The following is excerpted from Crop Circles, Jung, and the Archetypal Feminine, published by North Atlantic Books.
Like any idea, the idea of meaning has an opposite, which is that of nonsense, an absurd chaos. —Marie-Louise von Franz
Crop circles are seen by some to be foreshadowing our planetary end, a “fair warning” given before our environmental self-destruction, before a Christian apocalypse. Most of those researchers, and others involved closely with the phenomenon, express some measure of this sentiment. As farmer Polly Carson, on whose property many of the first evolutions of form in the phenomenon have appeared, has said, “It is not as if these formations are saying to us ‘Way to go human race!’”[i] Many different indigenous elders have said that they see an expression of the earth’s destruction and suffering in their symbols; they are saying to us, “Mother Earth is crying.”[ii] Are crop circles an expression of the planet’s own desperation, a warning of our approaching a self-made environmental collapse or biblical end-time?
We are right to recognize the apocalyptic in our moment—environmentally, economically, and internationally there are crises of tremendous difficulty and complexity right in front of our eyes. We face global warming, massive species extinction and other environmental dangers, terrorism, new diseases, and a host of economic problems, any one of which may be able to throw us into a frightening and potentially deadly time of chaos. Jung too felt that we were headed toward such a time of crisis and that it would be only our capacity to become more consciously aware of ourselves that would prevent it. He warned that “the world hangs by a thin thread, and that thread is the psyche of man.”[iii]
Confrontation with the possibility of apocalypse, especially one that is self-inflicted, should lead us into self-examination, into a consideration of our shadow. In ecological self-destruction, we might see our own narcissism, our need to let the planet go to hell, if stopping it would mean having to sacrifice any of our financial prosperity (death before disappointment). Our voracious need for consumer goods might speak to us, as it does for Woodman, of our loss of the archetypal Feminine inside us—an unconscious materialist compulsion outwardly expressing our longing for lived, creative spiritual participation with Mater (Mother), the archetypal Feminine.
Some religious ideas of apocalypse do emphasize the importance of self-reflection, but most of these define the answer before asking the question (our sin or lack of adherence to their belief system requires a cleansing end-time). Despite our increasing awareness of the environmental dangers that we face, there is no call to look squarely at how we might have gotten here, and little call to take the radical steps that might ensure our own survival. Our response to the fact that we may be very near to ruining our own planet is a lukewarm “Well, we should probably do something.” Why? Why is our response to the possibility of our extinction, like our response to crop circles, one of so little urgency?
One of the chief features of the movement into modern consciousness has been the gradual redirection of our psychic energy away from outer objects (nature, God-images, etc.) into investment in ourselves. The awe and participation mystique that characterized our primitive ancestors’ engagement with the world around them are today no more, and we sit unattached and anxious at the center of our own worldview:
“[Our] autonomy has been purchased at a staggering price: the disenchantment of the universe. The high cost has been a gradual voiding of all intelligence, all soul, all spirit, all meaning, all purpose from the entire world—now exclusively relocated in the human self, through what from this point of view can be seen as an extraordinary act of cosmic hubris.”[iv]
We have come to see ourselves as alone in a clockwork universe. As a symptom of our masculine imbalance, our view of the world as clock shows our confusion of measurement with mastery—in measuring it we imagine somehow that we have actually created it. The clockwork illusion reflects our self-investment. We have purged out any mystery from our view of the world and today the ego sits enshrined in us unlike in any other previous human culture. We are lost in our own self-reflection, have made an idol of our own view, and believe that there are no other powers in the world (in parallel to the ego’s view that there are no other forces in the psyche).
We suffer from a “primitive grandiosity [that] does not want to acknowledge and respect any other center.”[v] Our view of the outer world as cold, dead, and machine-like reflects the ego’s relationship to the objective basis of the unconscious, from which it is distanced. The ego has usurped the power of that natural foundation within us for itself, and it is for this reason that Jungian analyst and professor at Chicago Theological Seminary Robert L. Moore understands us to have lost our ability to find the center, the axis mundi, the rejuvenating precinct where contact between the ego and the transpersonal takes place: “when you become truly modern psychologically and culturally, you cannot find the center anymore … it is [rendered] invisible.”[vi] Self-invested, we are blind to the larger forces inside of us and thus imagine none to exist outside of us either.
The objective basis of the psyche, the instincts and archetypes within us, are transpersonal and timeless. They are tremendously dynamic and powerful qualities, more powerful than the individual ego. Traditionally in human cultures, initiatory rituals were used to draw adolescents into a proper psychological relationship to these forces in us. Plato said of the initiatory rituals he underwent that they led “us back to the principles from which we descended … [to] a perfect enjoyment of intellectual [spiritual] good.”[vii] Initiation led one to have a proper relationship to the objective contents of the psyche, a proper relationship between the personal and the timeless, transpersonal ground inside of us. In initiatory rites personal grandiosity is brought into check against a larger whole. Spiritually one is led to the appreciation of the creature for the Creator, and psychologically the ego is brought into relation to the Self and the dynamic unconscious foundation of the psyche. However, as Saul has pointed out, our heroic yet tragic freedom from the primal paradisiacal unity has left us somehow angry at it. Our devotion “to absolute truths and linear progress” is fed by our “determination to deny mortality and timelessness.”[viii]
We want to deny the existence of the psyche’s objective basis and our need for contact with it. Woodman sees this played out in our addiction to perfection, our attempt to make the “temporal as perfect as the eternal that it rejects.” She says further, “so long as conscious and unconscious are enemies, the ego experiences itself in constant danger of death. … That confrontation demands the surrender of the rigid, self-deceptive ‘I.’”
