Apocalypse Now


You may have noticed that a “spirit of Destruction” is loose. It manifests in a myriad of ways: from decent citizens armed with assault rifles, to escalating social conflicts and self-righteous murder, to political polarization that can only hurt the nation, to relationships that cannot hold. The Irish poet Yeats wrote about this spirit as a “rough beast, its hour come round at last.” Jung said it was the unconscious “Anti-Christ” in Western culture opposing established “Christian” values—compensating and completing what has already been for the sake of something more psychologically honest. More recently, Edinger wrote about this disturbing phenomenon as the activation of the “Apocalypse” archetype.

What he meant is that deep within the psyche of individuals (who make up the large group we call a nation or the very large group we call a culture) there lies a “Force” that will not settle for what has been achieved but insists upon a higher level of achievement. Periodically, it will destroy what has been in order to “un-cover” (apo-kalyptein) a “New Age.” Achievements, of course, are of all kinds. Psychological achievement means a higher level of consciousness about what is really true. And it appears that nations like the United States and Western culture as a whole—suffering the first effects of this archetype—are being “asked” (i.e., required) to make conscious what has previously remained unconscious.

That helps to explain to me why Luther reduced the Christian sacraments (i.e., access to the Divine) from seven to two and half in the sixteenth century, why Voltaire shouted, “Écrasez l’infâme!” in the eighteenth, and why Goethe introduced us to Mephistopheles in the nineteenth century. It explains our recent wars that, I am told, nobody wanted. It even explains to me why lesser intellects proudly proclaim atheism, as if losing one’s cultural roots were a good thing. We have been reeling. It is very important to keep in mind, however, that we will continue to do so until this process of cultural transformation is complete—most likely, centuries from now.

This means that relatively minor events, like the destruction of the Trade Towers in Manhattan by Islamic terrorists in 2001, are not only horrible but meaningful—in the sense that they fit an “Apocalyptic” pattern. It is disturbing to me to know that one of the “9/11” hijackers lived down the road from me. But it is naïve to say, “This must never happen again.” It will, many times, and with increasing devastation until the archetypal cultural process reaches its nadir—and the other more positive side asserts itself. Knowing this is grounding . . . in the face of each new assault upon what we know must endure if we are to remain human.

Yeats, however, is somewhat more optimistic. He wrote, “turning in the widening gyre / The falcon cannot hear the falconer; / Things fall apart.” But he also wrote that the winding down of a cultural “gyre” (a kind of cone that is narrowing down to its point) overlaps with the new “gyre” (the point of a cone that is widening) bringing in the future. This new possibility, then, can be detected in the midst of cultural collapse. My own instincts tell me that Jungian psychology will be part of that future. And the reader may detect signs of a more creative future elsewhere. It is important to trust these instincts since “hope” may be a necessary ingredient of the new Cone. It means that each of us as individuals has a part to play in the transformation of culture.

We actually have a historical model for this kind of transformation: the end of the Greco-Roman Empire and the gradual emergence of Christendom two thousand years ago. In fact, we are the first persons in history who are able to look back and say, “Ah, this has happened before, and we’ll get through it, our offspring will get through it.” Mediterranean classical culture lost its energy, its creativity—and started enjoying gladiators fighting to the death and Christians being fed to the lions—so something “New” emerged. There appears to be a kind of “law” in all this. Hindus noticed this and spoke about cyclical Kalpas that contained cyclical Yugas that, in turn, contained a cycle of Ages from a “Golden” one to a devastating kali-yuga that actually looks like ours (“an excessive preoccupation with things material and sexual,” says one scripture). Out of which a Golden Age appeared yet again.

It is a historical fact that following the collapse of Rome—that must have been an unimaginable possibility—a “dark age” ensued. But Platonism survived, Stoicism survived, and Boethius was copied by candlelight by “grubby little monks” (as I affectionately call them) who did not know the language. And . . . we all know or should know what happened next. Augustine. Abelard. Thomas Aquinas. Luther. Voltaire. And Jung. And here we are in the midst of something terrible and on the verge of something great.

WANT MORE? Read William Butler Yeats' poem "The Second Coming" and click for my introduction to Edward F. Edinger, Archetype of the Apocalypse and then read the whole book. Read chapter 8 of my book, The Snake and the Rope: A Jungian View of Hinduism.

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