Search Results for abyss
Abyss (Greek, abyssos, Latin abyssus). Myths about an abyss or bottomless pit are found in most cultures.
In Judaism the abyss lies deep within the earth, a place where evil spirits of the dead are banished (Job 32:22, Psalm 6:5, 143:7).
In ancient Greece the majority of the dead retire to a gloomy underworld, an abyss of “shades” where they endure punishment for worldly sins.
The ancient Greek idea of heaven is not well developed. In fact, only a few heroes pass on to the favorable Blessed Isles. After the 5th century BCE the belief that the dead reside among the stars appears. But this still radically differs from the concept of heaven as forwarded by Jesus Christ.
In Hindu lore, a popular version of the Ramayana epic portrays the heroine Sita being consumed by a great opening in the earth.
The Druidic tradition tells of evil foes falling down into bottomless caverns.
The biblical Satan is bound by an angel and cast into a bottomless pit (Rev. 20:3).
Mircea Eliade notes that myths about “binding” evil beings are quite plentiful.
New Testament (NT) accounts of an abyss refer to a hellish region from which a wild beast emerges to temporarily destroy prophets after they have completed their mission.
The Abyss in the NT is likewise described as a prison for evil spirits (Luke 8:31; Rev 9:1-2; 11; 11:7-8).
Interestingly, Victorian Fairy imagery is replete with watery underworlds inhabited by ghoulish beings, amidst which fairies are protected from harm by dwelling, often sleepily, within a sort of magical cocoon.
In the Beowulf myth, an evil water-troll is slain in her underwater lair by use of a magical sword discovered by the hero, deep under the water’s surface.
More recently, the invention of the bathysphere and the submarine opened the door for pulp fiction and numerous Hollywood “B” movies about underwater horrors.
An underwater abyss is also found in the science fiction film, The Abyss.
Sci-fi also depicts the abyss motif in outer space. In several episodes, Star Trek Voyager’s Captain Janeway stands perilously above an almost bottomless cylinder within a Borg ship.
Likewise, Star Wars‘ Luke Skywalker perches on a ledge over an abyss in the evil Emperor’s Death Star. And the more recent Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace is replete with strange subterranean beings.
In psychoanalytic terms, Freudians see the abyss as a symbol of the mother’s womb or the tumultuous forces of the instinctual id.
Jungians tend to regard the abyss as an archetypal image of the collective unconscious.
Regardless of which school one subscribes to, in the most general sense a fear of total destruction seems to coexist with a potential for victory over, and order arising from, the dark chaos of the abyss.
As Rod Serling put it in the close of the 1961 Twilight Zone episode “The Shelter” (pictured above), in which apparently normal American neighbors go beserk during an atomic bomb scare:
For civilization to survive the human race has to remain civilized.
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Mircea Eliade (1907-1986) was a Romanian scholar, fluent in eight languages, who authored seminal works on the history of world religions and mythology. He is perhaps best known for his studies on shamanism, yoga, and alchemy. Eliade also edited the multi-volume Encyclopedia of Religion. And The Eliade Guide to World Religions (1991) offers a concise summary of his scholarly publications.
While some critics of Eliade’s work say it’s overly selective, it’s difficult to find a researcher who isn’t selective. Critics also say that Eliade superimposes grand theory on his research data. This seems a more reasonable charge, but the inevitability of subjectivity arguably lessens the impact of this criticism.
Eliade also wrote works of fiction, saying that he had no choice when the artistic muse struck him. He simply had to follow, alternating between the international scholar and budding author. With this kind of outlook it’s not surprising that Eliade was on good terms with C. G. Jung, Joseph Campbell and others of like mind.
Eliade’s scholarly views, however, sometimes differed from those of Jung and Campbell, a fact that he handled quite diplomatically, always politely disagreeing and never alienating them within the scholarly circle that met annually at the Switzerland Eranos conferences.
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In depth psychology and New Age publications we often hear about the Hero. This kind of usage isn’t referring to a Martin Luther King, Neil Armstrong or Terry Fox. While these individuals certainly were heroic, and heroes by the usual definition of the word, they weren’t necessarily heroes from the perspective of depth psychology or New Age spirituality.
