Introduction to Integral Consciousness

With my recent discoveries of Patrick White and Jean Gebser, I’ve been feeling a little bit like the children in the C.S. Lewis story “The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe”, although instead of going from a world that made sense into one full of magic and mystery it’s been the other way round and things that haven’t made sense (pretty much everything happening in western society these days) have started to become clear. I still haven’t quite finished off Gebser’s book The Ever Present Origin but, as I mentioned in a recent post, my experiences in linguistics, cognitive science, science and technology and more recently Jungian theory have all meant that I had reached almost identical conclusions to Gebser and so his concept of Integral Consciousness already made perfect sense to me. In this post I want to give my introductory outline of what I think Integral Consciousness is.

There are a couple of preliminary definitions to make at the start. First, by “consciousness” we are not just referring to waking life i.e. the set of things we are capable of being consciously aware of at any one time, but rather the set of all faculties available to individuals and societies. Within this model, there is no “unconscious” in the sense used by modern psychology. Rather, there are other faculties or forms of consciousness which are sublimated. These consciousnesses that are sublimated show a pattern that can be defined. That’s the discovery that Freud, Jung and others found in the early 20th century. They called it the unconscious, but actually there are multiple sublimated consciousnesses sitting beneath the dominant consciousness of the West: the Mental.

Gebser identifies 5 types of consciousness with the historical order in which they arose: 1) the Archaic; 2) the Magical; 3) the Mythical; 4) the Mental; 5) the Integral. This leads us to a second vital assumption. Just because these are placed in historical order, it does not mean that any linear progression or evolutionary “advancement” is implied. The chauvinism of European culture during the colonial period relegated societies practising the older forms of consciousness to inferior or less evolved status. As we will see, this makes sense within the Mental Consciousness of the modern West which views time as linear and progressive. Thus, anything old is by definition worse than anything new and history marches onwards towards utopia. That’s what most educated people in 19th and early 20th century western societies believed and that belief was tied in with a series of invalid ideas around race, fatherlands and soil. We all know what happened as a result of those ideas.

The assumption here is that each consciousness is universally available to an individual or culture but individuals and cultures display a dominant consciousness. Even if something “new” appeared at a historical juncture, that “new” consciousness must have been latent in human nature at prior periods. It follows that, in theory although not in practice, any human should be able to become proficient in a particular configuration of consciousness. We know this as a simple empirical fact in the modern west where immigration has shown that people from all parts of the world can become proficient in the dominant western consciousness which is the Mental. A Chinese friend of mine once told me that the Chinese call a Chinese person who moves to a western country and becomes like a westerner a “banana”; yellow on the outside and white on the inside. That “inside” is consciousness.

For our purposes here, we can summarise the basics of each consciousness as follows:-

Archaic: This is the domain of timeless non-duality. To speak of it breaks the non-duality. Therefore, we can’t speak of it. (Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must remain silent).

Magic: egoless, timeless, spaceless. Primary social organisation is tribal. Freudian psychology applies here. It’s the domain of instinct, emotion and sexual drive. In its highest form, it uses intricate and highly effective rituals to harness (magical) energy. Concepts for “energy” like qi, ki, mana belong here.

Mythical: cyclical thinking based on nature, the seasons, astronomy and cycles of life and death. Primary social structure is small scale agriculture. Jungian psychology of soul (psyche) belongs here especially as it relates to myths and the resultant “personality” archetypes like ruler, lover, warrior etc.

Mental: everything from the Dionysian rites, Plato and Aristotle up to quantum physics. The primary psychological development here is the Ego which reaches its apotheosis in Faust. An extreme separation of subject and object not seen in other consciousnesses (which finally collapsed with Quantum Mechanics). The idea of “progress” and linear time comes to dominate.

Assuming that all these are latent possibilities in us at any one time, the way to think about the emergence of different configurations is not an either/or divergence. We don’t completely “turn off” one type and “turn on” another. Rather, each type of consciousness is a kind of Focus of latent capabilities. We focus on and thereby become aware of the things that our consciousness determines are of high value. We defocus on other things but that does not mean they are not there. On the contrary, as we will see, modern western society is full of Magic and Myth even though we still think of ourselves as perfectly “rational” and “scientific”. Anybody who has lived through the last two and a half years doesn’t need any more evidence to be convinced of this fact.

One way to represent the idea of Focus is as follows:

The tribal societies that are based around the Magic Consciousness such as Indigenous Australian, Native American and Native South American have the Magic dominant while the other types of consciousness are latent. Some societies historically began to move from the Magic into the Mythic giving us something like the following which is a transition period between two types of consciousness. The Magical is still acknowledged as valid but the Mythical is coming to dominate:

Eventually, the Mythic gives way to the Mental. Ancient Greece is our paradigm example of that. By then, the Magical has become latent (although the Dionysian rites are a classic example of the Magical) while the Mythical way of thinking still has some influence:

Finally, we get to modern society which is the one we all know best. The ascendancy of the materialist philosophy in 19th century Europe represents an endpoint, the most extreme manifestation of the Mental. All remnants of the Magical and Mythical, which were by then exclusively embodied in the Church, are done away with, at least as far as educated people are concerned. This is the age of heroic materialism manifested in the external world in bridges, railroads, telegraph, tanks, machine guns and all the rest. It would look something like this:

But this picture is not quite true. As I noted in a previous post, European society had already begun exploring the “unconscious” from the beginning of the 1800s. But what Jung called the “Unconscious” is simply the Magical, the Mythical and the Archaic. Thus, the explosion of interest in Greek, Norse and other mythology in the 19th century represents the re-awakening of the Mythical. The interest in eastern philosophies and religions relates mostly to the Archaic. Meanwhile, the burst of interest in the “occult” represents a re-discovery of the Magic consciousness. These types of consciousness had been explicitly suppressed by the Church during the two millennia long development of the Mental Consciousness.

This leads to another important point. If this is all correct, then it follows that in order to manifest a particular type of consciousness in its “purest” form, we must suppress the others. Focus comes through Discipline and Detachment. We have to detach from the other types of consciousness and apply discipline to the one we are pursuing in order to manifest it in its purest form. Thus, the military-like discipline of scholars in the 19th century pursuing materialist philosophy led to a boom in new ideas. The same discipline among the engineers saw the construction of railways, bridges, skyscrapers etc.

But the discipline was not just confined to the intellectuals. The workers in the coal mines, in the factories, on the farms, and the soldiers in the military displayed extraordinary discipline relative to historical standards. But it was a discipline that came at a price and one of the prices to be paid was to detach oneself from the emotions (associated to the Magic consciousness). There is no room for emotion when you’re toiling away in a coal mine for 12 hours a day. It’s simply not possible to do that job without an extreme level of detachment and discipline. This suppression of the emotions was what came to characterise Victorian society. Its downside could be seen on the streets of London in the tolerance of rampant poverty and suffering (including child labor) or in the prisons of convict Australia where horrendous conditions held sway. The suppression of the emotions would later make Freud and Jung famous as they began to treat the various psychoses that resulted.

It was that same discipline and sublimation of emotions that enabled the trench warfare of World War 1 and saw millions of young men spend 4 years running into machine guns. The same discipline saw the development of the atomic bomb.

The 20th century was the end of the line for materialism not just for these obvious reasons but because the initial burst of new discovery had already ended from within science itself. Part of the motivation for systems thinking was to analyse why materialist science had stopped producing results.

For all these reasons, the end of WW2 was the end of the extreme materialist phase of the Mental Consciousness but also, according to Gebser, Spengler and others, the end of the dominant phase of that consciousness altogether. The difference between Gebser and Spengler is that the latter saw this development as the end of the West while the former saw it as the prefiguring of a new consciousness: the Integral.

In the post war years, what we see is a de-focusing of the Mental Consciousness and that de-focusing has been getting more intense in recent decades. We see this in the fact that there have been practically no major scientific or technological breakthroughs in the post war years. In the broader culture, there has occurred the loosening of social norms but these “loosenings” are the opposite of the discipline that I mentioned earlier. Focus = discipline + detachment. The detachment which enabled the Mental Consciousness to become hyper focused was detachment from the Magical and the Mythical. As the Mental has become de-focused, the Magical and Mythical have returned. I mentioned in a recent post the Mytho-Poetic Men’s Movement run by Robert Fry and James Hillman. This is just one of many examples of the Magical and Mythical being explored in the post war years giving us something like this:

In the last two and a half years of the corona debacle, it looks more like this:

Of course, we don’t call it Magic. We’ll call it a mass formation psychosis which has a nice scientific ring to it and sounds legitimate to our rational biases. But the corona hysteria fits perfectly within the technical definition of the Magical Consciousness. It was the unleashing of energy in a coordinated and focused manner. The fact that it was not done on purpose means it is a kind of black magic. Tribal societies that practised the high form of Magic Consciousness had their own strict discipline about the matter for this exact reason. When you loose magical energy without appropriate safeguards it bounces back on you. Even cheesy Hollywood movies know that much. Thus, corona can be seen as the result of western societies mucking around with magic (propaganda and advertising are two prime examples) without the appropriate safeguards.

When viewed this way, we can see that the postwar period has been a time of experimentation with Magic Consciousness in western society. But this experimentation was entirely accidental and “unconscious”. Nobody knew they were doing it because we don’t believe in magic.

One of the key components of the Magic Consciousness is a lack of ego. Another way to think of this would be an almost complete relaxation of the distinction between subject and object, one of the cornerstones of the Mental Consciousness. Obviously, tribal peoples knew the difference between themselves and the animals that they hunted. But the Magical Consciousness implies what we would think of as a radical lack of separation between the individual and the world.

Western society has been accidentally experimenting with this “egoless” state in the post war years mainly through music, sex and psychedelic drugs. Yep, that’s what sex, drugs and rock’n’roll was. It was Magic. Santana’s Black Magic Woman or Hendrix’s Voodoo Child performances at Woodstock were highlights, especially if you took the brown acid.

