The Archaic Consciousness “Structure”

Those of you who are acquainted with the work of Jean Gebser (especially his book The Ever-Present Origin) are, by now, familiar with his four civilisational types as “consciousness structures”. Those he identifies as the archaic, the magical, the mythical, and the mental-rational structures, and his prospective fifth — the integral structure characterised chiefly by “diaphaneity” (or “the transparency of the world”), by “time-freedom”, and by verition, or “being-in-truth”. The latter might be considered as somewhat equivalent to “being-in-love”.

In effect, then, the integral consciousness structure takes the form of a mandala, the four directions of the mandala being the four consciousness structures. In previous posts, I’ve likened Gebser’s consciousness structures to William Blake’s “four Zoas” of “Albion divided fourfold” or Aurobindo’s “fourfold Atman” — Albion’s awakening or “Glad Day” being Blake’s anticipation of the new integral consciousness as Aurobindo anticipated the emergence of the “supramental consciousness”. For all practical purposes, then, Gebser’s “integral consciousness”, Blake’s “Albion”, and Aurobindo’s “Supramental Consciousness” may be considered the same. Moreover, Blake’s “New Jersualem”, which is the state and the image of the new consciousness structure, is the form of a mandala.

For Gebser, the core of the integral consciousness (the vital centre of the mandala structure, in effect) is what he calls “the diaphainon“. The diaphainon is what makes diaphaneity or the transparency of the world possible as a mode of cconsciousness and perception. The physical senses, which we associate with “Sensate Consciousness”, are only peripherally involved in this mode, for the diaphainon is a gestalt, as it were, of presently latent, undeveloped intuitive or inner senses that were once more active than they are presently.

My concern today, though, is with the archaic “structure”, which Gebser equates with Origin or the ever-present origin and which abides within us as a latent potentiality of consciousness. Gebser sometimes uses the name “The Itself” for Origin. As mentioned in previous posts, “the Itself” closely aligns with physicist David Bohm’s description of fundamental reality as being “undivided wholeness in flowing movement”, which, being “undivided”, knows no distinctions of time nor of space. As such, it would correspond to Gebser’s meaning of “time-freedom” or “spacetime-freedom” (raumzeitfrei, is the German term used by Gebser).

If it has “structure”, the archaic then is a very unusual structure, for it has also been referred to as the Big Empty, the Great Nothingness, the Silent Void, or even non-being or non-existence. Buddhism refers to it as the unoriginated origin and the unconditioned, also associated with the state called “Silent Mind”. In his Autobiography of a Yogi, Yogananada described enlightenment as arriving at the “place” where speech arises, and this is very revealing of the meaning of the archaic consciousness and the transition from that to what we call “genesis”. In some respects, it also corresponds to Blake’s “eternity’s sunrise”, which is the state that Zen refers to as “Silent Illumination”. It is a step beyond Silent Mind, for it means to have arrived in full awareness at the origin of all things — the unoriginated origin.

Gebser likens the archaic consciousness to a state of deep sleep. In fact, the best succinct characterisation of the archaic is Blake’s, “when the soul slept in beams of light”. Consciousness is not yet awakened to itself, so we might use H. W. Percival’s useful distinction (from Thinking and Destiny) between “consciousness AS” and “consciousness OF”. The archaic would be conscious AS being, but not yet conscious OF being, you see. For that reason, I find it useful to make a distinction between the consciousness and awareness.

Nonetheless we actually return to the archaic multiple times during the day and especially at night during deep dreamless sleep without being conscious that we are doing so, for it is the “Source” — the source of that energy we call “vitality”. So, when Gebser laments our “distantiation from the vital centre” to the destructive periphery (think Yeats’ poem “the Second Coming” with it’s “widening gyre” and memorable line “things fall apart, the centre cannot hold”), you’ll have a good understanding of Gebser’s concerns about the “mental-rational structure” now decaying into “deficient mode”, having lost its connection with the source of its life, vitality and being in a terrible state of maximum alienation and anomie.

Consciousness OF being arises with the advent of speech, which is an awakening to physical reality and is constitutive of that reality (the sacred syllable “AUM” being the first generative “word” in the East) . In fact, the very word “grammar” has ancient associations with words for magic. A grammarye is a spell, as is a “glamour” — a related word. In Latin a “fascinum” meant “a binding”, used to both bonds and also as spell-binding, from which we get “fascinate” (as spell-binding) and (unfortunately) fascism (propaganda is essentially a type of spell-casting).

