Is Death the Skeleton Key to Soul & Consciousness? Descent & Renewal are Older than Pre-history.
Mythological studies unpacks the issues, concepts, and characteristics of the archetypes in the contemporary world. Soul-making allows us to express that relationship within our daily lives -- a process of continuous remembrance for the sake of tending the soul of the world.
As humans, our biggest issue is death, something that every single one of us has in common. Death is a perennial aspect of the cycle of life -- transformation.
We are doomed to die and we know it in every fiber of our being. It arouses the primordial imagery of darkness in our original nature that lies below our personality, introspective focus, and in the oceanic dissociation of our dark voyages each night.
Death welcomes everyone equally. Every culture lies about the possibilities of beating death through some sort of self-perpetuation. Yet, we are confronted with increasingly darker futures: population bombs, electrosmog, ecosystem collapse, and catastrophes like"insectageddon."We are ephemeral entities destined to expire. The bringer of death is crucial to all life. The philosophical path of wisdom urges us to practice dying. The Void awaits.
Extreme death anxiety is an essentially thanatophobic response. We may feel hopeless, unable to accept the fact of total surrender, yet only such surrender leads to transformation. We counter the terror of death with denial, fantasy, and rites. Death/rebirth is a fundamental theme in world-wide mythology.
At coronation, Egyptian sovereigns were ritually anointed with intoxicant-infused crocodile fat creating the Pharaoh through a death/rebirth rite of soul-sleep. The crocodile god Sobek was associated with death and rebirth. Transformation meant resurrection and survival. At death each became Osiris.
A tale of the initiation of Pythagoras into Egypt's mysteries describes his descent into a drug-induced soul-sleep or coma, in which, the physical body was laid aside, and his astral rebirth.
"Do not let me die" is a universal appeal. We might still like to speculate that space is conditioned with information that gives rise to a "space memory" network, a virtual memory map. The quantum vacuum is a dynamic massless scalar field. A hologram is a scalar field. Scalars are just active information; a hologram is pure information. Entanglement is a property of nonlocal quantum information exchange. The holographic frequency domain is a plenum which projects the information from the deepest level of the structure of space into the material domain. Thus, the image of the whole is a ubiquitous presence in greater or lesser resolution. The infinite is an aggregate of finites -- discontinuous eventsWe would like to think that our entanglement with the universe means our transpersonal consciousness connects us to all levels of the universe.
Raw Psychic Energy
The imagery of death is more than a metaphor. We speak of being moribund: at the point of death, on our deathbed,near death, near the end, at death's door, breathing one's last, fading/sinking fast, not long for this world, failing rapidly, on one's last legs, in extremis;with one foot in the grave.
Such metaphors describe the decline, deterioration, deprivation, waning, disintegrating, dying, stagnating, decaying, crumbling, atrophying obsolescence and annihilation. Chronic psychic atrophy can be fatal. But alchemy is the art of darkness in which the ego's old self-image dies and is transformed.
These images hold profound psychological wisdom rooted in the first dreams of humankind still valid in our day. "Within the metaphorical perspective, within the imaginal field, nothing is more sure than the soul's own activity following it's wayward inertia from insight to insight..." (James Hillman, Re-Visioning Psychology pg. 154)
This deep netherworld forms the foundation of our own psychic world and some of our images of heaven and hell, including catastrophe, divine vengeance and apocalypse. We become psychologically vulnerable, especially in the limbo between sleep and waking.
We may be emotionally flooded by violent irruptions of death, the overbearing sense that the world as we have known it is coming to an end. The unconscious becomes destructive when psyche loses its natural rhythm and fixates on the negative. Paradoxically, dreams of blackness, defeat, and failure often arise from one-sided identification with the light, with its reveries of immortality.
Darkness contains highly charged energy, and only in this shadowy death are we made truly alive. Instead of 'digging our own graves,' we can follow Jung's lead "by digging up again the fantasy-images of the unconscious that our rationalism has rejected."
Jung likened the archetype to an ancient river that digs a deep channel into complex subjects (CW10:395).Our own dig requires examining who we are through delving into our experiences. It is a natural therapeutic process.
Digging below surface phenomena, we assimilate the personal and collective understanding of preceding cultures and traditional myths, made bearable by a deep sense of meaning. Self-healing can come through opening to the symbols of the unconscious that plumb our deepest issues. In 'To Know the Dark', the poet Wendell Berry suggests it can be a teacher.
"To know the dark with a light is to know the light. To know the dark, go dark. Go without sight, and find that the dark, too, blooms and sings, and is traveled by dark feet and dark wings."
Mobilized, archetypal dynamics, destructive and creative forces of the collective psyche, perturb psychosocial trends, creating new possibilities for good and ill. Archetypes are the psychic skeleton fleshed out by events that matter in the primordial fields of consciousness and space.
They are primordial psychic ordering of images. Personifications are dynamic living agency -- spontaneous autonomous phenomena uncovering what has been hidden, revealed through dreams, visions, or journeys.
We can't keep our collective skeletons in the closet anymore. Edinger claimed that terrorism is a manifestation of the autonomous psyche resulting from fanatical resentment that sees the enemy as the devil and the self as a hero.
Individual or collective, toxic zealotry is driven by proclamations of profound crisis and promises of divine revelations. Destructive states need to give way to an opening of imagination as we continue to free our collective selves from oppressive mythologies.
Jung describes the ambivalent nature of raw psychic energy: "If one waits long enough, one sees how the Gods all change into serpents and underworld dragons in the end. This is also the fate of the Logos: in the end it poisons us all. (Liber Novus, Page 280).
The mystique of personified gods covers the cosmological and natural forces that form and impinge on us. Though the church tried to wipe them from memory, gods are part of the mythic dimension, a philosophical, aesthetic, or poetic domain. Through it we can dig back into the collective unconscious, to experience the structure of the human psyche, and discover the psychic aspect of our phylogenetic roots.
The gods symbolize reality itself. These primordial forces still work through our psyche, environment, and bodies. The underworld represents a deeper level of existence and aesthetic imagination. Works of art catch and carry us from within and acquire a form beyond the workings of the subjective mind through aesthetic imagination.
Eliade (1972) says the perilous inward experience is not easily accessible: “The road [to the center] is arduous, fraught with perils because it is, in fact, a rite of passage from the profane to the sacred, from the ephemeral and theillusory to reality and eternity, from death to life, from man to divinity” (p 19).
The term “aesthetic” suggests we engage reality at the pre-conceptual level of instinct and intuition, affect and vision.Images enact the movement of experience and reveal the nature of mind and matter, self and world, as well as the metaphysics of belief that art implies.
Each and every moment is the edge of history, emerging into manifestation. What came before existence? Pre-existence? If so, what could the possible nature of such a state be? Perhaps our most intense experience of being present is in raw survival mode, even while it may be terrifying.
This is the age-old metaphysical, philosophical, psychological and scientific conundrum. The phrase "out of nothing" is best understood as "out of non-being" or "out of invisible,” or a virtuality science calls vacuum fluctuation. We are immersed or embedded in this ambient high-potential field from which manifestation is fluxing.
Like dream and vision, aesthetics take us beyond the judgments of self, culture, and society. Words, concepts, beliefs, ideations are forces in a universe of forces. The riddle of soul is tied up with the psyche-soma relationship problem. The soul continually drives us to myth, philosophy, religion, art, and above all to the trials of daily life and death.
As universal solvent, it eliminates our standpoints, activities, and ideas.Losing oneself in an ego-dissolving state of flow can nourish stronger “oneness beliefs” over time, regardless of religion.Thoughts displaced in time operate in the past and future. All form flows back into emptiness.
Consciousness is the intrinsic aspect of matter. We animate the emptiness of matter from which form grows, primordial essence of fundamental nature. In a transcendental view, the soul exists on a spiritual plane, a recognized spiritual element. Soul or psyche is the vital force of Consciousness, both formative and experiential as primordial awareness.
Fade to Black
Thanatos is the Greek personification of the act of transitioning from this world to the next, the soul-guide of Descent. "Death" as a person has existed in many societies, and as skeleton from pre-Roman times, who declares, "Sum fine." (I am the end).
The unconscious modifies the conscious.Descent and renewal are older than pre-history. The midlife passage, Katabasis or descent is an archetypal event, a dark night of the soul, a meeting with the daimonic. Descent may come in initiatory form, as a disease or ordeal --inevitable dwindling.
The mark of conscious or unconscious descent is a newly arrived lowliness, associated with soul, as height is with spirit. It is a type of fall, disaster, or tragedy. We see our own darkside and admit powerlessness to the something that wants us there.
Shamanic agony and healing is deeply involved in the transpersonal drama of death and rebirth. Edgar Cayce paradoxically said, "Birth in the physical is death in the spiritual. Death in the physical is birth in the spiritual."
Euripides identifies Thanatos and Hades as the same deity in the play, "Alkestis." In Freudian concepts Saturn is Thanatos, grim reaper. Every god archetype is an uncontrolled, dynamic, and explosive load of dynamite.Most elements of the grim reaper refer to some description of Thanatos.
It is the rise of existential threats and transformative power. Initiates willingly submit to spiritual dismemberment and resurrection. Impending ego-death is still terrifying. The ultimate mystery of all deaths, great and small is are there riches on the other side, or simply nothing?
When personality dissolves, we have no way of anticipating the outcome. Confronting Death is confronting the horrifying unknown. Ego fights for self-preservation, despite the best interests of the complete psyche. Even after resurrection, we grieve for the life that is gone and can never be recovered. Terror, struggle, grief are the price we pay for admission to this mystery.
Such consciousness in action is not consciousness of the world, but consciousness in the world. Jung described “a qualitative duration of consciousness without a self.” This energistic field of Nature is dynamic creative process. The raw collective unconscious surrounds consciousness on all sides. There is nothing cozy about this empty, frightening presence.