Where the ego cannot stand letting go of its inflation and “is hostile, then it experiences itself as the victim and sets itself up for self-murder.”[ix] When inflated ego is faced with the real power of the psyche’s objective basis, it must either begin to transform or take on an “if I can’t have it no one will” stance, seeing there an enemy—its own hostility reflected back to it. Where the ego is increasingly inflated and disconnected from the psyche’s objective and timeless basis, the temptation becomes greater and greater to create a circumstance that will confirm “once and for all” the perfection of the ego’s chosen worldview in an acted-out apocalypse. Ortiz Hill sees our “perverse literalization” of the ego’s relationship to the Self as the root of our drive toward apocalypse. An acted-out apocalypse offers our towering unconscious grandiosity the opportunity to express itself in a perverse, unbounded, and malignant statement of its power. Moore points out that the enterprises of “unconscious gods have no limits in their fantasies. This is the satanic manifestation of the God image.” (p. 28)
Seeing ourselves as having all the answers, as being right always and identifying ourselves with light psychologically, leaves the shadow in us unbound. Here, we risk falling prey to what Ulanov calls the “Devil’s trick”: “the Devil always tempts us in large terms … to make us let go of the good to fight evil, and even worse, to lead us to let go of an evil we could do something about to work for an abstract and idealized good that can never be realized.”[x] As she describes it, the Devil’s trick is to frighten “us with large abstract evils so that we let go of the little devils that live in us. And so we are seduced to forget our petty evils which are our specific and concrete ego tasks to meet. We see ourselves not only participating in the great production ‘Evil and the Universe,’ but starring in it!”[xi]
We live in a moment when this high-stakes showdown notion has no shortage of willing participants—each one certain that he or she is not only right but also righteous. So being, we are led to take any measure that will prove that it is true, that we alone exist in relation to the divine. Apocalyptic possibilities require this level of infantile grandiosity. This dynamic makes it seem right to threaten the entire planet with annihilation rather than admit to a truth existing outside the scope of one’s belief. Our insistence upon having our own way “come hell or high water” becomes the road to our actual self-destruction.
In the past, human cultures were able to release some of their anxiety by redirecting their grandiosity as a group (with its totems, ideals, and God-images), and through the projection of our negative feelings onto other groups. “When the grandiosity is displaced onto a group, the ego can experience less anxiety and feel righteous and humble while sanctifying horrific, arrogant and hegemonic behaviors…. We turn our arrogant inflation over to social, religious, ideological, institutional or national structures, while our deep intuitions about the presence of an enemy [inside ourselves] cause us to demonize and dehumanize those other people outside our group.”[xii] This dynamic leads us into insatiable campaigns for safety that instead increase our exposure to danger.
We saw this in a Cold War arms buildup that left us able to destroy the planet many times over, and in our endless drive for economic growth despite our potential self-destruction from it. As Grof points out, “We want to be so safe that we have actually created an unsafe world”[xiii]; or as Jung described, it is “not nature, but the ‘genius of mankind,’ has knotted the hangman’s noose with which it can execute itself at any moment.”[xiv] The horror and insecurity of the circumstances of our moment remind us daily in new ways that absolute security is never possible—as people and as nations, we are always going to be vulnerable.
Where in the past we could simply say “We are right and they are wrong,” today the nature of our global interconnectedness ensures that each culture is led into interaction, and thereby into questioning assumptions and thus into greater anxiety. “The increasing difficulty now is that everyone’s grandiosity is bumping up against everyone else’s grandiosity” (Moore, p. 148). The tremendous anxiety of the modern era leads to a compulsive desire to find a vehicle in which to place our grandiosity—to find a view that we can say with certainty is right. “If I don’t know who I am, I want some hard facts or some fundamentalism real fast, to take away the anxiety of all the un-knowing” (Meade).[xv]
Whether it is a fundamentalist religion or a drive for the hard facts of a reductionist scientific view, the motive is the same, to keep us from having to actually face our grandiose self-investment and shadow. In this way, we are led down the road to hell by paving it in front of us with our own rational but abstract, good intentions. Our culture does not like to think about any shadow existing in our archetypal masculine certitudes that keep our world looking tidy and chaos-free, but it is through such denial that we coast toward apocalypse. The culture clashes and environmental crises that we face place our abstract notions about what the world should be into conflict with the concrete facts about what it is.
Global warming and other human-made ecological damage require us to drop our vision of the planet as a body whose resources are best used up as quickly as possible for economic benefit. Conflicts between fundamentalist and nationalist worldviews—who see themselves in a heroic, righteous light and the Other as carrier of the world’s evil—head us toward a “redemptive” showdown. Today our neat clockwork views of the universe are encountering the chaotic mess of all that we have denied in those views.
Can we recognize our shadow and see, as Einstein did, that “it has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity”? Can we understand our moment as qualitatively different from any that has come before? Certainly no human culture has ever been this close to ending life on this planet by its own hand. Can we recognize the tremendous anxiety and grandiosity that pressurize our culture’s drive toward self-destruction? Only by our ego loving its own reason as much as we do could we get this far. Only when we have so completely denied the need for ego death in ourselves could we be so near to acting it out unconsciously.