The psycho-spiritual idea of the Hero is really talking about an archetype of the Hero. And the notion of the archetype can be traced back to the Greek philosopher Plato and his theory of Eternal Forms or Perfect Ideas. After Plato, the idea of the archetype was remixed by various medieval thinkers. We need not go into their complicated theories here.
What’s important for us is how the Swiss psychiatrist, C. G. Jung, adapted the ideas of the Archetype and the Hero into one concept—namely, the archetype of the hero. The Jungian archetype differs from the Platonic formulation, most notably because Jung’s archetypes involve eternity but are grounded in the human body. Plato’s archetypes are just “out there.” They are imprinted in the eternal soul and have some kind of relation with matter but they are not grounded in matter.¹
For Jung the archetype indicates the psychological contents of a proposed collective unconscious. He says the archetypes are inherited patterns encoded in the body, universally shared by mankind. Not unlike the gods and goddesses of ancient times, archetypes apparently have a psychic life of their own that extends beyond everyday consciousness and concerns.
According to Jung, when the conscious ego encounters the archetype, the individual experiences a sense of the numinous. This encounter may be psychologically constructive or destructive, healing or disorienting. The type of effect that the numinous has on consciousness depends on the psychological stability and maturity of the individual, as well as the character and intensity of the numinosity, itself.
Visible manifestations of the archetypes appear as archetypal images. Jung distinguishes these recognizable images from the archetype proper, which Jung says can never be fully known. So the archetypal image of the Hero may appear in many different forms, but there’s only one Hero archetype.
Joseph Campbell built on Carl Jung’s idea of a hero archetype in his book The Hero With a Thousand Faces (1949). Campbell says that the idea of the hero’s journey to the underworld (and return to everyday life) is found throughout world myth and religion.
Typically, the hero is born into a problematic setting. Two biblical examples would be the infant Moses and Jesus Christ. Moses was abandoned as a baby, left in a basket to float down the Nile river. Jesus Christ was born in a manger because his parents were forced to flee the paranoid anger of King Herod “The Great” (c. 73-4 BCE) who hoped to kill the infant Jesus by ordering the killing of all children in Bethlehem under age two.
Campbell says the next phase of the budding hero’s life is a “call to adventure.” The hero usually doesn’t want to be a hero but is slowly drawn into his or her historical, perhaps sacred role. At this stage he or she may exhibit some kind of superhuman powers and insight.
A definite turning point in the hero’s journey is precipitated by some kind of crisis. The hero is either sucked into a whale’s belly (e.g. Jonah), dismembered (e.g. Osiris), abducted (e.g. Sita, Eurydice), abandoned (e.g. Joseph), hanged (e.g. Odin), sent on a ‘night sea’ voyage (e.g. St. John of the Cross) or a strange journey (in literature, Alice in Wonderland), forced to fight a threatening dragon (e.g. St. George, Beowulf), drawn into battle with relatives (e.g. Arjuna) or demons and monsters (e.g. Gilgamesh, Hercules), all of which point to a passage from the everyday into a supernatural world of danger and magic (again, in Jung’s terms, the collective unconscious).
At this time the hero encounters mythical beings and beasts. Some are helpers, others are tricksters, and yet others are enemies. In learning how to discern among these mythical creatures, the hero faces a series of life-threatening tests (e.g. Odysseus binds himself to his ship’s mast to prevent the Sirens from luring him to his death; Jesus rejects the temptation of Satan in the wilderness, in the holy city and on the mountain).
The hero’s journey continues to the inner depths of an abyss, a dragon cave, a bottomless ocean, a deep underworld pit or, in modern myth, a Death Star or a Borg cube. At this point the hero hopefully discovers what the alchemists call the lapis (philosopher’s stone or inner human). There may be atonement with a father or a father figure, a sacred marriage, a theft, or perhaps a bargaining for the elixir of immortality.
Having found the proverbial Holy Grail within, the hero gains profound insight into the eternal, infinite connections among life, death, space, time, heaven and hell. But like Theseus after slaying the Minotaur at the center of the labyrinth, the hero must return to the world of day to day living. After his or her return to everyday life, he or she is symbolically reborn.