Nietzsche famously said, “And when you gaze long into an abyss the abyss also gazes into you." How do such images manifest and how do we recognize them? Death is the "dark side" of psychic life.
Reification, or the fallacy of misplaced concreteness, is a fallacy of ambiguity, that treats an abstraction or metaphor (abstract belief or hypothetical construct) as if it were a concrete real event or physical entity. Hillman says, "The soul loses its psychological vision in the abstract literalisms of the spirit as well as in the concrete literalisms of the body." (Re-Visioning Psychology)
Central aspects of our lives, symbols represent and embody value-laden concepts, open to multiple expression and interpretations. He conducts our life-changing passages. Universal symbols mediate our relationships with self, others, and world. The aesthetic and beautiful is instinctively felt as numinous.
Jung says, "Only numinous experiences retain their original simplicity or oneness which still gives us intimations of the Unus Mundus." (Letters Vol. II, Page 508-509)The dynamic agency or effect of the numinous is beyond the will, an experience that overcomes us. Numinosity gives religious ideas their thrillingpower,"a quality belonging to a visible object or the influence of an invisible presence that causes a peculiar alteration of consciousness…" (CW11)
Fiercely fixated imagination is mania. A symbol is a concentration and so is an obsession and ritualized compulsions. Symbols present and conceal. It becomes literalized and concretized through fear, greed, and plutocracy into the worship of money and power and death. At some level, desire for immortality is greediness.In The Birth of Tragedy (1999), Nietzsche suggests, “only as an aesthetic phenomenon is existence and the world eternally justified.”
Rather than projected by a conscious mind, the transcendental field is the impersonal locus from which conscious minds emerge. Artists essentially annihilate themselves in the creative flow. Art can capture the miracle of each moment as a transcendental field.
Jean-Paul Sartre called it a kind of proto-consciousness in which beings arise as subjects and objects. Deleuze suggested “a pre-reflexive impersonal consciousness, a qualitative duration of consciousness without a self.”
We are doomed to die and we know it in every fiber of our being. Our primitive reptilian brain stem processes present and anticipative time. Sense of orientation in space of the body and orientation in time is processed by the cerebellum, the oldest part of the brain, its central core.
We bear within ourselves the seeds of our own destruction. Only our instincts help us survive. Myth legend, and folklore continue to saturate our contemporary lives.When we face the unconscious darkness we don't know whether Thanatos will hold and carry us or tear the ego and body apart. Sometimes efforts to prolong life cost an easy death and natural transformation.
Symbolically, death prepares the primitive self for fundamental change, engagement with the instinctual ground of the psyche. Thanatos, both immanent and transcendent, arouses the primordial imagery of darkness in our original nature of unconsciously held ideas. Immanence is believing in this world as it is. Transcendence is a an actual and potential psychic mystery.
Self-expansiveness and self-contradiction are complementary processes of transcendence and immanence. This paradox underlies much of transpersonal thought. Ordinary possibilities are transcendent immanence.
What is to come becomes nothing to know. He arises below our personality, introspective focus, and in the oceanic dissociation of our dark voyages each night as a journey to the underworld or descent into the unconscious.
In the grand pattern of culture, we take our cues about what to believe and what to desire from others -- a mimetic process. Mimetic desire is appropriative mimicry. Girard's Mimrtic Theory concluded that a thorough and biologically plausible account of human intersubjectivity requires the integration of both sides of mimesis.
The intrinsic value of the object of desire may arise non-linguistically from objects that are the targets of others’ desire. It is also a basis of love, intersubjectivty, and social identification, the most creative aspects of human cognition. But mimesis also has the potential to lead to mimetic violence.
Many will continue to believe that after the sleep of death we will arise to another kind of awakening -- transindividuality, a double expression of the real and the imaginary in any transindividual practice.
Archetypal Psychology has lifted the embargo on the esoteric and polytheism, allowing exploration of new concepts and devotions. Post qualitative inquiry encourages concrete, practical experimentation and the creation of the not yet instead of the repetition of what is.
In Tarot, Death is an end that is also change, sudden, dramatic, inevitable change, only potentially dangerous. In alchemy, it is the Black Sun, the ordeal of the 'Dark Night of the Soul,' mortificatio and putreficatio. Wounding or death prepares the archaic self for transformative change. But is death the skeleton key to our consciousness?
The Nature of Death
Death prowls our dreams and welcomes everyone equally. We wonder if our consciousness, like our body, dies. There is a wide spectrum of attitudes about the nature of death, the world between nature and spirit. We live our whole lives in contrast to that eternal moment.
Every culture lies about the possibilities of beating death through some sort of self-perpetuation. Does that blackness contain in itself the gold we seek to transcend it? Does soul regenerate in the underworld of dreams? The under-acknowledged fear of death has been one of the greatest driving forces in the history of thought and the formation of the character of civilization.
Hegel argued that history is directly connected to being and beingness and that without history, we don't exist. But the present is always new and the future untested. He considered all consciousness to be self-consciousness, self-reflection or self-relation as the key to human agency. He called history a slaughter-bench on which millions have been sacrificed.Breakdown and renewal is the dialectic of history.Our individual experience intersects with larger collective currents.
Our family, culture, and environment make it possibleto become new, different and better versions of ourselves, depending on where we are in history. Myths reveal the preconscious psyche and how it functions. The world can slip into utter madness, such as the crusades or witch hunt.
Today we are confronted with increasingly darker futures: nuclear bombs, population bombs, electrosmog, ecosystem collapse, ethnic cleansing, and catastrophes like"insectageddon." War is just a bloody preamble to massive death.
We are ephemeral entities destined to expire. Thoughts of death compromise our presumed rationality with fear. How does death, a vast chasm of infinite unknown dimensions, fit into the basic plot of our story, not only genetics and history, but myth and mystery? When life ends, death begins. Mummification is at least 9,000 years old and burial comes from the haze of pre-history. The earliest discovered burials are Neanderthals.
Eurasian practices varied widely but were usually simple, including post-mortem alteration. Sky-burial, usually giving the body to vultures, was another option. Neolithic hunter-gatherers buried family under the floor or just outside their houses. The bones of unborn babies are not preserved by any culture in the world, except the stone-age Chinchorros of Chile.
Death can be a symbol of the underworld, the deep unconscious, and the inner world of trauma. We gain energy from the unconscious to the extent we give it energy, listen to it, and attend to it. If 'worship' is attention, this is it, whether devotion to an idea, to an archetype or god.
As an archetype, Thanatos represents a fundamental soul-quality present in the psyche. From this perspective all life aims toward natural transformation and recycling through the process of death. The soul gains knowledge of itself, not only through love, intellect, and madness, but also by reflection on the great unknowable which lies past the gates of death.
The main thing is not consciousness or problem solving, but serving love and building relationships with the mighty beings, with chthonic spirit, the autonomous core of darkness. Transformative experience can lead to integration, where the real work of soul-making begins. Most go through something personal before opening to archetypal realms.
Ancient belief systems are not dead even though they require psychic archaeology because they are buried. We prepare the ground of psyche for transcendent experiences deep within us, which like religious moments reveal moments of truth. It illumines some small area of the unconscious and perhaps shows the way to the next insight. The void opens up.
Sometimes the experience of the void is around a relatively limited aspect of the psyche but at other times the void seems much more global and threatens to engulf the entire personality; the whole individual psyche then seems threatened by the possibility of dissolution into nothingness.
The bringer of death is crucial to all life. How can we learn to serve the complex and entangled process, especially when we find ourselves tempting our sense of fate or somehow bloodying the altar? Life flows as it will and the unconscious interacts with it in an autonomous interplay of fantasy, dreams, emotions, and events.
Archetypal psychology is polytheistic, recognizing many viewpoints of various gods and goddesses who inform them. Rather than emphasizing or developing ego strength, it deliteralizes the ego. Focus is on psyche, or soul, and the archai, as depth patterns of psychic functioning. Ego is our real world navigator, not the center of the psyche. But it needs to know its boundaries, avoid inflation and self-delusion, and defer or build relations with the archetypes.
Mythical figures are eternal metaphors of the imagination, the dynamics of psychic reality. Jung suggested myth is a revelation of the divine life in humanity, our unconscious grasp of the history of the world, the wild energies of creation, and our sense of embodiment.
There are interdependent unconscious neural, phenomenological, and cognitive levels of embodiment. Mind is not separate from bodily experience, but is naturally more than our conceptual experience. It is irrational. nonlinear, and entangled. There are no consistent level-independent truths. Even embodied truth is not absolute, objective truth, nor does it need to be but it allows us self-reflection, bridging the gap between symbols and the world.
Thanatos is what Jung calls, "a psychic fact of immediate experience" as well as an event. Ego is not an archetype. Jung describes, the process of Individuation as “a process in which the ego becomes increasingly aware of its origin from and dependence upon the archetypal psyche.”
Mythological studies unpacks the issues, concepts, and characteristics of the archetypes in the contemporary world. Soul-making allows us to express that relationship within our daily lives -- a process of continuous remembrance for the sake of tending the soul of the world.
James Hillman suggests, "Character requires the additional years." "The last years confirm and fulfill character." Far from blunting or dulling the self, the accumulation of experience concentrates the essence of our being, heightening our individual mystery and unique awareness of life.
Three stages of aging include: lasting, deepening through longevity; leaving, our preparation for departure; and left, the unique legacy left to our survivors. Jung likened the moment of death to the alchemical marriage, the wholeness of the mysterium coniunctionis.
We need to know our imaginal truth. We cannot attack an autonomous complex directly. When we are driven to the edge of the abyss between disintegration and chaos, we find insight at the raw edge of confrontation. We may or may not know ourselves, but we are revealed to ourselves as we reveal ourselves to others.
When we are transparent, we are seen through with nothing left to hide. Archetypal fantasies are at work all the time in the psychologically creative person. What sustains and carries us in life and in death? Thanatos carries us through the dark tunnel of death.