Some kind of great cleansing and spiritual transformation of Planet Earth seems guaranteed by the mounting pressure of grandiose energies in the human psyche. We see two alternatives: (a) the human species will act out its grandiose energies and get “purified” in a great fireball, a third World War, or (b) we will learn consciously how to sacrifice our infantile grandiosity and take conscious responsibility for making the changes we need to realize a great spiritual transformation…. The fundamentalist eagerness for Armageddon is simply an unconscious literalization of the imperative for transformation. (R. L. Moore)[xvi]
How then to escape our confinement within this tragedy? Before we break out of a pattern, we have to come to recognize the ways in which it is playing out through us, the ways in which we are unconsciously caught in it. Ironically perhaps, the gifts of the archetypal masculine can help us to do this—our psychological objectivity, our ability to discern with clarity and gain sight of our projections. The achievement of self-awareness and the possibility of nonidentification allow us to discover the story that we are playing out unconsciously. Only in coming to realize that one is caught in an unconscious pattern does one ever become able to break out of it. In looking at ourselves, and the way that we play out an old and unhealthy story, we become conscious enough to break out of it.
We need to understand that the patriarchal symbolism permeating our culture results from being lost in a narrow band of the spectrum of the world’s mythic imagination. (Moore)[xvii]
Under a now-over-masculine influence, we have managed to divide the world up into disconnected puzzle pieces and can no longer make emotional connection with context. The natural drive inside us to separate, which was once healthy for us, has now run amok and is keeping us from being able to construct any narrative for ourselves. We have been living in a story that has us, to a greater and greater degree, isolated from the world around us and dangerously satisfied with the righteousness of our own view. Our infantile grandiosity keeps us high up on the mountain and far from facing the imperfection in us, in our beliefs and in what we have done. Yet there is little clamor for change or self-reflection.
In the biblical story of Jonathan, brother of King David and son of King Saul, it is understood that King Saul, as the first king of the Israelites, was the vehicle for the indwelling of the spirit of Yahweh, the Hebrew God. His reign was successful and blessed by God up until a certain point at which David’s camp splits off from his father Saul’s and Saul and Jonathan enter into a battle with the Philistines in which they are both killed. Prior to this battle, Jonathan’s loyalty is split: he does not know whether to go with his father, Saul, or his brother David. He chooses his father and thus chooses death. The spirit of Yahweh had been with Saul, but it had abandoned him and was now with David. Thus, as Edinger points out, Jonathan’s “residual dependence on the outworn state of being is what killed him.”[xviii]
As with the biblical Jonathan, is our residual dependence on an outworn state of being leading us to our deaths? Is this masculine story of ours past its usefulness to us as the only narrative by which we understand ourselves? What might the cost be of remaining in grandiosity and habitual dependence when that mode now makes us unable to connect emotionally with the context in which we live? As one Jungian writer has chillingly described it, “At a time when our highest values, virtues and abilities are turning against us, the whole of humanity risks finding itself in God’s shadow.”[xix]
There are many people who believe that our masculine imbalance has wounded us to a point that we experience life as though it were an abstraction, as though we were watching it “through a screen.”[xx] Andrew Harvey (1995) believes that the disconnection of our era has left us not only wounded but utterly passive, incapable of responding to our experience. He retells the story of a friend who survived a plane crash, describing the moments before the plane hit a mountain: “during the first few minutes, as people realized the end was coming, they screamed, sobbed and prayed out loud. In the next two minutes, the panic subsided; finally, in the end people just sat there, numb and frozen.” Harvey feels that many people today are living in a state not unlike the people in those final minutes “too stunned even to cry out.” He charges that much of our culture “conspires with this passivity. Its relentless trivialization of serious issues, its passion for distraction, its fanatical irrational belief in reason and the power of science to explain away everything, all prevent us from facing where we are and what we do.”[xxi] Harvey believes that we are on the precipice of a human-made environmental disaster, essentially a mass “suicide” that we are moving toward swiftly, simply because we are too disconnected inside of ourselves to face squarely what we have done and what we need to do.
