The Guardians of the Four Directions

Carlos Castaneda’s teacher, the Yaqui Indian “sorcerer” he called don Juan Matus, once described to Castaneda what he called “the four natural enemies of the man of knowledge“. The four enemies are fear, clarity, power, and old age. I also refer to these as the sometime forms of “The Guardians of the Four Directions”, for they do, indeed, map to the Sacred Hoop and to Rosenstock-Huessy’s “cross of reality” as well. They are also quite paradoxical, being both enemies and yet benefactors.

They also, in an uncanny sort of way, describe the stages, or phases, in the rise and fall of civilisations. In his historical work on the modern revolutions called Out of Revolution: Autobiography of Western Man, Rosenstock-Huessy showed how each of the four principal European revolutions of the Modern Era — the Lutheran (or German) Revolution, the English Glorious Revolution, the French Revolution, and the Russian Revolution — conformed to the pattern or the directions of his “cross of reality”, as phases or stages in the unfolding and shaping of the Modern Age and its particular structure of consciousness.

What I want to do with this post is show how these “four enemies” really do describe the phases, or certain eras, in the life-cycle of the Modern Age, and perhaps of any age — or the life of any individual for that matter — and what this might mean in terms of “post-modernity”.

So, I would ask you once again to bear in mind the symbolism of the indigenous Sacred Hoop and its four directions as well as Rosenstock-Huessy’s completely comparable “cross of reality” with its directions as times past and future, and spaces inner and outer.

Sacred Hoop /Medicine Wheel

Rosenstock-Huessy’s Basic Cross of Reality

Two of the four enemies of the man of knowledge (or Guardians), fear and old age, map to the polarities of the time axis, as beginning and ending, or origin and destiny. This would be the East and West directions of the Sacred Hoop, as the place of the rising sun and the place of the setting sun. The two other enemies or Guardians, are clarity and power, and these clearly map to the subjective and objective or inner and outer fronts of the space axis, or the North and South directions of the Sacred Hoop.

My task here, though, is to show how these phases unfolded, in lawful succession, in the development of the Modern Era, and why this development is now concluded in “post-modernity”.

Fear is the phase we call “the Renaissance”, for it was, indeed, a fearful time, born out of the decay and decadence of the waning of the Middle Ages and the disintegration of Christendom into sectarianism and schism. Anything new, strange, and unknown arouses and incites fear, often reactionary fear and anxiety — the Inquistion, witch-hunt, the pursuit of “heretics” of all kinds. So, the first thing to note about the birth of the Modern Age is that it was born in fear and anxiety, the “first enemy”.

The second phase, and the second enemy of the man of knowledge, is clarity. This the subjective response and it is represented in Rene Descartes, Francis Bacon, and the European Enlightenment. From the discovery of the third dimension and its effective representation in art as perspective during the Renaissance, we move to the intellectual mastery of space by thought — the phase called “conquest of nature”. As we have noted before, here, for example, is Leonardo’s depiction of the “perspective eye”

da Vinci: The Pyramid of Vision

And here is Descartes’ own illustration of his “wondrous strange method” for the conquest of nature or the third dimension, which is clearly perspectival, and which most of you will also clearly recognise as the image on The Great Seal of the United States.

The Cartesian “cogito” illustrated by Descartes

From this stage of clarity about purpose represented by the Enlightenment — to become “masters and possessors of nature” — we move to the third stage, power. This is the stage, covering the last two hundred years or 8 generations, represented by the Industrial Revolution. From clarity of the inner (or thought) we move to power over the outer — dangerously obsessed and intoxicated with that power so much, in fact, that like don Juan’s “enemy” it threatens to overwhelm and defeat us.

The fourth phase is Old Age. This is the stage of decline, when the original inspirations that launched the era have exhausted their meanings, values and any further possibility of articulation. This is the stage now called “Late Modernity” or “post-modernity” or “the malaise of modernity” and so on, being characterised by the fragmentation and atomisation of the modern consciousness structure — Gebser’s “mental-rational” — that results in anomie, alienation, social isolation, and “identity crisis”. Symptoms of decay and disintegration include morbidity of the affective life (or “nihilism”), or what Erich Fromm broadly describes as the “necrophilous” in his book The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness.

These are all the same symptoms of decline that characterised the waning of the Middle Ages and the disintegration of Christendom or Holy Roman Empire. This is also the effective meaning of Antonio Gramsci’s definition of the crisis,

The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.

You could also conclude that the four “seasons” of a civilisation described by Oswald Spengler in his Decline of the West are these same four “enemies of the man of knowledge”.