Even the clothing was Magic

Maybe you’ve been to a music concert and had the feeling of being “swept up in the music” in some kind of “out of body experience”. That feeling would have been a permanent state of affairs for those living in the Magic Consciousness. The borders between you and the world seem to dissolve and you’re “in the zone”.  

If sex, drugs and rock’n’roll can give us an insight into the Magical, why not combine all three? This is something you can do in the comfort of your own home. Get together with someone special, pour a couple of glasses of wine, turn down the lights and put some Barry White music on the stereo. If you don’t become one with the universe, you’ll be sure to at least have a pleasant evening. But be careful when dealing with this kind of Magic. Too much of a good thing and you’ll end up like Hunter Biden.

White magic
Black magic

The Biden connection here is no coincidence, by the way. The baby boomers indulged in the Magical but they did so from within the frame of the decadent Mental Consciousness. That decadence began in earnest with Descartes’ cogito ergo sum. The development of the Ego now became hypertrophic and it has continued to grow ever since. These days we see it in the ultra-decadent form of the rampant narcissism and self-aggrandisement that is everywhere in modern western societies. With the loss of the discipline that was present at the height of materialism, the Ego has become completely detached from reality.

The post war years has seen the decadent form of the Mental Consciousness combined with unstructured experimentation in the Magical and the Mythical. The problem with Magic, however, is that nothing comes for free. He who dances must pay the piper. The sex, drugs and rock’n’roll of the baby boomers was fun while it lasted but then the pendulum swung back the other way. The combination of ego-mania and indulgence in the Magical and Mythical without the proper precautions and understanding pertinent to those domains has left us with a society manifesting the negative Magical, Mythical and Mental all at the same time. That is where we are now in the modern West. The lack of scientific advancement in the post war years has now degraded to the point where we look like we’ll barely be able to keep the lights on much longer. We no longer have the Focus, the discipline and detachment, which were cornerstones of the Mental Consciousness.

All of this looks incredibly bleak and it’s tempting to agree with Spengler that the west is on the way to history’s garbage bin. However, it is Gebser’s contention that this is a necessary period of “exhaustion” prefacing the emergence of a new consciousness called the Integral. If this sounds wishy-washy to us, it’s because we are still the inheritors of the materialist assumptions of the 19th and early 20th century Mental Consciousness. So was Spengler. So was Jung (although he tried later in life to overcome them). For Spengler, might is right and the world of culture is the survival of the fittest. These make sense from within the materialist philosophy but we should by now be somewhat sceptical of that philosophy. From an Integral Consciousness point of view, these ideas are not wrong but they are context dependent. We need to be aware of the context rather than make blanket statements of “truth”.

For me, this is not a theoretical issue. My entire adult life has been spent in the science and technology fields where learning the limitations of the model you are using is a practical matter and not an exercise in armchair philosophy. Gebser’s idea of the Integral Consciousness resonates strongly with me based on empirical life experience and not on idealist philosophical grounds.

So, what might the Integral Consciousness look like and what would it mean in practice? Here is how I think it could look on the chart.

I have drawn the Archaic, Magical, Mythical and Mental in relatively high position relative to the Integral on purpose. The reason is that the Integral Consciousness does not deny the validity of the other types of consciousness. On the contrary, it accepts them all as valid within their own context and it tries to incorporates them into a broader understanding. The Integral is concerned with connection and context. The account I gave above is an Integral Consciousness account to the extent that it presents each of these in historical context and therefore makes time explicit. By making time explicit we also know that to view these as a linear progression is to view them from within the Mental Consciousness mode while to view them as part of a cycle would be to invoke the Mythical and to view them as timeless would be part of the Magical. The Integral doesn’t attempt to say which of these is “true”. In fact, it views them all as “true” within their own context. They become lenses through which to view the world.

The Focus of the Integral Consciousness is not to believe in eternal truths. That is the price that we pay to get to the Integral Consciousness and it is this that is one of the major stumbling blocks preventing us from moving on from the Mental. There are the people in our society who still believe that “the truth is out there” and the experts can find it and drive us forward to utopia. Then there are the postmodernists who believe there’s no such thing as truth and everything is a power game (a position that follows logically from Spengler and Nietzsche). Both of these are products of the materialist Mental Consciousness that we must transcend.

The Integral has a multi-dimensional attitude to “truth”. It follows systems thinking in looking for heuristics and connections. Gone are “eternal truths”. Truth is now in the integration of multiple perspectives. Truth itself must become multi-dimensional and break out of the dualistic either/or straightjacket of the Mental Consciousness. When that happens, you start to experience what Jung called synchronicities. Truths emerge for which you cannot trace cause and effect relationships. The cause and effect are still there but the chain of events is too complex to analyse rationally. This is what systems thinking referred to a medium number systems. It is in those medium number systems that the Integral Consciousness finds its home. It allows us to embrace complexity and uncertainty without the anxiety caused within the Mental Consciousness of not being able to analyse every single variable and outcome.

By making time concrete, we also transcend it and attain something like the timeless non-dualism of the Archaic. Meanwhile, the lack of singular truth gives us some sense of the Mythical where every polar concept also contains its opposite; a pattern which Jung followed in the anima/animus distinction. In short, the Integral, as the name suggests, integrates all the other consciousnesses but knows that it cannot become them. We can no longer attain the purest form of the Magical Consciousness, for example, without giving up the Ego which we have spent the last two thousand years developing. But we can learn to understand the Magical and to incorporate that understanding into a new consciousness.

This new consciousness will seem inefficient, wasteful and unfocused from within the Mental Consciousness. But the desire to do more things in less time and to achieve infinite growth on a finite planet has already passed. Our entire relation to time will have to change but this is a change that is already underway. Nobody believes in the economy anymore. Just one symptom of this is that companies can’t find people to work in western societies anymore.

You can write that off as decadence and laziness. How dare the millennials demand jobs that are actually meaningful. There’s no doubt that all this is currently manifesting as narcissism but that’s just the leftover egomania of the materialist phase of Mental Consciousness. That should go away pretty quickly now. The West will have plenty of opportunity to learn humility in the years ahead and maybe in that humility we can transcend the Ego and embrace the Integral.

The Eternal Feminine, The Devouring Mother and the Fourth Face of God: Final

In the last two posts I explained why Jean Gebser’s book has given me a huge part of the answer to the theme of this series of posts. There was another book referred to me by a commenter (big thanks to Shane) which has proven very useful also and that’s Australian scholar David Tacey’s analysis of Patrick White’s novels. I almost completely disagree with Tacey. In fact, I was going to give up on him after just a couple of dozen pages but I figured I should take my own advice from two posts ago and sit in the contradiction. I’m glad I did, if for no other reason than to learn the extraordinary fact that, even though I disagree with Tacey’s entire approach, the primary archetype he invokes in the book is, you guessed it, The Devouring Mother. Even though we disagree, we also agree. This seems fitting given that the Integral, identified by Gebser, is all about overcoming the either/or binary of Instrumental Consciousness.

I could fill a whole other series of posts with the problems I have with Tacey’s analysis. There’s only one that I want to highlight because it’s crucial to my analysis of Patrick White’s Voss. I noted in my first post that Voss was about the integration of the anima and animus. It turns out I was not the first to do so. Other Australian writers, including very well-known ones such as James McAuley, had noticed this too.

Tacey rejects this idea but he doesn’t give any explanation why. Rather, he simply notes that professional writers like McAuley were lacking the requisite knowledge of Jung (the implication being that Tacey, as a professional Jungian scholar, has that knowledge). That’s what’s known in first year philosophy class as an Appeal to Authority, probably the most common fallacy in the world these days. Shut up and trust the experts.

Tacey’s use of a fallacy is a bad enough sin in a scholarly text, but the alternative explanation he provides for the relationship between Voss and Laura in White’s novel simply makes no sense. He states that Laura is the devouring feminine to Voss’s puer (aka The Innocent/Child archetype). He likens her to the sirens of old that lured men to their doom. Well, clearly she’s not very good at her job. In the opening section of the novel, Voss pays her almost no attention. He doesn’t even to have to block his eyes or ears as with the sirens of ancient times. He’s too busy preparing for his mission to give her any mind. So, Tacey writes off the overwhelmingly most likely explanation for one that simply doesn’t fit the facts of the novel.

But it’s the reason why Tacey makes the mistake that is crucial because the error that he makes is absolutely essential for understanding not just the story of Voss but why the book represents a genuinely new paradigm in storytelling. Tacey approaches the book as an object of psychoanalysis and not as a work of art. He explicitly rules out the idea that Voss is a Hero’s Journey. Therefore, he misses the core artistic achievement that Patrick White made in the novel. With Voss, White didn’t just write an incredible novel. He rewired the whole structure of the Hero’s Journey.   

Here is a schematic diagram of the Hero’s Journey in classic 3-Act Structure. It is a Jungian archetype. It is one of the schematic structures that underlie human cognition. (Actually, I suspect it is one of the schematics that underlie actual reality but let’s avoid that philosophical issue for now).

In Act 1, the Hero gets a call to adventure. Act 2 is where most of the action is and then Act 3 is the denouement where the hero transcends to a new world that is qualitatively different to the one they were in at the start of the story. To take an example that almost everybody will know, in The Matrix, Neo accepts the red pill at the end of Act 1. He’s almost about to die through Cipher’s betrayal at the end of Act 2. Act 3 is where he goes back into the matrix to save Morpheus. Every Hollywood box office hit follows this archetype as do all bestselling books.