Might there be something in our condition today that has us petrified in our response to the world? Might it be that our psychological distance from nature, both inner and outer, is what keeps our responses to the world around us lukewarm? Might it be, as Neumann says, that where we have achieved in modern self-awareness the ability to split off our response from the images that we encounter, allowing us to choose our response, we now experience the world at such a distance that it has lost some of its reality for us and thus “confrontation with an unconscious image, or even an unexpected situation, finds [us] immune to reaction?”[xxii] Might it be, as Esther Harding describes, that the “little by little advance through the ages” of our ability to symbolize and abstract our experience—a great step forward—has also brought with it the danger that our consciousness, now cut asunder from the primal instinctual source of life inside us, cannot find it again? We are left with an “abstraction where reality used to be”—as Nietzsche screamed out at us? Maybe it is as O’Kane tells us, that images experienced without emotion have no power to transform us or to become a source of change or new action. Maybe it is as Ulanov says, that our postmodern globalization bombards us with so much sensation that we are now “promiscuously aroused”—unable to come to any conclusions— a process that necessitates our arousal being anchored in the present of our “specific location, body, society.” Maybe it is as Washburn claims, that without being dynamically present in our bodies our experience has become “pale, distant and dull” and thereby “de-potentiated.” Does this keep us from the horror potentially coming toward us as much as it does from the “ecstasy of the newness of the image” (Bachelard) that is present in crop circles? Can we live with environmental crisis and crop circles without thinking too much about either because neither one is very real to us? Do we not worry about the end of life on this planet because the possibility only exists for us as an abstract idea? Are we incapable of imagining with feeling what lies ahead? Have we intellectualized all of this and can now “live with it quite well,” as Jung warned? Does this quality of our moment close us off from access to the voice of imagination inside us that would enable us to participate creatively with these new beauties and horrors? Is the spirit of our time most truthfully expressed in singing, “Well, whatever, never mind?”[xxiii]
Behind the “ecological crisis” and the “war on terror,” there lies a crisis of meaning and a loss of the sense of the sacred in the immediate pulse of the world…. When “the End” seems near, how people imagine the world becomes more important; how people imagine humanity becomes of the utmost importance.[xxiv]
Under the influence of our masculine imbalance, we have come to identify ourselves with light, and thus we require worldviews that enable us to keep that delusion intact. To do so, we hang on to ego-pleasing oversimplifications that keep us from fully participating with the truth that surrounds us, and especially from seeing the darkness in ourselves: the destruction that we do, the incomplete nature of our perspective, the dark mysteries that we deny. In his Dreaming the End of the World, Michael Ortiz Hill writes of our defenses against what’s really happening around us as a kind of innocence: “As long as we drift innocently on the surface of things, like the uninitiated Kore picking narcissus in the Nyassan Meadows, it is almost inevitable that sooner or later the bottom will fall out and our innocence will be raped” (p. 86).
In our culture, innocence is maintained by identifying oneself with light and coming to see one’s own view and the view of one’s group as not only correct but also virtuous—enlightened—and in such a state one’s shadow is most definitely left aside. Here he is speaking of a self-satisfaction that is unconscious of its own unknowing, and where our ideas about the world around us and inside us are one-dimensional and sentimentalized, there is often a rejection of the world’s depth, complexity, and mystery and our own. However intricate and complex our worldview is, our personal perspective can never be equivalent with the world around us and “the unimaginable presents itself in particulars, and attempting to relate to those particulars provokes the world’s loss of cohesion.”[xxv] Resisting the loss of our world’s cohesion is accomplished through the denial of any crises or mysteries existing at all, through an inability to picture ourselves in the details of an ecological or other world-end, or through insisting that such an “unimaginable” future will happen under our terms—“I’ll have my apocalypse done my way.”
Letting go of an over-masculine worldview does not mean leaving one’s religious faith, but it does mean becoming willing to put oneself into the tension that is present between our beliefs and reality—it means opening ourselves up to the “unimaginable.” As author, paleontologist, and Jesuit priest Teilhard de Chardin describes it: “A constant spirit of inquiry directed toward the world and truth is an absolute duty.” Such work will inevitably require a breakdown of something inside of us. Placing ourselves authentically into such an inquiry almost always requires some measure of ego death. Facing reality more fully requires a letting go of innocence and a willingness to go to hell.
The insight we obtain by looking at ourselves is generally very bitter, which is why so few people do it; it is pikros—bitter for it corrodes and is very disagreeable to the illusions of consciousness. That is why we speak of bitter truth, for self-knowledge is a bitter experience at the beginning. (von Franz)[xxvi]
Jung recognized, in the process of movement into greater wholeness through ego death, a stage of medieval alchemy called nigredo, a blackening or decomposition, a breaking apart of the previous unity by which new growth is made possible. The term nekyia refers to a psychologically similar form of mythic night sea journey. In the decomposition of dark times, in suffering, pain, grief, or catastrophe, we are broken from the plans we had and snapped into voluntary or involuntary ego death. What this death looks like for each of us will be different; however, there are telltale signs of opportunity for such growth.
Jung notes that the death motif here is real in that each of us will have a violent aversion to seeing through our projections[xxvii]—that is to say, one does not move straight into the “lying down” of ego death; rather, we begin with rejection, refusal, being annoyed or offended. When we are experiencing such feelings, we can be certain that a root assumption of ours, one of our certitudes, is being challenged. Edinger writes of a response he had to a work of Jung’s the first time he read it. He was strongly offended, and only after a period of time did he go through a deeper process: “I think each of you should ask yourself how you are offended, it will tell you something about the nature of your own unconscious assumptions and that can be a valuable bit of self-knowledge.”[xxviii] Such an understanding is vital to our engagement with the mystery of crop circles, because the magnitude of the questions raised by looking seriously at this phenomenon is sure to violate everyone’s package of unconscious assumptions in some way. But it is only through such a loss that one comes to renewal.