We yearn for a lasting life. The philosophical path of wisdom urges us to practice dying. The path tends to include myriad pitfalls, dead ends, cul de sacs, dangers, and heroic defenses, including power trips, ego inflation, spiritual emergency, and spiritual materialism.
When we confront infinity we try to reduce it to One, but the Qabalah associates Thanatos with Daath, a virtual sphere with no number. Daath connects the unmanifest Supernal Triad with the rest of the Tree. The Abyss conceals a taboo: the vision of the temptation to leave the physical form behind for the transformation it reveals -- leaving behind all but pure energy. The Void awaits.
Ground State Zero
"Jung has said that to be in a situation where there is no way out, or to be in a conflict where there is no solution, is the classical beginning of the process of individuation" (M-L von Franz, Interpretation of Fairy Tales). Jiddu Krishnamurti cautions, “The fact is there is nothing that you can trust; and that is a terrible fact, whether you like it or not. Psychologically there is nothing in the world that you can put your faith, your trust, or your belief in.”
Extreme death anxiety is an essentially thanatophobic response. We may feel hopeless, unable to accept the fact of total surrender, yet only such surrender leads to transformation. Perhaps our fate emanates from our death as telos (end, purpose), an inherent pattern in the apparently chaotic path our life follows.
We counter the terror of death with denial, fantasy, and rites. Death/rebirth is a fundamental theme in world-wide mythology, both as metaphorical and concrete reality. It bounds the marriage vow with 'till death us do part.'
At coronation, Egyptian sovereigns were ritually anointed with intoxicant-infused crocodile fat creating the Pharaoh through a death/rebirth rite of soul-sleep. The crocodile god Sobek was associated with death and rebirth. Transformation meant resurrection and survival. At death each became Osiris.
A tale of the initiation of Pythagoras into Egypt's mysteries describes his descent into a drug-induced soul-sleep or coma, in which, the physical body was laid aside, and his astral rebirth.
"Do not let me die" is a universal appeal. We might still like to speculate that space is conditioned with information that gives rise to a "space memory" network, a virtual memory map. The quantum vacuum is a dynamic massless scalar field. A hologram is a scalar field. Scalars are just active information; a hologram is pure information. Entanglement is a property of nonlocal quantum information exchange. The holographic frequency domain is a plenum which projects the information from the deepest level of the structure of space into the material domain. Thus, the image of the whole is a ubiquitous presence in greater or lesser resolution. The infinite is an aggregate of finites -- discontinuous eventsWe would like to think that our entanglement with the universe means our transpersonal consciousness connects us to all levels of the cosmos.
Challenge, sorrow, change, discomfort, conflict, hatred, depression, and anxiety are potentials.We will no longer have others to help regulate our nervous system; we will have no nervous system. Darkness is here to stay. The body is in space as absolute space is in the body. Open space.
The quantum vacuum is a dynamic massless scalar field. A hologram is a scalar field. Scalars are just active information. A hologram is pure information. Entanglement is a property of nonlocal quantum information exchange.
The holographic frequency domain is a plenum which projects the information from the deepest level of the structure of space into the material domain. Thus, the image of the whole is a ubiquitous presence in greater or lesser resolution. The infinite is an aggregate of finites -- discontinuous events.
We might regard the Field as the only reality. We cannot know absolute space, but the ground of our being that arises beyond our observation can be inferred by its tangible effects. It implies that all the matter in the universe is interconnected by a virtually infinite ocean of electromagnetic waves, creating a universal entanglement.
Death can strike us with a whisper of a shock. Dark and scary things lurk at the edge of our existence, our fractured identity. Belief systems condition our perceptions, including the breakdown and demise of the self -- the failure of heroism. Heroism is our reflexive defense against death terror, against our dead end.
But we purchase the fantasy assurance of our heroism and desire to merge with the greater whole or even serve cosmic power by turning the earth into a charnel ground, sacrificing ourselves and the blood of others for false glory. 55.3 million people die each year. When repression breaks, the fear of death emerges in its pure essence.
We can get stuck in feelings of disappointment, embarrassment, irritation, resentment, anger, jealousy, and fear; traumas, unfinished mourning, family secrets, andintergenerational conflicts. Or, we relinquish our vital lies and self-delusions, even our pathologies of oppression by fearsome images.
We can't perceive any reality where we die at any point. Because the body is involved in all types of cognitive and emotional functions, our human mind is strongly embodied.Our pathos deepens as we search for insight in the tension between spiritual transcendence and soulful immanence.
Hillman tell us, "archetype provides the basis for uniting those incommensurables, fact and meaning." Myths describe and form the imaginal forces of nature. Mythic events burst through the status quo. Myth forces a certain "truth."
We cannot escape myth. Myth reveals the character of reality yet it is not of this realm. Myth must be uncovered. Psyche spontaneously projects myths. In dreams, mythic elements are evocative, allusive, and provocative. Death is the stakeholder of our future. It can express itself through thinking, feeling, sensation, or intuition.
Even some of our perceptual field remains deeply unconscious, like magnetoreception, as well as gravity, temperature, pain, balance, and several other internal stimuli. Brainwaves respond to geomagnetic stimulation. No amount of introspection can be reduced to the chemistry of the brain.
Thanatos is death and chaos, unavailable energy, the fundamental principle of emptiness. Death was a subject for poets long before Homer called him the brother of Hypnos in his epic poem The Iliad. And it goes on long after the 19th c. poem, Thanatopsis, by William Cullen Bryant. This meditation or contemplation on death was meant to console humanity in its shared predicament.
Originally a pre-colonial male figure, the folk saint Santa Muerte (Sacred or Holy Death) is a Latin American female form of the grim reaper. The skeletal female figure, a saint of last resorts, is clad in a long robe and holding one or more objects, usually a scythe, hourglass, owl, or globe.
Death is always here for you, both immanent and transcendent. The journey is to the liminal realms from which transformative potential emerges.In all eras, wandering in the wilds isn’t mysterious -- it is terrifying, and riddled with spectres and superstition. Are we defined by our maddest edges?
Fear of death weaves into our depressions, suicidal urges, and schizophrenia. Are they invocations of the god? Aesop told the tale of an old woodcutter who called out to Death when he collapsed on the road. Death shows up, but he has a sudden change of heart and 'has to explain his way out of the predicament,' and asks for help to resume carrying his burden.
"Suicidal moves give us a clue about our "inner-killer,‟ who this shadow is, and what it wants. Since suicidal moves show this shadow using the body as an instrument for concrete aims (revenge, hatred, etc.), profound questions are raised about relations between suicide attempts and attempts at liberalizing reality by means of the body.[...] The danger lies not in the death fantasy but in its literalism.” (Hillman, Suicide and the Soul, 1964) When the soul wants to die, the focus of therapy is on the health of the psyche and handling psychological death, through exploration if its meaningful individual insides, rather than denial, and repression.
In other words: "Thedeath wish of the soul is metaphorical, statements of the soul made by the soul," reflecting "a phase of the body-soul relationship." "Suicide is using the body to carry out this death wish." Hillman continues, "We must then conclude that such statements about the soul reflect the state of the soul of the one making the statement. They reveal the special bent of a person‟s own psyche-soma problem...that the soul is continually putting to us in philosophy, religion, art, and above all in the trials of daily life and death.” https://www.floorbasten.nl/sites/default/files/James_Hillman_Suicide_and_the_Soul.pdf
Artist Joan Miro said, “Art can die; what matters is that it should have sown seeds on the earth… It must give birth to a world.” Perhaps it is much the same for our own lives and compromised rationality. Like a garden, storied material is best tended from many different perspectives. Diversity of outlook makes stories and their motifs and images come vividly to life, revealing their ongoing relevance for us.
Death is the muse of philosophy. Renaissance philosophers contemplated death, harking back to Plato and Socrates. Hillman noted, “Yet the more occupied with death, the more these humanists thought, built, wrote, painted, sang.” (RVP, p. 7) A conscious relationship with the unconscious is a back and forth engagement of the two. Rather than the life principle, they identified soul with the death principle as the first metaphor of human existence.
Metaphors are mini-myths expressing creative mythopoesis. Mythical images are metaphors of depth in the psychic dimension. We can follow our neural pathways back to the domain of death in meditation, a natural inherency coded in the mystics metaphor, "die daily." But all maps have gaps and that is where Thantos hides.
Hillman reminds us that theliving soul is embedded in and dependent on anima mundi, the soul of the world. He sees death as a permanent resident of the psyche. Thanatos is a mode of soul-making by cultivating a conscious philosophy of death and a therapy of ideas and metaphors that inform how we see ourselves and the world.
Others may question the ambiguity of our technical arguments, definitions, framework, and choice of principles. But they are internally coherent. There are no specific formulas for the lure of Thanatos. Birth, death, and sacrifice are symbolically related. We know that death, including miscarriage, death in childbirth, and the death of newborns, is inevitable and life is our struggle against it.
Our legs can be swept out from under us in illness, accident, or catastrophe with the message that we are no longer immortal. We are disturbed by the complete depersonization of the notion, "I do not exist": no me, mo mind, no thought, no self-referential images, no contents of consciousness. No more rhythms. No boundaries. Simple awareness -- gone.
The Dark Body
The light is the luminosity of the imaginal world. The nether world is imagined as very dark, the region of thickest darkness, enveloped in the darkness of ignorance. Suffering happens when conscious and unconscious collide.
But it is also related the the midnight sun, the Black Sun, archetypal image of non-being, non-self, from Egypt to alchemy. There is a deep art to darkness and the deepest issues of our mortality. Psychic life can be dark, dangerous, and tragic. Dark forces can attack the psyche.
We hear a lot about the light body but little of the dark body. We experience what we call death, when our physical body becomes dust once again. The dark body is dissociated from the physical body, while the light body transcends it. Everlasting life is to know it, not to doubt or fear, according to Manly Palmer Hall.