Concerning the journey to and from the underworld, the Hero understands well Plato‘s comments from his famous Cave Analogy about entering and exiting the cave.
The eyes may be confused in two ways and from two causes, coming from light into darkness as well as from darkness to light… the same applies to the soul.²
In practical terms, the hero’s quest is often confusing due to the sheer magnitude of fast paced change that’s involved. Not everyone finds their way out of the collective unconscious. Some simply go mad.
In myth and religion, Theseus found escaped from the labyrinth because he’d unwound a ball of thread that Ariadne had provided in advance. Moses and the persecuted chosen people were delivered from the Egyptians by the miraculous parting (and subsequent closing) of the Red Sea. And Jesus, after his death, descended to hell for three days before ascending to heaven.
Parallels among mythic and religious stories about the hero obviously differ in important details. In fact, the content of hero stories often varies quite radically. And each story arguably has a qualitatively different effect on those who invest their energy into them. However, Jung and Campbell contend that all the Hero stories display a basic structural similarity.³
In psychological terms hero stories point to a circular passage from ego → archetypes → self → archetypes → ego. On returning, being rescued or resurrected, the hero is transformed. He or she may reclaim former elements of the older personality but these are put to a new purpose, integrated within a new sense of self.
On the social level, the hero brings to society various boons of wisdom, and possibly miraculous abilities, gained from the underworld.
¹ For an unusually good summary of Plato’s theories about the soul, see Herschel Baker, The Image of Man: A Study of the Idea of Human Dignity in Classical Antiquity, the Middle Ages, and the Renaissance (1961).
² G. M. A. Grube (trans.), Plato’s Republic, Indianapolis: Hackett, 1974, p. 170 [par 518a].
³ Campbell notes that the film Star Wars is a contemporary reenactment of the hero myth, rendering ancient stories and motifs into images that speak to people today.
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- Greek Beasts and Heroes: The Monster in the Maze by Lucy Coats – review (guardian.co.uk)
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Ishtar is a Mesopotamian goddess of fertility, ‘sacred’ prostitution¹ and war, later associated with the planet Venus as a goddess of love.
If thou openest not the gate to let me enter,
I will break the door, I will wrench the lock,
I will smash the door-posts, I will force the doors.
I will bring up the dead to eat the living.
And the dead will outnumber the living.²
As she enters each successive door in her descent, she is commanded to take off a specific piece of jewelry or clothing item. By the time she reaches the abyss she stands entirely naked.
Joseph Campbell points out how this story has obvious Jungian implications. To attain knowledge of the inner self, one must dispense with (or, at least, gain a new perspective on) all the trappings of worldly life. Unfortunately, Ishtar does not succeed. The evil underworld queen Ereshkigal imprisons Ishtar and she becomes ‘one of the dead.’
¹ Rightly seen as abhorrent today, the idea and practice of ‘sacred’ or temple prostitution was widespread in the ancient world: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sacred_prostitution
² Parallel myths and different scholarly interpretations of Ishtar’s descent to the underworld shed more light (or perhaps create more ambiguity) on this ancient mythic theme: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ishtar.
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Id [das Es (German) translated to the id (Latin); the "it" (English)]
In Sigmund Freud‘s psychoanalysis, the id is a supposedly instinctual reservoir of disordered unconscious drives – a “cauldron full of seething excitations” – that’s present at birth.
Freud believed that people are driven by two conflicting central desires: the life drive (libido or Eros) (survival, propagation, hunger, thirst, and sex) and the death drive. The death drive was also termed “Thanatos”, although Freud did not use that term; “Thanatos” was introduced in this context by Paul Federn.¹
Charles Rycroft, A Critical Dictionary of Psychoanalysis, Harmondsworth: Penguin 1977, p. 66.
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- Great essay by Richard Shapiro “The Psychoanalysis of Philosophy: Towards the Eroticization of Logos” (aaronasphar.wordpress.com)
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Captain Kathryn Janeway is the first woman starship Captain to regularly appear in a Star Trek TV series.