Such dark periods allow that which no longer serves us to die off, as Boznak explains: “In the nigredo, the process freed itself of the fixation in which it was long bogged down. In alchemy, the mortification, the dying of the old king, the grandfather, takes place. Outlived forms that have ruled us for too long rot away now, so that a solution can be found, and stuck psychic material disintegrates into its component parts.”[xxix]
The egoic-masculine’s voice inside us tells us that what needs to die is our subjectivity, our imperfection and weak, irrational feeling qualities. Where we are led by a search for perfection and an ever-brighter self-image, there is a correspondent denial that is ongoing, a rejection made—a refusal to participate—for “to move toward perfection is to move out of life, or what is worse, never to enter it.”[xxx] Suffering and vulnerability can bring us more authentically toward life; in their process is begun a hollowing out that makes room for new fruitful growth. Here the ego defenses are broken down and we are brought closer to life. In suffering and helplessness, Ortiz Hill notes, “we are ‘forced to live closer to the wounded earth’—which is to say our hearts’ brokenness.”[xxxi] A culture that is bound up in shiny forward progress has an incredibly difficult time understanding that there might be something of value to be found in breakdown and vulnerability—the dark road of “union and death,” of the psychological process of ego death and rebirth, runs counter to the masculine desire for straightforward linear approaches.
The mystery of nigredo is very far from our patriarchal consciousness that values solidity, stability, constancy, and strength. For most people, it is a long and arduous path even to begin to appreciate the wisdom of this other way, the way of union and death. (Schwartz-Salant)[xxxii]
It is very difficult for a culture that has been conditioned to reject and separate its awareness away from instinct, body, feeling, dream, and internal image to suddenly turn to look for value in these things. For thousands of years our cultural masculine journey has been one of separating away from this “dark background” of our internal experience and into the “light” of objective clarity. This way of knowing the world can only divide endlessly and does not know how to put back together:
The question, as it is posed under the dominance of the hero archetype, excludes an answer from the beginning. Nothing can unite Heaven and Earth once they are defined as separated. We here encounter the tragedy of the heroic ego, which can only continue to separate, dissolve, analyze, and kill, but never again find connectedness, not because such connectedness is altogether impossible, but because it has no place within a myth aiming for separation…. It is not necessary for us here to enter into the question of to what extent this vision is responsible for the problems of the modern West (alienation, fragmentation, pollution, etc.) and specifically shapes the scientific mind. Our fate, however, may well depend on whether we are able to move out from our confinement in the ultimately deadly hero myth.[xxxiii]
Jung warned us that our era’s imbalance leads us to value “reason more than God’s secret intentions.”[xxxiv] We display our love of reason, above God and/or nature’s intentions, by holding on to old ways, through distraction and trivialization of serious issues, and by intellectualization and abstraction—the Devil’s trick of substituting abstract pursuits for the good that we could do in the here and now. The voice of this imbalance in us insists that, not only is there no actual meaning in crop circles, or in the crises and discoveries of our moment, but that there never could be any meaning in them because meaning is only ever a subjective invention of the human imagination (“don’t be irrational, silly”). This voice responds to the idea of our coming into a new story by saying that “things can never really change,” that “things have always been this way and this is the way that they will always be.” While many of us gaze in wonder and wrestle with the arrival of the crop circle phenomenon and its meaning for us, for the most part our culture has chosen to “love its own reason” and simply say “it cannot possibly be anything that we do not already understand.” In doing so we most certainly do keep God’s and/or Nature’s secret intentions well away from our hearts. The possibility of meaning is excluded from the beginning in a view of the world in which all that we are is biological robots. As Marie-Louise von Franz has said, “Like any idea, the idea of meaning has an opposite, which is that of nonsense, an absurd chaos.” The grandiosity of the era rejects the idea of meaning and leaves us only with the nonsense of hypocritical avoidance of reality and an absurd chaos in which nothing of real meaning is discussed.
Does a voice inside you say that crop circles having any meaning at all is absurd? That voice is our ego’s resistance to the anxiety of not-knowing, our habitual attachment to preexisting certainties. Inside the egoic, archetypal masculine story, we can know that none of this really matters anyway, or if it does it could only ever matter within a well-defined masculine narrative. Our bias toward always needing to be correct and against not-knowing and ego death makes us resist meeting the new, both because it conflicts with our current worldview and because it endangers the broader, self-satisfied inflation. Today our culture sits puffed up and disconnected from the objective ground of Nature inside us. Most fundamentally, ours is a culture based upon the psychological denial of any timeless center in us. And if we do not believe that such a center exists, we cannot see any value in a breakdown that would reorient us toward it. That is why it is so difficult for us to understand that the dark journey we must undertake at this time is not a regression into unconscious participation mystique with nature, but rather a conscious reunion with nature’s living foundation. The ground of the timeless within us as it is found on the other side of the ego’s mature and conscious surrender. Do we have the necessary imagination to consider that,now, this is the way forward?
Our ancestral cultures knew this other way to be of value. As with many forms of initiation ritual, the Eleusian mysteries led one into a lived experience of the miracle of life and paradoxically through a psychological experience of death. Here one found that this miracle—thetimeless in personalform—is the very ground of one’s being. The ritual took the initiate outof the everyday profane time—the outworn state of mind—and led them into contact with the timeless, which provided renewal (and similar realizations can be understood to be at the root of all of the world’s various mystical traditions). At Eleusis, through Demeter’s recovery of her daughterPersephone from the land of the dead, initiates came to see that the ritual“contained the living idea—that,in motherhood, death and continuity are one”[xxxv] and came to feel an experience of the unity of spirit and nature, a quality of the world that could only ever be known through feeling. Here the ego’s illusion that it is separate from nature is overcome, the dark suffering of the initiate has opened the ego sufficiently to discover a profound truth that is fundamentally opposed to the ego’s finite perspective.
