The Function of “the Petty Tyrant”

One of the most interesting matters brought up in Castaneda’s writings is the role of “the petty tyrant”. Surviving Trump and Trumpism — or authoritarian populism and the politics of the hoarde more generally — may well be a matter of learning to see and use Trump as this same petty tyrant in one’s practice of self-overcoming. I can almost believe that Trump, among others today, was indeed fated to serve as this same “petty tyrant” for our metamorphosis. It’s a suspicion that has been lurking around the edges of my mind for a while.

The idea of finding and using a “petty tryant” for one’s spiritual practice isn’t unique to don Juan’s world. We also find it in Rumi. In one place, Rumi describes a Sufi sheikh he knew who deliberately married one — a really obnoxious woman — as a big part of his spiritual practice. To ordinary eyes, the sheikh looked like a poor, oppressed hen-pecked husband. Rumi, though, saw a Sufi warrior and master who had deliberately embraced the great hardship of living with an impossible wife as his practice of self-overcoming and self-mastery. And I sometimes suspect that Nietzsche’s expressed admiration for great big petty tyrants like Caesar or Napoleon, which some take as “great man theory”, may well have been in the same spirit — their usefulness as “petty tyrants” in one’s spiritual practice.

Using the petty tyrant in this way actually turns the tables on the tyrant. For the real warrior here, the petty tyrant becomes a springboard to self-transcendence and real mastery. “What does not kill me makes me stronger” is, in effect, Nietzsche’s homage to the petty tyrant or worthy enemy, a spiritual alchemy that turns all ordinary defeats into spiritual victories. And, in some respects, Castaneda’s don Juan held that finding and learning to use a petty tyrant in one’s spiritual practice of losing self-importance was the greatest of all spiritual practices. It may well be the hardest practice of all.

It brings to mind, again, something Rosenstock-Huessy once stated — that in matters of the spirit, what we call “natural processes” are reversed. In nature, birth precedes death. In the spirit, death precedes birth. Losing self-importance is this process of death — of “dying before you die” — and is quite the antithesis of today’s obsession with identity and identity politics. Self-importance and the self-interest, and “the culture of narcissism” are exactly the same thing.

The biggest screw-up of a lot of Hermetic thought and practice — like that of Julius Evola — is that the practitioner misses the whole point — losing self-importance. The practitioner in effect, joins the ranks of the petty tryants himself. It’s pretty much this that distinguishes the authentic Hermeticist from the “Puffer” — the charlatan, the fake, the poseur.  It’s this sense of self-importance that is the perverting factor which corresponds to the Emissary’s “usurpation” of which Iain McGilchrist writes in his fine book The Master and His Emissary.

Musing on these matters this morning, and how Trump reminds of Castaneda’s “petty tyrant”, I tried to find something on the internet about don Juan’s views of the petty tyrant, and I found a very good one “What is a Petty Tyrant?”, which includes some quotes from Castaneda’s book The Fire From Within. (You may have to use the zoom function in your browser to read this comfortably. It is very small print!).

Every real and authentic enlightenment tradition I know of always begins with the practice of losing self-importance — becoming empty, becoming nothing and no one. “Die to oneself daily”, as the New Testament puts it, is also this practice of losing self-importance, and it’s one of the reasons self-righteousness is the greatest sin of all. It was especially so for William Blake. And it is this problem of self-importance that distinguishes individualism from real individuation, which is the issue of Henri Bortoft’s writings on counterfeit and authentic wholes. Individualism is counterfeit individuation.

But becoming whole begins by losing self-importance.



14 responses to “The Function of “the Petty Tyrant””

  1. donsalmon says :

    “I die daily.” St. Paul.

    • donsalmon says :

      From Thomas Kelly’s “Testament of Devotion:”

      “This amazing simplification of life comes when we “center down… Some of you know this holy, recreating Center of eternal peace and joy and live in it day and night. Some of you may see it over the margin and wistfully long to slip into that amazing Center where the soul is at home with God. Be very faithful to that wistful longing. It is the Eternal Goodness calling you to return Home… It is the life beyond fevered strain. We are called beyond strain to peace and power and joy and love and thorough abandonment of self. We are called to put our hands trustingly in (God’s) hand and walk the holy way, in no anxiety assuredly resting in (God).”

      “Deep within us all there is an amazing sanctuary of the soul, a holy place, a Divine Center, a speaking Voice, to which we may continually return. Eternity is at our hearts, pressing upon our time-worn lives, warming us with intimations of an astounding destiny, calling us home unto itself. Yielding to these persuasions, gladly committing ourselves in body and soul, utterly and completely to the Light Within, is the beginning of true life. It is a dynamic center, a creative Life that presses to birth within us. It is a Light Within that illumines the face of God and casts new shadows and new glories on upon the face of (humanity.) ”

      “ the Holy Now is not something which we, by our activity, by our dynamic energy, overtake or come upon. It is a now which is itself dynamic, which lays hold actively on us, which breaks in actively upon us and re-energizes us from within a new center. …The Eternal is urgently, actively breaking into time, working through those who are willing to be laid hold upon, to surrender self-confidence and self- centered effort, that is self-originated effort, and let the Eternal be the dynamic guide in recreating, through us, our time-world.”

      “Life becomes simplified when dominated by a few concerns. Too many of us have too many irons in the fire.”

      “Life from the Center is a life of unhurried peace and power.
      It is simple, It is serene. It is amazing. It is triumphant. It is radiant…We need not get frantic. (God) is at the helm.
      And when our little day is done, we lie down quietly in peace, for all is well.”