Because Tacey doesn’t care about the Hero’s Journey, he misses the fact that the anima/animus theme in Voss is not just a passing fancy in the book. It’s not just hinted at. White hardwires it directly into the 3-Act structure. All the major pivot points in the plot represent anima/animus integration. Patrick White was Australia’s greatest writer for a reason. He knew how to write a story. When he does something like that it is not an accident. It doesn’t matter whether he is conscious of what he is doing. I agree with Tacey that White was probably not conscious of most of what he achieved in Voss. But that’s no surprise. A bebop saxophonist is not consciously aware of what they are doing when they are playing a solo. It’s impossible to be consciously aware while you’re ripping through scales at 200 beats a minute. But clearly jazz saxophonists can and do play solos. They do so from the Unconscious. That’s the whole point of jazz.

I mentioned in my first review of Voss that there is no romantic love shown whatsoever in the book. Nevertheless, many people who read it call it a “romance”. How can that be possible? It’s possible because White invokes another archetype. Jung liked to use geological metaphors to explain the archetypes but I prefer the electrical circuit metaphor. Here is one of the most common archetypal circuits in existence. We start with two components.

Then we wire them together.

With this simple structure we have one of the oldest stories in existence: man meets woman; in other words, a love story.

Sometimes, this initial connection is all you need.

How did you two meet?
He literally bumped into me in the vegetable aisle at the supermarket. We hit it off and have been together ever since.

Remember that the archetype is the structure and nothing more. By itself, it’s almost meaningless. But this structure undergirds all the greatest love stories ever told (and all the ones that weren’t told). Paris meets Helen. Romeo meets Juliet. Faust meets Gretchen. Mr Darcy meets Elizabeth Bennett. Neo meets Trinity.

With a slight change in structure we create the classic adultery story: man meets married woman.

We can embellish the structure of this story too. Man and woman are married. Husband cheats on wife. Wife cheats on husband. They patch it up and then the two people they were cheating with end up getting married themselves (has Hollywood made that movie yet? If not, there’s a free idea for screenwriters).

There are endless ways to add to this basic structure but they all boil down to the two basic elements: man and woman (note: for our purposes here, I’m completing ignoring homosexuality and all other options as these would require a too lengthy digression).

Let’s call this the Personal dimension of the Love Story.

But almost all love stories have a Collective component too. When we add that in we get the following two dimensional view.

Note that each of these is an independent variable. We can calculate all combinations of these variables by taking the factorial of 4 which gives us 24 possible combinations. This is going to be important as we move through the analysis ahead.

(Big disclaimer: just because there are 24 combinations does not mean they are meaningful because words and phrases have to mean something and the same words put in a different order produce duplicate meanings. There might be a mathematical way to exclude duplicates but it’s beyond my ability. For “fun”, I went through all the combinations of 24 and found 8 duplicates. My assumption is that the combinatoric calculation is correct to the right order of magnitude, which is the main point I am making. If there are any math nerds reading this who can see an error with this approach, please correct me.)

Paris and Helen fall in love. That’s the personal side of the story. But Helen is already married to Menelaus. That’s the collective side. It becomes really collective when every man and his dog shows up at the gates of Troy to fight over the matter. Romeo and Juliet fall for each other but the collective context is that their families are enemies. Faust and Gretchen fall in love but her mother will not approve. Romantic love is the personal perspective of the Love Story. The Collective perspective is the exoteric structure that society determines for romantic relationships in the form of marriage, courting rituals, sexual norms etc.

Using these two primary dimensions, we can map a change in love stories over time. During the Mythic era, of which the Iliad is our paradigm example, the Collective pole dominates the Personal. Whenever personal love is depicted, it is the cause of damage to the Collective. Paris and Helen’s personal love ruins her marriage to Menelaus and causes a 10-year war. There are very similar stories in the Australian Dreamtime myths. Somebody sleeps with somebody’s spouse and bad things follow. The Mythic Consciousness was all about the Collective. Romantic love was a threat to the Collective and the love stories from this time focus on that angle.

By the time we get to Shakespeare and the Renaissance, the pattern is reversed. Suddenly, the Personal takes precedence over the Collective. The story of Romeo and Juliet is the story of romantic love first and foremost. The Collective (the Montagues and Capulets) is a threat to that love and ultimately destroys it. Shakespeare borrowed heavily from Boccaccio’s Decameron and the Decameron has many love stories focusing on the Personal. Sometimes, as in Romeo and Juliet, the collective intervenes and the whole thing ends in tragedy. Sometimes, the lovers overcome the Collective (usually by eloping) and live happily ever after enjoying their personal love.

From the mythical era all the way up until the 19th century, almost all love stories are love-at-first-sight. The lovers fall in love in Act 1 and the rest of the story is the process of negotiating with the Collective. We can map that onto the Hero’s Journey as follows:

Starting in the 19th century, we begin to see a change. The love story starts to get more complicated and it takes longer to tell.

Let’s use Pride and Prejudice as the paradigmatic story. Man meets woman but they don’t fall in love instantly. In fact, they don’t even like each other. He’s a pompous ass and she’s not the prettiest girl at the ball. Instead, they learn to love each other over time and the novel is the story of their developing love. It looks like this:

These are new kinds of love stories; new archetypes. But they do not cancel out the old archetype. They build on it. They transcend it; go beyond it.

In the French writer Stendhal, we see the unrequited love story; 500 pages of will-they-or-won’t-they and then they don’t. Meanwhile, the gothic romances bring back the supernatural forces of the Mythic but they are no longer the Collective gods of Ancient Greece but personal demons to be fought against. Fear, anxiety and even terror are the emotions which start to make their way into the love story.

What began to happen in the 19th century in literature as in all other areas of society was that the Unconscious started to come into view. If we add the Conscious-Unconscious to our axes we get the following.

We have gone from 4 independent variables to 6. The factorial of 6 is 720. The old love story encompassed 24 combinations, the new 720. So, we see an order of magnitude increase in complexity. That’s why the new love story takes so long to tell.

In ancient societies, the masculine and feminine are kept separate both physically and psychologically. There is men’s business and women’s business and never the twain shall meet. Severe punishments are in place to ensure these boundaries are not traversed. In Australian indigenous societies, for example, a husband was forbidden from speaking to his mother-in-law; surely one of the most sensible rules ever formulated. But, jokes aside, a man caught in the sacred woman’s area or vice versa, could be put to death. That was very real and very serious business.

Similar patterns existed until very recently even in the West. In Australia, all the way until the 1960s there were separate rooms for women and men at pubs. Schooling was rarely co-ed. Part of the reason why women didn’t work or hold office was because that was the man’s sphere. Love stories throughout history reflect these socio-cultural patterns. When the Unconscious starts to come into view in the 19th century in love stories, that’s an indication it was coming into view in the general society. The masculine and feminine relationship was changing at exactly the time that the conscious-unconscious relationship was changing. This combination of changes makes sense historically because the feminine had been relegated to the Unconscious a couple of millennia ago. Both were now reappearing on the scene.

With this brief historical background in mind, let’s return to Patrick White and Voss, published in 1957 featuring a story set in 1848. Voss is a brand new kind of love story but also a brand new kind of story; a genuine watershed moment.

Man meets woman is the opening scene of the novel as Voss and Laura Trevelyan meet. But this is not the Romeo and Juliet love-at-first sight story. Rather, it is the Jane Austen romance. An odd couple meet in an aristocratic house. He’s a bit of a weirdo. She’s a young aristocratic women whose only life path in the society of the Victorian age is to get married and start a family.

Initially they don’t seem to like each other. This all makes sense. We know how this one goes. They’ll dislike each other for a while, slowly start to realise the other is not so bad and then fall madly in love at the end. That’s what White wants us to think. He’s inviting us to compare his book to a Jane Austen romance in exactly the same way that the opening pages of Goethe’s Faust directly refer to the Book of Job. This happens all the time in literature, and pop culture for that matter. The technical term for it is Intertextuality.

We read the first Act of Voss through the frame of the Jane Austen love story. But immediately White sets up a dissonance. Something is missing. There is no romance between Voss and Laura. Even the scenes which are explicitly romantic (an evening stroll in the garden in the moonlight) have none. We put up with this because White has primed us for the Jane Austen romance and we know those take a long time to develop. So, we are waiting for the sparks. But they never come. White gives us the form of the love story with none of its content.

But what is this “form”? It is nothing other than an archetype. White gives us only the schematic representation of a love story. This works in exactly the same way the archetypes work. But the archetypes live in the Unconscious. So, another way to say it is that White is telling a story to our Unconscious mind. If that sounds weird, it’s because it had never been done before! I may be mistaken as I haven’t read every novel ever written, but I think White is the first author to use an archetype in a novel as an actual storytelling device. As a result, he is telling one story to our unconscious mind and another to our conscious mind. But even more than that, he’s inviting the conscious mind to understand that an archetype is being used. Therefore, he’s bringing the Unconscious to consciousness.

By the way, modern cognitive science has shown how this works. If somebody is told the words “no elephant”, what happens in the mind is that the subconscious forms the image of the elephant (the subconscious is all about images) and then the conscious mind forms the negation of it. We can diagram this as follows:-

This is the secret behind all modern advertising and propaganda. Your conscious mind can understand a negation, but your subconscious mind only sees the image. All modern propaganda and advertising works by talking directly to the Unconscious. Because our culture has not yet learned to come to terms with the Unconscious, our conscious minds are completely oblivious to what’s going on, although we are slowly starting to pick up on the trick as revealed by the use of phrases like “psy-op” becoming common. This is another way in which we are slowly bringing the Unconscious to consciousness.

So, we go through the first Act of Voss thinking we’re reading a love story and wondering why it doesn’t appear. And this is where White pulls his first brilliant trick. He subverts the whole thing at the end of Act 1. This subversion forces a re-evaluation on our part, one of several which ramp up in importance as the novel progresses.

At the end of Act 1, Voss asks Laura to marry him. This blows up our whole understanding of the story. We were supposed to be in a Jane Austen love story. But we know that in a Jane Austen love story the marriage comes at the end. By putting the marriage at the of Act 1, White forces us to completely re-evaluate what is going on.