Kate Mulgrew plays the role in Star Trek: Voyager, which ran for seven seasons from 1995 to 2001. Interestingly, her faithful male sidekick, Commander Chakotay, plays a traditionally ‘feminine’ role by providing emotional support for Janeway’s traditionally ‘male’ command decisions.
The creator of the Star Trek series, Gene Roddenberry, attempted three decades earlier to counteract traditional sexism by casting a woman first officer (“No. 1″, played by Majel Barret) in the original pilot episode. Network brass demanded big changes, however, and William Shatner, Deforest Kelley and James Doughan were respectively brought in as ship’s captain, doctor and engineer. Leonard Nimoy (Spock) replaced Barret as “No. 1.” Barret was recast less prominently as Nurse Chapel, a female role deemed more socially acceptable for mid-1960′s America.
Something of a compromise was reached, however, when a female voice (Barret’s) was used for the ship’s talking computer. Barret, who was to become creator Gene Roddenberry’s real life wife, played in two Star Trek feature films. She also returned in the TV series Star Trek: The Next Generation as ship counselor Deanna Troy’s flamboyant mother. Also, her voice is heard again in later series’ as a female sounding computer.
The success of Katherine Janeway as Voyager’s captain suggests that the time was ripe for rethinking traditional sex-role stereotypes not only in America, but in most culturally progressive societies around the world.
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Luke displays many of the qualities of the mythic hero, as outlined by Carl Jung and, later, Joseph Campbell. He’s born of humble origins and grows up with a missing father. He’s invited to embark on a dangerous quest or mission, on which he receives paranormal help from a spiritual teacher (i.e. Yoda) and a wise old man (i.e. Obi Wan Kenobi).
Also, he has a female helper (i. e. Princess Leia) with whom he perhaps falls in puppy love until realizing she’s his sister.
Moreover, he undergoes a spiritual transformation, enabling him to succeed in overcoming evil (i.e. the dark side of “the force”) within and without. And he becomes a select knight of goodness possessing supernatural powers (i.e. Jedi).
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Broadly speaking, magic is the use of supernatural power to cause an effect on or gain knowledge of people, souls, animals, vegetation, objects, the elements and events. Magical procedures may involve elaborate ritual and are variously directed towards the past, present, future and afterlife or some combination thereof.
A distinction is usually made between white and black magic. White magic is allegedly intended to help people. Black magic is revengeful with the intent to harm others and thus more clearly evil.
Sympathetic magic is the belief that one event causes another, so the magician imitates a desired outcome. A positive example would be painting animals on a cave wall in the belief that this will enrich the hunt. A negative example would be believing that a barren woman is the cause of a blighted crop.
Contagious magic is based on the belief that things once in physical contact or proximity continue to have a magical connection after they’re separated.
The most familiar example of Contagious Magic is the magical sympathy which is supposed to exist between a man and any severed portion of his person, as his hair or nails; so that whoever gets possession of human hair or nails may work his will, at any distance, upon the person from whom they were cut. This superstition is world-wide.¹
Another distinction is made between magic and religion. As Joachim Wach (1898-1955) suggests:
Religion differs from magic in that it is not concerned with control or manipulation of the powers confronted. Rather it means submission to, trust in, and adoration of, what is apprehended as the divine nature of ultimate reality.²
However S. G. F. Brandon says this is a biased perspective:
…such attempts generally rest on a priori definitions of the two entities concerned.³
Sociologists also point out similarities between magical and religious rituals. However, structural similarities do not necessarily entail equivalence.
We could, for instance, say that Kolkata (formerly Calcutta) and New York are both big cities. Each has roads, buildings, people, movie halls and markets. But anyone visiting these two locales will be struck by their differences.
While an outsider may think that religious and magical rituals look the same and bring about similar results, to believers (on both sides) the numinous results differ dramatically. Modern magicians often say (or imply) that religious ritual is just an empty shell, cut off from any spiritual meaning it may have once had. Meanwhile, many contemporary religious persons shun magical rituals, often saying that the result brings about a kind of dark, gloomy, heavy and obscuring spirituality that is the work of evil.