In any case, as Gebser himself points out, it is virtually impossible to speak at all about the archaic without misleading or introducing distortions about what it is, since it is a state of non-differentiation and therefore pre-linguistic, and yet also the state from which speech or “the Word” arises — the creative, generative word that begins the process of weaving a tapestry of space and time. For that is what grammar is, essentially — casting spells over the powers of space and time — spinning a spacetime web in which we often become entangled ourselves.

Gebser’s “spacetime-freedom” is, then, crucially contingent upon the recovery of the archaic, now in full awareness, and as part of an integration of all previously realised consciousness structures. The equilibrium that attained within this fourfold structure prevent any one of them from entering into “deficient mode”, you see. Each moderates the excesses of the others, and they all, in their time, fell into excess and deficiency when they had transgressed the limits of their relevancy and validity. The current “mental-rational structure” has now itself entered into this state of hubris and deficiency, and as such it has become a very dangerous period for the planet, as we see daily.

So, unless we now effect the necessary “leap” into the new consciousness, we, and the planet, are burnt toast.

As I’ve noted in previous posts, the new consciousness is NOT a “return” (a Nostos) to an earlier structure of consciousness, which would simply be reactionary. It’s a recovery, and not a return. Any “return” would simply duplicate the very conditions that led to their eventual deficiency in the first place.

In any case, I have been doing some research into exercises and practices that could, at least, prepare us for Gebser’s “leap” — stretching those spiritual muscles, as it were, which I hope to share sometime in future posts.

31 responses to “The Archaic Consciousness “Structure””

  1. Smitty's Gelato: A Film Blog says :

    Definitely looking forward to hearing about your research on exercises and practices.

  2. Steve says :

    We are burnt toast. Man, are we burnt toast. Lord Jesus are we burt toast.
    Scott: You have mentioned a number of times the book, “Thinking and Destiny.”
    Why do you like it and why should I order it.

    • InfiniteWarrior says :

      Come on. We’re not burnt toast yet. Singed around the edges, maybe, but not completely burnt.

      On that note, Jeremy Lent’s latest. Very nice summary of what is, perhaps, the primary, underlying issue, awareness of which appears to be growing exponentially as we speak. Even members of the scientific establishment, e.g. Adam Frank, have it firmly in mind. I’d call that a bright spot in the gloom.

      Not everyone is going to be interested in the philosophical underpinnings and that’s okay. We don’t all have to be to change course and we’re definitely seeing some movement there. Whether or not it’s in time to avoid complete disaster, I certainly wouldn’t venture to guess. Even Gebser posited that a possibility, not a given.

      Can we have just a wee bit of optimism?

  3. Scott Preston says :

    Actually, you don’t have to order it. You can download it for free here

    Click to access Thinking-and-Destiny-by-Harold-W-Percival.pdf

    It’s quite a lengthy book, and I haven’t read all of it (I have the hardcopy edition I got from somewhere). At a certain point he ventures into strange territory that I have no familiarity with and so cannot corroborate from experience, so at that point I tend to leave off reading. It can be difficult at times. That was some time ago, so maybe I can progress a little further into the book than I did earlier.

    Of course, I’ve mentioned why I was impressed with Thinking and Destiny in earlier posts nonetheless, as a development on Heraclitus’s “character is fate”, and further explication of the meaning of this as it relates to consciousness structures, belief systems, expectations, and so on. So, the book can provide a certain degree of further insight into what Gebser means by the “deficient mode” of a consciousness structure.

  4. davidm58 says :

    Hi Scott,

    Please say more about the distinctions between “recovery” and “return.”

    • Scott Preston says :

      Happy to, David.

      You may recall from your own reading of Gebser that he likens the human journey of consciousness as a gradual stepping forth from the cave or cavern into the open sky. He uses that term “open” or openness frequently to describe the new consciousness. In that case, any “return” could only be a return to the conditions of cave and cavern. So, when I speak of “recovery” rather than return, I mean we should accept the entirety of the human journey as our own autobiography, but without nostalgia or sentimentality for a return to earlier chapters of that autobiography.