But it’s even more brilliant. Because while we the reader are re-evaluating everything we thought we knew, so are the characters in the novel. Laura in particular is shocked by the offer. Then she tacitly accepts it. What? Who accepts an offer of marriage from a man she doesn’t even like when he is about to go on a journey that will take at least two years? 

Whatever is going on makes no rational sense. It is explicitly irrational; unconscious. Thus, we get a split in the story that begins at the start of Act 2. That split is between conscious and unconscious. Laura and Voss are getting married. Except, they aren’t. Another negation. Another sublimation. White is forcing our conscious mind to negate while priming our  unconscious to continue to see what only exists archetypally. In doing this, he has added a whole new dimension to the Hero’s Journey; a whole new axis. This is a revolution in the art of storytelling. It looks like this.

There are now two stories going on simultaneously; one in the unconscious mind and one in the conscious. Note that this is true both for us the reader and the characters in the novel! The addition of the y-axis here is the brilliant, genius-level innovation in storytelling that Patrick White achieves with Voss. With this achievement, he can tell a whole new kind of story; a story about the Unconscious itself. In Voss, the two threads that had been building historically since the start of the 19th century come together, the masculine-feminine and the conscious-unconscious.

Act 2 is where we are going to descend into the Unconscious. For the masculine, represented by Voss, this is a trip into the desert. For the feminine, symbolised by Laura, it’s an equally barren existence in the bourgeois household of the Victorian era. In his next brilliant move, White extends the unconscious love story into a marriage story by having Laura adopt a child at the mid-point of the story. She becomes a mother, except she isn’t. The child is adopted, but only informally. It’s all taking place in her unconscious mind but so is the whole relationship with Voss. There is now a symbolic marriage between the two. They are now a family with a child.

Meanwhile, up in the conscious mind, Voss is the still the great adventurer taking a journey. The adventure story continues throughout Act 2. We get the following Hero’s Journey:

Does this look familiar? All the men are up there in the Conscious part of the story. All the women are down below in the unconscious. That is exactly what was going on in the Victorian era society and had been going on for the last couple of millennia of patriarchy. The feminine has been relegated to the unconscious. Household, family, child. All woman’s business. All hidden away out of sight. Meanwhile, the great adventures of Faustian man were blazing in all their glory up in the Conscious.

Of course, Voss is not on a great adventure. He’s walking into the desert and fighting his own demons. This is yet another negation on White’s part and it symbolises not just a psychic but a spiritual struggle. Our textual reference point now is the biblical journey. Voss is both Faust, the prime myth of Faustian culture and also the biblical Moses wandering in the desert. In this way, he represents the two highest levels of the animus that Jung identified. Laura’s adoption of the child now makes her the Virgin Mary in anima terms. It is through these symbols that White shows us the individuation process in Act 2.

It is the psychological journey of Act 2 that the novel is known for. But it’s at the end of Act 2 that we get the final, earth-shattering re-evaluation that is going to blow everything out of the water. Voss dies.

He dies at exactly the point in the classic Hero’s Journey where somebody is supposed to die. In the Matrix, for example, this is the point of the story where Cipher is killing the other members of the crew by pulling the plug on them. It’s the All is Lost moment where the mission seems impossible before the hero rises from the ashes.

But there’s a huge problem. It is Voss that has died. But Voss is supposed to be the hero of the book! White is yet again forcing us to re-evaluate and this time we must re-evaluate the entire premise of the book. The titular character, the hero, has died and there’s still one act of the story to go. Again, White is negating a standard cultural expectation. When a story is named after one of the characters, that character is supposed to be the hero. Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, King Lear, Robinson Crusoe, Oliver Twist. The list could go on and on.

What does this mean? It means Voss is not the hero. Laura Trevelyan is the hero. We must change our entire understanding of the story. With Voss dead, the adventure story has ended and so has the love story. All that is left is Laura. What on earth is going on? What sort of story are we in now? The answer: a completely new type of story never written before. And the reason is because in Act 3 White introduces a fourth variable to the love story.

What happens symbolically in the 3rd act of the story is that the feminine rises up from the unconscious both literally and figuratively. Laura leaves the house of her aunt and uncle. She gets a job and takes a place in society. She is a mother, a widow, a teacher and still a young and beautiful woman. She is all these things in one. But the psychological journey of Act 2 is over. In Act 3 we are now standing back in history. The love story of Voss and Laura is over and both we and the characters in the novel are re-evaluating it as a historical occurrence through the character of Laura.

This is the fourth and brand new dimension White has added to the love story. It’s the incredible, meta, put-your-mind-in-a-blender-and-drink-an-Integral-Consciousness-milkshake moment. It makes me want to pour a bath just so I can jump out of it and shout “Eureka, muthaf**ckers!”

White has added Time to love story. We now have 8 independent variables. The factorial of 8, the total number of unique combinations of 8 independent variables, is a mind-bending 40,320. This is two orders of magnitude greater than the three dimensional story. White’s technical achievement has unlocked a new kind of story. Never before could so much information be fitted within the space of a novel. And, as Gregory Bateson once said, humans think in stories. Therefore, this is a new kind of thinking, exactly the kind that Jean Gebser talked about. When we add the fourth dimension, we change everything and we need a new word to capture that change: the Integral.

This technical, analytical achievement makes Voss a work of genius. But there is something far more important and this is one of the few things I agree with David Tacey about.

Patrick White was clearly a troubled soul. He’d had a difficult childhood moving between Australia and England. As a result, he didn’t fit in to either country. He also served as an intelligence officer in World War 2 and saw first hand the ravages of war including in the deserts of North Africa (I believe it’s those deserts he had in mind in Voss). Tacey analyses White as having a puer-Devouring Mother complex. But, as Tacey himself admits, such complexes are never wholly a part of personal psychology. That was Jung’s great advance over Freud: he realised the connection between the personal and collective psyche.

It follows that White’s book is about the state of affairs that held at the time it was written in 1957. White has not just added the “personal” time of the story but also the “collective time” of the whole culture. This is the timeline that I referred to in my last post. The feminine had been relegated to the Unconscious since the creation of the Christian Trinity. But God died and then the Faustian son (Antichrist) died on the battlefields of the world wars. What was left was the feminine still mostly in the unconscious mind but battling to come to consciousness; in other words, The Devouring Mother.

White’s novel is a direct response to the collective psychic situation of the time. There was a breakdown in consciousness leaving the way open for the manifestation of the unconscious (by the way, that breakdown in consciousness has been getting worse lately, in case you hadn’t noticed). That’s why Laura Trevelyan is the hero of the story. She represents the eternal (archetypal) feminine rising to consciousness. That is what White shows us in Act 3.

I don’t believe White had much consciousness of any of this. He hadn’t even read Jung at this time. So, he would not have been framing any of this in the analytical terms I have used here. He would have been drawing on his own unconscious which is also the collective unconscious. In fact, I would say he was using his whole being with all the faculties available to a human. That whole being decided that what was needed to address the issue was a story. Not just any story. A Love Story.

Love is connection. It is connection at the physical level but also at the higher levels of the psyche and spirit. The Devouring Mother is the facsimile of love; the shadow form. She is disconnection. She wants to atomise everything and disintegrate it. Lockdowns, masks, work from home, loneliness, anxiety, mental illness. These are the workings of The Devouring Mother. The answer to all this is love. That is why White wrote a love story.

Only art/symbolism can do this because only art/symbolism can provide the multi-dimensionality required to compress so much into one work. It would simply not have been possible to convey this message without White’s innovation in storytelling. But that innovation did not come from his conscious mind or even just his unconscious. It must have come from his whole being. And that is what is required in the Integral. We must engage our whole being and not just the little voice in our head. Only art/symbolism can communicate from one whole being to another whole being. Our culture is deeply uncomfortable with this idea but we still recognise it in things like marriage ceremonies (all symbolism).

What reductionist science must do is get rid of variables to enable calculation to be done. But none of the variables in White’s love story can be gotten rid of. As a result, you have something that cannot be rationally processed because there are too many variables. The effect is disorienting to our rational minds which still crave the old single point of truth. We can try to go back to the single point of truth. We can try to destroy it. Both of those tendencies are present in the modern world. But there is another way: to transcend it.

We transcend it by doing what White did which is to treat is as one big irreducible whole. To do that we must bring all the human faculties to bear: the conscious and the unconscious, the past and the present, the masculine and the feminine, the personal and the collective. The Integal, aka systems thinking, is about wholes. The word “whole” is etymologically related to the word “holy” (heil and heilig in German). It’s related to salvation. This is the spiritual symbolism that Jung and Gebser knew was needed but which could not be conveyed in an analytical format. We need a way to communicate holistically, which means holy. White found a way in his novel. Voss transcends to the spiritual in the book and the book itself is a spiritual text.

It turns out that what was needed was a love story. That is the meaning of Voss. That is the “integration” that needs to happen. Love strengthens all connections. It is the antidote to disintegration and atomisation. The new thing trying to come into existence is love. A new kind of love. Not one that comes out of nowhere as a deus ex machina but one that builds on what was already there. It is fundamentally tied to the past and it creates a future. It connects the masculine and feminine. It connects the conscious and unconscious. It connects the individual to the collective. At the highest level, it connects to the divine; the eternal.

So, the Baby Boomers had it right, after all. All you need is Love.

And just to prove that I’ve completely lost my mind, I’m going to end with a quote from an 80s pop song; Steve Winwood’s Higher Love:

Think about it, there must be higher love
Down in the heart or hidden in the stars above
Without it, life is wasted time
Look inside your heart, I’ll look inside mine

Things look so bad everywhere
In this whole world, what is fair?
We walk blind and we try to see
Falling behind in what could be

Bring me a higher love


As a final note, one of the things that’s blown me away about this series of posts is that I could never have gotten to the end without the referral to Gebser and Tacey. So, just wanted to say thanks one more time to William and Shane for that. A great example of the personal-collective axis at work!

