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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”.

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The Death (And Resurrection) of The Sacred Hoop

Having worked as a consultant for a spell at the Aboriginal Healing Project, it’s absolutely gut-wrenching for me to see how little progress seems to have been made in the actual healing of indigenous communities, especially in confronting the epidemic of aboriginal youth suicide. Right here is where building “resilience” has become most pressing. Indigenous people the world over have ever been on the front lines what we call “globalisation”, and more than most suffering the often destructive dynamics of the Megamachine.

Nonetheless, as an elder once said, too: “we’re all in the same canoe”. And he’s quite right. Our societies are broken. The Sacred Hoop is broken and the task of mending it is the Great Work of the Hermetic Philosophy which must enlist everybody’s efforts and support. This is where what Gebser calls “the double-movement” of disintegration and re-integration — or death and resurrection from death — is going to be tested foremost. For here, in these broken aboriginal communities, is where nihilism and its overcoming is becoming a test case for the entire fate of the Earth. As Nietzsche put it “If a man has a why he can put up with any how“, and that’s the secret of resilience. Our why must be, collectively, throwing ourselves into mending the Sacred Hoop. This only will give meaning to our acts and our lives in these times.

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The Living Dead and the Unlived Life

Last evening, I rented a pretty campy movie called Resident Evil: The Final Chapter — yet another installment in the continuing saga of the zombie and of the plucky surviving (and outnumbered) humans struggling to survive against chaos and armies of the undead. There seems to be no end of appetite for the living dead, and for zombie movies, zombie carnivals, and the zombie apocalypse.

Campy though it was, watching Resident Evil after reading Stephen Metcalf’s very insightful article on neo-liberalism in yesterday’s Guardian, and having just watched Vice‘s remarkable video of an insider’s account of the recent Charlottesville incident, this present pop cultural obsession with the living dead and its symbolism, along with my recent meditations on “The Shadow”, began to make profound sense. It triggered in my mind a recollection of Jung’s definition of the Shadow as “the unlived life” (and what that means also in terms of “the return of the repressed”) and so I understood then that there is a direct reciprocity between these themes of “the Living Dead” and “the Unlived Life” that also ties into Christopher Lasch’s The Culture of Narcissism and the fuller significance of “the Anthropocene”. The insatiable hunger and craving that drives the undead, or zombie, is not for flesh and blood but for life.

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Gebser’s Empathetic Epistemics

“You never really know a man until you understand things from his point of view, until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” — Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird

Don’t judge a man until you have walked a mile in his moccasins” — translated from an indigenous proverb

Today, I’ld like to spend a little time speaking to cultural philosopher Jean Gebser’s approach to knowledge, which will facilitate understanding and appreciating his major work, The Ever-Present Origin and what he means by the “aperspectival” or “integral” consciousness which he himself practiced. Gebser’s hermeneutics, or “method”, has nothing essentially “mystical” about it. That’s a judgement from the confines, or perspectivism, of mere rationalism. Aperspectival or integral consciousness is an eminently pragmatic and practical matter, manifestly so in Gebser’s own case. I would prefer to describe Gebser’s approach as “empathetic epistemics” rather than “hermeneutics” for various reasons. I hope to demonstrate here why I believe Gebser is an archetype or prototype of the aperspectival or integral consciousness structure that he believed was already in the process of “irrupting” more generally.

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The Shock of the Real

I’m not sure who should be credited with the phrase “the shock of the real” (but it is, apparently, the American environmentalist Edward Abbey from his book Desert Solitaire). It’s a very good phrase. It’s basically the meaning of the word “apocalypse” and has been borrowed extensively by others too to describe the bursting of bubbles of all kinds. “Shock” has become something of a theme of Late Modernity or the post-modern condition — Alvin Toffler’s Future Shock, Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine, or, indeed, “Shock and Awe”. Shock might even be said to be the essence of “the New Normal”.

The phrase “shock of the real” brings to mind the Tarot card called “The Fool”.

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Headwinds

Jean Gebser wrote, in his Ever-Present Origin, about a “menacing correlation” of trends that threaten global havoc — a convergence of currents, trends, forces that, as in nature, results in some very violent, choppy and turbulent waters — a “maelstrom” is what he called it. The meme being used today to reference Gebser’s “maelstrom” is “the perfect storm” — something climactic; something apocalyptic; Peter Pogany’s “havoc“.

But then, no Great Journey — no Great Quest — is ever complete without one: Parsifal, Ulysses, Frodo Baggins and the Fellowship of the Ring, the “Dark Night of the Soul” of John of the Cross, Alice in Wonderland or Dorothy through Oz. There would be no story at all if nothing happened — no great obstacles or dangers encountered, no great challenges met and overcome, no Klingsor or Circe or Saruman or Oz or Wicked Witch of the North to best and outwit. The challenges, the hardships, the headwinds, the turbulence, the powers of darkness and chaos — these are all necessary archetypal elements of the Great Journey. Without them, the heroes cannot grow, mature or fulfill their destiny. The Great Journey is all about transformational change. All such Great Journeys and Quests are but variations on the same archetypal theme of the Prodigal Son.

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Trump as Lord of Misrule

A few posts back, I posted a piece on Donald Trump as Trickster figure (“Provocateur-in-Chief”) with the suggestion that, by assuming this and investigating the myths about Trickster, we can develop a life strategy for countering the most pernicious influences and effects of “Trumpism”.

So, I was very pleased to read in today’s Guardian James S Gordon’s piece on the same theme: Trump as Trickster and, as such,  uncanny avatar of The Lord of Misrule.

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