      There’s a beautiful little film called “The Quest”, based on a Ray Bradbury story, that I think illustrates Gebser’s meaning about stepping forth into existence completely. I’ve linked to it in one or two past posts. It’s very dramatic and whenever I watch it I can’t but think of Gebser. It’s a half-hour short film.

      • davidm58 says :

        Well put, and thanks for the link – the Quest looks interesting.

      • InfiniteWarrior says :

        Nothing to do with Gebser, but perhaps another portrait of our situation from Bradbury, the images of which haunted many of our youths: There Will Come Soft Rains.

        And to think, “smart homes” never had been heard of before this was written.

        • InfiniteWarrior says :

          I think I saw this post in the Mutations group. We’re the “verbs” here. Without our contributions to keeping our “myths” alive and relevant in contemporarity, they’ll be relegated to the dustbin and forgotten, which is, I think, a large part of our problem. The wisest have been.

          Our “myths” encapsulate our lived experience and intuitions as human beings, but have no life of their own. They’re like time capsules, passed down through the ages in oral, written and other forms. We ignore them at our peril and, unfortunately, our “mythic imagination” appears to be as exhausted as all other kinds which is, no doubt, why original “myths” are so hard to come by.

          Cue folks like Sharon Blackie, Michael Meade and, of course, any of the rest of us engaged in passing down the wisdom of prior generations in “mythical” form. Above all, our myths don’t require explanation. “Exegeses” of them be damned. We’re all perfectly capable of grasping their original meanings as they require only our authentic engagement as human beings.

          We don’t all buy into the separation myth. In fact, I’d wager most of us don’t. It’s the “mono” in “monomyth” that is at issue here. Look around. How many people are exclaiming, “Don’t ask me to live by your myths and I won’t ask you to live by mine?” Or, more to the point, “those ‘myths’ of my particular branch of the family tree?”

          I must say, it’s one of the worst ideas in the long, sad history of bad ideas to demand a person predominately inclined toward the “mythical consciousness structure” to change themselves into something they’re not and were never intended to be. It’s their life’s breath. It’s the very way they think and speak and write and have their being and commune with the world. Treat it as anything less, and the sense of condescension can be cut with a knife. Why do we think Gebser emphasized “transparency” to the extent that he did? Our myths are something we are — to be “seen through,” not eliminated.

  5. InfiniteWarrior says :

    How is the “efficient” form of the “mythical consciousness structure” faring through all this? Those of like persuasion might appreciate checking in with Michael Meade and Sharon Blackie, et alia.

    Hope you don’t mind my asking here, Scott, but if anyone knows of anyone else doing great work in this vein, I would most sincerely appreciate hearing of them.

    • Scott Preston says :

      WordPress is letting me down again. Again, I’m not receiving notifications for some comments, for some reason. This didn’t appear in my inbox.

      But in any case I’ve listened to the Meade talk and it is excellent; could comment at some length about what makes it excellent, but I’m not sure it would be all that useful to do so (haven’t listened to the Blackie one yet).

      It does bring to mind something Adorno and Horkheimer wrote in *Dialectic of Enlightenment* that is pertinent, ie, myth is already enlightenment and enlightenment reverts to myth. That’s the essence of what they mean by the “dialectical” nature of the relationship between the mental-rational and the mythical. Although they seem to be opposed to one another and mutually antagonistic, they actually continue to inform one another. As Joseph Campbell and Jung have both observed, we continue to live mythically and in-depth despite our conscious attitude that may even take a hostile stance against the mythical (and vice versa, of course, as Socrates found out). But as Blake put it here, “opposition is true friendship”.

      Meade’s “Ocean” is, of course, Gebser’s archaic consciousness. But the fish had to leave that ocean in order to perceive it as such and learn. In the tale, one fish obviously retained it’s remembrance of its origin in the Ocean while the others had largely forgotten. Nonetheless, the “discovery of the soul” could not occur until the “little self” had departed from the Ocean initially, so the birth of the ego-consciousness was simultaneous with the “discovery of the soul”. It’s pretty much the whole meaning of the Parable of the Prodigal Son. The journey was, and is, necessary. The unmentioned fish that never departed the Ocean could never become wise, you see. It would never experience the full reality. That “Ocean” is the ocean of Bohm’s “Infinite Potential”, but the fish that never left would never really know it or even actualise those potentials. Physical reality is the domain in which we learn to actualise those potentials.