      • Scott Preston says :

        That’s quite a remarkable passage, because it brings to mind what it means to live from the centre of the “Sacred Hoop” in indigenous cultures, or Rosenstock-Huessy’s comments on the meaning of the centre of his cross of reality.

        There is an affinity between the Sacred Hoop and the Cross of Reality in terms of being “radiant” symbols, but also in terms of the meaning of the centre. “To speak from the centre of the voice”, in indigenous terms is to speak from the centre of the Sacred Hoop, which for Rosenstock-Huessy is identical with the Eternal Now or Presence or Gebser’s “ever-present origin”. Rosenstock’s “God is the power that makes us speak” is pretty much the same issue as “to speak from the centre of the voice”. This is not the egoic centre, which is on the eccentric.

        • donsalmon says :

          Thomas Kelly died at the tender age of 41, having completely recentered his life, living a life of unceasing remembrance of God – an altogether remarkable transformation.

  2. Scott Preston says :

    Here’s an interview in Salon with Gary Lachman about his book Dark Star Rising, which I’m currently reading.

  3. Scott Preston says :

    Nietzsche’s “What does not kill me makes me stronger” is a peculiar construct. It requires absolute faith and confidence to be true, otherwise it’s not.

  4. Scott Preston says :

    “The Lord works in mysterious ways” (pick any Lord you like) may well be true of creatures like Trump, Organ, Putin, etc. Only, not in the way people might think. For there’s a corollary to that “divine intervention” in human historical affairs: “those who the gods wish to destroy they first make mad”.

    Seems to be the rule of human history. The “deficient mode” of a consciousness structure, in Gebser’s terms.

    • Scott Preston says :

      Seems Nietzsche held this view, too, and just called it “Dionysian madness” and thought well of it, even though it could be self-destruction — something akin to celular apoptosis or cellular lysis — preparing the way for new, saner growth.

  5. Scott Preston says :

    Nietzsche’s brilliance…. As I noted earlier some of that “brilliance” is only reflected glow from Rumi, who Nietzsche plagiarised on occasion, despite his apparent contempt for “mystics”.

    Compare the chapter “The Vision and the Enigma” in his Zarathustra, for example, with Rumi’s poem “Jesus on a Lean Donkey”. Not coincidence. Virtually identical. How come nobody seems to have noticed this?

    Then compare what you read there to my transcription of Rumi’s poem in ‘Stormy Thoughts” earlier

  6. Steve says :

    Scott, please check out Tom Cheetham’s GREEN MAN, EARTH ANGEL. If you like him he has four other books.

    • Scott Preston says :

      Hmm. Good grief! My recent “coincidences” that I’m still digesting and that I mentioned I might blog about later in yesteray’s post were around the Green Man also. And here he is again!

  7. mikemackd says :

    >> But becoming whole begins by losing self-importance.

    This reply also picks up on themes in your previous post, on Gebser and the demonic.

    I hope it can be discerned that, for example, with this Trump-Putin Summit, these international disputes are not the main game, because nation-states are but one kind of social imaginary whereby the main game is played out.

    The real game is our states of minds and their interactions inside and between us, including, but not limited to, conflicts between what Blake called our Satanic (let’s say demonic) and angelic states of mind. Materialists may prefer hormone-related terminology, and that’s fine, because it’s the mental state that’s the issue here, not how it came to be. But for now at least, “demonic” and “angelic” vocabularies still retain more general communicative potency than hormonal cocktails do.

    Demonic drivers of our mental states are to dominate, deceive, destroy and the like, and our angelic ones are ahierarchic (not to do with pecking orders), philalethic (truth-loving), and nurturing and enlightening (life abundant for all), and the like.

    The fact that I, for one, found the demonic terms more accessible than the angelic reflects my environment, and it seems that environment is similar to that of many. I would venture to say, almost all of us, for much of our time

    Once we develop our emotional intelligences to better differentiate, articulate and holarchically and heterarchically integrate our own states of mind, we are better able to empathise with others, and thereby contribute more to an understanding of international and many other affairs than the merely mechanist state of mind can ever achieve alone.And megalomania preempts the necessary but insufficient precondition of “losing” self-importance if one is to develop such competencies.

    Rather than “losing” a sense of self-importance, I would say we need to development competencies towards accurately valuing our self importance in the relevant contexts we find ourselves within: valuing our “selves”, those contexts and their relationships intrinsically, extrinsically, and systemically. One could argue, though, that one has to at a minimum set aside one’s own sense of self importance to embark on any such process; but the process is the point.

    PS I have coined the word “philalethic” from “philalethia”, Greek for lover of truth, lover of sincerity (not to be confused with “philately” ;-)) because being sincere about some existent means “free from pretence or deceit; proceeding from genuine feelings”, which sincerity is made manifest by going through the process of gathering data, organising it into information, developing knowledge therefrom, developing understanding therefrom, developing wisdom therefrom, and developing skilful means to act wisely and compassionately therefrom.

    Recipes, formulas and heuristics are often useful in the earlier stages of such processes, but when we attempt them in the latter, they can deceive and destroy. Not just our demonic states, but as McGilchrist avers our left hemisphere mental states often can’t hack that, further demonstrating the incompetence of our self-important mental states in such contexts.

  8. Ricardo Rico says :

    Scott, thank you for this eloquent articulation of my thoughts! I’m just in the middle of re-reading Castaneda’s “The Fire From Within” and my first thought upon reading his description of The Petty Tyrant was, “OMG this is Trump”. I’ve long held the belief that his election was the catalyst that was needed to shake up the apathy that is/was prevalent in our political system and country at large. Upon rediscovering the concept of The Petty Tyrant, I believe it to be true. Now the next question is whether the soul of our country has enough “Warrior Energy” to overcome it!

    Thanks again for making this connection.

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