One of the intriguing things about the Renaissance and subsequent developments in the context of the waning of the Middle Ages is that values like “truth”, “reason”, “logic” and “human nature” all underwent a significant disintegration and a mutation. It is here, in these values, that we will undoubtedly detect any new mutation of the human consciousness structure. If there is to be a “New Renaissance”, as some hope, it will emerge because of a “revaluation of values” by which these old understandings of truth, reason, logic, and human nature undergo a transformation, transmutation, or metamorphosis. Because it’s quite evident that, in these times of “post-truth”, “post-rationality” and “identitarianism”, these old values, meanings, and self-understandings have become exhausted and emptied, and have become, as Gebser calls it, “deficient”.

A new logic is certainly in formation presently, and it is quadratic, as befits a four-dimensional cosmos, rather than dialectical as befits a three-dimensional one, and one finds this new logic in Rosenstock-Huessy’s “grammatical method”, in E.F. Schumacher (A Guide for the Perplexed), in William Blake (“fourfold vision”), in Jean Gebser, and in the Sacred Hoop as well.

A four-term logic for a fourfold being living in a four-dimensional cosmos.



12 responses to “The Guardians of the Four Directions”

  1. davidm58 says :

    Will the integral phase follow the same four-fold pattern, but perhaps in a healthier expression?

    First phase: fear – a fearful time, born out of the decay and decadence of the waning of the Modern age and the disintegration of rationalism into post-truth and identitarianism. The disintegration making possible the flowering of the integral phase.

    Second phase: clarity – an integrative diapheniety that recognizes and includes the complete four-fold logic, as well as the healthy expressions of the previous structures of consciousness (archaic, magic, mythic, and mental-rational).

    Third phase: power – moving from the love of power, to the power of love, as Anodea Judith puts it.

    Fourth phase: old age – developing a new relationship with time, where “old age” refers not to decrepitude, but to the wisdom and knowledge that connects to our ever present origin and to a timeless future.

    • Scott Preston says :

      Eldership is the ideal of the fourth phase. At that phase, it’s presumed you have successfully overcome the various temptations of the previous phases and have attained mastery/wisdom. It’s difficult to see how this phase can be achieved without surviving and overcoming the temptations of the previous phases. It’s at this final stage where fear, clarity, power, and old age (death) are all in check, in effect fulfilling and completing the sacred hoop or cross of reality.

      If you listened to the recitation from Castaneda’s book about the four “enemies” that I linked to above, it’s pretty clear that they become “enemies” because of hubris (and enantiodromia). There is command, but no mastery. Mastery only comes with struggle with fear, clarity, power, and old age, and holding them in balance or equilibrium, which is equanimity.

      So, the failure to master fear makes one either timid or reckless. The failure to master clarity makes one over-confident, the failure to master power makes one a bully or a monster. So, the really “mature” phase occurs with the long experience of old age. Evidently, don Juan is describing the integral phase where fear, clarity, power, and old age are all present, yet also constrain each other, so that none becomes hubristic or lop-sided, or what we call “getting carried away”.

      It’s quite likely that this “hubris” is what Gebser thinks of as the “deficient mode” of a consciousness structure, and we can certainly see how the Modern Era did not grow in wisdom precisely because it did not integrate the previous phases in order to reach an authentic maturity. It lost the meaning of fear and became reckless. It lost its clarity of purpose and a measure of skepticism and critical consciousness about itself (it’s “why”) and became arrogant and over-confident. Consequently without the wisdom of fear and clarity, it cannot handle power effectively, and has become intoxicated with it — carried away in the sense don Juan describes, and that’s also connected with its hubris called “denial of death” — a lack of sobriety.

      So, you see how these desirables can revert to enemies through hubris, and why then they are “the Guardians of the Four Directions”. What don Juan is describing, therefore, is Nemesis, which can only be avoided by an authentic integration, ie, by becoming the Sacred Hoop or cross of reality.

  2. Scott Preston says :

    Just wanted to add that the Sacred Hoop./Cross of Reality provides a more satisfying account of our full reality than Wilber’s AQAL model, doesn’t it?

  3. Scott Preston says :

    The English philosopher AC Grayling and I have had a bit of a rocky relationship in the past, (ie, I’ve never found him very sensible. but the feeling was mutual). He has published something in today’s Guardian on democracy and climate change, which I find (once again) a bit flacid, but he does make two points that are quite relevant — the problem of self-interest and of short-termism.

    This is what I want to be understood by the notion of “post-historic man” and the contraction of consciousness into the “point in time” and the reciprocal “point of view”, the former being this “short-termism” and the latter being the self-interest now become “identitarianism”. But unfortunately, apart from noting these matters as a problem, he doesn’t have much of a thought about overcoming them. That’s why I put much more stock in Rosenstock-Huessy’s radiant and expansive “cross of reality” and his quadrilateral logic as the corrective to this contraction of consciousness into the “point”.

  4. Abdulmunem Othman says :

    All the talk of the enemies of man of knowledge in both branches that of the collective and the individual is nice and beautiful but the journey does not stop at the old age phase but it continues after the short-term earth journey to another landscape where the masters and the abusers receive their rewards, other wise it would be an absurd journey if everything is put on hold at the death interregnum. One of the main factor behind the mess we are facing is the negation of the divine check and balance system. The journey is not confined to man but all creatures are participants in fulfilling the errands assigned to them. How little humans know and how stupid of them to deny the liveliness of the cosmos and what in it. The salmon travels against the currents to die in the land of their birth. The land that receives both the dead and the living. What equanimity. If only we know how we think and other creatures think and how ideas are formulated and travel over space and time and how god can accommodate all, as the initiator of the all. I can not think away from god. It is sad the story of those who are living in accumulation forgetting the flow of life. They say humans are the only creatures that deviate from god path.

  5. Dwig says :

    I think the “Four Directions Teachings” site provides an interesting complement to the contributions here. It’s also a testimonial to the resilience and robustness of the Native American character, that after a massive sustained assault on their cultures, that they’ve been able to begin to revitalize their ancestral worldview (consciousness structure?).

    • Scott Preston says :

      Thanks for the link. There is some good information there, although not entirely complete. The virtues associated with the tipi poles is something I learned from my time on the Blackfoot reserve at Brockert, AB, although there was a different number of lodge poles than named by the Cree woman on the site. But, that number “15” has some resonance also with Rosenstock-Huessy’s “12 tones of the Spirit” and he wrote about in I Am an Impure Thinker

      Click to access I-am-an-Impure-Thinker.pdf

      Those 12 tones of the spirit generally correspond to the 12 winds of the Compass Rose (and the Christian disciples) and generally to the lodge poles of the Tipi. But I have also heard that the bone clasps used to hold the tipi together above the doorway are 12, corresponding to twelve virtues or meanings. This I haven’t been able to confirm yet.

      So there is a great deal of resonance between Rosenstock-Huessy’s “cross of reality” and the Sacred Hoop/Medicine Wheel (or teachings of the Four Directions) and also between Rosenstock-Huessy’s idea of the 12 tones of the spirit and the same as found in the indigenous teachings.

  6. Scott Preston says :

    Franklin Foer has written a book called World Without Mind: The Existential Threat of Big Tech. It probably has some connection with what Algis Mikunas also described as “technocratic shamanism”. There’s an excerpt from Foer’s book published in today’s Guardian

    “World Without Mind” also, I believe, has some connection with what we’ve described in the Chrysalis as “post-conscious” (or “post-historic” equally) — the danger of human beings becoming little more than “automatons of reflexes”, and little more advanced in that respect than the amoeba (or the zombie).

    “World without Mind” would be little different from a post-conscious world, and that is what I also fear about Rolf Jensen’s “utopia” of The Dream Society as the ideal of what I earlier described in the Chrysalis as “marketing 3.0” or “spiritual branding” and such names.

    We are already seeing too much of these “automatons of reflexes”, or mindlessness.

  7. Scott Preston says :

    There are intense contradictions, self-contradictions, and double-standards in “post-modernity”. As the Pope rightly said “duplicity is the currency of the day” — a lack of integrity and coherence overall. This is just a small sample of that

  8. Scott Preston says :

    The Jekyll and Hyde problem also extends to Science. Science is divided against itself.

    Peculiar situation where you have one group of scientists trying to undo the pernicious consequences of another group of scientists (or techno-scientists).
    Is there any sense then in speak of “Science” in the singular or as a unified field of activity? Looks pretty schizophrenic, actually.

  9. Charles Leiden says :

    You wrote

    The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.

    There are intense contradictions, self-contradictions, and double-standards in “post-modernity”

    Yes this is happening. Jean Houston echoes that idea

    “There is a lag between the end of an age and the discovery of that end.” she writes.

    Her is a quote from Erich Kahler

    Years may be devoted to saving the life of a single child, while in the field of war technology, rationality juggles the lives of millions of human beings as mere proportional figures. The most daintycomforts are produced alongside colossal
    destructivity. The prevalence of reason in human affairs would presuppose a comprehensive evaluation of all factors, including psychic and generally human
    factors, in a given situation. But in the anarchical condition of an incoherent collective consciousness, functional rationality has reached a point of autonomy
    where it simultaneously serves the most contradictory ends, among them purposes which human reason must regard as monstrous insanity

  10. ardalionanguiano says :

    Mastery only comes with struggle with fearfulness, pellucidity, might, and former(a) old age, and hformer(a)ing them in Libra or vestibular sense, which is equanimity. If only we make love how we imagine and other(a) creatures imagine and how ideas are formulated and travelling over quad and time and how god can oblige all, as the initiator of the all.

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