All posts in this series:

Patrick White’s “Voss”
The Eternal Feminine, The Devouring Mother and the Fourth Face of God: Part 1
The Eternal Feminine, The Devouring Mother and the Fourth Face of God: Part 2
The Eternal Feminine, The Devouring Mother and the Fourth Face of God: Part 3
The Eternal Feminine, The Devouring Mother and the Fourth Face of God: Part 4
The Eternal Feminine, The Devouring Mother and the Fourth Face of God: Final

The Eternal Feminine, The Devouring Mother and the Fourth Face of God: Part 4

With the discovery of Gebser, I am finally ready to deal with the main issue of this series of posts; namely, the eternal feminine, the devouring mother and the fourth face of God. Recall Gebser’s schema from the last post:

The story of Job, which we discussed in detail in the second post of the series, represents the transition from the Mythic Consciousness into the Instrumental (again, I prefer “Instrumental” here instead of “Mental” used in the chart).

Job is dissatisfied with the treatment he has received from God. His interlocutors do not argue with him on rational grounds. They don’t contradict the points he makes. They simply say he is wrong to disagree on principle. This the “we-oriented” ethic of the Mythic Consciousness. Group solidarity is everything. To go against the group is the greatest sin (ostracism in Ancient Greece was seen as worse than death. Even Socrates chose hemlock over exile). The Mythical Consciousness is still very strong in the modern world. Most people are terrified of going against the group, hence the great Seinfeld joke about people’s fear of public speaking being so great that if they were at a funeral they’d rather be in the casket than giving the eulogy.

Job represents a turning point because he steadfastly refuses to give in to the mob. In doing so, he asserts his (egotistic) independence. More importantly, he provides clear and logical argumentation. This is the beginnings of the Instrumental Consciousness and it’s no coincidence that the writing of the Book of Job happened around the same time that the Ancient Greeks were figuring out logic and dialectic in the same neighbourhood of the eastern Mediterranean.

At the transition periods between two types of consciousness, there is an enormous psychic and social tension at play. In Answer to Job, Jung describes how this tension gave rise to Christianity. We don’t need to repeat his arguments here. The important point is that it was through St Paul and the Church that the theology of Christ was integrated into the Roman empire and Greek thought. When the empire collapsed, Europe went through the dark ages and the beginnings of the Instrumental Consciousness lived on in the Islamic world to be reintroduced to Europe later.

The modern Patriarchy begins at this time and it is symbolised by the Christian trinity. But, as Jung would much later point out, something had been left out of the Trinity and therefore relegated to the Unconscious. There was a hidden quaternity that was being repressed. Satan had already come to represent the unconscious in the Book of Job and so it’s fitting to put him “down there”. But another thing had been left out too: the feminine.

The feminine may have been left out of the official business of the Church but it was not forgotten by the people. In medieval and Renaissance Europe, there arose quite spontaneously a cult of the Virgin. In some places, it could be argued that the Virgin Mary was worshipped with more feeling than Christ. Thus, the need to recognise the feminine in a spiritual/symbolic sense was satisfied to a certain extent even though women were excluded from official life; a fact which heretics like Erasmus were already pillorying at the time of the Reformation.

This state of affairs continued until the next key part of the story which is the Death of God. Nietzsche may have made the official announcement in Zarathustra, but the real death of God happened earlier and the key text to understand it is Goethe’s Faust.

The beginning of Faust is almost identical to the Book of Job (of course, Goethe was doing this on purpose). Sitting up in the heavens, God and Satan (Mephistopheles) are having a chat when God singles out Faust. Unlike Job, who was a faithful servant without blemish, Faust has already swayed from the right path. He is “confused”. The Lord says he will lead Faust into clarity but Mephistopheles brags that he can corrupt Faust. God gives him leave to try. They make a bet. Whoever wins gets Faust’s soul.

Unlike the Book of Job where Yahweh shows up at the end to complete the story, God never appears again in the story. Faust does not meet God at the end but rather “the eternal feminine” (aka Sophia or the Virgin Mary). The other crucial difference is that Faust is not the unwilling recipient of Satan’s machinations. He is not the plaything of Satan. Rather, Mephistopheles must get Faust himself to agree to the deal. Faust accepts. He consciously trades in his eternal soul for the promise of being able to do whatever he wants on Earth. The combination of these factors means we are left with this quarternity at the end of the book.

This is a highly problematic formulation. It seems to suggest a return to matriarchy. The Father is gone only to be replaced by the Mother. In the meantime, Faust is the rebellious son who is out of control because he no longer has his Father around to set boundaries. As Dostoevsky pointed out, “if God does not exist, everything is permitted”. That’s exactly what happens in Faust. Faust goes from one crazy adventure to the next. Along the way he destroys Gretchen’s life and the lives of others. He never gives it a second thought. He just ploughs on to the next thing.  It is this element of the story that Spengler highlighted as representative of Faustian culture’s drive to infinity.

Jean Gebser had a different take; one that incorporates Jung. Let’s go back one step before Faust.

If God died sometime in the 18th century, we get the following quaternity.

Everybody is focused on the fact that God is dead which makes sense because the ramifications of that are that everything is now permitted. We see Faustian behaviour breaking out everywhere in western culture as the age of Heroic Materialism begins signaling adventure of the high seas, new discoveries in exotic lands, conquest, plunder, colonialism etc. In the post colonial years, the baby boomers live out the Faustian experience via sex, drugs and rock’n’roll. Daddy’s gone. Let’s party!

Where is Mommy? That was a question nobody asked because the feminine had been relegated to the unconscious since the formulation of the Trinity. Here lies Gebser’s key insight.

Daddy was gone, but Mommy was still down there in the unconscious. Without the Church to keep a lid on it like they had with the alchemists, Western society began to explore the depths. It was exactly at this time that there was a surge in interest in the unconscious, the hidden, the dark and the invisible. It was the age of geology, archaeology, history, myth, evolution, deep time and psychology. Physics drilled down so far into the dark recesses of matter it fell out the bottom. We discovered invisible microorganisms. There was a boom in interest in occultism.

Some of these developments were already visible in the story of Faust. Faust spends a good deal of the book partying with witches and flying on magic carpets. In the second half, he interacts with the myths of antiquity. There is even a “romance” between Faust and Helen (of Helen of Troy fame). This is all part of the world that western culture had previously relegated to the unconscious. The door to “below” was well and truly open. Mephistopheles gives Faust the key and he goes down to meet the “Mothers”.

Faust’s relationship with Satan captures the satanic element of the Unconscious in detail. But Faust’s relationships with Gretchen and Helen, which the represent the journey into the feminine side of the Unconscious, are described by Goethe in noticeably vague, rushed and incomplete form. Moreover, they both end in disasters which are redeemed in highly dubious fashion at the end of the book. Goethe’s treatment of Satan is detailed, intricate and convincing. His treatment of the feminine question seems like an afterthought and quite literally a deus ex machina. Western culture knew how to deal with Satan but not yet with the feminine.

Here, finally, I have the explanation for The Devouring Mother.

God died and the Faustian sons of western culture had a two century long party. While that was going on, we still didn’t quite notice the feminine down in the unconscious. But the party is now coming to an end. Specifically, the infinite expansion element of the Faustian myth is imploding because it turns out you can’t have infinite growth on a finite planet. This fact also reveals the Mother problem. Gaia is finally saying enough is enough but she is doing so from a “shadow” position because the feminine is still relegated to the Unconscious.

The Faustian son destroyed himself literally and spiritually on the battlefields of the world wars leaving the following quarternity.

Spengler reached this exact same conclusion. In his analysis, infinity pursued by the Faustian son was the core of Faustian culture. When the son disappeared, he concluded there were no longer any “great men” who could continue the infinite expansion. Therefore, Faustian culture was finished.

What if Spengler was wrong. What if the main task before us is actually the incorporation of the Unconscious. If that is true, Faust represents not the end but beginning. It is the turning point in the emergence of a new consciousness in exactly the same way that the Book of Job heralded the transition from the Mythical to the Instrumental.

The new consciousness that is trying to emerge is the Integral. Jungian psychology holds the key to this because it has explicitly identified the two main integrations that need to take place at the psychic level; namely, the integration of the conscious and the unconscious and the integration of the masculine and the feminine. This could mean any number of things. Here are two starting points at the macro level.

The feminine needs to rise out from the unconscious and take its place in consciousness as the full, positive, “eternal” feminine rather than the shadow form which is currently manifesting.

The masculine has a different challenge. It needs to get over the fact that God is dead. It needs to stop being a son and become a man. (Note: this is the dangerous idea that probably drove Nietzsche insane. We’ll unpack it more in the next post).

Here is my first tentative diagram of what this might look like.

Both Jung and Gebser were anxious to point out that if this is analytically correct, it would still not necessarily be psychologically or spiritually useful. They both believed it needed to be rendered in symbolic form and their assumption was that this entailed a religious approach. That might be true. But what if art could help do the job? That was exactly my guess in the very first post in this series and in the next post I’ll finish by sketching that idea out in detail as we return to the book that might be the real precursor to the new consciousness: Patrick White’s Voss.

All posts in this series:

Patrick White’s “Voss”
The Eternal Feminine, The Devouring Mother and the Fourth Face of God: Part 1
The Eternal Feminine, The Devouring Mother and the Fourth Face of God: Part 2
The Eternal Feminine, The Devouring Mother and the Fourth Face of God: Part 3
The Eternal Feminine, The Devouring Mother and the Fourth Face of God: Part 4
The Eternal Feminine, The Devouring Mother and the Fourth Face of God: Final

The Eternal Feminine, The Devouring Mother and the Fourth Face of God: Part 3

It is said that when the student is ready, the teacher will appear. Well, in the modern world, the better formulation might be that when the student is ready, somebody will comment on their blog to point the way to the teacher. That’s happened twice here in recent times. On both occasions, I was writing in an exploratory fashion by following a hunch and trying to figure it out as I went.