From a shamanic point of view, part of the soul may split off, or dissociate, when we experience trauma or abuse. Soul loss is a spiritual illness that causes emotional and physical disease. We need to be re-tuned, recalibrated from the deepest level of our being - from the Source Field where our patterns remain intact, undisturbed and self-organizing.
Old Millenium notions, (medieval, classical and Theosophical), of astral projection meant consciousness left the physical body in the subtle body of light and was free to roam the astral plane or travel to other places on Earth. It involved dissociation from the physical body to which the aspirant remained attached by a Silver Cord. It probably developed from Near-Death Experiences (NDE), the shutting down of certain brain processes in biological crisis, commonly including a tunnel of light. NDEs were simulated in rituals using psychoactive plants to amplify the experience.
New Millennium soul travel is a slightly different approach, requiring no disowning of the gross material body in order to incorporate subtle aspects of the universal. In this sense, it stays perhaps closer to the alchemical phase state, One World. Rather than entering a trance state, the aspirant remains lucid, engaging in breathing and visualization practices. To journey outward or inward is essentially the same. Transmodern "etheric travel" means folding space and time, traveling without moving about one's conceptually expanded Being. It has been called cosmic consciousness.
We can view ourselves as all parts of the gestalt, including the primordial ground as well as any systems within it. There is simply no sense of separation. It is a subtle but important shift in awareness. We can experience the whole spectrum of the taxonomy of altered or discreet states of consciousness (Tart), the "heavens and hells" or bardo states (Leary, et al) of other models. The field patterns of the finest organization of energy and matter also affect the evolution of the cosmos. You are a nonlocal quantum field entity in coherent connection with All. https://ionamiller.weebly.com/spiritual-alchemy.html
Our 'physical presence', large or small, is an embodiment of our ancestors and our experience. Our lives are the leavings of many deaths. Ghost lineages of ancient human populations contributed to one another and recent humans -- a braided stream of 400,000 years. 40,000 years ago small human groups were far more inbred.
We bury not only relatives, but our feelings; we stuff them down. Different 'parts' of ourselves go through changes in physiology and function. We can despise our behaviors by dissociating, attempts to vacate the body, saying we were 'beside ourselves.'
Ideomotor responses can be used to by-pass the conscious mind and access the emotional body and unconscious mind. Touch, kinesthesia, and proprioception help us sense the dark body, as do magnetoreception, thermal sensing, haptics (pressure), balance, thirst, hunger and 'skin talk'.
Metaphor pervades everyday language. We can act out such sensory metaphors, as the 'thirst' for knowledge, 'hunger' for affection, feelings of vertigo when triggered by issues, blowing hot or cold, getting 'chills' being on or off balance, grounded or ungrounded feelings.
Metaphors function within the worldview of the individual. Lakoff & Johnson describe experiential gestalts rooted in our bodies, and interactions with the physical environment and interactions with others. Cultures are grounded in conceptual metaphors.
In the reciprocal relationship of mind-body we also apply a broad range of metaphysical and philosophical notions that have no ontological reality to ourselves. Metaphors inform human awareness through reinforcement of the power of enacted symbols that take us deeper into the mind. The primordial serpent bites its tail.
Emotions 'touch' us. All kinds of conflicting ways of knowing abide within us. Recognizing our pain leads us toward wisdom and self-knowledge, and how our immediate and ancestral family might be embodied in more or less meaningful ways. This leads us toward transgenerational integration, new insights and self-healing.
Processes below the threshold of sensory awareness are associated with the autonomic nervous system, including the Vagus Nerve, which connects the brainstem to the body, to the autonomic nervous system, both the parasympathetic and sympathetic parts. There is a cycle of meaning and understanding that plays out in symbols, mythology, rituals, and physical experience. Recurrent patterns are embodied in form and functionality.
Linguistic, cognitive, sensory-affective, and neuropsychological processes play a role in therapeutic changes resulting from self-generated metaphors. Over time we learn what such experiences feel like in our particular body. With internal scrutiny, subjective insights can be useful or productive sources of knowledge.
"Our unconscious is surely located in the body, and you mustn't think this a contradiction to the statement I usually make, that the collective unconscious is everywhere; for if you could put yourself into your sympathetic system, you would know what sympathy is-you would understand why the nervous system is called sympathetic." ~Carl Jung, Zarathustra Seminar, Pages 749-751.
Now science speaks of the lethal dimension as a natural phenomenon -- entropy, the inherent tendency for life to dissolve. The concept of matter becomes ephemeral and provisional. Interactive electric charges awash in a sea of electromagnetic and other fields create a sort of cosmic inertia through electromagnetic drag.
The vacuum is the simplest state of nature. The Void is not devoid. It is void of physical but not virtual particles. It 'breathes' light into manifestation. The zero-point field is the ground state energy of all fields in space. Matter is an insubstantial wave function (a potential) at the quantum level. The collective potential of all particles everywhere with their individual zero-point energies is one universal zero point field.
Classically, absolute space (not relative space) is considered non-causal in relationship to manifest phenomena. But we are beginning to describe it more accurately as non-linear, non-local and/or entangled with all events and objects of the phenomenal world. All events emerge from the framework of absolute space. Though insubstantial it has properties, qualities, and ramifications.
There are many popular and heartfelt poems and tales of death. Not only do we all die, we all have haunting fantasies about death. They include the Art of Death, conscious dying and overcoming the fear of death. In this sense, Thanatos is our soul-support.
Threshold events occur when unconscious information arises within our somatic, emotional, mental, or spiritual perceptions. Reflexive pathologizing pulls us toward that psychic borderland and dissociation. We tranquilize ourselves with the trivial.
Even politics are dissociative, a fantasy version of reality -- especially the politics of actual and symbolic death in war, medicine, and religion. At the liminal threshold, body and soul are successfully re-connected. In this liminal period, a person in a passage ritual is, structurally, if not physically, "invisible."
Psychologically, Thanatos correlates with "ego death" -- the death of the old self which creates the conditions for rebirth. From death-sentence to death-sentience is a depth way of making soul, seeing through, and imagining metaphorical death.The myth speaks to anyone who undergoes a transformation.
For the cryptic key, among our searching questions we must ask what this particular image has do with my death?Pathologizing feelings can be a medicalization and commodification of emotional pain. There is no cure for being on earth. There a perhaps only a dark beauty in soul's pathologizing nature in personal symptomology.
Repressed death-anxiety can reappear as distorted cravings such as morbid desire for fame as symbolic immortality more likely to yield self-mortification. Meaning is what seems dead in the wasteland of the alchemical mortificatio with its darkness, defeat, failure, torture, mutilation, death, and rotting. The richness of iterationsallows systems as a whole to undergo spontaneous self-organization and reorganization at all levels.
In alchemy, the images of figurative death appear during the mortificatio operation, with its primary agent fear. Symbolic death arouses darkness, defeat, torture, mutilation, death, rotting, penance, and abstinence--denial of the body. Emotionally it means the primitive, violent outbursts, resentments, and pleasure and power demands that must die for transmutation to occur.
Repetition of mythic elements, recitations of life in the imaginal, is a feature of all fundamental drives, even when overwhelming or disheartening. Rotting corpses, decapitation, amputation, creeping, crawling worms and snakes, and particularly noxious odors like the stench of graves are classic images. It is truly a journey through "the Valley of the Shadow of Death."
The psyche depicts the decay of outworn forms in preparation for new. Repetition is compulsion, even among shattered disarray, fixation, psychic inertia, morbid fascinations, shock, disgust, and psychopathy. Compulsion is an addictive pattern that rewards with dopamine release.
When it comes to compulsive behavior, we know how we should behave, but we do what we want usually based on how we feel. We don't have fixed ideas; they have us. Primal urges supersede all rules, doctrines, and morals with eruptions of passions, emotions, and madness.
If personifying carries us into myth, as Hillman suggests, this is especially true of Thanatos.The Lord of Death enters our awareness as perhaps the only ultimate truth. Our complexes appear as dream people, a multitude of autonomous personalities embodying our morbid preoccupation with the possibilities of personal annihilation or the ambiguity of a positive disintegration.
The compulsion to conquer death or non-ordinary dissociation is either for power or transcendence.Death permeates or interpenetrates our substance and psyche which mirror one another. The civilizational catastrophes repeated in the West can be related to Thanatos as the wild psyche of aggression/death, separation/risk, separation/rebellion.
But Hillman claims, "We are composed of agonies, not polarities." Death is not the psychological opposite of life; in fact, any act that holds away death prevents life. When the physical form is destroyed, we enter a psychical form of existence. We learn from the shadows. What holds things in their form is the secret of death.
We play out those agonies as symbolic enactment, meaning, and transcendence. The mind provides metaphorical meaning for symbolic sequences and ritual dramas that embody the metaphor, which comes to the surface as everyday behavior. The death we imagine is the one for the life we imagined for ourselves while a new one tries to enter. We can confess either our success or failure to create an image of life after death.
The flow is from symbol to myth, to reinforcing ritual enactment, then back to human awareness.Enacting myths helps the devotee to consciously experience each symbol cycle and reconnect with deep mind. Grasping one part of the cycle takes us deeper into the unconscious mind and psyche.
Embodied consciousness contains the cosmos so that by knowing the body we know the universe. The mid-point of behavioral restructuring and transformation is an 'oceanic' altered state, as some near-death experiences (NDE's) report. Rituals connect worship and grief so we become more aware of life in the midst of grief. If we transform our grieving hearts, we rediscover joy.
We cannot hope to outwit Thanatos by feigning death, but we can get stuck in that practice. Thanatosis is a defense strategy of certain creatures in which they play dead. It resembles shock, with cessation of voluntary activity, and a death-like posture.
Depression arises when psyche is denied a voice. Withdrawl leads to a kind of psychic death, when what is needed is a withdrawl of projections, the desire to 'see through' desire, a modern rite that transforms awareness. Compulsive projection does not recognize it is imagining and literalizing the object of desire. Our pathology is we let Thanatos carry our shadow, the evil we don't want to face, to maintain our ideal self-identity.