    • InfiniteWarrior says :

      None of the problems facing humanity today are technically difficult to solve.

      Maybe because love isn’t technical.

      Eisenstein lives in my beloved Asheville, NC. and, so, must be privy to the rejuvenation going on there. Beneath the fragmentation most everyone is focused on is the most beautiful regeneration you’d ever want to see — historic towns and districts restored, re-enlivened and brought back to the future, as it were.

      Not too strangely, it’s the artists and craftsmen who begin these projects. They move in; restore and preserve the location’s history in remembrance of those gone before so that we might appreciate their beautiful contributions while simultaneously learning from their errors so as not to repeat them; and the place becomes a draw, first for visitors and tourists; until, suddenly, everyone wants to live there. They’re like little pockets of the possible where few are oriented exclusively toward the past or future, memories of the way things were or ideals of the way things could be, but are enlivening and enjoying the present moment.

      True. The “everyone wants to live there” part tends to become problematic. That’s when the housing ceases to be primarily restored, historic buildings, “tiny houses” and such; and the place becomes surrounded by cookie cutter developments, shopping centers, apartment and condominum buildings while the price of everything goes out of sight. That is exactly what’s happening in the town in which I live, and it strongly reminds me of Deborah Frieze’s statement in her TED talk that the “new” social arrangements of which Scott speaks “aren’t robust enough to take us all yet.” They do exist, though. (Just wanted to remind everyone of that.) Should they begin overflowing their banks rather than the other way around, we’d be headed in the right direction to avert the disaster, methinks. ; )

      The holidays have been tamed? More like commercialized to the point that they can hardly be called holidays. But, our festivals? They’re still going on — locally, at least. Maybe if we didn’t have our noses stuck to the surface of things, we could even see the possibilities taking shape right under them here and there. And, speaking of retraining our sensibilities, it would appear many of us have yet to learn the difference between cross-cultural fertilization and “cultural appropriation” because too many instances of cross-cultural fertilization are being misconstrued as “cultural appropriation.” Case in point: https://www.goodmorningamerica.com/living/video/im-proud-black-irish-dancer-heres-differences-motivation-71843017

      “No one makes history by staying in the box.” You go, girl. “And a little child shall lead them.” Love, love, love our youths.

  6. steve says :

    In the preface of his magisterial account of the evolution of consciousness, The Ever-Present Origin (1985), Jean Gebser warns of a crisis “of decisive finality for life on earth and for humanity,” a spiritual crisis heralding the end of the deficient mentality of the present age and
    the coming of an entirely transformed constellation of consciousness. Although his research
    points to manifestations of this new integral constellation of consciousness in a variety of disciplines–including mathematics, physics, biology, psychology, philosophy, jurisprudence, sociology, economics, music, architecture, and painting–Gebser highlights poetry in particular as necessarily at the forefront of his inquiry. An inquiry into the nature of poetry, past and present, “is the most instructive means for disclosing the respective consciousness structure.” Gebser quotes Alfred North Whitehead in support of such an inquiry, who suggests that “the most concrete outlook of humanity receives its expression” in poetry, and that it is to poetry that we must look “if we hope to discover the inward thoughts of a generation.”

    Matthew T. Segall

    • InfiniteWarrior says :

      Exciting movement in the field of education. There are several talks featuring Sir Robinson online, including an excellent one on “finding your element” posted by RSA, but this is a decent introduction to the shift: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zDZFcDGpL4U

      I envy children who may have the opportunity to grow up in a learning environment that actively cultivates their natural talents, abilities and genius. Anyone who was educated in the “factory model” of education (and I’d hazard to guess that would be most of us) will grasp the significance of this paradigm change immediately. I’d further venture to guess that the teachers we remember most fondly did this despite that they were forced to work within the confines of the factory model.

      Someone mentioned the Montessori method as incorporating this sea change in educational thought. I’m not as sure that it does as it appears to have become overly individualized, not to mention expensive as the method is only offered at private schools. Point is, though, this sea change appears both popular and welcome. ^.^

      • John says :

        Yee a balance betweeen undividualized and collectivuzed education. Ebbinghauser’s Law ststes we forget half of what we know within two years and everything within four — unless we are highly engaged in the material being committed to memory and practice. So kids also need to subjectively choose whilst being immersed in community volunteerism like Huessy suggested. Interesting stuff from Arthur Sutherland Niell also and Summerhill documentary. Although you could easily argue their models went too far in certain respects.

