  2. Kellynn says :

    Hi, Scott. I’m trying to get a grasp on some terminology here, as I haven’t yet read the likes of Gebser and Rosenstock-Huessy. How is the magical both “technical” and “holographic”?

    • Scott Preston says :

      Yes, it helps to familiarise yourself with Gebser and his typology of civilisations as “consciousness structures” — the archaic, the magical, the mythical, and the mental-rational.

      Let’s start with the “holographic” and magic. Magic is characterised by “pars pro toto” — the part contains the whole. Eg. Manipulating someone’s hair or fingernails is the same as manipulating the whole person. That’s a “holographic” conception of reality. The part stands for the whole.

      Magic is concerned with will and with power. It’s implied even in the very meaning of the word “magic” which is related to German “Macht” (might) and machen (to make, to do) and “Make” (but also “majesty” or “mage”, “magister”, as well as a host of other words). Magic is concerned with “making happen”. Although the Greek word for magic is “magikos”, the word “techne” (the Art or the Skill) was also used for magic. Magic is very concerned with technique.

      It’s not surprising, then, that you find many contemporary authors very concerned about the conflation and confusion of magical thinking and technology: just to mention a few: Robert Romanyshyn’s Technology as Symptom & Dream; Peter Stirk’s Technology as Magic: The Triumph of the Irrational; Lee Worth Bailey’s The Enchantments of Technology. Algis Mikunas’s essay “Magic and Technological Culture” (in Consciousness and Culture) as well as a few others — Jacques Ellul in some respects. Mikunas introduced the term “technocratic shamanism” to describe the conflation of technology and magic — in practices like “perception management” and such matters. We’ve explored “technocratic shamanism” quite a bit in earlier posts in The Chrysalis.

  3. abdulmonem says :

    In a world of diversified visions, different people view what matters differently. This is the tragedy of humanity. The story of the pairs that permeates everything, the paradoxical pairs that keeps life running.Thinking process is not a mechanical additive process but a flowing process in a bigger flowing process or fields, some called it holographic and some morphic and I called it the divine field,from which everything start and to him return.It is a question of recognition of ourselves and our place in this cosmos and our attention and how it is placed. As there is a world of quantity ,there is a world of quality and there are those who place their attention in the world of quantity and those people of quality. Consciousness is given to help humans to find their path, with the guidance that quality is the goal in the world of given quantity reminding them not to forget to taint their character with the odor of quality, without losing their share from the world of quantity. It is a balancing game in a balanced cosmos that demands human balance for the sake of the humans themselves. We are drinking the bitterness cup of falsifying the divine narrative, denying that god has sent messengers with his words to guide humanity. My word flow is from his word flow, without forgetting the word flow of those who connected their flow with his flow. It is a process of freeing ourselves from the boxes in which we have been born, in order to create our unique spiritual accomplishment knowing that our physicality is here to serve our spirituality.

  4. Dwig says :

    This post reminds me of the Cherokee’s story I mentioned in a comment to the last post, the one about the fight of the “two wolves” representing the light and shadow. Imagine if “Game of Thrones” were to take a different tack and, instead of a “final confrontation”, depict a recognition and reconciliation between the light and shadow? (I can imagine the howls of indignation from those mentally feasting on the Game as it is.)

  5. Dwig says :

    Another reaction: I’ve been following the “Waging Nonviolence” website, hosted by George Lakey. A major theme of the posts there relate to confronting interests supported by powers of violence by masses of coordinated, disciplined nonviolent protestors.

    In the this article, Lakey references the Selma civil rights march in which Martin Luther King decided to turn the march around; Lakey suggests that divine inspiration may have been a consideration in King’s decision. This leads to an interesting exchange in the comment section among Lakey, Matt Meyer, and Eileen Flanagan about the roles of rational vs inspirational factors in such cases. Of course, this reminded me of the Master vs Emissary juxtaposition. In turn, “reason is a good servant, but a bad master” popped into my head.

    Back to the theme of site: is nonviolent action, which has had some successes, a noble but doomed idea as industrial civilization comes apart, or one of the “imaginal cells” in the body of the chrysalis?

    • Scott Preston says :

      I suspect you’ll see a mix of responses to the disintegration of industrial civilisation. You’re already seeing that to a degree. Violence will be a factor in it as well.

  6. Charles says :

    I recall Thompson writing that “history is the story of the ego’ and ‘myth is the story of the soul’ One could suggest that history is written by the winners.

    I appreciate what dwig wrote. I feel that nonviolence is and will be the response as it represents the only sustainable response to power. A book- Ignorant Perfection of Ordinary People – Robert Inchausti gives insight about MLK Jr. and what motivated his vision and actions. He was called to respond to the injustice and he did. Inchauti writes and imagines what he calls plebeian postmodernism.

  7. Charles says :

    Here is an article from years ago that is related. https://arclist.org/2016/05/30/winter-is-coming-part-one/

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