Jung contends, "Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual's conscious life, the blacker and denser it is." We might say, the less it is embodied in conscious awareness the more likely it is to go "into" or disturb the body, structurally and symptomatically. It is everything we deny and disown in ourselves, and therefore project outwardly and "stuff" inwardly. In part it is our link to more primitive animal instincts, superseded in early childhood by the conscious mind."
At the same time we ignore or deny the traces of our own disintegration.Myth is always a narrative form.The archetype is an interpretive paradigm, one perspective of many, fetishizing dissociative states with morbid possibilities.
A morbid principle, Thanatos rests in the chthonic dimension, a malignant archetype of the underworld. When we imagine death mythically and poetically, we imagine it not as it is but as we fear or would like it to be. Archetypal psychology claims pathological phenomena are inherent and crucial constituents of psychic life.
We can explore the chthonic and mystical aspects of tragedy, personal and collective. All archetypes have their own way of leading into death. The chthonic (underworld) dimension of the universe is the deep and authentic essence of all being, a pattern in the vision of symbolic images. Archaic chthonic deities circle the wheel of life, the primal forces of nature – death and fertility.
The chthonic fertilizes the soil of the dark unconscious mind -- the depth and darkness that anchor our being in primordial ground. Far beyond mere blood and soil is an arcane knowledge, based on pre-philosophical experiences and wisdom, practices, rooted in the ground where all things die and decompose to rejoin the primal elements -- the dark, cold side of nature.
Hillman and Jung suggest that creative also means blind destructive and constructive impulses. Erich Neumann, in The Origins and History of Consciousness writes, "Ouroborous combines the most meaningless destruction with the supreme meaningfulness of instinctive creation..."
We descend into the underworld to engage soul and find our essence beyond all ideologies. The chthonic earth exerts an unconscious modulation in subtle ways. The archetypal way is descent. Hillman says, "Death is a metaphor for an entire psychic change, a radical shift in perspective..." Our individuation is heading toward death.
We incorporate this awakening into our awareness which informs us. Archetypes seek actualization in the context of our environment and degree of experience. The acquired mind is a cultural product of the environment. Some tales arise in specific locales, while others remain mute.
Malevolence is our collective shadow. Examples of thanatos embodied in current social behavior include dissociation, doomsday or suicide sects, genocide, the war machine as death cult, and numbness toongoing mass extinction of species at a rapidly increasing rate.
Soul comes with the presence of death. In pathologizing events, people, actions, thoughts, feelings, and circumstances are minimized, devalued with compromise, ignore, demeaned, denial, and ostracized. That includes crimes, accidents, chance, spiritual visitations, sensed presence, positive disintegrations, dark nights of the soul, and the madness that comes when the Muse speaks.
James Hillman, founder of archetypal psychology, argued that the soul craves the constant activity of "seeing through"...of taking something "as it is." Working into ever deeper layers of hidden meaning in context, hidden layers draw us in.
From an archetypal perspective, human existence is mythic existence. Soul is the bottom-line dimension of death, darkness, and weakness that is the deeper sense of meaningfulness -- peripheral, inner, underworld, soul-perspective or night-perspective -- chthonic images. This generally taboo process is a functional definition of soul, psyche, or imagination.
Arguably, our modern culture is unconsciously obsessed with Thanatos, a secret wish to self-destruct. This Lord of Death remains a living presence in the archetypal field, whether we are aware of it or not. Death will not be cheated. The god IS the symptom, withan autonomous ability to pathologize. Negative and painful experiences contribute to the development of the soul. The suicidal urge is a metaphor for the end of the self, says Hillman.
Pathologizing is a form of soul-making, engaging emotional suffering and psychic fragmentation in a culture obsessed with maximizing emotional well being and wholeness.According to Hillman, pathologization is “the psyche’s autonomous ability to create illness, morbidity, disorder, abnormality, and suffering in any aspect of its behavior and to experience and imagine life through this deformed and afflicted perspective” (Hillman, Revisioning, 57).
Hillman says our soul is “led to a knowledge of itself through . . . death . . . . By beginning with the symptom . . . pathologizing turns the entire psyche upon a new pivot: death becomes the center, and with it fantasies that lead right out of life” (p. 111). Since soul-making is founded on suffering and death, it is clear that new psycho-spiritual experiences of reality require a psychological dying.
Those driven by self-interest are destructive, regressive, paranoid, and narcissistic. One aspect of life is riven so that another aspect -- the psychic aspect of "death" -- can reach awareness.We need self-restraint to die to ignorance, to dissolve the source of egoism, attachment and repulsion.
These desires sink themselves deep into the discarded and devalued part of the unconscious, seethe in the unconscious and come to a boil. No matter how we try to repress them, they explode outwards with a will of their own. Thanatos symbolizes destruction of the rules that do not encompass the repressed desires that lead to friction, collapse, and imbalance.
Today the political fight for life is the fight for Thanatos, much of which doesn't serve society. When the dialogue stops, it becomes literal and destructive -- the overwhelming presence of death, from species decline, to natural catastrophes to nuclear brinksmanship.
Many embrace a political stance that embraces death. This is our tension-producing conundrum that includes such harm as insect apocalypse that lead to eco-system collapse. Life can only be understood in terms of the soul's one certainty: death. In Egyptian mythology, the perennial struggle of the sun god Horus against Seth depicts the archaic dynamics of Thanatos, mimicked in nature and our nature.
This Death Drive is our compulsive desire to engage in behavior that is risky, blatantly harmful, and wrong. We disown it with defense mechanisms forcing itdown with repression and denial out of mental awareness. The unconscious demands resurrection from the literal to the symbolic. If we are unable to present our aggression against the outside world it is redirected and retreats into self-destructiveness. Addictions and aggression are two sides of the same coin.
Jung called compulsions the greatest mystery of human behavior. It can be productive or destructive, especially as personal or collective Shadow. Destructiveness can become obsessive. Jung's antidote was withdrawing projections, overturning the ideological constructs which justify animosity towards the Other, and recovering wholeness by recognizing the disowned portion of the Self.
Our brains reorganize based on our past experience, emotional states, beliefs and expectations. Erich Neumann called “psychic gravitation” a tendency of the ego to return to its original unconscious state; psychic gravitation is regression, sinking back into the unconscious. Natural inertia causes certain contents of the unconscious to remain unconscious and certain contents of consciousness to become unconscious.
The death urge drives to reinstate something that we never experienced, where we aren’t in the world yet. It remains incomprehensible. Yet, an unreal situation turns into the most real, because it's final. In The Soul's Code, James Hillman suggests, "The eye of the heart that ‘sees’ is also the eye of death that sees through visible presentations to an invisible core." (p146)
We erect cultural symbols of immortality as a defense against the unbearable prospect. As is often the case, it is not just about primordial sexual perpetuation and death, but about power. Death opens a portal of gravitas that can suck the living into its embrace. Thanatos holds the key to that one-way entrance.
In a world of impermanence, we cower in the face of death. Perhaps mass-scale cinematic homicide, such as the 'John Wick' series or even 'Godzilla' (2019), is the 21st century version of substitute sacrifice. Thanatos waits at the boundary between self and others. Is it a grave transmutation and catharsis of our own self-destructive urges?
A primordial entity, Thanatos is a chthonic deity and sadistic principle always ready to drag us into the underworld, yet demanding our respect as a titanic force that pervades the cosmos from the Big Bang to universal entropy.
Thanatos constantly resides between our particles, in the gaps of our bodies. The process of virtual photon annihilation at the sub-quantal level of the absolute vacuum, the transience of quantum fluctuation is more than a metaphor. It underlies our existence.
We approach the subject from the perspective of Archetypal Psychology by prioritizing soul and soul-making, yet full of the dark devotion we reserve for our deepest obsessions and compulsions. To paraphrase Joseph Campbell, we thought to find an abomination and found a God, spanning murderous aggression to nondual consciousness.
The impact of death links with the pull of transcendence, the only cure for a homicidal animal. We wrestle with pitiless death as we wrestle with truth and ourselves. Humanity has always wrestledwith the eternal questions of the meaning of existence. Camus suggests, "Men must live and create. Live to the point of tears." Death is surrounded by taboos on death denial, murderous rage, self-harm, and moral shame or failure.
What Eros builds up, ruthless Thanatos tears down, as a centrifugal force of destruction. How many literary and cinematic monsters are personifications of Thanatos? This is perhaps our most compelling and frustrating relationship, perhaps because of the certainty of its final consummation. Naturally, we seek protection from the ends of our hair to the tips of our toes.
Thanatos is our primal fear, our obsessions with death, decay, and non-existence. We are all stalked by the prospect of death. In classical Greek, Thanatos personifies not only natural death but violent death or assault, murder, and mortal peril. A corpse is called thanatos. We can turn our own thanatos outside or inward.
"Man loses no worthiness for possessing a mortal part, but very much on the contrary, mortality augments his possibility and his power. His double functions are possible for him precisely because of his double nature: because he is so constituted that it is possible for him to embrace both the divine and the terrestrial at the same time ." --Corpus Hermeticum 9.4
Hesiod identified him as the son of Nyx (Night, son of Chaos) and Erebos (Darkness); his twin is Hypnos (Sleep). Death and Sleep reside in the Underworld. The image of Thanatos is dressed in a black robe holding the fatal sword, or as a winged spirit, deity, or daemon. (Hesiod, Theogony 21 ff (trans. Evelyn-White) [Greek epic C8th or C7th B.C.]) The daemon can incite 'oblivion-seeking.'
He is also found in our subconscious psychological impulses like the death-wish or suicidal ideation. Desire for immortality is ego's narcissism, greed, denial, or bargaining with the inevitable. The narcissistic personality is possessed by Thanatos. We sense the undertow of his desire to obliterate and annihilate in each and every moment that must be unceasingly recreated.
