A Disturbance in The Force
It is quite remarkable how some contemporary myths like Star Wars or Lord of the Rings have seized hold of the collective imagination. For many people, these are the New Gospel. I have known people, for example, who read Lord of the Rings religiously every year. And they do, in many respects, speak to archetypal themes of myth and magic that lie just below the surface of the ego-consciousness and which do have a degree of psychic validity.
Both Lord of the Rings and Star Wars draw upon ancient legends and stories for their own themes, including the Grail legends. For some people, these contemporary myths have even become their new “Master Narrative” — providing the framework for interpreting their experience and organising their perceptions, and sometimes in quite pernicious and unhealthy ways.
There is little more pernicious, for example, than the synthesis of the mythical and the ideological or rational which only results in the corruption of both. That’s something that concerned also Neal Gabler in his book Life The Movie: How Entertainment Conquered Reality or Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death. The “Evil Empire” of Star Wars lore leapt from the screen to be weaponised as propaganda, as did the “Star Wars” missile programme. Also interesting is how so many people seem to identify comfortably with Darth Vader and are attracted to him, but really avoid the fact that Sauron, the “Dark Lord” in Lord of the Rings is his archetypal equivalent. They self-censor, in that respect, and would never admit to themselves or publicly that, in fact, they also resemble Sauron or even Golem in their pursuit of the Ring of Power.
One of the central themes of myth is that those who pursue power exclusively are deformed or corrupted by that. Darth Vader is deformed. Golem is deformed. Sauron is deformed. It’s the Midas Touch, theme, which is also a persistent theme that hubris is always followed by Nemesis. That’s essentially what William Blake feared about “Single Vision & Newtons sleep” as well. “Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely” as Lord Acton once famously put it. Darth Vader and Golem are the archetypal representative instances of that maxim.
The same theme occurs in Castaneda’s “four enemies of the man of knowledge”. One of those enemies if power, which, so seems so desirable, also corrupts. All the enemies of a man of knowledge — fear, clarity, power, old age — are polarised, having both a desirable and undesirable aspect, and it is only when they are finally in balance that one can be called “a man of knowledge”. In that, they resemble, too, Blake’s meaning of “fourfold vision”. “Single vision” would be, in don Juan’s terms, when the man or woman on the path of knowledge succumbs to one of them completely, in which case “his quest is finished” and he or she is then a defeated man or woman, even though they may appear otherwise. And these, you may recall, also bear a close connection with the legendary “Guardians of the Four Directions” that seem to be universal in one guise or another, and even in terms of Blake’s four “Zoas” or the four directions of Rosenstock-Huessy’s “cross of reality”, and his four diseases or enemies or “lacks” of the social order — lack of respect, lack of unanimity, lack of faith, lack of power.
The paradox of the four enemies is that they all have a rewarding and yet also a punishing aspect, which also reflects the nature of “the Force” in Star Wars, or power in Lord of the Rings. And this polarity reflects the polarity of all energy or complementarity, such as it is also found in the psychic constitution as eros and thanatos, or life-pole and death-pole of the psyche. The “Force” has this same polarity, but which is not perfectly symmetrical or what Blake would call “Fearful Symmetry”. The life-pole is always preponderant, for if they were perfectly symmetrical, there could be no “evolution”, no progress. It would be a static world in which life-pole and death-pole would cancel each other out, and it is not so. There is even an analogy to this in McGilchrist’s neurodynamic model: the two hemispheres of the brain are not symmetrical either. The right hemisphere, associated with his “Master”, is larger than the left hemisphere.
Our convictions, then, that “truth will out”, that the “good guys win, bad guys lose”, or that the good will always triumph over the evil, arises from that asymmetry of the poles of energy. Life needs death to unfold itself. Death actually serves Life. And this goes to the root of Blake’s meaning also when he writes that “without contraries there is no progression”. And, at root, this is also the issue that existentialists wrestle with as “Being” and “Nothingness”. “Faith” is simply the conviction, the sense, that the life pole, force, or eros will always prevail over the death pole, force or thanatos. That is also the awareness of Goethe’s Mephistopheles in Faust, when he lament that he is “part of that power that would ever evil do, but always does the good”. In other words, there is no perfect symmetry between life and death forces, between light and dark, or between the good and the evil, or even between the true and the false.