Back in my Age of the Orphan series, I was the following a hunch about how the dominant archetype of modern society is The Orphan. As part of that, I was struggling to tie together the individual spiritual journey with the social and then a commenter (Austin) referred me to Rene Guenon who had already explained this with his exoteric/esoteric distinction. That gave me the answer I was looking for.

In this series of posts, I’ve been following the Jungian hints about what I’ve been calling the eternal feminine and how it seems to relate to a major transformation going on right now in the world. I’ve been wondering whether this is happening because the feminine is being re-integrated after a couple of millennia of patriarchy or whether we are being called to deal with the unconscious itself. This was what Jung implied in Answer to Job. Just as Yahweh learned about his unconscious through the mistreatment of Job, we are all now having to learn about our collective and personal unconscious through the machinations of modern society where the unconscious seems to be given free reign including to do previously unthinkable things like lockdown society.

It’s fitting, given that we’re talking about Jung, that another synchronicity has taken place and given me the answer I have been looking for. This time, another commenter (massive thanks to William) referred me to German linguist, poet and philosopher, Jean Gebser’s, work “The Ever Present Origin” published in Germany in 1949 but only translated into English in 1989. It turns out Gebser had already trod this path before, incorporated the thought of Jung and concluded that what was happening was the incorporation of the Fourth Face of God (not his words, but same meaning).

Before we get into Gebser in more detail, allow me to indulge in a little autobiographical story which I think will help to set the context, at least for why I think Gebser is so important.

I did my university degree in linguistics and worked briefly as a linguist after graduating. Linguistics had a burst of popularity in the post war years under the work of Noam Chomsky and his generative grammar. A big chunk of my uni degree involved learning Chomskyan analysis. I’m going to skip over all the details and give you my conclusion: Chomskyan linguistics was a failure. It was a failure by trying to use the methods of the “hard sciences” where they don’t belong. What’s more, all kinds of hand waving argumentation gets used in modern linguistics to make it seem like linguistics is a hard science. Articles and books are written making claims that cannot be empirically tested. It seemed very clear to me that Chomskyan linguistics and similar approaches were the attempt to shoe horn a field of study into a type of thinking which simply didn’t work. That was how I felt at the time and it was partly this that led me to leave the field.

Gerald Weinberg

After deciding to change career, I landed a job in IT. Purely by chance (actually, I know believe it was a synchronicity), the training I received at my very first job involved the study of what is known as Systems Thinking. In particular, we focused on the work of Gerald Weinberg who wrote about the subject from the computer science point of view.

As I was reading Weinberg I had a eureka moment because in that book he explained with great clarity the reasons why Chomskyan linguistics can’t work. Again, I’m going to skip all the details here. But the issue was bigger than just modern linguistics. Systems thinking was a critique of the whole of modern science. It explained why science had worked so well in certain domains (physics and chemistry) but not in other domains (biology, psychology and linguistics). That gave me the theoretical basis to my criticism of modern linguistics.

But there was a problem. I was learning systems thinking within the context of a job that was firmly based in science and technology. We were learning these ideas because people believed that incorporating the lessons of systems thinking would let people do better science and technology. They believed systems thinking could fix the problems of science. That’s still true to this day. What gets called Systems Thinking now is nothing more than a way to do science better. In fact, the goal of the original thinkers like Weinberg was to set limits of what science can do. They didn’t say “here’s a better way to do science”. They said “beyond this point you can’t do science as we know it”.

During corona, I’ve watched as people I know who are evangelicals about “systems thinking” fell for the nonsense. I realised that they too had drank the kool-aid. They believed in science and they believed that systems thinking was a way to do better science. They had missed the fundamental point.

When I started reading Jung, it occurred to me that the “language faculty” that modern linguistics is predicated on could best be thought of as an archetype in the Jungian sense. Early in his career, Jung also fell into the trap of trying to explain why the archetypes must have a material basis (in genetics) using the same hand waving argumentation as in modern linguistics. However, he changed his position as he got older and started to abandon the old paradigm. I believe this is a big part of the reason why Freud became far better known than Jung. Freud’s work fits better within the materialist presuppositions of the modern world. Jung’s work does not. It raises uncomfortable questions. Much like systems thinking, Jung’s work became a challenge to the paradigm. But nobody wanted to think about that. They wanted to continue with business as usual.

Although I had not connected the dots, it was always clear to me that ideology was overriding what seemed like genuinely interesting new ideas in the seemingly unrelated disciplines of linguistics, IT, science (systems thinking) and psychology (Jung). With the corona debacle, somehow these things got tied together. We had the great Chomsky seriously suggesting the unvaccinated be allowed to starve to death. The IT industry has been used to censor the internet, freeze bank accounts of political protestors, track the movements of citizens etc. We’ve seen “science” completely fail while being told to trust it without question. And, we’ve seen the psychology of the unconscious manifest before our very eyes in a mass hysteria. It’s because all this has continued to roll along and shows no signs of going away that I have started to wonder whether something more fundamental is happening and that’s been the hunch I have been following in this series of posts.

Enter Jean Gebser (stage right).

Jean Gebser

I’ve been speed reading through Gebser’s The Ever Present Origin over the past couple of days. I’ve only read through the highlights but, in some ways, I don’t need to read the details because the concept is almost exactly the same as I formulated at the start of this series. I have been trying to find the starting line, but Gebser had already run the race. It was a marathon, too. His book is almost 700 pages long.

I found myself furiously nodding along to almost every sentence I read, especially the parts on Jung. It’s only because of my biographical background that I’ve just described that I feel confident summarising Gebser’s work without having read the whole book. Gebser was a linguist too and I don’t believe this is an accident. There is something to the practical methods of modern linguistics (not the Chosmkyan ideology) that seems relevant to the issues at hand. But that’s for a future post. For now, we can understand the key to Gebser’s analysis in this diagram taken from his book.

Each of the rows in the table is what Gebser calls a “mutation” of consciousness. We could think of them as layers on an onion. Note that the first row refers to what Guenon and others call the realm of “timeless non-duality”. The cyclic view of the world comes to view in the Mythic Consciousness and thus the idea from Hindu cosmology of the Kali Yuga and other enormous cycles of history belongs in that category. The relentless, ongoing thrust exemplified most clearly in Faustian culture with its myth of eternal “progress” belongs to the fourth category while the magical practices that are a universal of human societies (even in the West before the Church stamped them out) are in the second row. Gebser provides detailed descriptions of each of these in his book but we need only the high level view for now.

The fifth row is the one we are most concerned with because this is the new consciousness that Gebser believes is trying to become manifest in the modern world. Note that the integration of masculine and feminine is part of this new consciousness, although Gebser is mostly concerned with its social manifestation as the integration of patriarchy and matriarchy. Gebser sees Jungian psychology, in particular the archetypes (including the Unconscious) as paradigmatic of the new consciousness. This is highly fitting. Jungian individuation is about integrating disparate parts into wholes. This is also what systems thinking was primarily concerned with: how to deal with the interaction of parts and wholes. Thus, the name that Gebser gives to this new consciousness is also fitting: the Integral.

There is a crucial point to bear in mind when trying to understand the different types of consciousness. This was one of the main lessons of the original systems thinkers like Weinberg and it is one of the primary errors that we see time and again in modern society. It is the error of the Instrumental Consciousness which is still the dominant in our society (Gebser calls it “Mental” in the above chart but he uses Instrumental in the book and I prefer that. Science and Technology are the paradigmatic activities of Instrumental Consciousness).

Within the Instrumental Consciousness, everything is a logical, either/or relationship. That’s why we are obsessed with the binary logic of modern computers and machines. Within Instrumental Consciousness, if one thing is “correct”, everything else must be “incorrect”. Herein lies the logic of the myth of progress. The future is good. Therefore, the past must be bad. My political party is right. Therefore your political party must be wrong. This applies at the meta level too. Instrumental Consciousness (science) is right. Therefore, religion, magic, myth and art must be capital ‘W’ – Wrong.

Integrative Consciousness says otherwise. In Integrative Consciousness nothing is inherently right and wrong. Rather, the truths of each type of consciousness are valid within their own context. It’s no longer enough to know “the truth”. You have to know the context in which that truth can be valid. If this starts to sound like postmodernism, Gebser was well aware of the dangers that lie with this idea. Rather than explain this theoretically, let’s tie it down with a concrete, everyday example.

You decide to take a short cut down a dark alley one night and a 6-foot-something man made out of 100kg of muscle and wielding a large knife steps out of the shadows with the clear intent to do you harm. You can try turning the other cheek, you can try casting a magic spell, you can try telling him a story or appealing to his moral sensibility. Ultimately, if none of these work, you are going to have to acknowledge that in this specific context, this time and place, Might is Right. When you do so, you will realise that the best course of action is to turn and run. What you will have done is analysed the context and found the corresponding “truth”. (Fortunately for most people, their instincts will do this “thinking” for them and kick them into Fight or Flight mode. But Fight or Flight mode is just Might is Right mode. They even rhyme!).

This “truth” (Might is Right) does not invalidate other truths even though they might logically contradict each other. Logic is just one view of the world; specifically, the Instrumental Consciousness. We live in a world where Might is Right and Turn-the-other-cheek are both true. Acknowledging that fact is extremely difficult for those who are stuck in Instrumental Consciousness. They demand either/or answers. They want the “experts” tell them the one true answer and, even when that answer continually fails to yield a result (or yields negative results), they will march on like robots unable to change tack. That’s one of the main drawbacks of the Instrumental Consciousness. It has a bad habit of turning people into mindless robots. It quite literally did so in the factories of the Industrial Revolution and in modern bureaucracies.