The fact that people went back to the Mysteries in Egypt and Greece year after year (and that the Mysteries themselves last for thousands of years) suggest that the inevitable falling back into life in time needs a periodical dissolution into the timeless if the memory of the source is not to fade. Otherwise, the experience may become theoretical, an idea only, the inevitable consequence of knowledge divorced from being. (Cashford)[xxxvi]
Perhaps in no pervious human culture more than ours has the center been so lost. Not only is a “dissolution into the timeless” just an idea for us, it is a quaint one at that. Nearly every previous culture had a mythology, a ritual or series of rituals that enabled some degree of contact with the objective, transpersonal basis of the psyche. Only in our culture do we not only forsake such content and not believe in it, we actually resent the idea that we might need such contact. The ego has overturned the apple cart of our psyche and stands upon the mess proclaiming, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me” (and in America, “Thou shalt create no impediments to my profit”). We have no myth, no story, we are “unhistoric” in Jung’s term and this is a psychological illness that is terminal. It is from this illness that a utilitarian view of ourselves, one another, and every living thing fills our perspective.
And then something that we did not expect to happen happened. At a time when we have lost contact with the part of ourselves that knows the center, that longs to touch the timeless, something appeared before us that speaks nature’s symbolic language. Formed in the same images that the psyche speaks when seeking or expressing wholeness inside of us, formations in grain and corn are appearing on Earth with ever-greater beauty, frequency, and complexity. In locations that emphasize our former land-based spirituality, we see images of geocentric and mandala form constructed in living grain. If one were to consider such images as one would a dream, what is shown here is the organic and biological side of the Self, the part of the urge for wholeness in us that becomes realized through the life of the body and through the living world—through personal feeling, seeing, touching, and sensing. Here, the quality of connection pointed to is embodied and present, immediate and Earth-bound, immanent and not at all abstract.
Today, when overheated masculine certainties hurry us toward Armageddon, when inflation and intellectualization keep us from really feeling the danger we face in destroying the environment, is there the possibility too that something else is being born in us? In the tremendous pressure that the psyche is under, in bearing the load of too much unconscious grandiosity and in its dangerously inflated present condition, is it possible that we can also discover that “danger itself fosters the rescuing power”?[xxxvii] Perhaps it is only through approaching a precipice where we have both the means and psychological state necessary to destroy ourselves that we will come to look more closely inside and at “what we do.” And perhaps it could be no other way.
Slattery has observed that the difference between tragedy and comedy is that in a tragedy the action always ends with not quite enough time (e.g., all Juliet needed was a few moments more), and in comedy there is always just enough time for a happy resolution.[xxxviii] Sufficient time allows “space” to be transformed into “place.” Through emotional participation with a space over time, through the bonds of eros, feeling, and meaning, space is made into place in our hearts. One need only think of burial places or wedding tabernacles to know this is true. The difference in the two is like the difference between the way you look at the home you grew up in, filling it in with memories and emotion, and the way a geographer or real estate agent might look at that same property as a location, as space. It is the pause, the slowing down into being present that gives these places their meaning. Such archetypally Feminine approaches to the world around us are thoroughly degraded by our over-masculine culture that sees everything as only ever—and nothing more than—utilitarian opportunities. Space is made into place by our heart’s real presence, through our lived attentiveness, through pain and joy.
Space is more abstract than place. What begins as undifferentiated space becomes place as we get to know it better and endow it with value. … If we think of space as that which allows movement, then place is pause; each pause in movement makes it possible for location to be transformed into place…. [A]bstract space, lacking significance other than strangeness, becomes concrete place [only when it is] filled with meaning.[xxxix]
Crop circles lead us to pause again. This phenomenon is a mystery set into not just space but place, for the formations are not just set randomly into grain fields but placed precisely into landscapes, oriented toward ancient sites of worship, and can arrive in concert with individuals’ emotional states. Through their precise placement into specific locations, crop circles run counter to the promiscuous arousal that Ulanov describes us as suffering from, that leaves us uprooted and unrelated to body, location, or moment. Through their selectivity of location, through their mystery and aesthetic qualities, crop circles draw us down into a meeting of this location, our body, and into a pause for participation with place. This phenomenon leads us into fields that might have only been seen by us as spaces of utility—and in being led back into the fields we are given pause to look and wonder. Slowed down, we are offered an opportunity to make meaning, to look with new eyes, not only at the formation around us, but at the boxes into which we have placed our understanding of the world. We are given pause to consider how we view nature, how we view God, and how we view ourselves. We are led back to considering spiritual questions in which spirit, the land, and ourselves are not separated. In the pause afforded to us by crop circles are we being led back toward recovering something of ourselves?
We are being brought back down to earth by the zeitgeist that is upon us. We are being cured of our ailment by being made to become reacquainted with our finitude. And, as Jung says of neurosis, we can go where it’s taking us willingly and follow signs and dreams, or be dragged there unwillingly by symptoms and consequences. Our time is one in which we are being led back to relating to the context around us; we can choose whether to go creatively or destructively, consciously or kicking and screaming. If we are very lucky, we will manage to overcome that immature masculine voice in us that insists that it always knows best and bring ourselves to meet the world around us with emotional presence, experiencing both the horror and wonder that we have denied in it. If we are very lucky, we will have that kind of contact with the world and be transformed by it. That innate urge inside us toward transformation, the drive to become more wholly who we are, is being provoked by our encounters with the new mysteries that are before us today.