Each new self-image faces a new form of Thanatos and substitute sacrifice. Those who 'know the ropes' make sure they don't accumulate around their own necks. Who else would we seek to assuage but our own self-destruction?
"It was like dying. I did not want to live and to return into this fragmentary, restricted, narrow, almost mechanical life, where you were subject to the laws of gravity and cohesion, imprisoned in a system of 3 dimensions and whirled along with other bodies in the turbulent stream of time." (Carl Jung, Letters Vol. I, Pages 357-358)
Freud made the counter-intuitive suggestion that the death drive is not about survival, which is after all about self-preservation but the quest of finding the shortest path towards decomposition. He calls the withdrawal of libidinal energy from the world to an “apocalypse,” an “internal catastrophe.” Weakened sex drives lead to strengthened ego drives, especially the death drive. But, to quote the movie 'Annihilation' (2018), "It's not destroying; it's making something new."
And yet, we are warned that sacrifices to this particular god accomplish nothing: "For, alone of gods, Thanatos (Death) loves not gifts; no, not by sacrifice, nor by libation, canst thou aught avail with him; he hath no altar nor hath he hymn of praise; from him, alone of gods, Peitho (Persuasion) stands aloof." (Aeschylus, Fragment 82 Niobe (from Stobaeus, Anthology 4. 51. 1) (trans. Weir Smyth) (Greek tragedy C5th B.C.))
That 'pull' continually tears down our boundaries. So, Thanatos is also transcendence and our capacity to transcend illusory boundaries, which appear unconsciously as a threat to physical mortality, the 'death' of the separate self sense. Our apprehension is that he will strike and seize us.
The daemon can inform even a painful death with some poetry and grace. Only this deep background of death makes 'existence' possible. It spurs the quest for deeper meaning. We grapple with it constantly, wrestling with paradox which will probably still leave us wounded.
Perhaps it is the only way to truly enter life. Psyche represses what does not fit our notions of god. Our ideal is of life lived up to death, the ultimate dissociation of energy from the body. We can serve conceptual fixations, a mania, or a god.
In The Wizard's Gate, psychologist Ann Bedford Ulanov (1994) suggests we wrestle with our god-images "and the gap between them and the Holy." When they break down we are plunged into utter darkness, "and yet it is the only way to be sure to notice what is there." Jung thought our anxiety "always points out our task." Sticking to this archetypal task is not essentially different from ritual or devotion. If the view changes, the practice changes.
Wrestling with death "forms the link between psyche and soul," by confronting the god-images directly. We can inquire into the uncontainable esssentiality and relative play of inherently paradoxical life-death. Its absolute nature is uncontainable. The mind cannot reduce it to solid terms but self-arising symbols display it, challenging us to 'see through' death to the silence that speaks.
Metaphorically and literally, death is a hunter. We fear loss of control and betrayal by the body as health or vitality deserts us and death threatens. The reality of death’s presence is with us in our day-to-day existence and our dream flesh, in implications and unforeseen consequences.
This fleeting shadow may be a palpable entity perceived from the corner of our eye in the gaps between breaths, between life and death. The desire for death is often symbolic for a death of ego consciousness into imaginal or soul consciousness. In this sense, there is no desire for life that does not include a desire for death, since we die even as we live, a total gesture of surrender.
The Mythic Present
Death is a muse that informs us that the darkness of the depths is haunted with loving souls. Metaphorically, death and new life are always emerging. As with liminality, much of the imagery of individuation expresses the themes of birth and rebirth.
Liminal spaces auger a rebirth.This changes the vector of our lives from linear to circular, cyclic. The circular movement of death and renewal is an essential factor in human life.. Life-Death-Rebirth is the cycle of life, a universal archetypal pattern we see in creativity, myth, dreams, and ritual.
Our human journey itself--collectively as well as individually--is unknown, difficult, and improbable. We step between the worlds and fall into the magic, mystery and wisdom of the unconscious. The soul bridge connects us to the healthy consciousness of death and creative love, a re-enchanted rather than a deadened reality.
Art, philosophy, and religion have always been preoccupied with death in one form or another. “Death is the translation of life into soul,” suggested James Hillman in Animal Presences. We postulate soul in special relationship with death. "The reality of the psyche is lived in the death of the literal," according to Gaston Bachelard.
Death operates above and below human existence. We can call soul a daemon, genius, or muse, guardian angel, death, nature, or any conventional element for the abyss of the transcendent imagination, which has infinite aspects. Soul's intimate connection with death is our true calling -- self-determination -- our fate.
We all have a conception and pre-programmed notions of the inescapable and impenetrable nature of death, whether right or wrong. We don't only encounter thanatos at the time of our death. Some notions lead to unconscious illusions, including the denial of mortality and false assumption of immortality.
We struggle with our reactions to the reality of people passing away. We confront the pitiless monsters of archetypal grief, loss, shock, trauma, cares, diseases, age, dead, hunger, want, death, disability, and catastrophe, war and discord.
Our demons are the firewall of resistances, instinctual impulses, and unconscious activated complexes that overcome, impel, and possess us. They include fear of dying, memories filled with emotions, curious detachments, terrifying events, overwhelming trauma, shattered beliefs, isolation, dependency, betrayal, natural disaster, and catastrophic disease.
Our answers come from the heart of life itself and the dance of mortality.In engaging the imaginal we are not struggling with ways to become superhuman or immortal but with becoming more fully human in a deeply connected more-than-human world.It makes living more conscious.Life is an unsolvable mystery.
An encounter with death is disconnection from what we know to be true and safe in the world -- a suspension in the psychic darkness of limbo. Our spirit may be a sustaining power through all the witnessing of ruptures as we move between life and death. It suggests that death is an event that is never concluded.
Thanatos is always with us, informing the mythic present, our behavior, and morality. Some have suggested that death is the ultimate advisor, a touchstone of what is essential in life. Our deep nature includes not only a physical body but a body of myths.
It includes the imaginal dimension of death and dying, both personal and transpersonal. Depth psychology suggests thattheseemingirrationality of mytharisesfromthesamesource as thedisconnectedness of dream. Both are universal symbolicreflections of unconsciousandrepressedfearsandanxieties. Most of us experience nightmares, anguish, fear of death and life. Trauma is one of the ways that death pervades life.
This merciless spectre is indiscriminate, functioning at all scales of existence. We can see him personified in everything from reckless thrill-seeking and raging aggression, from genocide to the mass extinction of species and nuclear brinksmanship, even the death of stars and collisions of galaxies to galactic black holes and the inexorable pull of the gravitational monster, the Great Attractor.
The universe expresses creative and destructive energies. Humanity and the cosmos share the same creation mythos, which describes our ultimate return. We may be enamored with the idea we all spring from stardust, but that is not significantly different from nuclear waste.
We spring from the dark, formless chaos. Death reverses that creation. Poesis is the making of soul through imagination and metaphor. Psyche is an archetypal field, an invisible yet primordial matrix.
This existential Void is a state of nothingness which feels different to everyone, depending on their personal experience with various aspects of death. We all wrestle with and obsess on the notion of death. Our egos try to suppress such notions, but when Thanatos arises from the subconscious underworld, we are powerless in its somnambulistic presence.
Hades is the Lord of the Underworld but Thanatos is death itself, as a psychopomp or soul guide. His twin brother Hypnos leads to the underworld through sleep and dreams. Many hope for a peaceful passage in their sleep.
The god of death haunts us all, consciously or subconsciously. Aging may bring a sort of death in life--obsessive fear and paralysis over the inevitable. Like the darkness of night, death seems a fearsome and alien realm. This event is a great moment. Some follow a natural urge to die at their right time, relinquishing life-prolonging efforts. Others are given a preview through transformative near-death experiences.
Our culture makes valiant attempts to repress all awareness that life is based on death. Our overactive physical fitness binges are heroic attempts to deny that the telos, or goal, of psyche is death. This denial is not the case in all cultures. Many prepare throughout life for death by putting dayworld notions to sleep. This radical shift in consciousness is expressed through metaphorical descriptors of death.
In the ancient texts, Hermes Trismegistus explores the nature of death and the fate of the soul which survives it. From our human point of view, time is a destroying force, since we all age and die. But from the cosmic perspective, it is an endless cycle of death and rebirth.
We can participate in that eternal realm through the inner quest, by learning to accept the inevitable transitory nature of forms, including our own. Death is just the discarding of the worn-out body. According to The Hermetica, the end of becoming is the beginning of destruction. There is a primal instinct within us which yearns for that final goal of life, that great moment when eternity yawns wide to receive us.
Our approach is philosophical, psychological, and devotional focusing on creative and deconstructive acts. The essentially unpresentable mediates our experiences and reflective moments. This is a style of relating to and engaging our thoughts and fantasies of death and catastrophes for humanity.
Some may say that rationalization, fear, resistance, escape, phobia, and ego-death paranoia profane the sacred. But they are inherent to the human condition and our madhouse of abstractions, complexes and pathologies. What do we let die within us while we live? After the turmoil and pandemonium of ego-death we forge new archetypal configurations with the collective unconscious.
The existential phenomenology of death is also a way of seeing and understanding without interpretation, like death-bed visions and apparitions. Such visions suggest that death is not an extinction of life but the transition of life, a rite of passage that should be approached consciously and with dignity.
Death is an experience that must be undertaken on its own terms.In the end it is fusion with the great beyond, a non-dual experience of merging with the cosmos.We lose our narrative self and are just in the moment, merging with reality.Our energy pours back into the primeval expanses.
The death-rebirth sequence typically opens us to the transpersonal domain with its virtually infinite creativity. It reveals and unfolds our future potentials. The key is surrender and dissolution of boundaries, dissolution of the ego.
Rebirth, in the psychological sense, is experience of the transcendence of life. Transcendence is a natural progression from our finite, mortal frame through space, time, and the personal ego into infinite, immortal life beyond. We find it in the breath inside the breath.