Note that this way of looking at it also explains the curious fact I raised in the last post which is the way thinkers like Guenon and Marx promoted both a fatalistic and a purposive approach to the world. Thus, the Marxists will say that the Proletarian Revolution is the inevitable result of historical forces (a mythic/cyclic view of the world) and also that the point of philosophy is to change the world (an instrumental/science approach). Without realising it, they are invoking two different kinds of consciousness that are logically contradictory. Within the Integral approach, contradictions are not a problem and, in fact, one should be very careful not to make contradictions go away by prematurely ruling out possibilities. This is something Jung talked about a lot. He argued that we should sit in the contradiction and trust that the answer will come “from the unconscious”.

The Integral Consciousness is not a way to “fix” the problems with Instrumental Consciousness nor is it a regression to pre-rational ways of thinking. It is something new; an integration of multiple modes of understanding even when those modes seem to contradict each other. There is no fixed process to follow and no reliable timeframe for a result. In fact, if you’re doing Integral Consciousness well, a perfectly valid result is to abandon the idea. Let me give a concrete example of this which is of world historical significance.

The physicist, Richard Feynman, worked on the Manhattan Project. After the war, he went into a deep depression thinking that humans would destroy themselves with the bomb that he was partly responsible for creating.

The initial justification for developing the bomb was to beat the Germans to it. That was a completely valid reason at the time. But then the context changed. The Germans surrendered before the bomb was finished. Feynman recounts how nobody on the team stopped to ask the question: why are we still working on the bomb when the Germans have surrendered? Everybody continued to show up to work like nothing had changed.

This is paradigm example of Instrumental Consciousness. It sets a goal and works until the goal is achieved irrespective of what happens along the way. In reality, all goals are formulated in a context and the context is just as important as the goal. When the context changes, you should consider changing the goal or even abandoning it. When the Germans surrender, you don’t need the bomb anymore. That’s what Integral Consciousness would understand. But Instrumental Consciousness just marches on. Integral Consciousness is about paying attention to the context, not just the goal. It requires a different way of thinking, one that seems wishy-washy and vague to the Instrumental mind.

Gebser’s schema also allows us to make sense of recent history. The patriarchal embrace of Instrumental Consciousness destroyed itself on the battle fields of the world wars. But it has lived on in the post war era through the mindless materialism and egocentrism of the baby boomer era. All of our institutions are still running on the Instrumental consciousness of which the bureaucracy is the ultimate organisational model. The incredible stupidity we see on a day to day basis now is the logical outcome of that fact. The world is changing too fast for bureaucracies to deal with. This was the logical result of globalisation. The context has changed but we are still stuck in the old paradigm. Only Integral Consciousness can deal with a globalised world.

What we are seeing with the corona debacle is the complete failure of Instrumental Consciousness and the institutions that run on it. This was predictable if you know your systems thinking (I wrote about this in my book The Plague Story) but the people who run our institutions are using the old Instrumental Consciousness. Hence the absurd, Kafkaesque nightmare is still ongoing because these people are stuck in a trap of their own making and they’re bringing us along for the ride. For future “pandemics”, the exact same thing will happen again unless we embrace Integrative Consciousness.

I could go on and on here but these are all topics for future posts.

What about the theme of this series of posts which is the integration of what I have called the eternal feminine? This fits within Gebser’s overall model. He notes the end of the patriarchal period but rather than regress to the previous matriarchy, the new period should be an integration of patriarchy and matriarchy that would be as big of a change for men as for women because, contrary to what modern feminism says, the patriarchal period was just as damaging for men as for women (the battlefields of the world wars are all the proof needed on that front). Jung’s archetypal theory, in particular the anima/animus integration, is an excellent way to understand this process.

Thus, Gebser would agree with both of my hypotheses about what is going on at the moment. Yes, the feminine is re-emerging after a long period of patriarchy and this will affect social and interpersonal relations. But the Jungian theory is also central to the Integral Consciousness. Coming to terms with the Unconscious is going to be one of the tasks ahead of us. This leads to a certain chicken and egg problem. Are we seeing the archetypes now because the Integral Consciousness is emerging and allowing us to see for the first time? Or are the archetypes driving the emergence of the new consciousness? Ironically, this is exactly the kind of logic problem that systems thinkers dealt with. The answer is: it’s the wrong question. One of the things we will need to get comfortable with is not being able to explain everything as just cause and effect but to see that every cause is a more or less arbitrarily defined starting point on a larger “circuit”. The point of Integral Consciousness is to be aware of the circuit.

This way of looking at things backs up my hunch from the last post and my analysis in the Age of the Orphan series. The reason we have no elders in the modern world is because there can be no elders to bring in a new consciousness. That doesn’t mean that we throw away the wisdom of the past. On the contrary, what is needed is a Nietzschean re-evaluation of values which involves breaking out of the single-mindedness of the Instrumental Consciousness and incorporating the older forms of consciousness into the new Integrative Consciousness. This is also why the artists will be so important and Gebser spends significant pages in his book analysing all forms of art. Creativity, he says, is “the most direct, although rarest, process of integration.”

Recall the passage from the Book of Revelations cited in the first post in this series:

“And there appeared a great wonder in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars. And she being with child cried, travailing in birth, and pained to be delivered…. and the dragon stood before the woman which was ready to be delivered, for to devour her child as soon as it was born.”

I now have a new reading of this based on Gebser’s book.

The child being born is Integral Consciousness. It is that which needs to be integrated into our psychic and spiritual being. The dragon is the old Instrumental Consciousness (science, technology, capitalism, patriarchy).

That dragon has been hard at work in the post war years. It devoured modern linguistics. It devoured systems thinking. It devoured the nascent environmentalist movement of the 70s. Through neoliberalism, it devoured the economy. During corona, it has devoured the medical, scientific and political institutions of the West. At this point, I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that it’s ready to devour society itself.

The dragon of Instrumental Consciousness (although, in truth, the dragon lies in all of us who must transcend this way of thinking)

So, I’d say it’s time to revisit Gebser’s ideas as a guide for the way foster the emergence of the new consciousness. But that will be a subject for a future series of posts.

All posts in this series:

Patrick White’s “Voss”
The Eternal Feminine, The Devouring Mother and the Fourth Face of God: Part 1
The Eternal Feminine, The Devouring Mother and the Fourth Face of God: Part 2
The Eternal Feminine, The Devouring Mother and the Fourth Face of God: Part 3
The Eternal Feminine, The Devouring Mother and the Fourth Face of God: Part 4
The Eternal Feminine, The Devouring Mother and the Fourth Face of God: Final

The Eternal Feminine, The Devouring Mother and the Fourth Face of God: Part 2

I’ve mentioned Rene Guenon a number of times in the past after being put onto him by a commenter on one of my Age of the Orphan posts (thanks again to Austin). Since then, I’ve read a number of Guenon’s works. I consider him to be one of the most eloquent critics of modern western society whose analysis has only become more valid since he died in 1951. However, in this post I’m going to discuss the main problem I have with Guenon which ties in with Jung’s analysis in Answer to Job and the theme of this series in general.

Rene Guenon

Guenon is an astute critic of the modern West and he wrote several books that express his criticism in great detail. One of the best of these is Reign of Quantity. Guenon introduces the book by noting that what’s going on in the modern world is all part of a grand cycle known in Hindu cosmology as the Kali Yuga. The name of a cycle is a Manvantara, which could be translated into English as “aeon” or “age”. In that way, the analysis is somewhat similar to what Jung was doing in Aion, although the timeframes in the Hindu tradition are seriously long. The Kali Yuga started in 3102 BCE and will last all the way til 428,899 CE.

As I’ve said, I am in furious agreement with most of the details of Guenon’s critique of the modern West one of which is that we focus almost exclusively on the material world that can be quantified. It is clear we are obsessed with matter as evidenced by the fact that right now in a huge bunker in Switzerland scientists are smashing matter together in a giant particle collider (yes, that’s stretching the definition of “matter”, but still). I don’t have a problem with the content of Guenon’s analysis. I do have a problem with the idea that this is all foretold in some great cycle of history. The problem revolves around the age old questions of fate, free will and consciousness.

Let’s accept that it’s true that some great sage in ancient India, while meditating under a tree, stole the password and hacked into the central computer at Cosmic Headquarters and mentally downloaded the plans of the cosmos for the next trillion years. According to those plans, everything that is happening right now has already been foretold and the decadence of the modern West is just part of the cycle. If that is true, what can be the point in criticising the modern West for its decadence? If the modern West is just part of the inevitable cycle, a simple act of fate, surely there is no point in arguing about it. Yet, that’s what Guenon does. In fact, he spends several books outlining with wonderful clarity a principled critique of the West based on what he calls the traditionalist approach. But, again, what is the point of this traditionalist approach given everything is inevitable anyway?

Let’s put this in the form of a thought experiment.

Let’s say everybody in the modern West reads Reign of Quantity and completely agrees with Guenon that the traditionalist approach is best. Realising the error of our ways, we stop doing everything we are doing and re-arrange society according to Guenon’s principles. If we were to do that, we would have circumvented the Kali Yuga. The West would no longer be decadent materialists obsessed with quantity. The cycle would have been short circuited because we followed Guenon’s advice.

Alternatively, we could take a more Dostoevskyan perspective. We read Guenon and understand that everything is fate. It doesn’t matter what we do, the Kali Yuga will manifest anyway, society will spiral downwards in decadence until the new cycle starts its inevitable progression. One of the ways we might respond to this knowledge is to say “screw you, cosmos! We’re not playing your stupid cycle game” and proceed to commit mass suicide. In doing so, we would also circumvent the Kali Yuga because it is a cycle of humanity and if there’s no humans around you can’t have any more cycles of humanity. In both of these cases, the overarching pattern would have been broken.

It seems to me that Guenon can’t have it both ways. Either the cycle is inevitable or the act of analysing the problems of modern society can make a difference. (There is an obvious compromise position where fate determines most things while human will has the ability to initiate change but Guenon seems quite specifically to reject this).