We are living in what the Greeks called the kairos—the right moment—for a “metamorphosis of the gods,” of the fundamental principles and symbols. This peculiarity of our time, which is certainly not of our conscious choosing, is the expression of the unconscious man within us who is changing. Coming generations will have to take account of this momentous transformation if humanity is not to destroy itself through the might of its own technology and science. As at the beginning of the Christian era, so again today we are faced with the problem of the general moral backwardness which has failed to keep pace with our scientific, technical, and social progress. So much is at stake and so much depends on the psychological constitution of modern man. . . . Does he realize what lies in store should this catastrophe ever befall him? Is he even capable of realizing that this would in fact be a catastrophe? And finally, does the individual know that he is the makeweight that tips the scale? (Jung)[xl]
Will we participate with what is going on around us? Will we see our moment with imagination and not be afraid of finding meaning and pattern there? In doing so we might see in this sequence of events that our coming to this point in the process is not only inevitable, but somehow natural (or at least necessary). In our leaving behind participation mystique and unconsciousness, was our reaching this extreme of disconnection and dissociation not an unavoidable eventuality? With consciousness came the loss of connection to the transpersonal basis of the psyche and a natural redirecting of our energy inward toward ourselves. What other course could we have taken and still made the journey out of unconsciousness? Was this movement not a natural progression and the result of our natural engagement with the archetypal masculine impetus? It is only now as this movement reaches its peak that it seems unnatural. One can protest that we “should know better,” but it would seem that the root of this process lies in something necessary for the progression of human consciousness, and if so, should its next phase also not have a place in this progression?
The description of our current moment as a part of an initiation process places the entire dynamic into an archetypal framework that, even if unresolved, still provides a meaningful larger pattern by which to view it. If our movement out of identification with nature and into modern, fragmented, but sturdy self-awareness is a part of a natural process—then this current moment, in which we are so estranged from nature and ourselves that we may destroy both, can also be understood as a part of a natural, if deadly process (not unlike a birth).
Seeing the story of our journey and its current crisis within such a frame suggests that we are experiencing a transformation not unlike that of the caterpillar to the butterfly. We are undergoing a process in which the smallness of our vision is broken down so that something larger can emerge. Bachelard observes that at times, what is required of us is a “melting into the basic element,” a kind of “necessary human suicide for whoever wants to experience an emergence into a new cosmos.”[xli] Understanding our moment within the framework of initiation also suggests the necessity of our being willing and able to tolerate darkness—the darkness of doubt, the darkness of our not knowing, the darkness of letting go of familiar ways of understanding the world, the darkness of withstanding every voice that tells us that there is no point in looking for meaning in any of this; it requires our being able to withstand looking at the horror of what we have already done and are still doing. With crisis on one hand and crop circles and other new mysteries on the other, are we being led somewhere that we need to go, but do not know it? In both of these ways, can we recognize that the challenges we face today are challenges of the imagination, made so because of our inability to imagine our own darkness or to imagine that there might be something out there greater than ourselves? Can we imagine that our crisis stems from our inability to find ourselves within the story of the world?
The problem isn’t that the world might end completely, rather, the issue is how to act when it seems that way. … [W]hat’s missing is the imagination necessary to hold end and beginning together. … Mythic imagination is a primordial resource of the human heart. … [W]hen times become truly tragic and dark with uncertainty what is missing is the touch of eternity and a mythic sense of being woven within the ongoing story of the world.[xlii]
Few better “miracles” could occur to help us to widen the band of our mythic imagination than crop circles. Not only do they fire the imagination, they demonstrate that we are moving through the masculine lens into a deeper, more whole view. They do this by exceeding the bounds of rationality that the old story places upon nature and ourselves. In this way, we can understand crop circles as acting as an advocate for us in discovering a new and larger narrative for ourselves—and not a simple return or regression but a more conscious appraisal of such irrational realities. Looking squarely at the phenomenon’s facts, uncovering its history, recovering our psychological projections, and moving forward from this concrete basis, we can proceed beyond where we have been before. Without such a bedrock by which to approach the phenomenon we would surely fall into primitive identification and participation mystique with it (as we likely still will). Only from a grounding in the masculine principle could we turn to look upon the irrational mystery in the world without getting lost in it. In our consciously encountering the reality of these facts, one is offered a route by which to begin to look upon nature with a broader imagination. The mysterious qualities of our world, which the archetypal masculine’s bright solar light had blinded us to, are today coming into focus again, offering not a return to the participation mystique of the past, but a new, mature, conscious encounter with nature’s living wonder. We can understand this transition as involving the reintroduction of our overly rational consciousness to the complex, multivalent, sustaining, and irrational nature of the cosmos as Feminine; the doubting ego meeting life’s inexplicable meaningfulness.