It gives us access to the experience of Cosmic Consciousness. The experience may be induced by ritual means, with or without direct participation. It may be a spontaneous, ecstatic revelation, or a subjective transformation only. This expansion of boundaries is an enlargement of the personality, bringing richness and depth to life.
Soul finds its expression through being a metaphorical body, expressed in images beyond the literal. The mind has a solidifying tendency it mistakes for truth. A deepened and awakened consciousness has a capacity to awaken the world into its own being.
Things look different from the underworld when we give primacy to metaphor.Among our ordinary experiences, it is a network of meaningful relations, immersion in the universal stream of consciousness.
Meditators are advised to "die daily," comprehending the illusory nature of time, space, and ego as reality constructs. The primary nature of consciousness is revealed. In experiential 'journeys', transformation results from deepening within the flow of psychic imagery, progressively identifying with more primal forms, and ultimately with formlessness.
The process of rebirth is the mythic enactment of "the one story" whose pattern is found in every narrative. Beneath the differences, the meaning -- having to do with the loss and recovery of identity -- does not change. This story of the loss and regaining of identity is the framework of most literature, the hero archetype.
Some variation of the hero's adventures, death, disappearance, and marriage or resurrection are the focal points of most stories. The original sense of identity (romance and comedy), its loss (tragedy and irony), and its recovery in the regenerate world of romance and comedy is mirrored in the mythic quest.
Discorporation of Personality
Thanatos breaks us down, dismantles our superstructure of undigested experience, memory, habit-patterns, identification, desire, aversion, projection and image-making. It composts our egos; ego is organically transformed. Ego-death results from the overwhelming numinosity of the archetype, its dark refulgence.
Here are visions of fires, floods, raging storms, earthquakes, volcanoes, turbulent lakes of magma. Consciousness "breaks up" into its elemental forms, manifesting as overwhelming imagery. This first phase of dissolution may be characterized by the futility of resistance, magnetic downward spirals, gravity wells, loss of morphological identity.
In The American Book of the Dead, E.J. Gold describes the overwhelming nature of illusions produce by conditioning as the second stage of the inner voyage. When the ego is in danger of "getting in over its head," it panics as if drowning in the depths of this vast ocean of consciousness.
The ego cannot fathom this abyss. This brings mythic images of the dying god, of violent death and sacrifice, and of the isolation of the hero. It means nothing less than the sacrifice of the old self and old self-image.
The dissolution phase arouses myths of the triumph of darkness; myths of floods and the return of chaos, of the defeat of the hero. In Gold's words, "Death comes to all forms; everything eventually is broken up by dissolution, so there's no point clinging to yet another biological form out of desire, longing for stability, or from fear and weakness."
Distressing or disturbing symptoms symbolize the violence of the passage of consciousness from form to formlessness. Images of the body disintegrating or being blown to atoms (fear of exploding = fear of expanding) are characteristic psychedelic experiences. Perhaps the very elements of our bodies "remember" their formation in the crucible of some supernova. There may be identification with merciless destruction, the Dance of Shiva, the raging elements of nature, a variety of forms of explosive discharge.
We have an instinctual attraction toward processes that dissolve the ego and liquify consciousness leading to transpersonal experience via symbolic death/rebirth.Consciousness liquifies through the dissolution of rigidities which inhibit free flow including, game patterns, defense strategies, rigid attitudes and beliefs, interpretations, complexes, "old" myths, and "frozen" energy surrounding traumas which manifests as fear and pain.
The dead void disappears once we connect with the fertile void of the dynamic ground, the formless state of pure potential -- non-duality. The universe is more like a dream than concrete or literal.
Through "creative regression," the generic form of ego death, consciousness recycles, recursively bending back upon itself. The direction is a recapitulation of, a re-experiencing of sequences from earlier life, conception and birth experience, ancestral awareness, genetic and physiological recognitions, molecular and atomic perception, and quantum consciousness.
As consciousness explores and expands, ego dissolves. Pure consciousness, the fundamental luminosity, is the ground state of unborn form. The generic purpose of ego death is to liberate our embodied being, precipitating communion with and re-patterning by the Whole.
When all forms finally dissolve into unconditioned consciousness, the ground state of the natural mind is revealed as the mystic Void, the womb of creation. The Oneness of all life and existence is directly experienced through a variety of transformations ranging from mineral, plant and animal identifications to planetary and universal consciousness.
Entering the turbulent flow of the stream of consciousness, we can ride its currents back to the Source, pure unconditioned cosmic consciousness. This "recycling" of consciousness leads to a self-referential vortex. Chaotic systems revolve around nexus points, known as strange attractors, because of their unpredictable quality. Rather than being "point-like," they are more like vortices within vortices.
The Philosopher's Stone is like a psychic lodestone (or vortex). It acts like an inner magnet, ordering the contents of our consciousness around it (through feedback loops) in chaotic, yet meaningful fashion.Freedom in the exploration of imagery comes from the creative capacity to experience loss.
Experientially, it appears as being channeled into the swirling mass of interacting symbols, an overwhelming vortex of pure information. We are sucked inexorably into interaction with the self-symbol, sucked into ourselves, like flotsam is pulled into a whirlpool. This is the vortex of the system, the vortex of self, where all levels cross. It overwhelms or tangles the mental processes, the self-imaging processes that maintain the illusion of stable personality and individual boundaries.
Ego death is a complete loss of subjective self-identity.An unexpected and unsupported experience of "ego death" can be frightening and traumatic, especially given that confronting a figurative death can feel indistinguishable from apparent organismic death. It dissolves the identification of our consciousness with our histories, bodies, emotions, thoughts, and even beliefs.
The "twice-born" philosophy also implies the spiritual, yet non-religious renewal of our purposiveness in life. When we "return" experientially to the "initial conditions" of our existence, our whole being is holistically repatterned. Our historical limitations are superseded by the creative power of the eternal Now.
Organic Regenerative Process
As Chapel Perilous, Dark Night of the Soul, or Crossing the Abyss, ego death is an important milestone on the seeker's path in many spiritual traditions.Ego-death is essential for a positive death or rebirth experience.We have to detach and that includes our own false self-image.Primordial experience is contained in ritual and symbols that echo through the transformative events of human life.
In dream journeys, one might enter a spinning vortex and become dismembered by centrifugal force, torn limb from limb. We remain in this state of dis-integration until we re-member our essential self, embodying the wounded healer. That sense of disintegration comes as the ego gives up its "unified" linear perspective (bivalent) to the multiple consciousness or awareness (multi-valence) of the deep self.
Fear makes it feel like fragmentation, but in truth there is nothing in that imagery that is not us. The death throes of the ego prepare it for rebirth, through communion with cosmic consciousness, a new incarnation of the spirit, death and resurrection. The nature of universal consciousness is oceanic.
Archetypal Psychology centers around the notion of a personified cosmos and the preconceptual connections of humans and world, our mythical beginnings in the imaginal psyche. How we imagine thanatos is as important as how we experience it and our encounters with the Underworld, and how this phenomenology affects our imaginal bodies. Such knowledge doesn't explain the soul, but transforms it.
Contemplation of death conjures up images of disintegration, dismemberment, flying apart. In consciousness journeys, the dreamer may be sucked through a swirling vortex into a profound blackness--black that is blacker than black--cold and utterly empty.
Mortificatio In Alchemy
In alchemy, the images of figurative death appear during the operation called mortificatio. This symbolic experience of death has to do with darkness, defeat, torture, mutilation, death, rotting, penance, and abstinence--denial of the body.
Emotionally it means the primitive, violent outbursts, resentments, and pleasure and power demands of Poseidon-consciousness must die for the process of transmutation to occur. Paradoxically, we must make ourselves miserable for the process of transmutation to proceed.
Then the dark images change to positive ones of growth, resurrection and rebirth. In consciousness journeys, we find fear is the primary agent of mortificatio. Moving toward the fear and pain--deepening it--brings one closer to the transformation.
Images of feces, excrement, overflowing toilets are found in dreams and during spontaneous journeys in Thanatos-consciousness. It feels like defeat and failure. Yet, to resist seems like madness--in fact, it induces madness. Those with near-death experiences tell us that to embrace death brings about deeper meaning and purpose in life.
Rotting corpses, decapitation, amputation, creeping, crawling worms and snakes, and particularly noxious odors like the stench of graves are images which are reported again and again. It is truly a journey through "the Valley of the Shadow of Death."
Thus the psyche depicts the decay of outworn forms in preparation for new. It can be a voluntary death, giving up the old order for the sake of wholeness, the incorruptible body that grows from death. The infantile, personalistic ego is eclipsed.
The journey to the land of the dead (collective unconscious) opens one to transpersonal life. When we sit quietly we notice that images come--and images go, of their own accord. They are spontaneously created and destroyed through the psychic process. Some of these images are projections.
When we withdraw them from their external "hooks" and re-own them, reabsorb them, they dissolve and "die." This furthers individuation. Plato said that "true philosophers make dying their profession," referring to the wisdom inherent in this process. What is natural and instinctual is allowed to die and transform. Western attitudes toward death and dying have changed markedly in the last few years.
There is talk of "dying with dignity,"and efforts toward assisting suicide for the terminally ill. It is a reaction to the dehumanization of dying. The Hemlock Society has been in the forefront of this debate, advocating free choice.
There is much more talk about near-death experiences (NDE) and so-called astral projection or out-of-body experiences (OOBE). Astral projection follows the same process described by those who report NDEs. They say attention is withdrawn from the limbs and trunk to the pineal area in the brain. Then consciousness passes out of the body through the top of the head. Many then report traversing a winding tunnel, and heading into the Light.
Those who experience NDE find new purpose and meaning in life; they usually seek to render service to others, becoming more selfless, humble, and confident in the future. Having faced the ultimate fear they gain a sureness on the path of life. Frequently they receive some "message" about their duties in life, what they are to devote this "second chance" to achieving.