    • InfiniteWarrior says :

      Okay. Break time. Here ya go: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4wyOy3ws8cY

      No. Seriously. I haven’t seen Logan’s Run in quite a while. So, thanks for that. Stellar cast; so-so script…and production/direction; special effects…that sort of thing. That’s to be expected nowadays, I gather.

      Gah. Michael York must be … vomiting … after his performance as a Montague in the 1968 adaption of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ as well as D’Artagnan in the 1978 adapation of ‘The Three Muskateers’, but…there we are.

      Such is the dangers of Hollywood, I guess.

  7. John says :

    Yes a balance betweeen individualized and collectivized education. Ebbinghauser’s Law ststes we forget half of what we know within two years and everything within four — unless we are highly engaged in the material being committed to memory and practice. So kids also need to subjectively choose some of their own path whilst also being immersed in community volunteerism like Huessy suggested. perhaps. Interesting stuff from Arthur Sutherland Niell too and the Summerhill system/documentaries. Although you could easily argue their models went too far in certain respects.

    • Steve says :

      “I say that man must be serious with the serious. God alone is worthy of supreme seriousness, but man is made God’s plaything, and that is the best part of him…What, then, is the right way of living? Life must be lived as play.” -Plato, Laws

      “He who sees the Infinite in all things sees God. He who sees the Ratio sees himself only. Therefore God becomes as we are, that we may be as he is.” -William Blake, There Is No Natural Religion

      “The life of God and divine wisdom…can…be spoken of as love disporting with itself; but this idea falls into edification, and even sinks into insipidity, if it lacks the seriousness, the suffering, the patience, and the labour of the negative.” -G.W.F. Hegel, The Phenomenology of Spirit

  8. Scott Preston says :

    Back to the theme of the culture of narcissism — came across this research today reported in the BBC. Clearly, it’s the culture, the present social arrangements, that aid and abet, culture and promote and reward pathological narcissism (and conversely then, the empathy deficit).

    https://www.bbc.com/worklife/article/20210830-how-narcissists-climb-the-career-ladder-quickly

    • InfiniteWarrior says :

      It’s so ingrained at this point that even our children are quickly “learning” the “blame game” all too well and stepping on anyone they think they can pass “responsibility” onto for the failings of the “team” or the corporation or the organization or what have you so they don’t “get in trouble” with the “higher-ups.”

      It’s the most disheartening phenomenon I’ve ever borne witness to.

      Not all young people throw themselves into this systematic game plan, of course, but it’s more or less baked into the training manual that if you want to keep your job, you have to be better than the next guy at passing the buck, not to mention never thinking for yourself.

      I worked with a young man recently that was so damn slick nothing he ever did seemed to stick to him. He was the “manager,” after all. I further saw assistant (or shift) managers become so desperate to be rid of him that they were looking for any technicality they could find to report to their superiors to get him fired. It didn’t happen, so they “transferred” until a district manager told them no one else would be transferred. (At that point, everyone at the location was requesting a transfer.)

      It was the absolute worst working environment I’ve ever been unfortunate enough to be privy to. While I found my joy in interacting with the public and, of course, just enjoying the work I was doing, that cloud of back-stabbing nonsense was hanging about the whole time, and the hell of it was that every, single one of these young people displayed unique talents and gifts that would have been a boon for the organization had they been nurtured and cultivated. One was an excellent designer (and I told her so, ntm never to sell herself short); another was a whiz at physical labor (she didn’t like sitting behind a desk and preferred to work with her hands at a reasonable pace and to do the best job she could in the process); yet another was a relative of the youngest, who just happened to be a troubled young woman who further just happened to be the exceptional designer of which I speak

      All of their spirits were being crushed under the weight of the “hierarchy” of the major corporation involved, which of course didn’t appreciate either them or their contributions in the least.

      So, what do we do about that?

  9. Scott Preston says :

    having some trouble logging into WordPress. Anyone else experiencing that?

  10. Luca Bertolli says :

    All answer are in neville GODDARD books

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