Like a sunset, sunrise, birth, or death, crop circles may give us pause to consider the possibility of our connection to something greater. Times such as these are threshold moments—the sun’s fading or arrival, a life’s ending or beginning, a new phenomenon dazzling us with its entry into our world—and in our experience of such times we cross a threshold inside of ourselves. Here our inner world is able to breathe more deeply because the ego’s theft of our inner authority is momentarily undone. For a moment consciousness sits with its inner order restored and we can experience the connection to the timeless that lives within us and know briefly the mystic’s understanding. It is the nature of the psyche to bring about this reconciliation. In dreams and in other ways, the psyche leads us to a greater connection to our own capacity for depth. Finding it, we may discover we drop from our shoulders a burden that feels not entirely our own. When we surrender our grandiosity—relating to the spiritual power inside us without becoming identified with it—the ego drops an authority that is not its property. Experiences of the threshold, experiences that take us outside of the ego’s confinement of our relationship to the world, help us to, even for a moment, find home again and make a connection with our inner transpersonal center.
The illness of the modern psyche has left us facing circumstances and crises that leave us hopelessly lost and crying out “Why?” But in those conditions, if we can look at them squarely, we will find something that will strike down our inflated self-satisfaction and return us to the “specific body, location, and culture” that is our own. Crop circles too can defeat our inflated certainties and help us to leave behind the childish boxes into which we have stuffed all the magic and mystery in the world. Like the initiations of old, our transformation, through these encounters, roots us again into an earthy humility. By both the harsh and the fantastic, we are being led out of abstraction and into the reality that surrounds us. Each of these bring the “unconscious gods” inside of us into check by placing a limit on our fantasies about the perfection of our own view. The crises and mysteries of our age deflate our certainties and lead us toward a new understanding of our relationship to the world.
Through the simple act of our attendance to them, through our imaginative engagement with crop circles, we utilize a quality that we need to recover inside of ourselves. Meeting crop circles and our moment’s crises in the fullness of our humanity requires our breaking through the mirror of our ego’s notions. We require the heroism in which we are “broken for a new creation.”[xliii] Through such an act, we may recover something we did not know we lacked. Anytime that consciousness is opened past the doors of the ego, a letting go of sorts, no matter how subtle, has happened. What has been sacrificed? The ego’s illusion that we are something more than the imperfect but spirit-filled beings that we are. In becoming vulnerable to what actually is we defeat our grandiosity. For us today, reunion with the Feminine often requires a loss, a suffering of the ego—and its sacrifice cannot be substituted for. Ego death is the only cure for inflation, the only path to come into contact with the ground of actual experience, both inside and out. This approach stands in opposition to the certainty demanded of the masculine mindset, so here we must leave our old ways of understanding behind and search for something new. In searching, we may find that our moment of despair is also a time that is itself conspiring to defeat our grandiosity and seeking to help us make our way back home.
[i]Andrews, Undeniable Evidence DVD.
[iii]Jung, 1977, p. 303.
[iv]Tarnas, “The Great Initiation,” pp. 24–31, 57–59.
[vi]Moore, p. 66.
[vii]Plato in The Eleusinian and Bacchic Mysteries, trans. Taylor, 1891.
[viii]Saul, Voltaire’s Bastards, p. 178.
[ix]Woodman, Addiction to Perfection.
[x]Ulanov, The Wisdom of the Psyche, p. 22.
[xi]Ulanov, The Wisdom of the Psyche, p. 54.
[xii]Moore, p. 222.
[xiii]Grof in Kohley and Mann, EntheoGenesis DVD.
[xiv]Carl Jung, Answer to Job (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2010), par. 734.
[xv]Meade, Audio Interview with NPR: www.mosaicvoices.org/page.cfm?id=20.
[xvi]R. L. Moore, p. 54.
[xvii]R. L. Moore, p. 139.
[xviii]Edward Edinger, Creation of Consciousness (Toronto, ON: Inner City Books, 1984), p. 25.
[xix]C. T. Frey-Wherlin in O’Kane, p. 8.
[xx]Quoted in Taylor, What on Earth? Inside the Crop Circle Mystery DVD.
[xxi]Harvey, 1995, p. 13.
[xxii]Neumann, 1949, p. 386–7.
[xxiii]Nirvana, “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” song lyrics, K. Cobain.
[xxiv]Michael Meade, interview with NPR: www.mosaicvoices.org/page.cfm?id=20.
[xxv]Ortiz Hill, p. 85.
[xxvi]Von Franz, 1980, p. 90.
[xxvii]Jung, Collected Works 14, par. 674.
[xxviii]Edinger, 1992, p. 24.
[xxix]Boznak, 1996, p. 69.
[xxx]Woodman, Addiction to Perfection, p. 52.
[xxxi]Ortiz Hill, p. 71.
[xxxii]Schwartz-Salant, p. 128.
[xxxiv]Quoted in Adler, “Aspects of Jung’s Personality and Work,” Psychological Perspectives 6 (Spring 1975), p. 12.
[xxxv]Jung and Kerenyi, p. 142.
[xxxvi]Cashford, p. 359.
[xxxvii]Holderlin quoted in Edinger, p. 37.
[xxxviii]Dennis Patrick Slattery, lecture, Pacifica Graduate Institute, 1999.
[xxxix]Quoted in J. Z. Smith, To Take Place (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992).
[xl]Jung, Collected Works 10, par. 585–6.
[xli]Bachelard, Poetics of Reverie.
[xlii]Meade, interview with NPR: www.mosaicvoices.org/page.cfm?id=20 .
[xliii]Perera, p. 53.
Image by Ian Burt, courtesy of Creative Commons license.