Freud suggested the death-drive Thanatos competes with the life-drive, Eros. If Hadesis the god of the dead,Thanatosis the god of death, a winged daemonic character often called the Grim Reaper. As a morbid obsession, the destructive drive can extend to revenge, a personal death wish and destructive impulses. The archetypal murderer and suicide in us surfaces in grisly images of destructive acts. Or, abyssal images of a black blacker-than-black, which remind us of cosmic Black Holes.
Thanatos-consciousness may be an encounter with an apocalyptic whirlwind which rends one limb-from-limb, then fragments the sense of self even further down to cellular, genetic, and atomic consciousness. The imagery of apocalypse and natural disaster surfaces as the ego glimpses its immanent doom. The death instinct comes up in life-crisis and trauma and effects memory through knowing, remembering, and forgetting. Biologically, it spans cellular to organismic death, and all varieties of annihilation.
The dance of Death is a whirlwind of transformation. Ego-death is a requirement for opening to the broader realm of transpersonal reality. It heralds a change in the form of consciousness. The crux of this consciousness process is reaching the creative state of undifferentiated consciousness. It is in this state that old primal self images dissolve, and from it the new ones form. It is a death because at the deepest levels we define ourselves by this image and what it has created and frozen into our lives.
It ultimately means the dismemberment of our former personality and life patterns. We are it and it is our death when it dissolves into the infinite possibilities of chaotic consciousness. This unformed consciousness--which we often mistake for death-- is really the essence of our vitality and life force.
Thanatos inhabits our dreams as well, with images of death, torture, mutilation, and rotting. Then in the morning we are resurrected to a seemingly new life. It is the energy we can use to recreate ourselves in every instant of time. It reaches our awareness through dreams (Hypnos) and the flow of our imagination.
James Hillman chooses not to bring the dream element back into waking life and force it to match up with symbols or meanings we already hold. In fact, Hillman claims that to bring the dream out of the underworld actually betrays the dream. Yielding to ego-death leads to this consciousness, whether it comes through therapy or a spontaneous near-death experience (N.D.E.) or closely witnessing death.
This consciousness can result from a brush with one's own death or that of another. Dissolving is a death that opens into a field of unformed consciousness with infinite creative possibilities. But we must go through the fear and pain which surrounds this experience to reach this consciousness state. There may be sensations of falling, or floating-falling, or flying off in all directions at once.
Eventually all parts of the self are dismembered by the centrifugal forces experienced in the vortex. With a sweep of His scythe, the unseen specter of death cuts us down utterly. Sensations of spinning and being drawn deeper create intense dizziness and disorientation, even nausea. Dismemberment in the spiral often leads to a sense of being "no-thing."
The experience of another's natural death is awesome, as is that of birth. Being there, one finds that at that amazing moment there is a giant dilation in the flow of time; a window opens into that other vast realm which is slow to close. It may capture part of oneself for a time, creating a mini-death, or death-in-life.
The changes which ensue may be voluntary or involuntary. It may trigger a regression as well as a profound opening to transpersonal awareness. Particularly when a parent or child of ours dies, we are permanently changed in ways we may never have imagined. Some of them have to do with what we imagine or believe the nature of death and an afterlife to be.
Hypnos also lives in the underworld. He induces the little death of sleep with his magic wand or by fanning his dark wings. In eastern mysticism, death is personified in feminine form as the dreaded and dreadful goddess Kali. Her cult was portrayed in the blockbuster movie "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom."
Graveyards or cemeteries are the haunts of this bloodthirsty goddess. Her image is built of a myriad of skulls and bones. Tantric Buddhists contemplate her, and their own personal demise, by visualizations of rotting corpses, or meditating in graveyards where the remains are strewn about. They seek liberation of their human souls through immortality.
Shiva, the Destroyer, consort of Kali Ma is the masculine form of this force. Shiva is the prince of demons, who brings pestilence and death. Paradoxically, he is also the slayer of demons. He is the dissolver of outworn forms--destroyer of all things. Shiva's dance is a process of universal creation and destruction, a symbol of the reconciliation of opposites. This powerful unbridled erratic force also carries archetypal healing capacity within its pattern. This archetypal drive was the theme of Gore Vidal's "Kalki."
In our modern society, questions of life and death create issues such as moral positions on suicide, abortion, euthanasia, and capital punishment. These questions bear directly on who we are and shall be. Mankind is also wiping our entire species from the face of the earth daily. The Biblical injunction "Thou shalt not kill," has been misinterpreted as "Thou shalt not murder thy fellow human beings," while the pointless slaughter of animals for exploitation continues.
Spiritual teachers tell us that all life is sacred. As an archetype, Thanatos represents a fundamental soul-quality present in the psyche. From this perspective all life aims toward natural transformation and recycling through the process of death. The soul gains knowledge of itself, not only through love, intellect, and madness, but also by reflection on the great unknowable which lies past the gates of death.
The sorcerer's apprentice Carlos Casteneda was cautioned to keep death as his constant companion, always referring any powerful decisions to this touchstone of meaning. How differently we might act if we reflected on our actions in light of the constant possibility of immanent death.
Psychologist Sigmund Freud spent as much of his career reflecting on death and the physical pathology of the body as he did obsessing on sexual motivation. He not only contemplated it in his patients' behaviors and fantasies, but in his own as well. He was phobic about cancer, which he later contracted in the mouth and jaws from years of smoking. As the father of depth psychology which focuses on the symbolic underworld, he introduced us to the world of Thanatos and Hades.
Freud pointed out that "pathologizing" is a metaphorical language of the psyche, allowing it to deliteralize the events of our daily life. Psychopathologies had been considered trivial, but Freud showed that they contained a previously invisible depth of meaning. The nature of that meaning revealed the profound relationship of death to life. Dreams, symptoms, and afflictions became the inroads into the dark realm of the subconscious. Freud resurrected the intimate symbolic connection between soul and death for Westerners.
Eastern religions had never lost this connection. He showed how the perspectives of Hades and Thanatos dissolve the organic, social, and emotional aspects of human life. Fantasies of putrefaction, decay, sickness, compulsion, and suicidal impulses disclose this psychological perspective which seeks deepening. Freud ended his own life enraptured or fascinated with this train of thought.
In Tarot, the Death card means being stuck in old patterns, needing to eliminate restrictive habits, beliefs, blocks and outworn ways. This painful uprooted may involve eliminating people or things from your past. The uprooting of habits is surgically cutting yourself free for entrance, assimilation and integration into a new state.
It is liberation and renewal which makes new growth possible. Deep emotions can be like a "little death", as in intense sexual experience. Giving up one's sense of self means merging with another or Cosmos, cutting through superficialities, butting to the bone. Our energy is radically transformed from one shape or form to another.
DIALOGUE WITH THANATOS
Greet the Reaper who is dressed in his black robe, holding the fatal sword in his hand, or in his gentler form as a winged spirit. Perhaps he comes in tandem with his brother Hypnos, and the son of Hypnos, Morpheus (god of dreams).
Enter that dream world consciousness--that twilight underworld realm--and see what happens. It requires letting go, letting go of all outworn forms, all preconceived notions. Move with reverence and awe into the Valley of the Shadow of Death--for it is truly and always with us, our closest companion who will never abandon us.
THANATOS IN YOUR LIFE
1. Have you ever had a close-call or brush with death, or perhaps a full near-death experience?
2. What are your views on abortion, capital punishment, and mercy killing?
3. Have you ever been compulsively or impulsively self-destructive?
4. If you could imagine death sitting on your shoulder as a consultant, how would you change your priorities?
5. Have you ever been present at the moment of death of anyone? What did you feel?
6. Have you ever felt reborn, resurrected, or rejuvenated with new life and meaning? What was your purpose at this time in your life?
7. If you have experienced ego-death through natural transformation or with mind-altering drugs like L.S.D. describe the visceral sensations associated with this process. Where did you feel it? How were your emotions and mind responding?
8. Have you ever had a formal initiation, such as the symbolic death and rebirth of baptism, or in a fraternal or service group?
9. What are your beliefs about the prospects of an afterlife?
10. Can you remember any images of the mortificatio in your dream life?
11. What do you need to let go of? What is your basic support system through this transition? What is being transformed? What new growth is now possible?
The Hermetica, the Lost Wisdom of the Pharaohs (Freke & Gandy, Tarcher, 1997).
Freud, S. (1920/1955). Beyond the pleasure principle. In J. Strachey (Ed.), The standard edition of the complete works of Sigmund Freud (Vol. 18, pp. 7-64). London, UK: Hogarth.
Gerber, Timofei, Eros and Thanatos: Freud’s two fundamental drives https://epochemagazine.org/eros-and-thanatos-freuds-two-fundamental-drives-50a82a11a389
Jones, E. (1953/1957). The life and work of Sigmund Freud (Vol. 3). New York, NY: Basic.
Further reading on the concerns of Thanatos, death and rebirth include: ANATOMY OF THE PSYCHE, "Mortificatio," Edward Edinger, 1985. DEATH AND EASTERN THOUGHT, Frederick Holch, Ed., Abingdon Press, New York, 1974. ON DREAMS AND DEATH, Marie-Louise vonFranz, 1986. RITUALS FOR LIVING AND DYING, David Feinstein and P. Mayo. TIBETAN BOOK OF THE DEAD, Evans-Wentz. TIBETAN BOOK OF LIVING AND DYING: Sogyal Rampa. DIE TO LIVE, Huzur Maharaji Charan Singh. SUICIDE AND THE SOUL, James Hillman, Spring Pub. DREAM & THE UNDERWORLD, James Hillman THE HUMAN ENCOUNTER WITH DEATH, Stanislav Grof & Joan Halifax, 1977. LIFE AT DEATH, Kenneth Ring. PSYCHE AND DEATH, Edgar Herzog.