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¹ Sir James George Frazer (1854–1941). The Golden Bough. 1922. http://bartelby.org/196/7.html
² Joachim Wach, The Comparative Study of Religions, ch. 2, Columbia University Press (1958), cited in The Columbia World of Quotations, 1996.
³ Dictionary of Comparative Religion, ed. S. G. F. Brandon, New York: Charles Scribners & Sons, 1970, p. 418.
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The New Testament is that part of the Christian Bible dealing with the birth, teachings, living examples, miracles, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is composed of the Four Gospels, the “Acts of the Apostles,” “The Epistles” and the “Apocalypse of John.”
The dominant scholarly view is that most if not all of the New Testament was written in Koine Greek, the common language during the time of the Eastern Roman Empire. Although some say parts or, perhaps, all of the New Testament was written in Aramaic, the language that Jesus spoke.
Different translations of the New Testament may rely on different scriptural sources and also the biased agendas of translators.
For instance, The New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), uses gender-neutral instead of originally masculine pronouns. And different translations of the Lord’s Prayer vary in length.
Meanwhile, the New International Version Bible (NIV) arguably tries to smooth out theological problems by firmly linking up the New and Old Testaments with the help of selective translating. Some see this as justified, others do not.
However, most Christians agree, in different ways and degrees, that the New Testament is a ‘fulfillment’ of the Old Testament, the latter being seen as a kind of blueprint for the arrival of Jesus Christ, the only true savior and messiah that the Jewish prophets had anticipated.
One of the most often cited passages of the Old Testament in support of this belief is (with the name Immanuel meaning “God with us”):
Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel (Isaiah 7:14).
The Jewish people, of course, did not accept this idea because they believe it is blasphemous for any human being to claim equality with God, a view they share with Muslims. And some commentators say that the Jewish people expected their Messiah to be a kind of hero figure who would liberate them from the occupying Romans.
To this Christians reply that Jesus’ message is not about driving away enemies, gaining land or basking in Earthly glory. As Jesus says in the New Testament, his kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36).
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M. H. Abrams says that at the most fundamental level a symbol is anything that signifies something else.
Abrams also notes that a distinction is often made between the public and private symbol. The public symbol, such as the cross, is apparently understood by everyone in a given culture whereas the private symbol, such as an obscure poetic allusion, isn’t.
This distinction, however, seems open to debate: Surely not everyone in a given culture interprets the cross in the same way.
In literature a symbol is
a word or phrase that signifies an object or event which in turn signifies something, or suggests a range of reference, beyond itself (A Glossary of Literary Terms, 2005, p. 320).
In depth psychology, Carl Jung says the symbol is a meaningful image that mediates healing or destructive forces from the collective unconscious to ego consciousness–for example, the symbol of the Cross or Serpent.
Jung says symbols arise from the unknowable archetypes but are recognized as archetypal images. Archetypes interpenetrate among themselves; likewise, archetypal images are discrete but exhibit similarities. For Jung the flow of psychic energy between the collective unconscious and the symbol is a two-way process.
Jungian Erich Neumann says that the symbol acts as both as an “energy transformer” and as a “moulder of consciousness.” As an energy transformer the symbol facilitates the ego’s experience of the numinous, arising from the collective unconscious. As a moulder of consciousness, the symbol operates on the level of collective consciousness by contributing to the ideology of a given culture.
Jung says the interconnected conscious and unconscious aspects of humanity cannot be severed. He’s widely quoted as saying in The Undiscovered Self (1958):
You can take away a man’s gods, but only to give him others in return.
Likewise, political leaders of the mass state cannot avoid being glorified or demonized. This occurs through brute force, clever calculation and also through public fascination and projection.
Jung believes, for example, that a mass-produced placard image of Joseph Stalin expresses an archetypal force articulated on the conscious level that both sways and oppresses individuals.
A more contemporary example would be the disempowering psychological effect that massive bank towers (symbolizing ‘Big Business’) have on the poor and disenfranchised. And in ancient cultures such as Greece, Rome and Egypt, impressive architecture apparently had a similar effect on slaves, the exploited, the underprivileged and on less powerful visitors from foreign cultures.
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