The issue here, and this is where Jung becomes relevant, relates to consciousness. By reading Guenon, we become conscious of problems we were previously unaware of. Either we can use this consciousness to change direction or we can’t. If we can’t, then the consciousness is useless. Worse than useless, in fact, because we know what is going to happen but can’t do anything about it. We might prefer to be ignorant in that case. As the saying goes: Those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Those who do learn from history are doomed to watch while others repeat it. Well, are those who read Guenon doomed to watch while the inevitable cycle unfolds or can they do something about it? Does the act of changing even one person’s mind make a difference?

Hold that last question in your mind. And let’s turn to Jung’s analysis in Answer to Job which deals with that very issue.

The Book of Job is undoubtedly one of greatest stories extant. Its universality can be seen in the fact that one of the core issues it deals with couldn’t be more relevant to modern times. The main body of the story is an extended argument between Job and four interlocutors. Job has been ruined by God despite living a life he believes to have been without blemish. He points to examples of his virtuous actions all in perfect accordance with the rules. None of his interlocutors contradicts him on this front. They don’t cite examples of him doing wrong or question his integrity. Rather, their arguments can be summarised as follows: God is omniscient and omnipotent and you are not. Therefore, you cannot be in the right.

Job and his interlocutors

We could translate the Book of Job into modern terms by imagining an elderly beggar on the street who is clearly suffering physical illness. The beggar tells the story of how he got into such a state and asks whether it is just. Four others, including a well-dressed young man name named, Elihu, approach. The young man, Elihu, clearly thinks very highly of himself. “One in perfect knowledge is before you,” he tells the beggar. He then proceeds to explain to the beggar why all this is for the best and the beggar must have done something wrong to deserve God’s wrath. And, even if he didn’t, God is all powerful and may do as he pleases.

This is the might is right argument and it forms the backbone of the Book of Job. For Job’s interlocutors, “justice” is the same thing as power. Because God is all powerful, he must be all just. As Job points out, the others have no skin in the game. They stand there well dressed and well fed. It is Job who suffers and nobody has even attempted to explain what rules he has broken to deserve such a punishment. The others are arguing rationally and intellectually. Job is talking from experience.

With very little modification we could translate the dialogue in the Book of Job into what we have seen ever since the corona vaccines have been rolled out. Countless people took the vaccine and then got sick. From their point of view, the vaccine was the cause. They did the right thing and now suffer. But nobody seems to care. On the contrary, television media personalities and groups of people on social media pop up to say that the vaccine could not have been the cause because it’s safe and effective. “Shut up and believe in God,” says Elihu. “Shut up and trust the experts,” say the modern mob.

If this was all there was to the Book of Job, it would still have perfectly captured a universal of human psychology. But, the stakes are raised substantially by the fact that we, the reader, know that the whole thing is a set up. Satan has convinced God to allow Job to be tested in a way that causes Job immense suffering. There’s much that can and has been said about that, but we’ll focus on the argument made by Jung in Answer to Job, which is as follows.

The treatment of Job was unnecessary because God is omniscient.

Now, omniscience is one of those concepts that seems simple and yet when you think about it quickly becomes problematic. What sort of knowledge is it that God has? Does his omniscience include all kinds of knowledge or just a subset? Does God know everything that happens for all of time or did God just create the rules of the universe and then press the Play button?

To short circuit a long philosophical diversion, let’s assume omniscience means something like Laplace’s Demon. That is, because God created the universe, he knows the starting variables of everything and because God has an infinite amount of calculating power, he could deduce intellectually any path of events. If he wanted to know whether Job was faithful, he need only calculate the sequence of events in his mind to get the answer in the same way a computer simulation works (only this computer is perfect).

But God does not do that in the Book of Job. What God does, prompted by Satan, is to carry out what we could call in modern language an empirical investigation; a test. Because it’s an empirical test, Job is directly affected by it. God allows Satan to first destroy all of Job’s possessions and, when that doesn’t work to break his faith, to inflict physical suffering. God says to Satan, have fun, just don’t kill him. It is the immorality of this that forms the core of the story, although presumably we draw a different moral lesson in the modern world to the one that would have been drawn at the time. In modern scientific studies, researchers are not allowed to inflict suffering on their subjects without prior consent so modern ethics recognises this problem (although, the history of science is littered with stories like Job’s).

Why would God put Job through such torture unnecessarily? Why do an empirical test instead of use his omniscience? That is the question we, the reader, must deal with and we cannot help but take Job’s side. This seems like an open and shut case where God is in the wrong. That is Job’s argument in the story. The arguments of his opponents cannot convince us because we know the bigger picture.

To skip over Jung’s argumentation and go to his conclusion, he believed the story of Job was so important because, even though Job ultimately yielded to God (and was rewarded for doing so), it was pretty clear he was not converted to the idea that might is right. There was now one man in the world who believed God had done wrong and because God can see into men’s hearts, God himself learned this. Therefore, God learned something about himself. It follows that God also has an unconscious mind (Satan can be seen to stand symbolically for God’s unconscious in the story). It is Job’s unwillingness to yield to an obvious injustice that allows God to see all this. Job, a mere mortal, not omniscient or omnipotent, has taught an omniscient and omnipotent God something.

In the story of Job, we have a God who is not an aloof mathematician. He is not a God of pure intellect who set up the rules, started the machine running and then went off to play computer games or otherwise amuse himself while the universe bubbled along. This God is actively involved. He cares (although as Jung points out, he cares mostly about himself). We know that he cares because at the start of the story he goes out of his way to tell Satan what a virtuous man Job is. He then personally meets Job at the end of the story to extract a pledge from him. It is because God cares and gets personally involved that he can learn. Now we have a God that can change. But that learning and that change comes from the “ground up”. The material world that God could wipe out with flick of his finger turns out to be worth something after all.

The story of Job implies a view that is in contradiction to Guenon’s. Guenon’s universe is one of timeless non-duality. Time and space are illusory. There is no change. It is all very similar to Plato. The material world is mere appearance. This is partly why the Christian theology is so radical because God himself manifested in the material world. But that amounts to God manifesting in illusion. Why would a god willingly do that? In the Jungian argument, it’s because God, following the Job incident, wanted to learn more about himself and he realised he could do so by becoming a man. Suddenly, matter and the material world are redeemed.

What if the idea that the material world is just an “illusion” is actually nothing more than an intellectual value judgement made a priori; the same kind of value judgement made by Job’s interlocutors or by people who say the vaccine is safe and effective. Psychologically, that value judgement relegates material existence to the unconscious. It is not valuable, therefore we don’t pay attention to it. But in the Jungian paradigm, one does not simply relegate things to the unconscious. Out of sight is not out of mind because the unconscious is also part of the mind.

Philosophers have a habit of doing this kind of thing. In Guenon, I hear much the same tone you can hear in Plato. Notice how in the Socratic dialogues, Socrates is never surprised. He never asks a question of his interlocutors except to lead them into a dialectical trap of his own making. He never learns anything. He never says “that’s a good point, Thrasymachus. I hadn’t thought of that before. Let me go away and think about it.” For Guenon and Plato, there is nothing to learn. They have ruled out the value of such learning (from the material world) from the start. The universe is a one-way street starting in the realm of timeless non-duality and flowing down into material reality but never back up again. Jung’s reading of the Book of Job and the Bible in general suggests that the Christian God came to a different conclusion and wanted to redeem the material world. In the person of Job, the material world rose up out of God’s unconscious and forced an individuation process to occur.

What’s all this got to do with the eternal feminine?

Well, firstly, it’s the thesis of this series of posts that we are seeing a similar individuation process occur right now and that process could be as significant as the process that led (in Jung’s belief) to the God of the Book of Job manifesting as a human in Christ; in other words, an epochal change. That would mean that something critical that has been relegated to the unconscious is trying to come to consciousness. That something seems to be related to the eternal feminine. But the eternal feminine is a nebulous concept and could mean many things.

One of them could be a concept mentioned in the last post: Sophia (wisdom). The word philosopher means lover of wisdom; philo + Sophia. To the extent that Sophia is the eternal feminine, it follows that wisdom could be relevant and I think that’s true. That why I believe Guenon’s wisdom is relevant. He is right, western society is completely lacking in wisdom right now. We need wisdom like a man who has just spent two days walking in the desert needs a glass of water. That’s why I agree with most of what Guenon says even though I disagree with his underlying philosophy. There may very well be a sphere of timeless non duality. But in relation to it, I’m inclined to use Wittgenstein’s catchy phrase and say “whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must remain silent”. Down here in time and space, the dualities still seem to hold even though the point is to resolve them into a trinity (or perhaps even a quarternity as in the Fourth Face of God).

However, I’m increasingly skeptical that wisdom is all we need partly because wisdom is necessarily about the past. It’s wisdom that said “might is right” when that was considered the truth. It’s also the case that the magnitude of what looks to be taking shape is enormous in which case it will be a long time before wisdom can re-establish itself.

So, maybe the eternal feminine that we really need would be the one that Dostoevsky wrote so much about and is best embodied by the Virgin Mary. That eternal feminine would indicate that what we need now is faith, forgiveness and, most of all, love.

On this score, the poets, writers and artists may be our better guide (an idea that Plato would have abhorred). Dostoevsky is one and so too, I believe, is Patrick White. We’ll explore that more in a future post.

All posts in this series:

Patrick White’s “Voss”
The Eternal Feminine, The Devouring Mother and the Fourth Face of God: Part 1
The Eternal Feminine, The Devouring Mother and the Fourth Face of God: Part 2
The Eternal Feminine, The Devouring Mother and the Fourth Face of God: Part 3
The Eternal Feminine, The Devouring Mother and the Fourth Face of God: Part 4
The Eternal Feminine, The Devouring Mother and the Fourth Face of God: Final