A Pyramid Rising Out of the Sea

New written piece:

A Pyramid Rising Out of the Sea, 2015

“…Like all of our deepest fears, this terror of the abyss finds purchase in our symbols, myths, 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. Indeed, sexuality often seems to be at the root of both destructive and creative acts. The serpent can thus be seen as a channel through which the abyssal chaos penetrates our formed mental worlds and permits new creative acts…”

A Pyramid Rising Out of the Sea

A Pyramid Rising Out of the Sea
A Pyramid Rising Out of the Sea, 2015

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.

Forest Fire and the Trimūrti

Forest Fire
Forest Fire, 2014

One of the distinguishing features of Christianity relative to other contemporary religious schemas is the externalization of the destructive force. In almost all widespread modern interpretations of Christianity the cyclical progression of life, death, and rebirth is seen as leading towards an ultimate end. An end where the cycle will at last stop with the death of destruction and the establishment of an eternal stasis of unending, unrejuvenated, life. While precedents can certainly be found, for example in the Jewish concept of New Jerusalem, the promise of life without death as a central tenant, stands as a central tenant in Christianity alone.

An interesting counterexample can be found in Hinduism. Similar to Christianity, the concept of the three-in-one god is also precedent. The central forces of the universe are thought of in terms of the creative (Brahma), the protective (Vishnu), and the destructive (Shiva). While a similar concept can be found in the Christian trinity, in the case of the trinity the holy spirit is is substituted for the destructive, which instead is personified as an external force, namely the devil.

Even in Judaism, Yahweh is shown as both a protective and destructive force, as easily capable of blessing as wanton devastation. Indeed, it is something of a cognitive-dissonance in modern Christianity that a supposedly moral god was once capable of such wrath. The solution to this dilemma is the realization that

we turn to nature however death is seen in all aspects of life. From the ashes of the forest fire grows new life. The fox kills the hare to feed its young. Dead matter feeds the growth of the new. Like any truth that is repressed the eventual emergence is warped and distorted.

That Christ is presented as a conquer of death, rather than role of death in. This fact especially curious as it, if the death of the savior was the catalyst that brought about new life perhaps it is best to regard destruction as a necessary, inalienable, aspect of the world, rather than a force that must be conquered. Instead, death may be regarded as a necessary part of a unified whole.

Forest Sacrament

The essential composite and dynamics of the universe are undeniable; entropy consumes with the same inevitability as the generative element creates and recreates. That the cycle of these phenomenon exist as axiomatic truths however has not inhibited their obfuscation. Indeed, how various schemas have chosen to interpret the presences of death specifically has varied greatly. One of the distinguishing features that has emerged in contemporary Christianity for instance is its near universal externalization of the destructive.

Forest Sacrament
Forest Sacrament, 2013

For those familiar only with the estrangement of destruction, its malignancy can seem self-evident. Contrasting counterexamples however abound. Ranging from the embraced violence of mesoamerican mythology, to its acceptance of it in the near-eastern pantheon, destruction is rarely found only in the other. Far from being considered opposed to the divine, in dharmic theology, destruction is often seen as a central, and sometimes even ultimate, aspect of the divine. In such cases undoing, no less than doing, is rightly perceived as a necessary aspect of the whole.

In Christianity, that the creative is considered not just a dominate trait of a complex entity, but indeed as the primary, if not sole, aspect of the Godhead, is telling. While earlier incarnations of the Abrahamic El do place an emphasis on the creative aspects of the deity, so too do they also acknowledge the ruinous. Not surprisingly, as the concept of the destructive divine became increasingly unpalatable, the personification of destruction emerged as an inherently independent, invasive, figure. That this figure ultimately took on the form of earlier horned and hoofed nature deities is far from coincidental.

In the natural, world death is a constant presence which grants life to many even as it robs it from some: from the ashes of the forest fire grows new life; the lion that kills the lamb feeds its young with the refuse. Destruction of the old is always necessary and central to the growth of the new. This incontrovertible character is in direct contrast to the divine peace emphasized as the modern Christian ideal. In this context it is not surprising that the personification of the wild would take on a threatening aspect. Indeed, in the horned being of life and death is found all that is missing in sterilized ideals of static perfection.

Perhaps the ultimate example of this perceptual shift is contained in the Christ story itself. In a mythology centered on rebirth there can, with equal emphasis, be perceived the importance of death as of life. Rather than a conquest over death, the role of destruction in the resurrection should be seen as the divine catalyst for new life. When instead an excision is attempted on a necessary process, an impassable divide is created between existence and its imagined ideal. This sundering not only results in the separation of the divine from the natural, but also the division of man from the divine. It is impossible to love something without accepting the totality of it.