In this series of posts we’ve taken a long and meandering route largely because I myself didn’t know exactly where the path would lead and so it’s been as much a learning experience for me as for anybody. That’s quite fitting given that the initial post in the series was about the path of learning and, as we’ve seen, there are multiple paths of learning or, looked at another way, multiple dimensions to the path of learning. Stories are a useful way to explain this idea because they also work at multiple levels simultaneously. There is the physical journey of the protagonist alongside an emotional, psychological and perhaps even spiritual journey. To return to one of the stories we have used throughout this series, we can map the journey taken by Neo in The Matrix onto the levels of being introduced in the last post and get something like this:
|Level of Being
|Neo learns the true nature of reality. He sees “the real world” with his own eyes for the first time
|The Matrix is the psychic realm. Neo learns to see the reality behind it and then to master it from the “outside”
|From the pod where he is nothing more than a battery for The Matrix to the ship with Morpheus and the others
The Orphan’s journey takes place in the physical world via the biological metamorphosis of puberty. It takes place in the social world by coming-of-age i.e. finding a job, starting a family. These are universals of human experience. Participation in the other dimensions of The Orphan’s journey is dependent on the extent to which the individual is predisposed for them and receives appropriate guidance from Elders. Thus, in a culture that has an understanding of psychological matters, it’s possible to receive guidance from a psychotherapist or similar role. In a culture which practices metaphysics and spirituality, one may receive guidance from a spiritual leader. These dimensions of the path are less universal and, in fact, the spiritual path has always been reserved for the few. We can map these distinctions onto the story of The Matrix as follows:-
|Attains enlightenment i.e. understands the rules of The Matrix and how to break them but is also living in “the real world” outside The Matrix
|Transcends his shadow traits i.e. doubt, indecision, to fulfil the archetypal mission of The Sage
|Coming of age
|Neo abandons his job, his apartment and his place in the world and joins a group. There is a formal initiation into the group which marks the beginning of his membership and also the beginning of the psychic and spiritual journey. His romantic journey with Trinity also begins.
Although you wouldn’t know it cos of all the violence and action, the story of The Matrix is the story of a spiritual or religious quest and that is why Neo is best thought of as representing The Sage archetype. For most of the history of civilisation, only a small number of people were chosen for the spiritual path (esoteric spirituality). The majority of the population was inducted into the exoteric forms of religion and this formed part of their coming of age alongside finding work and getting married.
One of the things we have attempted to do in this series of posts is extrapolate The Orphan story to account for larger socio-cultural trends. This gives us something like this:
|God is dead (and science isn’t looking too hot either)
|Propaganda, advertising, marketing, internet and social media all competing for “psychic real estate”. Psychoanalysis has not been able to counteract malefic psychic forces
|Coming of age
|Bullshit jobs, bureaucratic micromanagement and the financialisation of everything reduce the esoteric component of work. Divorce and encroaching state power reduces the status of marriage and the family. Very low participation in exoteric religious forms
This current status of western society is the continuation of trends that have been in place for a long time. If we zoom back to the 1800s, we see that the esoteric component of the Church had long been moribund. The exoteric functions were still in place although the State began to take over many of those in the early 1800s starting with Napoleon and continuing right up until the world wars. The rise of the State alongside the new industrial economy was something quite new. Democratic capitalism, socialism and fascism were just the three best known configurations of how to order society in this new world. The utopianism of this period was a reflection of the optimism of a new dawn, an optimism that was quickly extinguished due to the tens of millions who died in the 20th century in wars, famine and other atrocities that were made possible due largely to the unprecedented concentration of power in the State.
This was the era when spirituality and metaphysics were explicitly rejected. Nietzsche announced the death of God while western philosophy and science lost all interest in metaphysical questions. Although science and technology have come to fulfil a quasi-religious role in the modern west, it is a simulation of real religion for the very reason that it eschews all metaphysical questions. Nevertheless, there was a strong esoteric component to science prior to the wars. It was the age of heroic science and the geniuses who dominated it are still household names to this day. However, in the post war period, science has largely come to take on an exoteric function beholden to the financial interests of corporations and the political interests of the State. This seems to have had the effect of all but extinguishing the esoteric aspect of the work. The shoddy science that was wheeled out to justify the corona debacle is the best indicator of this trend.
It’s noteworthy that interest in the psychic realm exploded at exactly the same time as the State was taking over from the Church in the 1800s. Could it be that the Church had been keeping a lid on this or was it the case that the new communication mediums amplified the psychic signal? Whichever it is, we have seen the progressive amplification of psychic content in the years since then. The word amplification is quite literally true when one considers the sound and light shows of the Nazis which represented something brand new at the time. In the post war years we saw the emergence of radio, television and finally the computer and IT revolutions all of which have seen the amount of “psychic content” that the average person consumes reach new heights. It’s fair to say that this barrage has now reached saturation point where there is simply no more hours in the day by which a person can hook themselves into The Matrix. The only way “forward” would be a qualitative change such as that promised by virtual reality and the metaverse.
In the “real world”, the average person remained grounded throughout all these changes by the coming-of-age rituals of marriage, work and family. But these have also been degrading steadily over recent decades with the rising divorce rates, low birth rates, casualisation of work, bullshit jobs and similar trends. With the globalisation movement of the 90s, millions of jobs were shipped to China which left whole areas of the United States in particular to become as good as desolate. As mentioned in post 10 of this series, we may now be entering a time when the exoteric structure provided by the religion of work itself begins to break down.
