A Pyramid Rising Out of the Sea

A Pyramid Rising Out of the Sea, 2015

Oil on Canvas 10″ x 15″

The ancient Egyptians visualized creation as an event in which the sun was birthed by a pyramidal mound, itself rising out of the ancient, primordial, waters of chaos. While there are many layers to this mythology, it is a potent image that can serve as an apt metaphor for the emergence of the mental frameworks which give meaning to our worlds. From this perspective the pyramid can be seen as the individual psyche; at its apex, the light of consciousness, expanding downward into the shared symbols and motifs of the unconscious and collective, all while its base rests in the chaos of unstructured, meaningless, external stimuli.

Thanks to modern psychology, the concepts of the conscious and the unconscious have become familiar terms to describe layers of the mind. While these terms are useful approximations, like most classifications, the zones thus described are ultimately not discrete. Rather, much like the ocean, the layers expand massively downward, from the light of consciousness into gradient zones of unconscious darkness. The true depth of such darkness however expands radically below the surface, both downward and outward, eventually eclipsing what we normally term the individual. For below both the conscious and the unconscious of the individual mind is the collection of shared cultural motifs termed the collective unconscious, and ultimately below this are the direct stimuli that we term the physical world. Each layer may be seen as a perceptual filter that variously molds or shapes our perception of each preceding zone.

The individuality of a single being is therefore also gradient; a gradual blending of the discrete into the universal. To return to the initial metaphor, the individual mind rises out of the chaos of the universal, bringing with it conceptual frameworks and the clarity of understanding. Interestingly, both the darkest depths of the unknown, aphotic, chaos and the momentary light of conscious understanding are, in their own ways, universally shared among all beings. The first as the unfiltered, shared, world of physicality. The second through the universality of perceiving itself, where the momentary, experiential act links all through the transcendence of the witness, I.

The knowledge that below our momentary awareness exists a collection of desires, fears, and beliefs that exert almost complete gravity over our supposedly independent thoughts and actions is hardly a new discovery, yet nevertheless the belief that we are creatures only of the conscious mind, rational actors in a rational and known world, stubbornly persists. Indeed, our unconscious existences are often feared, perhaps because they so easily pierce the carefully crafted worlds we rely on for stability in the face of the unknown.

Like all of our deepest fears, this terror of the abyss finds purchase in our symbols and stories. Among them: the sexually resplendent serpent who tempts the first woman in the garden of Eden; Níðhöggr, the dragon who gnaws at the roots of the world-tree; and the snake that steals eternal youth from Gilgamesh. The shared phallic and venomous characteristics of this manifestation are no coincidence. Sexuality is often at the root of destructive and creative acts alike. The serpent can thus be seen as a channel through which the abyssal chaos penetrates our formed mental worlds and permits new creative acts.

Whether the well of our primordial desires is demonized due to the threat it presents to constraining paradigms, or whether it emerges out of our own, personal, fears is largely irrelevant. Our leviathans are ultimately part of the totality of ourselves, neither to be feared nor repressed if we are to achieve a state of harmony. Indeed, they are only monstrous when we do not accept them as a necessary and critical part of ourselves.