This faith is reflected also in Star Wars and in “the Force”. The “Force” in its complementary or polar aspects of light and shadow, or “good” and “evil”, is just a contemporary rendering of Cusanus’s notion that “God is a circle whose circumference is nowhere and whose centre is everywhere”, and thus that in which “we live, move, and have our being”. In contemporary terms, it is the “field concept” in quantum mechanics or David Bohm’s “holomovement” and “the implicate order”. It is also seemingly equivalent to Jill Bolte-Taylor’s “Life Force Power of the Universe” or Castaneda’s “dark sea of awareness”. The Force has a certain appealing validity for those who can no longer believe in a personal “God” but are completely reluctant to let go of some feeling that there is a principle of intelligence operative in the universe, or that there is an essential implicit or underlying unity to everything and all Being.
It is most important to realise this fact that there is no perfect symmetry between the light and the darkness, or life and death, and that the death pole of energy serves the Life pole. Recognising this is what Buddhists call “making friends with death” or what Castaneda’s don Juan meant by “death is the adviser”. And what the Force in its light and dark aspects means is, that although it is true that all energy is one, that energy could not manifest as “reality” or as being without becoming a duality or polarity, which is what is also represented in the symbolism of the Tao and which bears a resemblance to the “Big Bang” and the birth of time and space. This refers to the root paradox of the relationship of the One and the Many (or “the Tao and the 10,000 things”, as its called in Taoism). But if there had not been a preponderance of the life pole over the death pole, the universe could not have come to be at all.
So Darth Vader and Mephistopheles and Sauron may win a few battles in the short term, but in the long-term they’re doomed to lose.
Darth Vader, Lord of the Death Star, is a planet destroyer. Odd that anyone would want to identify with that rather than, say, the Orcs and orcery of Tolkien’s tale, who are likewise planet destroyers. Perhaps recognising and acknowledging ourselves in the Orcs is less appealing than the secretive and mysterious dark power of a Darth Vader (the names “Orc” and “Darth” are both allusions to death). Darth Vader as “destroyer of worlds” recalls the line spoken by Vishnu in the Bhagavad-gita which the physicist Robert Oppenheimer repeated to himself after observing the atomic bomb test: “Now I am become death, destroyer of worlds”. Vishnu and Shiva, as both aspects of Brahma, and which form the Trimurti or Trinity reappear as the thanatos and eros “instincts” of Freud or the death-pole and life-pole of psychic energy in Gebser. As “destroyer of worlds”, you might see how Darth Vader/Vishnu could attract Steve Bannon, Dick Cheney or Richard Perle or those attracted to doctrines of “creative destruction” (with a heavy emphasis on “destruction”).
Yet, they would never think of identifying themselves with Sauron or the Orcs in Lord of the Rings, would they? Nonetheless, that is how some people view them.
These are interesting examples, though, of how the mythical, the magical, and the mental-rational begin to intersect and interweave — actually, to put it more exactly — to become mutually entangled with one another, such that the boundaries between them begin to breakdown and to collapse — the dreaded “synthesis” that actually results in the corruption of all three modalities.
We need to be cautious about such things. It’s said, I think correctly, that Hitler, for example, being infatuated with Wagner’s dreamy, heroic operas tried to turn them into reality by a “triumph of the will” — by willing it to be so, and this is also largely behind Gary Lachman’s Dark Star Rising: Magick and Power in the Age of Trump. We now want to transform reality in the image of our myths, which is what things like Rolf Jensen’s “Dream Society” are about. But the idea that “reality” is completely mutable in that respect, and can be unmade and remade according to our own liking, is a pretty dangerous idea, as if reality had no say in the matter. And, in fact, it’s not “reality” that needs to be transformed so much as ourselves. Hitler soon enough discovered that what he thought of as his god-like will had limits, and that certain aspects of reality stubbornly refused to submit to it.
It’s a lesson, it seems, we have yet to learn.