The Inquisition has become symbolic of the irrationalities, disproportionalities, and reactionary paranoias of decaying regimes. The Inquisition was the form of that self-negating, self-devouring logic of the Age of the Church that is revisiting our time as well. It is the shape of the so-called “New Normal”.
In structure and spirit, too, something like the Inquisition recurred during the Industrial Revolution with expansions to the Sedition Laws and the Combination Laws. It was just the same inquistional heretic hunt but now in secular disguise. Law then, too, was driven by the same irrationalities, disproportionalities, and reactionary paranoias as during the waning years of the Holy Roman Empire.
You can anticipate, I think, something similar arising again in these times, and particularly directed at repressing those who challenge, in word or deed, the political and economic orthodoxy, and the growth dogma. In fact, I’ld say that the “New Normal” — post-truth, post-rational, etc — is already preparing the way for the return of “the Rough Beast”, who is, in many respects, William Blake’s “Accuser”.
We like to pride ourselves, as “modern” men and women, that we have escaped those kinds of “primitive” irrationalities. Jean Gebser, for one, has shown how this is delusional and, to a great degree, self-deception. It’s also what Hervey Kleckley referred to as “The Mask of Sanity“. It belongs to those symptoms of morbidity and decay that Gramsci recognised as an aspect of crisis.
New forms of Inquisition are often the main theme of dystopian science fiction. (Orwell’s 1984 or the movie Equilibrium spring to mind as examples. Probably Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale, too, although I’ve never read or seen it). There are foreshadowings of a new Inquisition, in the attempts, for example, to bundle environmental or animal rights activism into the “war of terror”, as “eco-terrorism”. The heresy of the day is to challenge the growth dogma, even though, in truth, most of the “terrorism” has ironically been in the other direction. The facility of the human mind to deceive itself about such matters is quite impressive.
It goes with the territory, though. Any dis-integrative dynamic (or nihilism) will be attended coincidentally with irrationality as a loss of proportionality, a loss of equilibrium and equanimity, a loss of integrity in all things, including our sense of justice and in what constitutes the moderate and the measured response. In biological and physiological terms, it’s called a disruption or loss of homeostasis, which is the formal definition of disease or even “death”.
It’s in the context of the dis-integrative dynamic that Inquisition, in whatever form it assumes, inserts itself as the poison that will cure the disease, even though a review of the history of inquisitions shows that it is no cure at all, but a vector for the disease (or malaise) itself. Nietzsche once noted the irony of that: the essentially healthy always choose the right means to recovery of health, while the truly sick always choose the wrong means, and concluded that this was just in the grand scheme of things. He intended that to be understood as true of societies and civilisations as well as organisms.
But, then again, it is the job of the caterpillar to resist the butterfly. And that is the essential meaning, too, of Nietzsche’s aphorism: “what does not kill me makes me stronger”. It’s essentially true. The persecutions of the Christians in Rome, strengthened the Christians. The persecution of the free thinkers by the Inquisition strengthened the Free Thinkers. The persecution of the working class and the industrial proletariat by the aristocracy and the industrial bourgeoisie strengthened the working class. And in this pattern we see an essential truth of Heraclitus and of William Blake: “strife is the father of all things” or “without contraries there is no progression”.
That’s what we call “coincidentia oppositorum”, but also paradox. That is what is represented, too, in the peculiarities of the chrysalis stage — the contention of the butterfly and the caterpillar, which highlights another of Nietzsche’s aphorisms: one must have chaos in oneself to give birth to a dancing star. Inquisitions are like the caterpillars, and the caterpillar, in the chrysalis stage, is a perfect metaphor for the political reactionary.
Appropriately, though, the butterfly has traditionally been the symbol for the soul or psyche. And that is what Nietzsche also intended to be understood by describing himself as “Herr Vogelfrei” (ie, Mr. “Free-as-a-Bird”) and “the free spirit”.
The double-movement, the paradoxical, the self-contradictory and coincidence of opposites, or the transmutation and metamorphosis and meaning of “chaotic transition” all comes together rather nicely in the metaphor of the chrysalis, doesn’t it? And I suspect that in the simple metaphor of the chrysalis, you’ll discover the real meaning of Blake, Nietzsche, and Gebser, too, and of much that is seeming surreal, absurd, and bizarre about our times. The caterpillar and the butterfly are contending with one another, even though they are still one and the same organism.
it’s what the symbol of the crucible represents in alchemy. It is also a chrysalis, the metamorphosis of the base metal into gold. The double-movement, polarisation, crisis, “chaotic transition”, turbulence, crucible of change, the role of imaginal cells in the metamorphosis of caterpillar into butterfly, or lead into gold — all come together harmoniously in the symbol of the chrysalis — even paradox and paranoia.
There’s an intimate connection, too, between Nietzsche’s “free spirit” and Jean Gebser’s “time-freedom” coincident with “the integral consciousness” or “diaphainon“. That which must undergo a death, and a resurrection from death, is also represented in the chrysalis — a renaissance. We are going to undergo many trials and tribulations during the chaotic transition. But if you keep the symbol of the chrysalis in mind, you can understand their meaning, and, moreover, have an image to guide your understanding of events.
The anguish and agony of birth, and the anguish and agony of death are easily confused with one another, largely because, in they are the same. That’s the meaning and lesson of the chrysalis.