In short, it does seem like we are coming to the end of a cycle or perhaps even a number of cycles simultaneously. What is curious about that is that the rejection of The Orphan’s mission implies a rejection of part of what we can call the cycle of life and this rejection mirrors a rejection of another part of that cycle which is The Elder. The cycle might look something like this:
The physical journey starts at birth then continues through the physical changes of puberty into adulthood and closes up with the gradual diminishment of physical capacity that constitutes the Elder years. In the archetypal sense, we begin life as Innocents in a state where our consciousness is not fully formed. The Orphan stage denotes a metamorphosis of the psyche. It’s the time when we are metaphorically, and sometimes literally, kicked out of the parent’s house and forced to become adults. Psychically speaking, this represents the formation of consciousness. Finally, the Elder stage represents the gradual fall back into unconsciousness. This is true both in a personal and collective sense. Elderhood is the transition into death which means one is about to become an ancestor and the ancestors are part of the collective subconscious. Spiritually/metaphysically speaking, different traditions will have different explanations of what the death transition means.
Both The Orphan and The Elder represent metamorphoses in a physical, psychic and potentially spiritual sense. But, as we have seen, modern western society denies both of these metamorphoses. We don’t have Elders any more in the spiritual or psychic sense and even in the physical sense the elderly are usually physical removed from the scene of action and tucked away in nursing homes out of sight and out of mind. Stephen Jenkinson is perhaps the most eloquent of writers who has described the emotional ramifications of what happens when such people must come to face their death in a society which has no spiritual or psychic structure to deal with the subject. He, correctly in my opinion, views the increasing trend towards voluntary euthanasia as a denial of the whole problem of death. It’s the easy way out. One can also see this easy way out in the heavy use of sedatives and other drugs among the elderly.
Having gotten rid of The Elder transition, we now seem intent on getting rid of The Orphan transition too. The modern west has long since abandoned any esoteric spiritual path. Psychotherapy was seen as a great hope in the psychic realm; a way to reach the spiritual through the psychic. Yet its results have underwhelmed. Work and marriage have degraded as coming-of-age ceremonies on the physical plane. And now finally the transgender issue which has come to the fore in recent years seems also to target the biological metamorphosis of puberty. We are just now starting to hear about “puberty blockers” and other interventions designed to delay puberty. This looks an awful lot like denial just like euthanasia is the denial of death.
There’s very little evidence as to the side effects of long term use of puberty blockers. Of course, a lack of proper scientific research doesn’t seem to matter when it comes to medical inventions anymore. I wouldn’t at all be surprised to see puberty blockers rolled out on masse in the years ahead. If they are, it would fit the schematic pattern to a tee.
|Level of Being
|The metamorphosis of The Orphan
|Puberty leading to sexual and physical maturity
If our society no longer facilitates The Orphan’s transition in the spiritual or psychic realm any more, the transgender debate seems tailor made to bring the rejection of The Orphan’s metamorphosis down to the physical plane too. The notion of “eternal childhood” may very well be on the cards in a biological sense.
What is being rejected in the inability to facilitate both The Elder and The Orphan metamorphosis is some of the most basic conceptual dualities of life: birth/death, male/female, young/old. The trans debate seems custom designed to blow up the male/female duality; a duality which manifests during puberty and the subsequent years where The Orphan discovers their sexuality. It’s because these years are so difficult that traditional societies put all kinds of ceremonies and practices in place to help The Orphan through. Our society, by contrast, first removed those ceremonies and practices and now seems to want to remove the biological metamorphosis altogether. Viewed archetypally, there would be no more Orphan transition but that would also mean there would be no real adulthood. One’s life would be lived in eternal childhood as an Innocent. But this entails the rejection of the whole notion of cyclical time as well as the cycles of life. It’s also the rejection of the binaries of male/female, young/old, orphan/elder. It’s this rejection that underlies why nobody can define a woman in public discourse anymore or why biological men must be allowed to play woman’s sports. The underlying ethic, if that’s what you can call it, is the dissolution of all binaries.
In traditional theology/metaphysics, a binary is resolved by the ternary. But, if you dissolve the binary, you end up back at the unary. Another way to think about it is that it gets you back to the start of the cycle although in the “wrong” direction. The Hero’s Journey, like the life cycle, moves clockwise and at the end you have transcended to a new level. That transcendence is at the heart of almost all religious teaching. The direction of modern society is counter-clockwise and descends downwards. This is no transcendence, only dissolution.
12 o’clock is the point of death/(re-)birth and represents the point of maximal unconsciousness. That seems to be where we heading now in the west. Hence the fact that modern society really does resemble a madhouse where rationality and consciousness plays no role. The daily appearance of absurdities comes about because the dualities themselves are dissolving back into the unary, but the unary is where nothing is formed. In Jungian terms, it is the unconscious, disorder and chaos. If all this feels like anathema to the conscious, reasoning mind, it’s because it is. The good news is that life is more than consciousness and more than reason and logic. As the Buddhists say: the lotus flower grows out of the mud. At the moment, we’re stuck in the mud but eventually a new flower will grow and the next cycle will take hold.
With these thoughts we end the cycle that has been this series of posts. 12 in all, which matches to 12 o’clock (I swear I didn’t plan it that way). It’s also kind of weird that this post would just happen to be published on Easter: the resurrection.
What began as an exercise in applied Jungian theory has covered a lot more ground. I feel like there is a book in there somewhere but I’ll have to go back and sift through the material to find it. Perhaps the key point is that Jungian psychology is not just psychic. There does appear to be a structure there that aligns with and predicts developments in other dimensions i.e. physical, spiritual. That’s why we’ve been able to trace back The Orphan story from a kind of behavioural analysis and find that it matches to larger socio-cultural trends. I think Jung himself always believed this was true of psychology but the work still remains to be done to make the connections explicit. Maybe this is one step in that direction.
All posts in this series: