|Gods of Madness - The Danger of the Logo-Centric Western Culture
SCHOLA AETII·WEDNESDAY, 5 SEPTEMBER 2018
The human mind is, after centuries of exploring our planet, still a largely dark and unknown territory. There are many different ways to approach the mystery of the human inner world, each putting a different emphasis of perspective. Some views and approaches have become timeless and remained with us throughout millennia, like the archetypal stories of Mythology or spiritual parables of the great sages of history. Other views were so bound to their respective time, that we have either all but forgotten about them, or see them as childish and simplistic today.
And then there are amateurish works, which, despite their simplicity and naivety, seem to strangely resonate with us, bringing us characters and stories which seem to speak to us as a sort of truth beside their appearance, and that has been the case especially in modern day entertainment. The original Star Wars Saga, the journey of these characters and the concept of Dark Side and Light Side, as simplistic as they appear, resonate within many people, because they are attuned to some deeper truths of the human soul. We know we are creatures of both intellect and instinct, of love and reason, but also of hate and destruction, and that these two sides very often lie much closer together, are much more entangled, than we want to admit. Characters like those of the Tolkien World and even the Harry Potter films feel strangely real to us, even though they are far away from any real people, the characters and events in these stories are elements within ourselves, supersized and extended into a dramatic form. We know that on some level Darth Vader, Bilbo and Professor Dumbledore are real, or represent something real, the archetypal variants of our characteristics, the energies inside of us pulling us into different directions, trying to form us into one or another type of personality.
The entire corpus of human mythology, the tales and parables of religion attempt to map the inner world and the human interaction, which is why these stories and the ancient Gods stay interesting even to many people who are not religious at all. But there is an element which is both literally and figuratively in the dark, and more so in our modern times than ever before, the forces of the irrational, the destructive powers of chaos and darkness – the Gods of Madness.
Loving the Spook
Every human being has this fascination for the creepy and spooky. There is this moment, when the seemingly certain reality breaks up, when the fabric of the world, which always appears orderly and clear, is cast over by a shadow and that moment of spook fills us. It is like the "uncanny valley", where in the depiction of near perfect human form, just slight errors spook us off more than total distortion. I am not talking about blatant horror, like people gutted or cut open, I mean the subtle horror of reality changing, like reality cracked open at a point and something truly alien becomes visible.
We experience such a breaking up of reality every night when we dream, so we spent a substantial part of our lives inside a reality, where rules are not as strong and coherent as we are used to in the Waking World. But also strong trance and experiencing drugs can alter the perception of reality. When I made some experiences with drugs for a few times, I saw reality visibly change: inanimate objects suddenly began to move, to seem alive, the world become colorful like someone had really cranked up the saturation slider. Or at one time when I was seriously ill as a kid, I had such a high fever, that I began to hallucinate cats and strange shadows. Some experience changes of reality in occult work, or others in paranormal sightings – and the latter is a much more widespread experience than we know. Many people have during their life at least once “seen something” paranormal, a ghost, an apparition or something the like.
It is not really important how real we believe these are, but the fact that the human mind is capable to experience such things is interesting enough in itself. It seems to me an indication that the human mind is at least built to experience the abnormal, so to speak. The fascinating fact is, how ambivalent our reaction to it is: we are paralyzed. Almost everyone who witnesses a paranormal or creepy apparition, is like frozen at first, and for me it was only the decades of spiritual training that allowed me to enjoy the drug induced visions. Most would likely be spooked by seeing reality change like that. It is also what for me makes the difference between a real and a more imaginary contact with the Otherworldly Powers, be it Spirits, Daimons or Gods: a true apparition always leaves you deeply stunned, it shakes you to the core. Sure there are those distant contacts, and not always the Powers chose to be so close to us. But a really close contact with a Power always is a very profound experience.
Still, as the long tradition of creepy stories proof, human beings are also drawn to the spook, the fright. There is a deeper desire within us to confront the darker, chaotic and frighting break ups of reality.
I firmly believe that authors sometimes have a subconscious contact to deeper truths, the power of the Archetypes, or if you prefer a more classic term, to the Platonic Ideas. Religious and spiritual people are usually focusing on the forces of Light and Order. I know there are a lot of people who claim to “be dark”, but in reality it is my observation that the overwhelming majority just plays with this idea. They call out for Gods of Death and Darkness, but they never go very deep in this, or rather create a mock version of these powers. I know how shaking a complete manifestation even of a benevolent God like Apollo can be, and anyone who would truly face Hades or the Morrigan and not just a projection of his own fancy, would either likely go mad or be marked in the soul by such an event for years.
There are figures, which instinctively evoke fear within us, often when they are just somewhat distorted versions of human beings, like the Slenderman or the Mothman. One modern mythology I find very interesting however, is the world of H.P. Lovecraft, also known as the Cthulhu Myth.
Lovecraft was an American Author, who lived from 1890 to 1937 and wrote a series of what might be called horror stories, though there is less gore in the modern sense, but more creep and spook. Lovecraft himself, despite the believe of some, made this stories just up, and apparently he himself did not believe in any supernatural realities. Still, there something eerily powerful in his stories and concepts, the Gods of Madness – or as he called them, the Great Old Ones, so I believe he tapped into deep Inner Realities, beyond his own control, and that is why such stories speak so much to us. These stories and powers represent that “Other Side”. In our spirituality we focus very much on the Logos, the principle of Order and Light, an order created through the magic of the Word. Thus Odin achieves the Runes, and brings order by these magic words, and so Yahweh the Hebrew God creates the world through the word, and so the light side Gods of Polytheism represent the force of the Logos, be it Jupiter or Marduk.
The forces of Chaos and Darkness in these mythologies are never undone or “killed”, they are always just pushed aside. I find this a very remarkable element, for at first one would assume of the Good Gods of Order arise, they would undo “evil”. And some creatures of evil are seemingly killed in the mythos, like Tiamat in the Sumerian story, like Ymir the first Giant, but then the world is created from their dead bodies, so they still remain present. Zeus likewise does not kill Typhon and Cronus, they are merely banished, and so it is with Apophis and Seth from the Egyptian mythology. And of course there are dark Dieties like Hel or Hades, which embody to a large part the darkness in the new cosmic order.
Dangerous Western Fixation on the Logos
The Greco-Roman world has always been more logo-centric than other cultures, and this has greatly influenced our Western world view. It has empowered the West to come on top, but it has also blinded us to the darker elements of reality, of ourselves. We traded the power to manipulate the world, which is the power given by the Logos, by giving away our control over the darker aspects. I want to highlight here for a moment, that the question how to characterize these darker forces as a difficult one. It is not evil vs good, even though the idea is tempting. We all have the monster inside of us, but without this monster, we would be helpless and easy prey for anyone else, so these powers have their function. Still, they are dangerous powers, in the sense that like a wild animal, we must always be on guard. An animal trainer in a circus might control the lions and tigers, but they remain dangerous beasts. These elements within ourselves are the darker emotions, the wild emotions and they can take any form: hate, anger, greed, envy or simply a destructive lust for its own sake. Especially the latter is a much underestimated human trait. We do have a lust to destroy. It is something we all feel tempted at times. When you build that tower of playing cards, you feel that tinge to toss it all over, and while this is harmless, it is just the surface of a much deeper and much more horrible force within us.
Lovecraft described it as Madness, for unlike greed or hate, it has no actual goal in the sense of a gain. It is the most destructive force within us, an evil because it serves not even oneself. There is that evil which is like robbery. When you have a cake, I have none, and I steal it to satisfy myself, it may be evil to you, but I still gain from it. It is still in a sense reasonable, for I serve a purpose one can comprehend. But there are moments when someone takes your cake, tosses it to the ground and just tramples on it, and nobody has a gain from it. That is the destructive urge, the darkness within, the Spiritual “Madness”. This element of darkness is very real. Mythologies have described it in different variants. In Egypt Seth represents the alien, the disturbance of the logo-centric order, being no animal that exists for real, he is the aberration in itself. Demonic beings like Apophis who each night confronts Ra, the God of the Sun and the Cosmic Order in his journey through the Nightly Underworld. In Paganism these things are always cycles, they never end, as the darkness within us is never defeated. And so it is in cultural cycles.
The logo-centric world of the West was developed on the logo-centric world of the Greeks and Romans. Their religion gives the chaotic and dark forces an unusually small role. In most other Polytheist religion these forces have a much more prominent role. There is Pan and Dionysos, but even the Romans banned the Bacchus cult, fearing the disorderly nature of it. The Greek and Roman Gods are much more on the Light and Orderly side than, for example the Norse Gods. Odin is a much darker God than Zeus, and while Greek Mythology has its lot of monsters, like Skylla and Charybdis, Medusa or the Sphinx, they remain strangely distant from the mythology itself. The culture of Classic Greece and Rome was always more focussed on the side of reason, which as I assume is the main cause for its rise to dominance in form of our Western Culture.
But, as we learned from Carl Gustav Jung, the great psychoanalyst, the Shadow becomes more powerful, when we separate ourselves from it. Jung's so called Shadow Work has become a very important element of psychology and spirituality. With the rise of Christianity, the Shadow became entirely banished away and the already existing tendency toward the Logos in the West, became overpowering. Ever since Christianity, all dark, chaotic powers have been banished and thus projected to the exterior. When someone tries to cut himself from his shadow, it appears all the more prominent outside of us: we see our own demons in the others, we feel persecuted and develop paranoid views, we see evil everywhere around us. This has plagued Western Civilization in regular waves, when the oppressed Shadow, the Gods of Madness, returned to take their revenge for being banished. From the early Christian oppression of Paganism to the Witch-Hunts, the dark persecutions of the 20th century, this desire to be entirely on the side of Light, Order and Logic has always functioned like swinging a pendulum: the more you move to the light, the more you banish the dark shadows, the more powerful the pendulum swings back.
It is what we see happening in our Western Culture these days. Being so logo-centric, so focused on reason and control, we have externalized our inner shadow, and now it hunts us as a specter we see all around us. Suddenly everywhere are Nazis, Communists, Racists, Sexists, whatever form your shadow takes, the thing you banished away from yourself, and people literally develop a mad frenzy. It is the same psychology of every witch hunt. You hate in the other what you fear you have in yourself, and so we project the darkness unto the Other. The Gods of Madness, long banished, take reign again. Past societies had ritualized experiencing the Dark, the Chaos, the Madness. They had tried to keep contact to our own underworld. But we have cut ourselves from instinct, from the dark side within us in a constant zeal for more logic, more control, more reason, more purity. And so the backlash is all the more horrible, when we are unable to cope with the dark powers, which we do not understand anymore. Past societies had the wisdom to know and to accept that these dark, chaotic forces are always a part of the world, whether you see them as Mythological Powers or principalities. They knew that Apophis and Typhon, Tiamat and the Midgard Serpent were always there, lurking, part of reality, and that we have both to deal with it, but also accept they are part of the Cosmos. Mythologies created Underworldly Powers which were in-between, like Hades, Hel or Seth: powers which are dark and chaotic, but represent the integrated version of it, who are no longer antagonists of the Cosmos, but which are now part of it.
In our modern society, we have unlearned the reality of these forces. We believe all could be controlled with reason, science and logic, the Logos became the only element of reality we believed in, whom we assumed had all the answers. But the Gods of the Underworld can never be killed or removed, they are always there. Our zealous dedication to the Logos principle has made us blind and helpless against the principle of the “Dark Forces”, and when they rise, as they frequently do, we are now helpless and clueless.
Return of the Gods of Madness
Now the orderly reality has shown cracks, and through these cracks stare the mad monsters, which we seemed gone. We are no longer capable to fight, for we don't even understand what it is we are fighting, and it is not the evil other, it is not something we can confront by more Logos, more reason, more control. If we go into that extreme further, the backlash will be even more terrible. It is a world we try to bathe in the unending light, where we tried to banish all shadows away, reform ourselves into entirely logical, reasonable beings, and now our own neglected instincts are at war with us. We do not understand these instincts anymore, their message. They serve a purpose in the Cosmic Order, but we have forgotten that. Our Logos based society knows to react to Chaos only through applying more control. Control fanaticism is becoming a hallmark of our mad times, and it is a most dangerous road.
The Lovecraft Mythos depicts the world of the Logos, of reason and order as a very thin layer under which all too quickly chaos and madness may erupt. For the Egyptians, it was the duty of every man to work struggling with Apophis alongside Ra, but Apophis was never defeated. He is always there, inside of us. This Monster makes us strong, serves as a warning. It is the dog that barks in the moment of danger, so these primordial fears are inside of us for good reasons, for they can serve us as guides and guardians. The Lovecraft mythology says that the Great Old Ones, the Gods of Madness and Chaos, shall always return, for the Logo-centric order can never be sustained forever. It is the endless circle of Day and Night which the modern world has forgotten about. And so the Gods of Madness break forth again and will continue to haunt us, until we come to terms with our complete selves. It is a struggle which always continues, which is never completely won. The Darkness challenges us to reintegrate the Shadow we have banished, but since we went to the extreme of Light and Order, we must assume the lesson will take long and will be harsh.