“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).